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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not Long

Less than a year ago, we got a second dog, a malamute. There is a picture of him here:


He was a dog we adopted from someone else without knowing him at all. He was a friendly dog, but he really didn't mesh well with us.
He was afraid of James, especially if he happened to have a tool or stick in his hand, making us speculate about what had happened to him before we got him.
We have almost 3 acres, plenty of room for a dog to run, but he would run too far. And he usually would not come when we called him.
With all of that, he was friendly, very pretty, and gentle with the kids. He seemed like he was bonding with us.
Yesterday morning before I left for work, I went to put him on his chain and he got away from me. I called him but he would not come to me, and took off running. He didn't come back right away, which is not unusual. By last night I was starting to worry, as it is well below zero.
James called me today to tell me the dog had been hit by a car. He was already dead when James found him.
The kids were sad, of course, but seem to be handling it well. We will all miss him. Goodbye, Strider.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Winter has arrived, a little late this year. This is the first year since we moved to Alaska that there was not snow on the ground by Halloween.

Snow finally came though, along with sub-zero temps. Night before last, it got down to -15. That's chilly, even for Alaska. For the last couple days, we have had the wood stove running nonstop.

Unfortunately, a couple days before it snowed, our kindling pile fell over, and it didn't get picked up. Now it is buried under 6 inches of snow. We know where it is though, and the snow hasn't melted any, so it hasn't gotten wet.

I am pretty much enjoying these first few winter days, and the kids have been having a blast in the snow. Steven came home crying today though because he sledded into a tree. He's back at it as I type.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It's disgraceful...

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech aimed at our school children. The text of it can be found here. It is completely non-partisan, not political in any way. He is simply encouraging students to do their best, and get an education.

Our President says to our kids,

"Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself."

I can't find anything in this that I don't want my children to hear. There is nothing partisan. Nothing subversive. I don't understand why people objected to this.

He also says:

"And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other."

I can't find anything wrong with that either. As far as I can tell, there is no logical reason whatsoever for all the commotion about this speech.

And there has been a huge to-do about this speech. People talked about it on the news, threatened to keep their kids home from schools if the schools showed it, accused him of trying to start something akin to the Nazi Youth Corps. I think it would take more than a 20 minute speech to brainwash every kid in the country.

I found out last night that none of my kids saw his speech at school. I called the schools, and they report that their phones had been "ringing off the hook" with parents upset about their kids possibly watching the speech. One principal told me I was the only parent he received a call from supporting the kids watching the speech.

I am sorry, but I find this absolutely appalling. I don't give two figs whether Obama is Republican or Democrat, whether he has made mistakes in office (after all, no one is perfect) or any of that. He is THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. I think the fact that schools have opted to not show a speech made by the leader of our country to the children of our country is embarrassing, disrespectful, I don't know what.

I don't even know what to say, except that I am ashamed that we can behave this way.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I really like knitting socks. For whatever reason, I decided the other day to sort out my sock yarn from my other yarn to see how many pairs of socks I can make. So, how many?
Well, in addition to the 4 or 5 pair that are on the needles at the moment, and all the socks I have already made, I could make 29 pairs of socks. That is a different pair of socks every day for a month. And what did I do during my break at work today?
Look on the internet at sock yarn.
my favorite? this stuff

Friday, August 14, 2009

getting ready for winter...

Winter is a big deal in Alaska. It starts the beginning of October, lasts until the beginning of April. It is cold, and dark. Last winter it was 30 below zero for two weeks. Fall comes early; we've already seen some yellow leaves. The fireweed is already blooming only at the top, which in local lore, means that snow will be here in 6 weeks. As a matter of fact, I had a fire going this evening, but only a small, quick one, just to take the chill off.

We heat only with wood. We have a wood stove in the middle of our cabin, and in the coldest part of the winter, it burns continuously. A few weeks ago, we finished filling up our wood shed. The roof slopes, and at the front of the shed, the roof is about as high as I can reach. Last year, we burned about 3/4 of the shed full of wood. All of the wood in our shed, James cut into stove length with the chain saw, and anything too big around he split by hand with an ax. I have not yet mastered the art of splitting wood, but I am learning. James did the cutting and splitting, and the rest of us, including Steven, picked it up from where ever on the property it was cut, put it in a wheelbarrow, hauled it to the shed, and stacked it. Realistically, besides James, only Ryan and I are strong enough to move a wheelbarrow of wood, but the kids are great for picking it up and putting it in the wheelbarrow. This is definitely a job for the entire family.

The other major necessary thing for winter preparation is cleaning the chimney. We have a chimney brush, which is much like the brushes used for cleaning rifles, only bigger. James and Ryan climbed up on the roof and cleaned the chimney, resulting in lots of screeching noises coming from the chimney, and a pile of black soot on the floor of the wood stove. The soot was then shoveled into our ash bucket and taken out to the compost pile. We also caulked the seams in the chimney pipe, and replaced the gasket around the door of the stove. Everything is in tip top shape.

So, the most basic and necessary part of winter prep is done, which gave me a huge feeling of relief. My family will stay warm.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

easy come, easy go....

Just about a year ago, I was posting about my husband showing up with a brand new car. August 6, to be exact. One year and 5 days later, I am most likely saying goodbye to my little car.
At 12:15 this morning, I was on my way home from a quick trip to Ketchikan, and was only a mile and a half from home when a moose walked out into the road right in front of me. I was going about 55, and all I had time to do was think, "Oh CRAP!" before I hit it. It rolled up and over the car, luckily more on the passenger side, which was empty. With the way the windshield broke and the roof collapsed, it would have hurt if it had been on the driver's side.
The really scary part was that as I was driving down the road at 55 mph, with oncoming traffic in the other lane, my airbag deployed right in front of my face. I remember swatting at it, trying unsuccessfully to clear my vision, and focusing on making sure the car moved to the right. Since I couldn't see, my main goal was to NOT let the car go left, into the oncoming traffic. I was able to keep the car straight, and came to a stop on the shoulder of the road.
The moose was given to a charitable organization to be butchered, as is done with all moose roadkill here.
I suspect the car will be totalled. I have full coverage, but the insurance company will only pay resale value, so there will most likely be a gap between what they pay and what I owe. If they total it, we might take advantage of the cash for clunkers program, and trade in our 98 Durango that needs lots of work, and get another car. The problem is that the Mitsubishi dealership in Alaska closed, so we would have to do major car shopping. Yuck.

Friday, July 24, 2009

fireweed jelly

The other day, I made fireweed jelly. Fireweed runs rampant around southcentral Alaska, and we have lots of it on our property. Since last summer, I have wanted to make jelly with it, and I finally got around to it. Ryan and I picked two shopping bags full of fireweed blossom ends, which left no noticeable dent in our fireweed population. Then we picked all the blossoms off the stems:

Then rinsed them, put them in a pot with some water, and heated them until the blossoms lost their color, which only took a few minutes. Then strained the water, which then was actually fireweed juice. The fireweed juice was an ugly light yellowish brown, not at all what I expected.

To the fireweed juice, I added sugar and a little lemon juice. As soon as I added the lemon juice, the mixture turned a beautiful pinkish-purplish color, the color of the blossoms. Very interesting chemical reaction, I thought.

I then brought the mixture to a boil, added pectin, boiled for another minute, and poured into jars. Sealed the jars, and voila! fireweed jelly, 28 1/2 pint jars. This isn't the greatest picture, but the jelly is a beautiful rich clear pink color. And delicious!

I really enjoyed this experiment, because I was able to harvest something that grows wild and abundantly on my property, and turn it into something delicious for my family.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

canoeing trip

This is a little behind the times, but last weekend we and another family we do a lot of stuff with went camping. We went to Tangle Lakes, which is about a 4 or 5 hour drive from our house, depending on how fast you go, and how bad traffic is. On Fourth of July weekend, with perfect weather, traffic was pretty bad, especially traffic of the rv variety. Motor homes go very slow on windy semi-mountainous roads, and you can only pass so many of them, since there are few truck lanes and the roads are, well, windy and semi-mountainous.

Traffic aside, the trip was wonderful. The campground was full, which we didn't mind, since we don't especially like the campground-that-looks-like-a-refugee-camp scene. We found a nice little lake on very rocky ground, so we could drive on it like driving on a gravel road, something we do every day anyway. No one else was camped on this lake, so we had it all to ourselves, the dogs could run around as much as they wanted(there were 5 of them, 2 of ours, and 3 of theirs), and so could the kids (6 of them, 3 of ours, and 3 of theirs).

James, Ryan, and Steven went fishing one day, and brought back 4 grayling, which were yummy cooked over the campfire. They say they caught and released many more, but no one in the other family likes fish, so they didn't want any to go to waste. (Our malamute ate all the fish parts that we didn't, and seemed to enjoy it tremendously.) We took the canoe out several times, and it was great. The lake we camped on fed into a larger lake. At the far end of the large lake, there was a beaver dam that we portaged across to a small stream that we followed until it got too shallow and rocky for the canoe. It was very pretty, and we found a beautiful spot that we could camp on if we wanted to load everything into the canoe the next time we go there.
We discovered that neither of our dogs particularly likes to swim, although one of the other dogs with us did and almost drowned because he followed behind the canoe for so long.

All in all, it was a great weekend, and very relaxing. This is the first time in a long time we have camped for enjoyment. Two summers ago, we camped on our property every weekend so that we could work on our house, and last summer we were tired of camping. It was great to be reminding that camping can be relaxing and enjoyable. We wore out the dogs and the kids:

Friday, July 10, 2009

first fruits

Had my first strawberries of the season last night, after the sun had been on them all day, warming them and making them juicy. Yummm.......

Thursday, July 9, 2009

alaska's in the top 10! Whoohoo!

Except it's not something to be excited about:

Budget Nightmare: 10 Most Broke States

Basically, the Alaska state government gets close to 90% of its revenue from oil royalties and taxes. Not only is production decreasing steadily, but now the price of oil is much lower than it was last year.

Problem was, budget people forgot that even if the longterm trend in price of a commodity is up, it can always have dips, and if you make a budget without taking that into account, it will hurt.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

mary, mary, quite contrary...

Well, my name isn't Mary, but I will show you how my garden grows. Everything is growing SO much better than last year. Our beds are quite rudimentary, hacked out of what was forest until sometime this spring. Hacked out by hand, I should point out, with nothing more than a couple of pulaski's, a couple of shovels, and some elbow grease. Mix it with some all natural fertilizer bought at the mill and feed (my compost isn't ready yet), and some wood ashes, give it some sun and some water, and here we are:

This is everything except the potatoes, strawberries, scallions, mint, and grapes. This does include two rows of raspberries, storage onions, lettuce, broccoli, swiss chard, peas and rhubarb. I know you can't see a lot of detail, but you can see how it had been part of the forest. It's kind of neat walking through the woods, past our campfire ring, and down a little path and suddenly instead of wildness, there are these neat little rows of edible things growing.

Here's the raspberries:

I got a late start on the peas, just planted them a week or so ago:

The storage onions:

Then, over in last year's beds, there are the potatoes and strawberries. The potato plants are much bigger than they ever got last year, and I am hoping the potatoes are as well. Last year we got lots of little potato marbles. We planted those marbles this year, and got:

And, last but not least, the strawberries, my favorite berry. The strawberries are out of control. Lots of nice, big, ripening berries, gazillions of runners everywhere:

I have to admit, although I love the strawberries the best, the thing I am most excited about, most hopeful over, and most anxiously awaiting harvest on, is the potatoes. Potatoes are a staple crop, and are nutritionally and calorie dense. If all else fails, potatoes will keep us alive. And with proper storage, will easily stay good until close to the next harvest. So I am hoping they produce this year. It is only my second year growing them, so I am certainly not counting my chickens before they hatch, but I am hoping I can get them mastered.

But, yeah, I really, really love strawberries.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

a learning experience

These are parsnips. A yummy, white root vegetable very similar to carrots. They are from my garden. But they are in my compost bin. So what happened??? Well, last summer was terrible for growing. Nothing in my garden grew well last year. Well, we were happy to see our parsnips growing this spring, and were hoping that they would finally get to harvestable size....
NO! I was reading the other night in "The Backyard Homestead" by Marjorie Page, and came across a section regarding wintering vegetables over in the garden. I was reading with interest, and it said, regarding parsnips, "be sure to harvest before second growth begins, as they become poisonous at that time." Whoa! This was total news to me. So we promptly pulled all the parsnips up and put them in the compost pile.
This was sort of a learning experience for me. I am not an experienced vegetable gardener. I am just sort of going along, learning, seeing what works. I knew things like rhubarb leaves are toxic, and if potatoes are left in the sun, they become inedible. But I had no idea about this. And these sorts of things are IMPORTANT. This was something I really needed to know before feeding them to my family. I shudder to think what could have happened if I hadn't happened to pick this book up at Barnes and Noble last week.
I guess my point is that it is important when you are embarking on a new project, to learn what you can from other sources, and not do it all by personal experience. Otherwise, you are in for some personal experiences that are less than pleasant.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Steven!

I know this is a little late, but on Wednesday, Steven turned six. And on Saturday, we had a party for him. We celebrated with a family that we hang out with a lot, and had cake, ice cream, presents, etc. I think he had a good time. My youngest is not a baby anymore. He's getting all grown up on me...

Monday, June 1, 2009


Well, GM fell today, sortof. I hate to say this, but it needed to. I personally think this huge bailout of banks, investment and insurance companies, automakers, etc. is ridiculous, and should never have happened. To put the icing on the cake, GM declares bankruptcy today, and gets another $30 billion in bailout money. What a way to reward failure! And then it turns around and grabs it's retiree's pension plans. Is that legal? I don't think so.....

Two really good blog posts on the subject:
On a Tightrope Without a Net by Sharon Astyk, and
June 1 2009 2: The Rule of Law Revisited by Ilargi at the Automatic Earth

The second blog post includes Ilargi's comments, as well as the text and links to, many financial news articles. I encourage you to read these excellent posts. When you read this, you may find that those "green shoots" are a little less healthy than the mainstream media depicts.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Not good news...

New article about global warming:

"The most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth's climate will get in this century shows that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago - and could be even worse than that."

Twice as severe as previously thought. And what was previously thought was pretty damn bad. And if you read the article, it doesn't even account for "possible" methane releases as permafrost melts, as is happening already.

So, you know, the climate change thing is NOT going to be pretty. If we are lucky, we will not have committed mass suicide. We can only wait and see. And do everything we can to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions as much as we can, as fast as we can.

But how likely is that to happen, really? When we are in the middle of an economic crisis? People are thinking about how bad things are NOW, not how bad things will be later. So, in the long run, we are likely in pretty bad shape.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Spring has sprung...

Well, it's been over a month since I posted here. My apologies, everyone. Life has just been incredibly busy between work and family. However, I have good news.... it is spring in Alaska.

I have noticed before that season change happens suddenly in Alaska. Two weeks ago, it was still winter, and there was still snow on the ground. I was feeling like it would NEVER be spring again. And here it is. Last summer was terrible. It was cloudy and chilly all summer long. But we have had more sunny, warm days so far this spring than we had all summer last year. It is looking good so far....

Sunday, March 29, 2009


(Photo courtesy of Trisha Sadler and the Alaska Volcano Observatory). Mt. Redoubt erupted four or five times yesterday, sending ash all over the place. Since I am in Fairbanks until Tuesday, I am sort of waiting to see if it continues. If there is ashfall in the area I need to drive through, I will have to delay coming home. I heard from my family that there was some ashfall at our place yesterday, but I wasn't there to see it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I grew up in Maryland, the southernmost Northern state. In climate, it's pretty much a southern state. We did get snow occassionally, but it never lasted long. Big snow falls were the stuff of legends. I still remember the huge snowfall the winter of 1976, when the Chesapeake Bay froze. But when I learned to drive, I never really had to drive in the snow, except maybe once or twice a year. And when I did, it was just a matter of crossing my fingers.
Then I moved to Colorado, and later Utah. It snowed a little more often, but generally melted off the road within a day or two, usually helped by vast quantities of salt. The other consideration is that even in winter, the sun shone for many hours a day, and was still relatively direct and strong. I hated driving in snow, and did the slow, white knuckle, creepy-crawl every time I had to drive in it. The idea of going down even a small hill would make me nervous.
But in 2004, I moved to Alaska. I specifically decided to move Labor Day weekend because I thought we would be less likely to encounter snow in the Yukon early in September. We did get snowed on, but nothing major, and none while we were in the mountains, for which I was grateful, as I was pulling a heavy trailer with my truck.
So, we got to Alaska just in time for winter. Imagine my shock when I discovered that the snow didn't melt. It started snowing in October, and that first winter, the roads never cleared until March. Because the sunlight is not direct enough, strong enough, or long enough to melt anything, and it stayed cold, the snow on the roads simply compacted down into ice. Everything was covered in ice, several inches thick. And to compound the issue, I got a job in January requiring lots of driving all over town. To make a long story short, I learned to drive on ice and snow. By the end of the winter, I wasn't as frightened of driving on it. By the end of my second winter, I had slid off the road twice, and I learned from it. Fast forward to now, and I find myself today driving 300 miles to Fairbanks on roads like you see above in about five and a half hours, including a couple of potty breaks. Note that the trip from where I live to Fairbanks involves a fair amount of hilly terrain. No major mountain passes, but lots of hills and winding around the bases of mountains. Before living in Alaska, I would have said, NO WAY. But today, it was a nice drive, with no white knuckle moments. I will head home on Tuesday, assuming that Mt. Redoubt doesn't spew ash all over the place, making driving truly hazardous (It's very slippery, and it ruins your engine).
I guess my point is, people acclimate. When they have to, or choose to, people can adapt relatively well to changing circumstances. And circumstances are changing. Resource depletion, global warming, etc. will all affect us, and change our lives. There are plenty of predictions of chaos and collapse. But, if we are careful, we can adapt as things change. Hopefully, we will.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This is Monster. He is joining our family tonight. He is a 3 or 4 year old Alaskan Malamute, who is retiring from mushing. This dog is HUGE. I pet him without bending over at all and his paws are as big as saucers. This is an interesting addition for us. Monster is an outside dog; his current owner says he has never lived inside. He has lived in the dog house you sort of see next to him, on a 4 foot lead when not pulling a sled, with about 30 other dogs in close proximity, as is quite typical with sled dogs. Doesn't seem like ideal conditions, but he is a happy, cheerful, exuberant dog.
We will be keeping him in somewhat different conditions, but we will have to keep him chained when not leashed, at least at first, until we are certain he will not run away. Gypsy, our current dog, is never chained or leashed, unless we are somewhere in a crowd where she has to stay with us, such as a playground. She runs around the neighborhood, but never goes far, so we don't have to worry about keeping her chained up. We only have one neighbor close enough for her to bother, and they seem to like her visiting. She is good with other dogs, and Monster is certainly used to other dogs, so we are hoping they will get along ok. We will continue to keep him an outside dog... sled dogs don't do well indoors, as they are conditioned to the cold.
We have thought about putting him to work... we have a huge pile of cut firewood that needs to be hauled to the wood shed for next winter, that is a ways away. We can hook a sled to his harness and fill it with wood, then have him pull it to the house. In addition, he will need lots of exercise, and at least until he can be let loose on his own, that means that one of us will have to get lots of exercise too, LOL. Guess I won't need to do the elliptical machine at the gym anymore. He is a big strong dog, and I hope I can keep him from pulling me all over creation. At least that would give James entertainment :).
I hope he likes it at our house.

Friday, March 20, 2009

a step in the right direction

First lady, Michelle Obama, is planting a victory garden on the White House lawn.


This is great news! Before this, sales of vegetable seeds for home growing had already drastically increased, as people started taking more food production into their own hands, which is a great thing. I am hoping that seeing the fashionable First Lady working with children to grow food on the White House lawn will encourage more people to start growing vegetables. I will post later about the importance of bringing back the victory garden, but for now, I just wanted to highlight this event.

Thank you, Michelle Obama.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Holy cow!

Could this be the answer? We don't have cows, but with 5 people, we do produce some humanure. Check it out...


Actually, I am guessing that even with 5 people, we probably don't produce enough to be useful as a power source, but it's a thought..... LOL.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

utilities... the dilemma

OK, so the following dilemma we are trying to solve may sound weird to some people that read this blog. The answer, according to some of you will probably be, but of course you should. And the answer, according to some of you, will probably be, but of course you shouldn't. But I don't know.

You see, currently we live in a small (950 sq ft) cabin. We built this as a temporary home until we could get our house built. Since then, we have been vacillating back and forth over whether to actually build the real house, or just figure out a way to add on to the cabin, but we are right now leaning towards building the house. The cabin just was not built with the idea of making it last the rest of our lives, and it likely won't.

So now, the current debate is, if we build the house, should we plan on wiring and plumbing the house for modern utilities. We have already decided that we are going to continue to heat solely with wood, so that is not at issue currently. What is at issue is cooking, water, and electricity.

  • Electricity. Right now, we have no electricity, although the cabin was wired for it. We use LED lanterns and a propane lantern for lighting. This is not an issue in the summer, when we don't even need a light if we wake up in the middle of the night. But in the deep part of winter, it is a bit challenging, and we went through 2 or 3 12-packs of D batteries and 2 or 3 small tanks of propane this winter. This also means that we don't have a fridge. We have been keeping things that have to stay cold in the arctic entry, which actually has been working very well. But that doesn't work in the summer, and last summer, we had a cooler outside that we kept full of ice from the store. The electric company wants $25,000 to get electricity to our property line, and our house will sit at least 150 feet back from the road. It would be extremely expensive to get traditional electricity to our home. In addition, solar power would probably not be a terrific option, since there are only a few short hours of light in the winter, and the sun stays extremely low in the sky. It would be great in the summer, though. We don't have a steady enough wind in our spot to make a windmill feasible, and we have no little stream for microhydro power. So, what do we do? Do we spend a fortune on electricity, or do we find alternative ways of living so that it is not necessary? There are ways to do that. For example, we have a north facing hill at the back of our property. We could dig into that, and make an ice house, where we could make ice all winter long, and pack it in straw or sawdust, that would likely stay frozen all summer if we insulate the door well, and keep the door closed. We could then store anything that has to stay cold in that. For me, light is the biggie. I really don't want to resort to candles or oil lamps, and I hate using so many batteries. The biggest benefit of electricity to me is to be able to flip a switch and have safe, sufficient light. If we could get LED or compact flourescent lighting, and were diligent about only having one or two lights on at a time, I don't know if we could generate enough solar power to run them. Also, in the summer, with solar panels, we could certainly generate enough electricity to run a high efficiency washer, but what about in the winter? Would I be washing clothes by hand? We currently use a laundromat, but that is certainly not a permanent, sustainable solution.

  • Water. The only running water is into and out of our kitchen sink. We have no hot water except what we heat on the stove. We have been planning to dig a well for our water supply. Luckily, this area has plentiful water, but because we are on the top of a hill, our well will have to be about 110 feet deep. Without electricity, that is a lot of distance to pump water by hand. In addition, it gets very cold in the winter. It got down to -35 this winter. We would have to find a way to keep the wellhead/pump from freezing. I know they have frost proof hand pumps, but will it work at -35? I don't know. The other option is to collect rainwater in a cistern. It rains a lot in Alaska in the summer, but would we be able to collect enough water from runoff on our roof to supply us all year? I think we would have to be extremely water conscious, and a dry year could be disasterous. Of course, if we get electricity, we can have an electric, underground pump for our well, and this would all be moot. The other water issue is waste. Right now, we are doing an impromtu composting toilet (such as desribed in the Humanure Handbook)Even though Alaska has plentiful water, it bothers me that we use so much perfectly clean drinking water to get rid of poop. We either have to figure out a way to use greywater to flush with, or consider composting toilets, also a great source of fertilizer, if you are careful.

  • Cooking. Cooking is currently managed by propane. We have a gas range converted to propane and it works quite well, including the oven, without any electricity. In fact, I like it better than an electric range. However, I am concerned about the supply of propane. I have said before that I think we are coming to a crisis point in the oil supply. Right now, it doesn't seem like much of a threat, because this economic collapse has lessened the demand for oil to a point that there is currently a supply surplus. But, as production inevitably declines, and demand gradually increases again, prices will go up, and availability will go down. I don't expect to be able to acquire or afford propane to cook with indefinitely. SO... do I put an electric range in the new house? Or, do I put a wood cookstove in the new house? I guess that all goes back to whether we get electricity or not.

So, all in all, it seems like electricity is a good thing. But again, I worry about future availability. As the economy continues to collapse, and resources become increasing scarce, what will happen? I think remote areas will gradually lose services, as it becomes more cost prohibitive to provide services to them. Already this is happening in rural villages across Alaska that never got a sufficient fuel or food supply for the winter. And what has the government been able to do to help? Talk about it in the state legislature saying what a shame it is. That sure gets people warm and fed. I don't want that to happen to my family. That is why I advocate growing a garden and that is why I am considering other ways of meeting our needs besides relying on the grid longterm.

So, yes, I am actually considering a wood cookstove, and yes, I am considering building an ice house, and yes, I heat solely with wood. And I have a supply of stored food, and I am trying a garden again this year.

Comments, ideas, critiques, PLEASE. And if I do opt to put in the electricity, what backups would be most workable? What do you think?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

snow dogs...

The Iditarod started last Saturday. It starts in Anchorage, and they run to Eagle River, about 15 miles. They then restart the next day in Willow. The reason they do this is that the Knik Arm doesn't freeze all the way across anymore, so they let the mushers bypass that crossing.
A friend of mine has a cabin on Long Lake, a mile or so from where the restart is, and we went out to her cabin last Sunday to watch. The dog teams run right down the lake. We stood outside and watched about half of the teams go by, then went inside by the fire to watch the rest, while my friend's husband took our kids snowmachining. This is Becky with him in the pic. The kids loved the snow machines. I tried it out too, but it felt a little unstable on the back. I think I would have liked it more if I had been the one driving, because I would have felt more in control.
It was really fun; we all had a great time. Thanks for inviting us, Christine!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


(No, this is not my cabin.) Somewhat of a crappy picture, but I forgot to take one while it was still light. Then, I only had my cell phone with me, instead of my camera, so that makes it even worse. But I think the picture is clear enough to get my point across.

Snow. Lots of snow. We got a foot and a half this past weekend. Then another couple inches today. The first winter I was here, it was trending warmer and starting to melt by the first weekend in March. Clearly not this year. There are big huge piles of snow surrounding every parking lot in the state, I think. And the other morning it was -10 when I left for work. Breakup is looking like it will be a bit late this year.

Good thing I like snow. And also a good thing we still have plenty of wood left for the wood stove. But hey, all this snow will be great for the Iditarod.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Coincidence, correlation or causation?

This is an interesting graph. There is an article about it here. I first heard about it on NPR the other day, and it was concerning. Essentially, total household debt is aproximately equal to our GDP. This has only happened one time before, in 1929. I agree with the author of the article that the problem is not all the banks. We cannot blame all of the myriad problems that make up this "financial" crisis on the banks. We are as much to blame for buying into the concept that continually increasing debt is a good thing, as long as we think we can make our easy monthly payments.

Our entire society is based on this crazy idea of perpetual growth, with no concept of actual physical limits to resources or sensibility in consumption. All we ever hear is buy more, and more, and more. And every day, we accumulate more and more stuff, and this is supposed to (a) save our country and (b) make us happy. But in reality, our country is becoming worse off, as more and more of us just become fat, lazy, depressed couch potatoes, in debt up to our double and triple chins for our big screen hi-def plasma tv's, who can do nothing more productive that open a party-sized bag of cheetos. Oh, whoops, I am starting to sound a little bit like James Howard Kunstler, there, sorry.

We really are facing so many tough issues, from water scarcity and drought, as I talked about last time I posted, a couple weeks ago, to dwindling natural resources that are become ever more difficult to obtain, at ever greater cost to this place we live, to populations increasing way beyond carrying capacity in many areas of the world.

We have problems with education that are many and varied. On the one hand, students with disabilities often cannot get their needs met by the school system charged with doing so. On the other hand, brighter students are ignored and bored as teachers burden under the "no child left behind" mandate of teaching to the lowest common denominator. While I agree that all students should have a chance at becoming functioning adults, I also strongly feel that the children who truly excel intellectually should have their special needs met as well, benefitting society as a whole as we develop new Albert Einsteins and Leonardo DaVinci's.

We have problems with our workforce. Unemployment, as everyone knows, is incredibly high. In the meantime, more and more things are being done overseas, from cheap plastic toys from China that will poison our children, to customer service reps in India that can read a script in English, but can't answer a question they don't understand. It isn't their fault, English isn't their first language, after all, but it is a difficult situation for all involved when it happens. It seems like nothing is made here in America these days. I have gotten into the habit of looking to see where things are made when I am buying something lately, and I am always surprised if I see "Made in the USA" on it.

We have problems with housing. We all know the problems with subprime loans and other loans that were risky and are now falling apart. We all know that houses aren't selling, and are languishing on the market for months and years. But how many people realize that houses have been getting bigger and bigger over the years? In 1970, the average home size was 1400 square feet. In 2004, it was 2330. And the number of people in them is shrinking, as household sizes decrease. And bigger homes are more expensive, not only because of the increase in square feet, but also because bigger homes are usually fancier homes, so their cost is higher per square foot. More expensive means less affordable, bigger mortgages, that homeowners are less likely to be able to pay when times get tough.

We have problems with agriculture. With global warming. With erratic oil prices. With.... the list goes on and on. And somewhere in there is problems in financial markets and financial institutions, that surprise, surprise, aren't run for the benefit of depositors. They are run for the benefit of their shareholders, or the board of directors. To make a profit. And to continue to make profits when real wealth is declining, they have to invent all these crazy schemes that now are coming apart.

Yes, the banks are a part of it, but not the only part. Wow, as I look at this post, I realized that I am really ranting on and on today, but I am done for now.

Monday, February 16, 2009

is a global food shortage looming this summer?


This was an interesting article to read. The analysis is very simple. It looks at which countries produce the most food, and which countries are experiencing drought. Basically, all of the countries that produce large amounts of food are experiencing moderate to severe drought. Just based upon lack of rainfall, it appears that globally, we are going to have at least a 20 to 40% decrease in food production this year. And, yes, here in the USA too.

I have mentioned before that right now, we have the lowest food reserves in decades. Now is a really bad time to not be able to grow enough food, since we don't have enough stored to make up the difference.

We should all be doing the Victory Garden thing this year. Not only for our own food security, but every little bit we don't have to buy is some left over for someone else. But if we don't have enough water for farmers, will we have enough for everyone to have a vegetable garden?

It is high time to look at the ways we use water, and make decisions about what is really important. Is it more important to have a green lawn of grass in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or any of the other naturally dry areas, or is it more important to use that water to grow food? Is it really a good idea to take perfectly clean drinking water to flush our waste away? What can we do to conserve water, individually, and at a societal level, for the most important things?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mt. Redoubt

We have a volcano acting up a few miles away:

This is Mt. Redoubt, located just across Cook Inlet from Anchorage. The last time it erupted was during a 4 month eruptive period from Dec. 89 to April 90, during which it erupted several times. In the last week or so, it has suddenly gotten active again, and there is a likelihood that it will erupt sometime soon.

Depending on which way the wind is blowing when it happens to erupt, the ashfall may happen over Anchorage and Wasilla. So all the stores are selling out of dust masks and vehicle air filters, just in case. We cover our computers with plastic bags when we leave for the night, as volcanic ash is extremely abrasive and damaging to electronics, and gets into everything.

Updates on the volcano are available here: http://www.avo.alaska.edu/activity/Redoubt.php

Monday, January 26, 2009



Hello, global warming. This article reports that many farmers in California are not planning on planting this year, or don't know if they will be able to plant this year, due to drought. This isn't just little bitty farms, this is from some of the largest farmers, affecting thousands of acres of crops.

So, water shortages, food shortages, what next? We waited too long, and did nothing. This is going to get ugly. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off

Today is a historic day, and for now, at least, I am hopeful. Our new President gave a stirring speech that addressed many of the problems that our country, and the world, are facing. He mentioned the economy, health care, our profligate energy use, the wars we are fighting, climate change. He was very clear that the road ahead will be difficult, and these problems won't be solved immediately. He says, "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility." He talks about the fact that we cannot afford to consume more than our share of resources without considering those with less, and figuring out what to do about energy without emperiling our planet or financially supporting those who would wish us harm. He said it was time to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, and get to work. He is right.

Many articles I have read suggest that it may already be too late to avert damage to the planet from global warming, or prevent catastrophic effects of peak oil, due to our inaction. But listening to President Obama, I am filled with the perhaps irrational hope that maybe there is still time, if we truly put our shoulder to the wheel.

Yes, we can.