Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Maid Service

One of the many hardships I had to endure in my time of unemployment was the loss of my monthly maid.

Boy, I sound so pretentious, don't I? But really, it was quite distressing.

However, after taking a look at my financial state now that I’m working again, I determined that I can once again afford the luxury. Believe me, once you’ve had it, you’ll find almost anyway you can to get it back.

I am doing quite well, though. I had money saved up ahead of time, and was given a severance check when I was let go. All of that on top of stringent budgeting means that I can afford to relax a little bit.

I may even be able to get my blinds that I’ve been wanting: the energy-efficient ones that help to hold the heat in so well.

I’m a happy camper!

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Tangled Web

My family is getting large enough that I am beginning to not know what to call people.

Take for example my brother. He married a girl, who then became my sister-in-law. Well, she has a sister: what is she to me? And now, that sister is getting married: what will he be to me?

Another example is my sister's son: he would be my nephew. He married a girl a while back: what is she to me?

Also, my sister's daughter - otherwise known as my niece - had a baby boy. What is he to me?

Can anybody tell me?

And then, there's my sister-by-choice. She's been a part of our family for 25+ years, but is not related to us by blood. I made up her title because I don't think there is one for her. Well, she went and got married and had two kids. What do I call them?

And last but certainly not least, there’s my Cousin Chris: who isn’t really my cousin but is instead my cousin’s son.

It’s so confusing.

Christmas Day

After opening gifts at my sister’s house, and after having just one more piece of Christmas Stolen, I packed up my stuff and headed on over to the farm for the day.

Mother had all kinds of good food baking in the oven when I arrived – the whole house smelled so good!

She stopped me in the entryway, however, and took me out to the barn to check on her girls first. Her girls happen to be a bunch of chickens and three turkeys. And not all of them are female, either. But – they are fun to watch, regardless of their gender.

Mother had gotten rid of all her chickens not two months ago, and had thought that she was done with trying to keep the birds alive through the winter – but a friend had a slight emergency and had to leave the state for a few months. He needed somebody to look after his flock, and who better than Mother! Heck, some of his flock was originally hers anyway. So, now she’s back into chicken farming – and although she complains, it’s fairly obvious that she loves it.

When we finally got back to the house, I hauled all my packages into the office where Mother had her “system” in place: huge boxes with family names written on the sides. Each person bringing packages placed them in the appropriate box, so that later on we could easily hand them out to whom they belong. I divvied up my packages and went back in to the kitchen to help Mother with all that food.

People started arriving one after another, shortly after that, till eventually all 21 of us were there: Mother, Stan, Dorothy, Stewart, Julie, Kelly, Danny, Tara, Laurel, Corbin, TJ, Gareth, Robin, Jamie, Noel, Hank, Katy, Lauren, Me, Reed, and Heather! The only one missing was Cousin Chris, who had gone home to Montana for the holidays.

It was a great day, full to overflowing with good food, lots of good conversations, and even a little bit of drama thrown in for good measure.

The drive home that evening was horrible, though. A blizzard had started blowing in around noonish, and was just getting it’s stride going by the time I headed home. It wasn’t the worst weather I’d ever driven home in (that honor belongs to Noel’s surprise 40th birthday) but it was no picnic.

I made it home, though, a little too well fed but happy.

Christmas Eve

It’s always been a tradition for me to spend Christmas Eve out at my sister's house. I've been doing this for over 20 years, ever since the girls were born.

It started out in part as a babysitting job: my sister Noel and her husband Hank are both in the choir at church and needed somebody to sit with the babies during the midnight mass. It’s also a way for me to enjoy family life without having to actually HAVE a family (meaning kids). I have loved every year of it. Now that the girls are older, it's more an opportunity for me to spend some time with each of them.

I took off right after work and arrived just in time for Christmas Eve Dinner with Hank’s parents at a nice Italian restaurant. After our meal – which was scrumptious - we headed off to church for the early service. Both Noel & Hank, and this year Lauren as well, headed downstairs to warm up with the choir while I hung out upstairs, helping Katy with folding programs for the evening's service.

Rachel, my friend from high school, showed up with her little one shortly after we got started. Since Rachel is in the choir also, we agreed that Elly should sit with me in the audience for the service. I also had Katy and her friend sitting next to me - lots of company this year!

After that, we headed over to Hank’s parents' house to celebrate my sister's birthday (yup - she was born on Christmas) with presents, goodies, and tea/coffee. The dogs came with us and even got to open their own presents - causing a minor squabble over whose toy was whose. Apparently the puppy still doesn't quite understand the concept of sharing!

By then it was time to head back to the church for the midnight service. I chose to stay home, as did Katy, so she & I got to catch up on all of her goings-on at college. I crawled into bed shortly after that, since I am most decidedly NOT a night owl, and didn't even hear the others return home.

The next morning, Noel & Hank got up early to let the dogs out for a potty break and to put the turkey in the oven. I heard them putzing around in the kitchen so got up to join them. Normally, the girls would be the first ones up - frantically urging the adults to WAKE UP so they could open their gifts - but, as my sister noted, apparently ages 18 & 20 are the magical ages where sleeping in is more preferable to early wakening: they didn't get out of bed till nearly 9:30.

When they did finally get up, we proceeded to open our gifts at a nice, leisurely pace - munching on the Christmas Stolen and drinking special Christmas Tea/Coffee in the process.

It was a great holiday!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Help Me Please!

Here’s a couple questions for you – Let’s see how many responses I can get from the world out there. But, first: some background to better understand my questions.

I am going on a scientific expedition to Africa in November of 2009. This is with Earthwatch, which – as you might know from reading previous blog postings – I happen to be the Alaskan Field Representative for. Not that I get to go on these expeditions for free, or anything. But I do get to talk to people about Earthwatch and get them all excited about it like I am myself.

Anyway, my questions are:

1. What is the temperature going to be like in November over there?

I will be in Kenya, in the Samburu region. I’m told that is almost directly ON the equator but has a high elevation. I’m expecting it to be hot and muggy, but for some reason I seem to recall somebody telling me that it would actually be cooler up there than one would think.

2. How does one train for high elevations when one happens to live at low elevations?

The expedition briefing says that the elevation ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. The problem is that I happen to live at only 300 feet, and the highest point I can get to without serious climbing gear is about 1,500. So, what should I do?

I’m climbing stairs at work, to start with. I only work on the 4th floor, so it’s only three flights of stairs. But, I do it 4-5 times a day – that should count for something.

I also have intentions of loosing these extra pounds I’ve been carrying around lately. We’ll see how that goes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day One

I survived my first day! I’m tired, but happy.

I started at 8:00 today, but from here on out my days will start at 7:30 and end at 5:30. I’m on a schedule where I work 9 hours each Monday thru Thursday, then just 8 hours on one Friday and not at all the following Friday.

The only bad thing about that – well, actually there’s several bad things. One is the traffic on the way home. I’ll be smack in the middle of rush-hour traffic on the main artery in town. I won’t actually get home till around 6:30, and since I go to bed at 10:00 that barely leaves me about 3 hours to get all my chores done AND snuggle with all three of my kids properly.

I’m sure I’ll get used to the schedule eventually.

The other thing I consider bad about this schedule is the fact that I will have to somehow keep track: is this my Friday off, or is this my 8-hour Friday? And to make matters worse, I get the feeling that they sometimes ask you to come in on your day off and work anyway. This will definitely take some getting used to.

But, the work is interesting. So far, I’ve worked on an addition to the culinary arts school in Seward and a warehouse storage area for Change Point (a local church). I have volunteered my help to consolidate some sort of office standard, and have mentioned (several times) that I want to be one of the first to be trained on Revit, whenever they get the program in house.

The people are all very nice. It’s a small office, so I only have about 12 names to try to learn. I’m so bad with names! I think I know about 3 so far… I hope.

My little cubicle is on the East side of the building, so I have the most beautiful view of the mountains! It is truly spectacular – particularly this morning with the bitter cold, the hoar frost all over everything, and the morning fog shrouding the area. It’s almost too beautiful – makes it very hard to concentrate on my work. It's better than the view on the East side, though: they get to watch the homeless people all huddling together trying to stay warm.

I brought in a plate of home-made fudge (thank you Mother!) for my first day of work. It was half gone before 10:00, so I think it was a success.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I Have A Job!

It’s official – I have accepted a position at NVision Architecture! I start work tomorrow.

It would have been today, but I had already told the zoo I would help out with 400 students coming to learn about Tigers.

This morning I contacted the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and let them know I was no longer interested in their lead position. Then I called the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation to let my friend know that I would not be working for them either.

Then I let NVision know that I would be in first thing tomorrow morning, ready and willing to work.

It’s a beautiful thing… although I must admit = I have a huge migraine today. I’m sure it’s the stress of starting over again.

Friday, December 12, 2008


To celebrate my impending employment – regardless of which one I end up choosing – I treated myself to a bit of online shopping tonight!

Mother gave me about 10 new pairs of pants a few weeks ago (well, new to me at least) so I decided to get some tops to go with them. Eddie Bauer is my favorite place to shop, although I must say their website is not as fun as the actual store. However, I ended up choosing two shirts and two sweaters – all of which were on sale! They should arrive by Christmas.

Next I went to the Victoria’s Secret website for some much-needed underclothes. I’m embarrassed to say how long it’s been since I bought new ones – I’ve just been making due with what I had on hand. Again, I hit the sales table and ended up with some pretty bras and panties – although that probably qualifies as “too much information”.

I had to stop myself from hitting the bookstore – that has always been my reward of choice, as is evident by the stacks of books located on just about every flat surface in my house. I so need more bookshelves. I actually caught myself storing books in my car a while back!

The grand finale of my celebration consisted of heating up a brownie and eating it with a cup of Market Spice Tea while watching CSI New York.

When It Rains, It Pours

I had 2 – count them, two! – job interviews today!

The first one was with ASRC, or Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (as in, Big Oil). A guy I used to work with way back in my Fluor Daniel days is the manager of the EIC group (electrical, instrumentation, and controls) and had recognized my name when my resume made its way across his desk.

In fact, he had tried a few years earlier to get me to work for him - but at the time I was happily employed and didn’t want to switch gears.

He invited me to lunch with him at the Peppermill restaurant, just on the other side of the parking lot to his building. We had a nice lunch (I ate an Ahi Tuna sandwich that was truly scrumptious) while catching up on old times and going over the job parameters.

After boxing up the leftovers and paying the bill, we headed over to his office to go over the particulars.

The building he works in is relatively new, and is really a nice building. It has a good feel to it when you’re walking down the hallways, even though they are stuffing as many cubicles as they can into an open space – a concept that managers love but worker-bees tend to hate.

The work I would be doing is basically the same as what I did in my pipeline days – it wouldn’t take that much of a learning curve to get back in to the swing of things. I’d have to learn their layering system, their plotting styles, and all that sort of thing - of course. But I’d have to do that no matter where I end up. At least at this place it’s got a familiar ring to it.

I saw quite a few familiar faces while walking around: people I had worked with both here in town and down in Valdez. Quite a few of them recognized me in return, even! One guy actually said, “You used to have red hair!” in reference to the grey I now have. Oh well… he’s a guy – what more can you expect?

The offer that was made to me was quite impressive, and very tempting. Not to mention the fact that they would like me to start today if at all possible (it’s not). But – since I had another interview scheduled for today that I still had to go to, I told them I would decide once I knew what I had to choose from and get back to them.

So, off I headed to my second one of the day: at NVision Architecture.

This company is located in a building that’s not quite so nice and is in a part of town that is trying to clean itself up but hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

Inside is very nice, however. The floors are poured concrete made to look like marble = very classy. The interiors and special features are obviously created to impress clients, and are very warm & inviting.

I like it!

I sat in the conference room with the lead architect and spoke to him for about half an hour. Apparently, he has spoken to other people about me (that’s always an uncomfortable thought) so had an idea as to my capabilities already – he mostly needed to hear what I had to say about things before making up his mind officially.

He did say that I had some of the best references that he’d ever come across before! That’s quite the complement, I think. People think well enough of me to actually recommend me for employment – even without me asking them to!

This firm is considerably smaller than ASRC; they have 12 people right now and are hoping to ramp up to about 16. There’s no chance that they could come even close to the pay-scale that Big Oil offers, but they are offering slightly more than I was making at my last job.

I haven’t made up my mind officially yet.

Do I work for Big Oil, make buckets of money, have awesome benefits and loads of work (mandatory 16 hours of overtime each week) for years to come?

Or do I choose the work I went to school for, where the jobs are not guaranteed and the work load fluctuates regularly from “pick-your-nose boredom” to “oh-my-god this-has-to-be-finished-tonight”?

Call me crazy – but I think I’m actually going to turn down financial bliss.

Either way, I start on Tuesday!

Bear Cubs at the Zoo

As most of you know, the elephant that used to live at The Alaska Zoo has moved down to sunnier weather and now resides in California with a herd of 5 others of her kind. She is, I am sure, a lot happier now – but the problem remains in Alaska of what to do with her old enclosure.

We haven’t quite figured that out yet.

Temporarily, however, half of it got turned into a holding pen for our two bear cubs this week. I got to help out for a few hours while several of the maintenance staff, along with the director and the curator of the zoo, got the place ready for them.

We put up fencing all around, about 8 feet tall with 3 feet of thick black plastic on top (to stop the cubs from climbing out). We placed several toys in strategic places, to keep them occupied. We constructed a “den” out of hay bales. We filled two big tubs of water, partially in hopes that they might get the hint and take a bath. We even gave them a nice big snow pile to roll in. Basically, we made it as cozy and inviting as we could for them.

They got moved in the very next morning. I wasn’t there to see that, so I’m not entirely sure how they did it – but I suspect they just got them crated up in portable carriers similar to what you would put a dog or cat into for transport.

The two cubs are orphans (not related to eachother) and had apparently been on their own for a while because by the time we got them, they were severely malnourished and dehydrated, requiring a lot of medical attention. They are both underweight – by this time of year they should be about 150 pounds, at least, and yet both are not much more than 50 pounds.

One good thing about that is that makes them a lot easier to crate up and transport across the zoo, from the infirmary to their new home in the old elephant house! They will live there until they are ready to go to their new permanent home in Memphis, Tennessee – probably sometime next fall.

Putting two little cubs into a new environment can be quite stressful – both on the cubs and on the zookeepers! One can never be 100% sure that all the escape routes got blocked – so a babysitter is needed for the first few days.

That’s where volunteers come in! I spent most of Tuesday in there with them, keeping an eye on their activities and making sure they didn’t get where they shouldn’t be. I also got to talk to any zoo patrons who happened to stop by, which really wasn’t that many. It was cold and snowing outside, and word of the cubs’ new exhibit hadn’t hit the news yet.

Mostly what I did was homework. I sat up in the viewing area with my Human Anatomy book and did a whole chapter! I have to say, that viewing area isn’t the most comfortable place I’ve ever done homework in: concrete floors, a hard wooden bench, and barely enough heat to keep warm with.

It’s perfect for the animals, however. They were feeling just fine; sprawling out for the occasional nap in between their inspection of the new place. They didn’t seem to be too interested in getting out – most of their time was spent destroying the cardboard boxes we’d scattered around for them. They also destroyed the den made of hay bales, and the snow pile took all of 5 minutes to destroy, after which it simply melted down the drain.

If you’ve ever had the good fortune (or bad, depending on your point of view) of running across bear cubs out in the wild, then you know the sounds they make. It’s really not describable – you have to hear it to believe that such an awful sound actually came out of that little teddy bear looking thing.

Now put that sound into a building made of concrete and bounce the echoes all over the place and you get an idea of what I heard all day. The girl cub kept trying to get closer to the boy cub – but the boy cub wanted nothing to do with the girl cub (they have girl kooties!) and would start to scream at her whenever she came into sight.

I have a feeling that by now, they are quite comfortable in their new home, and are more active and vocal – well worth a trip to the zoo to visit them!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday Concert at the Museum

I attended a Holiday Concert this weekend at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. I was actually supposed to go to our Family Movie Night that day, but it had been cancelled – in part because of this concert: my sister Noel was part of the event as she is a member of Cantora Arctica, the woman’s choir conducted by Janet Stotts.

The concert was really good. The museum is a very classy place, of course. The foyer is a very large two-story space, with the sweeping staircase and the water feature with glass blocks at the base. The acoustics were perfect for the music, and the holiday decorations added just the right final touch.

And may I say: the Christmas tree was beautiful!

It was probably 12 feet tall and about 8 feet in diameter at the base. I didn’t get close enough to see if it was real or not, but with the quality of fake trees these days, there’s really no reason to waste a perfectly good tree just for decoration purposes.

It was the garland that was really cool. Somebody had made hundreds of dolls, each one about 18 inches tall, and all dressed in traditional clothing from all over the world. The dolls all held hands, creating the garland, and wrapped the tree from head to foot.

I had my camera with me, and took lots of pictures, so if anybody wants to see the tree, or – more importantly – my sister, just ask!

Speaking of my sister: let’s get back to the subject of the concert (the whole reason for this entry in the first place!).

The program opened with a group called the Suzuki Students of Karyn Grove. I am not familiar with them, so am assuming that Karyn Grove is the name of a school – but it could have been the name of their leader. Either way, the group consisted of about 12 kids, ranging in age from 9 to 16, all of whom played violins.

They were amazing. They stood up there, in matching outfits, and played 26 pieces of holiday music = all without any music books in front of them! They did the entire show from memory.

Now, I can totally understand singing that many songs from memory. I do it every day, and have been doing so since almost before I could talk. But playing the violin! At the age of 9!!!

Truly impressive.

Cantora Arctica filed on stage next along with the Alaska Children’s Choir (also conducted by Janet Stotts). There were probably somewhere around 50-80 voices by the time they all got to their positions. There were kids lined 4-5 deep all the way up the stairs, with the youngest voices down on floor level in front of the adults.

The songs they sang were specifically chosen to showcase all the different age groups present, so that each group got to highlight their talents and be in the spotlight. There were several duets, some solos, and even a couple where everybody sang together.

Again, the acoustics in the museum are really quite beautiful, and the human voice can do some really amazing things when properly trained.

I was impressed, to say the least.

If you’re interested, Cantora Arctica is performing at another concert this coming Sunday, December 14, at the St. John Lutheran Church in Palmer, from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. Tickets are $15.00 for adults and $10.00 for children & seniors.

I highly recommend you going to hear them. You won’t be disappointed!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

He Is Not Ugly!

The other day, as I was carrying my little Alien out of the exam room over to the check-out counter at the vet’s office after his little medical emergency, there was a lady in the waiting room. She had a leash in her hand, so I’m assuming she was waiting for her dog to be returned to her.

As she saw me come out of the exam room, she said to her husband “Oh look! It’s a... small.... something...” her exclamation of endearment turning to uncertainty as she got a closer look at him.

I just shook my head sadly and said “He’s a cat.”

“Okay.” She said, as she nodded her head gently and looked at me as if I were clearly a crazy person that must handled carefully.

He’s not that weird looking… is he?