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, January 29, 2006

"Ah, chess. The ancient contest of wits. Two opponents, mano a mano, braino a braino. And look: magnets for ease of travel."-The Tick, The Tick

The Boy prepares his great attack with patience. He senses weakness in the old man, and feels like Genghis Khan in a room full of kittens. He smiled as he pushed out his first piece. I felt fear.

Teaching a five-year-old chess wasn't something that I planned.

I was in the basement, doing my regular combination of turning perfectly nice pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood connected by screws that service some sort of purpose and goofing off with The Boy, when he came across the chess set. I saw a covetous lust build in his eyes. He picked up the box.

“I want to play check pieces.”

“It’s called chess.”

“I want to play chess.”

After concluding our various bits of goofing, we ambled upstairs into the warmth of the wood stove. I carried the chess set.

The Mrs. immediately asked, “What’s that?”

“A chess set.”

Now, there are chess sets and there are chess sets. This particular chess set is a chess set. By that, I mean that it is old. The box top has suffered the indignity of having its corners pulled apart by the combination of young fingers and perhaps ninety years of time, maybe more. The masking tape that originally repaired them closed is older than me. There is no marking on the box, but it’s from the time before ™ and ® and © appeared on everything Milton Bradley made.

Now The Boy and I pulled the box open, and we began to set up the board. When I say we, well, I did. We worked on names as we went.

We began playing. We talked about the pieces as we went, and how they moved. Soon, The Boy’s strategy became evident.

“Ow, ow, ow,” he intoned, as he moved a pawn onto a black square from a red square.

“What are you doing?”

“The pawn hurts on the red square.”


“It’s red. He’s burning.”

So, The Boy’s entire strategy that first game was to move every piece he could from red squares to black squares. He was most upset that one of his bishops had to stay on red. Needless to say, I mopped up the chessboard with him.

After I finished my victory dance, I reflected. The Russians have had a long history of beating all comers in chess, barring the occasional IBM supercomputer or nutty Bobby Fischer. I think that’s due to several factors:
  • No Cable TV,
  • No Video Games,
  • Long Winters,
  • Russian Women, and
  • Vodka Shortages.
Changing any of these factors would have just put their national pastime into dusty boxes in the basement. I’m willing to bet by 2030 nobody on Earth will remember how to play even checkers, unless it’s part of a virtual simulation where the checkers have shotguns and you use the shotgun to shoot the other checkers. It’ll be on Playstation Box 3000, produced by MicroSony, the one with free brain implant surgery.

The Boy, however, seems to like chess at this age. By our third night of playing, he set up the board by himself, correctly. He’s almost got how the knight moves figured out. Being five, sitting through a chess game is fairly difficult. The temptation to do several moves at once is hard to resist. The temptation to wiggle is even harder to resist. After a roll of duct tape, though, I managed to get him settled in his chair.

He managed to play a good game that third night, before I caught him leaving his queen unprotected in the center of the board.

During the game, he had to go to the bathroom.

“Don’t touch the pieces, Dad!” he shouted as he ran down the hall.

Dang. There goes that advantage. Time to get him into video games.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

"Block of wood, bucket of ice and a hatchet, sir" - Tim Roth, Four Rooms

Oh, sure, building a McDonalds in Fairbanks in winter sounds easy, but instead of bagging just the fries, you gotta bag the entire restaurant.

For those that are interested, there's a 2.9MB download available of the water vaporizing: here. A little bit better quality. We'll film another version soon to get some more contrast.

Winter continues in Fairbanks. I could, however, keep writing about winter until June. For those keeping score, January 2006 is on par to be the third coldest winter in Fairbanks since Aerosmith was formed, back in 1908. Actually, it really will be the third coldest since 1971.

I’m quite certain that some sort of global warming theory would account for the unusually cold winter, like the theory that Greenland’s ice would melt due to global warming was quickly supplanted with the theory that Greenland’s ice would thicken due to global warming when it was discovered that Greenland was getting more icy. Global warming would, of course, lead to a new ice age in Europe, which would account for the hot summers.

Puzzled? Yeah, me too.

Regardless, I haven’t seen uber global warming hack Al Gore up here when it was winter. Al’s been convinced that global warming is real since he heard about it in class in college. I just wish he’d studied something more practical, like astrology or alchemy instead. Regardless, we could use him since I’d love for Fairbanks to be a hot spot of invention, and he could invent tons of way-neat stuff up here, like metal blades you could strap to your feet to move across the ice with grace and speed. What could he call that? Hmm, Goreskates? Anyhow, I’m wandering.

It’s been hovering around –50F all week, and that makes it a bit hard to do a lot. Like drive.

I’ve been fighting my car all week. When it gets down to –50F the power steering fluid gets thicker than Angelina Jolie’s lips (I still haven’t seen the stem where she adds the air) and I have to pretend that I’m Conan the Wilder just to turn the steering wheel a measly few degrees. The automatic transmission fluid likewise becomes as solid as Carmex, and it takes a little bit of driving for it to change gears normally. Add in the ice fog, and you can have your opportunity to pretend to be Han Solo dodging asteroids. Except the asteroids are cars, and moose. And Chewbacca is a five year old. And you can’t see the asteroids until they’re 10 feet in front of you.

Even the moisture is stir-crazy, and will do anything to escape.

It’s +50F (100 degrees warmer than outside) in the basement, which is a real improvement over last year. Last year it was much colder, and all but useless. When The Boy and I placed insulation this summer, it made a huge difference. But, there’s still work to be done. I’ve mentioned “chinking” before (filling the gaps in the logs of the log cabin), and winter is a fine time to spot the fine cracks between logs that normally wouldn’t be seen. What happens is the hot (80F) air inside the house can carry a lot more moisture than cold air. When, like Elvis, it leaves the building, the moisture that it can no longer carry drops out and accretes on the cabin like carbohydrates did on Elvis.

But the cold takes its toll in other ways. Our big husky is getting to be just a bit nuts – she wants to go outside and run, but it’s cold enough that she’d sure rather stay inside. The other night, I saw her murmuring to herself in dog speak, “It puts the lotion on it’s skin . . .” I’m not sure I trust her now, with her brooding doggie-eyes . . . thank heaven she has no thumbs.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"What do mean there's no ice? You mean I gotta drink this coffee hot?" - Customer, Clerks

Our thermometer, showing a happy rainbow, a sure sign that Noah’s dogsled came to rest on Denali after the Great Flood, where Noah had two of every dog pulling his sled.

It finally got cold up here.

Most of the winter, so far, has been a tease. Now it’s getting down to business. I heard a newscaster say that the weather has been impacted by winds coming from north of Siberia, rather than the balmy breezes headed up from the Caribbean, which Alaska normally sees in winter.

It’s a little-known fact that Alaska in winter is warmer than your Mom’s bread, fresh out of the oven. Well, at least it is inside my cozy house. Outside it’s just damn cold.

So, what’s real winter like? Real winter in Alaska is when it’s –50F out, like it was today. That’s when the rules change, and that’s the temperature that almost makes me zip up my jacket. Okay, I’ll admit I was a wimp. I zipped up my jacket today on the drive to work, and it was only –48F out.

Why do I say, “When the rules change”? Because I think, technically, -50F counts as cryogenic. For those of you who drive diesel cars, forget it. At –50F, diesel fuel becomes thicker than Smuckers Jam. Cars up here have to use kerosene. Houses heat with it, too. I heard tell that one year it got to –65F and the kerosene turned into jelly, too, so many a house began to get a bit frosty.

-50F isn’t exactly life threatening in an immediate sense. This morning, The Mrs. (as is her customary habit when her louse of a husband doesn’t stock the wood) went out to grab a few meager sticks to put on the fire. She went outside in her typical wood gathering attire, to wit: T-shirt and baggy workout shorts. No shoes. No socks. The Mrs. stood on the concrete step until she had an armful. She noticed it was a bit brisk, and looked at the thermometer when she got in with her life-giving heat supply. The thermometer read –50F. So, to recap, The Mrs. can stand on –50F concrete in her bare feet long enough to get enough wood to heat the house for an afternoon. Kinda makes me look down on all the New-Agers who pay good money to spend a tenth of a second hopping on hot coals.

The remarkable thing is that this isn’t remarkable at all. Yeah, -50F is as cold as Martha Stewart’s heart, but people deal with it. They go shopping, they go out to eat, they fill their tanks with gas. My power steering on the way home decided I needed some upper arm strength, so it decided to play dead all of the way home. I think it was taking a snow day off.

One thing that changes with the extreme cold is that the dreaded ice fog becomes part of our landscape. Ice fog is like fog, but forms because it’s cold as hell. If you follow a car down the road, that car (and yours!) will form a contrail like a jet. This trail of water is condensed by the pressure wave of the car moving, with the added bit of condensation from the moisture present in the car’s exhaust.

So, a fog drops over the lower areas. Most of the time you can still look up and see blue sky, but in driving, the density of the fog can vary drastically over short distances in your line of sight, sort of like you’re following James Bond and the fog machine in his Aston-Martin isn’t quite working in a reliable fashion. So, you turn ‘round the corner, and you’re looking at a thick blanket of fog, with no Odd-Job or Jaws or Plenty O’Toole around.

Even better, though, is that you can exploit this particular weather condition for fun and games.

When I moved up here, someone mentioned that you could take a quantity of water and toss it up in the air and it wouldn’t hit the ground. Not that it would freeze, but that it would turn to a frozen vapor.

My initial reaction was that I was skeptical. Until I saw it.

It’s true, it works. Here’s the setup:
  • Take coffee-hot water (it does NOT need to be boiling)
  • Walk outside
  • Throw it up in the air
  • Watch it turn into a cloud, with nary a drop hitting the snow

When you do this it makes a hissing/zipping sound.

So, if you’re skeptical, please feel free to try this link. This (LINK HERE)is a video of The Mrs. tossing some water up on a –30F day and only a bit of it hitting the ground. You can’t hear the hiss/zip, just my feet crunching the snow. It is probably one of the neatest natural phenomena that I’ve ever seen. You don’t even have to venture out in the cold. We did it for you. I would strongly suggest you download and give a look. I’ll even try to get a better version yet this winter.

Go, enjoy, but don’t try this at home, kids. It just won’t work in San Fran.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Your inquiry intrigues me. Can any of us be a good boy? Are our primal urges innate or the result of the choices we make?" - Stewie,Family Guy

The Boy mooching some cookies from the cabinet. Not like that's unusual.

The Boy and I are getting closer. The biggest help for that is that he’s finally becoming what I would call human. Now, that helps a bit. We hang out in the basement and do boy stuff.

What helps the most is that he’s finally able to carry a conversation with me. It’s nice to be able to finally have a discussion with him that doesn’t consist of:

“I wanna . . . (fill in the blank).”

The conversations now consist of more substantial matters. Not that I can discuss the subtle matters of how money is created or how value is created in a free-market economy (and it’s not through taxing Alaskans), but we can chat with each other about some simple things. And, I find to my enjoyment, that I like him.

Last night The Mrs. ditched The Boy and I early. She went to bed about 9PM. The Boy and I were watching Big Trouble in Little China. For those of you who have not seen this fairly campy movie, well, it’s a blast. I have a friend named Oz whom I watched this movie with numerous times (way back in the era when I was young, the 1980’s) and every time it was a blast. It was no different with The Boy, except only I was drinking.

He and I watched this silly movie and he was riveted to the screen. Not real rivets, but metaphorical rivets. Because, you know, putting real rivets into The Boy would probably get me in trouble, or as a subject of some story on CNN. So, we sat and watched this very bad (but very good) movie together. He loved it.

Now The Boy and I are beginning to have things in common. The New Boy, being only eight months old is essentially useless. Now, when Faraday was asked of what use electricity might be, he responded, “Of what use is a new borne babe?”

Well, Mr. Faraday, when the new borne babe is eight months old, said babe is still worth diddly.

The Boy, however, is a lot of fun. We go downstairs and do things. I’m working on getting a wood shop together, and he comes with me to help set it up. Normally, he helps by running around being a ninny, but just having him there makes the day easier. He occasionally asks for silly things (“Make me a working car out of a bar of soap and some sawdust,”) but for the most part he just goofs around, playing with various toys and keeping me company, and running messages back and forth between me and The Mrs. That is fraught with a whole slate of unique dangers.

Me: “Go see what Momma’s doing.”

The Boy: (After a patter of feet heading up and then back downstairs) “Momma says that you’re going to be killed for dinner.”

That always makes me pause. The Mrs. has a fine arsenal of weapons upstairs, and I seem to have stranded myself downstairs without any ammo. I grab my trusty M-81 bayonet and clench it between my teeth, ready to kill or be killed. I crawl up the stairs to be assaulted.

Assaulted by the smell of heavenly cooking. The Boy has hopelessly garbled the message again.

As usual, The Mrs. has just cooked a tasty dinner of pot roast and the .45 is still safely tucked away in it’s “waiting to defend hearth and home” slot. The Mrs. has no intent to kill me. As far as I can tell. Not that she doesn’t have a reason (the way I don’t put up clothing would be enough), note I said, “intent.”

So, I put he bayonet up, and have a nice dinner, as I try to wipe off the camouflage paint and pretend that I hadn’t done my hair up in a bandana and yelled, “Yo, Adrian!!!” when I topped the stairs.

I never said I got my movies right.

Anyway, The Boy and I eat the lovely dinner The Mrs. cooked. The Boy and I fight, but in a good, wrestling with Dad way. Fortunately, nobody had to die. The Mrs. continually amazed by the amount of work that we do when it's just us downstairs. By amazed, I mean stunned that we don't get jack done. Well, heck, we're related.

So, when The Mrs. sent him outside to play (for an hour!) at –10F today, well, I went to the window and looked out. He plowed snow with his Tonka, and The Mrs. and I didn't have to engage in a duel to the death. Some days, well, it’s just good. Maybe we'll get something actually done next week.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"No! Poor people are crazy, Jack. I'm eccentric." - Dennis Hopper, Speed

I wonder if the owner charges a partially refundable fare for visiting him?

The Mrs. and I were out driving, and thought we'd take a picture of one of our favorite sights in Fairbanks: the house the guy is building out of an airplane. I can’t fathom why a man would want to live in a house made from an airplane.

I guess the problem might lie with me. When ever I’m on an airplane, most of the time I can’t wait to get off.

  • cramped,
  • expensive,
  • often late,
  • don’t give me peanuts anymore because of the one in a million chance that somebody on the plane might be allergic to peanuts, and
  • don’t give out free beer in coach.
Perhaps I’m alone, but I also wonder about the relative intelligence level of the FAA. They believe that the general public that has to be told how to assemble a seat belt. Also, my chances of being in a water landing between Fairbanks and Anchorage is roughly as likely as Democrats and Republicans getting together and having a reasoned discussion that doesn’t result in the term “booger face” being used. Give me information how to rappel down a crevasse instead – all the water between Fairbanks and Anchorage is frozen. Perhaps they should tell me how to use my seat cushion as a sled, or what are the best recipies if there happens to be a South American rugby team on board.

The gentleman who’s constructing the house above, however, seems okay with all of the things about airlines that make me shiver. Given that this is Alaska, something tells me that he won’t have his own version of the TSA taking tiny pocketknives away from people, but allowing them to carry on four-inch long scissors. As The Mrs. said, “Hmm, that’s just two four inch knives. Do you think they thought that one through?"

Me, I say the TSA should give everyone a pistol with one shot. Talk about democracy.

In your neck of the woods, this person might be thought of as “eccentric.” Up here, he’s known as “neighbor.” Odds are he's the kind of neighbor that will check on your house when you're gone, or help you learn to hunt Alaska style if you just moved up this way, and not the kind of neighbor that calls the cops to complain if your stereo is too loud.

Alaska represents freedom, freedom to make an old airplane into a house, or to carry an exotic handgun that shoots ammunition that would have been classified as artillery rounds as late as WWI into the grocery store to buy beer.

I had a conversation with a nice young soldier who was picking up some extra cash by working part time in our Home Despot. He was from Georgia, and couldn’t fathom that people would or should be allowed to carry virtually any legal weapon (concealed) most anywhere. And, that there was no registration of weapons.

“Hey,” I said, “I’ve got all my numbers down, so if they’re stolen, I can give them to the police.”

“Yeah, but they don’t know them now.”

For the life of me and despite his best arguments, I still don’t know how a police database of the weapons I own would make me (or you) safer. Perhaps it would stop me from stealing them from myself and then burning my own records? He just doesn’t get it.

As I said earlier, the gentleman putting up his airplane house here in Alaska is eccentric. Even I have been called eccentric. That’s okay, in fact I'm flattered. To find enjoyment in –40F (which is –40C, which is what it was last night) you’ve got to be a bit nuts. By definition, if you live up here and like it, you’re a bit off. In Alaska, eccentric is average.

But, you can have beer in a chilled glass. By chilled, I mean the glass is chilled to –40F just outside the front door by sitting on the deck railing. And, as I stare out at the snow falling down in straight lazy lines directly down from the overcast sky, well, it might be -20F, but it sure feels like heaven.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"He would kill you like a small dog. Let your anger be as a monkey in a pinata."- Master Tang, Kung Pow: Enter The Fist

Scooby is perhaps the best dog in our house, with the exception of his continual staring at me, judging me, telling me to call Jodie Foster.

The Mrs. is one dog away from being a Crazy Dog Lady. I’ve told her this. We had a husky-cocker mix, and a miniature poodle with a Napoleon complex. On top of two kids under six, this officially qualifies us for “menagerie” status. But that wasn’t enough.

The Mrs. talked to a nice lady (Dog Rescue Woman) who specializes in rescuing dogs, just like it says on her cape. The Mrs. had her heart set on a nine year old terrier that got the boot when his owners decided to reproduce with an actual two footed variety of child versus the four footed variety. The Mrs. discovered Dog Rescue Woman’s super power when The Mrs. came home with two little terriers instead of one. Dog Rescue Woman’s super power is to make people like The Mrs. take two dogs versus the one she had planned. So, now we have the official Mongrel Horde.

As if it weren’t chaos enough showing up at home with three people and two dogs immediately clamoring for my attention after a long day spent slaying the dragons of business entropy, now I had seven (not counting the vole) mammalian creatures jostling for my undivided attention as I walked in from the –40F ambient temperature outside into the warmth of the house.

To give her credit, The Mrs. doesn’t ask me to do much with or about the flowing mass of fur that periodically rolls through our house like a prairie thunderstorm. Mainly she just asks me to let them out once in a while, and that’s the problem.

No, not the getting off my butt and walking the fifteen feet to the door to let them out (though I grumble from time to time), no, it’s not that. It’s what goes on outside. Mind you, I’m very happy that what goes on outside stays outside – the dogs are all well house-trained. It’s the residual bits.

Specifically, in the summer time the waste products of the animals evaporate, percolate, or degenerate pretty darn quickly. No fuss, no muss. I haven’t studied it, and do not wish to. The stuff disappears. Gone. Maybe bigfoot eats it. I don’t really care, since I live in a forest, and the stuff isn’t stuck on my shoe. This would be wonderful if the effects of summer lasted longer than the fifty-three seconds that is the average duration for summer in Fairbanks.

No, in winter, the “stuff”, both solid and liquid (which soon becomes solid) stays. It may well stay as unsquishy frozen chunks, as close to tidy as is possible since they’re in essence freeze-dried, like instant coffee. However, let’s not kid ourselves. We all know what it really is that’s lurking out there. You can sweep it away from the house, but the little biological processing machines that are our dogs will soon make more. And, since the temperature has been hovering around –40F, there’s not a lot of incentive for me to walk the dogs (there’s barely incentive for me to open the doors to let them back in), and nearly zero incentive for the dog to walk another sixty feet away to do “the business.” Sixty feet times –40F equals a dog with very frosty tootsies, or if it ventures too far, an attractive lawn ornament.

If you’ve ever been to a cave with stalagmites, (which I believe, are the pointy things on the floor, not the roof) then you can imagine the way our male dogs have decorated the propane tank on the barbeque grill with expelled liquid dog stuff. Said dog stuff freezes instantly into decorative shapes that would be considered beautiful if they were made of something, anything else.

Would a rose smell as sweet if called by another name? Probably. But The Mrs. would still smack me silly if I tried to give her a rose that was made of frozen dog urine.

We’ll be below the melting temperature of water for months yet. Perhaps I’ll grow to love the lemon-yellow sculpture in the front yard. I’m not betting on it. But, I’ll get to look at it until at least April. I’m hoping for snow. Every three or five days. At least that will cover up most of it, and I can pretend that our house is my idyllic, peaceful home, and not the world’s northernmost fire hydrant.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

"If by read, you mean imagined a naked lady, then yes." - Peter, The Family Guy

Moose by the side of the road. Moose hate math, which is the main reason that moose don't control the world.

So, I got up the other morning at 4AM. This wasn’t the usual for me, but it was a work thing. So, as I walked to my car, I saw the brilliant full Moon rising over the trees. In the southeast. Not much unusual. During the day, I saw the Moon transit across the southern sky (most things are south of here). When I finally got home at 7PM that night, I saw the moon still suspended in the sky. Oh, and by the way, it was in the far northwest. On Friday, I saw the Sun at it’s meridian height (noon) in the south, with the Moon due north.

So, during the day I saw the full Moon make a complete circle in the sky. Not something you’d ever see in Peoria. Or Pocatello. Or even Pascagoula.

But you can see it in Fairbanks.

Being the inquisitive person that I am, I decided one day to draw out a model of why this might be. If you take the axial tilt of the Earth (23 degrees) and the orbital period of the Moon (28 or so days) and the distance of the Earth from the Moon (about seven inches) you get a big wad of nonsense, although I will tell you that if you want to draw a model of the Earth/Moon system, start with a really small scale, unless you have paper that’s large enough to park a car on.

Since I don’t have paper that’s large enough to park a car on, I used an Alaskan’s best friend: duct tape. I then used an Alaskan’s second best friend: a blue tarp. I then had a scale model of the Earth-Moon system that was useful. Then The Mrs. came home and parked on my model. Since it was about –40F out, I knew that I had essentially one other option: to use actual math. That was way better than explaining to The Mrs. how the coffee can duct taped to the tarp was the Earth and the baby food jar ducted taped to the tarp was the Moon and that I’d like her to be cold for the sake of science.

So, I’d have to take pencil to paper on this one.

I’ve been a fan of sine since I was twelve. I’ve also been a fan of cosine, too. In fact, I had the basic geometric relationships memorized before I took geometry. How, you might ask? Naked women.

When I was a kid, (B.C., as in Before Cinemax) about the only way to see a naked woman was to get into a stash of somebody’s old Playboys. There was, however, another way. I was always a fan of Mad Magazine, but by the time I hit 10 or so, it seemed to be a bit, well, childish. I bought a copy of The National Lampoon out of curiosity, and my twelve-year-old sense of humor was well rewarded.

Not only did it feature well-written humor by the likes of P.J. O’Rourke, but it had another stunning addition. It featured lots of pictures of naked women. This made National Lampoon the best magazine ever. I could buy it, and even carry it openly around adults and yet it was chock full of that most elusive (at least then) sight a twelve-year-old boy could imagine: hot chicks who were naked.

These pictures were often in “Foto Funnies” which made some sort of joke using naked women. In one of these, a naked woman pointed out that if you touched her knee she’d say “OH” which meant, obviously, opposite over hypotenuse, which is, of course, sine.

In the next panel, she indicated that if you kissed her neck she’d say, “AH” which meant adjacent over hypotenuse, or cosine.

I think our educational system makes poor use of the basic drive of the twelve-year-old male to see naked females. If there’s a way to get our educational system out of the doldrums in which it finds itself, I’d say that naked women might be a good option. We could teach eleven-year-olds the Special Theory of Relativity (a bit easier than the General) with the right Foto Funnies.

So, three years before I took geometry I had these basic functions memorized. So, now when I was attempting to figure out how we could see the moon move a complete circle, I had at my disposal how to derive and use these basic relationships. So, armed with math, basic published data on the Moon and the Earth system and the longitude of Fairbanks I came to the conclusion that you can see the Moon do a complete circle in the sky (and some times never see it) because we’re so darn high on the Earth.

Which, I guess, didn’t require math at all, so, never mind.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

"I'm gonna kill that crazy Murdock!" - Mr. T, The A-Team

In about a month, we'll get light on the house, rather than just on the tops of the trees near our house. Until then, the Sun is but a myth, eaten by a wolf-god. Or something.

I love my wife. The Mrs. is a wonderful woman, good with children, soft-headed about dogs kind-hearted to dogs, and better to me than perhaps I deserve. She allows me to work silly hours, understands that I have a whole list of bizarre rules (I’m pretty high maintenance – you should hear me order at a restaurant) about the way I live my life. But she’s the woman for me.

We love to watch most of the same shows on TV, and argue about who gets to look at the Cabela’s catalog first. We read the same books. Our politics are so close to each other’s that I can’t even start a decent argument. Every year we are together, we love each other a bit more. It’s the stuff of fairy tale legends, being in the happily ever after phase.

Which isn’t to say that she’s not crazy. Because, you know, she is. Nutty as a loon.

She’s not eighteen, but first on her Christmas list was a copy of “Grand Theft Auto – San Andreas.” This is a mother of two, but last night I watched her computer avatar stomp several people to death for $42 of virtual cash. Then said avatar car jacked a suburban and ran over a cop and stole his gun. R-rated stuff. As I said, she’s a good Mom, so all the little Wilders were snugly duct taped to their beds, so they didn’t witness Mom’s killing rampage. I went to bed about midnight. Word on the street is that she was killing folks until 4 AM.

That’s nutty.

We’ve lived here for a year, and I was in our main bathroom the other day. I popped open the medicine cabinet, and pointed out that we should think about replacing the cabinet when we remodeled (say, in 2016) the main bathroom. She was in shock. We’d lived here a year, and she’d not noticed that there was a medicine cabinet in the main bathroom. She thought it was just a mirror.

That’s goofy.

And, she hasn’t yet figured out that The Boy, who had been comprehensible to her previously, is now joining the International Brotherhood of Smelly Men, even though he’s still at the tender age of five.

We were driving on a quest to get some computer parts the other day, and The Mrs., The Boy and I were talking. As we drove by The Home Despot, The Boy noted that we needed to stop at The Home Despot and get some tools.

Me: “What tools?”
The Boy: “We need to get a router.”
Me: “We have two routers in the basement. We don’t need another one.”
The Boy: “But we need one.”
The Mrs.: You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Me: “Boy, what kind of router to we need?”
The Boy: “A computer router.”

As usual, The Boy was right that we needed such a router (we were attempting to sling together enough computer power so The Mrs. could be a street punk) but just wrong about what store you’d get such a thing at. Rule #1: When you’re shopping and The Boy says we need something, he’s right. I’m still not sure what to do with that basement full of Skittles . . .

But, as I said, The Mrs. doesn’t get that one, yet.

Despite being just a bit crazy, well, I’ve got something to admit:

I’m a bit crazy, too. Mainly about The Mrs. Oh, and beer. And duct tape.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"It's starting to smell a little like danger in here, or heavily-fried food." -The Tick, The Tick

The New Boy develops a life long passion for eating everything in sight. I'm thinking we'll need to keep cattle when he's older so he can eat them whole.

Baby food is expensive, like Loch Ness Monster tenderloin grilled by FEMA over asteroid briquettes is expensive. Pricey, pricey stuff. When you add in the fact that Gerber’s has to ship this stuff in to Alaska in trucks that have people in the back shivering to add heat to the food so it doesn’t freeze, you can see one of the reasons that the costs mount. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me.

But we have The New Boy.

The New Boy is a bit over eight months old, but eats enough food, to single handedly feed Wyoming most nights. Formula? No, forget it. Not nearly enough nutrition. Formula plus rice? Nope, not enough to keep a belly full. Formula plus rocks? Nice and crunchy, but hard on the gums after a while.

We moved The New Boy to solid foods not long after we saw him gnawing the slats out of his crib in preparation (we assume) to wrestle down a dog and barbeque it over the wood stove. We started with the baby foods, you know, the pureed things (Teriyaki Broccoli and Applesauce Medley) that no self-respecting adult would eat. I asked The Mrs. to save some of the little jars so I could attach them with screws to the underside of the cabinets in my workshop. Within a week I had enough little jars to float a car driven by a Kennedy.

I knew then we had a bigger problem. The New Boy might soon eat every morsel of food in the house and then turn on us, or we were gonna go broke purchasing the ever-increasing Gerber’s food he demanded. When you add in the fact that Gerber’s has to ship this stuff in to Alaska in trucks that don’t let it freeze, you can see one of the reasons that the costs mount. We decided to take a more radical track. We’d try something no parent had ever thought of. We’d feed him the same stuff we eat.

Our first venture off the Gerber’s ranch was spaghetti. An eight month eating spaghetti, barehanded well, frankly it’s disgusting, and more than a bit frightening.

If you have a strong stomach, you might have seen Night of The Living Dead. Watching The New Boy in his nearly comatose, unthinking hunger made me recall fairly vividly the scenes from this movie. I think that George Romero studied babies to see how he wanted his zombies to act. Babies are like zombies:
They only grunt incoherently
They’re fixated on food
They can’t do calculus

The major difference is that zombies don’t grow up and ask for the car keys.

When The New Boy was done, he was covered in a fine pink patina of mashed spaghetti from head to toe. Some had, to his great joy, actually made it into his mouth. The primary beneficiaries of his bounty were the dogs, who formed a ring around The New Boy, and waited patiently for him to drop additional foodstuffs.

Since The Great Spaghetti Feast we’ve tried other foods. Cheerios are plenty tasty, but his young paws have a great degree of difficulty holding them and manipulating them so they actually end up in his gaping maw rather than as additional treats for dogs that haven’t (let’s be real) been pulling their weight around this place as it is.

We have, however, formulated a way to end the blossoming symbiotic relationship between The New Boy and his canine friends – bread. Bread is the staff of life. I saw that on a commercial once, so I’m certain that it must be true. Bread can be pulled into long strips that The New Boy can maneuver into his endless abyss and turn into a pasty saliva-sodden mass, from which he apparently enjoys some sustenance. The New Boy feeds himself with great concentration, rivaling even a grandmaster chess champion as he contemplates doing his taxes while juggling cats.

The one thing I’m sad about is now the dogs, which had been about to induct The New Boy into the Secret Canine Amiable Membership Protective Society (SCAMPS) now consider him, more or less, a piece of furniture again. Perhaps I should tie a strip of bacon around his wrist so he can pretend to pet them.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

"On behalf of myself and Harold and the whole gang up here at Possum Lodge... keep your stick on the ice." - Red Green, The Red Green Show

So, today started as many others, mainly with me waking up. Heck, I guess if my standards are that low, that would be the same as every day. That’s a good thing, because to hit room temperature in my bedroom would mean I was about 50F. The Mrs. was extraordinarily kind and watched the boys until I could sleep no more, and I got up at a time that was so late I’m embarrassed to tell the whole Internet.

We then went out on our biggest quest for the day, namely watching hockey. Specifically, recreation league hockey. Now in San Diego, they might play rec league softball, but this is Alaska, and playing softball in temperatures like today, while possible, would be silly. Imagine connecting with a great pitch, only to watch your bat as well as your arms shatter due to the cold.

We packed up and drove off to watch our friend’s spouse play hockey. We watched their spouse scooting around on the ice like there were rockets attached to the skates. It was a wonderful game, although my friend’s team got spanked like a red-headed stepchild.

At the very end of the game, one of the players on my friend’s spouse’s team was fairly disgusted by the score, and slapped the puck away from the ref. A penalty. I talked to my friend, and they had played with that player on the co-ed team last year, and she had several times gotten a bit upset.

Oh, did I tell you we were watching a girl’s rec league team? Our friends were husband and wife, and they both played on hockey teams?

Yeah, that’s Alaska, too.

You might be surprised, but hockey is a sport that both husband and wife play up here in the north, and from time to time on the same team.

Most kids start playing hockey about age five or six. Why? Because if we were to wait for summer sports like soccer, we’d be waiting until June, and get to play until mid-August. And, because we have to wait long enough so that the hockey uniform suppliers make uniforms large enough for a four-year-old to wear.

The ice rink today was full from the early AM to the late PM with games. There are no fewer than three rinks that will be in a similar situation all day long, Saturday, Sunday, and all of the week nights. That’s a lot of people slapping a lot of pucks around.

As we watched our friend play, The Boy watched the players chasing the puck around with grace and sportsmanship (mostly). He looked up at The Mrs. and said, “I want to play hockey.”

Now that fills me with pride. Unfortunately, first he’ll have to learn to skate without clutching at the wall of the rink like Sharon Stone at a role other than “D.A.” or “Mom” in a Hollywood movie.

When they asked that bank robber (was it Willie Sutton?) why he robbed banks, he said, “Because that’s where the money is.”

Why do good hockey players come from places that touch the Arctic Circle?

Because that’s where the ice is.

So, we watched the end of the game, and The Boy was duly impressed by the skating. Unfortunately, that has other implications. I’ll have to get up and take him to go skate. Soon, he’ll be zipping around the ice like an electron about a hydrogen atom, and I’ll be clutching the wall like the old guy I am.

Heck, maybe one day I’d even be good enough to play for the girl’s team . . .

Saturday, January 07, 2006

"You're probably wondering why we're standing here with a pile of money and no pants on." - Officer Barbrady, South Park

My brother and his wife, from the pen of The Boy. This has nothing to do with the post, but cracks me up.

“As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens.” That’s the theory, at least. From what I see, it’s still pretty warm. The temperature most mornings has been about –25F here at the Wilder Ranch for Unwed Poodles. The fire has been keeping us warm and toasty inside. We’ve been using about a wheelbarrow full of wood each day.

Yet, we still get out and about. If it gets much colder, though, I’ll have to start zipping my jacket up when we go places.

Coping with the cold is not too bad, most days. My gloves did finally wear out, though. It wasn’t that the gloves were torn open (though they were a bit) but that the insulation was smashed flat through a year of use, and hence no longer insulating my fingers. By the time I’d gotten two loads of wood for the fire (ten minutes of work, maximum) my fingers would be numb and pale white. So, despite being good enough for most conditions, my gloves won’t work for work this cold.

I also try to get The Boy and The Mrs. out to see actual sunlight from time to time. There isn’t any at the house, now, but if you drive on certain roads, you can see actual sunlight during a few hours of the day.

The Boy: “What’s that glowing thing in the sky?”

Me: “The Sun, son.”

The Boy: “It’s wonderful. I’ve had dreams that it existed, but, wow.”

The one feeling I get, though here at the house, is peace. I have The New Boy in his cage play pen behind me, The Boy watching some mindless drivel on the Cartoon Network, The Mrs. slumbering after a night spent writing after I conked out on the couch, and a warm mug of coffee. It helps that we moved the furniture about the front room and now my computer monitor is immediately adjacent to a 3 foot by 8 foot picture window where I see the still, frost covered pines in a panorama outside. There is no motion. It’s a still life.

Of course, that’s not to say I wouldn’t mow the whole lot of them down and drill, drill, drill if I thought there were a few hundred thousand barrels of oil down there . . . I am an Alaskan, after all.

Being Alaskan, I just got a set of forms from my state. The ticking of the calendar lets us know that once again we hear, like most folks in most states across the country, that their Department of Revenue has forms for them to fill out. Then there’ll be a check.

If you’re Alaskan, though, the check comes to you not from you.

This shows some moose that were standing in line to apply for Permanent Fund money, despite having no thumbs to fill out the application.

For individual Alaskans, there’s no income tax. In many places, there’s no sales tax, either. And, come October (if you filed online) or November (if you filed on paper) you’ll get a nice fat wad of money (say, $800-$1000) just for being Alaskan. And that’s not for the family, that’s per person in your house.

We get that from the interest on the money that we’ve saved over the last twenty five or so years. This comes from the royalty on oil and taxes on the profits of the oil companies pumping sweet, sweet oil. This fund was also set up so that when Alaska’s riches were extracted, that the state government wouldn’t be poor and have to resort to panhandling on the street to get money.

Now, if you’re in California, your state is struggling under the burden of a massive debt, and your state senators are attempting two things:
  • Ways to buy more votes.
  • Ways to get more money to pay for the votes they bought.
In Alaska, though, the state budget is in significant surplus, and one of the state senators is attempting to send even more money back to Alaskans so the state government doesn’t get all bloaty on the money that’s flowing in. I think that in some places in Juneau (our state capital) that they’ve actually erected dams to prevent people from being injured by the avalanche of cash that’s flowing down there.

What do people spend all this money on? Well, milk costs about $500 a gallon, so, many people will spend this money to purchase voles so they can milk them and not have to pay for milk.

Others will spend it on cases and cases of duct tape, that sweet savior of all that is broken but maybe still sort of useful if bound tightly in that silvery (though the last roll I bought was black) binding strap of the gods.

Me, I think I need to buy some more coffee. I’ve got to get motivated to milk the voles.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"One murder does not a murderer make." - Diane, Cheers

So, Fairbanks sunset. Beautiful. At about 2PM. At about -20F. Gotta take the good with the bad. Stupid sunset.

Like many husbands across the United States, I took time away from work during the holidays to spend with family.

Like many wives across the United States, The Mrs. was probably twenty-four hours or so from becoming a felon when I did go back to work.

“Murder,” she wrote.

It would have been murder, too. And the cause? Well, me.

Cabin fever is the story of legend. Folks together so long that one of them snaps and takes out the others. In the really juicy (and tender, not to mention well-seasoned) ones the headline “Man Has Friend For Dinner” is appropriate. It gets to the point that just seeing the other person breathe is enough to illicit hatred as deep as the French feel for Lance Armstrong (Merci bleu! He iz zo infuriating, zat Lance Armztrong!) or ketchup. I don’t know that the French hate ketchup, but something tells me that they do.

Anyhow, I was just getting ready to talk about my faults. I know, you’re saying, “John Wilder, how could you, paragon of all that is good and worthwhile in the world, have faults?”

Well, for starters, I’m blind.

Not in the sense that I get to check the box on my taxes for the extra deduction blind, but in the “man” sense. I walk around the house and tend to discard seemingly random items of my apparel, and leave them strewn about like the Easter Bunny leaves eggs - some out in the open, some hidden that you only find due to the smell. Keys, ammunition, empty beer cans, knives, drill bits, shoes and things that roll go on horizontal surfaces, clothing goes pretty much anywhere, with the exception of the hamper. Case in point, The Mrs. just pointed to a leather case above the computer monitor.

The Mrs.: "Isn't that your razor sharp 4" Buck Hunting Knife that you left where your five-year-old son could get to it?"

Me: "No, that's on the counter."

The Mrs: "What's that, then?"

Me: "That's just the combination tool, you know, my Leatherman."

The Mrs: Silence.

Me: "That's worse, right?"

The Mrs: (As if to a five-year-old)"Right."

If that was it, well, it might be tolerable. As it is, I’m also deaf. Not deaf as in hearing aid deaf. I have proof I have minor hearing loss in whatever ear is facing The Mrs. when it involves stopping doing what I’m doing to do whatever selfish thing she wants me to do, like fend off the wolves from the baby while she douses the fire that broke out in the kitchen while I was cooking and wandered off and incinerated a skillet of chili dogs au gratin that’s currently threatening to turn the logs of our cabin into an inferno. But that’s not even it. I can’t hear the baby cry. It’s just not in my hearing range.

The Mrs. claims that women have evolved these ”super senses” that allow them to see the trail of crap that men leave behind, and detect a baby’s cry, even if that baby is around the corner. I’m not sure I believe it.

Regardless of these paranormal abilities that The Mrs. claims to have, I think I would be okay if it were just me. But it’s not.

It’s The Boy, too. He confided in me today that The Mrs. made him bathe. In the middle of the day. For only the flimsiest of reasons, namely, that he’d taken the bottom off a marker, pulled the green felt ink-saturated tube and and slathered himself in the color green.

“Why did you color yourself green?” I asked.

“I didn’t want to color myself yellow, ” he answered. That made sense to me.

The Mrs., though, wouldn’t buy it. She made him wash. Green must have offended whatever sensory organ detects The New Boy crying. She also noted that not only do I leave a trail of crap, but The Boy does as well. Enough.

So, between having coffee with friends, taking garbage to the transfer site, and scouring Home Despot for nice shiny metal bits, he and I hid out in the basement turning longer pieces of wood into shorter pieces of wood and little piles of wood dust. Even given our selfless trekking and messing around, The Mrs. pronounced the two of us in tandem a twenty four hour per day job. Lots of people are looking for full time work, I explained, she should be happy.

I did make her happy, finally, by trooping back into work. And I saved one, or maybe even two lives. I wonder what happens when there are three of us making mayhem?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

"That helmet makes me look like Ralph, you know, the motorcycle mouse." - Erik Estrada, Sealab 2021

The Vole in The Mist - I could so be the Dian Fossey of voles. Except I'm not a girl. And no one can poach something that anyone could go out and kill a billion of legally, and there would still be billions left.

Once upon a midnight midafternoon dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten Internet lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping rustling of wrapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my messing with a cereal box near my chamber fridge door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my messing with a cereal box near my chamber fridge door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Then this ebony bird little friggin’ rodent beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven mole.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven vole wandering from the nightly shore into my peanut-butter flavored Cookie Crisp -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven vole, `Nevermore.' “Are you going to kill me?”
-with apologies to Eddy Poe

So, yeah, I found a critter in my Cookie Crisp. Actually it wasn’t my Cookie Crisp; it belongs to The Boy. Like I’d eat Cookie Crisp. Oh, sure my diet would probably kill a monkey or one of those cute albino rabbits that they test my shampoo on (do rabbits eat steak?), but I draw the line at Cookie Crisp. A man has to have some standards.

Step one was to get the critter from the cereal box into a suitable container. The Mrs. was sleeping, so a series of bad ideas went through my head before I recalled we had a nearly empty container of peanuts. I marched out to the pantry to retrieve the peanuts, holding a jumping box of Cookie Crisp in one hand.

I emptied the peanuts into a cup for later consumption. I took a handy drill and put enough holes in the top of the peanut container so that I wouldn’t suffocate the critter. I upended the box and the very surprised critter and the few remaining cookie-shaped pieces of cereal ended up in the container.

The Boy was on this like stink on The New Boy’s butt. “We need a mouse cage. A little mouse cage. He can live in my room.”

“No,” I responded with parental finality. “No.”

“Why not?” His question was reasonable.

I pondered that for a second or two. Why had I gone to the trouble of putting air holes into a container for the four-footed cereal pilferer?

I resorted to that final parental bastion of logic. “Because I said so.” If my brain had been running faster at that point in the day, well, I would have also have come to the conclusion that The Mrs. would skin me, The Boy, and the critter if we tried to keep it. I didn’t let this one to go further. The Mrs. loves me, and puts up with a lot, but a small rodent living in our house on purpose is not on her agenda.

Not that she’s scared of mice. I’m not sure that she’s scared of anything, really, since when we were dating she saw some sort of spider the size of a 1969 Camaro RS (the one with the headlight covers – the car had headlight covers, not the spider) and said, “Oh, spider.” Then she killed it with a claw hammer. Took her ten minutes, but she got it done.

My first thought was that this might have been a mouse. I looked at the critter a bit closer, and found that indeed it wasn’t. I used the handy dandy purveyor of all information, the Internet, and found that indeed this was not a mouse. It was a vole. Specifically, a Northern Red-Backed Vole (Clethrionomys rutilus).

Not listed in the "official" description of the Northern Red-Backed Vole (Clethrionomys rutilus) is that they can move with the speed of a cobra. And that they have four inch long fangs. And that they're venemous. These facts are probably not listed because I just made them up. But if you leave a Northern Red-Backed Vole (Clethrionomys rutilus) in a peanut canister long enough, they will jump up repeatedly into the lid. Which is kind of funny to watch.

From the description (stolen from here):
Red-backed voles usually have a broad reddish stripe down their back and buffy-red sides. These small to medium-sized voles have small eyes, and small ears reaching just above their fur. Their average total length is 5 ½ inches including their 1-½ inch tail. They can be distinguished from meadow mice by their conspicuous reddish back.

This species is omnivorous but eats mainly greens, berries, seeds, Cookie Crisp, lichens, fungi and insects. Red-backed voles are found in cool, damp locations and are partial to forests and kitchens; however, they are sometimes found on the tundra and near General Electric appliances. Northern red-backed voles are active year-round and do not hibernate, especially if they have a large supply of cereal.

Also, I found on the site that they aren’t endangered, and that there is no limit on trapping as many as I’d like to trap. I can envision setting up like a million little two-inch steel jaw traps around the house. It would certainly keep our dogs on their toes. Maybe it would keep them off of their toes . . . but that would be a lot of work.

The Alaska Trappers Association would so laugh me out of the place if I showed up with a bunch of vole pelts. I suppose you could make wooly tea-cozies out of them . . .

When The Mrs. woke up and began scrounging around the kitchen for coffee, I pointed out the Northern Red-Backed Vole (Clethrionomys rutilus). She looked at it. It looked at her. She looked for her claw hammer.

“What are you going to do with it?” she asked, after being unable to locate her hammer.

This could have been a loaded question, delivered neutrally. As it was, the implied, “it isn’t living here” was coming through loud and clear.

As we drove to town, we stopped and The Mrs. upended the container, leaving our friend the Northern Red-Backed Vole (Clethrionomys rutilus) in the forest. We continued to go shopping. To buy new Cookie Crisp. And mouse vole traps. The next one won’t be so lucky.

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