Monday, October 29, 2007

Yet Another Thing to Cross off the List

Duct tape? Check.
Blow dryer? Check.
Cool shrinky plastic sheets? Check.
Staple gun? Check.

It's that time again, y'all, for that seasonal rite known as "The Application of the Shrinking Plastic and Duct Tape to All Windows in the Cabin."

If you've never been a nearly broke, cheapskate, transfer-station-frequenting, Cabindwelling-type living in the gods' own special deep freeze1 you probably can't understand how obsessed a person can get with heat loss. One starts out reasonably normal, or at least semi-normal, but then spends winter in a succession of marginally insulated rental cabins.

Signs that your domicile is inadequately insulated:
  • The dog's water dish freezes solid. Inside the cabin in the kitchen.
  • The monitor heater won't get above 58 degrees running on 'high'.
  • The butter you left out to soften doesn't.
  • You stay up late watching tv wearing a knit hat and coat.
  • When you finally inspect the underside of the building, you find insulation. However, all of it is on the ground.
  • You burn through 300 gallons of fuel oil in two months.
  • You run out of fuel oil at 4 a.m., and it's somewhere in the mid -30s, and you know how quickly the temperature is doing to drop indoors that you have no choice but to drive the nearest gas station and fill every empty gas container you own with diesel fuel.

    Because nothing beats perching on a rickety ladder at 4:30 a.m. refilling your fuel tank with five gallon containers.

    Eight years and five rental cabins later, you're blowdrying that neat shrinky plastic stuff to every window box in the house.

    Oh, the duct tape? Right. See, the anemic tape they give you in the window kits can't hack how dry it gets here in the winter. Voila! Another perfect use for duct tape. And the staple gun? That's just to make sure the duct tape doesn't start peeling off either. Like I said, obsessed, with perhaps a touch of hypervigilance.

    Above: Shrinky plastic fun!
    1That would be Squarebanks.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Musing on the CabinDwelling Life, Part VIII: Winter and the Aged Subaru

Or, Coming to Terms With the Fact that Winter is Here and You Can't Drive Without Working Lights and Heat So You Better Get Off Your Butt and Fix Some Stuff.

Well, it's back to plugging the car in at night. Better to build the habit now, lest you forget to on a nice 40 below night and end up stuck until you can manage to heat the car up with a borrowed Redi Heater and a blue tarp.

Not that that has ever happened to me or anything.

As you might have noticed so far, if you're one of those kindly, strange souls who read this odd little blog regularly, I'm not only wordy, I am something of a procrastinator.

So it will come as no big surprise that I have needed to fix a cracked headlight lens for oh, say, about a year. That, and I've been losing fan speeds one by one over the last 3 years and I only had one left.

"One speed works just fine," you're saying. "You drive a 17 year-old Loyale. Deal with it, whiner."

Ah, but what happens when you lose that last speed? Suddenly, you're driving down the road at -35 with no defroster, colder than Hell, one hand responsible for both the steering wheel and stick shift, the other frantically scraping a 5" by 5" square of windshield with your least favorite credit card so you can see the road through your otherwise completely frosted over windshield.

Trust me, you don't want this happening, particularly during morning rush hour on the Seward Highway in Anchorage in the middle of a snowstorm.

Not that that has ever happened to me or anything.

One $65 dollar blower motor resistor, 3 screws, 5 minutes of effort, and I had all four speeds again. Luxury!

The headlight lens finally gave out under the constant assault of road gravel out here. Thereafter, water got into the lens when it rained, causing light bulbs to have a tendency to explode. Frequently. Rather than fix it, I've been buying $9 dollar light bulbs. For a whole freaking year.

And, I might add, inquisitive troopers love an opportunity to pull a person over for driving with one headlight.

Not that that has ever happened to me or anything.

Above: The offending part, the blower motor resistor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

By which I explain my absence

If this state were an outhouse, we'd be applying a generous portion of lime right now to beat down the stink.

I've been rendered speechless, wordless, rude-gesture-less lately, so buried under the absolute bullshit thrown at regular type folks who just want to pay their damn taxes and not be appalled constantly by the behavior of those we've somehow elected to make decisions ... and not be reminded too often how this is one gargantuan corporatocracy... that I have been unable to even so much as read a blog.

My grammar has gone all to hell, too.

It's the sheer quantity, audacity and ahistorical sensibility of the b.s. proffered by those "Kott with their hands in the cookie jar" -- as one of my fave bloggers pointed out -- it's what we always knew deep down about how deep the political corruption goes in this state. We know our asses are owned. (To use one of the less colorful phrases uttered by Bill Allen on tape.)

I mean, none of the legislators involved even have the decency to be ashamed. They don't even seem to get that it might look bad, notwithstanding the whole unethical thing. Whether it was Kott's 30 grand "per diem" in cash or Kohring's "loan" - they really just don't get it. Are they more clueless than corrupt, or so corrupt they are clueless?

Good God, as I'm writing this post, I can hear in the background another one of Big Oil's ads on television. Because our steady diet of televised industry propaganda won't cease even if it is running only an hour after the news coverage of the spectacularly tentacular scandal that is still unfolding. Psst! Did ya hear? We ought to lower Big Oil's taxes. Seriously. Because they might leave if we don't roll over and play dead during the special session on the PPT.

That's the PPT enacted last year amidst a flurry of promises made and Big Oil money spent.

At right: the CabinDwelling outhouse, stink-free, thanks to fall temperatures. Antlers on outhouse installed by previous residents, who seem to have thought that antlers should be hung randomly on trees and outbuildings around the property. Seriously, you can't wander about without finding yet another set of antlers wired to a tree.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Flic's Baker's Dozen

A non-fiction reading list

With snow on the ground, icy roads, and increasing dark, no question, winter is upon us. Time to crack out the wine, load up the woodstove and settle in for hibernation. Here then to pass time, or for those cabin dwellers lucky enough or with enough Alaska air miles to escape to warmer climes – a reading list of some of my favorite quirky and informative non-fiction books. These are listed in no particular order of preference.

1. The Mummy Congress – Science, Obsession and the Everlasting Dead; Heather Pringle
Full of fascinating factoids about mummies (Victorians consumed a huge percentage of Egypt’s archeological history when they indulged their passion for eating powdered mummies as a restorative and curative), as well as stories about mummification both successful and bungled (the spectacular failure of terrified Russians to successfully embalm Stalin), this book is a totally engrossing read about humans’ everlasting attempts to cheat decay and rot.

2. Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America; Dan Savage. Those of you who have access or interest in Seattle newspapers will know Dan Savage’s , well, savage wit. This book is no different. He takes his readers on a hilarious and intimate exploration of the seven deadlies, as seen through the eyes of some of America’s most fervent followers.

3. Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry and Revenge; Eleanor Herman. Need I say more, the title says it all.

4. Ghetto Nation – A Journey into the Land of the Bling and the Home of the Shameless; Cora Daniels. If there is any doubt that people tend to ooze to the lowest common denominator – this book dispels it. A scathing and insightful look at the rise of “ghetto” which at its most fundamental devalues education, demeans women, and celebrates the worst African American stereotypes, this author, herself an African American woman who grew up in the inner city spares no punches. If you think that having to listen to cell phone conversations about someone’s Chlamydia outbreak while in line for a latte is just rude (actually its ghetto) this book is for you.

5. The 64$ Tomato – How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden; William Alexander. For both long-time and new gardeners in Alaska, this book is an amusing read. It recounts the struggles of an urbanite relocated to a small town in upstate NY to create and nurture a large kitchen garden. I found it hard to relate to the trials endured from inept landscapers, and failed installations of in-ground swimming pools, but the tales of man against woodchucks, moles, and other wildlife made this an entertaining read. Even for piss-poor cabin dwellers, there is something to relate to in this accounting of domestic v. wild.

6. Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future; Jeff Goodell. Nominally about the resurgence of coal as a major industry under the Bush Administration, this book provides a good overview of the geology of coal and its extraction, including the devastation now wrought by mountain top removal, the history of coal mining in the United States, and the politics and shenanigans of the industry itself – which includes not only the big coal mining companies, but the power companies that burn it, and the railroads that ship it. The last third of the book is devoted to examining the contributions of coal-fired power plants to global warming.

7. Reefer Madness, Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market; Eric Schlosser. An eye-opening treatise on the American government’s manipulation of and corporate America’s contributions to the mainstays of the American underground – drugs (in this book, pot), pornography and illegal immigrant labor.

8. Confederates in the Attic – Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War; Tony Horwitz. A madcap and zany journey alongside some of the South’s most ardent Civil War re-enactors. From the guy who could so convincing bloat (as in dead on the battlefield) that he has many cameo appearances in Civil War movies to his credit, to those that starved themselves to get the authentic look of a Confederate solider, this is the book for a long flight. Totally entertaining.

9. Garlic and Sapphires – The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise; Ruth Reichl. This is a very entertaining look into the life of a creative and brutal food critic for the New York Times. Not only is it amusing to read about her complex efforts at disguise (to foil restaurateurs on the look-out for her visit), but it is a boon in this cuisine-starved town to read about some of the culinary adventures she enjoyed.

10. Chasing Kangaroos- A Continent., a Scientist, and a Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Creature; Tim Flannery. A well known scientist, down under and elsewhere, Flannery combines a lot of scientific information about ‘roos with a huge amount of amusing oddities about Australia. This is 19th century naturalist writing at its finest, although with modern science and sensibilities. It fostered in this armchair traveler a strong and urgent desire to visit Australia to see not only ‘roos but the fantastic and different vegetation and geography ASAP.

11. Under the Banner of Heaven – A Story of Violent Faith; Jon Krakauer. In my view, by writing this, Krakauer just about redeems himself for that pathetic paean to Chris McCandless he wrote. I once spent a summer in the deeps of Utah in a staunchly Mormon town (including not a few fundamentalists), and after that experience I viewed fundamentalist Mormons as slightly wackier than their mainstream counterparts. Had I known their bloodthirsty and violent past, I doubt I would have been so sanguine. And for any readers who travel to the Yucatan, a visit to the Mormon cake shop in a little townlet south of Mahahual, but not yet to Chetumal is a must do – the cakes are mediocre at best, but where else can you purchase provender made by polygamists – some of those that relocated south and north of the borders when the feds really started cracking down on polygamy.

12. Captured by Aliens – the Search for Life and Truth in a Very Large Universe; Joel Achenbach; Written just a bit before Y2K, this book is a little dated (it features some of the zanies who were prepping for the Armageddon precipitated by the flip of the millennium) but its still a good read about man’s (and woman’s) quest for extra-terrestrials....from scientists at NASA to conspiracy nut theorists who flock to Roswell. It doesn’t omit the Heaven’s Gate debacle either.

13. Random Family – Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx; Adrian Nicole LeBlanc; non-fiction that reads like a novel, this is the story of two women growing up in the Bronx – and their involvement in the real gangsta ghetto life. This isn’t the ghetto of ad agencies and record companies – although superficially it has all the bling, guns, drugs, and baby mamas that commercial ghetto pitches. But unlike Paris and Nicole, who can shed their ghetto-ness when it becomes déclassé, these women are stuck with the ugly life: prison, violent and young death, unwanted pregnancies, single parent child-rearing and a constant struggle for food, safety and a modicum of normalcy within which to raise their kids.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It Takes a Hill-billy

Or at least hill-billy genes to make good flaky biscuits. Cabin Dweller, being of solid HB stock poo-poos this notion, but the bottom line is, its been my experience that generally, I suck at biscuit making (they come out much like hockey pucks - as verfied by many, including 'Dweller). Some months back, 'Dweller, feeling sorry for my lamentable and laughable attempts at biscuit-making, did coach this East-Coaster - and I do believe some of the genes done plum wore off - pic of latest biscuit efforts at right, and yup they were darn flaky!!*

Actually, these were made from a good old farm receipe from Iowa, from whence my matrilineal ancestors hail...maybe that was the trick - I was just out of my region of origin....

*resulting in my scarfing about 4 of them in a sitting, slathered in butter- bring on the alli!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Greetings from the Lower Kuskokwim

It's beautiful down here. Trees schmees. Who needs 'em?