Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Postcards from the 'Net

Above is the Official State Terror-Monster, the grizzly bear (ursus damnus bigus scarius). This one appears to be in charge of the bridge of the Enterprise. The picture is somewhat deceptive, since the bear would appear (through parallax) to be about 18' high. He is, in fact only 17' 11-3/4" tall. He's actually the starting center for the UAF basketball team, but I hear his SAT scores might be in question. One thing about the UAF basketball team, if it were entirely composed of grizzly bears and they killed and ate every opponent up to and including eating Duke to win the NCAA tournament, it would still be less popular than the UAF hockey team if it had a .500 record.

Grizzly bears haven't, though, impacted my site since only a couple of searches have (mis)led a folks here. One query was on how to kill a grizzly. Like you're going to find real information here. Pshaw. Anyway, clue one - it's sharper than a butter knife, and at least as fast as a 285 grain .30-06 controlled expansion full metal jacket slug. I also had a search for "that grizzly bear fred killed." Okay, you've got to admit that's a lame search.

Anyway, I thought I'd spend some time answering some of the implied questions that come from searches that bring people here. By implied, I think that I can imagine what they want. Oh, sure, I might get it wrong, but they're not coming back anyway . . . so, here goes.

Skinny Dick's is a favorite search. Is it really world famous? I'd like to stop there to eat, you know, check it out, sample a beer or two (as a service to my readers) however I need to do that before The Boy learns to read . . . and, as the sign says, I will leave my bra and panties at home.

In actuality, as near as I can find, Life in Alaska is the world's leader in information on "alaska land train 1950's" which is another popular search. Original article here. It's wonderful to be the world leader in information that's entirely irrelevant.

Perhaps the most cryptic search that has led someone to this site is "ho love john scale." Not a clue on this one. Model trains? Does some one want to scale my ho love? Love my ho scale?

The "Alaska Girls Kick Ass" bumper sticker is one of the most popular searches. If I could convince people to buy them at $50 a whack, I might be able to make some money. I find it especially funny to see some big 4x4 pickup, covered in mud, with an Alaska Girls Kick Ass bumper sticker plastered right on the back window. With a guy driving. Does he complain? No. Otherwise, he would find his ass thoroughly kicked. It says so on the sticker. And in the police reports in the News-Miner.

I feel sorry for the person who came here looking for "color taupe sample." While I do know what aubergine is, taupe is beyond me. Color and decorating (if I can't put gas in it, weld it, chainsaw it, eat it, read it, or sand it, I'm not sure I need it) are far beyond my expertise. This does, however, dovetail nicely with The Mrs. expertise. "Why do we need a new couch, we have one? I'd rather get a riding mower." Did I mention that she's a gem?

Then there are the wood related questions:
  • "Can you make money hauling firewood in Alaska?" No. Just fire.
  • "chainsaws for sale Alaska" Try Home Despot. Get a Husqvarna. Or, if you're cheap like me, get a Poulan. Unless you're cutting down five or six acres a day, the small one (14") will work fine. Unless you've got chain saw envy and need to have the 24" version. I, however, am secure in my chansaw.
Damn, I spend a lot of time talking about and doing things with wood. I'm working now on wood for 2006-07 winter (and maybe 2007-08), so next summer I won't feel so rushed and we can play more, after we finish the master plan on refinishing the exterior of the log cabin. Dang, but getting that wood is a good workout. Well, then again, so is Alaska.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Schultz! Close the gates! The war is back on!

Above is a picture of our new next door neighbor taken by The Mrs. You can click on it for a larger version. Don't worry, I'll wait. She and Mr. Owl moved in last week. Aside from the constant bickering (don't even try to get a state trooper to intervene in an Owl domestic dispute), there are several problems with having the Owl family for neighbors:
  • Where is the miniature poodle?
  • Are they the kind of owl that turns my property into some sort of endangered species zone so I can't mow my lawn anymore? If so, I say dang. Just dang.
  • I don't think I can write them off on my taxes as dependents since I can't get them a Social Security card.
  • There goes my idea of a mouse farm.
Anyhow, the owls have been handling the construction up high, and The Boy and I have been handling construction down low. Real low.

The previous owners of the house (Billy Ray Cyrus and Ma Kettle) decided to build a deck out front. Good for us, that's where hot tubs go. They built the deck as stout as one of Joe Pesci's sturdy little legs. Unfortunately, they also ripped off portions of the vapor barrier plus they sloped the dirt towards the house. For those of you who don't know, this is a bad thing. Why?

We have a basement. This winter when first we moved in, it became obvious that the basement was the coldest spot in the house. This made sense, since cold air moves downward. But, this was colder than that. It was ice on the walls (literally) kind of cold. Billy Ray and Ma had destroyed the insulation ability of that wall house, plus by putting the deck there, there was no longer any snow (which is an insulator) over a great swath of land right next to my basement.

By sloping the dirt towards the house, they also made my basement a nice funnel (not that it has been wet yet). This is only a good idea if you're Aqua-Man and want to keep the Aqua-Kids in the basement.

Time for that super construction duo, John and The Boy to spring into action.

If you've never spent time digging what amounts to a tunnel under a collection of boards, well, then you've never spent time in a German WWII POW camp. It was very spidery. Fortunately, The Boy has no innate fear of spiders. I did not mention to The Boy that they might bite.

See, I did that with the butterfly earlier this spring. The Boy and I were sitting, and a butterfly was coming up to him, and he was entranced. . . "What's that?"

Me: "A butterfly. Watch out, it might bite you."

The Boy looked in horror at the lemon-yellow butterfly and jumped back about three feet. I told him I was kidding. I'm not sure that he believes me that a butterfly won't bite him, but, hey, that was quite a visual. He'll probably deal with any lingering "unusual fear of butterfly" issues in therapy when he's older.

So, The Boy and I spent four hours moving dirt underneath the deck, cramped in a space where the only way to move was to wiggle on our torsos, slowly expanding our escape tunnel, so it would come up under the tree stump on the other side of the wire. The CommandantThe Mrs. would never see us escape then.

For those of you who have not done this, it beats a anything you can do in a health club for an abdominal workout. I'm working on that six-pack right now (but, it's beer, not abs).

We're not done, not quite yet. We've got to go buy some more insulation, some more plastic sheeting, and I'll dig the Owl family a basement so I can use the dirt to slope the whole mess the right way. Then we'll be ready for -55F temperatures under the deck this winter, and the runoff next spring.

As The Boy sagely remarked, while we were prone, covered in dirt, dust and mud from toe to top of head, "It's good to be dirty."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Mrs., The Mower, and Me

Christine: 1990-2005

Christine died. I'll pause while you mourn.

It was a quiet death, on the front lawn. Her pull-start rope came apart in my hands. This is just what The Mrs. was waiting for. She hated Christine. I understand. Christine was always my mower. Christine was the bright cherry-red love of my life since I saw her at Wal-Mart back in 1951.

Now she's gone.

Not that she didn't give clues. She would start at the first pull, and then abruptly the engine would stop after I'd mowed twenty feet of lawn. Then, after 671 more pulls, she would start again, and usually operate reliably. Sometimes though, she would start and just putter along in a rough idle for minutes at a time until she could finally muster up enough rpm's to go forward and mow the lawn. She was telling me it was time for her to go.

Alaska and our 7042 acre lawn was too much for her.

That's fine.

Because The Mrs. was working on me, getting me ready for the new mower.

It was a soft sell at first. "Dammit, John, I'm tired of you spending six hours to mow the lawn. We need a new mower!!!"

Then, it got stronger. "John, I am so f*****g tired of not being able to start the mower!!!! This isn't reasonable!!!"

Then, it was irresistible. "John. New. Mower. Now."

Fortunately, Christine gave in the ghost about the time that The Mrs. would actually feel like hitting me whenever she thought about the mower.

Now, we have purchased the fine piece of running machinery shown below. I mowed the backyard (about 300 acres) in about 8.89383 seconds (that's 54.39 metric years). It has a fifth gear, and if you use it, you're mowing at about 70 miles per hour. It corners like it's on rails.

A Brief History of John Deere as it Applies to Me:
John Deere was born about 1804 in Vermont. He was a blacksmith who built a very cool steel plow. Some time later, they painted everything green. And then at some later point, they started building lawn mowers.

This one rocks. (Note to John Deere representatives - I will accept money for endorsements.)

The Mrs. uses it like a surgical instrument. I, bewildered in a haze of beer, use it like a tank. Either approach works fine, since it cuts the lawn either way. As is my usual position on these matters, I am again admitting that I was wrong. We held on to Christine far too long for the size of lawn we have now.

What really won the day for The Mrs. was that The Green Beast comes equipped for attachments. Like a 42" snow blower.

I had dreaded the idea of getting a plow for our driveway to hook up to our pickup, primarily because I didn't think it would work especially well. A snowblower, however, will (at least in my "A Christmas Story"-type fantasy) whisk the snow effortlessly up and away from the road.

I'll let you know how it works. I'll try not to put my eye out.

A viewing will be held for Christine at the Fairbanks-North Star Waste Transfer Station (Badger Road) on Saturday, July 30th whenever I haul her out there.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

You are the One, Neo John. You see, you may have spent the last few years looking for me, but I have spent my entire life looking for you.

So, we went out to the Golden Days street fair. Golden Days is the local summer celebration of all things Fairbanks, primarily its gold rush history. No better way to do than with a street fair and with a rubber duck race. We were going to go to the parade as well, but our little blonde alarm clock, The Boy, failed to get up at his usual time. There's always next year.

We saw the gentlemen pictured above at the street fair (click on the picture to see a closer view, I mean, if you really want to). Paging Dr. Freud! The first thought I had when I saw these gentleman was: "Okay, am I going to turn into Agent Smith?"

I noticed I wasn't trembling or anything, so I assumed that instead of being super-secret alternate reality agents, these were just three 19 year-olds dressing strangely and acting goofy. One of them kept making a sound like an eagle screeching. They weren't being profane or anything, so, I'd put this down as good, poorly washed (it can't be good, clean fun if they're not clean), "I can't get a date" fun.

The Mrs., The Boy and I walked around the street fair. We pushed The New Boy in the stroller, because heaven knows you wouldn't want to carry him, since he now weighs 70 American pounds (that's like 6 kilograms) at only ten weeks of age. He eats more than a teenager right now, and it's all we can do to keep him from eating our cat. Where is Fluffy, anyway?

The street fair consisted of lots of booths selling art, bratwurst, and t-shirts. They surrounded the central statue in Golden Heart Plaza as shown below. There were two booths selling toys, but if The Boy (4.75328 years old) doesn't even recognize the things they were selling as toys, you know there's a problem.

A band played in the background, but they weren't loud. They were fun to listen to, but would have been excellent if they had backended the country sets with some Iron Maiden. We went around the fair twice, and then headed home. More wood to cut.

The most annoying thing about the fair was that a man who looked a lot like Laurence Fishburne kept following me around offering me some jellybeans and saying,
"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
Whatever that means. If it means I'll have to dress all in black, I think I'll have to pass. I had black parachute pants in the 1980's. We really don't want to go there, do we?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Interview with a Vampire Blogger

Above is a picture of a polar bear, or "nanook." As far as I know there are no bi-polar bears in Alaska. One can see that the polar bear in his natural habitat, his den. Nice wood paneling.

I don't know about you, but I don't have an oil painting of me in my den.This particular bear must be a narcissist.

The only other question I have is how exactly this bear successfully invited seals over to chat. It's like me inviting a group of Snickers bars over to my place to "just talk." Oh, sure, there'd be chit-chat to start the evening, but it can end only one way - I'd rip the hides off of each Snickers bar (regardless of the screaming) and enjoy myself as their chocolate and caramel melted in my mouth and dripped down my chin.

But, this post is really not about bears, it's about narcissism. My narcissism.

I got an e-mail the other day from a local reporter. I'll excerpt the relevant portion below.

My name's (removed, because I didn't ask for permission) and I work at (a local paper, not that there's a link to it or anything on the left side of the page). I saw your blog through a link on a co-worker's site (not that there's a link to it or anything on the left side of the page) and am I interested in writing a profile of a local blogger for Monday's paper.

If you are interested, could you get back to me today? I'd like to set up an interview for this weekend. Also, I would need your permission to print excerpts from the site and I would need to get one of our staff photographers to take your picture.

I look forward to hearing from you!
So, I saw this and I was thrilled. Alas, the message came in Friday, and I couldn't get back to the reporter in time, and I was not included in the story that ran. However, more important than being in the article to me was the idea:

Someone wanted to interview me? And it wasn't the TSA 'cause I was acting suspicious? I really don't think the New York Times would call me if I had "Blog from Brooklyn," so I realized that this is an artifact of living in a small population - the kind of thing that happens in Mayberry because Andy Taylor knows everyone.

Even though I missed deadline, I've decided to go with an interview anyway. Interviewers might ask difficult questions of me. I won't.

So, here it is:

Fake Interviewer: So, what got you interested in blogging?

John Wilder: I think it was the money, at first. Then it was the parties with Robert Downey Jr. After a while, though, the glamour wears off, when you wake up in a vat of cream with Winona Ryder, not knowing how you got there, you see the seamy side of fame. That's why I moved to Alaska. You know, keep it real.

FI: How long have you been blogging?

JW: Since about age eight, though then we called it "passing notes in class."

FI: So, do you feel writing an entry about your blog, in your blog, is somewhat ego-driven?

JW: Yes. (laughing) I would never do that.

FI: Is your family supportive of your blogging?

JW: If by supportive you mean "The Mrs. hasn't packed up her bags and moved back to Nebraska," then yes.

FI: The Mrs. is from Nebraska?

JW: No.

FI: So, what aspirations do you have for your blog?

JW: I want it to win the Indy 500.

FI: It's not a car.

JW: Don't trample my dreams!

I think it would go downhill from there. They'd want a picture, and then I'd throw them out after they refused to give me a gift bag worth a few thousand dollars, and I'd go into a corner and sulk with Elton John and Paul McCartney.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

That ditch is Boss John's ditch. And I told him that dirt in it's your dirt. What's your dirt doin' in his ditch?

Above is a picture of the Sun from Hell. Actually, it's a picture of the Sun when the wind blows in a bunch of smoke from distant forest fires. Happens sometimes that you hear that today's forecast is "75F and partly smoke-drenched." Abandon all hope, ye who click on it for the larger version, and dispair. Don't worry, I'll wait.

A Visiting Relative came into town for a few weeks (Rule One of living in Alaska - everyone you've ever met will come and visit). Since this is a close relative, rather than doing fun things like visiting the ever-elusive Denali, we worked. And worked pretty hard.

Before the second week was out, we noticed that the visiting relative had shed more than a few pounds. I have to think that it wasn't the cooking (typical menus during the time included steak, country ribs, sausage, eggs, scallops, and salmon fresh from the friggin' Yukon) but rather Alaska itself.

Alaska encourages all manner of physical activity.

First, there's shivering. That's gotta be aerobic. When it's -55F out and you're getting in your car to go to work, no matter how you slice it, it's cold. I figure I get a lot of aerobic activity just shivering in my car during my drive to work during the nine months of winter.

Next, there's all of the work you do to keep from shivering once you get back inside. I've got several posts (here, here, and most recently here) discussing all of the work necessary to just get a house feeling warm and comfortable through Wood: Our Combustible Friend.

Finally, the weather here in summer is fantastic. While you in the Midwest are sweltering under 106F heat index days, we're 75F during the day, and 55F overnight. This weather is just a bit more conducive to physical outdoor activity than it is in, say Dallas or the planet Mercury (an aside - past 100F and 70% humidity, is there a difference between Dallas and Mercury?). There are no air conditioning bills in the Great Land. Summer activities are a blast.

Most of the touristas that visit, however, are World War I veterans on some sort of package tour, so the closest they get to actual Alaska is drinking the water from the cruise-line owned hotel room faucet. They get none of the opportunities to shed a stubborn fifteen pounds through the natural gym that is Alaska. Here's where the market meets opportunity.

I read once that folks that weigh a little more than they want to would pay $100-$1000 per pound (depending upon income). So, why not open Alaska John's Weight Loss Camp? The benefits of this one are boundless. I could:
  • have perfect strangers pay me for the pleasure of moving and splitting my firewood
  • put up shoddy tents for them to sleep in, no need for electricity since there's 24-7 light
  • give them nothing but lettuce to eat, salad dressing only if they do extra work
  • if they've been good, take them into the forest for survival training (i.e., running from bears)
  • have them dig holes if I ended up with so much wood that I'd have to frolic nude with the doors open at -55F since the fire was so hot.
The only problem with this scheme (besides sounding exactly like the prison from "Cool Hand Luke") is that adults that could afford the $1000 a week I'd charge would never put up with these conditions. Plus, they might have some sort of health problem, I'd get sued, and some other guy would end up burning my firewood. So, the real opportunity is still with these same adults.

But only if their kids are chubby, too.

Now we have Alaska John's Kid's Weight Loss Camp. Heck, we could even call it "Kamp." We'd take away the cell phones and the GameBoys and put the little dears to work, hauling my wood, splitting my wood, and stacking my wood. Like slavery, but they pay me. I would even sell them the occasional Twinkie at $5 a pop. And, they would do my summer work, so I can go to the lake and fish. And drink beer. And pay my mortgage.

So, if I had ten kids a week for three weeks at $1000 a head, that would be $30,000 that they would pay me to get my summer chores done. The real kicker is that some of them would go back to the high-priced New York prep schools that they couldn't buy a date in looking like they'd spent the summer popping steroids and lifting weights with Jose Canseco, and would owe it all to me. Me! And then I'd have to add more shoddy tents for their chubby friends. And they could cut even more wood for me the following summer.


Now that's capitalism.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Alyeska, Alyeska

The Alaska Pipeline is a pretty famous hole, surrounded by metal. It goes from the north part of Alaska at Prudhoe Bay down to Valdez. It's about 800 miles in length. As an engineering feat, it crossed two major mountain ranges and the Yukon River. The Yukon is nearly a mile wide and 280' deep where the pipeline crosses. Building the pipeline caused severe financial issues for the companies that ponied up the money.

What does that mean to you? Bargain prices! Everything MUST GO!

The company that operates the pipeline is called 'Alyeska,' which means "main land" in Aleut. Every year Alyeska sells all their junk. Their junk essentially is all the Tonka equipment that I lusted after when I was six, and then some. But this time, it's all real.

I went to check all the stuff out on the days set out for inspection before the auction. Wow. If only I had a few million dollars to spare. I was doing a mental total, and if you wanted to create a mid-size construction firm, you could buy everything you needed in one day, in Fairbanks.

What I wanted was the Snow Cat pictured at the beginning of this post (the big orange Mad-Max thing).

I didn't get it. I did, however, get to crawl up into it and start it. The diesel engine glow plugs lit up, and twenty seconds later I fired the engine, and it roared to life. What a rush! This thing, if supplied with enough fuel, could take me anywhere in Alaska in winter. The feeling of power and omnipotence increases because the cab sits up about 13 feet above the ground. Talk about ground clearance!

An awesome experience. But, I was with The Mrs., and she had that "we left the children (and an adult!) waiting in the car on a sweltering Fairbanks day (80F) and you should stop messing around John and we can look at the things we might actually buy" look on her face. I turned the key in my dream machine off.

Nothing happened. The engine on this massive beast continued to smoothly run.

Uh oh.

I hit a switch labeled "Master Kill."

Nothing. The engine continued its 250 rpm diesel drumbeat.

I turned the key back and forth. I did notice at one position, the gauges stopped showing anything. I left the key in that position. I gingerly got down out of my dream machine and tried to walk away from the idling beast as innocently as I could.

"What's wrong?" The Mrs. asked.

"Umm, won't shut down." I smile and speak through clenched teeth as if I'm discussing the questionable virginity of a bride at a wedding.

"Turn the key."

"Did that. Still running." The smile is frozen to my face at this point.

We walked away. I felt guilty. What if it slipped into gear and crushed the line of cars parked in front of it?

The Snow Cat had stopped. Apparently I left the key in the correct position, and "off" is more of an eventual thing than an instant condition with a vehicle like that.

The Mrs. and I looked then at things we could afford.

We discussed maximum bids, and, the next morning, armed with:
  • a bidder's list,
  • bidder's number,
  • and a letter from the bank indicating I could afford more than $13.56 if auctioneer considered my collection of dryer lint collateral,
I went to the auction.

I was blanked. I did not even bid on the twenty or so items of interest. They were at the front of the list, and one skinny 55 year old wearing a plain white Fonzie t-shirt with a strange pale yellow stain around the midsection and right arm bought them all, despite his inability to find funds to purchase a comb. For twice what I was willing to consider.

Wow. I had looked at one of the items and had seen a better one in the local paper's classified, for only 2/3 what Fonzie paid at auction. I didn't stand a chance. Nor was I unhappy, since the reason I'd go to an auction is for a bargain, not to pay top dollar.

I have no idea what the item pictured below went for. If Fonzie was bidding on it, probably $45,000.

Home an hour after the auction started, The Mrs. saw another one in the paper. We went.

This one was better, and I bought things. Like a small portable heater for $4.00, plus $0.40 for buyer premium. Like a floor jack for $16.00 (plus $1.60) to change out the winter/summer tires for The Mrs.

Maybe one day I can be a skinny 55 year old with a stained Fonzie t-shirt. Hell, at the smaller auction, maybe I was. (Can you believe the way he bought a floor jack for $16.00? $16.00!)

Friday, July 15, 2005

"I love the smell of napalm birch in the morning . . . smells like victory." -Lt. Col. Robert Duvall

The pile that you see above isn't sticks. It's real. It's wood. It's four cords of real wood that we got in one weekend. The Boy is standing next to the wood, for scale. As he is over six feet tall at nearly five years old (I think that's 7 metric years), you can see indeed that this a great gob of wood.

Most of it is birch (yes, that's spelled right), and I pulled out my calculator and trusty Alaskan Wood Thermal Output Guide and calculated that this is equal to a whole bunch. Over 12,000 pounds, gotten with just a chainsaw, grit, determination, my pickup, a trailer, The Mrs., and A Visiting Relative. I would count The Boy as helping, but while he contributed, three random sticks doesn't quite make the hall of fame.

Nearly 81,000,000 Btu's (that's three bazillion dyne-centimeters, the oh-so-useful metric measure of heat). A Btu is a British thermal unit, which is the heat energy required to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. This is nearly enough wood to heat up enough water to wash Courtney Love squeeky clean, but only half as much as we'll need for heating our house this winter.

(An aside, what does Courtney Love bathe in now? Ham?)

What amazes me, though, is The Mrs.

She is a woman of iron.

What would make me say this? She carried more than a third of said wood (remember, estimated wood in excess of 12,000 pounds). And she had a c-section nine weeks ago. Let me repeat that: major baby pulling out surgery nine weeks ago.

I've posted the picture below before:

Now, though, I'm officially scared. If she has acquired some sort of super-hero like healing ability plus super strength, how much longer is my position in the house secure?

She cooks better than I do, she cleans better than I do (not to mention frequency of said cleaning), and she's also refinished an entire dresser since she's been out of the hospital. Now, she's lifting heavy things.

You see, I at least used to have the monopoly on that one, lifting heavy things. But, this move to the higher latitude of Fairbanks seems to have pulled out some long-dormant quasi-Arctic Norse Valkyr gene (previous post). I went to Dictionary.com and looked Valkyr up, just to make sure I got the spelling right:
Valkyr: (pronounced: The Mrs.) One of the maidens of Odin, represented as awful and beautiful, who presided over battle and marked out those who were to be slain, and who also ministered at the feasts of heroes in Valhalla.
This brings up several questions:
  • Is my father-in-law Odin?
  • Does this mean my cabin is Valhalla?
  • Will my insurance company cover damage caused when Thor and Frejya get into a domestic dispute? Or are those excluded under the "acts of Gods" clause?
  • Should I worry about her marking "slay this one" on my forehead as I sleep with a Sharpie?
  • If The Mrs. ministers at feasts, can she perform marriages?
  • Will Frank Frazetta have to do our family portraits? (a good link to get in the spirit)
  • And, most importantly, will some German write a fifty-hour long opera about us?
Well, on further reflection, she might not be a god, but she is heaven sent. And, Alaska tough. Dang, The Mrs. does need that bumper sticker.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Patriot

We sat at home and shot off a few fireworks on the 4th of July. That's one of them above, not an "Astronomy Picture of the Day." It was nice, but somewhat different. There's no "night" here, so the mortar shells that explode in mid-air aren't nearly as scenic as you would expect in Fort Wayne. There won't be actual darkness for another month. Fairbanks is not a good place to visit in the summer if you're a vampire.

The Boy went to go help pick out the fireworks. He insisted we go with "big noise" over "pretty colors." We bought a few, and went on home.

We started setting them off, starting with a string of "Black Cats." The Boy was terrified. He skittered inside like a pork chop running from a band of half-crazed ninja lizards (I apologize for that analogy - I used Microsoft Analogy-Maker 2000 and haven't upgraded recently). The boy then took up patrol of the picture window to make sure all was safe inside as we shot off additional fireworks. He so very much wanted to be outside watching, but the noise really got to him. The Mrs. (like she always does) figured out an immensely practical solution. It's pictured below.

Now, the boy could watch fireworks. I must admit, this was probably a better solution psychologically than my preferred method, which would be duct-taping him to a lawn chair and forcing him to watch.

So, being the 4th of July, the only thing missing was rain. We got that (and it gave me ample opportunity to clear the gutters of the 75 pounds of leaves that were holding back a volume of water equivalent to the Columbia River). We were, however, rewarded with a better light show than the fireworks that we bought after the rain cleared. Below, the most intense rainbow your faithful correspondent has yet seen (with the exception of watching Ronnie James Dio perform "Man on the Silver Mountain"):

I hope your 4th was equally fun.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Paris (Hilton) is Burning, or, Legal Eagles

Okay, I'll admit that the above picture is not really a cool Paris Hilton paparazzi shot despite how much it does look like her. It's really an ancient musk ox skull at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks Museum.

Went to the museum, but I think it would have been better if we'd have gone when we first moved here. So much of what they have there is geared towards visitors, and we live here. There's a stuffed grizzly bear, stuffed wolves, and stuffed polar bear. I'll let you in on a little secret: every Alaskan has six or eight stuffed grizzly bears in the garage. We put them out in the summer to scare tourists.

Now the UAF museum did have a mastodon skull (pictured below) which was nice, and huge.

I don't know about you, but I'd think three or four times about hunting a critter like that with a sharp stick. My dad says he took one of these down using only a roll of dental floss and the wrapper from a stick of chewing gum. I'm not sure I believe him, since he also says he fought some group called the "Nazis" during something called "World War II." He tends to make up stories.

In general, the exterior of the museum building was an unconstructed blob of mostly unrelated materials, stuck together any which way - there is exposed framing on the outside. The inside was nice and you can see that when they finally reach completion, the museum will double in size. This will either double the size of the aisles or allow double the number of stuffed bears (I think that would be 16 stuffed bears, if they go the 'double bears' route).

Part of the problem with the museum project is that the contractors and the University are fighting back and forth about who owes who money. So, a construction project that normally would have been long done has been dragging out forever. Now the lawyers are involved. I don't know about your experience, but lawyers do worse drywall work than, well, drywall guys.

Given the lawyers I saw milling about outside, the project might last forever. Lawyers don't work very hard, they're dangerous to have around children (I assume that's why they have the fence around the construction area), and if they work eight hours, they bill sixteen. Note to all parties involved: lawyers are a sign of construction gone bad. I see very few lawyers around my home projects, since mainly I'd have to sue myself for shoddy construction and late completion. Then I'd have to countersue for non-payment of me. Then, alas, I'd have no beer money, since the lawyers would have used the money for membership dues in the "League of Evil Lawyers."

Lessons for today:
1. Paris Hilton, though looking like a skeletal musk-ox, is not a skeletal musk-ox. I think
2. Mastodon were huge. Much bigger than my dog.
3. Lawyers steal beer money and are crappy at installing siding or HVAC.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Color of Money

Above is another picture of Denali. Big mountain, somewhat elusive to get the right picture, but this was the one that I've been working to get. Now I can stop chartering 747's to fly around the mountain in my quest for a good picture. Anyhow, click on it for the larger version.

As I flew over the mountain range, you could see smoke to the north, smoke to the south. Forest fires were burning on both sides, and the smoke was everywhere. It actually rolled in like a cloud, and then it rolled on out again. Today it's beautiful, sunny, and clear, and there are no end to the activities that we can do.

Most of them are construction related. I have been known to have many a few beers when doing the construction around the house - that might explain the drywall in some spots. I do have a rule, though, beer and chainsaws don't mix. I really don't want to be known as "Lefty."

As near as I can tell, almost everyone up here is a do-it-yourselfer. That would explain the tangled plastic tubing mess that is the water supply in the house, and the unusual choices made for lighting and wiring, and the inordinately large emergency room at Fairbanks Memorial. I won't explain how I know that, let's just say that several months ago I determined I have an acute allergy to stainless steel embedded in my finger. Enough said.

So, The Home Despot and Lowe's are my constant companions up here. The Boy knows where items are there, and even (at four) makes good suggestions on what we need to buy. For example, last week he said, "We need plywood."

I started thinking. We do need a sheet of plywood. If he hadn't mentioned it, I'd have had to make another trip into town to get it. How did he know? I hadn't mentioned it (really it had been only a passing thought), and never buy it. Scary little guy.

Occasionally, you'll luck out and get a bargain. The former owners of our house had decorated the master bedroom with leafy stamps. Some folks might like it, but for The Mrs. and I it's the visual equivalent of dragging fingers across a chalk board. So, sometime this winter, we'll paint over that monstrosity. We had a color picked out, but opportunity struck. The lady in front of us (we were getting exterior paint) got some paint, but the paint they made for her, despite being of the right color and really good quality, wasn't Laura Ashley paint. A thought struck me. There are four gallons of this stuff, which would go a long way to painting our upstairs. I looked at it, and thought it might work. I wandered over to The Mrs. (who was hanging over by the brushes with The Boy and The New Boy.
Me: "There's four gallons of paint they just messed up on. Interested?"
The Mrs.: "For what?"
Me: "Upstairs, our bedroom."
The Mrs.: "What color?"
Me: "Taupe."
Now, it's here that The Mrs. shows the wisdom that I married her for:
The Mrs.: "And just what color do you think taupe is?"
I am unmasked. I have no idea what color taupe is. I go, pick out a sample, show The Mrs., and she agrees that this color would look good upstairs.

I read once that there's a gene that's present about one in ten red-haired women with Irish blood that allows them to see some extra color that nobody else can see. I think The Mrs. has that, since she continually sees color differences I don't, and I'm not color-blind.

Anyhow, I still don't know what taupe is, though we did purchase four gallons of a paint that may or may not be taupe for $20 (that's like $700 Canadian). Or maybe it's mauve. I may not be color-blind, but I'm certainly color-ignorant. And, I'm okay with that.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Moose (Cheese) is Loose

That's Anchorage above, at about 11pm, near the solstice. A pretty place, mountains all around. You can click on the picture to make it larger, and, it's worth it.

But, too many rules here in the big city. Probably can't hunt moose in town.

Anyway, I got an actual moose-related letter from an Alert Reader with a question:

Dear Chicago Sun,
Do you have moose cheese up in Alaska? My daddy says if it's in the Sun, it's so.

First, I was worried. When would the Chicago Sun catch me reading their mail?

Second, I was thoughtful. Hmmm, don't remember seeing that at the local Safeway or Fred Meyer's store. Maybe in with the mouse eggs?

Then I thought about the process involved in making moose cheese. You'd need to:
  • catch a 1200 pound moose
  • keep catching and releasing moose until you got a female (important before you started milking)
  • check the moose to make sure she was lactating
  • milk said 1200 pound moose
  • and repeat this process until you got enough moose milk to make cheese.
This was enough to make me think that the idea was a bogus one, unless you were a suicidal hippy. Lo, I must report, gentle reader, I was totally wrong.
There is moose cheese, Virginia.

I pulled the following story off of ESPN
, for heaven's sake. ESPN has an article on moose cheese. Virginia, if it's in ESPN it's so. I used the very useful "Bork" text feature that one can download for Firefox, and am pleased to present the a paragraph on moose cheese, as presented by a Muppet Swedish Chef:

Fermers in nurzeern Svedee ere-a meelking muuse-a und mekeeng cheese-a, vheech zeey sell fur a lut ooff duoogh — neerly $500 a puoond. Zee booyers incloode-a upscele-a hutels und restoorunts in Svedee. Bork Bork Bork!

Chreester Juhunssun und hees veeffe-a, Ulla, sterted zeeur 59-ecre-a deury ferm, "Muuse-a Huoose-a," sefee yeers egu in Bjoorshulm, 404 meeles nurt ooff zee cepeetel, Stuckhulm. Zeey cleeem it is zee oonly muuse-a deury ferm in Ioorupe-a. Bork Bork Bork!

So, Chreester Juhunssun is making moose cheese. At $500 per pound, with a total output of 660 pounds, Chreester is making about $330,000. Selling moose cheese. After Swedish taxes European taxes, and Moose tax, that would leave him with about $53.21, enough to buy that new ABBA album he'd been saving for.

So, now I know that moose cheese exists, an important lesson. Another important lesson I learned was that Swedish is not a language, but only any accent.

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