The Colorful Characters of Chicken

The “Lost Chicken Dredge” in the Mosquito Fork of the 40-Mile River

We constantly get asked why did we pick Chicken Alaska to build a cabin?  A few people who know something about Alaska immediately ask if we mine for gold. Our answer is typically, no, we watch other people lose money mining for gold.

My husband and his father standing to the right of our cabin last fall

A misconception is that gold was found in Chicken as part of the Bonanza Gold Rush in the Klondike. In reality, gold was found in Franklin Creek in the Forty Mile River (near what would later be called Chicken) in 1886.  In 1891, gold was found in Chicken Creek. On August 17th, 1896 the Bonanza Gold was discovered south of what is now Dawson City in the Yukon. Gold was being mined for almost ten years in the region before the big strike.

In 1902, Chicken became the second legally incorporated city in the interior district of Alaska (Alaska would not become a State until 1957). Purportedly, they named it Chicken because of the abundance of ptarmigan in the region.  They wanted to name it ptarmigan, but could not agree on the spelling, so they decided to name it Chicken instead.

Taylor Highway Closed

The purpose of this post is not a history lesson but to share some of the stories of the colorful characters who inhabit Chicken year-round. The state stops maintaining the road October 15th. Per the 2010 census 10 people still lived out there the whole year. But we know from talking to our friends only about six remain.

One of those characters who has since left was Toad. If you follow my tweets at all, he was one of the last people to work for Fairbanks Exploration before they closed down operations in the 1960’s. They literally shutdown in the fall, thinking they would come back, but due to declining gold prices and increasing cost of operation, they never returned. Several of their dredges remain scattered throughout the state.  The picture at the top of this blog is the “Lost Chicken Dredge”  The picture below is the Pedro Dredge, which you can tour at the Chicken Gold Camp in Chicken.

They paid Toad for quite a few years to stay on as a caretaker in Chicken, believing they would come back. They never did.

This is the Pedro Dredge, not the same one shown at the top of the page. You can take a tour of this dredge in Chicken

Eventually Toad moved to his own place eight miles off the Taylor Highway and stayed out there alone until he was in his mid eighties. My husband would send him cigars and chat with him at the bar.  The cook at the café insisted the man was secretly DB Cooper, since he always paid in $20, $50 and $100 dollar bills from the 1960’s and 70’s.

Last year, he finally decided he’d had enough and moved to the “big town” of Tok.

Venturing Forth: My Arrival at Bootcamp

Bootcamp photo

I am pretty excited and a little nervous. I have applied to present a story live on September 11 in Arctic Entries, Alaska’s version of the Moth. I’ll have seven minutes to tell a story. The theme is “Milepost 1: Hitting the Road, Starting Fresh, Finding Your Way Home.” So I decided I would talk about my first night of boot camp.

The link to Arctic Entries is below

https://arcticentries.org/

I grew up in Victorville, CA. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, no one else has either. But we did make the list of the top ten worst places to live in California in 2018. https://www.roadsnacks.net/worst-places-to-live-in-california/

So I decided I wanted to see the world so I joined the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program. Eventually this led me to Alaska, but I had some colorful adventures along the way. This blog post will specifically be about that first night in boot camp.

I remember standing on the curb after I got off the bus feeling a little lost. In the movies there’s always a lot of screaming and running, right?  There was for the guys.  Not so much for me.  Maybe because I was the only girl on the bus.  Really the only girl.  They took all the guys off, yelling at them and left me standing alone on the curb clutching my duffle bag. After a few minutes a very pregnant RDC (Recruit Division Commander) waddles up to me and motions me to follow her.

She leads me into this giant room about the size of 4 basketball courts put together and has me start filling out paperwork. This room was partitioned into four sections filled with desks (about 80 desks each). The other sections were filled with guys. I was the only person in my section.

As you can guess, some of the guys were staring at me, sitting by myself. One of the male RDC’s proceeds to scream at them:

You will not look at that female. That female does not exist to you.

AWKWARD!

If you haven’t guessed, I am starting to get a picture of what my naval career is going to be like, and it ain’t pretty.

So there I sit, for several hours. By midnight there were a total of six of us and that was all they were going to get that night. So they finally decided to walk us to our barracks by one am. As soon as we got there, one girl immediately went into the head and started puking.  They rest of us began to settle in. We were interrupted by a Chief who came in and told us they had put us in the wrong compartment and we needed to move. Discouraged, we began to grab our bags.

“You.” He said to me. “Go in and get her.” He pointed to the head. “Don’t worry about cleaning it up, just bring her out.”

I go into the head. You know you learn a lot of things in the military. But I think the biggest is compassion. I have never felt more empathy  for another person in my life as I did that night.

She had puked all over the walls, the stall, the floor. Everywhere but the toilet. She kneeled on the floor, sobbing.  She had a little wad of tissue, and she was trying to clean it up.

I shook her by the shoulder. “Hey, we gotta’ go. They put us in the wrong compartment.”

“I have to clean this up.” She sobbed.

“No, it’s cool. He said you didn’t have to. We can just go.”

I helped her to the sink and cleaned her up.  Then we went to the other compartment. I sank into my rack at about 2 am. Reveille was at 3.  Welcome to Great Lakes!

Underwear and Working as Female Technician

Turbine Rotor

It’s funny, when I started my website and built my blog page, it showed me how I could build categories.  At first, I kind of chuckled to myself.  Categories? Why do I need categories for random thoughts?  Now that I am a few blogs in, I can now see some categories starting to evolve even without my intention to create them.  This blog kind of straddles the Navy category and my current job.

Sunrise and sunset during the arctic winter.

Summers in Prudhoe Bay can have the few random nice days, but for the most part they are cool and wet. This precipitation leads to soft, wash boarded roads and treacherous, slow driving conditions.

This morning as I got ready for work, I thought to myself, Today I need to wear the good sports bra.

Trust me, driving 20 to 30 miles over wash boarded roads is no fun, especially when certain body parts jiggle more than one would like.  I realized that most of my co-workers probably don’t worry about this.  It is neither a good or bad thing, it is just a fact.  Most of the people who work up here are men.  We women are a slim minority.  Most of the women who work in Prudhoe Bay are housekeepers or admins.  The few female technicians, operators and engineers are a tiny fraction of the overall workforce.

It made me think of a time in the Navy where I was asked a question about women’s underwear.

It was back in 1998.  I had been picked up as a staff instructor and I was the only female staff member on crew at the time.  On this day, I was standing watch as electrical operator, watching the board and taking logs.  The hum of the HVAC unit and the conversation between myself and the reactor operator was suddenly broken by the curtain for maneuvering drawing back and the Engineering Watch Supervisor poking his head in and shouting, “Request permission to enter and speak to the Electrical Operator.”

The watch office granted permission without looking up from his logs.  I however, looked up to see the entire watch team outside the door, peering in eagerly, staring at me.

My first thought was, “What fresh hell is this?”

He squeezed into the small room and even before making it to my bench he shouted, “Nipper (that was my maiden name), can women wear thongs in the Navy?”

Taken aback, my first response was something along the lines of “Hell if I know? Then why are you asking me?”

He was more than happy to oblige.  One of our female students had put on a lot of weight since she joined the Navy.  Sometimes it happens, especially in the Nuke program where you are parked on your backside for hours on end studying.  She had become so much over weight that her uniforms no longer fit.  Now if you have never been in the military, your uniform is supposed to look a certain way.  Her supervisor, sensitive to her feelings told her she needed to purchase new uniforms because her old ones were no longer suitable, but he did not exactly tell her why.

Well, as I know some women do when they purchase a prom dress or a special occasion dress, this young sailor decided to buy her uniforms a size smaller to motivate herself to lose weight.  While I can understand her logic, it backfired, literally.  Unfortunately, while performing her duties, the seams of her pants across her backside did not survive the activity.  When she went to her supervisor and showed him her predicament he told her to go home and change.  For some reason, though she had permission to go home, she decided to ask the Watch Supervisor what she should do.

Being a rather seasoned sailor, he advised her, “Just put some duct tape over it, you’ll be fine now, No one will notice.”

“I can’t, I’m wearing a thong,” was her reply, to which he responded by ordering her to go home and change, then running to where I was on watch to ask his question.

Just so you know this really blew their minds/freaked them out.  Women can wear sexy underwear under their uniforms?  Oh My God!!!!!! Personally, I kept it pretty comfy.  Dungarees are uncomfortable enough.  Granny panties all the way, but I digress.

Being the only female staff on crew, I was considered to be the font of knowledge on all things female.  We looked it up. At least in the regulations at the time, it did not call out what type of underwear you could wear, just that you wear them.  Believe it or not, it did specify color: white or skin tone under white uniforms, and any color under other uniforms.

So yes, we determined it was perfectly acceptable for women to wear thongs in the Navy.

I have thought about this often over the years.  How much effort emphasis we women put into dressing and looking a certain way, even down to choosing just the right underwear under a garment, because heaven forbid people see a panty or bra line and know, gulp: we’re wearing underwear!  OMG!

Me in front of one of my substations

While sure, men worry about looking neat, professional, and presentable, they do not obsess over it the way we do.  The interesting thing I have learned, working around men for so many years, most of them do not notice our efforts at all.  Sure, my husband notices when I dress nice, but we dress and look a certain way because the fashion industry says it is important, other women say it is important.  But most of the guys I work with?  I really don’t think they care.

Beautiful day in Prudhoe Bay!

Thanks for reading, and I hope your underwear is comfy and soft today.

Why Didn’t She Leave? My Version

Heads up, abuse survivors, possible triggers ahead.

“I like to keep my towels like that, and my pantry.  This guy and I have a lot in common.”  My boyfriend said as he unpaused the movie.

The movie in question was Sleeping With the Enemy.  Julia Robert’s character is trying to make sure the towels in the bathroom are meticulously lined up, and the cans in the pantry are stacked with the labels outward.  At the time I justified his comment with an excuse, like I did so many others:

He’s just kidding, he’s really not like that guy.  He just likes things really neat.

What I am about to say next may be glaringly obvious at this point, but let me spell it out incase you are really naïve like I was:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN IF YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER MAKES A COMMENT LIKE THAT, RUN LIKE HELL

Why am I sharing this tidbit?  I want to pass on something I learned from my own bad relationships.  What is obvious to someone on the outside looking in, it not so clear to the person being abused.  especially when they have been groomed and conditioned to believe it is what they deserve.

They make you believe their bad behavior is your fault.

But why didn’t she just leave?

I am not excusing myself.  I recognize now it the low-self esteem and choices that led me to this particular guy.  But where did these behaviors stem from?  They stemmed from abuse in my past, and inability to confront and manage what I had been through.  I couldn’t see myself as a victim, I blamed myself, what happened to me was somehow my fault.  I wasn’t good enough.  I felt like I had to be something better, to constantly please in order to be worthy of love.

May as well have put a GPS beacon on my head for guys like him.  They hone right in on that.

Back to the show.  Those redflag comments weren’t the only behavior I excused.  Being much younger and naïve, I really thought this was how it worked.  This was my first “real” relationship, and he was the first guy who “really” loved me. Or so he convinced me at first.  He definitely knew how to dangle that carrot, always just slightly out of reach.

You shouldn’t wear those pants, they make you look fat

That dress is too short for you, it makes you look slutty

(Longer dress) The other one looked better, now you look dowdy

I’m just trying to help you look classy

You should dye your hair blonde, brown makes you look washed out

That’s too blonde, you look like a rock groupie/tramp

You shouldn’t drink while you are out with friends, some guy might try to sleep with you

Are you really going to eat all that? You should probably go to the gym tomorrow

Don’t lose weight, I love how curvy you are

These statements were often countered with presents, roses, jewelry, a nice dinner, or a new outfit (he had better taste, of course).

Over time, I realized nothing I did pleased him.  And let’s not even talk about sex or affection.  It slowly escalated into screaming matches.  Belittling me for wanting to have a social life, isolating me from friends, family, and co-workers.  But it all came to a head when he wanted me to move in with him.  we could never find a place that quite please him, so I said we should hold off on moving in together.  In hindsight, he wanted me to move in with him so he could wield the ultimate control over me.  Not too much later we had the following conversation.  Part of me wishes I could forget it, but at the same time it was the most liberating conversation I ever had.

ME: I NOTICED THAT WHEN I SAY I LOVE YOU LATELY, YOU DON’T SAY IT BACK

HIM: WELL, TO BE COMPLETELY HONEST, IT’S NOT JUST THAT I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE, I NEVER REALLY DID.  I WAS JUST SAYING IT TO SEE WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO SAY IT TO SOMEONE, AND NOW IT’S JUST NOT CONVENIENT ANYMORE

ME:  WAIT, YOU’VE BEEN LYING TO ME THIS WHOLE TIME ABOUT BEING IN LOVE WITH ME?

HIM: NO, IT WASN’T A LIE (in other words, how dare I call him a liar)  I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU IF YOU WOULD HAVE MOVED IN WITH ME, BUT YOU…

SOMETHING INSIDE ME SNAPPED.  I STOPPED LISTENING, INSIDE I WAS FUMING.  I DIDN’T EVEN CRY

ME: I GUESS THAT’S ALL I NEED TO KNOW THEN. IT’S OVER.

HIM: YOU’RE BREAKING UP WITH ME?  YOU CAN’T BREAK UP WITH ME. WE DON’T HAVE TO BREAK UP OVER THIS

I reiterated that it was over and got off the phone.  Flash forward to my next day off.  It just so happened that my dishwasher was leaking, and the maintenance guy was in my apartment repairing it.  My ex-boyfriend didn’t realize he had a witness to his attempt to “win” (force) me back.  The encounter in may apartment was unnerving, but par for the course for my interactions with him.  When the maintenance guy made his presence known, my ex bailed.  The guy repairing my dishwasher asked me if I needed him to call the cops.  This was an eye opener for me.  Another person witnessing his antics and letting me know that was not normal helped me resist going back.  My ex had me convinced the whole time that his behaviors were my fault, and if I had only done what he wanted everything would be great.  That summed up our whole relationship.  I told some of my friends what had been occurring as the break-up unraveled, and they were shocked and angered.  But never at any point did I think I was being abused, not until it was over.  I shudder sometimes at my lucky/narrow escape.

I did a lot of soul searching after that break-up.  I would love to tell you that I never dated another jerk, and I took my new-found self-esteem and conquered the world and instantly found true love, just like in a Hollywood movie.  But life is not like a movie, and our brains are often wired to repeat old embedded patterns.  But what I can tell you is that with a lot of help, time, friends, support, therapy, and self-reflection I did start to recognize the patterns I was creating, and I changed them for the better.  I came to realize the things in my past that were not my fault to begin with did not devalue me or make me less of a person.  When I finally recognized myself as an amazing person, I started having healthy relationships and he life I truly deserved.

Taking the Plunge! My dip into Prudhoe Bay.

Arctic ocean in winter with Polar Bear warning sign

“Off of the tour bus and into the food chain.”

Me in Prudhoe Bay after my dunking!

It’s a common joke in Alaska, and tonight, we decided to join other co-workers and take the Polar Plunge and jump into the Arctic Ocean.  I’ve worked up here on and off for 11 years, and never done it, my co-worker Derek has worked 13.  He told me about it over lunch and I decided after a rather rough week, why the heck not?

Unfortunately, not knowing that this event was coming, I had to run to the gift shop in camp and buy a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and pray they wouldn’t be completely see through after my dunking.

People on the beach waiting to go for it.
Beach at East Dock

We drove the long gravel road out to East Dock, both of us marveling at the fact we had never been out there in the summer.  I’ve been out there countless times in winter, in the dark, helping with generators and other electrical equipment.  I’ve been to other places on the arctic ocean in the summer and marveled at the sight of Prudhoe Bay without ice for the brief few weeks that it happens.  But here we were going to jump in.

Okay, so jump is a relative term.  Prudhoe bay is really shallow, for quite a long distance.  We were warned in advance to wear shoes, since we were going to have to wade out until we got waist deep, then submerge over our heads, then slog back.  The beach is rough gravel and sharp rocks.  We signed in and began our slog our into the bay.

The water temperature, according to the little certificate I got was 32 degrees. The air temperature was 48.  It didn’t feel so bad…at first.  But the further out we got, the chillier we got.

As previously mentioned, the plan was to stop at waist deep, I should say I did.  My friend tried to keep going.  I think he forgot that I’m like a half a foot shorter than him.  I’m not short by any means, but he’s pretty tall.  Our conversation went about like this:

 

“How deep do we have to go?” I asked, puzzled that he kept walking seaward.

“Just waist-deep, then we dunk our heads under.”

“Where are you going?”

“I want to get deeper.”

“You go ahead, I’m dunking now.”

 

So we both dunked under, then trudged quickly back to shore, where a friend was trying to video said event.  Unfortunately, the video didn’t record, but I got some pictures.

For those of you who have never been, I hope you liked my pictures of the arctic ocean.  I feel privileged to have been able to work in such a unique place for so long.

 

My favorite picture of the Sag River where it meets the ocean during the few hours of light in winter

It’s all fun and games…

…Until there’s new lesions on your brain!

Click, click, click, click, click

Growl, growl, growl, growl, growl

Click, click, click, click, click

Growl, growl, growl, growl, growl

Click, click, click, click, click

Growl, growl, growl, growl, growl

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of sitting in an MRI Machine, having a full scan of your brain and spine, this is about what it sounds like.  That being said, some of the more modern machines can pipe in music of books on tape, but the more rustic, it’s just you alone, in a dark tube, thinking. Fortunately, I’ve never been claustrophobic and usually I freak the technicians out because I get too comfy and fall asleep and start snoring. Hey, it’s easy when they swaddle you in a nice warm blanket and stuff you in a dark place where you can just ponder, at least, that’s what works for me.

If it’s just your brain, it’s only about an hour. If it’s your brain and C-spine with contrast, ninety minutes.  Full spine, upwards of three hours.  Imagine, lying in a tiny tube listening to nothing but the above and your own thoughts for three hours.  They pull you out at some point, jab you in the arm with a needle and inject you with the contrast dye so they can see active lesions on your brain (after the military and MS, no fear of those any more either). Fortunately for me, I have a pretty vivid imagination, and no fear of confined spaces, so most of the time I’m fine. I can entertain myself indefinitely, I just have to remind myself not to breathe or swallow while said noises are taking place, or they’ll have to repeat the scan and I’ll be there longer.  The limiting factor is my bladder, which is a whole other blog topic.  For those of my friends out there with MS, they feel my pain.

After 18 years of having MS and migraines, I feel like I am a human guinea pig when it comes to health care and the VA.  I recognize that in spite many things, I am fortunate, I have health care; but sometimes, I wonder what they are doing to me.  I have had 25+ MRI’s (forgive me, I lost count at some point) with contrast in 18 years.  Also, I have had more than 10 CT’s scans, plus numerous X-Rays. I joke with my husband and my neurologist (ok, at this point it’s not a joke anymore) that I am going to donate my brain and my liver to medical science so they can figure out what the heck is the deal with not only relapsing-remitting MS, but contrast dye, and how it effects people.

I was SOOOOO close!  After sixteen years, my MS was showing NO signs of progression.  At the end of 2016, my neurologist felt that things looked so good, I didn’t need an MRI for three years. Joy!

On top of that, we had gotten on top of my migraines with a combo of me watching my dietary triggers, adding magnesium and vitamin D to my diet, and just watching my stress levels.  Everything was turning up roses.

And then the mole people came out.

In 2017 I had a massive flare up of MS where I lost vision in my right eye for a time and had trouble with coordination.  Unfortunately, when being given massive doses of steroids and immune system suppressants, your immune system takes a blow.  I suffered from a severe case of pneumonia that winter, which took me “officially” three months to get back on my feet, but I didn’t begin to feel like myself again for about eight months.

But I clawed my way back to the surface, and here I am again.  My doctor and I learned a lot of lessons.  Fortunately, she’s on my side, and already she has said that next time (hopefully there’s not a next time) she’s pre-emptively writing me a note to have me take time off work when I have to take my treatments.  She wants me to rest on a beach warm and sunny while this crap they give me eats away at me. I’ll take that.

Unfortunately, my last MRI came back with new lesions, so I’ve got to slide back into the tube this week and have another go.  While I’m in there, I’ll hopefully dream up a New York Times Bestseller that will knock everyone for a loop. The options if the new MRI come back bad again aren’t pretty, but I’ll deal.  And I’ll dream.

For those of you out there with MS and migraines, how is it going with you? Check out my website and drop me a line. I’d love to know how you’re doing out there.

What I have learned about marketing myself (so far)

What have I learned about marketing myself?

Lake across from Mentasta Lodge. Great place to see Trumpeter Swans.

So I participated in the monthlong #NaNaPromo May marketing Blitz.  There was a lot of really good information over the course of the month.  I have a lot of pages favorited, and I go back and re-read them.  At this point, my marketing is in it’s infancy.  I am still testing out what I learned and seeing what works and what does not.

 

What is one of the first things I did?

Twitter

I set up a Twitter account in the spirit of growing my social media presence.  Something that I once swore I would never do. Mostly because I try to not get sucked into social media if I can help it.  I read an article by an entrepreneur that advised (basically) you need to consider whether you are spending your time or using your time.  If you are “spending” it, someone is making money off you.  If you are using it, you are bettering yourself.  Kind of harsh and possibly overly simplistic, but at some core level, there’s a lot of truth to this.

But the more I read about marketing yourself, whether as a writer, or an entrepreneur, used wisely; social media can be a big help.  I started my Twitter account and watched as I had very few followers.  I really didn’t understand hashtags or following others or re-tweeting…so I learned.

My followers have gone from zero to roughly 90.  I realize compared to some who have thousands this may not sound like a lot, but over the course of two months, not too shabby.  Also, I feel I am engaged with the people following me.  I enjoy what they post, and I hope they enjoy what I post.  I learn a lot from them.  Which leads me to…

Website

I started my own website.  Being an electrical engineer, and having somewhat of a computer science background, this wasn’t too much of a stretch.  The difficult part is now attracting people to my grand creation.

I have started a blog, mostly about my exploits living in Alaska, my adventures as a female electrical engineer and a former Navy Veteran, and my silent battle with MS, migraines and depression.  I just write about these things.  From my logistics, not many people are reading them yet, and that’s okay.  In fact, it’s kind of liberating.  I have the freedom to just express myself as I shake off the rust, work out the kinks in my writing and find out what works.  I learned a lot during the month of May about guest blogging and tagging other articles to your blog.  This has helped increase traffic.  I am going to now be a regular guest blogger on a website about chronic illness and depression.  After 18 years dealing with MS and battling the VA, yes I can claim to be an expert.  I am also doing technical writing about my electrical engineering work.

Taylor Highway Closed

Website Maintenance!

Lesson learned: don’t rush it!  While reading one of the articles about building your network, I got the brilliant idea to try to install a newsletter plugin.  Here’s my advice to you.  When messing around with your website.  Take your time.  Don’t do it at 11pm after three glasses of wine right after getting back from Massachusetts and you have to get on another plane and fly to Prudhoe Bay, AK the next morning for work.  It will only spell disaster.  It took me almost a month and a half to figure out how I had managed to screw up my blog.  I didn’t realize it until the morning after when I had no blog AND no newsletter.

Next steps

Photos

My next step is to get some professional pictures taken.  Gulp!  If you know me, you know that I pretty much hate pictures of myself.  Not that I’m ugly or anti-social or anything, I just don’t like my own pictures.  Don’t know why.  So, I found a photographer whose work I really like, and we are going to do a photoshoot together to come up with something good.  My husband is really excited about this.

Book Covers

My husband and I do a lot of design work, so we have software programs for manipulating pictures.  I am going to mess around with creating fictitious book covers, but if I can’t come up with anything I like, I have a friend who is a really talented artist and photographer who is willing to work with me in exchange for getting her name out there.

Editing

I did the classic newbie-writer mistake.  I wrote stuff (it was actually the 4th novel I wrote) edited it myself, sent it out for query, got rejected multiple times.  I had an editor look over the first few pages for feedback.  It came back drenched in red.  And it was amazing.  Like a magic spell.  How could I not see it?  I had read it a hundred times!  How did I miss all the telling/not showing, POV shifts, etc?  So I am not having my manuscript professionally edited as my birthday present to myself.  Even if it is never published, my hope is that I can use what I learn to improve my other work.

 

Hiking in New Mexico. It is good to get away!

In a Nutshell…

It’s been a fun process so far.  I definitely have a long way to go.  For now, I’m off to Seattle and then back to Prudhoe Bay to chase electrons.

View of the sunset from our cabin. Time is approximately midnight.

Excerpt from Torched

My husband’s welded steel art, the inspiration for my current story

Here is an excerpt from my novel that is currently in the hands of an editor, getting flayed.  My Main character in this story is Brigit, a woman who does welded art.

In honor of the commissioning of my husband’s “Lilly of the Valley” sculpture today, I thought I would share this excerpt.

“We’re going to move my sculptures upstairs, and set them up,” she replied, motioning to the large pieces of metal art work under the staircase. They loaded the three-foot tall steel bases one by one into the dumbwaiter, then the bronze and copper, and steel sculptures. There were five in all. It was a lot of climbing up and down the stairs, but when they were done, the effect was satisfying.

Two large, Japanese silk screens to partitioned off the upper room. One had mountain scenes in black and white, the other had bright pink cherry blossoms. The sculptures were set up on the empty half of her loft, on the south side, with one in each corner and the largest in the middle.

Stephen felt himself drawn to the sculpture in the middle of the room for some reason. The large sculpture was beautifully made with spirals of steel and bronze seeming to both imprison and explode from a highly polished piece of dark green jade. Suspended in the center, and completely stationary, it gave the impression that the stone could either sway, fall, or even fly away at any moment. He stood staring at it for a while, taking it in from several angles.

“I really like this one,” he told Brigit when she finally came up beside him, “It’s strange, I get this almost haunting sense of both freedom and loss. The way it’s shaped, it almost reminds me of a baby.”

When she did not answer him, he turned to look at her. Her fair skin looked as pale as milk and her lips were trembling. Her expression was stunned, as if he had hit her. Her arms were crossed over her chest defensively, tears swimming in her eyes.

“Are you okay?” he asked, alarmed. She swayed a little, but stayed upright. She finally looked him in the eye.

“No…no one…has ever noticed…that before,” She stammered, biting her full lower lip, tears spilling out of her eyes and down her down her pale cheeks.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said, automatically reaching for her.

“It’s not you,” she said putting up one arm, pushing him away.

“What’s wrong?”

She reached out and touched the sculpture gently with her fingertips. “I was married when I was 18. It was stupid…I shouldn’t have…he was, a lot older than me, and really charming…at first. It was really bad…I stayed with him two years. When I tried to leave…” She put one hand over her mouth and started sobbing. Stephen wrapped his arms around her, pulling her to his chest. After seeing the bullet holes, he now had a pretty good idea what she was going to say. “He tried to kill me. I was pregnant. I didn’t know I was pregnant at the time. I miscarried from the shock of getting shot four times. A guy I worked with shot him fatally, before he could finish the job.” He felt her start to sway in his arms as her knees buckled, and she started to sink to the floor as she cried. He sat down on the floor with her and rocked her in his arms.

“I got shot in the head.” She pulled back, and removed her hat, showing him the wound she did not realize he had already seen. “Twice in the chest and once in the side.” She pointed to those wounds through clothing. “But ironically, it wasn’t any of those things almost killed me. It was the shock from the loss of blood when I started to miscarry that almost did me in, it was too much.” She gave out a hard laugh, covering her face with her hands. Stephen squeezed her tighter, pressing his lips to the top of her head. “My sister and my cousin Ivy were already on their way, to help me leave him, you know? Barb was already here. They flew up to Alaska, but they got there right after it happened. My sister, my cousin Ivy, and my aunt Barb; we all happen to have the same blood type. If it hadn’t been for them…I’m lucky to have them. Lucky to be alive.” Her voice trailed off. He felt her shudder. Then she pulled back and looked into his eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to dump all this on you. I’m normally not such an emotional train wreck.” She sobbed harder shaking her head and trying to stand up, but he clamped her close to his chest and rocked her gently.

“Hey, hey, shhhh…” He murmured against her hair, locking his arms around her, trying to still her frantic attempts at escape. “It’s okay, I don’t mind. Just relax. Okay? Please Don’t shut me out.” she paused for a moment as she stared at him, acquiescing. “I think you are incredible Brigit. I’m glad my brother has met such an intelligent, beautiful, courageous woman as you.” He choked a little on that last sentence.

“Please,” she implored, “please don’t tell Sean. I don’t think I’m ready for him to know that yet.”

He did not have the heart to tell her that Sean had the police background check capability to find out whether she liked it or not. He felt a little guilty now for telling Sean about the bullet wounds. Instead he merely touched her cheek and said, “Your secret is safe with me, kid. And I’m guessing there’s more to it than what you’ve told me.” She looked down, afraid to meet his eye. “Hey, if you need a friend, someone to talk to, I’m here. Seriously.” He put his hand under her chin and forced her to look at him. “You have my number if you need someone to talk to, call me anytime. Please? I want to be there for you.”

She smiled a little and hugged him tight in return, burying her glossy red head against his chest and breathing hard. He held her close, rocking her again. A voice in his head asked why he was torturing himself like this, but she was going to be his brother’s girl, he might as well get used to being part of the family.

After a few minutes, she pulled back slowly and wiped her eyes, “Thank you. I guess I needed that. It’s been a rough week.”

“That’s a mild understatement,” Stephen replied stroking her hair, “I admire how well you’re holding up. Most people would crack.”

“That wasn’t cracking a moment ago?” she asked with a laugh, as she continued wiping her face.

“Nope, not at all,” he assured her with a grin. Their faces were so close, they were almost touching. He could feel and taste her sweet breath against his lips. Now that he was no longer comforting her, he was in dangerous territory, again. He was painfully aware of her toned, warm body in his arms. Her full breasts grated against his chest with every ragged breath as she tried to calm down. Her soft ivory skin begged to be touched. His body throbbed insistently in response to having her in his arms.

“Here, let me help you up,” he said. He was desperate to put some distance between them. If he held her too much longer, he might lose control and give in to the throbbing sensation in his loins and push her down on the carpet and make love to her. God, how he wanted her.

As she stood up, her eyes went wide, “I promised you dinner.” She turned towards the kitchen.

“No, you don’t have to cook for me,” he told her.

“Oh no, really. It’s ready to go in the oven. I made chicken enchiladas and salad. It will only take 30 minutes or so. I’m hungry. Aren’t you?”

He smiled, yes, he was hungry. For more than just food.

Happy Solstice from Chicken Alaska!

View of the sunset from our cabin. Time is approximately midnight.

 

Summer Solstice in Alaska is a special day to most Alaskans.  While the 4th of July is nice, it’s hard to enjoy fireworks when it doesn’t really get dark (we usually save the big Fireworks displays for New Year’s Eve and Fur Rondy).  But on the longest day of the year, June 21st, you will find most Alaskans out enjoying the sun wherever they can.

Breaking up the snow for water

For me and my husband we got to spend it out at our cabin in the interior this year.  What a difference two months makes!  When we came out here in April, there was still two feet of snow on the ground.  When we came out in May, the snow was gone, but patches could still be seen in the shaded, low areas.  Now our trees are in full bloom, the leaves opening up.

What a difference two months makes. When we were out here in April, we still had to feet of snow.

It is amazing to see everything burst into life for such a short time.

Bluebells blooming in the woodpile
Dogwood creeping along the ground
Royal purple lupine opening to the sky
Snow-white Labrador Root.

 

Wild roses

We try to get out and enjoy it as much as possible.  By September, we could already have snow.  It is amazing how fast the season turns.  Right now as I post this, the days are starting to get shorter and the cold season is approaching.

 

STEM Ambassador Talk

Me in Azerbaijan at the Temple of the Eternal Flame as part of a work trip in 2007

 

This week I am preparing to talk to a group of high school students at a summer camp about opportunities in engineering.  The technical focus of my topic going to revolve around my work with drones, but after reading the headlines this week, I am actually going to talk about something even deeper.

 

The Number of Female Chief Executives is Falling

                Claire Cain Miller, New York Times, May 23, 2018

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/upshot/why-the-number-of-female-chief-executives-is-falling.html

While I am on the engineering side of the fence, I agree with what she says in the article.  I have seen it throughout my own career as a technician, operator and engineer.  Yes, there are biases against women in the workplace, and many of them are not just because of their own choice, but because of perceptions on behalf of those in management above them.  The article is well worth the read, but I would like to speak to another issue the article misses.  Something more systemic that I see in society and new interns that I work with.  And it was summed up well in an article from the Chicago Tribune.

 

Teenagers may be losing interest in STEM careers, but the know they need tech skills to land a job

                Ally Marotti, Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2018

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-teen-girls-stem-career-ambitions-20180606-story.html

 

The crux of this article is that many young people use technology constantly, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.  They don’t see the exciting career opportunities that may be available to them.  Let’s face it.  How are engineers portrayed but the media?  Boring, geeks in ties.

THIS IS WHY I AM A STEM AMBASSADOR

I think the answer is that more of us need to get out there and show these people the possibilities.  The world it is changing.  And while there is a lot of negativity out there, I believe it is changing for the better, if we can catch people and show them the limitless possibilities then we can energize them to want to struggle against the negative connotations associated with rising to the top.  We need to show them that engineering is more than sitting behind a desk and crunching numbers.  We need to show them that being a CEO is more than wearing a suit and saying, “You’re fired.”  If people cannot see where they would fit in leading a company or being an engineer, why should they want to fight for it in the first place?  Why should they put up with the sexual harassment, the discrimination, the lack of respect if they can’t see a positive side to it?

The more people with integrity, intelligence and vision that we can inspire to lead the world, the better the world will be.

Hiking in New Mexico. It is good to get away!