Bunny Count: December

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As fireworks go off around me, I still have time for the last Bunny Count of the year …

Bunnies: 0
Bears: 0
Whales: 1
Cats (in Waikoloa, HI): Surprisingly More Than You Would Think

Days in Alaska: 24
Days in Paradise (Hawaii): 7
Sunsets Watched While in Paradise: 4
Beaches I Stuck My Feet in during Dinner: 1
Whales and Cocktails Cruises in Paradise: 1
Attempts to Complete at meal at the Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimae: 2
Times Failed to Complete Meals at Hawaiian Style Cafe: 2
Mai Tais Drank in Paradise: More than I can Remember
Days Spent in Alaska Since Coming Home From Hawaii That I Wished I was Back in Hawaii: 11

Snow Fall: 23.2 inches
Snow Fall Total This Year: 44.3 inches
Snow Fall During my 7 Days in Hawaii: 13.6 inches

Shortest Day of the Year’s Total Daylight: 5 Hrs 21 Mins 41 Seconds
Time the Sun Came Up: 10:14am
Time the Sun Went Down: 3:42pm
Amount of Daylight Already Gained Since Then: 10 minutes 30 seconds

Times Killed By Bears, Whales, Hawaii, Nighttime, and the Holidays: 0

Open Christmas Letter – 2013

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Every year, I send a Christmas Letter with my annual Christmas Cards.  Since I sucked so bad at getting them out this year, here is an open christmas letter to all of you:

 

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Happy Holidays!!

Christmas time is here.  Time to deck the halls, spread good cheer, raise a glass with loved ones, and of course look back at the year that was (without trying make it sound like the sad pathetic mess that reminiscing and alcohol can bring out of the best of us).  As I have for the last 10-plus years, I sat down to try to summarize the year for all of you in a way that makes my life sound more interesting that it is, and this year was no different.  In the way I have typically done, I have waited to nearly the last minute to do this.  As usual, not only do I threaten to summarize 12 months with a jumble of words so mixed up it looks like a scrabble game between drunks, I haven’t had the time to bounce my bad jokes off of random strangers to see if they work.  So let’s get to it then!!

2013 became the first full year living in Anchorage, Alaska for me.  In other words, I have survived all four seasons in Alaska (Rain, Freezing Rain, Snow, and Mosquito).  Now that I have been here for a while, I have fallen into that groove of putting a life together here.  All those things that makes daily life commonplace dropped into place.  I have a good group of friends, I have the shortest distance home from work mapped out, and I no longer get lost when trying to find a good cup of coffee.  I’m a year-and-a-half into my career at BP Exploration – Alaska, and for some strange reason they haven’t fired me for incompetence yet.  The job is definitely different than I am used to, and different than what I expected.  Gone are the days of flying across the country and over the pond to meet with suppliers to make change – instead I spend my work days sitting at my desk trying to convince that our team won’t screw stuff up any worse.  I did travel for work, though only 10 days in the Lower 48 in Atlanta & Houston – and nearly a month on the North Slope where our operations are at.  So I am more of a homebody these days.

In fact, I stayed up in Alaska for the first half of the year.  The first trip south was for the 50th Anniversary reunion of the Colt’s Drum Corp.  It was the first time back to visit some of those people for nearly 25 years, and spend time talking about the old days & seeing what’s become of everyone.  I also made a quick trip to of all places Lebanon, Ohio to get back into my band judging gig.  Add in a trip to Wisconsin for my annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage, it was a year quite limited in travelling “abroad”.  I am leaving in less than 24 hours for a week in Hawaii, which counts as a 2013 accomplishment but you know what travel is like – I may spend the week in the Anchorage airport.

So I didn’t travel much, but that’s okay.  Alaska is a destination for many people, so I made it mine too.  I took the time to travel around a bit, see different places here.  That included a couple trips to Seward, a run to Homer, drives up to Talkeetna (home of the world famous Talkeetna Mayor: Stubbs the Cat), and wherever I felt.  I did some hiking, not much, but some.  And after three failures finally did some camping on Labor Day … and came to the conclusion that I had to buy an RV (a 1978 Mobile Traveler that is nicknamed “Strugglebus”).  This includes a couple “staycations” that included when the Glerums came up from Virginia with a long plan of things to do, and a far less planned out visit by my parents, brother, and nephew later in the summer.

During the non-touristy months, I took up a new hobby – Curling.  That’s that weird Olympic sport with sliding granite rocks across ice while weridos sweep in front of it until it stops on a target that kinda means something but kinda doesn’t.  I belong to the Anchorage Curling Club which I equivalent to being a part of a bowling league – except replace the greasy polyester wearing jerks with Canadians.  Seriously, though, the game is fun to play but the people are the best part.  The folks I play with are some of the best I’ve met up here, and not because we Curling is a drinking game … though it does make some of them more interesting.

With all I have done in 2013, one of the best parts about it is that I didn’t do it alone.  Each step I took here in Alaska came with a little four footed fuzzball at my side.  My pup, Auggie (aka Auggie the Doggie, Auggers, Pooper, Pooper Dooper, or as he probably think’s he’s named “Leave It”) now is starting to approach a year and a half and settled into that dog/daddy relationship with me.  He still remains the social, friendly, photogenic part of the household I never was – and now he does it without having to wee on the carpet.  Just so you have a nice gift for the holidays, the backside is a bunch of pictures of Auggie, just because that’s better than any socks or underwear I would normally give you for Christmas.

So, that’s about all I want to say about 2013.  If you want to hear more, you can follow me on my highly successful blog “The Bear Feed” about my life in Alaska (successful meaning, someone once suggested that they actually read it).  It is more detailed about my 2013, and can give you a hint about my 2014 better than this word jumble can probably do.  You can find it at:
www.bearfeed.net

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Mitch & Auggie

Tale of Two Cities

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When it comes to the two big cities I have been too in the last couple of weeks, you can say about December: It’s was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  (Do you see what I did there? :D)

Fulfilling my civic duty, I left Anchorage for a week in Hawaii, kicking it off with a couple days in Honolulu.  As I flew into the 50th State’s capitol, I was reminded how much it and Anchorage has in common.  Both are the largest city by a wide margin to the rest of the state, both have heavy military & tourism influences, both are remote to the other 48 states, and both are jumping off points to the remote parts of the other towns in the state.  When I think of towns in Alaska like Barrow or Nome or Bethel that the only way to reach them is by plane, the same can almost be said about Kona or Kahului or Lihue in Hawaii that require the same.  Both are on the sea, both are surrounded by mountains, and both roll up the hillsides and spill out into other metropolitan areas.

But man … I wished the comparisons would have continued the rest of the week.

The morning I left for Honolulu, I was shoveling over 6 inches of snow off my driveway, decks, and sidewalk.  We were delayed out of the airport because it took a long time to de-ice the plane.  Then when the wheels touched the ground, it was like the shield of ice crackled off of us and we began a new life in the tropics.

During that week away, Anchorage stayed at it.  In total, nearly two feet of snow fell from the time I left work until the time I got back.  When it comes to a shock from a vacation, getting off that plane Saturday morning was a shock.

But the holidays approach, so it’s time to focus on what’s important this time of year.  Hot drinks filled with booze.

Home for the Solstice

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I got in at 5AM from my Hawaiian vacation and could go off a bit on that, but too sleepy & tired. Plus I hoped to give you a good winter solstice post, since we celebrated the shortest day of the year. However an overcast day meant the sun didn’t even show up for that.

I snowed a lot, and by a lot my bet is that I have two new feet of snow on the deck. Again – too tired to deal with it. So just snuggled up with the pup, took a few naps, and will give you the rundown this week.

… As Required By Alaskan State Law

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This weekend I fulfill another civic duty required by the State of Alaska to maintain my citizenship.  It is an activity that every Alaskan must due on a regular basis, and as difficult as it is, I am taking that task on beginning Saturday.  That task simply is:

I’m going on Vacation to Hawaii

When you request the Permanent Dividend Fund (PFD) every year (that’s the government free money check they give us for just being here) you have to prove four things:
1) You have an Alaska State License
2) You have a car with a chip in the windshield
3) You can tell the difference between a Muktuk & Mukluk
4) You have been to Hawaii recently

Okay, yeah, I am being funny here — but seriously, the number of Alaskans that go to Hawaii is completely out of proportion to the rest of the world (except maybe Japan).  It’s said that if you count up all the Alaskans that spend time in Hawaii in any given year, they would count up to be enough to be the 4th largest city in Alaska.  That may not be true, but try this detail on for size:  Alaskan Airlines currently is running 11 non-stop flights on 737s to Hawaii from Anchorage (7 to Oahu, 3 to Maui, and 1 to Hawaii (aka ‘the big island)).  They routinely sell out all 150 seats.  Since it’s a safe bet most of those are Alaskan vacationers; you are talking about 1500 people per week heading to the islands — 6000 in December alone.  That doesn’t include the other possible routes to get there (either using Alaskan Airlines through Seattle which goes 4-6 times a day, or any one of the other airlines).  Any safe estimate can suggest over 30,000 people will fly from Alaska to Hawaii every year.  This is a lot for any state, but for Alaska’s size that’s nearly 5% of our population.  For the people I know, when I tell them I am heading to Hawaii nearly all of them have gone there at some point in the last few years and its rare to meet someone up here that hasn’t been there at all.

There’s some obvious reasons for this.  Of course the constant cold and darkness of winter is a leading cause; the fact that it’s closer to fly to Hawaii than Florida is another.  Also, the PFDs play a big part in it too.  Every year, every citizen gets a check that is enough for a plane ticket to someplace warm, and while sometimes its used for snow machines, four wheelers, big screen TVs, or a heck of a good night down at McGinleys … sooner or later the call of the islands will get an Alaskan charged up to cash in the money check to head south.

I chose to go because I had to burn some vacation before the end of the year – and wasn’t about to spend it sitting around the house yelling at the dog for interrupting my game on my Playstation.  I could have gone anywhere, really, with the amount of airline miles that I had, but I decided Hawaii just because that’s where every Alaskan is going.  I even tried to schedule it around Curling (but failed due to last minute curling club schedule changes).  I’m going to spend a couple of quick days on Oahu in Honolulu where my only set plans are to watch the Packer game from a Packer bar.  Then I hop a quick flight to Kona where I will spend four days on the big island of Hawaii at a resort.  I really don’t have huge plans, just trying to do something to get through the blahs of December before the holidays.  This is a trip solely about warm weather, fruity drinks, beaches, sun, sand, relaxation, and tuning out for a while.

So, if I go quiet on the Bear Feed front … tough.  I am too busy fulfilling an Alaskan civic duty.

The Long Sunrise

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The last couple weeks, Anchorage was punished for God knows what with days and days of soupy fog and clouds.  Well, yeah, bad weather is more the norm than the exception for Anchorage; but the double whammy of it was it happened during what is already the grim time of year.  Limping our way down to the solstice, we are already under 5-1/2 hours of daylight every day.  You throw in that during that daylight we don’t actually get to see daylight, and it can make a miserable time much more so.  Think about it – skies are dark and gloomy from the time you wake up until just before 10AM, when the skies go to a grey for a couple hours then that grey becomes darker and darker until it’s time to go home in the pitch black of night (or more accurately, the pitch black of an hour before you go home).

Today, all that changed.  A cold front came in last night, bringing crisp dry air and blowing away nearly every cloud in the sky.  That means rather than guessing what the sun is like, we can actually see it … for only 5-1/2 hours of course, but still.    What is sometimes lost is when we talk about longer and shorter days, it’s not that the sun is speeding up or slowing down, it’s just further north or south on it’s path — when the moves across the sky it’s moving across our southern sky at a very low angle.  That’s pretty obvious this time of year when the sun at it’s apex is only about 10% angle above the horizon (or if you point your hand towards the horizon, then stick your thumb up, the sun wouldn’t rise above your thumb).

In all fairness though, the clear skies reminded me how pretty it becomes when the sun really is out this time of year; and it starts way earlier, lasts longer, and ends way later than you would expect.  In short — we have a really really long sunrise and sunset; in all honesty, the sunrise never ends.  While official sunrise was at 10am, the first light of day started before 8am.  Here, that means the glimpses of blue shadowed the edges of the Chugach Mountains.  Seeing them that way reminds me of cool winter mornings when visiting the Southwest, and seeing the first glimpses of the day crack over the rocky buttes.  Come 5pm when I navigate the traffic home, there will be glimpses of that same blue out over the waters heading to the pacific and heading out to start the new day in Asia.

There is a term used in photography and cinematography called “the golden hour” which represents the hour after sunrise and before sunset.  This time of day is when the sun is still bright enough to light a scene, but on its way to a orange sunset, the light goes from bright yellow to golden colors that seem to bring out all the additional accents of faces, objects, and landscapes.  It’s pretty widely agreed that this is the best time to capture an image.  Right now in Anchorage, that “golden hour” lasts for 5-1/2 hours.  At noon today, the sun gave off that soft golden hue.  It’s angle accented the shading in the mountains to the east and west of us.  The trees and snow glowed with the same color the sun reflected.  Further to the north, where the sun sits lower, Denali remains orangish pink in the constant sunset.  All of this awash with a sky heavy blue that hides little of the night above it.

Short days are tough on us Alaskans.  It’s a leading cause of depression, especially when compounded with bad weather and the holiday season.  Yet even we know that sometimes all you need is a little bit of sun … even if its just a little … to raise your spirits with what this place can give you.

 

 

Bonspieling For The Holidays

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This weekend kicks is the first real Curling Bonspiel of the season I am in.  A Bonspiel is a curling term for a tourneyment (if you don’t know what curling is, I’ll get to that … promise).  Most bonspiels (or spiels) are done for fun with some cash prizes or whatnot, but some are pretty competitive.  They are set up so that teams will get in at least 3 games during the weekend and depending on the number of teams can last all weekend long.  Many times games can go well into the night, like last spring when I was at the club until after 1am when another four teams were heading out to start their game — which also means I was quite drunk at the time (or as commonly called “Bonspieling”).  This weekend’s at the Anchorage Curling Club is pretty limited and laid back — a holiday themed 8 team spiel including a white elephant exchange and surprises along the way.  The latest any game is going is 9PM, which means there will probably be some bar hopping involved.

For the uneducated, Curling is a my latest goofy hobby — this one actually being an Olympic sport.  Many recognize it being similar to shuffleboard, bocce ball, & lawn bowling, but has it’s own unique nature.  The game is played on ice sheets that have a layer of frozen droplets of water like pebbles on the surface (called pebbling).  Two teams of four players each slide a total of eight granite stones per team (total of 16 rocks) down the ice alternating shots between each team.  They do so toward a set of rings painted under the ice (called the House).  The team with the rock in the house closet to the center scores points, and they get a point for each rock in the house closer to the center than the opposing team’s rock.  The rock is thrown with a light spin so that as it goes down the ice it will turn (or curl … thus the name) giving it the ability to move around other rocks in the way.  The direction and speed of the rock is influenced by team members sweeping in front of the rock to make it go further and straighter.  I’ll put a longer post up near the Olympics (when you can if you want watch hours and hours of the game from Socci) that will explain it better.

What’s funny is that I this is my third real spiel, and I haven’t done well in the first two, going 1 win & 5 losses.  While our team was just not that good in one, the other had some real talent – including a top junior girl, the oldest member of the club, and the father of an Olympic curler.  Part of the problem is that I was always on teams that were just thrown together.  We wanted to be different this year, and put together  league team with the purpose of spieling together — but one of those had other plans for this weekend, and another on the injured reserve (the third was actually a replacement for our original team, but has done well in his first season).  So we ended up just throwing together a team again.  Still – its not that bad and we could get in a few games of good curling, who knows.

The important thing to know for right now is that I am playing this weekend — a lot.  Like I said, at least three games.  While I have to spend Saturday morning testing for a professional certification (which should be a way bigger deal than spieling) I will be getting my spiel on for the rest of it.