Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Just a quick note

Still busy! I just wanted to let you know about some fantastic gardening resources I've found. First of all, it all stems from the site Life on the Balcony, and her post about how to turn a pallet into a garden. Fantastic idea! I might go scrounge a few of those up sometime, and plant more herbs....
Anyway, when looking through some of her other posts I found out about Woolly Pocket and their neat (recycled!) pots. The only downsides to those that I can find are 1)they're kind of pricey and 2)I don't like the securing mechanism for the wall version on Woolly Pocket (the Wally, haha). I've been thinking that, for work, it would be totally feasible to hang a few plants over the railings on the upper floors. We get lots of patrons commenting on how nice it is to have all the plants around. And they'd be easy enough to water from there. But there would probably be lots and lots of bureaucratic red tape (and consequential headaches) to get the approval to actually screw something into the railings. If they had a Wally version with hooks...well, that would be a whole different story. And Life on the Balcony does have a post about gardening at work.... I'm suddenly thinking that my three tomato plants aren't enough food growing at work. (I got two more cherry tomatoes today!)
Anyway, the last resource is for Smart Pots. They're much cheaper than the pots at Woolly Pocket, and from what I can find they do seem to work better than regular pots, while having a competitive price. Maybe I should order a few? The only downside to them is that they're porous, so just as with my plastic pots I'd have to have them resting in plastic water trays for when they drain. Not that that's too big of a deal, but I definitely couldn't use any of their hanging pots. I really want to find a nice hanging pot to replace the one I have at home, and plant a few more hanging plants. Still searching.
Shane and I are going to embark on a quest to cure our dog of separation anxiety before we leave for our honeymoon. Hopefully, it will sustain everyone's sanity. I'll let you know how we get on.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sustainable Library--Update

That post was getting too long and I needed to finish it. And get back to throwing out more journals.
Anyway, for a little perspective on just how much paper I'm talking about here, going alphabetically through my list I filled up an industrial dumpster by the middle of the C's. And since that's only the issues after 1987 (the rest are in a different location) I'd guess that I've only been getting about half of them. Can you imagine how much paper that is? And how much that means we're not getting by instead receiving them online?
The other efficiency that I thought of with this is that, by being able to access them online, people don't have to come to the library any more. Circulation has dropped off dramatically in the last few years (coincidentally, just when we've gotten more things online) and a lot of the students who do come in do so only to use our computers, printer, and photocopier. (Which can scan and send a pdf straight to email or save to a USB drive--another very efficient tool.) I realize it's rather a hard sell, budget-wise, to claim how much better the library is because we have so few people coming in now. (Especially when the people in charge of the budget are politicians--the state legislature--and University bureaucrats.) But think of how many people don't need to waste their time, money, and gasoline driving to the university for just one thing. Being a science library, a lot of our patrons spend their summers (and in a few cases, the winters) out in the field. They have instant access to information that they otherwise would have had to wait weeks for, or make an extra trip here for. I'm certain they appreciate that a lot.
I am getting a bit sick of explaining myself to people though. Passersby keep making comments. The construction guys shouted at me yesterday, "Nice throw!", and one woman today bitterly told me, "It should be a crime to throw away books." Then she walked away before I could give my short answer. Thanks for judging me! (Which, for the record, actually is a sin.) I did have one gentleman actually stop to learn what we're doing. He even helped me for a little bit. When I was done explaining he said, "Yeah, I get what you're doing. But I'm the kind who doesn't like to throw anything away, so don't mind me."

Sustainable library?

Life has been so crazy busy this past week that I haven't even had time to think about this blog, let alone check it! Even work has been nuts, and I'm loving it. It's so nice to have things to do, filling my day. Yesterday I thought, "Why am I so hungry? It's only...oh, 12:30. Ah."
One of the things we did a couple of weeks ago was to have a library cleaning day. We dusted, we shifted books to make more room, cleaned off our desks, etc. But we also went through all of the notebooks that have been on shelves in the office since long before I started working here, trying to see what we could recycle. There were reams of data from 1997, which we don't need. Old manuals from 2003 for programs that we either don't have anymore or which have changed so much that the manuals were rather quaint. Plus, they're online now. No need for a paper copy. I was amazed to realize just how efficient the internet has made running an office. Think of all the paper that's been saved by having manuals online rather than in paper. We even have our procedures written and saved on a network rather than paper copies. It's incredible.
Not only are we printing less, we're receiving less paper. The library used to provide (and struggle to provide) 5,000 journals in their paper form. With online subscriptions, we now have over 50,000 journals, less than a quarter of which are still received in paper form. (And those that are are either free and not online, or they're owned by the devil's publishing house, Elsevier, and online subscriptions are exorbitantly costly.) Every year our list of journals shrinks a bit more. I know, I'm the one who checks them in. :)
Anyway, with all this cleaning up my coworker and I made so many trips out to the recycling bin. We saved what could be used for scratch paper (either for double-sided printing or to cut up for students to use) and the rest was hauled out back to get recycled. I'm glad all that old paper will see new life. (And the reason to recycle paper isn't to save trees, it's to save water! Trees can be sustainably grown for paper and it ends up being fairly carbon neutral. But it's way, way more water intensive.)
Our librarian has also been doing what's called weeding--removing old books from the collection that are out of date (easy to do with science books) or just unnecessary any more. These books go through quite the cycle before getting tossed in the dumpster. Unless it's in really, really bad shape or it's really, really old we: first decide if it could go on the booksale shelf. Would anyone want it? If not, we check the ISBN on a website called Better World Books. This group essentially buys books (they pay the shipping as long as it is one they want), sells them and then takes a percentage of that money. It keeps these books in circulation so people and libraries don't have to buy new ones, and we make a little bit of money. (Not much--about $3000 between us and the main library in a little over a year, which is a drop in the bucket in terms of the budget. But it helps.) If BWB won't take it, we then have to decide if it's something that the Fairbanks Literacy Council would take. IF the book isn't suitable for any of these places, then it gets recycled.
The final, but enormous, chunk of recycling that we're doing right now is to remove our old paper journals that we have online access to. The library was able to purchase three large backfiles packages (old issues of a lot of journals) so I get to spend my days recycling the paper. I won't go into all of the backups that need to be in place to assure library access before we do the paper removal, but even if the system goes down or we suddenly lose access to a particular site, we'll still get the journals. Don't worry. Anyway, yesterday I spent about 2 1/2 hours doing this (it's tough physical labor, pulling them off the shelves onto a cart, pushing the cart out to the back of the building, tossing them into the recycle bin, start over) and half filled up the bin. This clears space for journals that we have waiting to be moved here (again, I won't go into details, but we're having to store some things off-site and it costs the library lots of money, so clearing this space will help the library save lots of money) and for more books in the future. It feels good to be doing something useful and helpful. Although, I was so tired last night from work that I played horribly at softball. Oh well. It's good for me to be that tired, right?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Success Stories

I've been starting to feel a bit down about my garden this year. My lettuce plants are still tiny, I haven't harvested anything, and it's been a little discouraging. However, since Friday I've noticed a few successes. First is that my tomatoes at work are starting to ripen. These are plants I got from a friend so I had no idea what kind they were. The verdict is in: they're cherry tomatoes. In a couple of days I should have enough ripe ones to make a pasta dish I know of. Yum. (I'll post pictures when I do make it!) Salads I'll save for later, when the lettuce gets a bit bigger.
But the lettuce is big enough that we can use it for some things. On the menu list for this week are moose burgers (really, it's the same as beef burgers but with ground moose instead) and we'll top them with lettuce from the garden. The burgers will be in homemade sourdough buns.
Which is my next victory: I finally got sourdough starter and have been using it! Yum. I should re-read the section in "The Urban Homesteader" about sourdough, and try their bread recipe because I don't like the one I have. It's too fussy, calling for "resting periods" on top of three different rising times! No way. Part of the appeal of sourdough bread is that it's so incredibly easy! Starter, flour, water, salt. That's it. I could just keep doing what I've been doing, and wing it. Not bad so far. The trick with sourdough, as with French bread, is to bake it with a pan of water underneath so that the oven gets really humid. That helps it to form a really nice crust.
I also found a few tiny squashes on a couple of different plants. One is round and green (still very tiny) and another is longer and starting to turn yellow, so they're definitely different types of squash. Yay! I think the yellowing one is probably a yellow summer squash. No idea yet what the other is. It actually looks a bit like a tomato at this point.
Finally, my potatoes have popped out of the dirt in their tire. I'll let them get a bit bigger before putting another tire on top and filling it with more dirt. (Not too long, now, though! Once potatoes decide to grow, they grow!) Never having done this before, I have no idea how many potatoes I'll get. But it's exciting anyway.
In addition to all of this, L let me "shop" through some of the clothes she was giving away, so I now have three new shirts! Now if only I could get ahold of some really nice jeans....
I'm totally making more of those fruit bars tonight. I've been thinking about them since they all got devoured. Today is cool and rainy, perfect for summer baking.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Solstice!

In some ways, it would be very easy to miss the solstice around here. It stays light all day. Sitting outside you could read a book without artificial light all night, even when the sun has technically "set". It can still be seen from the mountains, circling the sky, but because we're about 120 miles south of the arctic circle we don't officially have the sun all day. Just the light. And since it's been like this for weeks and will be for several more weeks, the solstice is really another day without darkness.
However, it is the solstice and that not only gives Fairbanksters (it should be "Fairbanksans", but I prefer Fairbanksters) a chance to celebrate, but it's also a symbol of our unique place in the world. How many people get to say they live in a place that never gets dark? How many people get to say they've been to a place like that on the solstice? It's an incredible time to be here. There were festivals downtown, and parties all weekend. (I went to the latter instead of the former.) Tonight our minor league baseball team, the Goldpanners, will play the world's only midnight baseball game without artificial lights. If we can get tickets, I'm going to try to persuade Shane to go despite my exhaustion. (Softball ran late last night--so tired!)
The summer solstice is a time to celebrate our light, but the winter solstice is more of a relief. That's the point when we get to cheer because we slowly start gaining back the daylight that was so rapidly lost. Because of the extreme light changes, there's a noticeable shift in how much daylight is gained or lost each day. It's very slow around the solstice itself before picking up speed until we're losing or gaining 6-7 minutes of daylight every day in the middle of the cycle.
But now is not the time to think of that. It's a time to be happy and to celebrate this magnificent land. The rest of summer will go by too quickly and I'm certain that by the time it gets dark again I'll be excited to glimpse my first star at the end of summer. (At the end of winter I try to appreciate the darkness, knowing that it will be gone soon enough.) By the time my wedding rolls around (just over 2 months away, how did that happen?!) the sun will be setting just after 9:00 and we'll have our beautiful, long sunsets. So there's much still to look forward to. The solstice is the official first day of summer, bringing with it all the accompanying joys. I plan on taking advantage of every one of them.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Another good reason to shop local

As if creating jobs in your local economy and supporting businesses which generally pay fairer wages wasn't enough, I've been thinking lately of the many reasons I don't want to buy from giant corporations. It really comes down to one thing: fairness. I don't think it's fair that they're allowed to pay most of their workers such piss-poor wages. I don't think it's fair to nickel and dime customers to give their CEOs enormous bonuses and show off better profits. I don't think it's fair that they can get people sick, or even allow people to die, in the name of Profit. Think of insurance companies, who won't cover some claims because it's not profitable to cover even life-saving procedures. It's also not profitable for coal and energy companies to reduce the heavy metals and toxins their products emit, but they're also not the ones paying for children's asthma treatments or respiratory infections in elderly people. They generously leave that to the families. Isn't that sweet? I don't want to be supporting a business model that puts money before people's lives and health. It's just...wrong is really the only way to say it. It's wrong, and I refuse to support it. I know I don't have control over all of these things (I have to buy my insurance through my job, and the campus has a coal-fired power plant so all of the heat and electricity during my working hours are through coal) but it feels quite nice to take charge of those things I do have control over. Driving less makes me feel so good in so many ways, but giving less of my money to oil companies is a big part of that.
I also don't think it's fair that companies are allowed to contribute as much as they want to politicians, and can lobby congress with impunity, so that they don't have to pay any taxes. None. How is that even remotely fair? In fact, I'm downright pissed off about it. It seems to me like the largest companies get all the benefits of the American society without having to contribute anything meaningful. They are not deserving of my money then. They get enough through my tax dollars.
I'd rather spend my money where it's both needed (and what small business couldn't use a few more customers?), efficient (there are lots of reasons they're more efficient, but one is that small businesses don't need to hire human resources people, whose only real job is managing everyone else on payroll and isn't actually tied to how well the company performs; inefficient), and actually helpful to my community. Small businesses, by having ties to one community, tend to be bigger supporters of things like local arts and charities than big corporations. And they tend to do it without all the press and fanfare that big companies shine on their charitable works. (Remember, kids, it isn't "charity" if no one sees you doing it. Then it's just altruism, and no company wants to be accused of that! Horrors!)
As for my claim of necessity, I don't think it's outrageous at the moment to say that we're in a jobs crisis (how many people do you know who are un- or under-employed? because I know lots). Buying from local businesses increases the number of people in your area who need to be hired. These are jobs that can't be shipped to Asia. Additionally, when products are made locally (and small businesses are more likely to sell locally made items) you end up supporting a broader network of people who then have money for things like their children's educations. And when people have money and access to education, there's less crime and fewer illegal drugs. I would love to see my entire community pulled out of poverty. I would love to see those who feel disenfranchised, hopeless and ignored with hope on their faces. And I honestly do believe that one of the ways to do my part toward that goal is to buy what I need to buy from small, local businesses. Of course, time and money to charities is also helpful.
If you're ever feeling down about your efforts to go greener, or get mocked by anyone, there's a really great article in the Huffington Post (I love that news site!) about keeping going in the face of adversity because, ultimately, you're right. And it's impossible to make the world a better place for nothing.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The importance of not treating animals with antibiotics

Most of us have heard that treating animals with animals with antibiotics is bad. It drives up costs of those drugs for people, creates superbugs, etc. If you want to hear more about it, you can read this article. Representative Louise Slaughter (the only microbiologist in congress) has several times introduced legislation to ban the practice of giving healthy animals antibiotics because they're so important for human health. Sadly, this legislation gets pushed around and tabled in favor of "more important" legislation. (What can be more important than an issue that affects the health of our entire species?)
I just have a few thoughts on this. The first being, it would be an incredible overhaul of our entire way of farming if this legislation passed. Part of the reason this practice was started was because of factory farms. It's too time-consuming and expensive to treat every sick animal individually. Also, having large numbers of animals crammed into little boxes together naturally breeds more diseases amongst them. Therefore, if we reserved antibiotics for the exclusive use of sick humans and animals, it would be too expensive to keep them penned up. Which would bring the real cost of regular meat into more competitive range with organic and more people would eat organic.
This would also mean that an incredibly cruel and inhumane way of treating our farm animals would end, which is just as important to me as the health aspects. I don't see how anyone can claim to be better than animals when we systematically treat so many animals so barbarically.
The other major consequence I see is that, if meat reflected its true costs that way, people would eat less meat and a lot of the health problems in the country (like obesity and all of its attendant health woes) would start to decline. Suddenly, vegetables would be seen as the cheaper option that they really are and people would use meat more sparingly, the way we're meant to. Also, fast food and pre-packaged, processed meals would be more expensive so people might start learning to cook for themselves. I really can't see any downsides to this legislation passing. So, write to your congress people, let them know it if you think this is important too! Or at the very least, start buying organic meat and dairy products. Your immune system will thank you. And then you can thank your immune system when it protects you.
One little update on my experiment in not washing my face: my dear friend F came over last night. It's been weeks since we last saw each other. She's taking a summer class and in it they were discussing marketing and the fact that, essentially, the whole hygiene industry is based in marketing rather than any real need. (The same can be said for a lot of industries, but they focused on hygiene products.) So I told her about the site No More Dirty Looks and my own experiment. She said, "You know, I noticed as soon as I came in that your skin is looking particularly radiant!" I felt the need to point out my stress zit (for which I blame my dog), but the compliment was lovely. Score one for the use of plain water instead of heavily marketed products!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

No good, very bad day

My dog hates me. More specifically, she hates that Shane is gone and she blames me. I woke up yesterday morning pretty much unable to open my mouth. Remember I said I got hit in the face with a frisbee? It exacerbated a previous problem that I thought I was done with, and long story short, I ended up staying home yesterday.
But my mouth wasn't the worst part. When I got up, I found both cat pee and poop on the floor. Then, going into the kitchen to get the cleaning tools, I saw that the dog had torn up our paper recycling. THEN I saw that she had also torn into our 50 lb. bag of flour. Not only was there flour all over the kitchen/dining room area, but she'd also gotten some water in it and ground the paste into the carpet. (Have I mentioned that we rent? And that the carpet was new when we moved in 2 years ago?!?) The flour was unsalvageable. What was left in the bag was covered with doggy paw prints. The dog herself was thrown out in the rain for an hour and a half while I cleaned up the mess, then taken immediately to the bath for both punishment (she hates baths) and to get the paste off of her.

The cat's punishment is that I had to use the vacuum cleaner. (It makes loud, scary noises!) I think his problem is more the fact that it's been a while since Shane did a complete clean-out of the litter box and it was starting to get gross. (It gets to a point where just getting the stuff out doesn't cut it, and you have to start over with fresh litter.) So I did that, and vacuumed all around there to pick up what had been flung out for good measure. Much happier cat.
I don't know what to do with the dog. She freaked out anytime she was more than 2 feet away from me yesterday while I could hardly stand to look at her.
I made myself feel a bit better, though. I found these recipes for fruit bars, which sound amazingly delicious and aren't even terribly unhealthy. I adapted a recipe to use both canned cherries (Shane's mom put them up several years ago, they need to be eaten) and dried cherries. Instead of apple or orange juice, I used the juice out of the can for the sauce. I can't wait to dig in! They still need to cool for a while. I think in the meantime, I'll go to the men's softball game and cheer on our friends. When I get home, they should be ready for me to...probably eat the whole pan in the next day or so. And then go buy more fruits to make even more bars. :)

P.S. Remind me not to try to cook dinner for just myself ever again. Baking yes, cooking no. Something about trying to make a small portion makes me muck it all up. I should stick to sandwiches when I'm alone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Economics of choice

I don't need to tell you that the economies of the world are not doing so well right now. While a recent report has said that the U.S. economy is the only developed economy still showing growth, that's a poor indicator of the economy as a whole when people are losing their houses now even more often than they were 2 years ago, and jobs are difficult or impossible to find. You can read articles like this one, which do a fairly concise explanation of why we're in this mess. And this one, about why things are going to either stay bad or get worse.
There are lots of articles about how to fix the economy and get growth going again. But this is the article to read, even if you don't glance at the others. (And really, the others all just say the same thing and are pretty depressing to read, so I don't recommend it.) I like this article because it points out seven reasons why we really don't want the old economy back anyway. Wage stagnation is closely followed by "disemployment", the fact that we might be adding jobs but they're horrible jobs like those at McDonald's. Not only is McDonald's bad for the eater and the food system as a whole, but their workers get paid about the same as those at Walmart. Are those really the jobs we want to add? Of course not.
I think my favorite idea in the article was about the pointlessness of most jobs. We're not doing anything creative or interesting with our days, just going to a job that pays us because we need the income. (And really, if you're at a "Mcjob", can you really care about it?) Take my job. In honest, real terms, if I only worked as much as there is work for me to do, most of the time I'd only work about 4-8 hours for the week. (This is also assuming that I wouldn't draw out my tasks because there aren't 8 hours ahead of me that I need to fill somehow.) And I actually kind of like my work. Sometimes. It has drawbacks, but it feels good when I stop and reflect on the fact that I'm helping people to learn, to spread knowledge, and assisting in a small way with the research that goes on at the University. How many people get to say that their boring job has even that much purpose?
But it's not quite enough for me. When I think about what I really want to do with my life, I sort of draw a blank. As I discussed with my brother a while ago, I think part of the problem is actually in the choice. I have so many interests that it's hard to settle on just one of them. Nursing, wildlife, ecology, veterinary sciences, even farming or botany, are all some of the paths I've toyed with. (Which is sort of amusing, since I got my undergrad degree in English!) Conversely, I could go into non-profit management, or become a counselor for underprivileged kids, a teacher, etc. The idea of settling on just one (or even 2) has sort of left me paralyzed.
I don't think I'm alone in wanting to make a difference in the world with my career. Instead of choosing degrees based on what will pay the most, a lot of the people I know are choosing their degrees based on what interests them AND what will make the most impact. After all, when you love what you do it seems like less of a job.
So what does one do when you love lots of things?
Or do you do "nothing at all"? (I do mean that facetiously--being a homemaker is a completely undervalued path.)
The best job I ever had was when I was working as a nanny. I got paid to play with wonderful children, how much better could things be? But I'm not sure if "just" being a mom is what I want to do with my life, either. (And we're going to wait a bit before having kids. We both want time to enjoy being newlyweds!)
I'm very lucky because with my job I get free credits with the university. I think what I really need to do is to jump right into school, start taking classes again, and figure it out as I go along. That being said, I'll go look at the course catalog for fall semester.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Invasive Plants

Shane's new job is with the USDA. Instead of checking food, however, he's looking at invasive plants. They're a bigger problem in Alaska than one might think, considering the climate. The ones most commonly known here are dandelions and vetch, which some people call 'wretched vetch'. It's an innocent looking plant with pretty purple flowers, but it's viney and it strangles out the native plants fairly quickly. Our dog loves to run through tall grass (it's what cocker spaniels were bred to do, after all, to flush out birds for hunters) but the vetch will make her struggle to get out of it. When we're walking, I'll sometimes pull out vetch as I go along.
Shane's job, though, is something that I've never thought of before. He's dealing with bird seed. A lot of bird seed is grown in places like India and China, and since it's for bird seed and not food crops they don't get weeded as strenuously as food does. The government has a list of plants and plant seeds (and a few animals, like Asian carp) that aren't allowed into the country for any reason, ever. Not even research. These invasive plants do untold damage to native species, which is why they're so thoroughly banned. But the seeds can still come in in packs of bird seed. Someone with the USDA invented a machine that heats the seeds up to the point that they're not viable anymore (i.e., if they're planted they won't grow) but still leaves the oils that make the seeds attractive to birds.
This process is dependent on the manufacturer, however, and not all of them comply. They might heat the seeds for too little time, or not heat them at all. So Shane's boss went around town gathering as many different kinds of bird seed as possible, then sent the seeds off to a lab to have them pull out which ones are the invasive species on the banned list. One of Shane's projects over the summer is to try to grow these seeds, to see which companies don't comply with governmental policies. Neat, huh?
Now we just need congress to pass a budget that doesn't cut funding to the USDA, because if they do he has this job for two years. If they don't, everyone on this project is out of a job. And that's exactly what we need, right? More people who are unemployed? Grumble grumble.
Shane's gone all this week for field work and won't be back until next Monday. :(

Saturday, June 11, 2011


When I was a kid, my parents made us weed the yard and garden by hand. We got small tools like trowels, but for the most part the job was done by grabbing the weed and pulling straight out of the ground. I hated this chore. It sucked. I'd see commercials for weed killers on TV and ask my mom, why we couldn't just buy some of that? Now, of course, with all the news about how bad pesticides and herbicides are (such as the fact that Roundup causes birth defects, and regulators have known about this for years) I am very happy that she didn't buy those products.
I've come to appreciate weeding now that I'm older. Not that it's my favorite chore (which is why I still label it a chore) but it's not so bad. A little weeding here, a little weeding there, and I can keep my garden going. Other things help to space out the need for weeding. Mulching is one of those things. Layers of hay or grass clippings interspersed with layers of newspaper (not the glossy ads--those can have toxic chemicals) work very well at keeping the weeds down while allowing my plants to thrive.
And weeds do have their place. I'm letting part of the garden grow fallow this year so that it can replace lost nutrients and my plants will grow better next year. Since all plants use different nutrients from the soil, planting the same type of plant in the same place year after year depletes the soil. (One of the reasons our system of mono-cropping is so bad--the soil can't replenish itself and so all sorts of extreme measures are taken that actually deplete the topsoil.) The places where I let the grass and weeds grow up are actually healthier in the end because they don't require the same nutrients as my food crops. This is also one of the reasons I planted my potatoes in a tire this year, to give the actual ground a chance to rest.
We can also re-think what is a weed. Dandelions, an invasive plant (more on them later), were originally brought to America as a food crop. Any part of the dandelion can be eaten and made into different stored products such as jam and dandelion wine or dandelion 'honey'. (I don't have a recipe for that last one, but a friend of Shane's family makes it.) It would have been so much nicer when I was a kid if, instead of weeding the dandelions (which are hard to pull!) we instead picked their leaves for salads, their yellow tops for jam, etc. I won't try to say that they're the best tasting plant ever (the leaves tend to be quite bitter) but they're very nutritious and mixed in with regular lettuce, you won't taste them.
We went frisbee golfing or frolfing last night with friends. I don't play (I'm terrible, and competitive enough that I just get upset) but I walk the dog around and hang out. (And get hit in the face--bruised, swollen jaw today!) I didn't realize there were so many wild roses on campus! They're very pretty, of course, but they also make a great found-food source: rose hips. Mmmm. Rose hips are about as versatile as any berry, as well as being both nutritious and yummy. As soon as they ripen, I'm insisting that Shane go frolfing so that I can follow the group and collect rose hips. We have a book in my office (it wasn't quite something for our collection, but we all liked it so we just keep it in the office for everyone to use) that has recipes for pretty much any Alaska berry and fruit, like rose hips. So I'll definitely be able to find some tasty uses for them.

Friday, June 10, 2011

WTB better air quality

As the national news focuses on wildfires in Arizona and Texas (and we all send well-wishes to those affected) we in Fairbanks have our own wildfires to burden us. Only a few homes are threatened (or have burned down), but the air quality has severely suffered. Yesterday would have been a great day to get a picture from the hill where I work of the valley below, if I'd remembered my camera. The fire is in a different valley, so it wasn't visible. But our area looked gray, rainy and foggy. Except it wasn't fog, it was smoke.
Today is a little better in appearance, but the air quality has still been judged to be unhealthy for sensitive groups. Apparently, I fit into that group because my sinuses have been killing me for the last couple of days. Shane and I laid down to watch a movie last night and the fluid in my sinuses moved around and it felt like water rushing up my nose. Fun, right? I was hoping that the rain yesterday would have helped, but since the skies hardly did more than sprinkle it wasn't as great as everyone was hoping. Most Fairbanksters would say that their perfect summer weather has a torrential downpour about once a week to keep the fires down, while being hot and sunny the rest of the week.
Several fires have been burning continuously for several years, smoldering in the bogs over the long winters. Crazy, right? It doesn't really seem possible. But fires can also spread through the roots of trees in the right types of soil. (Clay especially, like we have in places around here--my friend went home the other day to discover that his dirt driveway was on fire!)
Obviously, wildfires are a normal, natural part of how the forests in Alaska (and really, any temperate forests) regenerate. But the fires from the past few years have been out of control. It gets hardly a word in the national press because we're a) not important unless spouting inanities like, "I can see Russia from my house!" And b) as I said before, not many homes are threatened. (The town of Anderson was evacuated a couple summers ago, but that was roughly 20 homes.) It should matter more, though, because these fires are a sign that the arctic is getting warmer and warmer. Fires are natural, yes. But we've broken quite a few records in the past decade and the problem only seems to be getting worse. Like with the spiders, it's a long-term trend. One large fire is not indicative of global warming. But a decade of severe, unceasing fires is. And as long as they're around, people like me who are sensitive to the air quality are going to have really, really bad days.
And until these fires go away, I'm going to be thanking the firefighters I know every chance I get. After all, I just have to deal with bad air quality. They're the ones actually protecting us from the fires. They deserve a little thanks at the very least.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New roommate...ish.

For the summer, one of our friends is living in a motor home in our driveway. This is one of those things that makes me think, only in Alaska. Anywhere else he'd be considered homeless, and us cruel for "making" him stay out there. (We did offer the guest bedroom, but he didn't want to pay rent. Hence, the motor home.)
For the privilege of being in our driveway, using our bathroom and kitchen facilities, as well as paying us for the electricity he's using he's giving us the contents of his chest freezer. All I can say is, yum. It's packed full of things like halibut, more salmon, etc. We tried antelope last night. (Don't ask me where he got antelope, I have no idea.) Conclusion: antelope is not my favorite meat. I liked Shane's marinade, and the way he cooked it kept the meat really tender. But the actual taste of the meat wasn't something I care for. Oh well.
I am looking forward to cooking up some halibut tomorrow. Halibut requires deep sea fishing, not the dip-netting (it's exactly what it sounds like) that Shane's parents do, so we don't have it that often. When we do, it's more of a delicacy. (Unlike salmon.) My mom's recipe for beer battered halibut calls for Bisquick (the whole recipe is: beer, Bisquick; combine to thick and goopy stage), but I can't really find a great sounding recipe that doesn't call for something like Bisquick, pancake mix, or at least seasoning mixes. Hmmm. I might experiment. Or I might just suck it up and buy Bisquick, which I haven't bought in ages.
Anyway, all of this will certainly help with the grocery bill for the summer since we'll mostly be eating game meats. Now if only the farmers would get their veggies in and bring them to the farmer's market, life would be perfect. All they've had so far are cucumbers, which are ok but I'm not a big enough fan to buy and eat tons of them. Not even as pickles, which I've thought about making.
The one thing I did buy at the farmer's market last weekend was a bar of goat's milk soap. You know what the dog did? Climbed up on the table and started eating it. Not too much, I think she realized pretty quickly that it didn't taste as good as it apparently smelled. But she's been climbing on the table a lot lately. When Shane gets up, she's sleeping on the table and doesn't seem to realize that she's doing something wrong. I've been trying to explain to her the difference between cat privileges and dog privileges (the cat gets to be on the table, the dog gets to go for walks), but she doesn't seem to understand. For now, the cat is staying firmly in the place of favored child.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Idle hands are...

Idle hands are so not my problem right now. I've shaken off the last of my winter sleepiness (hibernation isn't only for bears) and I'm in full Summer Mode.
Not that the things I've accomplished sound like much when they're totaled up.
Making bread.
More dishes.
Weeding the garden.
Wedding stuff.
Cleaning out our plastic bags for re-use.

That last one had my mom sounding skeptical when I said that I do it. She said, "I tried reusing some Ziploc bags, but there were crumbs left and they got moldy...." My answer: soap and water. I rinse each of them out, squishing the soap around with just a bit of water, and then hang them over things in our kitchen so that they dry out. (Wine bottles work really well for the bigger bags, and little canning jars that I've used for jam are about the perfect size for the smaller ones.) I've never had anything in them get moldy and they get naturally weeded out of use on a regular basis (after about 3-4 uses). I don't ever reuse bags that have held raw meat, and I've only reused cheese bags a couple of times (because of the bacteria). But for bread, sandwiches, fruit, chopped veggies, etc., reusing them works really well. (And yes, I'm trying to find alternatives to putting those things in plastic.) Actually, at this point we really don't use them for much except meat, cheese, and bread products.
This is part of overhauling my sense of what's "disposable". Yes, something can be disposable, but does it have to be? My brother has, for years, shaken his head over single use products. It's a waste of resources, and it's a waste of money. Why would you ever want to buy something that's only good to be used once? I understand his point more and more.
Of course, this is also the man who said that he's only ever going to buy the shoes that have bike clips on the bottom. They're multi-tasking, and "when is it a bad thing to have the ability to clip yourself to something?"
Whew. Add to all this our ballroom dance class, coed softball, and taking care of the normal plant/animal tasks for our household, it's already starting to be a big week.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Laundry Day

Laundry is one of those things, I admit, where Shane and I diverge directly along the traditional male/female roles. In fact, practically since we started dating over four years ago, I've been doing his laundry along with mine. (He NEVER did laundry, and it started to bother me. Plus: we lived in the same dorm, laundry facilities were on his floor anyway, and the machines were huge so I could get a lot of laundry done all at once. So I took over, like I tend to do.)
We've had a rather interesting laundry history, too. I've already explained living in the dorms, but there was also the six months we lived in a dry cabin. That made laundry an interesting (and very infrequent) venture. We were, to be blunt, dirt poor and didn't want to go to the laundromat. Ever. So we relied on the generous nature of our friends, and a lot on the fact that Shane's younger brother was living in the dorms. Once a month we'd cart pretty much all of our clothes to campus and spend as long as it took to get things cleaned and at least mostly dried. There were a few times we'd have one bag of clean and dry, another bag for clean and not at all dried so that the second set could be laid around the cabin to try dry. Since we kept the temperature so low to save on heat, and the drying area was farthest away from the heater, things would more often get a little frozen rather than dried, but we made it work.
Now that we're in an apartment with an actual washer and dryer for our own use, I'm very conscious of the toll the electricity for it exacts on our electric bill. Especially the dryer. So I do all that I can to reduce the amount I actually put into the dryer. Our storage space (located right next to the washer and dryer, conveniently) has provided...well, not the perfect alternative (it's too small!) but an excellent one. There's a closet bar across the front, and I hang a majority of our clothes along there to be dried. At first it was just a few of our nicer clothes (the dryer is also very hard on clothing), but now it's expanded to almost all of our shirts, and all of my underwear. (Women's underwear is ridiculously expensive!) I keep meaning to add our pants into the growing list of things that don't go in the dryer, but there's more of a space concern for them. Now that it's summer, I suppose I could just set them outside to dry. Hmmm. The only thing I've found it's better to put in the dryer are towels, otherwise they get rather stiff. (Although, maybe just tossing them in for a small touch-up at the end of the drying process would fluff them up enough?) Yes, all of this does take a few extra minutes since I have to hang up each individual item, but the savings to our electric bill makes up for that. And it's still something that I can do and leave as I please. It makes me feel really good when I need to dry only one out of every three loads of laundry.
The other easy way I save is by using less laundry detergent. Like, waaaay less. I read this article a while ago about using less, none, or making it yourself and have totally altered the way I do laundry ever since. (I admit that I don't make my own. But I buy Seventh Generation soap, and the big container has lasted almost two years now.) For an average load of laundry, I try to put in no more than a tablespoon or two of soap. My laundry still comes out smelling fresh and clean, and it stays that way.
I also never use fabric softener or dryer sheets. I don't find them to be at all necessary, just a waste of money. My clothes are plenty soft, and since I air dry most of our stuff, there's no need for dryer sheets.
When we do eventually buy our own place, will I even bother to get a clothes dryer? Maybe.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Shane has a job! It's a temporary, summer research position at the University. But it's gainful employment! Being unemployed and bored has certainly worn him down in the last few months. We're going out with friends to celebrate tonight at our favorite local Thai restaurant. Yum.
This does not mean, however, that I'm taking us off our budget. I think it's as important as ever, especially since this is only a temporary position. I hope there's another position, or more money for this one, at the end of the summer but I'm going to plan for another long stretch of unemployment. Just in case.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Crashed my bike last night. No serious injuries. Just scrapes, bruises, and wounded pride. (Lesson learned: never bike along Cushman. Honestly, the worst sidewalks I've ever seen! And that's saying a lot, since I bike along University....) I was more concerned for my bike than for myself. The chain came off, and I got angry trying to put it back on. (If you saw a woman swearing and working on a bike downtown last night, that was me!) On the plus side, I did get to miss pretty much the entire meeting that I was going to. Our place is eligible through a state program to be weatherized, and I don't know why but it had to be the people living in it and not the landlord who had to go to this meeting about "what will happen?" Boring, but I missed most of it and still got credit for being there. (Not only was I late, but I explained to one of the people running it what had happened, so I spent the rest of it in the bathroom trying to clean myself up. Mostly grease from the chain.)
This morning, I re-potted the tomato plants I have at work. So far, about seven tomatoes are roughly the size of marbles. Maybe a little bigger. I'll share whatever bounty that comes from them with my coworkers. My hope is that the plants will love living in here, and keep producing until it starts to get really dark.
The second crash we've had lately was because one of my work plants tried to commit suicide yesterday. (Herbicide?) Over my computer I saw something fall off the reference shelves, and when I realized what it was I went running. The poor thing mangled its top, but it will live. (I'm sorry, I don't know what type of plant it is. Something with a thick stem and big leaves.) It just got too top-heavy, so now I'm going to try to train it down where it can snake over the top of the bookshelf. Since I propagated this and one other plant from a much larger one at the other library which snakes over a microfiche shelving unit, I know it will work.
Poor plant. I hope it heals as quickly as my scrapes and bruises will.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is it really helping?

Awareness about climate change is, while not necessarily at an all-time high (thank you, "climate change deniers", for helping to ruin my state), it's certainly in a lot of people's minds. And I think a lot of people are working in little bits to try to help out. At the very least, it makes economic sense for people to drive less, turn off lights when no one's in a room, and use more efficient appliances, etc. But I think because the scope of this problem is so big, and so much of it is out of our control, that people end up focusing too much on one little thing and never enough on the big picture. We sign petitions for wanting cleaner water, but do we change our driving habits? We turn off lights, but do we unplug unnecessary appliances?
For instance, I saw an article a while ago talking about the "scandal" that was caused when Cameron Diaz said that she doesn't always flush the toilet in order to save water. She's environmentally conscious, which is fantastic. But...I can't help but wonder, what's the environmental toll of the large house she probably lives in? Of all her new clothes, the traveling I'm sure she does, etc? Is it at all hypocritical of someone to claim that they're "environmentally conscious" if they live in a mansion? I mean no disrespect to Ms. Diaz, I'm sure she's really working toward environmental causes. She just happened to be the example I thought of.
There was also an article (which I didn't actually look at) on the cover of the PETA magazine which periodically gets "donated" to the library touting Lea Michele's efforts to end horse-drawn carriage rides in Central Park. All I could think was, REALLY?! That's what she's going to focus on? Not puppy mills, factory farming (I think those pictures speak for themselves), or any of the other hundreds of animal causes. She chose carriage rides. As I said, I didn't read the article so I don't really know about it. Perhaps the horses aren't kept well? But it's like avoiding the part of an iceberg you can see and then saying, "Whew! That was close!" You're still about to hit the ice under the water, but you're too focused on the superficial view to understand that.
I feel uncomfortable trying to label what I'm doing as "sustainable" because I know it's not. There's a long, long way to go before my own lifestyle is sustainable. Is it even environmentally friendly? I'm sure there's so much that I don't (and that we don't, as a species) understand about the environment that I'm probably as blind as anyone else to how awful my actions are.
Of course, it would probably be best to ignore these gloomy thoughts and listen to Don Cheadle when he says, "every green thing you do has an exponential impact when combined with the actions of others." And then I can help him plant a forest.
On the plus side, I have noticed a severe reduction in the amount of garbage we have every week. So one part of this, at least, is helping.
Also, it was either great naivete or great hubris that lead me to put a compost bin in the backyard and expect that the dog wouldn't get into it. I've now moved it to the side of the house, outside of the fence, and the cat has become my favorite child for the time being.