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

Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Well, you certainly haven't been shopping. The only thing I found in the fridge was a dead dove in a bag." - Michael, Arrested Development

You can get a dogsled ride in Fairbanks in summer at Alaskaland Pioneer Park, but the sled has wheels. I’m thinking of replacing my car with this idea.

Normally when it’s time to make a major appliance purchase, the major appliance in question has to be, well, dead beyond belief. I broke with precedent and replaced one that was working.

Okay, it really wasn’t working. The dishwasher was only a dishwasher in the sense that it had the temerity to call itself a dishwasher on the label on the front. In reality, it did the following things:
  • got dishes wet,
  • made loud, grinding noises,
  • spread the residual food-water paste around the dishes,
  • used enough electricity that the lights dimmed, and
  • finished with a load of dishes that were technically washed, but were not clean.

That’s an exaggeration. It cleaned some dishes a bit, but about 70% would need a second or third ride to get clean. Clear glasses? Forget it. They had a nice opaque feel to them.

I did a little research and found that our dishwasher was actually a Soviet-made dishwasher, and consisted mainly of used parts from T-72 Soviet tanks, assorted MiG parts and required the equivalent of a small nuclear power plant to run efficiently. The instruction manual said, “Please to depress manual start to clean yankee imperialist running-dog dishes.”

Over time, the poor washing performance gradually started to drive me nuts. The Mrs., as usual, was way ahead of me. She had wanted the dishwasher to be replaced about a week after we had moved in. I was fairly certain that it would get better. After nearly two years I became convinced that maybe it was beyond self-repair, and snapped.

Actually, what got to me was a tinge of guilt. I had been thinking of purchasing a pistol for myself. This pistol was just for plinking – it’s a .22 for Heaven’s sake, and wouldn’t bring down an Alaskan rabbit. The pistol costs about the same as the dishwasher.

I did the math, and decided that it would be better for the family if we had clean dishes (without so much effort) and it became my goal, too. I’m pretty sure that The Mrs. was planning all along to get this to be “my idea.”

We went to Home Despot and immediately The Boy eyed the GE models. “This one is the best, Dad, it’s GE.” Did I mention that The Boy loves GE?

As much as I normally attempt to avoid having a five-year-old have any part in major home appliance purchases, The Mrs. and I agreed that the GE looked okay. We ended up loading it in the back of the Wildermobile and heading home.

We had argued about white versus stainless steel. Our existing appliances were almond-bisque-torte (okay, I’ll admit I can’t fathom how color names come from – I would have called this color “milky mud”). We bought a white one. It matched a white refrigerator that we already owned, but had stored in the garage for two years.

I started first with the fridge replacement. We pulled out the old one and transferred the food to the one from the garage (after a good scrub) and I turned the temperature controller from “Off” to Off. The little temperature control dial twisted right off in my hands.

After attempting to fix the temperature controller for about an hour twenty minutes (and discovering that you can get a great electric flash and kick the breakers off if you touch the power cord to ground) I looked and saw that we had the old fridge just sitting there. I had been thinking of just putting it in the garage as a spare in case our fridge went out. Plans change.

I ripped into the guts of the fridge and found that the temperature controller from the old fridge would fit right into the new fridge. I heard the compressor kick on. Victory! I even (through twisting a bit of metal) got the old temperature controller to look like it belonged in the new fridge.

I looked at The Mrs., who had been watching my efforts.

“Surprise you that I fixed that?”

“No. I expected that you would. You always do.”

I guess that implies that I get myself in these situations a lot. Hmmm. She’s right.

But right now the beer is cold and the dishes are clean.

Oh, and there’s a new movie coming out on DVD, “The Tooth Fairy.” I haven’t seen it yet, but the last one (The Garden) was okay, unless you got caught in Lance Henriksen’s wrinkles. Here’s a link.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"I simply cannot have students roaming the halls and giving prophesies of a great plague." - Principal McVickers, Beavis and Butthead

The Boy's-eye view of the highway in Alaska. That's his soccer-ball shaped whistle on the dash. I'm not sure why you'd want a whistle shaped like a ball. I prefer the whistle shaped whistles.

It’s almost August, and soon The Boy will be entering school. By entering school, I guess I mean re-entering school. Let me explain . . .

The Boy started preschool last year. He lasted a week before the fine folks there gave him the boot. I would be worried, but I recall getting the boot from Headstart at just the same age, and for just the same reasons. The downside for The Boy is that they spanked me the next year in kindergarten, whereas the current treatment for rambunctious behavior is to talk to children, as if there’s a way to reason with a five-year-old boy. Me, I had a standing reservation at the principal’s office, he had a paddle, and he reasoned with me just like Israel reasons with Hezbollah.

The principal’s paddle had holes drilled in it in a grid-pattern so that no soft cushion of air would develop between the paddle and your butt. From his vantage, I believe it made a satisfying “thwack” sound as it contacted Levi-covered backsides of youthful miscreants. From my vantage, it caused me to pay a little attention and understand that adults other than my mom could be in charge.

Keep in mind that this was back in time a bit, when a boy bringing toy guns to school to play with during recess was considered “normal” and “healthy” and not a “felon.” This was also when a five-year-old boy could kiss a five-year-old girl and it was “cute” and not “sexual assault.”

I’m pretty sure that the principal had my best interests at heart. When I saw him after not seeing him for twenty or so years, he smiled. He remembered me. “I always thought you’d do fine. Now to hear that you’ve been nominated for both the Nobel Prize and the MacArthur Genius Grant does my heart good. I’m proud to have swatted you daily until my arm was tired.”

Techncially I haven’t gotten either a Nobel or a MacArthur Genius Grant, but I’m guessing it’s just a matter of time.

Okay, the conversation didn’t go quite like that, but you get the sense of it. The principal knew what he was doing. He was a pro. The Boy, however, is going to be like a velociraptor loosed upon a room of cute and fuzzy kittens, and those are just his poor teachers. To his classmates, this little force of nature will be Genghis Khan incarnate. He’s a combination of Calvin and Dennis the Menace with just a dash of Dilbert thrown in.

With this new “feel good” sort of teaching now in vogue, I halfway expect to show up at the school one day and find that he’s instigated an insurrection and claimed the front office along with a cohort of children he’s manipulated into following him with ludicrous promises that he’ll never deliver on. Wait a minute – didn’t I just describe the US Senate?

Anyway, I expect that The Boy will re-write the school rules. I see paddles being reintroduced, at least in Alaska, at least at the schools he attends. He’ll deserve every swat.

I know I did.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Flick says he saw some grizzly bears near Pulaski's candy store!" - Ralphie, A Christmas Story

We took some great pictures of Golden Days, but a grizzly bear ate our camera. Okay, that's a lie. The camera was on the floorboard of The Mrs. car, surrounded by empty cans of Red Bull. That The Mrs., she likes her Red Bull

Summer continues up here in Alaska, and I hear it’s been really, really hot for you down in the lower 48. Well, it’s been hot here, too. It must have gotten to 79ºF today. What blistering heat! Given how gosh darn hot it is up here, well, you know that I empathize.

Naw, just kidding. I’m gloating.

This weekend was fun, even though there’s so much to do, and so little sunlight left to do it in.

We went down to Golden Days, the local celebration of the sweet, sweet gold that, as an Alaska resident, I get eleven pounds of a year. Golden Days are fun, but they are in reality the largest festival in the world, surpassing the Superbowl™, the World Series®, and rivaled only by Lawn Tractor Olympics Days in Lizard City, South Dakota.

The main thrust of our day led us shopping. We went to Barnes & Noble©, Sportsman’s Warehouse, and Home Despot. Barnes & Noble™ was fun. We looked at books, and about a dozen of them were tied directly to the theme of the novel that The Mrs. is writing. I could have spent thousands of dollars there on books. So could The Mrs. After leaving the bookish confines of Barnes & Noble©, we went into Sportsman’s Warehouse.

Sportsman’s Warehouse is an Alaskan’s paradise. The Mrs., The Boy, Pugsley (the artist formerly known as The New Boy), and I shopped. Of stores that appeal to Alaskans, none can really compare with this one, except the store that stocks nothing but blue tarps, duct tape, and alcohol. Sportsman’s Warehouse has, well, guns. Lots and lots of guns.

I was looking for a new one. After a bit of study, I think now that my .45ACP is not really the gun that I want to have in my hand should a grizzly bear amped on adrenaline come charging at me at 35MPH thinking I look a bit more attractive than Pizza Hut for dinner (“Why order out,” says the grizzly, “sometimes the food delivers itself!”). The .45ACP is a good gun, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do much but irritate your average 17,000 pound (7kg) grizzly bear. I’m looking for something with a bit more “reach out and touch” than that.

The problem with pistols that will shoot though a grizzly bear is that they’re typically constructed of about thirty pounds of solid steel, which makes them bulky to carry. Since science has yet to deliver a phaser, and pepper spray would be better advertised as “people spice,” I think I’m gonna buy one of those bulky hand cannons.

I’m about set on a Ruger .44 magnum Redhawk. This is the same caliber (though not the same manufacturer) that Clint Eastwood carried in his Dirty Harry movies. I can't make my temple do that "throbbing vein" thing like Clint, but I am losing my hair. Feeling lucky, punk?

I like the .45ACP better, but then again I’d like to carry a .22 because they’re compact and lightweight. I think I can carry the heavy gun, though. Even though I like the convenience of a lightweight gun, I would rather not enter the food chain prematurely. We have tourists for that.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"I'm not into politics. I'm into survival." - Gov. Schwarzenegger, The Running Man

Anchorage in June. Looks like Anchorage most of the time, but this is near solstice and this picture was taken about 11PM. I’m not sure what metric time that was. Perhaps 9.8?

It’s time to get ready to pick a new governor in Alaska. I would start with commentary that we might elect the existing one (Frank Murkowski), but that seems unlikely at this point, since he’s about as popular as Jennifer Aniston would be as a sitter in Angelina Jolie’s house. I exaggerate, but the last poll I saw had him running in third place behind John Binkley (no relation to the Bloom County character) and Sarah Palin (probably not related to Monty Python, though when I thought about calling her office she would neither confirm nor deny this in a conversation I imagined). The current governor may yet win reelection, and if he does, I would credit it to his quoting of Napoleon Dynamite, “flippin’ sweet.”

Politics in Alaska is different. A Republican in Massachusetts would be considered a communist in most states, since they can’t think of a social program (Free After Dinner Mints are a RIGHT, Not a Privilege Just for the Rich!) they won’t support.

A Green Party member in Alaska probably drives a big, honking 4WD to get to the log cabin, has a very large caliber pistol, burns tons of wood in the winter, and is almost as concerned about individual human freedom as he/she is about the environment. I like our Greens better than your Greens, since Alaska Greens would be Iowa Republicans (I’m gonna catch hell for this, but it’s true more often than not).

Alaskan politics are funny because Alaska, though huge in area, is small in the number of people kicking around up here. Being the governor of Alaska consists of being the executive of a government that has jurisdiction over 600,000 people. There are probably bigger homeowner associations in the Napa Valley, though we have tons of gold and millions and millions of gallons of sweet, sweet oil, and all the homeowner association has is an over-chlorinated pool and a ping-pong table with one racket and one smashed ping-pong ball.

The biggest issue our governor has had trouble with is the gas pipeline to carry our sweet, sweet gas down to the lower 48 so you have the ability to send your ratty-old money back up this way to pay for our Pez dispensers and pantyhose. The primary problem with the gas line deal that he negotiated (not having read it, along with most other folks) is that the Oil Companies (AMOCOBPEXXONCONOCOPHILLIPS) appear to like it.

This reminds me of Aesop’s fable about the Mouse and the Elephant and the Preacher . . . wait, that’s a filthy joke I heard on the football bus in high school. Aesop’s fable is about the Lion and the Tasty Little Mammal. This fable, if you forgot, is where the Lion was mad all the time and scared all the Tasty Little Mammals that lived in the forest. The Lion and the Mouse walk into a bar. Wait. That’s another one. Dang. Maybe it was the Lion, the Witch, and the Dominatrix?

I can’t remember.

Let’s just summarize this way: people seem to be generally against the gas line, perhaps because Aesop was born in 620 B.C. and his 401k is so totally huge now due to compound interest.

The best thing about being governor, perhaps, is that the capital of Alaska is in Juneau and is therefore inaccessible by road from the rest of the state. This gives the governor the benefit of not having to see many actual Alaskans. If the legislature isn’t in session, I think there are only four other people that live in Juneau. Being governor, you pretty much have the place all to yourself, like Mel Gibson in all those Mad Max movies, but I don’t think anybody kills your dog. And there are fewer Australians and dingos.

Oh, yeah, there’s a Democrat running, too. He’s probably an NRA member.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Gee, Moe, that seems a bit extreme. Couldn't you just bash my brains in?" - Homer, The Simpsons

Extreme Makeover, Boy Picture Edition. This was a picture taken by The Boy when I was building his swingset. Note that I did not cut off any fingers, as far as you know.

“Extreme Makeover, Home Edition” came up to Fairbanks recently. They took a family with about seven hundred kids, headed by a single mom, and shipped ‘em off to a Disney slave-labor farm while they turned bulldozed their 800 square foot house (11 square metres) and converted it to a 5,000 or so square foot (12 square metres) mansion.

Everyone in Fairbanks knew what was going on. When I stopped to buy beer on Friday, the clerk said, “The family is coming home tonight.”

I thought at first that it was a question. Was my family coming home tonight, hence requiring me to buy enough beer to dull my senses sufficiently so I could tolerate them? No. I thought an instant and realized that the clerk was talking about the family who was to be the recipient of the new house was coming home.

This has raised a philosophical question that’s difficult to process. A nice lady (by all accounts) is getting something very nice for her and her family that she didn’t work for. Is it right?

I have friends who live on the extreme side of personal responsibility as their code of life. They feel that you should get what you earn, not what people give you. “This is wrong,” they’d say, “this is just a form of feel-good welfare that sets up expectations that everyone should have a great big house because they’re good or nice people. This is wrong.”

Thousands of people in Fairbanks felt differently. They donated time, material, and sweat to put up a house that very few in the community could afford (estimated appraisal is about $700,000). I know that $700,000 would barely be enough to purchase a pickup truck in a parking space in San Jose, but is a huge house in Fairbanks, several times the median price.

I didn’t help build the house. I’ve been busy drinking beer donating blood, sleeping in caring for my children, and thinking about hunting praying. I don’t think, personally, that the house is bad. It’s a nice thing for the lady and her family. It doesn’t hurt my feelings that over (in the end) a million or so dollars will have been spent on this, since it might make a nice television program that I’d watch if it weren’t on at the same time as The Simpsons. Like I’m going to miss The Simpsons. That’s what I call extreme.

In the end, I don’t mind that the nice lady, her kids, and her other relatives that live with her are getting a nice house. Fairbanks is a small place, and although I don’t know her, I have friends that do, and they say she’s swell. Good for her.

I’m not jealous, though. If “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” would have come to Casa Wilder, I don’t think I would have liked it a bit. Not so much the new, huge place. That would have been okay. I just don’t want Ty Pennington in my house. It looks like he might shed everywhere. How would I ever get the Pennington out of my carpet? Ewww.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Here's looking at you, kid." -Bogey, Casablanca

The Boy steadfastly refuses to tell me how he took this picture of himself. Seriously. He won’t tell me. Ungrateful wretch.

In the interest of being lazy, I thought I’d put up some bizarre statistics about this site, a mirror back your direction. I know that Myspace has now narrowed the lead in number of daily hits that I have over it, but it only has 93,000,000 teenage users, or, my guess, 52 teenage users and 92,999,948 middle-aged men pretending to be teenage users. OMG, LOL, mYsPaZe rUlZ!


One popular search that (mis)leads people to the site is “life in alaska,” which I guess makes sense, given that is what the site is ostensibly about.

What surprises me is that there are a huge number of Alaskans that visit. You’d a thunk that they’d have figured out what life in Alaska is like. 89.54% of the visitors here are American. 33.51% of the Americans are . . . Alaskan.


Not what I would have expected, but I’m still flattered.

Californians are next on the list at 23.12%. That makes sense to me – Alaska might be considered the anti-California (at least as far as regulations go). Opposites attract. If you come to stay, please leave the homeowners’ associations down there. Please.

New Jersey is pretty high on the list, too, and all I have to say is, “I love you, too, Princeton!” Keep banging the atoms around, even if you have to report your results in metric! The English unit of mass is, seriously, the “slug”, which would make me want to do physics in metric, too.

Some search terms are interrogative in nature. I’ll attempt to help:
  • What does "getting wood" mean? -What are you, twelve?
  • What is effing degrees? -Come on up in January. You’ll see. As in –55 effing degrees.
  • Does anyone live in Alaska? -No. But that just makes the rent more reasonable.
  • How do you know its spring in Fairbanks? -It’s spring in Fairbanks nine months after the first snow.
Some are just plain bizarre:
  • alaska nuclear basement -We pioneered the nuclear basement, as well as the personal jetpack.
  • uk panty boy -Just the World Cup soccer team, apparently.
  • pantyhose Korean -What we Alaskans wear on our heads in our nuclear basements. While looking at nude pictures of John Leguizamo (see next item)
  • john leguizamo nude -Did you really want to see that?
  • divination laws in alaska -No divination on alternate Thursdays, unless you have a tarot license.
  • white pasty saliva in stomach -How can you tell? Eww.
  • i want to buy a live chicken in alaska -Who doesn’t? Am I right here?
Some appear to know me personally:
  • gum wrapper clutch -Now upgraded to duct tape.
  • tire-chain home-made -Not as easy as it might first sound . . .
  • thor log splitter -My secret is out! Will they let me back in to Valhalla? How did you figure out, the hat with the horns on it?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Millions have died, but our troops have advanced no further than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping." -Blackadder, Blackadder IV

The picture above was what I saw when I cut into a nice birch tree. I thought it looked a bit like a rose. Makes me want to cut up other natural things and look for beauty.

We spent the last few days in a haze of wood gathering. Whenever we do that, I always feel like an ant. Gathering wood involves picking a piece of wood up, walking to the pickup and dumping it in, then walking back to the spot you picked the first piece up to pick up a second. Fortunately, ants don’t have chainsaws, or else they’d be the most frightening things on Earth, even if the chainsaws were itsy-bitsy. They’d be scary because there are so many of them.

“Arrgh, I’m covered with ants! And they all have tiny chainsaws!”

The Mrs. spends these interludes in thoughts involving intricate points of the plot of her novel, how to make the characters more real, more vivid, how to make them jump from the page and really say something. Me, I wonder what ants would do if they had chainsaws. Where would they buy the gas?

Regardless, we worked. The Mrs. loaded smaller pieces of wood and put them into the pickup while I picked up gargantuan hunks of wood that were big enough for the fireplace at Valhalla (which, given that it’s Odin’s place, must have a heckuva big fireplace) and put them on our trailer. Let’s just put it this way – the big cabers that they toss in the Highlands games are tiny in comparison to the massive tree hunks I was loading onto my trailer. By the time we were done loading, The Mrs. had a nice, neat load of cut wood in the truck. I had a load of logs in the trailer that made the tires of the trailer look like a distressed balloon wiener dog in the hands of a two-year-old.

All this time I was armed, and not just with a chainsaw (when is the last time you thought that being armed with a chainsaw might be inadequate?). I had a .45 Ruger semiauto with full-metal-jacket slugs on my hip the whole time, and a spare magazine in my pocket. Why? Bears. They might take my chainsaw and beat me senseless with it, and that would just be embarrassing.

In actuality, getting wood where we were, five miles from the nearest road, and a dozen from the nearest house, I’m not that comfortable that a grizzly bear that happened upon us would just sit and wait while I used the pull-start a dozen or so times (while fiddling with the choke) on the chainsaw so I could fire it up and then take him on like Ashe from Evil Dead 2 or, better yet, Army of Darkness. I prefer the boomstick.

A side note: I have a signed Bruce Campbell (star of Evil Dead, etc.) book that my buddy bought me. Bruce Campbell rules.

I had the pistol on my hip to protect the family. This is what Alaskans call “Family Values.” I can’t really imagine living in places where this is illegal. It boggles™ my mind. While I was armed I was not scared I was going to hurt myself.

I said to The Mrs., “I’m glad I brought the pistol.” Maybe she was scared I had a shootin’ iron on my belt.

She looked around at the low brush, the dense forest cover. She knows bear country. “Me too.”

The Boy didn’t seem to care, since he had taken the whole wood gathering expedition as a reason to cover himself in mud by smearing it all over his body, including his hair. The New Boy didn’t seem to care, either, as long as he was being fed. I’m not sensing a strong gun control crowd in our house, unless it means hitting the bear that’s running at us with as many bullets as we have, then reloading and repeating, and starting the chainsaw if necessary.

We loaded up and made the main highway. The Mrs. followed along

Since I was carrying 6.02x10²³ pounds (eleventymillion kilograms) of wood, I tried to keep the speed slow on the hills, so the pickup didn’t turn into a smear of hot metal on some rocks. I did this because the kinetic energy of a pickup full of wood can be expressed as ½ the mass of the pickup times the velocity squared, assuming that I kept the pickup somewhere below, say, 25% the speed of light. Notice that it’s the velocity squared that’s the important part of that equation. 80 mph isn’t twice as bad as 40 mph, it’s four times worse.

I think that my management of kinetic energy made the 17 cars behind me (32 metric cars) a bit upset. When they passed me, many of them had California plates, so I didn’t feel so bad. Californians are used to traffic jams, right? I thought briefly of brandishing the gun at them so that they’d feel even more at home, but felt that the traffic jam was enough.

Just doing my part to make tourists feel at home. Oh, and keep warm in the winter.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn't know what a Quarter Pounder is." - Vincent Vega on the Royale with Cheese Pulp Fiction

It took us about an hour to clear all the branches from this cut of trees near the house. I only hit the house with one tree. But it was small, so I don't think that counts.

June turns into July up here in the North. I’m guessing that happened to you, too, unless you live in some sort of Stephen Hawking-inspired wormhole that keeps it June forever for you, or unless you live in some country that uses holiday wrapping paper for money and just calls June something other than June.

It’s still June. But now it’s July.

July is a traditional month of sweating for people most places across the United States. Here, on July 1, it was something like 50ºF (723ºC).

Here I must take an aside. Since I’ve been a child, the coming takeover of the metric system in the US has been touted. By 1985, by gum, we’d all be talking in meters, kilograms, and hectagons. It hasn’t happened. Metric is the measurement system of choice for scientists, since we can’t ask Stephen Hawking to remember to divide by anything other than 10. But for the average rank and file consumer in the United States (and for every business outside of physics, medicine, and chemical research) the good old system that uses gallons and feet seems to stick. I don’t want to go buy litres or liters or kilograms of milk. I want a gallon. I want to buy my carpet by the square foot, and I want to eat steak by the pound. Beer, they come in cases. A metric case would contain only ten beers, hence, the English system of 24 beers to the case is better (though, if those ten beers each contained 3550 ml, I could be converted, so to speak).

If you don’t use the old English system, I’m not making fun of you. If you like buying liters of gasoline, good, and I can appreciate that. I don't even mind your money. The reason I bash the metric system is that there’s no real reason to change here, unless you give me big honking beers for less money, and I don’t think that’s an attribute of the SI system.


Anyhow, it’s been a nice, cool summer, the kind of summer that make Al Gore fume, heating up his local climate. Evidence of global, or even local, warming is sorely lacking. It’s been gorgeous.

The Mrs., The Boy, and I have been busy. Vacation for the Wilder clan? Not until after my first triple-bypass surgery. Time off from work? We work.

The Boy and I started the other night. The Mrs. was off hunting moose with a dull spoon (she only got three, slacker) and I decided that it was time for some of our trees to go. I did not make this calculation lightly. Some lady came on the radio the other day and said that we needed at least 30’ of clear space around our house so that the firemen would have room to take pictures of our house after a forest fire leveled the place. The Mrs. and I (in fairly vague details) discussed my plans to do this. She left.

I hadn’t told her I was going to cut down 14 trees. I got bored, there was gas for the chainsaw, so I fired it up and started knocking the trees down.

To her credit, when she got home and saw the 14 trees down, she then looked at the others that I’d marked for doom. She wiped away the moose blood and nodded. She gestured at the remaining 31 trees.

“There must be dozens of liters of wood in the rest of those trees. How many kilominutes will it take you to cut them down?”

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