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

Bullying Is A Community Effort

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To complicate matters, I realized that the girls’ parents were just as gossipy and juvenile as their daughters. At my daughter’s soccer game one afternoon, I heard several mothers talking about some of the players. They remarked on how fat some of the girls on the team were and how they should be at fat camp, not on the varsity soccer team. As they went on, I got angrier and angrier. They were chatting away about someone’s child. I left at halftime because I was disgusted with their behavior. Even if I wasn’t teaching my daughter this type of behavior, it was everywhere. Her peers were bullies, their parents were bullies, and it only made sense that Emily would learn to act that way too, in order to fit in. It seemed we were living in an environment where we couldn’t escape it.

Bullies ruined my childhood. Then I realized my daughter is one., Vox.com, by Kate Young on March 3, 2016

Admiration List: Nacole

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I have great admiration and respect for victims of horrendous crimes who find the strength and courage to speak about those crimes publicly. Nacole is one such brave soul who gave a TEDx talk about child sex trafficking – and what it’s like to be the mother of a child who has been lured away and sold.

This talk is brave, powerful and heart wrenching.

Message vs. Money

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Nobody who has ever experienced the reality of poverty could say “it’s not the money, it’s the message”. When your flat has been broken into, and you cannot afford a locksmith, it is the money. When you are two pence short of a tin of baked beans, and your child is hungry, it is the money. When you find yourself contemplating shoplifting to get nappies, it is the money. If Mr Cameron’s only practical advice to women living in poverty, the sole carers of their children, is “get married, and we’ll give you £150”, he reveals himself to be completely ignorant of their true situation.

The Single Mother’s Manifesto by JK Rowling

David Morely Warwick Blog: The Single Mother’s Manifesto

Books by JK Rowling on Amazon.com

 

Parenting Is An Action

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“Who’s your mom when you set you campsite? Who’s your mom for scary faces with flashlights? Mommy helps to set up the campsite. Momma makes great scary faces with a flashlight.”

A Tale of Two Mommies, written by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by Mike Blanc

Wild Boys, Witches and Roast Squirrel

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Sarah visited the boys every day, and although at first she was worried about them being out on their own in the Forest, she was impressed by the network of igloos they built and noticed that some of the younger Wendron Witches had taken to dropping by with small offerings of food and drink. Soon it became rare for Sarah to find her boys without at least two or three young witches helping them cook a meal or just sitting around the campfire laughing and telling jokes. It surprised Sarah just how much fending for themselves had changed the boys—they all suddenly seemed so grown up, even the youngest, Jo-Jo, who was still only thirteen. After a while Sarah began to feel a bit of an interloper in their camp, but she persisted in visiting them every day, partly to keep an eye on them and partly because she had developed quite a taste for roast squirrel.

Septimus Heap, Book One: Magyk by Angie Sage

Parenting Handprint

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I have never had parents who set good examples, parents whose expectations were worth living up to, but she did. I can see them within her, the courage and the beauty they pressed into her like a handprint.

Allegiant (Divergent Trilogy, Book 3) by Veronica Roth

Power of Parental Support

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“It’s hard to put into words the degree of entitlement that comes from knowing even at the age of five that your parents have your back, and that if some authority figure gets out of line, your mom and dad will support you.”

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

A Mothers’ Agenda

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This is mothers’ agenda: clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, nourishing food, universal education and access to excellent health care, where all have opportunities to develop intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, where there is compassion and justice, and no one lives in fear of abuse or violence or war.

Moving Toward the Millionth Circle: Energizing the Global Women’s Movement by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Children Will Listen

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Children Will Listen

“Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see.
And learn.
Children may not obey,
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.
Careful before you say,
“Listen to me.”
Children will listen.”

Into The Woods, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine