The Smart Alaskan

Vivo Moments in Time

A Gentle Spirit January 10, 2014

Filed under: Alaska,Life — thesmartalaskan @ 8:08 pm
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It was a day like any other.  Wake up, read my emails.  Then, there it was: “Hi All.  Just wanted to let you know…there is a search and rescue operation going on in Nome searching for Frankie.  No news yet and not alot of details.”  It followed with, “One of SNC’s most dedicated employees, now retired, decided to take advantage of warm temperatures and went fishing early yesterday afternoon.  He told his wife, Lavonne, that he would return home approximately 2pm.  2pm slipped by and Lavonne became a bit concerned.  At 4pm she called her son Buddy to look for Frankie.  Buddy found Frankie’s pick up truck, but no Frankie.  The temperature was 20 degrees.  Searchers assembled this morning and the search continues, with 4 search teams of 4 men each.  A helicopter is on the search area, with 2 observers now. We will keep everyone informed of the search progress.”

I was hopeful.  He was very familiar with the area, he could survive the cold.  Frankie was experienced in outdoor survival, and maybe he just made shelter.  It was a longshot however grim it seemed.  But of course, my worst fears were realized the following morning when I read: “Body of missing Nome fisherman, 74, found in river”  I knew with below freezing temperatures overnight, it didn’t look good, but one can never give up hope.   Especially for missing friends.

Alaskan weather is unforgiving.  You make one mistake, one miscalculation in the wind, snow, on a mountain, near a lake or river, and it can mean death.  We are aware of the tenacity and toughness it takes to live here.  Winter is eight months, and it gets below freezing on a regular basis.  When the rest of the Lower 48 shuts down for a few snow flakes, or there are icy roads, we persevere and life carries on.  School is not usually closed, and we scoff at those who cannot handle it.  There is a reason why you see bumper stickers that say, “We don’t give a damn how they do it Outside” (Outside means in the contiguous 48 states.)  Alaskans power through, press on, and are a stubborn lot.

If you go to work in the morning, and by afternoon you have seven inches of snow on your car when you are ready to leave for the day, you get out your brush, and begin scraping.  Nothing we cannot handle.  See someone stuck in the snowbank? Pull over and help them, because you never know when it could be you needing help.  Having trouble negotiating a slippery ice laden hill? It’s not uncommon to see a few people hop out of their cars and give you a push.

Yes, we know what it takes, and that’s why we will defend our lifestyle to the max.  It’s a challenge to live here in the winter, but the rewards of majestic mountains, hiking or walking trails nearby, rivers for fishing, and oceans for kayaking or surfing far outweigh the discomfort and cold of our long dark months.

But with all our preparation, both mentally and physically, there are still dangers.  Accidents can happen.  Misfortune does occur.

I don’t know yet what happened to Frankie, or the cause of his death, but I do know I’ll remember his ability to tell stories so vividly you could imagine it.  He was funny, and also a bit of a flirt.  He’d say, “You’re so beautiful.”   No doubt, Mr. Ladies Man said that to a lot of women.  Frankie was practical, and kept a simple life.  He was dedicated to his family, and always wanted the best for his kids.

The last time I saw him was last summer.  I was at the Apple store.  You know how sometimes you see people, and you aren’t really sure if it’s them or not.  It had been years since I’d worked with him, but was sure it was him.  So, I spoke up, and said, “Hello”.  We chatted for a few minutes.  Frankie was with his family, and as he walked away, I was glad to have reconnected even for a few moments.

Life whirls by, don’t forget the people in your lives.  People you see every day, family you are related to, or those you haven’t seen in a while.  Take the time to share your experiences, your travels, bits about your family, or your future plans.  It’s those snapshots in time that we learn about fellow humanity, which keeps us grounded.  Sometimes we get annoyed because we are stuck in line behind a person that is chatting too much with the clerk.  Maybe that person just needs someone to care.  Or perhaps we are impatient with our server because they keep making mistakes with our order.  What if that person is suffering from alcoholism, and they are trying to improve their life by working a steady job that challenges them?

That is one thing thing that Frankie taught me.  Don’t judge.  For ye not know where their shoes have walked.  Be humble.  Be a friend.

Will miss you Frankie and thank you for all the life lessons.



National Card Playing Day ~ December 27th December 28, 2013

Not coming from a family that played cards, I couldn’t relate to the fun (and disputes) that occur during those “card nights”, until I watched my uncle and other relatives play.  It can definitely get intense.  “Fifteen~two” or “Q~J~10”, people are passionate about playing cards.  Some people play several times a week, pairs, couples or families gather to share their love of card playing.

We did (and still do) play board games, or word games, however.  Just the other night I played Bananagrams, which is alot like playing an individual Scrabble game.  It moves quickly, and you don’t have to have a vast vocabulary, but only be able to quickly think up words that build upon your core word.  This game of tiled~letters can be enjoyed by players of all ages, and doesn’t take 4 hours to play. (The longest game of Monopoly lasted 70 days!!)

How about playing Risk or Life?  These days all of your favorites can be enjoyed on your tablet or smartphone. I love the commercial called “In Play” with the 2 older gentlemen playing chess on the Nexus 7.  Other online or downloads include: Rizzoli and Isles: The Masterpiece Murders, Righteous Kill 2, CSI Crime Scene Investigation, Trivia Machine, Funky Truck, Quad, Free Fall, Speed Racing, Puppy Curling, Park My Plane, Airplane Land, Storm Rage or Monkey Island.  The list is endless…and look at Game of Thrones.  What started as fantasy novels, turned series, then into browser gaming.

To all that enjoy games, but especially cards~~Happy National Card Playing Day.  This goes with National Chocolate Candy Day, which is also today!



Save and Reuse It December 26, 2013

It was something I’d done with her many times.  Seems as though we were always the ones who liked the crumbs.  So, as I scraped the bottom of the pan, getting every bit of the cake, not missing a morsel, I thought of my grandmother.

She was one never to waste food, and was the queen of recycling before it became part of our daily lives.  Grandma Lizzie would re-use milk cartons for trash receptacles, save plastic bags to wrap goods in, or stack the garbage so neatly you’d think it was an art sculpture.  And yes, never throw food away.

Grandma always seemed to be repurposing, repacking, or reusing every bit of consumables. I’m sure she spent half of her day neatly rearranging things. (Or at least it seemed like it!) She would reuse rubber bands dozens and dozens of times until the strip was so thin, you’d think it would snap.  She would darn her socks.  In fact, I never saw her throw a pair out. She would use safety pins to fix clothing that was coming apart, or hand sew new buttons on when they were missing.  Something about living through the The Great Depression, war, and hard times, that makes one value food, goods and supplies.

My sister takes cardboard boxes that food comes in, turns them inside out, tapes them back together to their original shape, and uses them to mail packages.  Most of them are plain on the inside, which are great for writing the address and shipping.  Mom takes stickers, labels or old cards, and uses them on notecards, gift tags or decorating a store brand paper bag.  She covers over the brand~name, and beautifully embellishes it.  Most of those bags we get are in great shape after one use, seems a shame to throw them out.  Redecorate and reuse instead of buying a new gift bag. I like to recycle my Christmas cards by cutting away the inside message and senders name, thus saving just the front cover. I have a whole stack of them.  Then the following Christmas, I use that old well~preserved card as a gift tag.  Punch out a hole, tie a ribbon through it, and voilà! No need to buy gift tags!  You can use them as cards or ornaments too.

A few years ago I cringed when I heard a friend of mine say they’d just throw out their pants when a bit worn.  What a waste! At least donate the slacks to others in need!! These days we are such a “throw~away” society.  No one eating the leftovers? Throw them away.  Cooked a little too much food? Dump it in the garbage. Leftover coffee? Pour it down the sink.

Besides my grandmother conserving food, my mother also had a knack for taking the leftovers and making them into another meal.  Somehow she could take our chicken meal the first day, turn it into chicken casserole the next, then serve chicken soup the third.  That way it never seemed like “leftovers”, but a new meal every time!  I learned that trick from her too, (resurrecting food into delicious dishes), and to this day try to cook only the amount needed for that meal~~~not fond of the same dinner reheated!

So, as we use up our leftover holiday ham…..consider ham and cheese sandwiches, ham and broccoli casserole, quiche lorraine, penne pasta and ham, fried rice and ham, pot pie, reindeer sausage and ham omelettes, or split pea and ham soup!  Conserve and repurpose.  Be environmentally conscientious!


Grapes of Joy June 13, 2012

Filed under: Life — thesmartalaskan @ 9:39 pm
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Meritage.  What exactly is that?  First and foremost, it’s a wine–and must be a member of the Meritage Alliance and adhere to the regulations under that organization.  It must be a blend of two or more red Bordeaux varieties (for a red), and for a white Meritage, it must be a combination of two white Bordeaux varieties, with no one variety making up more than 90% of the entire blend.  Also, it cannot be mass-marketed, and must be a high-end wine.

I tried a great one tonight.  It’s by Gail’s Vineyard in California.  Gifts are always the best, and this wine came as a gift from a friend. Yahoo.  It was tasty.  This Meritage had a full, rich aroma, with clarity, and a nice combined flavor.  I seem to like a fruity, hefty one, and this fit the bill.  Most Meritages have a Bordeaux signature to them, and generally are a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; although they are allowed to be a combination of Cab, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenere.  The blend is based upon Bordeaux red wines over the last 200 years, but also has a “New World” association. Meaning, it’s sort of a blend of the old and new world wine marketing.

Meritages are wonderful with a spicy meatball sauce, or veal shanks.  Beef yakitori, duck, or bison are good choices for food and wine matching as well.  I tend to like a wine with a chocolate hint, so these foods work well with the wines I enjoy.

If you are looking for top Meritages, check out:

You’ll notice many are from Sonoma / Napa Valley, and that is what gives them their distinct combination of “merit” and “heritage” blend = Meritage.  These are the best grapes.  While the first vineyard in that region appeared around 1858, the combination of the Mediterranean climate, geography, and geology make it conducive for growing top quality grapes.  Because of its microclimates, the region enjoys cooler temperatures in the growing season, and also a sheltered location, which is perfect for the warmer temperatures on the northern end.  Following the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, Napa seemed to get an infusion of tourists.  It’s now one of the top places for wine tours.  I’ve been stepped foot on several vineyards there, where the area is dotted with wonderful wineries, and experts to help you find a wine you might enjoy.  Today, the area boasts of over 450 wineries including many world class wines.  (While other regions have wonderful Meritages too, Napa Valley seems to be my favorite!)

I’m no sommelier, but I do know what I like, and this Meritage was mighty tasty!  So, take a sip of your favorite wine, and enjoy life!!  Cheers.

“Life is too short to drink bad wine”



To Give is to Receive June 11, 2012

I’m not sure why some people are more generous than others, but there are definitely people who exude giving and helping, and others who do not.

In the workplace, you’ll often find that people are giving, in order “to get”.  They hope that some day you’ll return the favor, maybe in terms of a recommendation, a raise, or even a lead on a new job.  It’s different if it’s a relative or friend, though.  Sometimes it takes some coaxing.

Occasionally, people who didn’t have much when they were younger, or had to struggle to keep what they did have, are less likely to part with what they do own, or are not inclined to give away much when they are older.  Sometimes, it is just the opposite, but generally, if you had a sibling always taking your possessions, or you always had “hand me downs”, you aren’t willing to share much!

Some people are willing to give you whatever they have no questions asked.  You need a wrench, a car, or an errand run, no problem.  Just like the song by Tracy Lawrence, “Find Out Who Your Friends Are”, some will drop everything, and never think, ‘what’s in it for me?’, or ‘it’s way too far’.  And it is when you are in need a of place to stay, or money, you’ll find out fast, who you can count on.

Maybe some people are afraid if they give, you’ll want more again and again.  Others might be less generous because they are not sure what your motivation is for wanting–like ‘why would they want anything of mine?’.  I guess it’s like the generalization, some people are “givers”, some are just “takers”!

I do like to patronize businesses that are nice, though too.  If their staff is friendly, they are willing to help, or give some personalized service, I will return, and recommend their shop to all my friends.  It’s just about going the extra mile, that will pay big dividends in the end.  Some companies, just want your business, and don’t really value you.  Small businesses can capitalize on their size by getting to know their customers, know folks on a first-name basis, and be generous by giving that extra shot of espresso for free, not charge for refills, or even comp a drink now and again. Trust me, that pays huge compliments in return. One dry cleaning store owner treated me rudely, and even after several years of patronage, I’ve never set foot in their business again.  Not only that, I’ve told everyone I know that lives in my town about the unprofessional service I received.  And, what did I hear…their stories of how they’d received poor treatment too.  Don’t spend your hard-earned dough on places that are not willing to keep your business.

So let’s all strive to be the best person we are meant to be.  Treat others well, be generous, and above all, play nice.


Guardians of the Last Frontier May 31, 2012

They are an amazing bunch.  That really sums it up.  And, they don’t even acknowledge what they do as “heroic”.

I’m talking about the United States Coast Guard.  For the last several months I’ve had the good fortune and opportunity to work with, and be part of the lives of these fine men and women.  Pilots, mechanics, rescue swimmers, cutter crew, navigation staff, command, administrative, and public relations personnel.  These folks go about doing their everyday jobs, with one thing in mind:  Helping People.  Their motto, “So Others May Live”, rings to the core of their being.  They exude this, and live, breathe and “walk the talk” every day they’re on duty.

Just today, we were interviewing Lt. Black, and he said that what he enjoys about his job is not seeking the glory, or recognition, but being part of the support team that helps others in need.  Sure he realizes he flies in bad conditions, is living in a really cold place, and travels great distances with desolate terrain, but it is just part of his job.

Then there is Lt. Young, who wears the USCG on his sleeve.  When you meet him you just know he LOVES his job.  He’s excited to talk about it, and is the first to tell you that when transporting a medical evacuation patient (medevac), he’s most concerned that they are comfortable and taken care of in the best way possible.  And, while flying gets him in the “zone”, he will be eager to talk about his four great kids, and his wife’s business.  Oh, and did I mention he’s working on a Master’s Degree while supporting a family?  Yes, he’s a good dude.

Another Coastie who is humble after you get to know him, is Aviation Survival Technician, Bunch.  He’s a former instructor at the Coast Guard’s elite “A” School (you know where in 2004 the entire class of 12 was dismissed).  The CG Rescue Swimmer program has the highest drop out rate of any special unit military school.  About 60% drop out every year, and out of the 75 that qualify yearly, less than half make it through the tough training.  It’s mentally and physically challenging.  Bunch is a hunting guide and experienced rescue swimmer.  He gives credit to those others on his team, and thinks unless it’s a rescue with an ‘on fire-sinking-fishing vessel with 40 foot waves to tackle’, it’s just another day at the office.

Commander Vislay began his career in 1994 following graduation from the Coast Guard Academy with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Computer Science.  He’s been stationed in Florida, Alaska, and Alabama, and was the Operation Training Officer for the Staff Tour at CG Force Readiness Command.  Vislay has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for participation in Hurricane Katrina, among other meritorious service and commendation medals.  He currently is the Air Station’s Operations Officer, and qualified MH-60T aircraft commander.  While a fairly serious man, who’s always on the phone, reviewing regulatory matters or writing correspondence, Vislay has a good sense of humor considering his unending workload.  Flying gives him an escape from the rigors of paperwork and countless emails.

While I expected their jobs to be rote with detail, checklists and structure, I’ve been quite surprised by the “humanness” of their personas.  These are regular people, doing great work.  None of them see their jobs as more than merely saving lives, helping others or working as a team.  There is certainly no “I” in any of them, and none of them are glory-seekers.  Doing a good job, providing a hand to someone in need, and finishing the day successfully are all they want.  “Semper Peratus” (Always Ready) is truly in their “stewardship” role.  While safety and security are also their duties, it is the satisfaction they get from lending help, when others need it, that gives them the most pride.  They are very genuine, and caring individuals.

I’ve learned alot from my experience with the Coast Guard during my past few months.  It’s been a good reminder that living remotely can be positive.  You realize what you can “do without”.  They’ve taught me to care about others first, not only in your personal life, but in the workplace as well.  While it’s easy to be jaded about people, there are those in this world that are truly good people.  And, I’ve learned that one of the most under-recognized branch of the military, is one of the best.

They don’t get much attention and they should.  “So Others May Live” is indeed a worthy creed.


Quite a Buzz April 17, 2011

I met Ed Asner yesterday, and, as an afterthought, wished I’d taken more time to chat with him about his long career in film and television.

He had quite the paparazzi around him; with folks shooting video and snapping pictures so wildly, I thought I was at a fireworks display due to the bright lights!  Santa-like is a good description, and “old school” is another.  Mr. Asner got his start in Hollywood as Dave Keller in The Murder Men in 1961.  He did several films, but became exceptionally famous for his role as Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Later in the spinoff, Lou Grant, which ran from 1977-1982, that role won him five Emmys. Asner has won more Emmy Awards for performing than any other male actor (eight total). In 2003, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.

Asner is a member of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a free speech organization that is dedicated to protecting comic book creators and retailers from prosecutions based on content. He serves as an advisor to the Rosenberg Fund for Children, an organization founded by the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which provides benefits for the children of political activists, and as a board member for the wildlife conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife.

Ed Asner’s always been an activist, and he has always speculated that due to his political views at the time, his successful TV series, Lou Grant, was cancelled due to the wide publicity of his position on issues.

He is originally from Kansas City, Missouri, and following his military service as a young man, Asner joined the Playwrights Theatre Company in Chicago, but left for New York, where to further pursue his acting career.

Recently, he’s been portraying President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a one-man play entitled FDR, which is why he’s in Alaska.  There are two shows today; and then later this year, he will star in a feature film ‘The Doppelganger Principle’, a courtroom drama, where he’ll portray a defense attorney.   ‘Doppelganger’ will film in Anchorage using mainly an Alaskan crew and cast.  Ed got ahold of the script, and immediately found himself at home with the intriguing story.

In 2009, he starred as the voice of Carl Fredricksen in Pixar‘s award-winning animated film, Up.  In July 2010, Asner completed recording sessions for Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders which is a forthcoming documentary on the 1974 DeFeo murders in Amityville, New York. Asner serves as the narrator for the film, which covers a forensic analysis of the murders, the trial in which 23-year old DeFeo son Ronald DeFeo Jr., was convicted of the killings, and the subsequent “haunting” story which is revealed to be a hoax. Earlier this year, Asner has been part of the sitcom Working Class on CMT, as butcher Hank Greziak.  At the age of 81 he is a Hollywood living legend.