A Bicycle! (used)

On Saturday we went to the Annual Hospice Sale looking for treasures and we came away with a beginner’s bicycle with spring training wheels.  Of course Mark wanted to try the bicycle before the sale even began, so we were out in the parking together trying to get it to go.  The training wheels didn’t seem to stick out very far to me so I walked along side of him in a fatherly type of way.  I was instantly struck by the number of skills that go into riding a bike, even one with training wheels: mounting the bike, getting the pedals started, pushing down with the correct leg each time, sitting versus standing, stopping, watching where you’re going (at first he just looked straight down at his feet) steering to avoid obstacles–and these are all just the most basic skills.

Before too long, he went right next to a pothole and one of the training wheels went down inside the pothole and upset the center of balance he had and down he went.  Of course I was about 1.5 arm lengths away and so I didn’t catch him before he hit the cold ground with his bare hands.  Bummer.

I did scoop him up right away by the nylon covered fleece jacket he was wearing to keep the light rain and wind from getting him too cold.  It got a little bit noisy after that for a few seconds and I told him I’d stay much closer and hold onto his jacket. I decided I’d show him, later on when there was less emotion, about what caused him to tip over.

Of course Luke was watching the whole thing, so before he long ran up along side us saying, “Turn. Turn. Turn.” Which of course is his way of saying, “It’s my turn. It’s my turn!  It’s MY TURN!” So Mark and I agreed it was okay for Luke to have a turn.  Mark hopped off and I plopped Luke on the little seat and took him around the lot too.  His feet were too short to do anything but activate the brake on bike, so every now and then I had to put one of his feet on the chain guard and the other one on the frame–but he held on like a champ and kept his arms stiff most of the time as I pushed him basically in the back to keep him moving.

The rest of sale was a study in explaining to Mark that we were about to go home and ride the bike.  Yes, we’ll go home very soon…

What’s for Breakfast?

On a normal day, all I usually eat for breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal with some water. I fill a small bowl (about 1.5 cups) with milled oatmeal, which we buy in bulk to reduced the cost and number of trips to the store, put in some water until the oatmeal floats, then heat the water-oatmeal combination in the microwave for 30 seconds.  The boys have only rarely had anything but oatmeal for breakfast and they usually eat it with water like me.  When Holly makes oatmeal for them, she heats the water in a teapot then pours it into the oatmeal—I don’t like that method as well because it’s too easy to burn my tongue.

It wasn’t always like that, Back in Barrow…

Mom and dad bought dry cereal in bulk from a company in Seattle that sent a ship, The North Star, up to the North Slope, and I believe most of coastal Alaska, once a year. Just about all our staples, canned food, pop, and boxed food came in one big shipment per year in August, brought in from the beach in pick-up trucks, and placed in our cache, from which we ate through the year. When I was a kid, for breakfast, we put milk in a bowl with our boxed cereal: Wheaties, Cheerios, Fruit Loops, Special K, Frosted Mini-Wheat’s, Captain Crunch, Grape nuts.., etc…  We didn’t buy the cereal at the store in Barrow, as a rule

So that we wouldn’t run out of a favorite brand of cereal before the long winter ended, dad made a list and posted it on the fridge which had the order of rotataion for the cereal. We had only one box of cereal open at a time.  So we had to finish each box before another could be opened.  Captain crunch disappeared fast each time it came up—Special-K would last for a long time.  We also had a hard fast rule, laid down by the parental units—the maximum amount of sugar we could put on a bowl of cereal was 2.5 teaspoons of sugar per bowl.

For milk, we usually used canned RealFressh Milk because it would last through the long sunless winter and could easily be kept in the hallway outside our house which led to the school.

Now that I’m a father, I’ve kind of adopted some of the eating habits of the family I married into.  They don’t eat a lot of pre-packaged food, but prefer to buy staples and make the food from scratch—I guess Margaret (the mother-in-law) used to work in a commercial canning plant and swore she would never buy canned food after her experience there.  I agree that it’s best to not eat foods with gobs of artificial colors and preservatives in them.  We also don’t keep a sugar bowl in the house. I believe we have a canister around the house somewhere to use in recipes, but I haven’t ever seen it. 

Back when I was single, the reason I stopped using milk on my cereal is that I couldn’t bring myself to buy a whole gallon of milk for myself.  If I bought a whole gallon of milk, it’d go bad before I used it all up.  The half gallon containers, I could drink in a week, but it was so much more expensive per unit, that finally frowned and gave up buying milk at all, and just put water in my cereal.  Then, after a few years of buying the expensive boxed cereals, I switched over to buying the large bags of generic cereal in the ‘clearish’ bags.  And after a few years of that, I decided to give plain oatmeal with water.

Of course, my breakfast plan doesn’t always work out perfectly.  This morning, we were out of milled oatmeal, so I ate a cold bagel with cream cheese for breakfast with a cold glass of water.

Life is good.

Busy Weekend: Taxes

This has been a busy, full weekend.

First off, I had to do taxes.  If I had nothing else to do, the taxes would be really fun.  I’m not just making a joke. I like getting to see how my numbers work out each year.  Did I earn enough money?  Did I spend enough money on things that add to the business?  Did I pay enough in taxes throughout the year so that I don’t have to pay any money in April?

In Summary, it was a good year for the two businesses I spent time on.  The fishing was great, a far better year than I’ve had at any time in the past.  And the photography worked out well too, due to some extra business I picked up on weddings.  It’s weird looking at the amount of deductible expenses I’ve picked up over the years: the two boys, the costs on the boat, the lenses, the fishing nets—it all adds up.  Thankfully, I am getting $500 back on my taxes due to the low amount of dependents I claim on my school paychecks.  Of course the Teaching taxes are always simple to figure, as there are no deductibles, no special accounts, no totals to find, really nothing but the IRA, and that’s a ROTH, so it doesn’t effect this year’s taxes at all.  Sometimes I’m tempted to go with a traditional IRA, but then I think of all those taxes I’d have to pay later and just stick with the ROTH IRA.  Holly topped hers off this year, and I was about $250 short for some reason.

I got sick this weekend.  Wow, it was a doozy.  Some sort of 24 hour flu, I guess. All of Sunday, I could barely get up and walk around because of the nausea and the sour muscles.  Thankfully, Holly had enough energy to keep the boys entertained so that I could rest up in bed and read.  The fever finally broke somewhere around 2AM because I woke up at 3AM feeling just fine.  Mark had a tough night though, as Holly and the boys slept in the living room with all the lights off—you know how that is when you wake up in a strange room and can’t recognize the surroundings.  I used to really get scared at times like that when I was a little boy.  I’d wake up and not know where I was. Then I’d be scared but hold still until my mind was able to piece together how I’d ended up in the strange place I was in.  We took three trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Then, finally, I just left the light on.  Of course Luke slept like a rock, because he was next to Holly all night.

Also, I took out the trash.

Road trip to Anchorage gone bad!

So, we were driving along the AlCan between Tok and Glenallen at 8:20 PM, roughly 270 miles north of Anchorage when we hit one of the rather sharp frost heaves.  I knew right away something was wrong, because all the warning lights on the dash lit up at once.  I said to Holly,”This is not good.” and pointed to the lights on the dash. 

IMG_9029 As I struggled to cope with the reality of all the warning lights coming on at once, I looked at the gauges and compared them to the warning lights: the temperature, oil pressure, and rpm gauges all looked good, but the voltage gauge was not in the zone which indicates the alternator is working.

   A couple times when I was younger the alternator stopped working when our family was traveling in the L48.  What we did then was get behind a vehicle that was going our speed and turn off the headlights.  Looking around, there were obviously no cars anywhere nearby, but I there were stars visible off to the right.  I said to Holly, “I’m just going to turn off the headlights and see if the light of the moon is enough for us to see the road.”

She looked at me worriedly, “Okay.  If that’s what you think we need to do?”

I turned off the lights and, sure enough, we could see the outlines of the snow on each side of the road just fine, but couldn’t see much else.  I said, “If we can just make to Glenallen, we can stop there for the night and call Jack in the morning so he can bring an alternator.”

Holly said, “I suppose that’s a good idea.  What else can we do?”

“Well, the worst thing that can happen, I guess, is we drive off the road and all get killed. If someone comes along from the other direction, we’ll turn on the lights for a bit so that they know we’re here and don’t hit us.”  I was thankful that we were all in our coats and snow pants, dressed for the weather rather than the car.  I did lament that the coat I had was a SE Alaska coat, rather than a winter parka.  A warm parka would be very welcome in this -20 degree weather with the wind and all.

To be honest, it did not look good.  It was the middle of nowhere and we had no cell-phone, there was probably no service there anyway, plus the voltage gauge was dropping pretty steadily.  I started looking for some sort of a pull-out.

About five minutes later, the car started to sputter and miss.  At least we weren’t on the edge of some gorge. 

Then the car died.  We coasted to the edge of the raod with just the left-hand tires on the inside of the white line.  We both looked around for any signs of civilization.  There was a driveway up the road about 200 yards, but no lights were on anywhere.  Somewhere up in the distance there was a lonely bright red light which looked like it was on a tower.  Looking at the odometer, and doing some quick mental math, I figured we were 54 miles north of Glenallen.

I said, “This is going to be a night to remember.”

Holly said, “What are we going to do?”  I sat there and thought about what we might do.  Both boys were asleep in their car seats.

“Well, we’ve got to stay together.” I said

Holly said, “Definitely.  If you go somewhere I’m going too.”  I got out and looked around.  Not much to see.

I got one of my business cards out of my coat and wrote the following message: Please call Jack Davis 1 (907) 868-7859 home, 1(907) xxx-0414: “Matt, Holly, Mark, and Luke are stranded 54 miles north of Glenallen.  Bring an alternator–Matt”

Then I got out another card and started to write the same thing. “We’ll wave down the next few cars and give them this so they can call Jack.  He’ll come and get us in the Suburban.”

Holly said, “Do you think that’ll work?  What if nobody comes by?  What if he doesn’t come?  What if we get hit by a car?”

“If no one comes by, we’ll stay warm with the sleeping bags and, if someone does come by I’ll jump out with the reflective vest and a flash-light and flag them down. If I’m too slow to get out of the car, then one of us will at least wake up and turn on the emergency flashers.”

We settled in for the next car to come by…  After about 10 minutes, some headlights appeared heading north.  When they got near, I climbed out with a reflective vest on, and one of those 18v Ryobi work lights.  It was windy, and as soon as I opened the door the wind blasted me in the face and cooled off the car.  The folks in the car were eager to help but were loaded down with shopping supplies from Anchorage and had no phone.  I gave them the card with the message on the back and they promised to call as soon as they got to a phone–which they said would be a couple hours off.

Not good.

In the next five minutes, two more cars came by and we gave them cards too; both of them had cell phones, but they said there was no service where we were.  The last car was traveling south, like us, and offered to jump out car, so I got out our jumper cables and we tried to jump the car.  I thought perhaps we could get a jump from them then drive 20-50 miles, then get another jump, and in that way leap-frog on down to Glenallen.  Alas, it was not to be, as soon as we unhooked the jumper cables, the card died.  The driver of the car asked what else they could do and ended up tying the reflective vest to the spare tire on the back of the 4Runner and loaning us an additional sleeping bag.  They said they’d head straight for glenallen and call Jack as soon as they got an reception on their phone.

Back in the car, we decided to settle in for some rest and to conserve our heat.  Holly took Luke and I took Mark.  We once again agreed it would be best to turn on the flashers whenever a car came from behind so that we wouldn’t get hit. But the flashers were getting dimmer and dimmer.  About 45 minutes passed before the next car went by.  Then a never-ending series of cars came by that all stopped asking if they could help.  Having already decided to wait for Jack, I told each of them “Thanks, but help is on the way.”

Around 11:30 PM, a truck stopped by that insisted on charging the car and running the heater until we were warm again.  The two very helpful fellas in the truck said, if it’d just been me, they would have left me, but since I had the wife and the two kids in there, they simply couldn’t leave without helping.   They charged the car on the side of the road for 15 minutes while I ran the heater and fan until the car was warm.

Then they wanted to pull the car down the road to a pullout that was 100 feet away on the other side of the road.  That seemed like a good idea to me, as Jack would still spot us along the road whenever he showed up.  So we did that.

After charging the car from the safer location, they wanted me to drive to one of their mother’s house, up the road about 12 miles where there was a nice warm house.  We hooked up the jumpers and they found out why they weren’t working: the crimps which connect the 4-gauge wires to the clamps weren’t doing their job anymore.  One of the guys pushed the cable end up into the spring of the clamp and the cable started working again.  We charged the battery for about 15 more minutes then headed north.

At this point, I was not really happy with leaving the spot I’d told Jack we’d be, because if we went somewhere else, he might not find us–and he’d be coming as soon as he could.  Dan said, that wouldn’t be a problem, as Jack would keep driving until he found us.  I didn’t say as much, but my thought was, that if I tell him I’m 54 miles North of Glenallen, that’d be where he’d go-give or take 2-3 miles. 

We ended up going about 18 miles north to one of the guy’s brother’s house, where I called Jack’s house and confirmed with Jennifer that Jack was on the way and knew where we were.  My sister Betty (visiting from Sitka)was coming in the Suburban too.  But Jennifer was worried about the additional 18 miles we’d gone north.  Since the house wasn’t that big, and since I didn’t want to miss Jack down at the road, and since Holly and the boys were all asleep in the warm car, I decided we’d just wait in the car for Jack and Betty to Arrive.  At about 12:30 AM, I settled into the driver’s seat with Mark on top of me and both of us under the borrowed sleeping bag.  Holly still had Luke on top of her, so she was probably warm too (she’d finally trained him not to throw off the sleeping bag every time he woke up to see if he could get some fresh air–sure the air was fresh outside the bag, but it was cold too).

At about 2:30 AM, Holly and I both woke up.  It was cold and dark.  No cars were going past us any longer.  All the windows were coated with frost or ice. I whispered, so as not to wake up the boys, “I think Jack must have turned around when he got to 54 miles N of Glenallen.”

“Yeah.” She said.  “What should we do?  Should we go up to the house?” 

“Are you still warm?”

“I’m toasty warm.  Luke is a little oven.”

“Me too,” I said. “Mark is keeping me warm.  Except for my feet, they’re cold.”

“Yeah.  Mine too.”

I said, “I think we should just wait for him to turn around and come back to the new location.  Jennifer will call him on his cell when he gets in range again.”

So we hunkered down for the night.  At about 5 AM the owner of the house drove by us at the head of his driveway and poked his head in to make sure we were doing alright.  I told him we were doing fine, and prayed for Jack to show up soon.

At about 6:30 AM, I heard a knock on the door Jack calling out: “Dude, you in there?”  I started to wake up rather groggily and then I heard loud footsteps in the snow walking away and woke up real fast.  He hurried back and poked his head in the door, “Anybody want to get in a warm car?”

It was sure good to see Jack (and Betty) who rode with him all night since 10:30 AM.

Holly woke up right away, slipped on her boots and ran over to the suburban with Luke, I tromped over there and set Mark in the car.  Jack Borrowed Holly’s snow pants, to help him stay warm in the wind, and we jumped the 4Runner to get the car warmed up and the battery charged again.

IMG_1128When the car was fully charged, or as charged as it would get, we headed off south, me with the heater fan off, and the lights off, to conserve battery power, following Jack with his headlights on bright.  Jack had bought two batteries at Wal-Mart so we could charge one or two of them while the other one was being used in my car.  We ended up fully draining the first one by the time we made it the 280 miles back to Anchorage from where we were.

IMG_1120Once we got to Anchorage, we used the garage at Jack’s apartment (see photo to left) to replace the Alternator, the battery, the spark plugs, the air filter, one of the connecting lines to the air filter, one of the parking lights, the oil, and the oil filter.  We also worked on the tailgate window and the driver’s side door.

In closing off this humongous story, of a night gone bad, I have a few thoughts:

1)  I’m thankful to be in a family where I can call my brother and have he and my sister drive literally all night to come and get me

2)  I’m thankful for the people that helped us out and offered more help than I accepted:  The people that called Jack on their cell phones, the people that loaned us the sleeping bags, the couple that charged our batteries around 10 PM, and then the two friendly fellahs that helped us move to a safer location and fixed the jumper cables.

3)  I’m thankful that Holly wasn’t too upset with me for having a car in such a terrible state of maintenance that we’d get stranded like that in the middle of nowhere. 

4)  And I’m thankful that our prayers were answered, we came through he night safely, and that we did make it to Anchorage safe and sound.

Tough week: living in a log cabin

No one likes the smell of mildew in their home.

Here in our little cabin we had a kind of tough week.  I picked up the mattress to check under it, knowing full well I could be in for a bad sight, as our mattress was lying directly on the uninsulated floor.  When we got it up we were hit with the smell of mildew, or mold–actually I’m not very good at distinguishing between midew and mold.  So, I started moving the bedding out of the room and getting organized to clean it all.

I called my mother and she said I needed to mix some Purex with some water and spray everything down that had mold on it.  Purex is a laundry detergent and comes in at least two grades: with bleach and without.  I bought the type with bleach in it and mixed it 8 oz per gallon of water, then got a squirt gun and started spraying and scrubbing everything.

Bring in the big guns…

Then I called Nishan, who’s done quite a bit of work cleaning, repairing, and restoring things and he came over to look at it and said I needed to pull up the carpet–which would have been fine except that we have these two really heavy bookshelves in the room that needed to be emptied out.  When the Greens came over, Jim helped me clear out a bunch of stuff by hauling it into the boy’s room.  We pulled up the carpet then removed the carpet pad and looked at it real hard and decided the carpet and floor needed to dry out.  So we hauled the bulk of the items out of the room into the boys room then we put into the room a few things: Jim’s ozone generator operating in high mode, a heater to keep the room warm, and a fan to circulate the air around, and let it run for a day or so.

The furniture store had carpet pad rolls in stock, so I put new carpet pads down.  I borrowed a carpet stretcher from K.C. Thomsen and put the carpet back.  The way to stretch the carpet out is to do the long straight sides first, from midpoint to midpoint securing it as you go, then do the corners last.

The whole process wouldn’t have taken a week, if I’d had an uninterrupted stretch of time to work on it all.  But since life continued on in the house, albeit in a limited fashion.  I think I actually worked on it for about 5-6 hours and ran the ozone generator and fan for about 15 hours.

So, now we’re back in the main room again.  The only problem is, I can’t tell if it’s healthy to be in this room or not.  The boys seem to have a sinus problem, but people at Church said they had some sinus problems too, and I know they weren’t sleeping here in the room with us.

Good Weather, but a tough time at home…

This weekend was chock full of absolutely great weather! We went down to the beach on Saturday morning and played in the low tide.  Then we went to play at the week of the young child exhibits in the middle school gym, Next up was …

The BALLET show was at eleven o’clock for the 3-14 year old girls at the Chilkat Center .  That was a lot of fun for Holly and the boys.  I took pictures, and you can check them out on my website by CLICKING HERE!  It was fun for me too.  The best deal someone can get is by buying ten or more–as that gives a 40% discount.  Holly was in Ballet for many years as a young girl and says the girls have really come along in the last few years.  At first, we’d heard that there were some boys in the class, but I guess they all must have either quit, or gotten kicked out, because there were no boys up there yesterday.

So what’s gotten tough lately?  The home situation is a bit tougher now.  Just a minute…

Well, I guess it just got tough again, because Holly’s sick in the bathroom again–morning sickness (that’s a shoddy name for it, as she’s actually sick most of the day), as she’s expecting and due on November 10th or so.  When she’s nauseous everything is tougher because she’s not able to do the things she normally does–so I have to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, she normally does a LOT of things, so when I pitch in to help out, I normally just do some of those things–cook, wash dishes, clean up the place, fold clothes.

Lately, we’ve been housing these two beautiful Siamese cats, one male, the other female.  They are actually not quite full breed Siamese, but they look like it quite a bit to the untrained eye.  So, besides Holly being sick, we are getting cat hair everywhere and then there’s the smell of the litter box, whenever I have to clean it out.