Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy Summer Solstice 2014!

I know, I know, we've been horrible about posting this year... but we are still alive and are still here on our homestead.

To be honest, this has really not been our year(s) -- mechanical issues, hydrologic issues, meterologic issues, fiscal issues, injury issues and family health issues abound.  Bad luck and hard circumstances are so pervasive that I'm almost to the point of watching for swarms of locusts, raining frogs, rivers of blood and similar Apocalyptic portents. I have no idea what Karmic balance we're paying off, but it must have been a doozie.

So, we've been having some issues with the diff case leaking on the big truck for a while. We replaced the seals, but it still seems to be leaking somewhere. The driveshaft fell out of her in the middle of winter, but we did eventually get that fixed. Unfortunately, with the diff case issues, we're leary of driving her long distances or hauling/towing anything heavy... so that puts a major kink in all our projects. Of course, she's now stuck hub-deep in a bog in our driveway that is too deep and wide to safely extract her, so she's really out of commission until it STOPS RAINING and the ground dries out a bit.

We still have the little truck, but we're being very careful not to get her stuck anywhere, etc etc. And she's only a 1/2 ton short-bed so it's not like we can do any major hauling/towing with her anyway. She's almost too small to make it worth the gas and extra maintenance taking her into Fairbanks for supplies.

One of the rear driveshafts went out on the ATV and it took forever to get the right parts and tools by mail to actually get her fixed. I seriously HATE manufacturers who have little proprietary bits that require their little special tools that they only sell to their licensed mechanics & dealers... requires some creativity, but we worked around that problem, so HA!  But, that left us having to transport stuff by hand/foot in the sled from the little truck at the top of the driveway, nearly a half-mile back to house since the little truck can't handle bad trail and the big truck is stuck blocking the driveway anyway. Dragging 5-gallon jugs of water and fuel in a sled through the boggy mud in the rain really sucks... a week's worth of supplies ends up being a 5-mile trudge with a 100+ lbs in the sled.

And all this leads to many many injuries... wrenched knees, twisted ankles, and seized backs. Add that to me falling down the stairs in the dark and breaking my foot and G falling down several times and messing up his back & knee on the ice this winter... OUCH!  We could handle the physical labor or the sucking quagmire, but not the physical labor in/through the sucking quagmire!!

We also determined that a wet spot we thought was just boggy is actually a seasonal creek after trying to cut the trail around the mud pit it's causing. There is actually moving/running water on both sides of the bog as far as our property line... so we're going to need to figure out some way for the driveway to cross it, either with a bridge or culvert system. Great.

Large portions of the turf are floating again this spring, including all around the cabin. I don't know what changed with the geology/hydrology, but it was major enough to crack & sink a couple of piers frost heaving this winter and with the water issues this spring it's causing major foundation problems. Looks like we're going to have to replace the concrete pads & piers (evidentally NOT able to provide adequate tensile strength at our extreme temps) with stacked railroad ties in a skid/pier combo that are even wider to help displace even more weight. Jacking up and blocking the cabin to do pier replacement is going to be so much fun... of course it has to STOP RAINING and dry out first since the whole yard is a bouyant carpet that we can't risk punching through.

And, the evil insects... the evil evil evil evil insects. Despite treating for mosquitoes and carpenter ants, both are out in full glory again this year. I've evidentally had some sort of critical exposure to the mosquitoes, because I know have a total allergic/histamine reaction after being eaten alive and have to come in and take Benadryl... which knocks me on my ass for the rest of the day. So, yeah, even with Bt and mega-DEET, I'm usually only good for 10-20 minutes outside before I'm withering like a spooked horse and unable to breathe. We're going to have to put more drastic (i.e. expensive) mosquito control measures in soon. The carpenter ants are really bad, and we found them trying to nest in the cabin walls... so it looks like I'm forced to use the seriously deadly poisons even though I'd really like to avoid using those whenever possible.

So, there you go. We really haven't gotten anything done because we're delayed by either lack of materials, malfunctioning vehicle, weather, geology, or the similar delay of a project that needs to get done before we can do others... ARG!!!!  And the stress of the breakages, delays, financial pinch, our injuries/health issues, and our family's health and personal problems is really taking it's toll. My insomnia and panic attacks are back in a major way, and G's not doing much better. Unless we want to spend the summer/year medicated (or in the nuthatch) we'll have to figure something out to solve/alleviate some of the issues that fits time, money and physical/technical constraints. Maybe if we just focus all our efforts on one single thing.....

Well, I'm really not much for whining and being negative; but I figured you guys might be worried about us. Plus, maybe someone will benefit from a little wisdom/insight about the kinds of things that can go wrong at all once and the major kinks it can put in the plans :D

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for the Holidays!

Yes, we're still alive and well up here in the frigid Far North. It's a balmy -44F today, which I think is a record for our location and is certainly the coldest Christmas since we've been here. The weather this winter has been crazy -- warm and windy then cold and bracing then back again for some more of the up and down. It's kept us on our toes, for sure.

I know we haven't posted in a long while, and truthfully it's because there hasn't really been much to post about. We were kind of de-motivated this year, having spent most of our time and money on repairs/replacements than on anything new or interesting. Not being able to make much progress sort of took some wind out of sails, and seriously triggered my Aspie frustration (i.e. OCD backlash) which left me stressed out and less than communicative.

Meanwhile, we're hoping to have both trucks fixed and all equipment in working order in time for spring chores. Hopefully, we'll also have enough money saved up to get a few new projects started and a bunch of old ones finished this coming year. If the weather cooperates as well, maybe we'll start making progress again and have more to post.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I thought I'd share this because it's cool.

Here's your own official Alaskan Ice Bucket...

It's totally natural with zero intention to create it, the crack in the back of it is because I got it out by kicking over a bucket, in fact this one...


However even with that flaw, it's still pretty cool, I particularly like the nice flat top edge and it's symmetry.

How was it done you ask? Easy, have a bucket sitting outside full of rainwater, and live in Alaska in September.

Anyway while taking this, this is the first attempt of the photo of the ice bucket.
Yep the dog saw the camera and just had to stick her head in the way. However I know people like dogs, and she's looking cute in this shot, so I thought it would be nice to post anyway.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Peeves and Rants

The Weather

I guess summer must have decided to go for broke and get itself all in during July & August's heatwave. It's been cold and rainy for the last week or so, the trees are all turning and the fireweed has blown its top. We didn't really even get a normal temp sunny day without mosquitoes this year.  [[[SIGH]]]


Road "Improvements"

We did an up-and-back supply trip into Fairbanks today despite the rain. First bit of nightmarish Hell was on our gravel portion of the Elliott where DoT has taken it upon itself to "improve" a 25 mile section of the road. I don't know what they were planning to do or why, but what they've managed to accomplish is a quagmire of hazardous mud right in one of the steepest, bendiest parts.

The second bit of nightmarish Hell was on the paved portion just outside of Fairbanks. They blocked the entire right lanes of traffic in both directions AND hung everyone up with a pilot car... just so they could sweep the shoulders.  I mean, REALLY!?!?! Closing lanes for several miles in both directions when the sweeper is only running on one side is just retarded. Why even close the lane!?! The sweeper barely edges over the line! And why, why, why have a pilot car directing a huge line of traffic in one direction at a time when both left lanes are still completely open and viable?!?

Hunter-Palooza

OK, I must admit, this one is really chapping my ass... so prepare for a rant.

There are turnouts (scenic overlook and mountain chain-up areas) all along the gravel portion of the Elliott Highway, and most of them are at the top or bottom of the really steep squirrely parts. Every bleeding fall when moose season opens, we get droves of urban commandos from the city down here tailgate hunting because their Game Management Unit is pretty much hunted out for moose. Anyway, these nimrods in their multi-$K sport-trucks & RVs with their toy haulers set up tent villages (complete with campfires and kegs) in EVERY  SINGLE turn out and park RIGHT IN THE ROAD to glass for moose.

Seriously?!?  It's dense boreal forest, people, what the hell do you think you're going to see from the road? I can't even see a moose in the trees on my own damed property less 100 ft away. And do you really think you're going to get through the trees on your decked out ATVs? Sorry to say, but you're going to have to hike your ass in there, and you should be humping your tent and gear out there as well instead of blocking the road and being a nuisance! And you certainly better not expect me to stop or wait for you to get your shit out of the road and your act together... I live here and I've got shit to do, I'm not on the road for fantastical funsies.  (And, YES, my husband did flip you the bird when you were waving us to slow down so you could back your trailer that's bigger than our cabin into that emergency turn out... he called you a lot of interesting epithets as he drove by without slowing down, too... deal with it)

Oh yeah, and BTW, half you fidjits are glassing in the wrong direction -- there's no general moose hunt on tribal land south of the road! ADF&G publishes a comprehensive book of regs with maps and everything -- so why don't you RTFM and learn some nav skills!?

So, hey better yet, why don't you take your digital camo & misc. hunter-porn crap and go hunt caribou from the Forty-Mile herd back in your own damned GMU, and let us have our moose because we actually hunt to survive out here!  If you wanted to park your vehicle in the turn out so it was safe while you hike out for a proper hunt, that's one thing... but this Hunter-palooza crap is an insult.

There has been a crazy amount of bears this year, blacks and grizz, and the salmon are running &  blueberries are popping nice and sweet right now. Not saying I truly wish anyone ill, but it would be poetic if one of these set-ups gets a close encounter!

ETA: P.S.  Ripley and Jackson are getting along much better, although there is still some sibling rivalry... and all food is apparently Jax's now LOL.  We also stocked up on soil & amendments on this trip during the end-of-season sales (had to fight somenoe for the last bale of peat moss -- I'm a scrapper when I need to be!), so we should be able to get at least some of our garden started next spring.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

OK this is getting ridiculous...

Yes, that's not a kick off the ass of 110F on our deck

I said it was Alaska... Not Arizona...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Midsummer Updates

Wow - time sure flies! Somehow I managed to miss 4th of July and wouldn't have known it was my birthday except for cards and emails LOL. Losing track of the date & day is a hazard of living off the grid out in the boonies, especially when the sun doesn't set in the summer or rise in winter.

Anyway, thought I'd drop a few lines letting everyone know what we have haven't been doing.

Well, this year has been back-to-back plagues for sure. All spring we were battling some weird funk, which turned out to be mini-epidemic of strep and whooping cough that was going around in Manley. We never came down with either fully, but it knocked our immune system for a loop so we got every other cold, flu and poor G-man's allergies were rampant. So we finally get over that, in time for a ultra-heatwave, a plague of carpenter ants and a truly obscene amount of mosquitoes... still battling those. We headed up to Fairbanks early July, and picked up a few obligatory injuries and lovely case of food poisoning. So, we're just now starting to feel ourselves again and getting our energy back. Of course, I suspect that we're anemic due to Culicidae exsanguination every time we step out the door!

Our friends from Manley, Mike & Dana, moved down South in July and we purchased their truck... she's a baby version of (Red) Sonja, and we've dubbed her (Black) Betty. It's sure a load off our minds to have a second vehicle, and Betty's smaller engine also uses a lot less gas for small-haul trips. She's also a 4-seater cab, so I can finally take a trip without Ripley in my lap the whole way! And she isn't a lifted off-road truck like Sonja, so she's a bit smoother a ride on the road, and I don't need to pole vault to get up into the cab ;) 

Of course, we coordinated our supply trip into Fairbanks on the weekend they flew out so we could pick the truck up at the airport. Just after turning onto the paved portion of the Elliott, Sonja started pulling to the right, so we got out to check... O Nos! A flat... big sidewall puncture in the front passenger tire! We tried to plug it with our Black Jack kit, but it wouldn't hold pressure above 30 psi. So we finally drop our "full-size" spare and manhandle the back tire off, replace that with the spare, and then replace the front with the back... and then get the flat up into the bed of the truck.  This is where our injuries came from! See we have 38" x 15.5" x 16.5" mud & swamp tires and they're really really heavy. In comparison, the 30-ish full-size truck tire we had for the spare looked like one of those dinky donut spares LOL.

But we managed to get into town ok, and the awesome guys at Giant Tire (on Williams Gate off Richardson) actually had a good-condition used tire and rim that is exactly the same as the ones we're running, and they did a full patch-up on the punctured one so we have a spare that is actually "full-size" for Sonja; and shifted the standard sized spare over to be a second spare for Betty. All-in-all it only took a couple hours and a couple hundred bucks... which is freakin' awesome since our mud tires are around $500 a piece new and the rims are about $300. WHEW! We got lucky, doubly so since this is the first road flat we've had in over 4 years. But we got our share of bumps, bruises, strains and dislocations... and plenty of bug bites, too!

As for projects...

Well, the garden is out for this year, but we're planning to stock up on everything this fall before winter so we'll be ready in the spring.

We haven't gotten to the siding and outdoor electrical yet, or to the last bit of roofing left from last year, or the clearing and fences. It's just too hot and too buggy to be messing with that when we're not feeling 100%. But we have all the gear here, so when it cools down and the bugs die down a bit we'll get on it; and probably screen in the porches while we're at it!

We did manage to plumb in a water intake pump (thanks Big Sis & Jimster!) so we can haul our water in from the village well in big drums and pipe it up into the storage tank instead of lugging a bunch of 5-7 gallon jugs up the stairs all the time. We had to do a little bush engineering on the potable water hose fittings, but hey that's life out in the boonies and the #1 reason to have several boxes of random spare parts :D

We also finished building a baker's rack with overhead pot rack and beverage shelf in the odd corner on the other side of the propane range. Now I have heat-resistant shelves for each of my cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens so I can put them away hot where they aren't in the way and without risking rust. The overhead is for the few stainless steel pots with the kettles, canner, and woodstove box-oven on top. Finally, my big bottom cabinet is empty of all that so I can finally put my big mixing bowls away in there instead of crammed into the pantry... yay! more room for jars and cans!

I built a long gun rack with a pistol & ammo cabinet underneath that's mounted between the bathroom and pantry doors in the middle of the house. Might seem odd to some folks, but we need our guns handy from either the front or back door with all the moose and bears out here. So finally they're put away in a nice home of their own. Now I just have to figure out what to do with their Pelican cases gathering dust under the bed!

Our next big chore is getting our firewood up, which shouldn't be horrendously diffult, just a couple weeks of dedicated work and trips back and forth to Manley since they've got tons of free-for-hauling logs at the new airport. We had to wait until the trail to the site was thawed, then agains for our trail and driveway to dry up enough, and then WHAM! on came the heat! No worries though, we'll get it done in time :D

We're still hoping to get the sheds up properly, since the ad hoc tarp-shedlet-enclosure-thingy we threw together last fall when the snow flew leaves a lot to be desired in terms of space and weather tightness. The hardest part is going to be moving the one shed down from the tent clearing -- it was a PITA to put together, so we really don't want to take it apart to move it. We'll figure something out I'm sure... heck, we still need to get the skid foundation cut in and leveled, so we might be able to slide it off the gravel pad directly onto the skids and then drag it back with Willow (the ATV).


While we've gotten a really slow start and feel a bit like slackers, it's better not to risk serious injuries and longer convalescense by pushing ourselves to complete non-critical projects that can be postponed or scaled back. Maybe if we lived closer to the hospital and were within cellular or ambulance range - ROFL!

Now, if we can just keep Ripley and Jackson from wanting to come in-and-out-and-in-and-out bringing those hitchhiking bloodsucking fiends in with them :D

Monday, June 17, 2013

Nature Walk June 2013 (pics)

G-man and I have been researching the possibility of "silvopasturing" on our property. Essentially, silvopasturing is the agro-forestry practice of grazing your livestock within forested paddocks rather than clear-cutting the lot and planting out to straight pasture. In most cases in the US, this is done so tree farmers can realize profit/benefit on their plantations during the long tree-growth period before logging for timber. However, in other parts of the world, silvopasturing is used as a forest maintenance strategy to control undergrowth that compete with maturing trees and provide ladder fuels for forest fires... and that is our primary interest (well, besides feeding the critters).

Since our livestock plans primarily center around goats and chickens, with a hog or sheep thrown in, silvopasturing makes sense... goats prefer browse, chickens like to have cover, hogs love to root, and sheep don't care as long as there are tasty weeds. By dividing our acreage into 1 acre parcels, we can turn the animals out in rotational without having to clear anything other than a perimeter lane to run the solar-power portable electric fencing. Since they won't be on this temporary "pasture" more than a couple of days and won't be densely stocked, their feedings will be of more benefit and less detriment to the local ecology. As our herd thins out the underbrush and opens up the lot, we can seed in highr feed value grasses, forbs and legumes if necessary. By combining this method with Small Bag Silage, we (humans) can manually-cut and bag forage between the trees on the pastures that weren't being grazed during their prime nutritional growth stage.

With all this in mind, we went on a nature walk to determine what flora we had in the targeted areas, and get an estimate of the feed values. I missed inflorescence (bloom) on a few things, and some things are in a growth stage where identifying characteristics aren't as pronounced; but I think we've been able to identify most the dominant flora. We're stuck on identifying the grasses since our best AK Grass Field Guide is online and most of the species we're finding are similar enough at this stage that we'd need to nit-pick the characteristics to get a positive ID... but we're close enough to determine rough forage estimates. According to the AK Forage Manual, looks like our place has plenty of good quality forages, although we'll probably need to inter-seed some legumes (most likely white clover and field peas which are also good for the wildlife).

The Flowers


Alaskan Starwort - tiny white flowers in the ground cover

Chiming Bells -- we missed the Hare Bells, and the Fireweed isn't out yet.

Grove Starwort -- more tiny tiny flowers

Wild Prickly Rose -- Vitamin C all over!
Labrador Tea -- all over the place!

The Berries


Bog Blueberries

Lowbush Cranberries (upright) and Kinnikinnick (prostrate) -- these two often grow together in clumps

More Lowbush Cranberries -- there's also Highbush Cranberries and Wild Raspberries, but I didn't get a pic

 The Willows

So, I'm guessing a bit on the identification of these, and some I couldn't even identify. I'm not a botanist and sometimes the keys are totally confusing especially when different species are all growing together in huge clumps. Heck, some of them may even be Alders (which I can only seem to ID correctly in the firewood pile!). But in any case, we have a crap-ton of several different Willows all over the place in our understory... awesome, goats love them and they grow back after grazing.

Bebb Willow

Chamisso Willow

Diamond Leaf Willow

Halberd Willow (looks similar to Diamond Leaf, but the catkins are longer and the leaves are different -- I could be wrong)

Another Bebb? It's hard to tell, there are about 6 similar-but-different shrubs in this clump.

???? I couldn't find any catkins and the leaf & bark characteristics lead me to 3 different willows and an alder in the key

The Grasses

Again, totally guessing on the IDs here since I had to base some of them on what remained of last year's seed heads. I think I've gotten close on most, the right species if not the right subspecies. Since most of these are growing in mixed-species clumps, I'm not going to caption each pic, but I'm fairly certain that we've got some variety of Hairgrass, Brome, Polargrass, Reedgrass, Bentgrass, Ryegrass, Wheatgrass and Oats. We may also have some Quackgrass, most likely brought in by some musher's dog straw at some point... as long as it doesn't take over, I'm OK with it since it does have good forage value.

 Doesn't matter really, since all the ones I think I've found are good forage value regardless of which subspecies they are and at least a few of each seem to be flourishing unaided in the various site conditions around our property.











Ripley's Stress

And we finally figured out what has been causing Ripley to lose her mind every dawn & dusk... the moose are using our driveway!

Momma Moose on one side

Baby Moose on the other
 

P.S. One day I'll have to get a camera with decent macro capabilities so I can take better wildlife closeups :D