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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Location: United States

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"I asked my father for a dollar for the school picnic, he told me how he killed a grizzly with his loose-leaf notebook." - Bill Cosby, Himself

First bit of firewood for the year. I know, I know, but it's a start.

It is time to get some wood for the winter. I know that the snow just melted, but nevertheless, it won’t be long at all until snow is covering the ground again.

I figure I need to get about 14 cords. A cord of wood (for whatever obscure reason involving monks, dwarves, and the wheel width of the Roman Chariot) is 4’ by 4’ by 8’. I think the French measure it in liters. Or litres. Whatever. In America, 14 cords or wood is 1792 cubic feet of wood, or a 4’ by 4’ stack that’s 112 feet long. I use two foot pieces, so that’s 2/3 of a football field long. Regardless, the average I need to hit (in the hundred days of summer) is 18 cubic feet of wood a day.

I can’t go cut wood (sadly) every day. So I have to hit it when I can.

Last Saturday, I went out for the first time. I got together with a friend and we loaded up our pickups and headed out. Into each pickup went a child, one of his, and one of mine.

Off to the woods we went. We drove for miles and miles on what passes for smooth road in Alaska (picture hitting a bump that makes your head graze the roof of a full-size pickup a full quarter mile before the “Rough Road” sign. That’s Alaska smooth.

We went and then turned off. After following directions, we ended up at a fork in the road – one side said, “NO EXIT, NO TURNAROUND, NO KIDDING” and the other was plainly marked as the area to cut wood. We didn’t investigate to see if we’d have to back down eight miles of road, and instead went into a maze of logging roads cut throughout Alaska – so deep into the forest that the “Can You Hear Me Now” guy would have heard nothing, until he heard the grizzly bear fastening a little bib with a picture of a human using a cell phone around his enormous neck.

(An aside – I thought about taking a .45 with me for bear protection, but then realized I was taking a chainsaw. Now if I tangled with the bear and he took the saw, then that would be about the ultimate in danger – a grizzly bear with a chainsaw. Dang, that’s scary. Because he’d have a bib on, with picture of me on it. I think I see a new direct-to-video movie out of this . . . Chainsaw Grizzly™. Next time I’m taking the gun.)

Anyhow, we started cutting wood, and loading the vehicles up. The chainsaws worked, mostly, and the sunny day was wonderful for being out in the forest. The kids did some low impact exploring.

I filled up the pickup a bit with the wood shown above. It was enough for a good start, though it didn’t come all the way up the sides. Just before we got back to the main road, my friend and I stopped to palaver, and The Boy walked over to his pickup, and got in. Since we were doing burgers at my place about an hour and a half later, my friend said it would be okay if they took him home to play.

So, alone I drove home.

I got there, and walked in the door. I waited about five minutes while The Mrs. frustrated me by not asking where The Boy was at. I finally blurted this out, and she said she figured he was outside, playing.

Dang The Mrs.

I never got to say, “Oops, forgot him in the forest.”

Foiled again.

Monday, May 29, 2006

"Felt wrong not to swing." -Caesar Joaquin Phoenix, Signs

What does a $190.00 and 12 hours get you at Home Despot? Yup. It's above.

The Mrs. said it was time to build a swing set for The Boy and The New Boy. I could argue based on being cheap, how that would cost money, or, I could go spend a few hundred dollars and purchase the lumber and unlimber my tools for the summer. What do you think I did?

Off to Home Despot.

Actually, first I had to figure out exactly what I was going to build. I went out on the Internet, and found that there were many places that would sell me plans for a swing set. Pay for ideas? No. I’d mess it up a dozen times before then. But I did go on the Internet and look at pictures. From there, I sketched up a basic plan, counted up the lumber, and went off with The Boy to Home Despot.

We picked up all the lumber (22-2x4x8, 4-4x4x8, 2-2x6x8, 2-2x4x10) along with various other sundry parts (screws, metal brackets, 2-10’ sections of 1” conduit, etc.) and one other thing. A drill press.

I’ve always wanted a drill press. Drill presses have the advantage of being drilly. And of being pressy. I love both of those. Drilling and pressing. Mmmm. Paging Dr. Freud? Nevermind.

I brought the booty home and we began putting the parts together. At one point we had the 4x4 put together on a brace of 2x4, lying on its side. It looked like Thor’s (god of thunder) box kite. At that point, though, I burned up not one, but two screwdriver bits. These bits, it says on the box, were developed for the aerospace industry so they could, well, I don’t know, they didn’t say what they did with them. From the rate they burned up, looks like the shuttles are made of these things.

I hate to drive a bazillion miles back into Fairbanks for a drill bit, but I also divined that there were other parts missing, too.

Back we went. The Boy had a Home Despot apron (you know, the orange ones) and demanded he wear it to the store. I thought I’d take a picture and hit ‘em up for violations of child labor laws, but instead I just bought my drill bits.

It was on that trip, however, that I discovered that I’d been hit by the plague. Or some disease that makes one immediately crave sleep. I was feeling so ill that even the sweet, sweet taste of beer was unappealing.

I got home, did a bit more work, and finally curled up on the couch. On Memorial Day, after sleeping though sixteen straight hours of the Bird Flu, or Ebola, or whatever I had, The Mrs., The Boy and I again started building. The Mrs. (until she had to go to work) and The Boy (the whole time) were incredibly helpful. We weren’t complete at the end of the day, but we were close.

The view from the top. The Mrs. and I marvelled at how you could see, well, the same trees. But we were 4' higher looking at them.

The one creepy thing was when I was attempting to figure out how to attach the slide to the main structure, The Boy suggested we need two U-bolts.

He’s right. U-bolts are just what we need. And, we need two of them.

How the heck does a five-year-old know about U-bolts?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

"Jack, this is a direct order from the President. Now enter the correct code and let them release the gas. Now!" - Samwise, 24

A nicely painted thingy. I think it's called a geode.

As you may (or may not) have heard, we’re working on a contract to build a natural gas pipeline from Alaska down to another pipeline in Canada. From there, the natural gas will make its way down to Chicago, where I’m willing to bet it will be used to make sausage. It would also lower the cost that you pay for natural gas.

The problem has been getting the contract with ConocoPhillipsExxonMobilAmocoBP. The Governor has spent more hours than I spent studying in college (which is, admittedly, a figure you could get to on a Saturday) getting a contract together. The contract isn’t perfect, but it will likely get the pipeline built.

Part of what’s killing me is the attitude of the people (as expressed in a letter to our local newspaper, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that “. . . Alaskans deserve(emphasis mine) a 50% tax” on the gas. This was, of course, for the children.

  • If you don’t have a logical argument, trot out the kids. They exude some sort of anti-logic smell.
  • If you have to whine about how you deserve something, well, you don’t. Deserve in this case is just another word for gimmee.
I could so see kicking this guy out of my house at a party, even if he brought beer. That’s how mad he made me. But, he also made me think, which is probably better than beer. We’re talking about a business that is getting ready to:
  • spend billions of dollars in a state,
  • provide thousands of direct, exceptionally high-paying jobs
  • provide tens of thousands of indirect jobs, and
  • lower the heating costs for 50% of the population.
The gas line (in it’s current form) will also bring in enough money for the next thirty or so years to ensure that we don’t have to pay pesky income taxes or a state sales tax.

If you live in the lower 48, your governor, your city, would provide tax credits, free land, and agree to polish the cuticles of the CEO who wanted to do this. Don’t deny it, I’ve seen it where states get in hissy catfights, complete with vicious accusations that one of them is a “tramp” to be the place where two hundred $15.00 an hour jobs would be created.

Where we’re at now is the greed of those who deserve might make all that go away. For the children.

I suppose if we mess this deal up, we really would be getting what we deserve.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Nothing personal, but life at the end of the road just ain't for Captain Vic and Empress Ramona." - Dan Aykroyd, Neighbors

The Boy preparing to take flight on a snowmachine older than Woodrow Wilson’s floss at Chena Hot Springs. I don't know why I used that analogy, but I figure Woodrow Wilson's floss is really old.

Alaska is the end of the road.

There are entire villages where people, if they use a last name use “Smith” or “Jones,” since they are, shall we say, avoiding legal scrutiny. Alaska, especially a cabin back a few hundred miles from any road, is probably a good place to do just that.

It’s the end of the road for stuff, too. Unless it’s very valuable (gold, mass quantities of oil) or someone else is paying for it, you don’t move stuff out of Alaska. At a few bucks a pound, the cost adds up in a hurry. That would explain why there are probably three or four rusty cars or buses here for every Alaska resident – if it’s broken, just leave it here. I would say that we probably tie with Delaware in rusty car hulks.

(I thought I’d start a hate campaign against Delaware because out of the last 6966 visitors (last month’s haul), only two more people came from Delaware than came from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Seriously I guess that the computer in Delaware must have been busy.)

Okay, bagging on Delaware aside, this is still the end of the road. The things that are up here boggle the mind, from the Tundra Land Train (protecting us from Soviet Nordic skiers?) to the snowmachine above, to the dohicky below. If people are done with it up here in Alaska, this is probably where it’ll stay until the Sun swells into a big honking thing (probably too much McDonalds) and swallows the Earth, so maybe that’s how the Tundra Land Train will finally get out of here. Drastic solution, if you ask me.

My guess is the giant pictured above was used to haul the 48” diameter pieces of pipe all over Alaska as they built the Alaska Pipeline. As it sits now, I’m thinking that it may qualify as the world’s largest diesel-powered paperweight.

Even given the one-way flow of Big, Heavy Things Made from Steel That Are Later Abandoned, Alaska still sends out more stuff than is abandoned here. A bit less than 1,000,000 barrels of oil per day flow to Valdez though the Alaska Pipeline (that’s almost 80 BILLION pounds of oil per year, which is like 17 kilograms in communist units). All that oil is worth $56,000,000 dollars a day. In some places, people work a whole year and still don’t make $56,000,000!

The Mrs. and I are doing our best to balance this flow of stuff out of Alaska. I figure the beer bottles we’re sending to the landfill will have some impact, but I fear it will not be enough. We need your help to stop Alaska from running out of mass. My suggestion would be to send more beer.

It’s a start, and a way that you can help. If Alaska keeps losing 80,000,000,000 pounds a year, in a million or two years it will only be twice the size of Texas! Act now, before it’s too late!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"I told you! I spent it with my uncle in Alaska hunting wolverines." - Napoleon, Napoleon Dynamite

A knotty moose, poised to charge our car. Thank heavens it was made of wood. Also, it looks like Elvis brought drove his car to get some ice cream up here.

It’s almost tourist season. My in-laws, though not the typical tourists, still fit the mold (class A motor home, funny accents, think 40ºF is cold) and are the vanguard of the flocks of tourists to follow.

I first heard about one of our best tourist traps when my friend first told me about The Knotty Shop. When he told me about it, I thought the he was telling me about The Naughty Shop, and was wondering just where he thought this relationship was going. Now I know that The Knotty Shop is an ice cream store masquerading as a tourist trap just south of Fairbanks.

Given that it was a dull, boring Sunday, and I wanted to give my in-laws something to do besides watch The Weather Channel® or Fox News©, I floated the idea that we go to The Knotty Shop. The Mrs. quickly explained to her parents that it wasn’t a place where lingerie and leather were the main products, and it was decided we’d go. After a hearty breakfast of eggs and reindeer sausage, away we went.

The drive was nice. As tourist traps go, The Knotty Shop is a good one – all Alaska, all the time. I’ve been there before, and written about it. But this time it was actually our destination, versus being a stop on the way someplace. I actually looked at the stuff they were selling. They had the usual Alaska license plates, Alaska cups, Alaska shot glasses, Alaska t-shirts, Alaska hats, and Alaska toilet paper. In addition, they have a taxidermist's dream, stuffed fox, caribou, wolverine, and badger in a big display, perfect for family photo shoots. They also had more exotic products:

A whale shoulder bone (who knew about they had arms?) carved to show, well, looks like a party or maybe a KISS concert. Yours for only $4,200.00 US.

A walrus tusk set. Didn't check the price, but potentially more than my car is worth.

I’m hoping some of the tourists saved some money so they could afford some of the pricier do-dads, though in truth I think The Knotty Shop doesn’t sell many whale shoulder blades during the course of a summer tourist season.

We finally got our ice cream. It was good and, in my case, chock full o’ chocolaty goodness. We sat outside and ate. As we did, a guy got out of a minivan that pulled up. Normally, I don’t notice people so much, but this guy, well, he had long flowing locks of curled blonde hair like Sammy Hagar.

One of the personal bits of philosophy of The Mrs. is that you have to be rich to dress like a pirate, so if you see anyone dressed like a pirate out in public, well, they’re rich. He wasn’t dressed like a pirate. He was, however, wearing an REO Speedwagon t-shirt from Tour 1984-85, which is fairly amazing since, well, that means the shirt is old enough to buy vodka.

Was he in REO Speedwagon, or does he just have a concert t-shirt collection that will never stop? Don’t know. And, there were more important things, namely, ice cream.

My father-in-law decided to buy The Boy some suckers, so he handed me his cone as he walked into the store. I didn’t eat all of it.

The Knotty Shop is a good place to go and buy whale bones, but I still prefer the ice cream. And, if that guy was in REO Speedwagon? I still prefer anything to REO Speedwagon.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"It's like fire and ice. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle, like lukewarm water." - Derek Smalls, Spinal Tap

Pictures with funny captions to follow, as soon as Blogger is taking them again . . .

It was Sunday, and the in-laws are in town. We were sitting around, staring at each other. There was a palpable silence, punctuated only by the occasional blurt of The New Boy as he made his (mostly) indecipherable The New Boy Noises.

So, on a sunny, beautiful, warm day in Fairbanks we sat inside. And sat.

Finally I had enough sitting. I could go cut wood, sure, but that would leave everyone else just sitting. And, I could cut wood only in a theoretical (metaphorical?) sense, since I had finally cut up the last long pieces a week before.

Innocently, I said, “Hey, we could pile into the car and drive north, until we run out of the asphalt pavement that’s bumpy enough to knock your fillings out, and then hit the gravel roads that are bumpy enough to give you a concussion. Anyone want to do that?”

I actually did want to do that, but my proposal was as popular as a pork chop at a PETA conference. (One day PETA will come to their senses and declare that, instead of meat being “murder,” meat is actually a “vegetable,” and stuff greasy gobbets of ribeye into their deprived gullets, until they collapse into a protein and fat fueled haze.)

Dead silence.

Finally a mish-mash of suggestions started flowing, and the end result was a trip to Chena Hot Springs was voted the winner. Chena Hot Springs is a resort about 59.543 miles east of Fairbanks. It’s a nice scenic drive, if you’re the type that considers mountains and trees and wildlife scenic. I have to admit that as I drive, I just look at the trees and think of how good they’d look in my Earth Stove.

The Mrs., however, was being a stick in the mud. Last time her parents were in town, we took a trip down towards Denali. Given that there were more humans than actual padded seats, she rode in the part of the SUV usually reserved for:
  • groceries,
  • spare tires,
  • plastic bottles half full of anti-freeze,
  • assorted hand tools, socket wrenches, wires
  • cases of duct tape, and
  • the occasional John Deere part.
Being stuck in her Prima Dona roll, she insisted that she sit in an actual seat made for humans instead of being perched on the floorboard of the Wildermobile like a commodity purchased from Home Despot. She would have The Boy sit in her lap.

So, packed into the car, we started down the sixty or so miles to Chena Hot Springs.

Chena Hot Springs is a great resort. They have a geothermal well that they use to heat the buildings, and also power a refrigerator (you can do that, but it involves math and engineering and stuff) that keeps a building full of icy stuff (like ice walls, ice tables, ice plates, and other icy stuff) icy year ‘round. It was originally billed as an ice “hotel” but you couldn’t put people in there because their fire insurance didn’t like a hotel having only one entrance and exit. Besides, if the ice caught fire, oh, my, the humanity!

Oh, and they have hot springs that people soak in. We didn’t bring our swimming suits, since they don’t allow children under the age of 18 in the hot spring pool, and The Boy and The New Boy don’t do especially well on their own, since they would trade our house for a handful of “magic” beans. I did that once, and my folks never really forgave me, especially after that giant killed Dad.

So, we went up there and looked around. My father-in-law bought a bumper stick that says, “I got soaked at Chena Hot Springs, Alaska.” For the record, he did not soak.

Net result: 119.086 miles driven, 21 pictures taken, and $2.95 spent on a fraudulent bumper sticker (no taxes).

The one picture I did get to post is the ad for Cemetary Man. Yes, they're sending me a copy of this one, too. I read the reviews on Amazon, and the first few were quite positive, though the one negative review was one of the funniest I've ever read. I'll give you my take when my copy shows up.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

“What does a Nietzschean mother hope for her son when she names him Genghis Stalin?” – Trance, Andromeda

The Boy and I picked these out. Actually, The Boy picked out gum. I picked these out. No attention span.

In the winter we kick The Boy downstairs to jump on his trampoline, to keep the noise down, and we figure the residual heat he generates warms the basement a tad. That’s been interesting. He’s gone through box after box in the basement and now has the most complete mental inventory of the house of anyone living here.

The Boy knows where everything is, probably due to the fact that if it’s been there six months, it’s been there for 10% of his life, and you tend to recall the things that have been there for that long. He also has the uncanny knack to find the exact object I’m looking for and bring it to me even before I’ve vocalized that I’m looking for it. The Boy had pulled the copy of Word© upstairs a few weeks ago, and got it out last night.

The Boy said to me: “You’ll need this soon,” and walked off.

Tonight The Mrs. asked when I was going to install Microsoft® Word™ on our other computer.

It’s like living with a three-foot psychic.

I however, am lucky if I can find my car keys. I went to the kitchen the other day and asked The Mrs., “Where’s the cheese slicer?”

She turned to me and asked, “Have you even looked or are you just asking?”

She had me there, but I attempted to not appear weak. “Umm, it’s not on the counter.”

She sighed. “Look in the dishwasher,” and went back to the work she was doing.

Oh, I said to myself. Washing things. Never would have caught that one. She’s sneaky.

Yesterday, The Boy and I went out looking for things for The Mrs. for Mother’s Day. We settled on:
  • some flowers,
  • a card,
  • army boots (The Boy insisted),
  • a picture frame for a collage of pictures of The Boy and The New Boy, and,
  • a t-shirt.
The downside of this operation was that I had given The Mrs. a collage for Mother’s Day last year. She liked it a lot. So, I figured that would be a good repeat.

As we were driving to get a present for her mother, I suggested we do a repeat of what we did last year for her since it worked so well. The Mrs. responded, “Oh, you can’t do that. You have to do something new.”

From my stricken expression she could see what I had done.

“Oh,” The Mrs. continued, “I meant a woman couldn’t do that. It’s okay when a guy does that.”

So, last year I got an A+ for Mother’s Day presents. This year, well, a shaky B. Where was The Boy when I needed psychic divination of just what the heck to get The Mrs. for Mother’s Day?

The Boy's idea of a really fantastic Mother's Day gift.

(For the record, The Boy suggested I get The Mrs. a coffee mug that said, “Alaska” and had a picture of a moose, a clock surrounded by plastic moose, golf balls {she doesn’t golf} with “Alaska” on one side and pictures of moose on the other, and a magnetic sign that said, “Moose Crossing.” He was no help.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” – Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

The New Boy, who is getting his fill on his birthday. Seems like he didn't want to get frosting on his fingers (too messy) so he figured out another way to plop the cake down his gullet.

The Mrs. and I were talking the other day about what we would do with a sudden windfall of cash. Besides paying off and fixing up our house, we came up with nothing, which more-or-less mirrors our bank account. The point, though, is that we don’t have a large number of desires for stuff floating around our head.

I guess we just wouldn’t make good politicians.

In the recent wrangling over the gas pipeline that we’re (fingers crossed) going to put in, several people have referenced the state constitution, which encourages “development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.” In this case, the political folks seem to think that means getting the most money possible for the state out of the people doing the work and taking the risk. What about the jobs? Don’t they count in there somewhere?

If the gas pipeline is ever built, it will be built by welders, by guys and gals driving big excavators, by guys and gals (in general) making tons of money. That money will flow to the local economy, people will buy houses, go out for dinner, buy new cars, and purchase iPods and iPod accessories, like the iPod backpack for poodles. The economic impact from the construction of the pipeline alone will be immense. Beyond that, the company running the pipeline after completion will be employing people for decades to come drilling for natural gas and purchasing massive amounts of whatever magical fairy dust keeps a gas pipeline running.

These jobs are of far more economic value than the taxes would ever be.

I imagine that any gas pipeline will also lead to additional infrastructure up here, which will make it easier to move about in Alaska, and hence even more available for commerce. The gas line means an economic boom to Alaska before the first cubic foot of natural gas hits market or the first tax dollar hits the cash register down in Juneau.

And we're wasting time quibbling about a tax. (For the record I have no opinion on the tax. Just figure out how to start building, please.)

Alas, the cash register in Juneau will never fill up. Given the high price of oil this year, you would have thought that we’d have paid down a mortgage or two and saved a few hundred dollars for a rainy day. Instead, the legislature funded just about everything that came before it (“Ah, yes, a study on the movie-viewing habits of unwed, same-sex walrus,”) and then some. It was an orgy of spending.

I suppose that, given time, The Mrs. and I could thing of something to spend a huge wad of cash on. Maybe we’d have a gold plated Pez dispenser custom made to look like our poodle wearing an iPod. In which case, maybe we’d be good politicians, after all.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

“Lister, you left £17.50 in your bank account. Thanks to compound interest, you now own 98% of all the world's wealth.” – Holly, Red Dwarf

The Boy, bouncing on the trampoline. He's moving faster than the speed of light. Or the flash wasn't on. Pick one.

Me: “Are you happy because you’re jumping, or jumping because you’re happy?”
The Boy: “Happy” Bounce “because I’m” Bounce “bouncing!”

I waited a minute or two.

Me: “Are you happy because you’re jumping, or jumping because you’re happy?”
The Boy: “Bouncing” Bounce “because I’m” Bounce “happy!”

I guess it’s like Paris Hilton (tramp) and fame. People are interested in Paris Hilton (tramp) because she’s famous. But, she’s famous because people are interested in her. It’s a loop. Oh, and that video (tramp).

This story, though, starts twenty-six years in the past.

I was with my parents. My brother was safely away somewhere. I was dragged along with my parents to a dinner. The nice people fed us, and (I think) gave Mom and Dad a glass of wine or two. I don’t remember dinner as being all that great. Then the sales pitch hit. The nice family indicated that you could lose weight by doing nothing more than jumping on a trampoline. Mom (who was, umm, sturdy and low to the ground, you know, hard to push over) liked this idea. Plus, there was the wine. At the end of the evening they had ordered the trampoline shown above. They also got a book.

For this stunning piece of technology, they paid . . . $400. $400 American dollars. In 1980. I did the math, and had Dad invested this money in an IRA in 1980, he would have $2958.54, if he only made 8% on it. Inflation adjusted, that same $400 is worth . . . $983.01 American dollars today. Doesn’t that make you feel good about inflation?

By the way, bouncing won’t make you skinny, if you were wondering.

After Mom passed away (long time ago) I ended up with the trampoline. It’s made a journey all across the country, and now serves (primarily) as a winter entertainment device for The Boy. Despite our shortcomings as parents, even we aren’t heartless enough to send him out to play at -55ºF, but, being a boy, The Boy has to move around constantly to exorcise (exercise) the demons of youth from his tiny frame (as I write this he’s licking some plastic wrap to glean the remnants of the granulated sugar that once graced a scone – I promise, we feed him, but the motor requires constant fuel – now he’s downing Frosted Cheerios®).

Don’t worry. He’s skinny, and it doesn’t have much to do with the trampoline.

If you’re wondering about the ad below, I got a request from the film company that’s putting the movie out to put it up. (This really happened). It Waits is from Stephen Cannell. I know, I know, he did Knight Rider. But, he also did Baa, Baa Black Sheep. Plus, they’re going to send me a copy of the film on DVD. Like I keep telling the world . . . I can be bought . . . do you hear that, John Deere, Husqvarna?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"What's the matter, are you paralyzed from the neck up, or are you hurt?" - Jack Colton, Romancing the Stone

Alaska in spring. Somebody's gotta clean this place up.

Today we were driving back from the store. As we rounded the corner through a mountainous, pastoral scene unavailable most places jumped out in front of us. The Boy remarked, “The ground is back.”

The ground is finally back. After seven months, it finally returned. Our front yard will be snow free this week (if not the next) so the ground will finally be back at our house in Fairbanks after seven months of a snowy blanket.

Our primary focus this weekend was picking up the junk that accumulated in our yard over the course of seven months. You’d be surprised at how much “stuff” shows up on the ground, even when the only people leaving trash on the ground is us. It’s just not a walk in the park to pick up your own junk when it’s -40ºF, so your standards change a bit. That gum wrapper that fell out of your car? It’ll be there on May 7, 2006 when you finally decide to pick it up.

The Mrs. and I talked and decided that this task was well in the range of ability for The Boy, and this would be a good chance for him to learn the value of work, especially work well done. To look upon a clean lawn and driveway should be reward enough for the work he’d be doing. Right?

This, however, was more of a chore than you might normally imagine. The Mrs. took first watch over The Boy. You see, it was our idea that The Boy should be forced to pick up the junk. Did he put all of it down? Not a chance. But he was gonna pick it up.

I was cutting up the last of the wood that we had for this winter. I told The Mrs. that it would take about 10 minutes. It took 30. By the time I was done and had put the chainsaw up, The Mrs. and The Boy had moved to the front of our woodshed in their quest to make it look like a family of polite people (rather than a family of messy badgers) lived there.

I noticed right away that there was a bit of distance between The Mrs. and The Boy. It seemed that he was on the list that The Mrs. keeps of people who are “in trouble.” I thought this must be The Mrs. over-reacting. I joined the crew.

For whatever reason, it seems that little pieces of paper are entirely invisible to a five year old. The Mrs. had gotten to the point of feeling like the best way to get through to The Boy involved a the icy clutch of her fingers ‘round his neck. I thought she was overreacting. As usual, I was wrong.

At first, I attempted to work with The Boy. Teamwork is good, right? Well, to The Boy, teamwork can be spelled with an “I,” as in I don’t work. Not so good. Helping The Boy meant doing all his work for him. Soon enough, I became convinced that the best way to get through to The Boy involved the icy clutch of my fingers ‘round his neck.

We worked through this. Well, when I say we worked through this, I mean that The Boy worked through this. He picked up every bit of trash on the ground. There was crying, there was yelling, there was an emotional reconciliation.

Was picking the trash up off the ground important to him? Yes. It was to teach him about work, and how hard work was its own reward. This was the first point.

Second, I didn’t have to do it. I guess that negates the first part, but, hey, I’m human too. If I get this right, I won’t have to pick up trash in spring for another fifteen years.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"Maybe. Just maybe my boys can protect the book. Yeah, and maybe I'm a Chinese jet pilot." - Ash, Army of Darkness

A jet on the ground in Anchorage. The place is always littered with jets, sort of like Anchorage is a big jet singles bar.

Alaska is like a big Interstate truck stop. Except in this case, the trucks are 747 cargo flights flitting about the world, chock full of I-Pods, Pantyhose and Pez dispensers.

Let me explain.

Alaska is smack-dab in the middle of the industrialized world. It’s about the same distance from Beijing as it is from Berlin as it is from New York. So, if you have Pantyhose from Singapore headed to Kentucky, it makes sense to fill your jet with as much Pantyhose as possible, skimp a bit on fuel, stop in Anchorage to top off the tank, and then fly New York. Plus, by Anchorage you could probably use a good cup of java.

Due to this geographic oddity, we can sit in our hot tub and watch planes that just fueled up in Anchorage flying overhead, due north, heading off to Europe over the North Pole so that German kid with the crappy haircut can listen to Jessica Simpson on his new Korean MP3 player while wearing pantyhose. Or whatever European kids wear whilst they sit around angst-ridden about bird flu or how they have no future or whatever. Might as well be pantyhose if you have no future. Go ahead and splurge.

Despite the truck-stop ambiance, we seem to have no rogue sheriff who works outside the law, and no surplus of pilots who fly with pet monkeys like we saw with truck drivers. Who can forget BJ and the Bear? I wanted to be a truck driver for the monkey alone. I think more pilots should fly with chimps. Do cargo pilots flying 747 call each other good buddy? Do they catch each other on the flip-flop? I digress.

In a survey last year, the Anchorage airport was ranked #3 in the world as far as interconnection with other airports, and it’s primarily because of the products flowing to and from the Far East. Not only does Alaska provide millions of barrels of sweet, sweet oil for people to sit in traffic in their Hyundais, it also provides air freight for the parts for the Hyundais if they break, melt, or otherwise fail.

So, we’re the gas station and truck stop of the industrialized world. I think that should mean that our State Food should be biscuits and walrus gravy, or some such. And we should definitely have showers for the truckers pilots.

So, you have Alaska to thank for the Pez, the Pantyhose, the I-Pods, the Petroleum, and the Parts for your Hyundai. All things starting with the letter ‘P’ are related somehow to Alaska. You don’t have to thank us, we’re just generous that way.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Sorry folks, park's closed. Moose out front should have told you." - John Candy, Vacation

The Boy’s bike, such as it is. The dog ate the seat (and, ate the seat on my bike as well) last spring. The dog also ate our television cable. And live electrical cords. And pieces of 2x4 lumber. And broccoli. All of those are true except the broccoli. There are things even a dog won’t go near.

I could see early on that this would be a tough trip on The Boy. His little legs were in constant motion to keep his bike at a fairly constant 5.3MPH. I decided to try the oldest trick in the parental book – the old bait and switch. An elementary school was on the way, and The Mrs. was amenable to switching our ultimate destination. I convinced The Boy that we should go “look at the playground there.” My ultimate plan was to have the picnic there instead of the park to where we were headed. In my mind, he’d take a look at the park, and we’d picnic at the school, and save about eight miles of biking.

I’m so crafty.

We pulled up to the school. He looked at the equipment, said, “We’ve seen it, let’s go,” and started pedaling away as fast as his short legs could carry him. He is just as stubborn as The Mrs.

And just as stubborn as me. We continued on.

Another mile fell away under our tires.

The Boy: “This sure is farther than I thought.”

The Mrs.: “It’s a lot faster in a car.”

After another two miles, The Boy spontaneously started singing, “We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there . . .” from Smokey and the Bandit. I’m not sure I’ve ever been prouder of him, singing Jerry Reed, on a bike, in Alaska. I checked his backpack, and he did not have 24,000 cases of Coors. Perhaps he was running interference for The New Boy . . .

An hour later, we made it to the park. The Boy ran, jumped, played, and ate his picnic lunch. The New Boy was pushed around by The Mrs. on the swing.

The promised land park. If you're looking for The Boy, turn around. That's where he was when I took this picture.

It was cold all day. In the Sun, it was nice. In the shade, it was chilly. I managed to get the only picnic table in the shade. The park itself is a place where you would send your kids on their own – it’s Alaska, a place where there aren’t mandatory laws for every conceivable situation and people are mostly nice to one another. I looked over at The Boy while I was eating my sandwich and saw a gentleman we’d never met pushing him in a swing.

Finally, nature began calling all of us who didn’t carry external urine containment systems, like The New Boy. We decided to hit Safeway on the way out of town, and, um, check prices. Yeah, that was it.

We started for home in earnest. We drove another three miles, and finally The Boy could no longer sustain even the 5.3MPH pace he had been getting – his motor was burned out. The Mrs. and I made the command decision to stash him in the Baby Dragger with The New Boy.

This decision was not a consensus decision. The Boy took it as a personal affront to his dignity, and, in general, sounded like the Tasmanian Devil when The Mrs. put him in the Baby Dragger. He grumbled the entire rest of the journey.

It’s all math, really. The Boy’s bike has tiny wheels and a crappy gear ratio; one pedal from him puts him, say, 3.88667 feet down the road (I actually worked this out). One pedal from my bike in high gear (do I need another?) puts me about 15.54667 feet down the road. So, during the 50,160 feet or so he went down the road, I figure he pedaled approximately 12,905.66 times to my 4,075.472 times. All this math (these actually are real numbers, though based on wild assumptions, but are probably pretty close) makes me tired. All the pedaling made him tired.

It was up to me to carry his bike with me on my bike. If you’ve never carried a bike while you drove a bike, well, it’s possible, but harder than it might initially sound. I struggled with it (at one point the wheel of the bike was depressing my brake lever, so I was wondering what was wrong with my bike for a good half mile until I flopped the bike over my handlebars parallel fashion), and headed home. In retrospect, it was not nearly as hard as the time I climbed the Matterhorn clad only in a thong and clown shoes to impress Janet Reno.

We made it home. We were tired (The New Boy went straight to sleep) and, in general, had enjoyed a Rockwellian day of bike rides and picnics. And, I’ve finally managed to get Janet Reno out of my head.

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