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I went to Kentucky for a library conference, last week. I had a great time, because this particular conference, the Library Information Technology Association (LITA) Forum, is a smallish (~200 people?) event full of techy librarians. Chatting in the hallways and at meals, I … honestly, I spent a lot of time answering questions about life in Alaska, but I also had the chance to talk with people going through the same things I do, in my work—people with the same goals and the same frustrations as I have. It was a good reminder that I do belong in this field, and that I am not alone in the fight to modernize the library profession.
I haven’t been to a small library technology conference since I was in library school, and the last one, Electronic Resources & Libraries, was where I decided to go into tech librarianship instead of engineering librarianship. So, in retrospect, I suppose it’s unsurprising how much I enjoyed and was reinvigorated by LITA Forum.
It was also a big deal to me because part of the reason I attended was to present my first national-level talk. I’ve been on a national-level panel before; I’ve given a piece of a short group presentation nationally; and I guess my solo presentation at our regional library association was technically international—Canadians are an easy audience, though. :) So I had a good foundation to start with. But this is the first national talk that, all by myself, I proposed, got accepted, put the slides together, and stood in front of a room to present. (OK, a committee accepted it. That part required help. :)) It was a talk primarily about organizational change, at a tech conference, so I was concerned about how it would fit in with the rest of the programs—but during the Q&As for a couple of related talks, earlier in the weekend, people asked questions relevant to my talk—so I think I covered some necessary ground. I’m not sure how much of what I said was new to the session’s attendees, honestly—quite a few people wanted copies of the Web Plan I wrote for work, and there was lots of discussion during the 20 minutes I had set aside for it, so I feel like I contributed useful knowledge to the field. But I also got the sense that a couple of audience members didn’t learn anything from it, and I feel bad about that.
After conference ended, I hung out with my mom. (Apparently, when your daughter lives in Alaska, 7 hours is NOT too much to drive to visit with her. :)) I called it “Momference,” which still doesn’t cease to amuse me. If I don’t think I’m funny, who will, right?
We had a nice time, though we’re terrible tourists: on Monday, for instance, we had a very long brunch at Panera (we don’t have those up here), then went to Hobby Lobby (we don’t have those up here), then went to a couple of clothing stores (we have those up here, generally speaking, but not these specific ones), then went to dinner, then sat in the hotel room, where I taught her to crochet with the help of YouTube. She’d crocheted before, though she didn’t remember it fully and didn’t know the names of stitches, so the lesson wasn’t too hard. I’d never taught anyone before, so thank goodness for YouTube. Her first granny square looked a lot better than my first. :)
She also brought me some apples from home (a few of which TSA repacked wrong, after searching my bag! grr! bruises, after I was so careful!) and three pints of apple butter. That’ll last me a long while, I expect, unless I end up using some of it in baking projects; I don’t eat a whole lot of toast. (Though I am kind of thinking of pulling out the toaster oven and some of my frozen gluten-free bread, so I can try it!)
It’s a little wearing on family relationships, I think, living so far away. Mom was really sad to see me go. I feel guilty for not figuring out a way to see my dad, too, though the logistics would have been really hard. Last time Dale talked to his parents on the phone, they asked when we would be back on the east coast—a valid question. I fly a lot for conferences, but they aren’t always in convenient places. Or, I spend so much on plane tickets (ahem, Philadelphia* and Las Vegas for ALA Midwinter and Annual, respectively) that I don’t feel like I can spend the extra time in the city, exploring, because the hotels also cost money. (I can get up to $1300 in reimbursement for conference attendance, hotel, and plane tickets. That doesn’t even always cover a full conference, unless my plane ticket comes out of air miles, so much of what I spend is out-of-pocket.) Dale doesn’t really like going along to library conferences, because I’m busy the whole time, and he gets his fill of librarian social events up here. And traveling to the east coast to visit family is expensive and exhausting—especially if we try to visit both families on the same trip. (VA to CT is a long drive.) So we have to balance time and energy budgets, and … it just doesn’t happen as often as we thought it would, when we first moved up here. So there’s guilt on top of everything, right?
I’m thinking of taking classes toward another degree (yes, I know, but this one is relevant to what I’m already doing), and I’m honestly kind of hoping Dale will do that degree with me — which means I’ll/we’ll be loathe to travel during the semester. (Another reason I cut the Philly trip shorter than I usually would.)
But we’ll figure out a time to visit, because that’s important.
Travel (and weather) stuff, getting home
Before I left for KY, we were in an extended autumn, here. It rained for a month, I think, but it was unseasonably warm. (We no longer live in Anchorage. We live in New Seattle.) It got pretty cold the two nights before I left, but now there’s a thick layer of snow all over everything and a layer of ice under that. Apparently we’re getting freezing rain tonight. So… winter came.
It’s good to get out during November, maybe? I think? I got some 50 degree sun in KY, which was great. There were roses still blooming and trees with pretty-colored leaves on them. I got by with a light jacket. But it confuses the system, to come back up here to snow.
I mean, my system’s already confused, so it’s no big thing. Getting to Kentucky from Alaska, counting layovers, took 16 hours. Getting back took 15. (Usually it’s only 12 hours, but I had to make an extra hop, this time; there were no direct flights to Louisville from Seattle or Portland.) I didn’t sleep on the flights back, which put my total awake time for the day right around 23 hours. It means I don’t really have jet lag, probably, just sleep debt; that’s pretty much how I always deal with time zone changes, in part because red-eye flights are the easiest way to get into or out of the state and in part because I’m stubborn enough to stay awake, and that works for me. I got home around 2am and to bed a bit before 3, so it’s probably unsurprising that I slept past noon. :) (I also don’t work the day after I get back. That’s just asking for trouble.)
I might be fighting conference or plane plague, or I might just be tired and mildly allergic to … life. And Dale’s got a cold. So there’s a possibility of a really tough weekend coming up, if we don’t take all of our vitamins. Actually, it’s highly probable, because I’m supposed to start a 12-day round of Prednisone (I refused to take it while traveling), which has immune suppressive side effects. I’ll wait until tomorrow to start, to hopefully give all the germs time to settle.
It was nice to go to sleep in my own comfy bed with flannel sheets covered in stupid penguin pictures and no gross institutional laundry smell, and then to wake up and drink my favorite coffee out of my favorite mug and hang out with Dale (even though he’s sick) and the birds, and to eat an apple from where I grew up, and to not have to go anywhere for the day or get on a plane for the next two months. It’s less good that it’s not quite 5pm, and it’s already getting rather dark, but that’s how it goes. I should probably stop writing and go unpack, since I have work tomorrow, and I’m tired enough, still, that I’m probably going to bed early tonight.
*Seriously, I apologize ahead of time for Philly. I’m flying in on Thursday, attending conference stuff until Tuesday noonish, and then flying out Tuesday afternoon. If I let them, the librarians will keep me busy the whole time. (This year, the last meeting got out at 12:30pm; next year should be about the same. And I ought to be at the airport by 4:30. So… that’s how much time I have on Tuesday.) I have some good friends who live in Media, so if they’re up for a trip into Philly proper (I won’t have a rental car), I hope to do dinner with them one evening. But I’m not even taking my customary day to explore the city, this trip.
I wrote a big long post, but it got deleted, because WordPress’s stupid default “new post” feature is BAD and BROKEN, and I HATE IT. Not going to make that mistake again.
So just imagine that I’ve told you all about the snow (termination dust on Sept 6, snow on Oct 13, snow on the ground now and probably for months), the trouble with my car, the new doors we bought, Dale getting a PFD, our anniversary (we ate fancy dinner and saw “Looper”; also, he got a pretty ring made for me, with the diamond from his grandmother’s ring and two sapphires from a ring my dad gave my mom, back in the day—we kept his grandmother’s band, don’t worry), all the places in Alaska I want to visit, and how we’ll eventually post about the Sheldons & Brungards visiting, as soon as Dale gets finished with National Game Design Month and goes through the pictures.
Boy, I’m super cranky that that got deleted.
Anyway, sorry for not posting sooner—I wanted to post about the family visit, but the photos weren’t ready, so I kept putting it off. But maybe if I posted more often, it would be less bad if it got deleted.
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 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.
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. :)
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. :))
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.)
I (this is Coral writing) sometimes look on Zillow for fun, now that Google Real Estate is defunct. It’s a hobby I share with my father-in-law, I believe. I fall in and out of love with houses all the time. But it was never all that serious, because I knew we didn’t have the savings for it, in a market like Anchorage’s. I mean, I very much want to be a homeowner–you know how girls supposedly dream of their wedding days? Not me (although I’m excited about our wedding, too); I have dreamed of owning a house, since at least as far back as my early twenties.
Still, this Zillow thing was just for fun.
Until a few weeks ago, when we saw one of those cute little Alaskan houses that we like so much–and that tend to be well over $300,000, for 2-3 bedrooms and a bath. (This one is not!) We’ve been “practicing” visiting houses–OK, this was the second one ever–and weren’t too serious about it, but figured it was a life skill, for when we do get serious. This house had a lot going for it, aside from a reasonable price: it was within biking distance of my work, a pretty quick drive to both Dale’s current work location and his future one (poor Dale, cursed never to have an office he can settle into), and walking distance (we’re talking about a mile, but still–doable!) to our two favorite bars and one of our favorite restaurants. It was also on the bus line (two, actually) to my work and a bus line that goes directly downtown. Dale didn’t think he’d be impressed–the first place we had visited had definitely let us down–but even I was surprised by how much we liked it when we got inside. Aside from decor dating somewhere between the 1950s and the 1970s (lime green shag carpeting, for one thing–I actually kind of want to keep that, because it’s cool :)), it’s pretty much exactly what we want: it has a nice setup for inviting friends over AND a basement (craft room! DDR space! homebrew space!). And aqua counter tops in the kitchen, which I LOVE! And a mud room big enough to store our bikes! And a cute garden shed!
The house has some down sides–hence, I guess, its being in our price range (OK, *mostly* in our price range–not going to lie, our wedding savings will have to serve as the “reserve” the bank requires us to have [in our own accounts] at closing, and we’ll have to go a few months without a washer/dryer; things will be very tight, this summer). For one, there’s no garage. For two, the seller is trying to sell it “as is,” which may cost us the deal, depending whether the bank’s assessor/inspector approves it; if there’s anything seriously wrong, that the seller is unwilling to fix, that’s going to be that. And heartbreaking. To make the two downstairs bedrooms suitable for use as guest rooms, we’d have to pay to get the windows replaced–and that is definitely in our plans, at some point. We’ll probably have to take out a cabinet to get a dishwasher put in; neither of us recalls seeing one, nor is one evident in the photos. The downstairs bathroom is yellow. There’s a main street fairly close to it (though it’s surprisingly non-noisy, even when there’s traffic). Nothing world-ending. We’ll put up one of those tent/pavilion things to park under next winter, we’ll save for appliances and the minor upgrades the house requires, and we’ll be very happy.
We even got semi-approved for the loan! (It’ll take a few more phone calls, but it looks good.)
So now we’re going to start that crazy dance that is trying to buy a house. Keep your fingers crossed for us?
This part is actually relevant to the title of the post
I know I titled this post “Settling in?” And then I wrote like it had some other title. But I guess my point with that was, yeah, it looks like we’re planning to stay for a while. There’s a master’s degree in CS that should be free for Dale (except for taxes) and will take him 3ish years to complete. By which point, I will probably have applied for tenure. I’m on track to succeeding, when tenure time comes, and, honestly, I’m having a lot of trouble imagining a better academic library job than the one I have; it’s not perfect, but no job is. Overall, it’s pretty great: I get to play with code, I can be productive and successful, I get along well with my boss and the rest of my department (and MOST of the other folks here :)), I’m getting integrated into the organizational culture, and [look, I’m a little bit shallow] I have a kickass office. Dale likes his job, though he could stand to be challenged a bit more by it–hence the degree. Summer pretty much makes up for winter–except for the length of it (March & April are hard) and the fact that nobody cleans ice off of parking lots or sidewalks, it’s actually less miserable than winter on the east coast, in a lot of ways. (It’s prettier. People don’t look at you like you’re crazy if you ski to work, or buy studded tires for your bike. It’s cold, but it’s a dry cold.) It never reaches 90 degrees. We have some excellent friends here. I’m healthier, living here, than I have been anywhere else–except for the two weeks the birch pollen is out, when I can barely function. This state has SO MUCH that’s awesome in it, and I feel like we have years’ worth of exploring to do. Dale has made a little bit of traction in selling people on approval voting and stands a chance of getting the law changed, if he’s persistent enough. He runs Drinking Liberally. I run the local library chapter. We’re pretty integrated into the community, though we could become a lot more so, when we’re really invested in it.
So there’s a lot going for it. As far as down sides, well, holidays are hard, because it’s not realistic to try to get to the east coast during peak flying times, and all of our friends seem to have family up here, or other plans–so Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are lonely. (Christmas is also expensive. I keep saying “I’m going to cut back on sending presents to family,” but I keep doing it anyway.) We miss our friends in DC and Pittsburgh, though we’re not willing or able to move back to either place. (DC sucked out our souls. Pittsburgh is too full of librarians, already.) Most people up here have cats and dogs, so we can’t go over to friends’ houses as much as we would like to be able to. But we had that problem elsewhere, too.
To be honest, though, I don’t even think we’re weighing pros and cons in any kind of organized way, when we talk about staying in Alaska long-term. I can list them, sure, but when you really come down to it, I just don’t think I have it in me to pull up roots again. I’m not sure Dale has it in him. For that matter, I don’t think we have it in us to continue keeping our roots as shallow as we have been, for all this time. I want to settle in, to build a life, to have a home that we don’t ever have to move out of if we don’t want to, or share a ceiling or floor with someone, or ask permission to raise chickens in the yard (when that ordinance passes). I don’t want to hold $5000 in reserve just in case we decide to move out of Alaska. (It costs easily that much.) (And I’d rather have that money for home improvements.) I don’t want to think of my friends in terms of how much I’ll miss them if I move away. I don’t want to think of every single purchase or gift as something we will have to get rid of prematurely, or pack up and fit into a U-Haul. I want to plant rhubarb and fruit trees, to put together a little rock garden, to build a small green house. I want to learn to make jelly; to can fruits and vegetables; and to catch, clean, and freeze (or can) salmon–all of which require a certain amount of stability, unless you’re willing to give it all away later.
In short, I want a home.
I’m hoping this one works out! If not, though, we’re probably going to keep looking. We really like our apartment and aren’t in a huge rush to get out of it, but we’re interested in having our own space. Keep your fingers crossed for us?