Tales on Dark Alaskan Nights

As fall pushes to winter here in Alaska, the days grow rapidly shorter. When I go to work in the mornings, it is already dark. When I come home it’s dark yet again. On the shortest day of the year in Anchorage, we’ll get a little over 5 hours of weak sun in the Anchorage bowl. In Prudhoe Bay, the sun sets around November 20th for the last time, and won’t rise again until late January.

Late winter out at the cabin. The road closes in October, but sometimes we can get out there in early March.

This is the time of year that we hunker down and make plans for next summer. My husband and I spend lots of time sitting in front of the fire, drinking wine and reading.

Fire and wine, can it get better on a cold night? Well, sometimes we substitute whiskey.

Growing up I spent a lot of time reading. As mentioned in a previous blog post, I grew up in the Mojave Desert, so going outside during the worst part of the day was out of the question. We were trapped indoors during summer vacation. My family wasn’t very well off, so for entertainment (and to keep herself sane), my mother would take us to the public library to pick out books, because she didn’t want us sitting around watching T.V. all day. My mom mandated that we had to pick out at least 3 books. The maximum we could check out per the library rules was ten.

Devil’s Punchbowl. A rock formation formed by the San Andreas fault near my hometown of Victorville, CA

I spent a lot of time in my room growing up, reading and writing. For whatever reason, I really loved to read fairy tales, myths and legends. I can’t count how many times I checked out the Lang’s Fairy Books.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lang%27s_Fairy_Books#The_Blue_Fairy_Book_(1889) 

The Blue Fairy book was possibly my favorite. As I grew older, I moved on to darker more complex tales. As I wrote in my blog post about my obsession with Stephen King, I remember sneaking copies of Carrie and Christine under the Blue Fairy book, Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew so my mom wouldn’t catch me–but that’s a whole other blog.

I also loved to tell tales. My family would often go night fishing out at the California Aqueduct or the small artificial lake just outside of town (don’t ask what they caught out of LA’s drinking water supply, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction). After being ordered by our parents to “go away and play.” We would find a quiet spot out in the desert and tell “ghost stories.” I can proudly say that I was often requested to tell my stories over and over, sitting under the blanket of the summer night with a flashlight, telling made up tales of gore that were based on what I had read and learned. I was too young to understand that I was memorizing archetypes and story arch’s: good vs evil, hero vs villain, maiden vs crone, whore vs virgin. I learned all of that later as I read more and more.

This is why I am particularly excited about Kyanite Publishing’s upcoming winter Digest. 

https://kyanitepublishing.com/product/kyanitepresswinterdigest18/

The promised offering is a collection of modern fairy tales and fables. I learned about it from an author I follow on Twitter, Hanson Oak, who is going to be featured in this publication. Side note: If you enjoy well written horror and noir tales, he’s definitely and author to follow:

https://hansonoak.com/

So as I look forward to receiving my copy and reading it by my fire during the darkest part of the Alaska winter nights, I think back to what attracted my to fairy tales to begin with.

The question is, what is a fairy tale, and is it really different from a myth or legend? We know that certain archetypes, like the ones I mentioned, permeated our myths, legends, oral tales and cultures. They evolve with us over time, blending and molding as society changes.

A book I read a few years back illustrated this in what I felt was a very clean and clear-cut way. It utilized one of what most people consider to be the simplest of all of the “fairy tales”: Little Red Riding Hood.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/114476.Little_Red_Riding_Hood_Uncloaked

“Today we approach fairy tales with a false sense of their simplicity. Unlike myth or legend which concern the sacred, the miraculous and the heroic, fairy tales are devoted to the mundane: the drama of domestic life, of children and courtship and coming of age. The are not “true”; indeed to tell a tale also means to lie. Thus they seem inconsequential. We believe we outgrow them. Nonetheless, fairy tales provide a unique window into our most central concerns, our sense of social and cultural identity, who we think we are (or should be)–and how we change.”

Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked, Catherine Orenstein, 2002

While I never really outgrew the Blue Fairy book, I recognized those tales as they wove through other plots and fictions. I love Gregory Maguire’s retellings of both Snow White and Cinderella putting twists and contexts of history and morality on the characters.  Another favorite of mine is the Troll Bridge from Snow White, Blood Red; and anthology of darker tales.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/141024.Snow_White_Blood_Red

I know I will never outgrow the tales I read (and wrote). I can still see the storylines and ghosts in the stories that I write now. I can’t wait until my new book shows up in December. Will the authors turn old tales on their heads? Or will they re-tell an old story, archetype in a new and compelling way? Can’t wait to find out.

Charleston to Victorville

Sitting here in this hotel room by the ocean, the waves are crashing violently against the spit outside. It’s funny, we planned this little stay-cation because the weather was predicted to be pleasant and calm, but that’s Alaska for you. A storm moving up the Prince William sound is pushing high wind into Homer where we are.

View from the Lan’s End Resort at the end of the Homer Spit

I have always loved the sound of the ocean, in all of its moods, as I sit here listening to it tonight, I am trying to decide exactly what to blog about.  My mind is a jumble of thoughts about the past.  Partly, because I saw my primary care doctor this week and she ordered a whole new slew of tests that I will have to grit my teeth through, partly because I have an appointment with my neurologist later this week, and she’ll order a complete battery of tests and medications to go with it, and then mostly because I am rapidly approaching another milestone. Here in a few weeks, it will be 18 years since I packed my car, said good bye to friends and made the long, lonely journey back to California after being medically retired from the Navy.

It was possibly one of the biggest mistakes I made after getting diagnosed with MS, trying to go back home. All of the reasons that Ileft in the first place were still there waiting to for me. Ever the optimist, I thought it would be different for some reason. The only thing that was different was me.

Still I made the drive. It was early December. Given the time of year, the uncertainty in the weather, and the fact that I was makingthe drive alone, I decided to take the southern route home. I drove south from Charleston to Jacksonville, stayed the night then hit 1-10. I stayed two nights in New Orleans, drove from New Orleans to San Antonio, San Antonio to Phoenix, then Phoenix to Victorville.

 The Devil’s Punchbowl, about 40 minutes from Victorville and the setting for Apricot Shadows, one of my Paranormal Suspense Stories

While I moved back in with my parents, there really wasn’t any place for me at their house. I was sleeping on the couch and trying to manage a chronic medical condition with no real support. Meanwhile I was still in denial that anything was truly wrong with me.

Desperate to escape from Victorville and get away I applied for jobs immediately after the New Years. I was offered a job in Seattle, WA as a field electrical engineer. I had always wanted to see Seattle.  Before I got diagnosed with MS, my orders were for the Lincoln out of Everette, WA. I eagerly signed to start in late January and packed my car once more. For the first time in months, I felt hope. I was going somewhere, anywhere but here.

The view of the waterfront in Seattle on a sunny summer day, Seattle would be my home from 2001 to the end of 2006

My little red Hyundai loaded and ready, I put it in drive once more and pointed it north for a new adventure.

An Autumn Walk

I decided to take a break from writing on this clear cold autumn day to get out and enjoy the beautiful Alaska fall weather. For those of you who follow me regularly, you may be wondering why we aren’t headed out to the cabin. Well, unfortunately, the road to the cabin is closed for the year. We’re busily making our plans for next March, but for this winter, we’ll enjoy activities closer to home.

Turnagain Arm in the fall sunshine

We decided since the weather was so nice, as previously mentioned, clear and cold, to head down to the small ski town of Girdwood for a hike. We’ve gotten out first snowfall here in south-central Alaska, but it’s not very deep. We wanted to get one last hike in before it’s time to break out the snowshoes and cross country skis. It’s also fall, so the daylight is fading fast. Between now and the winter solstice, we’ll be losing light everyday at a rapid pace.

We drove along the Turnagain Arm (as seen in the above picture). This is a great place to see the bore tide, or to see beluga whales. Directly across the arm (right where the sun is shining), is the small gold rush town of Hope. Both Girdwood and Hope have been inspirations for some of my stories. 

Sun peaking through the trees. Winner’s Creek Trail, Girdwood, AK

We wanted to hike the Winner’s Creek Trail. In the summers, this is a popular hike. It connects from the Alyeska Resort property to the Crow Creek Pass Trail. This trail is part of the original Iditarod heritage trail. For hard-core marathoners, the Crow Creek Pass Marathon is one of the toughest.

Snowy Meadow

When the snow gets a little deeper, we plan on coming back out and exploring some of the cross-country ski trails or snow show trails, but while the snow is still shallow, this was an easy trail with just hiking shoes and poles. At times it was slick and treacherous, as it was hard-packed and icy.

Snowcat Bridge over Winner’s Creek, Girdwood, AK

My husband and I truly enjoy disconnecting from the world. This trail is approximately forty-five minutes from Anchorage, but as you can see from the pictures, you feel like you’re in a different world.

Bear tracks along the trail

As you walk along and soak in the surroundings, you notice more and more details. Animal tracks in the snow pop out at you. This bear has wandered along sometime ago.

Waterfall near Winner’s Creek Gorge, Girdwood, AK

I’ve lived in Alaska now for 12 years. Each season has its unique beauty. A different faucet to enjoy, if you just get out and give it a chance. Yes, sometimes that does mean experiencing a little discomfort. I promise it’s worth it.

Turnagain Arm on our drive home that evening

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.