Thursday, August 27, 2009

Last Day...

...of the BEST internship in the world.

State Capitol on Inauguration Day. (Photo courtesy yours truly)

Today was the last day of my internship:

2 Governors
4 months/15 weeks/47 complete days in the office
5 press conferences
1 Resignation
1 Inauguration (so far)
2 Swearing-in ceremonies
2 Senate Confirmation Hearings
1 Senate vote (so far)
300 + hours of office work, errands, events
1 new internship manual written
3 potential interns interviews
5 days at the White House phone
1 Record-breaking 6-hour date with the copy machine
3 Monthly Reports
100's of letters drafted
1,000 (almost) letters logged
47 days in the office
100 + other tasks completed
A few fiascoes avoided
1 red bracelet saved

1 Incredible Summer

And the BEST internship in the world.

The day before I officially started the job: Press Conference with Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. following President Obama's announcement that he would appoint Huntsman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the People's Republic of China. (Photo Courtesy Office of the Governor)

Me with the first Governor.

Me with the new Governor.

Past Governors and spouses on the day Governor Huntsman resigned as Governor, was sworn in as Ambassador, and Governor Herbert was sworn in as 17th Governor of the Great State of Utah. (Photo courtesy me.)

Governor and Mrs. Herbert, yours truly, Lieutenant Governor-designate and Mrs. Bell. (Due to a new Utah amendment, Lt. Governor Bell has to wait for the Senate to confirm his appointment. I went to his Senate Hearing today; it was great.)

Governor's Mansion. (Photo by me)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Long-promised Alaska post

Back in April, I had the incredible opportunity of going to Alaska with the BYU-Idaho Collegiate singers. I promised pictures, but it's taken me a while.

We flew out from Boise (then to Seattle, then into Fairbanks). Our plane was small enough we had to walk out onto the tarmac to get on the plane. The flight was nice--especially flying over the beautiful Canadian coast and British Columbia. Our first glimpses of Alaska were breath-taking. I think we even saw Mount McKinley on the way in.

Our first stop was Fairbanks, Alaska. Fairbanks is beautiful! Our host family was great. They showed us what true Alaskans do--including hunting and eating muktuk. Though we didn't get to hunt, they shared with us some of their prizes. Among the delicacies (including muktuk) were smoked seal, raw humpback, and boiled humpback whale. They also made a killer salmon spread.

North Pole, Alaska, is just a twenty minute drive from Fairbanks. Our first performance was at North Pole High. On the way, I took this picture of the famous place where all of Santa's letters go: the post office.

Excuse the poor quality, but this (above) is the North Pole, AK post office.

Only moments later did I realize how cool it was when we started driving down Santa Claus Lane.

We even found a real igloo (okay, it was more like an ice sculpture) in downtown Fairbanks.

It was in Fairbanks that we learned about Alaska's non-existent zoning laws. Because there are no zoning laws, you can build a house just about anywhere.

For example, McDonald's decided to build a restaurant right on a busy highway--only feet from an existing house. The owner of the house was so mad because the drive-thru speaker was right outside his bedroom window. To show sympathy, McDonald's built a wall.

Apparently the wall wasn't big enough. So, to show his disgust, the man hung a Ronald McDonald dummy from his trees just high enough to be seen over the wall. (The building in the picture is McDonald's. The truck in the picture is at the drive-thru.)

We also had the really cool opportunity to experience mushing (dog sledding) first-hand.

Here's a video of my experience:

Here we are after a performance for the high school students at Eilson High School on the military base near Fairbanks. I'm standing next to three choir members: Lizzie, Cassie (the two girls in red), and Sean (the guy with the grey BYU-Idaho fleece jacket). These high school girls thought our show rocked.

One of the best parts of driving a bus through Alaska was seeing how beautiful it is--even if it was interrupted by a big pipeline.

Above is a picture of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. It was fun learning about it, but it was even cooler seeing it up close.

One of the many breath-taking views. I came home with a greater appreciation for the mountains in Utah, realizing that they are this beautiful, too. I just don't get to see them when I'm in Rexburg.

More mountains.

The scenes were beautiful, but my favorite part was meeting with the people and learning about them--especially after our performances. And especially when a "missionary opportunity" was presented.

This is a picture of the Glennallen school.

Glennallen is a small town located between Fairbanks and Valdez. Special arrangements were made for us to go perform there on our way through.

Glennallen is home to a small branch of members of the Church and is somewhat isolated from other wards and branches in the stake. Several years ago, there was such opposition to the Church that members were denied medical care and missionaries were literally run out of town. Even the one Christian radio station in town was set against the Mormons. The branch president prayed and prayed for help. He didn't know what to do.

A few years ago, BYU Living Legends were planning a tour through Alaska, a miracle took place. The branch president was driving home when he felt the distinct impression to stop at a hamburger joint. He argued with the Lord, saying, "Lord, I don't want a greasy burger." He conceded.

Once inside, he saw a woman. For some reason, something about her bothered him. But a few minutes later she approached him. She said, "I don't know why, but I just felt like I needed to come talk to you." After introducing herself, the man knew why and it was planned for Living Legends to come perform in their tiny town.

Announcing the event became the first priority. They did everything they could to get the community there. Five minutes before the show was to begin, the performance hall was very empty. But by the time the performance started, the hall was full. The Living Legends had an effect on the native Alaskans, touching upon their heritage as the Spirit touched their hearts.

Through that experience, the town began to warm up to the Mormons. So when they heard we were coming through, the stake and branch president's specifically asked us to stop again.

After a small, mid-day performance at the school, we could see that something great had happened yet again.

Kids lined up just to have a high five, and some followed us onto the bus to get our autographs. And then, one girl who was not a member of the Church said, "I am going to go to BYU-Idaho!"

Then the branch president came out and said, "One of the ladies in there has been a friend for many years. We're working on getting the missionaries to meet her--she doesn't know that yet. She just asked me if I could answer some questions about the Church.

As he cried and bore his testimony, the Spirit let me know that what had just happened was nothing short of a miracle. I hadn't done anything particularly extraordinary, but the Lord had used us as His instruments. I was grateful for the opportunity, to have been in the right place at the right time to help further His work.

More beautiful mountains.

This is a frozen-over river outside Glennallen. The current in the summer is so swift that the it has moved the boulder now located in the middle. Not long ago, that boulder was on the banks of the river.

A closer view of the pipeline. The pipe pumps thousands of barrels daily. In order to keep sludge from sticking to the sides, they send "pigs" (large rings the circumference of the pipe that squeak and squeal as they move through the pipe) through. It winds back and forth and is actually set on top of the supports to keep it from snapping in the event of an earthquake. Click here for some more fun facts about the pipeline.

On the way into Valdez (pronounced Val-deez), we drove through a beautiful mountain, home to the annual widow-maker snowmobile (or snow machine, if you're Alaskan) competition. These pipes above the road are to help cars traveling during the winter. The headlights will reflect off the reflectors on the pipes and can help cars see to stay safely on the road.

Our next stop was Valdez, home to the famous Exxon-Valdez oil spill back in the 1990's. Our host family was great. Our "host mom" fed us a delicious meal and refused our help. She told us we were there on vacation and gave us only one rule: "Don't ask. Just do." When one of the guys asked if he could use the bathroom, she (in a mockingly upset tone) said, "Don't ask. Just tell." I learned quickly. She was delighted when I said, "I'm not asking. I'm just telling you that I'm going to do my laundry and will be using your detergent."

Here I am on a "snow machine" in some Church members' backyard. Yes, I know it's too small for me. The big ones were already taken.

This shot was taken in Valdez. Valdez is so beautiful it is often referred to as "Little Switzerland." It has some beautiful peaks and hosts skiers from all around the world. Some skiers even pay to ride a helicopter up to the highest peaks. On our flight home we met some people from Switzerland who ski the Alps. They came to Valdez just to ski.

Valdez is also home to one of the large catastrophes of the 1964 earthquake that hit Alaska. I was surprised to see a sign that said, "Tsunami Emergency Escape Route." That was before I learned that Valdez was hit by a tsunami when the earthquake struck. They re-built two miles in from the original site.

This is a view of the Prince William Sound. I wasn't brave enough to swim in it, though some of my friends did.

Another beautiful view as we were leaving Valdez.

This mountain is near Palmer, Alaska. One of the other highlights was stopping in "Sarah Palin" country and eating real deer tacos and moose tacos.

This picture was taken in front of our host family's beautiful home.

On Sunday night we hosted a youth fireside. And Monday we went to Wasilla High School--where Sara Palin's kids go to school!

Do I look Warrior enough?

After Wasilla we drove through Anchorage to get to Kenai, Soldatna and Homer. The day was clear (apparently it doesn't happen often), so we stopped to get a real look at Mt. McKinley. This is a map at the site to help you know what you're looking at. I posted it here to help you find Mt. McKinley in the picture below.

It was a clear day and we could see Mt. McKinley, but my camera didn't want to show that it was so. If you enlarge the picture, you might see the faint mountain to the left of the twig. That's Mt. McKinley.

A fun fact is that the natives actually refer to McKinley by its original name: Denali. McKinley/Denali was very far away as it appears so small in the above photograph.

Here's a view of the Anchorage skyline from the same site.

This is a beautiful mountain on Turnigan Arm outside Anchorage.

Another view from the same place.

And another view.

This is a picture of an avalanche scene near a visitor's center between Kenai and Anchorage. A small town nearby was actually closed off because there was only one road in, and it got covered by an avalanche.

While at the visitor center, we ran around outside to get our blood pumping again. That's when someone jumped into the snow and got stuck, nearly waist-deep. Something tells me the snow was much deeper than that, though.

After a long drive, we stoped in Kenai and Soldatna (neighboring cities) for a few days. You probably heard about the infamous active volcano that chose to resume its activity shortly before our trip.

This is Mount Redoubt. It really was just across the water from where we were. It was smoking the whole time we were there. Even our host fmaily in Anchorage had ash in their yard. Some of the ash got stuck in the bus engine and messed up the heating system. On our last day in Alaska, the bus decided to perpetually blow hot air, making it very uncomfortable inside.

In Soldotna, we stayed with an awesome family. This view of the famous Kenai River is actually from their backyard. In the summer, anglers from all over the world come to fish the Kenai. The current was still pretty swift, but we walked out on parts of the ice that were still frozen from the winter.

Our first night in Soldotna, our host family wanted to take us skeet shooting. Unfortunately, the range was closed, but we did have a great sunset view of Mt. Redoubt.

After Soldotna it was off to Homer. This is a view from above Homer, overlooking the Homer Spit. A spit can be fored naturally and manually. This spit was created by both. It's a geographical phenomenon. The Spit is rather large, so we went out on it. There are restaurants, gift shops, places to stay, and a nice port.

There's even Cosmic Kitchen--just in case you're in the mood for brakfast, lunch or Mexican.
This is a view of some of the shops on the Spit.

More shops.

While we were in Homer we stopped at an ocean museum. Their building was so inviting we climbed right on it. I guess that's what happens when you're with fun people on a bus for two weeks.
Our last stop was Anchorage.
This is the Anchroage, AK temple. While we were there, we did temple work. It is very small and very beautiful. It was such an incredible experience being there.
This was the home of our last, and largest concert. We performed in the same venue in which they held the cultural celebration for the Anchorage Temple. President Hinckley had been in attendance. The stage manager said, "Your prophet was here a few years ago. He sat right over there." She pointed to the spot. "He was a nice man," she said.

This statue was built to honor Balto, the dog who led a team that got medical supplies to patients in need during a fierce storm that left no other transportation possible. This spot is also the official starting point of the Ididerod (dog sled race) every year.
Across the street from Balto was a mint. This man had been pounding this piece of metal all morning. He explained how pounding it makes it stronger and thins it out. He was making knives.

This is Cassie, who though it would be funny to lick a piece of metal similar to the one the man was pounding. A few hours before we got there, the metal was round like a lollipop. By the time we stopped, the metal was in a thin rectangular shape.

One of our last stops in Anchorage was Earthquake Park, a park built to commemorate the 1964 earthquake. Part of the land where the park was built was actually lowered during the earthquake. Part of the land fell straight into the ocean below.

A view from Earthquake Park.

Another view.

After that we stopped at the Alaska Wild Berry Products factory and learned how they make chocolates. The free samples weren't bad, either. Though Willy Wonka might have the most famous chocolate waterfall, Alaska Wild Berry Products has the largest.

The sign says, "Don't eat the chocolate (from the waterfall)." That's because the chocolate in the fountain isn't completely pure. It has some stuff to make it run more easily and will make you sick.

The pump was broken, so we didn't see it on, but it was cool to see.

These are the chocolate bars actually used to make the fountain flow. They are also used to make the chocolates in the factory. It took 340 blocks to make the fountain. The stack right here weighs 500 pounds.
This shows you how big it really is. Each bar weighs ten pounds.

And then, after a nice Fireside that night with Elder Sybrowsky of the Seventy, we went to sleep and flew home the next morning.

This is my friend, Russell, and me on the tarmac by the plane that flew us from Seattle to Boise.

Alaska definitely is a beautiful place. I would love to go there again. But, above all, it helped me be more appreciative of the blessings and opportunities I have and the beauty that can be found anywhere you go.