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It might come as a surprise to some readers of this blog that Dale and I are planning to start raising ducks. (It will not come as a surprise to anyone who’s spent more than an hour with me, lately, I think. I’m very excited about it!) But that is totally the plan. Two ducks, both girls, to live in a fenced-in part of our yard, along with our garden. They’ll keep each other company—unlike chickens, ducks can be happy in pairs—and lay eggs and keep bugs out of the garden. When they stop laying eggs, we’ll get a third duck, to lay eggs, and the first two will keep her warm and happy with duck-company.

A delightful plan, right? But the only duck farm we know of, up here, is hatching ducks in late May or early June, and I have to be at the American Library Association conference for almost a week, in late June. Call me crazy, if you want, but I really don’t want to miss a full week of my ducks’ development! They’re only babies for such a short time, and it’s really important that they bond to and trust Dale and me. (It’s important more because I want them to be nice pets than for any other reason. You can raise ducks who don’t trust you. It’s just not as fun.)

So, as hard as it will be for someone as impatient (and excited) as I am, we’re going to put off our duck plan for a year. (Yes, I’m technically supposed to go to ALA Annual again in 2013, but it’s the very end of my position on the NMRT board—my position actually ends half-way through conference, because of its late timing in 2013—and my predecessor in this position didn’t go for her last conference, which makes me think it’s probably OK.) That will give us time to build a really great duck-house, to make sure the place we want to put the garden-and-ducks will work, and to get some other projects done, this summer.

I guess it’s good that I’ve started so many marigold seeds; without ducks to protect my plants from bugs, I’m going to need them!

Other projects

Other projects for this summer: 1) Make the arctic entry into less of a “breezeway,” as our friends have started calling it, and more of an acceptable piece of the house. (Insulate under the floor, fill in the spaces letting air in, and replace the door.) 2) Plant an apple tree. And possibly a cherry tree. 3) Take everything out of the [incredibly moldy] shed, spray down the inside with a bleach solution, see if the sunlight will kill the mold on everything from the shed, and either refill it or drag off all the stuff. 4) Replace our back stairs & ramp with something less death-trappy. 5) Turn our front stairs around to face forward, instead of sideways. 6) Move the front gate, and set up a nice walkway through the yard. Plan for, but probably don’t yet implement, a patio for yard parties. 7) Dig out the flower beds and plant pretty things. 8) Run electricity to the front of the house, for grilling parties. 9) Replace the gutters. 10) Paint the two basement “bedrooms” and the places we missed in the kitchen.

That numbering system is meaningless. It’s just the order in which I remembered projects. Some of them have to be done sooner; some can be done later. Though I’ll be pretty disappointed if we don’t get through it all before next winter. Out of all of it, the front gate and front stairs are probably the ones I could most stand to put off, followed by the shed.

In current-project news, the contractor is coming back soon to replace the bathroom fan vent. It started dripping, again. This time, the dripping is down the outside, and I find myself really concerned about the insulation in our attic, some of which was put in by said contractor. If he doesn’t take responsibility for any of that being messed up, it probably isn’t the end of the world, since we also have a fairly serious roof leak (at least, we hope it’s a roof leak and not a hot spot), which is dripping slowly down one of our newly-painted walls and into the basement stairwell, of all places; we’ll have to get that repaired and then have a bunch of insulation pulled out and put back in, anyway. Extra insulation was one of the things on our energy rebate list, so that’s not so bad.

I’m very nearly finished with unpacking! We have several boxes of books and games, downstairs, but we have a place for them! I think I’ve gone through all of our “random stuff” boxes. Our basement shelves are almost ready to be taken down, and then we will sand and paint the drywall down there (Dale’s sanding, I’m painting, I think) and get the place a little more ready to serve as a fun hangout. We’re going to buy an inductive burner for making beer in the basement kitchen, which will be excellent! It’s still chilly down there, but we’ve found that our portable heater makes it a lot more acceptable. Rugs of some variety would also help. (If we were willing to go all crazy-retro, rugs on the walls would help A LOT. But we’re probably not. Insulating those walls, for real, was also on our energy rating list, but it’s a big undertaking. In the short term, we will content ourselves with hanging up fabric. It *might* not even look cheesy. … But it probably will. :))

And, finally, I have little seedlings coming up, and they will be more than ready when the snow melts and the garden—actually, a set of half-barrels—can safely take them. I didn’t buy Alaska-specific seeds, which my gardening book tells me (belatedly) I should have done, so that’s too bad. Here’s hoping Lowes was responsible in what they stocked, right?

Anyway, the house and life have been keeping us busy, but things are good. I’m a little bummed on the duck decision, but I think it’s the right one. I would be far more sad to miss a week of duckling antics, right?

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Hi, everyone! It’s the time of year when people start thinking about their summer vacation plans, apparently. We’ve been getting questions about when is a good time to visit. Tourist season is mid-May through mid-September. But summers also fill up quickly, and “When is a good time to visit?” becomes a more and more complex question to answer as time goes on. Especially if we’re getting multiple visitors, which, now that we have space to put people up, is a more likely occurrence. 

So we’ll try to solve the problem with technology! We made a Google calendar, which we’ll block out with *BAD* times to visit. If the day is marked, we have something we can’t get out of. One of us might be out of town, even. Or someone else might be in town. Anything that makes it a bad time to visit will go up on this calendar. Hopefully, that helps. :)

It has not escaped my attention that our first winter of owning a house is ALSO on track to be a record-breaking year for snowfall in Anchorage (here are our current numbers, look for “snowfall”). I just spent a bit more than an hour shoveling, after pulling a bunch of snow off of the canopy(?) over our stairs and porch, because there was more than a foot of snow up there, with more falling, and it isn’t sturdy enough for that. I didn’t quite finish, but I did most of it. (I’m driving, if we go anywhere tomorrow, because I didn’t dig out the passenger side of the car. :P Also, the piles of snow keep encroaching on the parking area, which I only fixed on the driver’s side; it was depressing, working on the passenger side, because the snow on the other side of the fence is now at least as high as the fence itself. Also, I didn’t dig out the path to the trash bins. … So there’s a bit more left to do.)

I am so cold right now. I’m bundled up, wearing socks, drinking hot tea, and shivering. So maybe I overdid it. :/ I just took a break to turn on my electric blanket, so bed will be nice and warm. :) Also? I’m going to have forearms like Popeye. ;)

Anyway, PHOTOS! (In order from top left to bottom right, they are: Me, giving the snow pile from the canopy(?) some context; same thing, but sideways(?); our back door, from the other side of the snow pile (that tool is a roof rake—I didn’t know what those were until this winter); the driver’s side of the car, post-shoveling; the view from the porch, post-shoveling; the view from the path, looking out over the yard at the shed (the camera is at Coral-eye-height, and I apologize for the quality, but the battery was dying).)

If anyone’s wondering about the contractor, that should probably be its own post, but I’m here, so let’s go:

The painter who came in to fix the last painter’s crappy workmanship… uh, didn’t finish? We think he said he’d be back Monday? Which can’t be right, since all the work has to be done before then. Whatever.

We have a new furnace and water heater. Both seem to work pretty well, so far. It’s set up so adding a third zone won’t be a problem, on the furnace end. (Yes, it’ll take lots of copper pipe, to actually run it, but the furnace will at least support that. So, when/if we finish our basement, the whole thing will be heated. Nice, yeah? In the meantime, we have a very nice electric heater for supplemental heat in the craft room. They also ran an air intake alongside the vent [hopefully in a smart way], so we can plug up the GIANT HOLE IN OUR BASEMENT WALL that the previous owners had made, in order to make the house safer to sell. [There was no dedicated air intake for the old furnace.]) The living room pipes are less noisy, but the entryway pipes are more noisy. Weird.

The contractor left one of his electric heaters in the basement, a ladder in our back yard (I think you can see it in one of the photos?), the combo lock he used to get in and out of the house (you definitely can see that in the photos), and two lengths of copper pipe. We’re pretty sure the pipe is ours. We’re also pretty sure he’ll come back for the rest.

So it’s not over, precisely, but it’s close. :)

So, our contractor has to be done with everything this week. We let him know that last week, and he has been faster-than-usual in replying to emails–go figure. We are planning to move forward with replacing the furnace and water heater, assuming he can provide some kind of satisfactory explanation of why it could possibly take four days to do. (Seriously, his email said his furnace guy would be here Tuesday, and we’d have no heat or hot water until Friday.) Maybe he is planning to install a second zone, in the basement? That would be great, I guess, but we see that as more of a “future enhancement” than anything we need done right now; more than half of the basement is technically unheated, which we’ll need to fix when/if we finish it. We could probably do the second zone then. In the meantime, a small electric heater in the craft room will more than suffice. So if it’s a multi-zone thing, we’ll just talk him out of that.

But let’s say he convinces us that it really does legitimately need to be four days of work. The average temperature this January has been just a tad above two degrees, with lows in the -10 range. I see from my weather widget that it might get up to 26 later this week, which is great, but weather widgets lie. Either way, it’s awfully cold to leave our house unheated. We don’t know if that will damage our TV, for instance, or other LCD-containing electronics. It’s a leaky enough house (did we tell you about the icicle we had, indoors? true story) that the outdoor temp and the indoor temp won’t be wildly different. He says he has two electric heaters he’s planning to lend us while the work is done. Also, he says that our hot water will be off, but we assume he means all the water will be off? Otherwise, what makes him think the pipes won’t all freeze? 

Anyway, we have a plan for the birds, the plants, and the chinchilla: we can heat the two bedrooms and split them all between those. Or if the heaters are big enough, we can heat one bedroom and the living room, which would keep our plants alive and TV safe–we like that plan. As for us, we’ll either share the bedrooms with the pets, and I’ll shower at work, and Dale will… we don’t know? Or else we’ll get a motel room. We’d take the pets with us, but that limits our hotel options and, more importantly, it’s just too cold to risk taking the birds outside, even if only to put them in the car. I’m nervous about leaving them here with electric heaters, too, though. So I don’t really know.

Since we have friends who’ve had their furnaces and water heaters replaced, in a matter of hours, I am really hopeful that this is all misunderstanding and pointless worry. We won’t know until the contractor gets in touch with us, though.

 

In related, but inconveniently timed news, we made it through the waiting list on the Energy Rebate program. We’re waiting for a rater to make an appointment to check out our house. Odds are NOT good that the rater will be available Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, so I guess we’re going to make further improvements, rather than relying on the furnace/water heater replacement to count. It’s not really a problem: we have 18 months, and the rater will give us a list of likely projects to improve our energy rating. (There’s a minimum rating you have to get, to get reimbursed for any of it.) I suspect insulation in the walls and below the arctic entry and kitchen will be major parts of it. Possibly window replacements. Maybe there’s something clever we can do with the basement? Anyway, we’ll do, or pay someone to do, a lot of those projects in the summer, depending on our cash flow. It’ll be good.

 

In totally unrelated news, we had some moose come through our yard! They were here while I was at work on Saturday morning (I should never have agreed to switch shifts!), but, luckily, they were still in the neighborhood when I got home, too. And Dale got photos! While we were watching (from the car–you can see the ice on the inside of our windshield in one or two of the photos), one of them walked behind a neighbor’s car (convenient for scale), while the other moseyed down the sidewalk to munch on some trees. And Dale hadn’t noticed right away, but they apparently also found the pumpkin we left in our yard, by the compost bin; there are no traces of pumpkin, but there’s a large squashed area of snow and a moose nose print in one of the snowbanks! Also, we took a picture of the tracks they made through our yard, because we giggle every time we see them. 

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Today was my “birthday–observed.” I always pick the weekend before or after my birthday to hold a party, because, you know, the middle of the week is kind of ehh. (Also? I still usually take my actual birthday off work, and Dale usually takes me out to dinner. :))

Dale made me tasty pancakes for breakfast this morning, and then we drove to the Wildlife Conservation Center, because we’ve never been there in winter. We were actually just going to go to Potter Marsh, but it was super pretty out, and we had some time… Anyway, the musk oxen were up and moving around! In the summer, they just kind of lie there, so that was exciting. They are ridiculously short and hairy, which I think makes them cute. And the bison were eating—they just kept switching back and forth between their two hay piles, really, but, again, it was cool to see them up and moving. Speaking of hay, there was a tractor carrying a big bale, and the elk all kind of chased it… a little lackadaisically, yes, but they all went, which made for some great elk-viewing. And there were caribou (also active), a moose (just standing there, but he was right by the fence), a pair of sleeping lynx, two wide awake owls, and an eagle. There were three or four magpies who took turns trying to eat the eagle’s salmon, which we think was frozen, because they all attacked it like woodpeckers. The eagle didn’t seem to mind, really. (Dale took video. We’ll post it eventually.)

On our way back to Anchorage, I saw some dall sheep standing right beside the road (which I might have shouted excitedly about), and we drove up to the next turnaround to… well, to turn around. Some climbers were there, climbing up an ice waterfall (icefall?) a couple hundred feet from the road, and when we tried to drive around their parked car, into the turnaround, we found ourselves in surprisingly deep snow. We couldn’t actually get the car out ourselves—I mean, we would probably have eventually have made it, since we had a small shovel and a bucket of gravel, but it would have taken forever. One of the people with the climbing party came to help us with a rope tow, which I thought was really nice. People can be pretty great, up here.

Anyway, we got turned around and totally made it back to the sheep before they wandered off. The pull-off was across the road from them, but we still got close enough that we could hear their hooves on the rocks. (Still across the road, though.) It was awesome!

And then? We went to Snow Goose (local brewery with a small side room they’ll let groups reserve) and played Mafia with a bunch of friends for a few hours! That’s, like, my favorite game in the world (though, funnily, I’m not great at it :)), and people were hilarious and devious. I had so much fun! (I had extra fun, because I didn’t have to worry about setting it up—Dale did all that work—or hosting, which I enjoy, but which is also a little stressful, because I hate to host in a messy house, and then there’s cleanup, and… You know.) It seemed like everyone had a good time, which makes me happy. And the wait staff were pretty cool about it all, considering we were sitting around with our eyes closed, half the time, and talking about whom to kill, the other half. :D

Anyway, I’m pleased to have found a fun activity for my winter birthday. (Yeah, I’m SO planning to do birthday-Mafia again next year. :)) And I’m extra-pleased to have been able to spend the evening with such great people!

It was a great day. :)

So, it turns out, there aren’t Chinese restaurants open in Anchorage on Christmas. At least, none that we could find. We were totally saved by TGIF, though, so it wasn’t a loss!

It was a very different Christmas than any others before it, but it was a good one. We opened presents, ate leftover Indian food, and then Skyped with our baby niece… and, you know, her parents and grandma. :) Then we hung out around the house a bit, watched The Muppets at the movie theatre with some friends, and got dinner—which involved phone calls to all of the Chinese places in town, none of which picked up, then splitting up and driving around until we found an open restaurant. … Which, incidentally, was totally full! Turns out, there are a lot of birthdays on Christmas (down side of TGIF: that song gets annoying), and a lot of people want to go out to dinner. And when you’re the only restaurant in town, you see a steady stream of people! We even had to wait (just a bit) to get in.

Also? We saw our first moose since the snow fell. She was very pretty, just walking down the C Street sidewalk, like you do.

Also-also? We had over a foot of snow, leading up to Christmas. It’s stayed cold and not very windy, so the trees are still covered. It looks like a Christmas card. Yeah. :)

A couple of people have asked, and, yes, our contractor did pop his little head up (like Putin) and started work again, a day before the deadline. We now have a more reasonable amount of insulation in our attic (which is hopefully not all soaked—there’s water dripping, slowly, from our bathroom light/fan, which might be a roof leak [in which case, soaked insulation] or might be some kind of flap or something(?) that gets stuck in the up position(?) and allows water into the exhaust pipe [in which case, not soaked insulation], thanks to this guy and his subcontractor’s crappy installation job—if it’s the latter, it’s the second time this has happened). And there’s trim around the bedroom door and around the floor of the bedroom, so it’s much more room-like! The floor trim currently looks awful, because they reused the trim that was originally in the room, which has some visible holes and cracks and general brutality from when it was ripped off the wall… but we’re hoping the contractor will apply a couple more coats of paint and some spackle and fix it. Also, we think they added the rest of the plastic for the vapor barrier in the crawl space, which is good.

So, that goes.

But there is also this Alaskan phenomenon I wanted to tell you about, because it’s cool and interesting and not something I knew about, before this winter!

So, to set the stage… back in November, we had a couple of weeks where the temperature stayed in the low teens and below, and it snowed a whole lot. We didn’t see a lot of negative temperatures, but there were a few nights that hit -5 degrees or so. “Bitter cold” was pretty much the order of the day. And then one day the wind picked up—something like 80mph gusts, which destroyed our canvas carport (bent the metal supports irreparably)—and it started raining, and, suddenly, there were temperatures in the high 30s and 40s. That, on top of the 35 inches of snow we’d already had and the ice sheet covering the roads, was not pretty for local transportation, by the way. We learned that this phenomenon—which I didn’t expect before January* and didn’t realize was always accompanied by high winds—is called a “chinook.” (*Seriously. We have had this weird warm snap in January both years. I figured it was normal. But it threw me way off to get it in November! And it’s a lot windier in the part of town where we live, now.)

It froze back up, after that, but stayed maybe a little warmer than it had been. Winds have been happening, on and off, since then, with some days above freezing. At least one other chinook has clearly rolled through, maybe more? I’m not sure how long the effect lasts. Apparently another is coming tonight, and that’s supposed to be it for chinooks, for a while. (Ominously, the weather says “cold air will settle,” once the wind is gone.) Totally crazy stuff. I admit, the temperatures staying fairly consistently above 25 have been great, though. And, as gross as the parking lots get when it’s warm, and as dangerous as everything gets when it refreezes, I just can’t be upset about temperatures in the 40s. It’s a nice break from bone-chilling cold. Like a little breather, before “real winter” comes back.

So. House, chinooks… that’s the bulk of our news. Our holiday preparations are pretty much done; anything we haven’t mailed by today isn’t really going to make it to its destination by Christmas, so we sort of had to be done early. I think it’s a benefit, honestly, because we have so little in the way of last-minute stress. We didn’t do Christmas cards yet, so if those happen, they’ll be more like New Year’s cards. :D

I guess that’s another sort of life-in-Alaska thing: we have nowhere in particular to go for Christmas. I mean, short of flying 4000 miles, that is. Most of our friends have family up here (and, while we could probably finagle an invite to someone’s celebration, most families seem to have dogs and/or cats, so we don’t even try), or else they are flying to see family Outside of Alaska for the holidays, or whatever. There weren’t even enough stragglers for an orphans Thanksgiving, let alone an orphans Christmas.

So we are invoking the time-honored tradition celebrated by many non-Christian Americans: we’re going out for Chinese and watching a movie.

Which actually sounds delightful to me. Last year, I got a little depressed that we were by ourselves for Christmas. I tried to cook, which wasn’t actually that much fun, for just the two of us. (I learned my lesson and went much more low-key with this Thanksgiving’s cooking.) The year before, I got very depressed, because not even Dale was up here, yet—it really was just me. (I did get adopted for Thanksgiving, so I was only by myself for one holiday. And I got to Skype with people. And people sent me decorations. Everyone was as helpful and nice as possible. But, you know, dark of winter, holiday alone—there was only so much they could do.)

But this year? Maybe it’s my memories of the stress of the wedding preparations (right on the heels of house-buying), or maybe it’s all of the people I watched (over Twitter and Facebook) as they freaked out about preparing for FoodpocalypseThanksgiving and who, I presume, are about to start doing the same for Christmas. Maybe it’s just that we have a house with a pretty Christmas tree, and I find myself satisfied with that… but, whatever the reason, I am actually kind of happy to have a quiet holiday with just us, this year. Ask me again next year, and I’ll probably be back to wanting more people around, but for this year? Chinese and a movie sounds perfect.

(Not to say I don’t miss family. I do. We have a new baby niece, whom I’d love to meet, and my grandfather is not in great health, and there were people who didn’t make it to the wedding, or who did but I didn’t get to spend enough time with them, or who did and were amazingly helpful and to whom I therefore feel really grateful and just kind of want to see again because they were nice… So, sure, I’d like to be able to go back and see people. But I don’t really miss individual people more around the holidays than I do any other time. I mean, holidays are actually awful for visiting, because everyone’s all crammed together and stressed out. I’d far rather visit these people that I miss at some other time of year, and in smaller groups. So my holiday-loneliness is really an abstract thing. What I miss, when I get melancholy around the holidays, is the noise and mess and being surrounded by people. This year, perhaps because I’ve had enough noise and mess for one year, I find that I’m content where I am.)

And we may get our fill of noise and mess and people on New Year’s Eve, if we indeed follow through and throw a party, as we’ve been thinking of doing. (True story: we just want to show off our pretty tree. :))

It probably seems like a very long time since we updated on the house. (I guess it was before Halloween.) But not so very much has happened, on the contractor front. How could it, when he has been MIA for more than a month of that time?

Contractor Fail and Fallout

He hasn’t been gone for a continuous month, yet; he went missing for a week, after our housewarming party, and then he showed up and hung the door to the green bedroom and did a little painting. He didn’t add the trim around the door, so you can peek into the bedroom around the door frame—weird, but at least there’s a door there, right? And now he’s been gone since the week before Thanksgiving. His email is full. Voice mail… might not be full yet? But he doesn’t call back. And no reply to text messages.

If he doesn’t show up by next Friday, that’s the end of the work on our house. We are contractually obligated not to let work stop for more than 30 days, and next Friday is Day 30.

If he doesn’t show up, this is going to be a big mess, because he hasn’t finished the full amount of work covered by the first draw on the loan. The vapor barrier in the crawl space does not extend all the way to the wall, the insulation hasn’t been added to the attic (and WOW do we get icicles), the flashing above the arctic entry hasn’t been repaired, the door isn’t framed, the trim in the green bedroom is unattached and still that awful pink color, and when he had the floor guy lay the vinyl in our entryway, he forgot to tell the guy not to make cut-outs for the old laundry pipes. Those were supposed to be capped off and hidden below floor level, but no… So we’ll be left with some things we’re unhappy with, and there will be some money he has to give back to the bank, or to us, or something. (Probably the bank.) That’s going to be, you know, a major pain.

And then there’s the issue of the rest of the work. We won’t be able to access the money we have set aside for updating the water heater and furnace, because the loan stipulates that this particular contractor must do the work, by early February, without having ever stopped work for 30 days; we can’t (just for instance) still take out that half of the loan and have someone else do it. And, honestly, with as flaky as this guy has been—and as many gaps as we’ve found in his work products so far (some of them literal gaps)—we have been thinking hard about not doing this second draw on the loan, even if he comes back and starts work next week.

So, in the case that we don’t do the second draw, we’ll continue limping along with our current furnace and water heater, which—knock on wood—are still working great, but are both years older than their respective expected lifespans and are being used much harder, this winter, than they were last year or possibly the year before. If those blow, we will be very unhappy, because it will take every penny of our savings to replace them—and it won’t be with the high-efficiency ones that were spec’d out in the estimate. But we’ll hope for the best. Our plan, assuming we can’t do the second draw and we get through the winter OK, is to give up on our previously-planned trip to visit friends in England (which would be heartbreaking), to work very hard at saving money, and to hope there are still funds available for the AK Energy Rebate program, for which we are on the [rather long] waiting list. When we get cleared to participate in the Energy Rebate, an energy rater will come to our house and tell us what we can do to improve it; certainly, adding the insulation and updating the furnace and water heater will be on the list, and we will do so at that time (or, well, within a year of that time). Then the rater will come back, verify that we have improved the house by at least one star, and approve us to be reimbursed for that money, up to some maximum amount. (It’s a GREAT program!)

And, actually, if the timing on the Energy Rebate worked out really well—that is, if we could get the refund, or at least confirmation of the refund, in time—we might still be able to swing the trip to visit our friends; we do both get Permanent Fund Dividends, next year, after all. (The rush, on the friend-visit, is that they are coming back to the US soon.)

Cross your fingers that it works out, somehow, for us?

In Other News – Housewarming, Holidays

Our house has definitely been warmed. We had a fun combination Halloween and Housewarming party, which was well-attended by many delightful people! I hear we have photos, but I’m not sure if Dale’s posted them yet. The place was full, anyway, and we have found ourselves with more wine than fits in our wine holder—a good problem to have! It was strange, though, when I realized that there were five of us talking excitedly about the refrigerator. (It is a great refrigerator.)

We also had a quiet Thanksgiving, which was our first holiday in the new house (other than Halloween itself; we got one trick-or-treater, a baby duck!, and a reverse-trick-or-treat group (friends) brought us candy :)). I baked some chicken and macaroni-and-cheese, and we watched Netflix. I believe I took some time to knit in my comfy chair in front of the window, looking out at the pretty snowscape in our front yard. Nothing super out of the ordinary, but it was really pleasant and low-key.

Our Christmas plans include … um, we don’t really know. Most everyone we know in Anchorage has family stuff to do, so we’ll probably be on our own. Maybe we’ll take advantage of the 4-day weekend to visit the SeaLife Center in Seward (closed Christmas day, but open on the surrounding days), or perhaps we’ll reprise our Thanksgiving celebration. Maybe we’ll plan a fun project, like hanging up art and decorations (is that fun, Dale?), to have something to do. Or, you know, maybe we’ll do what a significant number of other Americans do for Christmas: Chinese food and a movie. :) It’s hard to tell.

Anyway, despite the contractor woes and a few maintenance issues, we’re enjoying the house. The birds and Ella Chinchilla seem happy with it, as well!

We haven’t updated on the house for a while, huh? Last time I wrote on the topic, we still had the original flooring (sans psychedelic carpet), and our chinchilla was living in the old place. So, yeah…

Obviously, we’re out of the old place now. In a series of awkward events, the person who came to look at it while it was a total messy disaster ended up being a new coworker. And she ended up renting it. I kind of want to hide every time I see her. (That was her first impression of me, no joke.) … But that’s Alaska, for you; everybody’s connected, somehow, it seems.

Anyway, the house… the hardwood in the bedrooms has been sanded down and reconditioned. And it mostly looks very good, though there are of course some small gaps between the boards–turns out, the contractor can’t actually fill them in. Rugs and attention will keep the chinchilla from destroying the floor–or hurting herself on it. The rooms have also been painted, though some of it will have to be redone–the base trim was off, for the floor work, as were parts of the heaters, and there’s still a doorway to be installed. (I’ll explain.)

Speaking of repainting, we’ll have to redo a fair bit of the kitchen trim, because they ripped out the base trim to put down laminate–the whole upstairs, aside from the bedrooms and entryway, is done in oak laminate, now–and because they scratched up the doorway. Not a huge deal; we needed to finish using purple paint, near the ceiling, anyway.

We’re both living upstairs, now, which is nice! The birds and chinchilla are also living in what we believe will be their permanent homes. So everybody is much happier. I, however, am still a little wiggy, in part because I’m sleeping on an air mattress every night–we did buy furniture, but none of it is coming until Saturday–and, maybe more so, because I don’t have a door.

See, there was a door between the living room and the bedrooms. And one bedroom also had a door that separated it from the other. So it was sort of a bedroom within a bedroom. As part of our loan to make upgrades to the house, the contractor is supposed to make a doorway to the other bedroom, too; so there will be sort of a mini-hallway to the two rooms.

Anyway, apparently measuring isn’t a thing, so they took the main door to the two bedrooms, in order to make a frame for it, meaning that there’s nothing separating one of the rooms from the living room. And it drives me totally batty. But they’re supposed to come do the framing and get the door put in this week, so the battiness will fade. We hope.

We’re also unpacking, slowly but surely. We have a hard deadline of this Saturday for emptying out the living room–which is where all of the piles of stuff ended up, during the laminate installation–because a couch and loveseat are coming. We’re so excited about having grownup furniture! A matching couch and loveseat that we picked out ourselves–rather than inheriting from friends or choosing from Craigslist sellers willing to deliver–and also that we didn’t have to assemble. (Not that assembly is so bad; we’d have done Ikea if it existed up here, but it does not.) And a week after that, we’re having a housewarming party, so we really want all of our unpacking done by then!

We didn’t get the yard mowed (so we’ll learn about de-thatching in the spring), and I’m only about half done with raking, meaning I need to get out there, uh, tonight. It’s calling for snow tomorrow or Thursday! But we got our yard furniture put under a tarp for the winter, we emptied our fire pit and laid it on its side so that it would stop gathering water and ice (possibly just temporarily–we might do a fire at our party, if the temperature allows), we weather-stripped the front door, and, biggest pain of all, we got our canvas carport put together. We’re still debating whether or not it’s coming down in the summer–on one hand, it blocks part of the view of the mountains out the kitchen window, but on the other, it was a major hassle to put together. So… eh.

I’ve decided–Dale has yet to be completely convinced, but I am–that we should give up on the idea of fixing the shed. Everything inside it has to be thrown away, probably, or dunked in bleach, which we knew; we didn’t think that it would take more than ripping out the little bit of sheetrock and the shelves, to fix it, though. But you can smell the mold from outside, so… yeah. I think it’s dead. Sad, because it’s cute, but still probably true. Instead of trying to get the shed back to a usable state, I think we should save money to have it torn down and replace it with a garage. Dale’s still thinking about his opinion on that, though.

Anyway, it’s coming along. Over the next two weeks, we hope to see it transformed into a great place to live. (It’s a pretty OK place to live, already, but it’ll be much better with a living room and more of our stuff put where it goes.)

Dale & CoralThis post has nothing, really, to do with life in Alaska, besides maybe some side-notes about the shock of going back “Outside,” as we say. (Did you know that there are restaurants that won’t let you in if you’re not dressed nicely enough? I had forgotten. And there are mosquitos in October! And [marginally] more sedans than SUVs! And old southern ladies who are passive-aggressively mean to you just for having bright purple hair! And, most importantly, cheap and plentiful fresh food, especially fruit! What a strange place.)

Instead, I want to write about what a lovely place Janes Island State Park is and how nice it is to have had the ceremony we always intended to have–even if it was a year and a half after what we call “our paper wedding” (a very nice ceremony, itself, made all the nicer by Dale’s immediate family; but not really the real one, in our minds, even if it was the legal one). And, if I’m feeling sentimental, I might wax melancholy about how many wonderful people live much too far away–not that there’s anywhere we could live and be near everyone we care about, or even necessarily most of the people we care about, but, wow, are there great people, living at great distances from one another!

The Location

So, the park. First off, the main question we got was “How did you find this place?” Sometimes, it was delivered in a pleasant tone, as if to say “It’s lovely and very well suited to this kind of event, but you live awfully far away to have known that.” Other times, there was an edge of “It’s so freaking far from everything!” … Which I can understand, I guess, because I remember thinking of 180-390 miles (the range of distances our east coast friends and relatives traveled) as a long way, too. I mean, it sort of is a long way. But it wasn’t really that far off the beaten path; it’s right near Ocean City, after all. And his whole family is concentrated in one place, so they could ride together (and several did). Pittsburgh friends could ride together. Some of my family could ride together (and a couple did). (Also, we flew 12 hours to get there. Our Californian friends also had to fly, of course. So, while we understood the complaint and were at least abstractly sympathetic, we didn’t actually apologize for the length of anyone’s drive. ;))

We wanted to be fair, distance-wise, to the CT and VA contingents–we did look in both places, but nowhere really met our requirements (enough space for a large guest list [which ended up being less of a problem than anticipated], alcohol permits available, cover in case of rain, cooking facilities, real restrooms [look, Pittsburgh’s parks don’t have those, so it was a thing we searched for]). At some point, it became obvious that the Chesapeake Bay, while not truly equidistant (my family had a bit of an edge), was at least reasonably equitable, travel-wise. More importantly, I have spent some of my very happiest times by the Bay and have a surprisingly strong emotional attachment to it, given how far away from it I actually grew up. Dale was more or less neutral about the Bay, liking the general idea of a body of water, but not having direct experience with that particular one, himself. So we started focusing our search there, and we came up with Janes Island. My dad (who was, by the way, amazing, in all of the prep work he did, along with my stepdad, Mike, and my pretend half-brother, Ray [long story] — this whole thing would so not have happened, at least not nearly as well, without their part in planning) did a recon mission and took a bunch of photos. And we decided that was the place!

Seriously, I want to go back and do a vacation there again. Beautiful location. The Conference Center, as they call it, has room for 16 people to sleep (if you can find 8 who want to sleep on top bunks, anyway :)) and room for at least 65 indoor partiers. There’s no drinking outdoors, which is a minor bummer, but our guests didn’t seem to mind. The three cabins around the Conference Center each have room for up to 3 couples. There’s air conditioning. There are kitchens–the one in the Conference Center had a really sweet oven, too! It was well-stocked, in terms of cooking equipment, and had a full-size freezer and a full-size fridge. Upscale appliances aside, there’s sort of a rustic feel to the whole thing, which suited us fine. And there’s a dock for fishing–or, as we used it, for enjoying sunsets and watching wildlife. We saw herons, egrets, hawks, an eagle, several tiny crabs, a bunch of mussels and oysters, snails, many (many!) little fish, and some honest to goodness blue birds! The only complaint I could possibly make, besides maybe the outdoor-drinking, is that it was so windy on the day before and the day of the wedding. And it was so still the following two days–people wouldn’t have recognized the place!

Preparation

As far as our guest list, we invited a whole lot of people. Honestly, we got a bit out of hand, when we were planning whom to invite. We’d have been delighted if they all could have made it, but we also would have been hard-pressed to fit them all in and around the Conference Center. We’d have needed to spring for a pavilion (which they have, but they close at dark and are something like half a mile away), on top of it. Or something. Anyway, a bit more than half of our guests RSVP’d. We knew the “no” responders weren’t coming, but the standard number for non-RSVPers showing up anyway is around 10-20% (and there were several we knew would be there, even if they didn’t say so), meaning we needed to build in an error margin of something like 5-10 people. Then, of the 60-70 who said “yes” or “probably,” about 30 of them either emailed us in the two weeks before the wedding to say they couldn’t be there, or they just totally didn’t show up, with no word. To our great surprise, nobody from the non-RSVPers showed. Out of the people who came, only 3 or 4 had been in touch to say they were bringing a potluck item and what, so we were convinced people had missed the “this is a potluck” memo. … Which I only mention in hopes that our parents see this and stop thinking I’m insane for how much food we bought and cooked. Seriously. It was way too much. We had so many fewer people than we were expecting (40ish, out of up to 80), and pretty much everyone brought something (though, if we hadn’t done at least some of that cooking beforehand, everyone would have mostly had cheese and cookies to eat–and there would have been major fights over the chicken. :)).

I way over-planned some aspects of the food (my plan being to have nearly enough for 60-70 people, if possible, in case of potluck failure), and I way under-planned others. We brought many kitchen supplies (“we,” here, includes our families, who all shared a Google Doc full of equipment we’d need–very little of it came from Alaska, though some did) that the park already had. We neglected other supplies, such as a pizza peel, which it turns out is really necessary for making recipes from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. (Boy was my bread ugly.) We over-purchased some foods, due to miscommunications, and we missed a couple of others we needed. But it sort of worked out.

Celebration

Anyway, as far as the party aspect of it goes, I think everyone had a great time. I know we did! I feel bad that we probably didn’t split our time equitably between everyone who came, opting instead to just do what seemed fun at the time and hoping we’d run into everyone at least a couple of times. There was a fire (at least for a couple of hours), and there were pictures on the deck, and there was crazy dancing (no, really, we danced like idiots :)), and there was chatting on the dock and in the kitchen and all over. It was very fun. A number of people got into some boardgames, or card games, or something–which makes me happy, because we have some introverted friends, who probably appreciated that more than the dancing, at least. The smokers all hung out on the deck in the evening (I felt bad about closing the door on them over and over, but it all kept trying to blow indoors). The dancers had lots of space. The drinkers were … everywhere, I think. And I know of one group who decided a walk was just the thing and seemed to enjoy that, as well. Something for everyone, it turns out.

And as far as the ceremony goes, it was pretty much exactly what we had hoped for. Due to the wind, we held it indoors, in the beautifully decorated meeting room that later served as our dance hall. (We’d been hoping to have it on the dock, but it was not to be.) Our friend Warren officiated and did an amazing job. The first reading was an excerpt from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, legalizing gay marriage, which I’ll include below; it was read by Dale’s sister, Meghan. The second was The Day the Saucers Came, by Neil Gaiman, read by our friend Marc. And the third was an excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book True Love, the last couple lines of which keep being misattributed to Dr. Seuss, on the internet, read by our friend Jen. My bouquet was daisies and statis, held in a mug. (Well, the florist cut the stems pretty short.)

We wrote our own vows–or, well, at least remixed them. I was so totally blown away by Dale’s reading of our vows (if I ever manage to post the video, you’ll see what I mean) that I completely stumbled through my own. And we both botched a word, which is funny. But it was nice to have chosen for ourselves what promises to make to one another.

And it was all very sweet and just a little strange, which suits us.

Thank Yous

We owe some serious props: of course, to my dad and Mike and Ray, as I said before, for so many things, including decorations and a sound system and alcohol; to our moms for their help in pulling together cooking materials and in preparing the [way too much] food and also for all of the kitchen cleanup they did after the fact; to Dale’s dad for making both fire and ice; to our wonderful officiant, Warren, and his amazing wife Diana, for officiating and taking video, respectively (and for being generally awesome); to our fabulous readers, Meghan, Marc, and Jen, for being willing to read the weird and political things we gave them–and for doing it so well; to our super sweet friend Jason, for his help with, um, everything on the day of (my mom just keeps raving about his helpfulness, no joke); to DJ and Ian for all of the carrying we had them do, which, it turns out, was a whole lot; to my cousin Lauren and (again) DJ for the beautiful photos they took; and to everyone who showed up, brought potluck items, gave us drinks throughout the evening, and made the day so thoroughly enjoyable with their presence. We had a great time, and we hope that everyone else did, too.

And now, we’re nesting in the new house. Our next post will probably be about that. :)

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court excerpt:

“Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a ‘civil right.’ Without the right to choose to marry, one is excluded from the full range of human experience.”

The excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book True Love:

“I think what we mean by “weird” is that we wouldn’t do something like that or that’s not love to us. Or else it’s weird because we’ve added our imagination to the story–details and motives and reactions–that are not really in the story as written but in our minds as readers. The story isn’t weird, we are.

“A psychiatrist once told me that if we knew exactly what went on in the minds of the apparently normal people around us all the time we would run for our lives. Or if our friends and families knew what happened in our own secret minds, they would have us arrested. But when we’re in control of our weirdness and it works in our favor, that makes us at least appear normal.

“Recently I went to a Friday evening Big Band Dance in Seattle. Hundreds of couples waltzing and two-stepping and fox-trotting around. Tall blond stick of a woman dancing up close and tight with a a huge fat guy with tattooed bald head and a bushy beard. Weird. Across the floor, an ancient couple–Asian–dressed almost exactly alike in khaki pants, plaid shirts, and tennis shoes–wrapped in each other’s arms like vines–not dancing, just swaying to the music. Weird. Beyond them, a flashy young woman dancing like she was in a chorus line, while her dull little man stood in one place like a ship anchored in a storm. She kissed him between pirouettes. He just grinned and held on. Weird. Everywhere–weird love.

“There were no glamorous couples–no perfect matches–but so what?

“You want my opinion? We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness – and call it love – true love.”

Dale & me on the dock

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