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..

My Photo
Location: United States

Sunday, April 30, 2006

"If you're gonna fly a bicycle you'd better make sure E.T. is sitting in your basket instead of a twelve pack of beer." - Earl, My Name is Earl

So, this is the Baby Dragger, complete with Baby. We tried to take it back, but Wal-Mart says once the Baby is out of the store, they won't take it back. Some state law about used babies.

Date: April 31
Mileage: 1,013,490
April mileage: 7
Time: 5 hours
Temperature upon departure: 40ºF
(with apologies to Jill at Up in Alaska)

Today was a day of destiny. Since The Mrs. had procured the infamous Baby Dragger, she had been excited for a longer family bike ride and picnic. The Boy scoots across the yard pretty well, so, we thought we’d make the trip from our home to a local park. Upside, it’s a trip to a park. Downside, the park is about six miles away.

I had an eye appointment on Saturday, so that made the day for the Infamous Long Ride Sunday. The Boy was ready early. If we’re going shopping, it takes a fire poker glowing a soft yellow to threaten him to the point that he’ll fetch his socks and get ready. If we’re doing what he wants to do, he wakes up at 4AM, makes coffee for The Mrs. and I, does laundry, changes the oil in the car, and any other task he feels is necessary to get us going to do what he wants sooner.

This was just such a day. I was gently awakened by The Mrs. who brought me a steaming hot cup of coffee. I immediately sniffed the aroma, smiled, and turned onto my other side to continue dreaming. The Mrs. then sent The Boy in to continue getting me awake.

The Boy: “Hey, Dad, how many things do you want?”

Me: “What things?”

Without answering me, he wandered out of the room. I could hear him shout to The Mrs., “Daddy wants four sandwiches.”

As I continued drowsing, I figured that certainly wouldn’t be too few.

I finally did get up, got enough caffeine into my system to make immediate death a worry, and found that The Mrs. had:
  • Made the lunch,
  • Got both The Boy and The New Boy ready,
  • Polished the chains on the bicycles, and
  • Ironed my shirts.
In the meantime, I had eaten a stale doughnut and had consumed two cups of coffee. I guess she’s just an overachiever.

We started out. At the end of our driveway there were two ways to go, and The Mrs. started going the long way. As a member of the International Confederation of Males, it is my sworn duty to inform The Mrs. whenever she’s about to go the long way. She shrugged, and headed due east instead of west. I figured that I had saved us about half a mile.

Alas, what passes for a good shoulder (on a road) for an adult was ruled (rightly) by The Mrs. to be a shoulder only in the barest academic sense. The Boy was further mystified when I referred to the road shoulder as a “shoulder.” He indicated that roads were in fact not corporeal beings, e.g., humans, and should not be considered to have shoulders.

The traffic on this section of road was also faster than that seen on most NASCAR tracks, and, indeed, was limited in speed only by the horsepower of engine available and the aerodynamic resistance of the car’s body shape and the sudden buffeting resistance felt by objects as they pass the speed of sound. The cars were zooming. Zooming cars plus narrow shoulders equals a dad in trouble.

After the torrent of abuse from the two humans who could talk (I’m sure The New Boy would have jumped in had he an adequate grasp of the English language, and I’m still trying to figure out what “garpflsusk” means – I’m pretty sure it was uncomplimentary) we made it to the bike path.

To Be Concluded Wednesday in: The Boy and The Holy Grail

Saturday, April 29, 2006

"The Oilers moved to Tennessee where there is no oil. The Jazz moved to Salt Lake City where they don't allow music." - Baseketball

Not made up. This is an actual sign on the Pipeline.

The high price of oil has drawn a lot of attention recently, and the bad guys have been painted as, well, the oil companies. They’re also often chosen as the bad guys in movies and on TV.

In order to defend them, it’s time for a comparison between an Oil Producer and our beloved Paris Hilton:

Oil Producer:

Paris Hilton:

Moves oil thousands of miles for pennies

Pays $500 a bottle for champagne

Produces millions of barrels of oil a day

Produces bad video, worse television

Hates Nichole Ritchie

Hates Nichole Ritchie

Is the subject of Congressional inquiry

Is the subject of Congressional web searches

Worked for it

Was born rich

Plows profit into exploration and production

Plows family profit into bacchanalian excess

Explores for oil in places where vowels have not yet been discovered

Cannot spell “France”

Is infamous because they produce a needed commodity

Is famous because she’s famous. And nekkid a lot.

Yet, I see no inquiry, no screaming mobs in the streets demanding Paris Hilton’s head on a pike. Or even on a salmon.

Anyhow, one part that I cannot fathom is why people are against the oil producers making a profit. The only two things that they can do with this profit are:
Give it to the owners, or,
Spend it on producing more oil.

If the oil producers give it to the owners, they buy nice things or invest it. They don’t keep it in a box. This keeps the economy zooming. Not a bad thing.

If they spend it on producing more oil and are able to expand the supply of oil, then the price of oil drops again, and Pez dispensers are once again free for the taking.

Alaska sees the result of this. You cannot drive by the railyard in Fairbanks and not see the miles of steel pipe ready to be loaded on trucks and shipped to the North Slope so more oil can be produced. You cannot help but know someone who spends weeks at a time on the Slope trying to get oil produced, or someone who works at Alyeska (the Pipeline) who works to pump it down to the Lower 48. We see the economics of the oil industry, and see how it works to efficiently bring massive quantities of energy to the US at (normally) low prices.

Right now the price of oil is high because the US is competing with the rest of the world for the stuff. The price isn’t set in a secret office somewhere; people buying oil on an open market set it. You also set it. If the price of fuel is too high, you’ll ride a bike, take public transport, take a walk, combine your trips, or drive more economically. This lowers demand, and thus the price. I don’t need to tell you to do this, since you do it already – that’s the beauty of economics.

I vaguely recall (I was young) gas lines in the 1970’s. That was when the price of fuel was capped. When that happened, there wasn’t enough fuel to go around. Allowing prices to rise lowers demand, and ensures supply to consumers, and produces profits that result eventually in increased capacity and lower prices.

I know that the industry is far from perfect, but these are the guys and gals that are doing their darnedest to put energy into your car, into jets, and plastic into the I-Pods and Pez dispensers that we use on a daily basis. And they never put, ahem, those kinds of videos on the Internet.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"If the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists." - Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park

You can see the majesty of the Alaska Range spread out below. I took this shot from the International Space Station on their "Blogger Festival" weekend party. Man, those Russians can party. You can click on it for most wonderful larger mountainy goodness (as with all of the pictures on the site).

Soon, perhaps in a week or so, the snow in my front yard will be gone. It’s been hanging on longer than Britney Spears has, so, it’s time for both of them to go. As the snow melts, it makes you feel a bit guilty. I find things under it that I had last seen seven months ago, like our Halloween Jack o’ lantern. Seriously. I found ole’ Jack peeking out from under the snow on Sunday, a bit the worse for wear (also like Britney). Here is a picture of Jack (or is it Britney?) in better days.

As the snow melts, it gets uglier as it goes down. Every gum wrapper inadvertently dropped from the Wildermobile, every leaf, every bit of sawdust, every bit of random detritus is now on top of the melting snow. Where there isn’t melting snow, there’s a mash of rocky mud. As this frozen-muddy concoction (I apologize if that gives Starbucks® ideas) dries, The Boy will be introduced to the slave labor known as “policing” the yard. The major difference is that he’ll be rewarded with Snacky-Cakes upon completion, rather than a bowl of gruel. Plus, we give him TV privileges 4 minutes a day, and allow him to stop sewing soccer balls (footballs to all you metric lovers) when it gets dark out. Did I mention that we’re up to 19 or so hours of daylight?

The bright side of all this heat is that now we’re down to just one little fire at night, which keeps the house temperature up all day. This is better than the continuous fire that we had all winter long, with periodic fire outages, ash removals, and chimney cleanings on “warm’ (0ºF) days. Today was 110ºF warmer than the low temperature in winter, which, when put that way, makes living in Fairbanks seem absolutely insane. I mean, why would we want to live in a place that gets as hot as 55ºF?

The tourists have yet to show up, either by ship or by RV. They’re coming. One thing you might not expect is that large numbers of people in Alaska also an RV so they can motor across the state and enjoy all 23 miles of paved roads. When the real tourists arrive, they will be welcomed by a whole host of people ready to feed them, show them a gold mine, take them on a riverboat cruise, and launder their touristy, sea-foam green, short-sleeve jumpsuits.

More mountains. I know they look all calm, and they're like, "Hey, we're not doing anything," but did you ever think of how they got there? Volcanos. Earthquakes. Capsized ships. Don't forget the granddaddy of 'em all - Plate Tectonics. I think we should band together and STOP PLATE TECTONICS NOW! You know, for the children, before it changes, ummm, stuff. Also because I'm pretty sure SUV's caused it.

Fairbanks is a nice place to go if you’re a tourist. Safe. No grizzly bears, except the ones that have visited a taxidermist. If you’re looking for a bit of free tourist advice, avoid the pointy ends of the grizzly. That tends to get you in the news, and not in the “Rocky J. Tourist just won the lottery” way, but in the “Rocky J. Tourist now officially permanently barred from future contributions to the gene pool.”

But it’s not time for tourists yet. We still have the place (give or take a moose) to ourselves. So, we’ll get the place all straightened out and ready for tourists to marvel at the beauty of Fairbanks in summertime. It all starts with The Boy.

We need to set the right mix of terror and Snacky-Cakes so that he performs the maximum amount of trash collection to make the place nice for tourists. The Mrs. is especially good at this one, and is steeped deeply in the dark side of the Force™. While she hasn’t used her Force™ lightning on me to make me pick up my dirty socks, I bet she could.

Afraid The Boy will be, if yard is picked up not, yes?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

"I'll have you know that Superman was laced with metaphor. Subtext layered on subtext." - Commander Tucker, Enterprise

The Boy continues his photographic acumen. Because film costs nothing but disk space. And I'd never think about taking a photo of the living room while hanging upside-down on the Laz-E-Boy.

Time to change out the tires. The Mrs. has had studded snow tires on since, well, October. That’s seven months. More than half of the year up here, so it makes sense to have the studded tires. Alaska allows them until May 1.

When we bought the car (used) it came with two sets of tires and only one set of rims. The nice rims had the studded snow tires mounted on them. The regular road tires didn’t come with rims. We used some crappy rims for the regular tires, and kept the snow tires on the fancy alloy rims, since the snow tires were on most of the time.

But, this is the time of year that we swap ‘em back and forth.

The Boy and I were ready. Actually, he was more ready than I. The Mrs. had long indicated that she wanted a baby-dragger, that is, some sort of chariot-like device that would allow her to pull The New Boy around behind the back of her bike, like Charlie Sheen on a rickshaw ride in Bangkok. Not that The New Boy has any similarity to Charlie Sheen. The New Boy appears to be sane.

Anyhow, The Boy was ready to go in record time. Unfortunately, he was ready to begin swapping out tires, whereas The Mrs. was ready to go buy a baby-dragger. One guess as to who won.

We went to go buy a baby-dragger. The Boy was beside himself. Actually, The Boy was beside The New Boy in the back seat, so it worked out okay. We went off to Wal-Mart to buy the baby-dragger. The Mrs., for whatever reason, figured I needed a Superman t-shirt and we left Wal-Mart. We went home after I got a haircut.

Getting a haircut was an experience in itself. You in the Lower 48 probably just walk in, wait 10 minutes, and get a haircut. In Fairbanks, that’s just not possible. The Boy and I waited a good hour while the nice folks at Supercuts finally got to me. It was a very good haircut, but probably not worth $22 and an hour of my life. I talked with the owner, and she said that Fairbanks was so short of hair stylists that they would only work the hours they wanted, which didn’t include any Saturday time. I felt sorry for her, but thankful that soon enough nature would preclude the need for me having to have any haircuts at all, only sunscreen.

We finally got home, and the derby began. I got to work. My list included:
  • Cutting Wood,
  • Stacking Wood,
  • Splitting Wood,
  • Cleaning Out Ashes,
  • Cleaning the Chimney,
  • And,
  • Starting a Fire. (does anyone else notice a theme here?)
All of that was before changing out the studded tires for the regular ones. We finally got there, though, and The Boy was ecstatic. He rejoiced in every bit of our work, from helping to move the tires out, to getting me another damn beer. (Important Safety Note: Drink beer after chainsaw work, not before. Drunk people with chainsaws, well, they’re called “Lefty” or “Stumpy.”)

Mainly The Boy wasn’t exactly helpful. He was, well, there. And, when doing boring work, that’s pretty important by itself. It’s nice having someone there just to talk with, even if the conversation skews more toward The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy than the implications of Schrodinger’s quantum theories on whether or not The New Boy exists when we aren’t filling him with massive amounts of groceries.

We finally finished. I was a mess from head to toe, and The Boy looked as fresh as a daisy. Which, I guess, is okay. Being five means the hard work of being an adult hasn’t hit yet, and he can play and enjoy without much worry. I like having him around while I work. I fantasize about the days when he will be stacking the wood, changing the tires, cleaning the chimney, all while I enjoy a nice beer on the deck.

Ahh, a few years from now. Would Clark Kent enjoy a beer while his son worked? Yeah. Superman may be good, but he’s not perfect.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"In the name of liberty, and freedom, and people, and... stuff... let's do that again." - Zaphod, Hitchhiker's Guide

The Boy's legs demand autonomy, and have petitioned the UN.

AP has reported that a group of indigenous Alaskans and Hawaiians want sovereignty. I figure that The New Boy would be in that group, since he is the only one of us born in Alaska. Being born in a place makes one indigenous, right?

From the AP story:
"We are independent and occupied peoples," Indigenous World Association spokesman Ronald Barnes said Thursday. "Neither Alaska nor Hawaii has ever ceded these powers."

Actually, I think Alaska petitioned for statehood for years and years, like we were pining to get the prom queen to out with us. I think we begged. It wasn’t pretty. So that’s maybe not the best claim for Ronald to be making. Most people living here then did have a chance to express themselves as we joined the Union. Heck, a large number of people living here were alive when Alaska became a state.

Alaska has the strength and vigor of being a youthful state. It also has the advantage of sitting on all that sweet, sweet oil. If you drove your car in California today, thank you. Your driving keeps me from paying taxes. Not that I’m gloating or anything.

I’m not sure exactly what the IWA is complaining about, besides having initials that would make one think that they give out world champion belts to people named “Hulk Hogan” or “Goldberg.” My bet is that they’re socialists (the word “World” gave it away) who want to recreate the wonders of socialism at the tribal level. Hopefully they read “Lord of the Flies” before they get too far into that project.

The part of the story that bothers me is that Mr. Barnes took his claim to . . . the United Nations. As much as I thought the idea of the UN was a good one in my naïve youth, I can certainly see that it was a silly one. To have a governmental body where the representatives of despots and dictators have equal footing with, say, Sweden, is silly. Sweden tortured the world with ABBA, but mostly otherwise is okay (dang it, now I have “Dancing Queen” echoing around my skull – curse you for your catchy pop songs, ABBA). Besides, the only things the U.N. has produced have been confusion and corruption and large numbers of strongly worded letters to people who view Schindler’s List as a “how-to” video.

So, a U.N. commission will investigate whether Alaska and Hawaii should be independent nations. I hope the representative from the United States doesn’t wilt under the pressure and throw in Idaho for good measure. Given where Alaska and Hawaii sit, it’s likely that should national sovereignty be granted, soon enough we’d have to learn Chinese. But that would be okay, because in China freedom of expression is number one and they always do what the U.N. asks, right?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Hey, I tried to teach you how to handle comics in the sixth grade, but oh no. You wanted to play little league." - Brodie, Mallrats

Denali at dawn. The dark line was really there, and not just something the camera caught - I'm thinking it's a function of altitude. Unless it was a ghost. Regardless, this clicks to a larger version that's certified Mountainlicious!

It’s spring, and in spring a young man’s fancy turns to . . . ghosts?

The Boy is five, and fascinated by life. He bounces around and asks questions at a rapid pace, voracious to learn about everything. Unfortunately, his recall is good, so I’ve got to be consistent.

His latest passion is . . . ghosts. Ghosthunters is a show on the Science Fiction channel where (I am not making this up) two plumbers from Rhode Island and their friends look for ghosts in allegedly haunted places. It’s reality TV, and it can be enjoyable. I’m impressed that the leaders of the group are fairly hard to convince that a haunting is taking place. If you can convince honest to God plumbers that ghosts are real, well, who am I to argue? (A corollary question: is ghost-hunting part of the plumber’s apprentice program on the East Coast? My plumber in Alaska doesn’t really know much about ghosts, so I’m concerned he might not be qualified to work on a sink.)

The Boy is fascinated by all of it. When Ghosthunters is on, he is in rapt attention, watching the show and soaking up the story, relishing each new detail. For The Boy to sit still during anything is amazing. To watch him sit still for an hour? Nirvana.

The concern I’ve had is whether or not he should be watching content like that. Is it healthy for someone who doesn’t know how to tie his own shoes to know about EVP (electronic voice phenomena)? Is it right that someone who has yet to master the intricacy of the toilet flush knob to understand what an infrared camera does (okay, he knows how to flush, just refuses to, and The Mrs. says his aim is horrible)?

I’m probably not a good judge of that, and here’s why:

He and I sat down last night and read a comic book.

(I know that comic books were thought to be the bane of western civilization when I was young. It’s a shame that generation, wasted on Archie, X-Men, The Haunted Tank, and Swamp Thing only managed to create the Internet, the personal computer, the cell phone, land men on the moon, and defeat the Soviet threat. Imagine what they could have done if only they never seen those hideous comic books!)

Anyway, he and I read through the comic book, a reprint of an old (1950’s) “Weird Science.” I was shocked to see that the first story was one that had been reprinted in my youth in the 1970’s, and that I read as a young boy. I can recall looking for haunted places when I was his age. The cycle of life is complete. Hakuna Matata. He can watch Ghosthunters.

After a Ghosthunter episode, I guess to relax and unwind from watching ghost-hunting, he likes to hunt ghosts. Since our house is relatively free of supernatural phenomena (our beer keeps mysteriously disappearing), in reality he just wanders about with a flashlight, a digital camera, and his drawings of what he thinks ghost-hunting equipment would look like. His most recent problem is one that is Alaskan by nature.

When is the best time to hunt for ghosts? At night. In the dark.

He’ll have to wait about ninety days or so ‘til the next time that he’s up when the Sun is down. Until then, unless he finds a good dark place, he can hunt ghosts all he wants. In the brightly lit rooms of our house. Or maybe in the garage. Or maybe in the ancient native burial ground that our house was built on.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"Our minds must be conflicting because you say plague of snakes and all I hear is Easter bunny, Easter bunny, Easter bunny." -Meatwad, AquaTeen

The New Boy can't find the letter 'E', so we figured he couldn't find many Easter eggs, either. I hope he doesn't remember this when he chooses my nursing home.

Easter is a time of renewal. A time when the tyranny of winter gives way to dainty, pointy-toed-shoe-wearing summer.

Not there yet, since it was 10ºF this morning.

Last night we boiled, painted and dyed the Easter eggs. The New Boy isn’t quite a year old, so we let him sleep and drool to his heart’s content as The Boy colored the eggs.

I was in the store, and I bought the PAAS Easter egg kit. That’s what I normally do. The problem was me. I purchased the “Deluxe” Easter egg coloring set with enough different components to finish construction of the International Space Station, rather than the normal “six colors and a copper Easter egg dipping thingy.” My mistake. You could make mosaic eggs, foil wrapped eggs, banded eggs, plastic shrink-wrapped eggs, eggs with messages on them, copper-painted eggs, and, oh, yeah, (what I was looking for the first place) colored eggs. With this kit, I’m surprised you couldn’t make “Easter Island” eggs.

As The Mrs. and The Boy colored all (12) of the boiled eggs (two were broken, both my fault, so I boiled two more) I remembered that the only one in the house who liked boiled eggs was The Mrs. She’d be feeling eggy all week long.

The smell and sound of the vinegar mixing with the fizzy tablets brings me back to being six every time I dunk one. If you’re wondering, after a bazillion years, the yellow color still sucks. Perhaps my favorite part was pouring the dye down the drain, watching the colors mix as they headed to make our septic tank colorful, yet still unseen.

As a little kid, nobody ever tried to convince me that a large rabbit would hide eggs that I had colored so inexpertly, so I could look for them. I knew that Mom and Dad were behind the whole operation. They took me to church, but, I fooled them. I colored Jesus a nice bright purple. When the Sunday School teacher told me that Jesus wasn’t purple, I asked her, “Was Jesus God?”

“Yes,” replied the Sunday School teacher, unaware of the trap that had been laid for her.

“Then he could have been purple if he wanted to be,” I said as I started to color Judas a nice bright green. Jesus could have made Judas green, right?

I believe I’m one of the few children to have been kicked out of Sunday School for my coloring (this story is essentially true, even the kicked-out of Sunday School at age five part).

This year (like last) we hid the eggs inside the house. Setting them outside on the snow would be bad for three reasons:
  • Brightly colored eggs would be easy to find in the white snow
  • Dogs like eggs, too, and,
  • I have no bunny-shaped shoes to leave convincing bunny-shaped footprints.
Where I grew up wasn’t Alaska, but I recall more than one Easter where we had to look for eggs inside, due to the snow. We replicated that experience today. While The Mrs. kept The Boy busy answering calculus questions in the bedroom (I could hear the dulcet tones of The Mrs. castigating The Boy for not being able to take a partial differential of three variable function, “Don’t you understand, dx/dy, not dx/dz!”) I hid the eggs.

I decided to go as far away I could from being sneaky. Finding an egg next week would be bad. Finding an egg next month would be socially unacceptable, since something about rotten egg smell doesn’t say, “the casserole is probably okay to eat,” to the company. Besides, after he found the eggs, I could curl up on the couch and catch a nap.

The Boy found the eggs quickly, and found them all. The Mrs. headed back to bed, having dealt with The New Boy multiple times during the night. We’d feel guilty about not going to church, but, we don’t so much. The Boy and I talked a good bit about Jesus, and the reason that we were celebrating Easter. It made about as much sense to him, I’m sure, as a Kubrick movie. I think he has the basics down. Except that he seems to think Jesus was a bright orange . . . and I’m not going to argue. His logic is good.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Actually, thanks to our creative bookkeeping and corporate loopholes, we only pay about $3 in taxes a year." - Smithers, The Simpsons

The Tax Moon. It's like a Harvest Moon, but instead of the significance of abundance and reaping, it signifies Form 1040.

With the great assistance of TaxCut, my tax form is complete and headed off to the IRS. It took me an hour to do the program, and I’ll be getting some money (that I already paid in) back from a Treasury Department printer somewhere in the lower 48. I actually view this as neutral news – I paid the money in, and now it’s coming back, like John Travolta’s career. It will go away again, though, like John Travolta’s career. The amount of my refund isn’t significant. Which is also like John Travolta’s career.

Tax day, though, bothers me. It’s put on the far side away from Election Day. I tend to think that we’d see different election results if they were the same day. The other thing that bothers me is that income is withheld throughout the year, so the number of dollars I’ve paid in over the course of that year don’t hurt as much as if I had to write a check on tax day for whatever I needed to pay.

It’s somewhat irritating that the IRS makes you fill out a form in order to pay them. A mugger, at least, just wants your cash, and doesn’t make you fill out a form and threaten to take you hostage if you make a math error.

The Boy neared the computer as I was sifting through the myriad of forms, letters, little stacks of receipts, and the voodoo doll that I was using to divine the taxes I would owe.

“Get. Out. Of. Here. NOW!”

With that, The Boy skittered away from the computer like politicians skitter away from indictment. Which is quickly. I finished the taxes in record time this year, a little over an hour, start to finish. It helps if you don’t worry so much, just type.

The Mrs. likewise skittered away, sneaking off into town. She doesn’t like being around me when I do taxes, either. To tell the truth, I don’t like being around me when I do them, but barring a late onset of schizophrenia, I’m stuck being with me when I do the taxes.

When I finished the Federal part, TaxCut helpfully told me that “You don’t live in a state that requires a state return. Print your Federal Return already and uninstall me already so The Mrs. has room on the hard drive for Grand Theft Auto: The Kindergarten Years.” The vast majority of the tax burden for Alaska is borne by the oil producers, and most of the rest comes via property taxes, ergo no state income tax. This saves Alaskans the burden of having to fill out yet another form in order to pay money.

I printed the six pages of forms, The Mrs. and I signed it, and I sealed it up. Done.

The next morning, I went to work. The Mrs. relayed the following conversation:

The Boy: “Good morning, The Mrs.”
The Mrs.: “Good morning, The Boy.”
The Boy: (looking at the computer) “Is Daddy done with taxes?”
The Mrs.: “Yes.”
The Boy: “Good.”

So say we all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Here we see the wreckage of the great snowball wars of 1955." - Tom Servo, MST3K

You can see turns 3 and 4 of the Wilder 500 in the background behind the lean, mean, snowmachine. The Boy was doing pit stop duty when we took this one.

The warm, sunny days had been spoiling me. It had to turn, and it did. Yesterday it snowed 4”-6” of fresh, powdery snow. The front deck, which had actually been showing wood as a surface rather than packed icy snow for the first time since November, was once again inundated with snow.

I got home, and was confronted with a wonderful sight. The Boy was clad in khakis, a white button down shirt, and a tie. After kissing The Mrs. hello, she noted, “The Boy has a question for you.”

The Boy: “Can we get the snowmachine out?”

These past few days it’s been warmer than the way that Tom Cruise felt about Mimi Rodgers, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Katie Holmes, himself, so I don’t think that we have too many days left that we can pull the machine out. It has been known to snow in May in Fairbanks, (well, and every other month but July), but this might be the last chance to really cut loose. Since it’s a snowmachine and not a gravelmachine, I decided The Boy was right. Time to get going. Besides, how do you say “no” to a little tiny man wearing a tie?

The Mrs. had to leave, so that removed the option of going far from the house since The New Boy was happily asleep in there, dreaming of Yoda or whatever a ten-month-old dreams of. Carpet? Small plastic squeaky things? Oh, wait. Ours dreams of food, which would explain the gnaw marks on his crib slats.

Anyway, The Mrs. left, and The Boy and I jumped on the machine and headed . . . around the front yard. I tried going into the backyard, but the partially melted and consolidating three feet of snow got me stuck in the first turn. There are very few things less fun than getting a snowmachine unstuck in the presence of a five-year-old. “Why are we stuck? What are you doing? Is it broken? Why can’t we go?”

All the questions combined with the inability to curse great gaping gobs of profanity like the situation called for leads to a medical condition technically known as “frustratus fatherus,” the only known cures for which are beer or getting the snowmachine unstuck. A few million questions later, and we were back on the relatively well-packed snow in the front yard, and my beer could remain untouched until the weekend.

That led to a conundrum. The front yard, while larger than some entire subdivisions in California, allowed us only to get up a little bit of speed before I had to slam on the brakes and make a sliding turn and go the other way. As we did successive ovals, I realized how truly bored that NASCAR drivers have to be, “Hmm, this turn looks familiar. Like it did the last 300 times I made it.”

But, as luck would have it, we wore ruts in the snow. I began to increase speed. A few leftover hills of snow, slammed successively by the snowmachine began to form into respectable jumps, and the more we hit them, the steeper and better they became. Soon, on the backhand straightaway, the entire snowmachine was airborne. That will make a five-year-old squeal, as well as make his helmet impact yours with all the force of Russell Crowe’s rage.

After a bit, it was time to put the snowmachine away. The Boy complained bitterly as I went inside to do my taxes (I try to start them at least a day before they’re due).

“Play with me.”

I got inside and looked out the window at him trying to ride his bike in the snow. Okay. Forget the taxes for now. I figure if I mess something up, the IRS will send me a nice letter asking me gently to refigure them when I have time, right?

The Boy, on his way to learning things that will get him in trouble, come kindergarten. The Mrs. indicates that the penalty for snowballs in school is akin to a felony, since, you know, so many kindergarteners have been decapitated by snowballs.

Do taxes, or hit The Boy with a broadside of snowballs that would make a pirate captain go “Yaaaargh”?

Okay, that’s math that’s easier than a 1040.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

"With this axe, I rule!" - Kevin Sorbo, Kull the Conqueror

With luck, we're starting on next year's supply of firewood. Reality says we're not done yet. Maybe we can burn some virgins on the solstice to keep warm.

The Boy and I worked today. Oh, it wasn’t horrendous work, like lugging around Angelina Jolie’s lips or toting around Brad Pitt’s ego, but it was work nonetheless. Okay, I didn’t consider it work at all, but really more of a fun hobby.

What was it?

Cutting wood. I know that sounds dull and tedious, but for me on a weekend there’s little that can compare to taking my chainsaw and lopping off a batch of wood. It’s stress relief without comparison. Someone bugging you at work? You can cut them into itty bitty pieces without fear of police interference or being the subject of a “Silence of the Lambs” type movie, since you’re actually just cutting a log up. Bank have you irritated? Cut the crap out of high interest rates!

In the end, you can turn your frustrations into firewood (hence warmth for the family) with only minor aches and pains. For the longest time, this was a solo activity. I’d cut the wood. Then, The Mrs. joined me. I’d cut it, she’d stack it. Since she has high standards for wood stacking, it was nice that she’d do it. Today, however, The Boy acted like a man. Is that important?

The Mrs. and I were watching Kull the Conqueror with The Boy yesterday, and she remarked that one of the best things about that movie (it’s really better than any of the Conan movies) is that it has Kevin Sorbo.

I was momentarily miffed. I am certainly as big and strong as Sorbo, and if weren’t for him, you know, working out for a living, I could be as ripped as well. Propecia could take care of the rest. I mentioned that.

“It’s not that,” The Mrs. continued. “It’s that he’s manly.”

She hesitated a scant moment, anticipating my upcoming whine. “You’re manly. I like that.”

As I took long pieces of wood and cut them into smaller pieces, The Boy first prepared by going and getting the wheelbarrow, then by filling it up with the pieces that I had thrown into the pile of cut, but not yet stacked wood. After filling the wheelbarrow, he then took the remaining pieces and stacked them on the ever-growing row of wood. He was doing work that was necessary without being asked, cajoled, or threatened.

Later, he also learned the wages of a man who does work without fear of being sent to the corner. Autonomy. Want ranch dressing on your steak? (I don’t, but he did.) You can have it. Want to dig into the peanut butter covered Ritz Cracker Bites? Dig in. You earned that, too.

The one fear that I’ve had is that I won’t be able to instill into my sons the satisfaction of doing work just because it needs to be done. Work well done should be its own reward for a man. Period. The Boy has learned that. He looked back on the wood we’d stacked and said, “We did a good job, Dad. What’s next?”

Kevin Sorbo, eat your heart out.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"I like her from a distance. You know, the way you like the Sun. Maris is like the Sun, except without the warmth." - Frasier, Frasier

An icy mermaid. I would consider it unlikely that an actual mermaid of these proportions would actually be able to dive under the water. You be the judge. Anyhow, you can click on it for larger mermaid goodness.

The Itch has started. And, it’s not the heartbreak of psoriasis (a noncontagious inflammatory skin disease characterized by recurring reddish patches covered with silvery scales).

It’s spring. It’s finally getting hot outside, and the snow is melting in earnest. We’re also now experiencing twilight lasting past 10PM. In a month or so, I won’t be able to go to bed or get up and see any real darkness. This is, of course, due to magic curse that the Pixies put on us for killing the Toad Queen, or perhaps the position that Fairbanks has way up high on the planet. One of those might be a children’s book, but after a while my memory just gloms together into one continuous mass. You decide.

Anyway, the Itch I’m talking about is the desire, pent up all winter long, to go out and accomplish a bazillion things outside in a flurry of Home Despot spending and sweating. The effect that the long daylight has on primates is stunning. You don’t feel nearly as tired, and don’t need nearly as much sleep. The Sun signals time for action, time to build some longboats and go pillage Vancouver. (I think that’s why the Vikings did all the raiding and pillaging: they just had to go on vacation after spending all winter inside in the dark. I’m just suggesting Vancouver because, well, it’s just asking for it, hanging out near the US and all.)

Part of what will happen is that the first week, we’ll spend silly amounts of time doing things, then note that it’s, oh, 3AM. And Tuesday, and if I go to bed right now, I’ll be late for work. The Sun, having ceased to go down at all will just circumscribe lazy 24-hour circles in the sky, ignoring our ceaseless ant-like activity down on the ground. Dang lazy, uncaring Sun.

Proof that Alaska rocks. Snow, Sun, and warmth.

The Boy has never used the comment that he shouldn’t go to bed, “because it’s not dark yet.” This is wise, because it will really come ‘round to bite him in December when we’ve got five hours of daylight. Some people cope by putting foil on their windows to keep the sunlight out so they can sleep. Though this has the added benefit of blocking out the mind-control rays put out by HAARP (an explanation of HAARP), it would make me feel far too much like an appetizer on a cookie sheet in our oven to be surrounded by foil. By that I mean to be surrounded by foil that wasn’t in my mind-control prevention hat.

To The Boy and The New Boy, this all seems natural. Long days, short days, it’s all nice. Last night, The Boy lamented that the snow was melting – he was sad that winter was ending after having snow on the ground for only eight or so months.

But the itch has him, too. He wandered off this last night and put on his boots and jacket and went to ride his bike on the melting snow. He feels the need to get outdoors and do things.

A friend was over, and noted that we weren’t following The Boy outdoors to keep an eye on him. “I remember the trouble I used to get into . . . “

Which, after all is the point. He’s a boy, there’s trouble to be found, scrapes to get out of, and, well, he’s not too young to get the Itch, either. As I look outdoors, I can see the vague outline of a longboat taking shape . . .

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"There aren't gonna be any damned permits! How can you get a permit to do a damned illegal thing?" -McCoy, Star Trek III, The Search for Spock

Fairbanksianans looking at tools and things under the ever watchful eye of beer signs.

The melt has begun in earnest up here. With several straight days of +40ºF weather, Alaskans get itchy to get some work done outside. Thus, time for the Home Show. Getting a parking space was hard, but as I went up and down the parking lot aisles, I saw a gentleman backing out. Another car happened upon the space at the same time. For the second time in two days I and another driver both motioned each other toward the space. He drove on and won the argument, leaving me with a choice parking space near the entrance.

That must happen a lot in L.A., I bet.

We got in as The Mrs. had some free tickets. Free appeals to me the same way eighteen-year-old girls appealed to me when I was sixteen, except I could get into the Home Show free, whereas the eighteen-year-old girls regarded me as somewhat less annoying than the icky thing they just stepped in, but only because I was nearly invisible. Anyway, I had free tickets, and the only thing better than “free” is “free” combined with “beer.” We went inside.

The Home Show was packed tighter than a cellphone in a congressperson’s hand.

The first booth we went to was The Home Despot’s booth, and it was by far the highlight of the show. They had The Boy build a bookshelf and gave him a little orange Home Despot apron. Now I know how they get labor costs down – working five-year-olds at home shows for nothing.

It turned out that they gave him the bookcase to keep, and didn’t expect him to work the closing shift at Home Despot until he was eight.

I consider the whole “kids making things” a great public relations move on Home Despot’s part if their target demographic is people making home improvement decisions who are aged eight or less. Since I already give them a whole-number percentage of my income, I considered it a little something back.

We went and saw realtors, people selling showers, shower doors, permafrost testing (really), carpet, and, of course, tools. The Boy and I had our eye on a Bobcat loader with auger attachment, but The Mrs. indicated a new one was out of our price range, since it cost approximately six times what we paid for a car. Maybe a used one. They’re only worth twice what our car is. I think that I could have talked her into a new one, if I had any reason to own one. But, alas, I don’t.

We also saw a lady selling beef jerky for $12 for a 4 once package, which calculates out to $48 a pound, or 43,271 euros per kilogram. I considered that excessive since I paid less for The New Boy’s birth per pound at Baby Hospitals ‘r’ Us. At those prices, I would have thought it was a government booth, but I was not forced to purchase the jerky, so it probably wasn’t government related.

The Home Show greatly appeals to people in Fairbanks. Why?

I know several people in Fairbanks who have built multiple houses. Not that they hired someone to build the house, but that they built them themselves, one at a time. These people have fulltime jobs, but there seems to be some sort of screw loose in Fairbanks that says, “Hey, I can nail, so I could build my own place.” Couple this with the attraction that Alaska holds for people who are independently minded and the fact that labor costs a $421/hour, and you have a combination that’s irresistible: everybody is their own contractor. I think that means that they:
  • Overspend Their Budget by 20%,
  • Never Show Up on Time,
  • Use Inferior Materials,
  • Finish 20% Later than Expected
  • Are Confused and Poorly Supervised, and,
  • Drink Heavily.
Alaska law allows anyone to do this approximately every other year, and permits around Fairbanks are optional. If you want it to be inspected, you have to hire your own independent inspector.

Conversely, I was reading that in some locality in California it was now necessary to obtain a permit to replace a broken light switch. That means a trip to Home Despot for a $1.25 switch and five minutes of work now can cost:
  • Permit Fee (what, $100 minimum?),
  • Licensed Contractor Fee (say $100 just to show up?),
  • Your Time,
  • Having to Lose Sanity Dealing with a Government Office, and
  • $1.25 for the Switch,
if you’re not capable of doing it yourself or not willing to break a law to do minor home repair.

Here in this part of Alaska, there are no state or local laws against setting up a nuclear accelerator in your basement. Really. No permits, nothing. Just fly in the parts, connect, and make isotopes to your heart’s content.

We may have odd houses, some of which are unique radioactive fixer-uppers, but we can also legally change our own light switches. I guess that freedom thing is just way too scary for some places . . . like California.

I mean, you wouldn’t want people doing their own minor home repairs, would you? That’s just crazy talk.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

"Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see."-Old Man, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Sled dogs at rest. These were very nice dogs, and there was even a puppy being surrounded by kids. These just wanted a nice nap and a Margarita on a hot day. There were no carnivorous bunnies, nor Holy Hand Grenades.

Went out to “Mush for Kids” this weekend. Mush for Kids is the major fundraising event for the Alaska Children’s Trust for Child Abuse Prevention. As such, half of Fairbanks was there, and parking was a mess. We finally ducked into a space as someone else who was waiting for a space allowed us to have it since we were there first. That really happens all the time up here, which is another reason to love it here.

We went to Alaskaland Pioneer Park (Pioneer Park is the “new” name, whereas it was known as Alaskaland for years). Pioneer Park is an astonishing attraction for a town the size of Fairbanks – it has slides, an aviation museum, a native arts museum, rides, a train that circles the park, and original cabins from when Fairbanks was a gold rush town in 1900. Some of which the cabins were, um, thriving businesses run by single female entrepreneurs, if you catch my drift. Most of it is at no admission charge (not the businesses in 1900, they charged plenty, but Pioneer Park today).

At Mush for Kids, the idea is that local groups with a vested interest in keeping kids safe: fire departments, the Red Cross, and the Car Seat Nazi Association (who tried to convince our friend that the 100 pound nine year old she was with needed a booster seat) have booths and give out things for kids. The ultimate highlight is for the kids to get a chance to ride in a dog sled and interact with the sled dogs.

Because we’ve saved up all of our warming for the year for the last three days, it was 40ºF out. That’s a bit above the suggested operating temperature for sled dogs (it says so on the sticker on the side, along with the warning to keep your fingers away from the pointy part of the dog if it’s not properly fueled, and to keep entirely away from the other end it’s over-fueled), so they shut down the sled dog rides unless you were in line at 1 PM. We weren’t, but that was okay because the line was really long, much longer than you want to hang out in with a five year old. Instead, we went off to the fire truck.

The Boy investigating an ambulence. They had a very quick tour, which only cost $572. My insurance company has a co-pay thing, so I think it will be less. They gave him a nice coloring book.

There’s something about a boy and a fire truck. They’re big. They’re red. They’re shiny. They’re machines, and in this case there was a nice fireman that actually listened to and answered the five hundred and twenty three questions that The Boy had about all things related to the fire truck:

The Boy: “What does this do?”
Fireman: “It’s an air pack. It lets us breath when it’s smoky.”
The Boy: “What does this do?”
Fireman: “It’s a seat belt.”
The Boy: “What does this do?”
Fireman: “It’s a door. Time for you to leave.”

Actually the fireman had more patience than that. But it was funnier to write it that way.

We went inside and saw the exhibits from the various groups. Some group that advocated either for or against something gave The Boy a balloon.

Navigating any crowded place with a stroller is a combination of patience, brute force, and running over people’s feet. I think I said, “I’m sorry” about a thirty times in fifty feet. Our destination was the elevator. Since the food and snacks were on the third floor, and carrying a stroller up three flights of stairs was, well, ridiculous. I was told that I would find the elevator behind a green door.

Not that Green Door, get your mind out of the gutter.

I went that way and after finding it locked, talked to a nice volunteer (said so on his tag). He was desperately attempting to do fifty or sixty things, but listened with grace to my request to get through the locked green door. By that time The Mrs. and our companions had gone up the stairs, so I was wondering exactly why that door was locked.

Maybe it was that Green Door.

I’ll never know. It was a double dead bolt, and nobody had a key. One other parent with a kid got a bit upset at the volunteer, “Do you mean I have to leave this stroller here??”

I make it a point not to get upset with volunteers, since, well, they’re just there because they’re trying to be nice, and decided it was better that than sitting home with a six pack and a back of Cheetos® watching the Final Four.

I had an epiphany at that point. I nodded in a “that’s okay” way to the volunteer and began to lug The New Boy, stroller and all up three stories of stairs, ridiculous or not. Fifty pounds, three stories of stairs, with food on the other end? Not a problem. We got up there and found The Mrs. and The Boy. He was eating a cookie shaped like a bone, complete with a cup of frosting that he could spread on the cookie himself (he liked this concept so much he tried to convince The Mrs. that the same should apply with chocolate frosting and Ritz Crackers™ today, which was denied with extreme prejudice and a “Are you kidding?).

The UAF Steel Drum Band. Nothing says winter in Alaska like a steel drum band playing Belafonte songs (Shake, Shake, Senora).

We finally ended up back outside, where the local college hockey players hung around a net with some sticks while the kids took the sticks and attempted to put tennis balls in on net. It was fun, but I looked at those kids, aged four to eight, and knew, deep down inside that I could beat them all so easily in hockey. Especially if I could check them. Which, I guess, was a thought entirely against the spirit of the day.

But I could you know. I could RULE in eight year old hockey.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

"It was destroyed by a socialist weasel." - Intelligence, Team America: World Police

Denali, the Chairman of the Board, at sunrise. It's a good one to click on for larger mountainy goodness.

The Mrs. and I have decided to chuck all of this cold Alaska life! We’re picking up and moving to Los Angeles, where I’ll be a talk show host for Air America.

Okay, that was the April Fools part. You couldn’t blow me out of here with explosives.

I really can’t imagine anything farther from reality – Los Angeles?? Paris Hilton and other germ-carrying rodents live there.

The Mrs. and I were driving home from the store (after having both Boys doted on by the clerks) and we remarked that this was the first time since, say, October that we had seen liquid water outside. It was 41ºF (which is 86ºC) and people were wearing shorts. I didn’t think it was possible for skin to reflect more light than snow.

It was also a nice day for another reason: I had submitted our Permanent Fund Distribution (PFD) applications. The Permanent Fund Distribution is where the State of Alaska sends an annual check (generally $800-$1,000 per person) out to people who have lived here all year.

What is the Permanent Fund?

The Permanent Fund is the result of pumping oil from the North Slope down to Valdez for these last thirty or so years. The money that came from the state’s royalty was stuck away for a rainy day when the oil and resources of the state ran out. If you have a nagging feeling, that’s just jealousy that your state government didn’t think beyond the next election like ours did.

Originally the PFD was to pay out on the basis of how long you’d lived here. So, if you’d lived here 20 years, you’d get 20 times as much as someone who lived here one year. There are people that are still irritated that the Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional (equal protection clause). Since that decision, everybody gets paid the same.

The PFD is a double-edged sword, or a cat with scratchy parts in all directions (but I guess that would be a porcupine). It has upsides and downsides.

First the upsides:
  • It gives me money to buy beer.
  • It gives me money to buy anything.
  • It provides the citizens of Alaska a reason to counter to special interests that would loot the cash for their own benefit (The Society for Scruffy Puppies can get paid only if the people of the state deem that more worthy than an extra Andrew Jackson in their wallet – which is unlikely).
  • It gets people more interested in government, which is okay as long as their name isn’t Garafalo or Franken.
  • It pulled enough cash out of the system so Alaska’s economy didn’t hyperinflate like a typical resource boom-town, and hence will be more stable when the resource is gone. Consequently, there’s less governmental corruption.
  • It's money.
Then the downsides:
  • It’s kind of icky and socialist.
  • It’s an entitlement, and as such is not good. The entitlement mentality, fortunately, is counter to much of the Alaskan mentality, but the PFD has caused some people to expect government to take care of them.
  • It’s made the citizens look with envy on the oil producers, and think that by increasing the tax, they’ll not hurt themselves by killing additional investment.
So, am I gonna take the money?

Duh. It’s money. But I won’t like it.

Silktide SiteScore for this website
Blog Flux Directory Blogarama Free Web Counters
Web Counter
Search Popdex:
Humor Blog Top Sites Top100 Bloggers
Top100 uscity.net directory