No Hard Feelings

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this journal. After I returned home to Alaska, following my grandfather’s funeral, friendships and a business partnership publicly unraveled. 

I never announced on the blog, a year-and-a-half ago, that we bought into Wrangell Mountain Air, the air taxi company that Austin flies for. I didn’t want people to think differently of us as business owners. Austin and I are background kind of folks and don’t like to be in the spotlight. I suppose that’s also why, when two partners resigned at the close of this season and local eyes seemed to fall on us, I didn’t feel up for writing anything that might draw more attention here. It’s been a disappointing, freeing, maddening, and exciting several months. 

Think back. Remember those breakups in your life that were long and deep? The song that emerged during those times? How the artists seemed to have access to the secret rooms in your heart and convey the feelings stored there that you couldn’t name? For me, during this “breakup” period, the album isTrue Sadness by The Avett Brothers. It’s an insightful and open record of the ups and downs of life, loss, and love. The song that gets me is No Hard Feelings. This life-earthquake-event makes me recall life’s significance, how I want to live it, and ultimately leave it. I’m learning in this situation anger management, grace, disappointment, forgiveness. Sometimes blinded by loss and discouragement, this song reminds me I have “so much to have and hold.”

In other news, I’ve gone back to work after one full year of being a “seldom-at-home mom.” Home is my favorite place to be but I find my girl and myself out-and-about as often as not. I’ve loved my front row seat, watching Linde growing and learning this last year and I’m now excited to maintain a lot of that lifestyle while being a professional once more. With the recent business changes, I find myself the marketing manager for Wrangell Mountain Air. It’s not at all difficult to make our work look cool (because it is!) but I’m learning about social media, SEO, and print advertisements. It’s a blast.

I also have resumed work as a speech-language pathologist, commuting from Colorado to Hoonah, AK every-other month. I check on the kiddos who have speech and language goals, complete formal evaluations when needed, and provide support for the speech aid who works with the students in my absence. Hoonah is about a 20 minute flight by puddle jumper from Juneau and has a population of less than 1,000. It receives cruise ships in the summer but a solid group of citizens stay the winter. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone and, though folks know I don’t belong, they are kind and welcoming. Today ends my second two-day trip to this lovely fishing village and I’m eager to return in January. 

This is a rough spot in life, but a beautiful one as well. I’m fine here. 

Artwork Filing Chest

I have created a variety of wood pieces over the years: nightstand of old barn wood (with my mom-in-law), a giant bookshelf (with my Daddy), a bed for Linde Girl (with Austin and my mom-in-law), sided the outhouse (solo!), tool bench (with my mom-in-law), art framing with hanging pegs of railroad spikes (with my dad-in-law), and window installation (with my mom-in-law) but THIS project (with my mom-in-law) makes me most proud.

Filing Chest Front

My siblings-in-law had leftover white oak flooring that they were using to burn in their fireplace, so they let me trade them for real firewood. I used these materials for the top and sides of the chest and their leftover oak plywood for the drawer fronts and sides, runners under each drawer, and vertical supports for the sides of the chest. I purchased the hardware, plywood drawer bottoms, backing, and trim pieces. I spent around $350 instead of $7,500. She stands three feet tall, is just shy of four feet wide, and is 2 feet deep. Each of the fourteen drawers has a depth of almost two inches.

This project would have not been possible without my sibs-in-laws, my mom-in-law's years of carpentry experience, my dad-in-law's shop and patience with my three-week mess there, a table saw, brad nailer, and many bottles of wood glue. It was not easy and I would not do it again unless someone offered me an obscene amount of money. BUT, I am so pleased with the final product and have at least one paper item in almost every drawer. Come by and see it for yourself and, in the meantime, click the photo below for a few more shots!

December Projects and Beyond

We have been back to our Colorado hometown for what seems like only a very short time though it somehow feels like ages since we were in Alaska. Upon our return to Greeley, we promptly left for Breckenridge, Estes Park, Daytona Beach, The Big Island of Hawaii, Estes Park again, and Breckenridge once more. (Sigh!) It feels really great to be home now. As I settle into a rhythm I hope to make art-making a part of my daily life. So far, I've been pretty active in this realm. Here's a peek into my most recent projects.

The New Golden

McCarthy Places

I created a series of my favorite (there are not many from which to choose) buildings in McCarthy, Alaska for Kennecott Trading Company last winter. I drew each building in pen on watercolor paper not because I intended to learn to watercolor but because that is the paper that was in my purse when I decided to begin the project. Each building was then Photoshop'ed together onto one document that I transformed into a postcard that was sold in the gift shop. It was something I was proud of and that tourists and locals seemed to like. It occurred to me this fall that, though the black-and-white is appealing in its simplicity, the bright hues of McCarthy buildings are what make them so winsome. A dear friend gave me a set of travel watercolors and I proceeded to learn to use them on each of the pen and ink drawings. I am pleased with the result and I gifted the originals to a friend as a "thank you" present. You can scroll through the pictures of the other buildings in the series if you click here. Prints, notecards, and postcards are available in my shop. 

Kelly's House

Kelly's House

Greeley, CO has an inordinate number of the world's most quality humans. One pal planned for many friends to bombard another with beautiful gifts for a significant birthday. Kelly's home is one of my favorites I enjoy on neighborhood walks. So I illustrated this and left it on her front porch while she was away.


Habitat for Humanity ReStore

The ladies in my families (mom and in-laws) participated in a fundraising competition for our local Habitat ReStore in which we formed a team, selected a grouping of very dated and worn furniture pieces and reworked them. After one month, the store hosted an event in which all teams appeared and our refurbished furnitures were auctioned. I painted, re-cushioned, reupholstered, and re-tufted, this chair. Not only does it look worlds better, it's comfy again too. I spent about $40 on the makeover, it sold for $200, and it now resides in the buyer's bedroom. Here she was when I first got my hands on her... 



Austin's 24-Hour Clock

Austin's Zulu Clock

For Christmas this year, I created this 24-hour clock for my Austin. He loves off-beat clocks... really any type of funky instrument that measures units. This is special because, of course, the hour hand only rotates once each day; the am hours are on the right and pm on the left hemisphere. I used a Chopsaw, drill press, Dremel tool, and beautiful left-over oak flooring from my in-laws.

The world's sweetest nephew

The World's Sweetest Nephew

There is one sweetest nephew on the planet and he belongs to us. He is six months old and a dream baby. I drew this for his momma for Christmas with graphite pencils and it was a fun little project. This "knuckle head" (as his Gramps lovingly calls him) is the first male child born to the Robels since 1982! He is one very loved little boy.

Sample Architect Chest.jpg

And my next project...

I did just find this photo on Google images, but I plan to tackle something like this next. I have been on the lookout for one of these shallow-drawered beauties for years. What could be better than storing pages small to mammoth, not vertically or in tubes, but... flat? Unfortunately, there exist many people that also appreciate architect filing chests and not enough of them to go around. Or so it seems since the only pieces I have found are $,$$$. Stay tuned to see how this project goes!

Welcome, Friends

Hi there and welcome! I am excited to present this website as a place to house my creativity (word and visual art) all in one place. Previously, I updated friends and family via my alaskablogcabin site, and have transferred those articles to this space. Enjoy poking around in the archives or sign up for updates for new content here. If you were a subscriber of alaskablogcabin you will no longer get email notifications when I post here as I will no longer be maintaining that site.



My hope for this site is to write fun, interesting, and entertaining content that is true to my life and also to showcase creative visual projects in the "shop" section that otherwise would sit, unoticed in my own house. Thank you for your interest in my work and play!

My Shower

I look outside and the thermometer reads 34.7. I really, really need to take a shower since I did housework all day yesterday and I am going to see a lot of people in just a couple hours. The sun just rose but it will be a little while before the temperature climbs even one tick. I take off my pajamas, slip on my flip-flops, grab a towel, and take a deep breath before I open that front door. I run for the shower, turn on the water, and greet the rising steam from the outdoor stall like a best friend I haven't seen in years. Embraced by the thousands of hot water droplets touching my skin, I welcome the cold cold air all around me. Melting frost falls from our roof to a metal awning creating a satisfying "drop drop" that likens to the popping of a Snapple cap. The shampoo bottle requires a bit more muscle as the liquid inside has settled itself into a more viscous condition; even the shampoo can tell winter is coming and wants to hibernate. Through the rising steam, I see the backlit, golden aspen leaves fluttering in the gentle breeze forty feet above my head. Though I began the shower process with some trepidation, I determine that this was the single best bathing experience I have ever had! Boy, will I miss this when I'm back home in Colorado!

Off the Grid Living

I had heard the phrase before but had never considered, before living here, what an "off the grid" lifestyle entails. There are as many ways of living in this way as there are people who do it but here is what it is for our family.

Water hauling.

We do not have a faucet that gives us hot water that comes from a reservoir I have never seen. Our water comes from a spring a two-and-a-half miles from our cabin. In previous summers, we submerged a five gallon bucket into the stream and hauled it home dispensing the amount we wanted directly into our cups. It's been tested time after time and always proves itself, untreated, some of the best water anywhere. These days, we place our 65 gallon tank in our four wheeler trailer and drive to the spring. Our pump connects to the ATV battery and we stand and chat with passersby as the water effortlessly piles into the tank. Once full, we drive the unit home and use the same pump setup to send the water into our 220 gallon tank in the loft. Once stored there, we turn on our kitchen faucet or showerhead and out drops clean water. NOTE: I drafted this entry at the beginning of the summer. Since then, we've had an ongoing beaver issue: these not-so-cute-before-they-get-their-winter-coat pests have constructed a series of dams resulting in water backing up above the normal spring access point, a large stream pouring over our road (instead of through the dammed culvert), and a growing concern for water purity. It is a sticky situation since we are a mixed community of year-round Alaskans, seasonal workers, and National Parkies; year-round residents can kill the beavers but most of them have wells so they are not as affected by the issue, beavers do not yet have their winter pelts and thus are not currently valuable, and if the beavers are not killed but their dams are destroyed they rebuild. Over and over and over. All that to say, it's been a real struggle. We have adapted by going farther upstream for our water and using a hefty water filter (that previously was unnecessary).



Most of our daily powered needs comes from our 100lb propane tank. A local has propane delivered to his house and when we are in need, we drop a tank at his place with our name and number written on it in Sharpie, he fills them, we return a day or so later and leave some cash for him. Austin has plumbed lines from said 100lb tank to our tiny oven, stove, and fridge as well as to our (also tiny) on-demand water heater. Both water lines (sink and shower) pass through this fabulous unit so we have quick, as-hot-as-you'd-ever-want-it water as long as there is H2O in one tank and C3H8 in the other. 


Alaska is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun. Currently (NOTE: again, I drafted this in June), the sun is rising here at 3:49am and setting at 11:14pm and we have not even hit solstice yet! After sunset there is not enough time for it to get fully dark before sunrise. Thus, our one 100W solar panel gets plenty of sun, hanging from the south-side of our cabin. The power is stored in the deep-cycle battery and gives us plenty of electricity for lights (which we do not really need until later July) and charging our devices. 


This is where I suppose our version of "off the grid" diverges from that of folks who adapt to this lifestyle for environmental reasons. Another local, with heavy machinery who completes many construction projects in this valley, has gasoline delivered to his shop and supplies our community members with gas using a similar system as that of propane. This fuels our generator which fires up our power tools, washing machine, and any other high-powered appliances. We do not use this often since solar and propane takes care of all our daily needs. 

Compost, Burn, Nonburn, Creek.

We are hundreds of miles from the closest dump. Thus, we have to be conscious of how we dispose of our waste. First consider, "will this decompose?" If so, compost (except egg shells, the protein of which is a bear attractant). If no, think, "will this easily burn?" If so, put in the burn-trash bin. If no, ask, "can this be recycled or cleaned up enough that when thrown in a bin it will not stink?" If so, put in nonburn-trash bin for hauling to a faraway dump. If it does not fit in any of these categories (i.e. moldy bread I forgot about and now smells like death) it goes into the swiftly moving creek as fish food. 


When I first came to McCarthy in 2013 I was most concerned about having to use an outhouse. Previously, I had only experience with rarely maintained port-a-potties at trailheads and fairs. I soon learned to love outhouse life. While there are some homes with flushing toilets they are uncommon because of the need for leach fields. These require enough effort and money to construct that most forego this little luxury. Plus, cabins here tend to be only as large as necessary (think money to build and space to heat when it gets cool). Outhouses do not stink if cared for properly: no rotting toilet paper in the hole and peeing in the woods whenever possible. It is so refreshing to do your business outside, away from everyone, while watching leaves rustle in the trees and listening to nearby birds whistling. Our outhouse features two seats (one adult and one toddler); a custom door built by yours truly with her handy mom-in-law complete with a spruce tree cutout to let light and air pass; old window with wavy glass (also installed by we women) with a cafe curtain (made by my sweet mom); a magazine rack providing literary options in the aviation, home decor, speech therapy, and anthropological genres; and a vase with a wildflower perched on the sill. It is a super getaway. 


Woodburning Stove. 

Our cast iron house heater runs on wood we find on our property (we'd never run out!) and matches. It heats this place up in no time and the warmth helps dry clothes indoors when it is too wet and rainy to hang them on the line out back. 

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Yes, it takes effort to live in this manner. No, I am not tough or crazy or a pioneer-woman. There actually is freedom in spending time working on living and ignoring the things that do not actually matter: talking to friends at the water hole vs. sitting in a car in traffic, walking through the woods gathering firewood vs. watching television shows. It is simple. At least it is in the summertime. I do not plan to ever be able to speak to off-the-grid living in Alaska winter. 

We Flew.

What a sentence: "We flew." For the entire length of history, until the past 100 years, all humans had only viewed the earth from one perspective: with feet on the ground. Flying is something we all dream of doing (my flight dreams always involve a swimming kick-board and I breaststroke through the air) but we already have the means... planes (and helicopters and gliders and jetpacks, etc.)! In just over a century we have become so used to flying that we'll casually say, "I gotta take two flights to ______" next week. We board the plane hoping the passenger sharing our armrest will let us sleep so the time will fly while we do too. It's an elevated bus ride. I do not get excited about flying in commercial jets, partially, I think, because the flight is at such high altitudes the beauty of the ground below is often unseen or obscured by clouds. Small plane flying is a whole 'nother deal. While buckled into a metal machine the size of a minivan, hurling through the air twice as quickly as you might on the highway, it becomes difficult to check-out and forget you're flying. Flying lower to the ground than in jets, one spots bear, mountain sheep and goats below, and finds familiar trails; these are constant reminders that there's nothing between you and the earth but thousands of feet of air. Mountains that appear large from the ground are revealed as the breathtaking masses they truly are. You learn that rainbows can form a full circle when spotted from great heights.

Married to Austin, I've ridden along on flights over the past few years observing scenery that has astounded me; some of my favorites have been this summer.


Austin's folks came for a visit and he took us up for a 90 minute "flight-see" to an area of the park where I had never visited. First, we travelled up the valley to where the Erie mine still clings to the mountainside. Many hikers eager to see what was left behind when the copper mine closed in 1938 turn around well before they arrive at this bunkhouse, though some brave hikers (including Austin with my cousin last summer) make it all the way and are not disappointed in the relics they find.


Below us, as we travelled north through the valley were cracks, crevices, blue pools of water on the white ice of the Root Glacier. We then came to the Stairway Icefalls, almost vertical portion of the glacier from which huge chunks (think bus sized) sometimes calve. I've heard that these are the tallest icefalls, outside of the Himalayas.


We swung around toward the west and headed for our local monster mountain, Blackburn. Some of our guides summited this beast in May which blows my mind. It stands at 16,390' (5th highest peak in the US) and was first summited by a woman, Dora Keen, in 1912 and her route has never been successfully repeated. From here, Austin took us around the backside and this is where it really got wild. I'd never been on this side of the park and boy did it deepen my love for this place...

Bluebird skies, snow, and rock as far I could see. I really have no words to describe this beauty and my pictures are in no way comparable to the real deal. You'd just have to come see this for yourself. Next up... Mount Wrangell! She tops out at 14,163' but has a mass of 560 square miles. I've heard that's 10 Mt. Rainiers!


As we approached, we could see steam billowing out from a crater and ash covering the snow. This is the park's only active volcano. You may be able to detect icicles in the opening.


After this portion, we wound our way back home enjoying jagged peaks coated in overhanging snow, more abandoned mine sites, tundra-like vegetation where snow had melted but trees and shrubs do not dare grow (the latter two not pictured - at this point I gave up attempting to represent well what I was seeing with photos).

What a gift it is to fly. To dream to soar, fashion a machine that actually ascends (and descends!), and brave the skies. When my feet leave the ground and I see snowy peaks cast in rose gold light, my soul is grounded in the apparent love of my Maker.


This Week Through My Lens

Austin and The Lind bought me a new lens for my camera (Nikkor AF-S 50mm 1:1.4G) and I'm loving it! Here are a few fun scenes from the last several days. Click on one to enlarge and see the whole caption. Gotta go and enjoy a rare moment of sunshine!...

Our Middle Name

We landed in McCarthy, Alaska a week ago. It's been a whirlwind of catching up with friends, summer preparations, colds and teething, mad grocery shopping, and store set-up. Of our three flying days to get here, the last was my favorite. It might be because the closer we got to home, the more excited I became but I think we truly live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Here are a few photos of our last day of flying...

We live in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. While I'd seen Mt Wrangell (a huge mass - think 10 Mt. Raniers!) a number of times, I'd never seen all of Mt. St. Elias - our park's middle name (the top, left photo) but we flew by it on our last leg into town. It. Is. Impressive. Standing at 18,008 feet, you can see its entire height as it rises from the ocean. It was one of the most impressive scenes I've ever observed.


Weathered In

We made it to Portland... and here we'll stay. We fought head-winds during all three legs of our flight yesterday, Linde threw up twice, poor Eddie hit his head on the ceiling during one large and unexpected bump... we were very happy to land. Our friend Meghan Thomas picked us up and brought us home to her 5 incredible kiddos, spaghetti dinner, and strawberry shortcake - a great way for Austin to finish his very long 35th birthday!


This morning, Austin learned the weather was not suitable for a departure today but is hopeful that the weather systems will clear by tomorrow. I always thought rain and snow were the biggest hurdles for flying. However, wind, ice, thunderstorms, and low clouds really impede flight. Austin looks at all aspects of weather forecasts days before we leave but often has to change the plan within an hour of our planned take-off. This has happened many times, but I still have trouble remembering that most cross-country flights do not go as planned. Sometimes you get a great tail-wind that pushes you faster than you thought you'd travel. Often you have to re-route because of slow-moving storms that won't clear. Other times, like today, you just can't leave at all.

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FullSizeRender (1)

We're excited to be "stuck" here today because we're with friends in Portland. Could there be a better place to be weathered in? Austin and Linde are taking a much-needed nap and when they wake up we'll hit up a famous bookstore in Portland and, of course, down some coffee.