Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Friday, August 29, 2014

Why is it whenever someone’s tv parent dies there is always some item of monumental significance that brings back memories of the loved one. Sure, I have my Aunt Ida’s soup ladle but on NCIS, Gibbs has a boat his dad made with his mom’s name and then he starts building one and then he remembers building the original with his dad while music swells into past visions in the distance. I look at my aunt’s soup ladle and think of the soup with the tiny meatballs that started every Christmas meal. I don’t remember what the people around me were talking about. She didn’t hold my hand and teach me to ladle soup from it. It’s just the ladle she used for the soup while my mom and her other sisters put out the rest of the food on the table.
I want a boat like Gibbs has.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:28 AM •
Thursday, August 28, 2014

I was recently invited to a Pioneers in Health Care in Alaska event. I suppose it was inevitable that at some point someone would call me a pioneer. That didn’t stop me from feeling forty more gray hairs popping out of my head or my neck’s turkey waddle from shaking even harder. Then I stopped to think for a moment and the picture of the young woman who first came to Alaska and got involved in health care delivery in remote locations popped into my head. I realized she looked a whole lot younger than the person staring out at me from the mirror in the morning.

Being involved in health care in Alaska in the seventies and early eighties was absolutely heady. Alaska was starting to reap the financial benefits of the oil that was flowing down the pipeline. We had more money than we knew what to do with. Even our beloved political class couldn’t spend it fast enough. It just kept piling up. And for the first and last time ever, I saw our esteemed elected officials actually put their money where their political campaign promises were and fully fund health care programs.
We had alcohol programs in just about every hub village in the state. Ditto mental health programs. Ditto women’s shelters, youth programs and early education programs. Yep, we funded them all. There was a concerted attempt to meet just about every social health care need in the state. And that was great right up until the time the money starting flowing slower… and slower… and slower. Something had to go in order to ever pretend to a balanced budget.
You know the rest of this story already, don’t you? The alcohol and mental health programs were all but wiped out. Spending on programs in big cities, let alone smaller bush communities, dropped dramatically. Oh we all still moaned and groaned and rent our clothes in despair over the statistics of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, rape and domestic violence. And politicians continued to mouth piously about the need to do something to change those numbers. It is over forty years later and those statistics still horrify because there is no real action behind the words.
I’ll be the first to admit that we made a lot of mistakes back then. Not all the money put into those programs was used wisely. But we were just starting to learn what worked when the money got pulled. We were learning there is no one size fits all in alcohol treatment. We were learning that handling mental illness in a small community took more than a counselor and an office. We were discovering that you could make an impact on domestic violence if you had real options to offer a woman other than returning to the situation based on a six week domestic violence course the abuser took. We were learning all those things when the programs died. Now we face an epidemic we could have impacted if we’d just stayed the course. But programs not showing immediate positive results are a hard sell to politicians who see them as being too troublesome and hard to justify. There is not a lot of support for a population of alcoholics and abusers whose votes are rarely courted.
I find it rather sad to contemplate that we have just blown over $200 million on an aborted port project that we are walking away from with not much more than a shrug and little public outcry. If that money had gone into social services programs that failed so resoundingly, I wonder if the political class would let us walk away with no real consequences and the promise of more money to try again tomorrow.
I always thought being a pioneer meant looking back with some satisfaction over a lifetime of achievements. I know physical health care is much better in almost every bush region of this state thanks to dedicated workers at the Native non-profits now providing that care. I think that despite the lengths still to be covered, in the areas of medical, dental and eye care services, there is a whole population in bush Alaska with better care than a generation ago. 
I just wish that before I become a dearly departed pioneer, I could see some improvement in the social health statistics that break the hearts of all who hear them. Right now, that seems a pretty dim prospect.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:24 AM •
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Until such time as they give an Emmy to Leroy Jethro Gibbs, I will not wear my formal bathrobe and tiara while watching the show. It simply doesn’t deserve that much respect.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:27 AM •
Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Do we ever get so old that our upper range hearing is so damaged that the sound of our teeth being scraped during a cleaning doesn’t make us want to leap out of the chair and run out of the room?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:25 AM •
Monday, August 25, 2014

I guess I’m getting more than a little tired of hearing people gripe about how many vacation days Obama takes. Let’s look at a comparison of him and Bush… Bush who was president while two wars were going on and the economy was tanking…

“On Aug. 8, 2014, Knoller tweeted that Obama had taken 19 vacations totaling 125 days so far while in office. Those numbers have risen a bit due to the Martha’s Vineyard vacation, but that’s still many fewer than George W. Bush’s 65 combined trips to his Texas ranch and his parents’ home in Kennebunkport, Maine, which totaled 407 days at the same point in his presidency.

Not included in this data are trips to the Camp David presidential retreat in western Maryland, which Knoller doesn’t count as “vacation.” Knoller told Yahoo! News that, through Aug. 12, 2014, Obama had made 33 visits to Camp David for all or part of 84 days, while Bush had been there 108 times for all or part of 341 days.”

Makes Obama look like a positive workaholic, doesn’t it?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:08 AM •
Sunday, August 24, 2014

It’s the end of August. It should be colder. I am done with bugs, summer and heat. So let’s get a move on it winter. I have missed you greatly.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:33 AM •
Saturday, August 23, 2014

I thought we’d have at least a few minutes break between the primaries and the general election but the sound never even dimmed on those god awful political ads. I pray god it reaches a point where it’s just white noise in my ears. Or maybe I should just read a book between now and then and never look at tv, listen to radio or peruse a newspaper.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:29 AM •
Friday, August 22, 2014

While you are in the laundry room getting ready to do a load of wash, your dog brings his plush toy in and lays it at your feet, then sits back and stares at you.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:39 AM •
Thursday, August 21, 2014

This column’s deadline is before the results of yesterday’s primary are announced. So congrats to the winners, better luck next time to the runners-up and to the rest of Alaska, enjoy the brief twenty minutes of silence we will have before the onslaught of political noise leading up to the general election.

Given how diverse a country we are, that we can come together to vote on issues and then, for the most part, live with the results no matter how mad they make us, is amazing.  If you travel through America at all, you quickly come to realize that our continuance as a nation is quite remarkable. Go to Europe, Asia or Africa and, in travelling the same distances, you will pass through four or five different countries with distinct cultures that would find it difficult to successfully mesh into a working democracy.
Travel through America and you are also travelling through the equivalent of numerous distinct countries, each with their own customs, beliefs and agendas. I recently read a long piece by travel writer Paul Theroux in Smithsonian Magazine. He traveled through the American south and, quite honestly, described a world as different from the one I now live in, or the one I grew up in, as the north of England must seem to the residents of sub-Saharan Africa. So how does America manage to hold it together as one country and not break into a bunch of warring factions like we see in the mid-east?
It’s only because we have remained one united country that we’ve been privileged to not have to endure the horror of war in our back yards since the Civil War. Europe, South America, most of Asia, the mid-East – each of these places has endured the horrors of war on their soil within memory of the living. In forming the European Union, the countries of Europe seem to acknowledge the destruction of hundreds of years of war and the need to unify for both peace and prosperity. Here in America, we’ve been unified since the beginning. And when that unity was threatened, we fought a war to preserve it. That war was costly, painful and horrible but, in retrospect, has probably saved us from even worse pain by keeping us as one.
As the political rhetoric of campaigns seems to get nastier with each iteration, and louder with each corporation that jumps into the fray, the one thing we need to avoid at all costs is making the process so lethal and poisonous that it prevents the healing needed after the vote to get on with the business of America. If there is one thing that bothers me above all else that the Republican Party has done since Barack Obama’s election, it was stating openly and clearly that their only goal was to defeat anything and everything he and the Democrats advocated. That’s not exactly a platform that gives me any hope for our future. We need to come together after each election and figure out how to work together. Whether or not you like any given politician, the fact that the person was elected by a majority of the voters means that a majority of those who bothered to vote want that politician working for them. And that means sitting down with the opposition and figuring out how to go forward in the best interests of America, not in the best interests of any particular political party.
America has been called a grand experiment. Can a people as diverse as we are succeed as one nation or is our inevitable end to become another middle east where they are still fighting wars thousands of years old? We have got to figure out how to work from the middle so that the divide does not become so large that it cannot be bridged.
So as much as democracy in a country as culturally, religiously, regionally and politically diverse as we are can be loud and messy, as we walk away from yesterday’s voting booths and head towards November’s, let’s use the pause in all the noise to be thankful that despite it all, this union endures. We need to make sure whoever is elected in November understands that it is our unity that makes us great. In that regard, we truly remain number one.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:13 AM •
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

And to all who didn’t… if I hear one word of complaint out of you about how things are going, I will swiftly kick you in the ass. Either get involved with democracy by voting or shut up and live with the results you let others create.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:14 AM •
Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I must not accept the fact that no matter how many times I step into the shower and step out through the same glass door, Carm will sit pressed against the shower door in the absolute certainty that there is a hidden door on the other side and someday I’ll step through it and he’ll never see me again.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:52 AM •
Monday, August 18, 2014

When Snowy is sitting outside ignoring my commands to come in, I try lowering my voice to its deepest register since ALL the experts say that dogs respond to the lower voice, assuming it’s the alpha male. Snowy just looks at me as though wondering if I’d lost my mind and then turns around and continues to stare into the distance, no doubt contemplating the eternal verities of the universe.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:09 AM •
Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tuesday is the primary here in Alaska. Please get out and vote. I don’t care how you vote. I mostly care THAT you vote so some small percentage of people in this state don’t end up making decisions for the vast majority.
And then after you’ve voted, pat yourself on the back and enjoy the approximately 25 minutes of silence before the ads for the general election in November begin.
God help us but democracy can be noisy!

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:05 AM •
Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Snowy, as usual, snarfed down his doggie kibbles without pausing for air. He then went out to the porch about 30 minutes later and threw up the kibble in two nice little piles. I decided to see if the rain would wash it away before I actually had to go clean it. But there it was after the rain. I was going to clean it, honestly, but got diverted. By the time I remembered and went back to the porch, I was just in time to see a magpie making off with the last bit of it. Charming. Just charming.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:20 AM •
Friday, August 15, 2014
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:29 AM •

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