Feb 27

I know I’ve been promising a really good vacation recap but I just can’t get into one right now.

I mean, I have LOTS of good memories, just sitting there in my head, and I’d love to just bore the shit out of you with the details but FUCK, I just can’t right now.

It feels like I’ve been going non-stop since we got back. First of all, I started a class at University of Alaska (Fairbanks). It’s a teleconference class, and the class is fucking hard. The professor readily admits that. And he’s wonderful too. But my GOD, does he love to give homework.

What’s odd is, I’ve worked full time before and taken two or three classes at the same time and NEVER felt this overwhelmed.

Howard’s theory seems to be the fact that our jobs, aren’t just “jobs”, they are a way of life. Living in an isolated village with only 300 people, kind of puts you right there in the fish bowl. Being we run the only store in town, we see everyone, everyday. They see you, they associate you with your job. We live in company housing, we drive a company truck. We are constantly “on”, when we’re out in public. Which here in McGrath, that’s not hard to do. I don’t mind being “on” for people who can appreciate it. And most everyone here does. Also, if you even hope to be successful, you’d damn well better be involved in your community. Which means, potucks, school functions, fundraising, donating for funerals, attending funerals, attending baby showers, bazaars, basically any community event. We enjoy it when we do go but stepping outside the box and looking in really makes us realize that we honestly a have very little time to ourselves.

Especially when we return from vacation to discover our book keeper quit. Which leaves me working seven days a week and Howard feeling guilty because he’s hourly and we’re on a payroll budget, and overtime for him is pretty much out, lest we like our asses chewed by the boss. And I’m NOT going to allow him to work off the clock. Oh HELL no.

Thank God, the man doesn’t mind housework and cooking because otherwise, they’d have to slap a “condemned” sign on my door. Between the work and school, the passing of Richard, Iditarod starting up this week, I’ve barely been able to sit down and even write about it. Truth be told? Those times? Are usually when Howard has put his foot down and demanded I get the hell out of the office for a few hours. The man is a saint. I cannot argue.

The times I do have to relax, I’m pretty useless, I’m usually sitting slackjawed on the couch, staring off into space, shoveling a meal into my mouth, or mindlessly petting my dog or my cat. As far as Sex? Yeah. Right! I’ll lay here and type my ten thesis statements until you finish, but get one off for me okay?

Even as I type this, I’m watching the time because my class starts in about five minutes and by God, I didn’t pay 333 dollars plus the cost of books to fucking fail or not have perfect attendance. Afterwards? I’ll be feverishly pumping out another assignment that is due by midnight tonight. Hey, I do work very well under pressure. Only to have to start my midterm exam that is due next Monday. Did I mention he wants us to write our mid-term using the format provided by him? NO, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. That means he’ll be twice as critical. But at least he’ll be nice about it when I break down in tears if I get anything less than an A.

So, maybe in two weeks during our spring break, I can crank out a vacation recap. Hey, it’ll almost be like going on vacation again! And God knows, I need it right now.

Feb 24

(I found several pictures of Rich on my computer but this was my favorite, he is at the right of the photo, and pretty much captures his essence. Laid back, smiling, enjoying a beer, not a care in the world)

Today, a little after 3 in the afternoon, Richard’s body was found in Rainy Pass. He was helicoptered in and now lies in state in his beloved garage.

He was found under just eleven feet of snow, but he is believed to have died almost instantly. He was next to his snow machine.

We are all relieved but saddened once again at the absolution of it all.

Tonight, we felt it would be wrong to intrude on the family while they sat in vigil over the body. But Rich’s sister in law came into the bar to have a drink and approached me and Howard and told us that it would mean a lot to the family if we went to pay our respects. She’d seen enough for the day. She was there with Judy and the rescue crew when the recovery was made. She’d flown back with Judy in the helicopter.

So we worked up our nerve and decided to go. We’re glad we did. His parents embraced both of us upon our arrival. Judy succumbed to her fatigue and was resting in the house. His two stepdaughters were there along with other members of the community. His father was heartbreakingly reflective. He explained how they found Richard. How relieved they all were that he didn’t suffer. We opened up about how much we liked Richard. How supportive he and Judy had been of Howard and myself. And the rest of the time we sat in awe of Rich.

He looked incredibly peaceful. His eyes were closed. His face was perfect. His cheeks rosy. The ice and snow kept him in a most pristine state. His arms were frozen, crossed above his chest, his hands formed into fists. In a way, it was comforting. Almost as if he knew he was drawing his last breath. His parents admitted they were anticipating him in a more “traumatized” condition.

Another person really affected was Rich’s dog, Millie. Rich was “her person.” She traveled with him the entire ride to Rohn. When he was out and about, so was Millie. A spoiled rotten Border Collie. She kept going over to Rich’s body, trying to jump up on him, as if she was trying to wake him. Her confusion broke everyone’s heart. She stayed right by his side. Never taking her eyes from him.

As we rose to say goodbye, we all hugged Millie too. Petting her, consoling her, all while she would look at us helplessly and confused.

Here in the bush, obviously funerals are much less formal. It is a lot like it was before funeral homes and embalming. The body lies in state at the home, people stay with body at all times, and when the time is right, the body is buried.

Everyone, including the family, acknowledges that we already said “goodbye” to Rich. There will not be another memorial service. We’ve said our piece. When his body thaws and the rest of the rescue crew comes back from Rohn, there will be one more bonfire, one more final goodbye. It’s the rural Alaskan way. The only way Rich would have wanted.

But we’re glad that closure has come, and he is home.

Feb 22

Last night we watched a documentary on HBO that had me sobbing. Not the quiet sobbing either. I was full on crying, hiccups and all. I was angry and sad and felt absolutely helpless.

I wish we could just snap our fingers and make things like this go away.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m an animal lover. At one time in my life, I was a vegetarian. I do eat meat now. I admit. I actually ate veal for the first time in Rome. Don’t ask me why? I’ll probably blame it on the whole “When in Rome” theory. I can promise you I’ll never eat it again, because yes, veal is basically tortured baby cows…and the guilt has proven way too big to ever do it again. Look, I realize the whole food chain, I will continue to eat my steaks, my chicken, my fish, and so forth, but I have my limits. Call me a “fence rider” if you will.

I know that there are a lot of slaughterhouses out there that treat their animals in a humane way. (as oxymoronic as that sentence might seem) Most of the hunters here in Alaska, believe in the least amount of suffering of the animal. And they believe in using the entire animal to feed their family.

We are carnivores, it is the circle of life. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I also acknowlege and realize that animal research is necessary to help find cures for disease. However, I do not believe you need to torture an animal to see if the lipstick I’m going to buy will make my lips swell. I’d rather take that chance myself, thank you very much. Plus, I am willing and able-bodied to get myself to a doctor and make the choice to never buy the lipstick again. Animals can’t very well do that, now can they?

Having said all that. There is absolutely no excuse for being cruel to an animal. This includes, kicking the poor thing until it wets itself and submits, or going into shock because you “threw” it into a toxic flea dip in icy temperatures. This also includes shooting an animal multiple times because after cornering and badgering the poor thing, it finally bucks up and snaps at you, thus you deeming it a “bad animal.” This also includes letting an emaciated, obviously sick animal suffer instead of HUMANELY euthanizing it or getting it vet care.

I can accept that we all like our cheeseburgers and my medicine was probably tested on an animal so that they could benefit my life. I have to. Otherwise, I’d be one big huge hypocrite. But I’m certain that kicking, choking, punching, starving, and neglecting these animals has nothing to do with research and feeding the hungry.

I love dogs, I love cats. If I’m ever single again, I will never settle for a man who doesn’t. Lucky and Katie both sleep in the bed with us. They are well-loved and well-fed. I don’t care if you think that’s ridiculous. That’s my right. That’s my responsibility.

If you don’t like dogs, don’t own them, don’t work with them. I have friends who don’t like them. They do the right thing by not being sucked in by a cute puppy (only to realize those puppies grow up, pee on your carpet, puke on the bed, poop in your shoes, etc.), and simply don’t own them. I can completely respect that.

It makes me happy to own my animals. They have enhanced my life. Seen me through some rough patches. They are my family. I don’t care if people think I’m a little crazy for it. THOSE PEOPLE won’t be there to greet me at the door when I come home. THOSE PEOPLE won’t curl up against me at night, or hop up on the arm of the couch just to give me a friendly little nudge with their head. THOSE PEOPLE WILL judge me if I gain weight, get old, get ugly, or cut my hair. My animals won’t. They will give me unconditional love and joy always. They will never feel a kick, a punch, a choke, or an icy flea dip, in my care. That helps my tears go away. That gives me a damn good reason to sleep at night.

Feb 20

Boy, what an emotional week it was.

As of today, there has still been no recovery of Rich’s body. Tomorrow they are sending a search party of 20 people. They were initally going to wait until Spring but the weather has turned cold again, which should make the conditions much safer. A mining company donated a metal detector that detects metal (his snowmachine) up to 40 feet. Rich is estimated to be at about 30 feet.

Wednesday night, Judy was helicoptered back to McGrath from Rohn. Susie and Todd held a potluck for the family, who was waiting at the airport to greet her. Wanting to keep our distance, we stood at the doorway of the cafe and watched the helicopter land. Within seconds of the propellors stopping, I heard Judy’s wail of grief. It was heartbreaking. I had to go back inside. My heart couldn’t handle it.

The village seemed to be in a state of shock. What surprised me was how much Howard and I were affected as well. We realized we spent many Friday nights sharing a beer with Rich, been to many bonfires this winter doing the same thing. He shopped in the store a lot. We realized we’d gotten to know him better than we thought.

Another thing we realized is how close-knit, McGrath really is. The outpouring of love and support was touching and inspiring. Howard and I realized how proud we are to call this village our home. We are honored to live here, to know and interact with these wonderful people on a daily basis. McGrath is truly a special place.

I think my heart hurt more for his family than anything else. Who, I might add, handled this with amazing strength and grace. His parents were more reflective than anything. They acknowledged the risk Rich took in his adventures and accepted it stoically. Judy, who was one of the first people to welcome us to McGrath and really has been a big cheerleader for us, was just as strong, but she was there when Rich died, she was a bit more in shock. She and Rich’s parents came down to the cafe, the store, and everywhere else to thank everyone in person. I wish I could be that strong.

On Friday night, the radio station dedicated a four hour show to Rich. Everyone called in requests, and there was an eclectic blend of music, which we’re sure Rich would have loved. Howard and I dedicated “Highwayman” by Johnny Cash, “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, and “Touch of Grey” by The Grateful Dead. His family appreciated it all. When Rich was up in Rohn, in those gorgeous mountains at the time of his death, he kept saying he was in “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. That song was requested many times and played as many times as requested.

Saturday afternoon, a “Celebration of Life” was held. Much reflection was done, a lot of his family and friends told of their favorite memories of Rich. Fittingly, his closing song was “Big Rock Candy Mountain”

Afterwards, we had a community potluck and after that, there was a bonfire in the yard shared with his beloved Judy. The beer and conversation flowed well into the wee hours of Sunday morning. We feel we made him proud.

He was a nature lover. He always said his favorite place in the world was in the woods. In fact, he called his place “Beyondo”. He was an avid outdoorsman. Many times on the weekends, that’s where he’d be. In his boat in the summer and on his snowmachine in the winter, but always out and about in nature.

Just weeks before his death, he wrote about “Beyondo”…his words were printed on the program from his service. I know Howard and I certainly learned a lot this week. One lesson being that losing a loved one obviously takes its toll. But we can choose to remain sad and bitter at the passing or we can be grateful for the time we had knowing that person and try to spend the rest of our lives allowing that person to live positively through us. Richard’s family is the perfect example of that.

Rich, you left an indellible imprint on this tiny village. You took the life God gave you and really TRULY lived. You were never afraid. We know you’re in your “Beyondo” forever now. Rest in Peace, good friend.

“Beyondo is a place in the woods where no one can find us, it is a place where we are at peace with each other. Beyondo is where we go when life is at it’s toughest. The safest place in the world. THE WOODS!!” -by Richard C. Strick Jr. 04/20/1959-02/14/2006

Feb 16

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

You are amazing, strong, beautiful.

You are Phenomenal.

NEVER let anyone make you feel differently.

I LOVE YOU!

PHENOMENAL WOMAN
by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I’m not cute or built to suit a model’s fashion size
But when I start to tell them
They think I’m telling lies.
I say
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips
The stride of my steps
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally
Phenomenal woman
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please
And to a man
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees
Then they swarm around me
A hive of honey bees.
I say
It’s the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth
The swing of my waist
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally
Phenomenal woman
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say
It’s in the arch of my back
The sun of my smile
The ride of my breasts
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally
Phenomenal woman
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say
It’s in the click of my heels
The bend of my hair
The palm of my hand
The need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally
Phenomenal woman
That’s me.

Feb 15

The advantages of living in the bush are obvious…the closeness of the community…everyone knows everyone…you can leave your doors unlocked (at least here in McGrath anyway)…

The disadvantage? Is losing one of the people you get to know so well.

Richard Strick Jr. of McGrath, had just finished helping with Tesoro Iron Dog Race in Rohn, and was breaking trail for the upcoming Iditarod Race when an Avalanche came upon him and buried him under 30 feet of snow. An attempt was made to rescue him but the conditions became too dangerous for others, the warm weather could very well bring on another avalanche, the search will have to wait until Spring…he is assumed dead.

We last saw Richard on Friday before he and about 10 others left for Rohn. I sold him a ton of food, snowmachine oil, and some cold beer. He was asking us about our vacacation, as Howard and I both, oddly enough were in the liquor part of the store at the same time. The last thing I said to him was “Ya’ll be careful Richard and have fun!”…taking for granted that it could very well be the last time we saw him.

His girlfriend Judy came in a few minutes later buying the things he forgot…I told her the same thing. “BE SAFE JUDY! HAVE FUN!”

Life is so uncertain. So fleeting. Make it count. I know Richard did. He was whizzing through the beautiful Alaska Range, with joy in his heart and peace in his soul, and died doing what he loved.

He will be missed.

Feb 13

Dear Teenager who shamelessly tried to flirt with me today,

You are cute in a “I would really like to have a child someday” kind of way. But I have not reached the age where being flirted with by a teenager is flattering just yet.

No. Right now? It’s just creepy.

Not to say it isn’t flattering. In a completely objective capacity.

But try me again in about 10 years. When you’re a hot twenty something and I’m a desperate 40 something okay?

Thanks again,
Chris

Feb 11

Yesterday, I got a quick phone call from the manager in St. Mike telling me she was going on like her 7th day without a shower. When I start to miss St. Mike? I need only to think of the long days spent without water…then I get the hell over it. She also belted out a barrage of statements regarding her job and what the hell the powers that be could do with it. Now this woman? Is usually soft spoken, and usually upbeat, and usually inquiring as to how I’m doing. Usually never letting on how she’s doing, even though I ask. A LOT. I was so proud…but boy did I feel sorry for her. I suggested she simply close the store, get on a plane to Nome and spend a few days drinking heavily until the water problem was fixed. For a minute, I thought she was going to take me up on that offer. But then I remembered that not everyone self-medicates with heavy drinking like me. She, of course, politely declined. But it did make her laugh.

Also, Tess called me late yesterday afternoon. And of course, everyone came in right at that moment, because everyone is against me and no one wants me to talk on the phone. I mean. GOD FORBID. Then she had the nerve to tell me that SHE got to blow bubbles on her lunchbreak and I didn’t. Which was kind of mean, but we both acknowledge we’re psycho bitches and so it’s really just a term of endearment to each other. Of course, right in the middle of her trying to tell me about her hard day, I, of course, have to rush off the phone. One of these days, she’s just not going to believe that people really do start bottlenecking at the registers, once I get on the phone with anyone of importance (to me). I did, however, call her back, just to prove that I did care.

Then, just this morning, someone called to place an order and after giving me his shopping list, he asked “Hey, who was that guy who was SUBSIDIZING for you while you were gone.” Without missing a beat I replied “(Relief Manager’s Name) SUBSTITUTED for us, why?” He replied “Well, he was an asshole, I didn’t like him, please don’t let him SUBSIDIZE for you any more.”
“Sure thing there Fred”, I replied stifling a laugh.

Using words out of context will never cease to be funny to me.

Nor will posting about my random phone calls. So get used to it.

Feb 9

Good LAWD, what a week and it ain’t even over yet. Year End, Relief Manager didn’t do this, that, or anything else…which at least my dog and cat were fed and still alive so I should just shut the hell up now.

Paperwork. Piles of it. MOUNTAINS of it. And DAMN the Fish and Game regulations for year end….you know when you come to Alaska to hunt? When you see the frazzled red head at the customer service counter getting a look of fear and terror in her eye when you ask for a hunting license? The year end work alone is why. So now you know. So give me your 400 dollar non-resident Moose tag fee and shut the hell up. (Further more, I hate it when you just paid 8000 dollars to come on this guided hunting trip, and bitch because a 20 ounce bottle of Mt. Dew costs 2.19 cents Airline fuel is expensive, you can afford it. Cough it up or shut the fuck up, fucker.)

A-hem. So that’s pretty much been my week. But there have been highlights:

Howard fixed our water and sewer issues Monday night because he is sooo tenacious, and because damn, who wants to use honeybuckets and haul water again? Not us. He worked and worked and flushed that fucking ice out of the line like nobody’s business. He even Cloroxed the tub and toilet afterwards. I KNEW I married him for some reason other than the big rock, and dimples.

Dusty barged into my office and yelled “CHRISSY!”, scaring me so bad, I nearly pissed myself, barely allowing me to even stand upright before wrapping me in his arms. God, I missed the hell out of him! I’ve gotten lots of hugs like that this week. They will NEVER get old.

And the best? Reading Tess’s W-2 post. I missed the hell out her too! It’s good to be back with my snark buddy. Minus all the assholes, it’s damn good to be home.

Feb 6

Today it was back to work for Howard and myself. Yesterday upon our return, we did a “walk-through” of the store to critique the relief manager’s work and he didn’t do too bad. However, we are perfectionists and of course, never fully satisfied with anyone’s work but our own. (okay, that whole “we” thing is really mostly “I”) The rest of the day was spent unpacking and, setting up “alternative methods” of using the toilet. You know? This is a time when I’m REALLY REALLY happy that I can use what I learned from not having running water in our Bering Sea village. I’m also more relaxed with it and less grossed out. Okay Josh, stop me, I’m giving way too much information again, aren’t I?

Last night, Howard drank a few beers and watched the Super Bowl gleefully giddy watching the Steelers beat the Seahawks (who beat our beloved Panthers two weeks ago!), and after the game, I looked over at him and he was completely pale and told me he felt nauseous. Now, I know Howard has had his share of health problems this past year but this man NEVER gets nauseated. He was suddenly so weak, he could barely get off the couch without my help. I got him into bed, and laid with him for a while, secretly panicked inside, scared to death. He’s never acted this way before, aside from his dizzy spells and low blood sugar episodes. I also realized how many times this has happened to me and it’s been a lot. I wondered if he ever got this panicky when he had to take care of me like that. Then I wondered why EVERYTHING seemed to be throwing me into a panic lately. Not even a fabulous trip to Europe and an epiphany at the Vatican could cure me of my anxiety, apparantly. When I finally heard his signature snores, I left the room to calm myself down. Today, he’s feeling fine, and laughed when I told him how it freaked me the fuck out last night. (though we never found out what actually made him sick) I also asked him if he ever got like that when I’ve gotten sick and he surprised me by saying “God yes, it scares the hell out of me. Even after 15 years together, the thought of you being sick and something happening tears me up.” I was a bit relieved to hear that, however, he did say that those thoughts are just that, they don’t morph into full on panic about everything else like mine. Well FUCK, and here was beginning to think I was normal.

Aaaaaanyway, it seems like everyone is happy that we’re back and that we’ll be staying in this village for a while. I’m up to my armpits in fiscal year end stuff, and it may take me weeks to get back to my perception of “normal” but at least I don’t have THAT to worry about.

I also managed to catch up on all my reading assignments for my class tonight, (Did I mention I’m taking classes through UAF?) including three comparison thesis statements. Go me. I work MUCH better under pressure.

Full vacation recap coming as soon as I can make some headway with work and home related stuff. Hopefully the sewage problem will be fixed tomorrow. Apparantly I was being way too kind to myself to assume that I was the only one in town that had a frozen sewer line due to the extremely cold conditions. Hell, there was even an article in the Anchorage Daily News about it. Go read it and enjoy some coherant writing that actually makes some sense.

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