Catching breath


This spring/summer has been interesting so far. Both of us have been struggling with depression. I got a chest cold that turned into several weeks of chest tightness, with what feels like asthma flareups but may only be allergies. Regardless, it has inhibited our activity level. Vacation is coming up and we are both eager for it, for a break to finish regrouping and refreshing in the sun. At least, we’re praying for sun!


Even with the emotional lows and the energy lags, this time has been good. Good conversations with friends and family. Good rest together. Good time in the sun, when it’s out. And of course, Crab Fest!  


We’ve been working through thoughts on various minor and not so minor things. Hurting for aching loved ones. Starting to form plans to move (hopefully next summer). Buying a used car (because our Kia was falling apart). Talking about adoption again (now that our student loans are almost gone). Praying for our church’s pastoral search and wrestling with conflicting thoughts and feelings during the candidating process. 


Good things, hard things, encouragement and apathy. And then somehow it is June, vacation is coming, the island is turning green, the days are longer. We were surprised and blessed by a visit from my uncle. And we are still in good hands, still anchored fast, in this time of rest as in the time of stress. 

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Taste of Kodiak

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What is Kodiak like?  Like anywhere, you have to be here to understand, but here’s a brief picture.  We have a diverse population.  Lots of Coasties (Coast Guard) come and go, with some Navy folk.  Those military folks come from all around the country and have an ever changing influence on our community.  There are many fishermen, both locals and out of towners.  Some are here longterm and some come for a season, or a few seasons.  Fishing means canneries and Kodiak has several. They have increased our diversity, bringing in a large Filipino population.  There are also El Salvadorans, Samoans, Mexicans, Japanese, and periodically small groups of Ethiopians or Somalis or other nationalities.  Next there are the Alaska Natives, from several tribes.  The rest of us trickle in for a variety of reasons.

So cultural diversity, which usually means religious diversity.  And we have that.  Russian Orthodox, Catholic, and a variety of Protestant churches.  Many churches and church leaders actively cooperate with each other, and people from these diverse backgrounds work and play together.  One of the most beautiful things about Kodiak is fellowship that is shared between groups in the community. 

The town is small and the population is largely transient, so people form quick relationships and the community quickly welcomes and integrates newcomers.  They are plugged into jobs, church groups, local organizations, and the friendships help compensate for being far away from family.  It is a laid back place, where people commonly where Carharts, sweatshirts and Xtra-Tuff boots.  Habits from the lower 48 disappear quickly.  And since this is Alaska, people tend to be fairly independent, helpful, and outdoorsy.  Very outdoorsy.

It’s hard not to be outdoorsy here, the island practically begs you to get out and explore.  Small coastal mountains give way to larger mountains in the island’s interior.  The mountains hug the coast and are surrounded by beautiful forests.  There are birds and animals everywhere.  On a given day, you might see sea otters, Kodiak brown bears, bald eagles, orcas, sea lions, grey whales, and much more.  Our bears are large and scary, our deer are tiny and cute, our salmon run in every waterway, nature here is always awe inspiring.

People here may love hiking, hunting, fishing, kayaking, hocky (on a rink), but one way or another they are likely to be active.  And to spend time in boats.  We have a limited road system, most of the island can only be reached by boat or float plane, though one village is on the ferry route.  People often fly to Anchorage for medical appointments or shopping, or ferry to Homer then drive.  Both modes of travel are expensive, but at least you are off island for a bit.  This matters more for some than others. Kodiak inspires love or hate, few people think it’s just “okay.”  I certainly dont.  Kodiak is our home now and I love it.

Surprise! An Update!

Pic of kids All of my siblings together!

For those of you who were afraid we had dropped off the planet, never fear! We are still here! And much has changed since our last update. I am not sure where to start, or where this will end. It may end up being a series of updates. We will see.

I will start with February. In a three week period, we had a series of answers to prayer. Fred got a raise at work, which was very helpful, and he continues to learn and grow a lot in his job. I got a job on the medical-surgical floor at the hospital (didn’t start until April though). We found and moved to a cheaper apartment with wonderful landlords (we were blessed by our first landlord also). We found out that we were pregnant.

At the same time as these blessings were poured out, the hard things of life continued. My mom had a series of seizures in February, caused by high blood pressure from a cancer medication, that sent her to the neurological ICU for several days. She had been declared cancer free for the second time on Christmas Eve, 2012, but was on a cancer inhibitor to try and prevent further relapses. This backfired when the seizures occurred in the spring and it took a couple of months to get her blood pressure consistently into safe range.

May came, bringing relief from the nausea of pregnancy, an increase in energy, sunshine and longer days. I was loving my new job and learning more every day. Then I started spotting at 12 weeks gestation. Five days later we lost the baby, I bled too much and had a D&C on the first morning of week 13. Two days later we celebrated Mother’s Day. I continue to struggle with the hole left by this child that I never really met, but God has held us through this and continues to demonstrate His goodness to His children.

May was also the month when Mom started to have abdominal symptoms again. After six weeks of not being able to keep food down, after losing around 20 pounds, June brought a diagnosis of yet another return of cancer. Our hearts plummeted. She has a bowel obstruction that will most likely never resolve. She is on chemo again, a new-for-her chemo that she receives once a month. TPN (total parenteral nutrition) was restarted and Mom gained some weight back. Then, after two rounds of chemo, the pain began to get worse again. Mom was sent to the emergency room and we received a call that she was dying. Soon. This was two weeks ago. Fred and I flew down and family gathered. Thank God, her crash appears to have been caused by a urinary tract infection that is responding well to antibiotics. However, her oncologist has said that she probably has only weeks to months left to live. Fred is back at work in Kodiak. One of my brothers and his wife are leaving tomorrow for work on the east coast. I am planning to leave later this week, depending on how Mom does in the next few days. Our family is still trying to process our new reality. Dad is the primary caregiver and is running on empty. My youngest brother and sister and about to start their sophomore and senior year of high school. Since they are home schooled, I will help Dad get their curriculum in order before I leave. Today we are talking to hospice. Though this is an exceedingly difficult time, we continue to be blessed by the love and prayers of many people here and elsewhere.

One summer highlight was a visit from Fred’s parents. Unfortunately it was cut short by Mom’s crisis and our abrupt departure. Even with the shortening, we had a good visit and enjoyed showing them around the island, introducing them to our friends, and just resting together. The stereotypes about in-law problems do not apply at all to our families! It is a joy to have two sets of parents who love us both dearly and are wholly supportive of us.

Currently we are functioning on a day-to-day basis. The future feels even more unknown that normal, as we are reminded just how little control we have of life. Even in the uncertainty, there are smiles and laughter. God has blessed us with an inordinate amount of sunshine this summer in Kodiak and Port Angeles. Time with family always means time of music, games and laughter. Fear lurks on the edges and tears are always just below the surface, but “I know Who holds tomorrow, and I know Who holds my hand.” There is comfort in the knowledge that our days are in His hands. God holds me, but He also holds my mom and dad, my siblings and grandparents. Even as the hard times roll over us like storms on the ocean, we are still in good hands. May you be filled with the same assurance as you go through this week!

Adjustments…

We’ve begun making adjustments to life here in Kodiak.  Some of these have already become outdated as the weather has warmed up some (mid-30’s instead of 2-20F).  Some are just part of being here.  We’ll start with wardrobe.  In San Diego, our standard wardrobe was shorts (for Fred) or lightweight pants/capris (for me), a t-shirt or tank top and flip-flops.  In Port Angeles/Sequim our standard dress was street shoes, jeans, t-shirt or long sleeve and sweatshirt or jacket.  That’s winter wardrobe, if you were wondering, though the only real difference between winter and summer dress on the Peninsula is that you switch to flip-flops in the summer.  And can sometimes wear capris or shorts.  Here in Kodiak they have had what we are assured is an unusually cold winter, with more snow than usual.  So up until this week our standard dress was thermal pants with jeans, wool socks and snow boots, long sleeve shirt or thermal shirt or both with a coat and often a sweater or sweatshirt as well, gloves, often a scarf and or hat.  Neglecting one of these items led to bitter lamentation and vows to never repeat the mistake.  Ice cleats were also growing popular in our daily preparations.  They fit nicely over the sole of your boot and keep you from imitating an Ice Capades routine on your walk to and from your car.  Since it has started thawing some, even if only temporarily, we have begun to ditch some layers, though the cleats still come in handy on walks.

Driving is another adjustment, though Fred has done most of it and handled it admirably.  In San Diego you deal with traffic.  On the Peninsula you occasionally have to be careful of hydroplaning, and sometimes mild traffic, but not much else.  Here we had the constant (until this week) ice everywhere, that gave us the fun of sliding through a stop sign and across one of the busiest streets, sliding past our turn multiple times, spending two days stuck in our parking space, you get the idea.  That said, our car and its driver have handled pretty well, comparable to most of the locals.  We also deal with “Rush Hour” around 6pm, when it takes us all of 8 minutes to get home from Safeway instead of 5 or 6. There is also the isolation.  If you want to get anywhere other than Kodiak, or the villages that share the island, you take a 4 hour plane ride to Anchorage or a 10 hour ferry ride to Homer and proceed from there.  Which is better than other places in Alaska that are only accessible by plane.

We’ve had to adjust to the cost of living, primarily with groceries.  A flat of apples will cost $10 or more.  Bananas might be 59 cents each.  A $5 footlong at Subway in San Diego or Washington is $7.50 here.  We go to the grocery store and cringe as we shop, paring our list down as we go.  However, we have been blessed with friends who gave us several meals worth of halibut, with family sending spices up in our shipment of belongings, and with an enjoyment of cooking from scratch, so this adjustment too is manageable.  On the note of shopping, there are 3 grocery stores in town, of various sizes, one small Walmart and several small, specialized stores.  A McDonalds, Subway (in Walmart and downtown), Starbucks (in Safeway) and KFC/Taco Bell represent the fast food industry.

We have been adjusting to a continually changing sleep pattern, as I have worked day shifts, then evening shifts, then night shifts and am now alternating between evenings and nights.  Fred adjusts some with me, so that both of us are tending to stay up late and sleep in, him until mid-morning, me until early afternoon.  Every few days it switches again, making for fun planning (“When are you heading to bed tonight?”  “Are you sleeping at home tonight or tomorrow?” “Do you want to run errands without while I’m asleep or wait until I’m up and do them during rush hour?”).  Fred has handled it well, making sure I get enough rest and keeping things running smoothly at home, while looking for a job too.

Speaking of Fred, we have been adjusting to being married, which is still novel in a lot of ways.  And wonderful.  We take care of each other and enjoy both the care and the caring.  God has been very good to us, showing Himself to be our provider again and again, as He gently laughs at our worry over the present and future.  “He did not bring us our this far to take us back again, He brought us out to take us into the promised land.”  Clinging to His promises, we continue to move forward, adjusting where needed as we go.

Our Journey to Kodiak – Part 5

Day 7-10 – January 12-14
Homer to Kodiak

The next day, our first day in Homer, we did nothing. We sat around, mostly in bed, watching TV, eating, almost sleeping, and a whole lot of not driving. It was wonderful. We had talked about going out and eating dinner at some restaurant we found, but when that time came around Jonelle wasn’t feeling so great. I, on the other hand, had energy to burn and had developed some restlessness and wanderlust after staying inside all day. So I decided to see what I could find and maybe bring something back for Jonelle.

I wandered down the road a little, but didn’t really find anything. I don’t know how far I went. I don’t think I went more than a mile (there and back). Regardless I called it quits after a little while of fighting to walk through 2 feet of snow (instead of walking in the road) against cold, snow blowing, wind. I headed back to my nice warm room and beautiful wife. We snacked on the food we already had for dinner and watched food channels, and had fun thinking about food we could be eating.

By 11am, Friday morning (the next morning), we had packed up the car and checked out of our room. We now had 10-11 hours to kill, waiting for our ferry. The ferry was originally going to depart at 1:30pm that day, but was delayed 12 hours and so would leave at 1:30am the following morning, with check in at 10pm or so.

So we set out to explore the town and occupy our time. We drove around a little, and went out to the Homer Spit, where the ferry terminal was, and wandered around in one of the open shops. The view from the spit was beautiful.

Homer Spit 1

The Spit in Homer, AK

Homer Spit 2

Shops and sunshine!

We drove back into town and hung out at the Starbucks in Safeway, where we were able to connect to the Internet and check and send some emails. After a little while we headed back out to the spit and drove around a little. We found a pizza restaurant at the edge of town, before really entering the spit. We decided to check that out and eat lunch there. We were also excited about the lighthouse right by the restaurant. As it turned out, it wasn’t a real lighthouse, but it was still nice.

Lighthouse 1

A Lighthouse!

After lunch we drove around some more. Are you noticing a pattern yet? Yeah, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, though mostly because we didn’t have a set place to park our car, or a place to stay other than shops and our car.

Anyway, while we were driving around we saw another moose! It was really exciting! We actually saw it a few times, as we drove back and forth. I started driving down other roads to see if we could get a better view of it —yeah, we’re tourists (kind of), fascinated by a moose (or at least I was). Jonelle laughed at me, to which I asked her what else we were going to do.

Moose 1

Moose! There's a moose! Take a picture of the moose!

Moose 2

There it is again! Did you get it?

After following that moose for a little bit, we pressed on to explore other parts of Homer. And what do you know, we found another moose! I love Alaska!

Moose Calf 1

We found another moose.

Moose Calf 2

Isn't he cute?

Moose Calf 3

Look at him eat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon other cars wanted to drive down the street we were stopped on, so we moved on. Guess what we did? That’s right! We drove around some more! Gosh this was getting silly. How much longer do we have? 6 hours?! We’re never going to leave!! AAAaagggghhh!

At one point we went over to the beach, parked the car and slept in the car for an hour or so. That was pretty nice. A little uncomfortable, but the rest was nice. We also got to watch a beautiful sunset.

Sunset

Sunset from Alaska

Other fun things we did to occupy our time include:

  • Trolling through some more shops.
  • Finding a starting bookstore, owned by a Russian family, that Jonelle and I have decided to visit again, someday, when we have money.
  • Finding some more moose, and following them around.
  • Watching the movie “The Adventures of Tintin” in 3-D! Where I impressed Jonelle by eating a pint of ice cream within the duration of the movie. (And then explained it wasn’t that impressive).
  • And, of course, driving aimlessly some more.

Finally, we decided to just head over to the ferry terminal and wait there for the duration of our time. We got there to find a mostly empty lot. We figured more people would probably start coming in a half hour or so. After a little while, people still weren’t coming. I noticed there were now people in the terminal building and decided to ask them about departure and checking in. I was there informed that the ferry had been delayed again and wouldn’t be leaving until 6am the next morning! Bah!

We were able to check in and sit in line until we had to check in for boarding at 5am. So we pulled up behind another vehicle already there, because I couldn’t figure out where “line 3” was in the vast blanket of snow on top of the lot. We then went to sleep as best we could.

At 5am we were able to board the ferry. We were so tired that we parked the car, checked in to get our key, found our room, brushed our teeth and went back to sleep. Ten hours later our ferry arrived in Kodiak. We were still tired, but found better rest in a bed than in the car. We packed up and headed out.

Now before this, when we where at the Starbucks in Homer, we looked up directions to the Comfort Inn, where we would be spending the night. We would be going southbound from the terminal, toward the airport, away from the city. Our directions described getting to our destination as basically being right there, by the airport, plain and easy to see. This was not the case.

Yes, the inn was right next to the airport, but rather hidden, unless you knew what you were looking for. Given this, Jonelle and I drove for an hour or so beyond the inn. We passed the airport, the coast guard, and what seemed to be all civilization on Kodiak. I was beginning to think that they just built a road to nowhere, just for kicks and giggles. I’m still not sure what’s out that way. We eventually gave up and turned around, because there was no way it would be out this far.

Sure enough, we had passed it. By 7pm we were able to check in at the Comfort Inn and sink into another wonderfully soft, comforting bed. We ate pizza we saved from Homer and watched some TV. We were so relieved at finally being in Kodiak, finally at our destination.

Our Journey to Kodiak – Part 4

Day 6 – January 11
Tok to Homer

As in Haines, waking up on land was wonderful, but we were still feeling the effects of being on a boat. That morning we went to the Fast Eddy’s restaurant for breakfast (which is were we checked in and out for our room). The food there was amazing! So much that I was going to tell the waitress someone should give the cook a hug. This could have been exaggerated some, given our lack of very many warm meals through this journey and tiredness. Regardless the food was really good and I left a comment about this in their comment box.

Today we were going to make it to Homer, or at least try. This journey would be a little more than 200 miles longer than the journey from Haines to Tok. We packed up, said our prayers and headed out.

Off to Homer

Off to Homer

The journey was pretty straight forward: drive forever. Driving was pretty nice and quiet. We listened to some Redwall books on audio, talked, Jonelle called home and some other people while cell reception was available, and we just kept driving along. After some time I saw a moose! That was probably one of the most excited I got driving along. I was so happy. Before that we had seen many bald eagles, and started keeping track of animals we saw along the way (sans ravens which we weren’t too interested in). A little while longer I saw another moose! This was turning out to be an amazing day!

We continued driving along and found a few more animals. A little ways down the road there was a porcupine crossing the road. I had never seen a porcupine in the wild before, and lo and behold here it was crossing the road. Luckily I didn’t hit it. It was an interesting thought process as I approached it though, “What is that? It looks like a small bunch of a brier. But it’s moving. What is that? It’s a porcupine! Look Jonelle! A porcupine!” We also saw a white rabbit cross the road. The thought process was similar, except I already knew what this was, “Ooh look a rabbit! Jonelle look at the bunny! There is a rabbit crossing the road! Look!” Yeah, it didn’t take a lot to make me excited. In all, for our trip so far, we saw 3-4 moose (I only saw 3), 1 porcupine, 1 rabbit, 13 bald eagles, and a bunch of ravens (I think they’re ravens).

We finally made it to Palmer, where we filled up our gas tank and then kept driving along. I mention this as Palmer was the first area that we saw a decent number of people driving here and there. Up until this point we might see some one every once in a while, but now there were scores of drivers all around us. It was kind of a nice break to the lonely drive we’ve had so far, but at the same time I did enjoy not having to worry about what some other driver is going to do.

Palmer is apparently the unofficial capital of Matanuska Valley, which is something of a government experiment. It was created to be an agricultural center and the government brought over farmers from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota to start up an agricultural community in the Matanuska Valley. While the plan didn’t work right away, descendants of these families stayed and found their niche. Palmer is now basically a giant farmer’s market for all the villages and towns around it. (According to our travel planner, “The Milepost 2011, 63rd edition”).

Going on, after making it through Palmer we made it to Anchorage. By this point I was tired and ready to be done driving for a bit. However, there were a billion people driving around in Anchorage. Unfortunately we got there around rush hour, and Anchorage is basically to Alaska as Los Angeles is to California. Jonelle and I decided right then and there that we never wanted to live in Anchorage. This may be unfair, but oh well. I know San Diego is really bad during rush hour, which is why I always avoid freeways during 3-7pm (as much as I can), and I love San Diego. Anyway, we made it out of Anchorage and I pulled over at one of the viewing points along the Knik Arm and we switched drivers.

Alaskan Peninsula

Outside Anchorage

Jonelle proceeded to drive for the next couple hours while I slept. It was wonderful to rest. It was also interesting to stare out the side window. After a while I was pretty alert again and rested enough to take over driving again, whenever Jonelle wanted to switch back. We changed drivers again a little ways out of Soldatna, on the side of the highway, and resumed driving.

We finally made it Soldatna. This was a wonderful relief, as we didn’t stop for food or anything in Anchorage, because we didn’t want to stop anywhere in or nearby Anchorage. So we pulled up to a gas station and filled the gas tank and went in the shop. It was wonderful to stretch out again. We got some junk food and hit the road again. By this point it was about 7pm and really dark, but we were so close to Homer and really just wanted to get there and not think about driving anymore, or about the impending storms my parents kept reading about and updating us on. So we pressed on for Homer.

As we went it did start snowing. By the time we were 50 miles out of Homer the roads were pretty bad. There were, however, other drivers out on the road, so I didn’t feel so bad at continuing on. By this point I was pretty much wholly focused on driving. I was going about 15 under the posted speed limit signs, at most. For a lot of this trek I found myself behind a semi-truck, but did eventually get around it. It was nice to know there was a truck on the road, and behind me. Then I could drive a little faster and if I got stuck, someone would be along soon.

Sometime around 9pm we finally made it into Homer. We were so ready to be done driving that we pulled into the first lodging we found, the Best Western Bidarka Inn. We parked the car and checked in to get a room. After checking in I wanted to move the car closer to our room and Jonelle wanted to start unpacking the car. So we set about our own projects. Mine didn’t work out so well as I got stuck in the snow after backing up a little ways out of the spot I was in.

I couldn’t move anywhere. I was about to attempt putting chains on the car when a cab driver offered to pull me out. So we got the tow rope out and hooked it up to the car. The cab driver then had to go do something, so I decided to make another attempt at moving. I was able to rock the car back and forth (drive and reverse, over and over) and eventually built up enough momentum to get the car going. I then kept going and quickly pulled into a spot and was done.

We were so tired and so happy to be done driving for a while and just relax for a couple days.