Seward: Mount Marathon

Derek and I just got back from an absolutely wonderful trip around Alaska. I can’t put into words how grateful and thankful we are to get to have this time and the resources to go on this trip. I will be writing a bit on those travels in the coming days and weeks, but today I wanted to focus on one specific circumstance.

Seward, Alaska is easily our favorite town in this grand state, and so when we planned our summer travel, Seward was one of our first stops. We spent 3 days in Seward and one of those days we were able to observe Seward’s 4th of July festivities, which include a 5k race. It’s not just any race – it is a 5k that has a 3,022 foot elevation gain. The fastest time ever run was 41:26, which is insane. (For some perspective: the current world record for a 5k is 12:37. Which is nuts as well). The runners run up and down a mountain and it is hard. They finish bloody and muddy and exhausted. And it’s awesome. (Read more about it here).

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The Mount Marathon race includes a junior race, a women’s race, and a men’s race. One fun little activity that they hold is also a “mini-marathon”, where they put race bibs on little kids and let them run the first 200 or so meters of the start of the race and the crowd cheers wildly. It’s really adorable. They do the mini marathon about 10 minutes after the women’s race has begun.

The kids got out of the start fast and we cheered and clapped and then the noise died down. People started walking away or turning to each other and chatting as we expectantly waited for the top women to return from the top of Mount Marathon. But then a little flutter of noise began to erupt from the crowd and people started clapping and cheering again. I turned to Derek and asked what they were clapping for. He pointed back to the start line.

A little girl who couldn’t have been more than three or four was still participating in the mini marathon. She was wearing a Belle costume and was assisted in her run by a walker, her mother, and leg braces. Each step was clearly laborious to her. She was trying with all her might to do that mini marathon even though her peers had long finished.

The best part – the crowd went wild. We cheered and clapped and yelled encouragement. People cheered just as hard for her as they did for everyone else, even for the top finishers of the race. As I clapped I felt my throat get tight as I thought about the beauty of it all.

This moment encapsulated what I love about running, and about people. There are no tryouts and you can’t get cut from the team. Everyone can participate. You don’t have to be fast, but you can be, and that’s okay too. Running teaches us that we can do hard things and that when we do, we will have people cheering for us on the sidelines.

The runners really fought in the Mount Marathon race and it was incredibly beautiful to watch. I will write more later about watching the race because it was so much fun to see and to celebrate people running such a difficult race. I love watching the ends of races no matter the distance because I just think it’s a beautiful triumph. They showed immense courage and fortitude and it inspired me to no end.

But I have to say that I think the person who showed the most courage that day was a little girl in a Belle costume who conquered the mini marathon.

Summer Solstice

Prior to moving to Alaska I have literally zero recollection of giving a hoot about Summer Solstice. One beautiful thing about Fairbanks is that the community celebrates Summer Solstice with gusto. I was so grateful Derek came back from Korea in time to participate in the events and that we got to share them together. Summer has always been my favorite season and I love discovering summer in Alaska together.

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Was this photo taken at midnight or the middle of the day? We may never know.

Here are some of the Summer Solstice activities we have been up to lately…

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Post Midnight Sun Run. This was 11:15 pm.
  1. The Midnight Sun Run. I am a sucker for any fun run and this was a 10k that started at 10 pm at night. There were over 3,000 runners signed up, which for Fairbanks is a pretty big deal. I am not sure how many states were represented, but the last I heard is that it was in the 40s. I saw people with shirts from all over the US, including Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where I went to school (Go Fighting Illini!) The sun was out the entire time, and when we left to go get Taco Bell afterwards it was still completely light out.
  2. The Midnight Sun Festival. It was like Taste of Chicago for all you midwestern readers (mom and dad), except Alaskan, so weirder. There was food, ice cream, and tents selling everything you could imagine, including fidget spinners. I loved walking around on a crowded street with a lot of people, and also running into friends!
  3. Fishing. Prior to this past week my experiences with fishing were one time fishing Processed with VSCO with c1 presetoff the dock of my friend’s lake house in Wisconsin using hot dogs as bait. When my colleague from work reached out and invited me to go fishing, I was really looking forward to it. We went out on a lake near where Derek and I live and it was really enjoyable to me! I had a great time spending time with her and even cooked some of the rainbow trout we caught that night. I absolutely love getting to know people in Alaska and hearing their stories and hearing about life here beyond the military community, and I am really grateful to her for taking time to teach me about life here. People in Alaska have the absolute best stories. I swear NPR is missing out.

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While sometimes the constant light can get annoying, I am trying to soak it up all I can. I know we won’t live here forever and it’s really special getting to live in a place of such extremes, even if that does mean extreme light and extreme dark.

Solstice for me has been a time of connection. We have connected with other people and our community in unique ways, whether it be through fishing or a fun run. I am so thankful for the sun that brings people out of their homes and for opportunities to connect with local culture and enjoy the solstice.

A Love Letter to Derek’s Watch

While Derek was in Korea, it was often running I turned to when I felt lonely or sad or just existentially funky. When Derek left, aside from leaving a giant chasm in my heart (kidding, kind of) he also left his big clunky Garmin watch that he bought for runs with his team when he was in college.

The Garmin was on the counter right where he’d left it and it kept catching my eye. One day I decided to put it on. The watch was far too big for me and wobbled around on my wrist no matter how tight I strapped it, and sometimes held charge poorly. Nevertheless, I took it out for a test run.

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Behold, the Garmin itself.

I gained a strange sense of comfort running with his Garmin watch. It felt good to know that the watch sliding around on my skinny wrist had once sat securely on his, accompanying him and his track teammates or just him alone on many a run through the suburbs of Chicago. It made me feel connected to him, doing something he loved with the watch that had so faithfully kept track of his runs for so long.

The longer he was gone I started to find myself wearing the Garmin even when I wasn’t running, a tangible symbol of connection and closeness when he was so far away. And in a weird way it really helped. If I couldn’t be with Derek or talk to him very much, at least I could be doing something that he loved and holding something of his with me. I’d find myself subconsciously touching it, wiggling it around and thinking of him.

Military life brings with it many difficulties, including extended times separation and minimal communication. At times it is just plain hard, and I don’t want to paint the picture that just playing with Derek’s watch made it all hunky dory. But it did remind me of some truths I could hold onto when the hard stuff felt really hard.

So, dear Garmin watch, this one’s for you. Thank you for reminding me that Derek and I can be connected even when we are apart. During this absence a dear friend of mine encouraged me that God can still grow people together in marriage even when physical distance separates them. In its own strange little way, the Garmin reminded me of that. But now for now, he is home, and to quote an oft quoted Derek-ism, “all is well with the world”. I am so thankful.

The Tale Of My Brave Little Plants

Hello, everyone! It’s me, Sarah! The world’s very worst blog writer! (Note: I reject the term “blogger” because it gets caught in your throat in a weird way when you say it and I don’t like that feeling. It’s just me. I’m strange. So blog writer it is).

One unique thing about summer in Alaska is the immense amount of sunlight. While in the winter we were down to 3.5 hours of daylight at the darkest, now we are experiencing the exact opposite. The sun “sets” after midnight and even when it does set it’s just kind of a sad little gray. No darkness.

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Check out that sunrise and sunset time. Oh yeah.

Despite our summers being short (summer runs end of May until September), the immense amount of sunlight means that gardening is super popular. Alaskan produce is known for growing quickly and some produce can become enormous.

Towards the end of the school year I decided it was time for me to join in on the fun despite 1) having no experience gardening and 2) having no idea what I was doing. So I diligently planted my little seeds and faithfully watered them every day. I sent pictures of the sprouts to my parents and in-laws. (I have no kids or pets. Can you tell?) I was so excited! When I was about to take a trip out of town I realized I had no one to water my little seeds. So I put them in the gracious care of a kind friend who offered to water them for me and I left them at her house. Apparently, seed-plants can go into shock when they leave their house and despite her valiant efforts they did not make it. (It was not her fault. She is an excellent plant babysitter). But the story doesn’t end there.

I took my little seed cells back and put them in my garage to throw away. I had  given up on them because by all accounts they were completely dead. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had put them by my trash can right underneath a window that receives a lot of sun. Today when I went into my garage again to take out the trash, lo and behold…

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My sweet peas and oregano are going strong! They were right next to the trash but still refused to accept defeat. A living picture of resilience. It was such a picture of hope to me. There was a poem buried deep in those little seeds and it came right out without any help or effort from me. How beautiful. It was my own tiny miracle and it was truly wonderful. No matter that some of my plants didn’t make it, these few did and that’s okay by me.

I don’t want to overdo it by talking about metaphors too much and beating the beauty of the story out by talking too much, so I think I will leave it at that.

But I do hope that these plants are a brilliant metaphor for this Alaskan summer.

Top Things We Miss About the Lower 48

Because we live in a Buzzfeed world, and as a Type A firstborn I find list making gratifying beyond belief, I thought I would do a two part series of things we miss and love about our little Alaskan life. This is Part 1, things we miss. I am someone who always picks bad news before good news when proffered the choice, so let’s start with what we miss. Disclaimer: these are minor annoyances. I do not want to take a tone of complaining or sounding ungrateful, because I don’t think that’s healthy and it is really not an attitude I want to cultivate. Any complaints are meant to be humorous in nature and really are not that bad.

  1. Target. This would be more me than Derek. (Duh). I had no idea I could miss that big, beautiful, Eden of relatively inexpensive home decor and clothing and everything else I need in life so badly. On the plus side, our budget has been thankful for this development. Now I am not walking out of Target with 3 candles and a banner from the dollar aisle that reads “blessed” that I just had to have. You know. One time I even found myself missing the smell. I am like a clingy ex-girlfriend who just cannot let go. Oh Target, shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
  2. Chili’s. I know, I know. The mediocre chain restaurant where Michael Scott once held the Dundies. I’m just as surprised as you are. This one is more Derek than me. I cannot even count how many times he has said, “I just wish we had Chili’s…” and gotten a mournful look on his face as he gazes into the distance,  kind of like the face you make when you have eaten the last Girl Scout cookie or finish a series on Netflix. There is something to be said for a reliable, mediocre, somewhat delicious chain restaurant. (In one low moment he told me he’d even settle for Applebee’s. We won’t discuss that lapse of judgment here).
  3. Amazon Prime actually taking 2 days. Moment of silence. Sometimes Amazon Prime shipping takes two weeks or more. (I kind of feel like a privileged brat saying this, but it was an expectation adjustment). One good thing was, I realized that it actually didn’t matter whether or not I got my cast iron skillet in a week or 10 days. I couldn’t control it, and it eventually got to me. These are lessons in patience, and also being grateful to even be able to buy things online. Some people don’t have that luxury, and it is a luxury.
  4. Chick-Fil-A. I don’t even know what else to say. The lemonade. The perfectly fried
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    Me with the Chick-Fil-A cow my senior year of college. You just can’t fake that kind of joy.

    chicken. The waffle fries. It is the food of the gods. I’m pretty sure I could make a top 10 list (or 100? too much?) of things I miss exclusively about Chick-Fil-A. #mypleasure

  5. The city of Chicago. Granted, I totally did NOT take advantage of having one of the world’s greatest cities at my fingertips and now regret that choice. (Sry Chicago). There was always the option of “going downtown” when all else failed. I cannot tell you how much I regret not going to Cubs games or concerts downtown in the name of “staying home”. Laaaame. Especially in winter in Fairbanks it can be challenging not having a vast array of urban activities at one’s fingertips.
  6. Short winters, and spring/fall. Lol. It is currently April 14 as I write this and brown crusty snow still stubbornly remains on the ground. Buh bye.
  7. Friends and family. Our parents could book a trip to Paris from Chicago and get there 1) more cheaply and 2) more quickly than they could get to us in Alaska. This is really hard. It’s hard missing out on life events of siblings, friend’s weddings, and the simple things like grilling out together and going to church. It is also hard watching your friends back home hang out and not being able to be part of that.
  8. Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza.
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    Enjoying the sweet, sweet taste of Lou Malnati’s at our wedding rehearsal dinner. Young and in love, with pizza and each other.

    Like Chick-Fil-A, this is deserving of its own list. Where to start? The perfect buttery crust? The perfect marriage of cheese and tomato sauce? There were countless nights in Wheaton when we were stumped about what to do for dinner and would look at each other, share knowing glances, and jump in the car and drive 20 minutes to Naperville where there was a Lou Malnati’s restaurant. Lou Malnati’s was served at our rehearsal dinner. We love Lou’s so much we even refer to Lou as if he is our friend, by his first name. Lou 4 ever.

All in all, like I stated above, these are minor things. We have what is important to us, which is each other, a church family, community, and a cozy little home. We both have completely fallen in love with Alaska and are so grateful for our life here. And like Walt Whitman once said, (since I can’t seem to write a post without quoting poetry, sorry), “we were together. I forget the rest.”

Cold

Now that winter is over (ish, sorry if it starts snowing today and I jinxed it), I decided I want to think about the cold. One of the most extreme things about living in Alaska is obviously the winters. Not only can temperatures dip below -50 Fahrenheit, but there is also the matter of darkness. On the darkest of days there is daylight for around 3.5 hours, but it’s hardly what we might call daylight. Rather, the sun hovers on the horizon in a nearly constant state of dusk.16700365_10154379073168634_8303843053106982672_o

Safe to say, I was very scared of this weather before we moved. I have never been someone who loves winter and I always feel more like myself in warm and sunny weather. In Chicago I would constantly whine about the cold and send pouty snapchats with the temperature filter on to garner sympathy. (Now I laugh at myself. I complained at single digit temperatures. Ridiculous.)

There is a poem by a modern day spoken word poet named Sarah Kay titled “If I Ever Have a Daughter” that went viral a few years ago from a Ted Talk. The poem is average, a little cheesy for me, but there’s a line in it that says, “sometimes getting the breath knocked out of you is the only way to reminds your lungs how much they like the taste of air”. That line is the best way I can describe what it feels like to be outside when it’s -30 (or more). Your eyes suddenly feel dry, the air is sharp and cold, and it’s a physical shock to the system. And you remember how much you like not feeling like that.

But it also completely grabs your attention, and that’s something I like about the cold. It is like the irritating person who you can’t help but pay attention to because they demand your ear saying, “listen to me right now, I have something to tell you.” And so I started to listen to the cold, and a funny thing began to happen. I learned from something I didn’t really want to learn from.

One beautiful thing about winter in Alaska is that there is hardly any wind. Unlike Chicago where the wind and lake effect in certain areas can feel like a million small icy knives stabbing you at all times, the cold here is more still. It honestly does not feel that bad. The cold and stillness combined create a really peaceful effect. At times in winter when it was light out and I was outside, I felt like I was disturbing something. The nature was so still and quiet, I felt that surely my presence was ruining something beautiful. Every branch on every tree was completely still and completely covered perfectly in snow and it was lovely. I don’t even like winter and it took my breath away. Beauty lies even in things that we may have despised our whole lives. (This is also a miracle because I am not an outdoorsy person. Until now my favorite part of being outside is either 1) the beach or 2) dinner al fresco. I would never describe myself as adventurous in any way.)

Cold is neither good nor bad – it’s cold. Sometimes it feels awful and horrible and I want it to leave. It’s draining and exhausting and I don’t want to go through the immense effort necessary to sustain life in this cold. (For example: plug in my car, worry that it won’t start, try to push a grocery cart across a parking lot completely covered in inches of ice that won’t budge, wear snow boots exclusively for 3+ months straight). But I was shocked to see that there were things I liked about the winter here, and I am grateful for that.

After people ask about the cold and I tell them about it, oftentimes people respond to me with, “I could never do that,” and a shake of their heads. But here today, I would like to tell you that you could. You absolutely could. I am honestly the last person on earth I thought could remotely like cold. And I don’t love it. But there are good things about it. God in his goodness does not ever place us anywhere that he is not and he teaches us through it all. So cold, I learn from you. (And I am happy that you are gone for a while.)

From Alaska, with love.

“What’s it like living in Alaska?”

Well hello there, blog world.

I feel like starting a blog in many ways is like starting a term paper. It’s a little bit nerve wracking and daunting and unknown. You don’t know where or how to start, but once you get an idea and run with it the words just kind of all fall out there. I have been thinking of writing about our adventures and journey here for a while and I decided it was time to bite the bullet. Here we are.

“What’s it like living in Alaska?” is a question that both my husband and I get a lot, but it’s a really hard one to answer. How do you put into words one of the most life-changing, beautiful, stretching, growing, extreme experiences you’ve ever had? And I’m only 9ish months into our adventure here.

I guess this blog is my attempt to answer that question. Since it’s hard to answer in a sentence or two, I would like to show you. I am an English teacher by trade, and I want to devote my life to the study of the written word. Words and stories are two of my favorite things, and a vital part of the fabrics of our lives. I want to do my best to preserve and capture this season that God has given us here and also share it with those we love dearly.

Today my answer to that question, “what’s it like living in Alaska?” is this: it’s something I’m thankful for. Somehow God saw fit to take a girl who typically despised the cold and hates change and plop her right down in North Pole. Here I am trying to grow and learn. And both of those things I have done.

I want to use this space to share our life here. There is so much beauty and wonderfulness in this Alaskan life, and there is so much Alaska has taught me. In many ways I think of Alaska almost as a person, a person who has silently taught me so many things about life and myself that I had no idea I needed to learn.

I am not quite sure what this blog will look like just yet, but I know that I love stories. I think stories are critically important and I really want to remember what we thought and felt in this season of life. I think this blog will be a revelation of love stories: me and God, me and Derek, and also me with Alaska. The last listed is the most surprising love story I could’ve imagined, but it is one nonetheless and one I enjoy wholeheartedly.

Will you join us? I can promise stories and Alaska and whatever comes beyond and those three combined are quite a trio. Thanks for coming along.