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.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
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
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
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
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
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.