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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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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. :))

With the help of several friends, for which we are super grateful (and will repay with lasagna as soon as we find our dining room table! :)), we have moved pretty much everything out of the apartment and into the house! And we’ve even slept there–twice!

That said, the contractors didn’t get the bedroom floors done, nor the living room floor, so our dining room is full of boxes and bags, as is the main room of the basement. We’re actually sleeping downstairs, for the time being. We can’t unpack until the floors–or at least more of the floors–are complete. So there is major disarray. Finding clothes to wear to work is going to be an adventure, for a while. (I’m only not wearing sneakers with this skirt because I correctly identified the box the Danskos lived in–it was not the box labeled “shoes,” by the way.) Also, until the sanding and application of harsh chemicals (to condition the hardwood) are done, we’re leaving the birds and chinchilla at the old place, which nobody is happy with. They’re all really cranky and kind of sad. Though we did bring the cockatiels to spend a few hours at the house yesterday, which they seemed to enjoy! There’s lots of construction-dust around the edge of the living room, which is totally unsafe and unsuitable for birds, so they enjoyed trying to escape our attention and eat that. :/ And they liked looking out the window at the birds in the trees around the yard’s edge. :)

Also, the appliances we bought from Lowes haven’t come yet. We’re going to have a fridge, washer, dryer, and dishwasher, all of which we picked out, which is exciting! (The range is going to have to last a year or two, before we can replace it, obviously; it’s on the list, though, because it and the dishwasher will clash badly. And because we think we like gas better. Anyway…) Because they had to get one or two of those things from the Lower 48, we’re still waiting to hear when they’ll come. It should be this week. Which is good, since I unplugged the old, stinky, scary fridge a couple of weeks ago, meaning that we don’t have any way to keep food cold-but-not-frozen, right now. All of our food is either room temperature or in the freezer. For our moving party, we kept beer in the cooler, which worked fine, but it’s not a totally workable solution for multiple days at a time, or for more temperature-sensitive foods.

When the appliances DO come, we hope the contractors are pretty quick about hooking them up. Right now, there’s a big hole in the kitchen cabinets, with power, where the dishwasher can go… but no plumbing hooked up. As for the washer and dryer, the hookups are in the wrong room, though we were assured it would be easy for them to move those. So it might be a few more weeks before we can actually use the appliances.

The kitchen is almost painted, though! Most of the walls are done, the ceiling is done, and the trim is done. We’ll have to go through with a tiny brush to fill in some spots, and we still have to do the area above the cabinets–we didn’t decide fast enough what color we wanted that to be–but it’s looking much more “us” (or at least “me”–though Dale likes it a lot, too :)), already! None of the other rooms are painted, though we did buy paint for most of them. Probably winter will come before we can get any real painting done, since we still have to repaint the old apartment to white by September 30th and, you know, unpack and stuff. And finish planning the wedding. And then HAVE the wedding.

… I’m a little overwhelmed, I admit. I’m very, very tired from running at full speed for so long, and now I’m extra worn-down from all of the allergies that came with the dust of moving. On the allergy front, I have to keep reminding myself, “I’ve spent hours and hours and hours inside this house–CLEANING this house, even–and I am not allergic to it. I am allergic to all of the dust we brought in with us.” That said, I think some kind of hydraulic oil or something got spilled in the basement room I’m sleeping in–it smells weird. I plan to empty it, clean the floor, and then put my stuff back in, tonight, I think. Just to be sure.

Poor Dale is tired, too, obviously, though I think he’s dealing better with the allergy side of it. His main approach, lately, is to curl up in a ball and try to sleep, whenever we stop moving for more than a few minutes at a time.

Did I mention that the basement windows got done? They did. They look pretty fantastic, from inside! And from outside they are… not bad. We should probably paint them, so they fit in better with the overall look of the house. (We have some of the paint they used on the siding of the house. I don’t think we have any of the trim paint, though.) I need to think of some short, [very-]low-light plants to plant in the window wells. I want to still be able to open the windows, but it would look nice to have something other than dirt there.

Also, we’ve gone walking around the neighborhood more times, since moving into the house on Saturday, than we had done at the old apartment in months! The only place worth walking from the old apartment was University Lake. (I could–and did–walk to work, but that’s not the same.) Near the new place there’s a grocery store–those of you familiar with Anchorage in general and Fairview specifically know the one I mean–and a Mongolian BBQ and what is, we’re told, one of the best steak houses in Anchorage. Technically, we can walk to the place with the best fried chicken in Alaska and also to a bar we like and a number of other spots in or near downtown, but those are much longer strolls… probably more like bike rides, really. (If you start counting things at those distances, the old place had a few more walkable spots than I’m giving it credit for.) But our first walk, post-moving-in, was to the grocery store, to find gear for hanging our pirate flag. We ended up using purple paper ribbon, for the short term, which makes a really satisfying noise in the wind. The grocery store didn’t have clothes line or any other more-suitable rope, and we (Dale and me, plus two of our friends) were very motivated, hence the kludge. We’ll buy thin rope at the hardware store… maybe tonight! Also possibly an American flag or something else more-suitable than the pirate flag alone. ;)

We took advantage of the 10% off sale at Lowes (ending today) and bought appliances (today). A fairly run-of-the-mill dishwasher (though it had the particular set of bells and whistles we really wanted), an upright and therefore relatively inexpensive (but still very-highly-rated by Energy Star) washer and dryer, and a totally sweet refrigerator that I love. The white dishwasher will look stupid beside the black-and-steel range/oven, but we’re replacing that within the next few years, anyway. And, overall, white’s going to look better in that kitchen.

We don’t know when the appliances are coming, just that they are. Within the next few weeks. (Hopefully by September 10, our Official Move-In Date.)

The electric company came and dug up our entire(!) driveway(!!) today, plus part of the alley, to bury the cables. So the house no longer looks like there’s a red hose coming out of the attic. But our whole driveway is a mud pit, probably, by now–it started raining just as we were leaving. I guess we’d better buy some gravel or look into paving. I have no idea what that costs. I put in a query to our local gravel & sand place, to see what they have to say. We may end up suffering through it (and making the alley super ugly) through the winter, if it’s too much.

Other things that have been done: the carpet’s up, but I think I said that before. The cabinet’s torn out, so the dishwasher can go in–though there’s still a little bit of plumbing work to go with that. It seems like the contractor broke our basement sink, so that’s not so good… There’s some boring stuff (that’s still important) with vents and vapor barriers. We changed which windows were getting dug out, which I think we’ll ultimately be a lot happier about; I wrote on the walls in Sharpie, to be sure they cut the right ones. But yeah, not a ton. There was some emergency work, somewhere else in the city, that pulled the contractors away for a few days, last week. (We can always tell they’ve been in based on whether/which lights are left on. So we know they were in today, but we’re really not sure what they did. Maybe roof work.)

The house HAS been pre-pre-warmed, though! A friend of ours just got a job–in Dale’s office, actually, which is even cooler–and we sat around and played dice games and drank beer in our empty living room, this weekend. We even fit four cars into the driveway (pre-mud-pit)–and could have fit five, if there were less debris in the way. … You know, assuming everyone parked within inches of one another. :)

A bigger pre-warming will happen on moving day. I’ll do my traditional “feed friends with lasagna and beer” thing, after we get the furniture and stuff moved in. It should be a good time!

The real Housewarming Party, with capital letters, will happen after we get well and truly moved in and mostly unpacked–it’ll probably end up being on Halloween weekend. Or some weekend thereabouts. I already have my costume planned! (What wedding? Just kidding. I know, we ought to finish planning that first. It’s not THAT complex a costume, though, if that makes you feel better.) We’ll figure that out as the time gets closer.

So, anyway, progress is being made. Woo!