Elise Sereni
Saturday, July 26, 2008

The sun came out yesterday. It was really sad. Everyone I met on my dog walk felt compelled to point out that the sun was shining as though they needed external confirmation of the phenomenon in the sky for fear they were just hallucinating its appearance. After what seems likes at least a year of rain, clouds, wind and angry, wet mosquitoes, I guess it’s a natural reaction to want to have someone else confirm that in fact yes, the sun is still in the sky, even over Anchorage.

Elise Patkotak • 03:29 AM •
Friday, July 25, 2008

It must be the weather. I found myself in Lowe’s buying gro lights, regular lights, spot lights...I think it’s the dreary weather causing me to want to buy artificial light that will brighten my day. By the way, am I the only one confused by the plethora of lights now available? Whatever happened to the day when the only choices were wattage and single or three-way? For someone who hates to shop, this has just added another category to the list of things that stress me when I have to go buy some.

Elise Patkotak • 03:39 AM •
Thursday, July 24, 2008

I know what all the experts say. This is not an unusual summer. The unusual summers were the ones where the sun actually made an appearance once a week or so and the temperatures climbed into the 70s on a few occasions.  A true Anchorage summer is wet, cold, windy and gray.  So stop whining. We are being treated to the true Anchorage experience this year.

But we are Alaskans. Whining and free government money are our two most precious birthrights.  So when I posted a comment on my blog recently about the weather, I received more responses than I did to any number of columns or comments that I felt were truly controversial. Apparently Alaskans will absorb a lot of blows without complaint, but mess with their summer and you are really jumping into the pool without first checking for water.
I think my favorite comment came from a woman who told me that when anyone complained about the conditions this summer, she told them that no one came to Alaska for the weather.  Aside from people with a serious skiing or snow boarding addiction, she is right.  Most of us came to Alaska for much more valid reasons.  For instance, our fiancé left us for a man and so we fled the city where our romance had bloomed to try to figure out what we did that turned a straight man gay.  Or there was a war in Southeast Asia and coming to Alaska to do alternative service in a mental health facility seemed safer.  Or, and this is definitely one of my favorites, you accidentally landed in Alaska on one of its only beautiful, sunshiny days and decided there was no where else in this world you could imagine living. By the time you closed out your life in the lower 48, packed up the family dog and landed here to build a new life, Alaskan normalcy had reasserted itself. It was either snowing or raining or there was an earthquake or a bear rummaging in the garbage can the previous owners had left in the driveway.  And your spouse, significant other, children and/or family dog looked at you with the dawning realization that you really were insane and they were stuck a million miles from civilization with no ticket out.
Yes, the reasons for moving to Alaska are many and varied and sometimes very hard to remember when you glimpse your garden’s flowers holding up signs that say, “I surrender. Please put me out of my misery.”
Of course, any true Alaskan will tell you that it is this type of weather that separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the sane from the insane. In other words, it separates the real Alaskans from the imitators who thought they could put up with anything in a state that sent them checks every year for just being here. They are the wimps. They are the faux Alaskans who not only complain about the weather, but actually make plans to get out before they start growing mold where their hair used to be. A true Alaskan is found standing in a river, hip waders pulled up to their chins, hat firmly smashed on their head to keep the wind from blowing it away, smiling insanely and catching the fish that will make their hearts healthier than the hearts of anyone else in the world… assuming they survive the freezing cold, the drive on the Seward Highway, the bears competing next to them for the bounty and the infections from the cuts that result from cleaning the fish.
Of course, they may also die from eating winter comfort food at least three months longer than anyone in the lower 48 does.  How much salmon do you have to eat to reverse the health effects of nine months of anything fried with cheese smothering it?
Let’s face it. If it wasn’t for the weather, we’d be actually embarrassed to take all that free money flowing out of Juneau. At least the weather gives us another reason besides hungry bears and dog-eating eagles to claim that the state owes us. It may not be much of an excuse but we’ll embrace any complaint possible to assuage our consciences as we cash another Made in Alaska freebie.

Elise Patkotak • 03:08 AM •
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Considering the amounts of money raised to run for president nowadays, I say we eliminate the pretense that this has anything to do with a true democracy or one person - one vote and just call it what it is - the buying and selling of the American presidency. Then, instead of voting every four years, we can change the rules to read that no one...not a corporation, not a trust fund, not a coffee shop...gets to send a candidate more than one dollar. And you can only send it once so you have to choose a candidate. You can’t send a dollar to each candidate to try to hedge your bets. Come November, we count up the money and declare a winner. And then all the left-over money collected for any candidate goes to pay off the national debt. It’s a win...win...win.

Elise Patkotak • 03:40 AM •
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Is there really anyone in the world left who believes the spam that comes from Nigeria or where ever offering a cut of millions if you just help them out? I mean really, is there anyone left computer savvy enough to be on e-mail but dumb enough to respond to that crap?  The horrifying answer I must come up with is yes, or else why would that junk still fill my spam folder.  Which means there is at least one other person in this world dumber than George Bush. How depressing.

Elise Patkotak • 03:12 AM •
Monday, July 21, 2008

Blue stares gloomily out at the rain, refusing to set foot in the backyard and risk getting wet no matter how much she has to go. But she also sits and stares at the front door, mentally willing me to stop working and take her for a walk as though somehow the weather in the front of the house will be better than the weather in the back of the house. She breaks down my resistance, I put away the document I’m working on, put on a jacket with hood, hook her and Blondie up and head out the door. We get about five feet from the porch, Blue looks in dismay at the clearly wet climate that exists apparently in the front as well as the back of the house, and tries to immediately head to the safety of the front door. 
Is it really that much of a leap of intelligence for her to figure out, after almost ten years of life, that the weather out the front door will almost always be the same as out the back door?  Or is this simply an example of true eternal optimism?

Elise Patkotak • 03:27 AM •
Sunday, July 20, 2008

OK, Alaskans. Are you reaching the same point I am with the mining ads? My summer TV watching is already limited to sitcom repeats in the morning as I feed the animals and the Daily Show, Colbert Report and Letterman. And even with that restrictive schedule, I find my blood pressure rising the minute those damn ads start up. At this point I don’t care if all the fish all over Alaska die or we poison everyone with what the mines leave behind or if mines are the greatest things to hit the environment since sunshine. I just want the damn ads to stop.
By the way, you can watch the Colbert Report and the Daily Show online and miss all those annoying commercials.

Elise Patkotak • 03:32 AM •
Saturday, July 19, 2008

Who would have thought that a passing comment on the weather would have generated so much interest.  But everyone really just needs to take a deep breath and accept, as St. Francis of Assisi put it so well, what they cannot change.  I view this summer as the Dick Cheney of weather. It’s ugly. It’s mean. It’s gloomy. And it is deadly to living things. But it too shall end...just in time for the snow!

Elise Patkotak • 03:49 AM •
Friday, July 18, 2008

One of my faithful readers told me that she tells tourists who complain about our weather that no one comes to Alaska for the weather.  When I first arrived in Barrow, it was the beginning of October and there was already snow on the ground. I remember thinking how much fun it was going to be because I loved snow. Six weeks later, everything was frozen, it was totally dark and I could write a novel on the frost that had built up on the inside of my kitchen window. The moral of this story is that even if you think you’ve come to Alaska for the weather, a six week stay here will show you just how flawed that reasoning is.  There is simply something wrong with living in a place where you wait for the one day of sunshine per quarter and then run out the door to jam in every possible outside activity before the snow/ice/fog/ice fog/rain/wind/hail or earthquake returns. Which brings me to the conclusion that if loving Alaska is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Elise Patkotak • 03:35 AM •
Thursday, July 17, 2008

It seems to me that the more money that comes pouring into state coffers, the more services residents should be seeing. After all, if we are the owner state, it is our money. While I understand the need to put some of it away for tomorrow, I don’t see why that precludes our enjoying a better quality of life today.

When money was scarce in those bad old days a few years ago, belt tightening was the watchword on everyone’s lips. The permanent fund could not be raided because it was sacred. It was for a rainy day and the deities who make these decisions decided it was never raining enough. So Alaska managed to limp along, providing some services while eliminating others based on some unknown formula for what is expendable and what is not. 
Longevity bonus…expendable.  Detox programs…expendable.  Treatment programs in prisons…expendable.  Employee retirement program…expendable.  Debt repayment on retirement programs…could go either way.  PFD…not expendable. Not now, not ever.
But now it is 2008 and our state is probably best symbolized by Scrooge McDuck in his basement vault throwing his millions over his head in a virtual money shower. We are raking it in so fast that we hardly have time to stop and count the zeroes. Oil per barrel is in a range we never dreamed possible and the end of this ride is not yet in sight.
So what is happening to all this money that there seemingly isn’t enough left to adequately fund Denali Kid Care or restart a detox program or get some treatment into the jails so that we at least offer a small ray of hope for changing the future of the people incarcerated?
AGIA, oil prices and political corruption have pretty much been the headline grabbers for the past year. All are compelling stories, even if most of us only pretend to understand AGIA.  But lost in the shuffle is any real debate about the morality of this state swimming in money while its citizens suffer from a lack of some very basic services.  Yes, there is always the credit card debacle that emanated from our governor’s mansion, followed quickly by the $1200 one-time give away that followed the credit card’s demise.  But neither of those ideas really touches the core quality of life issues. The issue of a rich state with a poor population has simply received little to no attention.
Before the more conservative readers of this paper…and I’m assured there are some…stroke out over this idea. I should add that I am not advocating a general give away program. Something we get for nothing is usually valued by us at just that level. But for those who have nothing, or little to nothing, I would argue that a state as rich as Alaska has a moral obligation to seriously examine the problems its citizens face and work on solutions that are truly solutions and not just one time cash give aways.
Which brings me back to programs like Denali Kid Care, women’s shelters, substance abuse treatment facilities, mass transit, a university system not being slowly starved to death – all those things which improve our quality of life or give us a chance to improve it on our own.  Spending money on substance abuse programs in jails that can potentially prevent prisoners from re-offending will pay for itself in a very short time when you consider that in 2001, Alaska was paying $36,730 per inmate per year. As for a program like Denali Kid Care, is there really anyone left in this state who does not get that the healthier a kid is from the start, the healthier and more productive that child will be his or her entire life?
Alaska is pulling in money by the fistfuls as the price of oil remains in the stratosphere. Some should be saved. But a lot should be given back to the people of this state, not as a one-time check, but through programs that will improve the quality of life for all of us.
Meanwhile, nothing I wrote in this column should be taken to mean I don’t want my share of any free money the state of Alaska plans to pass out now or in the future. I may be altruistic, but I’m not an idiot.

Elise Patkotak • 03:03 AM •
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It’s gloomy out. It’s been gloomy out. It will continue to be gloomy out. This is Anchorage. This is our summer. So get over the griping and get on with your life.  My plants did and they are the happier for it.

Elise Patkotak • 03:41 AM •
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Am I the only person who gets muscle spasms just watching gymnasts?  I need to take extra potassium just to get through the Olympic trials. God help me when the games are actually on.

Elise Patkotak • 03:14 AM •
Monday, July 14, 2008

I plant seeds. I water the beds. I feed the soil. And maybe, maybe, I get some flowers to grow in time for the first freeze of fall.
Some bird seed drops on the lawn beneath my feeders and barely two hours after the snow has finally melted, flowers are blooming.
Is there really an explanation to this or is it just god messing with my mind?

Elise Patkotak • 03:15 AM •
Sunday, July 13, 2008

Another state senator indicted. It’s like they are all sitting on a fence and the Feds are just picking them off one by one.  This week was Senator Cowdery’s turn.  Do we dare hope that next week or soon thereafter our favorite son will make the headlines?

Elise Patkotak • 03:23 AM •
Saturday, July 12, 2008

A friend found a play pen for my birds at a garage sale. It looked perfect.  It’s up on a tall stand, has wheels, is all metal and looked as though there was no way to climb off it. It took my African Gray Abdul about ten minutes to conquer it. He climbed to the edge, swung his body down while clinging to the metal tray, got his body going in a swinging motion and managed to swing to the legs of the stand, slid down the leg and was whistling merrily on this way to the computer wires under my desk in less time than it takes to write this.  I am completely amazed that these birds do not rule the world.

Elise Patkotak • 03:35 AM •

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