Downsizing

Home Sweet Home.

Home Sweet Home.

 

Again, my apologies for the long break in posts. My intention truly was to blog weekly or more often, but with the back injury, I do everything while flat on my back, so everything is slower, and with all the teaching I did this semester, when I have free time, the last thing I want to do is be on the computer.

The semester ended last week, and the lease on our lovely quonset hut is up at the end of the month and not renewable, so as there is a housing shortage in Barrow, we are moving into the hut pictured here.  It’s about 9×12. No bath. No kitchen.  Just beds and a table.

It’s crazy, right?  To here, everyone is so accepting of the crazy housing shortage that they seem to think this is a perfectly acceptable solution, but when I talk to friends and family outside of Barrow, they let me know that my gut instinct (which is, “THIS IS NUTS”) is spot on.

However, when in Rome….

It’s my nature to be positive, so I’m doing my best, though I am sort of feeling like I’m at the Olympics of Positive Thinking Obstacle Courses.

In other news, the back recovery has slowed down considerably without ready pool/gym access, but I’m doing what I can.

It’s now 24 hour daylight here – no sunrises or sunsets for about 90 days. It’s still chilly out -our spring is much colder than it ever gets in places like Chicago.  It’s whaling season, but the ice hasn’t opened up so the villagers haven’t been able to go out and get a whale.  They need some open water.  Climate change is probably more evident in the Arctic than anywhere else.

 

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Impossibly Sad

 

I’ve been traveling and busy teaching too many classes this semester, but as winter kicks in, I’m aware that this is the part of living up north that people are most curious about, so I’ll do better with the blogging.

First off, I’m impossibly sad.  I’d been in Chicago since late September for a myriad of reasons (high school reunion, run the Chicago Marathon, my mom’s bday, and then to spend time with my parents through Thanksgiving because they are up there in years, and let’s face it – no one lives forever).

However, my cat, Paco, who was FINE when I left, started getting fussier than normal with his eating while I was gone, and then by last Sunday, my partner called really worried.  She was certain he had an obstruction and was trying to get him in to the vet that night.  She did – he didn’t have an obstruction, but he was in FULL KIDNEY FAILURE.  For 2 days, we thought maybe it could be treated, and then it became apparent that it could not be treated – at least not in Barrow, and I booked a flight back from Chicago leaving early Thursday morning.  I made it home Thursday evening – and just in time.  He died in my arms.

My heart is broken.

Despite having 3 dogs, the quonset hut feels so empty.  I’ll stick around here for the election, and then I’m heading back to Chicago to cook the Thanksgiving dinner for my mom, and then I’ll be home again for all of December and parts of January.

The days are short – just 6 hours right now, but we are losing about 11-12 minutes a day.  Before Thanksgiving, the sun will set a final time and then not rise again for a couple months.  I’ll be back in Chicago when that happens.  When I come back, it will be the dark as night all day long.

I was in a car accident in my 20s that left me with osteoarthritis in my lower back, and the arthritis pain is almost unbearable up here.  I move like a 90 yr old person who has bee crippled.  This has never hurt so much in my life as it hurts up here, but it’s a wet and cold climate – the worst thing in the world for arthritis.  I’m taking more than the limit of Aleve, sitting on a heating pad most of the day, and trying to keep as active as possible, but it’s difficult.  I am hurting.

My SAD is kicking in, too (yes, I’m dosing on Vitamin D and using the special lamps), so on top of the loss of Paco and my aching back, I’m not in the greatest of spirits.  And I was so happy just a month ago with my life up here.  This death will take me a while to process, but for now, I’m trying to focus on how grateful I am to have had so many years with my little friend.  He turned 18 in August, and we adopted him when he was 8, which was March, 2003.

Life can change in a flash.

Getting My Laura Ingalls On!

(First of all, I want to say, yes, I know this blog is ugly right now.  Once in Barrow, I’ll fork over the $30 to customize my CSS style sheets.  Right now, though, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water with the move, my teaching, and all that’s going on in my life. So this will get prettified in a few months.  Promise.)

Yesterday I down the mountain and into the valley – Boulder, to be specific – to do my weekly errands:  library (I ❤ the Boulder Public Library), Target, McGuckins (a very cool hardware store that has cooking stuff and camping stuff and gardening stuff – for Alaskan readers, it’s like a Fred Meyers sans grocery),  a nice food break where I whipped out my printed novel draft and edited two chapters, and then off to Whole Foods, the Mt. Olympus of grocery stores.

Yes, I prefer farmers’ markets – heck, my novel is ABOUT a farmers’ market in Alaska – but it’s February in Colorado, and the market won’t open again til spring.  I’m rereading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma right now, and he has a whole section on the “supermarket pastoral,” which is the narrative food marketers write for consumers (like me) who want to live off the land, but live in Boulder or LA or Chicago.  The supermarket pastoral makes us feel good about our purchases, although the gritty reality is that buying organic at a place such as Whole Foods usually means participating in the ugly underbelly of the industrial food chain, with all of its fossil fuel waste, and in the case of meat and dairy, factory farming.  The reality of “big organics” is not what we want, but it’s definitely what we’re getting. Small family farms can’t get contracts with grocery stores because how could they ever keep the shelves filled with tomatoes year long?  And we need our tomatoes year long, right?  Small farms don’t practice monoculture.  That’s what the industrial organic farms due, though, so while it’s true the pesticide levels in the ground (and therefore groundwater) are reduced, the soil quality is also reduced since they don’t rotate crops. That’s not efficient, the favorite word of anyone interested in making a buck, which is what this all comes down to in the end.

Despite the picture of cows grazing in big pastures on your milk carton, the truth is that in order to supply big grocery chains that sell organics (Whole Foods, Walmart), sellers need to go the industrial route, so while your organic milk is indeed free from antibiotics and the producing animal was fed organic corn, making it “organic,” the cow was factory farmed, milked too many times a day, and was not living that happy life we imagined and hoped, due in no small part to the misleading pics of pastoral bliss on the carton.  Same with your bagged lettuce, your mini carrots, your yogurt.  It’s better for the earth in terms of the reduction of pesiticides, and believe it’s better for my health because it makes sense to me that these pesticides bioaccumulate in our bodies, causing sickness (of course, not many studies have been done on this because studies are funded by companies and organizations that don’t want you thinking ’bout that, yo!). But “better” doesn’t make it “good.”

If you buy local, then you’re getting your pastoral fix in truth – the milk cow most likely did spend its days grazing on a big pasture and ate clover and bluegrass and much more than organic corn and soybeans, but you’re probably not going to see the organic seal of approval on anything local, as the term “organic” has come to mean something really different than what it once meant.  Getting the organic label is usually not something affordable for small scale farmers. Ever hear the phrase “know your farmer”?  This is why.

Your local farms very likely might be more organic in their practices than the big Earthbound farms  -check the sticker next time you’re in Safeway.  If it’s grown in the US and it’s organic and at a Safeway, it probably says “Earthbound Farms” on it – but there’s no way of knowing if they used pesticides or GMOs or antibiotics or rGBH without asking them.  I’m teaching a class in food politics next fall (“Food: The Politics, Safety, and Science of What We Eat”.  It’s actually a sophomore comp class with a focus), and Pollan’s fascinating read is going to be one of my two texts.

Moving to Barrow, Alaska, a place where Inupiats have subsisted on caribou, whale meat and seal oil since they settled there, is going to be a harrowing experience for this mostly vegetarian.  I say “mostly” because – full disclosure – when marathon training, I will eat Alaska wild salmon once or twice a week.  Salmon helps my body recover faster, the AK fisheries are in good condition, and yeah.  Master of rationalization that I am, I will tweak my ethics to fulfill my dietary needs.  But I won’t eat caribou or muktuk or seal oil, and because I would rather eat big organic produce that are free from pesticides versus conventionally-grown produce dripping in them, food in Barrow is going to be an issue for me.

The 2 small groceries in Barrow do not carry organic anything, and the prices for the wilted-looking Romaine they do have is exponentially higher than what one expects a bag of lettuce to be, due to the high costs of refrigerated shipping.  In addition to subscribing to Full Circle, a CSA out of Washington that actually ships to Barrow, I’m going to need to get educated in indoor growing.

Yesterday at McGuckins, I spoke with several people in the gardening department about my idea for creating a living wall.  They were trying to turn me on to an Aerogarden, but when I explained what I’m facing, they understood that it wasn’t economically feasible, nor did it match the scale of what I’m hoping to produce.  We talked about hydroponics vs sub-irrigated planting systems, and I’m leading toward the latter due to low start-up costs, though shipping organic dirt will be no cheap feat, either.  Hydroponics means a bigger investment up front, and SIPs will have the continual cost of shipping up quality soil.  However, I think SIPs are more straight-forward and harder to screw up.  I always have an outdoor veg and flower garden, but if my indoor plants could talk… well, they can’t cuz I got them deaded.  It’s my understanding that much can go wrong with hydroponics.  I kind of like the DIY approach of SIPs, too, and it goes with my whole theme of getting my Laura Ingalls on – you know, the pioneer spirit and all that jazz.

I’d like something like this, but I’d settle for something like this.  🙂

Anyway, I’m getting educated about indoor gardening. The move might be in early April now versus May if my partner scores us a quonset hut this week.  Yep, I’m rooting for a quonset hut.  Just like when I moved to Fairbanks from Chicago in the early 90s and wanted a cabin with no running water, a la Northern Exposure, in Barrow, I want a quonset hut.

If you’re going to do something, then just do it all the way.

In the kitchen this week, I’ve got a few experiments ready:

1)I’m going to see how my food-processor does with sweet potatoes.  If it can slice nice rounds, I’m going to make some sweet potato chips with paprika and sea salt.  Once I get a dehydrator, I will be using it like gangbusters to make dried fruit and veggie snacks.  Can’t wait.

2) Fruit roll-ups.  I bought 3C of frozen mango and raspberries yesterday at Whole Foods, and I’m going to puree them and try some fruit roll-ups in the oven at 170F.  It should take 8 hours, so that will be great if that works.  A cheap and easy snack.

3) Take 2 on the Flatiron Foodies Bee Bar that I fell in love with in January but can’t afford unless I find a pirate’s treasure.  I got some more of the ingredients I need – the flavor I’m attempting is the curried cocoa pistachio.  I bought a real one, too, so I can do a taste test.

I’ll post pics of my experiments as I make them.  And now I’m off to spend a couple hours putting things in boxes.

Making Plans

As I’ve been a bit of gypsy over the past few years, it maybe comes as no surprise to many that I’m moving back to Alaska this May. However, this time, it will be straight to the top – Barrow, a small coastal Inupiaq village of about 5000 people who subsist primarily on whale and seal meat.

It will be quite the adventure for this vegetarian.

The plan so far is join the Full Circle CSA and have twice-monthly deliveries of organic fresh fruit and veggies from the Seattle area. I’m not thrilled about the great amount of fossil fuels used to get me my produce, but I don’t know of any more sustainable options.

I do know that I’ll be learning to make cheese, I’ll need to become a good indoor gardener of herbs, and I’m going to being making all of our breads and pastas from gluten-free flour that I mill myself.

The learning curve will be steep, and here’s where I’ll document my trials and tribulations as well as my amazing feasts!