The Simple Year 6: Simple Living in Rural Alaska. A typical American Family doesn't buy anything new for one year, already weathered a few bumps, daddy deploys, a ninth birthday and a move 600 miles away.
The last couple of weeks have been hectic for my little family, and not just because we are quickly hurtling towards to birth of our first child. Cody and I have known for awhile now that we might not be able to stay in Pilot Point, our beloved little village, next year with the baby. The two big reasons this had been on our minds were the lack of childcare and the lack of medical care. Ultimately, these two things solidified our decision that we needed to make a change.
I have spent the last month or so discussing options with my school district because I really didn’t want to leave them. I had my sights set on our two larger villages because both have easy access to medical care and lots of other young teaching families with children. Around this same time, an administrative job as our school district’s Registrar/New Teacher Mentor opened up for next year. I applied for the administrative job too, but really didn’t think much of it because I knew LOTS of people were applying. Amazingly, the district offered me the administrative job! The new job will be relocating us to our school district’s main office, which is in Palmer, Alaska. Palmer is MUCH larger than Pilot Point (literally 100X the population size), is on the road system, and is less than an hour from Anchorage. This move is going to be a huge change for our family.
Somehow, in the middle of having a baby, Cody and I will be packing up our lives and moving to Palmer. It’s all still a little bit foggy at the moment because the timeline depends 100% on when baby arrives, and we all know babies don’t always arrive on their due date. However, moving in and out of a Bush village is always a humbling lesson in minimalism, as everything you own must be able to fit inside of 18-galloon totes. We will be downsizing, using up food/trying to eliminate our food waste, packing, and shipping like mad over the next few months. It should make for some interesting posts and a glimpse at a way of moving that is extremely non-traditional.
One of the things I have been making sure that I make time for this year is a routine of mindfulness on Sundays, which helps me start my week on a positive note. For me, this means finding a cozy spot, sitting down with a cup of something tasty (tea, hot cocoa, coffee – whatever sounds delicious), and filling out my weekly planner.
I briefly mentioned in my other recent post about mindfulness that I have been using the Commit30 Planner since the beginning of January this year. It has really been a lifesaver for me in terms of taking time to organize my weeks and reflecting on what important tasks need to be accomplished. I am also one of those people who thrives off of routine, so having a set routine for planning helps me a lot.
Finding a spot you love to be is important in mindfulness, in my opinion. I love working at our dining room table. That area of our house is decorated with many of my favorite pieces and we have a large window by our table that overlooks Loon Lake. It’s a very peaceful scene and it puts me in the mindset of getting work done. Pairing my favorite spot with a favorite beverage is just an added bonus.
In my Commit30 Planner there is a place for yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. The yearly goals I filled out immediately upon starting my planner for the year because it helped me map out my year. My goals were:
Physical Health: Plan to walk/jog with the dogs for at least 30 minutes each day.
Mental Health: Do research about postpartum depression and discuss a plan with my doctor and Cody. (This one I’m hoping I don’t end up needing, but I also realize PPD impacts many, many women and I want to be prepared.)
Marriage: Cook at least one meal together with Cody each week and have a sit down dinner at the dining room table.
Family/Friends: Update the baby book and baby pictures monthly in order to send out updates to family and friends.
Pure Joy/Fun: Go on one camping trip with Baby Middleton this summer.
Adventure/Travel: Travel to one “bucket list” place in Alaska this year.
Spiritual Health: Do one “me” time activity each day that is 100% unplugged from technology – go for a walk, do yoga, read a chapter in a good book, bake something sweet, etc.
Personal Growth: Choose and apply to a master’s program to begin in 2019.
Career: Do one thing to further my career this year – volunteer for a new committee, take a class, attend a conference, apply for a promotion, etc.
Home: Clean the house for at least 20 minutes every day.
Community: Volunteer at one new community event this year.
Finances: Completely pay off all credit card debt (getting very close on this one!).
As you can see, I tried to make measurable goals with set timelines. Some are more open-ended, but for the most part I tried to set a period of time and/or how often I would try to incorporate my goal into my routine.
I also made monthly goals for myself using my planner. Each month there is a main goal with six action steps listed below. So, for example, this month’s goal looks like this:
Monthly Goal: Prepare for maternity leave at work.
Action Step – Update all grading
Action Step – Print all student standards
Action Step – Make updated pacing guides for the rest of the year
Action Step – Send FMLA paperwork to HR
Action Step – Create a shared Google Drive for substitute teacher
Action Step – Talk with parents/community about plan for leave
So far, I’ve accomplished many of my action steps. I’m still working through updating my pacing guides, creating the Google Drive folder, and the FMLA paperwork. I use my weekly goals section, which is built into the daily planner area, to map out which specific action steps I am focusing on for the week.
It gives me a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to plan out my time in this way. It also helps me see which days 0f my week need to be more focused on accomplishing tasks and which allow for more down time with my family. If you’re someone like me who craves routine and consistency, a weekly mindfulness and organizational routine like this might be perfect for you to try.
It’s been a long time since I posted Cleaning Out My Closet: Part 1, but for a relatively good reason. I don’t have a good way to ship donated clothes in or out of my village, so I signed up to receive a free donation bag in the mail from ThredUP. Or so I thought. After waiting for a couple of weeks and not receiving a bag in the mail, I finally talked to customer service and was informed that they wouldn’t send a bag to my village. To circumvent this little issue, I instead had it sent to my mom’s house and then she mailed it to me. It was kind of a hassle and I’m still not sure why they wouldn’t send it here, but it is still the easiest way I’ve come up with to donate clothes.
Once the bag arrived via a care package from my mom, things were easy enough. The bag that they sent was very large and conveniently packaged in a relatively small envelope. The directions were very clear, which I think will make sending it back very easy.
I had a rather large stack of clothes that I had boxed up at the beginning of my pregnancy when things started to not fit (Note: the top three boxes are clothes that people have sent me since getting pregnant that didn’t fit). I made the decision at that time to make some donations and keep some things that I thought I might want after pregnancy. I obviously have no idea what my size/measurements will be after all is said and done (although, I’ve only gained 5lbs so far, so I am hopeful my old stuff will fit again eventually), but I also didn’t want to get rid of everything. I ended up choosing things that I didn’t wear much pre-pregnancy to donate and then keeping the rest for now.
I also made a small pile of non-name brand clothing or stuff that was a little more worn, which I think I’ll give to a couple of the young girls in my village. I’ve given away clothes to some of my students before and they’ve always really enjoyed getting things as little gifts from me.
I packed up the bag and still had a surprising amount of room, so I decided to wait to send it. I’m hoping to convince Cody to go through some of his stuff and maybe examine my shoe collection as well. Once the bag gets a little fuller I plan to mail it off to ThredUP.
All in all, the process wasn’t too difficult. If I didn’t live in the literal wilds of Alaska it would have been 100x easier. Once I figured out that they wouldn’t ship here it was no big deal to get it sent to my mom’s house. She sends us care packages fairly frequently and it was very tiny and easy to add to one of her already scheduled shipments.
One of my goals when I took over this blog was to investigate mindfulness. I’ve always considered myself a fairly mindful person, but I knew that in this new season in my life (which was originally the season of this blog) that I wanted to take time to appreciate life, slow down, and focus on people and experiences more. Once I found out that I was expecting my first child though, my perspective changed drastically.
Some of you may have noticed my blog silence the last two weeks, and I promise that was not intentional. This pregnancy has made me turn inwards in a way that I hadn’t expected. As I entered the third trimester I’ve found myself suddenly wholly focused on baby, and perhaps a little overwhelmed. The absence from writing was just an unintentional consequence of that.
I’ve started to revisit the topic of mindfulness in my life though and it made me realize that I work best and feel better when I am organized and prioritizing. I ended up ordering a planner from Commit30 in an effort to bring myself back into a better state of organization. I’ve been loving having the planner because it has monthly and weekly goals, space for specific vision mapping, plenty of writing space, and motivational quotes. It’s been a godsend to my general mental health and has really helped me prioritize baby stuff and still focus on the other important aspects of my life (like blogging for you wonderful readers!). I’ll probably dedicate a whole post to how I use this planner and my successes and challenges.
As I revisit this topic and become more focused on the reorganizing of my life, it has given me much to think about. Mindfulness means something different to everyone. To me, mindfulness is a state of awareness that allows you to look inwards to realize your goals, dreams, and feelings. To me, mindfulness is self care. These things have all been evolving for me over the last 7.5 months as I adjust to the idea of motherhood and all of the changes that my life will soon be undertaking. As these changes happen, I hope to do more posts on this topic, as it is something that has become a strong focus in my personal life. I can’t wait to share more with all of you.
In my last post I mentioned that we started getting bi-weekly boxes from the Alaska Food Network (AFN). These boxes are full of goodies – fruits, veggies, herbs, spices, coffees/teas, etc. It’s been a great service for us for the last six weeks and we plan to continue it. As we’ve started getting these boxes though, our meal planning has definitely changed a bit. We’re not used to having access to so many fresh foods in the winter, but now we can actually count on having them on hand!
Every week I make a meal plan and post it on this little dry erase board near our kitchen. I don’t usually post expectations (for example – Monday we will have tacos) because Cody and I do like a little bit of flexibility in our meal planning. We use these plans as more of a guideline and basis of creating meals. It also helps us make sure that we use up foods that we know that we need to use up before they go bad too.
However, when our first produce box arrived we realized that we were definitely going to have to start making some adjustments. The picture I posted above was a meal plan I created shortly before our first box showed up. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, so I hadn’t factored in any of our new foods. I pretty much only planned to use fresh carrots and sweet potatoes because I already had those on hand from a previous trip to Anchorage. When the box arrived though, I was surprised with the quality and how nice everything was, so I had to switch a few things up. Here’s a look at how our meals changed:
Blue Cheese & Spinach Frittatas —> I was able to add lots of sweet potatoes and fresh spinach to this meal instead of a minimal amount of sweet potatoes and frozen spinach.
Chicken Bacon Ranch Sandwiches and Sweet Potatoes —> I added fresh spinach to our sandwiches and used the regular potatoes that came in our box to make home fries instead of using sweet potatoes. (Plus, I used up the sweet potatoes in the frittatas the night before.)
Vegetable Soup & Homemade Bread —> I ended up pretty much scratching this meal and making stir-fry with the fresh veggies instead. We’ve had plenty of vegetable soup with canned veggies this winter, but had both been craving stir-fry made with actual fresh veggies. It was a good swap and we didn’t waste any of the veggies.
Salmon Patties —> I ended up scratching this meal from our plan altogether. I am able to easily make it without any fresh foods, so I thought I’d save it for a week when we were low on fresh stuff. We ended up having tacos instead and Cody made fresh salsa using the ingredients we’d gotten in the mail. It was fabulous!
NYE Leftovers —> We did still finish these off, despite all of our other tasty arrivals. It was easy to spice them up with fresh ingredients though and it made eating the leftovers much more enjoyable.
As you can see, we still managed to use up things that we needed to use (like the NYE leftovers), but at the same time we got the chance to switch up some of our meals to incorporate all of these great fresh foods we’d received in the mail. Now that we know the AFN boxes are reliable, we are able to meal plan with them in mind in advance and that’s been super wonderful.
One thing that I always find difficult about living in rural Alaska is the lack of access to quality produce. Our village simply does not get anything fresh, except for the very occasional bag of potatoes or onions. During the summer/fall, Cody and I usually order produce boxes through The Farm Lodge, which is a small lodge and farming operation that operates out of Port Alsworth, Alaska (a neighboring village). We LOVE these boxes because The Farm Lodge is run by the same people that own Lake Clark Air, which is the airline we always use, so the boxes are relatively cheap. The downside is that they only deliver these boxes in the warm months. We have been waiting for a good option for winter produce for over a year, and we finally got one!
The Alaska Food Network (AFN) is a newer business that has started operating in our area. They will ship boxes filled with produce (Alaskan grown produce!) to communities all over the state. This is big deal because Full Circle Farms used to kind of hold the monopoly over this kind of produce delivery service in Alaska, but they wouldn’t deliver to our community because we didn’t meet the requirement for the minimum amount of people wanting boxes. We got our first produce box through AFN on 12/22 and were very satisfied with it.
The picture above shows what was in the first box and it only cost us $35! We do have to pay shipping to the airline, which is about $3.00/lb, so after shipping it was more like $65. We received our second box just yesterday, and we were super happy with it too. AFN allows you to customize your boxes, which I think is great for the purposes of reducing food waste. We can pick and choose exactly what we want. We also have the option to substitute things like coffee, bakery items, and fresh eggs into the boxes.
Now that we are getting all of these amazing fresh items, it’s been really changing my winter meal planning. I can suddenly add so many new meal items onto my weekly menu. It’s also allowed me to have a lot more healthy snacks on hand around the house, like hummus and veggies or pasta salad with fresh pasta. It’s been so, so wonderful!
Since becoming pregnant I have been having to travel back and forth to Anchorage quite a bit for appointments. During this time, I have pretty much mastered the art of packing light for the purposes of bush travel. I will say, packing light for bush travel does have some big differences from packing light for a quick weekend trip other places. Winter gear is probably one of the biggest (literally and figuratively) differences. Because we fly on small airplanes we are required to wear heavy winter gear – snow pants, winter boots, heavy coat, gloves, hat, scarf – in case we were to go down and need to survive outside until someone could rescue us.
Other than the winter gear, which I wear on the plane, my bag is pretty standard for the trip to Anchorage. For a three-day trip I usually bring:
1 pair of pants
1 pair of shoes
2 pairs of Darn Tough socks (I like these because they are warm and don’t get stinky easily!)
3 pairs of underwear
Tiny make-up bag
Phone + charger
Extra cloth bag with zipper for grocery shopping (essential because if I end up buying anything extra I need to be able to transport it on the airplane easily)
You might notice that this list is fairly small and my bag (pictured above) is very large. There is, however, a good reason for this. You see, we don’t have access to amenities in our home village, so going to Anchorage is like a holiday for our shopping needs. The bush airline that we fly with allows each passenger to have 50lbs of freight for free when they travel. I purposely bring this extra large suitcase and pack very light so that I can stuff it full of groceries and other necessities when I travel back to the village. I have pretty much mastered the art of guessing what 50lbs feels like, and this time was no different. When the airline placed my bag on the scale it read 50.6lbs. I was very proud of my precise packing skills!
I also had two large boxes of groceries shipped out to help replenish our food stock, but we usually have to wait a few days for those, so I packed all of the fresh stuff and anything I thought we might want right way into my suitcase. Cody is always surprised by how heavy my suitcase is when I return, and I do manage to pack everything in there tightly, but it is 100% worth it to not have to pay the $3.10/lb for those 50lbs of groceries. While I am a fan of packing light no matter where you are traveling, packing light for bush travel is especially important for the purpose of transporting things back to the village.
Earlier this year, I posted about how we have to stock up on food supplies to last us until Christmas because there are very limited resources out in our corner of Alaska. Now, as we near Christmas, we are definitely starting to feel the effects of getting low on food. Some items are easy to replace, like canned goods and dry goods because they can be ordered through Target or Amazon. Meat, dairy, frozen and fresh vegetables, and many other items cannot be shipped by simply ordering online though. We either have to pay a personal shopper or go back to town and restock. Judging by the state of our deep freeze, which was previously so packed we could barely open it, I’d say it is time to start looking into our next big trip.
In the meantime, we’ve been getting a little creative. Our meals keep getting more and more inventive, like these mini pot pies that I made last week.
While pot pie isn’t in itself a very inventive meal, we faced some unique challenges. First of all, I am completely out of flour and our shipment from Amazon hasn’t come in. Luckily, I had some crescent rolls in the fridge that we’d never used. So, I rolled the crescent roll dough out flat and sliced it into small squares. The second problem we ran into was the lack of vegetables. All we had was canned and we didn’t have any mixed veggies. So, I decided to make my own using a variety of canned veggies that I mixed up in a bowl.
Obviously, using this many cans made a TON of mixed veggies and we weren’t going to use them all up that quickly. I didn’t want to waste them though, so I decided to try freezing them in little individual-sized servings. I probably won’t attempt to just eat them plain, but I think they’ll work alright baked into things (like more pot pies – haha).
The pot pies themselves came out pretty tasty. I mixed the veggies with cream of mushroom soup, cheddar cheese, and various spices. Cody wanted meat in his so I added beef for him (usually we do chicken in his and faux-sausage crumbles in mine, but we are currently out of both). I did have a little bit of dough leftover too, so I rolled those into crescent roll shapes and stuffed them with a little leftover peppermint chocolate I had. After I baked them, I topped them with a little powdered sugar.
Overall, things turned out good, but we are definitely starting to feel the strain of needing to do our next big shopping trip. We’ve been buying more and more stuff at our local store, which I like to support, but when milk costs $20/gallon and bread is $10/loaf and they don’t carry 99% of what you need, it can get a little tricky. I’ll be excited to stock back up soon.
Earlier this week I found an article on the Apartment Therapy website titled These Are The 6 Types of Minimalists. Which One Are You? The six types they discuss are: aesthetic, essential, experiential, sustainable, thrifty, and mindful. The article itself is actually pretty funny, particularly the part where it refers to sustainable minimalists as the type of people who create their own clothing hangars from wood and wire they sourced off of their own property. However even with all the jokes, this article still got me thinking – What kind of minimalist am I?
Through this article I discovered that I’m definitely NOT an aesthetic minimalist. I don’t like super modern, sparse home decor. I don’t like clutter either, but I do like my house to be a bit home-y. I think this is true in a lot of other areas of my life too, like the classroom or how I dress. I like color and patterns, which seems like it may be at odds with a simple aesthetic. Essential minimalism is another one that I don’t identify with a ton. The author describes it as being more focused on quality and quantity, as opposed to waste. I do prefer high quality items, but I feel like I am more focused on reducing waste, and quantity is something I have to overdo because of where we live.
As for the other types of minimalists, I feel like I relate to all of them on some level. Experimental minimalists collect experiences, which is something that I am constantly trying to do. I mean, you don’t move to rural Alaska for the great restaurants and happening social scene, right? Sustainable minimalists are very environmentally driven and may own more in order to live more simply (example – homesteading equipment in order to raise your own food). Sustainable minimalism is Cody and I’s big, long-term goal. We’d love to raise our baby on a little homestead, so this one was probably the most goal-oriented for me. Thrifty minimalists focus on spending less rather than owning less. Finally, mindful minimalism focuses on a mix of all of these, but it also focuses on the mental aspect of minimalism.
I found this article really interesting, but it also reminded me that in minimalism one size does not fit all. To every person and every family, minimalism and simple living looks different. Also, just like everything in life, it is a movement that invites judgment. We get judgement from our non-minimalistic friends/family for being “weird” or “depriving ourselves.” We get judgment from other minimalists for “not living simply enough.” However, any effort to reduce waste, spend less, or be less consumeristic should absolutely be celebrated.
With all of that said, what type of minimalist are you?
Hello! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I know that we certainly enjoyed ourselves. Thanksgiving is always a holiday that I enjoy because it is so much less about the material things than many other holidays are. At least in my family, the Thanksgiving tradition has always just been that you get together with people you love and eat a delicious meal. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any ways to simplify your Thanksgiving feast. My main simplification goal with Thanksgiving this year was to not get too overwhelmed with leftovers. The first step I took in doing this was setting a very strict menu and sticking to it.
After I created the menu and had a headcount for our dinner (we hosted a little “Friendsgiving” at our house), I started doing a little mathematical reasoning to decide how much of each thing I needed. The one thing I was worried about having too much of was meat. My husband’s family tradition is to make homemade chicken and dumplings every year, so he knew he wanted that. I’d also picked up a small ham though the last time I was in Anchorage and he was dying to cook it up to have for lunches. We ended up cooking both, which made me very thankful that I’d only bought a 2.5lb ham. Pretty much everything else we ate was bought at our big once a year shopping trip last summer, so we were also able to cook up our feast without spending an arm and a leg. The one splurge I did make was sparkling cider. Somehow, miraculously, our teensy Bush store had managed to order a handful of bottles. The $10 price tag didn’t even deter me from buying a bottle. After being pregnant for the last five months and drinking pretty much nothing but water, it was necessary.
After the feast, I started looking for leftover ideas. We always do simple plates of leftovers where we warm everything up, and Cody always likes to slice up the leftover turkey or ham for sandwiches. I wanted to spice things up a bit this year though so we didn’t get burnt out or end up throwing away much. The biggest hit was omelets with biscuits and gravy. We just diced up leftover ham, salad fixings, potatoes, and whatever else we had that could go into them. We used leftover dinner rolls for the biscuits too, so all we really had to make was the gravy and the eggs.
Another of my favorites was pumpkin pie smoothies. You can use leftover pumpkin pie puree to make some pretty tasty concoctions. I made smoothies using the puree, greek yogurt, frozen bananas, maple syrup, ice, and almond milk. It was delicious!
Other ideas that we tried this year, or have tried in the past are: pot pies, creamy stew/soup, grilled ham/turkey and cheese sandwiches, and frittatas or quiche. We also froze the leftover broth from making the homemade chicken and dumplings to use for soups later this winter. There are so many options out there and with easy internet access you can check out a million different articles about how to make things like cranberry-stuffed muffins or leftover turkey chili. All of these great options available online will hopefully make it easier for people to start limiting their food waste during the holiday season (and even all year round!).
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