Xmas Letter 2017

Standard

It’s a tradition that I send a Christmas Letter with cards to friends and family … and now, its  tradition that I share it as an open letter to all you Bear Feeders.

 

Happy Holidays

Welcome to my annual attempt to summarize 12 months of a hectic, whirlwind of an adventure down to just enough words to keep the postage to one stamp.  The traditional try to plug in as much stuff as possible, while making sure I include enough references to Auggie the Doggie to satisfy everyone. Some years this is easy to write, some years this is tough, and of all the years I wrote Christmas Letters … this is one of them (that was a joke, did you get it?).  Anywho … let’s begin, shall we?

Really, this year has been a year of transition in so many ways.

A year ago at this time of year I was rolling out a big announcement, that being my move to California and starting at Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena.  I started last December at JPL in Procurement Quality Assurance.  One year in, and I am as happy as an Auggie getting a belly rub.  Not going to say it is a walk in the park; working in space flight is a different planet (pun intended) than the jobs I had before; but holy cow it’s fun.  I work in a great, teaming environment.  Most at JPL are focused on similar goals with good cooperative approaches.  That … and we make really frickin cool things.  Rovers to Mars, Exploring Ice on Europa, Studying Our Earth, even Helicopters meant for other planets.  How is that not awesome.

Of course, a new job means new place to live.  I spent most of the first six months of the year looking for one.  My plan was to rent for 6 months while I find a permanent home.  That was a pretty big challenge – turns out sweet and fuzzy Auggie is an insurance risk for landlords.  Why? … California, that’s Why.  I practically fell into a house in Montrose, a pretty rough around the edges house, but a temporary place from day one.  The owner was just waiting for permits to tear it down and put up a nice one in it’s place, and when I drove by it today it was already gone.  After a lot of work, and making ‘open house weekends’ my hobby for half the year, I ended up getting a great place in La Crescenta overlooking the Verdugo Mountains.  The little place, and I do mean little, is comfortable enough for us, and quiet beyond quiet.  Albeit, in the path of the wildfires.  Still, it’s a remarkable location.  I can sit out on the front porch with a mountain view … I can, but I rather sit on the back deck under the lemon tree and look at the mountains … I can, but I rather sit on the higher back deck and look over everything to the mountains.

What’s been an odd transition is the travel. Granted, I am away from home far less than the last two years.  2014 & 2015, I averaged 240 nights in hotels a year.  This year, I cut that nearly in half … but that’s still 135 nights in hotels.  Granted, 60 of those days were the first two months when we were in transitional housing at a hotel – but still.  Traveling for this job and out of this area is just different.  Typically when I travel for work, it is either somewhere with a really short flight (or in driving distance) or somewhere in the North East.  With short flights, I seem to end up with a fair bit of flying and working the same day.  In fact, before this year I never flew in and out on the same day to someplace, and I did it three times this year.  Whether nearby or close, each time I fly I seem to need to go out of LAX (which is between 40 minutes or 2 hours to get to depending on traffic) and many times at the crack of early.  Add that to the time changes to get to the East Coast, and the travel days become long and annoying.  But then again, the trips are short, and I get home a lot.

The real transition is to the new life out here.  My old home in Boston didn’t really take; mostly because people from that area want to get to know you before they get to know you.  Great people, but when you aren’t around, you don’t mesh.  Yet that changed nearly immediately here.  In no time, I was making good friends and finding new ways to have fun.  That included the Renissance Faire, Octoberfest (which was a little weird for California, I mean they hold it in of all things October), and more happy hours that I think I ever went to.  Many times, I’ve realized that I have to learn to have friends again – not as much meeting friends but being a friend.  When you spend a couple years with people you know you will never see again, it’s a little weird trying ot realize they want to hang out with you more than once.

Those old hobbies of mine are shifting as well.  I spend the fall judging again, now in my 20th year of judging marching band competitions; but because I was nearly exclusive to a midwestern organization, I needed to look for more opportunities locally – so I joined a California based organization, and WOW these bands are good.  I’ve considered exploring other opportunities and may take up winter competitions this season as well.

Additionally, I’ve expanded on my little writing hobby.  I still write my blog (www.bearfeed.net for those of you who care) at just the right pace for my parents to tell me it’s not enough.  This year, for the fourth year, I participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote over 50,000 words for the third year in a row.  But there again, I thought I would get a little more serious; joining writing groups and critique groups opening the possibly of doing more than just banging meaningless words on a keyboard.

But even the most cynical of you out there can probably see that everything about these transitions sound positive.  Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t living the happiest of lives; but transitions mean change, and change means improvement.  Or more bluntly, it means hope; and isn’t that all we can hope for in a new year.

I hope all of you have a great holiday, hope all of you have a great 2018, and hope all the best for all to come.

 

From Auggie & Mitch

Merry Christmas &
Happy New Year

It Came Upon a Twilight Clear

Standard

Last night, just after sundown, people in Southern California were either awestruck by a beautiful display of technology … or completely freaked out.  We were witness to the twilight launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Iridium 4 mission to orbit.  The rocket took off just before 6PM from Vandenberg Air Force Base (or VAFB for short), a good 150 miles north of the city, and had a southernly trajectory after take-off.  What that really means is that the rocket skirted along just off the coast of the city; as it did it the contrail from the rocket’s exhaust lit up in the sun no longer blocked by the Earth’s horizon.  It gave a display that for most of us normals was unexpected, beautiful, and incredible.

I got to witness it, mostly, but only out of pure luck.  Yesterday was day one of my somewhat annual ‘holiday ass-sitting’.  Where I catch up on movies, television shows, sports, and video games in an effort to let the great world spin without me for a bit.  As I was dinking around, my computer alerted me that SpaceX started a live video – which usually meant a launch.  It’s kinda cool to watch on the vid, but had seen enough of them now that I didn’t immediately jump to it.  Until I saw that VAF was their launch point.  That mission, while having absolutely nothing to do with JPL where I work, was in final testing when I stopped by VAFB last month – so I was practically next to it.  That’s when I thought, it could be visible from La Crescenta.  Granted, if I knew about it hours before, I would have made the effort to head up there to watch it – and I was unsure if I could see it anyway.  So I asked around, and none of my friends knew if you could see it or not.

Well, the launch would be streamed on my laptop, and since I knew I could connect to my wifi from my back deck I thought … might as well go out to see if I can see it.  For the record, sometimes you don’t know what to look for until you see it … sometimes you don’t even know where to look.  That’s my excuse for almost missing it.  I was sure that the rocket would only be visible at a point where a tree would block my view.  So I was hanging over one edge of the deck to look around it, seeing nothing, nothing at all.  I gave that about 15 seconds (which is a long time in a launch) and sighed thinking my shot was missed.  I stepped off the edge of the deck, turned to look at my laptop and ….

Wow!

By the time I saw it, the rocket was directly in front of my house (though about 100 miles west).  The first stage was just separating.  This made the single white line puff wide and expand.  Soon, the second stage plume, much wided and growing ever wider in the lighter atmosphere, bloomed open.  I could clearly see the first stage as it emptied the last of it’s fuel and spinning behind it’s partner.

This was about the time I realized I left my phone in the house … and I had seconds to get it and start taking pictures.

IMG_2364

IMG_2368

Now, Los Angeles, being Los Angeles, went into full freak-out mode.  Some stated that it was a UFO.  Some thought North Korea were bombing us.  Some even blamed Canada.

I drank my wine, and enjoyed the view.

For what it’s worth, there are some great pictures of it out there on the intraweb; and even better theories.  So if you found this at all cool, it’s worth doing a little more of a search to see what’s out there.

I’m just sharing for my own personal reasons.  Watching a rocket launch is on my bucket list – and while I always thought I would have to do something way more complex than walking out to my back deck, there it was.  Not just was it right there, it was incredibly cool … it lit up the sky, it crossed nearly a third of the night on a clear evening with a great mix of twilight and darkness.  As I texted to someone last night:

“It ranks up there with probably the Top 10 Coolest things I’ve seen.  Maybe not as cool as almost getting run over by Queen Elizabeth, but definitely cooler than meeting Drew Carey before he was famous.”

A New Hope Awakens Strikes Back

Standard

((This is a spoiler free post — in fact this is nearly a repeat of a post written in 2015, updated for the release of a new movie — enjoy))

A long time ago, in a movie theater far, far away, a movie captured my imagination in a way that captured the imagination of hundreds of millions of people.  I was six years old when the original Star Wars hit the theaters – and while I just am not sure if this is true, I’d like to think I first saw it in the old Prairie du Chien downtown theater as one of the first movies I saw there (though my memory suggests I went to see Jaws first .. but that would have meant I was 4 when it came out).  Over the next few years, I was able to get my hands on picture books, board games, reduced audio records (the whole ‘Luke I am your Father’ scene still sounds weird to me because they shortened it for vinyl, and I played the hell out of that), and of course we had a vast collection of action figures – none of which stayed in the box.  I still remember the way we wrote and re-wrote storylines stacking up our LEGOs into different ships and bases.  The only regret of those days was the utter shock we had when we found out Luke & Leia were siblings … because that definitely wasn’t consistently with how we played them.  I definitely was in the theater when Empire came out when I was 9.  Return of the Jedi came out when I was 11, and stood in my mind as completely different than any movies or any story that I had ever seen.  It was a storyline that hooked me, kept hooking me, and brought me back to that mystery of a galaxy.  As I grew older, I would watch those old films with greater appreciation.

When the prequels came back to our world, I was 27 years old.  I remember rushing home from work to finally get a seat a week after Phantom Menace.  That showing sticks in my head for two things (and no, neither are the horrid acting and thin script).  They both happened within seconds of each other.

It starts with that moment, and everyone who has seen a Star Wars movie knows it.  You are sitting there … waiting … anticipating.  They put up the distributer names, the Lucasfilms thingy, and then black screen with the words:  “Long ago, in a galaxy far far away”

There is silence.

Then …

BLAM!!!!

That One Note!  That One Big Note!  The fanfare that follows is as iconic as icons can be in world in the last 40 years.

That One Big Note is the first thing.

The next one was in the words that followed.  For nearly 20 years I was reading words that scrolled over the screen right after that big note.  For the first time since the early 80’s I was reading words I had never read before.  That’s when it started to sink in. Going through my head wasn’t a single one of the words, only the thought “Holy S**t, I am watching a new Star Wars”

Sure, I was let down by the Prequel.  Attack of the Clones was almost a throw-away episode, and I wanted so much more out of Revenge of the Sith.  Yet it was still Star Wars, and it was still those first moments that brought me back.  In a couple years I, like most of the Star Wars fandom, accepted the fact that this was it.  There would be no Episode 7  8 or 9.

Of course – we will be blessed by all 9 (plus 3.5 last year with Rogue One, and a few more to be named later, and rumors of 10-12).  I won’t lie to you, Star Wars plays a small part in getting healthy again — you can’t watch a movie when you are dead.  Sometimes I think that I need to get through the really bad days in my life because … well … another Star Wars is coming out soon.  Seriously, I sometimes hear about tragedies and think ‘poor them, they will never finish the Star Wars saga’.

Last Night – I sat in a theater in Burbank.  For the first time that I can remember, I watched a blockbuster movie on the day it was released.  Not only that, what I saw was a double feature of Episode 7 (The Force Awakens) and Episode 8 (The Last Jedi).  As I prepared for the long adventure of the night, I hearkened back to a night not just two years ago.

It was when Episode 7 came out, and I was seeing it a week after it released in Braintree, MA on a mid-week night.   Sitting next to me was a boy no older than I probably was back when the first Star Wars came out.  He was chatty, more interested in the recliner buttons than the dialog, and went to the bathroom at least three times (once during the big moment, the Han v. Ben moment, the poor kid has to live with that).  But what I remember most was the one moment right in the beginning.

Black screen with the words:  “Long ago, in a galaxy far far away …”

There is silence.

Then …

BLAM!!!!

When the first big note hit, my fists lifted in the air holding short of going all the way as far as I could reach.

A quick look to the side, and the kid was doing the same thing.

It maybe just a movie, but it’s also a story of a lifetime.  It is a story of the fight for good, the power of belief, and the fight for the light to win over the dark side.  Its about fighting the demons inside of us, and wondering if we will give in, or rise above.  Such simple ideas, but hope is the greatest of gifts to give to a moviegoer.   There are more names for my generation then there are years in it.  I don’t know what you would call it, but nothing defines the time in which I lived like what will be 9 little movies and the magic Star Wars continues to create.

Now someone please tell me the next one comes out in January … I don’t think I can wait much longer for another.

Ok, I Get The Message, Here’s Your Fire Update

Standard

I shouldn’t have been suprised to see it’s been a week since my last blog where I was kinda leaving some of you in a panic about these California fires.  Then after about three or four people poking me to find out if my house is in danger yet, and two of them taking my sarcasm uncomfortably, I thought … yeah … I should give an update.

Update is … I’m not in danger, the house isn’t in danger, the pup isn’t in danger.

Actually, for this go around, we never were.  The Creek Fire burning a couple miles from my house had too much to overcome to reach us.  A co-worker got sorta close, but her house was still pretty safe.  When I last blogged last Thursday it was actually nearly out, with just some hot spots they were letting go to do a natural burn-off.

Last week at this time, there were four fires burning in our area (and two more down in Riverside / San Diego counties).  Of all of them, only the massive Thomas Fire still burns, and is still only 30% contained.  The nearly 300,000 acre fire endangered Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Ojia; and while nearly a 100 houses were destroyed, no deaths were reported (not even the cute bunny saved in a viral video from last week).  It still threatens big avocado orchards in Santa Ynez but if they had a couple of days of predictable winds this will be squashed quickly.

While there are large swaths of people around the Thomas Fire still evacuated, for the vast majority of Southern Californians this fire season is nothing more than a minor inconvenience.  I had one day that getting home was tough, I had a bunch of ash on anything exposed to the outside, and my allergies were a bit of an issue … and I was pretty dang close to the fires, right?  Comparatively, this isn’t 12 inches of snow shutting down a city, or hurricanes driving entire coasts off to dry land, or realizing that your local football team is the Bears.  This is just another example to me of how good Los Angelenos are world-class complainers.

But I get it, y’all were concerned.  So the quick update.  I hadn’t updated because it was a pretty busy week for me – just not blog worthy.  Heavy push to get ready for the end of the year at work, a great weekend with friends, and crossing new ground in my writing effort.  You are getting this today because, well, I took the day off of work to watch a little movie tonight (here’s a spoiler … it includes a jedi, quite possibly the last one).

So in a nutshell … not dead … dog is fine … I get it.

 

Where There’s Smoke …

Standard

On Monday night, what is now called the Creek Fire started up in a location less than five miles from my house.  Since that time, nearly 12,000 acres of land has burned and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes.  The mandatory evacuation outline, which includes nearly 100,000 people, ends just a few blocks away from my house.  Intermittently over the course of the last few days, major freeways, roads, and streets were closed or blocked off to keep people safe.

And I can’t even see the smoke.

I mean, when the La Tuna fire blazed, I could see the orange glow every night, not to mention the constant stream of tanker planes working that fire.  But this one, no orange glow, no tanker planes, and not even smoke.

Don’t get me wrong, this fire was, and still kinda is, a threat to where I live.  The Santa Ana winds that were predicted for this week are expected to really blow hard this afternoon.  As a strange situation of the Santa Anas, what I expected to be downwind from the fire ended up to be upwind.  So while the gusts got well up to the 40mph range, the fires went the other direction … as well as most the smoke (like only when the winds slow did my allergies and burning throat really take off).  I also am sweating out friends and colleagues that are much more in a dangerous path than I am – some just over the ridge from where the fire still burns.

In all honesty, though, the Creek Fire is one of four fires in this area that garnered attention.  The Creek Fire got attention mostly because it created this massive plume of smoke over the San Fernando Valley and shut down freeways all over Northern Los Angeles County.  The Rye Fire, maybe the forgotten child of the four, near Santa Clarita started first and cause a fair bit of concern to large swaths of homes, as well as the famed Magic Mountain theme park … cause … kids.  The most stunning pictures and devastation is coming from the Thomas Fire up in Ventura.  It’s ravished nearly 100,000 acres, nearly 3/4 of the total acreage burned in SoCal this week, and as yet it is still uncontained.  The fourth fire received a ton of attention – the Skirball fire – which started along the I-405 at Sepulvada Pass and is now threatening Bel Aire and Bretwood estates, already damaging property owned by celebrities.

Besides the Santa Ana Winds that I blogged about earlier this week, many of these fires are the result of a weird year for this area.  Most of last winter and spring was wet, bringing forth a ton of new vegetation; of which most of it dried considerably in a hot summer and fall.  Fires for the most part are a fact of life in the hills around Southern California, plants grow, plants die, and they need to burn off to allow new plants to grow.  This year just seems to be particularly brutal.

While I don’t want to under emphasize the danger, nor the problems caused by those who are losing their property in all this fire … I want to make sure that for those of you paying attention to all the pictures and videos and cries of those in pain … I’m not one of them

I mean … I am kinda inconvenienced … but that’s it.

The air quality sucks.

I just put down grass seed on Tuesday, and I have to water it a heck of a lot more with how dry things are.

Plus people keep asking me if my house burned down yet.

Really the worst part about the fires for me is kind of a surreal, kind of an ironic one.  On Tuesday, when the Creek Fire looked it’s worse, they shut down the 210 Freeway near me, making getting home tough.  Some people stated that to go 3 miles on a major city street (Foothill Blvd) it could take as much as 2 hours to get there.  Sitting there at the house, taking stock on what I would need to do if I had to evacuate, I wasn’t sure what the right route to take – since the streets would be packed.  Thinking I could run out and grab a bit to eat, it hit me, there was no guarantee I could get back because of the traffic as well.  So there I was, home bound in a house in the path of a fire – and I wasn’t sure if I could get in or out of there.  It was, for lack of a better term, weird.

What we been told is that we are not out of the woods yet.  Winds kick up this afternoon, and will blow pretty well over the weekend.  Along the way, new fires are likely to start and some of these will go out.  I’m feeling pretty safe about it, but then again, I can make a laundry list of times when I felt safe and … wasn’t.

So we’ll see,

Santa Anas Come a Blowin’ In

Standard

We’re getting some rough weather these next few days.  Granted, there is a sliding scale of what ‘rough weather’ means for California, but it’st still coming.  It isn’t snow, or rain, or hurricanes, or sharknados, but for Southern Californians, this is the most dangerous repeating weather occurrence we get.  It’s the Santa Ana Winds.  In the next couple days, we are in for a heck of a run of Santa Anas.

The Santa Anas are essentially winds that blow out to see originating in the high deserts.  Meteriologists tell us they start out as high pressure systems over the Mojave and the Great Basin around Bakersfield and that valley.  By the clockwise flow of air around the high pressure system, winds will come off the southern deserts and push over the mountains in whatever way they can.  Most of the time, that means cutting down the major canyons splitting up the San Gabriel Mountains to the East of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego Counties.

The Santa Anas cause problems in one of three ways.

First of all, they are basically funneled by the canyons.  So, with that, they pick up a lot of speed and come rushing through at high rates.  That’s the biggest threat this week, and there are some predictions places like where I live could see up to 70 mph gusts.

During the summers, Santa Anas usually bring an awful lot of heat with them.  They come off the desert screaming hot and can toast the area pretty quick.  Granted, it’s December and not the middle of summer right now, but the Santa Anas did cause the temps to get into the 100s this summer.  Plus right now, the nights are very cold – I had to turn on the heat this morning because the pup was complaining about it below in the 50s.

The third big problem is the relative humidity, or more specifically lack there of.  Of course, winds coming off a desert are going to be dry.  When they go over a mountain top and then rapidly spread out, the humidity spreads thin as well.  As such a Santa Ana wind is so dry sandpaper feels moist.  This morning, that’s what I really felt in the house – like I could drink my weight in water and not feel hydrated enough.

Those three things combined is the real danger.  Santa Ana Winds typically mean we are in for some fires.  Think about it – warm, dry, wind – that says ‘burn baby burn’ all over it.  There may not be an awful lot let to burn around me, but the red flag warnings are up across the whole area preparing us all for where a fire starts up.  Likely, by mid week the whole valley will smell like chestnuts roasting over an open fire … or maybe pine.

Yeah, this is a long way from blogging about NorEasters when I was in Boston, or the Pineapple Express we got up in Alaska; but the Santa Anas will be on our minds the next few days, and it will be interesting to see what comes of it all.