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Dale and I had a very good, very hectic 2012. This post is just part of the picture—mostly the stuff I thought would be most interesting to family and people curious about Alaska—but if you want to see the rest of what I’ve been up to, mostly professional stuff, I posted about it at my librarian blog.

Although I hate to start the post on a sad note, 2012 marked the passing of my grandfather. He was a good person, and I am sad for his loss. Something so sad does not fit in well with the rest of the year, but it deserves mention.

The shed, early in the destruction phase

The shed, early in the destruction phase

We spent a lot of 2012 settling into our home, some of it dealing with contractor stuff, some of it demolishing an old, moldy shed on our property and putting up one of those Rubbermaid sheds to replace it. We owe several of our friends dearly for their help in the shed demolition. We (mostly Dale, and, again, helpful friends) also replaced a toilet, and we dealt with a couple of leaks (both of the roof and of the downstairs bathroom sink). We have a cozy living room, the birds live in the dining room, the kitchen has mostly come together, and the basement is good for parties. The craft/project room and exercise room are still in need of some work, but have come along nicely. I spent part of my week off moving my bedroom around, which made enough space that I could put in a dwarf lemon tree! It is supposed to start flowering pretty soon, and I’m very excited. The chinchilla lives in Dale’s room, which makes her very happy, and now Dale has acquired the necessary pieces to put together a workstation in there, as well (I offered to make the craft/project room more hospitable, but he says it’s too cold to work there). Soon he’ll be able to work on more computer projects in his spare time!

Lots of snow

Lots of snow

Since the 2011-2012 winter broke the record for the most snowfall since they’ve been measuring in Anchorage, dealing with the snow took up a lot of our time in early 2012, as well.

This winter has been far less snowy, so far.

Another change on the homefront was our acquisition of a second vehicle. Since Dale’s job moved—same job, different location—sharing a vehicle wasn’t going to work well for us anymore. A coworker who was leaving town gave me a fantastic deal on a Honda CRV. It’s over 10 years old and has had a couple of issues since we got it (including being rear-ended earlier this winter), but overall I think it was a good purchase. I drive the Honda, and Dale drives the Subaru.

In Alaska-relevant news, we saw two big-name acts that came into town, last year: Eddie Izzard and Flogging Molly. (Barenaked Ladies and Cake were here the year before. And Dan Savage comes up most years, too.) So we’re not as far behind as all that.

We also saw our first really good Aurora Borealis (northern lights) display. It was awesome—in the original sense of the word.

And, in a feat of sheer luck, we managed to win the Denali Road Lottery, so we got to drive into Denali National Park. It took place the same week as the Sheldons and Brungards were up here visiting, so they got to join us. Luckiest tourists ever. (Or least lucky, if you’re a pessimist—it’s a hard trip for six adults and a baby.) The Mountain even came out for us while we were in the park! And we saw a mother and baby grizzly bear and several other animals. It was very cool. And, besides Denali, the Sheldons and Brungards got to see a lot of Anchorage and seemed to enjoy their trip. We’re getting two more Sheldons in May. :)

It’s a small thing, but I got called for jury duty for the first time in my life. I was excused from serving, because the defense (I presume) decided I was too close to the case to judge fairly, but it was still an interesting peek into our justice system.

Another small thing: 2012 was the year when I learned to crochet. I’m working on a blanket. I think crochet suits me better than knitting, for whatever reason. Fewer moving parts, maybe.

And that just leaves health stuff, I guess. I won’t go into detail on everything that happened, but on the bright side I started immunotherapy for my allergies, which I’m hoping will allow me to visit friends with pets and live happily through birch season in May. On the less bright side, I learned that I’ve been slowly poisoning myself with what I’ve been eating. In addition to being allergic to some tree nuts (definitely almonds and hazelnuts, but others are unknowns), kiwi, watermelon, and apparently milk thistle, I’m sensitive to wheat and other gluten-containing grains, duck and chicken eggs, and milk and dairy products from cows. (It isn’t the lactose, either; I’m sensitive to both whey and casein.) I’ve had to completely relearn how to cook, which is an ongoing project. Dale has put up with it remarkably well. And, to be fair, I cheat with dairy a lot. Way more than I should. Which might be why I’m still having weird pain issues; I’m planning to eat clean for a while and see if those die down.

I’m currently caffeine free—not to the point where I won’t drink green or white tea or eat chocolate, but to the point where I won’t drink caffeinated coffee. I feel a lot better when I’m not drinking caffeine every day, so I will probably stick with that.

Our 2013 plans include getting a door to separate the not-really-insulated arctic entry from the living areas of the house, a new back door, some insulation in our crawlspace, and other house stuff; biking in Tour de Cure again; getting visitors; going to Hawaii; and hiking up Flat Top, which we still haven’t done. And probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten. :)

2012 was good, and here’s hoping that 2013 is even better!

Yard stuff

It’s summer in Alaska, which means we’re all way overscheduled and trying to get more done, both at work and at home, than we possibly can.

We finally decided on a plan of action for the yard. Or, at least, that we should have a plan of action? We’re in the process of taking apart the shed (which is adorable, so it’s heartbreaking—but it’s also full of terrible mold that we’re both allergic to), to be replaced by a pre-fab shed from Lowes or Home Depot. We’re also taking down the chain-link fence, or maybe just part of the chain-link fence (so we can move the gate), and we’ll either build our own fence out of wood and chicken wire, or we’ll hire a professional to move the gate for us, or something. So, here’s our yard from this weekend (it isn’t wildly different now):

Like I said, we know we need a plan. And that’s half the battle. Or something.

Once we’re done with the Tour de Cure on Sunday, we’re taking off work for the first full week of June and starting our container garden, destroying the shed, putting up the new shed, and hauling things out of our yard. We’re getting rid of yard waste from our attempts (so far) to get the plant life under control, the dead canvas carport that didn’t survive winter winds and snows, the shed, the stuff from inside the shed (except for some cool doodads, which we’ll photograph soon), and so on. If we’re very fast, we’ll also have time to paint at least one of the rooms in the basement. Or maybe finish painting the kitchen, finally! It’s not the most vacationy of vacations, but it’ll be nice to have some of this stuff done!

Car stuff (and free stuff :))

We’ve also solved the car problem. A coworker of mine is moving out of state (which is a bummer; I like her), and she’s selling us her Honda CR-V for a bit below KBB value. It’s like a 10 year old car, with 100-some thousand miles on it—and not a pickup truck—but it has AWD, comes with both regular and studded tires, and is available for a good price, from someone I know took good care of it. I feel good about the purchase.

We won’t actually buy the car until the end of June or beginning of July—she kind of wants it for driving around Anchorage, before she leaves—but we’re pleased to have the decision made, anyway.

Another coworker gave Dale a telescope, which he’s pleased as punch to have. He’s trying to find or put together a sun filter for it, for the upcoming Transit of Venus. A third coworker gave us some delicious salmon and halibut from last year (all vacuum packed and flash frozen, so it’s in great shape).

So, in several respects, it’s been a pretty good season, so far. :)

Coral injured herself (minor)

I seem to have done something stupid to my foot. It’s almost as if I stomped really hard on something and then immediately forgot what would have to have been blinding pain, given the awful achy bruised feeling in the front of my heel. I’ve bruised the bottom of my foot before, but never so painfully—and I remembered what I had stepped on, to do it, in the past!

Someone on the internet is trying to convince me I have plantar fascitis. I hope they’re wrong, because that would make my plan to bike 15 miles on Sunday, in the Tour de Cure, a really stupid idea.

Also, you’re supposed to ice plantar fascitis, which I admit I haven’t tried. But heat makes my foot feel much, much better. So I find myself hopefully pessimistic about the accuracy of that internet diagnosis. :) I’ve got an appointment with a doctor next week, for other stuff, so if it’s acting up, I’ll talk to her about it.

That last one wasn’t big enough news for how rarely we blog, but it’s what’s on my mind.

Wildlife

The “wildlife” in the house is all doing fine. The birds are a little whiny and moody, probably from getting too many hours of light, but they’re happy enough. There have been several bird-baths, now that there’s less danger of drafts. And Ella Chinchilla is fuzzy and up to trouble, as you’d expect. She can fit under the door and out into the room full of books… and cords… and grown-up furniture, so Dale’s rigged up a solution involving a blanket and something heavy, to keep her where it’s safe (both for her AND for our stuff). It seems to work OK.

The outdoor wildlife is getting into the swing of summer. Baby moose are being born (none in our yard, but we see Facebook and Twitter photos of baby moose in friends’ yards now and then!). One of the bike/walking trails in town has warnings attached to it, because there are multiple angry moose mothers around; they’re very dangerous, this time of year. (No, the Tour won’t go through that area. At least not the 25k route.)

We also saw our first flotilla of ducklings over the weekend! They were itty-bitty, but there were 10 of them. More will no doubt be on the way, along with goslings and … baby swans? What are they called? We’re not actually sure where the pair of swans ended up, so we may not see their babies.

We no longer live a short walk from the beavers, so we haven’t been keeping an eye on them. I imagine they’re doing fine, though. :)

Aaand… that might be it for news. :)

Dale and I are looking into getting a second vehicle*. We’re tearing down an old moldy shed and an outdoor set of stairs, this summer, and we’re doing work on the house, and we’re still in Furniture Acquisition Mode, so one thought is a [small!] pickup truck with 4-wheel drive. On the other hand, gas is $4.50 a gallon and probably not going down soon, so the other thought is “something fuel efficient.” (There’s not anything fuel efficient with 4WD/AWD, so that’s a down side. Recall that Alaska doesn’t believe in plowing down to pavement in winter. And, although the biggest hills are avoidable, it turns out we need 4WD to pull into our driveway from our unplowed alley.)

I’ve always loved little pickup trucks—you know, like Nissan and Toyota used to make—and we’d actually use its hauling capabilities, at least until our house is closer to done**. So I guess I’m leaning that way, a bit. I don’t know if you can buy pickup trucks that tiny, new. I also know that, if you want 4WD, your pickup truck options are a bit limited.

This is where, if you have advice for us, we’d love to hear it. New/Used, specific dealers to try/avoid, whatever. So… thoughts?

*We work in opposite directions from where we live. Normally, it’s not a big deal: one of us drops the other off (which wastes gas and time, but not a whole bunch of either). But he had an 8am meeting and an 8:30am-but-far-away meeting, last week, with more of them coming up soon, and there was no way he was going to get me to work in time to make those meetings; I also work Wednesday nights, which means I go in after lunch on Wednesdays. Which is fine, as long as he can leave work part-way through the day (we eat lunch together); sometimes he has 1pm meetings, which means I’m at work earlier than I want to be and he’s rushed to get back. Also, his work is going to move onto Base, before too long, which is going to limit his ability to leave part-way through the day. I can bus, but it only runs once per hour, and I’m unwilling to take the bus (which is full of sick people all winter) when I’m fighting bronchitis, which feels constant, lately. In the summer, I can bike, but I don’t have the skills, the gear, or the constitution to do that in winter.

**Projects: tearing down the shed (that moldy stuff is NOT going in the back of the Subaru, or any enclosed vehicle), buying or building a new shed in a different part of the yard, tearing down the back stairs, tearing down the front stairs, bringing replacement materials for the stairs home, replacing the gutters, bringing materials home to build a duck house and duck fence, tearing out and replacing the white picket fence, framing and putting up “pink board” in the basement (for insulation), putting up drywall in the basement, bringing home furniture, and various gardening/tree-planting/tree-removing shenanigans.

We decided to throw a party/poker night, to help raise funds for Tour de Cure (if you’re willing to donate, we’d be really grateful! every little bit helps! here are our pages: mine, Dale’s). As part of that, because we invited a whole bunch of people, we are also trying to get our basement in tip-top shape, to make it an inviting hang-out space. (Added bonus of this basement plan, besides more welcoming spaces in our house, which is a reward in and of itself: assuming we actually have 6-7 visitors at once, this summer, as is the plan, it’ll be a comfortable space for someone to sleep.) I’ve been sanding and painting the sheetrock walls, and Dale’s been taking down wobbly wooden shelves. We’ve been sorting and throwing out (both things we moved in with and things we “inherited” with the house) and generally adding to the awesome quotient of the main room of the basement. It needs another couch and some seriously labor-intensive painting (concrete walls), neither of which we’ll manage before the party (unless something awesome happens), but it’s getting a lot nicer!

That’s not what the photo is, of course. That’s a photo of our living room, which I just thought I’d share, because it’s cozy. Notice the lovely quilt our friend Mary made for us! And the Actual Grownup Furniture! And Angry Birds. ;)

I know we were supposed to share more photos of our house, before, but we keep not taking pictures when it’s clean and then remembering when it’s a mess again. Which means I probably won’t have before/after pictures of the basement to share, either. I apologize for that.

Anyway, I’m pretty delighted with the effects of the paint job in the basement, so far. I think I’m going to try to hang fabric over the cement block walls, to make the whole place a little more welcoming, in the short term. It might end up looking weird, but everybody who is coming over has met me, so that’s OK. ;) Long term, I’ll seal, prime, and paint them, but I did the math, and there’s just no way before the party. (Both time-math and also ventilation-math. It’s too cold out to throw open windows, just yet, and sealant and Killz are both stinky.)

We also think we’re buying carpet squares to make the floor less, you know, hard and cold. What I’ll do is lay a set of squares along the external walls, but without exposing the stick-um, and then I’ll lay down the rest of the squares (with stick-um exposed), then pick up the ones from around the edges. That way, the sealing and priming and painting can be done a little more painlessly—that is, without ruining the outer squares—when it warms up a bit.

We’ll get photos. :)

Before it started snowing today, we were within 6 inches of a record snowfall year. (We’re already in the top 5 years since 1917.) There’s a good half inch on the trees, so who knows how much has fallen—and will fall, before it stops? I predict we’ll break the record, if not today, then soon.

For a sense of scale, apparently a normal snowfall year for us is 69.5 inches. That’s a fair bit of snow, but nothing crazy. This year we’ve had more than 126.8 inches, with at least 33 inches of snow on the ground right now. (Some of it has melted, some has compressed, some has drifted, and some has sublimated.) The record is 132.8132.6 inches, in the winter of 1954-1955. EDIT: There was an error in the old record.

If you want to see our current stats—you’re looking for the heading “SNOWFALL (IN),” and the number beside “SINCE JUL 1”: http://bit.ly/zQfuS2

And the records—you’re looking for “Top 5 Highest Winter Snowfall (Normal = 69.5 inches)”: http://bit.ly/950OtF

I think it makes a pretty funny story, that our first winter of owning a house was a winter with record snowfall. (Not to the level of Cordova, of course, but still quite heavy for Anchorage.)

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?

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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Merry Christmas, everybody!

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. :))