Book Review: Hometown Alaska

During my youth I often indulged in daydreams about moving to some lovely little town in the middle of nowhere, filled with odd-personalities, tough characters and unending opportunities to indulge in wilderness exploration while building survival skills. These little fantasies of mine were always filled with a rich social life woven from solid relationships with good, trustworthy people.

What can I say? I was young.

Amazingly enough, Heather Lende accomplished my youthful fantasies. I honestly had to check the book a few times, just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally picked up a novel by mistake – a novel that just happened to perfectly reflect those wistful somedays that filled my head back when my back didn’t creak and my muscles didn’t ache after yet-another-day of to-many-hours hunched over a desk.

Side note: getting old is a dreadful experience.

There’s nothing fictional about If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name; everything in the book is 100% biographical. Ms. Lende achieved the very thing I’d resigned myself to accepting as impossible. She lives in the Alaskan wilderness, raises children in a small town, and has learned to rely on sort of basic life-skills most Americans have lost to industry and urbanization. Even the quirky personalities of her neighbors are described in lovely detail:

There’s an artist who lives with his wife, a weaver, in a fanciful cabin overlooking Rainbow Glacier. He keeps a dead temple pit viper in a big jar filled with vodka and takes sips of the “snake juice” every now and then to ward off illness. He’ll offer you some if you stop by.

I was amazed.

I couldn’t put the book down.

Here’s what happened: She and her husband moved to Haines, Alaska and built a home – both literally and figuratively. Eventually, Ms. Lende’s husband acquired a local business and established a career as an entrepreneur, while she pursued a career as the obituary writer for the local newspaper. While this sounds like an odd career, she describes it beautifully:

Being an obituary writer means I think a lot about loss, but more about love. Writing the obituaries of so many people I’ve known makes me acutely aware of death, but in a good way, the way Emily Dickinson meant when she wrote, “That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet.” My job helps me appreciate cookouts on clear summer evenings down on the beach, where friends lounge on driftwood seats and we eat salmon and salads by the fire while our children play a game of baseball that lasts until the sun finally sets behind the mountains, close to eleven o’clock…Most of all, though, writing about the dead helps me celebrate the living—my neighbors, friends, husband, and five children—and this place, which some would say is on the edge of nowhere, but for me is the center of everywhere

Throughout the book, Ms. Lende’s deep understanding and knowledge of this tiny little town comes through in colorful detail.

Being both small and remote, it’s the kind of place where teenagers are almost required to complain about a lack of adventure and activity. Yet, this book is filled with events that range from amazingly exciting to terribly sad. There is nothing easy about life in Haines, Alaska; but there’s a lot to be gained from living there.

(sigh)

I am so very envious.

If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende

Holiday Book Review: Life of Santa

This has got to be one of the best holiday season biographies I’ve ever read. Actually, it may be the only holiday-season biography I’ve ever read, since most biographies do not frame their life experiences within the context of a single holiday.

Sal Lizard is a man who spends a significant portion of his life, rear round, playing scheduled and impromptu Santa Clause performances and he is considered one of the best Santa Clause performers in the United States. His body shape and beard are real. The he actually looks so similar to Santa Clause in his regular everyday life that he frequently walks into large toys stores, to take a look around and to familiarize himself with the names and titles of anything new to the toy market, and children will start running up to him with a toy in hand, excitedly informing him that “THIS is want I want this year!”

This biography is filled with stories and anecdotes that include his introduction to the world of Santa Clause performance, many experiences interacting with people while in character and the way playing Santa Claus changed his perspective on life and the way he behaves day-to-day.

An excellent illustration of the way being Santa Claus changed his everyday life was the story of the young single mother who was to poor to buy her child a Christmas gift or a Christmas tree. She’d simply resigned herself to working through the holiday season (she was a food service worker) and not participating in the celebration. There would be no Christmas. Sal decides to help her out directly (he finds gifts for her daughter – mostly used but in excellent condition) and works with some friends to secretly deliver a tree to her front door. While those gestures are wonderful, the funny part is the fact that things just worked out that he knew this woman through his work and he changed jobs immediately after delivering the tree. So, from the woman’s perspective, this kind stranger who just happened to look exactly like Santa Clause hands her a bag full of gifts, delivers a tree to her door (in a locked building) while she is at work, and then vanishes off the face of the earth. When the woman called the company Sal had been working for, to thank him for his generosity, his former employers played along and told her the truth: He left and never came back. (shrug) Can’t tell you where he went, he was only here a few weeks.

My retelling of this story does not do it justice. It actually made me laugh out loud while getting all holiday-season warm and fuzzy inside. Correction, the entire book  achieved those goals. It’s a good-feeling biography that is simply filled with wonderful holiday-season inspired moments that encompass everything from laughter to tears.

If you are looking for a good book to read this holiday season, look no further than Being Santa Claus. It’s simply wonderful!

Quotes from this book can be seen HERE.

Being Santa Claus: What I Learned about the True Meaning of Christmas by Sal Lizard, Jonathan P. Lane

Book Review: The Stories Behind Tattoos

Shocking Tattoos

I was standing in the driveway, casually discussing the possibility of renting part of a house. The prospect of entering into a situation with roommates wasn’t particularly appealing, simply because I’d had my own space for many years and I prefer to live with that level of control, specifically: I make the decisions, period.

As the conversation progressed, my potential roommate/landlord brought it around to the other, long-standing roommate. The one not present. The one with…and she paused while making the pained expression people have when they fear a particularly bad response to what they are about to say…dreadlocks and tattoos.

I paused a moment, wondering when, exactly, I had physically transformed into the middle-aged, suburban, ignorant-about-everything woman people kept (incorrectly) assuming I was.

“I have tattoos,” was my only response.

She clearly did not expect that.

My Tattoos

I got my first tattoo right before the beginning of my divorce when I knew something was going to have to change or I was going to have to leave. As it turned out, lots of things needed to change and we both needed to go our separate ways (the details are another story for another day).

It’s the lion from the strength card in a tarot deck I owned at the time. I chose that image because I liked both the symbolism and the artwork. It translated into a beautiful tattoo. The symbolism behind the card and the lion (outside of the tarot deck’s interpretation), combined with the circumstances surrounding the act of being tattooed, couldn’t have been more perfect.

My second tattoo occurred during the height of the legal process of that same divorce. It’s a stylized hawk in similar colors and artistic design to the lion. It was designed by a friend with Native American lineage (and a grandmother actively involved with that community), so it includes a balance symbol from her own traditions. At the time, I suspected that particular element was included because the artist thought I needed to find balance in my life; which was true enough, so I went with the design. However, for me, the hawk has always symbolized freedom from entrapment (another long story for another time). Yet, freedom and balance can easily intersect with one another – particularly when necessary changes happen to include the end of a relationship.

The third tattoo was acquired at the very end of my divorce, during the absolute worst period of social and relationship drama. It’s a snake around my ankle. It’s the most visible tattoo I have. It’s a stylized blue tattoo, whereas the other two are red. It’s not scary and the symbolism behind it is not what you think – which is kinda the point. (And, yes, that is also a long story for another time.)

I like my tattoos. They are both symbolic and earned. I wish more people understood both of those concepts.

Chick Ink

This story is not in the book Chic Ink, but a complete version of all details (including those not provided here) could be pulled from this book.

Chic Ink is a collection of experiences, explanations, deep thoughts and memories. Reading it is like sitting down for coffee with a random collection of women and listening to every one of them answer this question: “What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?”

If you’re looking for a good read this holiday vacation, consider picking up Chick ink. The stories behind the tattoos are positively fascinating.

Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos–And the Women Who Wear Them by Karen L. Hudson

Quotes from the book can be found HERE.