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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Brrr...


I know the picture is a little blurry, but it says -29 degrees Farenheit. It's a little cold out tonight in Alaska. If I were in Fairbanks, as my husband and 13 year old son are tonight, I would be even colder... it is -38 there. And it's not even the coldest part of the night yet.

What does this mean for us, who do not have central heating run on natural gas and/or electricity, seeing as how we have neither in our cabin? Lots of wood. We heat with a wood stove, and it has been going literally all day. Normally, I get it going real good before I go to bed, then start it again for a few hours in the morning, but not tonight. Tonight, I must set my alarm to go off every 2 or 3 hours so that I can get up and add wood to the fire.

Last night, it was -10 or -15, and I let the fire die out overnight. When I woke up this morning, it was about 50 degrees in the house. Not cold enough to be dangerous, but chilly enough that I was reluctant to get out from underneath my warm down comforter to start the fire again. But it is much colder tonight, cold enough to require vigilance. So I will be getting up during the night.

It is interesting, living with a heat system that we must constantly regulate. This is the first winter I have not lived in a house that just automatically stayed at the temperature I chose, without me doing anything, or noticing at all for the most part. It means that in very cold weather like this, I am tied to the house. I cannot be gone too long if I don't want to have to start another fire when I return. It is much easier to keep the fire fed than to start a new one.

In addition, I had, without thinking, planned for the entire family to go to Fairbanks these last few days, to visit my oldest daughter. Then I remembered what all of us being gone for 4 days would mean. The house would get cold. I have pets that would not be terribly comfortable if the house got cold, and we certainly have things in the house that should not freeze. So then, a friend volunteered to come over to the house once a day to light a fire, to keep the house at least above freezing. But luckily I looked at the weather reports and realized that it would be getting this cold. One fire a day just would not be enough. So, I stayed.

I am not complaining. I would have liked to have seen Meghan, but it doesn't really bother me to stay home. I am just fascinated by how differently we think about things when we have to directly manage our needs, as opposed to setting the thermostat at 55 and leaving for 4 days, knowing what temperature the house would be on our return.

I wonder how different our society would be if all of us had to have this level of consciousness of all of our daily needs? If all of us had to bake our bread each week and know how much wood had to be hauled in the house each day, and so on. It seems to me that there would be much less importance placed on status and more on practicality. For example, we have about 950 square feet of living space. We would be cutting, chopping, stacking, hauling, and burning much more wood if we had twice the space. While there is a part of me that would love to be living in a fancier house, most of me is glad we built small. Especially when it is cold outside.

Are you scared?

OK, so you have to watch ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's puppet, Achmed the dead terrorist on Youtube. My connection is slow, or I would show it here. It is very funny. There is one part on my mind today as I read the news. Achmed turns to Jeff after admitting to being a terrorist, and says, "Are you scared?" Jeff replies, "No, not really." Achmed growls threateningly. "How bout now?" he asks. Jeff replies, "No."

Well, I am. After a year of depressing economic, climate, and other news, I am. I was reading The Automatic Earth (http://www.theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/) and in one of the news clippings there is this qote: "We’re in the midst of a downward spiral and the momentum is building." I know this quote is only part of an article about home prices, but I find it accurate, and chilling. This is how I have been feeling watching the news the past several months. Journalists are talking about how things are looking bad for the first part of 2009 then start talking about a turnaround. Frankly, I think we are no where near bottom, and things are not going to magically get better in the next 6 months. The downward trend is still accelerating, in everything but the stock market. If we were going to pull out of this thing by June, we would be starting to see the numbers slowing their descent, but the opposite is happening.

Home prices are still falling by increasing amounts. Lending amounts are still plummeting, which not only affects home sales, but many businesses rely on lines of credit that are rapidly evaporating. Consumer confidence continues to decline. Unemployment claims are higher than ever. Retailers report the worst holiday sales in almost 40 years. Even Toyota isn't selling cars anymore, never mind the big three lumbering dinosaurs in Detroit that can't see their hands right in front of their faces. This is all bad news for our economy. Our stock market has plunged almost 40% in the last year, the worst since the big crash during the Great Depression.

Economists are still calling this a recession, but I am going to go out on a limb and say we are only in the beginning of a long and deep depression. And we can't climb our way out of this one by going to war... we are already in a war and we are wasting trillions of dollars over there, and it is not helping.

Let's talk about oil. Oil prices are incredibly low, when you compare them to where they were this summer. I don't see it shooting right back up there immediately, but I can't see it staying this low indefinitely. Right now, the price for oil is low because of a precipitous drop in demand, due to the high prices and the tightening economic situation. Now, as prices have fell so rapidly, there are reports that out of the vehicles that are being sold right now, a higher percentage of them are SUV's than when gas was expensive. Toyota is reporting a significant drop in sales of their Priuses. And demand for oil is slowly starting to increase again. China is filling their strategic reserves. I have heard that beginning January 1, we will start doing the same again. I support that. It is much smarter to do it now than when it was costing us close to $150 a barrel for the stuff. But this will increase demand, which will in turn increase the price. Economics 101. I learned about how this works when I was 14 and taking my first economics course. So when prices start going back up, it will just crimp consumers, businesses, governments, everyone just a little bit more. One less thing looking positive for a quick economic recovery.

And then there is the long term aspect of the oil situation. I am not an expert, but I have been paying attention. It is my position that we are close to or perhaps even past a world peak in oil production. What does this mean for our economic recovery? It means that the oil we get out of the ground from here on out will be more difficult, and thus more expensive, to produce. We have already gotten the easy, cheap stuff. The places we are finding new oil now are in places like deep water gulf of mexico or terribly harsh conditions like the arctic ocean. And they are mostly smaller deposits. We are unlikely to find another Ghawar or three. And if the oil we can get is more expensive, then the oil producers have little choice but to shut in the wells that are uneconomic to produce at $40 a barrel. Or, the price goes up. There have already been indications that the less economic wells are being closed, and new projects in hard areas are being cancelled. This bodes poorly for medium term oil production, as it takes a long time to get oil from a new discovery.

There are so many things worrying me right now. I could go on with this post for days, it seems. Lending to business is shrinking, retailers are doing poorly. There are going to be fewer things on the shelves. If that means less cheap plastic crap from China, maybe that is a good thing for us, but not for China. They are having severe economic problems as well. But if less things on the shelves means less potatoes, less rice, less of the essentials, we will find ourselves in a crisis in a hurry. Farmers also need lines of credit. What will next year's harvest look like if the farmers can't get the credit to buy seed? Maybe this isn't critical at the moment, but if credit continues to evaporate between now and April, who knows? I surely don't. But I can tell you one thing for certain. I am planting a garden.

Yes, I am scared. I think things are going to get a lot worse. But I am thankful that at least at the moment, my job looks secure. I have a house that I don't owe a lot of money on. I have room for a garden, and a box full of seeds. I have plenty of wood to keep my house warm. I have health insurance, and a relatively healthy family, and a wonderful husband that can fix or build just about anything. I live in an area that gets plenty of rain and snow, so water is thankfully plentiful. And I was able to give my kids what they felt was a good Christmas, at least this year. My personal angst about Christmas has not dampened their pleasure. I have many things that can help see me through hard times, so I feel blessed. I realize that not everyone has those blessings, and my heart goes out to them, as things get harder.

2009 is looking like it will be one wild ride. Fasten your seat belts.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas hangover....

So, Christmas was 3 days ago. The run up to Christmas was exhausting this year. We are perpetually last minute shoppers, and the crowded stores make us put it off as long as we can, because we really don't want to do it. In addition, this year, we have been suffering from a healthy dose of disgust. We are just tired of the consumerism that Christmas has become, with buying Christmas presents being the MOST IMPORTANT thing to do for Christmas. We pondered for some time the possibility of simply rebelling, of not doing Christmas. But recurrent thoughts of Santa coming down the chimney with sacks full of toys for good girls and boys were just too much. We could not figure out a way to just stop the madness without disappointing our children. So, eventually, we caved, and spent a ton of money on Christmas, more than we could really afford. In the meantime, up until Christmas Eve, I worked a LOT, put in a lot of overtime, as usual. So other things didn't get done. The handmade gifts I wanted to make, for the most part, didn't get made. The ingredients for the peppermint bark are still sitting on my kitchen counter. The Christmas cards never got sent. My mother's Christmas present didn't get mailed until Christmas Eve. The house is trashed, with remnants of wrapping paper all over the place, and cardboard boxes piled up by the wood stove waiting to be burned. I have the next week off of work, and am completely exhausted. Bah humbug.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Internet issues

I have not posted recently... we are having issues with our internet. James was online last weekend, and the modem suddenly quit working, and we could not get it going again. I finally got around to calling AT&T on Wednesday, and we tried a whole bunch of things, but nothing. The next step is to get a new SIM card for my modem... I am going to do that today. My work schedule has been so busy this week, I just haven't had a chance to do anything. If the new SIM card doesn't fix the problem, they will have to ship me a new modem. SIGH.

And as for work? When I say busy, I mean it. 14 hours of overtime this week. Needless to say, I was determined to sleep in this morning, and I did, and totally enjoyed it. What kept me so busy? Well as many of you know, I am an investigator for the local child protection office, and I got assigned a new case with a baby that is a year old and weighs only 10 lbs. So when I saw this tiny baby, my immediate reaction was to tell the mom that we were going to the emergency room, RIGHT NOW. The baby had already been diagnosed with failure to thrive. There are lots of things that can cause a baby to be failure to thrive. If you admit the baby to the hospital, and feed it what it should be getting, and the baby starts gaining weight with no problems, that rules out any organic reason for the failure to thrive. It means that the parents are simply not feeding the baby enough, for whatever reason. So, the baby was admitted to the hospital, and now we just wait and see how she does, and also run some tests, blood work and such, to see if there are any other medical problems. However, from talking to this mom, it is pretty obvious the baby is not getting enough to eat, and not getting the right things.

Why does this happen? There are many reasons. And there are many factors within this family that have led to this. This family is an immigrant family, and there are language barriers. The family clearly has a lack of understanding of how to navigate the system to obtain services for their children. And there are certainly cultural issues at play. This little girl's two year old brother is perfectly healthy, except for a congenital defect that has required several corrective surgeries. Does this family come from a culture that devalues girls? I suspect so. In addition, only dad is working. Mom was fired because she took too much time off for her son's surgeries, so they face a loss of income as well.

All I can do is help mom access services and make sure that she follows up with this baby's medical needs. And if she can't do it, I will have to remove the baby from the home to make sure she gets what she needs to grow properly. I guess we will have to wait and see what happens. But I just feel bad for this mom, because it seems as though all the cards are stacked against her.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tolerance ... and Proposition 8

As most people probably know by now, Proposition 8 is the initiative that was passed in California on Election Day that provides that marriage can only be between a man and woman. Lots of people are very upset that it passed, and there have been lots of protests. There have been several protests outside the LDS temple in Los Angeles. I am sure that part of the reason is that the church supported the passage of Prop 8. Here are some pics:




I can't get the pictures to line up well, but you get the idea. These photos were taken at a protest outside the LA temple. The gay rights movement is constantly asking for tolerance. If these pics are any indication, I think they are sadly lacking in a trait they demand from everyone else.
When you consider that only between 2 and 5 percent of the voters in California are Mormon, the vote clearly did not ride solely on the Mormon vote. And if most Mormons voted for Prop 8, so what anyway? Aren't we all supposed to vote for what we think is right, regardless of whether other people will like it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Election repercussions?

I had an interesting thing happened yesterday. James and I went to a local gun store, and got to chatting with one of the owners. He told us something interesting. In a normal week, he sells 1000 to 2000 rounds of ammunition. In the last week since the election, he has sold over 80,000 rounds. That is many times what he sells in a normal week. Turns out, people are saying they are worried that once Barack Obama is in office, he will immediately start restricting gun rights. Some people are even saying they think he will sign an executive order his first day in office outlawing guns.

I think that is ridiculous. First of all, you have to consider the second amendment to the constitution. As everyone should know, this guarantees the rights of individuals to bear arms. It takes major effort and time to repeal a constitutional amendment, and it would never pass. Secondly, with the recent ruling from the Supreme Court that strongly supports gun rights, he would be fighting an uphill battle to actually create a gun ban that would not be struck down by the Supreme Court. Third, he is a brand new president coming into office already facing many challenges. I really don't think he would want to alienate large numbers of Americans by pushing a gun ban, when he has much bigger fish to fry, such as the economy and health care, that he enjoys huge support for. He will gain political capital by working on those issues, and can only lose it by banning guns.

I don't think we have to worry just yet about losing our guns, but people are sure acting like it. Alaska is already armed to the teeth, but in the last week, gun and sportsmen's shops have all but sold out of guns and ammo.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Siding

So, the bishop of our ward happens to own a log cabin business. In addition to providing full cabin packages, one of his other products is siding. This siding is made from logs that are sliced lengthwise, so that we have 10' long slices of log that are an inch thick. The slices of log are nailed in two overlapping layers along the sides of the house. The siding isn't done, but two walls are completely done, and the third wall is more than halfway sided. It should be completely done in the next few days, except for the tops of the gable ends. We haven't completely decided yet what we will do there, although James is leaning towards galvanized corrugated metal. The next project will be to weatherize the wood. We decided not to paint because we want to keep the wood appearance. So we will most likely do a colored penetrating stain, that adds some color but allows the texture and grain of the wood to shine through.

We like this siding for several reasons. It is rustic in appearance, in keeping with the character of the entire cabin. It is a local product, made from Alaskan logs that are milled less than 5 miles from my house. And buying it helps a friend.

The last two reasons are especially important from my perspective. It is important to us that we were able to use local products, and we wish it would have been feasible to do this with the entire cabin. If we had wanted a log cabin, we could have done much more of it with local materials, but that wasn't what we wanted, as 8 inch log walls only have a R10 insulation value. With economic problems becoming more severe, and oil depletion quickly becoming a looming issue, it is absolutely vital that local products be used as often as possible, in part to cut down on the distance things are shipped, and in part because I believe it will soon become necessary to rely on local products for many items that will become not worth shipping, so we need those businesses to stay open.

In addition, there is the issue of helping someone I know. Community building is critical with the economic struggles our nation is facing. In times of economic crises, people depend on the people they know for support. Studies have shown that the people that best weathered the Soviet collapse had networks of friends, neighbors, etc outside of the main economic system that they relied upon. If things get worse, and I very much suspect they will, those community ties will become critically important. I buy siding from my friend. Maybe I will give some raspberry jam from next year's harvest to a friend. That friend may drive my kid to school. And so on. And if we all help each other, we will get by much better than each family struggling to do it all. And in the process, develop those social ties that are important on an emotional level as well. That friend that gave you a bushel of potatoes may be the person you call on the phone when your camel's back has been broken by that last straw, maybe something major like a foreclosure, maybe something little like a draining day with quarrelling children, and you just need someone to talk to. And maybe they may turn to you for something big, like space on the floor to sleep if their heat breaks in the middle of winter, or they run out of heating oil, and the barge doesn't come back til spring.

So, yeah, I have siding on my house :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

the canary in the coal mine

"The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming … and the canary has died.” - Dr Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

http://links.org.au/node/683

So, we did not have a record loss of arctic sea ice this summer as we did in 2007. No, we only had the second largest sea ice loss ever. And during a summer that was exceptionally cool and cloudy. It was cool enough this summer that most crops were several weeks behind schedule, and some things didn't produce at all up here.

I don't want to repeat the entire article linked above, but some of it, I just have to.

"The Arctic is key to the world’s climate, and Arctic changes have the potential to seriously destabilise the global climate system...The danger is that an ice-free state in the Arctic summer will kick the climate system into run-on warming and create an aberrant new climate state many, many degrees hotter. The Arctic sea-ice is the first domino and it is falling fast. Other dominos will inevitably fall unless we stop emitting greenhouse gases and cool the planet to get the Arctic sea-ice back. " [emphasis added]

So see, big deal, huh? Read on....

"And so the conclusions we reached in November 2007 were:
• Because of the dangerous knock-on effects caused by its loss, the Arctic sea ice must be restored to its normal extent as fast as possible.
• To get the Arctic sea ice back we need to cool the earth by about 0.3ÂșC. If we don’t, we cannot avoid very dangerous climate impacts. There is no third way. This is the new very inconvenient truth politicians seek to avoid.
• To cool the earth fast enough to get the Arctic sea-ice back quickly, we need to move to zero greenhouse gas emissions as fast as the economy can be restructured, and is environmentally safe to do so, and take about 200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air. We also need to find environmentally-safe mechanisms to actively cool the earth while navigating this transition. [emphasis added]
• Taken together this is a staggering task in terms of the necessary scale and speed of action, but there is simply no alternative if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. "

Catastrophic climate change. We are not talking a little bit warmer. We are talking mass eradication of species, severe desertification of current agricultural land, massive releases of methane from permafrost and arctic seabeds. And to prevent it, we have to not just cut back on greenhouse gasses. We have to stop them. Get to ZERO emissions. Heck, even my woodstove emits greenhouse gasses. The article suggests:

"The climate emergency requires leadership and courage, and an imaginative capacity almost completely lacking in ... politics today. We need to inspire people with the idea of transformative action, the willingness to promote a new vision of the future and make it the number one goal of our society and economy. It requires governments to put much of the enormous wealth generated by our economy into the solving the climate crisis. "

and...

"If politicians cannot lead, then we all must, in building a movement across society that uses the brutal reality of our position to advocate and inspire the nation to take transformative action. We can only play this game once. If we don't do enough, or at sufficient pace, in building a post-carbon economy, the climate system will get away from our capacity to correct it. Trial and error climate policy is not an option. Waiting for the market is not an option. The Arctic is our Pearl Harbor."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Does anyone really need a $150K wardrobe?

I don't think so. Not even our beloved governor turned vice presidential candidate. According to news reports, the republican party has spent over $150 THOUSAND on clothes for Sarah. Most at Neiman Marcus. She is supposedly donating them to charity when she is done, but so what? For someone that is trying really hard to portray herself as a soccer mom, a typical suburban woman, this isn't working. It's just silly and disgusting.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My economic stimulus plan

OK, so the title may be a little bit grandiose, but to be perfectly honest, I think they have it all wrong. They being the know-it-alls in Washington that have come up with one harebrained scheme after another to waste citizens' money. They keep saying taxpayers, but I am damn sick and tired of being called a taxpayer or a consumer. Anyway, this is what I think they should do:

1. Bring the soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to keep them overseas. We can put that money to better use.

2. Repeal TARP, the $700 billion bandaid for the credit crisis. I have a couple of reasons for this. First, I don't think it will work. There is a lot more than $700 billion in bad paper out there, and once we start, where do we end? There was one bank that said it had over $300 billion all by itself. Secondly, the vast majority of citizens are against the plan, and I think we count a lot more than all the Wall Street corporations put together.

3. If a bank lent money it should not have, or an insurance company insured loans they should not have, or an investment firm made bad bets, they need to take their losses. If I were to invest money in the stock market, and lose it, or to lend money to someone and not get it back, there would not be any government agency standing by to hand me my money back. It should not work for them either.

4. Instead of this new economic stimulus package they are talking about, which is just another attempt at a quick fix, a get-rich-quick scheme on a national level, we should be investing that money in a way that will pay off in the future. Think New Deal. Invest in fixing the electrical grid that is old and worn out and in danger of a major collapse. Invest in alternative energy projects that will help reduce our reliance on oil. Get the railroads back in good condition, as shipping freight by rail is much more efficient than by truck. Get the CCC reactivated for these things. Not only will these things help us in the future, but using something like the CCC will create jobs. Unemployment is relatively high right now, and this type of program would help lower it, and thereby put more money in people's pockets. Slower than sending out a check to everyone, but more effective in the long run.

5. Institute a foreclosure moratorium for families who just had their rates readjusted or are newly unemployed. There should be some guidelines about this, so people that just decide to quit paying their mortgages because they are underwater don't get bailed out, and so that people can't just pay nothing and live there for free. Put in place rules for renegotiating their mortgages so that it is a uniform process.

6. Encourage victory gardens and local food production. Food prices are rising, more people are applying for food stamps, food banks are used to capacity and more. The cost of transporting food across the country is astronomical, and wasteful. For things like olive oil, that can only be produced in certain areas, fine. But Alaskans should not be buying potatoes from Idaho.

7. Create MAJOR incentives for increasing energy effciency. Things like carpooling, using public transportation, switching to higher mpg vehicles. We can save energy in other areas besides transportation too. The better insulated a house is, the less energy it takes to keep it warm/cool. Individual families that make plenty of money may not find this important, but as a nation, it is essential that we use less.

8. Create MAJOR incentives for making things here in the US. Almost everything I buy these days says it is made in China, Indonesia, somewhere besides the US. That needs to change.

I am sure I can think of other things, but this, to me, is a good start. I think it would help get us pointed in the right direction, away from the mentality that the only things that keeps the economy going are consumer spending and banks lending to each other.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

as promised....

Here are pics of my new kitchen:


As I said earlier, I am very excited about having a real kitchen in my house. I have cabinets, a sink, a stove, tile floor... it's all there.
Now for the details... the stove is propane, connected to a couple of 100 pound tanks out back. Turns out a natural gas stove converts to propane just by changing one little part. This stove does not require any electricity to work, not even the oven. This is a good thing, since I don't have any electricity.
I do have running water, however, of sorts. We have a 150 gallon water tank upstairs that has a faucet emptying into the kitchen sink. It will go to the bathroom sink too, eventually. We can't use our pretty kitchen sink faucet however, because it turns out that gravity does not supply enough pressure to force the water through the faucet at anything more than a dribble. So we have a temporary faucet that is just like a typical outdoor faucet, until we have more pressure. What we don't have yet is hot water. If we need hot water, we heat it on the stove, or on the woodstove, if it happens to be hot. Our water situation is by no means a perfect one, but it works for us for now.
So, I have a kitchen. I have lived in this cabin since April 1 without a kitchen (you can see the pics here and here of my previous setup). This is a vast improvement, one I am totally psyched about.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Assault with a deadly spork...

James called me earlier today to read me this story he found while reading the Anchorage Daily News. I think it is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. Apparently some guy had lunch at KFC, and must have gotten some serious indigestion or something... he stabbed a guy with his spork, oh excuse me, hybrid fork spoon utensil. When James read this to me, my reaction was, are you KIDDING me?

http://www.adn.com/crime/story/558820.html

I love Alaska.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

long time no see

Well, I knew it had been a while since I last posted, but not until I looked at my blog did I realize it has been over a month. WOW. I have been insanely busy at work, getting lots of overtime, and the commute is taking up just about all the rest of my waking hours. Add church activities, sick kids (even just the minor colds and stuff they have require attention), listening to news about the financial mess, the excitement about having an oven to bake with, I have no time.

BUT DID YOU HEAR THAT???? AN OVEN TO BAKE WITH. I am leaping with joy. I am absolutely, completely ecstatic because I have a real stove. This weekend, I will post pictures on my blog of my beautiful new kitchen.

I have three days off this weekend. I am absolutely thrilled to have all that free time. I don't know what I will do with it all.... oh wait, I will bake bread. I will knit. I will play piano. I will post pictures and erudite soliloquies on my blog. I will spend time with my kids, maybe playing in our snow. I will plant daffodil bulbs and hope they survive the winter. I will.... wait, what happened to all my free time????

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

welfare

I have to start this post by saying that my mom is one of my favorite people. And I don't really want to pick on her. But recent events have me thinking a lot about something she said recently. See, my mom and I get along pretty well. But we totally disagree on a lot of political and economic issues. My mom is a staunch republican, and I am independent, but lean towards the democrat view when it comes to economics. So my mom and I were talking the other day, and she was saying that she votes Republican because "they seem to take better care of my money. They don't try to give it away in welfare to people that are too lazy to work."



Well, no, I agree the Republicans don't give money to the average Joe. Or the poor Joe, who may be poor because he is lazy, or does drugs, or may be poor because he has limited abilities, or poor health, or something else completely outside of his control. Or poor Joe's kids, who are also poor through no fault of their own. But they sure as hell give it away. Who do they give it away to? Um, let's see.


  • Oil companies that make the biggest profits ever seen get huge welfare subsidy payments.

  • Banks that make stupid lending and investment decisions, lose BILLIONS of dollars, and still pay their worthless CEO's hundreds of millions of dollars per year, get huge welfare bailout funds (um, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, maybe Lehman Brothers soon).

  • The Big Three automakers, who couldn't see high gas prices coming (I could see it coming, and I am not getting paid a gazillion dollars a year to pay attention to what direction the market is going) and now can't get loans at a "reasonable" interest rate, looks like they will be getting more billions of dollars in welfare low-interest, guarenteed loans from the government to retool their factories so they can stay in business. Never mind that an individual that made stupid decisions and blew their money can't get a loan at a "reasonable" interest rate either... it's common sense not to lend in that situation, but let's hand out money to the Big 3.

  • Airlines, who also didn't see the high gas prices coming, are getting huge welfare subsidy payments. They are going bankrupt anyway, one by one.

I could keep going. But individual people, who didn't see high gas prices coming, can't get any increase in the heating assistance program, even though heating costs, especially for those dependent on heating oil or propane have gone up astronomically. Individual people, who didn't see high food prices coming, and whose salaries don't keep up with inflation or the rising cost of medical care, can't get increases in medicaid coverage for their children. Soldiers who risk their lives everyday on the battle field, and too often these days sacrifice everything for their country get paid so poorly that their family back home scrapes by on food stamps.


My mom's beef is that helping these people comes out of her pocket, and that of every American lucky enough, smart enough, ambitious enough, whatever, to make enough money to pay taxes. But how much is bailing out Freddie Mac going to cost her, me, every other taxpayer? A hell of a lot more than funding a program to help people keep their homes warm. How much do we spend every year in subsidies to oil companies that make $40 billion in profits? More than what it would cost to pay a soldier enough to be able to provide for his family, or give him adequate healthcare if he is injured.

I just think that individual people and their families, matter a whole lot more than corporations. And I know that all these industries are important to our economy, but I think that if people have no safety net in hard times, then businesses should not either. It is much more tragic for a child to starve or freeze to death, than for a corporation to fail, no matter how large.

For me, the bottom line is that Republican care about big business, and making money. Democrats care about people. That's why I tend to agree with them on economic issues.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Friday, September 5, 2008

nature's bounty

On Labor Day, we went hiking with some friends at Hatcher's Pass. While we were there, we decided to do some berry picking. The blueberries were plentiful. They are more tart than cultivated blueberries, but they are still delicious. We picked til we got tired of picking, then came home with close to a gallon of blueberries. We could have gotten lots more, but this wasn't a serious berry picking expedition, and our hands were getting cold, so we quit.

from my garden...


Yummy! These were picked off the raspberry bushes in my garden for the sole purpose of breakfast the other morning. They were absolutely delicious. It is things like this that make me glad to have a garden....

Monday, August 25, 2008

raindrops on roses


and whiskers on kittens....


A while back, the kids brought home a stray cat that looked pregnant. She wasn't. However, with the combination of her and an unfixed male cat that we thought was too young to accomplish anything (after all, he was just born in November), she quickly became pregnant. So, we now have, in our 950 square foot cabin, two adults, three kids, one dog, and six cats. At least four of the cats are tiny and only temporary residents. And right now, they stay put in their little box. But I know that at some point they will be underfoot, and we will all have to be very careful. I have never had a cat have kittens before, and they are just adorable little creatures. Not any of them look like either of their parents, though.

the perfect s'more


One of the things my kids really like to do is build a fire, and roast hot dogs and marshmallows. We do this every two or three weeks, and it is a lot of fun for them. James has figured out how to make great s'mores.... check it out...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

stone

We got the floor for the Arctic entry in. I think I may have talked about this in a previous post, but now I have a picture :)

James found some natural stone on sale, and bought enough for the arctic entry, plus some. He laid the stone, and I put in the grout. I am really happy with the way it looks.
I really enjoy projects like this because in such a small space (5 x 7), you can do a lot to make it look nice and improve the functionality of the area without spending a fortune, and get it done fairly quickly.
Once sealed, the stone will be perfect for the arctic entry. It is an area of the house that will be subject to heavy traffic, mud, snow, water, ice, dirt, etc. being left on it, and frequent temperature changes. Stone handles this well, as it is naturally exposed to all these things anyway.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Seduction

So, remember back in March, I said: "We could have gone out and bought a new car, no problem. But it just didn't seem like the sensible thing to do. We just paid off our Dodge Durango in January, and I am very happy to be free of car payments. And if I can't get a $20K new car that can match the gas mileage of a $750 car, I just don't see any benefit to it at all." (http://lifeonthelastfrontier.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html) Well, that was my common sense speaking.


But I guess I don't always think with that. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know we have been having issues with our little Geo. Well, yesterday morning halfway through our 55 mile commute, we lost one of our three cylinders. We were able to nurse it into Anchorage, but it was clear that the engine rebuild could not wait any longer. I spent a couple hours yesterday calling around to try to find out how much it would cost to fix, and how long it would take.


Late in the afternoon, James called me. "Come outside," he said. So I went outside, and saw him sitting in a sexy little red car.


"What do you think?" he asked me.


I liked it. I liked it a lot. He was test driving it. Then I test drove it. And I liked it more. I kept thinking, "I don't want a new car. I don't want car payments and full coverage insurance. I don't want a new car."


"We could fix the Geo," I said, trying to maintain common sense.


"What do you want to do?" he asked me. And the rest is history:

I am now the proud (and somewhat abashed) owner of a 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer. It has been averaging just over 30 mpg, so it isn't totally extravagant, but boy, its a long way from my Geo Metro. And I love it.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Quick update

Haven't had a lot of time to blog, even with the new computer. Work has been crazy busy, and home life has been crazy busy, and between the two there is not much time left over. I have been working lots of overtime at work. I am working again Saturday, but I am going to try out the new computer with the working from home thing.

James found some beautiful stone tile on sale at Home Depot, and we are in the process of putting a floor in the arctic entry. We have the tile laid, sealed and grouted, but we need to touch up the grout a little bit and reseal it. When it is done, I will post a picture of it. We also looked at cabinets and we think we have some picked out for when PFD's get here.

A friend of a friend gave us some foam blocks about 4 inches thick that we are putting around the bottom of the house to keep the underside of the house warm. It will save us a lot of wood this winter. (this friend also has cashmere goats and gave me a bag of their fur. I am very excited, but I can't bring it in the house til I wash it, cause it smells goaty.) Also, James has the plumbing for water out of the house done, and is working on the plumbing for water coming in to the house.

Ryan has been ordained a deacon, and Becky is getting baptized this Saturday. Like I said, lots going on.

Friday, July 25, 2008

technology on the last frontier


So, my little cabin in the woods now is on the leading edge of technology. I have no electricity, no phone lines, cables, or satellite dishes on my property, or anywhere nearby. But I am online. I now have a laptop computer, and an internet connection. I bought a car charger for my laptop, and I can also plug it in at work. I am looking at getting extra batteries too. But the cool thing is the internet. You see, my cell phone service is through AT&T, and they have this cool gizmo that hooks into a USB port in my new laptop, and voila! I am connected. It is essentially a cell phone for my computer. It is very cool. So I am sitting here at my kitchen table, blogging. It also means that I can work from home one day a week or so, to cut down on the commuting. This is especially good since my little Geo is going through oil at the completely alarming rate of a quart every time I get gas. We are thinking we should have rebuilt the engine when we fixed the head. Now we will have to take it apart again, it looks like.

Friday, July 18, 2008

thought provoking

 
"Is it possible to imagine any other time in American history when we would have consented to see an entire major city laid waste, without ever rebuilding even its most basic infrastructure? Is it possible to imagine another time when we would have shrugged and accepted the knowledge that our basic infrastructure, things like highways, sewers and subways, are simply falling apart and that we have no intention of fixing them? Is it possible to imagine another time when we knew we were in danger of handing our children a future of hunger, poverty and drought, and sat around debating whether congress might want to consider raising fuel efficiency standards? Has there ever been a time in history when citizens felt so powerless to stop the forces that were driving them to disaster? ... Few of us have put all the pieces together, but when we failed to rebuild New Orleans, when we accepted that we can't afford the tax base to keep bridges from falling on motorists and sewers from backing up, when we accepted that electric grid failure will kill people in the inevitable heat waves, we implicitly acknowledged what we have not yet faced up to consciously — that things have changed, and many of our problems are going to continue getting worse because we either lack the will or the money or the energy or the time to fix them."
 
You should read her post. It is very thought provoking. Essentially her point is that we keep talking about what will happen when TSHTF (when the sh*t hits the fan), with peak oil and a host of other problems we are facing, but that it is happening now. It is no longer a matter of when.  Even before reading this article, after much discussion between my husband and I, we are convinced that it isn't a matter of when.  It is happening, all around us. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

eklutna lake

On Saturday, we decided to do something fun as a family, so we loaded up all the bikes, and went for a bike ride on a trail that runs alongside Eklutna Lake.  It was absolutely beautiful.  We made it probably halfway to the glacier, about 6 miles, before we had to turn back because we didn't want Steven to get too tired to make it back.  He made it the whole way, though, on those little legs.  It was really cool to watch James pedal alongside Steven, holding onto Steven's handlebars, helping him up the hills.

the hills are alive with the sound of music...

I bought this piano last week.  It is in great shape, seems like it only needs minor tuning, and best of all, only cost $125.  I am very excited.  Now I can have music in my house without electricity!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

XON SUX

I saw this on a personalized license plate the day before the verdict came out from the Supreme Court regarding the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and thought it was great, but it was something I would have easily forgotten.  Then the next day, the entire state of Alaska got pissed off all at once.  Now, I have not read the decision, but I have read a summary of their explanation.  The decision limits punative damages to an amount equal to the compensatory damages ONLY in cases involving maritime law.  I never took a class in admiralty law, and have not dug out my notes from my law school classes in remedies, but this seems to be a drastic departure from current punitive damages cases, and a very narrow decision that only affects... Exxon. 
 
Let's talk a moment about McDonald's, specifically Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants.  A woman spilled hot McDonald's coffee on her lap.  She was awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages, including medical bills, pain and suffering, etc. She was then awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages.  Later, the appeals court reduced her punitive damages award to $480,000, more than twice the compensatory damages.
 
in Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007), the Court's decision was based on the idea that more reprehensible misconduct justifies a larger punitive damage award.  Let's think about this a little bit.  So, McDonald's had to pay more than twice the compensatory damages for a woman that spilled hot coffee on her lap while trying to add cream and sugar holding the cup between her legs.  The court found that the woman was partially at fault, and she was still awarded more than twice the compensatory damages in punitive damages.  But Exxon, whose drunk boat pilot ran aground and spilled millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, effectively damaging hundreds of miles of coastline and completely trashing an ecosystem, only has to pay an amount equal to compensatory damages, even though they were clearly wholly at fault????  WTF?
 
Exxon argues that they paid their money, fixed the problem, cleaned up the mess. Baloney.  There are still shellfish fishermen pulling up globs of oil from the ground under Prince William Sound. The fishing has still not recovered. The mess is still there.
 
It amazes me that the 9 people entrusted by the citizens of the United States to DO THE RIGHT THING, all the time, can put the interests of a huge corporation, who makes the largest profits that any corporation has ever made (in case we have forgotten, $40 billion in one quarter), ahead of 600,000 people living in the State of Alaska, who would very much like to be able to swim, fish, live in and around Prince William Sound without worrying about contamination from oil.  Who can't catch enough fish anymore to even make it worth putting the boats in the water.
 
The entire idea of punitive damages is to PUNISH the corporation, so they think twice next time.  What are they going to think about $500 million in punitives? 1/80th of the amount of their profits in one quarter?  No biggie.  Makes me feel like the U.S. Supreme Court thinks of Alaska not as a state with many American citizens that they should be protecting, but as a pretty cheap whore. Thanks, guys.
 
Exxon Sucks.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

vacation

"Vacation, all I ever wanted.  Vacation, had to get away" - The Go-Go's
 
Last week, Ryan, my 13 year old, and I flew to Maryland to visit my mother.  We spent 3 days at the beach at Ocean City, Maryland, and a day and a half in Washington DC.  It was a week of constant motion, as Ryan seems to have an unlimited font of energy.
 
At Ocean City, we spent lots of time on the beach, walked the boardwalk, ate yummy boardwalk food, and let Ryan ride the amusement rides.  The only ones I do are the carousel and the ferris wheel, as I get motion sickness very easily.  Ryan seemed to especially enjoy the bumper cars.  Playing in the ocean was a lot of fun; it has been years since I played in the ocean, and I had forgotten how much fun it was, and what salt water tastes like.  I had a really hard time leaving the beach when it was time to go.  I brought 50 SPF sunblock and it was a good thing that I had it, as my pale Alaskan skin was not used to all that sun exposure.  I managed to get a little sunburn anyway, especially on the backs of my knees.
 
In DC, we had great Indian food in Georgetown, and I bought some Godiva chocolate.  We spent a day at the mall (no, not a shopping mall, but a large grassy space with the Washington Monument at one end and the Capitol at the other, with museums and such on the sides) and saw the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and the National Archives. Ryan wanted to climb the 555 steps to the top of the Washington Monument, but we ran out of time.  Then we had dinner in Chinatown.  My feet were sore enough after the museums that I insisted on riding the Metro 4 blocks from the mall to Chinatown instead of walking.
 
The flight was 9 hours in the air each way, with a layover in Dallas.  Each time, the plane leaving Dallas was delayed due to mechanical problems.  On the way to DC, the plane from Dallas to DC was delayed an hour or so due to a problem with the toilet.  The valve was broken, and I guess they didn't want to drop sewage all the way from Dallas to DC.  Eeew.  On the way back to Alaska, the plane was delayed about 3 hours because of a wiring problem.  It turned out to be absolutely ridiculous.  First we waited while they tried to fix the wiring problem.  Then we waited while they located another airplane (which by the way, was clear across the airport in a completely different terminal). Then we waited while they got that airplane ready and transferred our stuff from the broken airplane.  Then we waited because our "paperwork" had expired and they had to get new "paperwork".  Then we taxied out to the runway, and waited some more because we needed to file a new flight plan.  By the time we finally took off, we were 3 hours late, and everyone on the plane clapped when we got off the ground.  When we got to Anchorage, we waited some more because another plane was parked at our gate.
 
I guess I find it interesting and concerning that two of the four airplanes I was on had mechanical problems that delayed the flight.  I am not even remotely suggesting that we should have flown with mechanical problems.  No, I would much rather be confident in the plane's ability to reach our destination safely.  What I find concerning is that half of the airplanes had mechanical problems that were not discovered until just before boarding the planes.  We know that the first priority of any corporation is to make a profit.  Are the airlines cutting corners in an effort to scrape by?  Does that put the safety of air travel at risk?  We know that companies do that... look at BP and the recent pipeline leak in Alaska.  They were cutting corners to minimize maintenance costs, and a large leak was the result.  Cutting corners to minimize maintenance costs on passenger airplanes could be lethal.  I hope that is not what is happening.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"We need a dramatically different energy policy for our country"

 
Gas prices, as everyone knows, are up.  Way up. Out by my house, "cheap" gas is $4.26 a gallon. And drivers are struggling with the higher prices.  For the first time in recent memory, people are actually driving less (and gas prices are still going up). From reading this article, even mass transit programs are struggling.  Ridership is increasing because people are driving less and taking mass transit more, but the increase in the number of fares paid is not keeping up with the rising cost of fuel to run the trains and buses.
 
The airlines are having huge difficulties, and I think they are caught in a catch 22. They can't afford to fuel their planes, so they are cutting down on flights, imposing baggage fees, and so on.  In order to meet the rising cost of fuel, they need to dramatically increase fares.  However, if they do that, many fewer people will travel, and the airlines will be flying emptier planes, and still not able to pay for the fuel.
 
The thing is, people don't understand what is going on.  The last time gas prices climbed like this, there was an oil embargo.  Somebody saying, "No oil for you."  This time, why are gas prices climbing?  Why are oil prices at $135 a barrel? It's because there is not enough of it.  Between stagnant production, declining exports from exporting countries due to their own internal rising demand, and rapidly increasing demand from developing economies like China, which has recently discovered that they, too, should be able to live the American Dream, there simply is not enough to go around.
 
Then there is the other problem with our energy use... what we are doing to ourselves in the process.  We are a bunch of frogs sitting in a slowly heating pot of water, oblivious to the trouble we are getting ourselves in because it is happening relatively slowly.  At least, climate change, although accelerating, is happening more slowly than our gas prices are increasing, and we don't ever solve problems until they are PROBLEMS that have to be dealt with RIGHT NOW. And by the time it has to be dealt with right now, it will be too late to avert many of the consequences.
 
Can't people see that we need to do something different?
 
Hello???  McFly???
 
 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

update...

It's been a while since I posted... I had to look at my sent items on my email to figure out the last stuff I posted, and a lot has happened since then.  I took a trip to Utah, which was great, although the last two days I was there it was in the 80's and very hot. I got to see lots of family, and my best friend, Aonika.  It was my good luck that one of James's cousins had her baby while I was there, so I got to hold Eric, my new first cousin once removed, or something like that.  He is beautiful.
 
On Memorial Day weekend, James built a tool shed.  It is a simple 8x12 saltbox, and incredibly useful.  Our tiny cabin had tools literally every place we looked, and now there is not a single one anywhere but in the shed.  I am pleased.
 
Our garden is doing much better than I expected the first year, at least so far, although I must admit I have not been able to eat out of it yet.  By "much better than I expected" I mean that things are growing and not dying. Our peas are a good 3 inches tall now, both shelling peas and snow peas.  Our strawberries are doing great, except something is eating some of the leaves.  The rhubarb is growing like a weed; it's at least 3 times its original size.  Our squash, tomato, brussel sprout, cauliflower and zucchini plants that were given to us are surviving, the potatoes are starting to grow, although I haven't got any sprouts poking out of the dirt yet.  (We know this because James got curious, and dug one up.) The raspberries are doing well.  Out of about 30 canes that we transplanted, only 2 don't look like they are going to make it, and some of them are setting blossoms.  And, as an added bonus, 4 of the 6 we planted last year survived the winter! Our onion and leek starts are about an inch and a half tall... soon they will be ready to transplant into the garden.  I also planted parsnips, carrots, green beans, two kinds of lettuce, broccoli, and scallions, but they haven't come up yet.
 
I had one major goof up.  I have staked off each bed and written on the stakes what is planted there, mostly.  MOSTLY.  Last night, I planted 2/3 of my green beans, and then realized, only after they were planted, that I had planted them in the same bed that I had just planted the lettuce, broccoli and scallions a few days ago, as I had forgotten to write on the stakes what I had planted.  I guess we will just have to see what comes up.  Unintentional companion planting, LOL.  I think I am probably about done planting for the year.  There are plenty more seed packets in my dining room, but I have over allocated my water resources already, and my backyard is beginning to feel like the seven western states fighting over the colorado river.  I hope it rains soon.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

its getting up there...

This picture was taken on Saturday at the gas station about 4 miles from my house.  It's getting pretty expensive these days, and all indications are that it is going to get much, much worse.  It makes me really glad that I got my Geo running.  While I was at the gas station, my 13 year old son was asking me when they were going to start issuing gas rationing cards....
 

Thursday, May 22, 2008

tipping point?

I was listening to Marketplace on NPR yesterday, and there was a story about rice supplies.  There was one sentence at the end of the interview that made me pay attention. "Global demand for nearly every major commodity has outstripped supply."
 
Whoa.  This is something I have been concerned about for a long time now, and here they are saying it on a mainstream news show.  Things are getting serious.  Now is a good time to be sure that you are ready for a rollercoaster ride, because this is just the beginning. I know some people that read this might think I am crazy, but I think we are fast encroaching a tipping point.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

signs of life

Things are looking good in the garden!  I was outside watering last night, and was totally excited to see the peas starting to grow.  I have included a picture of one of the snow peas.  Also, my strawberries are doing great!  They are all growing, even the one the moose stepped on. 
 
Unfortunately, the onion starts I have sitting on my dining room table got walked on by the cat, and three of them got knocked completely over and spilled.  Since they haven't germinated yet, I know I lost those three.
 
Tonight I am planting parsnips, and tomorrow carrots.  Thursday, I have to cut up my potatoes (which are sprouting nicely), so they can harden in time for me to plant Saturday.  Friday, onions and lettuce are going in.  At least, if I get everything done according to plan.
 
So, we drove the geo yesterday.  We got gas right after leaving the house on the way to work, and filled up again as we were getting home, to see how much we used.  In total, we drove about 120 miles, both the commute and the driving around I had to do for work yesterday, and used 3 gallons of gas. I was pleased.

Monday, May 19, 2008

relief

James fixed the Geo this weekend.  It turned out it had burnt valves, which required taking the head off, having it machined, and the valves replaced.  Cost about $400, and now it runs like a champ. It would have cost a lot more if James didn't do everything but the actual work on the head and valves himself. When we fill up the truck or James's work van, it has been costing between $70 and $80 recently, because they both have 20 gallon tanks.  And we would fill up the tank on the van three times a week, since we were commuting in it.  When I filled up the Geo this morning, it only had 1/4 of a tank in it, and it only took 5 and 1/2 gallons to fill it up.  That was very cool.  I am going to keep track of my mileage between fill ups to see how many MPG we really get. Regardless, as long as it keeps running, it will save us a LOT of money.

Friday, May 16, 2008

preschool graduation

My four year old graduated from preschool yesterday.  There is something silly about a graduation ceremony for preschool, as if it is a huge life accomplishment... I somehow don't think that twenty years from now, when applying for a job, he will say, "Oh, and I graduated from preschool" as part of his qualifications.
 
However, for Steven, it IS a big deal.  Not the graduation itself, but in progress made.  See, his preschool is a special education preschool for children with speech problems. Steven has apraxia, which is basically a motor planning issue. The act of speech, while basically effortless for most of us, actually involves a great deal of planning, which then must be implemented in the act of speaking.  Steven has had a very difficult time in this area.  See:  http://www.apraxia-kids.org/.  When he was two, he had maybe 4 or 5 words.  And to make matters worse, there were some words that he had been saying (such as "eat") that he lost and was then unable to say them.  We started teaching him sign language, so that he could communicate with us, and that was a great success.  When he started preschool at age 3, even with over a year of speech therapy, he had 10 words, but about 50 signs. 
 
Now, he can carry on a complete conversation, and his vocabulary is huge.  He rarely uses any signs now, except as an accent to his speech, like most of us wave our hands around when we talk.  There are still some times that we have trouble understanding him, especially when he is tired, but I would say he is about 90% intelligible.  It was amazing yesterday to watch him, and think back on how he was a year and a half ago.
 
He will actually attend preschool through the summer, thanks to extended school year services, but he will start kindergarten in a regular class, with only minor supports and speech therapy twice a week, instead of the four-day-a-week intensive stuff he was getting in preschool.  I am very excited for him. Way to go, Steven!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

garden update - and a story about a tree

So, my garden is expanding, little by little.  On Monday, I bought 20 pounds of yukon gold seed potatoes, and they are currently sitting spread out on my kitchen table absorbing sunlight to encourage them to sprout.  They will have to do this for a week or so.
 
I planted 20 more strawberry plants that I purchased from a gardener that lives a few miles down the road from me.  That brings the total to 45 strawberry plants.  :)
 
I planted 3 20' double rows of peas, and a 4' x 16' bed of snow peas.  Snow peas can be grown in intensive beds instead of rows because they don't require the support that regular peas do.
 
In the starter containers my first set of strawberries came in, I started leeks and ailsa craig onions (a storage variety).  I am going to do the same in the containers from my second set of strawberries in the next day or two.
 
I still have a large pile of seed packets that need to be started soon... lettuce, broccoli, parsnips, and carrots among them, as well as some that need to wait til after the last frost date (June 1), like beans.
 
James started work on a tool shed/firewood shelter a couple days ago.  The first step, obviously, is to cut down the trees where it will go.  This is all done, but there was a heart-pounding moment.  All but one of the trees came down where they were supposed to go with no problems.  Ironically, the very last tree was not cooperative.  This particular tree was a largish birch that stood approximately 20 feet away from the north side of our cabin, and as it got taller, it leaned ever so slightly towards the cabin, which made it tricky.  We wanted it to fall north-west, away from the cabin.  James cut a notch out of the trunk on the northwest side, then started to cut into the southeast side of the tree.  What was supposed to happen was that because the notch had been cut out, the tree would lean that way. It didn't want to. So, I stood by James and pushed on the tree, as high up as I could reach.  I about had a heart attack when I felt the tree start to push back.  Luckily, (or maybe because of the way James cut it, at an angle) it only shifted a quarter inch or so, and stopped, leaving the chain saw stuck between the two pieces of tree.  With stern instructions to the children who were watching to stay on the far side of the house and run towards the road (to the south) if I hollered at them, we wrapped a tow strap around the trunk of the tree and lifted it with branches as high on the trunk as we could, and pulled it towards the northwest.  Nothing happened.  We then attached a come-along to a tree that was in the general direction we wanted it to go, and slowly ratcheted it tighter.  Slowly, slowly the tree started moving.  When it got so it was straight up and down, it paused, and we all held our breath to see what it would do.  Finally, slowly at first, then all of a sudden, it was down, with a big thump, right where we needed it to go. I could breathe again, but I could hear my heart pounding.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

scary stuff

Although the following article is an opinion piece, not an article, it comes from someone that is well-known in climate change circles.  Basically, his point is that even though we might not notice drastic changes right now, things are getting very bad, very quickly.  And in order to avoid TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It), we have to virtually stop in our tracks, right NOW, and make immediate drastic changes.  As individuals and collectively.
 
I know this sounds impossible, and I totally understand that.  In fact, it feels impossible to me.   I am flying twice and my 13 year old son is flying once in the next month, thousands of miles each trip.   I drive 55 miles to work each way every day, and I can't just stop, because my family depends on my income, and the kids I see every day deserve a chance to be safe. It's a pickle, to be sure. 
 
But there are things that I can do, even if they aren't really enough.  As soon as I can get it back on the road, I will start driving my Geo, which uses much less gas, and has much lower emissions than either my truck or James' work van.  And we are planting a large garden, to try to eat as much as we can off of what we produce.  It's a small step, but at least I am making it.  You may not be able to stop in your tracks, but you can slow down.  And you should.  We all depend on it.
 

Monday, May 12, 2008

first planting of the year!

I planted my 25 strawberry plants last night. This is exciting because strawberries are my favorite fruit. Eventually, we hope to at least quadruple our strawberry patch. Yay! By the way, I took these pictures at about 11:00 last night, with no flash. I love the summer light.

south side of kitchen

And here is the cooking and washing side of the kitchen.  The buckets holding up our impromptu counters are filled with food, rice, flour, oats and sugar.

north side of kitchen and dining room

It appears that I can only add two pictures at a time when posting via email.  So here is the north side of my interim kitchen ... the storage side.  This picture was taken right after we moved in.  It looks a little different now, as I have greatly increased my food storage since then and most of those shelves are completely full with canned goods.  I also have included a photo of my dinner table, which is in a space just to the west of the kitchen.
 
 

Saturday, May 10, 2008

more pictures


Above the stairwell is the peak of the roof and the last part of wall that we do not have sheetrocked yet. The reason for that is the informal scaffolding above the stairs that will let us finish the peak of the ceiling. Once the peak of the ceiling is mudded, primed and painted, we will take down the scaffolding and finish the wall.

If you were to go around that corner to your right, you would see the window, and then the stairs to the loft. To the right of the stairs, going around the corner again, is the wood stove. You can see my pretty paint even better in this picture.

Re: sardines, anyone?

OK, so several people have asked me for pictures of how all five of us are squeezing into this little cabin, and how we do without electricity, running water, etc.  So, here are some pictures.  I am posting by email, so I have to divide the pictures up into groups, or blogspot rejects the post.
 
If you look at my post with the cabin plans, you can tell which part of the cabin each picture is showing.  http://lifeonthelastfrontier.blogspot.com/2007/11/cabin-plans.html
 
There is one showing our couch, that wraps around the intersection of the bathroom wall and the north living room wall.  See our pretty paint?  To the left of the couch is a big tool box, that I did not bother taking a picture of.  To the right of the couch is the stack of mattresses the kids sleep on.  Every night, we spread them out, and every morning, we pile them back up again so that we can walk through the house and sit on the couch without walking on mattresses.  Once we get the rest of the ceiling mudded and painted, we will set the bunkbed back up, and that will alleviate this big mess.  Past the beds, you will see the toy boxes in the corner.  Each child has one, and every inside toy they own must fit inside it with the lid shut, to control the mess. 

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Nenana Ice Classic

The Nenana Ice Classic is an interesting Alaskan event that is held every year.  On the Tanana River, they set up a tripod on the ice with a wire connected to a pole on shore.  People buy tickets, and specify what time they think the ice will break up enough to move the tripod enough to detach the wire from the pole on shore.  If you pick the right time, you win a lot of money.
 
Well, the tripod tipped at 10:53 Tuesday night. Later than last year, which was April 27th. The jackpot this year is just over $300,000.  Someone got really lucky. I was going to buy a ticket this year, but was really  busy with moving and so on, and forgot.  Check it out:
 

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Alaska food prices and the search for rice

I have been noticing that when I go grocery shopping lately, it seems like it keeps getting more and more expensive. Everything just seems like it costs more each time I go shopping. Anecdotally, it is obvious that prices are increasing much more than the official annual inflation rate of 4.6%. Well, I was right.  In Anchorage, grocery prices have increased 10% in the last three months.  Check this out:
 
 
And if you read the article, you see that while food in general has risen 10%, most staple items have risen much more than that.  Rice is up 85% if you can get it at all, ground beef is up 18%, eggs 22%, cheese 61%.  Flour is way up too, if you can get it, although the article doesn't say by how much. 
 
I also suspect that prices are rising exponentially in the bush, where everything costs at least twice as much as it does in Anchorage, because of the transportation issues.  Their fuel costs have been much higher this winter too, and there are some villages that never even got their fall shipment of diesel and heating oil.  I have talked to more than one family that has moved into town for the winter because they can't keep their house warm.
 
I mentioned earlier that rice and flour are costing more if you can get it.  I was serious.  For the last week, there has been no rice at Costco.  When they do get it in, it sells immediately, with long lines of people waiting in line for the store to open. Costco has had to post security guards at the rice pallets because people have been fighting over it.  I'm talking  fistfights and bags being torn because people are playing tug of war over them.  At Fred Meyer, there were a few one-pound bags of rice last week, same with Wal-mart.  I was at Wal-mart last night, and there was no rice except the boxes of flavored or instant stuff, and no flour.  At all.  No rice and only a little flour at Three Bears.  Here in Alaska, we are at the end of a very long supply line, and I figure that when there are shortages, we may very well be the first in the US to feel them.
 
 
I am taking my garden very seriously this summer.  I have a 20 x 40 plot dug up, that I will plant intensively in 4' wide beds with peas, cabbage, squash, beans, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, some hardy corn, onions, leeks, garlic, salad greens, etc. I just bought 25 strawberry plants, and will be getting more fruits.  And I also have a separate spot for potatoes, which don't require the ground to be well dug before you plant them.  I am planning on planting lots of potatoes.  Potatoes are exceptionally easy to grow even in Alaska, which is good since I am a beginner, have very heavy yields, and grow a calorie dense crop that stores well without requiring canning or other preservation.  Just put them in a box and keep them someplace cool and dark.  Easy to find in an Alaskan winter, LOL.
 
 
I also have been working on my food storage.  I have lots of rice and flour (bought before the current problems), oats, sugar, beans etc.  I have been slowly stocking up on other foodstuffs, such as tomatoes, canned chicken, oil, etc. As I do my normal grocery shopping, I have just been getting more of it than I normally would.  For example, if I need  a case of diced tomatoes, I buy two instead of one, and date them when I get home so I use the oldest first. Or when I need a case of canned corn, I buy two, then one each of green beans, peaches, pineapples, tomatoes, etc.  I also try to buy a box or two of canning lids everytime I go to Wal-mart.  A little at a time, and it adds up.  Makes me feel secure, becuase I know that even if there is a shortage, I can keep my family fed, for a little while at least.
 

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wow

I know, its been almost a month since I posted.  A lot has gone on in that time, both here on the homestead and out in the world. Hopefully, I will be able to post fairly regularly from now on. 
 
Once we got moved into our cabin, it meant we no longer had internet access from home.  Turns out I have missed the internet access at least as much as the running water. And the lack of electricity has only been a problem in that it contributes to the lack of internet accessibility.  To compound the difficulty in blogging, the computer system at work has been modified to make it impossible to update my blog from work in the traditional manner (signing into blogger and creating a new post, then looking at it on the blog to make sure it is good.)
 
I have finally figured out how to post via email, and I can get to my personal email address from work, as of right now.  Turns out I could have figured it out a long time ago as it is not difficult, but I have had lots of other things on my plate distracting me.  This is my first attempt at posting via email, so I hope it works. Someone who can look at my blog should post a comment and let me know, as I get email copies of all comments.  Thanks for your help!
 
I am still working in Anchorage, which is 55 miles from where I live, and my husband and I commute together.  However, the neat little car we bought now needs a new engine, so we are currently spending over $200 a week in gas to drive James's work van back and forth, as the van only gets marginally better gas mileage than the Durango.  We plan on purchasing an engine or taking the one we have apart and rebuilding it as soon as the mud in our driveway dries enough to let James work on the car without the jack and engine hoist sinking in. Right now, regular gas is $3.74/gal in Anchorage and $3.81 in the Mat-su Valley, where I live. 
 
The mud issue was compounded last weekend, when we got a record breaking spring snow storm, leaving us with almost a foot of new snow.  It's gone now, but everything is wet.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

busy

I have not posted in quite a while. The reason is that we have been incredibly busy. We moved out of our apartment, and into our unfinished cabin (finally!), and are settling in. I intend to resume posting regularly very soon. I have also been asked by several people for pics of the cabin now that we are moved in, and I should post those soon also.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

cheap fix

So, when we bought our little geo metro, it would not start. If you pop started it, it worked great (you know, pushing it until it is going fast enough to start running if you give it gas and let out the clutch). But if you tried to start it with the key, it would not start. It would turn over, but not catch and drain the battery very quickly. Jump starting it did not work either. We were told the starter was bad by the guy we bought it from. Taking it on faith, even though James did at one point say that it just didn't seem like a starter problem to him, last night he took the starter out and took it to the auto parts store to be tested prior to shelling out the $61 for a new one. It was fine. James came back and frowned at the car for a little while, occassionally reaching in and fiddling with things. He checked the ground wire and it was fine, same with the connections to the battery. Hmmm.... Then he looked inside the battery to check the water level. It was EMPTY. bingo! So I went to the store and bought a gallon of distilled water for $2.29, James filled up the battery, hooked the jumper cables up to give it a jump, and it started right up. Let it run for a few minutes to charge the battery back up, and it works fine. I am thinking the guy we bought it from knew it wasn't the starter, but didn't know what it was. If he knew it would be a $2 fix, I am thinking we would not have gotten it so cheap.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

42

Is, of course, the answer to life, the universe, and everything. I talked about a commuting problem here: http://lifeonthelastfrontier.blogspot.com/2008/03/well-shoot.html. The answer to to that problem is also numerical, and the number is 50. As in miles per gallon:

This is a 1997 Geo Metro. We bought this last night for $750. It needs a starter and a passenger side window, but James can fix both of those. We have looked around previously, and to get a new car that comes even close to the Geo's mileage, you have to fork out $40K for a hybrid. Otherwise you are looking at something in the mid 30's in miles per gallon. Plus, you wind up with a payment and full coverage, which would quickly eat up a large chunk of the savings in gas money.


We could have gone out and bought a new car, no problem. But it just didn't seem like the sensible thing to do. We just paid off our Dodge Durango in January, and I am very happy to be free of car payments. (James actually does have a payment on his work van, but since that is just for his work, he takes care of it... I don't even have to worry about it.) And if I can't get a $20K new car that can match the gas mileage of a $750 car, I just don't see any benefit to it at all. Except maybe a warranty, but we have had a Geo before, and we already know that James can fix anything that breaks on it, as they are very simple little cars. (Even when someone happens to hit a bump too hard and shear off the piece of the engine block that is attached to the engine mount. Then you have to buy a new engine. Even then, James could have fixed it, but chose not to. And, yes, that was me.)


So, if you do the math, it turns out that if we commute 55 miles each way round trip five times a week in a Geo Metro, we will spend less on gas than I currently spend to drive my Durango around town every week. What's not to like about that?

Monday, March 17, 2008

more sheetrock

This weekend, we put sheetrock on the lower 2/3 of the back wall of the cabin, which is the hardest wall of all, as it goes straight up to the vaulted ceiling. We also did most of the stairwell. Take a look.

Before:


After:

We still have to figure out how we are going to put sheetrock on the top 1/3 of the wall, as it is a minimum of 12 feet off the ground. James may be able to borrow some scaffolding from work. We'll do something. I mean, we figured out the rest the house, including placing the roof beam by hand. We can do this too.

Monday, March 10, 2008

bits and pieces

Got a lot of little things done this weekend. I did the grout on the tiles surrounding the wood stove:


James got the doorway to the cupboard under the stairs (tiny pantry) framed, sheetrocked, and mudded, along with a bunch of other mudding:



Ryan cut away the piece of bottom plate across the doorway (by hand, need I mention?). Steven stood on it to hold it still:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

well, shoot....

So, here we are making plans to relocate to our cabin by the end of the month. Doing this will mean that unless we can get jobs closer, both my husband and I are facing a 75 mile commute to Anchorage every day. James is working something out, but that won't happen til end of June, looks like. Openings with my agency in the Wasilla office are few and far between. Therefore, it is likely that at least I will be commuting.

So, this evening, I see this article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23550921/, saying that gas is expected to rise another 20 to 30 cents next month. Gas right now is about $3.20 for the cheap stuff in Anchorage. If it goes up to $3.50, I figure it would cost us $1000 a month to drive my truck to Anchorage and back every day for work. That's as much as I am paying now for rent.

There are a couple options. If James can find work that does not mean commuting, and only I am commuting, I can either ride with someone else and split the cost of gas, or ride the bus or a rideshare van. The bus would be the least favorable option because it would put me away from home the longest, but it is easiest in terms of startup. I just look up the schedule on the internet, and get on the bus. If we commute together, then we either just pay for the gas in the durango, or buy a cheap car that gets really good gas mileage.

Lots to ponder, before we make the decision.