Outhouse Testimonials

A dry-cabin homeowner's manual.

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Plan Your Cabin-Freeze Before a Hawaii Vacation

FreezingHansicle-TSWA and thawing does a number on cabins. The best cabin-maintenance requires that you keep the cabin at aconstant temperature of whatever you want (or can stand.) But if you’re off to Hawaii for winter break and don’t want to pay for the heating fuel, PREPARE FOR FREEZING!

One very important reminder if you do let a cabin freeze is to dump out all your carefully-hauled water. If it’s left in jugs to freeze, it will crack the jugs and you’ll have to haul out a 10-gallon ice cube anyway which will melt last and remind you for the rest of the winter and spring how hard it was to drive and pump and haul all that water and how you let the jug crack and water, (precious water,) go to waste!

If dumping out water is too traumatizing, the five-gallon blue jugs have enough elasticity to expand A LITTLE BIT. If you leave the cap off the jug might make it with half a tank of water without bursting. No guarantees.

These can expand a bit,

These can expand a bit,

...these can't.

…these can’t.


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Frost Damages Doors, Groceries and Bladders

It is a mystery.
You have faithfully winterized your dry cabin.
Window shrink wrap tightly covers the windows.
Your door remains carefully caulked.

So WHY does scary frost creep into our lovingly shrink-wrapped and caulked cabins?

Frost builds up because of the temperature and humidity differences between the inside and the outside of your cabin. E-how suggests a dehumidifier to reduce condensation. Apparently they have never considered a place as dry as Fairbanks. I assure you, dehumidifiers are about as common here as parasols.

Short of mummifying the household, my landlord said the fix is to keep the inside temperature constant. That means keeping the heat up even when you leave the cabin for a week of spring break.
Don’t do it.
Keep in mind, it was my landlord who made this suggestion. It may work, but it’s not always reasonable.

My first winter in a dry cabin, my roommate Steph and I kept the heater at 60 when we were home and 40 when we went out. This temperature change created big problems.


Notice the condensation accumulated on the deadbolt that has not yet frozen. That much water comes from temperature fluctuations within the cabin.

One afternoon I was in the cabin alone and when I decided to use the outhouse I found that the door was frozen shut. I twisted, banged, kicked and scraped but to no avail. I was stuck inside a dry cabin with no cell reception and a full bladder.

I stopped drinking and tried to distract myself with tidying up in the hopes that Steph would arrive soon to rescue me. After a good hour I tried twisting and kicking again and the door gave way.

Steph laughed at what she thought was my hyperbole. I couldn’t convince her of the danger we were in!

Until a day or so after. Steph and I came home from grocery shopping with arms full of lettuce and tomato and ice cream. We had gotten a ride and so were on foot on our cabin steps holding perishables. And of course this time we were frozen OUT of the cabin. I swallowed an “I told you so!” and we dropped our groceries and ran down the road to our neighbor James’ cabin.

James to the rescue. He charged the door and bounced off over and over until we realized we were actually stuck.

“I can’t get in unless I break down the door.”

Well it wasn’t really our fault that we were frozen out! And our produce had freezer burn and it was getting colder and darker at 4pm.

“Ok, do it. ….wheeeee!”


So James broke down the door and we put our groceries away and pushed the door back into place and put on jackets.

The landlord fixed the door. It wasn’t our fault anyway.

Since then, Steph and I tried to keep the cabin at a reasonable temperature and not change it drastically when we went out.

At first, Steph and I decided that 50 degrees was a fine compromise. After all, we were both tough and we had jackets. But after a month or so, we were bundled up, sitting at the table doing homework and shivering when Steph looked up.

“Teri, are you just trying to be a man?”

“Um, yes. Are you?”


So we promptly turned the heat up to 55 and eventually decided it would stay at 60 for the rest of the winter.


Snowblower vs. Shovel

My dear fellow Alaskans, this argument over whether to clear driveway snow with a snowblower or a shovel only serves to weed out the gold nuggets from cheechako chaff.

My neighbor once saw my 60+-year-old dad cheerfully shoveling snow off our driveway in Anchorage. It’s his favorite chore. The cold wakes him up and the full-body workout gets his blood pumping before an office workday.


The snowblower-wielding neighbor exclaimed at how surprised she was that my dad shoveled by hand. “I guess it’s cheaper and it keeps you skinny through the winter,” she said.

Precisely right.

Allow me to address some of the most popular excuses from neighboring snowblower-folk:

1. “It’s too cold!”

2. “I don’t have enough time!”

3. “It’s too much work!”

– Miscellaneous (Anchoragians, the meek of heart, the uninformed, etc.)

1. The less you move, the colder you will be.

p.s. Snowblower= $200-500 + gas + health conditions
Snow shovel= $40-50

2. Ah, time. No one ever has enough time. All we can do is prioritize the time we have. The minutes spent shoveling by hand are well worth the expenses in health, happiness and money that would be wasted on a snowblower.

3. If one is elderly or unable to shovel, even at a slow, leisurely pace, take this as an opportunity to forge relationships with the neighbors and hire their grade-school children to shovel for you! The dollars you spend on these eager children still won’t add up to what you would have spent on a snowblower and relationships are our most precious possessions anyway.

As an added bonus, shoveling snow you discover an ancient joy in physical labor. In our age of labor-saving devices, we can find comfort in using our hands and bodies to make a visible difference in our lives and the lives of others.

Finally, shoveling is simply more fun.




As a way of experiencing dry-cabin life with more senses than just the imaginary, here are two audio clips and one video clip for your enjoyment:

This audio clip is a reenactment of many a conversation I have had with my cabin-mate Steph Walden. The voices in the audio belong to me and my roommate Heather Hopkins.



I interviewed dorm-dweller Kara LaRue and cabin-dweller Wayne Pence to ask them about “the water situation.”



Caution: This video contains explicit language.
It is a dramatized illustration of an important part of outhouse maintenance.


The “Deep Freeze Clean”

According to Pest Control Technology Online, ” Temperatures below 0°F (-18 C)  for one to two weeks are generally believed to be needed to reliably kill all life stages.”

Now surely the one-to-two-week timeframe is reduced when temperatures are around 40 below.

Although I have no hard evidence, my old cabin-mate once tested this theory. She was getting red bumps on her legs at night so we tried the normal procedures like washing her bedding but to no avail. We thought it must be some pest in the mattress. We tested for bed bugs by pressing down the mattress corners. It did not look like this:


Those are signs of bed bugs. Their poop is easy to spot in the corners of mattresses. Pressing down on a mattress corner can also drive the actual insects out.

Our mattress did not look like that. It looked normal and clean like this:



Since we couldn’t see anything wrong with the mattress we decided it must be some terrible, internal, mattress malady. We had to think outside the cabin and discover a way to sterilize it, preferably for free.  We quarantined the mattress on our front porch, all alone at around 30 below. My cabin-mate slept in her sleeping bag for a few nights while the mattress served detention on the icy porch. Four-ish days and nights later we took it back into the fold of sheets and waited for the mysterious red bumps to return.

They never did! We pronounced the experiment a success, dubbed our new discovery the “deep freeze clean” and promised that no matter how long we had gone without a shower, we would never enact the “deep freeze clean” on each other.


Skin Care

Taking a shower once a week instead of every day is healthier for your skin.*

Only wash your hair once every week or two. **

Over-washing your face causes break-outs.***

Alright then, who’s with me?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

If you’re like the majority of Americans you shower at LEAST once a day. Anything less and you may face public disapproval…if you tell.

Check out this NYT article on the dirty truth of ritual cleansing. Then we can talk.


So as we’ve all learned in that brilliantly-written NYT article, skipping a few days of showers doesn’t cause harm and may benefit overall health.

Now I feel comfortable enough to open up and say that I shower and wash my hair about once a week.


The “haven’t showered in a week” face.

All that aside, I use one beauty product religiously:


Pond’s Cold Cream right before bed not only removes dirt and makeup but also moisturizes in the cold, dry winters. The best part about this cold cream is that you remove it with a tissue. It cleanses your face with no water necessary. Cleansing right before bed gives the added benefit of waking up with clean, soft skin.

I don’t like to put it on in the morning because it makes your face pretty shiny. It needs time to soak in.

And for all you non cabin-dwellers, you too can benefit from “cabin-clean” wisdom! Forgo the daily shower to improve your skin health and save the planet!