A meandering blog with no clear topic. You will find me talking about knitting, building, kids, social and economic issues, Alaska, and lots of other stuff.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

warm weather

So, the week before Thanksgiving I was in Utah. I could not believe how warm it was. Check this out:

70 degrees! And almost no snow in the mountains:

And while I was there, I talked to several people, none of whom I want to offend, as they are my family and close friends, about global warming. And none of them believe it is really happening. Even though it was seventy degrees in November.

The news about global warming is getting more and more grim. Check this article out:


People keep saying that there is a lot of debate in the scientific community regarding whether global warming is real, or if it is really caused by human activity. Maybe five years ago, that was true. But a lot of work has been done on the subject in the last two or three years, and it's pretty clear. It's really happening, we caused it, and if we don't do something to fix it, NOW, we are in serious trouble.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


So, I was in Utah last week. I flew from Anchorage to Salt Lake nonstop, on the red eye. Before takeoff, while waiting to be de-iced the second time, the pilot announced over the loudspeaker that he knew it was a red-eye, so he wouldn't be on the loudspeaker a lot. I thought that was great.

So, we take off, and it was pretty bumpy. Bumpy enough that I was glad to get some altitude. The pilot came on the loudspeaker, and said since it was rough, he would leave the fasten seatbelt sign on until we reached cruising altitude. OK.

Periodically, throughout the rest of the flight, we hit turbulence. The flight was bumpy more than it was smooth. I would have been fine with that, except for the pilot. The fasten seatbelt light would turn off. Then we would hit some roughness, and it would come back on, and the pilot would tell us on the loudspeaker that the fasten seat belt sign had been turned on. Then it would turn off. Then we would hit some roughness.....

This continued for the entire five hour flight. I would have been much more content if he had simply said before take off, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be a rough flight tonight. Please keep your seat belts on for the duration, unless you have an urgent need to go to the lavatory." And left it at that. At least I might have gotten some sleep.

Monday, November 12, 2007


There is a lot going on in the world recently, and much of it has me worried. On NPR on Friday, one expert stated unequivocally that if the world remains on the path it is on, in 30 to 50 years, no one will live in a first world society. (http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/11/09/consumed1_pm_3/) There are many issues confronting us as a society right now. There are so many, in fact, that I do not think we will have the ability, or maybe just the political will, to solve them. I decided to start a list. Bear with me. Or not.

Global warming. I know you all have heard me preach about this before, but I think it is becoming increasingly obvious that it is going to have a much larger effect that most of us expected, and in a much shorter period of time. Global warming has many side effects, including increasing drought in places like Australia and the US Southwest, Midwest and South, rising sea level, which threatens many coastal cities worldwide, decreasing arctic and Antarctic ice cover, migration of species away from the equator, and so on.

Peak oil. Peak oil, for those of you that haven’t heard of it, is the point at which the production of crude oil is at its highest point. The idea is that there is only so much oil in the ground, and when you get about half of it out, the rest becomes harder and slower. More expensive too. There are many websites out there that talk about whether peak oil is coming sooner or later (my guess is sooner), and what the effects will be. The biggest problem is that at some point, whether it is actually at the peak of production or not, is that demand (which is still growing globally) will at some point begin to outstrip supply. This makes oil both scarce (think gas station lines and rationing) and more expensive (anyone notice the price of crude oil lately????) If we have not found acceptable, workable alternatives that can be ramped up in sufficient quantities to replace our thirst for oil, we are going to be in a huge crunch. The concept of peak also applies to natural gas, coal, and other energy sources.

Water. As a side effect of global warming, there is increasing drought in many areas. Also, it causes more of the rain that does fall to be lost to evaporation. Snow packs in many mountain ranges, which supply fresh water to many cities and agricultural areas, are decreasing. Meanwhile, many of the cities that depend on this snowpack are expanding rapidly, such as Las Vegas. The Ogallala aquifer, the main water supply for the plains states, is declining rapidly. It is being used up much faster than it is being recharged, in some places being used 100 times faster than it is being recharged.

Financial problems. As you may have noticed watching the news recently, things are not looking so good for the financial sector. With the mortgage mess, which seems to be expanding in scope, and affecting much of the rest of the credit market, the downturn in real estate generally, stocks faring terribly, inflation running rampant (although the core inflation rate doesn’t count those necessities, food and energy, that are quickly becoming noticeably more expensive), etc. I think we are in for a nasty recession. Apparently, much of the world agrees, if you notice how valuable our dollar is to the rest of the world right now. This would not be an insurmountable problem by itself; we have had money problems before. But it makes it harder to address the things that need to be addressed.

Agriculture. This is related to many of the items above, but important enough to talk about it by itself. Agriculture, at least the way most US corporate farmers practice it, is heavily dependent on two things: water (duh) and oil. With one farm having acres and acres of corn, wheat, etc. to care for, tractors and other mechanized equipment that run on some derivative of oil, are essential. Also, most people don’t realize this, but natural gas is a necessity for the production of fertilizer. Natural gas has also peaked on this continent. Researchers have found that it takes an average of 10 calories worth of petroleum to get one calorie of food to our plate. Then there is the effect of global warming and water shortage, which also deeply affect our ability to produce food. And then there is top soil loss adding into the problem. Our ability to produce enough food to feed us all is becoming seriously compromised. And then we go and send who knows how much corn to the ethanol plants.

Oceans. They are becoming acidic, thanks to the excess carbon they are soaking up. Their dead zones, courtesy of fertilizer and topsoil runoff, causing algae blooms that deplete the oxygen from the water, are making more and more of our oceans uninhabitable to the species that normally live there. Oil spills, such as what happened with the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, and more recently as the San Francisco Bay spill over the weekend, and the spill in Russia last week, although thankfully relatively rare, are damaging to the oceanic ecosystem when they occur. Also, studies are showing that we are overfishing, to the point of depletion, many of our fisheries. By the middle of the century, scientists report that the current global trend projects the collapse of all species of wild seafood that are currently fished by the year 2050 (collapse is defined as 90 percent depletion). Even Alaska’s wild salmon fishery, which is closely regulated, and receives awards for sustainability, cannot continue if the other species are fished out, as the ecosystem becomes so damaged as to be unable to sustain them.

Other natural resources. Many minerals, metals, and other natural resources are becoming increasingly difficult to mine, with progressively smaller concentrations of the needed substances in the ore. Phosphate, necessary for fertilizer, uranium, copper, and many more are becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to mine. If we are to make the shift away from fossil fuels, it will be increasingly difficult, for example, to build solar panels without the silicone and other minerals they require. This simply compounds the problem.

In a nutshell, we are simply using too much of everything. I think I could make a much longer list, but that is enough to give me a headache. We have completely outstripped the ability of our planet to sustain us. Unless we make immediate drastic changes, our kids are looking at a much less hospitable world than the one we grew up in. And you know, I like my kids. And I have a feeling I will like my grandkids. I don’t want them to suffer because of our choices. But that is where we are headed. So I am worried.


Maybe. Or maybe not. I have mentioned in my blog before that there is ALWAYS snow by Halloween, and that by then, it stays for good, until about April. Well, there wasn't. In fact, for the last several weeks, we have been about 15 degrees warmer than normal, with no snow. Well, it snowed this weekend, while we were up at our cabin, and it was wonderful. The kids got to play in the 3" or so we got, and it was very nice to be snug and warm in our cabin while it was snowing outside. (We have a kerosene heater we are using until we get the wood stove installed.) So it was looking like winter was finally here. My kids got up this morning totally excited about FINALLY being able to wear their snow pants to school. I got up this morning totally excited about taking winter pictures and posting them on the blog, and bragging to all and sundry about our wonderful snow. Then I went outside to put my youngest on the bus for school.
What? What is that sound? That.... dripping.... sound? Oh, it is the snow MELTING. It is not cold enough today for our snow to stay snowy. It is turning into yucky, mushy, wet slush. Dammit.

cabin plans

In case anyone is curious:


Another blurry picture, this one of the wall in our living room, WITH SHEETROCK ON IT. This was taken with the crappy camera in James's cell phone, as I forgot to bring the new digital camera for the second weekend in a row. We have a lot of sheetrock done: the really hard part of the vaulted ceiling, the short walls upstairs, the entire front wall of the loft (the one with the window in it), one piece in the kitchen, the living room side of the bathroom, and the entire north wall of the house (as seen in the picture). But we still have a LOT to go. It will probably take a couple more weekends to get the rest of the sheetrock done. But we are hoping to spend Thanksgiving weekend up there, and get all the sheetrock, taping and mudding done. Cross your fingers. Mine are.

I was talking about the hard part of the vaulted ceiling. That was what got sheetrocked first, because the rented scaffold had to go back. These lovely pieces of sheetrock hang on the ceiling about 20 feet above the living room. We had to carry each 4' x 8' piece of sh... uh... sheetrock up the stairs, pass it over the railing for the loft onto the scaffolding and climb up a ladder. Then, James would hold this huge, heavy piece of sheetrock in place while I quickly darted around with the drywall gun putting screws into it to hold it up before his arms gave out. That was the plan, anyway.

The sad reality is that up until that point, I had never done drywall, and had never used the drywall gun. I hate to admit this, but I have shied away from power tools to a large extent, and am hopelessly inept in their use. (I think this dates to seeing my sister's paternal grandfather missing some fingers from an accident with a saw. It scarred me for life. Him too, in a more literal sense.) Anyway, I had a hard time working the drywall gun. There was one memorable moment when his temper gave out about the same time as his arms and a 4' x 8' piece of drywall got thrown across the house.

I don't feel too bad about my aversion to power tools. My mom doesn't do ladders. Ladders don't bother me for the most part, as long as they stay where you put them. I don't do power tools. I just don't see any benefit to putting any part of my body within range of something sharp that is moving rapidly. But when there is only you, and stuff needs to get done, you do it, regardless. And the ceiling? It's up. And James says that once it is taped and mudded, you won't even be able to tell that we did a crappy job.

After that ordeal, the rest was a piece of cake.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Good grades!

Got my kids report cards this past week, and nothing but good news to report! Becky, in second grade, got all S and S+'s. (S standing for Satisfactory). She got O's (Outstanding) in Art and Music. Not surprised at all, as she is our little artist, who also loves to sing funny, quirky little songs, often at the top of her lungs. In kindergarten, she had one of her pieces of artwork displayed in the local museum. Here is a (blurry) picture of it:

Ryan, amazingly, got all A's and B's. There is a story behind this. Ever since second grade I have been advocating for him to be placed in the gifted program. They keep telling me he isn't qualified due to poor grades, and he has behavior problems. I continue to insist that his behavior problems and poor grades are because he is bored. Challenge him, I have argued, and both of those things will go away. I have been hoping that the school district would figure this out before his disillusionment with school became irreversible. Well, this school year, he progressed to middle school. In 5th and 6th grades, he got all F's and D's. The teachers all said the only reason they passed him each year was because they knew he was bright enough to do the work, and it wouldn't do him any good to hold him back. When I scheduled his classes for this year, I managed to get him placed in the gifted "team" (a team is a group of kids that has most of their classes together), and he is in all gifted classes. So I was ecstatic to come home from work night after night to find him doing homework. And even more ecstatic to see all A's and B's on his report card. Not to mention vindicated.

And when I saw his elementary school principal at the school carnival for Becky, I couldn't help but rub her nose in it. Of course, she completely failed to realize that I was saying "I told you so".