Category Archives: Fairbanks

The Kind of Day I Need to Trust

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My Girl got braces yesterday morning, and while she was at the orthodontist, the Boy (who is very math-phobic) and I worked on some cryptarithms. These are logic puzzles where the numerals are replaced by letters, and you have to use logic to figure out what the problem is.  For instance, HH + HH = OOT is (and can only be) 55 + 55 = 110.  (Letters next to each other represent place value, not multiplication.  Each letter must be a digit from 0-9.  Within each puzzle, a letter’s value is  constant.  In the above example, two matching 2-digit numbers with the same number in each place value spot add up to a 3-digit number.  If you add matching double digits, starting with 11 and continuing up, you’ll find that the first pair that makes a 3-digit number is 55.  Numbers high than 55 don’t produce a pattern that fits “OOT,” so 55 + 55 = 110 has to be the answer.)  This  is math he gets, and has fun doing.

After that, we picked up the Girl from the orthodontist’s office. Before she went in, she’d been studying the palette of color choices, and I was leaning on her, kind of heavily, to opt for the one labeled “obscure,” which looks like teeth.  The other options included black, hot pink, neon orange and what I call spinach green, among others.  When I was growing up, the only kids who got braces were the ones who had severe dental issues or a parent who was an orthodontist, and you could have any color you wanted, as long as it was silver. Having colored brackets seems weird to me. But I realized that they don’t seem weird to her and she’s the one who will have to deal with them.  She’s the one who will see them in the mirror when she’s brushing and flossing.  Yes, I will be seeing them a lot, too, but I’d rather see her happy and smiling with colored brackets than scowling because she doesn’t like the way she looks.  So, I backed off on the “obscure” brackets and said, “You know, I guess if I were the one getting braces, I’d get those, but I can’t wait to see what color you pick.”  She picked lavender.  And she’s beautiful. 🙂

New Braces
Turns out, you can hardly see the color.

After ortho, we went to lunch at Wendy’s (a Frosty seemed like a tempting treat after two hours of work on her teeth – even if it was -13 degrees), and had a big juicy conversation about the science of post-apocalyptic dystopias – what would it take to wipe out most of Earth’s population (short of nuclear war)?  How do nuclear weapons work? (The Girl surprised me by giving a pretty good explanation of that process.) What kind of diseases could wipe out millions?  How high would sea levels get if the polar caps melted? Etc.  We talked about math – if you are writing a book in which Earth’s population was reduced by, say 6 billion, what would a tsunami hitting New York City get you? (God forbid, for any of this, of course, but both kids love young adult literature, and you work with what you have!)  NYC has about 8.5 million inhabitants, so after the tsunami hits, you’d still have to bump off 991.5 million more people just to get rid of the first billion.  The Girl came up with a disease passed to humans from sea creatures that were now swimming in closer contact with humans, due to sea level rise.  The Boy proposed the classic comic book theme of a science experiment gone wrong, by suggesting that maybe, in trying to splice plant genes into humans, so we could make our own food from sunlight, something went horribly wrong and the plant-people hybrids became . . . zombies? Pod people? I don’t remember, but we were all giggling by then.

After lunch, they had a 2-hour indoor rock climbing class at Fairbanks’s Ascension Rock Club 

 While they were climbing, I went home to take in a webinar from Julie Bogart, of Brave Writer and the Homeschool Alliance.  I encourage any readers who are currently raising kids, and struggling, to check out Julie on YouTube, whether you’re homeschooling or not.  She is a fantastic parenting coach/cheerleader, and, although her business is focused primarily on homeschooling and the homeschool community, she has lots of insights that can be translated to just life.

After I picked them up from rock climbing, the kids played on School of Dragons and watched YouTube videos on Star Wars conspiracies (Just who is Supreme Leader Snoke? Whatever happened to Mace Windu – could he have survived the fall from that window on Coruscant?  Why does Finn seem to be Force-sensitive?) as I made dinner.  After dinner, the Girl and her Dad worked for more than an hour on a boat design she wants to build.  He helped her calculate water displacement (unit conversions! density considerations!) to figure out how much weight she wants it to carry.  They talked about physics while designing a workable propulsion system.  She had to draw plans to explain clearly what she had in mind – and she spent another couple of hours making a water-resistant scale model of her design from cereal box cardboard, packing tape and toothpicks.

I love these kinds of homeschooling days.  So much learning happens – and without any “school.”

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Early Harvest

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The other day I posted about most of the stuff we are intentionally growing this year.  Here’s some of the stuff that just grows (good and less good):

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Yarrow

Yarrow is a “weed” that has lots of uses, besides just being pretty.  Mosquitos don’t much care for its scent.  Two years ago, I infused yarrow flower heads in oil, then made a salve with the resulting fragrant oil, a few drops of tea tree oil, and beeswax.  I probably should have made a lotion; because the salve was a bit heavy, we didn’t use it much, just kept using the stuff from the store.  This year, we ran out of store-bought bug dope, so I got out my old experiment.  I’m not sure if the mosquitos aren’t biting because of the scent or because they just can’t penetrate the wax/oil base, but I am definitely going to use this stuff from now on! (And the bunch of yarrow in the photo will become more – but I’ll try a lotion this time!)

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First Wild Strawberries

While I was out picking yarrow this morning, I noticed something red in the grass.  Wild strawberries!!  Our first berries of the season are not from any plants I purchased, and there aren’t enough of them to top a bowl of cereal, but there were enough for each of us to have a taste.

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After a day and a half of rain, the weeds are very happy.

It rained nearly all day yesterday and last night.  It is lovely not to have to water the garden, but my plants are not the only ones that like water.  The paths have fewer weeds because the ground is more compacted.  We are way behind with getting the garden mulched (have to rent a chipper to deal with the mountain of brush we’ll be using), and it can be discouraging to see the amount of work I’m going to need to be doing on my knees, but I still love seeing how life insists on having its way.

 

Because I didn’t have enough going on . . .

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I proposed a class on hand embroidery to the Fairbanks Folk School, and it was accepted! Yea! I get to teach grown-up people! Who are not my children! (Well, the class is open to people 12-years old and up, so I might be teaching somebody else’s kids, but that’s ok.)  Here’s the class description, as well as a few pictures:

Hand embroidery is an easy and enjoyable way to decorate your life. You can embellish clothing, make art pieces for your walls, and produce lovely gifts for friends and family. You can spend hours or minutes, pennies or big bucks on your projects – no matter what your commitment level or budget is, once you know the basic stitches, you can create beautiful items easily.

In the first session of Easy Embroidery, you will learn basic hand embroidery stitches, including running, back, chain, and blanket stitches (and some variations), and the French knot. In the second session, we’ll add some simple filling stitches to your sampler and begin work on a small embroidered picture that you can frame, or mount on a pillow or greeting card. You will learn how to choose the correct fabric and thread to create the look you want for future projects. In addition, you will learn several ways to transfer a design to fabric: tracing with a lightbox or window, using an iron-on transfer pen, and using dressmaker’s carbon paper.

 

Yea! Go me! (It has been awhile since I did anything creative, so I’m pretty psyched about this class.) The Folk School is interested in a class on making rag dolls, as well as possibly something with polymer clay, so I’m working on putting together a couple more classes for them.  The embroidery class is 2 2-hour sessions, 6-8 pm on October 14 and 21, 2016.  Click here to sign up!

I managed one other little creative thing last week, too.  My sister needed a pair of earrings for a friend’s birthday.  The birthday was on September 8, which was the date of the debut of the original Star Trek series in 1966.  The friend is a fan, so here’s what I came up with:

They are a little wonky, but I love them.  I’m gonna make me a pair!  If there’s enough interest, I’ll make a bunch and list them on my ArtFire shop.

 

Making a Better World: Shortening the Food Chain, Part 1

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We Alaskans like to believe in the image Outsiders have of us as self-reliant hunters and gathers, living off the frozen fat of our outdoor icebox.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many Alaskans who live a subsistence lifestyle, and even more who depend on hunting, fishing and berrying for a part of their yearly food supply.  Plenty of us, though, do most of our hunting in the aisles of the local Safeway or Fred Meyer store, where “local” usually means from Washington state or Oregon.
Both Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (deep bow to the high priest and priestess of locavoria!) cite the statistic that most food products eaten in the US have traveled an average of 1500 miles from place of origin to place of consumption.  I wonder if that average includes (and is therefore skewed by) the many, many miles almost everything in our grocery stores has come.  It is nearly 2000 miles just from Seattle to Fairbanks – and if it’s Iowa corn or California strawberries, it’s coming a whole lot farther than that.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan describes the tortuously complicated length of the industrial food chain, and how and why shortening that chain is in our best interests, as individuals and as a society.  Though The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces the chains leading to four specific meals, there are two general types of food chains:  1. food going from point A to point B;  2. food A being processed into food products B, C, D, etc.  Shortening the first type means:  less fuel spent in transportation and refrigeration; more biological diversity, since varieties don’t need to be selected for ease of shipment; better taste and nutrition – foods are picked when ripe, not ripened chemically or on the road (Kingsolver calls shipped produce “vagabonds who wasted their youth in a boxcar”); and more peace of mind, since any disruptions in the food distribution system become less problematic when you can walk between points A and B.  Shortening the second type means, again:  less fuel for transportation, refrigeration and processing; more biological diversity (because processed foods contain so much corn and soy, US farms are producing more and more of these two crops and less and less of everything else); better nutrition, because eating whole foods equals consuming all the nutrients those foods contain, not just those that Science has identified as important or beneficial this month; and more peace of mind.  If you are eating un- or minimally processed foods, you know what you’re eating. (For the most part, anyway.  Did you know that the wax that makes apples and cucumbers shiny is a corn product?)
So, how do we, as non-subsistence-living Alaskans, shorten those food chains?  There are certain things we are stuck with (or stuck without, I guess), for instance staples like wheat flour, COFFEE, sugar, COFFEE, tea, COFFEE and CHOCOLATE.  Those things just aren’t produced here. (I guess, wheat flour and tea could be dropped from our shopping list.) Much as I’d love to follow Kingsolver’s example of consuming only locally produced food (with a few exceptions – each member of her family got one special food during their year of locavory), I don’t think that’s realistic for Fairbanks. I don’t think it is, but I don’t know for certain, so this year, I’m investigating local food sources. Next year, maybe, will be our as-complete-as-possible Animal, Vegetable, Miracle year.  So far I’ve found:

There are also options like buying a whole hog or cow from a 4-H member, a barley flour processor in the Delta area, and friends who hunt or fish :). And of course, there’s the “grow your own” option – which has its own challenges in the Land of the Midnight Sun (aka the Land of the Extremely Short Growing Season).

That’s actually a longer list than I’d expected (Yea!) and this post is getting long, too, so I’ll finish next week.

What do you get locally? If you’re in Alaska – what’s your favorite local food source?

Making a Better World: The Nature of a Garden

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Random Sheet of Metal on Property

            Our land was once part of a pristine wilderness.  We hope to recreate that environment, to erase all traces of human interference with nature.  Just kidding.  It’s true that the land was once “untouched,” but that was long, long ago.  Much of the “wilderness” around here is at best second growth boreal forest.  The early history of Fairbanks – building and heating the town, mining the hills, stoking the boilers of the steamboats – took a lot of wood, and rearranged mountains of earth.  Before that, Alaska Natives hunted and fished throughout the Tanana Valley.  This area has seen the impact of humanity for millennia, and there’s no way we could ever return a little over an acre of it to its “original” state.

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  We certainly weren’t thinking “pristine” as we hauled car parts, balled-up, rusty wire fencing, miles of electrical wire and pieces of bone (not human, thankfully)  out of our planting area. 

Part of Scrap Pile:  Fencing, wire, and an old rug

Junk Structure on Property

We are not trying to get to untouched.  But if we are not trying to restore our bit of subarctic suburbia to its primeval grandeur, how can I say we’re “making a better world”?  Might seem like hubris.

            First, I don’t buy the idea that nature is necessarily at its best without human impact.  I also don’t think “dominion over the Earth” means we should develop, pave, or make junkyards out of every blessed parcel of land we can.  In his book Second Nature¸ Michael Pollan suggests that pitting nature against culture (human activity) creates a false dichotomy.  We are, after all, a part of nature, not apart from it.  In a garden, the influence of the gardener is thoughtful, intentional and blatant.  We protect plants that might otherwise fail to thrive.  We plant stuff we want to grow in rows or beds.  We weed and water (and weed and water some more).  Pollan calls a garden “a middle ground between nature and culture, a place that is at once of nature and unapologetically set against it.”

            When I say we are making a better world (in a tiny way) by making this farmlet, I mean that by making our influence visible and useful, we are saving that land from the hidden forces that were slowly turning it in to a junkyard, and from the overt force of the developers who at best would have built a multi-family apartment there, and at worst would have turned it more rapidly into a junkyard.  I don’t believe that our cultivation of the land will create an eyesore.  We are removing trees, but not all.  We are planting new trees as well, and the new ones and the ones we don’t take down will have a better chance to thrive.  The dead wood that makes the property a fire hazard that is difficult to navigate will go – but its nutrients will be returned to the soil, in the form of mulch.  We’ll have to protect our plantings from moose and rabbits, but those creatures will also continue to use the land.  (It’s kinda hard to stop them!) 

Visiting Moose

We’ll be ripping out non-native invasive species, like dandelions and purple vetch.  And, of course, we’ll be feeding ourselves with the products of our labor, happily increasing the nutrient value of our food and the quality of life of our food animals while reducing our dependence on shipped in food and the related use of fossil fuels required to get that food here.  Whew – that’s a heck of a sentence!  But it sure sounds like a better world to me. 🙂

Some of our food animals - not little yellow fluffballs anymore!

Some of our happy food animals – not little yellow fluffballs anymore!