Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My first moose

Hey, look what Buck and I just found in our front yard! It's Bullwinkle! More properly, his name is Bullwinkle the First since he is the first of I'm sure many moosey friends that we will be meeting.

He's still out munching on the bush across the street and hopefully he won't go across the other road while someone is coming around the corner. If he does, he's going to be supper for some homeless shelters.

Anywho, just wanted to record our first up close and personal viewing. I tried for a closer viewing after putting Buck back inside (he thankfully was sleepy and didn't notice Bullwinkle I otherwise I'm sure much barking would have commenced), but as the camera flashed, he started coming toward me with intent and I decided the view from my front window was better. Hence the picture not being great, but me being here untrampled to tell you all about it.

Here's hoping he finishes off the bushes before Buck really needs to go out.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Busy weekend

Well, this weekend more than made up for all my lazy weekends that I've been having.

Saturday I didn't get as early of a start as I wanted, so I missed the pancakes and the parade at Fur Rondy, but I got there in plenty of time to get a good spot for the end of the sprint dog races. It was just day 2 of the three day race, so I'm not sure who ended up winning. You could see them still going all out, though- the mushers would just have one leg on the sled and use the other one to kick off and help 'push'/take some weight off. I was surprised at how large some of the teams were- not sure if there is a limit and some folks just go under it or what. Most of the dogs were pretty darn small- maybe only six or so inches taller than Buck at the shoulder and maybe about 10-15 pounds heavier than him. Hey, maybe when he gets done filling out, he could be a sled dog. Heh! I think it'd be cool to get another bigger dog when I buy my own place and have the two of them pull me on a sled or on skis. Judging from how much Buck pulls on the leash now, he'd love it. :D

After the dog races, I wandered over to watch he fur auction for a bit. They had beaver, fox (grey, red and arctic), otter, wolverine, wolf, and coyote that I saw. They might have had bear earlier on. Some of the furs they sold were trapped by some of the Native kids from up north. Not too many options for jobs up there, I wouldn't think. I took a picture of the huge wolf fur that they sold for $300. It was at least 6-7 foot long.

I went over to the carnival, but it was pretty much for younger kids- about half the rides were for little ones and the rest for teenagers- just standard fair rides and not too many of them. Only had two stands for food- funnel cakes and caramel apples were about the only thing I saw that looked tasty, but the lines were just crazy, so I saved myself from those calories.

Headed back to 4th Ave for the Outhouse races and that was worth braving the huge crowds for. Just hilarious. Different organizations build 'outhouses' with plywood and skis and then one person sits in it while the others push them down the snow covered street between pylons. I think they intentionally set the pylons close together to see how many times the racers would crash into them. That part was amusing, too.

Had a reindeer sausage with sauerkraut (talk about worlds colliding) and wandered around a bit more. They had the 'trapper fur hats' on sale- coyote, fox, etc, but since they were around $225 each, I passed. I got my first Fur Rondy pin- they are something of a collectors item, but I figure they'll be a good way of keeping track of how long I end up staying up here. If there's a badge you should get for each winter you make it up here, this should be it. Heh! I'm kind of cheating since I didn't put in a full winter, but whatever. The last half is always colder than the first half anyway. LOL!

They had sled dog rides around a block of the Park Strip. Mainly it was for kids, though adults could ride. I skipped it since it'd be a bit of a let down to go around the block sitting in the sled after getting to drive a team myself for hours. Heh!

Ended Saturday with fireworks. Buck and I walked down to the park just a block north of us and watched them. He thought they were pretty cool and was only put off by the noise for the first couple. Skipped out on the dances and drinking part of the festivities, which I'm told is a big part. Oh, well, maybe for the Iditarod. The bars apparently open at about 10am since the race starts just before that. So, after everyone watches the start of the race, they go start drinking. LOL! Here's hoping they have Bloody Mary's or something.

Sunday, Buck and I started off by joining a group that goes out to a ball diamond nearby and lets their dogs play. He had a great time with a Samoyed (who is a dog show winner) and the guy who organizes things brought his camera and got a few great shots of them playing. We came home and I changed boots and went to watch the running of the reindeer. It was the first year for this and they weren't really sure what was going to happen. It's in the same vein of the running of the bulls, just with snow and reindeer. I think they picked out some smaller ones to make sure no one got too hurt. I think someone got a bit stepped on in the men's heat, but no major injuries. There were also some brave souls who went skijoring (you wear skis and have an animal pull you, usually a dog) behind the reindeer. I think the reindeer were more freaked out than the folks trying to get them to pull. Heh!

I still need to go find the snow sculptures tomorrow and take some pictures. I got shots of everything over here on my Fur Rondy set. And the new pics of Buck are here on the front page of my Flickr account.

That's it for this weekend. Next weekend (and all this week) Fur Rondy continues and then the Iditarod starts on Sunday. I'll just be going to the fake Anchorage start downtown. The real start is all the way up in Willow since there just isn't good enough snow in Wasilla anymore and Willow is a bit too much of a hike for me. Maybe next year.

Oh, and I had my first moose tonight in the form of a tasty stew! My neighbor was nice enough to share some of his batch with me and man, was it tasty! Real lean and the flavor and texture wasn't that far off from beef. It was like a more tender, tangy beef. Good stuff! I've now had a caribou burger, moose stew and reindeer sausage. I think once I've had some bear, I'll have eaten most of the four legged animals that are up here. Heh! You have to have goals.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Just a quick post

Dewey Donation System
This is an awesome way to give back to libraries. It started with a couple people who run sites that I read and has grown and grown. I've donated a couple of books each year they've had it just to give back to some of the awesome libraries that have enriched my life so much. So, give a kid a book- don't you remember what Whitney Houston said about kids being our future? Come on, teach them well and let them lead the way. :D

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pros and cons of Alaska

So, I've officially been here in Alaska for a month and I feel like I can write up a list of pros and cons. Personally, I don't count the weather as one in either direction just because that's something you know about going into it and if you can't hack the cold, it's not somewhere you want to be.

That said, some things I knew were issues are actually hitting home a bit more than expected.

Cons first:

1. Lack of good chain restaurants. I'm not much for eating in chain restaurants when dining in if I can help it, but getting take out is a big distinction. Things like Potbelly, Chipotle, Red, Hot and Blue, Panera, etc are favorites of mine since I'd rather eat something like that than McDonalds. Sadly, none of those are up here and it's making me very, very sad. There are other places that aren't here like Krispy Kreme and Olive Garden, but I didn't frequently those as often, so they can be hit up when I travel back down to the lower 48. But no good burritos or sandwiches for six months at a time? That just plain sucks.

2. Lack of chain stores. This is more like 1b. but there's a lack of stores that I knew about, but didn't really consider the consequences of before I came up. Like there's no Target. There are two Wal-marts, but if they don't have what you are looking for, you're screwed. Same deal on pet stores- there's a Pet Co. but no PetSmart, so if Pet Co. doesn't carry what I need, it's tough luck.

3. No shipping. Which leads to number 3- no one wants to ship to Alaska. And if they do, it's outrageously expensive. Which strikes me as ridiculous because the post office does *not* charge any extra for shipping up here. So, why can't more stores use USPS rather than FedEx and UPS which apparently love to charge ridiculous amounts for things? Sears and Ikea are just two examples of places that don't ship up here at all. And then even places like Amazon charge a fortune for shipping. For instance, if I wanted to buy a Scooba (like a Roomba but for floors) from Amazon, it was going to cost me $100 in shipping! But if I still lived in Virginia, it'd only be $20. Are you kidding me? There's no way it costs them that much. And if it does, why can't they use the USPS as their carrier for Alaska? I know stores that use them for shipping to PO Boxes since you can't use Fed Ex and UPS for those. It's just irritating.

4. Time zone. I'm just ridiculously behind everyone. After about 6 pm my time, making calls to family and friends isn't really an option. And who has time to make calls before six? I try to make calls on the way home from work, but since my commute time is so much shorter, I don't have much time to talk and when the roads are not clear (the majority of the time), I need to not be on the phone. It's an issue.

5. Food/goods costing more. I also knew this when I came up here, but it strikes me as odd because it's so hit or miss. Like milk actually costs less than in VA, but things like my 4 pack of Monster energy drink are $2 more. And my contact solution is nearly $2 more as well. Yet soda is the same and cheese and a number of other products. It's just weird. If everything was higher because of what it costs to ship it up here, I'd understand, but it's so random.


1. It's just gorgeous. It's pretty much a scenic portrait no matter where you look. Water, mountains, etc- it's just pretty. Tons of parks inside the city help with that, too.

2. People are really nice. I don't know how many times I've had people stop to talk to me in the grocery store or randomly compliment my hair or my dog, etc. After being in the DC area for so long, it's a very nice change. Store clerks talk to you while they are ringing you up, when I call for delivery, the guy taking orders starts asking me how long I've been up here and if I like it, the delivery guy didn't have the kind of pop I asked for, so he carried 4 two liters of what they had available up my stairs, so I'd have a choice on what I wanted. Just a bunch of nice folks. There are still some jerks- it seems like it's changed from me watching out for jerks in BMWs to watching out for all the jerks that drive Ford F-150s (I swear every F-150 driver is a total ass), but other than that, the people on the road are nice, too. When you let someone in traffic, they wave a 'thanks' and you rarely ever have to wait for someone to let you into traffic when coming out of a parking lot. Just lots of nice people for a city of 250,000.

3. The dark. I like the dark. I've always been a night owl and I like going to work before the sun comes up. Since the mountains are to the east of us, it really doesn't get bright until after 8am, even now in February. I like being able to drive to work without the sun in my eyes, so I like the mountains where they are. I have only needed my sunglasses a couple times for the drive home and I used to have to put them on as soon as I got in the car. So, that's a nice change.

4. Fresh fish. I honestly haven't taken advantage of this yet, but I just found a local fish market right near my house, so I will be soon. Crabs were about the only thing i could count on really being fresh in DC, but here there are a lot more options and even more will be available as it warms up.

5. The light. Ok, it sounds weird, but since it's cloudy a lot at night (or at least has been the last month), and with all the snow on the ground all the time, it's very bright out at night from the street lights bouncing off the clouds and snow. I can walk Buck anytime and we don't ever need a flashlight. Makes taking walks at night a lot safer. Here's a link to a picture that shows what I'm talking about.

OK, that's about it for now. I'm sure as the weather gets nicer and I find a place that has good sandwiches, the pros will start outweighing the cons, but for now they're pretty even. Since it's always tough getting used to a new place, I think the fact that the lists are even is a good thing. Now, back to unpacking boxes. Ugh.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Good week- warm weather and stuff received

You know you're on your way to becoming an Alaskan when you think 20 degrees is warm. Thirty feels outright balmy and the folks around here actually don't want it to get that warm since it melts the snow that's on the ground and the roads, just enough to turn it into icy slush. Since the snow stays dry and powdery when it's colder, everyone here would prefer it to just stay in the twenties or so rather than getting one or two nicer days that lead to the roads being crappy for a week. Plus, you end up getting 'wintry mix' instead of the usual extra inch of snow when there's precipitation. A little more snow (like the four inches we got last night) only slows your commute down by about ten minutes- ice, not so much. But it looks like next week is going to be that way. I'd have prefered it just stay super cold.

But before it warms up, Saturday is going to be in the twenties with some light snow, so I'm planning on going out to the mountains for the first time. Buck and I will be sticking to a large, well-populated trail. With the weather warming, there are risks of avalanches in the back country, not that we'd be venturing out there, but it still makes me nervous. If it's not the moose, it's the avalanches; if it's not avalanches is bad weather, etc. It's just a big change- the worst thing I had to worry about hiking out east was busting an ankle.

In other news, next week is the start of Fur Rendezvous (Fur Rondy, for short)! It's basically a huge winter event that lasts from the 22nd to March 2nd. It was originally the time that the fur trappers and buyers would meet up and buy and sell furs. That still happens, but it's become a big party for everyone else. It seems like a way for folks to get out towards the end of a long winter and enjoy themselves. Events include; sprint dog races (sprint being 25 miles), snocross (like motorcross but with snow machines- yes, snow *machines*, not mobiles- I don't know why), sled dog weight pull, snow sculptures (they truck in big cubes of snow from up North), a bonspiel (of *course* there's curling!), ice bowling, outdoor hockey championships, snowshoe softball (they also wear constumes), a parade, rides, a tribal gathering, and a blanket toss.

And that's just the normal stuff. Then, there's the crab and reindeer races. I'm not sure if it's 'winning' if you're going to get eaten no matter what the outcome. Heh! I'm guessing this year's reindeer live, but it could be last year's losers that are a part of the reindeer sausage eating contest. And then there's the fireworks which start at 6:45. One of the benefits of doing this in the winter months- if you tried waiting around for it to get dark enough for fireworks on the 4th, you'd be up well past midnight. LOL!

So, yeah, I'm really excited to get to take part in my first Fur Rondy and then my first Iditarod next month. Then, in April, I get to head back east to Virginia for about five days while I take part in some training for my company. On the way back up from that, I'm going to Hawaii for four days (a weekend and two work days). Since our branch up here isn't big enough, we're a part of the Hawaii branch. The obvious benefit of that is getting to go to Hawaii a couple times a year on the company's dime. Awesome. And I'll be going when it's still cold here. What would be the point of going when the weather is nice here? I'll have to hit my gym's tanning beds for a about a month before going, though. Otherwise I'll end up a very crispy critter.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Turns out it's cold in Alaska

As I was leaving the Metro D.C. area to move to Anchorage, everyone kept asking, 'isn't it really cold up there?' In my head I was thinking, 'yeah, if you're a total wuss' and what I said out loud was that the average lows in the winter in Anchorage were only about ten degrees colder than in Boston and Chicago. Factor in the fact that there's hardly ever even a breeze in Anchorage compared to the Windy City (yes, I know it was called that because of the politicians, not the wind), and the temps are probably about the same.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure God heard me mocking those people and this weather is my punishment. When the temps started dipping below the positive numbers, I thought I'd better just keep my mouth shut, lest I be more easily identified as being someone from the lower 48. But after more than a week of the highs not making it to the double digits, I started understanding from the complaints around me that this wasn't normal. I haven't mentioned to anyone that they're caught in the middle of my divine comeuppance, though.

The upside is that I'm getting a crash course in acclimation. When the weather turns this weekend and makes it up into the 20s next week, it's going to feel like a heat wave.

Once all my worldly possessions actually make it off the boat, I'll have my camera cable and can download a bunch of pictures I've taken. Still haven't caught any of the moose I've seen on 'film', but I've only seen them from the car and when that's when you are seeing them, you're more worried about them going kamakazzi and destroying your vehicle than anything else. Suckers are HUGE. Oh, and mean, as it turns out. My boss is still paying for his dog's vet bills after one kicked his dog this summer. Their hooves are 25lbs each on average and the only reason his dog lived was because it was only a glancing blow to the dog's side. So, yeah, there probably won't be any moose pictures anytime soon. I like my dog alive and unharmed.

Until I get some pics uploader here are a few links to pictures recently taken of Anchorage by people with way better cameras than me.

The awe inspiring Anchorage skyline. I can almost see my apartment in this picture.

Pretty much the view from my place each afternoon as the sun sets and the mountains across the mostly frozen Cook Inlet go from red to purple.

Frozen fog- a new concept to me, and it's weird the way it creeps in from the mountains and back out some days, but it makes everything pretty with being too dangerous.