Sunday, February 28, 2010


1) A funny thing about living in a place where snow lasts all Winter and all mud, dog poop, and other icky things freeze solid--you can have shoes that are worn to a point where the soles are paper-thin, while the tops of the shoes look immaculate and brand-new. Even funnier is that in such a place as this, which behooves to you have such shoes resoled instead of replaced, there is all of one shoe repair place. I hope it is good. I also cannot believe I used the word "behooved" in a discussion about shoes. The English language, it is so playful, is it not?

2) Let's say a person has just been buried in an avalanche and thinks he is about to die. What could possibly make him happier than his rescue? How about if his rescue looks like this:

This is Miley the rescue dog with his handler, Christina Oberhauser, who is not too hard on the eyes herself. They are unearthing the photographer during a training session in the Heutal Valley near Unken, Austria. How adorable is he? And I mean that in the literal sense... how much does he make you want to adore him? May we all have such usefulness and meaning in our own jobs, and may we all serve in them with as much joy!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Well, Brrrr!

I had been wondering whether the mild weather was a warm spell, or an early Spring.

I woke up yesterday morning shivering, and that answered that question! When the temperature outside is -20F/-29C, and the fire has died out in the wood stove, and the thermostat on my oil stove is set to 53F/12C, which it always is, the temperature in my loft is close to 45F/7C. Which is fine, when I anticipate such and am wearing sufficient blankets. Which I was not.

As the late, great Bunn would have put it, hrrmf!

The good news is that snow is continuing to fall, and the forecast calls for temperatures to come back up after today, and for snow to continue to fall all week! Yay!

I debated with myself a bit whether to spend some time today splitting wood, knowing tomorrow would warm up. Which do I enjoy more, brittle wood that splits with a tap, or being warmer while splitting? I decided, why not both? So today, I split enough to fill my porch rack, and tomorrow, I will split some more and add it to my small-but-growing stack of split wood in the yard, which I started last weekend. Last weekend was the first time I'd split more wood than I'd need for the following week, and I stacked it elsewhere in the property. I am working on growing this stack as the weather gets milder, and of course, when Summer is here, I won't be burning wood at all and the stack will burgeon. My goal is to split enough wood over the Summer to get me through the following Winter. Or at least, never again to split wood at -35F.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Concepts that Dogs do not Understand

1) Personal space

2) Laziness

3) "No, thank you. I've had enough to eat."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I finally understand some of the animosity toward Martha Stewart...

... since my National Half-Priced Chocolate Day chocolates are each printed with a "tip" from her.

One of my tips today says, "Replace the tags on your teabags with heart-shaped paper cutouts."

Really, Martha? Really? Srsly?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My new bumper sticker...

... coming in the mail any day now. :)

Click here if you'd like one. :)

The Ice Park is Open!


Home of the World Ice Art Championships. And monster slides. Yay!

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's snowing!

Yay! The far-below-normal snow year was topped off by a freakish warm spell that threatened what little snow we had! But now it's snowing again! Yay! Keep coming, snow!

In other news, yesterday was a great day on the cuteness front. After meeting the new behbeh goats, I went to Alaska Feed for eggs and dog food and met this:

A Bernese Mountain Pup! AWWWWWW!!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Just three words today




(Thanks to the kind folks at Far Above Rubies for accepting my self-invitation to come see their newborn behbeh goats.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Groundwater contamination in North Pole

I guess I need to start this post with a explanation of North Pole. North Pole is a little city about 20-30 minutes South of here via the Richardson Highway, which is the one that goes to Delta Junction and thus connects to the AlCan. North Pole has a lot of military folks, since it's close to the military base, and was named by a whimsical optimist who had hoped that a toy factory would one day set up shop there, and stamp toys "made in North Pole". So far it hasn't happened, although several businesses, such as the Santa Claus House, have moved in to capitalize on the name.

Anyway, so that's North Pole, and they've recently learned that their ground water is contaminated by mining waste. Quite a few residents of North Pole use well water, and now they are being told that their water isn't safe to drink. Flint Hills Resources, the petroleum refining company responsible for the contamination, has offered an apology and lots of bottled water to the residents. Gee, an apology and bottled water! That must make it all better, right? I'm sure it relieves the worry of knowing you've been drinking and watering your garden with contaminated water for ten years, right? And the fact that your property values are plummeting, right? An apology and bottled water. Yeesh! I hope the North Polers band together and milk some more compensation out of Flint Hills. That sucks.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Siberian Team is in

The Siberian Team is in.

Are they not beautiful? Their web site is here.

Edited to add another amusing tidbit from my day: My post-Valentine's day half-priced chocolate features "Martha Stewart's Very Own Valentine's Tips" (odd punctuation and capitalization theirs).

Hm... Romance tips from a divorcée who is not currently known to be in a relationship. It seems like an unlikely endorsement. Then again, it seems the majority of celebrity endorsements are irrelevant pairings, anyway (athletes and razors, pop singers and sodas, actors and political candidates...).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

March comes in February

As the warmth seems to be sticking around, and February is half over, I am wondering whether this is not merely a warm spell, but the beginnings of an early Spring. Just in case, I thought I'd best fill my lab freezers with snow samples. So I slept in a bit this morning, until the sun was up and commute traffic had died down (traffic being those seven cars that drive up the street each day), and put together my extremely high-tech snow-collection rig (newly improved since last season, but the addition of a box to keep it more stable). I then returned to the beaver pond with the girls, filled my tupperware containers with the large, beautiful snow crystals that I had found there, and returned home.

It was very beautiful on the pond today, with the sun shining golden from a crazy blue sky. I tried to encourage the dogs to run around and enjoy themselves a bit while I measured and sampled snow, but they saw me digging in the snow and wanted to see what I was going for, so they dug their own snow hole next to mine. When I had gotten the samples and measurements I wanted, I informed the girls that they would have to tow me home, but that I was determined that they also have some fun today. So before putting everything back together and hooking up to them, I skied a lap around the pond while they ran around like loonies. It was very warm (mid 20s F), the morning was very beautiful, and I was very happy but also a little sad. It's a shame that the most enjoyable part of Winter comes at the end, when it's almost over.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nice photo

Here is Hans Gatt with his lead dog, Kinvig, after winning the Quest:

Photo by Sam Harrel of the News-Miner

Is this not a perfect shot? The elated human and the proud dog! Adorable!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top o' the News

1. Hans Gatt has won the Yukon Quest in record time. It was inevitable that a speed record would be broken this year, with warm, speedy snow. Congratulations to Hans Gatt, but keep your fingers crossed for a safe return for those that are still out on the trail!

2. A fine example of Fairbanks brilliance. Some poor bastard decided to ride his snow machine to the top of a gravel pile, not realizing that the other side was a sheer drop. He fell off the other side and died at the scene. The first three comments on the article. Are. Priceless. Screenshot here, for your reading pleasure (read from the bottom up):

How to eat well on a budget

1) Cook your own food at home. Do NOT "cook yourself". ;)

2) Know and accept that you will eat leftovers.

3) Know and accept that good, nutritious food may not be gourmet. i.e., you must develop a palate such that you truly believe that a peanut butter and banana sandwich, or a bowl of beans, is better than a MacDonald's cheeseburger.

4) Prioritize your food spending. To me, for example, the delta between expensive produce and cheap produce is huge, so I'll bleed my wallet dry over that. But the delta between expensive protein and cheap protein is not so big for me, so beans and chicken thighs and random moose parts are just fine by me.

5) "Ethnic" food tends to make better leftovers. Cultures in which a pot simmers on the stove, and everyone spoons out his or her share, tend to create food that makes better leftovers. Cultures in which everyone gets his or her own plate, which is prepared in the kitchen, tend to create food that does not reheat well.

I tend to create a huge batch of protein for the week (chili, chicken noodle soup, reindeer barley soup, ham and bean soup, meatloaf, etc.). Then all throughout the week, I have a serving of my protein de la semaine, and cook a fresh veggie each night.

My protein this week is frijoles de la olla with spanish rice.

Bubbling on the stove:


My plate awaits with its veggies (shredded cabbage, sliced Mat-Su Valley carrots, tomatoes, and pickled cauliflower with jalapenos):

Rice bubbling from this:

To this:

Grated cheese and tortillas finish it off:

So guess what I'm having for supper tonight! Rice and beans and perhaps broccoli! And guess what I'm having tomorrow! Rice and beans and boiled collards! And guess what I'm having Wednesday! Rice and beans and shredded cabbage again! Yay!

In other news, I collect fuzzy things:

Today is National Half-Priced Chocolate Day! Happy National Half-Priced Chocolate Day, everyone! Go out and buy yourself some half-priced chocolate!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

On the Tanana Today

Since I was pretty happy with the snow I collected yesterday, I decided to take our day on the Tanana today as a leisure day, and phoned up Sam's parents to ask if they'd like to come skiing with us.

It was a gorgeous day--warm and bright, with the sun beaming down. I just wish. We. Had. More. Snow. But it was such a lovely day that there were a lot of recreational people out on the river. About 8 dog teams, 20 snow machiners, 10 other skiers, two people on bicycles (funny, huh? "What a lovely day!" "Why yes, let's go for a bike ride on the river!") and two walkers. There was also a guy out on a four-wheeler with the wheels modified to look like a tank.

Dog team, waiting very impatiently, to take off:

Another team on the river:

Linden sitting pretty:

Sam rolling around in the snow (one of her favorite things to do!):

Autumn sitting pretty:

Happy Year of the Tiger, everyone!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On the beaver pond today

So... as part of my very serious research, the girls and I skied to the beaver pond today to collect snow samples. I do not enjoy this at all, but I'm willing to do this on a Saturday morning since I'm such a good researcher. Yup.

Here we have Autumn, happily recovered from her back strain (or whatever it was). Touch wood! She's so proud outdoors! Indoors, she tends to look like this.

Our friendly neighborhood beaver pond. It's inaccessible in Summer (unless you enjoy mud a lot!).

The girls run up ahead.

Until I call them back.

Here you can see why I have trouble finding virgin snow. Even on a pond that is only accessible by snow machine, by dog team, or on foot, there are so many tracks!

But I can always find an untouched patch.

Happy happy! Joy joy! The girls love running around on this pond.

The sun turns yellow now, but it's still low. This is maybe 11 a.m.

Are they not cute?

Friday, February 12, 2010


I usually dislike radio pundit humor. I don't find it offensive; I just don't find it funny. I find that it sounds forced, and is generally spoken by people who are not comical by nature. Anyway, last night I heard a sound bite that was the exception. "Governor Parnell made the news by announcing that he is not in favor of seceding from the Union." I shrugged. So what? The guy said it again, enunciating each syllable and adding frequent pauses. "Governor Parnell. Made the news. By announcing that he is not. In favor. Of seceding from the Union." I still wondered... eh? The radio guy seemed to see my confused look. "In most states," he laughed, "It would be news if your governor WERE in favor of seceding from the Union. Here, it's news if your governor is NOT!" That had me in stitches after I thought about it.

Speaking of the radio, on my drive home yesterday evening, I finally put my finger on something that had been bothering me. Brad Paisley's "Welcome to the Future" was playing on the radio. It's a "look how far we've come" song, about how quickly the world has been changing. It's a warm song, that speaks well of its writer and singer, but there's one line that's always bugged me, about how the narrator's grandfather had fought in the Pacific in World War II, but that today, "...I was on a video chat this morning / With a company in Tokyo."

Now, I understand that country music is like literature in that it's fictitious. It discusses real events, real feelings, and can evoke real emotions in the audience. But, while some of it is autobiographical, and undoubtedly a lot of it is inspired by true events, it's fiction. Poignantly told, realistic fiction, but fiction nonetheless. It's difficult to remember this when reading novels or listening to country music. Barbara Kingsolver discusses this from the artist's perspective in an essay, "The not-so-Deadly Sin":

Most people readily acknowledge the difference between life and art. Why, then, do so many artists keep answering the same question again and again? No, none of those characters is me. It's not my life, I made it up... I suppose I should be relieved when people presume my stories are built around a wholesome veracity. They're saying, in effect, 'You don't look like a sociopath.'

So I acknowledge that Brad Paisley does not work for a multinational corporation with colleagues in Tokyo.

What had been bothering me was this: You cannot have a video chat with Tokyo in the morning. You can have an emergency call with Tokyo in the morning, but not a video chat. The reason for this is that when, for example, it's 9 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast, it's 10 p.m. in Japan. The time for non-emergency conference calls with Asia is the evening. The time for non-emergency calls with Europe is the morning. Anyone who's worked for a multinational corporation knows this.

Sorry, Brad. I love your music, but background research FAIL. :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010


It hasn't snowed in close to forever. This is hampering my research. Ah, well. I have a rather large folding table out in my backyard to collect snow that will have not be exposed to a thermal gradient (snow on the ground tends to have a thermal gradient since it insulates itself; therefore, on cold days, the bottom layer of the snow is warmer than the top, and on warm days, it is reversed). One of the more humorous members of my committee suggested setting up a second table, only covering this one with a checkered table cloth and setting out chairs. That way, he says, the Weather Gods will think I am planning a picnic, and will send snow out of spite. :)

Well, I'm going to ski down to the neighborhood beaver pond this weekend and see if I can find any interesting snow to collect. It's not as easy to find nice snow to collect as one would think--most places have either trees sprinkling tree byproducts onto the ground, or foot traffic. Ideal places are open meadows or ponds with no trees. I've collected snow on the Tanana, but when there hasn't been snow in so long, snow that's been sitting on ice over liquid water does funny, unpredictable things.

Behbeh Ele Phant!

He's so cute and expressive!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Paw Inspection

Here is Zack Steer putting ointment on Tobasco's paw, as part of his paw inspections:

Photo by Sam Harrel of the News-Miner

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Seems like a nice fellow

A nice article about Carl Cochrane, who lives in an isolated cabin along the Yukon Quest trail and hosts the mushers as they come by. It's a nice story, but I disagree with some of the notes of heroism, references to the harsh conditions of mushing at -50, for example. This is not a mission of mercy to save children dying of diphtheria. This is a race. For no cause other than fame and money. To me, if conditions are so tough that you and/or the dogs are suffering, it just isn't worth it, and I don't want to hear stories of "courageous" racers who soldier on, despite all obstacles and weather like God's wrath, bravely going on, yadayada. It's a race. Nothing more, nothing less.

Second item on today's report: Last night, I made eight dozen Valentine's Day cookies!

This isn't as painful as it sounds, because I make them in two days. The first day I make the dough and form it into rolls, and the second day I just slice them off and bake them. Of course, I learn afterward that my friend whose birthday is today might be diabetic and can't eat sugar. I guess I have to eat hers. Happy birthday, M!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Newborn behbeh moose photos (not mine)

Here are photos of a moose born in an Anchorage backyard.

I just thought two things.

1) Mamamoose's hair on her hump is a bit bristled. I think she's none too happy with the photographer.

2) The photographer said, "I took water out to the Momma moose later..." Are you kidding me? I mean, that's nice of you, but really? You approached a mamamoose? I mean, really?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Top o' the News

See, the things that I think about are not uncommon. Top headlines today:

Mushers set off for Whitehorse in 2010 Yukon Quest

Sam’s Sourdough Cafe reopens after devastating fire

Literally, the top two headlines. :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Notes from here and there

1) The Yukon Quest has begun, so I'll head over there from here and snap a few photos to share.

2) The Denali Dog Team Driver position has been filled.

3) What was this slop glacier of which I spoke? It was due for another crunch-up, so I snapped some photos for you. Grey water photos! How sexy!

So here is the pipe coming out of my cabin. My sink, instead of draining to the city sewage system, to which I do not have access, or to a septic tank, which I do not have, drains just outside to my own land. Why, you ask? Because to bust up the permafrost is an expensive operation. That is why, outside of the city, only rich folks have flush toilets and showers. :) That is also why I only use biodegradable soaps.

The pipe runs downhill (although not steeply enough to my taste--I'm always afraid it's going to freeze; I'm going to reroute it this summer), and I keep it buried under the snow for insulation:

Here is the other end of the pipe. It's wrapped in heat tape, which is powered by a cable that runs into the house, so I just plug it in when I'm running water. If it's not too cold (above 0F or so), I don't bother; a high flow rate is enough to prevent blockage. When the heat tape was installed, whoever did the work made the silly mistake of putting the thermocouple of the heat tape INSIDE the house. In theory, the heat tape should only come on when it's below 0C/32F (freezing), but this silly person left the thermocouple INSIDE the house, so sometimes I have to put a cup of snow under it to turn the heat tape on.

The grey water forms a glacier of my dishwater. This time, the top layer was purple since the last thing I had run down the drain was the water I had used to soak black beans. I use a cheap maul that I don't mind ruining (NOT, under ANY circumstances, NOT my WAY-COOL, GOD-SENT splitting maul!) to cut out whatever ice is blocking the pipe, and to cut a new groove so that the new grey water will run downhill and not accumulate on the slop glacier.

The next time I run water, I come out and check to make sure things are as I intended. Sure enough, the water has run down the groove and down the hill, not accumulating anywhere on the glacier. Of course, every time water runs down, it coats the groove with just a bit more ice, until it is blocking the pipe again and I have to cut the groove again. It's no big deal; it takes me maybe 30 minutes.

And I also check the pipe outlet itself. It's clear, the water is dripping DOWNward and not pooling, all good.

4) We had a rough day yesterday chez moi. Autumn somehow tweaked her back. Actually, I think I know what that "somehow" was, but I'll get to that later. She could hardly get up yesterday morning, and I had no idea why. I immediately thought of the worst (kidney failure, liver failure, et cetera) and rushed to the emergency vet clinic. The emergency vet did blood work and found nothing wrong. And in the meantime, after being up and about for a while, Autumn seemed to improve a bit. So the vet concluded it was a muscle strain, and she had tweaked her back somehow. I think I know what it was, and I feel just awful about it. It was the night before, when she was out in the yard taking her final pee, I lost patience and called at her very sharply, "AU-tumn!!!" Well, she and her sister are such good girls that I'd never spoken to them sharply before, and she's a very sensitive soul, so I think I must have startled her, which made her tense up and probably hurt herself then. I feel just awful. What right do I have to shout at a dog who's never done a THING wrong in her entire time with me? Anyway, she was definitely less active that night, although not enough for me to worry, but by morning it must have stiffened up. She's much better today. :)

When the blood work came back normal, I totally lost it and started crying at the vet office. I informed them, "I'm sure everyone tells you this, but THIS is an EXTRAORDINARY dog." They looked at me in that special way you look at people who are off-kilter, and said that was fine, I could cry if I wanted to, it was a high-stress time. :)

Edit: Uhhh, crap, the quest start interval is 3 minutes, not 5, as I had thought. That means I missed the start! Oh, well. Off to Freddies now then.

Edited again: Sourdough Sam's is back! Yay!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wherefore the weather madness?

So now not only do we get not get snow, we get to be butt-ass cold as well! Sigh. Oh well.

The Yukon Quest starts this Saturday, if anyone is interested. Well, actually, it starts whether anyone is interested or not! I am rooting for Brent Sass for the Quest and Zoya DeNure for the Iditarod. I like Brent Sass because he's affectionate with his dogs, and he camps out and sleeps with them, giving them leg massages at night. He's also a friend of Autumn and Linden's former family. I like Zoya DeNure because about half her team is rescue dogs from the local animal shelter. Hmmm... it looks like I'm not the only one who likes the goober dogs. One features on the Quest banner photo. Haha! How can dogs that work so hard be so silly? Anyway, here is the Quest takeoff order.

Here is Millie taking a nap in her litterbox. Rabbits are charming like that.

She streeeeetches out as she relaxes:

Linden: "Me! Me! I'm cuter than that rabbit! Take a photo of ME!"
Autumn: "Keep the flashy-thing away from me!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What makes a good day?

1) Scoring four free cookies.

2) Being told that your committee has decided that since you aced engineering prequals, that is enough to compensate for your having borderline failed physics prequals, so they are going to give you a pass and let you move on to orals and thus your PhD candidacy.

Oh yeah.

It seems commemorative that APOD featured this.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sad, sad, sad

Dear Weather Gods: This is not okay! We need snow not just to maintain the water table and for recreation, but it just so happens that I do research on snow. Hrrmph!

Bunn sez:

"More snow, please. Or I shall chomp your ankle tendons."

Here is Linden being cute and Autumn being warm and fuzzy:

And Miss Millie being a round fuzzball:

By the way, Punxsutawney Phil apparently announced we'd have six more weeks of Winter. He did not make the front page of the Fairbanks paper. Here, six more weeks of Winter is not exactly news.

And by another way, my Scottish friend Linda has just confirmed for me, that in Europe they call moose "elk" and elk "wapiti". This in addition to calling cookies "biscuits" and not having a word for biscuit. Probably because they don't have Mississippi, so they don't have biscuits. And it's a shame, my friends. It's a darned shame, to live without biscuits.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ice Classic Opens

Ice Classic Tickets are available now.

Anyone want to recommend a guess as to the minute the ice will go out (break up) on the Tanana?

Here is the breakup history. It's been an unusually warm (well, less cold) Winter, so the ice may not be as thick... of course, they haven't even taken the first thickness reading for this year yet, so it would be silly to venture a guess before we know that. I'd guess, however, that the warmth or lack thereof of Spring is a bigger factor than the original ice thickness.