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, 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


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


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.