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


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.