All material here copyright Jean McDermott. For information on purchasing any article for your publication please use the email link. The language on this site may not be suitable for children or the extremely persnickety.
Jean McDermott is a freelance writer and professional muscian.
It's time to stop with the independent candidates. They can't win. NADER. REMEMBER that election? Idealism lost us that election. That can't happen again. The stakes are too high.
It's not time to be complacent. I hear some of you acting as if you can "opt out" (real life words: not vote) or just throw your vote away on some third-party candidate as if it will all be okay. Like it's a TV show. There is sense of entitlement here that disturbs me greatly. It's not just a "thing," voting for the President of the United States. It's a responsibility, a right that was fought and died for. It's not just a lifestyle choice!
People have died so you could vote. If you are a woman, Black, Native American or any kind of person other than white male, you didn't even have voting rights UNTIL people struggled and fought and died for them. Don't forget the love your ancestors had for you, they did it so you could be free.
Hillary Clinton may not be perfect, but she's a strong, very smart woman. This threatens the old white men in the GOP just as much as the genetic content of our current President. Maybe more. This is why they have been trashing her for years. A WOMAN PRESIDENT! And woman who can do a good job, too, who is smart and experienced enough to make a difference. Someone who will stand up to them. Their collective balls are retracting in fear!
All of you who believe that Hillary Clinton is a "crook" are falling into the Republican propaganda wagon. The Republicans have spent at least a decade degrading and harassing her. None of it is real. None of it is even close to the illegal things that Bush/Cheney did, or that old Bush did. Iran/Contra? And Ronnie Rayguns, who, as governor of California, closed all the State mental hospitals and put those patients out on the streets, creating the homeless problem in one grand sweep. And that was just as governor, and just one horrendous thing. Hundreds of people died in embassies under Republicans. Benghazi? The Republicans took away the funding for security there. People, do you have no memories?
NOW we must keep Trump from winning. If you can't see that, you need to look again. The Free World will not be free if people persist in their delusions that they can just not vote, or that "it will be okay" if I throw my vote away on an candidate who can't win."I'm voting my heart!" Bullshit! You are acting as if your life is not part of a whole society. There are people around you who will suffer, maybe even die, if this man comes to power.
Your very lives may be at stake here. Women: have you even seen what the GOP wants to do to us?
I'm sorry you don't have the perfect candidate that fits your lifestyle. Trump just said that he wants a world war after what happened in France. A WORLD WAR.Do you care about that? Do you want that in the White House?
Real life is making hard decisions. Responsibility is taking care of each other.
If a man took over your neighborhood and was incarcerating all the people with red hair, would you say "that doesn't concern me because I have blonde hair?" Of course you wouldn't. I should hope you wouldn't! You'd do something about it, wouldn't you? You'd call the police, right?
There won't be police to call when Trump and his hate take over. That's where it leads. He can not be allowed to win this election just because there is a "greener" candidate.
NOTE: I caucused for Bernie. I would be campaigning for Bernie Sanders if it looked like he could win. He has endorsed Hillary Clinton. If he ends up with the nomination I will vote for him. If he doesn't, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. Trump will destroy our country. He is actively inciting hate right now, this very minute. To give a man like that power is the biggest possible mistake we could make.
Fairbanks is famous again. Yes, folks, we are Number ONE! We have broken the World's Pollen Count set in Sweden some years ago. A "high" pollen count is around 475. Just a few days ago the birch pollen count hit 4,439. Even people without allergies were wondering why their eyes were feeling so strange, and people with allergies had some eyes swell shut completely.
I had all kinds of cute and endearing dog things I was going to write about, but since I have to exert IRON WILL not to grab my nose, eyes, and face in general every ten seconds, I will keep my hands on the keyboard and keep typing. Except when I'm putting in two kinds of eye drops and using various inhalers.
This all started with the Winter That Never Was. Last winter we hit 20 below once. That's it. No 30 below, no week of 40 below and certainly no weekends of 50 below. No, we stayed above zero almost the entire winter. To top that off, we had a huge snow dump at the beginning of winter, and then little to no snow the rest of the winter. By the time it did snow again, months had gone by and people rejoiced that it was snowing!
It was exceedingly strange and creepy not to have a normal, Alaskan winter. Some people were really digging it, saying, "It's so nice and warm!" Of course to Alaskans 20 above is warm. Heck, zero is warm! But I only wore my Michelin Tire Man Down Jacket about ten times last winter. My Fall coat got the most use, and sometimes I just wore some shirts and a sweatshirt. Pussy willows were out in March. March. MARCH!
By April 26, the snow was gone, and we had leaves on the trees. The National Weather Service announced that April 26 was officially Green Up. This is two weeks to a month earlier than usual, and yet another record for Green Up in Fairbanks. It's the earliest it has ever been!
Within a week the Allergy Season From Hell exploded. There is gorgeous weather out there and if the trees would stop having sex we could enjoy it!
I have allergies and asthma. Yet I'm doing pretty well, as long as I can keep my hands off my itchy places. Eye drops keep me from waking up in the morning with gashes on my face from trying to claw my itchy eyes out while I sleep. Seriously not making this up!
I have a friend whose lungs are itching. I've had that before. So if you see someone slapping themselves in the chest and ribs, and scratching in the armpits like a chimpanzee, you can conclude that a) Fairbanks people are crazy (possibly true), and b) they have birch allergy.
It makes me understand dogs better, too, because here I am, sticking my finger in my ear and clicking my throat, which in the end makes my throat more sore, but sort of feels better and why the hell do I feel compelled to put my finger in my EAR? How many times have you seen dogs trying to put their paws in their ears, or making weird throat noises and you never, ever figure it out? It's got to be something like this. (So see? I did get some dog stuff in there!)
So here's my allergy survival plan:
I have asthma and allergies so, as per doctor's orders,
Zyrtec and Singular every single day. I want to take more Zyrtec but resist, resist until I can ask the doctor if it's safe!
Advair twice a day.
Flonase daily until I figure out that it either doesn't work or gives me nosebleeds or turns my nose into a <insert comical side-effect object here>
Stuff I figured out works: Antihistamine eye drops, then wait a few seconds, then the gel eye drops (Refresh, etc) and that seems to keep the antihistamine drops from drying out my eyes, plus makes the former work longer.
Every time I go outside I: a) wear a baseball hat, b) wash my hands, face and especially my eyelashes and eyebrows in cool water.
Wash my hands after petting the dogs. When they go outside I think they become Blimps Of Pollen. And washing the dogs is NOT an option.
I cut my bangs short. They were long enough to cover my eyebrows and artistically, if raggedly hang around my eyes, which means they were also filtering pollen right INTO my eyes. Short bangs are now cool.
I quit wearing scents in the summer because they tend to attract mosquitoes. And I'm too busy to do the makeup thing except for some lipstick. But the last thing I'd do is put mascara on. Sticky mascara, and sticky foundation...I can just imagine how my pollen would stick to you!
I have a light shirt for going outside that I put on, and then take off as soon as I get inside. That way I'm not wearing pollen-covered clothing all day.
Things I am considering: a) Buying some swim goggles to wear when I go outside. Seriously. b) Getting out my particulate mask with the two cans on it, that I use when apocalyptic fires come to call. Only downside to wearing goggles and the particulate mask (are you my Mummy?) is that I might feel like I have an alien facehugger on my head. Also, when the mosquitoes get bad, wearing a head net on top of those might bring Men in Black to take me away.
If I see another Alien in Fairbanks I'll know I've helped someone today.
Alaskans are justifiably cautious when declaring that Spring is here. When you've had snow for around nine months, you get that way. Even though we are seeing temperatures up to 50°F, and even though the snow is steadily decreasing, whether by melt or sublimation, there is a part in all of us that thinks, "You know, it could get cold again."
That's why each person has a way of adding up little signs that indicate that Spring is really here. One sign is nothing, but if you add them all up, then it might be the real deal.
I left a Vitamin Water in my car three nights running. It hasn't frozen yet.
I had to unplug my car cord, and plug in my freezer cord. (Like most Alaskans, my freezer is not in the house, so I don't have to turn it on except when it's warm outside.)
I have a front porch step instead of a snow ramp, and my doorway area is clear of snow!
The snow has already slid off the roof. (WHOOOOMP)
I really should take the snowfront off my car. (You block off the radiator from wind so your heater will work and you get better gas mileage.)
The dog poop is starting to show in the dog yard.
The dog HAIR is starting to show in the dog yard.
Costume for walking dogs keeps getting lighter. Today's was: Pajamas, boots without socks, hoodie. No hat, gloves in pocket. I really could have just used boots, but I like having pockets.
The owls are hooting!
I really detest my snowboots. I never want to see them again. It's time to switch to yaktraks on tennis shoes, unless the snow around the house is really squishy. Then it will be back on with the horrible boots.
I can see last year's foxtails. Damn it.
Last night I walked the dogs (yes, wearing pajamas, I'm all about comfort) at 10:30 and it was still blue above the trees, a darkish blue, but not pitch black! Summer, here we come!
If I don't miss my guess, a whole bunch of my Alaskan friends are now going to add to this list because I "forgot" one. Hey, it's not a comprehensive list, but I am interested to see what's on your list!
There are ways you know you have turned Alaskan. For one thing, when the weather goes strange on you, it can be perturbing. For Fairbanksans, a winter where the temperature stays above zero most of the time creeps us out. It's not natural. It's just plain wrong. We have had perhaps five days total where it was -20, and nothing colder than that, here, in a place where you can expect at least a week or more of -40, and some weekends of -50 or more. Not this winter. The squirrels never hibernated, and the birches never dropped seed. Sure, it was nice to just stick boots and coat and hat and gloves but stay in my pajamas underneath when I went out to walk the dogs. But it was weird to do that all winter. Or should I say "winter."
So there is one sign of being an Alaskan: you go out in your pajamas to walk the dogs when it's 20 degrees out.
Being obsessed with weather is another Alaskan trait. Sure, people talk about the weather everywhere, but up here we can go on for hours.
I'm a real Alaskan because I can step outside with two dogs on a leashes, while wearing pajamas and boots (and no coat, maybe a hat, probably not) and plug my car in while they go pee. And not get all tangled up in leashes and plug-in cord! That last is the real accomplishment! While I'm out there I can tell the temperature by the way my plug-in cord behaves. Then I can check my outdoor thermometer to see if I am right. I'm always right.
Live here long enough and you'll become a Salmon Snob. Copper River Red salmon is, in my book, the most delicious of all, though I've been told king salmon is even better. I have not had the luck to taste a king, but you won't see me getting excited over a silver. When the Salmon Bake down at Alaskaland started using silvers, I was angry and insulted!
When it finally snowed after around two months of weird winter and no snow, it made me unreasonably super happy. I posted on Facebook and Twitter about how happy I was about the snow. Out of ten people I asked, nine replied that they felt the same way. Most people outside of Alaska would think we were all crazy that we loved it to snow in March. My dogs were certainly overjoyed!
A given: in your freezer you have salmon, halibut, and moose, all wild caught/hunted. Bonus points for caribou, grouse, and beaver tail. And I'm not a hunter. People are generous and share. It's what we do.
I have at least six coats, three of which I should donate or give away because they have so much dog hair in the lining that it's like an extra bunch of insulation. The two coats I use are several years old and the zippers have become contrary, and tend to unzip from the bottom if I don't do it just right. I spent three weeks fixing the zipper on my biggest, warmest down jacket by a combination of using various pliers and other implements to squeeze the zipper parts back into some semblance of usability. Nothing would work until I added duct tape to the bottom zip holder to keep it in the right place.
I need that jacket! It's a survival issue! Parkas cost at least $200 and putting in a new zipper costs at least that much. I've resolved to buy what I've wanted for years, a Canada Goose parka. I think they cost about $600 now. Unless we start having stupid winters all the time. Then I can wear layers of flannel/wool or my crappy-but-expensive Columbia jacket. You know that commercial where someone is dunked in ice water and then they get "warmed up" by putting on the Columbia jacket with the shiny lining? Total crap. That coat is only good down to about zero, if that. If you aren't warm already, there is no way it would warm you up. Oh, and the zipper on that one has gone south, too. Definitely time for a new coat.
Gear: you'll buy it, lots of it, boots and gloves and hats and scarves and balaclavas, snow pants, carhartt everything and yes, coats and jackets and you'll have serious opinions about them! You'll have Stuff I Wear On The Snow Machine, and Stuff I Wear For Work, and Stuff I Wear for Skiing (or skijoring), and then there is the Emergency Clothing box in the car.
Another way you'll know you are Alaskan is you'll have a tiny house with way too much stuff in it. Accept it. Zen is not going to work in Alaska. Did you SEE the list of clothing above?
There are lots of key things that Alaskans say or do or have, but this isn't meant to be a comprehensive list. Just a Sunday meandering on the fact that I never want to move away from Alaska. When I went to New Mexico to visit my kids, I had this strange urge to wear my snow boots on the plane. I should have done it. When I got there it started snowing, snowed almost three feet and we were snowed in for four days. How did I know?
Announcing "Alaska Different Prints," a new site devoted to my art prints that aren't the usual big game fare. Oh sure, eventually there will be a moose or two, but I see beauty in some of the smallest things, and often in woman's Best Friend.
All prints are original work, printed on letter size heritage quality photo paper and mailed via Priority Mail. Realize that even Priority Mail takes five days to get to the Lower 48 from Alaska. I'll cease mailing orders from Dec 19 to Jan 30 to visit with my children, so the sooner, the better, if you want one. Cost is $40 and includes free shipping to anywhere in the USA. Folks in other countries will have to pay for the postage. If you are in Canada it won't be much more, other countries email me. (My email is on the site.)
My first item of the day was to put a coat, boots and gloves on over my pajamas and shovel snow until I could get into my car so I could haul the 40 lb bag of dog food in so that Ole and Sofia could eat. They were much appreciative of this effort and gave me wags and nose kissies.
Then, to wake up. One cup of dark coffee coupled with one scrumptions, goeey brownie. Check!
Awake at last, I checked in on Facebook, and realized that I really, really wanted to see the Doctor Who Christmas Carol episode because I love he floaty fish that fly in the air, plus Michael Gambon. Add Amy Pond and Rory Williams and I now have something fun to watch while I...
...do dishes. There aren't many dishes, except it's time to take the creepy, yucky pans out of the refrigerator and clean them out. If I I wrinkle my nose just right, maybe I won't suffer too much stinkiness.
After that I'll finish making some beef/sweet potato/caramalized onion/whatever else strikes my fancy soup. Of course it will have my iron fish in it for added blood strengthening. You don't know about the magic fishie? (Hmm, I sense a theme here.) In Canada there is a program where if you buy one iron fish, they will send another to a family in Cambodia. Anemia (which I have and must be vigilant about) is endemic to that country and the iron fishies are put in every soup to help alleviate this debilitating affliction.You can help a Cambodian family here: http://www.luckyironfish.com/
After I wash dishes and get the soup going, of course the dogs and I will go outside to play in the snow for a while. (I've been trying to teach Ole to write his name in the snow, but so far no luck.) Also possibly more snow shoveling. If I get really energetic I'll put the dogs in the house and get the loppers and cut down the silly, skinny spruce that keeps leaning over in front of the dog yard gate. I keep shaking it down so that it pops back up, but it's going to have to go.
Oh, and somewhere in there I go feed and water Bucky Bird and clean his cage, and give him treats. And sing chickeny opera to him.
I'll probably rest a little while, and then I'm making flan to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. At some point I'll walk next door and we'll have a nice dinner, and maybe watch a movie. I'm going to bring my DVD of A Christmas Story.
I've had mostly smart dogs. I've had some average, but trainable dogs, and I have two right now who are what I affectionately call Inconveniently Smart Dogs.
Sofia gets up on my desk chair and puts her paws on the keyboard. When I do floor exercises she gets down on the floor and tries to do them, too. But this isn't a story about Sofia.
Ole takes his job as a therapy dog seriously. Most dogs need a job, and his is a) barking once every time he hears my neighbor slam her car door, and b) visiting people, doing tricks for them, and letting them pet him.
He will do this whether it's a therapy dog situation or not, which is why he is such a great therapy dog in general. When Sofia was being worked on at the vet clinic, Ole and I went to the waiting room, and before long, every single person, employee, customer, whomever, had received a good amount of dog therapy, plus other people were starting to have him do tricks.
Today was the Raven Jam, a community jam I started at our local retirement home. The place, coincidentally, where Ole has visited a total of TWICE in about four years. But an Elkhound never forgets.
The jam is two hours long, and the dogs wait in the car. They have a nice dog area in the back of my Flex. After the jam today I knew that both of them would appreciate a little walk outside to stretch legs and go pee. I always grab Sofia first, since she is a Houdini Husky, albeit at 15 she can still go like the wind if she feels like it. Ole is generally the good dog who waits a second for me to grab their leashes, and then they both jump out and all is well.
Today opened the car's hatch, grabbed Sofia as usual and before I could even take half a breath Ole was out like a shot!
The place is like a park, with snow (which Ole adores) and several acres of woods, and a very busy road not too far away. But where does Ole go? Straight into the retirement home and within seconds the automatic doors open and shut and I know he's gone in there to To His Job! I called out, "Don't worry, he's a therapy dog, he won't hurt anyone!"
Ole at Read to the Dogs Day, at Barnes and Noble
I had Sofia out on a leash already, and she's not a therapy dog, so I was lucky that a friend of mine was able to run in there and try to catch up with him.
She found him visiting people in the dining room. No surprise there! No one was upset, least of all Ole. I guess he came right to her, even though she didn't know the magic word. ("Cookie.")
Today, instead of doing the dishes, I'll tell you about how my life has become a waiting game.
Year before last Fairbanks didn't get to have a summer. It rained virtually all summer. This is the first time I found out that when it rains for 40 days and 40 nights, well, for about 90 days and 90 nights, give or take, the ground becomes so saturated that my septic tank fills up with water. When this happens the toilet tries to flush, but can't. The water will slowly drain, but until the ground dries out, there will be no productive and convenient flushing.
We just had two weeks (or more) of nonstop rain. Again. This has led to Fairbanks being the angriest town in Alaska. We had one week of Fall when we often have as much as three, but it was a lovely week. Pretty colors, nice temperatures (60s during the day) and heart-filling gorgeous blue skies.
And then came the damn rain. Temperatures no higher than 44. It seems like my outside thermometer is stuck, because it's always reading 40. Sometimes 36. But around in there.
Once again, my toilet won't flush. It's not backing up, and it's exactly like the "summer" before last when it rained for three months. No flushage possible. Therefore, no pooping. At least no pooping at home. This is...inconvenient.
Here's the thing: if I have it pumped, and the ground is saturated, then the septic tank might rise up out the the ground just like a very, very stinky submarine. All I can do is wait to see if my doughty little terlet will flush if we ever get enough dry days in a row! It should start to work again if things dry out. But if the tank does need pumping, I need to get it done before Freeze Up! Which could begin happening any time. But usually not fully until October. Still, the weather has gone wacko so who knows? All Alaskans know what it is like to play chicken with the weather. Sigh. Right now I have no choice. Oh, and the cost for pumping? About $400.
This time of year Alaskans are working like crazed beavers as they try to get everything stowed away from the oncoming Big Dark Winter. In just about every field of work that involves the outdoors, such as construction, dirt work, plumbing, and so on, people are frantically trying to get their jobs done, you know, the ones they put off doing all summer? It's near to impossible to build a driveway in the rain, I have that on good authority. So all those outdoor working guys and gals are pissed, and everyone else is pissed because we know it's going to be dark soon enough. Bad enough that it's dark when it's not dark!
It's been cold enough to have my Toyo on for some time. If you read the previous post, you know my Toyo went on strike and is now at the Place That Fixes Little Stoves. From what I can tell it needs a new circuit board. But they can't even look at it for almost two weeks from now. So I'm in house heater limbo before I'll even get a call from them. Circuit boards cost $250, labor for two hours is about $200. I expect at least a $450 bill to get it fixed. (New ones cost about $1500.)
Let's not even think about what three weeks of heating my house with an electric heater is going to cost. (Probably around another $400 or more). I told the Toyo fixer people that they should order their jobs by who has a wood stove and who doesn't. Makes sense to me but not to them, alas!
I have to poop, and I have to be warm. So word to those who romanticize living in Alaska: you have to pay to be warm, and even more to be warm when you poop.
Instead of doing the dishes, I'm going to tell you all about my Toyotomi Laser56 heater, and how mine is a blessing and a curse.
Before we even start, here's a picture. It's a small thing, but it heats my entire tiny house. Not only does it keep me warm at 50 below, but it doesn't smell, doesn't make any obnoxious noise (however it does sing special Toyo songs, more on that later), and it does all this on less than 500 gallons of heating oil a year. Yes, a year. Everyone should use these instead of boilers and forced air furnaces (which I like to call Horse Hair furnaces). Folks in the Lower 48 haven't even heard of these things. So if this is all new to you, listen up!
For all of these reasons, my Toyo heater is far more of a blessing than a curse. But because I have no backup method of heating (curse the people who redid this house, not me, *I* didn't take out the woodstove) when it goes on the fritz because it is 30 years old, it is always when I need heating. I have an "economical" electric heater that I use when this happens, but that's not really economical because Alaskans, especially in Fairbanks, pay more for electricity than just about anywhere in the known Universe. Why? Because our electric co-op makes electricity by burning oil. The worst thing you can do in Fairbanks is have all-electric heating.
So it's the end of Fall (all one week of it) and now it's 40° and raining. Which is okay, it's above zero. But I still need to heat the house because, well, even 40 above can get cold after a while. I turned on the trusty Toyo and it was working fine. This went on for several weeks and I thought, cool, we are good to go!
Then one night I woke up because I smelled hot wood. I searched my entire house for anything that might cause a fire, but couldn't find anything at all. Then I noticed my Toyo was showing an EE error. Uh oh. And no matter how many times I restarted it, or forced it to clean itself (it has a cleaning cycle to get the carbon gunk out) it kept shutting itself off.
So I called my friend Tundra Rose, who works on Toyos, and she said it could be a lot of things, probably an ignition error and I should either take it in for a full service or I could open it up and disconnect this particular pipe and clean it with a wire etc. etc.
Today I drank two cups of coffee, and went to open the front of the Toyo. Two screws hold the front on.
Law of the Universe #46: When you need a Phillips-head screwdriver, you must gather at least four straight screwdrivers first.
Law of the Universe #3: It's never as easy as it sounds.
Got the first screw on the right side of the machine just fine.
Take a look at the picture. See those stairs? They are just 1/4 inch too close to the heater for me to get the screwdriver in there.
Drank another cup of coffee.
I was worried I'd break the vent and fuel connectors if I pushed the heater too much, so I gently (yet firmly!) pushed and angled it so I could get the screwdriver in there and take out the screw. Success and not horrible smell of heating oil and no spreading puddle, no ominous cracking sound, so so far, so good.
Lifted the cover off and looked to see just HOW MUCH dog hair was in there.
Well, not much, it turns out! Even though I sweep up enough hair to knit a puppy a week!
Time to plug it in and run it through it's little Toyo paces. The fan went on immediately. Good, I guess the fan is working, I thought.
Then it started igniting and after a bit there was an orange glow in the fire pot. Then yellow flames, and finally a nice blue flame. That's great because igniters cost $200, which is ridiculous when you see how dinky a part that is.
So it heated up. And heated up. And heated up. And heated up some more and suddenly WHAM! I smelled the hot wood smell again! AHA! That poor heater went on getting hotter and hotter and shut itself off in shame.
But now I know what's wrong with it! The fan works, but just doesn't work at the right time. So off to the shop it goes for a wash and toenail clippings and anal gland squeezing--WAIT--wrong cute little thing. Whatever the equivalent is for a fancy, high-tech but elderly heater, that's what it will get at the Place Where They Care For Toyos.