Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A step in the right direction

The Fairbanks Symphony holiday concert is this weekend. Hurray! It's the only real fundraising concert because it's the only one that sells out (despite the tickets being $30--ouch!) and it's just really fun to do. I think I've stated before how much I love Christmas music. In addition, one of my good friends is in the choir that will be joining us so I got to laugh at how chastened he looked when the conductor scolded the choir. "I was told that this is sight-readable music. You do know what Christmas carols sound like, don't you? Then why are you all singing different things?" Concert week is always stressful for the conductor, and every one I've ever played for can get rather cutting the week of the concert. I think Dr. Z sounds even angrier because he's Russian. I was just happy that he was happy with the orchestra. We would have heard otherwise if he wasn't, and he wouldn't have been as gentle with us as he was with the choir. :)
The rehearsals are 3 hours, which on a Tuesday night can make life really hectic. I only have half an hour after getting home before I'm rushing out the door again. So dinner has to be ready and I need to gather my gear (music, violin) quickly. It's totally worth it, don't worry.
But because the rehearsals are so long, and it's difficult to concentrate so hard for that long, there's a break in the middle when people can get coffee and tea, and there's usually coffee cake and/or cookies to nibble on. (The sugar really helps to keep energy up for the second half.) Naturally, since no one's going to do all of the dishes for the hundred + orchestra members, there are disposable napkins and Styrofoam cups. The napkins are easily avoided, since I'm going to be eating the cookies right away and I keep rags in my case for cleaning off my instrument. (So I don't get grease and crumbs on my violin.) And you'd think that the disposable cups would be easy to avoid as well, but that requires me remembering to bring an alternative. When I've only got half an hour at home, that could be not so easy for me. However, I've been doing it. Last year I'd either have to not drink anything at the break (which meant flagging energy during the second half, or being inattentive due to thirst) or to berate myself for using the Styrofoam. I was determined to do better this year, and I am. I think I'm finally getting into the habit of remembering to bring a mason jar with me to hold tea. The only downside to this is that the jar gets very hot, so I'll have to make myself a little jar cosie. I should be able to crochet one in about an hour.
What made me feel really good about remembering this last night, though, was that someone else noticed. One of the trumpet players was in line for hot water behind me and as I was filling up my jar he said, "Ah, you brought the green alternative to Styrofoam. [pause] I did not." I got someone else thinking about their choices without having to say a word! So I smiled at him, nodded, and said, "And this holds more." I hope that I can subtly inspire others this way.
In other positive news, my plan to propagate as many plants at work as possible is really taking off. We have four new jade plant starts, and the begonia start, which I was afraid I'd killed, has perked up now that it's got roots started. So I'll plant that just after Christmas. (If I plant before, no one will be here to water it.) We'll continue to have a very green library even after the botanical gardens take their plants back.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


The past couple of weeks have been big in the home hair-cutting department. I kicked it off two weeks ago by cutting my hair. I hadn't had a haircut since last Christmas (partly to grow out my hair for the wedding) and I was sick of how ragged it was looking and feeling. I just wanted something chin-length again, but didn't want to pay around $50-60 to get it done. (I realize there are cheaper options, but the last time I got a "discount" haircut I hated it. It was the worst haircut I've ever had.) So I took out our kitchen shears and did it myself. Of course, this involved lots of running back to the bedroom to ask Shane, "Is it straight in back?" And over the next few days I had to trim ends which somehow had been missed. But it's not bad. I even managed to get in a tiny bit of layering by parting my hair in different ways. Not bad for only the second time I've ever cut my hair. I even got a few compliments on it the next day.
One of the "chores" which Spencer and his girlfriend wanted to take care of over Thanksgiving weekend was shaving my in-laws' dog. This got us into a discussion of why Shane and I still take Pepper to the groomers and I pointed out that I cut my own hair, but pay for the dog to get a professional haircut. Spencer answered, "Yeah, but there are so many things I'd buy for my dog if I had one that I wouldn't buy for myself." I said, "Like squeaky toys?" and got a laugh out of him.
So Ranger was the next to get a home haircut and he looked much better for it. Although, he was quite a bit front-heavy. He had double knee surgery just over a month ago for "wandering kneecaps" (he's young, or the vet wouldn't have done it--it's a quality of life issue) so his back legs are still sore and the muscles have atrophied. (He's getting much better, and we gave him plenty of gentle exercise over the weekend.) Combine that with the fact that he won't let the clippers near his head, so he ended up looking a bit like a lion, and it was funny in a sad way. (He's a cavalier King Charles spaniel, by the way.)
Since the clippers were out, and Shane hadn't visited the only hairdresser he'll consent to see, he was up next and we just shaved his hair short. It doesn't look great on him at this length but it will grow fast. I really hope that it has a chance to grow out before he goes for an interview!
Finally, Spencer decided that his hair was getting "out of control" (at less than 2 inches long) so his girlfriend cut his hair.We kept teasing my little brother that he was next, but the boy insisted that his hair helps keep him warm. He tends to shave his head three times per year--once at the beginning of each semester, and once at the beginning of summer. It doesn't look the greatest on him, but I don't think he really cares about that. And when it grows out it does look quite nice.
You might wonder what to do with all of the hair after a home haircut, but the answer is simple: compost. It can all go into a home compost pile just fine, as can nail clippings. All of the hair that got cut in Soldotna went into the garbage, since my in-laws don't have a compost pile right now. But all of my hair went out to my compost after I showed the pile to Shane (I cut off about six-seven inches) and asked, "Want to make a wig?" I got a very definite "Ew!" response. It was also neat to actually see my hair and all the different colors in it. Since I only have a limited view of my hair, I tend to think of it as being all one color--dirt brown--but it's not. I actually think I like my hair better now for having seen it differently, and I don't mean the haircut.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Midwinter food additions

My in-laws are completely incapable of sending us home without tons of food. Don't get me wrong, this is not a complaint. In fact, when I know they have excess, I ask for some of it.
So we now have two coolers on our back porch full of more fish and more moose meat (mostly ground, with a couple of roasts to top it off). We also got an enormous grocery bag full of potatoes. At Christmas, we'll see how all of this is doing and get more if necessary.
Shane's dad was worried about if we'd have enough freezer space for it. Shane laughed and said, "Dad, it's Fairbanks. My freezer is bigger than the house." In most parts of Alaska, there's the worry about bears if food is left outside. However, Fairbanks is magically situated so that most black and brown bears stay south of us, but polar bears are still way north. Of course, foxes are still a problem (the last time I was at the feed store, someone was buying a fox trap) and in the outlying areas wolves can also be pesky. But here in town, in a fenced backyard, our food should be fine. The only pest we have to worry about is the dog, who was sniffing it interestedly this morning. When I told Shane to keep an eye on her he said, "But it's frozen! Not much smell should be coming off of it. Are you sure she's not just curious?" I answered, "It's Pepper. She smells the food."
Since it's in coolers, we don't have to worry about it getting too frozen either.
I have thought that someday it might be nice to put our chest freezer on wheels so that we can roll it outside during the winter and then don't have to pay the electricity to keep it going. There's a lock on it, so we wouldn't have to worry about having our stored food stolen. But I'm not sure how good that would be for the freezer, and we couldn't do that right now because the back door isn't big enough. The other option is that if we have a garage of our own we can stick it out there, where it at least won't have to work as hard to stay cool.
We don't keep all of our food on the back porch for several reasons. I already listed the dog, whose sense of smell and desire for food shouldn't be underestimated. The other is simply that it's not all that convenient. Would you want to stand outside at -40 deciding what to have for dinner? Or try choosing the right pack of meat in the dark? Neither do we. If, toward the end of winter, we eat down the freezer to the point that it's not worth the electricity, and as long as it's not getting above freezing, we'll probably load food into the coolers and put them outside to conserve the power (and money!). For now, though, it just wouldn't be convenient to do for all of our freezer food.
Ah, the list of things I want to do "one day". I'm sure this is true for most people, but I still shake my head at myself sometimes. I think I'll spend most of my life waiting for "one day" to arrive.

No Sunday total for this week

Sorry, I don't have a total for this week. We just didn't go grocery shopping, since we would be away for most of the week.
We drove down to Soldotna to see my in-laws for the holiday. The original plan was to have all of us drive down together (me, spouse, two younger brothers and one girlfriend + one dog) but my MIL started panicking about "putting all eggs in one basket". So she rented us a car (even with the cost of gas it was supposed to be cheaper and easier than taking the truck) and it was two in one car, three (+dog) in the other. Oh boy. The drive down worked out great. I drove the Fairbanks-Anchorage leg, then Shane took over for the Anchorage-Soldotna leg while I napped.
We had a great weekend. Lots of good food, lots of family time. We played dominoes every night, and discovered that couples cannot sit next to each other during games. While playing "Sorry", it didn't matter that Shane was sitting across from me. So we switched to "Clue" and had two games ruined by people either guessing prematurely and then announcing to everyone else what it should have been instead of letting someone else guess, or cheating by accidentally not showing a clue they had. We went back to dominoes after that.
We looked up funny videos on Youtube, listened to the brothers humming "Moves Like Jagger" all weekend (it was stuck in their heads), and watched more football than I do in the whole rest of the year. It was great.
It was also (other than the driving) fairly low-waste. When we went to the coffee shop, I remembered my reusable mug. Even my FIL, when he was running out to the coffee shop, brought my mug to get me some tea. The turkey carcasses (yes, two turkeys since there were seven of us at the house and 6 assorted relatives for Thanksgiving day) got reused to make turkey soup when most of the meat had been carved off and made into sandwiches or topped with more gravy and eaten straight. The dogs got plenty of meat, skin, and fat. They loved it.
As for Black Friday, I'm a little ashamed to admit that I did take part this year. But it was for a good reason. Shane and I figured out that our combined phone plans were costing us nearly $90/month, and if I got on his family's plan that would drop to $30/month. Spencer needed a new phone because he's got a bad habit of dropping his in lakes and hot tubs. The phone company has a promo for Thanksgiving weekend of a free phone. So we went. My old phone (which is mostly still usable) will get donated to a charity that will make use of it before recycling it. In terms of phones, in most people's eyes I "downgraded" since I went from a touch-screen to not a touch-screen. But my phones without touch screens have lasted about 3-4 years, while my touch screen is getting somewhat spotty after only a year and a half. I'd rather go for functionality than how cool it is.
The drive home was...well. I put us in a ditch. The rental car companies don't put winter tires on their cars because it's not "worth it". So we had somewhat bald summer tires and on a downhill corner I started spinning out and turned the wheel the wrong way. Totally my fault. You're supposed to turn the wheel in the direction of the turn, but it's instinctive for most people (myself included) to turn the wheel the other direction. I know what I'm supposed to do in that situation, but it's not instinctive so I did the wrong thing and by the time I formed the thought of the right thing to do it was too late. I had way over-corrected. Shane told me that when we go down at Christmas, he's going to take me to the high school to work on spinning out until it does become instinctual to turn into the spin. I might make that happen before the drive down there, though, just to be on the safe side.
I must say, it's very dramatic to have all of that snow fly up over the windshield. No one was hurt (except perhaps the dog, who hit the dash--Shane checked her over and said that at most she's got some bruises) but we needed a tow. Luckily, the other car was no more than a couple of miles behind us so they soon drove up. Also luckily, there happened to be a tow truck that stopped less than five minutes after the accident. Turns out, someone about five miles further up the road had hit a moose. (Ouch! They looked ok when we passed them later, and a cop was there.) After calling the tow company, it was decided that since our vehicle was still running we'd be the first pulled out. It took a while, since the chains needed to be attached to parts that were buried in the snow.
And it cost $200. Ouch. Thankfully, between all of us we had the cash on hand. So now we just owe money to a younger brother. What a pain. As for the car, the only lasting damage was to the left headlight. The bumper partially popped off because of the snow piled up while it was being pulled out, but Shane got it put back on. You wouldn't think that such a critical piece of car safety would be so easy to come off/put back on, but it is.
We got home very late, but safe. The cat was very happy to see all of us and scolded us quite vocally while he rubbed against us and purred. Usually he's got a soft purr, but when we've been away he turns into a little engine that hums almost constantly just at the sight of us. I missed my little guy!

*Correction: it was not the bumper that came off, it was the fender. I know nothing about cars.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


If you haven't seen "The Story of Stuff", you really should. I think it's especially important now, before Christmas and the biggest time of year for consumption (in terms of calories eaten, money spent, and stuff bought). I think there are so many better ways to show your loved ones that you, well, love them than to buy them things. Especially things of dubious quality (c'mon, is that toy for your nephew really something he's going to cherish for years and pass on to his own kids? are you sure it's non-toxic?) and questionable use. When 99% of the stuff we buy--yes, 99%--is thrown away within six months, I'd argue that there really aren't many of us who need new things for Christmas. There are many alternative gifts you can give people, such as passes for the zoo or tickets to a really great show you know someone in your family wants to see. The Zero Waste Home Blog has a really great post today about alternate ideas for gift giving, and the comments at the bottom are also full of great tips. I will be trying to go as local, small-scale, useful, and zero waste as I can with my gift giving this year. It's tricky (mostly because of distance), but I have a few ideas up my sleeve.
One of my favorite things which my mom and her siblings do is to donate to charities in each other's names. After all, they're all settled and reasonably comfortable. Any "stuff" they can buy for themselves. So they donate to charities instead, and if they really find something small that they can't resist, they send that along too. Usually it's local stuff that the others can't get, like local delicacies. (I do like getting chili powder from Texas relatives!) But it's not "stuff", then, so much as it is something useful which the others will appreciate and use.
Have you heard of the freeze yer buns challenge? I didn't think so. It's a challenge to see both how long you can turn of your thermostat (and turn it back off again earlier in the Spring) and how low you can keep it when you do turn it on. As many people have pointed out, you actually acclimate to the cooler temperatures and it can feel uncomfortable to be in the "normal" 70+ degree indoor temperature.
Anyway, Shane and I ended up arguing about this idea. In the cabin, we did this (without ever knowing that it's a movement) because we simply couldn't afford the heating oil. In our current place, we don't pay for heat. The landlord does, so Shane wants to keep the heat at 72(F). His side of the argument is that we have no idea where the thermometer is for the thermostat, and if it reads 72 the rest of the house (like our bedroom) probably isn't at 72(F). My argument is that even if we don't directly pay for heating oil, we still "pay" for it in terms of rent. In fact, our rent is going up in January because of this very problem. Heating oil is too expensive, and our landlord has been losing a lot of money on our place because of it. Not only that, I'm far more comfortable at 68-69(F) than I am at 72. If I get cold, I'd rather just snuggle up in some blankets or put on a sweater. Shane wants to be able to wear shorts in the house all winter.
The reason this devolved into an argument last night is because I wanted help putting an old sheet over the window. Shane didn't want to help me because it's "pointless" and "won't do any good anyway". Huh? Um, people have been using curtains for centuries to help hold heat in and cold out. Shane says that they're purely for privacy. (Nope, that's what a hedge is for.) So he wanted me to call the landlord and have him buy some of the plastic window coverings (which costs maybe $5, by the way) so we could put those over the windows instead.
I don't know where he's gotten the idea that a very thin sheet of plastic will help, rather than a doubled-up sheet, but I know he's wrong. A friend of ours is an engineer and to make a long story short, he knows that the plastic doesn't help that much.
Also, there's ice forming on the inside of this window. Not on the other two in the bedroom, just on this one. And it's the one that's right next to me. So I'm going to bring home some thumb tacks today and just put the sheet up myself. And then turn the heat down.
We do have a couple of other places in the apartment where ice has started to form, such as on the sliding door. Brr! I wonder if the whole winter is going to be like this? I forgot to mention it last week, but there was a time when Fairbanks was ranked as the coldest place on Earth. Let me repeat that. For a short time, Fairbanks was the coldest place on the planet. We beat out Siberia, Antarctica, and all manner of cold places. It's a dubious distinction, but we'll take it.
Last night we got some snow, so the cloud cover made it a bit warmer. It was only -25 for my walk home.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Sometimes, all it takes is a little reminder that the small things do add up. I found a book (which I really want to read now!) called "Sleeping Naked is Green" and the accompanying blog, Green as a Thistle. The author challenged herself to make one green change every day for a year. And since she was squeamish about some of these changes (her blog post about changing to recycled toilet paper, and wondering what it used to be--old issues of "Maxim"?--was hilarious) I think it's a good jumping-off point for people looking to make changes but wary of them at the same time.
It also led me to this blog, from another Canadian, about trying to green her family's lifestyle with small changes every day. I like that, at least in the beginning, her husband was wary of what changes she'd want to make. They'd already "greened" their lifestyle by "normal" standards, but she felt there was more they could do. I think Shane feels the same way sometimes, while I constantly look for ways to improve. I've had to go into "stealth" mode myself a few times to make a change. Then, by the time Shane notices, it's permanent.
So this week I want to focus on the small things. Not all of them are environmental, some just make life easier. For instance, last night I noticed that one of the handles was nearly falling off a kitchen cabinet. So I fixed it. It's one of those tasks that could be so easy to put off until the handle actually fell off, but I didn't have anything pressing to do and Shane and I were hanging out in the kitchen anyway (getting dinner ready, and Shane was starting more beer). I then took a minute or so to test all of the other handles and fix the two others which were loose. Easy peasy.
Since I already had the screwdriver out, I wondered what else I could take care of? That reminded me about the outlet inuslators. When we got the home energy audit/repair thing this summer, they gave me a free pack of outlet/socket insulators for all outlets on walls which lead outside. The pack turned out to be just the perfect number for our apartment. I fixed most of the outlets a couple of weeks ago, but at the time Shane was napping and I didn't want to wake him up to move the bed for those in our room. So I finished those last night. Since it's colder now than it was before (currently -35F), I could really feel the difference! When I was unscrewing the outlet cover, I could feel the cold air. And I don't mean a little bit. After putting in just the small bit of insulation and screwing the cover back on, there was no more cold air vortex.
Now I just need to bother Shane until he helps me put the sheet up over the window on my side of the bed. Brrr! The blinds are down, but the bed is low so I think the blinds do more to funnel the cold air down onto me than they do to block it. Shane keeps saying, "Why don't we just get some of the plastic window covers?" but I don't think that would help as much as he hopes. An old, doubled-up sheet we never use as a sheet would go a long way toward making our room warmer.
I have also noticed that when the air is super cold like now, the oven tends to cycle on a lot more, as in it uses more energy to keep the temperature up. I have no idea what it would need to make that not happen, but it's interesting to note. Last night I bundled the baking as much as possible (which is a good idea in general, since it saves tons of electricity by only having to heat up the oven once) and got most of it done with all at once so we won't have to use the oven so much this week.
The final small thing I did last night was to make my own hot chocolate mix. There are tons of recipes online (I used Alton Brown's, easily found on the Food Network website) and I used Ghirardelli's chocolate since they're more ethical than either Nestle or Hershey's. (It's also damn good chocolate.) Lo and behold, it was a success! I mean, a messy disaster to make it (apparently, I'm not good with powdered foods, since the chocolate and the sugar got everywhere) but it was very yummy. Shane tried some and also enjoyed it. I think we'll be drinking less hot chocolate this year than we did last year, but at least we're done buying Quik and its arm-length list of ingredients. Did I mention that this tasted great, too? Way better than anything you can buy pre-mixed.
What other small changes could we make?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday total

It's actually Sunday when I'm doing it this week! I feel like a total champion today because I completed another goal this morning: I finished the last assignment for my class. That means that I can relax over the Thanksgiving holiday and not think about how much I have left to do. When I get home, I'll review the material and take the final. Whew!
The last chapter was sort of driving me crazy, though, since it was about food safety and associated illnesses. Instructions for proper handling of food make it seem like we're all going to be imminently poisoned by our food, and unless you read them with a grain of salt (tee-hee!) you'd wonder why we're not all dead. One recommendation is to wash everything between raw foods. As in, if you chop an onion on a cutting board you'd then have to wash your hands, the knife, and the cutting board before then chopping a zucchini. The only safe way to cook is to super-clean everything. And never, ever use wood because it can trap diseases. So alarmist. And no food is safe. Food you cook at home is contaminated by you and your unsafe cooking practices, while food at restaurants is contaminated by the very nature of having so many people around. We're all going to die from food poisoning.
You know what it did make me realize, though? Since Shane and I started eating healthier, organic, and local foods we haven't gotten food poisoning at all. Living on campus I would get mildly ill on a regular basis, and there were two different years when I had to pack up the majority of Shane's stuff to move out of the dorms because he'd gotten severe food poisoning. We just haven't gotten sick off our local/homegrown foods, and we haven't had to worry about nationwide recalls.
Finishing the class also gives me time for actual reading. I've had free time, but instead of reading I've been watching the previous seasons of "Bones" since I've been saving the books I have for after my classwork was finished. When I'm done with this I'm going to pull out "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" by Harriet Reisen (a birthday present--my birthday's in the spring, so I've been holding onto this for a while) and I'm ridiculously excited to dig in. I'll probably re-read "Little Women" when I'm done, too. Just for fun.
Our grocery total for this week was $80. I'm impressed with how consistently under-budget we've been getting. Of course, one of my cousins put it all into perspective for me. On Facebook she mentioned being able to get two dozen large sweet potatoes for $3. And here I'd thought I got an amazing deal yesterday by finding them for only $.99/lb. (And I actually got to use a coupon! I had one for $2 off any fresh produce. Usually coupons only work for heavily processed foods so I rarely use them.)
The one thing I'm disappointed by is that all of the food was purchased at either Safeway or Fred Meyer. We didn't really need any meat so I didn't have to go to Homegrown, and the local milk is also sold at Fred Meyer so I didn't go to the AK Feed Co. Honestly, I just wanted to drive as little as possible in this weather. Especially considering what a process it is to start the truck at -30: plug in the block heater for at least three hours before even thinking about turning the ignition. Try the ignition, realize that the steering column is frozen and I'm not strong enough to turn it all the way. Roust Shane out of bed and into the cold to start the truck. Let it idle for about ten minutes so things start to warm up. Pray that I'll be able to start it on my own at the grocery store, and make it a quick trip so it's less likely to freeze solid again. Sounds fun, right? And people wonder why I walk.
Tonight's dinner: pulled pork sandwiches (made in our Crockpot, of course!) and baked sweet potato fries.
Excuse me, I have a book to lose myself in.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"You are mine to toy with."

On my morning walks to work, when I take the (slightly) shorter path through the woods, I've always been vigilant about looking for moose. The afternoons are a different story all together. I think about how nice it is to be done with my day, plan out dinner, anticipate the dog's flip-out greeting, how cold it is. You know, normal stuff. So naturally, that's when I come across a moose.
In the dark, I was staring at the snowy path so I wouldn't lose my footing, and I heard something. So I looked up, and there's a moose. I screamed a word I won't repeat here and started backing up. That was when I heard the mother come charging out of the woods to my right, running right over the spot I'd just been in to get next to her baby. I've never encountered anything as scary as an angry moose charging out of the woods in the dark. Imagine having roughly 1600 pounds of angry mother come charging at you. Absolutely terrifying. And moose can be so mean. So I screamed again and backed up a whole bunch more. When neither of them followed me, I turned and ran. I still didn't want to lose my footing in the dark, though, so I slowed down. And called Shane. I remember telling him, "I just got charged by a freaking moose!" Then he offered to have tea waiting for me when I got home. He understands me so well.
It wasn't until I was about halfway home that I remembered writing yesterday, "What does Fairbanks have in store for us next? I can take it," and I doubled over with laughter. It's a good thing I can take a joke, because it appears this one's on me.
I did take the longer route to work this morning, not through the woods. Just to be safe.
If you're interested in he record-breaking cold we're having, you can read about it here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What next?

Yesterday, I mentioned that the heat was out because the hot water was getting fixed. Our apartment got down to 55(F) before it was turned back on. I saw it as an excuse to make cookies, and even took a couple of them out to the guys working on the boiler/water heater. And in the end, it was so worth it. I took a shower last night (after working out hard to warm up) and there was actual water pressure! I'd forgotten how nice our shower is when the water's coming out at more than a trickle.
This morning, the cat decided that he was going to get our attention and he doesn't care if it's through fair means or foul. So he started knocking things off the bedside table so I'd wake up and feed him. (He had food in his bowl, it just wasn't the good food. He prefers wet food, which he gets for breakfast and dinner.) Anyway, that led to the realization that the power was out. Which means the heat is out again. It hadn't been off for very long at that point (maybe ten minutes?) because it was still 70(F) in our apartment. By the time I left half an hour later, though, it had fallen to about 65. It's currently -38(F) outside. I wonder how cold it will get in there before the power comes back? At least yesterday we could use the electric blanket. Poor Shane doesn't even have that option today. I get the better bargain because I got to go to work, where there's heat and light. On the other hand, if no one was going to be home today I probably would have taken the day off work to make sure the pets were all right. The poor dog might have shivered to death without someone there to keep her warm.
There's nothing much on the news site about the power outage, just this. The intersections they mention? I took a flashlight so I'd be noticed and less likely to be run over when I had to cross the street. It made me very, very nervous though.
So now I'm wondering, what's next? What does Fairbanks have in store for us now? I can take it.
On a more lighthearted note (if global warming issues can ever be described as "lighthearted") here's an article about the upside of rising oil prices. And here you thought it was all bad.
Here's another article about the UAF honors kids and their yearly project to raise awareness of homelessness in Alaska. According to one of their signs, there are 4583 homeless people in Alaska. For the size of our state, and our population, that's not too bad. But for where we are? That's horrible! I complain about the electricity being out, or the heat, but what do the homeless people do when it's -40? Once again, I'm feeling so incredibly lucky.
Also, please note that in the article about homelessness it says that temps are expected to "warm up to 30 below Thursday night". :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

-37 (F)

Fairbanks did it. We reached -37 this morning. I woke up chilly under my blankets (I'm sure I've mentioned how poorly insulated our building is, and "my side" of the bed is right under a window) and shivered through getting dressed. When I let the dog out after her breakfast, a cloud appeared in the opening, which only happens when it's below about -20(F). So I knew it would be cold. I dressed for the cold. I just didn't know exactly how cold it was until I got to work.
Now, I know there are people out there who think, "How on earth do you dress for cold like that?!" But it truly is possible. My thighs were the only part of me that were cold when I made it to work. (And since my head was sweating, I find it a little unfair.)
So what are the necessary items to dress for such tremendous cold? The first rule is that you don't want to over-dress. Working up a sweat in these temps just means you'll be cold all day. (And yes, I know I just said my head was sweating. But my choice was either sweating or freezing. Which would you choose?) I didn't put on a sweater under my coat knowing that I'd start off chilly, but that I'd be going uphill and would be warm later on. A little chill at the beginning of my daily trek tends to be a good thing.
The second rule is to dress in layers. As soon as I get inside a building, I tear off all of my outside clothes. (Shane and I have jokingly dubbed it the "Alaskan striptease", which rather than getting naked means that you've taken off enough clothing to look like a person again.) And yes, the layers can be a pain in the butt. The other night I laughed to Shane because I said my goodbye but I was still in the room several minutes later, lacing up my boots and pulling on my gloves. It takes a while to get into and out of so much stuff, but not getting frostbite or hypothermia is worth it.
By layers, I also mean don't be afraid to utilize long underwear. I love mine, but I think a lot of people around here never wear them because of stigmas about how old-fashioned they are. It also means that those people don't spend any significant amount of time outdoors in the winter. If you're just going from a house to a warm car to a warm building, I can see why you'd find them unnecessary. But do you really want to be trapped indoors all winter? I don't care that they're not "sexy", and neither (thankfully!) does Shane, who also wears them.
Anyway, today I also doubled up on socks. I don't mean little cotton socks, I mean two pairs of wool socks. This was partly because I couldn't wear my warm winter boots (they rubbed the backs of my legs raw yesterday because my socks fell down on the walk home) so I wore my Bogs. However, I think this was actually to the good since the Bogs are taller and therefore kept more of my calves warm. My feet were nice and toasty for the walk.
I have a rather large collection of scarves, I must admit. There's a light, linen one that's more decorative and used when I'm not sure if I actually need a scarf or not. There's my cashmere one (a gift from my mother) which I use when I know we'll be driving somewhere, but I still need a warm scarf. (Our date, for instance.) I can't use that one when it's this cold because you need (and I do mean need something) over your face, not only for your skin and face but to prevent frostbite in your lungs. (Yep, it can happen.) The cashmere has a tendency to smell like wet dog when it's moist. So I defer to one of my other two scarves for super cold days, one I knitted myself and the other which was also a gift from family. They're both super long so I can wrap them around twice, and they're warm without being suffocating. (A definite plus.)
As I said before, I only wore a t-shirt today. I keep a sweater at work in case I get cold, but everything else usually does a good enough job. And on my walk, my torso tends to be the part of me that stays warm. A few times when I've worn a sweater, I've had the odd condition where my torso is sweating while my legs are numb with cold. I hate that.
The last thing I did in terms of apparel was to keep my hood up. Even with no wind blowing, it's amazing how warm it will keep you. It especially helps the face by making a little pocket of warmer air.
I think the one thing I'm missing are truly good gloves. I have two pairs, which do all right. And somewhere, I should have some mitten/glove hybrids. I used to have down mittens, but one of them got lost. So now I'm on the search for gloves which are good down to at least -40. For now, I'm utilizing my pockets and my warm breath to keep my fingers warm.
Finally, my advice is to have something warm to drink on either end. It's amazing how much this actually does warm you up. I start my work day by making a pot of tea in the coffee maker, and either make hot chocolate, hot apple cider, warm milk with honey, or more tea when I get home.
Of course, today happens to be the day our hot water is getting fixed. Which meant turning off the heat, so it's currently a cozy 58 (F) in our house right now. Sounds to me like a good excuse for snuggling with everyone. Well, everyone except our vigilant watch kitty who's on high alert, making sure the repairman doesn't invade the house. :)

Knitting and crocheting

Did you know that the term "hooker" probably comes from the fact that in the early 20th century, lace makers were expected to turn tricks on the side because the employers didn't want to pay them a living wage? I didn't either until looking through the beginning of my (falling apart!) copy of "Stitch 'n Bitch: The Happy Hooker" last night. Crocheting was originally a way for women to make cheap copies of lace, which was expensive to buy, but because of the ill-repute of the lace making industry, for a long time it had the stigma of being something that only poor or disreputable women would do.
Knitting and crocheting are also two activities which closely follow the economy. When it's down, more people are interested in making things themselves at home. During boom times, not so much. (Can I feel virtuous because I've been crocheting since I was 9?) In the winter, I love to knit and crochet. It satisfies my desire for a creative outlet, gives me a fantastic excuse to snuggle with the animals, and it's easily put down and picked back up again. The only downside is that it can be rather pricey. Apparently, crocheting can use about 1/3 more yarn for the same amount of material compared to knitting, but they both go through incredible amounts of yarn. They're also useful for different things. Despite the cost of using that much yarn to make something big, I will crochet a blanket every time over knitting one. It's just easier. No worries about dropping stitches, you don't have to use certain-sized needles, and you can easily change the pattern if you think of something else you want to do instead. (One of the first things I did was to make blankets for each of my brothers. Apparently, they still use them. :) For little, close work, knitting wins out every time. You'd never make socks by crocheting them, and while you could make a sweater it would be full of little holes and you'd have to wear something underneath. You can fall into crafter's paradise and combine the two (I've seen several beautiful items that were knitted and bordered in crocheted lace) but I've never attempted that myself.
As for the expense, the only reason I don't go for local yarns is that they're just so darn expesnsive. (Yes, that needed emphasis.) I can't spend upwards of $15 on one skein of yarn! So this is one area where my sense of frugal outrage has topped my desire to spend local. Even at the big box stores like Joann's and Michael's, a very, very small ball of "sock yarn" can cost over $10. I would love to get to a point where I could just pick yarns based solely on what I like, but for now I'm still having to look closely at prices. My recent glut of yarn-buying was partially funded with a gift card wedding present.
Because it's so expensive, I try my best to make the most of my yarn. If I have leftovers from one project I set about thinking what else I could make out of that yarn. (One popular thing is to make scrap yarn hats out of the leftover odds and ends from other projects.) Two of my ongoing projects fall nicely into this frugal category. I love making baby blankets for friends and family. It's easy, it's fun, and there's something special about a handmade blanket. But I also enjoy making a second blanket "for" that baby. The second one gets sent to charity. There are lots of groups that take donations of warm baby blankets, such as this one for babies in intensive care (can you even imagine what a horrible time that is for their families?!), this one for seriously ill or traumatized children, and this one which accepts donations of all sorts of baby supplies for hospitals and medical clinics in developing nations, to name just a few. Local women's shelters and homeless shelters are also usually happy to take donations of warm blankets.
My cousin and his wife recently announced that they're due to have a baby boy in April, so I'm busily working on two blankets, both in granny squares. The donation one is using pink yarn I have leftover from a different baby blanket. I need to buy a little more to make it larger, but it'll be very pretty when it's done. The other one is using some leftover granny squares from a blanket I made for someone else. My original idea for that project was to just make a rainbow colored blanket for her, but it evolved and I ended up using only a few of the colors. So I had some leftover orange and red squares, which I've now surrounded with and sewn together with yellow. It needs more bordering to be big enough for even a baby's blanket, so now I'm wondering: should I continue with just the red, orange and yellow? Or should I add some green and blue around the border to make it more rainbow-y? I'd have to buy more red and organge (and remember which kinds I used!) but I'd only have to buy the green for the other idea. I might also make a little hat to go with it, though....
I'm also working on a little bolero jacket for myself. (Pictures of someone else's here, but I'm doing mine in blue because I couldn't find a red I liked as much as the one recommended.) I tend to get warm at work in the winter because of my long underwear (and I'd feel silly taking it off then putting it back on) so I like to wear t-shirts and tank tops. But I often need a light little something over my shoulders/on my arms, so I'm hoping that this will fit the bill. I've already had to restart it once, though! I guess I didn't read the pattern as well as I should have and even though I started off making the small, I somehow ended up making the extra large, only wonky because of the small start. I'm doing much better now, since the restart fits what the pattern says should be happening.
When these are finished (or when I run out of yarn and have to wait before buying more) I'm going to try knitting myself some socks. I've never done that before, or knitted anything beyond hats and scarves actually. In fact, I'm a really recent knitter so I feel like a beginner still. I need a project that will expand my skills, however, and I thought that this one would make something both useful and beautiful while utilizing existing skills and at the same time pushing my boundaries. I was going to make something like this, only mine won't be so fancy. She used the same pattern, though. I have four colors for mine and since the balls of yarn are big, I might be able to make as many as four pairs of socks! Or more?
It also helps that my brother-in-law is an amazing knitter. (Yes, it's unisex! In fact, for a long time it was considered a man's task.) If I run into trouble, I can talk to him. I'm hoping that I can work on the socks over one of the upcoming holidays so that I can have him around.
When I'm done with the socks, I'm hoping to be able to make a sweater. I have several promising patterns picked out. After that, who knows?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Date night and "Sunday" Total

We had a date! This is the first time we've had a real date since getting back from our honeymoon. (We went out to dinner once during "Annie", but we ended up arguing about something stupid because we were both tired, so I don't count that.) I got all dolled up, actually going so far as to put on makeup. Shane looked fancier than I did, though. He put on a really nice button down shirt and slacks. I should have worn a dress, but it was just too cold. I knew I'd be freezing throughout dinner if I did that, and wouldn't enjoy it very much. So I wore my corduroy pants and a lovely shirt. Since I knew the restaurant tends to be on the cold side (most of them are here, in the winter) I wore long underwear under my pants and had to laugh at myself every once in a while. No one else could tell I had them on, but they kept me nice and warm! I wonder how many other people secretly had longjohns on?
We went to one of our favorite restaurants in the area: Silver Gulch. It was wonderful! I had one of their burgers, which I've never tried before. I usually get the pizza, but I wanted to branch out so I got the Stout BBQ burger. It was so good. Mmmm! I have a few of the leftover Cajun spiced fries to eat with my lunch today.
The only reason this was really possible, too, was because we have a gift certificate. One of our friends gave it to us as a wedding gift. Now I can write her a thank-you note and tell her how much fun we had using it!
This doubled as an errand, since we had a couple of kegs leftover from the wedding which needed to be returned. Since they're out in Fox (about a 20 minute drive from our house) neither of us wanted to go so far just to deliver the kegs, especially in winter. This was perfect. Well, Shane didn't appreciate the sometimes screaming kid at the next table (the poor guy was just bored and trying to get attention) but I had an unadulterated good time.
As for the totals, I missed again! Oh well. At least I'm still posting my totals and keeping myself accountable. Our grocery total for the week was about $75. I have to say, keeping track of our winter grocery bills is much more satisfying than the summer. During the summer, some weeks I'd be spending over $150 each week. But now I'm seeing just how much of that was for food that we put away and are now using.
I looked in our refrigerator freezer yesterday and was sad about how little was left in it. It's only November and we've gone through so much of our stored food already! I wonder how long it will all last? To be honest, I didn't expect the blueberries to last this long but we still have one and a half gallon-sized storage bags full. Not bad. (But I still want to get more next year!)
One final mental picture: when I woke up yesterday morning the dog was between us, butt next to the pillow, head under the covers, snoring away. I wish I'd had a video camera for that!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Being too frugal

I found this interesting post from another blogger today (via the blog "The Simple Dollar"--I love that site) about being too frugal, and when frugality is a bad thing. I have to admit, I totally agree with the author. Though I try to save money in nearly every way, I do think it's worth it to buy new, quality things in some cases. Like winter staples. I don't mean hats and scarves, I mean coats and boots. Gloves. These are the things that will do the most to keep you warm in harsh conditions and for that reason, they need to be quality. My winter coat was expensive, but thankfully it was a Christmas gift from my parents. And even though I've had it for three years now, it will be the only winter coat I need for quite a few years to come. Because I know just how expensive it was (I picked it out) it gives me the impetus to keep it nice. I've kept my old (crappy) winter coat partly as a backup, and partly to wear when I'm doing something that might mess up my nice coat, like sledding.
One of the ideas I really like, rather than simply looking at the dollar amount is to think about the cost-per-use estimate. When I'm contemplating buying something new, or replacing something, I think about this. For instance, my Dansko shoes were over $100, but I've worn them nearly every day for three years now. That brings the cost per wear down to pennies, and they're still going strong. Not only are they wearing well, they're still super comfortable. Spencer (who's majoring in economics, btw) was talking about this the other day with his own shoes. He loves his Ecco brand shoes because they last a long time and the company has some sort of rebate policy if the shoes wear out. He estimated that Shane has spent nearly twice as much on cheaper shoes over the past five years compared to his one-time cost for shoes that last. He finally had to replace his old ones last year, but with the rebate (or coupon?) for sending them back in the new ones didn't cost him anything.
Beyond just the cost-per-wear idea, there's also the fact that these are investments in health. Your shoes can give you a number of health problems if they don't suit you, and if they don't have enough or the right kinds of support. Not only can they have immediate effects, too, but usually long-term consequences like back problems. With my coat, I'm not doing myself any favors if I get even mild hypothermia or frostbite. And since I spend so much time outdoors, even in winter, it's an investment in keeping myself healthy and warm.
The point of this is, being frugal on some items might seem ok in the short term, but is really bad in the long-term. This is when frugality becomes simply someone being cheap. There are items which are a good bargain, and then there are items which become an investment. The trick is finding out which is which, and what matters to you in the long run. If you're not going to use/wear something much, go for the cheap option. But if it's something you know you'll use over and over again? Saving up a decent amount of money and investing in something that will last is hands down your best option. Then do your best to keep it nice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Just really quick, I wanted to share a couple of things. The first is this article about air pollution in Fairbanks. How to solve our problem is a really fraught question around here. Because of where we are and our climate, none of the renewable technology that's currently hot is a viable option here. We don't get enough sun when we need the most energy, we have very little wind, and we're not near coastlines. The only thing I've heard of which might work here are Bloom Boxes. I've also heard of clean wood burning technologies, but for just the University to switch to that, by one estimate they'd have to have 150,000 acres of forest. (Our trees grow very slowly.) Plus, the effort to cut down all of those trees and transport them to the power plant would wipe out pretty much any environmental benefit.
So for now, we're stuck with coal. The University power plant needs to be redone soon (it's approaching or has surpassed, I can't remember which, it's viable, useful lifespan) so maybe with the EPA's help we could come up with something better?
I also found this article about some food rules which Michael Pollan has added to his list. If you haven't read his books ("The Omnivore's Dilemma", "Food Rules", "In Defense of Food", "The Botany of Desire" are the ones I've read) he's a fantastic author and really good about getting to the heart of an issue. They're also very well researched and supported.
Today Shane and I are making chili in our new-to-us Crockpot and I'll be using the two last peppers from my plant. I hope they aren't really the last peppers! I've only gotten four. But that's also been four peppers we didn't buy at the store, and I know when and what meals we used them for. I'm very proud of my little pepper plant.
This is also my first ever use of dried beans (from Alaska Feed Co.) so wish me luck! I had them soaking overnight, so hopefully all will be well.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is it really deprivation?

It's easy to find articles on the web about the psychology and stress of depriving ourselves. It's almost as easy to find other articles about how we only have so much willpower, so it's easy to weaken and lose track of our big goals.
But you know what? I think they're full of it. Oh, I'm sure the basic premise is correct. We only have so much willpower, we can only take deprivation for so long, etc. But what do you consider deprivation? Have you ever given something up and later realized you never needed it in the first place? I've been "poor" for a while now. (Not living in poverty, mind you, just poor.) The fact that I have people I could depend on and ask for help if things, for some reason, went beyond control just makes me more determined to stand on my own two feet.
And you know what? It feels pretty good. For the most part, I don't feel deprived. I don't feel stressed out by what I don't have. It's so much easier to see what I do have, and be thankful for it, than to pity myself. Even things that shock other people ("You didn't turn on the heat until when?") become more like a personal challenge and a game. At the very least, I end up telling myself what a great story it will be later. (Remind me to tell you about not turning on the heat in the cabin until it snowed, only to discover that the heater wasn't working and it was a weekend so no one could fix it until Monday....) Why does everything surrounding frugality and saving money have to be couched in terms of what we're giving up and depriving ourselves of? A little attitude shift is all it takes to remind yourself that you have it pretty good.
Conversely, I don't pat myself on the back for enjoying free things. I think that that only emphasizes the fact that there are many fun things you could be doing which aren't free. I'd rather just enjoy the moment. I've never made lists for myself (and I do love me a good list) of free activities that I enjoy. I think that detracts a little bit. Why does an activity have to be about money? Can't it just be for the sheer joy of it? One of my favorite quotes I've heard recently asked, "When did we stop being a society and just become an economy?" In the same vein, when did a fun thing to do become about the money you're either spending or you're not? People lament that they wish they could get back the joy they felt in childhood, but it's really easy. Stop counting. Stop guessing how many calories you're burning with each activity. Stop congratulating yourself on finding something free to do. Stop telling yourself there's something better, more worthwhile, that you could be doing. Just enjoy what you're doing in that moment.
On Facebook recently, a lot of my friends have started some project about thankfulness, where every day they post something they're thankful for. I really like this. Who among us doesn't have something to be thankful for? For those of us with homes, the ability to heat them and feed our families, I think we have the most to be thankful for. Today, I'm thankful for the sun. I know I won't get to see it much over the next few months and I think it's important that I not take it for granted when I do.
I'm also thankful for the ability and resources to feed my little brother hot, brothy chicken soup and rolls when he's sick, just as our mother would. I'm equally thankful that he knows he's always welcome at my house and isn't afraid to ask to be invited.
I'm thankful for hot apple cider fresh from the stove, snuggles with the pets in warm blankets and pajamas from my mother, betting against Shane whodunit in some of our favorite shows. ("Bones", "Castle".) Life is pretty good.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Just because it needed to be shared

I've seen this bike since before I worked at the library, but every time I see it it makes me feel good to see that someone else on campus is as thrifty, resourceful, and anti-consumerist as I am. (Shane thinks the bike belongs to a professor.)

In case you can't read it, one of the bumper stickers says, "Use less stuff". That's the one that gives me the warm and fuzzies. Well, that and the fact that it's on a home-made bike mod. Who says you need to buy cute, fancy bike basket? Make your own! I think this also says a lot about the attitude in Fairbanks. There are a lot of people around here with the same can-do, make-do way of living and I so admire it.
On a related note, the blog "Non-Consumer Advocate" had a wonderful post a while ago about those of us who are "secretly frugal". I certainly don't go around talking about my frugal habits (or putting them on bumper stickers), mostly out of the fear of being seen as one of "those people". You know, preachy know-it-alls who think that their way of life is best and need to talk down to others. (I think my way of life is the best for me, and that people need to change their habits so that we don't destroy the earth make the planet uninhabitable, but go ahead and do it in your own way.) In fact, this blog is my only outlet for a lot of these ideas and lifestyle changes. In talking about this kind of stuff, you get a lot of weird reactions. I love her to death, but when I told my best friend that I've become a Value Village shopper there was a pause before she said, "Oh. My. God." in the most scandalized tones I've ever heard from her. I refrained from pointing out that she never has any money, whereas Shane and I have (thankfully) managed to save quite a bit for times like unemployment. (A gentle attempt to talk about her shopping and spending habits a while ago was rebuffed, so I haven't tried since then to bring it up.)
I wonder what most of the people in my life would think if I suddenly started talking about my (somewhat secret) environmentalism more often? Or exactly what steps Shane and I are taking to save money? Most people know we don't have much (and most of our friends are in similar situations) but it's still something that's awkward to talk about. People just don't talk about money. Perhaps if more of us did, we wouldn't feel the need to spend so much of it because we'd no longer feel the need to compete with each other for the latest and greatest Stuff. And no, I'm no more immune to it than anyone else is. I want nice things too! New clothes, a newer car that doesn't cost a fortune in gas ($75 for one tank last time), a house.... The difference is, my need to spend very little to stay out of debt is greater than my desire for fleeting material goods. But I think I'm losing out on a valuable support network by not talking about this more with friends. I think we are losing out by not talking about it with each other.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Time managing and de-cluttering

If you read my blog (thanks, my two faithful blog readers!) then you know that, like everyone else, I'm a busy person. I don't have much spare time, and when I do have it I'd much rather be curled up with a book than cleaning my apartment. At the same time, I hate having a messy apartment. Shane says it looks "lived in", but it's really just messy. (There's a lot of evidence that men don't see the small things, like the carpet stains and the dust, so I try to be a little understanding when he asks, "What mess?".) In my efforts to de-clutter, clean, and organize I prioritize doing it quickly. Because of this, it's actually been a long process because I focus on one thing for a few minutes at a time. By the time I have more time to focus on cleaning/organizing, some regular maintenance thing (like vacuuming) needs to be done again. In addition, somehow we always seem to aquire more stuff. Getting wedding presents did not help with that in the least, but they are each treasured and most of them were in the category of "more than wants, less than needs". (We didn't need a saucier, but now that we have one we us it all the time.)
Anyway, I've been slowly filling bags with stuff to give away (like the underskirt for my wedding dress-I didn't end up wearing it that day, so what on earth would I do with it now?) and slowly taking them to the homeless shelter or Value Village, depending on the item. The super cute jacket which was given to me years ago, but which I never wear anymore? Gone! New, clean socks which a friend bought and left at our place (he stayed with us over the wedding weekend) because he never wore them? Gone!
We've even gotten rid of all of our "duplicate" items. A lot of the stuff we got for our wedding filled gaps in what we wanted but didn't have, but some of it replaced old stuff that was still serviceable. We didn't need our old, chipped collection of dishes (we had 2 1/2 different sets!) or the accompanying mugs. Our knives (gleaned from Value Village and incredibly dull) were replaced and needing a new home, and we had several pots/bowls that also needed to go, and a couple of pots which were now just taking up space. I put up a notice on Facebook and within 10 minutes we had a friend reply that her ex-girlfriend (yes, you read that right) needed pretty much everything for her new place. Score! We got rid of our excess and helped someone in need at the same time. That is guaranteed to put a smile on my face!
I think we've finally cleared out most of the extra Stuff. Now we just need to deal with the clutter. Boxes (and accompanying packing material--ick) and things like that need to go to the recycling center on campus or to my office, since we mail a lot of books, a few more loads to Value Village, and Shane's going to try to sell a couple of things on Craigslist. (Like our TV, which we never watch.) We have some stuff leftover from decorating the wedding (candles, a wreath-thingy) that I'm not sure what to do with yet. But I'm feeling pretty good about the progress we've made. Hooray for simplifying!
I found this article recently about testing different methods of spring cleaning for a busy lifestyle. It might be worth trying to figure out what style suits you best. Are you a room by room cleaner/organizer? Or a speed cleaner?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday total

So, how did we do about sticking to our budget this week? Actually, we made it in just under the line at $120! Part of that is because I needed to buy more wheat flour. I don't buy it in 50 lb bags like white flour because it goes rancid faster (there are more oils in it) but I buy lovely 10 lb sacks of organic flour. I bought 2 that will last us a few weeks.
The thing I'm most happy about, though, is how much was bought not at the grocery store, which is about half of it. The flour and milk were bought at the feed store, and almost all of the meat (except the pepperoni) was from HG Market.
The dog got a haircut yesterday and seems much happier for it. She was being bratty for a while because she was so uncomfortable, and this should help. I understand how she feels, though. It's been almost a year since I last got a haircut and my hair is driving me nuts! Should I cut it myself? (I did that once, in college, and most people commented on how straight I did it.)
This morning I made these cinnamon rolls for breakfast, along with some spicy moose sausage and tea. Next time I make the baking mix, though, I'm going to use baking powder instead of baking soda, which left a bitter aftertaste. If you're doing that, you need to eliminate the cream of tartar since baking powder is a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar. I'm also going to increase the butter/sugar/cinnamon mix since that flavor didn't come out very strongly in these. But it seems to be a recipe worth keeping, so far. Very easy to put together, and she says that the baking mix can be used in anything you'd normally put Bisquick into so it has a variety of uses. Be sure to store it in the fridge or freezer, though, because otherwise the oil/shortening will go bad fast.

Friday, November 4, 2011

When food is blue

No, I don't mean my food is sad. I mean I actually made a dish the other night which Shane and I are still giggling about. I used the blue potatoes I grew over the summer (the last of them, unfortunately!) to make some mashed potatoes for a yummy dish my mom and I make. Most people have never seen a blue potato, so I thought I'd show you:

I had a friend over for dinner a while ago and when I cut open the potatoes she asked, "Are they supposed to look like that?" Yep, they're blue all the way through. Neat, huh? A lot of times the inner pigment disappears, like when I put them in chicken soup. The peels stay blue, but the rest becomes whitish.
I've never made mashed potatoes out of just blue potatoes before. All right, all right, the one white potato I managed to grow this summer went in there too. But everything else was blue! And it turns out, boiling them for a while doesn't take away the blue tint. Although it did turn the water green. Instead, when you make mashed potatoes out of blue potatoes, you get this:

Shane got a nice laugh out of it when I gave him his plate. All I could think was how cool it will be when we have kids and I get to make blue dinners for them. Plus, it made really good mashed potatoes. That might have been because of all the butter I added, though....
We'll have to get more potatoes from my mother-in-law when we go to the Peninsula for Thanksgiving. Before TV shows and political "news" commentators started talking about school lunches and how kids these days don't know what real vegetables look like, my mother-in-law (who works for the school district) has been letting kids go to her garden every year to plant and then dig up potatoes so that they learn about science, gardening, and where food comes from. The kids get to plant red, white, and blue potatoes just for fun. But my in-laws end up with way more potatoes than they could ever eat (and yes, they do give some to the food bank) and that's where all of our potatoes come from. Whatever we have left at the beginning of planting season gets used as my seed potatoes. This is actually the first year I've managed to grow more than a few small blue potatoes. Usually the red and white ones dominate.
I once had a friend tell me that a report they'd read said that it's not financially worth it to grow your own potatoes. They're so cheap at the store, why bother? This report was based on the assumption that you'd be buying new seed potatoes every year, rather than saving old potatoes the way most farmers/growers will. What bothered me the most, though, was that this report doesn't take into account the cool varieties that you can grow but which you'll never find in the grocery store. For me, growing a few potatoes every year is well worth it for the fun of having different and colorful varieties. They're also the easiest food crop I've grown. The only attention they really need is to be hilled every once in a while--the dirt needs to be built up around them so that the potatoes will grow bigger, which is why a lot of home gardeners grow them in old tires or other stackable structures. They grow in pretty much any type of soil, and I've forgotten to water them for several weeks in mid-summer before but they don't care. I know a lot of people say that if you have any space at all and want to grow something, it should be herbs. But if you have access to even the smallest patch of ground where you could stack some tires, I say grow potatoes.
It's very hard to type with a cat in front of the screen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My husband is, quite possibly, a genius

I realize that's a very grandiose statement. Even, possibly, a little self-aggrandizing. (He's all mine, ladies and gents!) But I don't think it's off the mark. Shane and I might disagree sometimes about core values and how to implement them (as in, I prefer organic and he doesn't care) but when it comes to thriftiness, I am very willing to admit that he's often the better half. Do I have examples? Better. I have a picture that clearly sums up my dear husband's "make-do" attitude.

Yes, that's part of an old wire hanger keeping the metal disc on the handle. See how resourceful he is? My creativity tends to be more abstract (writing, music) while his is the more concrete, how can I make this work type of creativity. So naturally, when our cheap pizza cutter broke a while ago, instead of spending the money to get a new one, he fixed it. And didn't tell me that he'd fixed it, so the next time I saw it I laughed. But it works! And we didn't have to buy a new one!
Until, that is, our mothers came for his graduation. Apparently scandalized at the idea that we'd have to use a less-than-perfect pizza cutting implement, they went out and bought us a new one without asking if we wanted one. It's very silly to me. Had they asked, I would have said that we were just fine with the mended one, and that I'd rather they save their money so that they could visit us more often! It's a delicate subject to bring up, though, and one that I've been pondering a lot lately.
I love Shane's mom, but she does have a tendency to send us...less than useful items. An old-lady-ish snowman sweater, clover earrings for St. Patrick's Day, and, well, this sort of thing:

Please note that they are for fun and safety.
How do I (gently and lovingly) inform my (new) mother-in-law that I don't really want this stuff?
These earrings will be going to Value Village on my next trip there.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wasting food?

I didn't realize this, but apparently most people don't actually eat the food in their freezers. Unless it's a pre-cooked, microwavable "meal" that is. How bizarre to suddenly realize that my entire family has this freakish habit of actually eating the food we buy and store. I admit, it takes me and Shane a good long while to get through our supply of salmon and halibut. (I haven't seen the bottom of the chest freezer since we got it, really.) But we make quite a few inroads before the next summer comes around and we get more fish. (Thanks, Spencer and John!) And no, things don't always last. Sometimes the vacuum seal breaks or something just gets freezer burned. But instead of throwing that away, we cook it up for the dog. She loves it when we clean out the freezer, by the way. Anyone surprised? Because if you are, then clearly I need to post a picture of her. I'll give you a hint: she's not a skinny dog.
Anyway, it really surprises me that people end up buying and throwing away so much food that's perfectly good! People who claim to be frugal have mentioned on other sites that their freezer is more like "the pit-stop food makes on its way to the garbage." !!! I'm sorry, but that is neither a frugal nor an environmental practice. If you're never going to eat frozen foods, or rarely, get a small dorm-style refrigerator so that you're not tempted to buy more than you'll really eat! You'll also save electricity and your home energy bills. Ta-da!
I find solutions because I'm awesome.
We're still doing really well about eating from our pantry and freezer, although this week we've actually bought some meat. (Chicken, sausage, and pepperoni.) Next week we'll eat more fish, but we needed a break from it. And we do have moose sausage, but we're saving our last pack for a different meal later this week.
Just because I needed to brag, here's a picture I took when walking home yesterday:
Fairbanks looks awesome blanketed in ice fog. It was thin yesterday, and the camera wasn't able to capture how it made the air glitter, but it's still quite pretty.

Sundry items

There's an excellent post on the Zero Waste Home blog about heirloom guilt. I think the author, Bea, worded it very well. She makes the point that everyone needs to find what works for them--you don't have to be completely cold-hearted and unsentimental and get rid of everything that's been passed down to you--but that we need to get rid of the guilt associated with heirlooms. If you don't use it, why keep it? Your ancestors didn't pass things down to you to clutter up your home or make you feel guilty. This is exactly how I feel! It drives me nuts that people have "good" things which they never, ever use. What's the point?! I admit that I'm starting to get a few heirlooms, but I'm being careful about the things I ask for or keep. It's hard to get rid of the items from your loved ones because you want to keep them close after they've died. But I don't think it does their memory any justice if all you do is box up their stuff, leave it in the garage or attic, and then feel guilty for even the thought of getting rid of it. Keeping a few well-chosen items which you'll actually use is a much better reminder of that person and your relationship with them.
A trend that I've noticed lately is that every group which is trying to portray a "green" attitude gives away those reusable bags. This seems sort of funny and counter-intuitive to me, since they're just creating yet another thing that most people won't use. So what we've started doing at the library is bringing them in for others to use. When a patron checks out a lot of books which would be either hard to carry or hard to put in their backpack, we loan out one of these bags. They usually make their way back to us and it's a nice, communal way of using what otherwise would be a silly freebie giveaway. I wonder how many of those bags actually get used again?
Also, if you need newspapers, just ask your local library. We only keep ours for two weeks before they get discarded. We keep the recycle bin public and it's amazing how many people come in and ask us if they can take some of the old newspapers. I've even taken a few myself, for household cleaning and such. (Cleaning the windows with newspaper really does work well.)
Trying to get in shape again after being sick for so long sucks by the way. So sore!
And I think I need to adjust how I store things in our "root cellar". Fairbanks is super dry in the winter (I wish you could see my chapped hands!) and some of the things I was trying to store ended up drying out really fast. The turnips didn't last, and neither did the parsnips. I tend to eat those fast enough, though, that I'll probably just go back to storing them in the fridge. The potatoes are fine, but just to be safe I put a damp cloth over the sweet potatoes. I don't want to plug in a humidifier because a)I'd have to buy one and b)it would cost electricity. But my experiences of storing sweet potatoes in the past makes me think that they'll be all right for a while yet. Hopefully.
Finally, my dog is seriously upset with me for being gone so much, and she's being very melodramatic about it. I'm trying to win her over again with walks, but every time Shane pets her she stares at me like, "See? He loves me. He's a good parent." This attitude is spreading to the cat, who comes over to rub against me but flees yowling if I reach down to pet him. How demoralizing is that? My own pets don't love me right now.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

First of the year

Yesterday I pulled out my long underwear. This morning I finally succumbed to the cold and brought out my winter coat. (Until now I've been wearing a warm, lined sweatshirt/jacket thing that I love.) I'm glad I did, too, since it was the first morning I've walked to work in below-zero. Until it hits that mark for the first time each year, I can sort of fool myself into thinking that it's still autumn and not really winter. I mean, there might be snow on the ground but it's not actually cold. And really, making it to November 1st before getting below zero isn't a bad mark. I did have to wrap my scarf around my face since my nose went numb, and it was consequently also the first day my eyelashes froze. (The cloth pushes my moist, warm breath up my face and it freezes my eyelashes.)
Now it's a balmy 3 degrees F.
And yet, my cherry tomatoes are still producing. I got a nice plump one yesterday and there are at least five more which will be ripe by the end of the week. We don't have any salads planned with dinners (and no lettuce) this week, but they're fun to just eat raw, pop in your mouth, and squish. I'm not a huge fan of uncooked tomatoes (which I'm trying to fix) but even I enjoy that tremendously.
I've been doing something kind of funky as an experiment, too. Gardeners (especially organic ones) will often talk about things like fertilizer tea, manure tea, compost tea, etc. I don't have any of those things. But I do have actual tea. Instead of fertilizing the tomatoes, I've been adding the dregs of my teapot (and with the hard water at the U, there's always an odd portion at the end covered in some sort of glossy film that I don't like) to the watering pot and fertilizing with that. It's been working so well that I've started doing it at home, too! Apparently my plants love tea as much as I do. Not only are the plants thriving (I had to cut them back last week) the tomatoes seem bigger than they were when I was using commercial fertilizer. Now, not only am I not spending any money to make my fruit a bit better (after all, it's the leftover portion of my tea which would be there anyway), but I'm also using something that would otherwise go to waste.
Maybe I should ask Shane about adding his leftover coffee....