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, February 28, 2008

stocking up

I am reading a lot these days about food. Specifically, about whether there is enough to go around. The general consensus seems to be that there is not, despite the apparent abundance in our grocery stores. Here are a few examples:

  • The United Nations is reporting that they are not able to continue to feed the numbers of hungry people they have been feeding. The article states, "With voluntary contributions from the world's wealthy nations, the WFP [World Food Program] feeds 73 million people in 78 countries, less than a 10th of the total number of the world's undernourished. But with annual food price increases around the world of up to 40% and dramatic hikes in fuel costs, that budget is no longer enough even to maintain current food deliveries." http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/feb/26/food.unitednations

  • China is facing renewed fears that its growing demand for grain to feed the world’s largest population may lead to imports from international markets, driving prices higher and spurring further food inflation. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=41345
  • Venezuela is experiencing severe food shortages, and is halting exports of many food items. http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23277253-1702,00.html

  • The world’s wheat stockpiles have fallen to their lowest level in 30 years, and stocks in the United States have dropped to levels unseen since 1948. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/13/business/13wheat.html?_r=2&ref=business&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

  • Smithfield Foods, one of the largest pork processors in the United States, is reducing its U.S. breeding herd by 4% to 5%, or 40,000 to 50,000 sows, because of rising grain costs. That means Smithfield ultimately will produce 800,000 to 1 million fewer market hogs annually, the company said. Smithfield currently raises 18 million market hogs a year. This article was on CNN Money, but is no longer available online.

  • In the wheat price surge this week, the leading wheat contract has risen by more than the entire worth of the contract just months ago. Prices rallied by $5.75 a bushel on Monday, being up by nearly 30% at one point compared with Friday’s close. Eight months ago on June 19, the lead wheat contract settled at over $5.00 a bushel. http://nqr.farmonline.com.au/news_daily.asp?ag_id=48995

All of this is making me distinctly nervous. Food shortages around the world, record wheat prices, and our idiotic president is encouraging more of our corn be turned into biodiesel and ethanol. It is enough to make me really glad I am starting a garden this year. And determined to grow a lot of potatoes. We also did this:

These are five gallon buckets. Two each of rice and flour. One of sugar. It's not enough, but its a start. Makes me feel at least a little bit better.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


James likes to fish. Plus, we all like to eat fish. However, when the fish is buried in the bottom of the freezer, it doesn't get eaten very quickly. We are going to be moving into our cabin sometime in the near future, and we won't have a freezer once that happens. Why? Because we won't have electricity. And it is almost March and the snow will start melting soon, so we can't even bury our frozen meats outside. So, I had to do something about the bags of fish in the bottom of our freezer. I got out my pressure canner and glass jars, and canned it. We now have 2 pints and 24 half-pints of salmon. (The 2 pints are because I ran out of half-pint jars). Every single jar sealed. I was very pleased, especially since it was the first time using my pressure canner. Check it out:

I am feeling like I had a productive weekend.

Christina's baby hat

One of my friends is having a baby sometime in the next couple weeks, and I made this hat for her baby. It is a wool and cotton blend, so it is both soft and warm. It knit up quickly and fairly easily. The only problem I had with it is that I cast on around midnight, and knit for a while, and then realized the next morning that I had done it completely wrong, LOL, and had to frog it back to the initial ribbing. But I got it done in one day, and it was a fun little project. I hope Christina likes it.
The pattern is available online for free, and can be seen here: http://heyjulie.wordpress.com/2006/08/18/cabled-baby-hats/

Monday, February 18, 2008

yummy sock yarn

I absolutely love this yarn. I got it at my favorite local yarn shop, Knitting Grounds (http://www.knitsfromgrounds.blogspot.com/). The yarn is made here in Alaska, in Big Lake, just a few miles from where our cabin is. This yarn is so wonderful that I had to sit right down and start knitting:

A sock, of course. But this time, I am knitting from the toe up. Why? Because I don't know how much yarn I have. I mean, I know I have 3.5 oz. But how much sock it will make is a mystery. If you start a sock from the toe, you get the entire foot done, and just make the cuff as long as you have yarn for. If, however, you start from the cuff, if you make the cuff too long, you could easily run out of yarn before you get to the toe. Then you are in trouble.
But there is more. I also had to make sure I had enough yarn to do it twice. After all, I have two feet. So, at my yarn store, I wound all this yarn into one big ball and weighed it. It weighed 3.5 oz. Then, leaving the big ball on the scale, I started winding off of it into another ball. Once I got to 1.75 oz remaining, I weighed the other ball just to make sure, and yep, 1.75 oz. Cut the yarn, and I have two fairly equal balls of yarn.

When I started knitting, I was absolutely enchanted by the yarn. It is simply red and blue stripes, but when you start looking at it, the stripes are not sharply delineated, and the shades of red and blue change throughout the yarn. It is one of those yarns that I just have to knit and knit, and when I am not knitting, my fingers itch for my knitting needles. About the only thing that successfully distracted me from knitting this weekend was my beautiful yellow walls in my loft. See below.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

we all live in a yellow submarine....

Frosted lemon yellow, to be exact:

We painted the walls of the loft today, this beautiful butter yellow color. Not the bright yellow of melted butter, but the creamy yellow of fresh butter. Those of you that know me well are probably not surprised. Yellow is, after all, my favorite color.

We also painted the ceiling, but it is just flat white. But I am tickled pink... er... yellow... about my pretty walls.

The other big thing we did this weekend is the tile that will surround the wood stove:

Right now, it is the kerosene heater sitting on it, not the wood stove. And there are still spacers between the tiles, and no grout yet. But the tiles themselves are set. Hopefully, two weeks from now, we will be installing the wood stove. And it will go right there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

southeast water problems

I was listening to Alaska News Nightly on NPR on the way home from work tonight. They had a segment about several communities in Southeast Alaska that normally get their electricity from hydroelectric plants, that have had to use large backup diesel generators to power their communities, some of them for the first time ever. Why? Because there has not been enough rain, which means there is not enough water to run the hydroelectric plants. In many of these communities, this is a situation that has been developing over the last few years, and it is a troubling trend.

Southeast Alaska has a climate very similar other parts of the Pacific Northwest, including lots of rain and mild temperatures year round. If a decrease of rainfall persists, the climate and ecosystems there will change rapidly as things dry out. Southeast has lots of large, beautiful trees that require a LOT of moisture, and it would be very sad to lose them.

If you are curious, you can listen to it here:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

this makes me mad....


So, we can justify spending TRILLIONS of dollars getting our soldiers killed in Iraq, but we can't make sure people stay warm this winter???

I know, lots of people think that poor people are poor because of their own laziness, bad choices, whatever. And some of them are. But some of them are poor because they don't speak English well, can't get a good job, are disabled or in poor health, daycare costs so much they might as well not work, etc. And REGARDLESS of why the parents are poor, the kids are helpless.

I don't much agree with just handing out money to people, even though I have to admit I am looking forward to the "rebate" we will all be getting this spring... it will be paying for my kitchen cabinets. But things like heating assistance that go directly to the utility company to help keep the electricity on and the house warm, I am totally in favor of.

And for the government to say there is no money for the HEAT program while the Iraq war is costing so much, and is such a waste of money, is just plain ridiculous.

Monday, February 11, 2008

kiss your grass goodbye...

Sharon posted a great piece about victory gardens on her blog the other day. Give it a read:

There are lots of reasons to bring back victory gardens, including but not limited to:
  • Right now, our food travels an average of 1500 miles to get to our table. (Further if you happen to live in Alaska). That's a lot of emissions, and our climate is in trouble.
  • Industrial agriculture is in trouble. With the specters of climate change, drought, peak oil, and shortages of fertilizer (likely fairly permanent), the yields of industrial farmers will drop, possibly precipitously.
  • Speaking of fertilizer, industrial fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and such are really not good for people to eat. If you grow your own produce, you control how much crap goes on it.
  • Every time I go to the grocery store, I notice that food seems to be getting more and more expensive. Growing your own insulates you from this to some degree.
  • I read this morning that the US wheat stocks are at a 60 year low. This will only get worse as more and more farmland is converted to growing corn for biodiesel and ethanol.
  • and, of course gardening is great exercise.

Seriously, there are lots of reasons to grow your own food, and encourage your neighbors to do the same. The politicians keep yammering about achieving energy independence, and this is a start.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

kitchen floor

We were at Lowes last night, spending some quality time alone, and we made a happy discovery. Lowes had some ceramic tile on clearance, for 68 cents a square foot, and I actually liked it quite a bit. So, for $74.80, we bought our kitchen floor:

We thought it was a great deal. And since the point of the cabin is to get something up quickly and cheaply, this is perfect.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What is food made of?

So, I was in the middle of cooking dinner the other night, and my four year old had a question. Four year olds are notorious for their ability to ask questions that parents don't know the answer to. He asked me, "What is food made of?" A fairly simple question, and I am not even sure what I said in reply, but I have been pondering it for days.

What is food made of?

Well, I guess it depends. If you eat a fairly good diet, food typically consists of a variety of ingredients that are generally recognizable as either plant or animal. For example, that night, I was making spaghetti. In my spaghetti sauce, I include tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions, mushrooms, garlic, oregano, basil, and a few other spices, as well as a scant tablespoon or so of organic sugar. And spaghetti sausage, which consists of meat and spices. All of these ingredients are fairly straight forward, and readily identifiable.

But the spaghetti noodles? Their ingredients are wheat, niacin, iron lactate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid. The wheat is obvious. But the other things sound like they come from a chemical plant, not a garden. And, yes, I know that a lot of it is the vitamins that they use to enrich the flour the noodles are made of. BUT... that enrichment would not be necessary if they were made of whole wheat, which has not had the vitamins stripped out of it during processing.

But it is vastly cheaper to buy noodles that have had the vitamins stripped out of them and then artificially replaced, than it is to buy noodles that are made with wheat that has been left alone and closer to its natural state. Weird, huh?

And there is even more to the story. How many people have seen the movie Shrek? Well there is one part where Shrek tells Donkey that ogres are like onions. Donkey is confused, and thinks he is talking about the fact that they both stink. But he isn't. He explains that onions have layers, and so do ogres. If you haven't seen Shrek, you can see it here, in relevant part:


Fun, huh? Great movie. It's one of those great kids movies that the adult jokes go right over the kids heads, but keeps both kids and adults well entertained. Disney has gotten really good at that lately. Or maybe I have just gotten old enough to understand them? I digress.

My point is about layers. My spaghetti sauce. On the surface, as I said, the ingredients look pretty close to where they came from. But the tomatoes and tomato sauce? They have been canned, and I know what happens to vegetables when they are canned at home, but what happens to them in industrial canning? I don't know. But they are not organic tomatoes, so they are almost certain to have pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and whatnot on or in them. So do I need to add pesticides to my list of what food is made of? How do I explain that to a four year old? Actually, I didn't.

I have to say that I am the last person that should be complaining about what our food is made of... after all, I practically live on diet pepsi, which as far as I know, doesn't have a single ingredient that exists outside of a soda factory. But I know that I shouldn't, and that I need to quit one day. I know I would be healthier and feel better if I ate closer to nature, and that includes drinking something less chemical laced than diet pepsi.

It is something to think about.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

interesting article about Alaska's oil

I found an interesting article the other day. It talks about how much oil we should expect to find in ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and NPR-A (National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska), while avoiding the moral question of whether we should be drilling there. From this article's perspective, at least, while everyone knows there is oil in both places, it isn't likely that there will be another find like Prudhoe. Take a look:


It also talks briefly about a factor in Alaskan oil that has bothered me for some time: the minimum operating flow of the pipeline. There has to be a certain amount of oil flowing through it to make it work (I assume to maintain sufficient pressure to move the oil 800 miles). Oil tankers may be a partial solution to this problem, at least in the summer, but it will certainly be much more expensive.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

knitting update...

As you can seen, I got a couple of projects finished: another pair of socks, and a pair of fingerless gloves. The yarn from the socks was something I bought on eBay, and it was not supposed to have a stripe, so I thought it would be perfect for socks with cables. As I started knitting, however, it quickly became clear that it was in fact striping, and stripes don't look so good with cables. So I made them fairly plain, with a wide rib to give them some extra stretch. They are very comfy.