Monthly Archives: December 2012

Weekly Photo Challenge – my 2012 in pictures

 WordPress suggested a themed photo post so here goes…

The year started with a trip to Hawaii in January for my brother’s wedding.

January wedding - I made this necklace for my new sister to wear for her Hawaii wedding

January wedding – I made this necklace for my new sister to wear for her Hawaii wedding

A March trip to Homer was slightly delayed as we transferred gear to another vehicle after mine was attacked by my neighbor’s house!  Ice slabs the size of our coffee table smashed my car… 

ummmm....we won't be taking my car to Homer this weekend!  The ice and snow on my neighbor's roof slid off onto my car and smashed it ... luckily we weren't standing there loading her gear when it dumped!

ummmm….we won’t be taking my car to Homer this weekend! The ice and snow on my neighbor’s roof slid off onto my car and smashed it … luckily we weren’t standing there loading her gear when it dumped!

Late spring trips to the cabins for restocking and supplying for longer summer stays…

 

The big toe of the Matanuska Glacier as seen from the driveway of my friend's cabin

The big toe of the Matanuska Glacier as seen from the driveway of my friend’s cabin

Rain was a regular visitor to SouthCentral Alaska this summer
Thunderheads build over the mountains near Palmer - a record setting rainy summer

Thunderheads build over the mountains near Palmer – a record setting rainy summer

Lake levels were high and the poor old dock was very low!
Partly the result of the rain, the old dock sags under water this spring

Partly the result of the rain, the old dock sags under water this spring

The new dock taking shape with help from my Dad...This was a much bigger project than I realized it was going to be

The new dock taking shape with help from my Dad…This was a much bigger project than I realized it was going to be

View from the lake.  See what I mean about how close those trees are?

This is what it’s all about for me these days…my private paradise

New neighbors at the lake this fall...I just hope they don't push the loons away

New neighbors at the lake this fall…I just hope they don’t push the loons away

A September trip to Homer was windy but scenic.

A September trip to Homer was windy but scenic.

After a year of record snows in spring and record rainfall in September, October was relatively warm and beautiful

After a year of record snows in spring and record rainfall in September, October was relatively warm and beautiful

All in all a pleasant look back at a good year…

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Dog Park

Chugach Mtns east of town as seen from Univerity Lake

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I had the day off so got to be the one to take the dogs to the park today. The weather was spectacular, but this day before solstice I should have remembered to start earlier! Sun was already going down at 3:00.

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Starting tomorrow the days get longer! Woohoo!

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A busy little guardian angel!

I ranted last week about Alaskan drivers and may have given the impression that I’m perfect. (HA)  To set the record straight, I’ll share some highlights of my driving career…my “auto” biography if you’ll pardon the pun.  (sorry about that…)

I took a notion one year to drive my teeny little Chevy Luv to Valdez to get some winter pictures.  In January.  In a blizzard.  With 4 hours of daylight and snow blowing sideways for two of the three days I was on the road, there wasn’t actually a lot of photography.  The drive to Valdez at night in a blizzard isn’t all that scenic as it turns out. 

It was about 10pm when I came down out of Thompson Pass and headed into Keystone Canyon.  Exiting the canyon, I went from relatively calm snow and some visibility to a crazy white swirling world and no road in front of me.  I slowed my truck, and then slowed it some more until I was barely crawling along.  Just as I was thanking my lucky stars that I had the road to myself I saw headlights coming.  I couldn’t see the road, never mind lane lines so I cautiously sidled over to give the oncoming 18-wheeler plenty of room to pass me.  And then I sidled my way right into the ditch.  I only knew that because my forward motion stopped and I was listing to port all of a sudden. 

Huh.  Now what? 

By the time I had collected my wits and stepped out of my truck to assess the situation, the trucker had gotten himself stopped and was walking a tow strap back to me.  I was out of that ditch before I could think about it.  How many folks can say they’ve been pulled out of a ditch by an 18-wheeler?

Turnagain Pass in winter

Turnagain Pass in winter

Years later a friend and I were coming back to Anchorage from Kenai after Thanksgiving with my parents.  I had a little Mazda 323 at the time and had had just enough money to purchase two new studded winter tires.  Not knowing any better, I instructed the tire guys to install them on the front since it was a front-wheel drive car.  If you’re not from winter country you might not realize what a big NO-NO that is.  Here’s why…

The snow started coming down as we left Kenai and by the time we got to the Sterling flats it was really thick, the kind of snow that Hollywood thinks of when they try to create snow for film.  Big, wet flakes were swirling around and were rapidly accumulating on the road surface.  I slowed a little, but I wasn’t too worried until I realized that the back end of the car was going faster than the front end around a long slow curve in the road.  With more weight on the gripping winter tires in front, the summer tires in the back had nothing to hold them to the road, so slowing down on a slick curve was actually the worst thing I could have done.  Only the front tires could respond. 

We did a nice, slow-motion 360 and came to rest nose down in a shallow ditch.  My guardian angel was on duty once again.  A tow truck came along just as we were climbing up out of the ditch and wondering who to call.  He hooked up, yanked us out and wished us a safe journey before we could even get all our winter gear on.

Kenai River in midwinter.  Some of our swans stay year round.

Kenai River in midwinter. Some of our swans stay year round.

Incidents like these have made me a cautious driver.  Road trip gear, especially in the winter, includes blankets or a down sleeping bag, flares, a small air compressor, heavy cold weather gear in case I have to walk for help, a jug of water, food and first aid supplies.  The gas tank is always topped off before setting out.  Even if the accident that stops highway traffic isn’t yours, you could find yourself on the road hours longer than you had planned.  My dad got caught between avalanches one year and couldn’t go back home or come the rest of the way into Anchorage.  He was lucky and only spent a few hours at the gas station in Girdwood before road crews cleared the avalanches. 

Our family has the best guardian angels anywhere!

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Driving in that first big snow

A truly serious snowfall yesterday, the first of the season. We’ve had several light dustings and one or two that looked like they were going to become serious, but this one pulled out all the stops and dumped close to a foot in places.
There’s a learning curve that Alaskan drivers seem to have to go through every year after the first real snowfall. We forget the basics.
Like…having a big badass four-wheel drive truck doesn’t mean you are going to be able to stop any more reliably than I can in my little front-wheel drive SUV. In fact, since you were probably going a little fast for the conditions, you’re WAY more likely than me to slide through that red light…so what the heck…just go on through. I’m expecting it.
Like…fewer cars are going to be able to make it through each cycle at the intersections and you might have to sit through a couple of cycles before you can (legally) go. Your office/home/grocery store will still be there when you finally get through the light.
Like…MANY folks will get frustrated that it took so long to get to the head of the line at an intersection so they are just going to go through it, even though the light is now green for you!
Like…lane lines (and curbs) have disappeared for the next four to six months, so there are a few nervous (or oblivious) drivers who take what seems to them to be the safest route…driving right down the middle. Slowly. Expect it. Deal with it. Dodge ‘em if they’re in oncoming traffic, otherwise pass ‘em when it’s safe, and get on with your day.
Like…the many listening devices we employ in our vehicles: iPods, CD’s, Pandora, Sirius radio, etc., are going to take second chair to local radio stations who offer regular traffic reports.
Like…you can’t count on the other guy to see you…he didn’t bother to brush the snow off of his windshield or windows. He’s peering out of small areas partially cleared by his wipers and defroster. Also don’t count on anyone behind him to see you…they are busy dodging the snowstorm that is blowing off of his vehicle as he travels down the road. (With wet snow, this can become a storm of flying snowballs…alarming to say the least.)
Like…sometimes, no matter how careful you are, suddenly the snow grabs the wheel and takes you on a little side trip…hopefully up onto a median or into a shallow ditch and NOT into another vehicle.
Like…you can absolutely count on Alaskans – even the crazy, red-light runners – to stop and help you out when we see you slide off course.
It’s just what we do.

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Where is that lottery ticket?

I have given some thought to the total cost of this mid-life crisis (aka “retirement dream”) of mine.  For those who have built cabins, feel free to comment on my unrealistic projections!  For those who haven’t, understand that this is VERY rough…I’m sure that I’m in for some expensive surprises along the way.

If you visit Friesen’s website, you will see that the Plan 5 in a 20×24 with T-111 siding starts at $20,120.00.  If I’m reading the specs correctly, this includes the pilings, the floor, basic framing of outer walls, door(s), windows, and a metal roof. 

A sample of a plan 5 cabin built by Jay Friesen's crew.  Mine will be slightly larger and will have a deck and an extended roof over the front door

A sample of a plan 5 cabin built by Jay Friesen’s crew. Mine will be slightly larger and will have a deck and an extended roof over the front door

It does not include: insulation under the floors (approx $1368), one extra 4×4’ window ($368), 8×24’ deck ($3409), and a 4’ extended overhang at one end of the roof ($855).  It also doesn’t include installation of a chimney (no cost given) or the added costs due to the remote off-road location (I assume a number in the $1000’s). 

All told, I’m looking at right around $30,000 for the shell of a cabin.  Other expenses I will have to manage piecemeal (doing most of the work myself) will include: interior insulation, drywall and paint, the new woodstove, flooring, appliances, cupboards and fixtures for kitchen and bath, and lastly, furniture.    

For plumbing, I am researching eco-friendly grey-water disposal systems that won’t necessitate a septic tank.  This will be another Do-It-Yourself project.  The composting toilet is – so far – working out just fine which will save the need for a “black water” disposal system.  (For an amusing review of the Nature’s Head toilet that I currently use, visit the Good Luck Duck.   They use theirs in a big RV and have enjoyed not having to deal with the icky splish splash dumping of black water!)

Research is on-going as to feasibility and costs for electric but it will also be eco-friendly as far as I’m able.  Solar panels (iffy in winter with 4 hours per day of daylight!) and possibly a thermo-electric generator are possibilities, supplemented by my propane generator.  (The Kimberly Woodstove that I want supposedly has an optional thermo-electric accessory.)  Off-grid living isn’t a matter of choice on my property!

As I review and edit this post I realize that I’m going to be sitting at a desk for a few years yet to pay for all of this stuff…but as with any pleasant destination, planning the journey is often half of the fun!

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