Life in Alaska at 60° below zero

With the world’s current fascination with life in Alaska, I thought it would be fun to give you a REAL life account of a day in the life. (As opposed to the over-dramatized versions you see on TV.)

Funny story, we have actually been contacted by a TV channel scout to be a part of a new Alaska show and had to laugh and say “No thanks.” Not only do I have no interest in a bunch of cameras following me around, I’m pretty sure everyone in our little community here would send us packing.

However, for the sake of giving the people what they want….

Here are three different perspectives of a day in Alaska at 60 degrees below zero from myself and my two good friends here who all live within about a 5 mile radius we have homeschool COOP together, take care of each other’s places and chores when someone is out of town and generally “do life” together.

So, do you ever wonder what life might be like during an Alaskan cold snap?

Here’s a glimpse:

Friday, January 10th, 2020

Eastern Interior Alaska

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Jodi’s Journal –

12:00 AM – I realize what time it is and that I need to go to bed. I’ve been up late writing & tending the fire. I stoke the fire and choke it back so that it will keep us warm without burning all the wood up before I check it again. Next, I pour hot water down the downstairs shower drain to melt any ice build up in the pipe that would cause a freeze. This is the only drain in the house that we seem to have issues with (and the coldest room in the house.)

3:30 AM – Get up to check the fire again and melt/clear the shower drain again.

6:30 AM – Get up to get hubby out the door for work. The weather app on my phone says -53 but it’s all lies, the analog thermometer outside says -60 (maybe even -62.)

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We put most of our time and construction budget this summer to build an attached garage. The heat from the log wall of our house keeps the garage warm enough that the car starts up with no trouble. Matt leaves for work and I, once again, stoke the fire and clear shower drain. There is a thin layer of ice on the bottom of the shower from the last time I poured hot water down the drain.
7:00 – I wrap up in my favorite, fuzzy shawl and curl back up like a lazy bum because I had choked the fire back too far last time and the house is now 56°; also, because I was up until 1 AM with my late night writing session and I’m not 20 years old anymore.

8:00 – AM – I wake kids up and start running a hot bath. Unlike my friends Sara and Charity, we aren’t actually “off grid.” We have electricity to the house for lights, appliances etc. but our Kitchen Queen wood cook stove “Bessie” is our only source of heat, our only stove/oven and in the winter, our hot water heater.  Water is super heated by cycling it through our woodstove and back into the hot water heater saving big $ on electricity. But if we are running the fire too hot for a long period of time without using the excess hot water, the hot water heater will blow off. We have a hose which is supposed to send the excess hot water down the drain but occasionally the hose decides to cut loose and fly out of it’s drain… flooding the upstairs bathroom with boiling hot water. Yesterday, this very thing happened and drained directly onto the downstairs ceiling fan causing a sprinkler effect and sending water flying in all directions.  Thankfully my computer wasn’t sitting at the kitchen table where it normally resides.

8:30 AM – Get the kids started on morning chores and hop in the hot bath with a good book. (You know, because I can’t waste all that hot water… it’s a rough life.)

9:00 AM – We should be starting school right about now but there’s something about life in Alaska that makes time more of a relative thing… when you have almost all sun or all dark… the whole “burning daylight” thing isn’t really a thing.

I go out to feed and water the useless chickens that have taken up residence in the garage. We didn’t have time to build a warm chicken house for them before winter because we were building the garage. I swap their frozen water out for fresh warm water and feed them. I bring in a frozen pot of moose stew in from the garage and put it on the wood stove to thaw for lunch.

Each kid takes a turn in the bath while the other one does school work. Reading time can be either in the bath or snuggled up behind the wood stove. (Hey if we don’t get to take a day off for cold weather, at least there can be a few perks. Interesting fact- even public schools in Alaska aren’t canceled due to weather because of the risk that children might be dropped off at the bus stop waiting for a bus that never comes.)

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12:00 PM – Last night’s wood supply is all used up so I bundle up and make a few trips bringing in firewood.  It’s kind of like carrying in ALL the grocery bags at once, super human strength kicks in when you don’t want to make more than 2 trips outside.

I once again… stoke the fire & clear shower drain. Matt comes home for lunch. This has been major perk here in Alaska, the girls have so much more quality time with us here at home. After lunch we have our read aloud time (we are reading Heidi right now) while Daddy rests his eyes for a few minutes before going back to work.

After the hubby leaves, I realize that the oven in the wood stove is hot enough to bake and I really should’ve been taking advantage of the constant oven today and had a baking day.  That reminds me that I have the first stage of sourdough “resting” in it’s refrigerated state (on the bathroom floor where it’s nice and cold) and pull out my cloche, working more flour into the dough so I can bake bread this evening.

I remember that I forgot to pull some meat from deep freeze in the shed outside so I bundle back up to go get what I need for supper. While the meat is in the deep freeze, it doesn’t really need to be. The compressor on the freezer hasn’t run since late October.  There are boxes of groceries from our last Costco run just sitting out in the shed which has now become a walk-in freezer.

1:30 PM – The girls are finished with school. We normally have about an hour and a half of quiet time (sanity time for Mama) in the afternoon but today I put on some music and they have a “dance cleaning party” instead. We try to change up our afternoon routine once in a while so the kids don’t get too stir crazy.

2:30 PM – Bandit, our one year old pup is bouncing off the walls by this point. He is 2 breeds of hunting dog and a third part cow dog, so to say he’s high energy is an understatement. He seems to be taking it personal that he has nothing to do and is on the (playful) attack. I give him a caribou bone to keep him busy.  Not helpful.  He runs around the house with his bone whining for the next 45 minutes because he wants to go outside and bury it.

3:00 PM – The girls are done cleaning so they get to put on a movie now. I realize that the dog has gone quiet and is missing.  After a brief search I find him hiding in our bedroom devouring the bone in blissful privacy.

I shape my sourdough loaves and set them on a chair in front of Bessie, the wood stove, to rise.

5:00 PM – I stoke the wood stove again and open it up wide now to get the oven hot enough to bake bread and start prepping supper to be cooked on the wood stove.  There is only one “burner” on my stove top but I’m running it hot enough tonight that the entire surface will be hot enough to keep things simmering.

The hubby comes home and tells me I need to go see the moon outside.  It’s bright, full and looks close enough to almost touch.

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7:00 PM – I get the sourdough loaves into the oven and finish supper. After supper we watch a movie and then the rest of the family goes to bed.  I, in my night usual, night-owl fashion, stay up late doing dishes and writing.

12:00 AM – Stoke fire, clear drain, go to bed

Sara’s Journal –

A Day in the Life at 50 Below
3:00 – My husband Stretch woke up to start the generator and plugged in his truck so he can get into work by 6:30. He had started his truck and let it run for about 45 minutes around 11:45 before going to bed. He also started the wood boiler. Of course, I slept through all of this.
9:20 – I let the three dogs out to go potty. Within a minute the puppy and retired sled dog are rushing back and forth between the two outside doors. One of the kids let them in and yells that Nation, our 18-year-old blue heeler isn’t at the door. I rush outside to find her stuck, her muscles no longer working, hallway to the opposite door. I gently pick her up and carry her inside. Her leg muscles cramp as she tries to walk when I put her down inside. This is probably the hardest part of the intense cold for me, watching Nation suffer in the simple act of relieving herself. We never imagined she’d have to live through another winter, but she’s still here, plugging along.
10:15 – The voltage on the inverter is reading 23.3, so it’s time to fire up the generator again. We are actually planning on running it more often today than normal so it doesn’t go too long between starting. I go out the door, quickly lift up the rigid foam box Stretch built to keep the heat from the heating pads stuck on the generator in, turn the key, and push the start button. The engine sputters then roars with a loud knowing sound as all the parts and pieces get moving. Time to do a load of laundry (a never-ending chore in a family of seven).
11:48 – Batteries are charged, and the generator is turned off. I had to stay outside a bit longer than turning the generator on since I needed to wrap the box that houses the generator in the comforter. By the time I was done, maybe 30 seconds, my boogers had frozen in my nose. Gross, I know, but that’s one way to judge if it’s really cold … how quickly it takes your boogers to freeze. I made the mistake on the way inside of taking a deep breath through my mouth. Instant pain in the chest. No wonder the weather app says the air quality is unhealthy.
12:40 – Homeschool science experiment time. Titus wanted to find out if a myth about 50 below was true. If you opened a can of soda, would it turn into a slushy instantly? So me and him geared up in our coats, hats, and gloves and headed outside. We were thoroughly disappointed when the soda simply fuzzed up with no slush.

1:45 – Maddox checked his tap water and finds that it is frozen. Pretty amazing that an inch or so of water will freeze solid in half and hour. The boiling water was still liquid, so another myth busted today.
2:36 – Battery levels are low, so it’s time to start the generator again. As it struggles to get going, I was reminded of the Little Engine That Could. “I think I can. I think I can … Wahoo! I did it!!” Sadie checked her water again, and it was finally frozen.
3:30 – Pup, the high-strung Wire-haired Pointing Griffon, has decided that today is the day she’s used to us and would like us to learn all about her energy. Finding ways to exercise a 5-month-old puppy that has spent her entire life in a kennel with other dogs and can’t really go outside due to the insane cold makes for an interesting afternoon. Her new favorite thing to do is terrorize the kids, especially the Titus, the10-year-old. Probably because he’s the one that has taken her running the most. Her attempt to play is not very fun for Titus since Pup becomes completely focused on jumping and grabbing at his arms and clothes. Out came the RC car and we had her chase that for a while. Now that she has calmed a bit, the children are watching videos on training overactive, aggressive puppies. Not that she’s mean or anything, she’s just bored and has finally decided to let us know.
4:15 – Batteries are full, so generator is off. The sun is gone and dusk is over. About half an hour more and it will be completely dark outside. Makes the evening long with the short days. I laugh at myself when I look at the clock thinking “I’m ready for bed and it’s only 6:30!”
4:45 – I get a text from a friend who told me earlier in the week she was going to visit. Did I remember? No. Was I still in my sweats and hadn’t brushed my hair? Yep. Was the house a disaster? It’s a good thing she comes from a large family.

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7:30 – Boiler is done running, so the generator gets turned off again. We aren’t the most efficient with the generator when it’s this cold. At this temperature, we have to run the boiler twice a day. It’s actually one of the benefits of the Garn boiler we installed. Our boiler works differently than other systems. We fill it full, fire it up, then two hours later, we have a tank full of hot water that we use for our domestic and heat. It’s great. One less thing that has to watched constantly.9:00 – Stretch turns on his truck and lets it run for about an hour and a half.
10:00 – I’m off to bed. The full moon is shining so bright my entire room is illuminated. Gorgeous.
When I woke up the next morning at 6, the generator decided it was upset with us for letting it get t cold. I pushed the button and all it’d do is click. Good thing we have a spare!

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The door has beautiful ice formations on it!

Charity’s Journal –

Ever wonder what life might be like during an Alaskan cold snap? Here’s a glimpse:
4:30 am: I get up to put wood in the woodstove. There are plenty of coals, but at the temperatures we’ve been having, maintaining a comfortable temp in the house requires constant burning at maximum load. I will feed the fire every 3-4 hours all day long. I lay back down in bed but Savannah wants to eat and Luke’s alarm goes off at 5. I guess I’m awake for the day.
5:45 am: Luke leaves for work. The outside thermometer reads 60 below. Inside it’s 63 above.

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6:30 am: I go out to the garage to get the fire going out there and feed the chickens. There are a few coals left and it doesn’t take long to reignite. Chicken water is frozen but I’m able to switch it with a bucket that’s still unfrozen by the stove. Also bring in a wheelbarrow full of wood from the outside. If I don’t keep the fire going in the garage, not only will the (worthless) chickens freeze, but I won’t be able to start my diesel vehicle or the diesel generator, from which we get most of our power during this dark time of year.
7 am: One benefit of having to run the woodstove wide open all the time is an endless supply of hot water. Most of the year we use propane to heat at least part of our domestic hot water, but right now the woodstove heats all of it. I take a nice long shower. After that I heat up leftover oatmeal in the oven for breakfast. The heat from the oven brings the inside temp up to 65.
8:30 am: All the kids are up by now. Stryder discovers his fish is in a bad way from getting too cold. We move it to a warmer spot and Stryder works all day at trying to gradually warm it up and bring it around. Unfortunately the next night it expires.
10 am: Finally fully light out. We have begun school, which keeps the kids occupied for the morning.
Noon: Lunch is leftovers today and a chance to run the oven again and add some more heat to the house (we don’t have a microwave). It is perfectly clear out and the sun hits the solar panels for about an hour and a half. We have about 45 minutes more daylight than at winter solstice 3 weeks ago, for a total of 5.25 hours from sunrise to sunset. We’re still getting less than 1 kwh solar power a day and I’ll have to run the generator to charge our batteries tomorrow. I will also run the well pump to replenish our 500 gallon water storage tank and do two loads of laundry to hang in the basement while the generator is running. After lunch we clean up and finish school for the day. I take another trip to the garage to feed the fire.

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2 pm: Looks like the high for the day is 52 below. I make everyone take a mandatory rest time in their beds, though they can read a book if they’re not tired. When everyone is cooped up inside all day, I need a break from the constant noise. I lay down to nurse Savannah to sleep. I don’t intend to fall asleep, but end up taking a 20 minute nap.
3 pm: Everyone but Savannah is up. The kids play and I do a little cleaning and start supper prep. The sun sets and the temperature starts to drop back downward.
4:30 pm: Luke arrives home from work. It is mostly dark by now.
6:30 pm: After supper I need to go to the store for some supplies. Wrangell goes with me to help and I have to tell him how he needs layers, boots, etc….does he not realize it’s 55 below?! I take Luke’s little Honda and the clutch gets stiff before the 5 mile drive is over. Visibility in town is very poor because of the ice fog. We are only in the store for about 20 minutes and I leave the car running. The clutch thaws out but the tires get a little square even in that short time. When we get home I park close to the basement door to unload all the groceries and get them inside before they freeze. I’m even successful at bringing home the lettuce without it freezing! When I put the car in the garage I stock the fire out there up for the night. It’s not above freezing, but considerably warmer than outside.
8 pm: Bedtime. The temperature in the root cellar has dropped to 32 degrees, despite the little muffin fan blowing air from the basement into there constantly. I bring the potatoes and carrots inside and Luke brings me a tarp to hang around the parsnips and beets next to the muffin fan opening in the root cellar. Hopefully this will keep them warm enough until it warms up.
We have a full moon tonight. It’s so bright out you can easily get around without artificial lighting of any kind. If you step outside the cars on the highway half a mile away sound like they are in the driveway. The temperature is 56 below when we head to bed, but we have hope that it will warm up in 2-3 days.

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So there it is folks, the REAL life below zero.

*Special Note: Sara Blackard, my friend who wrote the 2nd journal here, is a fellow writer and published author. If you like good historical fiction with some romance and adventure thrown in, you really need to check her out!

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and on her blog .

This is her most recent book, the first in a fantastic series.

 

 

 

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