I Took a Trip to Alaska

Did you ever play road trip games with your family? Growing up in Ohio—”The Heart of it All,” but the center of hundreds of miles of farmland, small towns, and boring highways—road trips were a rite of passage. My sister, Sarah, and I would be stuffed to the gills in the family station wagon, each insisting that we have our pillows, blankets, backpacks full of books, and snacks to tide us over. Travel-size games like Pass the Pigs were well-intentioned, but not great for the bumpy backseat. One of the Swank family favorites was “I took a trip to Alaska.” This game helped my sister and I survive hours and hours of travel and required no physical accoutrement. 

You may be asking yourself how to play. Simple! You and your travel-mates will go in a round. Person 1 will say, “I took a trip to Alaska, and I brought an {something that begins with A} APPLE!” 

“I’m up? Okay! I took a trip to Alaska, and I brought an apple and a {something that begins with B} BASKETBALL.” And on and on it goes. 

Each player has to remember all of the preceding words until the end of the alphabet. If one person fails, the game is done and you have to start all over. Personally, I like the kind of games that make your mind work. For children and young adults, it’s easy to get in the apple-basketball-candy-dog rut. The last time I played, I challenged my cousin to a new version while swimming in Costa Rica. Each lap correlated with a letter of the alphabet, and all words had to be in Spanish. Despite years of Spanish-language estrangement, executing the laps was much more difficult than thinking of appropriate words. 

Now that I live in Oregon, road trips take a little bit more mettle unless you’re driving straight up/down I-5, or over the mountain to Bend. Everything else brings the risk of driving through the night. If you have scads of free time, it’s no problem. If you want to arrive at your destination in time for dinner, you fly. 

I haven’t played the game in years, but recently I had the opportunity to take an actual trip to Alaska! Obviously, a road trip to Alaska takes a labyrinthine level of planning that I was unprepared for, but spending hours in the car by myself didn’t sound appealing anyway. The trip had been in the works for over a year, and pandemic be damned, we were going to make it happen. Six of us were flying in from 5 different cities across America to celebrate our dear friend Mandy’s 40th birthday. At first it didn’t seem like we were going to be able to follow through with it, but when we found out Alaska had made it mandatory to get proof of a 72-hour Covid test to enter the state, we heaved sighs of relief and comfort. Overall, I’ve seen a somewhat lackadaisical approach to pandemic travel in the US, aside from closing public bathrooms, which infuriates me to no end. (How are we supposed to wash our hands if we can’t access the bathroom??? And that is another blog for another time.) Because of this, I have used extreme caution when going anywhere farther than an hour.

Alaska is one of those places that is perfectly unique in every single way. Such isolation and utterly captivating topography has created a stark, yet somehow lush picture that gives each visitor a feeling of complete awe. The indiginous culture, ingrained for eons, tells stories; the hardy wildlife, like polar bears, whose coats have turned white to blend in with the snow, has adapted to conditions that seem un-bear-able to many (I’m so sorry); much of the art is made with natural resources—true story, I bought earrings made with Alaskan marten penis bones!

Below are some of the memories I collected during the 5 days in Fairbanks and Denali National Park. It cannot possibly present all the grandeur that is in Alaska, but maybe it will give you some ideas for what to expect if you ever take a trip there—and it could give you a new vocabulary for your next road trip game. “I took a trip to Alaska and I brought an abalone, a bunchberry, a caribou, and a dogsled.” 

I’m also curious as to your favorite travel accessories. The softest travel pillow, great earbuds, a perfect toiletry holder, anything! Comment below with your favorite accessory and let me know where you want to go next. 

Books Are Our Friends—Part II

As the gorgeous state of Oregon burns around me, I take this time to meditate on healing. Healing the earth, our hearts, and our world dogma. And, because I promised myself I would, even though I’m feeling on edge and don’t particularly want to, I am catching up on my writing, including a sequel to my blog post about my dearest friends: books. This—writing—helps me heal. I hope you are finding your own ways to heal during this dark time. 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Some say that listening to an audiobook is not an effective way to fill our brains with information because of the lack of engagement. Think about all the things we do while we listen to audiobooks: clean the house, go for a run, wash the dishes, and most commonly, drive. Do you feel that you are able to fully engage with a book if you’re doing something else while you listen? Are old fashioned books better because they demand more of our focus? (If you read the first installment of this post, you already know that I prize old-timey paper and glue.) 

I am curious what my readers think about this, because I assume you are all avid readers. But here’s the thing. I don’t actually want to write about cognition today. Unless it’s a textbook or for work, I have a choice on how I take in information. If I want to listen to Gone Girl while belly dancing, I’ll do it. I’m not going to—it’s a waste of both a great book and quality dance time. But, if I really needed to multitask this way, I certainly could.

Today, I want to write about a different aspect of the listening-versus-reading debate. To me, the thing that stands out is not the cognition, but the experience I have with the words themselves. I’ll give you a few examples. 

Bill Bryson’s humble, foible-filled travel writing always makes me giggle. I adore Bryson’s writing because it takes me on a journey right beside him. I’m there while he’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, listening for the shuffling of bears and glancing over his shoulder every mile or so to make sure Katz hasn’t dropped dead. I harrumph with him through small town America, where one cannot simply walk to the 7-Eleven—everything must be managed through personal transportation. At least once a chapter, I stumble upon a line so authentic that it makes me chuckle to myself. Bryson doesn’t hold back on the embarrassing indignities of real life, and I love that about him. He spells every single detail out without me having to think about it. Therefore, it’s very easy to listen to him on the way to Costco. I can easily perform other activities because I don’t have to work that hard to be satiated.

Conversely, from the moment I pressed play on Delia Owens’ audiobook, Where the Crawdads Sing, I knew I wouldn’t be able to merely listen to this book. This was a book to be read with my eyes. This was a collection of words that needed to be rolled around in, as in a warm mud flat on the edge of a bayou. Delicious words that looked and felt sumptuous, that needed to be feasted upon visually as well as internally. Immediately, I turned it off so as not to ruin the experience further. 

Did you catch the difference there? Bryson paints the picture for you, while Owens makes you paint the picture yourself, do some of the heavy lifting. Have you ever started listening to an audiobook and then turned it off because you could tell it would be better to read? Just me? Personally, I love helping out with the heavy lifting. It makes my brain happy. So, now I wait for Where the Crawdads Sing to pop up in my queue at the library. Some books are worth the wait. 

Books Are Our Friends

I devour the gift of words; I always have. As early as I can remember, my parents hauled us each week to the John McIntire Library and allowed us to pick out as many books as we could carry—and not one more. These were the days before reusable totes came back into fashion, and so it was up to my sister and I to use only our muscles to collect the stacks of books we loved. Sweet Pickles was a preschool favorite, and one of the first books I remember picking up. (Oh, what I would have given to have successfully persuaded my parents into buying the monthly Sweet Pickles Activity Bus package. It was a plastic bus-shaped tackle box full of learning activities and stickers. STICKERS! Unfortunately, my tightwad mother was in charge of finances and she wouldn’t deign to spend money unless absolutely necessary.) These books introduced my sister, Sarah, and I to peaceful conflict resolution and many idiosyncratic personalities we’d encounter growing up. Ramona Quimby tales were a fun frolic (and amusing to look back on now that I live in Beverly Cleary’s hometown), Babysitters Club books helped me figure out which personality I related to the most (I’m a Mary Anne/Mallory hybrid), and Sweet Valley Twins allowed me to validate that my own twin sister was (and still is) a full-on Jessica. I was relieved that someone else recognized that not all twins had to be perfect carbon copies of each other, inside and out. 

Beginning in early elementary, Sarah and I participated in a program called Talented and Gifted (TAG) through the school system. We would meet up with other TAG students once a week and go through multiple kinds of learning activities outside of our regular classroom work. From what I understand now, the goal was to use creative and nontraditional methods to help us further expand our promising little brains. What I understood then was that it was a chance to hang out with some friends doing brain teasers and listening to our teacher, Mrs. Swingle, talk. One of her passions was books. “Books are our friends!” she would trill. If one of us dog-eared a page to mark our place or aimed a book to throw at a neighbor, she would call us out immediately. She relentlessly proclaimed how important it was for us to treat our books like we would treat any other friend. At this, I would guiltily smooth out the dog ear I had made on the page and search around for a bookmark…Mrs. Swingle missed nothing. 

I logged thousands of pages in middle and high school (I have the Read-a-Thon logs to prove it!), and my literary tastes expanded. During my teen years, I loved the mystical and otherworldly stories from Christopher Pike that made me think about the universe in a more spiritual way (see Sati for the most memorable one). I tore through books like Stranger With My Face, about the fascinating idea of astral projection. I gobbled the words that spilled out. I needed these friends that tore me away from my everyday, in-the-box thinking.  

Image courtesy of goodreads.com

Quarantine has reopened my eyes to hard copy books. I’ve never had the urge to pick up an eReader—those are for kids and Baby Boomers only, in my opinion—but listening to content is a different story. My commute went from driving an hour or more every day to the 15 seconds it takes to walk to the kitchen table. I hated driving to work, but I loved the opportunity to listen to audiobooks and podcasts. 

Work, errands, responsibilities, they all take away precious reading time, but as an adult I still need my friends. Adapting to modern ways of reading for me has been full of resistance because I am an admitted book snob. In truth, I think it mostly boils down to being a writer. We writers are apt to smell our books, to touch the pages reverently, appreciate the sound and feel of each word. Life moves in cycles, however, and I won’t always be able to keep stacks of books around. Eventually, when I’m older, I’ll probably want one of those eReaders that I find so objectionable now.

In the Flow

This post is NOT about Covid, but I can’t easily go into it without at least acknowledging the massive event that has touched most human beings in some way. The last 10 weeks of quarantine have been what anyone could easily call a roller coaster. Some may call it a monsoon, others a slight dipping of the tide, and still others don’t know which end is up currently. For me it has been all of these things, changing from minute to minute, never knowing when to throw the anchor to just stop and breathe, but always having a solid support in my partner Boo Bear, and the rest of my community.

My first week of unemployment. Surprisingly, this was not due to Covid; my contract at Nike had been extended, which was a happy bonus during the dregs of the pandemic, and then it was finally time to end. So I’d been saving money here and there, and was extremely grateful for the stimulus check, though in Portland it won’t go far. Still, I’m grateful for any help. Oregon also sent us a kicker from 2018 in our taxes this year, so I threw up a silent hallelujah when I saw that slide into my bank account.

The last time I was unemployed, it came as the biggest shock of my life. I had worked at my previous company for 14 years. I was about to hit the big 15th anniversary. I was inspired by how much my role had evolved and was excited for the changes and fresh blood entering the company. Yet I trusted my new department head too quickly. She waited the requisite 45 days and then booted all but 2 of us in order to bring in her own soldiers. It was devastating. This story is not unique, but it had never happened to me. I was angry for months. I grieved for many things during that time. The expectations of job security, the skills I thought would see me through the next phase of my career, the trust I had blindly put into the department leader. I had expressed my interest in being the new communications editor, and we had scheduled an interview for the day after my layoff. Unbeknownst to me, she had never intended on keeping that date.

As hurt as I felt, and as much as I couldn’t believe that this was supposed to be part of my journey, it led me to a whole new understanding of what a job could be. Seven months later, I found myself sitting behind a desk on the campus of one of the largest sports apparel companies in the world, as an editor. An editor! The position I had wanted at a small insurance firm had morphed into this whole new me, refining copy that thousands of people would see.

13 months and what feels like a lifetime later, I am unemployed once again, this time on my terms. I started my first day of freedom doing what I do most Saturdays since the quarantine started: working out with my best friend over a video meeting app. If you haven’t tried this yet with those you love who are far away (or those you can’t see across town because we’re in lock down), you MUST. Our workout of choice is the 305 Fitness Saturday morning livestream. It’s all about infectious positivity, practicing fun (and sometimes dorky) dance moves, and toning our muscles. I highly recommend trying this or another video workout while you’re staying safe at home.

305 Fitness founder Sadie | photo courtesy of samuelallenscott.net/

I received a sweet text minutes after finishing my workout: a picture of my copy director’s adorable toddler holding a basket of goodies, and the words, “We’re here!” I stepped outside to see my amazing director, S, and her son standing several feet away, the basket at my feet. She explained that it was full of goodies from herself and my coworkers to wish me a happy “vacation.” As I relayed this story later to a friend, she remarked, “You’d better go back and thank her AGAIN, because leaders like this are not common.” #grateful

After I’d cleaned up my sweaty body, it was time for a video chat with my cousin, K. Sometimes I refer to her as my niece because she is 16 and I’ve watched her grow since she was a baby, but our family tree has many branches and many cousins, so at this point, we just call each other cuzzies. We talked about her buying a car soon and hopefully visiting in person when the pandemic dies down.

A trip to the grocery store (Thank you for your care towards your employees and customers, Whole Foods!) turned into an incredible dinner made by yours truly. Boo Bear enjoyed the hell out of it, and since he had made it home on time, which is not always the case in his industry, we got to enjoy a night on the couch watching a Marvel movie without falling asleep. We’re watching them in chronological order, just for funsies. I’ve never watched any Marvel movies before this and I’m really enjoying them! Let me know if you want the chronological list, and I’ll send it your way!

I know not every day will be this awesome, but starting off this new part of my journey with gratitude in my heart for my community and with a positive outlook makes a huge difference. I don’t know what will happen in the next few months, but I’m going to try to remember to take it one step at a time and embrace the flow.

Becky’s COVIDIARY: Week 2

Week 2 began with the best of intentions. Professionally, I felt much more confident in the working-from-home department; I’d set up my desk area, gotten to my screen by 7:30 every morning, and was ready to leap into week 2. I eagerly worked towards hitting my benchmarks with renewed vigor.

Personally, I was not so good. I ordered Caviar 3 times because I was just too tired to cook most nights…maybe 4. I didn’t exercise more than an hour the entire week. I drained many of my vices. Current count:

Sake: 1 bottle
Peppermint Schnapps: slightly less than 1/2 jug
Red wine: 1 bottle
La Croix: dangerously low amount 
White Claws that I bought last week and drank: 7

I’ll admit I also had several moments of despair when my Mac closed shut for the day and all I could muster was an evening of sluggish television watching. Trying incredibly hard not to beat myself up was probably the biggest challenge of all.

Week 2, I did not like you, so I’m not going to give you much attention. I will end this diary post with one of the few highlights of my week: family video chat! It was my cousin Katrina’s birthday, so a bunch of us got online and did what families do best: talk over each other. But it was so fun! I can’t wait to do it again.

What was the highlight of your week?

Spy in the Water Tank

And so, I return to my blog with what I consider to be the most amusing text thread of 2019. Following is the text thread betwixt my handyman, Scott, and I, about his coming to my apartment to check on the hot water tank. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Notes in italics are for you, dear reader.

Scott: Hi Becky, I hope you had a great Christmas. Can I stop by today to measure the hot water tank? If so, what time?

Becky: OMG Scott, we were about to call the FBI…we thought you had been taken by the mob or something. (laughing smiley face) I’m here most of the day working if you want to stop by. I’ll be in and out this evening, but if I’m not here just let me know when you’re coming.

Scott, AKA Buddha Belly: Ok I will try to get over there today, but I’m really a secret agent on assignment and you should know danger follows me everywhere I go! So for your eyes only (and now also the readers of this blog post) my code name is Buddha Belly. LOL if I cannot get there today I will not be able to make it until next year. So sorry I have not been working on the rental but I have been so busy working on this MLK job (Surely a cover!!) I’m now past the completion date. I swear this job is killing me. Happy new year!

Becky: I’m willing to take that chance, Buddha Belly. I’ve enlisted the Half Asian Sensation (my boyfriend Greg) to help protect you on the 1815 assignment. Godspeed.

Grown adults being silly with one another will never ever get old with me. It warms my heart that my fifty-something handyman Scott went along with my ridiculous text message and then raised it to the next level!

Don’t forget to giggle, you guys. And always make time in your day for frolicking.

Poetry of the Body

Underneath, I question;
Temper the mind so that the
body does not shake.

Resplendent, he would say
if he owned such a
vocabulary.
I read it in his hands instead.

I can’t understand
why he feels what he feels
with the palms of his hands
against my skin,

but I am raw with
the hunger to go
along for the ride.

The journey my body takes
when reveled in by another is,
in a word,
fickle.

I feel the feather duster tickle
when he wants to tease, and the
hard press of his desirous fingertips
while exploring the point where my breath
catches.

Inside, a firestorm of inquiry begins
and I start to wonder
how a body so staid
and a mind so mutable
find the ability to survive together.

Words of accusation rip
through the fabric of my rapture
and the facade begins to tumble.

I want to hold on as long as I can,
because I know,
eventually,
it all will end.

Gorgeous,
he would say
in his own
vocabulary.

I have to agree.

Light in the Dark

My body lay perfectly still in savasana (also known as corpse pose). Like a comforting afghan, the weight shrouded my body completely, from my core outwards to my extremities. I could sense pressure even at the tips of my fingers, but my breath was comfortable, balanced. I wasn’t afraid, yet from the start of our first pose my curiosity had been ignited, so I still held the slightest tension in my chest and an odd awareness that I wasn’t used to having during this part of my yoga practice.

This was exactly what was meant to happen, though I wasn’t yet aware of it. I was diving into the curious through the stillness, and I welcomed the wonder it stirred within my questioning soul.

Full Moon Solstice 2018 | photo credit Becky Swank

Beginning

It was the longest night of 2018—Winter Solstice—and adjacent to a full moon, which, according to our guides for the night, was particularly auspicious. The room was warm, both in temperature and adornment. Autumn colors of fiery orange, burnt ochre, buttery yellow, and regal purple embellished the walls and windows; twinkling lights framed the doorway. Fifteen men and women began settling down onto yoga mats alongside blankets and water bottles as the two guides introduced themselves.

The first, Karen, described what we would be doing during her session: entering the stillness. Together we would be exploring the shadows—the other side of light, the inside out—in order to reveal what the dark had to offer and to prepare our personal welcomes for the returning light.

She led us to stand, form a ring of clasped hands, and close our eyes. Strong and fluid, a song slid into my ears like tiny ripples. It flowed in and out of the spaces between us, encircling our hearts and lifting our spirits as we followed the lead and joined in as a whole. The lyrics conveyed healing and unity, and I felt myself slipping into a calmer state, warmly thinking of the people in the room, though most of them were strangers to me.

As it ended, a reflective silence spread palpably over all of us. Karen waited until the fidgeting subsided and we were comfortable on our mats once more. Then, she led us in a guided meditation that filled my body with peace and gratitude.

Katrina’s session was a more physical representation of meditation and was a powerful reminder that breath is so much more than inhale-exhale-repeat. Breathing is full of dynamic energy, she explained, a vigorous reminder that we are alive.

Katrina is an incredible yoga teacher who specializes in pranic breathing and other energy flow techniques. I was a little foggy-headed from the stillness of Karen’s session, but soon, the guided energetic breathing brought me back into focus and into an intriguing and hypnotic headspace.

Initially, we breathed deeply in patterns, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our space together. Then we were standing up and “holding” energy between our open palms, moving it around our bodies and filling the room. At first I was simply enjoying the movement, taking note of how my body felt with each bend and sway. Then something interesting happened. The trance-like state took over completely, and with each movement, I began to feel an increasingly voracious desire to interact with this energy. I could feel it now, seeing striations in a shape taking form. I had never experienced anything like this before, though I have most certainly felt the rejuvenating power of chi and pranic breathing.

When savasana started, I had that covetous itch that always begs for the perfect last pose. I get that tickle of fear that says, Don’t get too comfy on this mat, little girl. Before you know it, the lights will turn on and you will lose all of this and be back in the real world.

But that didn’t happen. It was the longest, most fulfilling savasana of my life. I was able to fully surrender, and that’s when I felt the weight begin to stretch over me, when my breathing had slowed and was calm; when I released all expectation.

End

Later that evening, I asked Katrina about the physical sensation I had felt during savasana. She looked at me, surprised, and asked me to explain further. I described it and said that it was different from my past experiences, such as crying or having rushes of emotion during corpse pose. In fact, I’ve experienced this many times and have felt it cathartic and comforting (after I researched it and found that I was not a complete weirdo for having these outbursts…in fact it is quite common after a powerful yoga class). But this was new. Katrina then told me that this was a phenomenon that sometimes happened to those who are truly able to drop into their yoga. It is the “weight” of the session waiting to be fully absorbed; it’s the ultimate act of conscious surrender; is it true yoga nidra:

“In yoga nidra, the first experience to be awakened is the feeling of heaviness. Physical heaviness is a whole body sensation which accompanies deep musculo-skeletal relaxation. For deep seated tensions and contractions within the network of postural muscles, the instructions “your body feels so heavy that it is sinking into the floor” acts as a command from the brain, encouraging them to ‘let go’ and release their residual burden. Only then is the total weight of the body surrendered completely into the earth, producing the distinct experience that the body is actually merging with the surface on which it is lying.” –Yoga Magazine

And so I found myself having the most transformative night of yoga in my life under a full moon on the darkest day following a few dark months (Being laid off, having both parents in the hospital, experiencing the growing pains of several relationships, etc.). I took the deepest of breaths in and exhaled my immense gratitude for this night.



Taste, Test, and Purchase Mini Market!

Have you been looking for unique holiday gifts or a little something special for yourself? Please join me on December 16th for SCREAMING DEALS on CBD chocolate, essential oils + accessories, skincare, makeup, and more!

The lowdown: Sunday, December 16th, 1:00 – 4:00 PM
Desk & Mug Coworking Space, 6006 NE Glisan, Portland, OR

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