Failures, Bloopers, and Fixes: Turning Lemons into Blue Ribbons

All of our blog posts mostly show our success with various projects, but what they don’t detail is the perspiration, hard work, and do-overs it all takes. Mostly, everything we do requires doing it over again, and sometimes over and over again. Take for instance, our water situation. We wrote a blog about how we were able to create a gravity-fed water system by damming up a mountain run-off creek and piping it to the house. Our blog details all of the success with the final designs. What the blog doesn’t show is the dozen or so attempts that were made to get to that final design. And, we are still working on this. It’s full of trial and error. For many weeks, our touted design worked fine, then on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, the flow of water to our cabin simply stopped flowing. The water was still collecting at the dam site, and there was a steady stream coming through the hose, but the pressure was too weak to make it upward into the two hose turns leading into the cabin. So, we were back to lugging water into the house in the 5 gallon drums. Nate dug other dams, and tried several other ideas. This has been an ongoing process. Then, this week, the water simply stopped flowing in the hose altogether. Nate finally had the idea to connect an upper dam to a lower dam with about 25 yards of man-made waterway. He dug the trench, and I helped him lay heavy plastic in the bottom of it. Then, I was in charge of loading the trench with rocks from behind the cabin. This entailed filling 5 gallon buckets with rocks and hauling them down a 100 yard path, and up a 35 yard embankment. It sounds simple enough, but this was hard, heavy work. In the end, it must have taken 50 buckets full of rocks to fill the trench bed. While I was hauling buckets of rocks to Nate, he was knee deep in the wet mud. I thought, “Yeah, this is what free water feels like. We might not have to ‘pay’ a water bill, but we definitely work for what we have.” I guess we all pay in one way or another. When we were finished with the rocks, I thought to myself, “I might have preferred to write a check for $75 to the water company instead of hauling all of those rocks.” This design worked, and hopefully this one will stick. To tell the truth, my involvement with the water system has been pretty minimal other than helping with this trench. Nate has spent many hours planning, digging, constructing, and piping. I never take that flow of water for granted. We are lucky because the water we tap into is crystal clear, even though we do filter what we drink. Many cabins on this lake have to pump in water from the lake to their homes, and triple filter it.


Here’s another ongoing story….The outhouse that we built several weeks ago is made entirely of wood. It was screaming for some paint, so Nate painted the outside walls a pretty teal green. Then, he got fancy and tried to stencil some leaves and other nature shapes, but it looked like a big graffiti mess, so I painted over it again with the pretty teal green base coat. Then, I decided that what it needed was some pretty colorful flowers, so I took an entire day and painted ivy leaves and wildflowers all over one side of the outhouse. It looked pretty good close up, but from a short distance away, it had the same graffiti feel to it that Nate’s paint job had, so I have painted another base coat of teal green over this too. My latest idea is to paint a larger scene—a large tree with a few big flowers on it. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, Nate has hung his Acadiana flag on the backside and it’s still a plain teal green color on the other sides. This will be a work in progress, but for now, all attempts to make it look “artistic” have failed.


When I went into the crafts store in Haines to buy acrylic paint and brushes for the flowers, the clerk asked me what I was painting, and I proudly said, “I am painting flowers on my outhouse.” He replied, “How Alaskan of you!” I didn’t know this was a common thing in Alaska, but I was proud to be referred to as an “Alaskan”. I have since learned that there is a coffee table book of Alaskan outhouses that are artistically painted.


Another fun failure has been the locking mechanism on the boat shed. The boat shed was already constructed when we arrived on the property, but it had no doors on the front, just a large tarp that hung over it. So, Nate put some nice doors on it, and we put pretty window boxes higher up over the doors. As a finishing touch, Nate put a locking mechanism on the doors to be able to keep it shut, with the option to lock it if we needed to. The one problem I found out too soon, was that if you went inside the shed and the doors were not open all of the way, a gust of wind could blow the doors shut, the door would automatically latch, and you would be locked inside the boat shed. This happened to me twice, but luckily Nate was close by and he could hear me yelling and come let me out. This happened in the first couple of days after we installed the doors. However, lately, Nate has been getting himself locked into the boat shed. Lucky for him too, I also have been close by each time, and could come to his rescue. Finally, Nate rigged up a pull string on the inside of the door so that if it happens again, one can simply pull the string and let yourself out. I was getting ready for a trip to Juneau by myself, so I was glad Nate wouldn’t get himself locked in the boat shed while I was gone!

And, here’s another small goof up. Each week, we set out the trail cameras at a place where we have seen lots of moose and bear activity. We have gotten more brazen lately and started putting out stuff that we think will attract wildlife to our cameras. A few weeks ago, we tied a bag to a tree containing lots of leftover dungeness crab from a dinner the night before. This attracted a few interested moose, and a black bear, who merely sniffed at the bag. We were able to get some close up pics on the game camera. But, we didn’t get the action we were looking for. Fueled by this idea, and by the ability to also catch video on the trail cam, we set out this week to set up two cameras. One for still shots and one for video. We were also armed with 2 large bags of fish remains from the fish we have caught and fileted over the past two weeks. Today, we were excited to return to the area where we had set the stage for this incredible wildlife viewing. The entire area had many signs of moose and bear, and this time, the bags were torn to shreds. We excitedly pulled down the cameras, only to notice that the one that was closest to the action set on video, wasn’t set at all. It had not been turned on. I was so busy looking at all of the other features on the camera I had just read about in the manual, that I forgot to actually turn the camera on before we left. Failure. Nate had set his, so we were able to get some still pics of the brown bear that found his way to our attractant! We also had a good close up pic of a moose. But, we will try again next time.



Also this week, with my sister coming to visit, I was anxious to get started on our stair system. The trail leading up from our boat dock to the house is steep and quite treacherous. We plan on building a rustic stair system the entire way using pieces of logs. We have a curved cottonwood tree between our deck and the hot tub that Nate has been wanting to cut down, so I urged him to cut it down so that we could use the logs to start our stair system. He was reluctant to cut the tree because with its curvature, it was going to be hard to divert its path from hitting his garden. But, he said maybe we could divert it using the “comealong”. I said, “I’m sure that will work.” And, with that vote of confidence, we got to work tying up the comealong and tightening it over to one side. Nate told me to keep cranking the comealong while he went at the tree with the chainsaw. I kept cranking, but then as he got closer to falling the tree, I ran out of slack. The chainsaw work went fast, as this was a pretty thin tree. So, down went the tree, right straight into his garden. It knocked over the trellis he had made for the beans and peas, and uprooted some of the plants, but he was able to salvage most of it.


In the end, although it fell into his garden, that tree sure did make some pretty steps for us.



The last goof up for the week was my entry into the Alaska State Fair Baking Competition. I have had fun making various pound cakes over the last 2 months, and sharing them with our neighbors. Nate raved about the one I made with peaches, and encouraged me to submit it to the fair contest. The mixing and measuring process went very smoothly; but we lost power as the cake was baking, and I couldn’t see the cake well enough to tell when it was done. It was also late at night, and I was tired and probably took it out of the oven too early. When it had cooled for 10 minutes, I tried to turn it over and the whole thing almost fell apart. I tried piecing it back together again, but it was not pretty. I decided to make the light glaze a very thick frosting instead so that I could cover up the lumpiness. I worked on fixing this mess of a cake well into the evening hours. Nate went to bed as I was mixing up various frostings, and he rolled his eyes at my attempt at the lemon flavoring.  So, I ditched that effort, and went for a plain version with whipping cream and powdered sugar instead. I added a few peaches as garnishment. I did the best I could, then packed it in a case in the fridge overnight.

Before going to sleep, I stepped into the bathroom to retrieve a face towel and realized it was still damp from the laundry. We have had several days of overcast weather, so the laundry has taken a while to dry outdoors. After three days, I thought they were fully dry, so I folded them and put them away. Now, I realized they were still damp. It was late enough and I was tired enough that this damp towel combined with the cake fiasco dampened my spirits. As I climbed into bed, I thought, “Can’t I do anything right? I can’t even do laundry or bake a simple cake!” I fell asleep feeling defeated. When I woke up the next morning, my spirits were a little bit lighter. I was okay with the cake being whatever it turned out to be. Nate picked some leaves from the yard, and I used these as additional garnishments, trying my best to make it look presentable. Many times throughout the making of this cake, I almost threw the damn thing in the lake!  I questioned whether or not I should even submit it.  Nate convinced me that it would be fine. He said it might not look perfect, but that recipe was really good. He told me to call it “Peaches & Cream Pound Cake”, which I did. I packed it tightly in a storage bin for the boat ride to town. In the end, I actually won the Grand Champion Ribbon at the state fair!!!



This week has taught me to keep striving, and never give up. Everything takes work and lots and lots of effort and perspiration.  And, in the end, it all pays off.

The blue ribbon award felt magical. It is amazing to me how this small piece of fabric with symbols and words printed on it can make someone feel elated and validated. Such a simple thing. I thought about people in my life who deserve a big blue ribbon…my sister, who struggles with Lupus, and yet still faces each day with optimism and smiles through her pain and frequent fevers….and, to my three children who have made it through 12 weeks without mom close by, and who have cheered me on through their own sadness while I have undertaken this Alaskan adventure…. and, to my husband, who puts up with all my failures and bloopers, and who works harder than anyone I know. A giant blue ribbon for you too, honey!

Who will you give a blue ribbon to?


2 thoughts on “Failures, Bloopers, and Fixes: Turning Lemons into Blue Ribbons

  1. AHHHHHH so interesting yet again! Thoughtful stuff you write dear Jen. I am giving my blue ribbon this week to your sister Chrissy, who never complains, always smiles, loves God, has lupus, has high fevers, and got her butt on a plane today to spend an adventurous month in Alaska with you. Chrissy, YOU ARE MY BLUE RIBBON WINNER!


  2. I am so proud of you! I truly love reading these blogs. I seriously doubt that I have what it takes to be off grid, but I can live vicariously through your adventures! 😊 Dana


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