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Look closely. That's the Trans Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) Marine Terminal

For all of my friends who live outside of Alaska, my apologies…I need to find a link to a good map to demonstrate why I’m flying to some places, like Valdez, instead of driving. Don’t get me wrong. It IS possible to drive to some places, even in the winter time – all four of my friends who went on this trip drove in two cars. From my perspective of time saved and money spent, coupled with a new job and not wanting to take more time off than necessary, I chose to fly Era. For less than $200 and in under an hour, I arrived at the Anchorage airport, parked my car, skipped through the security line and got onboard the De Havilland Canada DHC-8-100 (that’s for you, my perfectionist pilot friends…).

I’m not gonna lie to ya either. It is scary when the turbulence throws you around in your seat like you’re a rag doll in this relatively small aircraft BUT it is also exhilarating to look out the window, see the ridges of the mountains glistening, and the lights of the city below, then realize as the wheels touch down… “I made it! No air sickness for me!”

But, that was just the start of MY Alaska: Valdez. Erin & Amanda were driving into town after their 6 1/2 hour road trip, and picked me up from the airport. We drove the mile or two to Kim’s house where we were staying. Kim and her husband, along with their almost four-month-old cutie, Hawkins, have found opportunity and beauty in the town. Good thing for us, Kim is in the National Guard and able to come to Anchorage frequently so we get to see her.

The girls, including Judi and Gina, accepted Kim’s invitation for a girls weekend and were nice enough to ask me, too. Since Kim just started back at work (after maternity leave), it was a great time to get out to see her house and enjoy the company of one another. “What would some wild and crazy 30-somethings do in Valdez?” is what I’m sure you’re asking yourself right now. Well, prepare yourself…we started out with a heated game of Dance Party, lots of conversation, some wine, great food and the endless “It’s my turn to hold Hawkins” competition.

On Saturday, we had every intention of going skiing until Jeremy told us the temperature was below zero, and that didn’t include the windchill factor. So, we decided because it was such a crystal clear, beautiful day, to get out and take some pictures. We didn’t last too long but had fun anyway!

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To start blogging again? Nah, that’s not my 2011 resolution. At least not directly.


Alaska has been an amazing state for me. I am blessed with incredibly loyal, talented and smart friends who inspire me, a job I love and plenty of opportunity for fun. But, I don’t take advantage of all of that fun. I’ve found myself for the past couple of years making excuses about getting out and doing something more exciting because the weather wasn’t just perfect or because I’d done it before or had been too busy. The truth is, I grew complacent.


For 2011, I will live my life with intention: My life in Alaska isn’t Sarah Palin’s or TLC’s. This is MY Alaska, and it is my theme for the year.


I’m proud to say, I’ve started the New Year off on the right foot. I flew into Fairbanks hours before the midnight clock struck, and spent the holiday with the people in Alaska who are closest to being my extended family, the Chalstrom’s and Schutte’s. For hours, kids and adults lit the sky with sparklers and an impressive display of fireworks.


For week two, I drove to Seward today, just because. It was foggy in Anchorage but I was optimistic, checked the forecast and got on the road. Just past the Seward Highway turn-off to Portage, the sky cleared and it was the perfect, sunny bluebird day all the way to town and back.




Next weekend, I’m off to Valdez with girlfriends. Certainly there will be lots of new photos to post then but I don’t have plans beyond that so I’m looking for your advice. Whether it is getting out on snowmachine or dining at the Crow’s Nest, what does YOUR Alaska look like? Post your photos and advice here, and I’ll promise to keep you updated through this journey.

Happy 2011 Friends!
~S

More photos from my day trip to Seward:

Six weeks since I last posted? Wow. I’m having a great time and working hard (but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

I’ve always prided myself on having good values. My family and friends are most important in my life, and I’m blessed with many of each. It is probably not a surprise for you to know that when I returned from Europe my priorities were spending time with these wonderful people – and beginning the job hunt in earnest. That’s exactly what I’ve done.

For Memorial Day weekend I loaded an excessive amount of gear in my car, and Sheila and I made the six-hour plus road trip to see Erin and Jason in Fairbanks. (Brad would have come along but he was dealing with a number of things in town that demanded his attention). Alli and Jon, and Diana and John also made the trek north, and we all stayed the night at the house, slumber-party style. The next morning we loaded up the trucks and took four-wheelers down to the Chatanika River for a wonderful overnight camping adventure. The entire trip to the river was an adventure in and of itself worthy of its own blog post but I’ll spare you the details here and instead encourage you to see the posted pictures and use your imagination…Summer '09 076

I left Fairbanks Monday afternoon about 4 p.m., and headed back to Anchorage. In classic dramatic fashion, I arrived just in time to shower and catch my 1:30 a.m. flight to Minnesota, where most of my extended family still lives. My parent’s 30th wedding anniversary is coming up in September so my brother and sister and I are hosting a party for them there. I was able to accomplish quite a lot and I spent time with my grandparents, who are definitely getting older and frailer. I am reminded every time I’m home just how lucky I am to still have them in my life.

A few days later, Shelia arrived and had an opportunity to meet my family in the small town where I’m from as well as catch up with some of our mutual friends in Minneapolis. Activities ranged from horse carriage rides to window shopping in the Midwest retail Mecca. On that Thursday, we left for Seattle, where my brother lives. Unfortunately, we only saw Adam for a single morning because “duty called” but Shelia and I had fun downtown, at Pike’s and Safeco (the Twins were playing the Mariners!). It was a really great, relaxing trip.

Europe with Brad 252

I arrived back in Anchorage the first week of June and began searching through CareerBuilder and the PRSA job bank among others. I’ve decided that I really want to back in the field of strategic communications/public relations/marketing, and my preference is to do it in the private sector. There are not a whole lot out of jobs out there right now, in or out of Alaska. I did, however, have a chance to go back to Seattle for an interview last week, and I expect to hear about that job next week. The opportunity does pose interesting questions about moving. If offered the position, it is something I will have to do some pretty serious soul-searching on.

In the meantime I’m staying busy by entertaining out of state guests, training for a half-marathon (we’re two weeks out from the Sonoma-Napa race), playing softball, doing some freelance work (business name to be announced soon), and volunteering with Commonwealth North’s fiscal policy group and other activities as time permits.

Europe with Brad 291

I’m curious, friends. What’s keeping you busy this summer?

For those of you who followed my Facebook updates, you have a sense of where I have been and what I have had the privilege of seeing and experiencing in Europe for the past two months. In any case, here is a bit of a recap:

After Spain, I was back in Glasgow, Scotland at my sister’s flat where we spent the early part of April catching up and settling into a bit of a routine (that included me making dinner, something I quickly learned to love).

Soon after I was onboard a motor coach to London. It was an eight-hour one-way trip that offered an opportunity to see United Kingdom countryside and catch up on old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy using my iPod. Upon arrival at the Heathrow Airport Hotel, I checked-in and waited for Brad to arrive from Alaska. Following great conversation and a good night’s rest, we were off on what would be a whirlwind three-week adventure.

First stop, Paris . The weather was gorgeous during our entire stay, and coming from the States where we talk about things with pride that are decades, or maybe hundreds of years old, suddenly we were seeing and hearing things that were constructed thousands of years ago. This deep sense of and appreciation for history were literally overwhelming at times and something we both acknowledged and were grateful for throughout our entire stay.

Throughout this entire first week together I was communicating with my brother, Adam, who is an Air Force pilot. The chances were quite good that we could meet him in Germany for Easter so Brad and I decided to forego our plans to Nice (France) and instead, took a northern train route going into Brugge, Belgium for three days and Amsterdam, Netherlands for one day.

As it turned out, Adam’s flight plan was re-routed and we did not see him but we had the most amazing time on the way to and in Brugge. Before we boarded the train for the four-hour trip, we stopped at a tiny market for a freshly baked baguette, some assorted local cheeses and a mix of olives. Such little things gave us great pleasure! During moments like this, we often said to one another, smiling, “We’re here…in Europe…”

I’m nostalgic just thinking about it now… Our adventures were numerous. Among them, we literally booked hotels/hostels the night before we stayed in a new city and generally approached transportation the same way. Some days we flew; other times, we took a train and often and in between, we walked for miles at a time.

The twisty, cobble streets and old architecture of Brugge, coupled with swans gingerly accepting torn pieces of bread from tourists and locals alike made it a place to remember. One friend, commenting on a picture posted on Facebook said it looked just like Disneyland. Having been there at that moment, it was a lot like the magic of visiting Disneyland as a kid for the first time.

Brugge, Belgium

Amsterdam was really just a stop-over on the way to Italy. We found it surprisingly difficult to get a hotel room the first night as it was Good Friday. Who would have guessed that tourists flock to this city for Easter, making it an exceptionally busy time?

We flew out of Amsterdam and into Milan, Italy, to celebrate Easter. We woke early that morning and took the trolley near our hotel to the Duomo, easily one of the most beautiful architectural sights my eyes have ever seen. Mass was celebrated entirely in Italian and the church was full. It was simply breathtaking inside and out.
After mass, Brad and I were hungry and sought a nice restaurant to celebrate the holiday but nothing seemed to be open. Around 4 p.m., we settled for a kebab shop – the only thing we could find. I dined on a kebab and he had pizza. Both were remarkably different from the giant ham and multitude of side dishes I’m sure my mother prepared for my dad and family friends but I am equally sure it was a meal I’ll reflect upon next year around this time.

After a couple of days in Milan, Brad easily persuaded me to go to La Spezia. Here, the weather was magnificent. (I even had to buy sunscreen!) We spent the majority of our time hiking along the coast of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre. This is the “Classic Italy” that I’d conjured in my mind’s eye…rugged terrain, blue ocean and skies to match, rustic orange and pale yellow homes dotting the landscape in and around the five villages we visited.

Along the Cinque Terre (2)

Brad and I realized then that we had stumbled upon the perfect vacation plan – several days in a large city surrounded by an astonishing amount of history followed by a more laid back stay that brought us into smaller towns, helped us to connect better with locals and gave us time to take in the natural wonders around us. It was just the right balance.

Then, we were off to Florence for two days and one night. It rained the entire time but given our good fortune until this point, we had little for which to complain. The Duomo here again, was uniquely beautiful with shades of pink decorating the masterpiece.

We took advantage of our first full-day in Rome by touring Vatican City. We were led by a wonderful guide, originally from California, who married an Italian man. Maria would tell stories of Roman and Catholic history with each fact followed by an, “Interesting, huh?” or a “Neat, huh?” with a smile and slight pitch in her voice that trailed each “huh?” She was so cute, Brad and I both commented afterward that she could have just as easily been a kindergarten teacher with the amount of knowledge she possessed and the level of enthusiasm that she shared it. We spent the next couple of days in the drizzling rain touring other notable sites, including the Colosseum and Pantheon.

Our next stop on the train was Venice. Our expectations were high here. Everyone we had talked to and everything we read said, “You’ll just LOVE Venice.” Perhaps it was the incessant rain, the unfortunate experience at the laundromat where we spent more than $20 trying and several hours to do one load of laundry, the man at the bus station who gave us wrong information and lead to an interesting adventure to get to the airport on-time, or the extra baggage fee (that totaled almost as much as the cost of both our air tickets combined) but we were a bit let down. Yes, Venice is beautiful. Murano is beautiful as well. I would go again in a heartbeat and I need to. Venice deserves more of my attention…in the sunshine.

The adventure with Brad wrapped up back in London where we spent the final days touring the city from Houses of Parliament to Big Ben to London Bridge to the London Eye to Westminster Abbey. We took an excellent free walking tour and felt confident in our underground navigational abilities. Of course, London is known for its nightlife so we also took in an impromptu comedy show and in our final day together, wanting something of a different pace, we checked out the London Zoo. I realized only later, after taking so many pictures of historic buildings, I went a bit crazy with the camera at the zoo. Seriously. I think I took 26 pictures of giraffes. There have got to be close to 100 photos of monkeys and even more of spiders and creepy crawly things (I don’t like creepy, crawly things!)

The next morning as Brad and I said our goodbyes outside the hotel luck would have it that we would meet a couple from Anchorage. (We recognized them by their coats donning the logo of a local business). Home was already closer than we’d realized.

As Brad made the trek back to Alaska, I flew again to Scotland where I spent the last 10-days with my sister and her husband. It was the perfect way to end this two-month whirlwind European adventure and I promise to write more about this later but I would like to hear from you. Among many of the things I discovered is how much I love the big cities but how I crave the great outdoors. What have you learned about your own travelling habits and what advice could you give to others who might be taking an extended vacation? Have your travelling habits changed in light of the current economic situation? If so, how?

In the next several posts I would like to respond to some of the questions I have gotten from you while I was away. Now that I’m back in Anchorage, I will be replying to some of the previous posts on this site, sharing tips I’ve learned, and I’ll bring you along the next adventure, whatever that might be.

(New pictures posted in the Flickr photo stream on the left side of your screen.)

Thank you to all who commented on my last post or sent messages! It is amazing to be so far from home but know that there are so many friends and family out there who are reading and thinking about me, and trust me, I am thinking about you too. I have found that when I am travelling alone, I feel very content to reflect on experiences from years ago. For no apparent reason these things pop into my head in the most random places. I am sure psychologists have a word for it and if you know what it is, post it in the comments section.

I just returned to Scotland from Spain. I admit I was not thinking about how large the country is and how little time six days is to do everything when I decided to take this trip about 10-days ago. Upon my arrival in Malaga on the southern coast, I spent time in and around the city and in the Picasso Museum, largely filled with other European tourists. After a couple of days I went northeast to Granada where I intended to stay for a day or two before moving on either to Almeria or Seville. Instead, I found myself feeling very much at home at the Mochi hostel, located a few cobble and windy streets over Plaza Nueva.

The first morning in Granada I woke early and headed out to tour the city. After having been in the country for a couple of days, I was growing comfortable with the Spanish I had learned in high school and college, and I went to a local cafe for a small breakfast. I recognized “tostada” but wasn’t sure of the word “mantequilla”. Since I was feeling so good about my enhanced language abilities, I thought I would experiment (those of you who know Spanish, please try to control your laughter).
So… I’m sitting there in my chair looking out over the terrace feeling wonderfully jubilant about myself while wondering what I’m going to get when the waiter comes back with my toast and…butter. Yes! I ordered butter!

Very quickly my growing sense of confidence was deflated so I hunkered down and quietly ate the breakfast, ego back in check.
I spent the next couple of days enjoying the sights and sounds of the city and immersing myself in its culture. One day, Mylene, a single early 30s science teacher from Quebec on sabbatical, took me around to some of her favorite places. Time flew as we enjoyed small plates of fresh food – everything from wonderful sliced potatoes in a light green chili sauce to octopus and fresh veggies – and talked with some of the locals and compared parallels in our lives.

As time passed I felt pressure to get out of the city, to do more, to see more, but then I promised myself this will not be my last trip to Spain. I was very much at home in this friendly little town and in spite of my inherent need to go, go, go, I have to remind myself once in a while that it is okay to just relax and take life at a slower pace.

Maybe that’s why all of these wonderful memories are flooding back?

I’m not focused, nor do I really care what happens tomorrow or if I get on the wrong bus (again), or if I don’t sleep well at night because of loud neighbors. These things just don’t matter, at least not enough to get upset about. People matter – my friends, my family – the experiences we share and the memories we make. That’s what matters most to me and I had no idea that even though I’m so far away, I’d feel so close.

What matters to you when you travel?

Next up:
April 3, 10-hour bus ride into London to meet Brad at the Heathrow Airport
April 4-7, Paris
April 8-18, Italy
This is all a bit flexible as we may be going to Germany at some point to meet my brother who is an Air Force pilot.
April 22-24, London

It sounds so cliche but wow…time has flown!

My last day of work was Monday, March 2. I took care of last-minute packing and had a chance to catch up with many friends the next day, and I flew out on the 4th. The trip itself was largely uneventful but I felt a bit nostalgic flying through Minneapolis, and wished I could have taken time to see so many family members but I wasn’t able to make it work cost-effectively.

The first few days in Scotland were wonderful. Derek, my sister’s husband of less than a year, took such great care of me. He took some time off of work and we toured the city and he guided me through the bus system. Within the first few days, he and Jenna introduced me to a couple of their friends and later that weekend we went for a drive and saw Rosslyn Chapel, where part of Dan Brown’s Davinci Code was filmed, along with wonderful views of the country side. Jenna and I also took the train to Edinburgh (pronounced “Edin-bra”, I’m told) and had a great day there (some photos of both are posted in the Flickr window to your left).

I spent the next couple of days touring the northern part of Scotland with Timberbush Tours. I met interesting people but the highlight was Black Friar’s Pub just outside of Loch Ness. It featured two young men playing Scotish music and in their own unique style, encouraged locals and toursits alike to get up and dance, with promises that “this is the easiest dance you’ll ever learn…”

The ensuing days are all a whirlwind. Jenna, Derek, his friend Cody and I went to Amsterdam and Brussels later that week. In Amsterdam we participated in one of the walking city tours that took us through the Red Light district. I have apparently been a bit naive but the city has vowed to clean up that area; our guide told us the windows, as they currently exist, will be closed by 2012. He expects that the business will then go underground.

Most impressive in Amsterdam was the number of bikers in the city – there are actually more bikes than residents, and more than 10,000 bikes end up in the river canals each day. Angry residents will often throw them in after a breakdown (none of the bikes are in good shape to prevent theft).

Brussels was great to explore but we didn’t have enough time there. It drizzled the first day but that didn’t prevent us from getting out and doing a city bus tour, seeking Belgian waffles and chocolates…both of which we found with little difficulty.

I was “home” in Glasgow for two days before coming on a six-day journey of Ireland. I just missed St. Patty’s Day but felt the excitement of the many tourists throughout Dublin even after my arrival. I spent almost two days in the city before taking another three-day “”Shamrocker” guided bus tour of the Southern Coast; after having spent some time with the locals, I’d call it “feckin’ craic” (which is kind of like “pretty awesome”…except neither your grandmother or a priest would be offended by the term, unlike it’s close cousin…)

After arriving back in Dublin on Sunday night, I decided I hadn’t’ had enough of bus tours so I hopped on one to Galway, where I sat to type this at a little restaurant overlooking Eyre Square or Kennedy Park, renamed after a visit and in honor of the President).

I hopped back on the train last night, slept here in Dublin, and am looking forward to spending the day with Jenna.

Next up is Malaga, Spain. I depart Thursday morning and will be there almost a week.

For those of you who don’t like long detailed updates, I’m really sorry. I would like to write more often but I don’t like peering up over my computer screen when there is so much that is so amazing surrounding me. I have absolutely loved hearing what’s going on at home with each of you, and I’m enjoying following your facebook updates (especially when I’m on the bus and it’s too bumpy to do anything with my laptop).

Here’s a quick glance of what’s ahead:
Southern Coast of Spain, March 26-April 1
Glasgow, April 1-3
London to meet Brad, night of April 3
Paris, April 4-10
Geneva, April 10-12
Italy (Milan, Florence, Rome, Assisi, Venice), April 13-21
London, April 22-25
Glasgow, April 26-May 1
?

Return to Anchorage May 7.
I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, tell me what’s new with you and what are you looking most forward to this summer?

Bikes

Bikes

See the Flickr box on the bottom left side of the screen to view a few pictures from Amsterdam and Brussels. A written post to follow soon… I leave for Ireland tomorrow morning (yes, that means I will miss the St. Patty’s Day Celebration in the homeland).

Since last posting, I feel really good about how smoothly the transition has gone at work. Sami started with the Anchorage Chamber on Feb. 17, and we have been busy in meetings, conversing over how-to’s and best practices. I could not have asked for a better replacement. I feel very comfortable knowing things back here at home are not only going to be well taken care of but also that she is well poised to help lead the organization to the next level.

I have spent the majority of “free time” during the past couple of weeks meeting with friends and mentors, garnering advice about how to best approach the next job opportunity, asking tough questions about my own strengths and weaknesses. It reminds me how wonderful a place Anchorage truly is…people here have been so incredibly supportive throughout my entire career. Sometimes we get so caught up in just doing everything we have to do that we forget those resources are out there or we don’t make time for them. I don’t want to name names in this setting but to all of you who have given me your time, whether it is five minutes or two hours, especially in the past few weeks, you know who you are — thank you. If I can ever repay the favor, I hope you will ask.

As for what I want to do next, there are a lot of things that interest me and that will capture my attention. More than anything, I am looking for the next big challenge and I’m open as to whether that is in or outside of Alaska. A little over a year ago, I stumbled across a Fortune magazine article featuring Melinda Gates. I was inspired by her humble background and the impact that she and Bill are making in the world. I have said to some friends and colleagues that my next position will be in the private sector. There are few exceptions, and the Gates Foundation is certainly one. The organization was recently in the news when Bill got on stage at the famed 2009 TED technology conference and opened a jar of mosquitoes, joking there’s no reason why only poor people should get malaria…and noting that there is more money put into cures for baldness than addressing the disease.

Like Bill, I consider myself an optimist. I very much enjoy problem solving, and strategy development. I love to develop messages and the science of influencing how people may think about a given topic or problem. Leadership seems to come naturally and I have found no greater joy at work than overcoming a challenge as a team.

I do board the plane Wednesday for Scotland and will enjoy taking the next two-plus months off to focus a bit more on what are my strengths and weaknesses, and how and where I can best contribute my time and energy in the next job. I am interested in hearing from you about how you’ve approached similar questions in your own life and any advice you might have for the trip.

Occasionally I am asked to publicly comment about issues relevant to Alaska business, both from my personal perspective and from that of President of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

I was included in an Anchorage Daily News article on Monday about the impact of social media on business.

Later that day I did a radio interview with KSDP 830 AM, broadcasting from Sand Point, AK.

I sincerely welcome your feedback as to how I can improve.

Long before I promised you I’d write more often, I promised myself I would begin the hunt in earnest for my next job Feb. 1. I have been working on my resume for a couple of months in an effort to get it “just right” but in order to meet my own deadline I need to wrap it up and call it a good start.

I’m struggling.
I can’t seem to shake this technical writer’s block.

Here’s why:

All my life, my parents have modeled a strong work ethic. I often hear about this signature trait that comes out of the Midwest and I’ve experienced it to be true. It makes sense to me. I remember wanting to make a few extra dollars in the springtime in sixth grade so I volunteered to pick rocks from the fields in Minnesota (yes, it may sound primitive but it is necessary). I think I made $4/hour. I remember the sweat equity that earned those dollars…

As I grew, I learned the value of developing friendships and I knew that the meaningful ones weren’t made overnight. Rather than make friends and leave them I worked during the many summers we spent in Alaska. At 12 and 13, I babysat but my first “real job” was at 14. I was a dishwasher in Fairbanks. Soon after, I learned about coffee and became a barista at the Cookie Jar Cafe. With each job I had a new goal for what to do with the money. At 12, I wanted a bike. At 14, a computer. Then, I started dreaming about my first car then about college so I worked hard to turn those goals into a reality.

In college at UAA, Nancy Killoran, one of my favorite professors, said she saw my potential in public relations and she encouraged me to volunteer for Special Olympics World Games. It was the second largest sporting event in the world, she said. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she continued. The experience I gained would be invaluable. She sold me and I volunteered. Soon after, I was hired and I worked in the public relations department until the completion of the event. It was the first time I realized how much fun I could have working. The event truly did change my life. Nancy was right, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After Games ended, I was back on the job hunt. Kathy Day, a former manager encouraged me to apply at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. I became their communications director and just 10-months later, was announced its next President.

What little girl grows up dreaming of working for Special Olympics?
Who dreams of being a president of a chamber of commerce someday?

Certainly not me but life happened and I have had some of the most remarkable and rewarding jobs I could have ever imagined. I have been surrounded by some of the most talented, and committed and passionate people.

My answer for “what comes next?” may not be conventional because my experiences have helped me to set the bar high. I’ll know it when I see it and I’ll share more with you next week. In the meantime, have you asked yourself, what kind of job makes you happy? If you were out looking and you could do anything you wanted to, what would you do and why?

And…in the event you think you have that next perfect opportunity in mind, check out or forward my VisualCV. I appreciate it.

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