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Monday, October 31, 2011

It's a winter wonderland!

After hearing the news that Pittsburgh awoke to snowfall on Saturday morning, I was pretty disappointed.  Afterall, I'm in Alaska - shouldn't I get to see the snow first?!?

Well, apparently Mother Nature was listening, and all I saw was white on Sunday morning!

We only got about an inch of snow, but it stuck everywhere (including the road) since we've been hovering around freezing for about a month now.

I guess an inch of snow isn't much for Alaska, because none of the roads were treated.  A bit unnerving for me, because I'm used to seeing snow plows and salt trucks every time it snows.  We had planned a trip to Thunderbird Falls, but decided to stay at home instead.  Neither one of us were particularly interested in hopping on a snowy highway.  Watching football and scary movies is an alright way to spend a Sunday in my book!

Happy snowy Halloween, everyone!

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Tiny House Experience (so far)

Since my most viewed blog post is from way back in April when I talked about tiny houses, I figured I'd do a little update on my experiences thus far living in a tiny house.  Once we realized we had to start out renting, finding a little house (720 square feet) was pure luck.  This was about the size that we planned for our own tiny/small house, so I consider this a practice run in organization and space saving.

We could probably go a little smaller if we didn't have a need for a guest room.  Our second bedroom probably makes up about 20% of our house, and isn't currently used for much.  It is, however, an absolute requirement now that I am living so far from my family and friends.

Do I think I could have transitioned into a small house as easily if I hadn't sold nearly all of my belongings before we moved?  Nope.  

Being on a limited budget for furniture purchases required us to be creative with what we did have.  The toy chest as a coffee table was a no brainer - now we don't need a separate coffee table, and the chest stores all of our board games in an easily accessible location.  We don't have room to keep all six chairs at the table in the kitchen, so I'm using one as an end table near the couch, and the other as a bedside table.  Easily moved should we have dinner guests and need the extra seating, and fully functional in the meantime.

I'm also hopeful that the small space will help us considerably as we try to stay warm this winter.  To conserve energy, Karl and I always keep our thermostat pretty low.  With our house heating up so quickly once the furnace kicks on, we're able to push it even further.  We're shooting for 60 degrees when we're home, and 50 degrees overnight or at while we're out of the house.  The great part about the small house living is that I can always crank up the thermostat for 5-10 minutes to get the chill out of the air if I'm feeling a bit on the cold side.  However, the more you get used to keeping the thermostat low, the less you will realize you need it to be any higher.  If it's 72 degrees in your house, 35 degrees outside will feel much colder than if you already feel warm at 60 degrees.  Plus, who doesn't love snuggling under a blanket?

We're also becoming much more conscious of the food we keep in the house.  When you only have one cabinet to store everything, you can't really tuck too much food away and not plan to eat it in the near future.  This will hopefully reduce our grocery bills a bit, which is good when a trip to the Alaskan grocery store is enough to want to stop eating altogether when it's time to pay the bill.

My struggles so far?  The closet.  I'll admit it, I have a minor obsession with clothes and shoes (mostly shoes) and nowhere to put it all.  Everything is kind of packed in like sardines, with more shoes stuck in the corner of the bedroom.  I have no solution.  I'll let you know if I figure it out (doubtful).

My favorite part?  The house is so much cleaner than I would have ever expected.  I hate to vacuum, I hate to dust, and I really hate washing dishes.  However, a small house allows you to vacuum in a just a few minutes, and the lack of counter space necessitates dishwashing several times a day.  The small spaces motivates me to spend just a few minutes a day tidying up, and I'm rewarded with a neat, clean house almost all of the time.

Living in a small space certainly isn't for everyone, and you have to be in the right frame of mind to look at it for it's potential versus what you feel you're missing out on.  The first step is to realize that you don't need the majority of what you have stuffed in corners and closet.  The second step is making that a reality.  The third step is enjoying the simpler life!  I can say without a doubt that I am enjoying my small house a hundred times more than our house in Pittsburgh that was three times the size, so it was definitely the right choice for us.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A tisket, a tasket... Handmade birch bark baskets!

Before I attempted my birch bark baskets, I already had some experience in basketry.  As cliche as it sounds, basket weaving is actually something I enjoy!  The hardest part about it is finding supplies locally, rather than having to order reed sight unseen from the internet.

Needless to say, working with my harvested birch bark has been such a treat!  Once it gets wet (which is required considering you have to clean the forest gunk off of it), it really functions just like construction paper.  Take away the weaving part, and you can actually end up with a basket pretty quickly!  I sewed the first one, but went to hot glue for the next two.  Might be a little less 'natural' but it avoided the risk of tearing at the stitches.

I love how you naturally get two colors to use: the lighter shade is the outside of the bark, while the dark brown is the inside.

They looked pretty good initially, but I really thought they needed a little something extra.  I headed off to Joann's and found myself some moss to use as an accent.  I think I've found another hobby, and a cheap one at that!

By the way, I hit 5000 page views yesterday!  Woohoo!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Harvesting my craft supplies

I apologize for the sporadic nature of my posts...  I think I am going to go for a Monday-Wednesday-Friday kind of deal, because frankly, I don't have enough going on for five posts a week!

Last weekend, the Eagle River Nature Center was hosting a workshop on making your own baskets from birch bark.  I found out about the event a bit late, so it was already full when I called to get a slot.  In my somewhat snarky nature, I immediately find myself thinking "well fine you stupid nature center, I'll figure out how to do it myself."

So off I went to do some internet research and figure out how to go about doing such a thing.

Obviously, the first step was to find myself some birch bark.  Now, as Karl and I are both stewards of the forest (and not about to break the law either), we had to find some already dead birch trees.  Cutting the bark off of a live tree will lead to it's premature death, as well as making it an eyesore for other travelers through the woods.  We headed over the park at the end of our street, and set off on the trails looking for some fallen down birch trees.  It would appear that birch is a rather hardy tree, because almost every dead tree was something other than birch.  We found a few small ones, but the narrow trunk made for very thin bark that was nearly impossible to peel off.  Eventually, we found two pretty large trees and I was able to peel bark until my little heart was content.  Once I got started, it actually wasn't too difficult - all I used was a utility knife to score the bark, and a putty knife to loosen any stubborn areas.

Here's a sampling of what I brought home.  The pieces ended up in varying sizes, because it seemed that the bark would split where it decided, regardless of where you had planned.  Check back on Wednesday to see my creations!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A panoramic view

This photo (or group of photos) was taken over the summer and was my first attempt at using Photoshop to merge a bunch of photos together to create a panoramic view.  I think it was about nine or ten individual images, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. 

A view of Anchorage from across the inlet
I'm anxious to try this in winter.  I think the mountains are much easier to photograph with the snow and ice, and without the near constant haze of summer.  The only problem then is getting the opportunity to take photos when there's enough sunlight!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Our wind tunnel (aka the front door)

Karl and I somehow manage to always end up living in old houses.  Even moving to Alaska, we ended up in a house built in 1954 (which is pretty old for up here).  Old houses have their fair share of drafts, and a less than perfectly maintained rental house has a few more.  I really have no idea what to expect for heating bills this winter, so I wanted to get ahead of the game as much as possible.  Our front and back doors had considerable gaps below the door, and you could feel the cold air blowing in even just standing nearby.  I decided to make some draft guards to stop as much of the wintry winds as possible.

Even better, I was able to use things I already had on hand!  I had some leftover canvas from my homemade shopping bag project (or rejected project - so no worth it when you end up getting them free half the time) that was just perfect.

I ended up with two pieces of fabric that were just the width of the door, and about two feet long.  Probably more fabric than I needed, but I just split what I had sitting in my box.  I folded each piece in half and stitched up one of the long sides and one of the short sides.  

Then I turned it inside out, and sewed two rows of stitching down the middle (this is the part that goes underneath the door).  For the draft guard for the front door, I stuffed both sides with some leftover stuffing. 

For the back door, I used stuffing for the part on the inside of the house, and crushed packing peanuts for the outside.  I used the packing peanuts for two reasons: 1. I didn't have enough stuffing to do both sides, and 2. there's very little overhang over the backdoor, and I figured stuffing would end up a soggy, disgusting mess when it rained.

Super easy project, and will hopefully save us a few bucks on heating this winter!

Monday, October 17, 2011

At least it's not snow...?

Actually, I'm really excited for the first snow.  It would be perfect if we got a nice, fluffy snowfall, and then sunny weather for another month and a half until winter really came.  Probably not likely to happen, however.

This weekend was full of rain, rain, and more rain.  Pure luck that it wasn't snow - the temperature never quite hit freezing.

When I woke up yesterday morning, the raindrops were clinging to the branches and the few remaining leaves on our tree in the front yard.  They looked little tiny balls of ice and I thought they were just beautiful!

FYI, I'm experimenting with using bigger pictures in my posts - if you are one of my three (haha) loyal readers and your internet connection makes that a problem for you, let me know.  Otherwise, I'll probably stick with it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

And finally... The Kitchen!

This isn't the greatest picture in the world - the afternoon sun shines right in the kitchen window!

Our kitchen is pretty tiny, which has presented it's own challenges.  I'm glad we were able to fit our dining room table in, even though we had to take the leaf out.  You can't really access the chairs near the walls either, unless you pulled the table out.  Oh well, I don't know anyone to invite over for dinner anyhow!  The back door was a disaster when we moved in - half of the paint was missing, leaving the brown door underneath exposed.  The whole kitchen looked bright once it had some fresh white paint!

I was so excited to put my place mats and dish towel out - thanks, Terese!  They made my kitchen feel homey right away!

The kitchen has a tiny alcove with some shelving, so I was able to store most of my larger kitchen supplies there.  I also got a great deal on this kitchen cart, which stores all of my serving and baking utensils, as well as spices and other random things.  My mixer sits so nicely on top!  It's on wheels, so I can drag it over to the counter whenever I'm doing some baking and my two feet of counter space aren't going to cut it...

Speaking of counter space - booo!!  It's nice to have a big sink, but I'd rather have another foot of workspace!  Oh well, the benefit of having such a small counter is that the dishes are basically always washed and put away.  There just isn't the room to leave them sitting out for even a short time.

We installed this shelf above the stove to hold the microwave - obviously, there was nowhere else to put it!  My cookbooks fit perfectly on the end, along with my recipe box.  The shelf is a big higher than I would have liked, but I wanted plenty of space above the stove for working.  It's only a problem when  whatever is in the microwave ends up in the back because the turntable was spinning - I have to keep turning it until it comes back to the front!

Well that's the end of our house tour!  I still have the guest bedroom, but there's no furniture in it!  I decided that I will not be purchasing a bed until my first lucky guest has booked their plane ticket!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My favorite room in the house!

The living room!  I adore how the light shines through my curtains and gives the whole room such a sunny feeling!  Amazingly, I had 3 matching curtain rods that I had brought with me so I didn't even have to shell out any extra money.  My awesome dad sent me Joann's gift cards for my birthday, so theoretically, my window treatments were free!

The living room is my favorite place to be so I like to keep all of my important things there.  I think this is why small house living suits me so well.  I could surely set up the guest room as a craft room of sorts, but I wouldn't use it.  I'd just end up dragging everything into the living room as I used it, so it might as well be there to begin with.

My table is a perfect size to hold my sewing machine, but still large enough to use for other projects without having to take everything off.  There's my lovely photo boxes with my craft supplies so neatly organized! (Except for everything crammed in the closet...)  The large sewing chest on the floor was my Grandma's and came all the way with me from Pittsburgh!  It holds all of my sewing patterns, scissors, rotary cutter, buttons, pins and needles, and other odds and ends.  Imagine my excitement when I found its baby sister on Craigslist!  The little one has been designated as the storage for pens and pencils, office supplies, stationary, and other necessities.  I still need a chair for the table - I've been dragging the toy box over which is not particularly back-friendly.

Here's Willow enjoying a bone on her new bed in her new house.  I decided to use my old pop bottle crates as storage as well as decoration - they're actually full of Karl's video game accessories!

Here's the other side - The cabinet against the wall is another Craigslist find.  It holds 200 of Karl's video games, and I don't even have to look at them!  I still have some photos to hang on the wall, but that is my least favorite chore ever.  No matter how many times I check it with my level, they still hang completely crooked...

Here are two of my favorite things in the living room:

You said it, moosie!
Both were awesome finds at the Alaska State Fair!  I'd been eyeing up the chainsaw carved animals since my very first visit to Alaska.  Unfortunately, they were usually well over $200.  This cutie only cost me $75 and I love it!

Sitting in my own living room makes me so happy, especially after all we've been through these last few months.  What a wonderful feeling, sitting here on my big, comfy couch, snuggled under a blanket and next to Willow, and typing up my blog to share with all of my friends and family!

The kitchen is our last room in the tour - check it out tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Man in the Moon

The past few days have been wonderfully clear - hardly a cloud in the sky.  The moon will be full later today, but I had to take a quick photo of it illuminating the night sky last night.

Even though we live in a relatively crowded neighborhood, it's still very dark at night as there's no streetlights.  Make the moon and stars really stand out!

The big dipper was so much clearer than this picture would lead you to believe.  I think I might need a better tripod (my camera usually makes mine tip over)...

I have the rest of the photos taken of our house, so I'm hoping to get them into a post in the next day or two.  Check back!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Visit to the Anchorage Museum

I must say, I had put off visiting the museum here in Anchorage... Honestly, museums sometimes bore me to tears and it seems quite often that if you've seen one, you've seen them all.  I initially decided to plan a visit after I realized that I was desperately under-educated in the culture of Alaska Natives.  When you're a social worker in Alaska, you can't get away with that for too long.  I decided the Anchorage Museum was my best place to turn for information (after realizing that the Alaska Native Heritage Center Museum was closed for the season).

I was pleasantly surprised when I checked out the museum's website, and realized that the entire museum is actually the history of Alaska - even the artwork is either of Alaska or from Alaskan artists.

We first checked out the art and there were a couple paintings I fell in love with - my gauge for great artwork is usually anything that makes me think "oh man, I wish I could paint!" when I look at it.

After checking out the art side, we headed into the history area.  Unfortunately we went through it backwards, although I don't think I missed out on too much.  Anyone else feel like museums should have arrows on the floor like IKEA?  Anyway, there was obviously lots of history about the discovery of oil and the subsequent building of the pipeline.  Here's a model of how massive the pipeline really is:

Alaska was a territory of the US for almost 47 years before it became a state.  The museum also displayed the front page of the Anchorage Daily News announcing Alaska's statehood:

This half cracked me up and half made a bit misty eyed - the battle to be included in this country seems a lot more real when it happened just over 50 years ago, compared to growing up in one of the 13 original colonies.

Finally, we made it to the history and culture of the Alaska Natives (remember how I said we went backwards?).  The museum had some beautifully done dioramas to illustrate typical Native life in a few of the cultures.


Contrary to popular belief, not every Alaska Native is an Eskimo.  Eskimos primarily live in the western half of Alaska, with the Inuit dominating the northern half and the Yup'ik residing in the southern half.  This diorama depicted an Eskimo whaling community.


The Aleut (not surprisingly) inhabit the Aleutian Islands.  Self named 'Unangan,' Russian explorers gave these natives the name 'Aleut.'  While the Aleutian Islands themselves didn't offer as much in the way of resources, the ocean offered everything necessary to sustain life.  Nikolsi, an island in the mid-Aleutians, is actually one of the longest continuously inhabited places on earth, at 4000 years.


Athabascans cover one of the largest land areas in the state, and have villages throughout all of interior Alaska.  The culture of this community focused much more on hunting and gathering, and tribes were somewhat nomadic.

Tlingit & Haida:

The Tlingit and Haida (as well as the Tsimshian) people inhabit Southeast Alaska.  They had a hunter & gatherer culture, but also utilized the resources that the nearby sea had to offer.

As if the museum itself didn't give you enough of Alaska, all you had to do was check out the view from the fourth floor.  Can you see the snow capping the nearby mountains?  Winter's coming!

One thing I really liked about this museum was that it's not overwhelmingly large.  I don't have the longest attention span for museums, and we were easily able to see everything within a couple hours.  I also picked up a great map in the gift shop outlining Native cultures and villages, and I plan to tack it up over my desk tomorrow!  I also found an awesome children's book, but the gift shop was out... It's not available on Amazon so I may have to check back because I have a certain little cousin in mind... or two little cousins!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Creating a new routine is tough!

I feel somewhat guilty in my rather sporadic posting lately - I blame it on the massive changes in the last couple of weeks that wreak havoc on my usual orderly schedule.  Karl and I have both started working again, which is doing wonders for both of our mental states.  I love being able to interact with my coworkers each day and I'm so grateful that they welcomed me into their group so easily.  I haven't really met anyone else in Alaska yet (it seems like 99% of all advertised get-togethers and clubs are focused on people with kids), so I'm enjoying feeling a bit more welcomed into the state.  Karl appears to be having a similar experience at his new job, so we're both in pretty good spirits.

Adjusting to us both having regular workday schedules is quite the feat.  In addition to figuring out Karl's video game time, there are so many other things I didn't realize that we would need to adjust.  Firstly, I would usually go to bed hours before Karl because he didn't usually have to be up early for work.  This allowed me to sprawl out all over the bed to fall asleep, a habit I've basically had my entire life.  Now I am resigned to my little half, which is made even smaller because Willow usually sleeps on my side.

We also have to get used to eating dinner every night.  I embarrassed to admit how many nights I ate cereal for dinner, because I just didn't have the motivation to make anything else if Karl was working that evening.  I can barely figure out how to grocery shop for more than one dinner a week!  Good thing we both like mac 'n cheese and ramen...

On top of all of this, we're also trying to get the last of our things unpacked, purchase a few more items we're in desperate need of, and finish sewing curtains.  So, my blogging has been a big lacking...  I can partially say it's because I'm spending less time sitting around feeling sorry for myself, but the real culprit is that I still don't really feel settled enough to spend much time on my computer.  I set a goal to finish every last bit of the house this weekend so we can start next week fresh.  I hope to have pictures ready of the living room and kitchen - there's only a few finishing touches left in each room.

On a side note, can someone please come visit me?  I promise I'll take good care of you!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What a lovely bathroom!

Jeez, I didn't realize how many days had gone by until I came to my blog and realized I hadn't read anyone else's for almost a week!  Having Karl working the same schedule as I am certainly requires some adjustments to my usual routine.  I'm used to having almost every evening to myself because Karl would be stuck at work until midnight or later.  Looks like the big compromise will be Karl's video game time... The prior rule was that he was not permitted to play any video games if I was home and awake.  Considering we rarely saw each other because our work schedules conflicted, it wasn't that much to ask.  Now that we're both home in the evenings and on weekends, neither one of us has that special "me time."  I'm sure we'll figure it out, but for right now it seems like we're on another planet!  I think I've seen Karl more in the last few months than I have in the last 6.5 years.

On to the next room in our tour!

The bathroom was actually the first room to be almost 100% complete.  I finished it up this weekend by making my shower curtain.  I fell in love with this fabric a few weeks ago and knew I had to use it for the bathroom.  I used four yards of fabric and stitched buttonholes across the top for the hooks.  Easy peasy!

Yes, guilty as charged.  I do not iron when I sew unless it is completely and totally unavoidable.
Isn't it fun?  Now my bathroom will be spring all year round!

I didn't have anywhere to hang my water conservation sign in the kitchen, so I decided to move it over to the bathroom.  Do you see the color coordination between the sign and the toilet seat cover?  Totally unplanned, yet completely perfect!  Anyway, the concept of water conservation is almost a joke here, since the city of Anchorage seems to think it's a good idea to charge everyone the same amount for water regardless of how many people are living in the house and how much water you use.  Doesn't sound like a good way to motivate anyone to reduce their water consumption...

The days are getting darker here so much more quickly than I'm used to!  The shorter days always seem to come as a surprise, but we're losing almost 6 minutes a day right now.  Adds up pretty quickly over a week!  I'm especially grateful of the window in my new office, because I know I'll get to take advantage of whatever daylight is out there.  Karl has to work in a basement though with no windows - good thing he says he's used to it!
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