Friday, January 29, 2010

My first experience with Alaska

Do you remember Tom Bodett? The guy who used to pitch Motel 6? Yeah, "We'll leave the light on for ya" and all. That guy. Mr. Bodett was my first taste of Alaska. Way back before he was a famous pitchman, he had an NPR show called "The End of the Road." It was about the local color around his town of Homer. My family and I used to sit at the kitchen table from 6-7 on Sunday evenings listening rapturously to the stories about people even stranger than we were. I think I was about 9 years old.

We eventually bought some of his tapes to listen to on our long car trips. Other tapes that fueled our 6 hour trips to our "cabin" were the audio from our favorite movies. Like Christmas Story, we used to listen to it in the car.

Ahem. When I first moved to Alaska, I began obsessively collecting Alaskana--or Alaskan kitsch. I still haven't really outgrown that (ask me about my collection of Alaska-themed romance novels sometime). In my collection are two of Tom's books. I read them when I first bought them about 7 years ago and they've sat on my Alaska Bookshelf since. I finally re-read one of them, prompted by my Brother reading it first.

Once you get past the somewhat dated essays on computers and technology (hello 1986!) you see what a cozy, isolated life we really lead up here. Weather up here is our Alpha and Omega. Fish, especially salmon, are found at every potluck. Our cars are held together, like ours, with plumber's clamps and bailing wire. People are kind, if a bit fiercely independent.

The essay that really struck home probably shouldn't have. He was writing about visiting a big city during a book tour and learning how to be callous toward homeless people. It was painful because I tend to feel pretty uncomfortable around homeless people because I don't know what to do. There are lots of societal rules about How One Should Be toward poor people that conflicts with my jelly doughnut interior. (I am a total softie.) In this essay, Tom had an opportunity to buy a particularly rough looking guy some food, but didn't. With me, I had granola bars in my backpack during our recent wander around Seattle that I didn't give anybody. It's a big thing and a nothing all at once. I guess that's why it bothers me so much.

In Alaska, it's easy to pretend these problems don't exist. Homelessness isn't really a huge problem where I live--poverty and not enough to eat certainly are. I don't know why I'm thinking about this today. Sometimes we are a bit molly coddled up here and it hurts to realize it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I am awesome

At least in the Natalie Dee Hot Dog sort of way. I just found out that I --officially--will become a GS-11. A few more signatures and paperwork and I will move up from my little GS-09.

For those of you with actual private industry pay scales this is a very big deal. It's about a 15% increase in pay but about 100% increase in prestige. Ha. Prestige in gov't work.

I am very happy with today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Back in the saddle

Every time I hear/say back in the saddle I think about the Ween song, "Waving my d*** in the wind." I don't really know why, but that number really makes me think about getting things done and back on track. Plus, the swears always make me laugh. (Ahem, I warned my mom that I have a potty mouth when we began her bathroom remodels. She didn't believe me until I let loose an especially meaningful SOB when I dipped my pantleg in vinyl glue. Then she said that I swore like a sailor. It was a Hallmark moment.)

We returned last night to a warm house with more than 200 pounds of luggage. It's always a game for us, trying to get a lot of stuff--but not too much--back home after a bout of lower-48 living. This time we had to bring more than 50 pounds of tools back plus a HVLP (High volume low pressure) paint sprayer and a welder. There wasn't even any room for my new salts and spices. Those were mailed along with several new movies. I won't tell you which movies they were because they are all embarrassingly bad action-adventure movies.

The biggest tragedy is I forgot the pint jar of preserved lemons I made 3 weeks ago. I was so looking forward to making a lemon curry with them. I need a box of meyer lemons sent to me STAT.

Our flight out of CA was super early and our flight to AK was pretty late so we took the shiny new Seattle light rail downtown. I love public transportation. We ended up at a lighting store and bought an exterior sconce for the apartment (maybe it will be installed today!) and looked at the huge variety of low-voltage cable halogen systems. It's pretty like candy and expensive like jewelery. I will spend all the potential jewelery money of my life to buy all the gorgeous glass and steel sconces and pendants.

And now I'm back at work, staring down a number of fun projects. I am also sick. Airport always gets me a bit sick since I live in an isolated bubble islands. But it's deer stir fry tonight and a salmon something tomorrow. It will be nice to eat regular stuff again. My digestive system needs it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Plumbing: A cautionary tale

Once upon a time in the possible careers of mine (between Engineer, Wildland Firefighter, and Paramedic) I wanted to be a plumber. There was something about pipes and fittings and water that seemed so pleasant and easy. Gravity, right? Not so hard. BUT I only wanted to deal with new construction, not any used plumbing. The thought of working with broken drain/sewer lines was gross, even from my little idealized starry-eyed picture of plumbing.

So, why should you care? Recent experiences have totally cured me from wanting to work in the plumbing trade. (Except for the socially acceptable mooning, that's still very appealing.) We are down in CA working on my Mom's bathrooms. One is a total gut-and-replace of every dang thing in there. The origional 1960's tub was cut in half and removed and a new tub went it. In hooking up the drain to the new tub my adoration of plumbing died.

My mom had not used this tub in at least 4 years. She had not even dumped any water down the drain. This means that all the water in the P-trap had dried up and there was the potential for sewer gases to upchuck through the drain. See, the water in the P-trap acts like a plug that keeps sewer gases from entering your house and going up the vents instead. But her house did not smell like a terlet. Why was that? Well, it was because the cast iron trap had rusted shut and would pass neither water nor air. Good for the indoor air quality at my Mom's house, bad for tDF who had to replace the trap and go in the crawlspace twice. A crawlspace rife with cat crap and a dead rat. IT wasn't until we bought a shop light to see better in the crawlspace that tDF learned that he had been crawling through piles of dessicated turds. He was thrilled.
Bad, bad cast iron trap

(Aside: my mom fell over laughing at the following exchange:

tDF--is there more cardboard up there (he is in the crawlspace now)

me--How big of a piece of cardboard

tDF--Big enough to cover up this dead rat)

Also--every time I have to go in the crawlspace and I carp about it, my dear darling husband asks me if I still want to be a plumber. I should add that he says this smugly.

Back to plumbing. We have been teaching my mom about routine maintenance of her various house parts. Most importantly she should use every fixture and drain at least once per month to keep everything flowing and to make sure your p traps stay full. This is a good rule for everybody in the interwebworld.

gross. GROSS.

So, Plumbing is not for the faint of heart. It is for only the iron-stomached among us. Although, since my sense of smell is very bad, maybe I should reconsider plumbing...except for the cat crap. No. No plumbing for me. Soil Science forever.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunny January

So I'm visiting family on the lovely Central Coast of CA. It is about 70 degrees during the day. And sunny. It is fabulous. My in-laws used to live next to a huge pasture but now that pasture is strawberries. Sunday morning, we walked around the rows of berries and gleaned a few sun-warmed berries from the vine. (They were from the organic field.) Later at the grocery store I stood slack jawed at the $ .59/lb potatoes and the $.63/lb broccoli. I forgot about the price of food here.

On Monday we went for a hike along a beach near Point Sal to look at the chert middens. This beach is where they filmed the 10 commandments and Hildago. There is still detritus from the 10 Commandments filming. They did a really bad job cleaning up after themselves. After the hike we were hungry so we stopped at a local Mercado for some tacos. The Mercado (markets) here typically have a deli counter and a butcher counter. The meat behind the glass was so pretty and the chorizo and linguica just looked so tempting. I got 2 carne asada soft tacos with pico de gallo and a pineapple soda. The meat was perfectly cooked and citrus-y with a little caramelized edge.

Later we visited a friend who just built a brick oven in their back yard. We made about 9 different pizzas and I spent the whole time trying to figure out where I could put one in my house. My favorite last night was a green pizza with pesto, waxy potatoes, pistachios, and truffle oil. I made one with purple potatoes, red onions, fennel, and olives. SO FUN. The dessert pizza had marshmallows melted over the top. Normally, I think marshmallows are sort of sweet-gross but here they were just the right gooey balance to the chocolate and cherries.

I always forgot my camera because I'm lame, but I'll try to be better when I go pick up my gallon of local honey. This place is a veritable food paradise. Oh! and shopping at the discount mall is always fun. Always.