Sunday, March 29, 2015

Wood WORKing 101

DannyLee Keeping Warm in the Woodshed
Spring has finally "sprung" in Alaska!  You're looking at 50 degrees of warmth here on a bright sunny day.  Winter can be slow, however, in releasing it's icy grip on this land so we still need a fire in the woodstove at least a part of the day and through the night.  

The good news is that we don't need a big fire or a lot of wood so we're finally seeing some wood back in the woodshed. We've still got knee-deep snow on the ground so gathering wood can be quite a chore but at least it's warm enough to make it enjoyable to be outside in the sunshine.

The bad news is that it's time for the bears to wake up so being outside can be a bit more interesting than we want it to be.  Ari has been busy doing "patrols" from the time she gets outside in the morning until it gets dark.  We know she's working hard cause at night she comes in, grabs a bite to eat and whatever's left in the cat's dish and flops down on our bed to "saw" her own "logs".

While we have a nice gas-powered chainsaw to cut down dead trees, it's hard to get the thing started and to keep it going.  Add that to the unsteady footwork of mushing around in melting snow and you've got a recipe for disaster.  We like to avoid things like "disaster" so we've been doing some of our cutting with a plain ole' handsaw.  It takes a lot more effort, but what else do we have to do with our time and it's great exercise.  

The problem is that it's just too slow and we figured at our pace it was going to take us nine months to replenish our firewood for next winter and we just don't have nine months for that.  DannyLee got it in his head that he wanted an electric chainsaw that he could just plug in, turn on and run with it.  I added my own thought to that picture and saw him with extension cords wrapped every which way and back through the woods - not a pretty sight!

SO, I did a bit of research and came up with this battery-powered Black and Decker chainsaw.  It's not too big, in fact, it's almost a bit too small knowing what I know now.  This pile in the picture below is 20 minutes of cutting up logs for splitting.  

One Battery Charge of Output
What I cut is the logs that are leaning up against the wall in the top picture. We had kept these aside for the purpose of testing out the B&D. They're almost a bit too big of a job for this little guy and in the future I would opt to use the Poulon for logs this big.  It did prove itself out though and I'm sure it will work great on our smaller stuff.   

The lithium battery takes about 5 hours to fully charge (from empty) and you get about 20 minutes of cutting power.  The good news is that I can recharge it in our rig from the solar panels so it's not going to cost us extra to run it.  The bad news is it's so easy to use that the 20 minutes of cutting that pile of logs didn't even make me tired.  (And YES! I cut that entire pile by myself with DannyLee wrestling the logs onto the "horse" and holding them down for me.)

Bottom Line:  Now I've got a bit more free time to concentrate on our preparations for Pesach!  


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pesach Preparations 2015

"March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb."

Yes, you're seeing a very COLD day in Alaska.  This is one of the coldest temperatures that we've seen all winter.  This was taken on March 15, 2015.  DannyLee said that the thermometer was pegged at -50 degrees when he got up.  (He always gets up earlier than I do, but I stay up much later!)  

I have to say that our thermometer is wildly inaccurate but since it only goes down to -60, it's anyone's guess as to the real temperature.  It wouldn't have been such a big deal if we hadn't run out of firewood back in February.  Thankfully, we still have lots of pellets for the pellet stove and this cold snap was pretty brief.  It lasted only a few days and we were able to squeak through with the little wood we had on hand and some quick cuts during the daytime when it warmed up a bit.  

March brought us cold weather, a trip to the roof and the celebration of Purim.  We don't actually put much thought into Purim since it isn't a commanded feast and we don't have children.  It's just not that much fun when there's just two adults and DannyLee would have to dress up as Mordecai AND Haman AND the King and I'm sure he wouldn't go for that.  

More importantly, the celebration of Purim serves as a reminder to us that Pesach is coming and the time of preparation is at hand.  This we take very seriously as this feast seems to set the tone for all of our observances throughout the rest of the year.  We fear that if we get lazy or lax here, it will cause us to get even lazier as time goes on.

Our preparations are a bit more complicated here in the Interior as we have to go to Fairbanks in order to buy our lamb and our matza.  The Fred Myer stores and oftentimes, Safeway have lamb in small quantities throughout the year.  We never know, however, if those quantities will cover the demand as there is a Jewish community in Fairbanks.  

We thought it might be better to go sooner rather than later in order to secure the provisions that we would need to prepare our feast.  Our efforts were rewarded with a case of matza and a beautiful lamb roast. My mouth is watering already as I think of how good it's going to taste. I'm not sure why we don't have lamb more often, but then I remember the cost.  At over $5.00 a pound, it's more like an investment than a food item.  

We drove to Fairbanks on a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the high 30's/low 40's.  It's always an exhausting trip as we try to do ALL of our shopping as fast as we can in order to get back on the road home as soon as possible.  DannyLee usually does all of the driving while I watch the road for patches of ice and straying moose.  We saw plenty of ice, but thankfully, our prayers were answered and the moose stayed away from the road.  

One bonus of going to Fairbanks is that we always treat ourselves to a nice lunch somewhere on the way.  On this day, we stopped at a little diner in North Pole.  As we were parking, I happened to look to my right to see this beautiful sight - two of our favorite flags flying proudly in front of the diner!  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

HONEY!!! What's That?!?!?

The Chimney for Our Woodstove!
Today was supposed to be a very busy day of collecting firewood and preparing for an incoming cold front that is supposed to bring us temps around 25 below.  We got out there on what started out as a lovely 38 degree day intent on restocking our always dwindling wood supply.  Things started off really well...............

Then, everything changed.  The sky suddenly grew dark.  The wind picked up and snow came blowing sideways through our little forest!

Wait a minute!!  Where did that come from?  We went from a lovely, sunny 38 degree day to a near white-out blizzard condition in a matter of minutes.  Huh?

Fortunately, all of this happened right at the point we were hauling our last load of firewood into the garage.  The "PLAN" was for DannyLee to bring some wood into the house and we would be ready to bed down for the evening.  Best made plans...............

Now, I've been having some strange problems with the woodstove. When the winds pick up late at night, smoke has been blowing back down the chimney, through the stove and into the house.  This isn't fun! So I asked DannyLee to take a look up at the chimney before he came in the house.  He comes in with a strange report.  He says, "The chimney looks like it's kind of tilted over or something."  This can't be good!

As I'm walking past the dining room window, I just happened to glance out at the raging storm outside.  EEEEKKKK!!!!  The picture above is what I see.  Not a happy moment!  Somehow, we managed to go from "kind of tilted over" to "laying on the ground" in the time it took me to go to the bathroom.  Hmmmmm..............

Well, there wasn't much to be done about that at this point.  Neither of us is all that keen about climbing up on our roof.  It especially wasn't going to happen in the middle of a raging snowstorm.  So, I start to make supper.............

It wasn't too long before I realized that the stove had run out of propane and my roast turkey and veggies was sitting in a lukewarm oven doing nothing.  Now this might be the point where we could have a fit or get really upset or maybe even angry. was just time for a different menu.  There was no way that I was going to make my Darling head out into a storm to change out the propane tank.  I'm not that inflexible or limited in my cooking options.  The roast turkey and veggies went into the crockpot.  The pellet stove is working diligently to keep us warm for now and the storm has passed.

Tomorrow is a new day!

Psa 118:24  This is the day יהוה has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Life Without Water...Firewood...Internet....?

Fairbanks 2015
What do you do when you turn on the faucet and nothing comes out?  

Melting snow
That's not a question that most of us want to face and especially not when there simply isn't a clear answer or anyone to call.  Cold and ice are an inescapable part of life in Alaska and many parts of the lower 48 it seems this winter.  The hardest part for us is that there isn't anyone to call up here where we're at so it's up to us resolve a problem like this.  

The good news is that we did prepare for such an event and we made it through 15 days without tap water using our stored up water and melted snow to meet our basic needs.  It was a challenge and we made it through.  After 15 days, DannyLee prayed for our pump to start working again, turned it on and it did.  I wish life was always so simple.

What do you do when you still have several months of winter left and there isn't any firewood left?

"Chili" Waffles
This was another challenge that we won't say surprised us.  The mounds of firewood that we mauled/hauled and burned in the first few months of winter kept us guessing as to whether we were going to make it to the end of the winter or not.  

Every week, DannyLee came up with a new estimate as to how long the wood was going to hold out.  Every week, we watched our stockpile dwindle and finally we had to face up to the fact that it was going to take a lot more effort to get through the entire winter with heat from our woodstove.  We still have plenty of wood pellets for the pellet stove but firewood was going to have to be gathered.  

It was time for us to drag out the chain saw and test out our skills at getting it started.  Fortunately, we've been able to handle this challenge too and it's been empowering to learn that we're not entirely helpless.

Even Yoshi has some challenges to face!
What do you do when you turn on the computer and there's no internet access?  

The funny thing is that of all these questions, the last one is the one that was basically the most difficult to face.  The death of my laptop was disheartening.  The death of our internet access was frightening. 

We use it for everything - banking, shopping, entertainment and our Torah studies.  Not having internet access left us to wonder what weather was heading our way and unable to manage our bills.  

The sad thing was that our internet access appears to have been randomly cut off by the provider as they make an effort to stop serving their Alaskan customers.  This is all based on rumor and piecemeal information but they simply said they couldn't help us and left it up to us to find new service.    

We searched out our options for new internet service but with no phone lines, an internet-less local cell tower and limited satelite options, the search was painful.  This challenge was going to cost us.

The Table Runner I made for my Mom's Birthday
It was time to be creative!
Making "scrapple" cider vinegar

I took a break from my quilting to make this table runner for my Mom.  The fabric is a batik that I had brought back from Thailand many years ago.

I'm also working on my bone broth and learning to make apple cider vinegar.  These kinds of things are fun and useful ways to fill up the time not being used on the internet.  Cooking and sewing are keeping me busy and DannyLee continues to work on his music.  
Ari's new friend Gulliver

In the end, a week without internet was rough but we made it and life goes on!