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Our Alaskan adventure is coming to an end. I’ve accepted a position in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Dale’s interviewing for one in the next couple of weeks. We’ll leave this blog up, in case any of it will help anyone else who is contemplating the move, but we’re going to stop posting and turn off comments, since we’re not going to be up here to help anyone out.

We’ll miss a lot of things about AK:

  • Our friends and coworkers
  • Magpies
  • Ravens (well, LOTS of ravens; there aren’t many in VA)
  • Moose
  • Baby seagulls
  • Arctic terns
  • Stellers jays
  • Bald eagles (LOTS, again; there are some in VA)
  • The Cuddy Park duck pond and Westchester Lagoon
  • Giant mountains all around, everywhere you look (VA’s mountains are great, but smaller and only in one direction from C’ville)
  • Mountain goats and sheep
  • Sixty degree summer days
  • Auroras
  • Our house (which we’re selling)
  • Quirky, helpful strangers
  • Our cracked windshield (they’ll make us replace it on the east coast)
  • The Alaska SeaLife Center
  • Delicious fresh salmon
  • A whole bunch of restaurants – Spenard Roadhouse, Table 6
  • Bear Tooth Theater Pub – there’s a theater pub in Arlington, but that’s a bit of a drive from C’ville

We’ll keep posting content at sheldon-hess.org, if you want to follow our adventures in Virginia. (I’m posting about the trip in my blog.)

Thanks for the adventure, Alaska! It’s been a lot of fun.

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This is a weird time of the year, here. The light is back—I watched the sun come up from my kitchen window at 7:30 this morning, and it was up past 8 pm last night—but there’s too much ice on the trails to be out on a bike, or even to go very far on foot. One could wear ice cleats, perhaps, but there’s enough dry ground showing to make that a no-go. (They scrape on asphalt. The sound is unpleasant, it wears the spikes down, and they’re a little unbalancing on dry ground.) So some of us are itchy, wanting to be outside in the newly-returned light, but not really able to do so. In a couple more weeks, if we get warm enough temperatures in the day and if it doesn’t rain or snow enough to keep the ground muddy, we’ll be able to start the first of the spring yard work.

It was 19 degrees (F) this morning, anyway, so the light is kind of a lie, in some ways. We don’t really need to be out in that, pretty though it is.

The nice thing about the light, whether outdoor time is a good idea or not, is I’m starting to come out of my winter malaise. May is my most productive month, I’ve noticed, and I can feel that extra motivation starting to trickle in. I’ve put my name into some really different and exciting hats and am waiting impatiently to see if it gets drawn. Dale and I are both on the committee to plan and run the local hackathon (a weekend where a bunch of programmers, designers, project managers, and business-type people join forces and work on projects for non-profits). I have ideas for work-related projects—a spring cleaning of the library’s website, at least. I am mentally ready to host a fire pit party, after being kind of anti-social over the winter. (We didn’t stay on top of shoveling out the fire pit, so we could do a party pretty soon, but everyone would have to wear boots.)

Although it doesn’t look particularly springy out, it feels that way.

 

Professional stuff

I went to Kentucky for a library conference, last week. I had a great time, because this particular conference, the Library Information Technology Association (LITA) Forum, is a smallish (~200 people?) event full of techy librarians. Chatting in the hallways and at meals, I … honestly, I spent a lot of time answering questions about life in Alaska, but I also had the chance to talk with people going through the same things I do, in my work—people with the same goals and the same frustrations as I have. It was a good reminder that I do belong in this field, and that I am not alone in the fight to modernize the library profession.

I haven’t been to a small library technology conference since I was in library school, and the last one, Electronic Resources & Libraries, was where I decided to go into tech librarianship instead of engineering librarianship. So, in retrospect, I suppose it’s unsurprising how much I enjoyed and was reinvigorated by LITA Forum.

It was also a big deal to me because part of the reason I attended was to present my first national-level talk. I’ve been on a national-level panel before; I’ve given a piece of a short group presentation nationally; and I guess my solo presentation at our regional library association was technically international—Canadians are an easy audience, though. :) So I had a good foundation to start with. But this is the first national talk that, all by myself, I proposed, got accepted, put the slides together, and stood in front of a room to present. (OK, a committee accepted it. That part required help. :)) It was a talk primarily about organizational change, at a tech conference, so I was concerned about how it would fit in with the rest of the programs—but during the Q&As for a couple of related talks, earlier in the weekend, people asked questions relevant to my talk—so I think I covered some necessary ground. I’m not sure how much of what I said was new to the session’s attendees, honestly—quite a few people wanted copies of the Web Plan I wrote for work, and there was lots of discussion during the 20 minutes I had set aside for it, so I feel like I contributed useful knowledge to the field. But I also got the sense that a couple of audience members didn’t learn anything from it, and I feel bad about that.

Family stuff

After conference ended, I hung out with my mom. (Apparently, when your daughter lives in Alaska, 7 hours is NOT too much to drive to visit with her. :)) I called it “Momference,” which still doesn’t cease to amuse me. If I don’t think I’m funny, who will, right?

We had a nice time, though we’re terrible tourists: on Monday, for instance, we had a very long brunch at Panera (we don’t have those up here), then went to Hobby Lobby (we don’t have those up here), then went to a couple of clothing stores (we have those up here, generally speaking, but not these specific ones), then went to dinner, then sat in the hotel room, where I taught her to crochet with the help of YouTube. She’d crocheted before, though she didn’t remember it fully and didn’t know the names of stitches, so the lesson wasn’t too hard. I’d never taught anyone before, so thank goodness for YouTube. Her first granny square looked a lot better than my first. :)

She also brought me some apples from home (a few of which TSA repacked wrong, after searching my bag! grr! bruises, after I was so careful!) and three pints of apple butter. That’ll last me a long while, I expect, unless I end up using some of it in baking projects; I don’t eat a whole lot of toast. (Though I am kind of thinking of pulling out the toaster oven and some of my frozen gluten-free bread, so I can try it!)

It’s a little wearing on family relationships, I think, living so far away. Mom was really sad to see me go. I feel guilty for not figuring out a way to see my dad, too, though the logistics would have been really hard. Last time Dale talked to his parents on the phone, they asked when we would be back on the east coast—a valid question. I fly a lot for conferences, but they aren’t always in convenient places. Or, I spend so much on plane tickets (ahem, Philadelphia* and Las Vegas for ALA Midwinter and Annual, respectively) that I don’t feel like I can spend the extra time in the city, exploring, because the hotels also cost money. (I can get up to $1300 in reimbursement for conference attendance, hotel, and plane tickets. That doesn’t even always cover a full conference, unless my plane ticket comes out of air miles, so much of what I spend is out-of-pocket.) Dale doesn’t really like going along to library conferences, because I’m busy the whole time, and he gets his fill of librarian social events up here. And traveling to the east coast to visit family is expensive and exhausting—especially if we try to visit both families on the same trip. (VA to CT is a long drive.) So we have to balance time and energy budgets, and … it just doesn’t happen as often as we thought it would, when we first moved up here. So there’s guilt on top of everything, right?

I’m thinking of taking classes toward another degree (yes, I know, but this one is relevant to what I’m already doing), and I’m honestly kind of hoping Dale will do that degree with me — which means I’ll/we’ll be loathe to travel during the semester. (Another reason I cut the Philly trip shorter than I usually would.)

But we’ll figure out a time to visit, because that’s important.

Travel (and weather) stuff, getting home

Before I left for KY, we were in an extended autumn, here. It rained for a month, I think, but it was unseasonably warm. (We no longer live in Anchorage. We live in New Seattle.) It got pretty cold the two nights before I left, but now there’s a thick layer of snow all over everything and a layer of ice under that. Apparently we’re getting freezing rain tonight. So… winter came.

It’s good to get out during November, maybe? I think? I got some 50 degree sun in KY, which was great. There were roses still blooming and trees with pretty-colored leaves on them. I got by with a light jacket. But it confuses the system, to come back up here to snow.

I mean, my system’s already confused, so it’s no big thing. Getting to Kentucky from Alaska, counting layovers, took 16 hours. Getting back took 15. (Usually it’s only 12 hours, but I had to make an extra hop, this time; there were no direct flights to Louisville from Seattle or Portland.) I didn’t sleep on the flights back, which put my total awake time for the day right around 23 hours. It means I don’t really have jet lag, probably, just sleep debt; that’s pretty much how I always deal with time zone changes, in part because red-eye flights are the easiest way to get into or out of the state and in part because I’m stubborn enough to stay awake, and that works for me. I got home around 2am and to bed a bit before 3, so it’s probably unsurprising that I slept past noon. :) (I also don’t work the day after I get back. That’s just asking for trouble.)

I might be fighting conference or plane plague, or I might just be tired and mildly allergic to … life. And Dale’s got a cold. So there’s a possibility of a really tough weekend coming up, if we don’t take all of our vitamins. Actually, it’s highly probable, because I’m supposed to start a 12-day round of Prednisone (I refused to take it while traveling), which has immune suppressive side effects. I’ll wait until tomorrow to start, to hopefully give all the germs time to settle.

It was nice to go to sleep in my own comfy bed with flannel sheets covered in stupid penguin pictures and no gross institutional laundry smell, and then to wake up and drink my favorite coffee out of my favorite mug and hang out with Dale (even though he’s sick) and the birds, and to eat an apple from where I grew up, and to not have to go anywhere for the day or get on a plane for the next two months. It’s less good that it’s not quite 5pm, and it’s already getting rather dark, but that’s how it goes. I should probably stop writing and go unpack, since I have work tomorrow, and I’m tired enough, still, that I’m probably going to bed early tonight.

 

*Seriously, I apologize ahead of time for Philly. I’m flying in on Thursday, attending conference stuff until Tuesday noonish, and then flying out Tuesday afternoon. If I let them, the librarians will keep me busy the whole time. (This year, the last meeting got out at 12:30pm; next year should be about the same. And I ought to be at the airport by 4:30. So… that’s how much time I have on Tuesday.) I have some good friends who live in Media, so if they’re up for a trip into Philly proper (I won’t have a rental car), I hope to do dinner with them one evening. But I’m not even taking my customary day to explore the city, this trip.
 

Ever since we got here, people have assured us “this isn’t normal weather.” (Going on four years, now.) I think some of that is the averaging people’s memories do, but some of it is also true, in that (this is my theory) there is no normal for Anchorage.

Two winters ago we broke the record for snowfall since they’ve been measuring in Anchorage (1915). Last winter was the longest from first measurable snow to last measurable snow (on May 18). This June broke the record for the most days above 70 degrees — and we had several over 80, when we “normally” average one day above 80 per year.

It’s been a lovely summer — the first really nice one since 2009, the summer before we moved up. It makes the timing of my busted foot (and hand) particularly frustrating, because it’s a crime to sit still when we know that Anchorage’s time above freezing is so short, and summers this nice are so scarce. It also isn’t that pleasant to be inside, since there’s no air conditioning in the house.

I don’t have an update on the foot or the hand. Well, there was an MRI and a cortisone shot in the wrist, but that hasn’t made the thumb better. I’m mad at everyone in the medical establishment right now. Except you, Dad. And Donna. … OK, I’m just mad at foot and hand people. Even though I know it’s not their fault.

Anyway, the weather. Yeah, it’s hard to prepare for the change in seasons, when they’re so unpredictable. People seem to be in kind of a happy, exhausted haze from enjoying the summer so much. We’ve started looking at the fireweed with trepidation, though. (The saying is, winter starts six weeks after the flowers turn to fluff.)

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, there are probably some repeats. But there are some new ones, too. Sorry for the delay between posts; we just get wrapped up in whatever we’re doing and forget to write about it.

Dale and I had a very good, very hectic 2012. This post is just part of the picture—mostly the stuff I thought would be most interesting to family and people curious about Alaska—but if you want to see the rest of what I’ve been up to, mostly professional stuff, I posted about it at my librarian blog.

Although I hate to start the post on a sad note, 2012 marked the passing of my grandfather. He was a good person, and I am sad for his loss. Something so sad does not fit in well with the rest of the year, but it deserves mention.

The shed, early in the destruction phase

The shed, early in the destruction phase

We spent a lot of 2012 settling into our home, some of it dealing with contractor stuff, some of it demolishing an old, moldy shed on our property and putting up one of those Rubbermaid sheds to replace it. We owe several of our friends dearly for their help in the shed demolition. We (mostly Dale, and, again, helpful friends) also replaced a toilet, and we dealt with a couple of leaks (both of the roof and of the downstairs bathroom sink). We have a cozy living room, the birds live in the dining room, the kitchen has mostly come together, and the basement is good for parties. The craft/project room and exercise room are still in need of some work, but have come along nicely. I spent part of my week off moving my bedroom around, which made enough space that I could put in a dwarf lemon tree! It is supposed to start flowering pretty soon, and I’m very excited. The chinchilla lives in Dale’s room, which makes her very happy, and now Dale has acquired the necessary pieces to put together a workstation in there, as well (I offered to make the craft/project room more hospitable, but he says it’s too cold to work there). Soon he’ll be able to work on more computer projects in his spare time!

Lots of snow

Lots of snow

Since the 2011-2012 winter broke the record for the most snowfall since they’ve been measuring in Anchorage, dealing with the snow took up a lot of our time in early 2012, as well.

This winter has been far less snowy, so far.

Another change on the homefront was our acquisition of a second vehicle. Since Dale’s job moved—same job, different location—sharing a vehicle wasn’t going to work well for us anymore. A coworker who was leaving town gave me a fantastic deal on a Honda CRV. It’s over 10 years old and has had a couple of issues since we got it (including being rear-ended earlier this winter), but overall I think it was a good purchase. I drive the Honda, and Dale drives the Subaru.

In Alaska-relevant news, we saw two big-name acts that came into town, last year: Eddie Izzard and Flogging Molly. (Barenaked Ladies and Cake were here the year before. And Dan Savage comes up most years, too.) So we’re not as far behind as all that.

We also saw our first really good Aurora Borealis (northern lights) display. It was awesome—in the original sense of the word.

And, in a feat of sheer luck, we managed to win the Denali Road Lottery, so we got to drive into Denali National Park. It took place the same week as the Sheldons and Brungards were up here visiting, so they got to join us. Luckiest tourists ever. (Or least lucky, if you’re a pessimist—it’s a hard trip for six adults and a baby.) The Mountain even came out for us while we were in the park! And we saw a mother and baby grizzly bear and several other animals. It was very cool. And, besides Denali, the Sheldons and Brungards got to see a lot of Anchorage and seemed to enjoy their trip. We’re getting two more Sheldons in May. :)

It’s a small thing, but I got called for jury duty for the first time in my life. I was excused from serving, because the defense (I presume) decided I was too close to the case to judge fairly, but it was still an interesting peek into our justice system.

Another small thing: 2012 was the year when I learned to crochet. I’m working on a blanket. I think crochet suits me better than knitting, for whatever reason. Fewer moving parts, maybe.

And that just leaves health stuff, I guess. I won’t go into detail on everything that happened, but on the bright side I started immunotherapy for my allergies, which I’m hoping will allow me to visit friends with pets and live happily through birch season in May. On the less bright side, I learned that I’ve been slowly poisoning myself with what I’ve been eating. In addition to being allergic to some tree nuts (definitely almonds and hazelnuts, but others are unknowns), kiwi, watermelon, and apparently milk thistle, I’m sensitive to wheat and other gluten-containing grains, duck and chicken eggs, and milk and dairy products from cows. (It isn’t the lactose, either; I’m sensitive to both whey and casein.) I’ve had to completely relearn how to cook, which is an ongoing project. Dale has put up with it remarkably well. And, to be fair, I cheat with dairy a lot. Way more than I should. Which might be why I’m still having weird pain issues; I’m planning to eat clean for a while and see if those die down.

I’m currently caffeine free—not to the point where I won’t drink green or white tea or eat chocolate, but to the point where I won’t drink caffeinated coffee. I feel a lot better when I’m not drinking caffeine every day, so I will probably stick with that.

Our 2013 plans include getting a door to separate the not-really-insulated arctic entry from the living areas of the house, a new back door, some insulation in our crawlspace, and other house stuff; biking in Tour de Cure again; getting visitors; going to Hawaii; and hiking up Flat Top, which we still haven’t done. And probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten. :)

2012 was good, and here’s hoping that 2013 is even better!

Look, guys, if you live outside of Anchorage, this isn’t interesting. But if you live in Anchorage, I would be really grateful if you would modify the following letter (perhaps to correct anything I might have gotten wrong, for instance) and send it along to the Anchorage Assembly, at wwmas@muni.org. I will also be modifying this letter so that I can send it to the Department of Justice, who has 60 days to review the redistricting map: 222 West 7th Avenue, Room 253, #9, Anchorage, Alaska 99513. If you want to read more about it, there’s information at The Mudflats and a little bit on the Friends of Fairview Community Council Facebook group. I also borrowed heavily from an email sent out by the President of our Community Council, which I would be happy to forward to you; just let me know.

Members of the Anchorage Assembly:

I am a voter, a taxpayer, and a homeowner in Anchorage, specifically in District 1. I am writing to urge the Assembly to right a grievous wrong.

Quick history: twenty years ago the current two-member district plan was created, with one district having only one member; the plan’s clear intention was for a different district to get only one representative every 10 years, in a rotating fashion. However, for the last 20 years, District 1, which encompasses Downtown, Fairview, South Addition, and Mountain View, has been left with only one representative and therefore with less of a voice than the rest of the city. The current Assembly has apparently decided, through an improper (and most likely illegal) process, to burden District 1 with underrepresentation for another 10 years.

Here is my understanding of the process the Assembly followed to decide how redistricting was to be done: Three members of the Assembly appointed themselves to serve as a sub-committee; these were, incidentally, all representatives of what are–and have been for 20 years–fully-represented areas of Anchorage. The sub-committee proceeded to meet, with no public announcements or input, starting in July. This sub-committee, which did not include a representative from District 1, decided that District 1 should continue in its currently under-represented status. The committee then provided less than two weeks’ notice before holding a public hearing about the process and the decision.

I disagree firmly with the sub-committee–not only with its process, but with the clear implication of its decision: frankly, District 1 voters ARE just as important as the city’s other voters, and to deny us full representation for 10 more years would be a travesty. It would be unjust and, I believe, unlawful.

I urge the entire Assembly to meet again, in the open and under the public eye, with sufficient prior announcement of the meeting, and to remedy this situation immediately. Every district in the city should take its turn with the burden of under-representation. If the other districts are unwilling to do so, then the Assembly should be restructured in some other way, either by dividing the city into an odd number of areas with only one representative apiece, or by allowing District 1 to have a second representative and finding some other way to prevent tied votes.

Sincerely,

I wrote a big long post, but it got deleted, because WordPress’s stupid default “new post” feature is BAD and BROKEN, and I HATE IT. Not going to make that mistake again.

So just imagine that I’ve told you all about the snow (termination dust on Sept 6, snow on Oct 13, snow on the ground now and probably for months), the trouble with my car, the new doors we bought, Dale getting a PFD, our anniversary (we ate fancy dinner and saw “Looper”; also, he got a pretty ring made for me, with the diamond from his grandmother’s ring and two sapphires from a ring my dad gave my mom, back in the day—we kept his grandmother’s band, don’t worry), all the places in Alaska I want to visit, and how we’ll eventually post about the Sheldons & Brungards visiting, as soon as Dale gets finished with National Game Design Month and goes through the pictures.

Boy, I’m super cranky that that got deleted.

Anyway, sorry for not posting sooner—I wanted to post about the family visit, but the photos weren’t ready, so I kept putting it off. But maybe if I posted more often, it would be less bad if it got deleted.

I’ve had sort of a stressful two weeks. Actually, a bit longer, for the linked project, but even before that, this whole summer has been project after project after project after project. That’s just at work. At home it’s been … well, more stressing about the projects we’ve put off, I guess, than actually getting projects done. Remind me to post photos of our shed destruction, though! That was a project!

Like I said, stressful summer. I was beginning to get pretty spazzy, to be honest. So, even though we have a kit to build an 8’x10′ plastic shed in our yard, we opted to take the day off, to go to Seward. We haven’t been to the Alaska Sealife Center (ASLC) for far too long, especially considering how close it is! (Well, it’s less than a 3 hour drive…) It was a great call.

Last night, we drove down to Beluga Point, just because it was pretty. (OK, and I was antsy.) I love it when we catch sunset there!

Then we drove back north to home, slept, and drove back south, well past Beluga Point, to the ASLC. I got a glacier picture on the way down; it turned out pretty well, considering I couldn’t see the screen of the iPhone as I was taking it.

We got to see all of the usual suspects at the SeaLife Center, plus the baby walrus, cuddled up with an ASLC staff member in the I See You. But we didn’t really take photos, that much, this time. Except of puffins, of course. There was a very cute tufted puffin who clearly wanted some attention:

And a juvenile puffin who took a nap. Sort of. (In the one photo, you can see him peeking at the camera.)

The murres were particularly funny today, and a baby guillemot got pretty squawky, as well.

In more mammalian circles, Woody the sea lion wasn’t in his usual pool; two lady sea lions were in his place. And the harbor seal was hilarious, swimming right up to the glass and looking at people.

It was a pretty great visit! And then we had late lunch at the Smoke Shack (the restaurant in a converted Alaska Railroad car) and drove home to Anchorage. Definitely a nice day away from our responsibilities. Tomorrow: back to adulthood. (Well, and I’m making a terrarium at a friend’s house! :))

Dale’s mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and 9 month old niece are coming to stay with us in mid-September for a week and a half. This is, as you would guess, both exciting and overwhelming. The adults have varying interests, and with a baby and the number of people, we don’t know how mobile the whole group will be… so we’ve been making a list of all of the things we know of, to do in and around Anchorage, so they’ll have a chance to pick things they want to do ahead of time.

Check it out, and if you’re local, please tell us what we’re missing. If you’re not local, feel free to ask questions.

We’ve already had one visitor (my dad), and he didn’t get quite as long a list of possibilities, in part because we were newer to town and in part because we didn’t have quite as much time to get organized. Also, we might not have thought of it? I feel bad, like I really should have done this then. But he says he’s coming back, so at least we’ll be ready.

Anyway, we’re hoping this is a useful resource for them—and for anyone else who wants to come visit!