Monday, December 23, 2013

Gonzaward/Howlez Christmas Letter

Dear family and friends,

Happy holidays from Republic, Washington/Deadhorse, Alaska. I was planning on sending out a cute Christmas letter this year. But then I realized we had enough envelopes to address for wedding invitations. And our printer is probably still in a shipping crate somewhere in the Pacific ocean. This is the second year my things are scattered about the country on Christmas. Maybe I should stop making this a trend. 

For Travis and I, this will be our second Christmas with just the two of us. At least until my parents come to visit the day after Christmas. While we have a lack of company, there are packages arriving or shipping out every single day. 

Our impressively magical pile of expanding presents on our breakfast nook. Included in the pile is a Bigfoot print shaped beef jerky tin (with collectible trading card), pint glasses, and two suspiciously shaped packages that just may be Toblerone bars. We already ate the white chocolate covered Oreos. It is a very feeling to have a Christmas corner when we don't have much else with us right now. Makes me feel very grateful for having family that cares about us and knows us terrifyingly well. :-)
The equally impressive pile of package boxes.
We have an empty house and a hotel room but we will at least get heat in the house in time to be able to make Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve. Best Christmas present ever. I almost cried when the lady at the gas company said they were ten days behind and we needed to order gas when our tank was half full. I think we got a boost on the list when I explained we just moved and didn't know the tank was low and therefore had no heat. I carted home an impressive amount of cookie making supplies in preparation for tomorrow (an eighteen pack of eggs, a sack of flour, a sack or sugar, and cookie sheets just to start off with) without breaking any bags along the walk. We already have a single star shaped cookie cutter that Travis somehow accidentally bought the other day. Sometimes I wonder about him. There won't have a tree or decorations as those are still in transit as well. I will miss last year's growler tree topper, it was super classy.  However we do have all those gifts to open which will be fun. But I digress from traditional Christmas letter format. Here's whats up with out little clan. (I think we should probably just make a new last name after we get married. But Travis says Gonzaward and Howalez sound dumb. And I guess he has a point, Gonzaward sounds like we belong in a mental ward. Howalez sounds like we are werewolves.)

Roxi remains as odd as ever. She is not a fan of the salt used to melt the snow. She hates her paws touching it. We witnessed her walking along casually on just her front two legs while on a walk the other night. 
Not like this dog.....
Puppy eating while balancing on front legs
More like this puppy gif but even more amazing and for a much longer time.
It was even more amazing than the ladder climbing. Neither Travis nor I understand how she managed this incredible feat of coordination. The physics do not make the slightest bit of sense. She didn't shift her center of gravity at all. I keep thinking she can't surprise me more, but I was wrong again. 

Travis is adjusting to his new job at the mill here. He says everything is similar but on a much smaller scale. Also that the attitude about the process is different because in Fairbanks, the ore was low quality so the goal was to process a lot. Here the attitude is let the ore take the time to process and extract all the gold because there is less ore, but it is a much higher quality. Travis will be giving my parents and I a tour on Friday which will be interesting. I'm becoming a regular mine tourer. Travis is becoming a regular at the local brewery. He has already acquired a mug on the wall, managing to sneak in without being on the six month waiting list. 

As for me, I am recovering from my cross country journey and regular schedule switch. I discovered naps are bad after I woke up at two thirty in the morning this weekend (on the ONE night I have ever heard Travis and Roxi not snore...great timing). On the plus side I enjoyed several hours of survival reality TV. I am enjoying my off time and getting excited for family to come visit. It will be their first visit since I have become a legitimate adult. Should be interesting. I am also busy plotting ways to decorate our house and furniture to buy or get Travis to make for me. We found a coffee table and two end table set make out of barrels at a thrift store for under a hundred bucks. We immediately bought those and are looking at ways to update them from their slightly too retro look. So far the plan is to put chalkboard paint and a cribbage board on the top of one. And maybe old grinding wheels or something on the two end tables. 
Barrel end table!

I didn't mean for this photo to be artistically slanted. I just am not awesome at picture taking. 
That's all the holiday excitement we have going for us at the moment. We all sincerely hope everyone is having a good holiday season!

Miriam (and Travis and Roxi)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mud Monster of the Night

There is a distinct possibility that overexposure to testosterone and not seeing the sun for thirteen days is starting to loosen a few screws. The other day I was finishing up my only mudcheck of the night (It was a slow day. We were tripping out of the hole, aka pulling the drill bit and drill pipe out, so nothing much happens on the mud side of things) and I got a call from the company man. He asked if I had a minute to come over to the offices because he and Ryan wanted to talk to me about something. To be honest my immediate reaction was, "Uh-Oh, what did I do wrong? I really don't think I have done anything stupid, especially not anything stupid with witnesses." So I headed over as quick as possible, and walk into the office. The company man turns to me, looking completely serious, and in a flat deadpan voice asks, "What are your opinions on Bigfoot?" The next hour was spent discussing a wide range of topics. Including all sorts of cryotozoological creatures (even another of my favorites, the Tasmanian tiger), and other obscure random topics like "man scaping." Another time he questioning how we calculate one of our numbers and asking detailed questions about one of our sets of tests that we use to measure how thick our mud is and how much force it will take to move it. He was joking about testing us and said the real test would be if he remembered the information later. So naturally we wrote him up a quick multiple choice test that he now has posted on his door. He scored 115% since he answered the favorite mud engineer question with my name.

I don't recall if I previously mentioned an incident where I using an extendable armed bucket to scoop mud out of a pit and the bottom half dropped into the pit. On that occasion, the bucket and half a stick made a pretty artistic spiral when it wrapped around the agitator before we could turn it off. Well, a very similar thing happened this hitch with a different bucket. So I will now never live either incident down. Though in my defense, this was all equipment breakage, not me being an idiot and dropping things. But I still feel like a dummy.

There have been several entertaining events over these two weeks. One evening someone called out for me over the loud speaker. It went something like this, "Hello mudman Miriam. Uhhh...I mean...ummm, let me start over....mud engineer Miriam!" It's fairly entertaining to watch everyone stumble a bit after they say "gentlemen" or some other masculine term and then try and throw in a "ladies" with it. I'm always like, "Plural? Who's the other lady in the room?" We did have another woman up here working with the geologists but she worked days and I never really saw her. Also, I apparently also scare people when I use our speaker system. The alarms for high levels in tanks are a woman's voice. So I've been mistaken for an alarm when I'm just trying to get a hold of someone.

Overall, it has been a rather entertaining and fast hitch. I don't feel like I have been here for two weeks. It is hard to believe I just need to get through 12 more hours as a mud monster of the night and I'll be starting the trek to my new home in Washington!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Little Known Threat of Arctic Heatstroke and 44 Bottles of Wine on the Wall

So apparently all the arctic weather I was preparing myself for, has flown south for the winter. The other day it was 35 ABOVE. In Prudhoe, in DECEMBER. Right next to the arctic ocean. Ridiculous. It even rained quite a bit. Enough to shut down the roads. Which is really a big inconvenience because it means meals don't get sent out and we are stuck on the rig until conditions improve. So instead of hanging out in the lab with the good company of my fellow engineer, I'm trapped in a tiny box with a hungry, grumpy guy. And when we did get to leave the rig, we had to wait and go as a convoy. So it took a while to get everyone organized.

I've also come to terms with the fact that the rig will never be a uniform comfortable temperature. The first few days I was here it was colder weather outside and our lab, the pathways, and rooms nearby were freezing cold. As soon as it warmed up outside, those rooms became crazy hot. It was triple digits hot in the immediate area around some of the heaters. Our lab is generally pretty comfortable but if need be, we can crack open the door to cool it down. I learned the weird trick of wedging it open with a stick thing under the handle (it has a metal spiky thing on the other end so it doesn't slide on the ground) and a strap clipped between the wall and the door handle so that the wind doesn't move the door. There are lots of interesting little tricks about rig life. And there was an odd moment yesterday where both myself and Ryan (the other engineer I usually work with) were both perfectly fine with the temperature when suddenly, within about two seconds, the lab became unbearably warm. At that point, I said, "I'm dying, it is like 10,000 degrees in here," and went running to open the door.  To which Ryan replied, "Is it just me, or did the temperature go from comfortable to really hot in like two seconds?" This phenomena remains an unexplained mystery.

A recent accomplishment of mine has been working the night shift with only one cup of coffee in the "morning." The caffeine cutback began in my off time. I had been feeling sick almost every morning for about a week when Travis staged an intervention. "Your coffee is making you sick. I love you, but you HAVE to stop making it so strong. I hate it." Harsh truth, but I gradually weaned myself off the poisonous concoction I apparently brew, and I do feel a lot better.

And speaking of off time, the next place I head to is Washington, this time for moving not just visiting. Luckily, I managed to ditch out on the hard part of the move. But the week before was a little but chaotic. Five days before I had to leave for work (which was also the same day the movers were scheduled thus allowing me to ditch Travis to transport the dog and shotgun on cross country flights), Travis and I went to the brand new giant liquor store for the first time as we both had time off and were depressed about the new store opening right before we had to leave. We bought three bottles of wine to drink before we left, thinking it would be no big deal to finish them in time with five vacation days. The trouble started the next day when we got a call from a different wine store that Travis had a wine club membership with. He thought he canceled but wires were crossed somewhere and we ended up with three more bottles of wine we had already paid for. Meanwhile we had six gallons of mango wine and one and a half gallons of cranberry wine still needing to be bottled. Now the back story behind this is an important part of this tale.

When I moved to Fairbanks last December (oddly enough on the exact same day I will move to Washington this year) Travis already had two batches of cranberry wine going. Then he started the mango wine a month or two after I moved up. I kept asking him before he started if it would all be done in time. He assured me it would be ready months before we moved. Every few months I'd ask. Don't worry, he would say, we have time.  I kept asking with increasing urgency as moving time crept closer and the wine to drinking time ratio began to approach infinity. Travis said the movers wouldn't take it, and that wine was illegal to ship. Finally after we were down to four days and up six wine bottles, I drew the line.  I told Travis, tell me exactly how many bottles we need to buy now, so we can bottle this tonight. So Travis did his calculations and then I was confronted with the "Sooooo.....don't be mad..." look. Considering the box of 10 empty bottles we already had...we needed 24 more bottles.

And that the story of how we ended up on a glorious few days of relaxing and drinking lots of wine. For me, the challenge grew old after one too many "mango drunksicles" (mango wine, sprite and vanilla ice cream) made me drop a full wine bottle on my foot leading to a very bruised and swollen toe (it is STILL bruised). So after a very short search, Travis found coworkers willing to take the other 24 mango wine filled bottles.  This left us with one box of cranberry wine for Travis to take on the plane. The unexpected late plot twist....finding out the movers would in fact move wine.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Actual Conversations With My Fiance

I know I have been ridiculously lazy about blogging lately. I recently had an extra hitch off (that meant six entire weeks!) and I spent the time getting ready to move and planning wedding things. It is the longest consecutive amount of time Travis and I will spend together our entire engagement. I have some good stories to write about soon but for now I thought I would share some goofy conversations Travis and I have had over the past few weeks.

Me: If I could have a tv show, it would be about looking for Bigfoot. I would be a mud engineer by day and a cryptozoologist by night.
Travis: But you work at night....

Me: Well, you know when you get thrown under the bus is when you get a chance to shine.
Travis: I know, but its also when I get run over by a bus.

Me: I like your family.
Travis: Don't panic, that feeling will fade.

Me: The green bean casserole is kind of soupy. I misproportioned things, it's really soup with some green been floating around.
Travis: just get the slotted spoons.
Me: All our bowls are dirty. Can I serve you green beans in a cup? It will be like being in college again.
Travis: It's like being single again. Oh! by the way, that's what I call it when you are away at work.
**at this point I hand travis a cocktail glass full of soggy green beans**
Travis: Oh wow. That glass??
Me: All our coffee mugs are dirty too. Don't judge me.
Travis: Too late.

Me: My mom has an emerald engagement ring because she didn't like the idea of blood diamonds.
Travis: Oh there are definitely blood diamonds, however, yours are Canadian.

Travis: This is neat pie dish. Its pyrex.
Travis: Oh my god, I'm getting so old. I just used the word 'neat' to describe a pie dish. Hurry, pour me some alcohol.

Me: I want a round house because the volume to surface area ratio is maximized so it means they are the most cost effective.
Travis: That is why bubbles are round.
Me: I can't remember what I was just going to say. Volume...Surface area...Bubbles....Derivatives! It was something about derivatives.
Travis: I feel like I just saw the inner workings of your mind and it was frightful.

The ridiculous picture of Roxi's face is because Travis hates when I take his picture.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Washington Visit

Since Travis is being transferred to Washington state for work at a different gold mine site, we got to come down to the lower 48 for a house finding visit. As per usual, we made several last minute changes to our travel plans. We both had plans to fly down on a Wednesday and return on Saturday. Then Travis' stay was extended so he could go in for a site orientation and training. I was still planning on heading back for work on Monday. But then the night before we left, I got an unexpected extra week off of work for the summer shutdown and rig maintenance going on up on the slope. So in the end, we both get to stay a full week. And I get three entire weeks off. This job rocks.

We started off our stay by visiting Coleville, Kettle Falls, and Republic. The mine is located in Republic, the smallest town. It is likely we will either live there, or in Kettle Falls, which is slightly larger but also farther away. Coleville is the largest, too far away to live in, but a good little town for shopping and getting out a bit. We haven't had too much luck with house hunting until yesterday. I had four calls about five houses within an hour, it was kinda ridiculous. So we are set up to go check out a few the last bit of time we are here. We have seen one in Kettle Falls so far. It was huge, and we may not be able to rent it as its still on the for sale market. But it had huge picture windows overlooking the lake portion of the Colombia river and the surrounding mountains. I can totally see how the environment is perfect for Bigfoot.

Though we are moving back to the lower states, we are by no means moving back to civilization. We are still so far north that we are only a 20 minute drive from Canada. We drove within site of the border crossing, until our phone company sent us "Welcome Abroad" texts. The entire county has only one stop light and something like 2500 people. The one thing I found entirely unacceptable...this store labeled "Thrift Foods." I question what exactly this store might be, but it makes me feel very suspicious. Things look pretty similar to Colorado to me, lots of hills and right now the only trees are coniferous, everything else has lost leaves. And there are deer everywhere. Literally, all around town, and we see them constantly while driving. Lots of farmland too. We even saw two alpacas having a rather personal moment on the side of the road. Travis commented as we drove by, "You really don't get the full experience until you have heard them orgle. It sounds kind of like wookies." On one of the routes from Spokane to Republic we drove through about two hours of farm fields and slightly rolling hills. Then suddenly, out of nowhere we dropped down into a mountainous area. It was a really strange experience but made for a neat drive. We also crossed Lake Roosevelt on a ferry. Our own personal ride as we were the only car on that trip.

We spent Halloween visiting the local breweries. There was one in Kettle Falls that served delicious pizza. And one in Republic that you could get pizza delivered from the local pizza place. The bartenders were Gandalf and Penny from Big Bang Theory. Gandalf introduced Travis to several of his new coworkers who happened to be at the brewery. I think Travis will fit in well. On our second visit, we met the former mayor of the town who told us amusing tales and explained the current drama concerning trash service. Penny the bartender also apologized for IDing us a second time and vowed she would remember next time, not that we were horribly bothered in the first place.

Spokane has been our main venture into civilization. I saw weed related stores and Sasquatch themed things everywhere. That's how I know I am in Washington. While in Spokane we went shopping for wedding tuxes (another check on the wedding to do list is completed) and I settled on a lace jacket to go with my dress. I've become surprisingly conservative with my dress code in my old age. No new fangled sleeveless dresses for me. A far cry from my high school days where I was often in trouble for wearing tank tops. While we did accomplish plenty of wedding shopping, we got off to a rough start. The first mall we went to, we couldn't find the store we were looking for. Instead, we got a little distracted by a nerdy paradise of a store and ended up leaving with a new game, Cthulhu Fluxx, and a Munchkin Zombies expansion pack....nothing wedding related.

We stayed the night in Spokane in an adorable hotel. Not your typical forgetable place. They left us candy on the pillows and the place had a spiral maze type feel to it. The mirrors everywhere also added to the feel that the place was huge (though it was actually rather small) and maybe had a few secret hidden passages to alternate dimensions. We had a glass of wine at the wine bar across the street (wineries were everywhere!) and ate dinner at a restaurant called the steam plant. It was, in fact, an old converted steam plant. Which I totally loved because it had a perfect ChemE nerd feel to it and the food was delicious. We had steamed mussels and clams that were just wonderful.

Currently we are staying in a hotel in the middle of Republic. There is not a lot to do at the moment so I am just relaxing while Travis goes to work for a couple days. Other than trying to squeeze in a few last visits to prospective houses that is about it for excitement. Though I am excited for one extra weekend off work with Travis in Fairbanks. We get to have normal flights (not red eyes) home and get to pick up Roxi from the kennel immediately. She will likely be very cuddly with a smokers bark (she seems to be talkative at kennels). I can only hope she won't be too angry  and vindictive from her abandonment.

This is the Canadian border crossing

We stopped by this old mine site, everything is underground here. 

On the ferry to cross Lake Roosevelt!

Before the ferry to cross the lake.

The steam plant

Accidentally took this adorable picture while trying to get Travis to smile for selfies.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Miriam in the Madhouse

Travis took me to the asylum the other day. Luckily it was only a visit, he didn't leave me there. It was actually pretty fun; a fairly creepy maze of a haunted house in fact. Though it is named the Fairbanks Asylum, you actually have to drive to North Pole to find it. Travis humors my great love affair with Halloween and all things creepy quite well but he did laugh at me after the haunted house for repeatedly telling him to walk ahead of me but then screaming and running in front of him, dragging him along behind me before again yelling at him for not going first. I am still trying to think up couple's costumes he might tolerate. Perhaps Lily and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother. Naturally, I would be Marshall.  Or maybe the Doctor and one of his companions from Doctor Who.  I dyed my hair red recently so we could always go ultra nerdy and be Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley. Or a Big Bang Theory couple. The possibilities are pretty endless. And it would be even better if I could find a way to incorporate Roxi. 

While I spent some evenings watching scary movies, Travis spends some evenings sitting next to me, playing phone games. At least he is staying true to the Halloween spirit and playing a zombie game called the Organ Trail. Apparently when he got it, he thought it was the Oregon Trail. However instead of the awesome childhood game of traveling across the country with a group trying to avoid starvation and disease to settle in the west, this game involves trying to transport a group across the US while avoiding infection and death by zombie hordes. Naturally, Travis names members of his group after me and Roxi. So I often hear commentary like, "You wandered away and were bitten by a zombie. You need to stop that, I had to use up a bullet to shoot you because the game won't let me beat your head in with a shovel."  Or "Stupid Roxi, the game says she ate too much candy and has a tummy ache."
Or, my favorite, this little gem of a conversation:
Travis: "Someone offered to buy Roxi, they wanted to eat her.  But you should be proud, I refused to sell her and fought them instead."
Me: "Oh how sweet of you to save her life. I'm so proud"
Travis: "I didn't. They still took her and ate her. And all I got was a lousy battery. I should have sold her, they offered a good deal."

When Travis wasn't fighting zombie hordes or arguing with Roxi about who gets to stand in front of the heater, we went to the local university to watch a hockey game.  It was a fairly high scoring game (5-4, the Fairbanks team won) but no fighting, which was a bit sad. Because that's why hockey is fun to watch. While we had trouble finding the correct ice arena (At one point we found ourselves headed through a guarded gate and had to get out our ID's because we had apparently stumbled onto the military base.) we ended up getting in for free because they had extra tickets. Then they had Hoodoo beer from the local brewery and we were right by the goal next to the ice with an up close view. All in all, a good hockey game. 

About a week ago, I posted a conversation between Travis and I concerning if we could get a live goose on Facebook.  While my dream of owning a pet goose called Silly McGoosen has not become a reality, Travis' coworker did send some goose and duck meat home with him.  In fact, I will be making orange duck and sesame noodles tonight. Or at the very least, attempting. I plan on something like goose gumbo tomorrow. Should be an interesting experience with fowl.

Duck, duck, duck, goose!

On the rest of this hitch off, my plan is alternating between marathon watching scary movies and tv shows on Netflix, and cleaning/organizing because we will be moving to Washington for a year and a half. Starting right in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because that just seems like the least stressful and complicated time to plan a move. We leave later this week for a house finding visit, I will definitely be sharing some Washington adventures soon!

This is what the cranberries look like just behind our house.

Roxi likes to be read bedtime stories about Sasquatch. Note the rather unfeminine mustache, one of our favorite Roxi features.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

M Means Miriam Misses Mines

It has recently come to my attention that I might have mild form of Stockholm's syndrome. It makes me cringe to admit it, but I miss Mines. Sometimes I think about going back. I have researched these feelings of mine thoroughly to come to the conclusion that it must be a psychological problem. And I quote:
"These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness." (I used Google and clicked the first link. Just so I properly document my very scientific research.)
This disorder is described as follows, "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other."
I feel this is an adequate description of my time there. I vividly recall sixteen hour days in front of dual screens in the Coady lab researching the chemical composition of cow manure one one screen while working on bioprocess homework on the other. I also recall dragging myself uphill in the sweltering summer heat to go to lab at 7 in the morning even after being up late working on the last one. Climbing the four flights of rig stairs is nothing compared to the eight sets of staircases in Alderson hall. My memories of listening to professor Ely lecture and thinking, "You speak at a level of smart that I just cannot comprehend," are still fresh. The panic I felt at the mere mention of kinetics class may never fade. I still feel sick with apprehension those last five minutes before any test I take. While I might not have appreciated Mines while I was eating a diet consisting mainly of ramen noodles, hot sauce, and bulk containers of peanut butter over tear stained engineering paper, I have some awesome memories that probably fueled this random desire to return.
Nothing may ever make me feel the same sort of accomplishment as that A I got in Thermodynamics after the first time I failed the class spectacularly. Coors is never as delicious as it was when it was free, fresh, and slammed down at Coors lab in the hour long gap between classes. I still use the Buchtel correlation, the process of taking the average of the averages because your data is a mess. And I still sometimes think of Josh Buchtel and how he called me emotionally unstable and screamed at me to calm down countless times during our distillation column experiment until I was laughing hysterically. I also proudly remember lying to my senior design team about our project due date to ensure it's completion in time. I remember babysitting my "unrelated children" after class and debating whose homework was more difficult. I fondly recall Steve, the microbiology professor with a fondness for argyle ties who once brought us cookies AND milk. Steve, who was so ridiculous he inspired me to write poetry and keep detailed logs of Steve quotes rather than take notes. There was fluids class, where breast pumps and balloons were brought in to demonstrate how pumps function. In the end, I was so comfortable at Mines that I spent my late nights in the computer lab, blaring music from the main sound system, shoes off, wearing my pajamas.
I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that my specialties will be in the fields I most struggled with and claimed to hate. Fluids will never let me go. Thermo just makes me happy in this twisted way and I still ponder it's mysteries many an evening. While I have not yet caved and gone back for a petroleum engineering degree or a metallurgy degree (I can hear Travis and other Travis gleefully mocking me already), I may give in yet. For now I am content with pestering everyone with my new found infatuation with the second law of thermodynamics. (Really though, google it and you'll find all sorts of fascinating subtopics with names like "Maxwell's demon" and "the arrow of time.") I miss my not safety approved paint covered blue hardhat.

**Photography credit goes to my future father in    law. Way to go spotting Blaster esque piece of artwork.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Worst Movie I've Ever Seen and Fall Camping

We started off this weekend with a great date night to an awful movie, Pacific Rim. Possibly the worst movie I have watched all the way until the end. Luckily, we were at the Blue Loon and therefore had enough beer to make watching this movie bearable.  Also, the bartender was hysterical. As soon as we walked in, she  started calling Travis,"Michael Cera."  (He also often is told he looks like Jesse Eisenberg or "that facebook movie guy" or "that Zombieland guy.") She was impressed with his ability to eat our entire pizza (minus the slice I had) in about ten minutes. I think Travis and my brother could go into a competitive speed eating contest. But back to the story, when I came out of the movie to grab a couple beers, she gave us a free round just because I brought Michael Cera to the movies.  I very patiently waited for the movie to get better but at some point, I realized it just wasn't going to happen. About halfway through, I became that disruptive movie going patron, giggling and whispering jokes about the movie to Travis.
If you haven't seen Pacific Rim, I wouldn't recommend it. The basic story is that aliens appeared out of the pacific rim from an interdimensional crack. And that is as far as that is ever explained. We were also confused about a previous failed invasion that is briefly mentioned.  I am under the impression that the aliens first tried to invade and killed off the dinosaurs. Travis thinks the dinosaurs were actually the aliens. But I guess we will never know the truth. These aliens characters are giant creatures with tron like light stripes on them. They do have a dinosaur like quality to them though. While the movie is only set in 2020, humans have somehow managed to technologically advance to the point of inventing and building giant metal ironman type robots run by pairs of people that mind link by a process called "drifting" to fight the aliens. The best part wasn't the character that Travis called "white Morpheus" because he was a weird and white version of the Matrix character. The best part wasn't even the character I called "Igor" because he was a creeping little assistant guy with a funny voice. A close contender for best moment was when one of the giant machine people decided to beat an alien with a tanker ship.  Not surprisingly, the alien was not phased by the pathetic tanker ship weapon.  But don't worry, turns out the giant metal human had a sword the whole time. The very best part of the movie was the fact that the giant metal human controlled robots are called "Jaegers." I absolutely could not deal with the heroes of the movie having the same name as an alcohol that caused me to not make it to my kinetics final. Another character that I disliked immensely was really irritating science man. You know how some movies manage to construct a scientific explanation for make-believe things that sounds mildly plausible if you let yourself appreciate the movie?  That's why I really liked World War Z. Spoiler alert, the moive "cure" for the zombies in the movie was that they didn't attack terminally ill individuals because they are predators who want healthy prey and have developed senses to ignore healthy individuals. Thus allowing curable deadly diseases to be injected into healthy people who can then kill all the zombies without fear of attack before injecting a cure to aforementioned deadly disease. In the book, the zombies freeze solid in winter so whereever it is cold, people can go around bashing in the heads of zombie popsicles. That all sounds unique and mildly plausible if you don't think too hard. I appreciate that kind of illusion in a movie or book. This was not the kind of faux science used in Pacific Rim. Travis and I both tried to listen for information that would make all this nonsense tie together in some sort of plausible way. But sadly, the other science we got was really irritating scientist man screaming element names interspersed with incoherent mumbling. "The carbon!...mumble mumble....interacts with oxygen structure and therefore...mumble mumble...aliens...NITROGEN!" The interdimensional portal was eventually closed by Igor and really irritating scientist man.  This was only after they shared a special bonding experience together while they"drifted" with one of (almost dead? Half dead? I'm not really clear on the mechanics...) alien brains. An alien brain they got a hold of from a baby alien jumped out of a dead alien that really irritating scientist man was trying to study. But luckily baby alien strangled itself on it's own umbilical cord so they could use it's fresh brain to connect to. Or something. Oh and somewhere in that mess, white Morpheus was eaten rather unceremoniously, leaving behind a single shiny metal shoe.

After that grand adventure to start off the weekend, we headed to a cabin where we spent the bulk of the weekend.  Roxi had a blast. While we stopped and had sushi for lunch before leaving, she took advantage of  being left alone in the car and ate an entire box of treats she found stashed in the door pocket. So no more treats for her for a while. She was sooooo excited to go exploring in the woods. It worried me slightly when she showed no fear standing at a drop off above a fast part of the river despite the dirt begging to crumble underneath her while Travis and I frantically tried calling her back. She spent lots of time muddying her paws, for a bit it looked like she was wearing boots.  She is small enough and fast enough to loose track of easily. Usually we just listened for the characteristic Roxi snort and the white tip of her tail wagging above the tall grass and bushes she was exploring, a tail that has earned her the nickname, Beacon. In addition to her treat feast, she also feasted on our trail mix.  We had left her alone in the cabin while we went to the hot springs for an evening. Upon our return, just as we were unlocking the door to come back inside, we heard a weird screeching noise that sounded like furniture moving. Travis' immediate response was, "Sounds like Roxi is climbing on something that she shouldn't be climbing on." And in fact she was leaping off the table where she was chowing on trail mix. Luckily she is a hearty dog and doesn't seem to have had trouble digesting the raisins and chocolate (and who knows what other awful things dogs shouldn't eat) that were in the trail mix. In typical Roxi fashion, she spent a lot of time standing perfectly still, staring at the woodpile, convinced it was the origin of the strange crackling noises that were actually just normal noises from the fire. And a final Roxi update, she is deathly afraid of smoke detectors. The cabin we stayed in had a working smoke detector that we accidentally set off while cooking. Ferocious Roxi hid in a corner under some shelves and quivered uncontrollably for ten minutes.

Since it was fall, we had lots of daylight and wonderful weather. We actually were far too warm the first night and slept the second night with a fire that we just let die completely. The first night we had dinner in a little lodge near burned areas from one of the forest fires this year.  It was crazy to see how everything around the lodge burned but somehow just skipped right around the actual lodge building. I'm sure the owners were very nervous watching the fire progress. On the way in to dinner we passed a sled dog team pulling a four-wheeler. On the way back we saw them headed home, headlights on and everything. Likely just someone with a team out for a fall ride but we did pass a sled dog tour sign and happen to know that Ally Zirkle (2nd in the Iditarod the past two years) and her husband, Allen Moore (who won the Yukon quest last year with the team that Ally raced in the Iditarod a few weeks later) live in the area. So I'd like to believe it was them I saw because that would be so cool. The second evening we made a stop at the Chena hot springs. We have been to a couple times but this is the first time we have been in the daylight when temperatures were not well into the negative region. It was nice to not instantly freeze to the handrails or accidentally freeze your eyelids shut. After the hot springs, we decided to stick around, be exciting, and have dessert and drinks before dinner.  We eventually got out cheesecake and hot coffee dessert drinks but were held up a bit by several power outages, during which we were entertained by several amusing slightly drunk patrons at the bar. The rest of our time camping was spent drinking beer or hot whiskey with cider and playing board games, all ideal fall activities in my opinion. I am desperately hoping fall hangs around for at least a few more weeks as I am headed back to a wintery north slope tomorrow morning. But I get at least one more fall afternoon picking cranberries.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thirty-Six Dollar Honeymoon

"I can book our honeymoon flights for the morning after the wedding, it will cost us $36 dollars. And we get to fly first class, so we are talking free drinks, extra leg space, and nice headphones."  We are talking about flights to Puerto Rico. Frequent flier miles are worth it.  Granted, we will have to buy our flights to the wedding as well as home from the honeymoon, but still, that's a big chunk right there.  I should say, Travis gets a lot of credit for this wedding. He answers all the emails, (usually emails addressed with "Our brides usually like...") and sets up all the meetings in which questions are usually directed at me and everyone treats Travis like he's just being dragged along for the whole process. Good thing he knows how to ride those points and good karma for the next five years.  But other than that exciting news, nothing much is happening here this week.

Travis just returned from a trip to North Dakota for a work trip.  He brought back lots of stories for me about bonding with his coworkers and three whole pictures of Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the Crazy Horse model.  He also returned with a bottle of wine from the Naked Winery.  I think he had far too much fun texting me to tell me he was bringing home a Vixen (the name for the Syrah wine he bought) and that his fellow coworkers were taking home a Booty Call.  Travis also got to go to his favorite "We can't get that up here" restaurants. Namely, Qdoba and Buffalo Wild Wings. I think I won a few points in the romance department when he returned.  I got him a Nintendo Wii.  We had been talking about it so I snuck out and got one while he was away.  It also makes up for my other attempted date night. I planned on taking him out for a nice dinner at a restaurant we have always discussed going to and got a board game to play afterwards. Sadly, the restaurant was closed for renovations when we arrived and the game was missing pieces when we opened it. This is why I rarely plan in advance.

Roxi is being more cuddly then usual.  The first two days when I was home, she HAD to be touching me.  As in, if we were not sitting next to each other or if she was not sitting on me, she was whimpering.  I woke up the other morning to a puppy face looking down on me as she stood on top of me.  She is generally desperately hungry. When it is about dinnertime, you have to stop making sudden movement or risk overexciting Roxi.  Sometimes this starts as early as two in the afternoon. And in the mornings while I make coffee (before feeding Roxi because coffee is priority number one)  she hops around me in desperate circles, occasionally jumping up to beat me with her front paws, all the while making pathetic hoarse whining cries. It really is something else. If you didn't know her, you might think we hadn't remembered to feed her for days.

While Travis is at work this week, my goal is some serious cranberry picking time.  He wants more for making wine, I want more for making jelly. As long as the weather holds out. It is quite pretty out right now, we took some great pictures.  Including the shot featuring the view up Roxi's nose and half of my face, with Travis in the background. While he appears to be inspecting a berry he just picked, he is apparently taking aim to throw said berry at me. Typical.

We do have some adventures in line for the next weekend before I head back to work.  We are planning on some cabin style camping.  As well as a run to a nice restaurant we have not yet tried (that list is about empty when it comes to Fairbanks these days) and an evening at the hot spring. Hopefully I'll have some good stories after that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Just a Day

It's about that time of year again and I'm irrationally excited about winter. Weird, I know, but I'm sure I'll be tired of it soon enough. The picture attached to this post is the view from the front door of my camp. That polar bear I saw was wandering about near the tires and tank thing you see in the right of the shot. To the left you can see where we park the trucks. Just to give you an idea how close it was.

So this is how my day (or more accurately my night) begins. A drive quick over to the rig, a ride that gets darker every day. I have been working a six pm to six am shift this hitch.  I am often asked "What exactly do you do?" So I may as well give you a run down. I really do get to play in the mud all day though, that is the true simple explaination.

 Basically it goes like this.

5pm: Scope for polar bears in an extremely paranoid fashion whilst walking to the car.

6pm: Tag along with the engineer while wandering around the rig until I'm teased for acting like a puppy dog. 

7pm: Contemplate the units for funnel viscosity while calibrating things. Is there a conversion from seconds/quart to centipoise? 

9pm: Get mud out of the pits for a mud check, praying I don't drop the scoop inside or something else embarrasing.

11:30pm: Try and decipher more rig language. Day 23 and no one suspects I am still mystified by the rig floor. 

1am: Company man questions me on my musical and movie preferences while I fill out paperwork. Dinscussion ensues about how I am a many layered onion. Distract everyone from that subject by mocking the night engineers gigantic safety goggles.

2am: Meet with goofy truckdriver who relates everything to bodily functions. "So emptying that tank is like the rig peeing?" Yes. That exactly what happened. The rig had a full bladder.

3am: More playing in the mud. 

4pm: Depressing discussion, topics include days left on the hitch, how it sucks that we can't have a beer after work, and so forth.

5am: Change desktop background to a fat gopher eating hotdogs because its the funniest picture ever. Eagerly await day engineers arrival because its basically bedtime.

In all seriousness, here is a more comprehensive version of my day. As soon as the night engineer and I arrive, we to a changeout. Fancy term for discussing what happened during the day, anything that needs to be done, what is going on now, and so on. 

We generally go wander about the rig and check in with the derrickman (he runs the mix hoppers and adds anu products we need to the mud) and the pit watcher (he monitors the mud pit volumes to make sure we aren't losing or gaining fluids). We also check out the shakers, the equipment that separates drilled solids from the mud.

Then a few hours in, we run a mud check. This involves things like checking the mud density, pH, and so on. As I have run more and more mud checks, I have gotten to the point where it takes about an hour to run a full one. Plus some extra time waiting for the last few timed tests to finish up. After the mud check we start working on our daily report. Usually this involves fighting with software and printers and slow internet. But that's just technology for you. 

This puts us halfway through the day and we go to a daily tour changeout meeting where the rig crew (including the pit watcher, derrickman, driller, roustabouts, etc. Not including the company man, tool pusher, MWD, and geoligist etc.) switches out. We grab lunch after the meeting and head back to the office to finish up the report. After that is all done, we take reports over to the MWD, toolpusher, and company man's office. We have to enter in data for paperwork in the company man's office so we do that while visiting with the company man. 

Next order of business is our second mud check. Finally, we finish up assorted paperwork before changing out with the day engineer. 

Besides all the set every day tasks, we have a few other things we do at different times through out the day or depending on what is going on. We count product inventory and calibrate equipment as necessary. Also we check in and arrange paperwork with trucks delivering product or mud, and trucks arriving to take away old waste mud or cutting from drilling. 

Our tasks also depend on what stage of drilling we are at. Sometimes we will desplace old mud with a new different type of mud or sea water. We also are pretty involved when it comes to permanently cementing liners and casing in the hole.

I flew back this morning to Fairbanks from the slope. I feel a bit disoriented to be switching back to a normal daylight schedule. Travis is away on a business trip (that makes me feel very old) so I have a few days to have solo adventures. I'll have to come up with something new to try out! I think a manicure is in order. Or something extremely girly. Two weeks on the slope has me swearing like crazy, sitting like a man, and laughing at poop jokes.

Tiny The T-rex: Life As A Woman In The Oilfield

Being a female on a rig is not really that different from going to engineering school. Admittedly, the ratio is even more skewed but its not that far from what I am used to. If anything, I'm treated better than any other new guy. Really, roughnecks are just a bunch of teddy bears. Not crazy intimidating thus far. Yesterday during a break I had several guys showing me loads of baby pictures getting all sorts of extra excited. It was a "Look how adorable my kid is, his kid isn't as cute! I'll show you an even better picture..." type of moment.
Occasionally I'll be frustrated after someone swears and I hear, "Excuse my language, I don't mean any offense," for the fourteenth time that day. That comment is always clearly directed at me. Frankly, I expected a lot worse and I likely just used that word not five minutes ago in conversation with fellow mud engineer. Since I have been getting to know some of the guys better, I have had one or two come tell me a story about how someone else was shocked at something they said or did in front of me. It makes me happy when they go on with "I said you were cool though." Travis has mentioned before how he was at first shocked to find out how much less delicate I am than I appear. My brother still instinctively cringes away from me when I get it his face (that might involve some tippy toes or a jump or two) so I like to think I can hold my own.
While I am not really surprised or unused to the amount of testosterone in the general vacinity, I am continually irked by the fact that hardly any women appear to be in the field. It makes me wanna go recruit girls to balance out all the menfolk. Plus I get irrationally annoyed when I try and google about women in the oilfield and the most common thing I see is the term "oilfield wife." Travis sure won't be going around saying he is an oilfield husband. In fairness, he might actually jokingly use that term. But I sure won't be calling myself a "mining wife" or anything. That is one of the few kinds if things that gets me all huffy and disgruntled. I saw a recent statistic that half of oilfield jobs went to women this year. But I would love to see a breakdown of what exactly they do. And I am immensely curious what the figure is for women on rigs. Females regularly on my rig since I have been here....yours truly. I would guess roughly 30 people or so on the rig at any given time. I am awful at estimates but I do know I'm vastly outnumbered. 
I have a list of perks though!
1. Everyone is afraid to play any sort of trick on me. (So far.) I haven't had anything stuck on my hardhat or been tricked into thinking that there are scientific tests that involve cheetos (I have heard some great stories.)
2. Everyone knows its me when I call on the radio even if I don't say my name.
3. I have my own bathroom on the rig. The flipside is my coveralls are inconvenient to struggle in and out of gracefully every time I need to go. I imagine it will only worsen in wintertime. Bathroom trips will need to be planned far in advance.
Not so awesome things include always having to adjust my hair to fit under my hard hat. Though the company man and I had a discussion about how he knew what kind of braids I had in my hair. He proudly told me, "I can french braid hair too. My wife taught me." Then this morning I got irritated halfway through my methyl blue test. I saw blue and assumed I had spilled on my hands. False alarm, just my nail polish. And as far as spare gear goes, I better never forget anything. All the spare gloves or coveralls will definitely not fit me.
Always amusing is when my training mud engineer says something rude or mean or tells me to do anything that requires the slightest bit of physical exertion (I'm talking the equivalent of opening a stuck pickle jar) in the presence of someone we don't see often. This is often followed by a shocked look from whoever is standing by or three people rushing to help. Then I have to explain that he only said that because I told him I would happily kick him in the back of the knees and leave him for the polar bears or that my struggling to open the retort (basically a container that gets baked shut with mud) is a running joke. That being said, I've still had to give in and say, "My hardhat almost fell into the mud pit because my arms are too short to reach and grab a sample." After much mocking, ("It's because you are tiny. I'm going to call you Tiny. Have have you seen that cartoon with the T-Rex? 'I have a big head and tiny little arms!' ") I have no problem getting someone else to happily fetch me a sample. But sadly, nothing will ever change the fact that I will always have a big head and little arms.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Zombies, Bigfoot, and Racecars.

Sadly, I have not seen bigfoot or zombies, so that title is the tiniest bit deceiving. I do have bigfoot and zombie stories though!

But first a quick mundane update. While I am hearing about all this wet weather happening in Colorado, it is quickly turning to fall here. We have some pretty nice leaf colors and its getting darker at night. We even saw a little hint of northern lights driving home from the airport after Michigan. During the two weeks I'm up north, the days will get two hours shorter. The darkness will be great for sleeping better. Right now my north slope sleeping tactic is an eyemask with earplugs in. Sensory deprivation while hoping I don't sleep through my alarm or a fire drill or whatever. But other than that I don't have any exciting polar bear stories or anything so far this hitch. On the other hand, I had some good times in Fairbanks on my two off weeks.

I have recently stumbled upon my new favorite place in Fairbanks. It is a combination restaurant, bar, and movie theater. And it is as awesome as it sounds. We went to go see World War Z. As a zombie and scary movie fan, I thought it was quite good. I read the book after seeing the movie and was impressed by that as well. However, they are really nothing alike which surprised me a bit. But somehow they both were entertaining and enjoyable. Zombie movie watching has led to my conclusion that the ideal number of children for maximum zombie apocalypse survival is two. One for each parent and then, if you happen across an orphan, you can still feasibly take one or two in easily without too much extra hassle. Travis told me that plan was fine as long as we limited to a reasonable amount of orphans because too many would just be harmful for everyone. But I confirmed that Travis passes the "Has a good heart AND realistic logistical planning skills even in the midst of zombie apocalypse," marriageablity test.

Perhaps the most unique adventure on the list recently was the trip to Barnes and Noble for the presentation on cryptozoology. Mainly bigfoot with a splash of other creatures, extraterrestrials and UFOs, and paranormal happenings. I was intrigued to see so many people show up. I was also surprised to realize the depth of my bigtlfoot knowledge when I knew a lot of the information presented. I did get to see some cool bigfoot track plaster casts in person though. While the jury is still out as far as how much I believe any of this, I am extremely entertained by the aforementioned subjects. Travis is definitely less entertained but puts up with me and my interests to win brownie points. He also uses my interests in monsters and any other sort of oddity to his advantage to try and convince me to move to new places. Washington is prime bigfoot country, Australia has the Tasmanian tiger (an extinct wolfish creature that very well could exist still) and the yowie (bigfoot's Aussie cousin), Ecuador has head shrinking tribes and ghosts, and so on and so forth. Travis also made sure to tell tales about the Michigan dog man early on in our relationship. We even had a few interesting haunted monster adventures while he lived in Victor, Colorado for a summer internship. The house he lived in was rumored to contain a secret underground tunnel to the mine. With a ghoulish old miner. Or something like that. His roommates joined in on a late night search of the basement after a few beers but we never found any haunted tunnels. The heater made horrendous rattling noises and there might have been some type of animal haunting the dining room bench though. But if anyplace would have real ghosts, it would be that old ghost town. I have not managed to find much in Alaska thus far but a trip to some haunted hot springs may soon be in order.

The only regular adventure we went on was to the racetrack. Furthest north dirt track in the world! And my first time watching car races in person. We saw everything from stock cars to sprint cars and budget cars. I was pretty entertained. Not to mention the nerdy high I got contemplating sprint car physics. Travis better watch out, driving large, fast pieces of heavy machinery in my spare time sounds like a good hobby for this adrenaline junkie.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Travis and I were finally able to make a trip down to Michigan.  I only had a few days there but it was enough to meet a lot of family, see a lot of Petoskey, and make a lot wedding plans. Travis took me into the alpaca pen at his parents house and managed to catch me a couple alpacas to pet.  They were not pleased but I was thoroughly amused watching my fiance chase around alpacas just for me. Clearly he is a very devoted guy. He also tried to catch his llama, Ted E., for me to meet.  I've been told the two were somewhat of a pair of ladies men back in the day.  Apparently Ted E. was a regular chick magnet Travis used to his advantage. Sam, Ted E's guard llama was not having any of it that day though.  He was spitting mad (pun intended), but missed hitting Travis.  It was pretty impressive.

We got to go on a four wheeling adventure and I decided I love Michigan woods.  The trees made a sort of tunnel to ride through and when it is foggy, it is just the right amount of creepy that makes you want to read a mystery novel.  We stopped at a little lake along the way, and I made Travis stick around until I caught a few frogs to play with.  I really think it must be my excessive girliness that made Travis fall for me. We also stopped for blackberry picking on the way back.  We ran into Travis' mom and sister there.  They picked enough for making a couple of pies.  Travis and I mainly just picked ones that we ate immediately.

The two goofiest members of the Howard family that I met on this trip were Helga and Shay.  Helga is a bulldog and Shay is a dalmation.  They are very entertaining.  Helga makes every kind of snort and snuffle you can think of. Constantly.  And Shay makes this lip curling smile face.  If you didn't know her, you would think she was about to bite.  But really she just wants to lick your ears.  I think Roxi's kookyness would fit right in. Travis' grandparents (the one's I got to meet when they came for Travis' graduation) even had oreos they stocked up on after I mentioned them at point.  They should probably be careful about doing things like that or I'll start hinting before the next trip I make. (I'm a big fan of pretty much anything with peanut butter. Or cheese. But generally not the two together, even I have limits.) I got to meet some of the aunts and uncles one on one when we went out for drinks and dinners. We also had a cookout "on the hill."  That appears to be the code name for the area a large chunk of the Howard family lives on.  Oddly enough, none of them live on the multiple Howard roads in the area.  I also met the set of grandparents I hadn't yet met.  We stopped by for a very delicious breakfast before heading to go see our wedding venue and test out cake.

We are getting married at the Perry Hotel.  In just over six months time, crazy how fast it goes!  This was my first time seeing the place but Travis did a good job picking it out.  The hotel has a historic and eclectic feel to it, perfect for us.  And I even briefly saw mentions of haunting's in the books in the gift store. I didn't get a chance to read up on it properly but that is on the to-do list.  It was a rather productive day, we knocked out food choice and even sampled a bit of Perry food for dinner.  We settled on our cake baker and had the chance to try out several flavors of cake as well.  Though the final decision on flavors for cake are still in the air.

Though I slept for most of the trip from the airport to the Howard's, I was awake for a crucial moment.  We passed a sign for Kilwin's Chocolate with free tours.  Before I could even finish drawing in a breath to speak, Travis sighed and said. "Ooooh, I forgot about that....yeah....we'll go on that tour." Chandler and Karly, Travis's younger brother and sister came along for that.  Only after Travis teased Karly mercilessly about not being invited.  It was very delicious chocolate.  A new favorite.  (Take notes Travis).  Travis also gave his brother some advice.  "Never take a women to a chocolate store unless your job pays well."

Travis also had a defining moment where he truly realized I could handle being a Howard. on the hill. Anyway, the story really starts out a few days before I arrived in Michigan.  Travis went home a few days early while I was still on the slope.  Since he is still part of the fire department there, he happened to go on an  interesting fire department call of "Car versus bear." Since I had my own exciting bear encounter, his rather small black bear killed by car lost a lot of its effect. But then after I came to Michigan, we stopped at the store where Travis used to work.  The store is owned by one of his best friend's mothers.  Also they are neighbors. We were just about to leave when we discovered that car accident bear was actually still being stored in the freezer of the store, back in the beer section.  We were warned the bear was slightly creepy as it was headless and skinned at this point, apparently causing it to resemble a small headless, skinnless human.  Travis rather casually asked, "Well do you still want to go see the dead bear in the freezer?"  To which I replied, "Well...yeah...I really do..." Travis gave me a long look, nodded, and said, "Yup, you will definitely fit into this family."

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Bears. But Really Just Bears.

Instead of catching a few hours of sleep for yet another ridiculously long day of travel, I am sitting in my room on an adrenaline high, occasionally peering out of my window watching for polar bears. This epitomizes a typical Miriam incident. Something rare that everyone blows off with, "Meh, I've done this for ten years, never seen anything like that," but then happens to me almost immediately.
The first hint tonight would be interesting was at the shift change meeting I go to at eleven thirty. During which, someone brought up safety around bears. Someone mentioned a bear had been seen around camp a few days ago which put me slightly back on edge as it was a reminder that it really isn't city life out here. So, walking out of the meeting, I casually asked and was told, "Oh you never see polar bears out here, only on the ice." I should have known right then. Anytime anyone makes a blanket statement around me or I have that split second thought that I won't really see that polar bear because its so rare, life sets out to disprove that notion. But I drove home about two and a half hours later  with one of my Miriam gut feelings that something was up. I just couldn't shake it. You'd think by now I would just accept it and believe it. It is the same feeling that makes me slow down on dark roads so I see that deer in time. Or has me looking in the right spot and see the mountain lion run by the sorority house. And it is the same feeling I had that made me pull off the road for a two minute break right before I would have driven through a tornado. In any case, my spidey sense was tingling enough that I was on high alert driving home. It's getting pretty dark here for a couple hours at night, and other than passing by rigs, pump stations, etc, there is not much in the way of road side lighting. I was convinced today would be the day something was waiting for me in the road. I normally switch off my radio after I pull off the pad the rig is on. Today I left it on the whole ride, just in case. And sure enough, as I pulled in the parking lot, my headlights passed over a rather alarmingly large bear maybe fifty feet from the front of the camp. Maximum distance, I am not great at estimating them, but waaaaay to close to camp. Hashtag....North Slope Problems. I was on the radio instantaneously calling the main rig site because it was the quickest and only number I know. I was shocked enough that all I managed was a "Who do I need to let know there is a bear at camp?" Security was immediately notified and then I was asked, "What color is it? Brown, black, white?" And all I could say was "Ummmm, well, it looks white to me...." I just could not wrap my head around it. I also got a few random calls back on the radio. "Yeah....we don't have brown bears around here," was the ominous reply to that statement. And my favorite to break the "You have got to be fucking kidding me" tension that was my evening (this post totally deserves a swear word), I got a snarky "You sure its not a panda, Hank?" Yeah....pretty darn isn't a koala bear either, that's for damn certain. Anyway, I just waited in my car and watched it wander around the random equipment and storage until I lost sight of it. But I could tell security had a couple trucks watching it and they radioed and said to go ahead and go into camp. So here I sit, too excited to sleep, contemplating the marvelous fact that I am using the internet, curled up in my warm room, safe and sound, eating too many late night oreos, while one of the most terrifying predators on the planet is lurking just out of site in the darkness outside my window.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Didn't Choose the Rig Life, the Rig Life Chose Me.

I just really wanted to use that phrase. I want it on a t-shirt. The other day I realized my life has gone in some really unexpected directions. The moment happened as I was parked (in the largest pickup I've ever driven) in the middle of the road waiting for ducks to finish crossing (because they have the right of way up here on the slope) with the arctic ocean off to my right while on my way out to the oil rig I'm currently working at. I'm not complaining, but a few years back, I never would have guessed this would be my life. Also, a realization I had a day or two good fancy calculator is at least ten years old. When did that happen?

Anyway, I am now on a definitive training path for this mud engineer thing. I'll be rotating two weeks on and two off, working from 1pm to 1 am, shadowing other engineers until January. I have already seen a ton a different (and I'm told usually busy and stressful) situations. Normal drilling is just about the only thing I have yet to witness. But I get to experience all the weird and abnormal things when its more of a learning experience not one that I am totally responsible and in charge of. Which is all great for me. The first thing I had to do when I got here was go get my BP badge for access to the oilfield. I don't know what it is about ID photos but I managed to look like a violent mildly deranged serial killer with anger management issues. And the sad part is, I really did try and smile. The camera must just have missed it or something.

I get to drive the aforementioned truck from the camp to the rig every day. The first night the truck was pointed out to me and I was told the keys were in the ignition, always back into spots, and the turn off to the rig was back off the main road to my left. Seriously? It is still weird to be treated like a responsible adult. Luckily, I drove alone the first time so no one witnessed me missing the turn off, or saw my awful parking job that took much longer than it should have, or had to listen to my swearing throughout the ordeal. Now I'm a pro at backwards parking giant trucks and I can put them where I want them on the first try with only occasional swearing just for fun. Also, I've acquired the nickname Hank from wearing borrowed coveralls. Personally, I prefer Sledge just a bit more but Hank is a manly enough name to be acceptable. The engineers I have been shadowing are all pretty cool about me trailing behind them like a lost puppy. And I think I'm starting to acclimate enough to be transitioning to useful trainee mode. Plus, I had a great laugh when I mentioned the guys I went to mud school with to one of the engineers training me. Specifically, one of the Alaska guys. He replied with, "Wow, I used to babysit that kid. We'd play with trains until I'd tell him to go bed. I can't believe he's that old now." Too funny.

Even though its August, we have seen some freezing weather and little bits of snow flurry. Supposedly some giant Russian storm was going to hit earlier in the week. It never did. My theory on this is that it drank too much vodka in Russia and was too hungover to stop here. Though the Russian storm false alarm led to one of my favorite snippets of text conversation with my friend, Josh. It went something like this.

Me: I've just been informed that Russia is sending us an early snowstorm in a couple days while I'm up here on the slope.
Josh: Who is this??
Me: Miriam!
Josh: I had to reset my phone and lost my numbers. I thought you were some Russian guy talking in code about moving a cocaine shipment.

I do wish they had slightly healthier snacks. We have access to "spike rooms" anytime we want. I eat way to many oreos with peanut butter. But I occasionally have hummus or bananas, the two healthy snack options. Now I have a theory about how these food rooms were named. When we want to make a mud heavier, we mix up a small portion of fluid with a higher than the desired weight. Then we toss it in with the light mud to bring up the weight to the correct number. These are called spike fluids. Hence, spike rooms are named as they are because they weight up people.

Speaking of random terms and names, I am learning a whole new language in the oilfield. I understood maybe a third of what was said to me when I first got here. With total immersion in the oil rig society this week, I think I'm at about two thirds. For example, roll the tanks means start mixing the tanks. And picking up is the general term used when talking about putting pipe together to send down hole and laying down pipe means the opposite. In addition, I have been trying to find my way around this giant maze of a rig. I can manage to find my way in and out of the mud lab. From there I can navigate to the office area and the bathrooms; the rig floor where the actual pipe and bit go into the hole; the pit room where all the mud is stored in pits; and the shaker room where the solids control equipment is.

My flight to Fairbanks leaves midmorning on Monday. I will have the afternoon to go home, switch to my other suitcase and probably eat, shower and switch to girly wedding mode before I catch a red eye to Michigan and meet up with Travis and the Howards. Side note, if Travis ever starts a band, that should be the band name. I get to meet a bunch of future family and see Travis's hometown for the first time. Exciting! I also get to check out my wedding venue and taste test wedding cake. I can't lie, the cake testing is the part of wedding planning that I am most looking forward to. Wedding cake choice might just be harder than dress choice.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Aaaaand back to Alaska

I managed to get back to Alaska after two months in Houston.  I don't know how I did it but I managed to fit everything in two checked bags and two carry-on bags.  And my luggage definitely weighed more than I do but I got everything home.  We had a graduation ceremony before I left Texas.  So I had to get all dressed up and meet boss people.  It turned out to be pretty cool. I got to meet one of the VP's (the head of the Baroid product service line). He happened to have gone to Mines for his undergrad degree.  That made my day.  As did the fact Alaska took top four in the class! That'll show the Texans whose state is better.
Yurt life is back to normal other than our neighbors are moving soon which is utterly depressing. I'm not sure how we will explain to new neighbors that Roxi is basically a shared dog now.  Speaking of Roxi, while I've been gone she has perfected her ladder climbing technique.  And also take flying leaps off the porch which is pretty entertaining. She had not learned how to avoid porcupines, however.  Three times in two days Roxi had run ins with quills according to Travis. Luckily, I have not had to remove any. Yet.  I'm waiting for the day she bring a moose or a bear to the doorstep.
Yesterday we went and picked blueberries for about an hour.  They are the most delicious blueberries I've ever had.  So today for dinner we are trying a reindeer steak with blueberry marinade.  Some things you just can't get in Texas.  We also found some crow berries.  They are not as tasty but I'm planning on trying to make some jelly with them since they are still good.  That's about the extent of excitement for right now.  Travis and I are planning on some rafting or camping adventures soon.  Plus a Michigan trip will hopefully be happening soon.
Update, I probably get to head out to a rig next week! Likely for a week before getting on a normal two week on two off rotation.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


"If God had wanted us to stay on the ground, he would have given us roots."  That's my quote of the week. Yesterday I jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 ft and free fell at 120 miles per hour for 60 seconds. And it was AWESOME.  Guess who's new favorite thing is skydiving??  I'm definitely doing that again.
About a week ago I had skydiving on my "I will never do this" list.  You know, the one that also included jobs with lots of traveling, engineering school and doing anything fluids or thermodynamics related ever again?  The one that also included never moving somewhere cold or eating food like shrimp and mushrooms. And here I am training for my fluids engineering job in Alaska.  Yet another reminder that that list is really a list of everything I will do with my life. Even knowing all that, I was dead set against skydiving and this time I was really sure I would never do anything that crazy.  100% sure this time. Then in my typical impulsive and stubborn fashion, I changed my mind in about two seconds and that was that.  Three of the Alaska guys and I signed our lives away at around 8 am and watched the quick orientation presentation and movie.  Not much fuss at all.  We had just a little time in between the safety stuff and getting suited up. We all got altimeters to wear on our wrists like giant altitude telling watches. I got a red jumpsuit (Halliburton colored!!) and was hooked into a harness.  I met my instructor, as I was doing a tandem dive so I'd be securely stuck to someone the whole time. I also was talked into the photos and video so I met my video person.  It all went really fast!  We got loaded into a plane before I could really be nervous.That was one of the strangest parts for me.  Almost no nerves. Not generally my typical experience but maybe that's just because it was too surreal to worry about. The plane was the smallest I've ever been in, I was only sitting on the floor a few feet from the door.  And once we took off, they opened up the door.  As in, I was flying in the sky with the wind rushing in, watching the clouds go by, and watching the ground get farther and farther away.  The guys sitting by the door even stuck his feet out.  The ride up seemed like it took forever.  I started to get nervous just before we went to jump.  I don't think I could have walked really. Luckily as we were sitting on the floor, so I didn't have to get up. I only had to sit at the door with my feet tucked under the plane and then we jumped out.  And it was crazy!  Really disorienting for a second or two before we got leveled out at our terminal velocity.  We got a mini little chute at first to slow us down to the speed of a single person.  Then its like a yoga pose.  Cobra I do believe.  you are supposed to arch backwards with your arms and legs lifted backwards.  I'm pretty sure I didn't have great form, I can do better on that next time.  I can't really describe how crazy it was to be up in the air like that.  There wasn't any of the roller coaster feeling that you might expect.  And the air was hitting you fast enough that it didn't really like you were falling.  And the view was really cool.  There were lots of clouds but it was still nice out.  Then after the minute was up, I got to pull the cord to deploy the parachute. That also wasn't as jarring of a feeling as you might think.  From that point it was a pretty peaceful float down.  We made a few spirals going down, you just pulled down on the handle of whichever side you were turning towards. I was also surprised at how the ground didn't rush up at me like everyone said it would.  When we landed it was pretty simple and again, a whole lot gentler than I expected.  I just lifted my legs up and we slid in.   I feel pretty hardcore right now. And now we can go back to work and be like, "Remember that time we jumped out of a plane together?"  A great group bonding experience. You get a little more respect when someone knows you have enough guts to try something crazy.  Really it isn't an experience I can adequately describe, it is a one of a kind experience and you should probably just try it.  Because what can you be afraid of doing after you jump out of a plane?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Three words, humidity, heat, and food.  That pretty much sums up the past few weeks.  I have been pretty busy with work.  Really, I have.  But busy in the,"I have to go work some late night weird schedule rotations," or "I'm going to go eat 17 pound of BBQ with everyone," type of busy rather than the, "Excuse me while I go cry over my kinetics book for the 27th time this month before I work on my 14 transport homework assignments all due this Wednesday," type of busy. So that means I've done lots of exploring bonding with work people.  We don't have cooking options so we eat out all the time and I've discovered great Houston restaurants.  I ate at this sushi restaurant one evening (then came back the next day and the next weekend...) and ate my body weight of the best sushi I've ever eaten.  The BBQ here is fantastic.  I've also tried out a lot of seafood. I've eaten alligator, crawfish, and I can't even remember what else.  Halliburton has seriously high quality food at work too.  Strawberry peanut butter smoothies are my morning staple, they sounded weird but they aren't.  That's probably enough about food though.  

Travis came down to visit and we made an adventure down to the Galveston beach.   The warm water there surprised me, it felt like bathtub temperature. We also spent a lot of time visiting friends and family but the visit was only a couple of days and flew by far too fast.  My mom is planning on visiting The weekend before I leave and do some bridesmaid dress shopping.  I'm pretty excited for that! I've also now been to a rodeo (guess who's going to force their future children to ride sheep all the time) and the Galleria, the most upscale huge mall I've ever heard of. 

The heat here is craaaaaazy.  I caught the thermometer at 115 the other day.  I'm not a fan. not at all. And when we work in lab, we wear coveralls, which makes it infinitely hotter.  It's also been weird to dress like a grown up every day.  Someday's I really wouldn't mind wearing my old college kid clothes to work every now and then. Some days I mix and match and wear coveralls with high heels. I think I already said but there are three Alaska guys in my class.  I really like our crew we have going and they even told me I am now one of the Alaska boys.  I feel so proud or something.  

I've gotten a reputation for being dramatic since I say variations of the phrase "I could die,"  too often. As in, "I'm so hungry, I might starve," or "It's so hot, I'm dying," or so on.  Apparently I also say ridiculous a lot and I use my eyebrows a lot.  And best of all, a couple pictures have been made into Miriam meme's.  I had to explain that one to my mother.  Her response was great, "You mean like grumpy cat or the Dos Equis man?"  Exactly, mother.  I'm hoping to write a post Sunday morning, I have some pretty epic Saturday plans!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

That one time I tried to kill Travis

I was 95% certain for about 10 minutes the other day that I killed Travis.  Normally, before he leaves work everyday he sends me a text that he's leaving.  And I ALWAYS pay attention to the time.  This day I was being ambitious. Being a wonderful fiancee I had laundry going and I was trying to finish making a calzone and berry crumble before Travis got home. At some point I realized I had completed all my chores. Everything was cooked and the dishes were cleaned and put away. The laundry was done and folded. I started to wonder where Travis was.  I looked at my clock and realized he was a full hour late. An entire hour and a forty five minutes had gone by without me noticing my fiance was not home.  For a second I wondered if I had somehow blacked out an hour or been abducted by aliens or something.  I have not been so shocked in a while. And clearly my phone would have only 2% battery that lasted long enough for me to try and call Travis before it died.  Then I had to wait ten minutes for it to charge enough to even turn on and reach Travis' voice mail.  I knew immediately that he must have flipped his car down off of one of the sharp turns.  He was definitely lying at the bottom of the hill with no way to call for help with his broken arms and legs.  His only hope was that his loving attentive fiancee might notice when he wasn't home and would call for help. Pffffft. I went straight to the neighbors in a total panic as I knew Kim was home with Sven. But then of course there were no cars available on yurt hill, since our other halves were either at work or dying in a ravine. So I had Kim ask Beth to come home for a Travis finding trip. Luckily by the time I arrived home to grab my phone for the trip Travis managed to get the "Got a flat tire in a dead spot" text through.  I immediately poured myself a strong drink to congratulate myself for not killing my fiance. Travis came home expecting an extremely angry Miriam (a fair assumption as one of my pet peeves is un-returned texts and call that lead me to assume people are dying) but instead he's been capitalizing on the whole, "Thank God, you're alive!!" thing for a while. I'm just extremely grateful that my phone died before I called the police and told them I accidentally killed my fiance.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Some Things Are Bigger In Texas

Like the cockroaches.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Megan came to pick me up from my hotel this Saturday morning for some girl time bonding and catching up.  While we were having lunch Megan noticed an alarmingly large cockroach wandering about the room.  Needless to say, table after table started jumping up and lifting things up off the floor. It was a horrifying way to track the cockroaches progress around the room.  And just our luck the roach was finally intercepted and squashed right next to our table.  I can't even pretend I didn't have a shameful response of lifting up my feet and freaking out pretty hard.  But I felt ok about it since everyone else did it first. The waiter who smashed the cockroach got a round of applause.
We also went shopping before this horrifying cockroach incident and as one of the many salesladies came over to help.  The conversation went something like this.
Megan: "We are both brides and both getting married this next year!"
Me: "We both have our dresses, we are really excited. We are getting married in the spring! "
Saleswomen: "To each other?"
Megan: "Oh no, not each other. Though weirdly enough both our fiances are named Travis."
I'm not sure the saleswoman quite knew what to do with us.  I'm not sure how legit we sounded. And just to clarify, we went to the Galleria.  It was gigantic. And we barely went anywhere inside it.  Basically it was a giant mall with plenty of stores I wouldn't feel comfortable going inside without dressing nicer.  Like Chanel, Coach, and Tiffany's. And its has its own ice rink, it is that big.

Texas is way too warm and humid.  I can stay outside for about ten minutes before I go running inside.  But at the same time, people keep the buildings way too cold. It's rough.  Though I do think if I had to pick between dry or humid heat, I'd go with humid.  I've also been told not to go outside because the mall next door is the "Gunspoint" not "Greenspoint" mall.  Feels like Greeley to me. I should probably make another shank.  The other uncool thing about Houston, the driving.  Everyone is aggressive and the traffic is awful despite the 14 lanes.  And forget about trying to find your way anywhere.  People keep asking where I am and I can't really give tell them anything specific.  I also got to see my aunt, uncle, cousins, and meet their triplets!  They were adorable. Very easygoing as three year olds go.  Plus about three times as cute.

The plane I rode to Texas on was larger than normal too.  I rode one of those dreamliners. I was already sitting on the plane when I realized I was on a dreamliner. It was just last week I was thinking about how I'd never want to ride on a dreamliner because I'd be paranoid about battery problems.  I resisted googling plane crash statistics on my phone and played with the tint settings on the large size windows instead.  I also found out I had a usb port and my own electrical outlet. There were almost forty rows with three sets of three seats in each row.  Which means like 330 people could be on that plane according to Boeing. So we sat on the ground for almost an hour during boarding.  Then, because I bring a trail of bad weather with me when I travel, we had to sit on the ground in Houston forever during a thunderstorm.  Naturally, once I trekked through the airport for miles I arrived to find my bag was mysteriously missing and I would not be refunded my 4 dollars I spent on a luggage cart.  Not that I cared about the four dollars, it was the principle of the thing. However, I was assured I'd be returned a quarter if I returned the cart.  Thanks a bunch.  Something like three hours of my life were wasted in the Houston airport.  My hotel is awesome.  You could fit a house or two in the lobby alone.   And I made a great first impression wandering in with no luggage in the previous day's clothing (I took the red eye from Fairbanks to Denver).  But United had assured I would get my luggage by nine that evening.  Luckily other Travis (Megan's Travis) was free to come rescue me and drive me for dinner and for buying a nice set of clothes in case my luggage did not arrive.  Shockingly enough, my luggage had not arrived by the time I went to bed at ten thirty.  Less than perfect air travel service but what can you do.

The next day everyone took shuttles over to the training center for class.  It was all intro and orientation the first day.  I met the last two Alaska guys I hadn't met yet and saw the other two I have already met.  There are 28 people total in our class, 7 of which are women (assuming I can count correctly which is not guaranteed). People are working all over the place, Venezuela, Thailand, Canada, Scotland, all over the US....I'm probably missing places.  And everyone's from different work and educational backgrounds.  Mines definitely over prepared me for hard work but under prepared me for socializing. This first week we've been learning the basic tests we use when running a mud check and we worked some basic hole volume problems. (See? that whole taking fluids twice was on purpose...) Next week we get to do mass balances (this also makes me pleased because the only test I ever got 100% on was a mass balance test). Overall, I'm really pleased how much I'm actually getting to do something related to what I learned while feeling so much less stressed than Mines made me feel.  But I'll have to decide if that's still how I feel after the first test!