Author Archives: Libbie

It’s All About Respect

I spent 45 minutes today applying for a single job. This time included writing a cover letter and tailoring my resume to fit the job description (which all headhunters and advice web sites say is crucial) and then navigating the on-line portal for the company. You know, uploading the specifically tailored resume and then retyping all the information contained in that resume into little boxes. And supplying references and defining preferences and trying to jump through hoops just so someone would look at my resume before filing it in the round file.

I hit “Apply.” And got the message: “This job is no longer available. Please try another.”

Never mind that I went to the company’s web site to make sure the job was still posted – job boards can be unreliable in pulling jobs down. It was listed as an open position; and a half-hour later, it wasn’t.

And you know what? This was not an isolated incident. It’s happened more times than I can count, which is why I always go directly to a potential employer’s web site rather than apply through Monster or Indeed (if possible). Normally, I shrug it off and go on to the next web site. But today, it made me mad. Maybe this year of job hunting is starting to get to me. The migraine certainly didn’t help. Instead of shrugging it off, I searched out an e-mail address for the office manager and fired off an e-mail asking that they be more respectful of their applicants, because our time is just as valuable as theirs.

I probably won’t get an answer – but I don’t expect to. It was more an exercise for me to put some control back into this chaotic adventure of trying to convince someone that over 50 does not mean unemployable.

And it got me thinking. Like many of the great unwashed lazy people who don’t work, I read a lot of web sites giving us advice on ways to better present ourselves, ways to search for work, things to say and not to say, and other well-meaning blather spouted by happily employed recruiters. Most of this advice basically boils down to:

“You’re unemployed, which means you have no value. You probably brought it upon yourself. You can’t get a job because you don’t try hard enough. We’re just writing this so think you control your fate and you won’t realize how screwed you really are.”

And it’s always accompanied by HR staff and recruiters moaning about how hard it is to be in their positions, what with so many people wanting to work for their company and how they have to actually look at these resumes and cover letters and talk to people and try to fill these jobs. And they whine that the unemployed have no respect or understanding of how hard their job actually is.

(As an aside, forgive me if I have no sympathy for them. I know of millions of people who would gladly take the burden from them and do their jobs. I myself have done HR work – it’s not the job seekers that are the problem, it’s the company policies that make HR such a difficult career. And the mindset that accompanies the staffers. But I digress.)

So, in light of all this advice about respecting the employers, I thought of a few things I’d love to tell the employers about respecting candidates. This may blacklist me forever, but it needs to be said.

1. Please take some quality time to consider the job you are filling and what you want in a candidate. A vague, opaque and incomplete job description shows me you really don’t want a quality candidate to apply. The more information a job seeker has, the better able s/he is to respond appropriately, saving both of us time.

When I apply for a job, I look at more than just the job duties, because there’s more to a job than a list of things to do.

Requirements (job duties) are the first things to consider, of course. If I don’t think I can do the job, or have no experience for 60 percent of the duties listed, it’s a waste of my time and the employer’s for me to jump through the hoops.

I want to know about the company, because company culture tells me a lot. The list is a start, but usually just a “perfect world” wish list. How the company describes itself tells me whether my 60-percent match is going to be acceptable or not, it tells me how to write the cover letter, and what words to use.

The requirements are written for a “perfect world” desire. Usually, degrees are not negotiable, but majors can be. “Preferred” qualities are clues into some of the goals and objectives of the position and firm, and can be circumvented by explaining how your particular experience can meet those goals.

Here’s where most employers suffer epic failures: compensation. I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve applied for, jobs requiring 5 to 10 years of experience, degrees, qualities, and whatnot, only to find the job pays squat, or is an entry-level position, or – my least favorite – a temporary contract with no possibility of morphing into permanence. Since I have to put in the same amount of effort, why would I waste my time on a job I can’t afford to take? And why would a recruiter even consider someone with 10 years of experience for an entry-level job?

Most of the complaints that job seekers waste their time arise from the HR staff not doing their job well enough to give us the information we need to apply appropriately – or not, as the case may be.

2. If you’ve filled the job, or have several candidates you are seriously considering, take that job off line.

As my experience today proved, job seekers waste lots of hours applying to jobs that have already been filled, with really no way to know it. And yes, I realize that right now, our “job” is to apply for work. And since we’re not working, we can hardly complain about having other things to do, right? Wrong. If I was being paid to do this, and there were so many hours wasted on noon-productive activities, I’m pretty sure my employer would get annoyed. And I would sure think twice about patronizing such disrespectful companies.

3. Communicate, for crap’s sake. Throughout the process. Don’t leave us in application limbo.

Occasionally, I’ll get an e-mail acknowledging an application submittal, sometimes with a timeline for the process, and a promise to let me know my fate.

This is always followed by – silence. Nothing. No further contact. Okay, after a few months, you figure they’ve found someone else, and try to move on. But not always – I once got a call for an interview three months after I sent in the application. Sometimes companies are very slow.

“But wait,” I hear some whining starting. “Who has time to communicate with the lazy unemployed? We have real work to do.”

Most companies these days have streamlined their application process through the use of the Internet – there are numerous programs out there that handle everything for you – applications, resumes, hiring records, status – and most of these programs include ways to send e-mails to candidates at each step of the process. Setting up standard responses takes a little upfront time, and the screener has to make a few decisions when screening people out, but the candidates are notified quickly if they’ve been screened out so they can move on.

Granted, smaller companies don’t use these programs, and still rely on old-fashioned human beings to accept, screen and process applications. And some larger companies just haven’t gotten on the tech bandwagon, preferring to wait to make sure this Internet thing is really a thing. And yes, reading e-mails, looking at resumes, perusing cover letters, and composing what I like to call (when receiving them) “you suck” e-mails is time consuming. But as an HR professional, isn’t that your job? Isn’t that the reason you were hired in the first place?

Yes, smaller companies have their employees filling multiple roles, so HR may not be your primary duty. That’s the way it was at my old job, which is one of the reasons they went to the on-line portal. But even before that, when I had to send actual letters or e-mails, it never took more than 5 percent of my time. When we were heavily recruiting, I may have spent a bit more time on it, but we weren’t recruiting constantly.

Just create some boiler plate, copy and paste into an e-mail or on a computer, and acknowledge that a human being (just like you) has put time and effort into your company, followed your procedures, jumped through a number of flaming hoops, and fell a bit short. That’s all I ask.

4. Don’t treat me like a pariah. I was obviously interested enough in you to send you a communication – if I ask a question, answer it or tell me I’m not company material, but don’t ignore or patronize me.

Sometimes, when I haven’t heard anything, I will send a follow-up e-mail asking where they are in the process. Response vary from none to a snarky “We filled that position months ago, loser, and you weren’t even considered.”

Do I even have to say why this should be unacceptable?

5. Be absolutely truthful and upfront about the job and company from the beginning. No, really, I mean it.

A few months ago, I sent a resume and cover letter for a position that was right up my alley – a job I could enjoy and do well. When I received an e-mail saying the company would like me to call them for a phone interview (that should have been a red flag), I scheduled it and made the call. I spent about 40 minutes speaking with the hiring manager (on my long-distance dime), learning about the position and telling her why they should hire me.

She did point out early on that the pay was about half what I’d indicated I wanted (and expected, based on the job description), but I know someone who’s been unemployed for so long shouldn’t expect to be paid like a hedge fund CEO, so I said I was interested in continuing the process.

A few days later, I got an e-mail inviting me to take a skill and personality assessment to see if I fit into the company. I had 24 hours to follow the link and complete the tests. I did (another
30 minutes of my time), and waited for about three weeks (the hiring manager told me they needed to hire someone ASAP, so I figured I’d failed the test). But I finally got an e-mail inviting me to an interview with the CEO, set for about a week later. Right during the time I had scheduled to be out of town (which I mentioned during the phone interview, BTW). I replied I was out of town, but would be happy to reschedule if that was okay.

Again, a few weeks before a reply, but it contained a rescheduled day and time. After an interview that lasted 90 minutes (when it was originally scheduled for 30 minutes), and after the CEO told me all the ways I failed the interview (in the interest of honesty and helpful critique, she said), she said she’d check my references, but she really liked me and thought I’d be good at the job. We’d spent the time talking about the position, what it required, what travel it entailed, how I thought I could make the company proud. She told me she loved my marketing background and my experience with the engineering world, and we discussed ways the company wanted to expand into that world. I left the interview stoked that I was finally looking at gainful employment, albeit at a much reduced rate of pay than I’d hoped for.

So, when, more than a week later, she called and offered me a job not even remotely connected to the one I’d applied/interviewed for, and one I wouldn’t have applied for, I was a bit shocked. What happened to “need this position filled immediately?” She wouldn’t even give me a hint about how long I would sit in this “entry-level” sitting on my ass making cold sales calls position would be before I began the job she said I was perfect for. When I, understandably, failed to turn cartwheels over the offer, she told me I didn’t have the right level of enthusiasm for the company.

Right, because we love to be lied to and jerked around.

Had I been told from the beginning that the possibility existed I might be given a job I didn’t want, maybe I wouldn’t have wasted that time. Granted, I have lots of time, but I don’t have that much resilience left after this year of joblessness. And I’m losing my sunny personality, too.

Bottom line: I’m a human being. I’ve spent my adult life working or raising children. I pay taxes, I volunteer in the community, I’m kind to kids and animals and I’m not a serial killer. I also just happen to be without employment at this time. That fact does not negate or abrogate my humanity, and shouldn’t make me any less deserving of respect than the employed.

Employers: You need workers. And I know, you get thousands of applications. But your HR staff is human, and each resume represents a fellow human who has been whacked and run through the wringer in their job search, and really doesn’t need any more. If we all remember this fact, maybe the air wouldn’t be so fraught with anger and tension and we could all do what we’re best at – make this world a better place.

Just a thought.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity yields amazing dividends

Host Soceity Puzzle Pin

I spent the week of March 15-22 volunteering with the Arctic Winter Games – about 70 hours in all. It was an amazing experience, watching almost 2,000 athletes, hundreds of coaches and chaperones and officials, and 2,600 volunteers participate in 20 sports and meet other youth from different countries.

The Games are a biennial sporting event for youth to 18 years old (with a few exceptions – we’ll get to that), from countries in the circumpolar north. They were started in 1970 by Walter Hickel, then governor of Alaska, and Stuart M. Hodgson, Commissioner of the Northwest Territories from 1967-1979. As I interviewed one of the contingent’s media people (a contingent is what the entire team is called), he said the Games were started after Canada hosted the Olympics in the early ‘70s, when it became obvious that many of the northern athletes suffered a disadvantage compared to other countries’ athletes, simply because the opportunities to compete with athletes of the same age and caliber were so limited in the North.

The men decided to set up a competition, run biennially (every two years), which would allow youth from the circumpolar north to get a chance to experience competition at a higher level than local or regional. It is also an opportunity for kids from smaller villages to see more of their country and the world, compete and hone their skills, and meet people a lot like them from different countries.

Fairbanks hosted the 2014 Games, and recruited 2,600 of us (along with a number of out-of-staters) to run the event. The Host Society had only a few paid staffers – and these Games take way more than that to pull off. There were volunteers who met for several years before the Games actually started – chairs of so many committees I can’t list them all. There were committees for security, accommodations, marketing, sports events, venues, transportation, food – everything that had to be done was pretty much done by volunteers.

The 2,600+ volunteers put in 17,000 hours of work just during the week of the Games.

The contingents came from four countries – Canada, Greenland, Russia, and the U.S. The nine teams were: Team Alaska, Team Yukon (Canada), Team Nunavik-Quebec (Canada), Team Nunavut (Canada), Team Northwest Territory (sensing a theme here, are we?), Team Alberta North (Canada), Team Greenland, Team Yamal (Russia) and Team Sampi (Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia – the Sami are an indigenous people in a region spread across these four countries).

The youth participate in 20 sports, most of which are pretty familiar to anyone who watches sports or has kids involved in them – basketball, volleyball, skiing, snowboarding, biathlon, etc. But there are a few most Outsiders (that’s what we call you guys who live Outside Alaska) might not recognize.

Curling, for instance – although after the Sochi Olympics, more people have an inkling of this sport. Frankly, even though I spent an afternoon at the curling club watching some of the competitions, I still don’t get it. There’s a “rock” – a large heavy object that is slid across the ice. The goal is to get it into a circle, and not get bumped out by the opposing team. There are two team mates who walk ahead of the rock sweeping the ice with brooms to somehow determine its course. Even after a cute Canadian tried to explain it to me, I was lost. But the kids, though quite serious, seemed to enjoy themselves and the fans did too.

**(My curling friends, please do not try to correct or school me on this – my head will explode!!!)

Hockey, though slightly familiar to the non-circumpolar north, isn’t as big a deal as it is here. There’s a reason Sarah Palin didn’t call herself a Soccer Mom. The hockey players, male and female, were amazing. They hit hard, skated hard, and scored hard. I had so much fun watching I kept forgetting to Tweet and Instagram the action (my volunteer assignment).

Of course, my favorite sport was the one I didn’t get to watch – dog mushing. Yes. That is not just a strange Alaska thing – dog mushing is big wherever there’s lots of snow and few roads. And most of the contingents come from places just like that. The media pool got to meet some of Team Alaska’s dogs one morning – my favorite day ever!

Now here’s where the Arctic Winter Games veer away from the Olympics. One of the intents in starting these games, besides giving northern youth some experience, was to pay homage and respect to the indigenous Native cultures throughout the north. So there are two sports I can guarantee few people have seen.

The Dene Games are Inuit events, familiar to anyone who has attended the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, that come from traditional Native cultural values and traditions. Dene is the word for the Athabaskan people, aboriginal inhabitants of Alaska and Canada. Traditional subsistence hunter and gatherers, the games they played helped them survive in a harsh land, giving them strength, speed, endurance – even resistance to pain. Even though the games were fun, and helped while away the long winter nights, they also served a purpose – to prepare them to survive in their inhospitable environment.

The Dene Games are the only event in which adults (older than 18) participate. This is a way to teach the younger people some of the traditions they may have forgotten in modern times. These are high-energy, loud events. I covered the Hand Games for the Ulu News ( ), and was entranced by the enthusiasm of the participants. They swayed, jumped, waved their hands (it’s a distraction technique –read the linked article for explanations). Some had painted their faces with wild colors and patterns.

And the camaraderie – even among competitors – was contagious.

The Dene Games include five events: finger pull, pole push, stick pull — all tests of strength and strategy — and snow snake and hand games. Watching the finger pull is painful; I wouldn’t even want to be a competitor. You know a sport is gruesome when buckets of ice sit close by for the players to plunge their aching hands into after a round. Yowie.

The snow snake consists of throwing a spear underhanded along a snow field. The longest throw wins.

Another set of traditional Native activities – in this case, Inuit – are the Arctic Sports. There are 11 events in this sport — the one-foot, two-foot, and Alaska high kicks; arm pull; kneel jump; airplane; one-hand reach; head pull; knuckle hop; sledge jump; and triple jump. All of them require a combination of strength, conditioning, technique, and high pain tolerance.

The most remarkable thing about these games is that the players give advice and technical support throughout the competition – to their rivals! In the Inuit culture, winning, although important, isn’t the be-all and end-all of the event – sportsmanship and respect for each other are the overriding objectives. Helping another athlete, even one competing for the gold ulu against you, achieve their best possible performance, is of high value.

Because, as was mentioned numbers times, in the harsh world of the circumpolar north, the only way anyone survives is by cooperating.

As a matter of fact, fair play and sportsmanship were emphasized by everyone involved – from athlete to coach to officials to overseers – as the most important aspect of the Games. Officials and others carried “Fair Play Pins” throughout the week, giving them to athletes, coaches, and even volunteers who showed respect and sportsmanship in the course of their week. Players got them for helping competitors, even if it put them at a disadvantage competition-wise, or assisting players who were injured.

At the end of the week, the team who has amassed the most pins gets the Hodgsons Trophy, a highly coveted piece of Inuit Art (actually, they get a framed photo of the art, since it’s too fragile to move around the world, and considering it’s made of a narwhal tusk and ivory, almost impossible to get past Customs) and bragging rights for the next two years. The award is named after Commissioner Hodgson. He was a big supporter of the AWG, and donated the trophy in 1978.

And speaking of pins – everyone was infected with pin fever ( ). Pins and trading are mega huge deals among the athletes, coaches, volunteers, and spectator. Fairbanks created a bunch of pins for the Games – commemorating the sports, the contingents, the Host Society, and other aspects of the Games. Each contingent had a puzzle set, in which each segment, representing aspects of the team or country – were available separately; when all pins in a set were accumulated, the fit together into a unique shape – Alaska had an ulu (an Inuit round-bladed knife used for almost everything), Nunavut had a fisherman, the Northwest Territories a plane, complete with rotating propeller. The sets were the big prizes for everyone – some people were really persistent and focused – I just gave an Anchorage parent one of my Yukon Quest jackets and got the entire ulu set without having to give up any of my pins.

The week was long – I started my volunteering on Friday at 5 p.m., when the Red Cross set up one of the athlete villages at one of the elementary schools – and finished up on Saturday eight days later with my media liaison gig. In between, I think I put in about 75 or more hours. I was wiped out by Sunday, but the experience was worth the fatigue. I met some amazing youth, accomplished in their sports and humble, friendly, and eager to meet new people. I met their coaches and elders, media people – and yes, some warm fuzzy sled dogs.

My only regret? I won’t be able to volunteer for the 2016 Games, unless I can con someone into floating me a trip to Greenland.

Note: The volunteer journalists did an amazing job with the daily Ulu News, finding tons of stories (and yes, I was one, but that praise came from the visiting teams, and Greenland is wondering how they’ll match us), all of which can be found at the AWG website, at this link:

And check out the photo gallery at the site – there were 70 volunteer photographers who got the most impressive shots. You’ll be astounded.



Pin Sharks


Livin’ the Dream in Paradise


When people find out I live in Fairbanks, Alaska, they almost always have lots of questions. First and foremost is, “Why?” (Actually, that one is usually phrased more like, “What the fuck are you doing there?”)

Other common questions concern living in a place where it’s winter seven months out of the year, where there’s lots of snow, how do I stand the cold, and what does an indoor girl who hates the outdoors do in Fairbanks?

And, of course, I get a lot of advice and opinions about my adopted state, especially where Sarah Palin is concerned. For the record, I don’t know her, don’t want to know her, and don’t agree with anything she says (what I’m able to understand of her word salads, anyway). No more Palin questions, please!!!!!

So, without further ado, here are some random thoughts about living in Fairbanks.

I came here for a job, planning to stay about a year. Nine years later, I’m still here and don’t ever want to leave. I love this place. It’s a beautiful state, inspiring and awesome in every sense of that word. When I look out my window, I see birch and spruce trees, willows, raspberry bushes, mama moose and her current litter (twins, usually), fox, ravens, squirrels (I can hear them on my roof, too), and myriad birds whose species I don’t know, but whose songs are splendid.

I do not live in an igloo, or even a snow house. Since it gets up to 70 or 80 degrees a few days each summer, that would be bad. I live in a house. Just like everyone else.

You may have heard that Fairbanksans live in dry cabins. And no, a dry cabin is not an abode that does not leak or stays above the floodwaters – a dry cabin is a not-plumbed, usually very small log cabin with an outhouse in the back. Yes, it is legal to rent/sell cabins with no indoor plumbing up here. I, however, am not that adventurous. Or young.

I live in a cabin which is not connected to city water or sewer – I’m too far out for that. So I have a holding tank which brings water to my kitchen and bathroom and laundry room. I have water delivered once a month – some people haul their own, but I drive a small SUV, and those water tanks are big and heavy. I also have a septic field behind the house. Civilization, what a wonderful thing.

My home is part cabin, part frame. The cabin part is very old, completely refurbished inside. It’s approximately 12 feet by 12 feet, one room. The kitchen is in a corner. It has high ceilings and skylights. It is roomy and spacious and, during the summer, very bright. The rest of the house was added a few years ago by the former owner. It includes the bathroom and laundry room, a bedroom, sewing room, and an upstairs loft, which is like a full-floor penthouse. All wood – and the stairs were hand-built from trees on the property. Four high triangle windows bring light in even in the dead of winter.

It is an amazing place to write. Yes, I write in a loft. Such a cliché, but … My desk sits next to a window overlooking the back 40, which never ceases to inspire and re-energize me.

Summers here are the best. They’re short, yes, but since the sun doesn’t set for very long, we always get the most out of every 24 hours. Once summer hits, few people want to be inside – we take advantage of the nice weather to garden (okay, some of us garden – others of us just go to the dog park and take walks to photograph every flower that waves its petals at us).

Mom and I like to take one-day road trips – pack up the car with water, snacks, the dog, and a big emergency kit – and drive. We usually have a general destination – say, go up the Haul Road, or take the Steese Highway to the Yukon River – but we have been known to take detours and side roads when the moods hit us.

Some Alaskans think we’re nuts – after all, the roads in the upper part of the state aren’t really what most of us term “roads.” They are usually two-lane dirt or gravel tracks that wind through hills and pingos and over small creeks (we call them ‘cricks” up here) and some pretty big rivers. The gravel is great for putting cracks and chips in windshields, and I’ve seen numerous motorcyclists wipe out and mess up their pretty bikes on the roads. Also, there aren’t many gas stations or other amenities along the way (hence, the loading up of water and snacks). There’s not even cell service, so a flat tire or other vehicle emergency could be bad. Thus, the big emergency kit. And flat tire filler. And extra tires. And …

But the scenery and landscapes are amazing. We generally don’t get as far as we plan because I always have to stop to take photos. Lots and lots of photos. Sometimes, if I’ve forgotten my memory card, I have to go through and delete a bunch halfway through the trip so I can take more. I know. **Sigh.** It’s a disease.

March is kind of the worst month here – the snow is old and dirty, dripping onto badly paved roads or non-paved roads. The gravel set down for traction flies off car tires, and most Fairbanksans have cracked windshields as a matter of course. Worse, as the snow melts, all the trash people have thrown out of their car windows or that has flown out of their trucks is stripped of its covering. It’s gross. In May, the local Chamber of Commerce sponsors a road clean-up – and for one whole day, the roads are lined with volunteers picking up trash, broken furniture, discarded mattresses, old appliances, nasty stuff, and anything else that doesn’t belong. One of the bigger companies volunteers its trucks and drivers to pick up the bright yellow bags the trash is put in, and the landfill waves the tipping fees. It’s an amazing community effort to start the summer off right.

In the winter, after a big snowfall, the world is quiet, blanketed in white. Stepping outside, I can feel the air bite, but it’s a dry cold, so I don’t usually feel cold. The world is still, almost like it’s waiting for something. Maybe it’s just conserving energy. Winter is long here, and dark. Even though we don’t hibernate, it’s really easy to lock yourself inside a warm cabin and avoid undue activity. However, the dog loves the snow, so couch-potatoing isn’t usually an option.

Like almost 98 percent of the dogs in Fairbanks, ours is half-husky. She laughs at cold. Well, okay, she laughs at it unless we’re forcing her to go out in it. Then she lets her red heeler half take over. She body surfs in the snow drifts, with the biggest grin on her face. She also thinks the large mama moose is a big dog, and her favorite thing to do is play with other dogs. We have had no luck convincing her that mama mooses are not doggy playmates. So now, we just keep her leashed all the time.

I could go on and on about living here. It’s the kind of place you either love or hate – guess where I am on that scale. Lol. My year has turned into almost a decade, and I can’t imagine leaving. The fact that jobs are scarce and heating costs astronomical make that possibility more and more likely each day, though, and I’m dreading it. I bought my little cabin with the intent of staying for the rest of my life – I even have my final resting spot picked out.

One final word – yes, it does get cold here. I’ve seen a few winter days when the temperature dipped to 55 below zero. Really. When it’s that cold, just breathing hurts. Boiling water evaporates in the air. Fingers and toes freeze before you can pick up a dropped set of keys. It’s not the kind of atmosphere you screw around with.

But layering, buying good (read: expensive) cold weather gear, and knowing when you’ve had enough go a long way toward mitigating damage. I always keep an emergency box in the car filled with blankets, extra outdoor gear, and flares and other necessities. Never go anywhere without coats and boots and hats and gloves. Once you learn your limits, and really respect the harshness and brutality of the landscape, you can live within it – you can never beat it – but you can survive. Some of us even thrive.


Bull moose near the Richardson Highway

Bull moose near the Richardson Highway

Fight for Alaska’s statehood and the players behind it featured in excellent history

Fighting for the 49th Star: C.W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood51W9GE-3C7L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

by Terrence Cole

University of Alaska Press

2010  $30


Alaskans celebrated a major milestone recently – half a decade of statehood. It was a wild party, celebrated over an entire year, encompassing 586,412 square miles and somewhere in the neighborhood of 621,400 partiers.

Alaska the state was born January 3, 1959, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the statehood bill, but gestation and labor – the drive to make Alaska the 49th state of the USA — lasted much longer, as statehood activists fought segregationists, federal agencies, and sometimes even neighbors and friends for the opportunity to determine her own destiny.

Historian Terrence Cole details the efforts waged and eventual success in “Fighting for the 49th Star: C.W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood.” While this past year saw numerous volumes taking on this subject, including Cole’s brother, News-Miner columnist Dermot, Terrence’s effort stands out for its focus on the people behind the statehood drive, most especially C.W. Snedden, owner and publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Alaska was a territory of the US for 50 years, and a possession for 92 years. It was unique in that it was non-contiguous, bordering Canada rather than other states. Statehood opponents claimed allowing Alaska to join the Union would then open the door to other non-contiguous entities, including Italy, Puerto Rico, and maybe even Russia, vying for statehood.

Other obstacles were Alaska’s enormous size, lack of infrastructure and population, minimal economic base, long coastline, and challenging climate. In short, the rest of the country wasn’t quite sure what they would do with Alaska once she shook off the shackles of federal oversight.

The biggest tripping point was the obstinacy of segregationists in the halls of the U.S. Congress and Senate chambers. Fearing the addition of Alaska and Hawaii would upset their hold on power, Southern Democrats the likes of “Judge” Howard Smith of Virginia, who, as head of the House Rules Committee, was a formidable obstacle to getting the legislation on the floor for a vote, and House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, avidly opposed to the civil rights movement, fought desperately to keep Alaska a territory. Smith went so far as to say, on record, he was opposed to statehood for Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and any other territory not attached to the mainland. “I want to keep the United States of America on the American continent,” he said on the floor of Congress in 1955.

Those stubborn Southern Democrats didn’t count on confronting a group of people even more stubborn than themselves – Alaskans tired of being on the short end of the federal stick – told what to do and how to do it with their resources and land; watching faceless bureaucrats make life-changing decisions from far away with no thought to the way things worked in a harsh, isolated land; and having no say in the election of those officials. Living in Alaska requires strength, toughness, and persistence – traits Snedden and other statehood advocates had in abundance. Those Southern Democrats wouldn’t know what hit them.

The first – and one of the biggest – blunt objects to hit the Dixiecrats was Snedden himself. Born in Spokane in 1913, Charles Willis “Bill” Snedden discovered his calling to newspaper work as a teen, when he realized the Linotype typesetter was making a very good living. He possessed the perfect attributes for the job: “besides mechanical aptitude and skilled hands, an essential requirement for a Linotype man was knowing how to spell, and particularly knowing how to spell like a printer: upside down and backward.”

After World War II, Snedden became a consultant for ailing newspapers, because selling Linotypes gave him a particular insight into what worked and what didn’t. Austin “Cap” Lathrop was concerned his daily, the News-Miner, wasn’t making money; he invited Snedden up to see what he could do for them. Snedden originally turned him down because the News-Miner was too small for him, but eventually decided it would be a great excuse for a fishing trip.

When Lathrop refused to spend the money Snedden said was needed to improve the paper, Snedden bought it himself. Lathrop’s sudden, unexpected death right after they shook on it didn’t queer the deal, so Snedden found himself with a money-losing paper badly in need of modernization and improvement. Snedden had become an Alaskan, if somewhat accidentally, and her fortunes were his.

Snedden was originally against the idea of statehood, thinking the young state needed to grow up a bit before leaving the federal nest. But he was an optimist, believing Alaska could eventually become something great.

“Alaska was a paradise of promise,” Cole writes, “a garden of expectations … [s]tatehood would be the primary avenue to bring this transformation about.” When Snedden was convinced by statehood adherents of the folly of his earlier views, he jumped in the fight with both feet, using the News-Miner to trumpet the idea of independence.

Snedden was a brilliant newspaperman, knowing what readers wanted and how to give it to them. He also knew how to use his paper for the good of the community, giving untold inches of space to civic improvement projects, elections, and other community issues.

His efforts paid off; Alaska was signed into statehood; and though Snedden wasn’t at the signing ceremony, he was given one of the ceremonial signing pens as a thank-you for his efforts.

Cole has given us an immensely detailed account of the fight for statehood, mostly from Snedden’s viewpoint, but he has also done an admirable job of introducing us to other important players in the making of our history, including Fred Seaton, federal Secretary of the Interior who pushed Eisenhower to make Alaska a state, Bob Atwood, owner of the Anchorage Daily News, an early statehood proponent; Ernest Gruening and Mike Stepovich, politicians; and young attorney Theodore Fulton Stevens, who started out as Snedden’s lawyer, did a stint as the US District Attorney for the Forth Judicial Division, and went on to the Department of the Interior before being elected to and serving as a U.S. Senator for the state of Alaska, becoming the longest-serving and most loved senator in Alaska’s history.

Cole excels at providing truckloads of facts and data in a very readable, easily understood format. He gives back history of major characters in a way that does not distract the reader from the real story, but enhances our understanding of the players’ motivations and agendas. He is objective in his descriptions, using letters, newspapers, and other primary documents without interjecting opinion in inappropriate places.

Cole also details the early differences between Anchorage and Fairbanks, giving readers a glimpse into a rivalry that has existed almost since the beginning, but making it clear residents of both cities want only what’s best for the state and themselves.

“Fighting for the 49th Star: C.W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood” is an excellent birthday present for Alaskans, one that reminds us why we make this young, vibrant state our home.

Closets are no place to keep your skeletons

Every family has secrets – skeletons no one mentions, or mentions only in whispers and half-sentences.

Some families keep their secrets in clean, mold-free, cedar-lined closets, taking them out and dusting them off occasionally, placing them back in their proper order neatly, and closing the door tightly on them.

Other families, however, have so many secrets the closet is stuffed full. They seldom open the rickety door, so the carcasses molder with time, until they are so noxious the door to the closet bursts open unbidden, and anyone standing too close is buried in a pile of musty old toxic bones that submerges them into an abyss of darkness no light can penetrate.

A lot of secrets involve family members. There are those aunts who took the Women’s Lib movement far too seriously, chucking all responsibility – and often clothes – and moved to a commune in the wilderness where they live freely and unfettered by lingerie or expectations. There are sons or daughters who took their Wild West outlaw ancestors’ way of life to heart, and live on the wrong side of the law. Then there are those whose crimes are so awful, so unspeakably sinful, their names have been erased from the family Bible, and no one remembers them – out loud, anyways.

Aside from the colorful ancestors, most family secrets seem to involve birth dates, “love lives,” or medical conditions.

In the past, babies that arrived sooner than nine months after a wedding date were cause for shame and embarrassment. That’s no longer so in most places, but when I was growing up, finding out your grandparents anticipated their honeymoon by a couple of months was a big scandal, and therefore, dates were fudged a little.

In the same manner, a baby that was a few months “early” was commonplace, although I often wondered how those early babies could be so big and healthy if they’d only been in the womb for seven months.

It seems rather amusing these days to look back at that. Since it’s no longer a source of shame, younger folks wonder what’s the big deal? They’ve grown up with special high schools for pregnant girls, day care at the schools, and many have had at least one friend graduate next to them with a huge belly. There’s not the sense of shame their grandparents and great-grandparents felt.

I remember, back in the late 1970s, my friend Cheryl** suddenly stopped coming to school about three-quarters of the way through the year because she was “in the family way” and unmarried. Although she had shared her secret with me, no one else in school knew where she went or what happened to her. I lost touch with her before graduation, and to this day don’t know if she had a boy or girl, if she kept the baby, where she is now, or anything. It’s a hole in my life, but back then, a girl who got pregnant before graduation usually disappeared from school and was never heard from again. Although that sounds slightly gruesome, it just meant she quit school, had the baby, and spent the rest of her life supporting and caring for it. I can’t say the shift to ‘less shame, more acceptance’ is a bad one.

Back in the unenlightened days, if you found out a friend or relative had bizarre sexual tastes, (and I’m using those words the way my elders did, not because that’s how I think), one didn’t speak of them at all. And coming out of the closet – whew. That was fraught with danger – physical as well as mental – because being gay was as bizarre and wrong as it got.

My very best friend through junior and senior high, Rosa**, was always a tomboy – best softball player I’ve ever seen, tough, profane, and loyal. Her Catholic mother (my friend was Mexican) couldn’t understand why she didn’t have a frilly little girl who had lots of boyfriends. Our little gang, though – two boys and two girls, who spent every waking minute together in and out of school – didn’t care about being conventional – and who needed boyfriends and girlfriends when we had each other. To us, Rosa was Rosa: caring, compassionate, and a good friend to have your back when walking through the Mission District at night. I don’t know that I ever thought about her sexual proclivities then – it wasn’t important to me. I just loved her because she was Rosa.

A few years after we graduated, I received a letter from her, in which she told me she was gay and had always had a crush on me. That was hard, since I didn’t reciprocate, but what was harder was the rest of the letter – when she told her mother, Rosa was thrown out of the family, dismissed as if she had never been born. That hurt her far more than my letdown. It hurt me too, and confused me. How can you dis-born a daughter just because she loves differently than you do? To this day, I know families who haven’t accepted that homosexuality is a biological impulse, not demonic life choice.

The other family secret that fills the closets has to do with medical secrets – illnesses both physical and mental, although I’m betting the latter outnumber the former by a lot.

Before we became enlightened beings—or partially enlightened, as the jury is still out on that — mental illnesses were shameful, and families did everything they could to hide the fact – “What will the neighbors think?”

Obviously, the neighbors would believe the family had done something horrible and sinful to have this type of misfortune visited down on them – rather a Biblically medieval way of thinking.

Even now, this way of viewing mental illnesses persists. And this is where I think secrets have no right to be kept.

Since doctors are finding many illnesses, including mental disorders, are genetic, it is irresponsible to keep secrets about mental illness in the family. Imagine the horror you might face when your teenager threatens suicide, and you wonder what you’ve done wrong – only to have your mother admit your older brother, the one we don’t mention, suffered from depression and other mental illnesses before taking his own life. Knowing this little tidbit could have meant the difference between getting the girl treated and losing her to self-destruction. There is no excuse to keep this kind of secret – none.

Physical illnesses suffer the same fate — when my husband’s grandmother died, it was discovered she had suffered from breast cancer several years before Alzheimer’s disease robbed her of her senses. She went through a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation without telling anyone. When the news filtered out, there were some very angry family members. Since breast cancer seems to be one of those things that curses families over many generations, to keep an incident secret out of shame is selfish. Now, of course, they know and look for it, so maybe it’s no harm, no foul.

Humans live their lives trying to be different people than they really are. We hide our true natures, play games and put on masks, hoping to fool those who look at us. But trying to fool our families, those who love and trust us, and those who come after us, can lead to more disaster than a little shame or embarrassment can cause. Secrets have no place in a family – ever.

And there’s this to remember – that door always opens, even the well-kept one. And it usually opens at the worst possible moment. Personally, I’d rather be the opener than the one buried underneath all the secrets.

** I have chosen to use a pseudonym for people in this article, not because I’ve forgotten them, but because I don’t have their permission to detail their lives before the world.

Bleak view of Fairbanks in the 1980s doesn’t fit with reality

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By Marjorie Kowalski Cole

HarperCollins Publishers


Fairbanks is a city that has “beat the odds,” as News-Miner columnist Dermot Cole says. It has survived numerous “boom and bust” cycles—gold, military, the oil pipeline. And the most recent “bust” came in 1979, when world-wide oil prices plummeted. The gravy train, as people are wont to say, was derailed.

Marjorie Kowalski Cole’s book, “Correcting the Landscape,” is set in 1985, during this dark time in Fairbanks’ history. Kowalski Cole introduces us to Gus Traynor, the owner/editor of the Fairbanks Mercury, a small weekly newspaper. Like most shoestring publications, Gus has a bare minimum of employees: his sister, Noreen, “chief reporter, supply officer, and adviser”; Gayle Keanneally, a University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism student who sells ads, takes photos, and reports; Felix Heaven, an Irish immigrant (probably illegal) with a penchant for poetry and a willingness to work cheaply; and various stringers as needed.

Finances are always a problem, but Gus, with training in journalism, a stint on the Trans-Alaska pipeline and political experience, is living a dream, willing to suffer uneven paychecks for the promise of the future payouts.

The book opens with a mystery of sorts—a resident looks out her window one morning and sees the grove of trees that graced the bank of the river across from her home is gone.

“Across the river the mixed spruce-birch forest had disappeared, chewed up by heavy machinery. Chopped and splintered wood covered the ground. She looked over a sheared wasteland to the George Parks Highway.”

She calls her friend Gus about this “revision to her landscape,” and he and Gayle go to take a look.

This incident introduces us to Tad, Gus’ partner and friend, his current lady love, Judy Finch, an ice carver, and begins Gus’ slow slide—or rather, illustrates it—into financial oblivion.

There’s a lot going on in this book—a protest about a book at the library and calls to censor it, Natives dying in detox vans or under one of the bridges, businesses packing up and leaving town, and a whole slew of other events that underscore the desperate times the city is going through.

This was a bleak time in Fairbanks history—money was tight for government and individual alike after years of being flush from the oil flowing through the state, people were losing homes and businesses—in this, Gus is not unique. And it’s winter, cold and dark and dreary.

“Sometimes winter closes down on Fairbanks like a cell door. This was one of those winters, arriving with a bitter Halloween.”

The novel is well-researched, rich in detail and history. It is recognizable, to some extent.

But the Fairbanks I know is not like the bleak, dreary place depicted here, and the people who live here are definitely not quitters. With its history of ups and downs, Fairbanks, of all the boom-and-bust towns in the United States, knows how to rebound from adversity. These Fairbanksans don’t seem to have that quality.

And while the characters are richly drawn, they are all archetypes, representing a symbol in the mythology of that sad time.

There’s Gus, the optimistic, born-again Alaskan, embracing his adopted state almost more tightly than the state-born. Noreen, his bitter, defeated-in-love sister who is at loose end, and thus comes to Alaska to find herself. Felix is the outsider, the odd-ball who doesn’t fit in anywhere else, so he comes to Alaska because odd is accepted here.

Gayle is very archetypal as the Native woman who grew up in a village, has seen hard times, including four failed marriages and a 16-year-old son (she’s in her early 40s), whose cousin dies alone and mysteriously of drug and/or alcohol abuse under a bridge in the cold.

Perhaps the biggest symbol is Tad Suliman, and to an extent, his girlfriend. These are the “exploiters,” who see Alaska as a giant cash machine, ripe for the plucking. Tad is the developer, chopping trees down and throwing up ugly buildings willy nilly for the money it generates. Judy Finch is a smaller symbol, an artist who comes up for the Ice Festival, carves her piece, and leaves.

While archetypes are useful to illustrate and make a point, they don’t grow, don’t change, don’t learn from their surroundings. They are, in a sense, flat and non-dimensional, and in the end, really don’t serve the reader well.

At least, for me. I like characters to grow and learn from the trials they go through. Archetypes can’t do that.

And, Gus disappoints me. As a journalist, I take integrity quite seriously—to allow advertisers to dictate content really goers against my grain. And Gus, when his little weekly begins to annoy advertisers, tries to tone things down. He allows a local realtor to read copy before printing, since she’s buying extra copies for distribution. The list goes on. It starts back at the beginning—when Gayle finds Tad Suliman is behind the tree massacre, Gus hesitates to run the story—he doesn’t want to anger his biggest investor.

But once you take that first step down the slippery slope, like an avalanche, it becomes unstoppable. That one step turned Gus from sympathetic to annoying.

For the historic details, this book does capture the time: the fight to keep Nordstrom’s in town, the grief at the loss of nature to development, the concern that some of the state’s residents have failed to share in any of the largesse, is interesting.

But don’t expect to finish this book with smiles and a sense that we in this town can do anything.


Love is never a failure

There are some who would say I have failed at the relationship thing.

It’s true, I am divorced and single, no significant other anymore, nor any possibility on the horizon. My children, grandchildren, and most family members are 3,000 miles away, and my circle of friends and social contacts is very small. I live with my mother and a dog.

However …

I would argue that few relationships are total failures, and few people fail in all the relationships they have. Sure, there are some sociopathic, anti-social, best-let-them-be loners who will never “play well with others.” I’d like to think I’m not quite in that category (no, you’re in the “runs with scissors” category, usually).

Relationships are, by their very nature, funny things. Individuals who revel in their uniqueness come together and try to meld that uniqueness into a cohesive, unified whole, smoothing out the rough edges and mushing down the parts that stick out.

I’ve always held the belief that people come together for a reason – as Mel Gibson says in M. Night Shmalyan’s “Signs,” ‘there are no coincidences.’ The people who have come into my life have given me something, even if it was just relief when they left (sorry, old joke. But you have to admit, some people do make the world better by leaving the room).

The lovers who have broken my heart also gave me the strength to defy life’s harshness, to stand up in the face of strong winds, to keep going even when it feels like I’ll never get there. Hearts are resilient little things, broken into small, seemingly irreparable pieces one minute, and soaring to the heights of passion the next. We have an infinite capacity for love, we humans, and we crave it like a junkie craves smack. And yes, I meant to imply that love is addicting. It is. Even for us loners.

My ex-husband, with whom I spent 22 years, and with whom I planned to finish out my life, had other plans. It was sad. It hurt. And I thought I’d never survive it. But I did. And when I’m tempted to regret the 22 years of my life I spent with him, all for nothing, I stop. Because he gave me my three wonderful, gorgeous, smart, incredible daughters, who are the light of my life and the reason I get up each day. As bad as the divorce was, I would go through it again because of what I got out of the marriage. And even knowing how painful it was, I’d do it again, because I can’t imagine my life without my girls.

Other lovers who came and went also contributed to my well-being and development. The last guy, who tried to sneak away while I was at work (only to find me at home, having been fired the day before), brought me to Alaska, got me out of the rut I was in, and encouraged me to be adventurous, to try something new and radically different from anything I’d done or even contemplated doing. My life is better now than it would have been had I stayed in California, even if my girls are so far away.

I have six absolutely wonderful grandkids, again, miles and miles away, but I enjoy talking with them on the phone or over the Internet. They remind me of the girls when they were young and the world was ripe with possibilities. And they emphasize there will be more after I’m gone.

Right now, my favorite people are actually not people, but rather, canine — with four legs, lots of hair, and wagging tails. I have a few good friends with whom I chill, but mostly, my “friends” are the characters I create in my stories or the people in the books I read.

When my father and I started writing our book, “I’m Just Her Father,” we discussed subjects to explore, and, in addition to the usual – life, love, death – we decided to include a section on what makes us who we are. I called it “Interflections”; it eventually became “Lifeboat.” The whole point of that section was to explore the people in our lives, those who, if the ship sank, we would make sure had a seat in the life boat. Concurrently, we discussed who we would throw out if space was at a premium. My father, 76, discussed the nature of evil and how that would colour his decisions, citing Hitler, and it made sense from his viewpoint (the whole point of the book was how two people who share genes could see the world differently). I, being a child of the ‘70s, and parent of the ‘80s, was more futuristic in my views.

Like my father, I have room in my boat for everyone who has touched my heart. They are all etched inside that little organ, for better or worse, because they did touch me and contribute to who I am. But, unlike my dad’s boat, I have a high-tech, sci-fi, new technology vessel that expands as necessary to encompass all the souls who need to be in it. That way, no one gets thrown off, and I still get to steer. I am, after all, an unabashed control freak. Who sometimes plays well with others.

Excellent picture books introduce kids to Alaska’s wonders

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By Debbie Miller

Illustrations by Jon Van Zyle

Walker & Co., 2006

Kids are fascinated by the animal life in Alaska, and author Debbie Miller, in her 10th children’s book, “Big Alaska: Journey Across America’s Most Amazing State,” has taken that fascination and run with it. Or rather, soared.

Because the main character in this unique children’s book is a bald eagle, who flies across the state, leading readers on a fascinating trip into what makes the 49th state so remarkable. From Admiralty Island, where there is the largest concentration of bald eagle nests, to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the largest in North America, and all letters of the alphabet in between, this eagle covers mountains, streams, lakes, glaciers, and islands, introducing young readers to grizzly bears, Chinook salmon, walrus, Kodiak brown bears, muskoxen, wolves, and sled dogs.

“Big Alaska” was inspired by Miller’s experiences with Everett, a stuffed bald eagle that has traveled all around the world. Everett is the mascot of a fourth-grade class in Chicago, who journeys throughout the world and sends reports, cards, letters and photos back to his classroom, a sort-of Flat Stanley in plush.

He visited Miller and her family, sharing adventures in skiing, mushing, sledding, and a visit to Denali National Park and Preserve, flying over Mount McKinley in a Super Cub to get an “eagle-eye” view of the tallest mountain in North America.

In addition to the gorgeous illustrations by Jon Van Zyle, collaborating on his eighth book with Miller, the book includes a lot of facts about “The Last Frontier,” in easy-to-take doses so kids are learning while enjoying the eagle’s flight. Miller includes geography, biology, Athabascan culture, animal facts, and state statistics, packing a ton of fascinating information in a highly readable, enjoyable book.


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By Laurie C. Tye

Illustrations by Thomas D. Mangelsen

WestWinds Press, 2005

For ages 3 to 6

Laurie C. Tye uses animals to help children understand their emotions and feelings. In “The Animal in Me is Very Plain to See,” Tye assigns animals to common feelings. Hunger is a grizzly bear, anger is a lion, sadness is “a dark brown bison standing alone in a white storm.”

Along with the photographs and hoof- and pawprint graphics, bright colors, big type, and simple words, the book reads simply and easily, like a bedtime lullaby. The prose, while simple, not only introduces children to animals and emotions, but with its simile style, gets them ready for more complicated reading. The softcover book is composed of thick pages, easy for little hands to grip, and the pictures are breathtaking.

Mangelsen is an experienced wildlife photographer, having spent a lifetime capturing Nature in his lens. Tye has a degree in education, spending her days teaching and interpreting for the deaf, as well as writing.


“Moose Village Alaska”

By Mike Conley

Illustrated by Ric Estrada and Marc Estrada

Moose Kids Publishing Co. (2005)


Kids like colorful pictures, so Mike Conley’s “Moose Village Alaska” will delight youngsters ages 1 through 3. It’s the story of Little Moe, a young moose who wants to play outside in his wintry playground on the Yukon River but must do his chores first.

Little Moe must follow Mama Moose’s instructions before he can join his friends, Mattie Moose and Buddy Beaver, ice skating, snowboarding, and sledding.

The words are simple; the drawings, clean and sharp with bright colors, will attract the attention of children being read to and the eyes of those just starting to read.

Conley’s moose are anthropomorphic, more people than animals, and the author’s notes on the back explain: “He (Conley) developed a respect and reverence for moose, and unlike many longtime Alaskans, has never shot one.”

The art was done by father and son team Ric Estrada and Marc Estrada of Utah. Ric does line drawings with a black fine line marker, and son Marc fills in the color using Adobe Photoshop. The Conley-Estrada-Estrada collaboration began when Conley read an article about Ric in a Utah newspaper.

New year is a good time to change our spots

Tomorrow, it will be 2014. And I don’t know about you, but I am so looking forward to the end of 2013. Kick that old geezer out the door.

Today, class, we will discuss humanity’s annual self-flagellation exercise –the cataloging of our sins, vices, and flaws, and the promise never to do any of them again –or at least for a month. Maybe a week. But I digress.

In a new atmosphere of brotherhood and community I hope to spread throughout the land, I propose a new tradition: community-flagellation.

In that spirit, I present: A few things the human race needs to work on in 2014.

Number 1: Patience. We don’t have any.

Collectively, we are a dangerously hyper nation, scurrying here and there like ants without a hill. Nowhere is this more evident than on our overcrowded roads.

Cars zipping in and out, trying to be first, cars running red lights as if they didn’t exist, the famous Fairbanks rolling stop – only now it should be called the “Fairbanks I’ll think about maybe slowing down a little” rolling delay.

Our bodies aren’t made for this constant rushing — the stress of it causes our blood pressures to rise, our tempers to explode, and general mayhem to be committed in the name of getting there first. Not to mention that ice thing sending us careening into snow-filled ditches. Or other cars. Or upside down. None of which are good for your health.

The solution, of course, is for us to slow down. But after a while, your body gets so used to rushing that it’s hard to do. Physics state that a body in motion tends to stay in motion – once you get going, it’s difficult to get that body in rest.

My resolution is this: When in your car, turn off talk radio and tune to classical music. I know – classical? But there is something very soothing about it — it calms you, makes it not so important that the blue Mazda just cut you off. Or – how about this radical solution – drive to work in silence. Pay attention to the road, instead of the music or spouting heads, and arrive at your destination calm, serene, and ready for an awesome day.

Number 2: Racial profiling. We’ve got to stop.

Admit it – you’ve sat next to someone of a different ethnicity at some time and thought, “Gee, S/he sure is different. Could s/he be dangerous?”

Even now, 12 years after 9-11, anyone who looks even remotely Middle Eastern is suspect – to the point that passengers have been booted off planes because the flight attendant “didn’t like his looks.”

Allegations of police stops for “Driving While Black” abound. What ever happened to all men are brothers?

And we won’t even go into Trayvon Martin territory or Stand Your Ground.

The problem is we base our judgments on first impressions. It’s physiological, folks – we’re hardwired to do it. And back in the caveman days, it made sense – automatically assuming that saber tooth tiger wasn’t a nice kitty or that Neanderthal from a competing tribe isn’t Ogg from next door might just save your life. Our technology has advanced, but our bodies still party like it’s 10,000 B.C. But these days, it doesn’t have to be that way. And anyway, initial visual threat levels aren’t always – in fact, they are rarely – obvious; ask the parents of any of Ted Bundy’s victims.

Living in fear has obvious results: our blood pressures rise, our tempers explode, and general mayhem is committed in the name of “being safe.”

The solution: Let’s retain or retrieve our long-lost child-like sense of solidarity.

True story: During the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, I lived in Pittsburg, California, with my three daughters, the oldest of whom was 7 at the time. Pittsburg in those days was very ethnically diverse, with Caucasians outnumbered three to one. With the daily news and radio reports blasting out statistics and beatings and rioting and general mayhem, things in our little corner of town got very tense. We all started looking at each other suspiciously. If California had been one of those Second Amendment states, I believe there would have been a lot of bloodshed.

The kids, usually quite indifferent to the fact that some were white, some brown, some dark brown, and some tan, started feeling the tension. Eventually, my oldest daughter lost her patience.

“Why is everyone in such a bad mood,” she asked me one day.

Trying to explain racial violence to a child raised to see people, not colors was … difficult. But I managed. I think.

She surprised me, but I shouldn’t have been. She was, and still is, remarkably perceptive about things like that. She looked at me like I’d just told her Santa had two heads.

“Don’t they know we all look the same under our skin?”

Resolution: Duh. It shouldn’t take a child to make us see the obvious facts – there are good humans and bad humans: sometimes good guys look a little ratty; often, evil wears an expensive suit and drives a Mercedes. Here in Fairbanks, we’re told that the ratty man with moose-blood-stained Carhartts might be the richest man in town, so treat everyone accordingly.

Try being a little less paranoid and a little more open.

Number 3: Multi-tasking. We’ve gone insane.

In the beginning, multi-tasking sounded like a good idea. Use some of your “wasted” time to accomplish something, therefore not wasting any time.

But now we fill every waking minute with tasks – and it’s making us nuts. We don’t have time to reflect anymore, to look at the landscape, to appreciate a V-formation of Canada geese overhead. And in this landscape, that’s sinful.

And please, watching a man cut his nose hair at a red light is just not a sight I need at 7 a.m.

All this stress is causing our blood pressures to rise, our tempers to explode, and general mayhem to be committed in the name of getting more done.

The solution is to cut down on the number of things we do at any one time. What, do you get a prize if you have the longest To Do list checked off? Instead of “He/She who dies with the most toys wins,” it’s now “He/She who gets the most done before they die wins.”

The proliferation of smart phones and other electronic gadgets has only made this worse. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone just sitting on a bench in the park, watching the clouds roll by or laughing at the antics of the kids or dogs. Most of the time, if they are sitting, they sit hunched over a teeny little contraption, staring gape-mouthed at some news site or You Tube video, twisting their thumbs in unnatural positions as they make birds drop stuff on pigs (I think that’s what that game is all about), or scrolling through Facebook posts or tweets.

The next generation is going to be born hunch-backed with gigantic thumbs if we’re not careful.

And did I mention how sinful it is to waste this beautiful place?

My resolution is this: Priorities, people. Most of the stuff we wear ourselves out doing won’t matter in five years anyway. Heck, they won’t matter in five days.

If we learned nothing else on Sept. 11, 2001, or after Hurricane Katrina, or Superstorm Sandy, or any of the other disasters we’ve lived through this past decade and a few, we should have figured out that life is fragile, and there are no promises, no guarantees. Houses get dirty, laundry piles up, bills come due — but those things are always going to be there. Our children, our parents, spouses, friends, and colleagues may not be, so it behooves us to cherish them.

If you don’t get the Christmas cards out until next week, I don’t think anyone is going to cut you out of their will, unless you send one to Martha Stewart, and she’s seriously obsessive-compulsive anyway, so she’ll probably leave all her money to her cats or something.

And for those who must pursue their personal hygiene in public, I say this: Try getting up five minutes earlier and cut your nose hair in private, thank you very much.

For the record, my personal resolutions for 2014 include: find a job; write at least two books; come up with fascinating, interesting, and amusing blog posts weekly; continue to write honest (if snarky and scathing) book reviews; love and cherish my dog, mom, kids, grandkids, and friends; and spend more time outside (even when it’s cold – really) appreciating and loving this beautiful world I call home.

Join me?

December birthdays suck

Today (Christmas Eve) is my mother’s birthday.

(Happy Birthday, Ma!!)

I mention this only because the way we used to celebrate this important day in her life exemplified why those of us who have the mischance to be born in the last month of the year hate having birthdays in the last month of the year.

We were always up rather early, even though it’s a holiday, because there were so many tasks as yet not done.

After a rushed breakfast of pop-tarts and coffee, we’d run to the store for some last minute stuff – like wrapping paper (because the kids used twice as much as they need, so those six rolls I thought would last us for two years barely made it through half the presents), tape (see above), pumpkin pie spice (because we never had any – don’t ask me why), and those other necessities you never think of until you actually have to use them.

When we finally got a place to park, after we’d circled the parking lot about 1,000 times, we’d rush in, find what we need, and spend the next hour or so in line, wishing the people in front of us with baskets piled high understood the concept of “Ten items or less.”

We might get time to stuff a hamburger down our throats before we went home, but we never counted on it. Reasons: see afore-mentioned long lines and indecisive people.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wrapping presents, making pies, hauling the 30-pound turkey out of the freezer so it would thaw, chopping vegetables, making several more trips to the store to deal with unexpected guests who brought presents by (and of course must be reciprocated).

Mom’s birthday dinner, the one meal she should get to choose, was always hot dogs. It’s always been that way, because on Christmas Eve, the kitchen is full of turkey innards and pie fixins, and who wants to cook anyway? Even after my kids were older and wanted to to spoil grandma, the lack of time set the menu.

After dinner, and a last-minute, store-bought pathetic little cake with one candle – no need calling the fire marshall on Christmas Eve – we got to her present. Yep. That’s right. Present in the singular tense. After all, tomorrow she’ll be opening another one, won’t she?

This present, wrapped in Christmas wrapping, because we could never find any birthday wrap and I’d already made too many trips to the store, occupied her attention for about 10 minutes – not because it’s not worth more or she doesn’t love it, but because it’s the night before Christmas, and there are still chores to be done.

Hanging stockings, seeing Christmas lights, midnight candlelight service, getting the kids to calm down, write Santa’s note, and go to bed (with firm warning NOT to wake the adults up before daylight – preferably 10 a.m.), putting the big presents together, watching daddy gulp down the soggy milk and stale cookies so the kids know Santa actually came, and then it’s bedtime.

Hell of a celebration for a birthday, huh?

Even those of us whose days don’t come the day before or after hate having December birthdays. Let me count the ways …

Most people, in their pre-Christmas frugality, believe we won’t notice we got only one or two birthday presents, because we’ll make up for it at Christmas. The only thing wrong with that is, on Christmas Day, we’re usually short-changed again, because everyone figures we just got a bunch of birthday presents.

That’s if our birthdays are remembered at all, because after Thanksgiving, it seems people get this tunnel vision that precludes anything not Christmas-related.

That’s bad enough, but I personally get tired of red and green wrapping paper, stars and angels, and all that Christmas-themed stuff. I’m not alone. My middle threatened violence the year she turned 13 year if we decorated the house in Christmas for her birthday party.

And, of course, there’s that sharing thing. Admit it, most of us really like having that one special day when we are the center of attention. Even us “grown-ups” get a kick out of that. And December is all about a special birthday, when a baby’s birth captures the attention of a large part of the world. That kind of shoves the rest of us December babies out of the limelight. And that’s the part that really sucks.

Right, Ma?