Monthly Archives: July 2010

Adventures of a Locavore

I spent the last week down in Kenai at fish camp. Traditionally, in Alaska, people who lived anywhere near a nice run of salmon would spend the run along the river; camping, fishing, cutting up fish, smoking and preserving for the winter. Kids would help, people would stay up until all hours. Personal use dipnetting on select rivers in Alaska, including the Kenai, approximates this sound way to benefit from the amazing glory of the summer salmon run in our modern times – with the addition of a vehicular migration, some aluminum dip nets, quantities of beer, and other modifications.

In past years I have been able to head down for a day or two, dictated more by work and friend schedules than by the best fishing times. I have generally come home with 5 to 7 fish, which were pretty quickly filleted to be passed among friends and eaten fresh, with a couple of fillets stuck in the freezer for winter.

dipnetting in the Kenai


Salmon is an amazing food source for humans, especially Alaskans. It is local and still fairly abundant. It contains great protein and healthy fatty acids and a 3 oz. serving of salmon has 100% of your RDA of vitamin D – something that I have a hard time getting enough of, especially in the winter. I had previously calculated that 14 average sized fish would just about provide all the winter vit. D needed by my son and myself. My personal use limit for the family was 35. I ended up personally netting 26 fish. Some were small, but all in all a wonderful addition to my food stores, and I am more than thankful to the salmon and all the people who made it possible by providing a place to stay, transportation and expertise, conversation, help with processing, etc, etc.

canning the catch

I canned and froze smoked and fresh salmon, so I have 4 ways to enjoy salmon for the next 12 months.

One of the things I was also looking for from Fish Camp was a release from my normal responsibilities and a bit of social revelry. Although the week entailed more than its share of work (chopping wood for fires in the smoker and hottub, cooking, cleaning, salmon prep, more cleaning, canning, etc), it was definitely a break. I finished a book, I soaked myself daily, I played with my son and got some adult time as my son explored a huge pile of legos. I also reveled socially, and generally had a good time, but I think I’ve reached a limit. As I’ve been discussing with my good friend Zane, life is often spent trying to bring yourself to equilibrium (literally homeostasis) again and again and again as you overshoot. I’ve spent years being (or trying to be) a perfect and responsible mom and friend and partner and adult and citizen of the world. In rebellion, I have spent the last couple of months being a lot less perfect…drinking a bit too much, socializing late – nothing terrible and I don’t think I’ve truly neglected my responsibilities that much, but certainly a bit indulgent. I think I’m done. I’m realizing, yet again in my life, that it isn’t about me in that way. This search for fun takes me away from my search for growth. Sure, fun is hugely important, but I think I benefit best from a quieter fun. To remain effective and helpful as a person I need to quiet my brashness to excitement, temper my stubborn argumentative rightness and look not at how I can protect my vision of a better world and life but how I can cooperate with others to make things better for all. So I’m quieting down again so that I can provide the service I need to provide in this world, and be a good friend and a good mom and good citizen. Life is messy and breaking eggs/omelets/yaddayadda, but I need to find the key to being effective while lifting everyone up. I don’t want to care if people like me or not, but when I touch others’ lives at all, I want to be a positive force. Everyone deserves that.

As an added bonus, I returned to a garden in full swing (pardon the lack of pictures – I need to see if I can get the beach sand removed from the lens mechanism of my brand new camera). Poppies are off the hook, we ate two black currants and numerous strawberries from the garden, and last nights’ garden fresh salad included bok choi, kale, mixed lettuces, cilantro, blue borage flowers, white radish flowers, and strawberries. It was truly a thing of beauty!

Morning tour – poppies and stucco!

Here are some photos from a quick morning tour of the ecoplex, I was ecstatic to see that my big poppies are bursting into bloom just this morning and are many more colors than I thought they would be!

First, the stucco-like latex product I am inexpertly troweling over the foundation insulation:

Close-up showing 'stucco' texture

I still have a ways to go to finish, but here is the west wall, pretty much done other than refilling my mini-trench, detailing corners, and flashing the top:

West wall

Here are some of the beautiful poppies that just started to bloom. I don’t know why poppies are my favorite flower, they don’t smell and I like good flower smells, but I love their common profusion, their deceptive papery delicateness, their furry, bulbous buds, their tiny black seeds. Anyway.

red poppies near the house!


Purple and white poppies. Some are about to bloom with compound petticoat-like white and pink as well!

Here are some pictures of the weed jungle/garden:

hugelkulture with favas, turnips, salad mix


hoophouse with cukes, sheetmulch bed with cabbages, brussels, borage, etc. My downstairs neighbor's pretty garden is in the back right.


view towards house with this year's mountain of foam.

And that brings up the fact that Lowes has delivered my building supplies – time to get to work! Except…I’m going fishing first. I have hired two new, but very good spenard friends to do most of the work – I will help in whatever way I can, and it seems that my mom and her entourage (tongue in cheek, Mike, tongue in cheek!) will likely come up near the end of August to help finish off any loose ends. Though it would be nice to just play with them in the last gasp of summer in Alaska, I’m sure there will be things to do still, before winter hits.

In summary – thanks for the camera, dad!!!!

Spenard Complete Streets

Following up on my community post…what does the next level or two out from helping at my ecoplex look like to me? The next level is my immediate neighborhood, which geographically is 30th ave between Arctic and Spenard. It is a community with a lot going for it – a diversity of people, a very high walkability score, lots of kids who bike and play en mass on the street, a couple of pocket parks within a couple of blocks. There are domestic arguments and drunks and a fair amount of visits by the cops, but it is safe. Material objects don’t disappear easily, and I have never felt threatened personally (except by the cop with the large gun who stood outside my window at 3am once because someone had seen my tenant enter his own apartment by his window – forgotten keys).

It has some big minuses, and the ones I see may not be the same that others would pick out. Given my middle class, white background they may be different from those that some of the other residents would pick out. What I see, though, is that the street is too wide with no sidewalks and traffic zooms down it between Arctic and Spenard, especially at rush hour. There is not a lot of green – most of the space is taken up by multiplexes and parking lots with many cars – some of which that actually run. There is no very nearby great place for kids to play – one park is across a major street (Arctic) and the other is fairly small without very attractive play equipment. Finally, Spenard Road – the access point for nearly all the good things to walk or bike to from our street, is freakin’ scary. The sidewalks are narrow and in disrepair and full of obstructions. There are often no curb-cuts at intersections to make biking easy. There are no shoulders on the road. Traffic moves super fast and there are blind curves and 4 lanes. I find walking, biking, and driving all scary on Spenard, and especially so when I am with my 7 year old. Or worse, when I hear that my seven year old biked down Spenard with his 8 year old neighborhood friend to get to the park.

Great plans to upgrade Spenard to a complete street with sidewalks and bike lanes have been afoot for a while. To do this in the space available, it has been proposed to take it from a 4-lane to a 3-lane (one lane each direction with a dedicated left turn lane in the middle). This would make me ever so happy! Apparently, many of the established businesses along Spenard are less excited. Some just don’t want any change, they are doing ok as it is. Some worry they will lose parking, or go out of business during construction, or that the decrease in lanes and the addition of some medians will make it harder for cars to get to them. I think these fears are unfounded. Studies show that either 4 or 3 lanes are more than enough for the traffic on the road. Studies show that 3 lanes would be safer for all traffic, and car traffic often actually increases, as do business sales, with a nice complete street. Some business owners claim they don’t see enough bike or ped traffic on the street to justify so much modification for their benefit. With my own eyes I have seen the amount of bike traffic (summer and winter) increase dramatically over the last 2 or 3 years. I see bike traffic of all types constantly pass my ecoplex – poor people who have no other transportation (probably a few that have lost their licenses as well), business commuters in bright yellow bike jackets, young, hip outdoorsy types, older people, tons of kids of all ages…

And we aren’t stupid either. We know Spenard isn’t safe. Many of us choose to cut north and south on Arctic instead, with its nice wide shoulders and saner 3 lanes, or find alternate routes to where we are going.

I’m not much of a consumer. I am loathe to part with money for frivolous reasons, because there are so many non-frivolous things that take money too and I value my time too highly to want to spend too much of it working for dollars. I don’t like the waste and the resource use that marries itself to consumption. But I also like supporting friends, community-mates, local businesses and people trying to do the right thing. And I am a harried single mom. Many is the time, biking home from picking up my son, that we have made an impromptu duck into Pho Lena’s because we are right there, and heck, I’m too hungry to cook. I know that having a safe, inviting path to bike on Spenard would cause me to patronize businesses there more than I do.

Granted, though, I personally don’t want a Spenard Complete Street to help the businesses. I want a safe neighborhood where everyone, including kids, has maximum mobility to get where they are going. I want a pleasant route to bike down to the lagoon to ice skate or throw a frisbee with my son (yes, we do bike in the winter). I want the neighborhood stability that would come from pride in place. I don’t want gentrification, but I want people to like to live here, to garden, to get rid of the junk cars and maybe even the running ones because they can bike where they need to go. I want all that extra blacktop to one day be fruit trees and vegetables. I want to work in the dirt with my closest neighbors and know their names and talk with the parents while the kids play in safety. I want the success of the redo of Spenard Rd. to radiate out and lead to traffic calming on my own street – 30th. Someday I want a better solution to Minnesota Drive so I can head over and see my Spenard buddies on that side of things without battling that sea of traffic.

So, my ask is, if you can come to the public meeting at City Hall Monday at 5:30 pm and help advocate for a complete, safe Spenard – please do. If you can’t, try and convince a business owner on Spenard of the need for a safer Spenard, and if you can do that – get them to come! For more info check out our FB Page.

Protecting the rigid foam insulation

I have found another thing I suck at!! And there is a common denominator. I fully expected hiving bees to be a pain in the butt, so I researched it through youtube and found a video that made it look amazingly easy. I mean, I knew better, but I figured my struggles would be manageable. Similarly, the manufacturer’s video on applying the TUFF II trowel-on latex coating on the rigid foam on the above-ground exterior of my foundation made it look painless. The upshot is, I am no longer going to watch videos on how to do something. I am not going to let anything mess with my assumption that trying some new thing will be frustrating and slow and difficult!

As background, I insulated my cement block foundation (a daylighted basement) last summer – this included digging down 4 feet and putting 4 inches of blueboard rigid foam from the base of the excavation to the top of the daylighted basement (another 3-4 feet up). The excavation was backfilled, but now the above ground portion of exposed blueboard needs to be covered to protect it from physical damage and UV degradation.

Actually, I could have guessed that I would not instantly be the master of troweling on foundation coating, since I’m pretty bad at the spackling part of patching drywall as well. In any case, I was also hindered by the gale force winds that were blowing (the weather report probably says they were only 15 mph or so, but that is not nearly brisk enough to use as a valid excuse). The wind blew dirt up and onto my carefully prepared surface and onto the newly laid coating. It also played havoc with the long strips of sticky mesh I had to apply to the foam as a base for the coating. And, most stupidly, it continuously wisked those silly wisps of hair that don’t stay up in my pony-tail into my eyes.

So other than the wind, my main problems involved trying to get the sticky mesh to stick around 90 degree bends, trying to get the mesh nice and flat with no sticky-outy folds, and trying to not have the coating squish off my trowel onto the ground as I applied it. Let’s just say that I hope the manufacturer assumed that most of it would plop onto the ground when they figured coverage of the product. I exaggerate a small amount.

It took me and Osh a couple of hours to apply mesh to one 4′ by 8′ section of wall (unbroken by windows) and apply the first coat of Tuff II. I have yet to apply the necessary second coat, and most of the foundation is untouched – it still needs to have the dirt pulled back from the base about 6 inches down, be wire-brushed, mesh taped, and coated. Despite all this, my one wall, even unfinished, is looking good! Which I totally credit to the product and not my skills at plastering. I think after the second coat it will be pretty enough to please me. Hopefully I ordered enough extra to cover what I’m dropping on the ground, and if I didn’t I have an ace up my sleeve – eventually I want to earth-berm the north foundation wall, so I could temporary cover that with something to stop UV degradation if I run out of coating.

In any case, I am skipping work for the rest of today and will spend this 4-day weekend patriotically coating my foundation. I will attempt to steal a camera from someone and get pictures up eventually. OK, now I just need to barrette my hair and practice catching the drips with my second trowel…wish me luck!