Monday, December 17, 2012

At least on the cold days, I walk faster.

I made it in to work about five minutes early this morning, even though I left the house at my usual time. Why? Because it's -45 outside. My legs were getting quite chilly so I walked faster. Numb thighs are quite the inducement to get moving.
Actually, I'm fairly impressed with myself. I'm tired (had a night where I just couldn't get my brain to shut up and let me sleep last night) and there's lots of snow on the ground so I should have been moving slower than usual. Last week we had what a friend jokingly dubbed Snowpocalypse, getting at least a foot and a half of snow in about 24-48 hours. It was so bad that, for the first time since sometime in the 1970s, the Borough closed the schools for a snow day. They simply couldn't plow the roads fast enough. Of course, the U stayed open (if for no other reason, it was finals week) so I had to go to work. It was like a ghost town for my walk.
Despite the lack of cars, that walk should have been miserable. Blizzard conditions aren't usually my favorite, what with the poor visibility and the tromping through ankle-deep snow uphill. (It's worse than walking through sand!) I might have been a little upset, also, because I started my morning with one major and one minor disappointment. (The minor disappointment was that Shane woke up when I did, and as I was in the bathroom doing my morning stuff I heard the sounds of breakfast being made. I thought, "So sweet! He's making me breakfast!" Wrong. He was making himself a BLT. He didn't even make an extra piece of bacon for me.) I'd also slept funny on my right shoulder and it hurt to move it. So I was in a bad mood before I ever saw the snow. I told myself that I was getting in an excellent cardio workout first thing in the morning and that helped my mood.
Anyway, that was Wednesday. By Thursday the snow had become knee-deep. We didn't shovel our driveway so just leaving my house, getting to the sidewalk, was a bit of a workout. I decided that instead of taking the back, woodsy path to work I would walk up one of the more-traveled hills which had a better chance of being plowed. It wasn't knee-deep, but it was still deep snow. When I was grumping to myself about the snow, I realized that I was less likely to meet a moose on that more-traveled path, and that if I had met a moose on the other path I would have been in serious trouble. (Yeah, snow would slow both of us down, but it would slow 5 foot me down more than it would slow an 8 foot tall moose.)
Of course, that didn't stop me from walking home through the woods. How could I resist the lure of fresh, deep snow? And what a workout that is! It had stopped snowing by that time and walking downhill through knee-deep snow seemed like the best idea ever. So. Much. Fun. I felt like a kid again and I was tempted to throw myself down in the powder but I didn't. Walking through it was enough. (And I didn't meet any moose.)
When I walked home through the woods on Monday of this week, I did see moose tracks on the path. They were fairly fresh, fresh enough to make me nervous and to call out, making sure there wasn't still a moose there. I still get nervous walking back there, after what happened (or nearly happened) last winter. When it started getting dark in the mornings I had one day where I literally jumped at my own shadow when I saw it moving.
In those two days we went from far less than average snowfall for this time of year to almost average. It was crazy. The snow is now deeper than my dog is tall. On Friday we took her out to run in the deep snow (and for us to go sledding!) and that was ridiculously fun. She avoided the truly deep snow, unless we ran into it and called her. Then she'd swim and jump her way out to us. My little old lady dog was exhausted that night. I loved it. We did get some video of her in the snow, just for fun and to show family.
And it was warm last week. It got up into the +20s. Not exactly tropical temps, but warm enough that I wore my fleece over a t-shirt one day and that was all. No need for the usual ridiculous number of layers. It was glorious.
And now we're back to normal winter in Fairbanks temperatures. It's supposed to get down to the -50s later this week. What a challenge this place is, in the best possible way. I love that it takes creativity to meet the challenges Fairbanks (and Alaska in general) throw at me. I'll never conquer this place, but I can rise up and be equal to the task of living here. I can face it head-on and thrive under difficult conditions. So while others are groaning at the thought of -50, I'm secretly smiling to myself because I know that Fairbanks is just forcing me to push myself and my limits. It's making me be a better me. If I'm at my best, I'll be able to find the joy and fun in -50 as well as I did in a foot and a half of fresh snow.
I don't say this because I think I'm, as one of my brothers put it, "tough as nails". Every environment has difficulties and the trick is to find which one suits you. Blizzards? Hurricanes? Extreme heat? While I wilt in anything over 80 degrees, my real kryptonite is rain. I hate having it rain day in and day out. As much as I love my friends and family in the Pacific Northwest, I don't think I'll ever live there again because I hate the rain so much.
My point, really, is that I'm trying to find the joy in little things. Daily things. Even when I should, by most standards, be miserable. -50 emphasizes how lucky I am to have a warm apartment, warm clothes (many of which were given to me by loved ones), enough food, all those good things. The difficulties we encounter are there to show us just how good we really have it. I know I have a lot to be thankful for.
This has seemed to be a particularly tough year in many ways. Especially the autumn and now into the end of the year, so many sad things have happened. The shooting at Sandy Hill Elementary, the one in the mall in Oregon. Even here, we had someone commit suicide at my work. A friend and coworker kept mentioning how it could have been worse, the things he could have done. I've been trying really, really hard not to think about the fact that things that day could have been so much worse. It's not helpful to me to think about what might have been, what could have gone wrong.
Yes, there are lots of bad things which happen. Most of them, I don't have any control over. I could be upset by it all, get depressed. I choose not to. I'm choosing to find life and joy in the little things, to be happy with what I have while I have it. I'm aware that life is precious and fleeting, so I'm holding my loved ones a little bit closer and appreciating the time we have together that much more. In the face of sorrow, that's really all we can do, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

-40 again

The past few days it's been -40 here. This is sort of a magical number, the point at which Celsius and Fahrenheit meet. Not nearly as cold as it can get, -40 has a special kind of appeal. For one thing, it's not truly considered a cold snap here unless we hit -40. People complain about the cold when it's warmer than that, of course, but it's always with the knowledge that it will get colder. There's speculation in the newspaper about when we'll hit the marker for the first time each winter, as there's great variation. This year's, being in early December, was sort of middle of the pack. Last year we had a super early -40, at the beginning of November. No matter how much we think that it's winter before then, -40 shows us that we've just been getting a taste of what this place will throw at us. People adopt a fatalistic attitude at this point, not really caring if it gets colder because, heck, we've already hit -40. It can't get much worse.
Pipes have been bursting all over town because they've frozen and places are shutting down. Some of this is problematic--a friend who works for Meals on Wheels was frustrated that they shut down for anything colder than -30, which is sort of when the seniors they serve need their care the most. Even aside from the food they bring, having someone check on the elderly is important.
Cars have been unable to start and people are stranded in their homes. My coworker didn't make it in from North Pole yesterday because the tires on her car were completely flat, simply because of the cold. We've experienced that before, the weird lurching a car makes when it starts because the part of the tire which was resting on the ground froze into its flattened shape. It takes a few miles before the air inside warms up enough to round the tire out again, and tires can easily get punctures in that state.
I realized yesterday afternoon while I was walking home that I don't dread -40 the way most people do. In fact, I sort of greet it like an old friend at this point. Hello, you're back again. Nice to see you. -40 is part of the rhythm of winter here. And, it's lovely.
See what I mean? I took this at about 1:30 the other day. If you look closely, you can see the ice fog in the low lying areas. (It was brighter than it seems, but my iPod doesn't have all the cool filters of super nice cameras.)
There's also this one, just after sunset the other day:
Walking through -40 doesn't bother me either. In fact, it seems to bother other people that I'm still willing to trudge through the cold far more than it affects me. They're amazed, shocked, concerned. I just dress warmer.
Today it's noticeably warmer, in the -20s. People say there's not much difference between -20 and -40 but there certainly is when you're walking so much. My eyelashes freeze faster and get much frostier, the air is so dry that it makes me cough a bit. I notice even more when, as now, we warm up about ten degrees. This morning I even pulled off my heavy winter coat as I walked up the hill, so that I wouldn't be sweating. (I was wearing two pairs of socks, heavy boots, long underwear under my jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, fleece jacket, hat, gloves, and scarf around my neck and face, so I wasn't exactly naked without my coat. Also, it's a really steep hill.) No one else really seemed to consider near -30 to be any warmer, however.
I know that we'll hit -40 again quite a few times this winter, and it will almost certainly get even colder in January. When it does, I'll welcome it once again. Hello old friend.

Crafting Projects, Part Two

I absolutely loathe the trend of dressing pets in people clothes, but around here it can be a necessity. I do have a little coat for the dog (which I bought in black to blend in with her hair, but am now kicking myself for not choosing something like red--for visibility, since she only needs to wear the coat when it's, duh, dark and cold) and I've bought booties in the past but they've had two major flaws. The first set of booties I got for her had this lovely stretchy Velcro which kept them on her feet. I loved it. However, the fabric that was used was super thin. All four of them had gaping holes in them by the time we got home from our very first walk with them, and one of my girl's paws had a scratched and bleeding pad. I was NOT happy. The second set of booties I bought were made of a thick canvas-y material with fleece inside for comfort and warmth. They were very sturdy. However, they didn't have the nice elastic around them so within three walks we were down to only one booty left, the others thrown off her feet and lost in the snow. Cue grinding teeth as I'm supremely frustrated.
I have not been able to find any booties for sale in this town which combine the best of them both. So, making my own was the only way to go. The fantastic M, as well as showing me how to use a sewing machine and troubleshooting all of my problems and just generally being amazingly helpful, gave me some scraps of fleece she had from a different project so that I didn't have to buy any. I used the canvas from my sandwich wrap project (I have so much left--what possessed me to buy a full yard??!!) and I was fairly quickly able to make the booties. I'm sorry, I don't have any pictures of the process. But here it is in words.
1. I cut very long strips out of all my fabric (ten total, since I made one extra "test boot"). They were probably only about 3-4 inches wide and easily 9-10 inches long. What size you need will depend on the size of your dog and their feet--I have a cocker spaniel, so these are pretty small. However, it was easy enough to eyeball what I thought I would need. I even ended up making them a bit thinner after I made the first test boot.

2. Put the fleece over the canvas and sew them together at the two thin ends. These will be the top of the boot so be sure not to sew these two seams together, just attach the canvas to the fleece.

3. Sew a long line of Velcro near the top of one of the canvas sides. The elastic will go on the opposite side, so that it wraps around the dogs' leg and holds the boot up securely.

4. Cut the elastic, about as wide as the fabric. The easiest thing to do is to sew the elastic into the side seam. As with pretty much every sewing project ever, this is sewn mostly inside out. So, bring the two thin (already sewn) ends of the fabric together (fleece out, canvas in) and tuck the elastic into the first side you'll sew, the long edge. Keep a little tail of elastic out, but most of the elastic should be on the inside, the canvas side (which will be the outside when you're all done).

5. Sew up that edge, elastic and all. I did an edging stitch with another straight stitch over the top to ensure sturdiness.

6. Sew up the other long side, but be sure not to catch the elastic. You want the second side of the elastic to be free.

7. At this point you should have a longish tube with elastic and Velcro on the inside. It sorta looks like a boot, success! Turn it right-side out, with the fleece on the inside. Almost done!

8. This is a good time to test the boot a bit. Make sure it fits your dog's foot and that the elastic is long enough to reach the Velcro but not so long that it will still be loose.

9. Once you've ensured a proper fit, sew a little bit of Velcro onto the end of the elastic. Make sure that you use the side which will attach it to the other bit of Velcro!
I used a fairly soft double-sided Velcro, so it didn't matter to me which side faced in or out. However, if you're using scratchier stuff make sure it won't accidentally catch the dog's hair.

The finished product:

The pads of a dog's feet are, apparently, resistant to frostbite down to about -35. However, that doesn't mean they don't get cold. Even worse, when a dog's paws are cold they can get scratched and torn more easily. The urgency I felt in making these booties was because I've taken my dog out walking in the past and she's come home with all four paws bleeding. She loves her walks and runs (I cannot emphasize that enough) so keeping her inside all winter would be just cruel. These aren't for fashion, they're a matter of safety for my beloved girl.
As you can probably tell from the rather grimy appearance in that photo, we've used them several times already. The dog hates them when we're in the house, comically lifting her paws way too high to walk, but she forgets that as soon as we get outside. The only problem left is that they don't have any grip on the ice so she slides around a bit. Small price to pay, in my mind, for the fact that she doesn't cut her paws anymore. And we haven't lost a single one!
At the end of the trip, my MIL very generously gave me her old serger. In case you don't know, a serger is a little bit like a sewing machine but not quite. They're a bit different and apparently the serger makes fantastic seams, better than those of a sewing machine. If you look on the inside of your t-shirt, that's a serged seam. I realized after making these booties that they probably could have been mostly done on a serger, with the Velcro added by hand later. If When I need to make more, I'll probably do it that way.
These projects which I did are, of course, not nearly all of the projects I have waiting. I found a super cute pattern for an apron, I want to make these reusable "paper" towels, I love the idea of these potholders, a kitchen wet bag (for dirty kitchen towels and such), and so many more. Hell, I'd even love to learn to quilt. (Because of this one, and this one, and this one!) But a sewing machine, even a good used one, isn't in the cards just yet. We'll see what I can accomplish on a serger, however. (She said with a mad gleam in her eye....)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pinterest rant

I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of Pinterest. Oh, the food I've found on that site that's made my life more delicious! (If you're my Pinterest friend, I put ++ next to the ones I've tried, and if they're still pinned that means they were delicious. Just so you know.) The crafting projects! Hell, even the cute ways to do my hair! Love it. So many great ideas, recipes, etc., and a way to keep track of them all, what's not to like?
A lot, it turns out. Holy fuck, that site is so bipolar. You can see a poster about how awesome you are and never change! right next to a pin about how to change yourself for the better in five simple steps. Sometimes, they've been pinned by the same person.
So, despite my love of Pinterest, here's my little Pinterest rant.

1. What you "need" is not a two-story walk-in closet. What you need is to get rid of some fucking clothes. If you truly feel that you "need" that, you have too many already.

2. Please, for the love of God, stop with the chevron and burlap everything.

3. Those cross tattoos that you find so "meaningful"? They're not. In fact, stop with the Christian everything. It's not a sign of true faith, it just makes me think you need to give yourself a pep talk to continue believing.

4. Astrology is bogus. I would laugh at everyone who posts about how Sagittarius girls totally do this or that if it wasn't freaking everywhere. Open a science book and read it.

5. Nutella never has been, and will never be, a healthy option. That doesn't mean it's not delicious, but don't kid yourself.

6. Same thing goes for crescent rolls.

7. If a makeup or hair tip really did change your life, that's just sad and you should re-think your life.

8. All those posts and sayings about how you're so over that drama just shows people that you're not actually over it. If you were, you wouldn't need to keep telling yourself how over it you are.

9. Your name, initials, and the date of your wedding are rather nauseating. Stop putting them on everything. What are you trying to do, brand your house? Fetishizing yourself that way just shows how narcissistic you are. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen.

10. Who the hell is Channing Tatum?

11. I don't really care about your fantasies involving a reincarnated Ronald Reagan. Stop pinning those and try living in a little place I like to think of as Real Life.

12. You absolutely do not "need" a home movie theater.

13. Don't keep calm and whatever you want to end that with. Fuck you. 99% of the posters I've seen don't even make sense, like someone's just been playing a giant game of Mad Libs with them. "Keep Calm and HONEY BOO BOO". Is there even a complete thought expressed in that?

14. Continue on with the adorable kitten and puppy pictures. Those totally make my days better.

15. You might want to remember that sometimes the simplest decorations are the nicest. And I don't mean making more out of cheap materials (see the comment about burlap above), I mean having fewer Christmas/Halloween/Thanksgiving, etc., decorations. Your home does not need to be an ode to the current holiday. Plus, you'll just have to clean all that shit up later and who really wants to do that?

16. That object you think is sooo cute right now, so necessary? Yeah, seriously think about it first. Are you really going to love it, or are you going to throw it out in two months when you come across something you like better?

17. Continue making fun of Twilight. That shit never gets old.

18. Try using mason jars for, I dunno, food preservation. Like they're meant to be. When you have a full pantry, then you can make the extra jars into cute decor. (If you actually have any left, that is.)

19. Making things out of pallets is fantastic and all, but you don't really need to make everything in your house from old pallets. Just sayin'.
I know, I know. It seems weird that I'd complain about this, right? Pallets embody things I love! DIY-ery, cheapness, etc. But (and yes, this does sound like a total hipster complaint) it seems that "pallets" have become the new buzzword, like everyone asking for granite countertops and "an open concept" in their house. Neither of those things are bad in and of themselves, either, it's just that I think people are going for what's trendy without going for what they actually like. Pallet furniture is about frugality, making something yourself out of (essentially) garbage. I get the feeling (from comments I've read below pallet furniture pins) that most people would buy those items for exorbitant amounts, the antithesis of the whole reason for pallet furniture, just to say that they have something in their homes made out of pallets.

20. If you post anything that says "white girl drunk", die in a fire. What the hell does that even mean?

21. Don't ever say anything along the lines of "how I look like". It's "what I look like" or "how I look". Combining the two just screams "I'm ignorant!"

22. A gift of soda and candy, no matter how cute the ribbon and saying on it, would just make me think you're a cheap bastard who wants me to be fat. I'm guessing I'm not alone in that.

23. I'm terribly sorry to inform you that looking at home organization pins does not actually organize your home. I've tried it.

24. Beautiful makeup does not equal beauty. I'm not trying to say something shitty like "inner beauty is what counts". I mean, more makeup does not make you beautiful. Don't let Pinterest fool you into thinking that it does.

25. If you don't end up making all of your Christmas gifts by hand from things you pinned, or scrapbook your baby's every fart, get everyone's handprints/footprints/pawprints in salt dough you made yourself and turned into Christmas ornaments, don't worry. Breathe.

There, a few things I wanted to get off my chest. I feel better now. Anything you feel I left off the list?

*Disclaimer: I'm quite certain there's stuff I pin which is annoying as hell to the other Pinterest-ers who know me. Like, I'm loving the grumpy cat meme. Other people, probably not so much. I also have a few things (which one person mentioned) which I pinned not because they're practical AT ALL, but merely to drool over. Doesn't mean I'm going to go building myself a two-story closet to house those things, or that I'm ever going to think I "need" the things I pinned. I'm getting along just fine without them right now, so I have clearly differentiated my needs from my wants, and further out from that, my wants from my if-I-lived-a-different-life daydream things. Feel free to (mentally) flip me the bird if you disagree with anything I said above, and pin the hell out of the things you love regardless of what anyone else thinks. :)
I'm also not making fun of any particular person or group, these are just the trends I've noticed that bother me.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Crafting projects

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, when we went to visit my in-laws, I decided that I needed to take advantage of the availability of a sewing machine. I've had so many sewing projects which I've wanted to try out but, without a sewing machine, haven't been able to. I'm a terrible sewer, not having had much practice. I can barely say that I know how to run a sewing machine, and to call myself a novice still implies a bit more experience and knowledge than I have. I think I've only used a sewing machine maybe three times before? Still, with excellent help from my BIL's girlfriend, M (who has been teaching herself to quilt and sew and makes AMAZING, beautiful things) I managed to get through my projects. I figure that if I could manage to do these, pretty much anyone else can too.
The first project to tackle were simple drawstring bags, which I wanted for use when I go grocery shopping. Since I do so much shopping from the bulk section, and since the plastic bags break after one or two reuses, simple drawstring bags seemed like the best option. I loosely (very loosely) followed these instructions and made seven drawstring bags of various sizes.
I used fabric I already had, from an old set of curtains I had made (by hand) for our cabin. They don't fit any of the windows in our current apartment, however, and the fabric had merely been sitting taking up space while I tried to think of what else I wanted to do with them.
On the advice of M, this is the stitch I used on the inside, then a straight stitch over the top to make sure it's extra sturdy.
This is how the top looks from the outside, the puffy area is where the drawstring goes through.
And, the finished product, before putting a drawstring in it. It's a square! (I just had my iPod and couldn't figure out how to get a decent picture of it looking like a bag, rather than a square. Sorry.) I found that the easiest way to thread the drawstring through is to attach a paper clip so that there's something firm on the end to grab.
I've now used these bags several times at the store and they're fantastic! I even bough flour yesterday and used one of them. I was a little worried that flour might come out the top so after drawing the string tight I wrapped it around the top of the bag, under the drawstring, and tied it tightly. This, and keeping the bag upright, prevented any spillage of flour. When I got home I transferred the flour to a glass jar and the bag will go in the wash. Since flour and water makes paste, I'm going to turn it inside out, get as much flour out of it as possible and then put it (still inside out) in the wash. If it still makes paste and gets gunky and gross, I'll be sure to update this to let everyone know.
My second project was a set of sandwich wraps. I saw an idea a while ago that I thought was fairly brilliant, the only problem being that it still uses plastic. There are hundreds of tutorials on how to make these sandwich wraps (the link above is just for Google search results) and some of them use plastic, others don't. I didn't want the plastic but I did want something sturdier than simple cloth, so I used canvas instead. I tried to find oilcloth and couldn't. Oh well.
I made these about as simply as possible. They're just squares over squares. I did a simple straight stitch to attach the canvas to the other fabric, then folded over the edges (twice, so the true edge of the fabric was tucked in) and sewed those down.
I put Velcro on two opposite corners, one small strip on the inside edge of one corner and a much longer strip on the outside of the opposite corner. (I used double-sided Velcro, very easy to use.) The reason for the longer strip is so that it can be adjusted to fit a variety of sandwiches. Whether square or round or sub-style, these wraps will work.
I actually got to try it out the first Monday we were home, since we didn't have anything in the house for lunch except sandwich stuff. It worked well, although it did leak a little. It was because of the sandwich I made, which has pineapple. (Honey ham, a bit of mayo, pineapple slices, and basil, NOM! So good!) I think that for anything less wet than pineapple it will be just fine. And it certainly kept my sandwich together, which plastic bags don't. (I have also occasionally used our Pyrex containers, but unless I have a round sandwich those sort of fail.) Project success!
The final project I worked on were dog booties, but that will have to wait for a second post since this one is so long already and that one's a bit wordier than these were.

The darkening of the year

I've had several things I wanted to write about recently but haven't. It's sort of a trend right now with me, with many Alaskans. The darkness has been feeling particularly oppressive the past week or so and it's getting me down. Not that I've been feeling depressed by any means, I'm still quite happy, but I'm feeling a need to hibernate. Staying at home in comfy pajamas under warm blankets and reading until my eyes cross is what I want to do. Since I can't stay home all day, I've been reading as much as possible anyway. Six books in a week? No problem! (They were short and easy reads.)
It's the time of year when I trudge through the dark and the cold (-40 today) to sit in my north-facing office all day, and leave again in the dark. If I didn't get out for a short walk after lunch every day I'd never get to see the sun, just the light of it bouncing off the other buildings around. It's not enough. Even with my walk, it's not enough. I want to strip naked and soak up the sun. (The thought of frostbite, hypothermia, and getting arrested, however, are big enough deterrents that I haven't.)
There's a series of yoga positions which, together, are known as the sun salute. I'm not much for yoga myself (to be honest, it bores me) but at this time of year, I totally get that one. I, too, want to stand on a hill at noon when the sun is low on the horizon, but actually visible, and salute it until it goes down. I want, once again, to feel its warmth, even though it won't feel warm again until sometime in the spring. For now, its light would be enough. I wish I could just stand there and let it touch my skin.
All last week I was looking forward to the weekend, when I could sit in the sunshine and sort of recharge myself. When I thought about the weekend I didn't think about hanging out with friends (which we did, and it was fun) or the date we had planned (we finally saw "Skyfall"), I thought about breakfast on Saturday morning. I allow myself to sleep until 10:00 on weekends, which at this time of year is right about when the sun starts coming up.
It was lovely to actually wake with the sun, to go prepare a simple breakfast, and then to sit in the light from the south-facing window, reading and eating, drinking my tea. I sat there for over an hour, simply enjoying the sunlight. The only reason I moved was because the chair got uncomfortable. I positioned one in the living room to face the south as well and continued my reading from there. It was both peaceful and perfect, the best part of my weekend.
My cat has always been incredibly sensitive to me. When I'm ill, he's often the first indication that something is wrong, even before stuffy noses and fevers, because he'll suddenly become snuggly and affectionate, not leaving my side. Since he's not normally a particularly affectionate cat (he merely tolerates being picked up, doesn't like snuggles, and only wants to be petted when he initiates the contact) it's unusual. For the past week or so he's been extraordinarily affectionate with me, even going so far as to lie across my stomach for most of the night. I get frequent headbutts of affection, and I can't sit down to read without having a cat in my lap. But I'm not sick, and don't seem to be getting sick. I can only conclude that he's just as sensitive to my moods and is trying to "fix" me with constant snuggles. I don't mind at all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Making walking in the cold fun

We've been eating soup for days. Seriously, days. Shane made salmon chowder last Thursday night and we've been eating it ever since. There was still a decent amount yesterday and we knew that it would either need to be eaten, frozen, or dumped. Since I find it unconscionable to waste food, and we were all sick of eating it, freezing it and making something else was what we went with. But what did we all want to eat before we leave on Wednesday? If we made one meal there was a chance we wouldn't have enough to last, and if we made two meals we'd most likely be leaving leftovers to go bad while we're all gone for the holiday. (Shane and I are going to visit my in-laws, my brother is going to a friend's house for a few days.) So we decided that making sandwiches would be the best way to go. Which meant going to the store for sandwich makings. (And, as it turns out, eggnog.)
The problem was, our truck still isn't running. We've tried getting various friends to come look at it, but between the cold temps and the busy-ness surrounding the holiday it hasn't happened. We tried calling our friend (and next-door neighbor) to see if we could borrow her car but no such luck. So, walking it was.
Shane hates walking places. We would have biked, but his tire died over the summer and while I bought a new tire for him, I forgot to get a new tube for it. So we only had one bike and neither of us was going to volunteer to be the solo adventurer. With the temp at 0F (with a windchill making it "feel like" -20F) it was safest to go in a pair anyway. So we walked.
It could have been so miserable. However, Shane managed to make the trip fun for both of us by acting as if we were arctic explorers. In between talking about other things, he'd randomly intersperse comments as if he was doing the voiceover for someone's journal entries. I caught on and we made ourselves giggle almost the whole way. Considering that it was a 2 hour trip, that's not bad. Here are a few of the funniest "journal entries".

Shane: "Journal Entry #1. Status report, morale is low. I hate walking."

Shane: "Journal Entry #2. My partner won't stop cackling and laughing at me. Insensitive bastard."

After a few minutes of silence...
Shane (in an NPR-announcer voice): "And now, the tasteful sideboob hour."
Me: "WTF? Journal entry #5. My partner seems to have gone insane. I fear for our expedition. It seems less and less likely that we will both make it safely to the end of our journey."

On the walk home....
Shane: "Status report, morale is even lower. I still fucking hate walking."
Me: "Waaaah! I'm Shane and I can't handle a little bit of hard work! Waaah!"
Shane: "Journal entry #8. My partner went missing in the night. An expedition was sent out but were forced to turn back. The outlook is grim."
Then he pushed me into a snowbank.

Just before I fell asleep last night I heard this...
Shane: "Journal entry #12. Readjusting to my normal life once again is proving difficult. Perhaps the expedition was unwise, as I now seem unfit for the real world...."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Fairbanks is dry. Very, very dry. As in, I often come home with two or three new paper cuts just because my hands are so dry that simply handling paper cuts my skin. No matter how much lotion I put on my skin, it's never enough. And because it's so dry, hand lotion is a popular gift to give a woman when you don't know what else to get her. Most of this lotion is super scented, which I'm not a huge fan of. It tends to be more of a way to perfume oneself, rather than to actually moisturize your skin.
I'm pretty picky about my lotion. I don't have that many brands which I really like, and even fewer that I'll actually remember to use. And yet, I found myself with about 9 large bottles of lotion, and 8 small bottles, all of which I probably wasn't going to get around to using, plus a small bottle of scented anti-bacterial hand gel of which I have no clue about the origins. Since I've been slowly trying to de-clutter our apartment, I really wanted to get rid of all of these but I felt bad throwing them out.
I got the genius idea a few weeks ago of taking them to work and putting them in the bathrooms. Since I have so many bottles it would be easy enough to put a few of them in the bathroom, wait until they were used up or taken, and then deliver a few more bottles. It's working. I brought in the last of the lotions today because the rest were all gone. My coworker knew what I was doing and told me a few weeks ago that she's noticed one of the bathrooms smells much nicer since I put the lotion in there, and I've often been able to tell from lingering scent that the bottles were actually being used. Then people started taking them, which I also don't mind. I'm glad that something I didn't enjoy and wasn't going to use is helpful to other people. I brought in the last of the lotion today, though, so once these are gone perhaps other people will be inspired to bring in lotion they can't use or don't want.
A few weeks ago I was washing my hands and another woman, at the sink next to me, mentioned something about how dry it was that day. She added, "Thank goodness they've started putting lotion in the bathrooms." I just smiled and nodded without mentioning that I was the lotion fairy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Household inequality and adjustment

There are all kinds of inequality within a household. It's well documented that women do more housework, childcare, etc. One thing that's gotten a lot of press recently is that women are now starting to out-earn men, and all the stress that's causing.
Now that Shane's home, we're having to deal with inequality of our own sort. First of all, there are chores. Out of three adults, I am the only one with a job currently. The Boy not having a job is a point of contention and irritation in our household, so I won't go into that topic. However, he does have a "job" in the form of school and homework. Shane currently has neither, though he is taking a short go-at-your-own-pace course online for something he wants to learn. So, how do we divide the chores now? What factors do we take into account when deciding what counts, what counts *more*? The only thing we seem to have resolved is the issue of the dishes, with the Boy doing twice as many loads (Shane - Boy - me - Boy - Shane....) since we do more of the cooking. It's a given that I will still be doing all of the laundry (but just for me and Shane, the Boy does his own) because Shane doesn't have the inclination and if left up to him laundry would be done twice a year.
For the others, though? I got into the habit of trying to make the house clean before Shane got home so that he didn't have to deal with messes which clearly weren't made by him. When he was home he'd take care of a couple of chores (cleaning the litter box, doing dishes) so that I'd get a small break from them. Now, when I'm the one out of the house so much more, we'll probably have to reverse that. I think it will be more difficult on Shane than it was on me, actually. He has more exacting standards of cleanliness, but I'm the one more likely to actually do the cleaning. I think that he allows his standards to get in the way of actually doing something because it seems like such a monumental task.
As a small matter, we have the issue of Christmas. I told Shane that I didn't want a present for Christmas because I'm already getting what I want. He still hasn't told me if he wants a Christmas present, however, in part because he said that if he asks for one he'll feel like "a selfish douchebag". I did a very poor job last night of re-explaining that I'm already getting what I want (an incredibly extravagant trip to see my family over the holidays). It doesn't seem to make him feel any better, though, so this is a question we'll have to keep exploring. I know I need to ask questions like, what would he want from me for Christmas? Also, to reassure him that asking for a Christmas gift doesn't mean I'll think of him as selfish. We both stopped buying anything for a while beyond basic necessities, including not replacing things which were worn out. I indulged a little bit over the summer and bought myself a few things I'd been putting off for a while (and obviously still passed the test of, "Will this be useful and fill a need in my life?") but Shane, being gone so much, didn't have that same opportunity that I did. If there are things he's held back from buying but wants or needs, I want him to let me know.
Perhaps the biggest current inequality in our household is just this: jobs. Shane's ego is still (in my opinion) far too closely tied with his employment situation. He feels like he's not contributing anything to "us" if he's not employed. I was hoping that having such a good job over the summer would mitigate some of this but it didn't, and am I a terrible person if I admit a little weariness in having to frequently prop up his sense of self every time he's unemployed? It's been less than a week and I already want to snap and tell him to stop throwing himself a fucking pity party all the time. Instead, I keep reminding him that I'm glad he's home, that there are lots of things he missed out on over the summer because of his employment (like having any kind of a social life), that there are projects around the house I need his help with, that there are things he wanted to learn and do which he now has time for. With just a hint of irritation I even pointed out to him that despite the short duration of his job (May-early November) we managed to save more than my yearly salary, without adding, "so fuck off, whiner" at the end of it. Makes for a good discussion when I can rein in my irritation that way. We'll see if it holds up.
What we're both trying to do is to keep Shane occupied while he transitions from being gone nearly all the time to being home all the time. It's a big transition, and I'm having my own problems with it. Like, I got used to sleeping alone and pretty much being autonomous (except in financial matters). Now I have someone else to answer to (like if the kitchen isn't clean, or on the matter of, "What movie did you want to watch?") and I've been waking up during the night because having him around disturbs my sleep. (Might be part of why I've been so irritated...just a little.) So while I'm happy to have him home, it's more of a mixed bag than I expected. I imagine he's feeling the same way. Coming up with projects and plans--things to do together and things for Shane to do during the day while I'm gone--is our way of adjusting.
I'm also trying to focus on the good things. It is nice to have him home, and I don't want to sound like I'm just complaining. He makes me laugh so hard my stomach hurts, it's lovely to have someone to talk to, and even enjoying the funny things the pets do is better now because I get to share it with him rather than describing it over Skype. So the transition will come along, it's just the unexpectedness of the adjustment period that caught us both by surprise.
Any advice?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Changing things up - New grocery habits

First of all, Shane got home way earlier than expected. When I talked to him Thursday he said he'd be home by Tuesday evening. By Friday, he was saying he'd be home Saturday evening. And then he was home by about 3:00 on Saturday. It's lovely to have him home and know that he's going to stay home for a while. Our dog still thinks he's leaving soon so she's alternately all over him for affection and pouting. The cat, well, he's still just pissed that he's not allowed total freedom yet. (Five more days!)
So, I once again have access to a vehicle for shopping. Kinda. I got used to looking around the house first for ingredients, and then as a last resort going to the grocery store. So I wanted to continue that. Shane seconded that because the truck hasn't been running well for a while and the problems seem to be getting a bit worse. If it's idling, there's a strong possibility that it will idle too low and stall. Sometimes it has a hard time starting up after that, which sucks when you're at an intersection and people behind you are honking. Just as bad, there's a knocking in the engine, though only really when we use one of the gas tanks. ?? I know nothing about cars, so I'm not sure what any of this could mean, other than we should try to drive as little as possible. I'm cool with that.
So, I'd planned things so that we would just make it until Shane came home. That was planning for only two people, however, and not three. So almost as soon as Shane got home, while he was still unpacking, we all started brainstorming recipes we wanted to eat soon. The guys focused mostly on "what sounds good" whereas I focused a lot on "what do we already have that should be used?" type foods. (Don't worry, they're yummy too. I'm just not going to depend on craving a particular food on any given day.) Then I made a shopping list for everything we need. It was huge, since we came up with approximately three weeks' worth of dinners/lunches, and I also wanted to stock up on a month's worth of dry goods.
I don't want food to spoil, however, so I've prioritized eating the fresher foods in the first week and moving on from there. Anything involving lettuce is getting eaten this week, with the things involving bell peppers following close behind. (A loose meal plan is: sandwiches, taco casserole, pasta primavera, fajitas.) Meals involving root vegetables and frozen veggies are next. (Fried rice, salmon chowder, "Lazy Sunday Casserole", squash and spinach stuffed manicotti, because I couldn't for the life of me find giant pasta shells.) Lastly are the things which utilize dry goods, frozen goods, and (home) canned goods. (Chili and cornbread, spaghetti, salmon patties.) We might finish it all with pizza, if we have ingredients for it. But we'll see. After all, Thanksgiving is coming up, and our trip to see my in-laws!
A lot of these things utilize the dry goods I got. I found a recipe for refried beans which I'll use in the taco casserole. I'm also planning to cook up (in the slow cooker) a big batch of the black beans I got. Most of them will be used in the chili, but some can be frozen for future use. Maybe in this "Southwestern 2-bean chicken" recipe? (Don't ask me why Tex-Mex is so popular in our house right now, I don't know.)
Also, many of these things are using goods we already have around the house. I didn't buy much meat because most of it is stuff we already have in the freezer: ground moose, salmon, a few sausages, and a little bit of chicken.
Of course, I don't just plan dinners. The Boy buys his own breakfast stuff, and Shane doesn't really eat breakfast, but I do. And as good as it's been for me to eat oatmeal so much recently, it's nice to get some variety. I've found a recipe for overnight oatmeal, I got some good things to add into smoothies (like flax seeds), and over the weekend I made these breakfast cookies. (Delicious, and I'm impressed that I found a banana in our freezer.) If I run out of all that and still don't want to eat just oatmeal, I have the ingredients to make knock-off Lara Bars and peanut butter granola.
These aren't even all of the meals I could make this month using what we have on hand. After all, there are only two salmon meals on the docket. We could do a moose roast. I had a vegetarian red curry I was planning on making before Shane got home. (He's not a fan of curry, or of vegetarian cooking.) We have moose steaks which could be cooked up with some potato or sweet potato fries and a veggie on the side. I have three pumpkins but am only planning to use one of them this month (in the manicotti), so I could come up with something else for those. In the past, I wouldn't have thought about these things because I would have been far more concerned with questions of what we want to eat rather than what we have to eat. Shopping htis way will force me to be far more creative.
We're definitely still going to need to get some groceries between now and the end of the month. I wish we didn't have to, but we will. The way we've been eating apples I'm sure we'll need more of them, as well as some dairy (we've been milk-drinking fiends) and probably some more chicken. However, I think this is a far more efficient way of meal planning than the "week-by-week" method I had going before. We'd either plan not enough, or too much, we'd run out of ingredients and thus have to go to the store, or we'd have too much and some of it would go bad. This way I can be assured of very little waste.
Less food waste also means less money wasted. I'll have to wait until we get to the end of the month, but I'm almost certain that shopping this way will save us some money. The big trip cost a little under $175, and unfortunately we already had to go to the grocery store again. (Hey, I'm new to this!) I forgot the bell peppers and didn't realize that we were out of booze. I'm not much of a drinker so that didn't occur to me. Shane's happy that he can drink something again (camp was dry--he'd have been fired if he was caught with alcohol) so he wanted something to sip on in the evening.
I've budgeted $400 for the month for groceries. I know, to frugal livers in other places this will seem extravagant, especially considering how much food we routinely keep in the house. However, this is Alaska and I'm feeding 3 adults, a small dog, and a large housecat on this budget. (Yep, pet food is included in that amount I spent--about a month's worth of canned pet food.) This will also be the first month I've tried it this way, and the first month we'll all be home. So we'll see how tight the budget ends up being.
If you're curious, I've started using a budgeting app called EEBA on my iPod. It's free and it's supposed to be like the envelope budgeting system. That is, you "give" yourself a certain amount of money and when it's gone you're not supposed to spend anymore for the time frame you've set. I just find it handy for keeping track of things. You can set the categories you're budgeting for (I find a "rent" category stupid to do because it's the same amount every month and I know I'm going to pay it, but an "entertainment" budget to keep track of what we spend out with friends or on our hobbies is quite handy) so it's really customizable. I wanted to try the Mint app (also free) but you have to attach at least your bank account to that and Shane didn't like the idea. (For those who are interested, I researched it and there haven't been any security concerns. I even talked to my dad, who works in a security field, and he thought it seemed no more dangerous than online banking.) I think Mint is better for a comprehensive look at your personal finances (check out the Mr. Money Mustache review) and EEBA is decent enough for an actual dollar amount to strive for. You have to type it in every time, and it gives annoying little hints (I've set the time frame for one month but it calculates things as if I'm going to spend a certain amount every day; according to it, I'm behind by half a month in my spending and it's giving me a little frowny face) but it's nice to have it set in my head when I go shopping, something I can look at to help me stick to the amount I want to spend.

Friday, November 2, 2012

'Tis the Season

You're probably going to think I'm sick, and I'm sure I've confessed this before, but now that Halloween is over I've busted out the Christmas tunes. Yep, I'm one of those people. Don't worry, I haven't afflicted anyone else with this mild holiday addiction. I haven't even told Shane, since no one else knows what I'm listening to with my headphones on.
I know that many people will get mad and say that listening to Christmas music so early in the season is atrocious and part of the commercializing of Christmas. However, to me it's completely the opposite. First of all, many "Christmas" songs don't say word one about Christmas, or any other holiday. "Winter Wonderland"? "Jingle Bells"? "Baby, it's Cold Outside"? Nothing about Christmas in any of those. They should more properly be termed winter songs. That's not why I listen to them, of course, but it's a small defense.
Getting to the heart of this for me, Christmas music serves to remind me of just what's so special about Christmas, and to get me excited for all of the wonderful things to come. I don't know about you, but with only a few exceptions I don't really remember the presents I got for Christmases past. Mostly what I remember are the things like cookie baking, watching movies and drinking hot chocolate with my family, and all being together. There's an 11 year age spread in my family, with my oldest brother being six years older than me. Think about it: he turned 18 when I was only 12, and long before he moved out he spent a majority of his time elsewhere. I loved Christmas for bringing him home for a bit, for a chance to hang out with all of my siblings. My other older brother left when I was 14 and the chance to get together at the holidays became that much more important to me. (I can only imagine what it was like for my little brother, 5 years younger than I am.) Board games, card games, puzzles, lots of family dinners, those are the things I love about Christmas and they're the memories that come flooding back when I listen to Christmas music.
Newer happy memories too. Two years ago my brother and I spent an evening making Christmas cookies for my work's cookie giveaway during finals. I didn't realize that when I'd written a particular recipe down I doubled it. (Why would you ever make less than a double batch of those cookies?!) So we doubled it, not realizing, and it turned into a hilarious scramble when we realized our mistake. Just the wet ingredients filled my largest mixing bowl so we had to find another bowl to put some of it in and try to get the dry ingredients for both bowls correct. I wrote a note on the recipe: "THIS IS ALREADY DOUBLED! BEFORE YOU DOUBLE IT, REMEMBER CHRISTMAS 2010!!" It makes me laugh every time, and every time the Boy and I talk about making cookies together one of us will start giggling about that.
This year we have lots to look forward to. It turns out that Shane will be home for Thanksgiving, so we'll get to go to Soldotna as we usually do to visit parents, grandparents, cousins, not to mention my brother-in-law and his girlfriend. (Who are moving out of state soon!) With the very recent passing of one of Shane's elderly relatives, it seems more important than ever to spend as much time with family as possible. After all, they won't be here forever.
After that, we'll only be home for a few weeks before we leave for Maine! My family is having a reunion at the family home there and I couldn't be more excited. Well, all right. I guess if my oldest brother and his wife were able to make it, I could be. (Poor Johanna has Christmas Day off from work and that's it.) But I get to see aunts, uncles, and cousins who are normally spread out over the country. Many of my cousins weren't able to come to our wedding so it's been years since I saw them anywhere other than Facebook. There's a new addition to the family, who will be 8 months old when we get to see him. And another cousin is pregnant, so we'll get to celebrate that with her. The little girl who was the youngest family member last time we did this is five now, a big kindergartener.
I'm looking forward to all the ways we'll reconnect with each other. We'll go for walks in the snow (for us it will be relative warmth; for many people in my family, a novelty, since they live in warmer climes), cook grand meals together, play games, watch movies, and catch up on all the news of each other's lives. I'm so excited and happy that, honestly, I could just cry.
As if all of that wasn't enough to be happy about, on our way home we're stopping in Seattle for a week. We'll spend New Year's with my friends there, have more time with my parents and two of my brothers, and my oldest brother said last night that he'd talk to his wife and see if there's any way they can make it up there for a few days. Squeeeee!!! I haven't been to Seattle in about two years and it's definitely far too long. I have lots of people there whom I love and I miss them. They've made so many life changes that I've missed out on. Some have gotten married, bought houses, had kids, and existing children have done far too much growing up. I can't wait to see everyone.
So, the one thing I haven't mentioned in all of this is gifts. Despite what people say about returning to the spirit of Christmas, making it a simpler Christmas, etc., and despite the messages we get every year from Christmas movies, people still make a big deal about gift giving at Christmas. To some extent, this isn't bad. It's a time when we get to show our friends and family our appreciation of them. And who doesn't like getting something fantastic? "OMG, I've wanted to read this book for so long!" "Thanks, Mom, I can never have enough wool socks." So I'm not completely anti-gift-giving. But definitely, it's generally over the top.
For me and Shane, like so many others we're once again dealing with unemployment. (Forgive my silence the last couple of weeks--this was a hard secret to keep and I've known since mid-September! He wanted to be the one to tell friends and family, however.) This is his last shift, since the higher ups at his company decided that it would be more worth it to let everyone go for the winter than it would be to keep the camp open when not as much work would be getting done more inefficiently because of the weather and conditions. It's not terrible--we saved a lot of money this summer, and Shane gets a fairly generous severance package, plus he's got a standing job offer when the camp reopens next year with an actual signing bonus if he works for them again--but it's still back to just my income. Our trip is not cheap. I told my oldest brother the amount just for our plane tickets over the phone last night and I swear I heard his jaw drop. (I'll just say here that it nearly cost us the soul of our firstborn child, when we have one. People from Alaska will know.) So while we'll still give gifts to our families, I told Shane that not only am I totally cool with him not getting me a gift, but that I'll actually be mad if he does. I said flat-out that our trip is really the only thing I *need* for Christmas. The only things I want don't come wrapped up under the tree. This led into a very personal discussion about how we can best use our money in the future for the things which truly do matter to us.
Shane's parents will certainly, as usual, go overboard for Christmas. So I asked Shane's mom for one of the few things that I really want. Shane has told me repeatedly that she's so excited to finally have a girl to shop for that I don't feel bad about this.
I will be informing my family that they don't need to spend gobs of money on us. The travel itself, or the shipping to send even small things, is fairly expensive. I don't want anyone to feel pressured to spend more than they can really afford, or even if they can afford it to feel like they need to spend lots of money to show they care.
For the extended family, when we've done these Christmas get-togethers in the past we've done a white elephant gift exchange among the adults. I've got several homemade things which I'm planning to pull together into a gift, things which I know pretty much everyone in my family would appreciate and enjoy. Many of us bring regional things--really good chili powder from my Texas relatives is always appreciated, and there are some special canned peppers from a local Seattle company which my mom talked about buying a case of to distribute at Christmas. (YES!) It will be fun and low-key and perfect.
Other than seeing my relatives, one of the things I'm looking forward to the most is introducing Shane to the family home. It was built by one of my ancestors about 175 years ago and it has all kinds of stuff in it. My great-grandmother's first grownup party dress, military uniforms dating back to WWI, and so many incredible things. The oldest book we've found was printed in the 1750s, before the U.S. was even an independent country. How incredible is that? There's a creepy room in the cellar which was dubbed the Alfred Hitchcock room (if you saw it, you'd know why), and the memories of wonderful childhood memories. I just can't wait for Shane to see it all. Back to my original theme, listening to Christmas music is making me happy right now with the anticipation of all of this. Now isn't that a decent reason to listen to it?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gimme some sugar

Actually, don't. I've been trying to stop eating so much of it. That goes for honey and maple syrup, too, all sweeteners really. All my life I've had a major sweet tooth and though I've pretty much always known that it's bad for me I've sort of shrugged my shoulders and said, "Oh well! Gotta have some vices." The fact that I don't generally make sweet treats anymore, and have entirely stopped buying them, made me feel more virtuous than it should.
Just lately, though, I've been realizing how much extra sugar I really eat and almost all of it goes into my tea. I justified it to myself because, on a per-cup basis it really wasn't all that much. About half a teaspoon for a large cup. Not bad, right? Except that I drink anywhere from 3-5 cups of tea each day. That ends up being a lot of unnecessary sugar. It only dawned on me when I realized how often I was needing to refill my little container of sugar for work.
So not only is it bad for me but it's costing me a lot of money. I buy the fancy organic cane sugar from the bulk section and it's quite pricey. Less expensive than if I was buying one of the name-brand bags, but still expensive. So by cutting out sugar I'm helping my health and my wallet. It still took me a few weeks to talk myself into it, because I don't like giving up my sugar addiction. Am I going to turn into one of those annoyingly virtuous and self-righteous people who says things like, "Oh, no. I don't eat that," in a tone which implies, "Your food is garbage." I admit that I can be kind of a food snob, but I try to only judge myself. I'm not the food police, your food choices are your own.
Without sugar, in the past tea has just seemed so bitter and blah, and I can't give up my tea! I could probably do without the caffeine (in fact, today I'm drinking red or rooibos tea, which is naturally caffeine free), but the warmth on cold days is pretty necessary. My boss simply microwaves a mug of water but I hate drinking plain hot water and anything else hot I could think of to drink has lots of sugar anyway. So plain tea it is.
Well, I took the leap last week and stopped putting sugar in all but my last cup of tea each day. It's turned out to be way easier than I expected. Even the first day when I put sugar in that last cup of tea it seemed far too sweet. By the time the weekend rolled around I was ready to stop putting sugar in my tea at all. Even milk as a sweetener seemed extraneous. So I've started drinking my tea black and enjoying it as much as ever.
I have some rather large cavities in my back teeth, which have been filled, but were a direct result of my sugar addiction. (And years of having no insurance during my early 20s.) They were starting to hurt sometimes and without the added sugar in my tea they've stopped aching. If I needed no other motivation that would be it. I'd really rather not end up as a toothless old woman. According to my dentist, sipping sugary drinks all day is the absolute worst thing you can do for your teeth. (I'm assuming that she means, besides being a meth addict. Have you seen their teeth?!) Getting a direct result from cutting back on my sugar intake is lovely.
In my morning oatmeal I've been putting in about 1/2 a teaspoon of maple syrup to sweeten it just a touch, rather than the tablespoon or so of brown sugar that I used to put in it. And I've been trying to limit myself to only one sweet treat per day. It hasn't been easy, and I've totally failed some days. My little brother made cookies this past weekend (oatmeal raisin, one of my favorite kinds!) and at the potluck between the Saturday shows for everyone in "The Wizard of Oz" I might have had four-ish cookies. For the most part, however, I don't find myself missing the sugar all that much. Certainly not as much as I thought I would. It makes me feel good, like this will be a lasting change.
Now I can see just how long it takes me before I need to fill up my sugar container at home. I'm betting not until Christmas. What do you think?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Jitterbug

Last week absolutely wiped me out and yet, I feel a little superhuman for all that I managed to accomplish.
I suppose I should start at the beginning. It was tech week for the show I've been doing ("The Wizard of Oz"), otherwise called Hell Week. Rehearsals every night for at least three hours, sometimes four. Plus the travel time/getting ready time which meant an extra half hour on each end. Most evenings I was gone from 6 or 6:30 until at least 10:30. On top of a normal 40-hour workweek it was crazy. And this is the first time I've done one of these shows without Shane's help taking care of dinner and the pets and such. My brother stepped up for some of it (at least, feeding the pets and doing all of the dishes) but with Shane gone I'm still the main household cook so dinner was still my responsibility. The CrockPot saved my butt. I made a giant pot of rice and beans in it on Thursday, knowing that I'd be home late from work that day.
The end of the rehearsals brought no respite. We had three performances over the weekend: one on Friday and two on Saturday. And yet, despite basically working two jobs for the week, I still managed to exercise a little bit, talk with Shane every night, do a load of laundry, and read two books. (I re-read the final two books in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. Now I'm nursing a serious book hangover. So good!) Yesterday, without a show or rehearsal, was dedicated to cleaning the apartment. I did a more thorough job in the bathroom than I have for months, and the Boy and I tackled the kitchen together. I even washed down the outside of the chest freezer, and I can't remember the last time we did that. I dusted the living room, although I couldn't vacuum because of the cat. But it's noticeably cleaner in our house now and it feels good.
The cat is still in the Recovery Palace for a week or so. We threw on a Pandora station while we cleaned, but the most prominent soundtrack to the day was my cat crying. Poor guy. He got let out for a few minutes while I cleaned out his cage and he does seem to be moving better but we don't want to push it. On the plus side, he doesn't seem to be angry with me for his circumstances. When he gets out he starts rubbing against my legs, and when I stick my fingers in his cage he starts rubbing his cheeks against me. It's almost as heartbreaking as how defeated he looks when no one's actively paying attention to him.
Yesterday evening was lovely, but a little sad. I couldn't figure it out for a few minutes because I was at a happy part in my book. But I realized that it was about the time Shane should have been coming home. We finally went a full two weeks without getting to see each other at all and he doesn't even get to come home until Wednesday. They're getting the camp ready for winter so it's all hands on deck. Additionally, they're doing their big monthly water sampling so they needed Shane there. He said last night that it was going to be more difficult this time because everything's frozen. These big water sampling times have meant extra overtime all summer because it's so much work, so I can only imagine how much harder it will be when they need to drill through the ice first.
Fairbanks finally got our first below-zero temperatures this morning at roughly 5:00. It's a bit earlier than the historical norm. The days are getting so short that soon I'll once again be walking both to and from work in total darkness. It's so beautiful, though, the way the light slants and makes the snow look so blue in the shadows, golden where the light hits it. The sky is an amazing azure and the moon at dusk is breathtaking, so white against the sky and so bright bouncing off the snow. No picture could ever quite capture just how gorgeous it all looks. So while the darkness and cold are creeping up, I'm still focusing on the beauty of it all.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Revisiting life in Alaska

Every once in a while, I ask myself the question of whether or not it's still worth it to live in Alaska. I mean, the cost of living is super high. I hear about rents other places and think, damn. I'm renting a small and rather shabby apartment for the same price that I could rent a whole house in other areas. The cost of food here is astronomical, and the quality can be very poor. There's no curbside recycling so I'm less inclined to recycle everything possible. We don't have fantastic resources like dollar stores, Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, etc. Mosquitoes are awful here. My gardening options are limited, and almost all fruit trees are absolutely out of the question. Heat and electricity are expensive. Utilities don't have much competition so they gouge customers. (I'm looking your way, GCI and ACS.)
A relative once said that the hardest part about living in Alaska isn't the conditions, it's that almost everyone you know will move Outside at some point. We have a solid base of family here, but many of our friends have moved and most of the rest are talking about moving in the future. It was rather sobering to talk with a friend on Saturday and have her mention that her husband will be going with her on a business trip out of state to scout out that area and see if they want to move there in the next year or two. These are some of our closest friends. Our social circle here is rapidly dwindling. In fact in roughly four more years we likely won't have any of our close college friends living in Fairbanks. We'll still have family and friends in state, but the closest are down in Eagle River and Palmer. It's hard to think about putting down permanent roots when the people you love are talking about moving.
Of course, there is the alternative question about where I'd want to go, and furthermore where we would want to go. That's something Shane and I haven't been able to come up with yet. It rained here a couple of weeks ago and reminded me of November in Seattle. I ended up thinking, "Oh yeah! This is why I never want to move back there." I hate that miserable, soaking, gloomy sort of rain. It just puts me in a bad mood which cold and even darkness never seem to. So the Pacific Northwest would seem to be out. But where is in? We still don't know.
So I was thinking all of this stuff to myself the other day and then mentally started putting together a list of all of the positives of living here in Fairbanks. Like, no fleas or ticks. Which means that with two pets, not only do we not have to worry about them but we don't have to spend money on medicine for them every month, either.
Virtually no state taxes. That's hard to beat.
Very small spiders.
I'm acclimated to the cold, so it's heat that bothers me and we don't have more than a few days or weeks out of each year which are uncomfortably hot.
The dry air causes problems, but at least we don't have to deal with moisture problems such as mold.
Opera Fairbanks and FLOT. From what I've seen, other places have community theater and such but not as well supported as Fairbanks's.
Friends and family. Hunting, fishing, foraging. I know some of those things can be had elsewhere, but come on. Having so much wild Alaskan salmon that you're sick of it is a problem that most people would love to have.
On the day when I was thinking about all of these things I went to the Pub to hang out with friends for a short time and as I was walking home I looked up and there were the northern lights, dancing vibrantly all across the sky. It was chilly and breezy, but I stood there for a good ten minutes watching them and smiling. Probably around 99% of the world's population will never get to see such a glorious sight. And yet, I could step out on an ordinary evening from about August-May and see it. It made me realize (yet again) how lucky I am to live in such a place. Is it worth putting up with the high cost of living for the scenery? That depends on a lot of factors, but right now I'm still leaning toward yes. At the very least, I want our future kids to grow up with some of these memories. I want them to experience the deep cold and the northern lights, not just to hear stories and to read about them in books.
We got our first light dusting of snow Saturday night/Sunday morning. It was light enough that I still biked to the grocery store (on my not-too-safe hybrid tires) and made it home in one piece. Today we're getting what I sort of consider our first "real" snow. Just enough so far that the road looks white rather than black but not enough yet to cover the grass. It's making me happy and forcing on me the knowledge of just how sad I'd be to live somewhere without snow. If we ever do figure out somewhere else to live, it will have snow.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

First world problems

I got to thinking today about the online scuffle, just a couple of weeks ago, about Lady Gaga and her bulemia. In case you didn't hear about it, she released pictures of her almost-naked self in an effort to show what she really looks like. Partly this was to counteract accusations that she'd gained 50 pounds (rather than 20) and the accompanying photoshopped pictures. At least, that's my understanding of it. I only heard about it at all because I was perusing Jezebel and I wondered, as a feminist, what was going to be said about it. What was disturbing to me wasn't really the article itself, which mostly took the stance of, "Well, if she's really trying to help then I guess good for her...I guess." What disturbed me were the comments. Over half of the people complained that she's still really thin. It was all put forth with a whiny undertone of, what does she have to complain about? I don't perceive it as a problem so therefore it's not a real problem. She should shut up.
I don't really care about this for Lady Gaga's sake--if nothing else, she seems like she can weather a storm of whiny online bitching--but I was wondering what message comments like those send to other young women who aren't as secure and confident. Body dysmorphia is a serious problem with life-threatening (and life-ending) consequences at its most extreme. And it is pretty much the embodiment of a first world problem. After all, people in countries where the majority of people struggle to find enough food generally do not suffer from thinking that they're too fat. So we can agree that it's just a first world problem, right? But I don't see how that makes it any less of a problem. We do still have girls starving themselves to death because of body dysmorphia. We have ever increasing rates of young women and even young men doing severe harm to themselves because of this, and the message that they're getting from others is, "Stop crying and get some real problems."
I don't like this trend of brushing off other people's problems as if they're not "real". You have enough to eat, why are you complaining about that bitchy coworker who was being a douche today? It's as if you don't have a right to say, "I'm not perfectly happy," if you're privileged. I'm all for keeping things in perspective. In the grand scheme of things, that bitchy coworker really doesn't matter so have your little moment of frustration and then get over it. (I would say look for a new job, but you'd probably just encounter another bitchy coworker at the new job.) But having others act as if your problems don't matter is the most unhelpful thing ever. And it doesn't bring any happiness to the world.
I'm not religious (a while ago someone described me as "a person of faith" and I like that much better) and I'm not a philosopher. I don't really know what the purpose or meaning of life is, except that I think it would be better if we all tried to make the world a happier, better place. Wouldn't that be lovely, if everyone actually worked toward making the world better? Instead of whining because someone else's problems aren't "real" enough, what if we actually tried to help them be happier? And if what we really want to do is increase the world's happiness, then we each need to figure out what will make us happy. I don't think it's that hard, really. The things most of us are quite simple. Food, shelter, warmth, love, a purpose in life, things like that. And just enough of each. You don't want enough food that it makes you unhealthy, nor does more than enough shelter for your needs make you any happier. (Think of the upkeep!) Love that smothers is a bit too much. So I'm not advocating "be selfish, take everything you want", since that's not actually a recipe for long-term happiness. No, what I'm talking about is delving deep inside ourselves to figure out what will make us truly happy. It might not take as much as you think.
You need to stop, take a few minutes, and think about those things which will make you content and happy. I think for most of us, what will make us happy aren't the things we're actually pursuing: Money and Stuff. And for some people, Fame. If those things would make everyone happy, then our country--the richest in the whole history of the world, filled with more consumer goods than we know what to do with, and lots of celebrities--would actually be happy. Instead, we consistently rank very poorly on every measure of happiness. A huge number of people are on antidepressants, and the number grows every year. People are unhealthy, and that never leads to happiness. So if we all just figured out what would make us happy and worked toward it, I think the world would be a much better place.
What does this have to do with third world problems, though? What does making myself happy have to do with people whose lives are actually miserable? Well for one thing, people who are happy tend to be the ones who look for ways to improve the lives of those around them. Being unhappy tends to lead to a lot of selfishness. "I can't give that away, I need that. I can't give away my money, I need it." When you know what you need to be happy, when you are happy, you want to know what you can do to help others so that they can be just as happy. If nothing else, happy people tend to spread smiles and joy just by their presence. I have a friend like that. She's so happy that just to be around her makes other people a bit happier. It's like her superpower. Don't you wish you could be like that?
On a grander scale, wars are not fought because countries are happy. ("Dear other country, we love you so we're invading you.") Crime doesn't happen because the people committing the crimes are incurably happy. ("It's such a lovely day and my life is so good, I think I'll go rob a bank.") Greed doesn't manifest because a person is content with themselves and what they have. ("Man, I have so many good things in my life. You know what I need? More. I need everything, even that other person's stuff.") These tend to be problems of discontent and unhappiness.
Happy people have goals, yes, but they know how to work toward those goals and accomplish them. And you know what else? Happy people are content with what they have. Happy people don't take minor problems and make them seem like the end of the world, nor do they focus solely on themselves since a bit of perspective can really make you rethink what's a problem in your life and what isn't. As an example, the other day I was walking home and saw one of the shuttle buses. I thought to myself, "I have working arms and legs. Why would I ever take the shuttle when I actually have the ability to use my own legs instead? Not everyone is as lucky as I am. I'm not Usain Bolt, but damn my legs are fantastic."
The next time I see someone whining about another person's problem and how it's so much better than their own problems, or it doesn't matter, or it's not a "real" problem, I'm going to remind myself that the person doing the complaining probably isn't very happy. After all, happy people don't complain that they have it so much worse than others because they know exactly how good their life is.
What will make you happy?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A roundup

I've had so many interesting things this week that I've discovered and dived into, and projects for myself that I've been working on, that to do a single post about each of them would be time consuming and very short individually. So here's a short blurb about each of them.

First of all, I discovered the blog Mr. Money Mustache, which is a blog about personal finance and, mostly, financial independence. This guy and his wife saved as much money as possible during their 20s so that they were able to retire around age 30 so that they could then have a kid and both be there for him. Inspiring, right? It's what every (good) parent wishes, to have more time with your kid(s). Even if that's not your motivation, however, most of us don't want to work until we're 65 and then spend our "golden years" in retirement homes, too crippled to have fun because we didn't have enough time when we were younger to take care of ourselves. Most of us would also appreciate the security to not constantly be worrying about employment. So if that sounds like you, check it out. He also has environmental motivations for the things he talks about, which I love, and he's very frank about things. There's no quibbling about, "Well, you could do this..." He'll tell you straight out, "If you do this, I want you to punch yourself in the face for being an idiot."
One final note about the blog: his definition of "retirement" might not match yours. His wife still works part-time because she enjoys it and they get a few bonuses to help keep their living expenses low. He works as a freelance carpenter. So they haven't totally quit working, they're just now able to work on their own terms.
I started reading the blog back to front (from the first post, working my way toward the newest) and I highly recommend doing that.

On appearance: For a short time, I was starting to get sucked into the Pinterest idea that, hmm, maybe I should start wearing some makeup again. I talked with Shane about it and he essentially told me, "Makeup is fine for dates, once in a while, but why would you ever want to start wearing it every day? I like to actually be able to see you, not the makeup you're wearing." Well, that settles that then. My husband doesn't compliment often, but when he does it's both outside the norm (no generic, "You're pretty," from him) and incredibly sweet.
I did dye my hair, however. It's fun to do every once in a while. I always seem to need a change at this time of year and hair is one of the simplest (and cheapest) things to change. I used henna, which doesn't have any (or most) of the nasty chemicals which are in normal hair dye. Yeah, still a little bit of garbage so it's not zero waste, but it will also be part of my Halloween costume so it serves a dual purpose.
I've also been looking up how to cut my own hair on Youtube (wanting something different than just a straight cut) and that's been helpful. I might try it tonight, to give myself some time before the weekend in case I need to re-do it or something.
Being able to cut my own hair is a skill I very much enjoy having at least amateur status at. I once told a hairdresser that the last cut I'd had was one I gave myself and she exclaimed, "Don't ever cut your own hair!" Ridiculous. People have been cutting their own hair for thousands of years. Yep, having good tools helps and it is possible to damage your hair with bad ones. But other than that, I'm saving money and if I give myself a bad haircut the only person who's harmed is me. Haircuts are expensive, and I've had more bad professional haircuts than bad haircuts I've given myself.
I noticed that my wardrobe has been both shrinking (because I've given so much that I didn't really wear or like away) and because many of the shirts I wear all the time have been wearing out. My favorite plain black t-shirt has had a small but noticeable hole over my right boob for over a year now, thanks to my cat. Not such a huge deal since I generally wear a sweater over it but still annoying. Small things like that have been occurring in many of my favorite clothes: small holes from use, some stains, and just general shabbiness. One pair of jeans wore out (always near the crotch!) so I dragged a friend to the Fireweed Consignment Boutique, of which I've heard lots of good things. They didn't have a huge selection in my size at that location, but I still found some great things. One shirt (plain black, but a bit dressy for work, so I can retire the other as a "weekend" shirt), one sweater (dressy enough for work or a night out with friends), and one pair of jeans. And all for waaay less than the cost of buying these things new plus someone else in town made a few bucks from me, as well as supporting a local business. I brought in a few things of my own, but they only take donations on weekdays (except by appointment) so I'll have to do that another time.
I said a while ago that I was trying to come up with a good recipe or formula for my own face lotion. I think I got it last night. I used cocoa butter, aloe vera, vitamin E oil, and some tea tree oil. It smells...interesting (mostly of the cocoa butter and tea tree oil, which makes an odd combination) but it goes on smoothly and it immediately smoothed the two rough, dry patches that had been forming on my cheeks. Just be sure to add enough aloe vera gel and oils that the cocoa butter doesn't go all solid again, and you have to mix it a lot at first (I melted the cocoa butter before I mixed it all up), but it works very well.

On the bookshelf: I've been reading Caitlin Moran's book "How to be a Woman", which is absolutely hysterical. Loving it! She goes through pretty much every stage of her own puberty and uses it as a jumping off point for discussions about modern feminism and what it means to be a woman. So, she uses her first period to lead into her first discovering masturbation, into a surprisingly thoughtful (and yet still funny) discussion of pornography and what's wrong with it. Discovering her first pubic hairs leads into a discussion of the recent pressure on women not to have any pubic hair, ever, and the fact that, "It's actually costing us money just to have a vagina! Ladies, this is ridiculous!" I totally recommend this book.

On decluttering: I've been very much enjoying this blog about decluttering and simplifying. It, along with several discussions with Shane, have caused me to look around at my apartment and assess just how much shit we have that is totally unnecessary to our lives. Even with both of us trying to be careful about what comes into our house in the first place, it's not always easy. We're still getting mail for a roommate who moved out three years ago. It's been stacking up in a corner and when we disassembled its perch to make the cat's Recovery Palace, it ended up on the dining table. Thankfully, we saw him at a friend's house last weekend so I packed all that mail up in a bag and gave it to him. He promised to go through it and call places to give them his new address.
There's lots of stuff that's required to basically be a normal, functioning adult, however. Shane has been required to keep some paperwork for a job he worked three years ago and he finally decided that "a reasonable time" has passed so it's gone. Our marriage certificate has been sitting in an envelope on top of my desk for a year now, so I at least moved it to a drawer so that it's out of the way.
This frustration with all the junk in our house also motivated me to take out our recycling again. I think the last time I did that was around June? Some of it I can walk to work, but other stuff (such as glass) doesn't have a recycling bin anywhere near my office so it requires a special trip. We tend to hoard it all in the garage until we have enough to justify the car trip. But it was crowding my clothes-drying rack, and getting out of hand. Just doing that one thing made the apartment feel so much freer and cleaner!
We have lots of other projects waiting in the sidelines, and other things which I'm sure will build up between now and then. Decluttering is an ongoing process, but it does feel nice to get each of these things done. Even finding a new home for things which we need to keep, or which we can't get around to just yet, helps a lot.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Does "layering" have to mean sweaters?

With the temperature in the 20s this morning, it's definitely time to be thinking about layering to keep warm. Living in Fairbanks, and either walking or biking year-round, has made me very aware of my layering. During the winter I can get an approximation of the temperature from the size of the steam cloud that forms when I open the door to let the dog out in the morning. Often this also means another trip to the bedroom to either grab another layer or put one back. Layering isn't just a good thing to do, it becomes an art form at that point. Knowing exactly how much to wear to keep yourself comfortable, and how to be comfortable in any situation, is very tricky. Who knows what the day might bring?
Let's face it, we don't always have control over what the temperature is. My office is always, always chilly. If I go other places, sometimes they're too hot. But even when we do have control, it can be good (environmentally and budgetarily) to keep the temperature down. Mothers everywhere tell their children to "put on a sweater" when they get cold. I'm sure most people are sick of hearing that advice and I know some would prefer to keep the heat up rather than wear a sweater. Honestly, wearing so many clothes around here can make the best of us a bit weary by the end of winter. When you're pulling on your longjohns yet again or deciding which of your sweaters to wear yet again it's easy to start daydreaming about swimsuit weather and shorts and tank tops. Spring is the time of year when you're ready to say, "Fuck it! I'm turning the heat up to 85!"
Layering doesn't always mean longjohns and sweaters or flannel shirts, however. (Although flannel shirts are amazingly comfortable.) Today I'm wearing two layers: a tank top and a light shirt. The tank isn't visible to anyone, but it's helping to keep me warm nonetheless. My office is perpetually cold and when I was getting dressed this morning I realized that, even with the sweater I planned to bring, I would probably be chilly. I forgot the sweater in my mad dash out of the house, but because I have 2 layers on already it's not such a big deal today. (If I got really cold I could always put my fleece jacket on.)
On Pinterest I keep seeing all these cute outfits which people (or magazines?) have put together and they often involve layers. A tank top and a sweater, or a long-sleeved shirt and a scarf. Layers not only add warmth but they can add something visually interesting to your outfit. One navy blue thermal shirt is much like the next, but add a pretty scarf and it looks instantly dressy and more interesting. Sure a scarf might not be the warmest thing in the world, but it could make the difference between being slightly uncomfortable and being comfortable.
As the temperature drops I'll start layering more and more. It won't be unusual for me to leave the house with 3-4 layers on top, at least 2 on my legs, and 3 on my feet. (Plus gloves and a scarf or cowl and a hat, possibly even putting up my hood for an extra layer on my head and neck. But that sort of goes without saying.) Most of these layers won't be visible to others but they'll be keeping me toasty warm.
When you layer your clothing, it's also much easier to turn the temperature of your house down and save a bit on heating. I say "clothing", but at home it doesn't even have to be that. There's a reason slippers were invented and it sure wasn't for their looks. We both have sheepskin slippers with rubber soles which my in-laws gave us. They're perfect, soft and warm and comfortable and durable. The rubber soles also mean that we're not ruining them if we have to step outside to grab the dog when she's being a pest, or something like that.
One of our favorite things in the winter is to wrap up in a big blanket. Shane will sit at his computer wrapped up in one and I'll frequently read in bed (with a pet or two snuggling in) to keep warm. If I'm up and about, I've got a robe or a blanket with me. The advice your mother gave you to put on a sweater doesn't actually have to be taken literally. Finding a comfortable way to keep warm is key. For me, that often means something loose. Having so many layers on during the winter is not only bulky but it can feel constricting. When I'm home, I wear loose, comfortable clothes and I'd rather throw a blanket around myself than put on a sweater. Again.
Finally, don't forget the power of a hot drink to warm you up. Tea, hot cocoa, warm cider, mulled wine, hot buttered rum, warm milk with honey, whatever. It's now chilly enough that I look forward to starting my pot of tea when I get to work each morning. Holding the hot mug heats my chilled fingers and feels comforting.
After writing all of this, I realized that I'm actually excited for the cold. Not just the snow, but the cold itself. It bothers me when I'm cold, but I guess I sort of like it when the temperature dips. I'm much more appreciative of all the things that help to keep me warm, such as a filling meal of pot roast (I have one in the slow cooker right now) or just waking up with the dog curled at my side. The little things in life become so much more meaningful when faced with such a formidable force of nature like extreme cold. It makes me proud of humanity's resiliency, that we can face it and (sort of) conquer it. And it makes me proud of my own resiliency. If I can do all of the things I do in this place, what can't I do?