Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tuesday was another stellar day.....

Well, we have had a couple of really nice days this last week. Ryan and I went riding again on Tuesday and it was another spectacular day.
On my last post Margo commented that she was happy that I still had all of my limbs even if all of the trees didn't. After contemplating that comment for the better part of the day, all I can say is that trees that have their lower branches trimmed (pruned) are healthier, happier, and look better than trees that don't. I also determined that we could probably submit a bill to the forest service for pruning so many trees for them! I'm working on the cost structure right now. I think the cost is going to have to be directly proportional to the cost of gas and replacement snowmachine parts.

Apart from playing on my snowmachine in the last week off, Sandi and I replaced the lighting in the kitchen. We originally had one pendant with three lights and we put in two tracks with five lights each. The difference is amazing! It was a little nerve racking hole sawing a four inch hole in our tongue and groove pine ceiling, but once I bit the bullet and did it, the fixtures were the easy part. The part I hate is getting ready to install something that I just bought from Lowes or Home Depot and it is missing a couple of critical parts. We had to make an extra trip to get all of the parts but got it done, and it was worth it. I also broke down and called a couple of guys I know who are superb cabinet makers and asked them what it would take for them to finish my cabinet doors in the kitchen. The cabinet doors are one of the things that I have been most looking forward to building, but with all of the projects on my plate I decided to stop holding out and after four years, finish the kitchen. Hopefully they will be able to install everything when we are at the Western Timberframers Conference this spring. It would be nice to come home to a brand new kitchen.

Now, I guess the fun is over and I'm headed for London on my way for one more trip to Algeria. I've packed my shorts and sandboard and am set to go! Hopefully I;ll get some good London pictures to post on the way.

Nice soft snow

Ryan coming through the trees

Me on a pruning run...

Just a beautiful day to be outside

If you look close you can see the buildings of Anchorage on the other side of the Inlet

Um, Ryan, theres a ravine there........

Mount Susitna (Sleeping Lady) on the right, across the valley

A procupine who was eagerly awaiting us to leave

The pruning grounds.....

Spruce needles are kind of prickly.......

Monday, February 25, 2008

One of my favorite times of the year.....

March and June are hands down my two favorite months of the year in Alaska. I know it isn't March yet but it is pretty darn close. Today was a beautiful sunny blue sky day with tons of really good snow. We are up to 10+ hours of daylight and gaining 5 minutes everyday. Right now the sun isn't setting until after 7pm, a wonderful thing.

Today we spent most of the daylight hours playing on snowmachines in the woods not too far from home. I love that in ten minutes worth of riding you can be so remote it would take a day to get there in the summer. The sun was bright, the snow was deep, and the trees....

well, lets just say they sometimes don't move out of the way fast enough.
On days like today you become one with nature, the word tree hugger takes on a whole new meaning. With the snow just barely covering some of the alder thickets I find that when you are flying across the top of them and your ski dives under one measly little alder, you stop like a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier. The only difference is that the pilot is strapped into his fighter, I on the other hand continue at the previous forward speed until coming to rest somewhere in a pile somewhere near the machine. Tell me that doesn't sound like fun. With all of the avalanche activity around and a few deaths this year at least we don't have to worry because we don't go above treeline. Our biggest concern is getting impaled by a tree branch or something like that. People think riding a snowmachine consists of sitting on it and steering, that is a pure misconception and at the end of the day you are so tired you feel like a noodle.

Here are a couple of pictures..

I wish I had the event on video because it was so funny. Ryan where is your sled??

If you look real hard you will see it upside down under the big spruce tree.

I'm not sure how he managed it but it looked awesome!

Lucky boy, not so much as a scratch!

Here is how I spent a fair bit of my time.....

Start shoveling...again!

This is deep snow, step off and it is waist deep. Get stuck and start digging!

What could be more fun or better exercise......

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What a place....

Well I survived four days in Florence without an international incident.
I was actually a little shocked that out of all of guys on the Team that was put together to attend the meetings and help finish the project, I was neither the rowdiest nor the loudest. I might be the youngest but these guys have me beat when it comes to experience with having fun and being on the road. I just feel bad for the one guy that didn’t drink; I don’t think he found everything as funny as the rest of us.
Unfortunately the only day we really got to go out during the day when everything was open was on Sunday when we got in, so we didn’t get to go in any museums. We were in conferences from nine each morning to about six pm. Unlike the US, in Florence most people don’t even eat dinner until around nine or ten every night. That fits my schedule perfectly, that is how it is at home usually anyway, so we got to walk around quite a bit in the evenings before and after dinner. I have to say that the food in Florence is the best that I have experienced anywhere, ever. Everything is amazing, sometimes the dishes that they serve together aren’t what I am used to at home, quite a bit of beans and cheese, but my theory is to just go with it, and as it turns out I haven’t had anything that wasn’t excellent. I can’t stand listening to people complain about things because they aren’t what they might be used to in the States.
When in Rome, right?
The hotel we were in is the second five star hotel that I’ve been in over the last five weeks. The rooms aren’t that big but the beds are comfortable and the bathrooms are really nice; marble floors, sink, and showers. Also all of the bathrooms in the hotels have bidet’s in them, so I figured why not? I am a big supporter of good personal hygiene and cleanliness after all. Let me tell you; if when trying to turn the water off after you use it, the knob gets turned the wrong way there is a very fine line between a bidet and a complimentary enema! WOW!
The first morning I was in the shower and looked up and saw what appeared to be a ceiling fan and a switch with a long cord hanging to the bottom of the shower. I thought that the cord was to turn on the fan so I pulled it, nothing happened so I pulled it again, since the fan didn’t come on I assumed that it just didn’t work. Then the phone (located right next to the shower) started ringing, I assumed it was Hans calling about breakfast but when I answered it was the front desk. The woman asked if I was ok, I told her I was just fine, she said she was just checking because the emergency alarm for my room (located in the shower I found out later) had gone off twice. I had to apologize and told her that I thought it was the ceiling fan. I’m sure the thought “stupid American” went through her mind. At breakfast I told the guys and about how stupid I felt and it turned out that everyone except Hans (who grew up in Switzerland) also pulled the cord in their shower thinking it was a fan.

One of the most entertaining things you can do is ride in a taxi at rush hour. The people in the US that experience road rage over our freeways would have a stroke if they had to drive in Italy. Everything in the US is really black and white as far as divided lanes, and signage go. In Italy it is mayhem, I heard that Rome is even worse than Florence; but Florence at rush hour is a zoo. All of the streets are narrow and usually are between two tall buildings so you can’t see what is coming before you turn onto them. It was common to see someone turn up a side street only to have a car coming right at them. It is pretty comical as long as you aren’t the driver. There are tons of people that ride scooters everywhere, and the scooters just weave through traffic whether it is stopped or not. We were sitting at a stop light the other morning and a guy pulled up on a scooter wearing a Harley Davidson coat and had a Harley sticker on his helmet and a Harley key chain. It was one of the funniest things I saw on the trip. I couldn’t stop laughing, I was afraid he was going to look over and see me laughing. I did manage to get a picture though.

My trip from Florence to Anchorage via Amsterdam and Seattle is about 24 hours in total. We had an early flight out of Florence this morning and planned to leave the hotel at 5am so I figured I could just roll back to our time zone a little easier by staying up all night. Seemed like good logic at the time. We got back to the hotel around 3am and when I woke up at 5am (still in my clothes and my suitcase not packed) I really started to question my seemingly genius logic from the evening before. After I took a shower and packed my stuff things actually turned out pretty good. I was wide awake all the way to Amsterdam and then after they served the meal on the flight to Seattle I went to sleep and slept for about eight hours. That is much better than my last few transatlantic flights where I was wide awake for the whole flight and then totally exhausted when I got off the plane. Hopefully it won’t take me four days to get back on our time zone this time. I’m sure by the time I get adjusted it will be time to go again.

A nice little cafe tucked into a little cut through between streets

Sunset over Florence

Photo across the river

A nice walk through town

He had everything Harley except the bike

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cultural awareness...

I had a layover in Paris on the way over but didn't get a chance to see anything. It is kind of like landing in Denver, minus the Front Range. I looked for the Eifel Tower when we took off but didn't see it. It didn't really help that the airplane windows weren't real clean. I did however feel pretty at home as we flew over the Alps, they look allot like home.

Last month when I was here I didn't get to see much but what I did amazed me, so yesterday afternoon we went for a walk and I was in awe of the architecture and level of detail in things as simple as a water fountain on a street corner the whole time. With the exception of the cars and scooters I'd say Florence is one of those timeless cities that probably haven’t really changed a lot over the years. This is the real thing. I worked in an Italian Restaurant for a year and a half while I was in tech school and didn't have a clue what "real Italian food was.

I knew the Italians (i.e. Romans) were a brutal people but I didn't realize how naked they were when they were doing it. At least that is what all of the sculptures and paintings would have you believe. I had to laugh, they have actually covered the statues of some of the women with a fig leaf due to complaints from westerners that they were offensive. My history is somewhat lacking (ok seriously lacking) when it comes to European history and art history. If it weren't for the Discovery and History channels I probably wouldn't know much about it at all. I guess I can thank the US public school system as well as my own resistance to education while in high school. If I could do it over again I'd come out allot smarter than I did the first time! Thane is only five but off to a much better start when it comes to education. Having a mother that is a doctor and an aunt that has a Masters Degree in writing, I'd dare to say that at age five; he is smarter than I was at fourteen.

Right around the corner from the hotel is a huge chapel called Duomo; it took something like 300 years to complete, and after seeing the level of detail in every little piece you can understand why. I'm just afraid that the completion of my house and barn are on the same timeline without the level of detail!
There are several street markets that line both sides of the street with vendors as well as guys selling watches and paintings everywhere. It is wild; guys will just lay out a bunch of prints right on the street and try to sell them to people passing by. I'm surprised people don't step all over them as crowded as the streets are. Like the pubs in the back streets in London, I'm amazed at the little restraints and coffee shops in what seem like nothing more than a narrow little alley.
My sisters refer to me as a coffee and beer snob because I would rather do without either than have to drink cheap stuff that tastes bad, so I love it here. Not so much on the beer side of things but I feel the same about wine so between the coffee and red wine, combined with the amazing food I am having a good time. I'm thinking that this trip isn't going to help much with me losing weight. I brought the only pair of dress pants I could find and when I tried them on they were pretty hard to get buttoned, and I don't think four days of eating and drinking is going to help much. Hopefully my button doesn't blow out and kill someone in our meeting today! I need to start working on slimming down enough for my pants to fit again but it is going to have to wait until next week because I'm not going to miss out on any of this food!

I doubt I'll get much time to go to any museums due to our meeting schedule as well as the really long lines at each one that we walked by, but I will continue to take pictures as we wander about the city.

I'm out of time this morning but will put some captions with thes pictures later.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Time to leave again???

So much for my two weeks off. I got a call from Hans yesterday morning asking if I could make it to a meeting on Monday morning regarding the project we have been assisting with. I really wasn't ready to go anywhere just yet, but it is in Florence and since I only got one day last time I couldn't say no. It is only for about four days so hopefully I'll get to come home for five or six days before I have to go back to Algeria again. I don't mind the traveling so much but Thane isn't really excited about me being gone all the time. I guess I'll have to make up for it this summer when I take my vacation.

Since I only had a couple of days at home and we have a bunch of nice new snow I had to go for a short ride today. It is pretty nice to be able to be away from it all in less than five minutes from home.

Fresh fluffy untracked powder.....

So much for the untracked part.....

I stepped off to almost waist deep snow, and this swamp sees alot of wind too!

If a tree falls in the woods and you get stuck on it with nobody else around, do you still whine?

Nice blue sky backdrop.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Home again....

Well I survived my two weeks in the arctic without turning into a popsicle. At least when I am at work I expect it to be cold but while I was there we had a cold snap at home too. Conveniently since I came home today it warmed up to aout 36 degrees so hopefully it stays close to this temperature. I had a little bit of a hard time adjusting to -38 degrees at work.
We just booked our tickets to the Western Timberframers conference in Couerdelane Idaho so I am kind of looking forward to seeing a little sunshine, green grass, and warm weather। After Idaho we are going to take a detour to Kentucky for the Rolex 3 day equestrian event। I got the tickets for Sandi for her birthday but I am concerned that after she sees some of the horse farms down there I'll have to take up a collection or hold a bake sale to buy her some acreage where there isn't eight feet of snow at the end of March. It snowed a little more here at home while I was gone so hopefully after the next few days I'll have a few good pictures of us playing in the snow.
Here are the websites to both events: