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Anxiety woman goes to summer camp in Fairbanks, Alaska

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It was an adult summer camp. Not in that way.  I grew up near a beach so there was never any reason to go to summer camp.  I’m glad I finally did because of the wacky adventures I had. The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival attracts people who want to have fun,  try something new, and do it way far away from everyone they know.  Fairbanks people are cool.  They aren’t out to impress anyone with their fancy -danciness so they wind up impressing you with their homey smoked salmon, moose sausage, and fancy spoon playin’.

The road to Fairbanks is absolutely lovely even in the pouring rain, with Pilot cars to help you navigate the many miles of construction. Once you get there you might have to get over the several expressways, multiple Safeways and  mini-mallness of this small city because it’s cuter than you think. I stayed at The University of Alaska Fairbanks dorms. Here’s the greeter.

Welcome to The Cheapest Place to stay in town. I'm made of paper!

Welcome to The Cheapest Place to stay in town. I’m made of paper!

It’s only $30. a night and there are all sorts of interesting researchers and adult travellers  sharing your bathroom and kitchen.  My adventures included someone putting up an “out of order” sign on the ladies room, I believe just because they didn’t like the door slamming.  I wasn’t sure, so I showered on the next floor down then wound up quite wet and underclothed on the elevator back up with gentleman wearing a suit with nice rolling luggage. I had my tooth brush and shampoo in a recycled Safeway bag.

On the other hand I met a man at the ice cream machine who asked me to have salmon with him the next night.  I was impressed that there was an ice cream machine in the dorm. I bought a raspberry sundae ice cream pop, then watched one of the travellers show his photos from Mor0cco on the TV. Some of the researchers also helped me  get unlost when I attempted to hike the UAF trail system. My first mistake was  assuming that this was the correct trail.

NEVER attempt a trail which looks like this!

NEVER attempt a trail which looks like this!

This is Cotton Grass. It only grows where it is very wet!  I wound up throwing away my socks because they were crawling with unidentifiable  water bugs.  Then when I got to  next part I thought I was lost in space.



Had  I had stumbled on part of the High Frequency Auroral Research Project?  HAARP is more of an array of antennas. This is probably just to allow the Physical Education  Staff to enjoy Monday Night Football.  Luckily a researcher and her dog  jogged by just as I was beginning to be devoured by the mosquitoes in the the air and the bugs in my socks. Also it began to rain.  I got home and did not practice my dancing.

I took Irish dance, spoons and lilting with this fellow here.


Worth the money just to hear him talk, and talk he does

Worth the money just to hear him talk, and talk he does

Below  is a link to his profile as a performer/ teacher.

Funniest Dance teacher ever

The best thing about Niall is that he gets that some of the folks in his class are dancers and some are just out of their minds like me.  He kept encouraging me to “Just keep going in the same direction as the other girls.”   I had blisters on my toes but I did learn a routine even if I forget it now. He also had us doing  “The Walls of Limerick” which is  kind of what our gym teacher, Mrs Cero, taught us as square dancing. I was good at this  because of my elementary school training and  because I love doing things with partners.  Call me lonely and desperate but I was workin’ those Walls of Limerick.  We wound up dancing this with the Irish session musician class at The Hot Licks Ice Cream stand on College Ave.  We  grabbed a few tourists to make it work. It was so much fun that we did it  without the music afterwards so they could get a video.  I had  Arctic Slope Berry Snap ice cream which had bits of ginger snap in it. Awesome!

Here is what the dance is supposed to look like.


We looked a bit less Irish than them.


Have you ever wondered how people play the spoons? Probably not.   Did you know that keeping a “bicycle” (jig) or “motorcycle” (reel) beat is quite fast? Even better, we learned some fancy handwork and looked and sounded awfully funny.  I think the guy in the following video is a good example. He seems to be wearing some sort of official very tight spoon pants.

Then there’s the lilting or “diddle-dee-dee ‘ing”

You can learn some lilting tricks but when it comes down to it you have to kind of make up the words each time, although it’s good to know where a diddley, doodley. or such might fit in best.   It helps if you know the tune. I loved how Niall told us you wind up saying “Die” a lot so you might want to change it a bit so it doesn’t get too morbid.


I learned some stuff, had lots of laughs, sweated my arse off in a hot dance studio then slept in a single bed on the eighth floor  locking my room when I went to the bathroom just like I used to do when I was seventeen.  You can do it too. They have the festival every year.

Don't worry if it rains, you'll be dancing!

Don’t worry if it rains, you’ll be dancing!





Anxiety woman goes camping in Denali

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I go camping at least once every summer just like I go on a date at least once a summer. Both of these are challenging tasks when you’ve got a backpack full of anxiety. I decided to go to the easiest camp in Denali National Park, Riley Creek. There would be hundreds of other people, some with tasty little dogs who could be eaten before I was.  I was on my way to study Irish dance, singing, whistle and spoons in Fairbanks so not only did I have camping gear but my bike, lots of shoes, and a fan because I would be staying in a dorm room. I looked like I brought a yard sale with me. I forgot to bring my spoons but more on that in my Fairbanks post.

In terms of anxiety protection, I had water, snacks, bear spray and 98 percent DEET bug spray.  There have been three bear maulings right in Anchorage this summer.  These unfortunate people were all traveling alone at the time and surprised mother bears with babies. Oh, I brought bear bells too. Actually they were sleigh bells. People say bears don’t even notice them but I get real tired talking loudly to myself, singing Gilbert & Sullivan or yelling “Hey bear” while I’m climbing up hill. Bear spray costs about $45 dollars and looks like a mini fire extinguisher. It’s basically pepper spray but I’ve never seen anyone put it on popcorn.

The drive up was lovely. I used to work as a tour guide on the railroad so I  figure out where I am in terms of landmarks from the train crossings. The train takes 8 hours to get from Anchorage to Denali. It takes half as long by car unless you like to stop to take pictures, smell the trees and look for chocolate like I do. Also you have to time where you are going to buy gas as it may be under $4 a gallon in Anchorage but it’s $4.75 in Denali.

If you’re lucky, about 100-120 miles out of Anchorage you can see Denali, the big mountain. Everyone’s driving about 75 miles and hour and then they come to a complete stop and try to turn left into the scenic viewpoint.

Whoa Nelly!

Whoa Nelly!


I decided the day before that I was a tourist. I went to the visitors center in downtown Anchorage and got information for my trip and when they asked me where I was from I said Boston. We had a nice conversation with everyone who had ever been to Boston joining in so I didn’t have to say much.  Today I followed my fellow tourists and got my picture taken with Denali.

This photo illustrates why I need a vacation. I think my jaw is stuck in place and my shoulders feel like iron.

This photo illustrates why I need a vacation. I think my jaw is welded in place and my shoulders feel like iron.

The best thing about traveling North is that the elevation goes up and between that and the general direction, the seasons regress a bit.  I drove back to early summer. The cottonwood puffs were still on the trees.  The trees get less diverse and shorter the higher up you go and I began to feel like I was in a National Geographic special. It’s hard to whiz by tiny trees with Bald Eagles sitting atop them overlooking streams with fishermen. There are lots of mosquitoes but I didn’t notice until I examined the front of my car.


The Death Mobile.


Upon arrival at the park, I checked in at the mini mart and paid my entrance fee. Some people were driving further in to camp, others were buying giant ice cream cones. I bought some beef jerky then found a lovely campsite surrounded by people  who could save me from death and began to put up the tent. This process did not take me quite as long time as driving up but almost. I didn’t bring a hammer so I found some big rocks to hammer in the stakes but by the time I got one in, another popped out. I didn’t have directions and the thing looked a like an underinflated fun house by the time I was done. Luckily the rainfly covered  any major errors. I set out on my bike to try riding up Denali road but the elevation gain was way too much for me so I rode over the awesome Nenana river bridge  to the hotel district.

The Nenana, where people raft if they aren't afraid of such things

The Nenana, where people raft if they aren’t afraid of such things

I read a little on my kindle when I got back then tried to sleep. I wound up in my car a few times because I got so damn cold. I found a hat, long pants, a jacket and socks. I forgot that when the sun went down so did the thermometer.  Being covered in sweat and DEET only made me colder.

Before the rain

Before the rain


It only rained about a half hour but it made the pulling up of the tent a muddy affair in the morning. I just stuffed everything into the back of the car, which is where it still is today. I did some exploring on foot and found the very nice latrine and a little trail to Riley Creek which made me wish I had my bear spray.

Riley Creek, much gurglier and beary than Nenana canyon

Riley Creek, much gurglier and beary than Nenana canyon



I wound up putting it in one of my water bottle holders and taking a walk up to the dog kennels.  There were other tourists but none had bear spray or bells. Some even mocked my bells calling, “Here comes a reindeer!” Perhaps they did not realize that they were walking sausages.  The dog kennels are mildly interesting. Here is my favorite dog because it had eyes like mine and it was, like me, very tall.


Some people pet the dogs but not Anxiety Woman!


I got a little spooked at all the bear warning signs on the trail. That is when my back started to hurt. When I get scared, I tense up and my back spasms. I couldn’t wait to get back to my car.  It started to rain again just as I started up the engine and that made me very happy.

The train

The train


Before I took off I watched the train come in. I spent 6 summers on that train. The old Denali Park hotel used to be down a short path from the depot. Now that’s where my car was parked.  I didn’t realize how long it had been since I had been to Denali. I don’t know why I hadn’t gone up before on my own.  Probably anxiety, but I’m trying to get over that one tent at a time. Next time I’ll camp out further where I have to use a bear proof container for my food!  Yikes! What if I am the food?

Trash Day! Trash Day! Hooray!

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Poubelles on parade!

Poubelles on parade!


I sure get excited about trash day. Especially when I’m in bed and I can hear the truck making its way down my block. Agitated, might be a better word. I’m up, tangled in covers, tripping over a copy of Babi-Yar which I threw on the floor after it spooked me the night before. Sprinting for the barrels, out the door I go, in my tiny green boxer shorts which used to be duct taped to keep the front hole closed.

Luckily, the truck was on the other side of the street and I was delighted to find I would be in time for both trash and recycling. After I pulled my containers to the curb I became worried. My neighbors were not in sync with the duties demanded for the day. To the West, the school employees, out for summer, house full of grandkids, had obviously slept in. I peeked at their trash. It was full of diapers and bright,  Walmart bulk pasteboard boxes which once held sticky sweets. I grabbed both barrels and wheeled them down. Not because I’m nice but because TRASH DAY MUST BE OBSERVED! Not like flag day which people constantly forget but like a patriotic reminder of civic responsibility which occurs weekly to rouse us from our kindles and kin.

In Paris, they have poubelles, a name which has an sweet but smelly charm of its own. The trash gets picked up daily from each building. My sister is one of the many women and men you will see outside at 7:30 am each day hauling out the poubelles. She gets a break on rent for doing this, and for bringing them back in, and cleaning up the mess which might be made in poubelle transfer. I am proud of her dedication to the poubelles.

My neighbor to The East, is a temporary resident. Aren’t we all?, you might say. I don’t own my house but the house on the East is a short term rental and the man who is in it now has a window right across from mine. He sits looking at the computer while I watch my television. I tried to see if he was watching porn but could not discern without putting on my glasses which is just a little desperate. He plays very loud Bob Seger type American music and keeps a candle burning in his open window to suck up the smell of his cigarettes. His trash was breaking the rules. It bubbled over the top and that will earn you a nasty sticker and all your stinkin’ trash back for the rest of the week. I decided to sit on the lid to squash it down. Unfortunately, the beer cans were resistant to my weight in their own crinkly way so I had to ride the barrel somewhat like a horse. My roommate came out and saw me. This was better than the neighbor. He has an iphone but he didn’t use it.

I hope you have a merry trash day, no matter where you are or what day it is.

Happy tips for a mindful summer

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1. Remember to shake your tent for scorpions and gluten before turning in for the night

2. Only approach near extinct species and other abused animals through internet memes where they speak in funny voices about bacon and the songs of their people.

3. Recycle used toilet paper and soiled diapers from vacations as postcards/souvenirs for friends and family who refuse to join Facebook.

4. Create a Kickstarter campaign for an organic salmon farm which employs only fragrance free WWOOF’ers.

5. Ask your local butcher if they use real or artificial kale in their meat display.

6. Boycott Walmart, Walgreens, Safeway and MacDonalds until they carry reusable organic menstrual supplies and free range internet devices.

7. Travel to enlightened countries where women are free to go topless.

8. When you become anxious because you have not created time in your life to do the simplest of chores, meditate instead.

9. Hang out with people who are unconditionally positive about you and turn all their rage elsewhere.

10. Feel the grass between your toes before you run out and start your own medical dispensary.

Run. Run! RUN FOR RECOVERY and keep running, maybe walk a little.

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All hail the mud run finisher!

All hail the mud run finisher!


I quit one race in my life. It was my first 10K. I thought: I can’t do this, flagged down the relief truck then saw that the finish line was only a half mile away. I could have walked. The force of self defeat is strong in this one. I’ve quit many other endeavors, relationships, jobs.   Instead of the catch phrase “It’s not a good fit”, I prefer  “Wrong time, Wrong tools.”  That’s why being in recovery is so cool. I have tools, I have people  in my life to help me figure out if it’s the right time to use them.

Running has been an integral part of my recovery. It’s helped me learn how to breathe. I have a tendency to  race through life and burn out before the end of the day. I’m usually ready to give in about 3/4’s way through a half mile, 5K, 10K or work day.  As I get older I’ve learned to keep a healthy pace instead of one driven by the fear of being left behind. How much more left behind can I get? In the end it’s just going to be me and God anyway.

This last Thursday, Friday and Saturday I volunteered for and ran The Anchorage Community Mental Health Center’s Race for Recovery. It’s a Mud Run, without the electric shocks and burning coals. It’s like everything I used to love about the 4th of July.  Remember the parade, the  3 legged races, the potato sack race and the egg toss at your local Independence Day celebration? Okay, I’m dating myself, now we watch other people compete on television. There was a day when it was the greatest of small town glory was to win a ribbon running on the grass tied by the ankle to  another person. The Race for Recovery has a bunch of home made and Alaska natural obstacles.  It’s damn fun even setting it up.

On Thursday some of us gave out tee shirts to people picking up their bibs at Skinny Raven in downtown Anchorage. I love Skinny Raven even though I’m more like a fatted calf.  I tried on a bunch of clothes and basically chatted up anyone I saw. I do this when I’m nervous and also when I’m happy. I am a little too keyed up these days but also I’m happy because I know I’m going to start taking better care of myself by taking a long break from work. Don’t get me wrong, I love to work but I’ve burnt myself out and I need to refuel. It’s sometimes safer to refuel on the ground rather than in mid-air.

Friday afternoon, the gals from The Alaska Military Youth Academy  showed up in force to set up obstacles and test the first half of the course. They even got their instructor to run it.  I ran it with them because it was thought that I knew the course a bit having run it for a couple of years.  Of course we got lost because I’m always looking down so I don’t fall over.  I wasn’t very good at the landmarks. We all got back safely, eventually. At first they were screaming their way into the natural mud holes but they made sure to help their fellow troupe members across. By the end they were basically  playing in the  man made mud pool covering each other  like it was a beauty treatment. My biggest contribution was the natural bug repellant I had stashed in my pocket which I doled out to everyone about half way through as they were crawling with mosquitoes. It is so great that we don’t have ticks in Alaska (or at least not in the swamps.)

I like to dress up for the race because not only is it a celebration of recovery from mental health issues, but it’s a journey and who doesn’t like to dress up for a trip?  And trip I did.  My favorite fall was near the end.  I was actually running  through waist high grass when someone I knew yelled, ” Hey Joan, great job, you’re almost done!”  My mistake was to look up so I missed a ubiquitous tree root and flopped like a flounder in the mud.  Another great achievement this year was that I’m pretty sure I was the winner in the most swear words uttered during the run. The winners ran the race in 30 minutes (it was 5 muddy K). I ran it in an hour. The last participants dived across the rinse pool about an hour after me and they were all co-workers who are very nice people. My logic suggests that the winners didn’t have as much time to swear as I did and the walkers were chatting and supporting each other, laughing and enjoying themselves.  I find that difficult. I could have listened to myself swearing and slowed down but  something drives me like a Funny Car who likes to crash.

At the end, my arms were all bruises  because they are twig-like and I had to haul my 168 lb. tree trunk legs over some walls.  I  rewarded myself with two delicious hot dogs, about 25 mosquito bites and a very red nose and neck.  It was the best day of the year for running. Actually everyday is the best day of the year if I think about it. Today my roommate told me that he marvels at the idea that we are living the farthest in the future that any human has ever lived.  I’m taking a break from work for about a month in order to slow down that funny car inside me which has been crashing so hard that it’s started to cry. I hope to blog more, run more, paint, draw, and do tai chi, not to excess! I’m not going anywhere special except inside myself. That’s the part of the recovery journey I need to run for now.

A big thanks to Jennifer Smerud for organizing the run, to Roni, Carolyn, Maria, Brent, Carlos, Heather, The Community work service team, the folks from Skinny Raven,The Alaska Military Youth Academy and all the sponsors and volunteer who made The Race for Recovery possible. See you there next year.

Smokin’ Pot o’ Gold

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Can't have the bow without the rain

Can’t have the bow without the rain

The world doesn’t end because I’m out of a job. It’s actually a great opportunity to celebrate and count my blessings. No severance package needed but a break for the weary soul is appreciated.  It’s been a wonderful 11 year ride full of delicious food, smoky disasters, problem solving, drama, art, poetry and downright goofiness.  Some people thought I was high to stay at my job so long. Some people thought I was stoned given how I would sing, dance and wear gigantic bell bottoms at work.

Being an activity therapist has its perks.  I’m a  fan of taking retirement breaks a little bit at a time, not saving it all for the end of life. Let’s see how fast my brain recovers from this transition. I’ll probably find a goofy temp job to get me through the summer. Maybe I can use this weekend to brainstorm some self-employment and fun activities?

1.  Anchorage Oddity Tours – Wear my new giant squid costume. Show tourists the strangest things I can find within walking distance of downtown. Probably shouldn’t spray them with ink. Oh is that an octopus who does that? My bad.

2.  Anchorage  Squawks – a short video series with pointed questions asked of people walking downtown about information they might have read on facebook which is completely preposterous, like that guns are good.

3.   Lunch on me – this I steal from many others, including one of my former roommates. Make a dozen sandwiches a week to give out to people on the streets, include an original poem and something chocolate, no origami swans, jiggers of booze, but maybe a breath mint wouldn’t be out of the question.

4.  Time for another music video, might have to take a dance class to boost my production values. I have the grapevine down but that’s about it.  Maybe I can combine this with the tours and get the tourists in costume, post it on youtube as part of the fun?

5.   Run more ridiculous road races in costume. Host more costume theme parties (from the woman who never met a costume she didn’t like)

6. Dress up in formal wear to do my food shopping. Don’t forget the white gloves!

7.  Write a play, a funny one, or do some comedy, make some people laugh and some people sick!


That’s probably enough bad ideas for now. Activity therapists don’t die they just keep having fun. I will not be working in a marijuana cafe if they come to Alaska.  Notice that it seems to be all dudes who work there?  Being a lady, I live in constant paranoia of the munchies.  If you have any ideas of fun jobs for me, let me know!

Was Noah the first Viking?

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Was not surprised to see “Noah” was already playing at the 2nd run cinema up the street. I was surprised to learn that he was a vegetarian Viking.

Here is Ragnar, the “Noah” of the TV series “Vikings”

Ragnar getting ready to build an ark

Ragnar getting ready to build an ark



Here is Noah after killing about a thousand people with the help of his rock band

So you had a bad day....

So you had a bad day…..



Not to belabor the point but doesn’t this guy look like he fell from the same tree?

The God of thunder says it's gonna rain for a long time

The God of thunder says it’s gonna rain for a long time


Is it a coincidence or an omen that Anthony Hopkins is in both Thor and Noah?

What movie am I in now?

What movie am I in now?


ah, this is the movie where I like berries!

ah, this is the movie where I like berries!


Then there’s the fraggle rock creatures who are disappointed in the human race but help Noah build the ark because he kind of reminds them of Adam.  I admit, at first I thought they were an entirely fictitious departure from the biblical text until I saw this.

Thor battling the last of Noah's rock warrior angels

Thor battling the last of Noah’s rock warrior angels


If that’s not proof of The Circle of Life then I don’t know what is!  Remember we’re all a little Viking, so  watch yourself around hammers and axes.  If you become obsessed with building a big boat and killing lots of people, you might want to chill.  One thing I did learn from the movie Noah is that vegetarians can be just as dangerous as people who eat meat.





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