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Northern Adventures   11 comments

January 15, 2018 – Share a recent travel experience or anecdote.


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I heard recently that about 40% of Americans have never traveled outside of the United States and about 11% have never left the state they were born in. Wow! When you live in Alaska, which has no land connection to the contiguous 48-states, travel is sort of required to live.

The OP for this blog hop, however, says a recent travel experience. I flew down to Seattle a couple of months ago, but Seattle is just a gateway city for Alaska where my mother’s family happens to live. Kind of boring – Pike’s Market is only super exciting if you live in the vegetable-deprived northland, although I really do want to explore the Puget Sound area more thoroughly when I have time and a car and no relatives suggesting sights within Seattle’s urban environs. The west side of Puget Sound looks cool to me … a mystery that must be explored.

Alaska, however — most everybody thinks that’s sexy. So, digging back into our summer travels -we drove the Dalton Highway this summer.

I do say that living in Alaska is the adventure of a lifetime. Even our Sunday drives can be exciting. We realized that our son had never driven the Dalton, so we decided it was time. Brad has driven it many times as an electrician on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, but I hadn’t been above Yukon River Bridge for several years. Not a lot has changed since the days when we called it “the haul road” (because the Legislature took decades to name it), but memories fade and I was excited to renew an old acquaintance.

We got up early on Friday morning of the four-day weekend we had planned. It’s 400 miles one direction and this is not a road to be driven quickly, so we were prepared for it to take all four days. At 6:30 in the morning, the June air was crisp and clean and the sun was already up over the roofs to the east, having barely dipped below the horizon from midnight to 2 am the night before. It was sunny and the Jeep was packed. Really, all we had to do was put our toiletries kit and cooler in the car, let the dog and 18-year-old into the back seat and stop for breakfast. I always make a thermos and pack at least one meal before we go because there are not a lot of services outside of Fairbanks, but by tradition, we stop for mochas and something to eat on the way out of town. It’s like a final hurrah to civilization, even if we’re just taking the paved Parks Highway to Anchorage. We had filled up with gas the night before and Brad had checked all the tires, including the spare, and the fluids. We rubbed each other down with sunscreen in anticipation of the day and we made sure we had plenty of water and food. In case you’re wondering, our dog eats dry kibbles off the ground on road trips. As a final step, even though it was June, I checked 511 for the road conditions. You just never know with Alaska roads. A previously planned trip the year before had been canceled when the Dalton washed out at spring breakup.

The first 84 miles of the trip is technically not on the Dalton, which doesn’t start until you get to the mining community of Livengood. It’s a lovely drive on paved highway through alpine regions and we stopped in Livengood for an early lunch/late breakfast from the cooler at which point Brad decided he wanted a nap, so I became the driver with Keirnan shot-gun and the yellow Lab sitting on the floor in the backseat with her chin on Brad’s stomach.

Image result for image of yukon river bridgeThe highway parallels the pipeline for the most part. It’s one of the most isolated roads in the United States. There are only three towns along the corridor and fuel stops are few. The road is mostly gravel. Still, despite its remoteness, the Dalton carries a fair amount of truck traffic, about 160 trucks a day in summer and twice that in winter. Trucks have the right of way and I’m not about to argue with them about it. I signaled every truck that pulled up behind me to let them pass and pulled over whenever I could to make their lives easier.

I have seen the TAPS plenty of times and so has Keirnan, so we didn’t stop until we reached Yukon River Bridge. We went into the visitors center so Keirnan, who is a budding engineer could view the pipeline’s attachment to the bridge and I could use the port-a-pots. Goldeneyes took a dip in the river and Brad woke up. It was too early in the season to pick blueberries, but they were in full pink flower, scenting the air with their candy-like fragrance. We walked down the trail to the viewing deck to take some photos. Then we lost our minds at that point and decided to splurge on lunch at the Hot Spot Cafe. Great burgers, fresh salads, and homemade desserts. By this time, it was midday and we decided to let Keirnan drive since he has a learners permit and needs the practice.

Image result for image of finger mountain wayside alaskaIt’s boreal forest on both sides of the highway, some of which was devastated by forest fires in 2005 and 2006. There’s a lot of new-growth brush with charcoal trees standing above, like wicks in a tub candle. We saw a lot of scraggly black spruce, several moose, a fox, a lot of snowshoe hares, and a family of black bears. After a truck scared the daylights out of Keirnan, we pulled over at Finger Mountain Wayside and hiked the trail to the summit. We dawdled taking photographs and then we stopped and hiked to a small lake to fish for our 5-fish limit of arctic grayling. We stopped for the night (though it was pretty early) at the Arctic Circle. This is an undeveloped campground with a nearby viewing deck and picnic area. There’s no water, but there was an outhouse and trash containers.  We cooked the foil-wrapped grayling over a campfire with pan-fried potatoes on the side. Because this is bear country, we pitched our tent a good distance from where we ate and locked up all food in the car.

Related imageWe didn’t rush to get up in the morning. The sun never really went down, which isn’t a problem if you’re used to it. So we lazed about in the tent until the sun began to warm the air. Then we had eggs scrambled with cheese and thick slices of homemade bread slathered with butter and reloaded the Jeep for our second day of travel. We ate grapes during our morning drive.

We stopped at Gobblers Knob because Brad confessed he never had. I’d swear we stopped there once a long time ago, but he is apparently a victim of memory wipe. He had also never stopped (or more accurately, never gotten out of the truck) at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center. It is such a quintessential tourist stop I just had to do it and we did learn about a fishing stream he hadn’t known about before.

Coldfoot was established as Slate Creek in 1898 by miners. In 1902 it was a toddling little town with two roadhouses, two stores, seven saloons, a gambling house and a post office. By 1912, it was a ghost town. The town revived for a short while during the 1970s during the TAPS construction and then faded. But in 1981, Iditarod musher, Dick Mackey set up a hamburger stand for truck drivers and now it’s an important stop along the highway, but since we’d blown our first day’s food budget at the Hot Spot, we just topped off with very expensive gas and ate sandwiches from the cooler instead. It’s on our return itinerary.

Image result for image of black jeep cherokee along dalton highwayWe stopped for photos and some short hikes along the way, finally pulling into Wiseman, which has about 20 people living in it these days. Most of Coldfoot’s buildings were sledged to Wiseman after the town died, so it’s still a lot of fun to poke around there. I do have some friends who live up in the mountains west of Wiseman, but the Jeep, which a great wilderness vehicle, is not a truly off-road one, so we decided not to attempt a visit. It would have taken us all the rest of the day to travel that far anyway.

We stopped at Sukakpak Mountain. Brad and I climbed it years ago and wanted to give Keirnan, an accomplished rock-climber a shot at it. I made dinner while they climbed and then Goldeneyes and I did a little bouldering while the fish simmered over a low fire. The mountain is an incredible limestone deposition of absolutely gorgeous marble.

Image result for galbraith lakeWe didn’t camp at Sukakpak because the mosquitos were a little heavy – marshy land surrounds the mountain — but also because it was still way too early to stop for the night. We continued northward to Atigun Pass, which is the Continental Divide of Northern Alaska, a narrow wind slot through the awe-inspiring Brooks Range.  Just south of there we passed the last tree on the Dalton Highway. That’s sort of a misnomer. North of there, the tundra doesn’t support tall trees, so trees you and I might know – birch and willow for example, only grow to knee height or so. The mountains to either side of the road are austere, beautiful in a lonely kind of way. Not far past Atigun, just at the start of the Arctic North Slope, is Galbraith Lake where another undeveloped campground with spectacular views of the Brooks Range awaited. We slept there. It was lovely ….

Sometimes during the night, the dog asked to come into the tent because she was afraid of dying of hypothermia. Keirnan had to towel ice off her fur before we could all go back to sleep. It was cold and rainy when we woke up the next morning. Not taking off our shorts and tank tops, we layered on our polar fleece and rain gear. We spent a good bit of the morning hiking around and didn’t leave until mid-morning.

The North Slope is a broad, mostly flat, treeless plain that tilts north from the Brooks to the Arctic Ocean. It’s a subtle place – a land of browns and tans and shifting shadows. Fog glittered around us when we woke up and then the sun peeked through the clouds, sending rainbows dancing.

Image result for galbraith lakeWe arrived at Franklin Bluffs by the Sagavanirktok River (we just call it the Sag). The east bank of the Sag is this rich yellow-tan-orange hue from heavy iron deposits. While I was utilizing nature for a natural activity, I spotted the young lady to my right. It’s not safe to interact with Arctic fox because rabies is endemic, but she was willing to pose for a photo.

Brad has been this way many times, so has more photos from more trips. Here are some of the sights he has seen along the Sag. Those are caribou, not reindeer and they were just a few feet off the highway when he snapped the photo.

Image result for sagavanirktok

But Keirnan got this picture while hiking away from our camp.

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Yes, that’s a muskox. He was farther away than it seems. Keirnan has a telephoto. And we was also part of a herd of about five. No doubt there were more that Keirnan didn’t see.

By design we made Deadhorse in the early afternoon. You can go further north if you pay for a tour that will allow you to see the Arctic Ocean and we did – but I might want to use that tour of the oil fields some other time. The public road ends here. We had lunch at Brower’s Restaurant (the sweet tea was really good and we took soft serve ice cream with us).

And then we turned south and drove all the way to Coldfoot where we had two rooms rented for the night. The rooms are very pipeline man camp-ish and the only reason Brad wanted to stay there is that he can’t stand baby wipe baths for more than two nights. Keirnan and I have dry, curly hair, so it doesn’t bother us, but Brad likes to shower. The breakfast was GREAT and it was so lovely to wake up on the sunny side of the Brooks Range.

Related imageIt was now Monday morning and I needed to be back to work the next day, so we drove pretty steadily back south, taking turns behind the wheel, but stopping for photos from time to time and to get the dog wet. She is happiest when her fur is damp. We stopped at that fishing stream near the Interagency Visitors Center. It was a bust for fishing, but a pleasant place to picnic.

Technically, it’s not on the Dalton, but on the Elliott, but we stopped at Hilltop Restaurant and Truck Stop for dinner. Their pies are to die for – unfortunately, Brad and I are reaching the age where we do need to watch our calories. The sun was still above the trees to the west when we turned back onto the New Steese Highway for the last 10 miles to home.

“So what do you think, Keirnan?” I asked, as I was driving and he was my copilot (Brad having climbed into the back with the dog cuddled to his chest this time).

“The state just got bigger, Mom. I’m sort of use to the idea of it taking seven hours to drive to Anchorage and six hours to drive to Chitina (where we go salmon fishing), but now — wow.”

You can live in that state your whole life and never see all of it, which I guess is as good excuse as any for living here your whole life. I love to travel out and away, but there is something about the road untraveled in Alaska … I can just imagine what it must have been like for the early pioneers seeing it for the first time and smelling the blueberries in bloom and thinking “This is heaven.”

Heaven with the capacity to bite you on the bum anyway.


Posted January 15, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Interviewing with Expertise   4 comments

Interview someone you follow or admire.


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So, I’m interviewing my cousin Rick, a doctor, for this blog hop topic. I admire Rick a lot because he doesn’t just follow the herd in his thinking, but researches and considers before stating his opinion.

Tell us something about yourself.

Image result for image of doctors opposed to Medicaid expansionI go by “Rick” on your blog to protect my identity because some of what I have to say is controversial and can result in retaliation within some professional circles. I am married with adult children and grandchildren. I work for a major hospital and I am a researcher in a particular kind of immune system disorder that has a high disability and death rate, but the odds of surviving decades longer have vastly increased due to discoveries and treatments developed by the research team I am a member of. I have done two research exchanges to Europe and spent time in Africa and Mexico as a medical missionary. I am now looking at retirement and have not yet decided what I want to do when I grow up. Maybe like my friend Francis Collins, I’ll have a second career in retirement. I don’t know.


Tell me about your faith.

I was an agnostic most of my life, but a family dialogue sprang up at a gathering. You and our cousin Bill were arguing with Daniel, who is Bill’s brother, about evolution. Bill’s a biologist who believes in what Collins’ calls Biologos over evolutionary creation and Daniel was at that time a raging atheist who is also possessed of a great sense of truthfulness. I remember you zinged him with the lack of transitional forms and he ended up sputtering. He couldn’t argue something that wasn’t true, but I felt sorry for him because he’d had maybe a beer too many and journalists are trained in being argumentative.


I love you too, cous!

Image result for image of doctors opposed to Medicaid expansionSo, I stepped in sort of in the middle and kind of halfway argued both sides. Bill suggested we do a reading group over email (since we live in three different states — the group has expanded within the cousins and now we’re in six different states, (I think). So the genesis was more than 20 years ago. Every time it was your turn to pick a book, you’d pick something theological or philosophical and I felt obligated to read it because you were reading and making substantive comments on our geeky science tomes.

I was sort of lazy agnostic. As a doctor, I really could see the evidence for design in the human body, but I didn’t want to think about a designer. But, slowly, over five or six years of this ongoing conversation, I found myself considering it more and more. My wife renewed her faith and started going to an English-speaking evangelical church when we were in Europe. I went mainly because working in French all day was getting on my nerves. I was hungry to hear English. I didn’t expect for the sermons to mean anything, but before the end of that two years, I had prayed a salvation prayer with Bill over the telephone (largest long distance bill I’ve ever had). I was in my mid-40s then.


Do you struggle to reconcile your faith and medical science?

Not really. I discovered that a lot of doctors are deists if not theists. I think my relationship with Jesus Christ has made me a better doctor and my commitment to science has not been lessened in the least. Where I struggle is with other scientists who regard science in an almost-religious view and cannot accept that I might see evidence for God that they are either missing or ignoring. As a couple of the breakthroughs in my field of study involved someone seeing evidence others had been bypassing as “irrelevant”, I find the condescension frustrating.


What are your religious beliefs?

I like that you make that distinction. My religious beliefs are similar to yours. I do go to a church that baptizes (or christens) babies, which actually bothers me, but our kids were already near-adults before they accepted Christ, so it was never an ethical problem for us and our daughter married a Baptist, so it hasn’t a problem with our grandchildren.


So, what are your political standpoints?

Image result for image of doctors opposed to Medicaid expansionAccept for my first vote for McGovern at 18, I was always a moderate Democratic until President Obama spent us into $20 trillion in debt and never broke 2% GDP while also involving us in seven wars. That irritated me, so I couldn’t vote for him the second time. Now I’m registered independent and not sure who I’m going to vote for. Which I guess is how you have approached every election of your adult life.


Pretty much. Did you vote for Donald Trump?

No. You and I are two of the three people who voted for Gary Johnson. I think you voted for him because you believe he was the closest to the libertarian stance of any of the remaining candidates. I voted for him because I just couldn’t vote for crooked Hillary or buffoon Trump, but I could hear my parents in my head telling me I am not allowed to not vote.


Yeah, I got my parents in my head too. You and I have had several conversations about medical care in the United States. You were anti-ACA back in 2009.

Yes, I was. A lot of doctors are. They just don’t get the press that the advocates get. I didn’t really support HillaryCare back in the 90s. I’ve worked in European universal health care and was not impressed. Long waiting lines work as triage that results in treatable patients dying before they can get treatment. It’s inhumane. I’d rather have people need to raise money or take out loans and still be able to get treatment than not be able to get treatment at all. And, I saw that a lot in Europe. Unless you had the money to board a plane, you couldn’t get medical treatment. I had people on my waiting list when I got there who died before I left two years later, who still hadn’t reached the top of the waiting list, and they had diseases that would have been treated in the United States and perhaps added decades to their lives. That experience showed me that medical insurance and even universal health care is not the same thing as actual access to medical care. I believed in universal government-provided medical care until I saw it in action.


So what would you do here in the United States?

I would like to see a return to the system we had before the rise of the American Medical Association. A lot of hospitals were operated by churches, so patients who couldn’t afford hospitalization were treated as charitable cases. Maybe we’d use community foundations today rather than so many churches, but something along those lines so that hospitalization wouldn’t be so expensive. Insurance was available through fraternal organizations, mostly covering operations and serious medical treatment, but some fraternal organizations had worked out systems where they ran a clinic that doctors worked in at affordable rates. Private doctors offered basic medical care for what the patient could pay. They weren’t quite so greedy back then. Doctors were there to serve patients, not become millionaires. People who could afford it could get top line medical care if they needed it. And it was those doctors who saw those low-cost alternatives and felt they were being deprived of patients and formed the AMA and lobbied the government to regulate the medical industry into the mess it is in today. I think there’s great potential in this country to restore that balance if we can get government and insurance companies out of the way of patient needs.


So when we got together in Seattle a couple of months ago, it was before tax reform had essentially dismantled the Affordable Care Act by removing the individual mandate to purchase medical insurance. At that time they were discussing various replacements for Obamacare and you didn’t like any of them, though there seemed to be parts you didn’t wholly hate. So is the setting aside of the individual mandate a step in the direction you would want to head?

It’s a tiny step … a shift from heel to toe. At least they removed one restraint, but there’s a boatload of regulations strangling the US medical care system and plenty of third party entanglement. I am comforted to see the GOP House set their sights on Medicaid reform for the new year.  It’s clear to anyone who is paying attention that the country is spending itself into bankruptcy. We’re in trouble. We have an enormous debt that’s dragging on the economy. You don’t help the poor by not solving problems of debt and the resultant slowing of the economy which keeps them trapped in poverty.  Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are the largest drivers of deficit spending at the federal level. You need to address all three, but starting with Medicaid is less fraught than the other two.


How so?

Old people vote and they have fewer options than the younger population of the Medicaid expansion.  They are not as adaptable. Reform there needs to be put out a decade or so to allow working people to adjust their future plans. Medicaid expansion is a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act. It’s sacrosanct to the Left. I know you folks on the Right hate it. I had the privilege to begin my career as a resident physician in Missouri and to work in that environment both before and after Obamacare came in. I have a long-time colleague in Louisiana, where they did expand Medicaid, but I live in Missouri where they didn’t.  Moreover my daughter is in medical practice in Kansas, which has some of the innovative direct-care solutions that I advocate. So, I’ve had a chance to observe Medicaid expansion versus non-expansion and to render a learned opinion. Simply put, expanding Medicaid will not be society’s cure for indigent medical care. It’s the equivalent of putting a Barbie Band-Aid on a brain aneurysm.


You are not a free-market fan like I am, but you’ve said you think the free market is the answer to the woes of the US medicare system.

Yeah. I’m a research-driven kind of guy and you’ve introduced me to a lot of information that supports what my gut feeling has been for nearly 20 years. Medicaid reform would greatly improve the medical system in this country.


Explain what you mean.

Well, let’s be honest. Many of the characterizations of the GOP Senate’s previous medical care plans as inadequate were very reasonable and debatable in a real-world context. You and I debated them and came to the conclusion that they were inadequate. My bosses would have been proud. Simply put, the GOP Senators (with the possible exception of Dr. Rand Paul) were being stupid, as if to show the country that they really didn’t have a plan. But now, the real issue is that the Republicans truly have an opportunity for market-based reform that would actually drive the equity Democrats crave, mainly because continued Medicaid expansion will not be a sustainable long-term solution.


Whoa! So you think it’s doomed?

Yeah! First and foremost, Medicaid is simply bad insurance. The definitive study on the subject in the New England Journal of Medicine noted no substantial improvements in physical health outcomes for two years in patients randomly selected for either having Medicaid or no insurance in Oregon.


You were the one who introduced me to that one.

Well, of course. It’s my area of expertise. What this study did was excellent. It compared Medicaid patients to those who have no insurance at all and found the differences in outcomes are minimal and in some case worse than if they had no insurance.

Now, Medicaid hasn’t been expanded in Missouri, but I did some research on Lousiana’s Medicaid expansion. Medicaid spending will represent nearly one half of Louisiana’s $28.6 billion budget in the 2018. It seems mildly intuitive that the billions spent on Medicaid expansion could have been used in a more efficient manner, or more justly, returned to its owners, the taxpayers. See, I have been listening to you. Furthermore, Louisiana lawmakers had to add $368 million more in federal funding in May because of misjudged age and health statuses of those who joined. It’s a goat-rope and we all know what happens to the goat eventually.


So what does all that spending get them?

Well, you know … you used to work in a Medicaid-recipient agency.


It can be hard for those with Medicaid to find quality care.

That’s because Medicaid, on average, only pays about 71% of what Medicare, which is the government program for those over 65, will pay a physician for a given procedure. Private insurance, on average, will pay roughly 150% the Medicare rate. It doesn’t take too much insight to understand why nearly one third of doctors simply won’t see Medicaid patients. A lot won’t see Medicare patients, which should give us pause, but it’s the topic of discussion at the moment.


Is it fair that nearly one-third of doctors won’t see Medicaid patients?

We could debate that. I think it’s a sign of greed, but there’s also the satisfaction factor. I want to treat a patient and make them well or at least extend their life and quality of that life, but Medicaid rules on treatments and medications often tie my hands, so would I see Medicaid patients for a reduced rate if I didn’t work for a major research hospital that requires me to see them and live with the frustrations of knowing I could make their lives better? That’s a hard one. What would I do if I were in private practice? But, hey, let’s not chase that ethical rabbit.

Suffice it to say that you have people who believe they have insurance, but in reality they might as well not have insurance. Medicaid plans are largely managed care structures. Medicaid pays a private entity to manage a fixed set of dollars per patient. This creates incentives to gain patients or to “cover lives” without providing any incentive to pay for services or provide actual care. This has real-world consequences.


Runaway diabetes in the chronic mental health population?

Among other issues, yeah. I’ve got a friend in New Orleans … a colleague, who tells me his neurosurgical service runs a free-care clinic. It takes care of all patients regardless of their ability to pay. This has taken place pre- and post-Louisiana’s expansion within the Affordable Care Act. Simply, the physicians in the clinic evaluate patients for surgery on the nervous system. This tends mostly to be spinal surgery. And, they’re under intense pressure to not provide those services free of charge, but to cover those clients under Medicaid. The state and local AMA is pushy about it. My friend and his colleagues don’t want to do that because it is far easier to schedule and perform surgery on patients without Medicaid than it is on patients with Medicaid. The amount of administrative red tape is stifling. Patients with significant pain are turned away because their specific disease diagnosis code does not meet the standardized peer-reviewed requirement for surgery approval. This can be sickening, frustrating, and disheartening.

And it’s a treadmill experience. Patients are told they need surgery. Several days later they are told their insurance won’t pay for it unless certain qualifying steps happen first. They have insurance that prevents them from getting care, so what is the purpose of having insurance?

We should not be throwing one of our worst insurance options at our most vulnerable populations. And the doctors who advocate for Medicaid expansion don’t have to explain to these patients that they have a facsimile of insurance, but it isn’t ordinary insurance, it’s Medicaid. They leave that to the gals in the billing office and the social workers. It’s not equity. It’s morally wrong. I sincerely doubt that any Democratic lawmaker in Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas or Alaska would ever deliberately seek out Medicaid insurance for themselves or their family. However, it’s worth asking, how many Republicans would want a family member to have no insurance rather than Medicaid coverage? Some of them tout Medicare, which has its own problems, but none of them advocate for Medicaid for their own families.

The tragedy is that sincere options exist for a market-based  “universal” medical care apparatus. There are a variety of truly thoughtful policy constructs that could challenge our assumptions on medical care. We should be asking ourselves some questions. Why should we continue to link medical care insurance to our employer? Employers generally are not required to provide food, clothing, and shelter, but we feel they should provide medical care? Why?


It’s a substantial tax loophole, and vestigial counterbalance from the wage restrictions of the Great Depression.

Now you’re just showing off having read The Forgotten Man. The Great Depression has been over for 60-70 years and I would say, those who refuse to learn from history are destined to repeat it. Maybe instead of this bewildering system that is Obamacare, we could actually make moves for price transparency in medical care, embrace a savings account platform, and look to reduce moral hazards in medical care? Right there, you would achieve a gradual reduction in medical care costs. Then there’s direct primary care, where you pay a set monthly fee for access to a clinic for all treatment less than hospitalization — and it’s cheap. In Kansas you can cover a family of four for $300 a month, which is about one-quarter of what my daughter pays for ACA-required insurance she almost never uses. You augment that with a high-deductible plan (sometimes called a catastrophic plan) and a medical savings account. People now have wrap around medical coverage at half the price they’re paying today and because they pay the bills directly, they care about the costs, so they ask the big questions — Do I need this treatment? What are the alternatives? Now do I prevent a major medical event that is going to wipe out my medical savings account? That drags the cost of medical care down and, as they see their compensation shrinking, doctors hopefully remember why they went to medical school in the first place. I know I didn’t spend 15 years of post-graduate exhaustion to be a millionaire. I wanted to work in healing.

My heart breaks when I look at Congress right now. They have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for real transformative reform that could help all people and they’re blowing it because they are judging policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. Instead of talking about wanting to “throw people off medical insurance” (which is the AMA and Democratic Party talking points) they ought to be looking at whether the system that replaces it would treat more people, more effectively and for less money. Now just less government money, but less money in real dollars. Until they do that, both parties are failing Americans when it comes to medical care.


Wow, big topic! Important topic. I could chase a thousand rabbits here, but let’s just let what you’ve said rest for now. Thank you for stopping by the blog. 

Posted January 8, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Looking to the Future   3 comments

January 1, 2018 – What are you most looking forward to this coming year?


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I don’t do New Year’s resolutions mainly because I try to avoid lying to myself, so I’m glad to see this different twist on a New Year’s Day blog hop.

Image result for image of new years planningWhat do I look forward to in 2018?

Our daughter claims she is coming to Alaska in her own car with her dog. She’s a bit of a rolling stone – not the dog, our daughter. A gypsy musician who works to support herself in her travels. We miss her A LOT. She’s the sort of person who fills up a house with her personality. She’s been home for visits, but I’m hoping she’ll spend some time on this visit, which won’t be until summer. I’m hoping she’ll decide she’s ready to settle down once she gets here. Time will tell.

Don’t get me wrong. I support her in her endeavors, but I miss her and wish she was within driving distance for a visit.

Beyond that, we’re supposedly FINALLY installing the finished floors in our living room and maybe in the kitchen this year and Brad has agreed to record one of my books for Audacity. Of course, I’ve got several writing projects calling my name and I will have to decide soon whether to return to the fourth book of Transformation Project or stick with the slow going to Fount of Wraiths. Good fantasy takes time and it is going well, but it is not as fast as a Transformation Project book to write. I also have a literary fiction and an alternative history that are both works in progress that I dabble with when I have time. Neither will likely be pushing in 2018, but you never know.

I think those of the top things I’m looking forward to, although I also think tax reform adding a couple of thousand dollars to my family revenue stream this year will allow us to make plans that aren’t even on our radar right now.

But life, as we should all know, is what happens while we’re making other plans, so I won’t get too wedded to these plans because things happen and plans change and that’s part of the adventure of life.

Posted January 1, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Merry Christmas   Leave a comment

Image result for image of ChristmasDecember 25, 2017 – Just say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to your readers. Make it heartfelt and personal.


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So, it’s Christmas morning and we’re sleeping in because my family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve. My mother and her father were both delivered by reindeer, meaning born Christmas Day. It sucks to have share a birthday with Jesus Christ. He hogs all the attention with the Savior of the World thing. So my father decided that he loved my mother enough to reschedule a major holiday — at least in our household. My brother and I have continued the tradition because it allows him to spend Christmas with his grandchildren. Brad and I and our kids like being a little idiosyncratic and so ….. It means we never shop for Christmas presents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is usually a restful day of leftovers, board games and watching celebrities try to look cold while covering the Rose Bowl Parade.

I hope you all are having a lovely day. So in honor of this day, I’m posting my favorite Christmas song and then my mother’s two favorite Christmas songs — or were they birthday songs?

Merry Christmas! Or if you celebrate some other “holy day” insert your preferred greeting. Know that I appreciate everyone of my readers and hope you’re having a lovely Christmas season.

Posted December 25, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Found in the Stacks   Leave a comment

December 18, 2017 – Research. Post an interesting fact or facts you’ve come across researching a book.

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One of the things I like best about being a writer is researching interesting topics that I wouldn’t ordinarily find the time to research.

Image result for image of libraryMy mother was a farm girl, but except for being forced to weed her garden when I was a kid, I didn’t know much about farming until I started writing books that involved farmers. Most of the population of Celdrya are farmers eking out a living with crude plows drawn by oxen. The town of Emmaus is surrounded by corn fields. I knew nothing about Medieval farming when I started Daermad Cycle and I knew nothing about corn farming when started Transformation Project. Now I know arcane knowledge like farmers try to save money by allowing corn to dry on the cob before harvesting. This will save some lives in the series.

In researching how the town would survive the apocalypse, I learned about silos and why so many of them are being converted to other uses today – my son tells me of an awesome bouldering club in a grain silo. I worked that into the story – what do you do with all that corn you’ve been sending to the mega silos for the last 30 years now that it is in your best interest to keep it local? You can’t just dig a hole in the ground and bury it because the damp of the ground will turn the corn into hominy. But there are silos that are built into the ground – they’re called bunker silos. You see a couple in the hillside during the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. So there is a way to do it right.

In Daermad Cycle, a king is poisoned and dies. I spent a fair amount of time studying up on poisons. Padraig, the central figure in an ensemble cast, is an herbman so I had to learn about herbal treatments. My main race are the descendants of Celts who stumbled into an alternative universe a thousand years ago (in their time line). They call things by familiar names, but these items are not necessarily exactly what exists in our world. The Kin are indigenous to the world of Daermad and they have some very different items because they have never lived in the world we know. I’ve spent a lot of time researching swords, knives, Medieval clothing and horses for Daermad Cycle.

In Transformation Project both my main character, Shane, and his grandfather Jacob are pilots. I grew up on the edge of the flying community – 80% of Alaskan communities cannot be reached by roads, so we fly a lot. I have even taken flight training. I could keep a single-engine plane in the air and theoretically know how to land one, though I have never gotten to practice that part. I thoroughly enjoyed studying about the planes that work their way into the story.

There are so many different things to learn, but I thought I’d go into detail on just one. Martial law plays a big part in Transformation Project. I wanted to have my facts straight before I played with them so I googled “martial law in the United States.” and learned about President Obama signing Executive Order 13603, titled “National Defense Resources Preparedness.” To be totally fair, President Obama was merely tweaking an existing Executive Order that goes back all the way to the Truman administration. So, it’s been about 60 years since the government gave itself the authority to seize all US resources and persons, including during peacetime, for self-declared “national defense”. The president is authorized to delegate authority to various federal departments and agencies identify, confiscate and reallocate food, gasoline, machinery, medicine, water, and even people.

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverOf course, no US president has actually done this, though it ought to make us nervous that they think they have such authority. Let’s hope it never comes to that. In Transformation Project, it’s a key big bad, because the people in charge weren’t elected by anyone and yet they feel they have the authority to take food, medicine, and crops and conscript people into a workforce to make this happen.

What do you do when what you need to survive conflicts with official policy?

The people of Emmaus think they know the answer, but are they willing to pay the price?

Are actual Americans willing to put themselves in that position? No, it can’t happen here … until maybe it does and then maybe it’s too late. Since I’m planning more books in the series, you can surmise that at least some of the people in Emmaus survive … but how well they survive depends on how much of their resources they were able to hang onto.


Parallel Realities   Leave a comment

December 11, 2017 – Writing parallels – parallels between events and your writing, topic or genre.

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Willow Branch Blue White Recreation CoverI’m sure there probably are some parallels between Daermad Cycle and real life, but it’s very much hidden in the fantasy genre. Unless you want to be really preachy, it’s best to keep theme connections to the real world pretty light. For the record, really preachy tends to put off some people. By some, I mean a lot. You can certainly comment on historical events in fantasy, but you hurt yourself a lot and the book as well if you try to comment on modern society.

So, Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch, Mirklin Wood and the upcoming Fount of Wraiths) draws parallels from feudal society and the discussion of racism and slavery, but it holds back from more modern topics simply because fantasy readers aren’t generally looking to be preached at.

There is a hiking scene in Mirklin Wood that is based upon a trail Brad and I take to get our salmon every summer. If you want a gander at what my world looks like, it’s a pretty good rendition of it.

But parallels do exist in Transformation Project because it’s an apocalyptic and that sort of preachiness is acceptable in that genre. My character live in a time that could be tomorrow. They’ve lived through the presidencies and events most of us remember. Their history is our history … except theirs took a sharp turn the day after tomorrow and they’re living in the aftermath.

Two Cover Montage

Transformation Project was born of Barack and Michelle Obama’s promise to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” For the record, while I think they dealt a major blow to the culture of liberty in America, I don’t think they accomplished their goal. Of course, they’ve not been out of the White House for a year, so it’s hard to be sure. I suspect the current upheaval in the political realm is a rejection reaction to the transformation they tried to start … or really accelerate. Maybe the people who voted for Donald Trump are T-cells attacking a virus. Sometimes perfectly normal immune responses go too far. Maybe the Trump presidency is the psoriasis that develops after the body attacks some life-threatening plague before it can kill us. The good news is that psoriasis can get better when you remove what set it off in the first place.

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverBut let’s not chase that rabbit. The Obamas promised to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” and my daughter and I spent a long, Alaska car trip discussing how that might happen, creating a story that had elements of Transformation Project in it, but ultimately would have written itself into a corner had I pursued it.

Then I looked around our world and saw all sorts of economic and political woes. “Mirastan” in the books could be Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya … I combine elements of all of them because I didn’t want to have to research another country so that Shane’s statements about it would be correct, but also so I could say things about it that might be true of any of them. My readers can form their own conclusions.

Economically, I created a United States that is heavily in debt and beginning to face the consequences of that. I only really deal with the riots, rising prices and union difficulties  in Life As We Knew It because in subsequent books, I’ve blown up the cities and my small town is struggling to form its own disaster plan. You will find my characters in Emmaus still care about liberty — which they define as the ability to do what is necessary to survive. They will say what’s on their minds and do what they need to do. Not to let too many cats out of the bag, but the next book (Thanatosis) deals in part with what happens when the middle-sized cities begin to empty in search of resources that are no longer flowing in from the country side.

The characters who are outside of the town face the realities of martial law, because I’m aware of Executive Order 12919 (National Defense Resources Preparedness) which Obama signed in 2012.  This was by no means the first Executive Order signed by a president that could be used to grant him (or her) marital law in time of crisis, but that it exists at all in the form that it does created the premise for the third book of Transformation Project, A Threatening Fragility.

I hang out with people who pray for the end of government as we know it in the near-future because they believe it would give people the opportunity to fix a lot of what is wrong with American society, so naturally, I am drawn to exploring what would happen when/if the federal government collapses. I don’t think it will all be okay — that enough guns, faith and individualism would automatically result in functional local government to replace the overbearing federal government. As I move deeper into the series, I show local government struggling to adapt and sometimes failing miserably. The negligence of the City of Emmaus killed almost a hundred people in the second book, Objects in View.

Hullabaloo Tugawar Front CoverBy total contrast, the novelette Hullabaloo on Main Street is set in this world, November 9, 2016. In this political satire, libertarian Conor wakes up the day after the Presidential election to discover his small Midwestern town embroiled in controversy over the outcome of the election. The book was based on a Politico article “What If A Red State Moves to You?” which focused on a Wisconsin county that had voted Democratic for more than a half-century, but swung hard for President Trump in 2016. I added a twist to get away from the Politico writer’s clear bias in favor of Democrats. Conor is a libertarian anarchist who doesn’t vote. He doesn’t really care who won the election because he considers all elections just processes of picking our slavers for the next four years. That neutrality allows him to infiltrate both political bubbles during this highly charged times and hear what people have to say. It’s meant to make you laugh, but it’s also meant to wake you up and get you asking questions about why Donald Trump won and what is going on in our country that we have formed up in bubbles that have nothing to do with each other. Conor even muses that he sees a potential solution to the divide … not that anyone will listen because he’s not a member of any of the bubbles.

Conor is me on November 9, 2016, wondering why everybody is upset or ecstatic about a deeply flawed candidate winning an election when he was running against an equally deeply-flawed candidate when in reality, we the people were going to be stuck with whatever ludicrous policies either of these two dictators were going to put forward. I wanted to see liberty increase and more power flow to the people rather than government, but that’s not what I got. As I listened to my friends on both sides of the political spectrum freak out, Conor was born as a character who could explain my view of it. Laugh because it’s better than crying, but it’s still a crappy outcome for a great country that keeps, time and time again, selecting bad outcomes.

Parallels are all about finding that passion within ourselves to talk about what is important to us. As writers, we’re supposed to say what others cannot. The parallels in my fantasy are ones I discovered after I wrote them. The parallels in the apocalyptic are cautionary tales suggesting maybe we should try different things. Conor is my critique of the current political landscape. But I made him fun. He doesn’t hate anyone. He’s not angry. His wry (largely internal) comments are not meant to be hurtful. He just sees things from a different perspective because he’s outside of the bubbles … like I am.


A Few of My Favorite Things   8 comments

November 27, 2017 – Top 10 – Share your top 10 favorite movies, books or things to do.

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Top 10 Things I Like to Do?


  1.  Read a good book. I could list my top favorites, but I’m keeping it simple.
  2. Watch a good movie. Again, keeping it simple.
  3. Image result for image of yellow Lab rolling in snowWrite a good book. I do really get a charge out of creating a world and introducing characters that have something to say.
  4. Hike in the woods. Most Alaskans live here for either the culture (libertarian, live-and-let-live, out there honesty) or the wilderness. I’m not fit for any other culture and I do enjoy hiking in the woods, so long as it is fairly warm out.
  5. Hang out with like-minded friends. Our minds might meet on a variety of issues and diverge on one or two that make for enlightening conversation. Maybe we’ll meet around a bonfire or at someone’s house or in the rock pool at Chena Hot Springs Resort.
  6. Play a video game. Sometimes that’s what my mind needs to jump start its activity and it is something my husband and I enjoy doing together.
  7. Quilt. I haven’t completed a project in a few years, but I do enjoy the exacting nature of the work and the beautiful results following. It’s just another form of creativity.
  8. Listen to music. I have wide and varied tastes and often write when I’m listen to music.
  9. Play board games. This requires other people and that’s probably what I like best about it, the interaction with my fellow humans.
  10. Do a home improvement project. I know, that doesn’t sound like fun, and often it isn’t at the outset, but I love seeing the project come to its conclusion and the better feel of the house when it’s been done.
  11. You get a bonus here – because I looked outside the window while trying to decide on a photo for this post. I enjoy watching my dog play in the snow. She’s a Lab, so play is what she does and is. She can make anything into a game. It just so happens that today, she’s chest-deep in snow, running here, diving there — kind of looks like a dolphin, except in snow instead of water –  and then rolling over on her back to give herself a snow bath, all for paws in the air, rolling up with snow on her back and crusting her nose, shaking off and then plunging through the snow to a different spot and repeating the process. Who couldn’t enjoy seeing that?

Posted November 27, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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