An Unconventional Conversation…

What Alaska Said to Guam

Life is about contrasts.

Who would have thought I’d be in such opposite places in the world one year apart?

Like, did you ever think about where you were a year ago? And how they compare?

At the moment I find myself in cold, dark, ALASKA.

This time last year I was in paradise.

Tanguissan Beach-largeI remember waking up and seeing sweeping ocean views of blue green tropical waters. It would take my breath away & I’d pinch myself and say, really?

I was waking up in Guam, the beautiful US territory in the Western Pacific.

Today in Alaska at 9:00am it is still dark. There are no azure skies and ocean; I do not hear children’s voices running and playing on the beach. Instead I hear the crunch of ice beneath my feet when I walk to my car. Looking out the window, I see darkness, although when the sun at lasts wakes up, I will see various shades of grays, whites, & browns.

In Guam, I remember my glasses fogging up when I walked out of the air conditioned buildings into the hot, humid tropical air. The strange twist is that when I went to the library on base, I’d have to wear a fleece jacket to be able stay there for more than 5 minutes to deal with the sub temperatures of the air conditioning.

2012-10-30-Alaska-snow-dark-carsHere in Alaska, I wouldn’t dare go outside without a warm coat, hat, gloves. And sometimes hand warmers.

That’s contrast all right.

 What if Guam had a conversation with Alaska? Reasonable, eh? They’re both the US, both not attached to the Mother Land.

GUAM: Hey there Frozen Man. How’s it going? I heard you guys got a lot of ice up there and not much snow this winter. That’s too bad.

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Skiing above the clouds — flying with fear

It was simply meant to be a Christmas present for my husband. Being a pilot, he loves to fly. It’s one of those passions your spouse has that you say, “I’m glad you love being a pilot but not me. I will stand on the ground and watch while you go up and fly around.”

But I am not married to that kind of man. He wants me to go with him, to share, to enjoy the experience with him. He wants ME up there with him. Oh brother.

So when I told him that he would be flying on a ski plane to Denali, he loved this idea. And quietly I added, I’ll be staying back at the lodge and taking pictures.

“Well I’m not going if you don’t go.”

But, but… I don’t know if I can do it. You know how I hate flying.

“Well, then I’m not going.”

When my husband says something like that I know that the steel trap door is down and that there is no way that I’m going to budge him.

So I relented. Of course. I said I would go.

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Thoughts from a Warrior Mom

The phone rings. It’s 3:30am and as I pick up the receiver, I’m already thinking bad things. What goes on in a person’s mind when they think they’re going to hear really horrible news in the middle of the night?

“I cannot do this,” I thought. “It can’t be, no, wait, I’m not ready.”

And then I hear a recording, not a human voice: “Your credit card has been frozen, Press 1 if you want to unlock it.” I slam down the phone and feel relief mixed with confusion and then anger. The pulse in my ears is loud. I’m shocked to feel how fast my heart is beating.

My son is in a war zone.

He is a Marine. Marines go to dangerous places. They say that the worst time is just before they leave on deployment. The waiting and the anticipation is dreadful. You say goodbye and wonder. You try not to cry but you do.

Afghanistan:  Not for sissies or sissy families.

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I Felt the Earth Move

wedding kimono Surviving an Earthquake

Here is my story of life in Japan surrounding the time of the earthquake. I share this to give you an idea of what things were like. I am grateful to so many people in my life who care about me and have sent messages of concern and prayers and good thoughts. Thank you. My apologies for not responding to each one personally, but it has taken me all this time to gather my wits and make sense of my experiences. So here goes….

On March 9, I was lamenting not being able to celebrate my birthday the way I wanted …my job was intense that day. I was finishing up my rotation with the military in Japan with no hint that two days later I would experience one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded.

As I huddled inside the door frame that Friday afternoon, March 11, I tried not to panic. Stationed just outside of Tokyo, I had just walked up the outside steps to the 2nd floor of a building on base. Immediately I was met by four women who were startled and shivering. “It’s an earthquake!” they shouted. I responded to myself with, “It’s OK, Jo, everything will be all right.” But I was trembling with fear.

It took a second and then I felt the scary, unnatural sensation of the building rocking and shaking. I HATE EARTHQUAKES. They frighten me. I always think the worst is going to happen.

I tried comforting myself by recalling that the building was reinforced, that Japan has strong earthquakes all the time, that this one couldn’t be that bad. As the building shook more violently, I thought, Oh no, I don’t like this, I want to get out of here, I don’t want this to happen. I fought the strong impulse to run outside. But where? I could see tall trees and buildings, light poles, telephone poles but no open spaces.

I felt confused and terrified and I didn’t exactly feel like waiting for the building to collapse down around me.

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Alaska is not for sissies — or is it?

It takes a lot of energy to not be afraid.

Traveling around the world, I’ve come to know intimately the voices inside my head that love to challenge me to not do something, to stay in the comfort and safety of my hotel room. I’ve become expert at hearing these scary little saboteursin my head and talking back to them defiantly…”I’m doing what I want and you’re not going to stop me.”

Sometimes the voices, try meaner tactics. They try to take control . They say stupid things like, what if you get lost & you can’t find your way back? What if you can’t find anybody who speaks English while you’re cavorting around by yourself everywhere? What if your oxygen runs out while you’re scuba diving? WHAT IF?

 But until I came to Alaska, none of these conversations included what if I get attacked by a bear? Or charged by a moose? Or what if my car battery dies (like it did on a beach in Okinawa) and it’s 10 degrees outside? What if I freeze to death?

I’d been in Alaska for 2 weeks. I knew it was long overdue that I explore the wildness of Alaska.

So I did. I drove a few miles outside of Anchorage. The drive was stunning.


Majestic mountains on my right, the white icy inlet on my left. I was pondering where to pull off the road to take photos of the beautiful scenery around me. “Go here, go here”, I heard myself say and I turned off onto a road that led to a lake. A frozen lake of course. As I parked my car and got out onto the white landscape, I greeted a woman walking back to her car walking her dogs. Another car in the parking lot was empty.

Hmmmm, I thought. There are people around. It’s safe. Right? I felt the familiar uneasiness, exploring a new place by myself. Everything around me was silent, as if frozen in stillness. I looked around. The scene seemed eery, almost mystical. The barren trees stood together, in a forlorn manner as if burnt.

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