Archive for May 2018

Hiking Essentials   2 comments

May 28, 2018
With the Memorial Day holiday marking the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States, the season of cookouts and camping has arrived. What are your “must haves” for these events?

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Living in Alaska, Memorial Day weekend is really the first weekend of the year when you can camp out without risking frostbite … although there are people here who use four- season tents with heaters called Arctic Ovens, who do camp out in the winter.

But even in summer, Alaska posed camping challenges.

Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean the camping trip is canceled. With only about 20 weeks of good outdoor weather, we can’t be shy about camping in inclement weather. Besides, Alaska is a big state, so while it may be raining in Fairbanks, it might not be raining in Paxson … or vice versa. It could be beautiful at my house and snowing in the mountains. You just never know. And, so, here are a few of my must-haves for any camping trip in Alaska.

By the way, most of our camping trips involve leaving our car and hiking into the wilderness. Brad and I have it down to about 50 pounds of gear shared between the two of us.

TentBug Spray – mosquitoes in Alaska are everywhere. The Interior is pretty boggy for a semi-desert, but the worse mosquitoes we ever encountered were on Mount Prindle, which is at altitude. This is because much of our ground is overlain with permafrost, so water has nowhere to go. Mosquitoes breed in water. Therefore … bug spray. A tourist back when I worked in the industry asked me why Alaskan women all seemed to have an evergreen perfume. My reply was “We call it au de Cutters.” If you say it with a French accent, it like a high-end item.

Sunscreen – yes, we have sun – 22 hours of it in June. And you can actually get a bad sunburn on cloudy days and a worse sunburn on snow. So we always carry a bottle of sunscreen, even after we develop our summer tans because … sun.

Tent – did I mention the mosquitoes? And that we never know when a rain squall will catch up to us … or snow at altitude? Even on an 80-degree day, the weather can change dramatically and suddenly you’re dealing with hypothermic conditions. We have three tents. The backpacking tent goes with us always, even on day hikes … just in case. Three of us and the dog have crawled into that thing made for two very friendly people, but hey … better crowded than frozen. We also have a mid-sized tent which we often set up for several days at a base camp and we still have a family-sized tent for car camping. That’s the only one you can stand up in.

Sleeping bag – The good news is that the sun doesn’t go down at night from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, so it doesn’t cool off much … normally. But then there’s the abnormal weather – snow at altitude, thundershowers — and the fact that our ground is underlain with permafrost. It can be sweating hot and the minute you lay down on the ground, you feel your body heat ebbing away. Each of us has a three-part military surplus bivouac bag that we don’t always need, but it has come in handy at times. You can throw the bivy sack under you to help insulate from the cold ground. Once when I was visiting Brad on our land, I decided to stay the night on a lark and he let me have one of his two inner bags. It was hot out, so that was all either of us needed.

Tent2Ridge Rest – closed-cell camping pad that rolls up into a tiny roll and is impervious to water. It eases the rock under your shoulder and it insulates you from the cold hard ground. When we used to take the kids with us, we’d turn four Ridgerests sideway so we couldn’t roll off them when rolling over. We still carry three today for just that reason. We upgraded a few years ago and got the ones that can be folded and braced with straps to make camping chairs. Love the back support!

Water filter – the bugs are not just in the air. Giardia is a thing here – beavers inhabit almost every waterway and … well, they ain’t house-broke, if you know what I mean. Plus there’s lots of minerals and debris in our streams, so we filter all of our water, just in case.

A water container – I cannot tell you how useless a water filter is when you have nothing to pump the water into.

Cookstove – this is not a Coleman two-burner outfit, but a Jetboil single propane rocket that will boil water in under a minute. It means we can travel light and still have warm beverages … a must if you get caught in snow at altitude.

MREs – Meals Ready to Eat – military issue surplus. Once you’ve eaten these, Mountain House just seems so inadequate. There’s about 4,000 calories in each meal kit, so Brad and I usually share one or we eat the entrees and save the extras for another meal. The beauty of these is that you don’t need a cook stove to warm them … they come with carbon dioxide heaters that just need a little water to activate them. Also, when sealed, they don’t appear to give off a smell. The dogs aren’t interested until you open them, so it’s unlikely they’ll attract a bear.

jetboilBaby wipes – you can buy body wipes, or whatever they’re marketed as now, in the camping section of most mega-marts or hardware stores, but for half the price you can buy baby wipes and get the same effect. We put them in a 1-gallon freezer bag so they don’t take up much room. It just feels so good after a day of hiking in the hot sun with bug spray and sunscreen coating your skin to wipe off before hitting the sleeping bag.

Powdered potatoes, powdered milk, tea bags, coffee bags, chocolate bars and pilot bread – These are our emergency supplies – the just-in-case-we-turn-the-wrong-way-and-end-up-lost. Well, the coffee bags (like tea bags and way better than instant) are for breakfasts, but we always bring some extra, just in case. Often we eat a chocolate bar or two on our drive home in celebration of a successful outing, but we don’t eat them until we’re off the trail because we’ve had the experience of needing that final burst of calories to finish a trek and were so glad to have forgotten a candy bar in the bottom of the tuck sack.

A knife – until you’ve tried to open an MRE meal kit with your teeth, you really can’t know what a necessity this is. We also carry a multi-tool now after we had a dog get mixed up with a porcupine. It sure would have been nice to have scissors and a pair of pliers to pull those out ourselves rather than backtrack to take the idiot to the vet. And, yes, we have since spent an evening by a campfire pulling quills out of a dog’s face. Her name was Black Dog and she was certain she would one day beat the porcupine. The black Lab in the photo below also had an encounter with a porcupine, but she learned from the experience as did the yellow Lab. Huskies — convinced next time will have a different outcome.

Baggie of shortening – not only can you cook with it, but it’s great coating for chaped hands, feet and lips.

Baggie with soaped kitchen sponge – to be honest, I let the dog take care of the worst of what’s on the cooking implements, but then I wash the germs off with soap. It’s mostly to assure there’s no giardia left on the surface.

Lab backpackA gun – if you know me, you knew this was going to be on the list. The world in general is a dangerous place, but in Alaska there are large animals to contend with. About 20 people were attacked by bears last year in Alaska. Bear spray can be effective, but only if you’re far closer to the bear than is sensible and only if the wind cooperates and doesn’t send the pepper powder back into your face. Plus grizzly bears will ignore pain when they’re pissed off and hikers who have hit them full in the face with an entire can of bear spray will attest it didn’t stop them. There’s also moose, wolverine, wolves, coyote, and fisher who can pose threats to human life here. And, if we do get lost and start to run out of emergency supplies, hunting with a 357 is not the easiest thing in the world, but I have taken grouse and rabbit with mine. And finally, I’ve had a couple of encounters with humans in remote areas where I think, had I not been armed, something might have happened that would have made me wish I was armed.  In a huge state of deep wilderness, cops are always hours away when seconds count. When we’re prepared, we just don’t know what might have happened had we not been prepared. I would go so far as to say that living the way we do in Alaska would not be sensible without guns to protect ourselves from large carnivores and poor decision-makers.

Screamer – otherwise known as a personal body alarm. If we can get away without killing the wildlife, we prefer to just deafen them and it has discouraged bear and moose — sometimes. Wildlife is not always predictable.

First aid kit – again dangerous world, plenty of things that can hurt you. Our kit is a 1-gallon freezer bag because it fits where ever there’s room in the packs and it’s customizable. I once sewed up a friend who sunk a fish hook in his thigh. It allowed him to continue the trek. Brad’s allergic to bee stings so we always carry Benadryl. We include first aid items for the dog. You just can’t buy that with one of those kits from Walmart.

Extra socks – you never know when you’re going to sink into muskeg to your ankles and need dry socks. Plus, all day with your feet sweating in hiking boots … you don’t want to wear those socks tomorrow.

Windbreaker, sweatshirt, rain poncho, baseball cap and stocking cap. I hike in a pair of rip-stop pants that can be rolled up into shorts and (usually) a tank-top or t-shirt. I layer as the weather changes. Sometimes I’ve needed all of these items and sometimes they’ve just been extra weight, but if you don’t bring them, you will need them and it’s better to be prepared when you encounter winter in the middle of a 90-degree day.

Safety shades – Sunglasses that can take a licking and still be unscratched. Alaska forests are not groomed and I am not tall. I got tired of getting poked in the eye by branches. And, hey, the sun is bright at this latitude and it never goes down in the summer. You can buy $100 hiking sunglasses or spend $10 for a pair of dark safety glasses – you choose.

Gloves – I have office worker hands, but Brad brings a pair too. You never know when you’re going to need to saw up a tree limb to make a warming fire or scrabble up or down a scree slope and then there’s the wild-rose bushes. It cuts down on busted knuckles and spending time digging slivers out of your palms.

A fold-saw and matches – Again, you might not need these, but if you do, you really will kick yourself for not carrying the extra half-pound.

Camera – this is Alaska. It demands to be recorded.

You might have noticed what I didn’t include on the list. Extra clothes are a luxury when hiking. I do usually carry a clean pair of panties and my hiking sandals as camp shoes or for crossing rivers and creeks (I have wimpy feet), but I leave those if we’re getting overweight. There is usually a notepad and pen in my gear, but I leave them if we’re overweight. We don’t bother with GPS because a lot of Alaska is not digitally mapped yet. We usually carry a geodetic map of the area we’re hiking. We leave a duplicate in the car marked with our intended route and our estimated return time, in case someone needs to come looking for us. We don’t waste the weight of a cell phone because you usually can’t get a signal, although we do have our eyes on a new texting satellite phone that also act as GPS. One of those might be worth the extra weight. The dog carries her own food, blanket, booties (for rough terrain) and a frisbee (good for both play and a water dish) in saddle bags. We don’t bother with flashlights or lanterns because it never gets dark enough to not be able to see.

Now, if we are car-camping, there’s a lot more luxury involved — better food, changes of clothes, camp chairs, books, fishing poles — but that’s a whole different experience and I chose to tell you about one type of camping, not any of the others.

 

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Setting Makes the Gem   Leave a comment

My friend Jane Bwye asked me for a guest post recently and here it is. The topic was novel setting.

Setting Makes the Gem

Today, Lela Markham shares a valuable message about settings for a book. A very warm welcome to my long-standing friend from Authonomy days; we are privileged to have you with us, Lela – over to you.

*** 

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a jeweller. As part of the interview, he showed me some of the gems he was working on. I was unimpressed. Sitting there on his work table, they were dull and uninspiring. He was apparently used to that reaction because he then showed me what makes gems sparkle. He put uninspiring jewel upon jewel on a black velvet cloth and suddenly, they sparkled.

“Setting is everything,” he explained.

I am a character-driven writer. They appear to me when I least expect them and they want to tell me their stories, which is what makes the plot. Given that beginning, I focus my writing on relationships and how characters interact and react to one another. Setting is an afterthought … and yet, it is everything.

LMarkhamIt’s the writing equivalent of the black velvet cloth or the jeweller’s setting. It is what makes characters sparkle.

None of us live in a void space. We’re all surrounded by the world we live in. I live in Alaska, where the grandeur of the setting definitely can overwhelm the character, but it also shapes the character. People here cannot help interacting with the environment and even large personalities learn you must adapt to it.

When writing, I try always to remember that my characters can’t live in a void space any more than I can. They need a backdrop to sparkle against. Far more than simply a geographic location or an era that makes a nice backdrop for the characters to work out the plot in front of, setting creates a mood and atmosphere that directs the plot and challenges the characters.

For a gem, it’s all about how the jeweller cuts the stone. Similarly, it’s the little details that provide the sparkle by teasing the senses. What would a newcomer or even a resident see, hear, taste, smell or feel if they arrived in your story’s world that moment? Ever notice what people smell like when they haven’t seen a shower for a few days? The sky is blue, except when it isn’t and then it may be all sorts of colours during sunset, sunrise, as a storm is gathering or a tornado is about to hit. What does wind sound like as it sighs through palm trees? Different from how it sounds when it sighs through pines. If there’s an ocean to the east and a desert to the west, the wind from each will feel different on your skin. Small details are pennies that pay big dividends.

While the grand backdrop grounds the characters in reality and provides the reader with something to hang their imagination on, small details evoke the senses and bring the reader into the story.  Whether you start out with a setting that fulfils these requirements or add them later as I do, they are essential to good storytelling and make all the difference in how your story engages the reader.

Author pic ditch close-upLela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits.

A multi-genre writer, Lela has published tales of fantasy, alternate history, apocalyptic and political satire, but she’s also got works in progress for literary fiction, new adult, YA, mystery and, her nemesis, romance.

Lela shares her life with her adventuresome husband, two fearless offspring and an extremely-happy yellow Lab.

 

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I Read It At the Supermarket Counter   Leave a comment

TabloidDo you read the trashy tabloids while you wait in line at the grocery store? What headlines grab your attention and why?

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The simple answer is I don’t read tabloids, but that’s really not true. Many years ago, in a different career, when I was in journalism school, we were challenged to read the headlines in the tabloids and then to read a sampling of the articles to see if they related at all. While I don’t read the articles anymore, I still enjoy the headlines.

Tabloids are all about the headlines. They are the print version of click-bait and highly effective at getting our attention. I certainly hope the headline writers get paid at least as much as the article writers because they are so much better at their jobs.

While I really don’t care if Meaghan Markle’s father is involved in some sort of scandal, I do see those headlines and wonder, if only for a second, about the scandal. I don’t care enough to research it or google the new American princess, but it gets me interested for half a second … and it sells tabloids. I see a lot of people pulling them off the rack as we wait.

And, what really gets me is that sometimes these lurid headlines later turn out to be true. Because they’re not bound by the ethics that regular journalists pretend to subscribe to, tabloid writers follow stories that are bleeding edge and sometimes, they scoop the “real” news outlets by having it first.

Doesn’t mean I read them, but I do find that sort of interesting. I’m also rather amazed that in this era of electronic blogs, tabloids are still being sold, but … there again is the power of click-bait.

Posted May 21, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Christian Creatives in a Fallen World   1 comment

In case you can’t tell from the sudden drop-off of blog posts, my ordinary life got busy. I am also trying a few other things, just for variety. For example, I am posting over at Christian Creative Nexus, which this blog post comes from. I’m also thinking about asking my Facebook questions here on Aurorawater Alaska. And I’m now on MeWe. New territory helps to expand networks … I hope.

https://dyegirl1373.wixsite.com/website/single-post/2018/03/07/Lets-Talk-How-to-be-a-Christian-Creative-in-a-Fallen-World

 

I’m one of those Christian creatives who does not advertise my works as “Christian”. Historically, Christian creatives didn’t claim a territory and label themselves. We don’t think of Bach as a “Christian” musician, but rather a great composer who made his living as a church organist. Unless you’re a history geek like me, you might not know about his deep and abiding faith. Although we now think of CS Lewis as a “Christian” author, his fictional works weren’t advised as such when he was publishing because Christians of that era hadn’t decided to paint themselves into a box with a label. Back when I was a kid Elvis Presley (not an example of a “good” Christian, but a man with a church background) and Johnny Cash (by that time, a reprobate saved by Christ) were singing gospel tunes right along with their secular tunes on regular radio … and my non-believing parents didn’t find that the least bit odd.

I want modern Christian creatives to step out of the box labeled “weird” and “other” and place the products of our creativity where we can act as salt and light in the dark world around us. I think Christian creatives have a lot to give to the secular world if we’re willing. But how do we do that?

I think it starts with a conversation among Christian creatives about what it means for us and our creative works to be “in the world, but not of it.” There’s nothing wrong with being counter-cultural, but at least some of us should be speaking to the society around us without painting ourselves into a self-segregated box where our books end up in that lonely section at Barnes & Noble. The real trick is doing that while also paying respect to our Savior and the flawed human beings who follow Him.

Let’s explore that together.

Open Book Blog Hop – 14th May   1 comment

Stevie Turner

 

This week’s blog topic is to write about our top five junk foods or our top five healthy snacks.

I was fortunate enough to have had my tastes in foodstuffs ingrained before the explosion in junk food towards the end of the 1970s when I was already a young adult.  My mother Dot read a lot and knew all about the effect of certain foods on the body when I was still a child.  By the time McDuff’s opened their first store over this side of the pond, Dot had been serving me with good nutritious stews and casseroles, low fat dinners, and lots of fish and vegetables for nigh on 18 years.  I had also been on the receiving end of hundreds of lectures by Dot on the dangers of overeating and junk food – snippets of these lectures went like this:

  • I must always have a green…

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Posted May 15, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Smorgasbord of Snacks   5 comments

Tell us about your top five junk foods or your top five healthy snacks.

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I grew up in a restaurant. My dad was a professional chef and my mother was a diner restaurant. So there was always a lot of good food around … or Dad was trying to poison us using us as his test kitchen. Ah, symmetry!

I’m pretty a pretty healthy eater and my top five healthy snacks are different kinds of fruit, sometimes with cheese. But I also really like this hummus spread I make with sour cream, two kinds of olives and red peppers. It can be used as a dip with chips or on thin toasted slices of my homemade bread.
Junk food, in no particular order, is —
French fries – I keep it simple with ketchup. I don’t add salt or pepper. I prefer crinkle cuts, but a deep-fried diner-fry works too.
Chocolate – I would probably run over little old ladies to get to chocolate. It could be dark or milk, but no nuts, crispies, toffee, etc. I just like the pure stuff.
Ice cream – Hotlicks (which is a local ice cream manufacturer) chocolate is my favorite and I could go all winter without any ice cream if it would keep Hotlicks opening every summer.  The chocolate in Hotlicks chocolate is multi-layered. You can taste the complexity and you end up feeling like a wine-snob as you compare it to the experience of some random stranger also enjoying a cone or a cup next to you.
Related imageRootbeer – technically, it’s a beverage, not a food, but it’s empty calories so I think it qualifies. I like the good gourmet rootbeers, preferably with a pronounced vanilla tone. Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox, Alaska, makes a great one that comes in growlers. We try to pick one up when we’re coming back from our land north-east of town.
Ambrosia Salad – fruit cocktail, apples, and bananas mixed in homemade whip cream (you can use Cool Whip, but I don’t). I also don’t add coconut as many recipes suggest, but that’s because I’m allergic. Nor do I add marshmallows, just because I don’t like them. This great holiday dish has got that ying-yang thing going. The fruit is healthy (I use fruit cocktail only because this is Alaska. You could get a better variety of fresh fruit if you live somewhere where fruit isn’t placed in suspended animation for a month before it arrives in the store). But then you turn this way-healthy snack into decadence by mixing it with whip cream.  I always make extra for Thanksgiving and Christmas so I (er, we) can eat it for a few days after.
Now go check out what my fellow writers have to say on the topic.

Posted May 14, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Tearing Down High-Places — Christian Creative Nexus   Leave a comment

Tearing Down High-Places, by Lela Markham

(A Repost from Delia Talent – A Christian Creative site)

 

In the Bible, many a man and a few women stumbled over idols in their pursuit to follow God and there were times in Israel’s history when God sent prophets to the nation to warn them to tear down the high places of Canaanite worship. I believe that these days the churches are faced with similar circumstances and that God can use Christian novelists as messengers to alert His Bride to the need to reform.
“Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth. And the art that speaks it most unmistakably, most directly, most variously, most fully, is fiction; in particular, the novel.” ~ Eudora Welty in On Writing.
All truth is God’s truth, but sometimes people prefer a comfortable fiction to an energizing reality. That puts Christian novelists in an uncomfortable position, which is exactly where God wants us to be. Telling the truth never endeared the prophet Jeremiah to his society and he was right where God wanted him. Why should we expect anything different? The hands and feet of God have always taken a beating for telling of God’s truth to the nations.
If writing a novel is about addressing individual truth, Christian authors might need to examine some of our “Christian” group-think practices and beliefs. I’m not talking about questioning the Bible. That’s the non-negotiable bedrock of our faith and thus we cannot take what we like and leave the rest. I’m suggesting we question our personal adherence to certain “Christian” societal practices that have far-reaching influences. When I ask myself “What would Jesus do,” I find my answers in the Bible and sometimes those answers differ widely from what the world (or even some members of my church) says the “Christian” stance should be. We’ve erected high places – idols – with the best of intentions and yet, these stand between us and God’s message and, for Christian novelists, our ability to speak to the world as God’s messengers. Finding those high places where I least expected them has caused me to question secular institutions that have become entangled with Christian group identity. Finding that many Christians around me do not recognize these institutions as “high places” has caused me to forge an individual path that rejects the goals of many of those secular institutions. To me, those institutions have become idols among the churches and I see it as my ministry to tear down the high places that have been erected. I do that through writing novels that show the reality of those institutions. Telling that truth through novel form can lead to controversy both with secular society and within the churches. I embraced that as God’s call in my life, as a necessary part of being exactly where God wants me to be.

Many Christian readers have good intentions when being nervous of certain topics. Certainly we never want to disobey God’s laws in what we write, even if it addresses a human reality. Neither should we limit our depiction of reality just because some people might prefer being blissfully unaware. Sometimes it seems like Christians must walk a slack line on some topics and it’s not an easy thing to do. But it is better and more God-honoring to address reality as it really exists than to avoid controversy for the sake of the world’s approval.
“You shall know the truth and the Truth shall set you free.” John 8:32

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Lela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits. Click here to read another one of Lela’s contributions, Let’s Talk: How to be a Christian Creative in a Fallen World.
“I don’t seek to be known as a Christian author, but as an author for whom Christ is so central to who I am as a person that He shines through.”

via Tearing Down High-Places — Christian Creative Nexus

Posted May 9, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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