Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas in the Frozen North

For many years, my Christmases were 70 degrees and sunny. From my house in Los Angeles, I sent out holiday cards depicting cactuses draped with twinkle lights, or surfing snowmen in sunglasses. That ended when I moved to Alaska six years ago. Of all the changes I looked forward to, white Christmases were at the top of my list. And now that I’ve enjoyed a few, I can vouch for the fact that Alaskan Christmases are truly special.

Since we’ve been losing light at a rapid pace since September, we tend to put up the Christmas lights early. Here in Homer, I began noticing light displays shortly after Halloween. With the darkness closing in, birds falling silent, and a sense of deep sleep settling in over the landscape, the whimsical lights offer a touch of wonder in a frozen world.

When I dreamed of a white Christmas, I never
imagined sea smoke hovering over the bay in icy tendrils, or pillows of snow weighing down the spruce boughs. I didn’t know that the sun’s rays would send shimmers of gold across the glaciers or that the snow would turn the beach blue at dawn. Alaska at Christmastime is one breathless moment of enchantment after another.

Many Alaskans I know throw themselves into Christmas with the fervor of campers huddling around a bonfire in the wilderness. Christmas cookies, knitting projects, homemade peach Schnapps, homemade sauerkraut, homemade current jelly. This year, I plunged into the spirit of an Alaskan Christmas by buying only items made in Homer by local artists and craftspeople. I went against the grain and ignored the Internet, instead buying handmade mugs adorned with fishing boats, a silk-screened Alaskan “prayer flag,” skeins of hand-dyed yarn made from baby alpaca wool, hand-knitted fingerless gloves, a DVD of Sandhill Cranes nesting nearby. Then I piled all my packages on a sled, feeling like Santa on the way to the post office.

On Christmas Eve we loaded up our truck with more presents, 4,000 square feet of locally milled spruce boards, snow tires for my brother-in-law, boxes of Christmas cookies, a cooler of smoked salmon, and headed north to join family in Anchorage.

But before we could leave, we had an endless list of tasks. We had to shovel a foot of snow off the roof, set timers to keep the plumbing from freezing, and empty the refrigerator. Because one thing you can count on during an Alaskan winter – the cold and ice are relentless and survival takes wits and hard work.

By the time we steered the truck through Turnagain Pass, a windstorm roaring outside, peace reigning within, I knew we’d earned our White Christmas. 

Jennifer Bernard's next book is DESPERATELY SEEKING FIREMAN, out on December 31. 


Friday, December 20, 2013

Winter Solstice 2013

To Alaskans, solstice is a big day. Our lives revolve around the environment,including the changes in weather and daylight. We notice how much sunlight we gain or lose each day. We celebrate the longest day of the year. My daughter had her wedding on that day this summer. On the shortest day of the year, we look forward to the return of sunlight.

People have been observing winter solstice since Neolithic times. This blog has hosted previous posts about the history, so I'll be brief this time.

The Saami, the Romans, and the Celts had mid-winter festivals that led to many of our winter solstice and Christmas traditions. There are also traditional celebrations on or near winter solstice in Pakistan, East Asia, and Mali, just to name a few. Many of us recognize it as a time of rebirth and renewal, or welcome good luck into our houses at this time.

The short days give Alaskans an excuse to stay inside and cuddle up in front of the fire. Some of us do extra reading or other indoor activities. Winter solstice is a good time to reflect, think about the past year and make plans about the future. While I'm not thrilled with cold weather, I do like the opportunity to wrap up the year and acknowledge my loved ones.

My husband and I are hosting a winter solstice party on December 21st. We'll celebrate with family, friends, good food and drink. To all of you, good wishes, wassail, and hoping you have a great winter solstice, how ever you celebrate this time of year!
--- Lynn Lovegreen

Lynn's first novel, FOOLS'S GOLD, was just released and can be found on most of the popular book sites. Check it out!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Back Up Plan...

Back up your work!

Last February, my beloved laptop did something it had never done before. After starting it, a black block came up with white writing in English, French and Japanese, telling me to shut my computer off now. I held down the button that sent it to emergency shut down.

“What the heck was that?”

I turned on my computer and from there it was unrecognizable. The screen was flashing and there were random lines and pixels appearing and disappearing. Worst of all there was no response, I couldn’t access any files, I couldn’t see my desktop or even the friendliness of a cursor. This was bad, very bad. I had assignments to complete for my class, thousands of photographs, thousands of songs and every story I had ever written, except the drivel from my teen years that was typed or hand written, was in that computer.

You can imagine my expletives and insert them here. My husband calmed me and then took a look. He’s always solved my computer problems and introduced me to new technologies (so grateful for his knowledge and help). He took one look and shook his head, saying something about a graphics card problem. “You gotta take it in.”

= Gulp =

I took my computer to one of the big stores in town and they quoted me a significant amount to replace the logic board and then offered to sell me a new laptop.

I took up my precious computer and went to get a second opinion.

I went to one of the newer stores at the Mall, sleek, shiny, staffed with kids that look like they just got out of college, humming around the place like attentive bees. I got to the counter and warned the kids that if they had epilepsy they needed to look away now. I turned on my computer to show them what it was doing. One of the kids said, “Whoa, that looks like a Rave.”
It did look like a Rave, and if I could’ve accessed my computer I might have been able to play some Goldfrapp or the Chemical Brothers to compliment the Rave my laptop had become.

They quoted me one fourth of the cost the first store had. The kid then asked, “Hey did you back up the data. There’s a chance it could get wiped.”
I emailed the gang at Alaska Chapter of RWA to thank them that day. One chapter member had a computer malfunction about six months before and she lost some stuff. She urged us all to back up our work. This is probably one of the worst things that can happen to a writer. Years of work can disappear in the flash of a computer screen.

I back up my stuff on a Passport - which is a portable USB external hard drive. You can also back up your data online, rendering it impervious to fire or natural disaster. There are many video tutorials available on the internet on how to back up your data.
One more thing I highly recommend is a little USB flash drive. I use these to back up the WIPS I am actively working on at least once a week. As many writers know when you are actively working on something it’s dynamic, changing and morphing into the story you want it be. Back up that WIP and remember to put a date on it so you don’t confuse it with other versions.

Well now, I must go and back up my data.

--- Carmen Bydalek

Friday, December 6, 2013

Real Men of Alaska
Mr. December 2013



As Romance Writers, we're always on the lookout for Hot Hunky Hero Types.

This month we welcome Alex.

Here is what Mr. December 2013 has to say:

First, some basics:

Were you born in Alaska, and if not, then how did you end up here - how long have you been here?



Where was I born?  Fairbanks. 

Occupation:  Military.

What do you do for a living - and for fun?
(Age, height, favorite food, and any other statistics you are willing to share. Just remember, we are a PG 13 site & blush easily)

For fun?  I hang out with my Buds. 
I am 25 years old.  I'm 6 ft.  My fave food is combo pizza.

What kind of woman appeals to you, and who do you let make the first move, you or her?

I like women who are not game-players, and I like the full package.  Sexy.  Cute.  Smart. 

Oh.  I always make the first move. 

Winter can be long, dark, and very cold here in Alaska. What are your favorite frosty pastime activities?

My fave winter activities are indoor.  I like watching movies, having the guys over, and online gaming with International friends.  You meet all kinds of people.

And, if we ask about winter then we simply must inquire about the too short, wonderful summers. What are your favorite things to do during all the long hours of sunshine?

My fave summer activity is partying at the lake with my friends.  Since I still live where I went to school I have lots of good buddies to meet up with.

Alaskan men take their vehicles very seriously. What is your favorite mode of transportation – and why?

I like my Beamer.

What is your favorite Alaskan animal – to see along the highway or on your dinner plate?

It's got to be the bear.

Have you ever wrestled a polar bear, mushed a dog team, panned for gold, eaten muktuk, done the polar bear plunge, climbed Denali, run the Mt. Marathon, or any of the other, found only in Alaska, activities?

I've ocean kayaked.

What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever landed? And we mean the kind with scales and fins that swim in water, not the locker room bragging rights variety.

I'm not a fisherman.  Fishing is not my thing.  I just don't fish.  I don't eat them.  I don't clean them.  I don't like them.  Period.

And last but certainly not least, in your opinion, what is the most romantic thing about Alaska, and why?

Alaska is always romantic, especially when it's cold. The cold keeps you indoors and snuggling.

Our Thanks to Alex for this interview and his candid answers!

To our Readers: Please check the AKRWA Blog each Friday for a new topic, and come back the First Friday of each month to meet new Real Men of Alaska!

Until next time...keep your fires burning!