Thursday, May 31, 2012

Breaking Grandma's Plate

Warning: I'm going to get a little personal today.

On my piano sits a picture of Grandma Oram and one of her plates. I never met my grandmother. She died when my father was only seven-years-old. My father always told me I looked like her and because of that he gave me this framed photograph. I will always cherish it as I do the plate. My father gave me the plate also, but much later.

One time when my husband and I drove up to Idaho to visit with my parents they seemed especially excited. It was our wedding anniversary, but my parents never celebrated such things, so I was very perplexed when Mom told me that Dad had something for me. With great pride Dad handed me this plate and told me that it was his mother's. He wanted me to have it for my anniversary. I was very touched and honored.

Both instances happened many years ago. Since then my parents have passed away, so the plate and picture are very special to me.

This last weekend several stressful things were going on. You know how life can get sometimes. It's not just one thing but many little things that pile up and before you know it you're beginning to think you just can't handle everything. But I pushed those feelings aside Monday morning. I wanted to have a nice dinner that night on our deck using the new patio cushions we'd bought over a year ago, but hadn't used yet (that's another story), so I was tying the cushions on the chairs. The morning was a little chilly. I spied my husband's fleece jacket on the back of a chair in the dining room next to the railing.

As you can see, the railing is above the piano. (We have a multi-level house.) A table runner that I didn't see was hanging on the railing and as I pulled Hubby's jacket off the chair it caught on the table runner. The runner fell down on the dish, knocking it off the piano, and breaking it in half. I was heartbroken.

All the little things that had been building up over the weekend came to a head, and I started to cry. Over a plate. My grandmother's plate. That my father had given me.

But then something wonderful happened. I realized how fortunate I had been to have had that plate for so long. What made the plate special wasn't only that it was perfect, but that it was my grandmother's and my father had given it to me. That memory will long be with me unbroken.

 And as I looked at the plate in my hands, I knew it could be fixed with just a little glue. I began to think about the other problems I had been dealing with and realized they weren't that bad. I needed to put them in perspective and figure out what I could do. A saying my father told me came to mind, "I don't want to hear about what you can't do, I want to hear about what you can do."

Thanks, Dad. The plate has been glued and once again is on the piano. All is well, at least for the time being.

What experience have you had that made you reassess and realize things were going to be all right?


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bikers on the Yukon

This is going to be my last posting for the tour of Alaska. It's been fun, but I'm ready to get back to my regular posting schedule of Tuesdays and Thursdays. So I'm going to end with a very interesting story about the Yukon River in Alaska.
Isn't it a beautiful river? The Yukon has quite a history and part of its past is the story of a couple of men who road their bikes on the ice during the dead of winter in the year of 1900. Max Hirschberg was a roadhouse manager who cycled the Stampede Route for two months. And Ed Jesson, a miner, pedaled up the frozen river for over 1,000 miles. These men kept journals of their journeys, which have become part of Yukon history.

The Yukon is famous for having thick ice. Not too long ago a group took the same route used by Hirschberg and Jesson on bikes. They barely made it before the ice began to break up for spring thaw. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to get caught on it.

When the ice thaws and breaks there is always the worry of flooding should the ice jam under a bridge or something. Below is a video showing the river as it breaks up and flows. Amazing!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Totem Poles

In Cold Justice there are many scenes with totem poles. One of the most memorable scenes for me is when Samuel, my main character, returns to Malamute (the fictional town he used to live in) and sees the totem of the Raven Clan (a fictional tribe of Native Alaskans). As I wrote that scene, I pictured a totem much like the one above.

Totem poles are monuments that tell stories and give histories of the different Native Alaskan clans. They recount legends and notable events. Certain types of totem poles are mortuary structures and even have grave boxes supporting the poles. They also represent shamanic powers. If a totem pole is part of a house front it shows the success of the family.

Totems have never been objects of worship.  The vertical order of the images is believed to show the importance they are in the story.  That's why when you hear the saying, "low man on the totem pole" it means that person was not a main character. However, some believe the reverse and that the most important is at the bottom. Whenever there's a rule there's an exception, and so it is with totem poles.

There are even "shame poles."  One was created to shame the former U.S. Secretary of State for not repaying a potlatch. On the pole the ears and nose were painted red which indicated the secretary's stinginess.

When a totem pole is removed from its original site the meaning of the pole changes. Something to think about if you're ever tempted to move one.

Here's a fun little clip. I love the mystical music with it.



Thursday, May 24, 2012


What would a tour of Alaska be without a discussion about snowshoes?

My parents owned a cabin in Palisades. In the winter if we hiked in, we always took a pair of snowshoes. Snowshoeing is a real talent.

Here's a good video about how to walk in snowshoes.

Now to hike to my parents' cabin we had to snowshoe up a mountain, so it wasn't as easy as it looks in that video clip. Nooooo. It was more like the clip that follows. Picture me falling end over end and you'll get the picture.



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ring of Fire

You're probably very curious about the photo above. It's part of the Ring of Fire. There are 452 volcanoes in the Pacific area that are part of the Ring of Fire. Ninety percent of the world's earthquakes and eight-one percent of the world's larges earthquakes occur in the ring. The entire chain of Aleutian Islands in the Alaska Maritime Refuge is the northern arc of the Ring of Fire.

During 2008 three refuge volcanoes, Mt. Cleveland, Okmok Caldera, and Kasatochi erupted within several weeks of each other.  Below is a picture of Mt. Redoubt which is part of the ring.

In Cold Justice, there is a scene where the Ring of Fire is mentioned by a pilot. Most pilots in Alaska are well aware of this region.They have to be alert and aware of eruptions. Falling ash can cause great damage to a plane's engine and even make them go down.

Below is a news report about a time when Mt. Redoubt was threatening to erupt. I'm used to seeing volcanoes on tropical islands. It's quite something to see one covered with snow.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

First Three Chapters of Cold Justice and Qiviut

My publisher has posted 
the first three chapters of  
Cold Justice 
on their website. 

If you want a little taste 
of my new book 
click here. And if that doesn't work
try this:
My publisher's website will come up. 
Look for the cover. 

It's smaller than this 
and at the bottom, 
but click on the cover 
and you'll go straight to the 
first three chapters of the book.

 I don't know how long it will be up, 
so you might want to check it out soon.

Okay, now for more of my tour of Alaska. You'll never guess what's in the basket below.

Photo from
It's a basket full of qiviut. Qiviut is the soft underhair of the musk oxen. It is more luxurious than cashmere.

Photo from

Here's qiviut that is ready to knit with. Many Native village women in Alaska knit qiviut into beautiful scarves, hats, and stoles. Special designs, reflective of the knitter's village, are sold in stores in Alaska and other major cities.Those who wear qiviut scarves claim they keep them warmer then wool. And I would think the people in Alaska would know something about staying warm.

The video clips that follow have some beautiful shots of Alaska and explains about qiviut and knitters.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Polar Bears

Picture from

We couldn't tour Alaska without stopping to give tribute to polar bears. They look so soft and cuddly, but actually they are one of the most feared bears, right up there along side the grizzly bear. Polar bear's scientific name means "maritime bear." Their diet is mainly seal so they spend a great deal of their time swimming. The only polar bears I've seen were at the zoo. A mamma bear had two cubs and they are very cute and lively. They loved diving in their pool. Needless to say, they were a big attraction.

Polar bears are greatly revered by Native Alaskans. They have folklore telling how the polar bear taught them to hunt. For some the bear is a form of the Great Spirit, Tuurngasuk. Some tribes have a ritual of "thanksgiving" to the hunted polar bear. Many people of north-central Siberia believe the canine teeth of polar bears have talismanic power, and if they sow a polar bear's teeth on their hats the brown bear will not dare attack them.

 I found a wonderful clip about polar bears. I think I'd be worried if a polar bear where hugging my dog, but they appear to be having a good time.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Breaking News!!!

After a long journey
 of riding in a boat over rough seas
and flying in a small plane 
through Alaska's blinding blizzards, 
look who arrived at my house 
all bundled up!!! 

My beautiful new novel!!! 

I just had to share my joy with my blog family.



Old Believers in Alaska

Alaska has a rich heritage of Native Alaskans, but also that of a group of Russian people known as the Old Believers. They live in the village of Nikolaevsk, on the Kenai Peninsula in south Central Alaska.

Russian culture thrives here. Many still dress as their ancestors did in Siberia 1700s. The Old Believers split from the church in the 17th century when Patriarch Nikon introduced reforms to their orthodoxy. Because the Old Believers wouldn't conform the church excommunicated them and the czars persecuted them. Many moved to Siberian taiga. During the Bolshevik Revolution they were forced out of Russia. They moved to China, to South America and finally to Oregon. But soon they found that American culture was influencing their youth, so they moved once again way up north to Alaska. The following film explains a little more of their amazing story.



Thursday, May 17, 2012

Northern Lights, Inuit Folktale, and the BBC

When I kicked off this month of celebrating Alaska, I started with the Aurora Borealis. In Cold Justice, I relate the story that the Saami of northern Scandinavia tell about this beautiful phenomenon, so I won't tell you about that wonderful folktale because I'm hopeful you'll buy my book and read it. But I also found another story about the lights that I think you might find interesting.

The Inuits explain the lights by saying that they are the departed soles of children playing football. The lights' shimmering forms are figures of these spirit sportsmen kicking a walrus skull as they play the game. And it is more than just a visual show. Sometimes when the Northern Lights shine the air crackles. The Inuits say these sounds are footsteps of the departed on the crust of snow as they play their game. If you whistle dead souls will draw near.

This clip gives a more scientific explanation, and catches some gorgeous shots.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Moose in Alaska

I've always been an admirer of moose. When my parents owned a cabin in Palisades, Idaho, they had a huge bull moose that used to come around every summer. My father always made sure he filled a water bucket so the moose would have water. One day when Dad was filling the bucket, he turned around and the moose was standing right behind him. Scared my father half to death, but he calmly walked away and the moose proceeded to drink his fill.

That was many years ago and our family has about as many moose stories as we do fish stories.

Alaska has a lot of moose. Go figure, right? But they do and they are extreme moose. Huge things. Did you know that Alaska has the highest rate of moose-vehicle collisions in the world! And did you know that more people in Alaska are injured from moose than bears.

Under the right circumstances a moose will become aggressive. Never approach a moose. Here's a clip showing just how dangerous and fast a moose can be on the attack.

My father was pretty lucky the same didn't happen to him.

Moose always make me think of my parents cabin and of Alaska. I think it has to do with an old TV series. You know the one. The lighting is pretty bad, but take a trip down memory lane and Northern Exposure.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lakes in Alaska

I'm sorry if my posts have been like a travel guide to Alaska, but that state is so awesome when it comes to natural beauty. In doing research for Cold Justice, I came upon so many interesting scenes and facts.

I had no idea Alaska had so many breath-taking, beautiful lakes. I know the ocean views are awe-inspiring, but so are these inland bodies of water.

Alaska has around 3,197 natural lakes, approximately 67 artificial reservoirs, and 167 dams. Here's a few pictures that I think you'll enjoy seeing. Notice how clear the water is.

Fairbanks Lake

Glacier Lake

Yukon Lakes


Monday, May 14, 2012

Klondike Kate, a Wonderful Character

A fiction writer is always looking for wonderful people in life to pattern characters after.

What a find in Klondike Kate aka Kathleen Rockwell. None of the characters in Cold Justice were patterned after Kate, but I did admire her spunk and determination.

She lead a very interesting life. She lived in many states: Kansas, North Dakota, Washington, New York and Oregon. But the state that really made her famous was Alaska.

Her heart must have yearned for adventure, for after trying to break into show business in New York, she decided to head north. At the time the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were making it hard for miners and others to get to the Yukon to find gold. Kate was refused entry, but the story goes that she dressed up like a boy, jumped aboard a ship heading to the Yukon, and the rest was history.

Her tap-dancing act was such a huge success that the miners called her Klondike Kate. As with most every interesting tale, she was reported to have a love affair that went wrong. But eventually found she found love and married a fellow in Alaska. When the gold rush died, Kate moved to Oregon where she lived the rest of her life.

 The pictures in the clip below are probably some the miners who gave Kate her name. It's set to the wonderful music from the John Wayne film, North to Alaska.



Friday, May 11, 2012


Do you know what city is in the picture above? Juneau. Beautiful Juneau. Isn't that a picture-perfect place for a city, right there on the water's edge framed with towering mountains?

In Cold Justice, Regi and her friends fly into Juneau to refuel before traveling on to Malamute (a fictional town in my book).

Here's some interesting facts about Juneau.

It's the capital city of Alaska. The city was once called Harrisburg, but changed to Rockwell, and then later was renamed by miners who called it Juneau.

It is only accessible by sea or air. Vehicles are transported there by ferry.

Here's a good picture of the city in winter.

Looks a little cold, doesn't it?

And here's something you might not know, in 2010 the city was recognized as part of Playful City USA and was honored because Juneau tries to ensure their children have great places to play. Cool (no pun intended)!

Since Regi flies into Juneau, I thought you  might like to see what it would be like to fly over the city. Have a safe flight.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ice Art

Did you know that the World Ice Art Championships are held in Fairbanks, Alaska each year? It's true!

They have over 100 sculptors from 30 different countries compete every year.  Thousands flock to see this beautiful spectacle. There are three separate divisions and within those they are divided into abstract and realistic categories.

The Single Block Classic is the largest event. Two person teams work on a huge block of ice (5'x8'x3') and it can weighs around 4 tons. They have two days to complete their sculpture.

The Multi-Block Classic can have four members on the team and use 12 blocks of ice.

The Fairbanks Open is a competition for amateurs and their work is not judged.

I find it absolutely amazing and thought you would as well.   


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are amazing creatures. They received their name because the dorsal fin sits on a big hump on the whales back and is visible when the whale arches its back and dives. The above picture does a good job of showing this.

 In the spring, summer, and fall the humpbacks can be found in the cooler waters around Alaska's Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Prince William Sound, Glacier Bay and throughout the Inside Passage. Life expectancy of the humpback is 45-50 years, however the oldest recorded humpback was 95.

 Other fun facts about these whales are they live in matrilineal family groups that are called pods and a newborn calf can weigh 2 tons and is 12 feet long. Now that's a big baby. This reminded me of the whale rescue that happened in Barrow, Alaska.

A movie was made about this rescue called Big Miracle.  I loved the movie. You might want to check it out.

Here's another clip someone shot. How amazing would it be to see this for yourself?



Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Grizzly Bears . . .

Yesterday, I posted about fishing in Alaska, well a critter that may fish more in Alaska than man does is the grizzly bear.

 As I researched for my novel, I came across some amazing bear stories. In Cold Justice, Regi reflects on a bear story she had heard. And here's the deal. I actually read a similar story in an old book at the University of Utah's library. The book was in their "too precious to check out" section, but I was able to sit down for a couple of hours and read it.

The story was about a park ranger who came upon a grizzly bear. In order to save himself, the ranger tried to do something that was very creative. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but I remember when I read the actual story, believe it or not,  I laughed out loud right there in the library. Of course, I fictionalized my account to fit the needs of my novel, but what a wonderful story to come across.
Growing up near Yellowstone Park, I developed a great respect for the grizzly. Here's a fun clip that shows their milder side, but don't be fool by those cute little cubs. Even polar bears give grizzlies a wide berth.

If you have a bear story please feel free to share it.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Fishing in Alaska

In my research for Cold Justice, I found that Alaska is pretty much a fisherman's paradise. Thousands flock there to fish for salmon, halibut, crab, trout, and etc. If you would like to know more about fishing in Alaska you might want to check out Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The boat above is known as a seiner. In my book, Big Jake owned a seiner and my hero, Samuel Tanner, worked for him. In his teens, Samuel had run away from home and ended up in Alaska working for Big Jake on his seiner. At the time Cold Justice begins, Samuel's days on Jake's seiner are long gone and Samuel lives in Idaho where he owns a cattle ranch near Trailhead.

However, Samuel's world turns upside down when his Alaskan past reaches out with haunting news and jaw-dropping accusations that now makes Samuel look like a cold-hearted killer. Days of working with Jake on his boat seem more like a dream.

So let me explain a little more about what fishing on Jake's boat would have been like. Seine fishing has been used since the stone age. Way back then, their nets were probably made of green flax. Stones were used for weights with light wood or gourds as floats. Seining can be done in a river or the ocean. The commercial fisheries in Alaska are highly productive. Studies of the economic impart of both commercial fishing and sport fishing is valued at 7.5 billion. Around 89,900 jobs are in the fishing industry. 

Many young people go to Alaska during the summer to earn money for college. The crew on a seiner is between four or five people.

I came across this wonderful video that does a great job of describing seine fishing. 

The gal in the clip makes it sound so easy, but I imagine it's hard work.

In Cold Justice, so much is going on that I didn't have a scene with fishing in it, though in an effort to help Samuel, Regi tracks down the new owner of Jake's seiner to ask him questions. Is the new owner the killer? I'm not going to tell you here. But I will in the book. :)


Friday, May 4, 2012

Dog Sleds

I'm a dog lover. See the picture of my little Yorkie, Lizzi-bear, on the right sidebar. You have to scroll down, but she's there. Anyway, because of my love for dogs I have several in Cold Justice.

Regi, one of my main characters, owns an Irish setter named Oscar. Oscar was in River Whispers too. He plays an even bigger role in Cold Justice. The dog goes with Regi to Alaska and while there, they meet a woman who owns a husky.

Huskies are beautiful animals, have an amazing tolerance for cold conditions, and are great animals to use for dog sledding. I wanted to give a shout out to the Iditarod Race that takes place in Alaska every year, so it is mentioned in the book as well.

Did you know that dog power has been used for travel for over a thousand years? A dog sled team involves not only lead dogs, but point dogs, swing dogs, and wheel dogs. Point dogs are located behind the lead dogs, swing dogs are next and then the wheel dogs. Swing dogs have great endurance.

I wish I could have worked more of the Iditarod into the story. Maybe in another book. But I wanted you to see what an exciting event it is and how the dogs are really the stars of the race. Go Huskies!!!


Thursday, May 3, 2012


On this third day of the A to Z tour of Alaska, I thought you might want to know about the caribou. I have no caribou sightings in Cold Justice. There just wasn't space to put everything Alaskan in the book, but the animal is such a part of region that I wanted to cover them on our tour.

Caribou, also known as reindeer, are found not only in Alaska, but also in Europe, Asia, and Greenland. In the summer, caribou herds migrate north and become one of the world's great large-animal migrations. They spend the summer feeding on tundra grasses and plants. And did you know that one adult caribou can eat 12 pounds of food each day? Now that's a lot of roughage.

Another interesting fact about their migration is the females leave several weeks before the males. And the males are responsible to bring the yearling calves from the previous birthing season with them when they migrate. How many Moms would like to do that? Another interesting tidbit, both females and males have antlers, though only a few females have them.  Still, let's hear it for equal opportunity caribou!

At the sign of the first snow, the caribou migrate south. In a year they travel as many as 1,600 miles. They're really quite beautiful and amazing creatures. Is it any wonder that Santa uses them to pull his sleigh?

Here's a short clip of a caribou herd migrating. Imagine how awesome it would be to see such a sight in person.

I'm off to the LDStorymakers conference today. I'm helping with Boot Camp. I meet so many wonderful writers there. If you're attending, please come say hi.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bush Pilots in Alaska

Welcome to the second day of my A to Z virtual tour of Alaska. I'm delighted that you're here and can't wait to tell you a little more about that great state.

As I researched Alaska for my new book, Cold Justice, I knew I wanted one of my characters to have had experience as a bush pilot. The plane above is a DeHavilland Beaver. Many bush pilots in Alaska believe this is the best plane to fly. Well, probably not that exact plane, but you know what I mean.

 Flying in Alaska requires a special person, someone who likes a challenge, someone who is organized and prepared, and someone who has a big heart and a plane-full of courage, because they are going to need all those skills and much more.

Alaska is 365 million acres in size and has 33,000 miles of coastline. It's so large that the state has two time zones and seven different climate zones. Because of the geographic position of Alaska it experiences wide variations of daylight summer to winter. And the weather can turn treacherous very quickly. Weather reporting points can be far apart, making it difficult to report adverse weather. And flying conditions are generally worse in mountain passes than are reported in stations along a route. Blowing snow and strong winds are common hazards during the winter months.

So guess what time of year I set my book? You've got it. Winter.

I had to research planes, weather conditions, pilots, pilot jargon, and so many other things that have to do with bush pilots. But I came away with a deep respect for those brave people who are a lifeline to the outside world for many remote villages.

 I won't tell you which character I chose to be a bush pilot, but this video might give you a clue. The clip is a little long, but really gives you the flavor of what piloting in Alaska is like.

So, would you want to be a bush pilot?



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