Life on the Last Frontier

A meandering blog with no clear topic. You will find me talking about knitting, building, kids, social and economic issues, Alaska, and lots of other stuff.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


We have lived in Alaska for more than 7 years now. But something you notice almost as soon as you get here, is that Alaskans have their own vocabulary.
Some of these unique words come from Native Alaskan words, such as cheechako, which is anyone new to Alaska, who hasn't overwintered here.
Others are just reflective of the unique experience of being an Alaskan, such as sourdough, anyone who has lived in Alaska for a long time.

Termination dust is an obvious example. Termination dust is the first snowfall of the year that is visible on the mountaintops in the morning. It doesn't have to last all day without melting to qualify. It just has to be new snow. I have lived in other mountainous states, namely Utah and Colorado. Neither of those states had a name for that first snowfall. But Alaska does.

Then there are the ways that Alaskans talk about other places. Anyplace not Alaska is "Outside". When people here talk about going Outside, they don't mean they are going for a walk. It means they are leaving the state, headed anywhere else. Never mind that Alaska is somewhat off the beaten track, so it would maybe make more sense the other way around. The other thing people say a lot is when they are referring to the rest of the country. We don't say "the contiguous 48 states" or mainland USA. No, you all are relegated to the "lower 48". And we don't even capitalize it, because Alaskans just don't think they're important, unless they need to go shopping :). And we don't know what to call Hawaii, except perhaps our favorite winter vacation spot.

I think most of this is because most Alaskans, in which category I include myself, although I have not yet reached the revered title of "sourdough", are proud of this state and the life they have carved out here. I have lived in several other states, and it really is different here. And I love everything about it.

Well, except it does get a little chilly in the winter. But I've survived it, and earned the right to complain about it.

- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Long range planning

This is a cherry tree, that we just planted. We planted two apple trees also. I am not a tree expert, but it is my understanding that the fruit trees are grafted onto hardier roots than the fruit trees normally have, so that they can survive through Alaska's winters.

Planting fruit trees is an interesting experience. All the work goes in up front, for a payoff that is at least two years down the road. But what a payoff it will be, to have fresh apples in the fall.

This is something that we could not have done a week ago, because moose adore tender young trees. But we have a fence now, and we are hoping we can keep the moose out.

- Posted from my iPhone

Friday, June 10, 2011

The garden fence

James and Ryan have been working on a project for the last week or so... A fence around the garden. The perimeter is 50' x 100'. About 2/3 of the area inside is tilled and planted.
They put fence posts 10 feet apart around the whole area, then strung 5' tall wire mesh around it. They then strung a strand of barbed wire a foot higher than that. There is room on the fence posts for two more strands of barbed wire, which would give us an 8' fence.
It might seem like a lot of fence for a garden, but we live in Alaska. Alaska has lots of moose and the moose's favorite summertime recreational activity is to wander through gardens.
One moose can do a lot of damage to a garden. They eat just about everything you would grow in a garden, except potatoes. They seem to have a particular love for broccoli. And what they don't eat, they walk on. And they have big, heavy feet.
Last summer, the moose ate 75 strawberry plants, all of my broccoli, peas, lettuce, the tops of the raspberry canes, etc. It is incredibly frustrating to walk out to the garden in the morning and see the devastation one or two moose will make overnight. Hopefully we won't have that problem anymore.

Posted from my iPhone

Monday, June 6, 2011

I'm back, and we're building

It's been awhile, and the only excuse I have is the one I always use, that work has been crazy. But it seems like things might be slowing down some, so I am going to try to start blogging again.
There is lots going on this summer, but I am not going to try to put it all out there at once.
The biggest project is the house. We are putting on an addition with a basement and main floor. The main floor of the addition is at the same height as the landing of our stairs, and it is accessed from that landing. On that level will be two bedrooms and a bathroom. The smaller bedroom will be Becky's and the boys will share the bigger one. The basement of the addition has a concrete floor and walls. It will hold a large pantry, a studio for James, and a sitting area that will double as sleeping space for any guests.
The basement floor and exterior walls were poured last fall. So far this spring, the framing has been done, and the roof sheeted. The roof doesn't have tar paper or shingles yet, but it will soon.

- Posted from my iPhone

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It all started with one lightbulb

My husband does oil paintings. He's very good, I think. One of the drawbacks, though, is that to paint, he requires good, consistent light. For the past almost 3 years, we have lived without electricity, which makes obtaining the light he needs difficult. We do have a generator, however. So he recently went out and bought a compact fluorescent bulb for a lamp we have had sitting around unused for the last 3 years. I came home from work that day to find the generator running, my husband happily painting, and this amazingly bright light in our bedroom.

Since we moved into this house, we have lived without electricity, because MEA wants $30,000 to hook us up. That's a lot to pay for the privilege of paying them every month for the rest of our lives. Plus, we don't exactly have $30,000 sitting around collecting dust.

We have made do with a propane lantern, and some battery powered LED lights that can sit on tables, counters, etc., and provide a minimally useful amount of light.

But coming home to this huge amount of light in my house made us start a new conversation. When we built the house, we wired it for electricity, assuming that one day, we would have some. We just had not put in light fixtures or outlets, because we didn't think it would happen very soon. So we started talking about maybe getting some outlets, switches, and light fixtures, and a pigtail to connect the house to the generator. It didn't take much talking. We now have light in our house, and thanks to compact fluorescents that don't use much power, we can have light in our entire house if we need it, without stressing out the generator, at least for a few hours a day while the generator is running.

This is a huge improvement. It has turned cooking and eating dinner into a completely different experience. I can knit in the evenings without a headlamp. Plus, we can charge the cell phones, the kids' nintendos, etc. We really love it.

BUT. There is always a but, isn't there? In some ways, it feels a little like defeat. Like we compromised for convenience. It is also important to us to try to live in a way that is as friendly to the climate as possible. The generator runs on gasoline. A lot of gasoline. And I am guessing it does not run particularly cleanly. And it is noisy.

We are making plans for solar panels, maybe a windmill, and batteries, and only using the generator for backup. But that is a long ways down the road, after the addition is done. We will have the generator for a while. Two steps forward, one step back.

- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Years Resolutions

It's that time of year, New Years. Everyone and their dog makes resolutions about how they are going to change their lives over the next year, and I am no exception. But I always make a bunch of resolutions, and then forget about them. So I have a different plan this year.
They say that if you can repeat something for 30 days, it becomes a habit, something that becomes something you can do without thinking about it. So I think this year, I am going to pick 12 things I want to work on, and focus on each one for a month. At the end of the year, if my theory works, I will have made 12 changes in my life, while only having to think about one at a time. Here is my list, in no particular order:

1. Write in my blog more often, at least once a week. There are a lot of issues that are important to me, that I want to talk about, but I have been ignoring everything because I work such long hours.

2. Quit drinking diet pepsi. I figure I can wean off it in the first two weeks, giving me the second two weeks to get used to it. I had a bone density scan done a few weeks ago, and while I don't have osteoporosis, I do have lower bone density than 84% of women my age. The phosphoric acid and carbonation in pop leaches calcium from bones.

3. Make healthier food choices. I think this one is pretty self explanatory.

4. Exercise regularly, including strength training. Again, I shouldn't need to explain this one.

5. Use reusable shopping bags instead of plastic. We use and throw away way too much plastic, and this is one big thing I can do to reduce my use of plastic.

6. Get back in the habit of regular scripture study and prayer. Go to church every week.

7. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We have put a lot of effort into using less, but have lost a lot of ground lately, mostly because we are so busy.

8. Finish two knitting projects that have been sitting around for months, a sweater for my younger daughter, and an afghan.

9. Get more organized and streamlined at work. Right now, I have cases that are months old, and it is causing problems. I need to get them closed.

10. Get in the habit of taking vitamins, calcium, etc.

11. Spend more time doing fun things with my kids.

12. Quit using bad language.

By the end of the year, I hope to have made a lot of progress. I will tackle #3 first, and I will go more into detail in another post.

Happy New Year!

- Posted from my iPhone

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Peak Chocolate: The End Of The World As We Know It

This article, and several others like it, are saying that due to poor agricultural practices and drought, likely caused by global warming, are leading to a significant decline in chocolate production. This will make chocolate increasingly scarce and expensive.
When I first read about this, I thought, yeah right. This has got to be a prank. But it has been a news item on several credible websites, including msnbc and discovery.
As bad as not being able to buy chocolate seems, we can live without it. But the same thing has been happening with many other things we need. In general, food production is in danger due to the same issues facing chocolate.
This is a problem that will only get worse unless we learn to interact with the world around us in a whole different way.

- Posted from my iPhone

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Uh Oh

So, there are several current event type blogs and websites I look at on pretty much a daily basis. Some environmental ones, such as grist, some natural resources ones, such as energy bulletin and the oil drum, some economic, such as the automatic earth.
Well, I was reading the automatic earth today, and today's post really alarmed me, so I feel a need to pass the word.
Please, please read today's (Tuesday's) post over at
The first part is just them attracting notice to their speaking tours and cd. The second part includes several graphs that seem to indicate the direction this "recovery" is taking. Short answer- it's not up, and it's not good. But it is sort of what I've been suspecting. I am very afraid that things are going to get very bad, economically speaking.
I've also noticed that the stock markets are getting increasingly volatile recently, which I think means even Wall Street is getting jittery.

Here is a link to that specific post:

- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, October 2, 2010

North Slope oil declines

Back in July 2007, I looked at the production declines in North Slope oil. At that time, it appeared that production was declining at about 9% per year. Oil production for fiscal year 2007, which ended on June 30, 2007, averaged about 738,000 barrels per day. If oil continued to decline at about 9%, then in fiscal year 2010, which ended on June 30, 2010, oil production would be about 556,000 barrels per day. The most recent figure available on the state website today was for the month of May. In May, there was 19.2 million barrels produced, which is about 619,000 barrels per day. That isn't an average for the fiscal year, so it isn't an exact comparison, but I think it works for an estimate. So it may be that oil production is only declining at a hair over 6% per year, which gives us about 3 or 4 extra years to figure out what to do when there isn't enough pressure to keep the pipeline going.
The good news is that local politicians are starting to talk about it. I am pretty fed up with politicians of all stripes, but they are the only ones that can make the necessary plans on a statewide level. I don't know if an extra 3 or 4 years is enough time, but we will see. This is crucially important, since 89% of the state's revenue comes from oil royalties.
The bad news is that it doesn't seem to be on very many people's radar yet. How can people prepare for changes if they don't know the changes are coming?

Monday, September 20, 2010

New crop

This is part of our potato crop this year, that we harvested this weekend. I don't think we got quite as much as last year, because it's been a very wet, cloudy, cool summer. But it's a respectable harvest, nonetheless.

Last year, we harvested enough potatoes that we saved 10 pounds for seed for this year, and still had enough potatoes that we didn't buy any potatoes between last August and this June. Almost a year's worth. We also had good strawberry and raspberry harvests, and I made strawberry, strawberry rhubarb, and strawberry raspberry jam this summer, all with fruit from our garden.

This is important to us, as we are working towards greater self sufficiency. There are several reasons for this, but the most important one is because we feel we have to. As I have said before on this blog, we are at the very end of a very long supply line, way up here in the far north. If that supply line were to be disrupted for any reason, us Alaskans would run out of food very quickly. And I don't think that possibility is so very farfetched as people would like to believe.
It could happen because of an earthquake, or tsunami. It could happen because the economy tanks, or the price of fuel gets so high that it costs too much to send all the barges up here that we are accustomed to. It could happen when the pipeline shuts down and 89% of the state's revenue disappears.

Better safe than sorry, right? So we grow a garden, and plan for more... More square footage in the garden, more types of vegetables planted, fruit trees, chickens, rabbits, eventually. Maybe a cow, or a goat, later on. Pigs, for sure. Potatoes are a good start.