Monday, January 28, 2013

Cold, cold weekend

All of the talk around here for a few days has been about the cold snap we're having, and the subsequent issues it's causing. Until now this has been a freakishly warm January. When people start to complain I remind them that this is January in Fairbanks, this is normal. Friday morning I walked to work in temps around -27 and it was just dropping from there. By the time I was going home it was more like -35 and still dropping. I think I frostbit my left ear a little bit because of my earrings. Usually I keep my hat low enough and my scarf high enough that it's never been a problem, but my poor ear was red and swollen when I got home. I didn't even feel it. If your ear gets that painfully cold you'd think you'd notice somehow. This morning, I remembered and put my earrings in my pocket before leaving for work.
Places hit -50 and colder over the weekend, or very close to it. The ice fog is incredible, and even places which are usually above the temperature inversion have ice fog and seriously cold temperatures. Worse, at those temperatures cars won't start, or have a lot of trouble doing so, and even if you do get it to start there are other problems. Locks ice up and you can't get doors open. Little parts become brittle and break easily. Tires, from resting on the ground, get flat on the bottom and it takes several bumpy miles before they round out again.
So as you can imagine, it was a rather quiet weekend. I got most of the reading done for my class and even managed to get the vacuuming done on Saturday. (A girl can only take so much and our carpets were gross so I'm glad I did that. When I think of how much I had to throw away and clean off the filter at the end I still make a yucky face.) I read a book for fun and we even spent lots of time playing board games with a few friends on two different nights. Many of our friends just stayed home all weekend in deference to the cold.
We didn't. Stay home, that is. Did I mention that Shane is taking five classes this semester? Four of them are difficult, including physics and calculus. Blech. I do not envy him. He found most of the textbooks online, and the physics book is being held at the main campus library for limited checkout times. We bundled ourselves and the dog up one afternoon and trekked up to the library so that he could scan and then email the necessary pages to himself. I put on so many layers that I stayed remarkably warm. (Thick longjohns, my flannel lined Carhartts, two pairs of thick and tall socks, including my sweater socks, boots, wool shirt, fleece jacket, down coat, hat, scarf long enough to wrap around my head twice, a pair of gloves, and a pair of mittens. Whew!) Even the dog got a double layer of coats put on her. I crocheted a pretty crappy jacket for her a while ago, and then because it was crappy I went ahead and bought one for her. However, the one I bought doesn't have any protection for her belly, which the one I made does. So she wore two coats and four booties and at the library we had a few minutes to warm up in the arctic entry while Shane was inside. (We checked her over when we got home and she was still warm, even her belly.) My favorite moment of the whole adventure was seeing my dog run into the glass, thinking that she could get into the library. She's a sweetheart, but she's not the brightest. She was anxious that Shane was where she couldn't see him so for the most part we walked around outside and waited for him, going back into the arctic entry to stay warm every few minutes.
On Saturday night, Shane made another batch of beer. A friend we haven't seen in a long time came over to play games and hang out so we were all in the cozy, warm kitchen area. Starting a new batch of beer requires a lot of cooking so the stove kept the room very toasty. In fact, it was so toasty that we could fully see just how bad the back door to our place is. There was steam being created inside the house from an air leak around the back door. We've known for a long time that that door is terrible (our landlord really got swindled, since it's supposed to be a great door, made by an Alaskan company, but it's been nothing but trouble) but I don't think we'd ever before seen just how bad it really is. Tired of the visible reminder of just how much heat we're throwing out into the cold I finally decided that it was time to tack some curtains over the door. I wanted, earlier in the winter, to get a dowel and some sort of cheap holding system so that we wouldn't have to put a bunch of holes in the walls but I never got around to it. Instead, we used some small nails and tacked two curtains over the doorway. It's not much, but I can tell that it is having some effect in blocking out the cold. Unfortunately, it's also just blocking out the light. Oh well. I'll probably end up taking them down again after the cold snap ends, and perhaps next time I'm at Fred's I'll remember to get the things I want to hold up the curtains. It doesn't have to be anything big, I'll probably just get a long dowel and some sticky hooks.
The worst thing about the cold, for me, is that it's so dry right now. And, of course, we decided to turn off our humidifier. Why? Because it's moldy. I don't know how it happened, but there's mold living in the bottom of our humidifier and we're guessing it's probably not good to toss that in the air and breathe it in. We're trying to figure out if it would be worth cleaning it out (it's from the 70s and we probably couldn't find the new filters and such that it would need) or just buying a new one. Probably, we will grab the Sears gift card someone gave us a while ago and just buy a new one, which will certainly be smaller and almost certainly more efficient anyway. (This thing is BEASTLY--but we got it for free from my in-laws so I'm not really complaining.) Without a humidifier for now, we're left with drier and drier skin. I'm starting to feel like a raisin. Every time I wash my hands I have to coat them with lotion. Every shower takes twice as long not because I'm spending any more time under the water, but because my skin needs a protective layer of lotion put on afterwards. Even my eyes feel drier. We're all noticeably more thirsty, even the pets, and the poor animals are itchy with their dry skin.
Today, even my office, on a hill, isn't immune from the cold and ice fog. Usually I can look forward to breathing slightly better air up here but not today. The thermometer, usually a bit warmer because it's right next to a window, is reading -30. The official temperature as of writing, with the sun up, is -47. Brr! Stay warm, Fairbanksters!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"You just gave my feels cancer."

It's amazing how exhausted a long weekend can make me. An extra day off means another day to relax, right? Wrong! It means time to get stuff done! Shane and I are also staring down the barrel of the coming semester, which is going to be busy and packed and stressful and fun. Shane is returning to being a full time student for the semester (since he'll have to put off going back to work by a couple of weeks, he did get the blessing of his boss to do this so his summer employment is still fine) and I'm actually taking a class as well. A graduate class no less. My "welcome to grad courses" was an email from the professor saying, "I know we don't have a scheduled class on Monday because of the holiday, but we're having class anyway. See you there!" Then I got to class and found out that the one paper we're going to write this semester needs to be of publishable quality and my only thought was, oh f*ck. I might be in a little over my head. At least, it feels that way right now.
I'm also in the Fairbanks Symphony again this semester, and I'll be doing FLOT's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" in February and March. Shane was talking about how busy he'll be this semester (his classes are undergraduate courses, but difficult ones like physics) and then I mentioned how busy I'll be for the next couple of months. He looked so sad when he said, "I'm not going to have a wife this semester."
So we took lots of time over the weekend to Get Shit Done. We've been meaning to clean out our closet for months now, since it was spilling out onto the floor next to the bed. Three hours on Saturday (watching one of the LOTR movies at the same time) we got the closet cleaned out and I repaired (by hand) a few items. I got piles of laundry done (our bedding needed to all be washed as well), we cleaned the kitchen a bit (not that you'd be able to see it anymore) and generally went around tidying and straightening. The one thing which didn't get done was the vacuuming, since our old filter was just disgusting at this point and I'd thrown it out. Unfortunately, we didn't have a replacement. So when we went grocery shopping yesterday (we got about two weeks worth of food) we bought a couple of replacement filters too so that I can get that done at some point. When I have time? Ha!
The weekend wasn't all hard work. Friday night we had a couple of friends over to play games, since we'd all gotten new ones for Christmas. I love playing board games and this was particularly fun.
Saturday night a friend was having a bonfire at his cabin. That group of people can get quite rowdy and out of control so we went with the caveat that we would leave if things got too nutty, but they never did. Another friend of ours was also back from his basic training for the military and he showed up. It was lovely to see him again.
Sunday night was the most relaxing part of the entire weekend. We went to dinner at our friends' apartment and then we all went out to Chena Hot Springs. How can a group of people, all late twenties or at most thirty, have so many aches and pains? Most of us had a neck or back complaint, and the hot water soothed it. You wouldn't think it, but going to a hot spring when it's around -20 and windy is one of the best things ever. I don't understand why all the tourists love doing it in the summertime. You overheat so quickly! As it was, because of the breeze I kept having to dip my head to warm up my ears again, or my nose, but if any of us were in danger of overheating we'd just pop out for a second or two. We spent probably two hours at the springs, relaxing and chatting. It takes a lot out of you so we were quiet on the way home, listening to the audio book of "Let's Pretend This Never Happened". I fell asleep.
Monday should have been relaxing but was, unfortunately, dedicated to getting the rest of the things done which we needed to do so that the rest of this week will run smoothly. I set up a CrockPot meal for tonight (I will have a grand total of half an hour at home to eat dinner before I rush off to rehearsal, and Shane might not even be home depending on homework stuffs) and made lunches and discussed our schedules for the week. We even had a few minutes to lie down together and watch something (the British game show "QI") before we needed to go to sleep. As I was turning off lights and doing a final glance around the living room to make sure I hadn't missed anything, one thing caught my eye. In all of our cleaning and organizing, one major thing didn't get done.
We didn't put away our Christmas tree.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Inclement weather, brotherly love

Yesterday we got some freezing rain. Not as bad as the ice storm before Thanksgiving two years ago, but bad enough. I'm pretty sure that I heard a car accident as I was trying to go to sleep last night. (Either that or someone had something in the back of their truck which jumped around making a lot of noise as they skidded.) Even crazier, for the second time this school year the Borough closed the public schools. !!! Unfortunately, the U is still open so it was up and out the door for me. As the person who isn't dependent on a vehicle, and thus icy roads, I need to go to work, otherwise it will be a Big Deal and we'd have to close the office for the day. Since classes start in two days, that would be bad.
Honestly, I shouldn't complain. I'm tired, yes (still not quite recovered from our trip, I think), but I have a three day weekend coming up. It's even lengthened by at least an hour so far because I stayed late yesterday so that my coworker could go home early. She beat rush hour (such as it is here) but it sounds like the roads were already terrible by the time she made it out the door.
My supervisor is out sick, so it might just be me for today, with another 9 hour day.
Because of the crazy weather, because I was home late and needed to get dinner ready and all sorts of other excuses, I didn't call home like I meant to last night. Instead, home called me. The Boy was letting me know that he won't, in fact, be coming back to school this semester. He's had depression for several years and said that he'd been fighting it all last semester. I'd kind of seen that toward the end (kind of, because while I noticed it, I was really hoping that wasn't the problem) and was going to make sure he spoke to one of the counselors on campus this semester. (I don't know if this is common at most colleges, but because depression is so common around here, especially in the winter, there are free counseling services at the U.) Instead, the Boy decided that he'd be better of staying home and speaking with his old counselor, who he already trusts to open up to. I'm just proud that, this time around, he's self-aware enough to seek out the help he needs. This wasn't always the case and it shows that, no matter what, he's doing better than he was several years ago. I hope he knows what progress he's made and is proud of himself. He has a plan and he's working on getting better. And at home, he'll have more support and services than he does here.
I'm also pleased that he finally, finally, opened up to me. He can be so hard to get to know sometimes. He'll talk about surface things, about sports and the statistics he's working on. (For fun, he does sports statistics. In fact, there have been times when he's found problems with ESPN's statistics.) But he doesn't talk about what he goes through, he doesn't talk about things he wants. I know that part of that is being a guy, but it's so much more too. It's just him. But when we talked last night he explained that while I was pushing him to get a job this past semester, he'd start to apply for a job and then part of his brain would say, "Why are you doing that? You're not good enough for that, you don't deserve that. You won't get it anyway so why try? There are better people than you who will get that job." Yep, those are his exact words, and I'm tearing up just writing them. I wish I could make it all better. He's my baby brother. I remember when my mom told us she was pregnant, and the day he was born. I remember deciding not to run away from home because, after all, he was kinda cute, even if he was stealing all the attention I was used to getting. I want to protect him, but I can't keep him safe from what's in his head. What I could do, and did, was assure him that we love him and will miss him. Tell him that he absolutely should not apologize to us (he tried to, for giving us such late notice that he won't be coming back here--he didn't want to "ruin" the holidays by telling us before now), and to give him all the words of love and comfort I could over the phone. It's not a great substitute for being able to actually give him a hug, like I want to, but it'll do for now.

Friday, January 11, 2013

"If good fences make good neighbors, should I assume you hate those people?"

I do this to myself every year. January comes around and I immediately start reading up on gardening. I have four more months before I can even start seeds (for the most part) so this is torture. I can only assume I'm some sort of masochist.
So here it is, January, snowing quite a bit today, and I'm reading a gardening book. When I need a break from that, I look at garden ideas on Pinterest. What is wrong with me? In the autumn I completely ignored everything garden related. Perhaps it was a natural defense, to not drive myself crazy when looking at about seven months of not gardening. But now, I feel a little bit obsessed. My brain is saying, GARDEN!
In some ways, I suppose, this is a good thing. After all, having a productive garden (or, er, a somewhat productive garden which gets neglected for half the summer like mine) requires lots of planning. I don't want to plant the same things in the same places year after year because that depletes the soil, so I need a bit of an idea about where to plant what (even if I never, ever, actually follow my garden plan). I'm always looking for cheap ways to make my garden more productive, or to build up the soil (which makes the garden more productive....), and good ideas for things to plant. This year, I don't think I'm going to buy, many seeds. I still have tons leftover from last year, some of which I didn't even get a chance to plant.
Building up the soil is something else which takes lots of time. I admit that I've become very, very neglectful of my compost. I don't add enough "brown" material, and I haven't even been putting in kitchen scraps. The bucket under the sink has had stuff in it for long enough that it's pretty much composted already. Well, it's too wet for that. Decomposed sludge? Yum. But, it's still very useful. One of my goals for the weekend is to remove the soil from one of my containers, fill the bottom half with compost, then spread the broken-up soil back over it. By the time I'm ready to plant in the spring the compost should be nicely broken down and both keeping the soil warm (to protect against cold spring temps) and adding nutrients to it for next year's crops. If I keep doing one bucket each weekend, all of them will be done by the end of February and then they'll have time to compost a bit for spring planting.
I have a few other outlets for my (sort of) green thumb. After two weeks of neglect, my plants at home and work need a little bit of TLC. My cyclamen (at home) died, which surprised me, and the violet (at work) which I expected to die looks perkier and better than when I left. ??? The rest of the plants just need some care to revive. I added some plant food to the water today for the work plants (I usually don't fertilize over the winter because they don't do much growing due to the lack of light), and I'll do the same for my plants at home this weekend.
Just before the break I spoke with another gardener at work (she's the one who grows the amazing plants on the fifth and sixth floors of the main campus library) about what could be wrong with my begonia. The tips of the leaves have been drying out and then they fall off. It's been getting plenty of water, but not too much, so it's been baffling me. It's also still a small plant (about a foot high, with 6 leaves) so I was worried I was going to kill it. Turns out, it's probably got fluoride poisoning. While Fairbanks doesn't put fluoride into the water, the University still does. So I've been slowly poisoning it each week when I water it. To fix the problem I'm first trying to see if just changing the water will help, but if the two newest leaves still get the blight (or whatever it is) then I'll have to replant it in completely new soil and then avoid ever watering it with University water.
My one cherry tomato plant I have left at work is still producing tomatoes (I got five today!) and looks healthy and vibrant. By the end of January we should be getting enough light that I'll feel comfortable starting new tomato plants for work. My indoor pea and bean plants died sad deaths, so that experiment will not be repeated. The tomatoes, however, do consistently well.
I've also trimmed off a few more spider plant starts, which are in water to grow roots, and I'll plant those either next week or the week after. I love seeing how green and vibrant my work space is all winter!
The only downside to looking at all this gardening stuff is that I want to do it now. Yes, I'm incredibly impatient. I have the time and the inclination to do these things right now, and I have to wait. And wait. And wait. When summer comes around, I'll have less time than I imagine I will, my energy will be pulled in so many directions that I'll want to garden less than I think I will, and the end result will be a winter of impatiently waiting for the chance to garden and then a garden which is half-assed and neglected.
At least I'm honest with myself, right?

Getting over the holidays

First of all, we went on an amazing vacation. It was wonderful and pretty much all that I'd hoped it would be. Tons of time with family (with about 18 people gathered together, it was pretty much impossible to NOT be with family--and we were STILL missing a bunch of family members!), excellent food (one of my cousins is just a phenomenal everyone got to showcase their pies, cookies, Christmas candy making skills, etc.), and time in Seattle to catch up with friends I haven't seen since our wedding or even before that.
This trip was so full of those funny little moments that make life wonderful. For instance, the last two times my family has gotten together at Christmas in Maine this way, since there are so many people, there have never been enough bedrooms to go around. The first year there was a girls "dorm" and a boys "dorm". The last time, there was one dorm for all the unmarried cousins. This time, being married, I had sort of thought to myself, "Yes! We'll get a private room!" Nope. All of the private rooms were taken up by either my parents' generation or by my married cousins with children. (It was very odd to realize that I was the only adult female there who had never been pregnant and given birth. Also, my mom is now the only one of her siblings who isn't a grandparent.) Shane and I had to sleep in the dorm with the bachelors. (At least we got to share an air mattress, rather than being on separate mattresses or something.) We were (mostly) jokingly complaining to my brother about it who said, "Well, then, you'll just have to have kids and then you'll get a room to yourself." Shane answered, "But how can we do that if we don't have any privacy?" That got a nice laugh out of my brother.
The dorm was comfortable enough, in any case, despite being in an unheated room upstairs. A couple of the nights got quite cold. You'd think that, living in Fairbanks, we'd be used to cuddling at night for warmth. But, we have a huge pile of blankets on our bed and pets who like to snuggle (well, the dog does anyway) so we spend most nights avoiding touching each other so that we don't overheat. Well, on this trip I stuck to Shane like a limpet at night. I don't remember it, but he was rather vocal in his complaints about how I nearly crowded him out of bed several times because I was trying to get as close to him as possible.
Anyway, we ate, we talked, we laughed, we watched old home videos and I nearly cried when I got to hear my grandparents' voices again. I was forgetting what they sounded like. We got to meet the newest family member, little baby D, who everyone was absolutely enchanted with. It would be hard not to, he's such a happy little guy. We got to share meals and moments and laughs with everyone. We had the traditional Nerf gun fight after the white elephant gift exchange. (Everyone laughed when the first FOUR gifts were all Nerf guns. Several of the gifters were smart and had bought or brought another one for personal protection when the inevitable war broke out.) We even got snow on Christmas morning, for a beautiful and white Christmas. My cousins from Texas loved it. (Who am I kidding? Shane and I did too.)
I got to show Shane one of my favorite places in the world, and though I tried to plant the seed of "if we ever move, we should move to New England", but it was unsuccessful. (Too far away from his family.) I miss the New England accent now. All those dropped R's and elongated vowels. Shane had never really heard it in person until we were boarding a bus to Boston (long story, tell ya later) and heard a father and son behind us talking. "Oh yeah? He's got an apahtment neah theah?" "Yeah. Neah the hahbuh." Love it.
In Seattle, I got to see and catch up with (at least a little bit) so many of my friends, including my best friend. We will, because of our different and busy schedules, manage to not talk to each other for months at a time, but when we meet again it's as if no time has passed. There's never any awkwardness, no shyness. It's the best kind of friendship.
And my eldest brother made it up from L.A. for a few days! That was the icing on the cake, for me. All four of us siblings together at one time? Those are the best moments. The fact that my husband fits in with us so well, and gets along with my brothers as if they were his own, makes it all the better. We played games, we chatted, we had a blast.
We celebrated my mom's 61st (!) birthday, and as her present one of my brothers sent us to see "Les Miserables" together. It was beautiful. I'm glad I was warned and reminded to bring tissues. My mom teared up right at the beginning so I was able to discreetly hand one over to her. I'd brought just enough so that when I was crying later, I had some for myself too.
The one bad thing about a two-week vacation is that, by the end of it, Shane and I are both ready to go home. We want our pets and our own bed. Our routine. We were tired from late nights and far too much time spent on planes or in airports. This made for a wonderful combination so we got home and got into an argument the very next night, mostly because we were both cranky and tired and stressed out and that makes for misunderstandings. We're over it now, don't worry. The fact that we're both trying to fight off colds doesn't really help, though. I seem to be winning my battle, Shane's a little less victorious. It's forcing us each to go a bit easier on ourselves, and each other, this week.
My biggest source of stress, actually, was the fact that our camera went missing. It was in my bag and then, it wasn't. It went missing almost immediately when we got to Seattle so I was starting to worry that I'd been pick-pocketed at some point during travel. (Our original flight from Maine was cancelled due to weather so we ended up taking a bus from Portland, ME, to Boston, a flight to Charlotte, N.C., and then flying to Seattle, a day later than intended. But it was one more night at Stonehouse, with cousins and aunt and uncle, so no complaints from me on that front.) Anyway, I emailed my parents this week and my dad found it. In my old room, where we'd been staying. Shane said, "Impossible! We searched that room!" At least the camera's found. I was the only one to get pictures of certain moments, and of the whole family together, and those pictures are irreplaceable to me.
This weekend I'm going to relax, I'm going to organize my home a bit more and clean things which didn't get taken care of before we left. I'm going to go easy on myself, drink lots of tea and fight off this cold. I'm going to snuggle my pets, treat them extra well, and take the dog running. I'm going to watch the latest season of "Dexter" with my husband, and make sure he's staying healthy too. He's going to treat me to a pork chop dinner tonight, since I've made all of our dinners (and consequently, lunches) since we got home.
It's good to be home.