Hallowed Night

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Happy Halloween – the third most loved holiday in the whole year (behind Christmas, because whether you are Christian or not, we all do love to get presents & get drunk — and of course the most favorite of favorite national holidays: Superbowl Sunday).  It’s that time of year when we incorrectly focus on kid’s costumes and handing out candy, when we should properly be focusing on what college-aged women are wearing to the bars.

Halloween in Anchorage is likely no different than most places in the Lower-48 (by most I don’t include places where they burn down half the city – e,g, Detroit).  We don’t have the Haunted Houses that were so much fun growing up playing around in. No idea why, honestly, but I don’t really know a rundown house/building you could turn into one either.  Likely it’s weather related, because it can be pretty unpredictable this time of year — that and it seems everything becomes weather related sooner or later.

Usually, Halloween is seen as the start of the “dead of winter” season.  They talk about kids strapped up into parkas and stomping around in the snow doing their trick-or-treating.  We hadn’t had measurable snow yet (and only one “un-measurable snow”); hurricane winds and rain took care of fall for us the last couple of weeks.  Which means the streets should be full tonight.  Last year, I was in my house for about a week when Halloween came around – and the neighborhood kids were outnumbered by “professionals” — families with rolling mini-vans to systemically hit as many houses/neighborhoods as possible.

I’ll probably stop off tonight at the store to get a little face paint, then throw on my hockey jersey so I can be a New Jersey Devil — Auggie as my Hell Hound.

hellhoundAs a bartender at Peanut Farm last night said: “Life’s too serious to NOT dress up our dogs.”

Have a good, safe Halloween, and we will see you in November.

 

Football in Alaska

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To know me is to know that I am a football fan.  Have been my whole life.   As far as I can tell, though, many red blooded Americans are football fans and Alaskans are no different.  In all the blogging on what makes Alaska so unique, it’s surprising that I haven’t touched on how different it is to be a football fan in Alaska.  The big difference is time zones.

For you wierdos who don’t know – pro football follows a usual Sunday pattern, with games starting at 1PM, 4:30-ishPM, and 8PM Eastern Time; making for most of my life the game to be a nice Sunday afternoon experience.  Except for when I was a kid where I would be able to sleep in until 10 or 11, football Sundays have meant that I would find things to do before game time, and then have the afternoon for the TV.  Now move that time zone 4 hours west, and you start to get the feeling of what the game is like here.  My team, the Green Bay Packers, mostly play the early game (though not today).  It feels like I am kid again.  I sleep in until 8AM, shuffle out to grab some coffee and Crunch Berries, get the dog fed and “exercised”, then we cuddle up and watch the game starting at 9AM.   One of the guys at the curling club was teasing me last night that I would likely be in Green Bay Pajamas watching the game, but to be honest, he isn’t far off.

Morning football Sundays are the way of life.  It’s simple to be a die-hard here, and many get their ‘insane football fan’ easily.  Many sports bars open for breakfast (though they don’t start serving beer until noon).  Some places have limited seating, specifically the Peanut Farm, so to get a good seat for the game you need to show up at 7 or 8AM.  Sometimes, I’ll roll into a place for dinner and there will be people in the 10th hour of watching in a place.  That being said, there isn’t a consistent fan base up here.  Many follow the Seattle Seahawks, but I wonder if it is bandwagon grabbers over  true fans.  The mid-western influence means there are a fair bit of Packer fans; with rumors of a bar being the local fan club watching location.  One place touts itself as the Minnesota Viking’s watching location (which if you know how bad that is must mean they are pretty die-hard).  Texas teams get some following, and San Francisco too; but seems there are fans of everyone here.

College football can be weirder.  Those games can start up at 8AM, and they can run until 10PM.  Sometimes games are turning to night on the east coast, and I haven’t even gotten out of the house yet.

To me, the most interesting thing about football in Alaska, isn’t the stuff on the TV — but High School Football.  Put simply, there isn’t many teams in the state.  Many of the schools don’t even have enough students to form a team; but schools in bigger towns can be a bit more competitive.  With the heavy amount of military people in Alaska, players can have a huge range of talent, and can come and go year to year – for the most part, however, it isn’t the caliber of many of the Lower 48 states.  But you fans of High School football, here is a fun fact … It’s over for the season!  There are three divisions, small, medium, and large (no seriously, that is their names).  The Small Schools championship was awarded last week to Nikiski last week in the first State Championship in the country.  On Saturday, Soldotna upset Juneau in a track-meet of a 56-49 game to win the Medium School division, and in the Large School division the rising powerhouse Anchorage West defeated the consistent top team Anchorage Service in a tight, tough 28-16 game.  While other states haven’t’ even started their playoffs, the schools here beat the snows to get the whole season in.  Games start before school begins here, just to make it happen.

It’s different begin a football fan here, but you still can be.

Now if you don’t mind, it’s halftime of the early game … and like I used to do when I was in highschool, it’s time to have a shower.

What Happens to Auggie?

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I’ve really fallen off the blogging wagon for a number of reasons.  Most of it can be traced to that I am lazy.  I spent this week on the North Slope for work, and didn’t really see much except the quarter mile road between my camp and where I worked.  As I near the end of this hitch, I remembered a question I got a lot when talking to folks down south.

When I leave town, what happens to Auggie?

For you newbies, Auggie is my rolling ball of fur and poop that most of you would call a dog.  As much as I like having around, I can’t take him with me when I go … well … anywhere.  Hard enough finding a place for him to hang out when I am driving around Alaska, even harder to sneak a 40 pound pooch in my carry-on bag.  So something has to happen to him.

This Week’s Answer:  Little Baby Auggie has to have a Baby Sitter (it’s funnier if you sing it like you are teasing him .. it’s okay, he doesn’t notice, he’s a dog)

I have a pet/house sitter this week as a break from the normal thing I do.  Plus it’s his breeder’s daughter, and it’s a chance for me to see if I am screwing up my poor dog’s life … and they wanted to see how he’s doing (turns out, he’s one of the biggest dog’s they’ve bred).

Normal Answer: He goes into lock down.

I use the local PetSmart PetHotel for a boarding place.  Turns out, I didn’t have a lot of options to put him up for boarding.  Auggie is a purebred Staffordshire Bull Terrier (or Staffy for short); which you can classify as the breed between a Boxer and a Pit Bull.  That breed is classed as a “Bully Breed” because like the Pit and the Boxer, it can be aggressive to other dogs (though Staffies due to ingenious breeding over a hundred years ago are very human friendly).  As a result, many boarding places won’t take him — basically having a bias against the breed.  PetSmart will take him, but they have a corporate policy that says he can’t play with others.

While that sounds unfair, think of the result.  They have to exercise him many times a day, so when they do … it’s one-on-one time.  Auggie is a social butterfly, so the little guy will play with any human who comes along.  Getting that one-on-one play time is like icecream on cookies.  Speaking of, he gets extra cookies, and if I want to, I get him doggie ice cream for when he is there too.

Most of the time when I drop him off, he is quite excited.  The waxed floors allow for a comical reaction when he scrambles on his doggie paw nails, but gets no traction — he starts looking like Scooby-Doo as soon as he sees a G-G-G-G-G-GHOST!!  Though lately, he’s been figuring out what going there means, that he goes in and won’t see daddy for a while.  He doesn’t fight it, but he looks back with a bit of concern, and sometimes in the most heartbreaking way, runs back around the counter to say goodbye.

So, heading home now, going to head right down to see my little buddy, then will see where the weekend takes us.

Wipha, Chinook, and The Pineapple Express

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So, while getting a haircut on Monday, my barber was throwing out these crazy words and concepts to me.  To be honest, I heard those names before, but as this guy was explaining them to me (read as: wouldn’t shut up as he cut my hair) I realized I knew what he was talking about, I just didn’t expect him to use such strange names to describe them.  So I decided to check his facts by the only way I seem to want to check facts anymore … searching Wikipedia.  As it turns out, he was right, and the words he used were correct, and most of all the whole topic became kind of cool.

Let me start with warning you … the topic is on one that may have come up in the past here.  Okay, it comes up all the time.  It’s about the weather.  The last week, Anchorage has had unseasonably warm conditions for Mid-October.  Usually, the temperature walks the freezing line, and we would get rain/snow/sleet mixes on the verge of full-on winter.  This last week, it’s been mostly overcast but warm — over 60°F (15°C).  We’ve had some rain to go along with it, and high winds, but less rain than you would expect from these overcast skies.  It’s caused by a double whammy of a weather problem.

First of all — there is the Pineapple Express (no, not the crappy Seth Rogen pot movie; an actual weather thing).  There is a high pressure thingy in the northern Pacific, making the jet stream run across the Hawaiian Islands before cutting north before hitting the Pacific Northwest of North America.  It’s picking up loads of warm air and moisture down there, so when it comes up our way and things start to cool off, water comes gushing out of the clouds.  Deep into winter, Pineapple Expresses can dump feet of heavy moisture rich snow which melts quickly due to the warm air that comes along with it.  While that doesn’t sound like what we are getting, it’s about where it ends up.

This Pineapple Express follows a pattern where it is running up the western side of the Rocky Mountains in western Canada, until it reaches a massive fishhook of mountains in Prince Edward Sound.  Blocked to the south by the Kenai Mountains on the Kenai Peninsula , the warm moist air has no choice but to attempt to go over the Chugach Mountains.  As it does so, all that air gets compressed upwards into a higher pressure bubble.  That high pressure bubble tries to reduces its pressure by doing two things: 1) dumps all it’s water, causing rain/snow at higher elevation; 2) makes the warm air even warmer.  One it gets over the mountain top, the warm dry air rushes down the mountain on the other side.  During winter months, this will melt and evaporate snow faster than you drop a hat.  Since there is no snow to melt right now, we just get the nice effect of windy warm weather.  This whole process of the wind coming down the mountain like that is called a “Chinook“, and is something that can happen in the Western states & Canada too — even as far east as Denver.

But the warm dry air won’t last very long.  This weekend we are going to get one more weirdly named visitor.  Whipa.  Short for Typhoon Whipa.  Typhoons, of course, are the Asian name for hurricanes.  While Whipa won’t be that strong when she reaches us, it will mean warm rainy weather for a few days until it peters out.

So, we get the last few days of “Not Winter”, and if this keeps up, we may even make it through half of Autumn while feeling Autumn.  But who knows, there could be another funny name of something that comes along before then.

Questions Welcome

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So, after spending some time with friends in the Lower 48, I got hit with questions that took me by surprise.  Sharing those questions with some folks on the flight back to Alaska, it became kind of a comical trend.  We realized that the perception of Alaska is strikingly different from person to person — sometimes with comical results, and sometimes with results that miss how comical it can be to live up here.

For instance …
No, I have not eaten Penguin Meat, it is not typically part of the Alaskan diet because the only Penguins you will find here are in the zoo.
Moose meat, however, is a different story … and yes, the police have ticketed people for shooting them from the road.
Yes we do have Starbucks, but they aren’t as good as the hundred other coffee places around.
I don’t live in an igloo, where would I keep the coffee if I did.

So that is just the start.

Good news is, these questions become good blog posts.  I have plans for a few posts based on suggestions, but of course, I know what I know and don’t know what you might be asking.

So … consider this the call for questions …

IF YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT ALASKA, SEND IT TO ME.  I’ll answer any question; and if I find it blog worthy I’ll make it into a blog … and give you the kudos.

You can send the questions by however you come across the blog (Facebook, LinkedIn, Comments left on WordPress), or you can get a hold of me thought any other normal means, like e-mail, phone, text, post cards strapped to the back of sled dogs.

So consider this open season, and have at it.

Like Falling Off a Bike

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I’m writing this smack dab between two things that had me pretty worry about whether or not I can pick it up again.  Yet after the first, I am starting to feel more confident about the second.

Last night, I entered the Anchorage Curling Club for the first time since April.  You loyal Bear Feeders may remember that was the crazy little game I took up for the first time last winter as part of just trying to knock something off my bucket list and finding it to be a wicked fun new hobby.
(see: Bucket List: How I Hurried, Hurried Hard & Magic Curls T-Line Weight as Lead at the Speil & As Ends Curling Season, So Ends the Magic )

I’d been worried about heading back mostly because I grew awfully lazy the last couple of months, and am desperately out of shape.  Wandering around on ice for a couple hours didn’t sound like something I would find fun.  Plus I had new curling shoes that will take practice to get used to, and with most of the sessions being with new curlers I thought I would look like an idiot the first time.  As it turns out … I did look like an idiot.  I fell on my ass a couple times, I stumbled and slipped, cursed those new shoes, and at the end of the day … couldn’t stop laughing.  Seriously, it was easy to hop back into it.  You never forget how to fall off a bike I guess.

Tonight, I hop on a plane and fly down to Ohio to start (and end) my Marching Band Judging season.  Since 1997, I have been adjudicating band competitions covering most of the Midwest and Southern states.  Moving to Alaska put a screeching halt to that.  Last year was on purpose, since I moved to Alaska in August, and the season runs September/October, I didn’t think it would be good to attempt to get to shows in the Lower 48.  So, after the longest hiatus in my judging history, this weekend I get back on the horse.

Sadly thought, my judging season not just begins this weekend, it ends too.  I hoped that I would find more Western states work but attempts to get a response from contacts from friends came up short (its a bit of a leap it seems to think someone in Alaska is worth bringing in).  Except for my old judging guild (CSJA).  Originally, I got signed for two shows, but one pulled back on their plans so there was just this one.  Still, it is one.

But I worry how rusty I will be.  Worry I will screw up the equipment and record nothing but silence.  Worried my numbers will be hosed.  Worry that I lost touch with the trends.

But chances are, I’ll get there get into the show and it will be like falling off a bike.

Complain Against the Dying of the Light

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Dylan Thomas once wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. –

Well, we hit the point in Anchorage where the light is dying at an insanely rapid rate; but you should know me well enough by now that I am not very good with rage.  I am more of a complainer.  These days neither rage or complaining is going to help much.

Long gone are the days when you can wake up in the middle of the night and it would be full daylight.  Long gone are those times when you know you can mow the lawn at 9pm, because the sun feels like midday.  Back is the winter days where you get used to the dark.

The loss of daylight is a steady incoming of trouble.  We lose almost 6 minutes of daylight each day; which by itself isn’t that much but it adds up very quickly.  With changing weather conditions, sometimes that darkness just sneaks up on you.  Sunday we had overcast skies and rain throughout the day.  While sunup was scheduled for 8:20AM and down at 7:14PM, it didn’t feel like it was up until well after 9 and it felt full on dark well before 7.

This change made me scatter a bit.  I have house plants that flourished for the summer that are dying quickly ..  because they are at north facing windows that now get no sunlight at all, and I am not sure where I am going to put them.  I picked up a happy light too, a lamp intended to give broad spectrum light to your eyes so that your body doesn’t feel neglected of daylight.  These are things that give me hope to pick up my energy going into the winter.  Curling starts soon, and I am not in Curling shape (which isn’t exactly something that requires you to be in much good shape to begin with).  The fight is on to break through the darkness and get the winter going ahead.

Or I could just sit here and complain about it.

 

Strugglebus

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When I bought the RV a few weeks ago, I knew I needed to come up with a nickname.  Turns out the most fitting name was one that I had to steal from someone else.  During a Curling Bonspiel last spring, Molly Losey, a co-rookie-curler stopped by looking pretty ragged from the night before (most likely staying up way to late doing crossword puzzles, and not at all anything to do with alcohol).  At one point, I asked her a question, and she replied: “Mitch – I’m riding front seat of the strugglebus here.”  That became her nickname.  Then when I told her about my new purchase, she … sight unseen .. dubbed it “The Strugglebus”.

Say what you want about stealing nicknames, this RV is better described as Strugglebus — because while Molly may be that way once or twice — Strugglebus has yet to be anything but.

On our first big road test of with it, Auggie and I had a hell of a rough go of it.  For starters, strugglebus sounds like an RV built in 1978, rough and messy.  It’s idle is set so badly that until it has warmed up for about 20 minutes, I need to keep my foot on the pedal at all times, including when sitting at a stop sign (where I throw it into neutral and keep it floored).  It has a lot of electrical problems, including lights flickering, emergency break light staying on all the time, and spare battery cables don’t seem to be grounded.  The highly of our run was when I pulled into a gas station, and every movement of the wheel caused the horn to honk.  That kept happening until I put it into park, then it wouldn’t stop honking.  A pull of a cord under the wheel didn’t help, I had to pull it on the horn itself.

I hoped to head out to spend the night by Matunasku Glacier on the Glenn Highway, but I got freaked out by the horn thing.  Instead, I am working on an appointment to have Strugglebus get a work over.  In theory, strugglebus should make it possible for us to get out over the winter as the summer — but I just want it available in case I go to the Curling Club for the weekend and not want to drive home to feed the pup.

Bunny Count: September 2013

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Hope you’re ready for one of the most pathetic bunny counts I have had since coming to Alaska.

Here we go for the data on October 2013:

Bunnies: 0
Bears: 0
Moose: 0
Arctic Fox: 1

Attempts to Leave Town to go Camping: 2
Attempts Successful: 0

Actual Current Daylight: 11 hours 22 minutes 24 seconds
Daylight Lost in September: 2 hours 50 minutes 16 seconds

Days with Snow: 1
Days with “Official” Snow: 0

SO … why is this bunny count so pathetic you ask?

Days without  Rain/Fog/Snowish: 9

Days spent on the North Slope: 8
Days almost stuck behind a Rig: 1
Prime Rib Days on the Slope: 1

Number of non-work days (weekends, etc) that I did work stuff: 6 (out of 11)

Number of days spent watching football (NFL, College, Australian Rules): 14

Hours Logged on the new Grand Theft Auto V (which is awesome by the way): 10

Days my formally half-ass got further away from that former fat-assitude: 30

So that your bunny count isn’t completely pathetic, I leave you with:

Number of RVs purchased: 1
Number of Years Old Said RV is: 35
Number of Aptly Given Nicknames of said RV stolen from someone who was also Aptly named as such: 1
Aptly Given Nickname of the RV: The Struggle Bus

Days until I judge my first Marching Band show in 2 years: 11

Days until the Anchorage Curling Club season opening Open House: 18

 

So in summary:

Times I got killed by Bunnies, Bears, Foxes, Fat-Asses, Old RVs, Not-Snow, and Football: 0
Times I got killed in Grand Theft Auto V:  37 and counting