Thursday, May 31, 2012

The informal economy

Sharon Astyk linked to a rather great article about the informal economy recently, which is worth a read. In case you don't know, the informal economy is any economic activity which isn't reported to the government. Like the barter I made the other day with my friend--she brought me some big pots for planting, and I let her go through the stuff my brother-in-law left with us and take what she wanted. (Not that either of us thought of it as "bartering" then--I think we were both just relieved to get rid of stuff we don't need and don't have space for.) Or when people here "shop" at the transfer station. Or my little brother's summer "job"--chopping up the trees my parents had taken down at their place (for fear they'd fall on the house during a storm--a distinct possibility) and selling it for firewood. (He won't make enough just from that to report it to the IRS.) Babysitting counts. Having a friend repair your sink/vehicle/bike/toilet counts. Giving away your zucchini/eggs/knitted sweater counts. Even volunteering counts as part of the informal economy, which is sort of crazy to me but it does make sense.
Sharon Astyk claims (and from her, there's probably lots of facts to back this up but I don't know where they are) that the informal economy makes up over twice the activity of what the formal economy does, worldwide. Regardless of whether that's true or not, it does make up a significant portion of worldwide activity. Think just of the barter economy worldwide--it's huge. In communist Russia the underground economy was what kept people from starving to death in greater numbers. And it always goes up when the economy gets worse, or when there are outside hardships imposed such as rationing.
Think about the people you know, and how much you might be contributing to the informal economy. Remember, it doesn't have to be something you do for money. Maybe you watch a neighbor's kid for a few hours while she takes her baby to the doctor. Maybe you barter with friends (hello, jewelry swap!), or make Halloween costumes for the kids you know. It's rather staggering when you total it all up, isn't it?
In a lot of ways, I think it's impossible (and needless to say, stupid) to completely avoid the informal economy. Not that I think you should "steal" money from the IRS by not reporting income when you legitimately should, but it seems to me to be more an indicator of community involvement than anything else. If you're not involved with those around you, even just neighbors, then of course you'll go to the store and buy something new rather than asking around to see if you can borrow or barter for it first. When you're involved in your community, however, you learn where to look for something used, or who to ask if they might have something. I needed a stud finder for a project at home and borrowed one from J, rather than buying one myself. It's something he needs, but doesn't use constantly and is easily portable. Why should I buy my own?
Moving toward a more communal mindset of what you "need" will be a great thing if we can make it into a national paradigm shift. There are so many things that we "need" only a few times, or once each week. Like the stud finder. Or even bigger things--do you need a lawnmower of your very own, or could you set up a communal one with your neighbors? What's the point of having four houses with four lawn mowers that need to be stored rather than used a majority of the time? What if instead you set up a schedule (the internet would make this so easy) and had people sign up for time slots instead, and shared one? Less money, less hassle, and less maintenance for each individual involved.
In some ways this type of community sharing is growing. Think of community gardens--they're popping up everywhere, even here. There's a new one at the university, on the defunct Fairbanks Street bridge. A community garden is the perfect use of that space--it was a road until the bridge fell below code for use by vehicles. It was closed off and turned into a walking path instead, with grass where there used to be pavement. And now there's a community garden on one side to make it even more productive and useful. The shared space has taken on new meanings. Would people have thought of doing something like this when times were good? Probably not, because there would be no need. If there's one thing humans are good at, it's focusing on the immediate needs and wants rather than the long-term goals and needs. But the bad times have upsides to them--this community garden created a dual purpose for a shared space, which will increase the efficiency of land and production, as well as increase the use of that space. People who might not have had a garden before, because of a lack of land (apartment dwellers) or not having the right area for a garden (one of my coworkers snagged a raised bed because her yard has too many trees and nothing but lettuce grows in her yard) are now able to produce their own nutritious food.
I'm sure there are people--even lots of people--who think that the underground or informal economy is bad or evil. But it brings more efficiency and sustainability to our system than the formal economy ever has, and for that reason alone I'm proud to say I'm part of it. I'm "bartering" more of my brother-in-law's abandoned kitchenware (and a tub of ice cream, but my friend doesn't know that yet) for pet-sitting when we go to Hawaii. :)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A great article

From what I've seen, very few economists take the view of peak oil seriously, or at least don't count it into their projections of what the economy will do and what it will look like soon. Except this guy. It's a fascinating article, with a slightly different view of why job growth and such has been so sluggish, and it's well worth a read. What he says about oil is true--it's not that we're really going to run out, it's that it will [fairly] quickly become too expensive. I think that we've been making it artificially cheap for a long time now, and it really hasn't done us any favors. It's long past time to remove government support for a dying industry and change over to newer, better ones. I realize there are problems with solar (like the efficiency factor) and wind and all of that, but if we actually put as much money behind these industries as we do into the oil and coal industries they'd quickly solve some of the bigger problems.

Just a bit of fertilizer, huge difference

Last summer, I couldn't find organic fertilizer anywhere. I found it a little ridiculous, because there was MiracleGro everywhere, but nothing organic. Well, I managed to find some this year and have started using it once each week in watering my work plants. (I've only used it once at home so far.) It has made a huge, huge difference in how well my plants are doing, just in the few weeks since I started using it.
Last summer, since my only option was chemical fertilizer, I did my best not to use it unless a plant was really doing poorly. Freed from that constraint, I'm realizing just how poorly they were all doing as a result. My one cherry tomato that's flowered so far at work already has five seven tomatoes started on it. Seven, all at once! And more flowers coming, too. That would have been unheard of last year. (I think the most tomatoes one plant put out was four at once, but one died on the vine and it didn't have any other flowers at the time.) I have at least eight peas growing, and two beans. Almost a salad! :) All of my plants are flowering, and some are putting out tons of leaves even with the fruiting and flowering. (One of my peas is going to be a monster, I can tell.) It's wonderful.
I would love to get to a point where I don't have to depend on outside fertilizer for help (such as making and using my own compost tea instead) but for now I'm just happy that I could find something organic. I'll use up the old chemical fertilizer on non-edible plants, or give it away. Anyone want some fertilizer?
Now that I've started planting in the garden, I'll have to figure out the best way to get fertilizer to those plants too. I think I'll need to buy a better, bigger watering can. That way I can also keep the chemical and organic fertilizers in separate cans. We need to take a load of stuff to Value Village, anyway, so I'll look around there to see if they have any watering cans.
On Friday night I ended up reading until I fell asleep. (I'm into the 5th "Game of Thrones" book--so good!) Which also meant that I accidentally left all of my plants outside overnight. They all survived. I was worried, but not too worried. Memorial Day is usually the time the farmers I've spoken to around here say it's safe to plant even warm weather plants outdoors in the lowlands. I haven't actually put any of them in the ground yet, but I will do that this week or weekend. They still look so small, and I keep reminding myself that it's just the beginning of summer and they've got plenty of time to grow huge.
We did buy the baby gate and baby locks to keep the dog's destruction to a minimum. So far, so good, but we've only had it for two nights. We left the kennel in our room (making a wonderful obstacle course to the closet which is lovely to maneuver around when I'm bleary-eyed and sleepy in the mornings) and she's been voluntarily gone in there the past few nights to sleep. She might be upset with Shane for being gone and sort of boycotting him, or it might just be that she feels comfortable in there. I'm just glad it doesn't feel like doggy prison to her.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Measuring Success

I measure success in exercise by how well my clothes fit and how good I feel afterwards, not in calories burned, distance, or pounds lost.

I measure success in gardening by how delicious the food tastes, and the satisfaction it gives me, not in how much money I can save.

I measure success in love by how often I make him laugh and how easily we forgive each other, not in "keeping score" about who does more/earns more/is "the better spouse".

I measure success in cooking and baking by the smiles that people have when they eat my food, not the compliments they give.

I measure success in friendship by the quality of my relationships, not by how many there are.

I measure success in life by the experiences I have, not the number of possessions.

I measure success at work by how many people I help, not by how much money I make.

I measure success in reading by how it helps me understand the world better, not by how many books I read.

I measure success in music by how much I've learned and how well I can sound with my groups, not by trying to measure up to other people.

I measure success in education by what I actually learn, not by what grade I get.

I am not the smartest, wittiest, most charming, prettiest, kindest, funniest, most knowledgeable, fittest, or talented person. No matter what or how much I do, there's someone out there who's done more and better. But I have my successes, and learning to be happy with them and content with myself had made my life infinitely better. I have accomplishments, and they're nothing to sneeze at. Being The Best doesn't necessarily lead to happiness, but focusing on the quality of my relationships and working to make them better has made me exponentially happier. If I've made other people a little bit happier in the process, well, that makes my happiness even greater. What are we here for if not to love and help each other? Isn't that the message of every religion on earth?
How do you measure success?

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Do you need something moistened?"

It's raining! My patience in not watering the garden paid off. :) Now lets hope that in addition to completing greenup, this will also make my garden grow. Not to mention stave off fires for the summer....
It's been an absolutely horrid week. My dog has gotten worse and worse about destroying things, both at night when I'm sleeping and after I leave for the day. In two days she did this: opened a cabinet to pull out my barley flour (you know, the stuff I was so proud of) and rip the bag open. Thankfully I saved most of it, and cleanup was fairly easy. The next night I put a chair in front of that cabinet thinking it might have enough weight that she couldn't open it up. Wrong. She got into the same cabinet (which, food-wise, only holds a few dry goods) and destroyed one of the bags of sugar my brother-in-law gave us. That was a giant mess. (Also, she woke me up at 5 am because of this.) So, thinking that there was too much space between the cabinet and the back of the chair, due to the lip of the counter, and it gave her the leverage to open the cabinet, I turned the chair around so the seat was pressed against the cabinet. And somehow, I didn't ever stop to think, "Gee, I gave my dog the perfect stool to get onto the counter." I came home to the remains of one of those cakes I made all over the counter and the floor. It was a chocolate cake, but one layer and there'd only been about 1/3 of it left. She didn't even eat all of it, but she did ingest a good amount of the tinfoil that was covering it.
In addition to all this, she'd also both pooped and peed on the floor. Because you have to add insult to injury, right? (No, neither of these was because of digestive problems from the cake, or because she couldn't hold it. Trust me, I know the difference.)
I called my parents, crying, and they managed to talk me out of either strangling her or offering her on Craigslist. I shoved the dog outside while I tried to clean up the worst of the mess and she stood out there barking like, "Mom, you forgot to let me in. Hey Mom, the door's closed. ...Mom? Mom? Mom! Mom! I'm not inside with you, Mom! Let me in! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Hey Mom!"
So I've been talking with everyone (especially Shane) about what to do about her separation anxiety. We've noticed for a while that she seems to be very anxious. There are times when Shane and I aren't doing anything when she's just sitting, staring at us, and there's a deep anxiousness in her eyes. So as weird as it is to say, I think my dog might just have a general anxiety disorder.
I kenneled her last night, but I really hate the idea of kenneling her both during the day and at night when Shane is gone. We need to limit her capacity to destroy things, yes, but keeping her in a box for over 16 hours isn't my first choice. When I let her out this morning she ran right to her water dish and drank about half of it, which is why I let her have free roam of the apartment today while I'm at work. (I can't fit the bowl and her bed in the kennel.) When Shane gets home we're going to get a baby gate so that we I can contain her when I need to. At night the gate will be across the bedroom door so that the cat can come and go as he pleases (he's been wonderful, I don't want to punish him!) and across the hallway during the day so that I can put a bowl of water in the bathroom for her. We're also going to get some baby locks for a couple of the cabinets in the kitchen so that she can't open them if she somehow does manage to get loose.
Ultimately, we might have to think about getting a companion dog for her. She was never like this at my parents' house, when she had a friend (my little brother's dog). The Boy is right, Pepper really needs Nutmeg (his dog). Being older, Nutmeg was around first so Pepper is used to her. But poor Meggy has so many health problems that I not only couldn't justify taking her away from the vet who knows her and her history, she can't fly. A rabies shot would kill her, and without it she's not allowed on a plane.
I'm thinking that adopting another small-medium sized dog, another older lady, who's both sweet and as stupid as possible (like Nutmeg--sweet and sooo stupid) might be ok. A puppy would just be "some upstart" in Pepper's mind, and it would make her more anxious. Shane hates the whole idea, he thinks that any new dog would simply make her more anxious, but I think it would be worth a try. I know the animal shelter here does fostering, so perhaps we could foster a dog for a couple of weeks and adopt it if things worked out.
Of course, all of this is something we can't even consider until we get a place of our own. Our apartment is pretty saturated with living things as is, and I doubt our landlord would love it if we brought yet another pet into the mix. So we'll see.
There are anti-anxiety pills for dogs. But I hate the idea of medicating her long-term as much as I hate the idea of kenneling her all day. On the other hand, being anxious all the time must be miserable. So we'll try everything else first and if it doesn't seem to get rid of her anxiety, or lessen it a great deal at least, then we'll talk about putting her on some medication.
As if the dog problems weren't enough, I also hurt my leg. I twisted it pretty badly on Monday night at softball, but I didn't realize just how badly until Wednesday. I started walking to work but got less than a block because my leg hurt so bad. I think I pulled a muscle. So I ended up taking a sick day. I made a ghetto compression bandage for myself out of the cut off tops of three tube socks that had giant holes in the heels (the foot part of the socks will be kept for cleaning) and a sticky wrap that I can't remember the origins of. (The idea behind the bandage being both support for whatever I pulled, and the fact that light compression brings more blood to that area of the body and, hopefully, will heal it faster.) It seems to have worked, because I managed to walk to work yesterday, and take the dog for a short walk in the evening, and I'm almost feeling totally better today. My foot is still a little swollen, but the muscle (or whatever I pulled) is hardly hurting when I move my foot and walk.
Only two more days before Shane gets home. Only two days....
There have, of course, been bright spots this week. Drinks and mini golf with friends (my drink was water--hey, it was a work night!), pizza at a friend's house, things like that. And I made some absolutely amazing slow-cooker BBQ chicken for myself. I can't remember what I did, exactly, because of course we were out of BBQ sauce so I had to make some, which I've never done before. I mixed together several online recipes, and tweaked them somewhat, so I'll never remember exactly what I did. About 1/2 a cup of apple cider vinegar (because that's all we had left), some Worcestershire sauce, a bunch of ketchup, some molasses and some brown sugar, some salt and pepper, a little bit of garlic powder, and a couple dashes of some Asian hot sauce Shane keeps in the fridge. At first it didn't seem right, but I didn't want to waste all that food, so I figured I'd eat it anyway. That ended up being the pizza night, so I put it all in the fridge and took some for lunch the next day. (Being pulled chicken, I made sandwiches.) Something about being in the fridge overnight took it from "edible" to "hey, that's not bad!" territory. I'll keep experimenting with sauces. I would really love to learn to make it without relying on bought ketchup. You know, real BBQ sauce from scratch. Yum!
I also re-tried the barley bread. Only with a lot less barley this time. I only used just over a cup, and the rest was white AP flour. I did toss in some wheat germ, which is apparently quite healthy, to up the nutrition a bit. It still has the barley flavor, however, and it's tasty! Thankfully, this time it actually rose properly.
Paired with the chicken the only thing that was wrong was the amount I made. Only enough for two meals!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Alaska Flour!

I did it. I managed to find some Alaskan grown flour at the AK Feed Co. by the Alaska Flour Co. (Alaska, Alaska, Alaska...sheesh!) 10 lbs and it came in a plastic bag, but I saw on their website that larger bags are in paper instead of plastic. So I asked the checkout guy if bigger bags were available and he said no, but he can make them available. I said, awesome! So sometime soon, I'll be able to have AK grown flour in a paper bag.
Is there a catch? Of course! I didn't realize until I got it home that it's barley flour, not wheat flour. So I shrugged and started making bread as usual (a little over half barley flour, a cup of oats, and the rest unbleached AP flour), thinking that one was just as good as the other. Wrong! It didn't rise very well at all on the first rise, but I figured I'd give it a little more time than normal with the second rise. I did, but it didn't work. I have two very small, rather dense loaves of barley bread which are, nevertheless, amazingly tasty. And I used a little bit of this barley flour in each of the cakes I made on Sunday with no texture difference and no noticeable change in flavor or the rising of the cakes. So I really would like to continue using the barley flour. It has a good amount of fiber and other nutrients, so it's pretty good for you. And like I said, it's quite tasty. But I'll need to work out a way to get the bread to rise properly, or just start using it in other things (like pancakes and waffles) instead of bread. Maybe I could write to the Flour Co. farmers and see if they have any suggestions?
When I went to roller derby on Saturday night, the friend I went with is also looking at a summer spent mostly without her husband. He being a theater geek, he got a job in New York state at a summer camp for rich kids (seriously--apparently it costs over $8000 to send one kid there!) teaching and/or managing the theater stuff. She'll be travelling (to see other friends, him, family in New England, him again, then family in Anchorage at the end of the trip for dipnetting and halibut fishing) but the most they've ever been apart is four days. So we were consoling each other, and trying to look at the upsides. Like me, she's going to do her best to ditch her car for the summer and bike pretty much everywhere so that she can both get in shape and save money by not paying for gas. In addition, we were talking about the food savings. I totally understood her when she said, "I just don't have the same metabolism he does!" And I laughed out loud when she mentioned how much cheese he eats because it's about the same amount of cheese that Shane eats. About a block to a block-and-a-half per week! With each block of cheese being around $8, that's an expensive habit. She and I both prefer more high-nutrient but cheaper foods, like lentils and beans and lots of veggies. In the last three weeks, I've only spent about $75 on food (including the flour). Granted, I've gone out to eat several times. But I still have plenty of things that I'm planning to make this week and I know our food bill is going to drop off a cliff without Shane. I know my friend is looking forward to losing some weight (she's gained about 15 pounds since they started dating, she said, but she's lost ten of it already) and that might end up being a side benefit for me, too. It was just nice to laugh about this, though, with someone who completely understands what I'm talking about.
And hey, I have to look on the bright side for some benefit of Shane being gone. :)
All this being said, it might still be a struggle to keep some of our spending as low (or almost as low) as it's been. I didn't have many options for lunch stuff for Monday when I was looking around on Sunday evening and the thought popped into my head that I could always just go to the cafe across the hall from my office. They have good food (I've been there as a "last resort" type of thing) but the food isn't cheap. Over $6 for a sandwich and a pickle! About $4 for a small bowl of soup. I realize that they need to make money (and they've had a lot of trouble with that the last few years, with more people brown bagging it) but I don't really want to get into the habit of buying expensive food. I really, really didn't want to eat it, but I pulled some leftover red beans and rice from last week out of the freezer. And I ate that, even though I just wasn't feeling it. It's such a first world problem to be concerned more for appetite fatigue than simply to be grateful that I have nutritious food to fill my belly with.
Knowing that I had leftover cake waiting for me at home helped a lot. :P
We do expect that some spending will increase--such as eating at SilverGulch more often as a way to see each other. When Shane is home, it would be nice to go see a movie once in a while. (We've seen, I think, about four movies in the last year, and one of them was paid for by Shane's parents at Christmas--as a family outing, they insisted on paying. Another was only "affordable" because we had gifted movie passes.) The real trick will be for me to stop myself from the mindset that says, "We can afford this now," or, "But it's cheap!" Now is the time when I'll learn if all of my frugal habits have really taken hold or if it was just a passing phase.
I guess I never thought about it before, but having money and not having money are equal tests of a person's character. One shows what a person is willing to do under duress, and the other shows where a person's values truly lie based on how they spend (or don't spend) their wealth. We are wealthy. Not by American standards, but by worldwide standards we are very rich indeed. I don't want to let it go to my head.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Weekend Win

Last week I really, really wanted to post some pictures of how well my plants are doing, particularly the ones at work. But my camera battery died and I haven't charged it up yet. I have several more peas growing, a few beans, and flowers on my regular sized tomatoes. I even have the first three cherry tomatoes starting! My plants at home, which I started much later, aren't nearly as far along of course. But they seem to be doing very well too. I fertilized them all (with organic fertilizer) for the first time and that seems to have helped.
This was such an epic weekend I didn't want it to end. The only reason Monday is bearable is because I have softball tonight. :)
Friday afternoon I got a call from Shane saying, "Beg, borrow, or steal a car, or find a ride out to SilverGulch. I'll be there." Being out in Fox, it's closer and easier for him to get there for an evening than to come all the way back to Fairbanks. The reason for the surprise was because one of his coworkers, the other new hire who mirrors Shane's position, was getting pretty camp crazy. Two days before getting to go home he started saying, "I can't do it. I'm done. I don't want to be here any more." So Shane suggested SilverGulch for dinner as a way to get out of the camp. As they were getting ready to leave one of the other guys saw them and said, "Take me with you!" So I frantically started calling friends, trying to see who would be able to give me a ride out there. Everyone was busy, but J was going to his parents' house, which is not too far away from SilverGulch, so he gave me a ride. I'm an idiot, because the one person I should have called I didn't even think to. Our friend Eric's dad works in Livengood, and he was the third person who came to dinner with Shane. We ended up calling him after we'd been seated and he drove out too (and ended up giving me a ride home later). It was a fantastic evening. Jason, the one who had been going camp crazy, apparently missed "seeing girls worth seeing" so we spent half the evening girl watching. He has a girlfriend in Anchorage, so he wasn't going to do anything but look, but it was funny. I don't think I need to describe how wonderful it was to see Shane again, to hold his hand, to make him throw his head back laughing. I'm sure we'll be doing this again often.
Saturday I got all of the seeds I want to set out right now (including the potatoes) planted and all of the cold hardy plants planted. In less than a week we went from chilly and windy to summer weather. I think it's still getting a little chilly at night for my warm weather plants, so I've still been bringing them inside. But I did leave a window in my bedroom open last night and didn't feel chilly, so perhaps I don't need to be as careful now.
Saturday night was Roller Derby night, and I went with a friend to cheer on some other friends for their last game of the season. It was a double-header, against teams from Yukon and Juneau. Of our two Fairbanks teams, one of them won their game and the other lost. But it was fun to watch. We saw a bunch of other friends in the crowd and said hi. I got home at around ten and, not ready to go to bed yet, I watched a couple episodes of "Mad Men" (just season one), which I got on DVD as a birthday present last year but didn't get around to watching until now. All in all, a great evening.
Sunday started off with biking (to the store) and running (with the dog) and the afternoon was spent at the Pump House with friends for a late lunch/early dinner to watch the eclipse. It's really handy to know a welder. He brought some super dark welding lenses to view the eclipse through. Up here, about 60% of the sun was covered, which you'd never know if you couldn't see it. This is the only time I've ever gotten to actually see an eclipse, and it was spectacular.
When I biked home from that, I immediately set about making cake. Two cakes, actually, since they were each only one layer and I wasn't sure how many people would show up. It was J's birthday on Saturday, and since L and Baby are both out of town I put myself in charge of making sure he had a cake to celebrate. There ended up being only four of us, but we watched "Rango" and ate cake and chatted and a good time was had by all. I once again made that coconut cake, and tried a chocolate orange cake as well. (Instead of frozen orange juice concentrate like it says to use, I just used freshly squeezed juice and zested some of the peel in. Oranges aren't on the 'always buy organic list' because the rind is so thick, but if you're zesting it I would suggest going organic.) The coconut was a bigger hit, I think because the chocolate orange cake is supposed to be vegan so it wasn't as rich. Don't worry, I put real butter in the frosting. :) I sent a little bit of cake home with everyone so I don't have to eat it all.
And now it's Monday. One day closer to Shane coming home, at the very worst.
I'm so ready for a vacation. :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Unexpected Bounty

I almost title this "Unexpected Booty", as in pirate booty, but then all I could think of were sex jokes. Shane's gone and I'm not getting any for two weeks, so please forgive me if I take a turn to dirty-mindedness now and again. Or, you know, most of the time now. (Earlier my boss, referring to putting more paper in the printer, said she needed "to put in a bigger wad" and all I could think was, "That's what he said!" Cue 14-year-old boy laughter.)
So with the family gone, I took a look around my apartment last night to see what destruction they've rained upon us in the form of gifts and unwanted leftovers. My MIL can't ever see us without giving us gifts--which were fairly mild this time. A few things from their trip to Hawaii, and a giant bag of walnuts. I'm excited by the walnuts. I eat those things all. The. Time. Mostly paired with dried fruit after a run, but also thrown into brownies when I make them. (And BOY do I want to make some brownies right now!) It was a full gallon-sized bag of them, so I put them in the freezer to ensure they won't go rancid before I get around to eating them. (I already had a jar of walnuts and a jar of almonds I need to eat first.)
My brother-in-law's dorm was one favored by grad students and upperclassmen, because the rules are relaxed and you don't have to buy a meal plan. So he and his roommate cooked a lot, and bought most of their stuff in bulk from Sam's Club. I made the horrendous mistake of telling him that he could bring over whatever he didn't want to our place, to make his packing up and moving easier. So now I have tons of (mostly crappy) food that I don't know what to do with. I'd never even heard of Peter Pan brand peanut butter, but now I have a giant jar of it. I used it yesterday to fill the dog's Kong toy. And what on earth am I supposed to do with roughly 30 lbs of rice? That's more rice than we eat in a year! It won't go bad, so we'll keep it (obviously) and use it as we can.
We have two giant jugs of (non-organic) olive oil. A (newer) microwave, which we will probably trade out for ours, and take ours to VV. Roughly 12 unopened packets of saltines. Candy bars, which I took to softball to give away. I already gave away a giant box of Bisquick, and an unopened bag of (non-organic) sugar. (I kept the open one.) We have two large boxes of plastic storage tubs, bowls, a mixer, and assorted glassware and such which will probably just go to VV. Toilet paper and paper towels, which I'm keeping. Another CrockPot, which I'm not sure about yet.
And hand soap. Several years ago I bought a large jug of hand soap so that I could simply refill the small container and use a bit less plastic packaging. Well, I figured that an even better choice would be to ditch the plastic altogether and simply use bar soap, which comes in a paper box. (Much easier to recycle, and far less packaging.) Well, at the rate we go through hand soap, the large jug hasn't even been emptied yet. There's still at least one refill left, and the soap dispenser is mostly full. Roughly 3 years of hand soap from one big jug. And now I've been given two more, one unopened and the other mostly full. Do I really want to keep them? Or do I want to get rid of them? That much hand soap would take us into the next decade, probably. We do already have an opened (but unused) bar of soap kicking around our bathroom, which we got for free when someone left it at our place last summer. (Opened only because the dog, in a fit of mischief, tore the box to shreds.) So I will probably get rid of the hand soap.
Mind you, these are just the things I can think of off the top of my head, and the boxes I've already explored. I'm sure there's more hidden around my house. I haven't looked in the spare bedroom yet, so there might be horrors waiting for me there.
In addition to all this, there are the things Shane brought home. Trying to be sweet, he brought home some Vitamin Waters for me, because they give them out for free at the work site. I *used* to love these, which he remembered, but I guess he hasn't noticed that I haven't drunk one in years. Once I figured out that they're just glorified sugar water, I stopped drinking them. So now I have a bunch of Vitamin Water, and I don't know what to do with it.
It's amazing how tastes can change in a fairly short time. For the graduation, Shane and I packed a little bag with some snacks, a Vitamin Water, and our books. He opened the Water and since I was incredibly thirsty I took a sip. And nearly gagged. Granted, it had never been my favorite flavor anyway, but it was one that I would regularly drink. Now it feels like an assault on my tastebuds to drink such artificial flavors. It was disgusting! I realized that since I made the switch to more natural foods, I don't crave overly processed foods, or enjoy them when I do eat them. There are still some things which I would happily eat if they weren't so bad for me (boxed mac & cheese!) but for the most part, I just don't like them anymore.
Scents are the same way, now that I've stopped wearing them. I really can't stand most scented soaps and lotions, not to mention perfumes, and the smells that don't totally repulse me tend to be more natural. Coconut or vanilla. Light scents. There's a *fancy* soap someone brought into the bathroom at work, and I ended up using it yesterday (the other soap dispenser was blocked by someone else using it, so I figured it wouldn't kill me to use the *fancy* soap). It made my hands reek (like "Winter Wreath", according to the packaging) and I hated it. I eventually went back to the bathroom simply to wash my hands with something that wouldn't smell.
I really notice it when someone else is wearing a scent, too. Perfumes used to be highly prized because, in the days when most people didn't bathe regularly, people of course smelled bad. But in an age where most people bathe on a daily or almost-daily basis, there's really no need for perfumes. And yet they're so cheap and ubiquitous now that they're manufactured, so scents are put into everything. And people keep buying them.
I wish I could make them stop. My nose doesn't like it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Santa's trying to ruin my reputation

It was a fun weekend. Very, very busy. But fun. Lots of family time, time enough with was one of those weekends that was so jam-packed that it seemed longer than it was, and at the same time it was far too short. We went out to eat every night, played lots of games (including frisbee golf), and spent hours laughing with each other. It was great.
But you know how I'm always saying there are weird and bizarre people in Alaska? I know that there are strange people everywhere (I grew up near Seattle after all--have you been to Broadway on any average Tuesday?) but there seems to be a special kind of weird in the people up here. Some move up here because of it, some lose inhibitions by living here. However they crop up, Alaska definitely has a higher-per-capita portion of weird. Well, when we were out at a well-known hotel's bar/lounge the other night, chatting away, the group sort of next to us got up to leave. It was another large group of people focused mostly around a couple. I figured it was either a graduation or a wedding and heard one of the older men say, "Enjoy it, young man. It only happens once." As they were passing by our table to get to the door one old man, who looked like Santa Claus, leaned down to Shane and said something in his ear. Shane looked at me with wide, laughing eyes, whispered something back to the guy, and then waited until the group had departed before dissolving into laughter. We were all asking him, "What did he say?" and Shane finally gasped out, "He told me, 'You see that girl across from you? [meaning me] I almost didn't recognize her with her clothes on.'" First of all, WTF? Secondly, WTF!! Santa's trying to destroy my my husband and his family! Who goes around saying stuff like that to and about people they don't know?! Santa Claus is a dirty old bastard, apparently. I asked Shane why he didn't hit him and Shane said, "I can't hit Santa!" Apparently what he'd whispered back to Santa was, "Yeah, I have a hard time recognizing her with clothes on, too." Thanks, dear. He told me that and when he saw that I was about to hit him he reminded me, "Two weeks! You won't get to see me for two weeks, so you can't be mad at me!"
Over the weekend our friend J came over and asked me how I felt about Shane's being gone so much. I'm not really sure how to answer that question, since it's such a mixed bag of emotions, but I shrugged and said, "Well, it's just what we're going to do." Then he said, "Oh. Because I know quite a few marriages that have broken up because of schedules like this." Thanks for the comforting words of wisdom.
With all of this, is it any wonder that I had a dream in which I was trying desperately to reassure Shane that I would never, ever cheat on him?
He's up at work now, but the business continued for me last night with two softball games in the strong winds, rain, and at one point hail. We won our first game 22-2, but lost the second 12-5. Both games were good, and I think I played fairly well. I didn't catch because the team captain had forgotten the face mask. I did have a couple of nice hits, though. I forget at the beginning of every year that "I like the high ones". It forces me to swing up rather than my usual level swing. If the ball's on the ground I don't have the power behind a hit to make it go through the infielders, but if I swing up I can get it just beyond them most of the time.
I've been doing my best to kill my plants. I forgot that summer squashes aren't as cold-hardy as I like to think they are and killed two of them this weekend by leaving them out overnight. (The peas did just fine.) Oh well. I can always start more.
We got the garden tilled, though! It took Shane a lot less time than he thought it would, and after he was done with the tilling I went out and made the freshly turned, workable dirt into lovely rows. Tomorrow, I'm going to plant my carrots and parsnips, since the seeds will be fine. It's (frustratingly) still to early to put anything else out there, except perhaps my peas (which desperately need to be trellised) because we're still getting a bit of frost at night. This spring has been so odd, with the early snowmelt and then weeks of still-cold weather. Usually the snow melts just in time for summer to start. Not this year.
The reason the early snowmelt is so worrisome is really because the snow cover is so necessary for so many things. What about the arctic creatures which rely on thick ice and snow for a while yet? What about the fact that the snow actually helps to reflect some of the sun's warmth back out of our atmosphere? If the trees had greened right after the snowmelt I would have thought that it was pretty much a wash as far as global warming. But to have over a month without snow and without leaves and greenery to pull carbon out of the atmosphere? Not good. There are so many signs of warming happening up here, and it pisses me off that "there are doubts" among people in Washington D.C.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Paper Towels

I was so happy to read this article about how everyone can (and should) get rid of--or at the least, reduce the use of--paper towels. It's really not as hard to break the habit as most people think.
The biggest suggestion in the article, and one that I inadvertently follow, is to keep paper towels out of sight. We sometimes have them on the roll in the kitchen, but when we finally do run out of a roll we don't replace it until we find a "need" for another paper towel. (Yes, I know, they're not really "needs", but there are some uses for which paper towels are just easier. Like draining cooked bacon on.) This means that we'll often go weeks without a visible paper towel roll in the house (we keep the bag of them under the sink, and I haven't had to buy any for about a year now) and it encourages us to first reach for rags, which we keep in a fairly open spot. We keep kitchen rags (formerly "dish towels") all over the kitchen for cleanup. Next time I go to Value Village I'll probably try to find some newer, cleaner looking dish towels but it doesn't really matter if I don't find any. We use the dishwasher for most things, and when we do hand wash dishes I pull out a clean rag from the drawer to place the clean dishes on to air-dry. Once the rag has been used for that, it gets set on the towel rack by the sink to help clean up spills and from there goes into the "dirty rag" pile for washing.
We also have a pile of non-kitchen rags which we keep in an old milk crate (found somewhere for free) that we keep by the door. These are mostly used for pet messes and other household cleaning. What rags do I use here? Pretty much anything. We got our couch for free and when we looked under the cushions we found several old towels and a pillow case. The pillow case has been washed (several times) and gets used to hold bread in the freezer. (Even gallon-sized plastic bags can't hold an entire loaf of bread. The pillow case holds several and keeps them from getting freezer burned, and I cycle the bread through fairly often.) The towels went into the rag bin and are most often used to clean up pet messes.
Socks with holes in them are frequently used to dust--I dampen the sock, put it over my hand, and run my hand over whatever needs dusting. Super easy. One of my brothers mocked me for this thrift saying, "Oh, you Alaskans. You know you can buy things called sponges, right?" I shot back with, "Yes, but these are free Mr. I-Had-To-Take-A-Second-Job." At the time, both of our spouses were out of work. We have similar rents, and my high utilities pretty much make up for his more expensive commute. But he had to take a second job, whereas I didn't. Don't underestimate the power of thrift.
The socks are also useful when the dog's paws are hurting her. After I spread the Bag Balm on her pads I sometimes put an old sock on each foot so that she doesn't wipe or lick off the ointment and so that she doesn't get it on the carpet or the bed. About the time the socks start falling off they've done enough that the ointment has done its work.
Old clothes which have fallen apart, or which have been deliberately destroyed (some VV shirts got turned into a Halloween costume, and the leftover bits couldn't be worn anymore) are also tossed in there to be used as rags for assorted cleaning. I even clean the bathroom using just rags. If you're worried about contamination from these rags getting onto clothes in the wash, like I am, the solution is easy. I do a separate load of laundry that I think of as "gross" laundry. We have enough rags that I don't need to do this often. Maybe 4-5 times a year? But into this load go the pet towels, the kitchen and bathroom rugs, and any household cleaning rags. (The kitchen ones go into clothing loads, so that we're not accidentally spreading what got onto the rags used to clean up pet messes all over the kitchen. I might be paranoid about that, but better safe than sorry.)
Rags like these can also be used in the garage to clean up messes like oil, or to wipe hands on when you've been working on an engine. For those, though, it might be better to pick the oldest, nastiest rags you have so that you don't feel bad about simply throwing them away after using them, rather than trying to wash them.
It really is easy to reduce your dependence on paper towels and other paper products. And don't be afraid to get your kitchen towels dirty! That's what they're for! The last time we had J&L and their baby over, Baby spit up. I handed L one of the kitchen rags and she asked, "Oh, you don't have a paper towel or anything? I don't want to get this dirty." Ummm...that particular rag already had a big hole burned in it from our former roommate. I don't think a little baby spitup is going to hurt it, do you?
We're conditioned from a young age to think that cloth is "special" or "for nice occasions". But cloth is what people always used to use to clean up, and it was far more expensive in the past than it is now. As with so many other things, we've put it on a pedestal and used it as an excuse to justify disposables. People don't want to use cloth napkins, placemats, and tablecloths because they're "too fancy". Who says? And even if they are "fancy", don't you deserve that? Doesn't the dinner you lovingly made deserve to be elevated to a special occasion? Believe me, time with your family is so special, and it deserves to seem that way too. If we celebrate the small things in life, we're much less likely to be discontented with what we have, and less likely to "splurge" on things we don't need.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Keeping busy

With this, the first week of Shane's new job and all of the long, lonely evenings, I did my best to keep busy. My friends helped out a lot, knowing that I'd need something. Monday night we had our final vet visit for the eye problem (at least, for now), and since I didn't have a vehicle Fiona (the vet's daughter and my next-door neighbor) gave us a lift. After the appointment I visited with her family for a bit (her parents are going to Peru for several weeks) and we got to catch up. It was lovely.
I also had my first softball game of the summer that night. Yes, I have a face mask this year! I told the team captain that I wouldn't be playing catcher without a mask and he pulled one out of the bag. Apparently, he didn't want any more hospital trips this summer either. :) It's going to take a lot of getting used to, because as it is I can't see anything down low, like my glove or the ball when I'm trying to catch it. I joked that I'm having to try to catch by echolocation. Good thing there's no stealing in coed softball!
Tuesday the dog and I jogged over to J&L's house to go for a walk with L and the baby, who were leaving on Thursday for Seattle and Oregon. When I saw them, Baby had been super fussy that day and was driving her dad nuts when I showed up. He was trying to strap her into the jogger but she was leaning forward, grunting, refusing to let him actually snap the harness. He finally gave up in exasperation. (I've met stronger-willed babies before, but she's near the top of that list. That kid is stubborn!) Thankfully, when the walk started, she was so charmed by having the dog along that she forgot to be cranky for a while. She was watching the dog and just giggling for about five minutes. It was awesome. She got fussy again by the end of the walk, though. Poor baby. Sounds like she might be teething again or something. :(
Wednesday Fiona came over for dinner. I just made spaghetti, nothing fancy. But it was fun to share a meal with her, and to be able to say "thank you" for having such a great friend.
I thought that with Shane gone so much I'd have lots of free time to fill with reading, "Mad Men" (which Shane finds "boring"), sewing, knitting, crocheting, gardening, and exercise. But no. I'm sure I probably will as the summer goes on and I get into more of a routine, but it was nice to stay busy this week. Also, it's amazing how much of an evening an hour or so on Skype takes up. (Yes, it works!...sort of.) We've been on there pretty much every evening, saying hi. We have to type, but we do have video. I showed him the pets, so he was able to see how they're doing. He said, "What a lazy household!" as I swept the webcam around so he could see our lounging pets.
There are some really, really good parts to Shane's new job and some really, really bad parts. Oh, the bad parts are not about the job itself. That sounds pretty great. He likes the people he works with, and the job itself is pretty much what he'd been hoping for. They've even been talking about training him to advance within the company. Shane's excited about the prospect of having not just a job, but a career. It's hard for me because I don't want to get in the way of that, but I also don't want a two on/one off or even two on/two off schedule forever. What about when we have kids? I imagine that would be rough when they're little. So there are plenty of future unknowns that we'll have to work out at some point.
The good thing is that we're going to be saving a lot of money on household bills. Shane's fed at the work site, and I'll probably be eating cheaper foods (hello, lentils!) while he's gone, since they're easier to make for just one person. Also, electricity. I'll use far less of it than we do together, and I tend to use less than Shane does anyway.
The thing I don't really like is what they're feeding him up there. The water is fine for showering, according to the company, but has concentrations of lead and arsenic which make it undrinkable. So it's all bottled waters, Vitamin Water, and soda. (Alcohol at camp means immediate firing, so he can't even bring up a bottle or two of his beer.) Packaged foods, like granola and energy bars, candy bars, etc, are laid out all the time for people to take at will. (For a snacker like Shane, that can be a horrible thing.) And everything else has meat in it. He was actually happy last night to eat some of the leftover (vegetarian) marinara sauce, which normally he doesn't like, because he was feeling a little bit of meat overload. The coffee they're serving is not, of course, cold-pressed so it's been bothering his stomach a bit.
The amount of trash produced between the two of us is going to go way up, even with my trash amount going way down. *Sigh* Shane can't ride his motorcycle up there (the roads are too awful) so for now it'll be more gasoline. (He's going to find a carpool soon.) I did expect some big changes, and some things that I wouldn't like. But being confronted with the reality of them is totally different. Now I'm putting my mind toward thinking of how else I can change things to make up for these new not-so-good changes. Any ideas?
Shane will be gone too much this summer to be able to play softball, but after he got home last night we went to go watch the second game. I love watching them play, it's always fun and funny. Another of our friends had to quit the team because he got a job in New York state for the summer, so he'll be leaving just before Shane gets home next time. It was nice to chat with him and make plans to hang out this weekend. The guys lost their game (10-11), but it was a great game to watch.
This weekend is going to be such a whirlwind of activity that I might actually enjoy the peace and quiet after Shane leaves on Monday. :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Good to know

I accidentally left a tray of seedlings out last night, in the cold. I wasn't really thinking about what I was doing as I brought my plants inside, and didn't realize that I'd left a whole tray outside. Thankfully, it's the cold-hardy lot. I'd brought in the warm weather plants way earlier, so there was no danger to them. But it's still getting cold enough at night that I didn't want to leave any plants outside for that long yet.
No worries! The first one I saw, one of my squash plants, was looking really wilted but I realized that's because the soil was too dry. I gave it some water (not warm, but not very cold, either, to warm up the roots a little) and it perked up again. The rest of the plants were no worse the wear for their overnight adventure. I still brought them back inside, however, for the day. Hardening off plants is a fairly long process. They need natural light, unfiltered through windows, but the shock of setting them outside too much too quickly can kill them, even in warm weather. I've been setting my trays outside for no more than a few hours at a time.
My warm weather plants (tomatoes, celery, etc.) haven't been outside nearly as much as the cold weather crops. It's not only been chilly, but windy too. Wind can be good for plants, because it makes the roots and stems stronger. But it would mostly be too much for these poor little warm-loving seedlings. So over the weekend I simply opened the door and moved them into the spot that was getting direct, real sunlight. They were totally sheltered from the wind but getting the sunlight they needed. Now that I'm starting to move them outside I'm being careful to keep them in a sunny spot that's still somewhat buffered against the wind. I'll be babying these seedlings long after the cold hardy ones are planted outside--which will be this weekend or early next week, depending on time and tilling. Between family in town and graduation stuff, I might just not have time for it this weekend.
I will possibly try to plant my potatoes tonight, however. I'm going to do a tire tower again, for which project I went "shopping" at the transfer station after taking the dog to the vet last week. (They're in the same direction.) I got two more rimless tires, so it should make a decent-sized stack, probably five tires high. I can't wait to see how many potatoes I get this year!
For the record, once we (finally) get a place of our own and I can set up my garden however I want, I will most likely stop doing the tire tower. At least for food plants. I'll keep the tires and put flowers in them (common around here, and much prettier than you'd expect) and figure out something else to do for potatoes. I am worried about the nasty, toxic chemicals from the tires leaching into the potatoes but at this point I don't grow enough, and we don't eat enough, potatoes to make it the top priority. I'm more concerned about all of the things we're still buying in plastic packaging and how many toxins are leaching into them.
Signs that spring is finally here are everywhere. The birds are out in force, singing and chirping away. They've been driving my cat nuts, sitting there on the fence when he's inside and flying away as soon as I open the door. I woke up to birdsong this morning for what feels like the first time in a long time. Yesterday I saw a hare on my walk to work, half white and half brown, still in the transition from his winter coat to summer.
And the trees are finally starting to bud! Leaves are beginning to pop out all over the place and when I look at the hills there are patches of green starting to appear. I'm guessing that by this time next week it'll be summer here.
Shane managed to call me yesterday. For work, he had to drive all the way back to town to FedEx some water samples to a testing lab, and then drive back. He couldn't see me (FedEx is all the way across town) but once he was back in cell phone reception range he gave me a call. We even got to Skype a little bit last night, with our webcams. (But no mics, I don't have one and Shane was worried about waking up other people around him. The walls are thin, and there are both night and day shift workers so you never know who might be sleeping when.) It was so nice to see him. He looked tired, but he'd worked a 12 hour day and an 11 hour day since getting up there. Whew! Most of his days shouldn't be like that, but they have a limited amount of time in which to train both him and the guy who's in the mirror position. And so far, so good. :) He said the people he's working with "aren't too crazy" (which sounds weird to those out of state, but that actually can be a huge problem up here), the work is about what he was expecting, and the food situation is "awesome". I'm so happy!

Monday, May 7, 2012

"I don't like change!"

We love the above quote from "Family Guy", and use it all the time to describe our pets when they get anxious. And as funny as we find it, it's true. They really, really hate change. Who could blame them? They don't really know what's going on with us most of the time anyway, nor do they know why things suddenly change. I so wish my pets could speak English. At least with children you can explain to them and they'll understand a little bit.
And things are changing rapidly around here. This week is going to be huge. First of all, Shane left this morning for his first few days of work training. I'm excited for him, and hope that he really enjoys this job. (To have him be gone so much and hate his job would be pretty much the worst thing ever.) But he had to be up well before I did this morning, which hasn't happened in...I can't even remember the last time Shane got up before me. The dog watched him packing and started pouting. The cat, confused about why Shane was up first, came to check on me and make sure I was all right. Then he roundly scolded Shane, presumably for changing things on him.
By the time I got out of bed the dog had already peed on the carpet to show her displeasure. I didn't punish her for it. Between her eye problems, her paws aching from our long run yesterday, and Shane leaving, I just felt bad for her. After breakfast I filled her Kong toy with peanut butter, hoping that it would keep her busy for at least a short time.
Just about the time they start getting used to this change, my little brother will be leaving town and my in-laws arriving. Shane will come back, and we'll have a super busy weekend celebrating my brother-in-law's graduation. I know from both of our graduations that it will be total chaos. The pets will hate it, and there's really no way to tell them that it'll be ok. I'm just going to have to snuggle them frequently, and spend some quality time with them when I can.
On the plus side, my in-laws will be arriving. :) Visits with them are always fun. Almost as good, Shane had the brilliant idea to ask them to bring up their rototiller so that we don't have to rent one. We'll till up the garden this weekend and I'll start planting some of the cold-hardy crops (peas, beans, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, broccoli) outside. The leaves are starting to pop out and it's been much warmer at night the past couple of days so I'm confident they'll do well enough from here on out. The tomatoes, strawberries, celery, etc., will stay inside a while longer until it starts getting actually hot outside.
Shane scolded me for buying organic powdered sugar this weekend. He's with me when it comes to most things, but it was "twice as much" to buy the organic stuff rather than the regular powdered sugar. They're both made from cane sugar, rather than GMO sugar beets, so I found myself trying to defend this purchase. On a limited budget, how do I justify buying something so extravagant as this? Because he wasn't wrong about the price. But I reminded him that powdered sugar is something we hardly ever use. The last bag I bought has lasted us for well over a year. If we used it constantly, I might instead have reached for the non-organic. But for this? I think we could spare $4 instead of $2. I didn't go into the social/human rights part about why pesticides are bad--let's face it, even if they turn out not to be terrible for us to ingest (which hypothesis science is rapidly proving wrong) there's still the fact that pesticides are bad for the workers who have to spray them onto the fields, often without proper safety equipment and for wages low enough that getting their later medical conditions treated is a huge burden. It's nice every once in a while to remind myself why buying organic is worth the higher price, even if you're not sure that it's actually better for your health. It's better for someone's health, and it's always better for the environment.
I was buying the powdered sugar to make a pre-birthday cake for my little brother. His birthday is later this month, but he leaves on Thursday so I wanted to celebrate with him. We made pizzas, I made this coconut cake (the only change I made was to add a little bit of sugar, about 1/2 a cup, to make it more like birthday cake and less like coffee cake) and we watched "Arrested Development". It was a great evening.

The Fountain of Youth?

I have always been the sort of person who thinks that people should age gracefully. Everyone can, at the very least, think of celebrities who've failed to do so in the most obvious and, often, horrific (not to mention public) ways possible. Plastic surgery does not make you look better, you just end up looking like a science experiment gone wrong.
On the other hand, there are celebrities who've aged gracefully. Think of Betty White. She has a beautiful smile unmarred by Botox and "lip enhancements" and such ridiculousness. I hope I look that good when I'm her age.
Here's my dirty little secret, though: just because I want to age gracefully doesn't mean that I want to do it right now, or anytime in the near future. Since turning 29 earlier this year, my imminent 30th birthday has loomed before me. Holy crap, I'm almost 30! How could that have happened? I don't feel that old! I haven't done all the things I wanted to do before I turned 30! It's looming so large that I hardly ever think "I'm 29." It's always, "I'm almost 30." I should be enjoying my last year of my 20s, but I can't. It's just too overshadowed by the prospect of turning 30. From there it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to 50 and suddenly I'm wondering where my life has gone so fast?
I'm not nearly the first person to feel this way, and I won't be the last. 30 often represents the leaving-behind of youth. I will no longer be a "young person". Any wild oats I want to sow, any rashness or foolishness should be done with by the time a person turns 30, right? Otherwise you just end up being kind of sad. Like a Peter Pan who ages everywhere except in the mind. Clearly, an obsession with youth is unhealthy.
One of my friends, when we were discussing this briefly said, "Whatever. You can turn whatever age you want to be. Next year? Next year we'll celebrate your 27th birthday again." That just feels like cheating to me. And again, a little sad. I'm not going to lie about my age. Just because I don't want to be my age doesn't mean I won't own up to it.
One thing about getting older that's totally come true is the fact that my young appearance is now working for me. When I was younger, I hated it. I've always looked a few years younger than I am, and my shortness never helped. When I was 18, people still thought I was 14. Exactly what every new "grownup" kid wants, right? When I complained, adults smiled and said, "Oh, just wait until you're my age. You'll love it then."
And I do. I tease Shane about the few gray hairs he has in his sideburns (he claims I gave them to him) knowing full well that there isn't a single gray hair on me. (No, I don't dye my hair, nor do I obsessively check. But I do handle my hair, of course, and Shane wouldn't hesitate to turn the tables and make fun of a gray hair if he found one.) So when I started noticing some fine lines around my eyes over the winter (likely from squinting at the computer screen, against the low winter sunlight, and against snow glare) I sort of freaked out a little bit. Internally. No one, not even Shane, was privy to my little pout over this fact of life. But it was there. I'd look in the mirror in the mornings and sigh.
Unexpected salvation came when I ran out of my locally produced and farmer's market purchased face lotion. I wasn't very keen on the lotion anyway, so I was happy to be done with it. It had almond extract in it, and when my skin was particularly rough it stung. On the drive home after New Year's, Shane used it on his nose where he had a cut and the skin was all rough and dry. We called it "wake up lotion" because it stung him so bad. No need to fear falling asleep at the wheel, just smear on some wake up lotion!
I didn't want to spend $17 on a tiny container of organic face lotion, and even less did I want to spend $10 on toxic chemical lotions. (Yes, even anti-aging lotions. As much as I hate the signs of aging in myself, another part of aging gracefully is trying to accept that some things are inevitable.) Looking around, I found a rather large tub of organic cocoa butter for about $8. So I bought it, not really knowing what I was getting. From the word "butter", you can imagine what I was picturing. And that's not it at all. Cocoa butter is a solid, and the directions on the (plastic) tub said to microwave it every time I wanted to spread it on my face. What a pain in the butt! But trying it out, I was really enjoying it. It does a great job of moisturizing my face without making it oily, and it smells like chocolate. So when the smell lingers, and I put on my minty Burt's Bees lip balm, I end up smelling like mint chocolate. Not a bad way to fall asleep. :)
But the microwaving, and in plastic no less, wasn't fun. So after looking around online about what to mix with it I bought some jojba oil and did a double-boiler style thing to mix the two. I must say, not a wild success. I think I put in too much of the oil and not enough of the butter, so I'll try mixing it again at some point. I also saw online that adding aloe gel can help, so if adding more cocoa butter doesn't help I'll probably try that. For now, I'm using it as-is, even though the oil has separated from the cocoa butter solids and it's formed little beads.
The reason I'm talking about my near-failure is because you know what? The stuff totally works. Those fine lines around my eyes? They make an appearance every now and again but for the most part they've been plumped up by wonderfully moisturized skin. It's a lovely thing. Instead of looking tired, sagging, and lined, my eyes are looking brighter. My eyelashes are even looking a bit longer. I didn't mention my disappointment about the appearance of lines to Shane, but I did exuberantly shout that "they're gone!" and he said, "Girls are so vain." In this case, yes I am. And I'm not afraid to admit it.
Aging is inevitable. I know the day is rapidly approaching when those lines will show up and stick around. One day, I'll realize that they're mostly from smiling and laughing, and that will make me happy because I'll know that I've lived my life joyfully. I'll flip through my memories of all of the good times that caused those lines and add a few more as I smile all over again. But for now, I'm just going to be happy that this has worked. I'm going to try to enjoy the moment, and the last vestiges of my youth, while I can rather than anxiously dreading the aging process.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dog Paws

Contrary to my expectations, I've kept up with the whole running thing. I'm probably the most astounded by this fact. But several things have kept me going: one is that I'm getting better at it and the other is that the dog loves it. LOVES IT. When I get my gear on to instead go for a weekend bike ride, she has the most crushed expression and I feel so guilty for getting her hopes up and then leaving her at home. So we've been running a lot. And really, how could this
not make me want to run?
She's great about taking small cues, such as a gentle touch on the leash to get her to turn one way or another, and she listens really well. She knows now that we don't cross the road until I tell her "cross". (Shane suggested that I get skates or roller blades to have her pull me along and I asked, "Is that your grand plan to kill me off and get rid of me? You want me to add wheels to this craziness?") No run, so far, has been too long for her and she pulls me along a lot of the way. Sometimes she jerks to one side or another as something (which just might be food!) catches her attention and she feels the need to investigate. But in general, the more we've been running the better she's been about just running and enjoying it.
However, the running has caused one serious (to my mind, at least) issue. It's all in her paws. No matter how fast I run, I can't keep up with her. She likes to pull me along, and when cars go by she picks up her speed as if she's thinking, "I'm gonna get it! I can go faster, and then I'm gonna get that truck!"
Which is why I feel just awful when we get home and I check her paws only to discover that her pads are bleeding. After every run, at least one of her pads has been bleeding. Sometimes she has pads on each foot that are bleeding. During the runs she never slows down, never whimpers, never lets me know in any way that she's injured. I think she's having so much fun that even she doesn't notice until we're home. I wait a day or two between runs, and mix up shorter runs with longer runs, but so far none of it has done any good. We thought that the problem would go away as she gets her "summer paws", as Shane calls it, when they get all callused with fabulous exercise. But it hasn't. Last week she was hurt so badly that she was limping the next day. Seeing her joyous "You're home!" face as she hobble-ran to me on three legs when I got home from work almost made me cry.
What to do, what to do? I wondered, should I give up the running? Is exercise that injures her doing any good? But then I'd pull out the leash and see her dancing, jumping around, wagging her tail, and making little whimpery excitement noises. And I'd go back to the realization that she truly loves running. Now that we've started, can I take this away from her? Is that fair? Which is the lesser of two evils, not running or being injured by the running?
I have an acquaintance through music stuff (FLOT, the Fairbanks Symphony) who works at the animal shelter and whose fiance is a vet. So I asked her if she had any suggestions and she told me that Bag Balm is what a lot of the dog mushers use. Shane and I agreed that that's probably the best endorsement we could think of. What harsher conditions do dogs and their paws go through than mushing? If it's good enough for the Iditarod, it's good enough for us. I went and bought some the next day.
I'm not fond of the petroleum in it. ("Petrolatum".) I'm smearing oil by-product on my dog's paws. But if it works, I don't care. I don't need to put much on her at a time. Just a little smear on each pad which I rub in for maximum effect. I was told to do it after our runs, but she's too hyped up at that point and doesn't want me messing with her tender feet, so I think I'll do it right before bed. That way she's also sleeping rather than wandering around the apartment rubbing it off her feet and into the carpet. So far, it's doing a nice job. Her paws are looking more supple and less cracked, the way they should be. When we went running two nights ago, there was no bleeding when we got home. And there was much rejoicing.
And then a new/old problem cropped up. I had to take her to the vet last night. We think she has an allergy to something but we don't know what. It always gets worse at this time of year, but it will act up during the winter too so I have my doubts about it being a plant allergy. Any tests the vet could do to help figure it out would be very expensive, would require sending samples out of state (hence the expense) and might not be very conclusive. So we're just treating it when it crops up. It starts as a skin problem, usually around her right eye. She loses the hair there and gets scabs around the eye in the hairless area. (She sometimes gets this on her belly and in her armpits, too, but mostly around her right eye.) We've been treating it with Neosporin and sometimes tea tree oil, which both seem to help but never quite make it go away. We've talked about getting some Benadryl cream to see if that helps, but keep forgetting.
A few days ago it got much, much worse. Her eye swelled up so much that she could hardly open it and we knew it was time to go see the vet. Our very, very dear friend Fiona had promised to arrange some free veterinary care as a wedding present, whenever we needed it (she being the daughter of our vet) so I called in that favor. (And I'm totally going to have her over for dinner sometime next week, I hope, to say thank you.)
First thing, our vet put some drops in her eye, then another kind of drops, and her tears turned green. He pulled out a blacklight and my heart felt like it skipped a beat when I could see a greenish glow in the depths of her eye. The infection has spread into her eye and she has a corneal ulcer, which is thankfully treatable. (When I saw the glow, I immediately thought that we'd waited too long to take her in and that there was permanent damage.) We now have a glue-like substance which we have to put directly into her eye 3-4 times per day this weekend. Or rather, I have to put it in her eye 3-4 times each day because I showed Shane what to do and he said, "I can't do that to her! That looks miserable!" Because she's not miserable with her corneal ulcer and skin infection?
For the skin, she's got two different kinds of pills. :( As if all of this wasn't bad enough, he gave her a shot, too, to stop her itching. (She's been rubbing her face on everything.) We have another appointment on Monday to make sure the ulcer is really cured.
Our dogs do so much for us, I feel bad that I can't keep mine totally healthy all the time as a small repayment for all the joy she brings to my life. I was also reminded tonight (as if I needed any more reminding!) how short the life of a dog is. When we were waiting for our appointment, there was another woman in the waiting room. When we came in she was sitting on the floor with her dog, crying. He had a something next to his eye (big red, bloody-looking bump? how else to describe it?) so I assumed that there'd been a household accident. I asked her what happened and she said, "He's just really old." I looked at him again and I realized he was far skinnier than he should be. He tried to stand and it was obvious that he was having serious trouble doing that. He was a lab/shepherd mix who had reached the grand old age of 15. When he laid back down with his owner, his back legs started to spasm. It didn't seem to bother him. He rested his chin on her thigh and looked at me with eyes that only dogs have, eyes full of more love than any one creature should be capable of holding.
Seeing his owner cry, I cried a little bit too. I can't even claim that it was because I was thinking about my own past dog loves. I miss them, but the pain of their passing is gone. No, I simply know what it's like to take your dog to the vet and know that you won't be leaving with them. I was heartbroken for her.
I never learned the name of the owner, but her dog was named Roly, which was an alternate name I almost gave to my dog. Turns out, it was for the same reason. Roly was named after the fat dalmatian puppy in "101 Dalmatians", both because he was fat and because whenever he saw a human his first reaction was to flip onto his back for tummy rubs. It sounded so much like my girl as a puppy that we laughed a little bit, and then cried some more.
RIP, Roly.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A peck of pickled peppers

When he was in middle school, my little brother took a cooking class. Until then, as far as I remember, he'd merely enjoyed the products produced from cooking without actually knowing how to make things. He was the youngest of four, after all, and had never really needed to know how to cook. It was always taken care of for him. After the class, of course, he started baking sweet things like cakes a fair amount. But the one actual meal recipe he enjoyed the most, and made as often as our mom would let him, was Pasta Primavera. It's a very simple recipe involving some sausage, sliced peppers, sliced onions, garlic, spaghetti noodles, basil, oregano, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. Seriously, that's it. (I don't even do amounts--for the herbs I just shake them over the cooking sausage and veggies until it looks right, and the parmesan goes on "to taste".) So it's super easy (and frugal) and I started making it myself on occasion when I moved up here.
Well. In the Easter box she sent to us, along with the candy, my mom also packed a jar of pickled peppers. (Packed in oil, with garlic.) I've never before eaten pickled peppers and since I'm fairly new to enjoying peppers at all, I was a little wary. But I figured that Pasta Primavera was as good an application for them as any. Turns out, it was better than that. This was the perfect use for those peppers. I can't remember what kind of sausage I bought (chicken sausage with gruyere? something like that) but it all blended so perfectly. The peppers added just a bit of heat, the oil from them coated the noodles well so the cheese stuck to it. Mmmmm!
Shane had told me that he wasn't very hungry, but I was on the phone with a friend so I figured I might as well start dinner. When it was close to done Shane followed his nose into the kitchen and whispered, "It smells so good. Can you bring me a plate when it's ready?" I did. And then he came back for more, which he doesn't usually do right away. (He's more of a grazer--he eats lots of food in small amounts.) As he was getting the second helping he said, "I don't know what you did with this tonight, but it's amazing. I wasn't even hungry until I started smelling it. Whatever you did, keep doing it." Looks like I'll have to find some of those pickled peppers here. Or even learn to make my own.
The snow from the other day didn't stick, and the clouds blew away, but the weather hasn't really warmed up any. It's still chilly, and there's a strong wind blowing from the West. Brr! I turned the heat back on, just until it warms up again.
My poor plants are straining toward the outdoors, but it's just too cold to put them out right now, even for short periods. I'm hoping the cold-ish snap lifts soon so that I can continue hardening off my veggies, at least the hardy ones. The peas are getting so tall and they'll need to be planted outdoors sometime in the next couple of weeks.
The trees are starting to have green on their tips, which makes me hopeful and reminds me that this chilliness won't last forever. Greenup is coming!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jobbed relief

Shane has a job! Well, an offer at any rate. I'm home sick today (just general crumminess and ickiness) so I was here to see him off to the theater. He called about five minutes later to say, "Umm, guess who just called me?" They're going to email the offer to him and he'll go in tomorrow to sign things and finalize things, like when he'll start.
I'm so proud of him! Over the last nine months or so he's had times when he's felt really, really down about himself for not having a full-time job. He felt useless, and he felt like a bad husband. Not that he thinks he needs to be The Provider, in the old-fashioned sense, but he wants to know that he's at least contributing. What made it harder is that so many of the jobs around here in his field (biology) are things where he'd be out in the field for months at a time, so he didn't apply to those. It would have been different if we were still just dating--we've spent summers apart before--but now he wanted to stay a little closer to home. That restricted his job choices, and what was left often called for more experience than he has.
And then this job came along. What is it? Well, he'll be working for a mining company. I know, I know! On the surface, it sounds like something I'd totally be against. But my wonderful husband will be doing the environmental impact assessment stuff. There's a strip of gold up there (in Livengood--pronounced with a long I sound, not like "livin'-good" as my brother likes to call it--about 85 miles north of here) that no one's started mining yet. They're still determining if it's worth it, apparently, but with the price of gold what it is it's almost certain that they will start mining it. So Shane will be determining what they'll have to do during and after the mining process to put it back the way it should be.
We've known for weeks now that this job was a definite possibility. He got called in for an interview about four weeks ago, and they actually asked him, "Do you have any experience with small vehicles, such as snow machines and ATVs?" He said it was a little hard not to laugh when he answered, "I've been comfortable on a snow machine since I was three." Apparently, they've been having trouble finding someone with the right environmental background who also knows how to drive an ATV. Since the mining area is in the wilderness, that's sort of crucial. And it also shows me that the job will be active, which is the kind of thing Shane really needs. He'd be worse than I am about having a desk job.
When I told my brother about that interview question he said, "Man, I wish I'd have a job interview where they asked me something like that. Awesome."
So we waited. They asked for more information from him, then for permission to do a background check. It was so hard not to mention that he was likely going to get a job, and even harder not to be privately excited by the possibility. Not getting your hopes up is a very hard thing to do.

*I originally wrote this post pretty much right after getting off the phone with Shane, then decided that I should perhaps wait until after he'd actually signed the papers to crow about this on the tubes. Now the papers are signed, and he starts May 7th. The job is two weeks on/one week off, so I'll be by myself for about 2/3rds of the year. Gulp. In the interview, he was told that it was two weeks on/two off, which was going to be hard enough. Am I disappointed by this? Oh, yes. Of course I am! Obviously, I love him and I love being around him. But this won't be the worst thing ever. I told him that I'm trying to concentrate on the upsides--like the fact that I can cook all those things he hates while he's gone and not have to hear him whining. (In reality, I'll probably start eating a lot more sandwiches because I hate cooking for just myself.) Our household bills will go down, probably significantly since we won't have his computer on most of the time and we can switch to cheaper internet. Also, we'll appreciate the time we have together more. In fact, that part has already started. Yesterday afternoon, before the siblings came over, we were both lying on the bed reading together, with the dog snuggled up with us. It was lovely. Shane fell asleep and I laid there between the two of them, listening to the dog snore and knowing that it wouldn't be like this forever. I'll have very little time with Shane while he's doing this job, and the realistic part of me knows that the dog has a very short time with us. So I was trying to hold onto that moment and make it count.
We know couples who've done work like this for years and said that they actually enjoyed it. But one of our goals is to save up enough money so that Shane doesn't have to work like this for very long. I want him home, and we want to start a family at some point. Shane said, "When we have kids, I want to actually know them and have them know me."
Perhaps the worst part is that they don't even have Skype. There's internet, but it's slow. There's no cell phone service, but there are land line phones Shane can use. I keep trying to remind myself that people in past generations have had it much, much worse. At least we can communicate. We'll manage. And it won't be forever. Shane will get experience which he can transfer to other, better jobs later on. And by better, I mean closer to home.
I've slept horribly the past couple of nights, with my mind whirling about what this will mean. For one thing, we actually get to start planning our future rather than just continuing our holding pattern and waiting for something to happen. We're trying to decide what we want, and what we want to do with all the money we'll suddenly have. (I won't say what he's making, but at least compared to what we've been making/living on it was enough to make me say, "Holy shit!" when I realized what our combined incomes would amount to.) One thing is clear: I don't want to stop living frugally. AT THE VERY LEAST, living frugally will mean that he has to work at a job that takes him away from me for as short a time as possible. So most of our money will still be saved or put toward our long-term goals.
We're having to suddenly make decisions we didn't think about before. Do we want Shane to have double coverage with healthcare, or do we want one of us to get a little pay bump? So many things to work out, including time off. The time we'd already planned to go away (Hawaii in June, Maine for Christmas) are times when he's scheduled to work. (They're going to work with him so he'll likely get the time off.) The one time he has two weeks off in a row is so typically Alaskan that it made me actually laugh out loud: he's got two weeks for hunting season.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


A couple of weeks ago I realized that we have smoked salmon in the freezer. I know, I know, it seems like a bizarre thing to not even realize that you have. But there you go. In the piles and piles of salmon we have, I'd forgotten that some of it is smoked. So after I found it, then came the conundrum of what to actually do with it? Fancy dinner parties where we can set out smoked salmon appetizers aren't usually our thing. But a dinner party did sound nice.
J&L(&Baby) came over last night and we made sushi together. We provided the food (and sake) and they provided the bamboo sushi rolling mat. And we made a lot of sushi. I didn't realize how easy it is to just keep picking it up and eating it, never realizing just how much you've eaten until you're so full your stomach kind of hurts.
My little brother also came over and confessed that he'd never actually had sushi before. I asked him at the end of the evening, and he said that he didn't like it so I told him that it's an acquired taste sometimes.
No, we didn't go totally authentic in our choice of ingredients. We used smoked salmon, (cooked) shrimp, cucumber, avocado, and cream cheese. To be perfectly frank, I'm not a huge fan of sushi, or really Japanese food in general. (When I want Asian food, I prefer Thai, Vietnamese, and authentic Chinese.) I was privileged once to have a Japanese friend make food for me and my family. She was an exchange student and over the Christmas break she came to Seattle and stayed with us. I still feel bad over this incident because as I was helping her to prepare the food, a migraine came on complete with auras, tunnel vision, and nausea. I didn't want to ruin the evening (after all, this was her big thank-you to my family for letting her stay with us and all of that!) so I tried to hide it but everyone knew anyway that I wasn't feeling well. Instead of retreating and taking a nap, the way I should have (that usually makes my migraines go away) I stuck it out and put a damper on the whole evening. The worst part of it all is that the sight and smell of the raw fish was making me super, SUPER nauseous and I couldn't force myself to choke down very much. How totally rude it must have seemed! It was honestly very tasty, and under normal circumstances I probably would have cleaned my plate. (Naoko, if you ever read this--please know how sorry I am!)
So my history with Japanese food isn't the greatest, and every time I eat it I remember that migraine and just how sick I felt. But our mock-up worked well. Even J, who hates salmon and most other seafood (he worked in a fish processing plant for a while down in Valdez) ate several pieces. I'm also getting more used to the taste of seaweed, which put me off for a while.
After dinner, we went over to J&L's for cake. L had made an absolutely delicious chocolate strawberry cake with chocolate-cream cheese frosting. Yum! As I said, I was so full that my stomach hurt. But I still managed to find a little room for a small piece of cake. (And then felt horrendously gluttonous.)
Slowly, slowly we actually are making our way through the freezers. I pulled out what I thought was the last of our rhubarb on Saturday and made a ginger/rhubarb crisp, only to look in the chest freezer later and find more rhubarb. Doh! So now I need to come up with another delicious way to use it. Strawberry-blueberry-rhubarb crisp? Rhubarb coffee cake? Rhubarb crumble? L loaned me a bunch of cooking magazines (which her neighbor had given to her) so I'll probably look through those for inspiration.
The biggest problem is that we still have so. Much. Fish. I never thought I'd be as sick of a specific food as I am sick of fish. In those magazines, I turned down the corner of every fish recipe in them. Thankfully, there are a lot. And all of the ones for white fishes (tilapia, cod, etc.) can be switched out for halibut. I keep trying to tell myself that all of this fish is super good for us, but it's not really helping when I have to force myself to eat a little more.
Tonight we're doing burgers with my brother, brother-in-law, and his girlfriend. Two dinner parties in a row? Are we celebrating? Yes, yes we are. Several things, in fact, but most of those will have to wait for another day to talk about. The ones that are important tonight are my brother-in-law's upcoming graduation, and his girlfriend's return to the States after being and teaching in Thailand since January. We invited them over for sushi last night and poor Megan confessed that she was super sick of rice. I guess I should have thought of that. :) So wholly American food in the form of burgers tonight. I made the buns when I was home sick yesterday (sounds so appealing when put that way, right?) and I tried a new recipe so if it works out I'll let you know what I did. They certainly rose in the correct shape....
Today is a perfect example of why I never, ever plant outside until after the trees have greened up. (And usually then I try to wait at least a week. Unless my enthusiasm gets the better of me, which it often does.) Today, it snowed a bit. This is not actually unusual, or even particularly late. (A few years ago it snowed in June.) But I keep looking outside and thinking about how glad I am that all of my little plants are safe and warm inside. Although, perhaps not as warm as one would hope. I turned off the heat for the summer already. Whoops!