Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the VA

We drove out to the Valley to visit the Matsu VA CBOC (Community Based Outpatient Clinic). A funny thing happened on the way to the VA.....

Michael saw this truck's tire blow. He didn't realize it. He kept driving, even though I was hanging out the window, pointing at his tires. Michael pulled ahead of him, flashing lights and then pulled off. He pulled off and Michael let him know what he saw. Yep - he was thankful.

We met Michael's new Primary Care Doc at the CBOC. This is a BLESSING. We were told the only option was another care facility or telehealth. Still thankful for the angel/man at Anchorage VA that saw Michael's chart, made a few calls and got Michael on with a doctor. We would have gone to an LPN or PA - that's what we had in Eugene.  In any event Dr. B seems nice, caring and he did offer a few new suggestions for pain management. He also gave Michael quite a few referrals. Finally.

We enjoyed lunch together and then we headed back to the VA for an "Initial Info" meeting. All have to go through this when the begin treatment at the Valley CBOC.  It was fairly pointless for us. Info on how to be seen, where to be seen, how to get your claim through the VA and such.  But we jumped through the hoop like pros.

We were tired that night and instead of socializing opted for dinner and games at home.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Black Spruce Travel Camp and Otter Lake Animal Sightings

We have been staying at an RV park in Palmer since arriving in the area.  This allowed us to get to know our new town a bit. We were close to services we are putting in place for VA.  It had a great view of the mountain and was right next to Arctic Organics.......we were able to take walks in what we hope will be our new neighborhood.

BUT..... it was like being a sausage in a Styrofoam container .....

Today, we took a chance and moved to Black Spruce Army Travel Camp, on JBER.  Everything on JBER is first come/first serve. There are 14 full hookups on the Fort Rich side.....only water and electric on Elmendorf. We want to settle. We have about a month before we can hope to close on our home.  At $33 a night for a full hook-up it will save us some change. When we drove through last week all the full hookups were taken. We like full hookup so that we can do LAUNDRY at our site.....and us girls would rather shower at Uchi than run risk a bear encounter on the way to the shower-house.

Michael had Stacia and I drive to the camp and try to secure a spot. We did just that. This site is on the outer loop - less traffic. I thought it would be long enough for Uchi with the trailer. We parked and defended our claim against all marauding campers.  There were more than I expected.
Staking our claim 
The camp host stopped by and we chatted. He said if we didn't fit, we could unhook and use the tent site next to us for the trailer. Perfect.

Meanwhile, Michael had to go in a different gate with Uchi and the trailer. He and the boys saw a Grizzly - by the COMMISSARY.

We set up camp when they arrived. Michael ran to Eagle River to pick up a part which we'd mailed to JaRissa and Josiah's place.
It fits..and we parked Nimo in the site next to us....per host suggestion
 We've not completely set up a  site since leaving Northern CA last November.  While Michael and Nolan ran to Eagle River, the rest of us dug out chairs, mats, tables, grill......our thought, at this  point, is to stay put until we close on the house. Rest...enjoy this area....though there have been a couple of bear incidents on the installation.

Michael and the boys replaced the motor in the step. NICE to have a working step again. 

Stacia and I made dinner while they worked on that project. We have a 30 amp hook up. I have a Convection/Microwave oven - takes quite a bit of electricity to run. I turned off the dryer, unplugged the electric hot water pot.....and it STILL tripped breakers when I started the smashed potatoes in the Instant Pot (4 min at pressure).  Michael heard my continued troubles and had Alex hook up an extension cord to the 20 amp plug at the pole. No more problems.

Though Yuuki did not approve of the change and insisted on moving her blanket to her normal spot and glaring at us. 

Michael hasn't been feeling 100%. We are starting to wonder if it's a reaction to one of his meds.  After dinner he crashed - the kids and I went off to explore.  After hearing there was a Grizzly at the commissary...and reading a comment on FB "Oh, yeah, we have 3 cubs and a sow hanging around....," I decided we are just going to have to be "bear aware," and keep going with life....because if the commissary is considered the "wilds," there aren't many places we can go.

 I thought I could find my way to Otter Lake - and I did. 

It occurs to me this would be a good site for some Senior Photos. 
Alex, Nolan, Stacia

Along the way we saw animals....I had my small lens. I must remember the bigger one for future evening walks and drives. 



I was exceedingly glad we went for a drive, rather than a walk. Yes, we are aware Fort Rich is the site of the mauling this weekend. We DROVE and I did not get out of the car to take the bear photo. 

THIS is how we like to full-time. This Travel Camp and the Fam Camp on Elmendorf side are like state parks....a much better fit for us than an RV Park. 

Animals we saw today  - 
1 Grizzly - by Commissary - Michael and boys
1 Moose
2 Porcupines
1 Mama duck with her ducklings
Fish jumping
1 Black Bear - though he looked like he had a hump, but his snout didn't look "wide" tome....
11 million squirrels

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tromping Around Our Future Yard

We jokingly told folks when we began full-time RVing two years ago, we'd continue to do it until we found a state we wanted to retire in. We've found that state in Alaska.

We are in the "negotiating for repairs," part of buying a home. This is the spot where the previous home fell through. Mark, our amazing realtor, called with two questions for us. One had to do with where we'd like stairs on the deck the seller is building. The other was about a retaining wall; it may well not pass VA appraisal as is. The seller would like to remove it, we think we'd like it repaired. 
From the road - there's Nimo
Honestly, when we looked at this house it was not our first choice. Our first choice was a home on 9 acres, which turned out to be in a terrible location. The price on that home has dropped 20K since we looked at it.  Our second choice was "the motel" we put an offer on. I thought another home was our third choice, but Michael liked this one better and now that we have walked around it - I am 100% in agreement. 🐽 I'm one of those kinesthetic types. We hadn't  taken much notice of the externals of this home. We asked if we could go and walk through the yard (which turns out to be quite extensive), before forming answers to Mark's questions. 

We did that this evening.

Standing on a corner of the driveway - back of house. 
Arrow points to the offending wall 
Note the black septic clean out - we worry since the ground is already shifting, that removing the wall may cause more shifting than we'd like right there by the septic. We also don't want rain and melting snow running down to the basement door, instead of off towards the yard. We've dealt with flooded basements in previous homes. 
Wall is falling back, pushing  on the siding and has caused damage to door
Never know what the VA appraiser would say about this - but if he won't pass the home, our loan would be held up. 
Rebar is pushing out the top
French doors are the separate entrance to the basement apartment - it can also be reached from inside. 

This is where the deck will go. We think we want the stairs off the front, to the left of the the lilacs and a bit more privacy. We plan a lower deck -eventually-  to house a hot tub.....and want the stairs to come down where we plan that deck to be. πŸ˜ƒ

First time the kids have been able to walk around the place. 
Alex, Stacia, Nolan
This is looking from where the deck will be - to the road. We'll want to clean it up, while maintaining the barrier from the road. 

Back of the house (left), side of house (center) and the road is beyond the trees

Looking towards the back 

These are two of the three horse pastures. They currently have electric fence around them.  I had been thinking of 1/2 being a garden, and planting grass on the other 1/2.  Seeing the price of produce up here, has me thinking we should plant a big garden/mini-farm really, and learn to can or freeze.  Anyway - maybe 1 and 2 will be garden/greenhouse areas and the 3 will be the chicken's yard. Or maybe we'll put chickens back beyond these pastures,  in the fenced pasture area back in the trees. I wonder if it's too far from the house to discourage predators.  There are a few dead trees to remove here ....Cory and the boys have already volunteered. We'll burn the wood this winter. 

Yay - wildflowers

This is in the third area sectioned off with electric fence. 

Alex found one corner of the property - outside the fence
See the wire in the foreground.....not sure about all this electricity
Stacia kept saying, "This could be my imagination center." I kept saying, I could put a little "meditation/escape cabin out here." I'm guessing they are  about the same thing - proving extroverts crave quiet times too, when they learn the value of the disciplines of silence and solitude. 

In reality, it will probably be an archery range until we are ready to seriously begin planning either a second house, or a guest cabin or such. We would also like a sauna. I've heard the guys talking about a smokehouse - which I suspect they plan to double as my sauna. Ewwww.....πŸ˜²πŸ˜΅πŸ˜‹ If Michael doesn't want a gym in part of the garage (which is heated), Stacia and I have fun plans of how to convert a big shed into a gym..... I don't know that we'd want either of those things this far from the house. It would be HARD to leave the warmth of a sauna or gym,  to run to the house in the winter. 

Nolan seems to be doing some imagining of his own...This is a really wide area. Yuuki loved all the new smells. 

I was a bit alarmed when I saw the missing bark. Michael and JaRissa (whom I texted) assured me bears wouldn't take it all off like this.  I don't know if moose do this. We suspect horses and JaRissa says there are porcupines up here - but that's fairly high up.....probably just horses.

Another "Imagination Center."

Standing at the back fence (inside the property line) and looking towards the back of the house. 

Alex has found the OTHER corner - also outside the fence. Alicia told us how to take care of the Devils Club next spring - let them die over the winter and till them......but on second thought they may be nice to keep hikers from the fence line. 🐽😜🐽

Part of the back pasture

Standing at the back corner.....this may be the chicken area - #3 in previous photo

Alex at the front property line

About this time a funny thing happened to the kids and I. We met the U.S. Marshal. It seems one (or two) of the neighbors had called him, concerned about people tromping around in the woods. It's a bit odd, as there is a 15' easement for "recreational use" behind the property line.  I told him we were the buyers of the property, the current owners and Realtors all knew we were here. He laughed and said it's a "tight-knit community," and we'd enjoy living here. I thanked him for checking and told him I actually loved knowing we could call the Marshal if there was a problem. I told him it made me feel better about being alone out in the country. He smiled and said we'd enjoy the area. I sort of wonder if he is one of the neighbors. 

 I told Michael later;  he replied, "Are you thinking I'm going to deploy?" BAM....Yes, I've always considered I may be alone 6 - 12 months when we've rented or purchased a home off base. 😡
Driving in from the road
The two arrows mark the front of the property.  The borough maintains the road. 

Front Yard

We do not own ATVs - yet.😜 This is where we think we can erect an RV barn for Uchi....and to the right is the woodshed. We are still  contemplating where to put an RV spot in - for visitors. We'd like it to be a full hookup - need to research how to put a small vault in for the septic. I would like to offer a spot for boondockers passing through the area. 

Standing in the corner of the above photo - looking across the back of the yard. I don't think I will tire of this view. 

When we KNOW the house has passed the VA appraiser part of this dance, we'll go and look inside one more time.  This will give the kids a chance to look inside and  start choosing rooms....and we can measure for furniture, see if we need to paint anywhere etc.

Just being able to walk around the house and really see it helped us all feel more at peace about buying this home. We're praying nothing goes wrong with the process and we can close within the next month. Although we're also praying, as we did with the other one, that if this ISN'T the right home, something would stop the process. We're psycho that way. 🐽 (Still haven't found a ::gasp:: emoticon).

We are moving to JBER tomorrow. We plan to stay there or travel around until closing. We are tired of the RV park lifestyle....need more of a state park/Fam Camp experience as we wind down our season of being a full-time family.  And BOY do we have MIXED feelings about THAT....trying to give each other a lot of grace as we process this transition.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Comedy in the ER

We had some excitement on Monday. The first time this happened, we were in Japan and Jared was in TX. It's happened quite a bit since then. We were happy to be nearby this time.  Yep, his heart again.

Here is what Larissa shared online. This week started off rough, but even in the middle of it Jared was making jokes and getting the medical team to laugh. We are so grateful to finally have some answers for what is going on with his ticker! The staff at Providence was absolutely amazing. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers as we move forward! He is doing a lot better now, and still making jokes!! And don't worry, this photo was posted with permission 😘😘 And, I didn't post until I had their permission, as well. 
This is the second time Jared has been at Providence and they ROCK. They have given him a diagnosis and went further to say it is caused by one of 4 syndromes. By looking at his EKG's and comparing, looking at what he was experiencing when he presented, they think they KNOW why this keeps happening to him. If it IS, they can treat it.  He will be seeing an electrophysicist for follow up care.

I am so impressed and thankful for the cardiology team at Providence!!!!!  Turns out the doc in TX didn't do the whole test which would have been helpful. He did a heart cath and it showed no blockages....he didn't stress the heart to see which parts were causing the repeated episodes of fast rate (240) and irregularity, and which should be treated.  Of course, this happens when one has a presupposition. Jared was a college student and the doc made snap judgments. These docs listened and believed him. It makes a difference.

In true Jared fashion, he refused to ride in an ambulance from his town to Anchorage. And so, Larissa bundled him into the car and made the drive in 12 minutes! She rocks!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Tale of a Fishing License

As a resident, disabled vet,  in Alaska, Michael qualifies for a free sports hunting/fishing license.  We set about applying....we DID have the documentation required to prove residency....but we had a question in our own minds.  They ask if you've taken the PFD the year before. We didn't. I suspect they use the PFD as a litmus test; "What resident in their right mind wouldn't take the PFD?"  We have qualified to receive the PFD during our years of active duty, but after the first year we quit applying for it. Our reasoning (and it's ours alone, no judgment if you've chosen to take it as an active duty family), was we were not actively contributing in the state of Alaska's economy and we would forgo the benefit of participating in the benefits of Alaska's economy.  Our question with the licenses resolved around the fact we had the documentation they require to prove residency, but we knew after active duty, we'd been taking care of Michael's mom and then stayed to help my mom with her cancer treatment and were not up here immediately after retirement; therefore, we were not in the state the required amount of days in 2016; though Michael was in 2015. 

We called the office which handles such things and they said the troopers would need to adjudicate Michael's application. They said it sounded like he had a good case for residency, but this is their busy time of year and it could take months to have an answer and be issued a license.

Meanwhile THIS is prime fishing season. We told them to withdraw his application for a free residential application, our integrity is worth more than the cost of a non-resident license and we want to fish NOW - not wait for months to hear.

Armed with the knowledge we've spent $290 for fishing licenses, we're motivated to CATCH FISH.

Bald Lake
Josiah had Saturday off. He, Michael, Nolan, Alex and Stacia spent the day at the lake - well - lakes! Their mission was to catch Pike. You can catch as many Pike as you want, by whatever means you desire, in Alaska. You are NOT allowed to catch and release Pike. The boys insist they taste better than trout. On their last trip they netted 15#s of Pike. We've seen the photo of two over 2 feet long.

Being a bit nervous about both bears and combat fishing I opted to stay home. I didn't feel 100% anyway. I also am NOT going to pay for a non-resident license and so will wait until next year to fish. The younger two can fish free with Michael and/or Nolan. We bought Nolan a non-resident license. We were READY. They started at Anderson Lake, moved to the Nancy Lake area, went to Bald Lake, and finally settled on renting a canoe at  Tanaina Lake. They rented a canoe and rowed around, while fishing.
Tanaina Lake 

They were skunked.

Not one Pike in the frying pan.

Ah well, we don't have a freezer to store fish yet.

The season continues.

They had great fun. First Alaskan fishing trip. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

She Did It!

We are proud of Krista. She has completed her Commissioned Officer's Training (COT). She is "official."  It's not easy to be thrown into a new culture with its own language, tone and expectations. It's always a bit disorienting. She had a nasty cough which  made life even more of a challenge but she rocked this!

 Krista has moved out of the dorm and into Bachelor's Officer's Quarters. She no longer has to share a room, her "room" has a kitchen, it's own bathroom, a nice bed and furniture. She gets to wear civilian clothes again. πŸ˜‰ She has a bit more freedom to determine her daily schedule.

She graduated yesterday and began her six week stint as a Chaplain Candidate today. She'll be going to four or five bases...keep your eye out for a Leut. with our last never know.

She'll move to Virginia at the end of the summer to finish her graduate degree.

Friday, June 23, 2017

"Seamless" Continuation of Medical Care

We worked our "moving list," today. The item that took the most time, and was our biggest accomplishment, was getting "VA Care established in AK."  We had been told Michael would have "seamless continuation of medical care." 🐽We'd been told the same when he retired from Tricare and quickly discovered it wasn't "seamless" as we define seamless. πŸ˜†

We went to the local Vet Center. They had us fill out paperwork. It became obvious they were not understanding we wanted to ENROLL up here so that we could get care and benefits in AK. We had told them this. They kept treating Micahel as if he were enrolling for the first time and seeking to make a claim. No - did that two years ago. The paperwork was stuff we'd filled out before, and, finally, Michael just said, he wasn't going to fill out the rest. 🐽 He is much more patient than I. We didn't get out of there without talking to the local trauma assist counselor and he turned out to know a chaplain friend of Mike's - that was fun. He also shared Mike could get educational benefits (kids and I too), through Voc other words they'd slow the pace and he wouldn't have to go full time. Some days are great and some are difficult, so Michael has not used his GI Bill. They presented an option where he may. We shall see.

Next we went to the VA Community based clinic here. They had one PA - her patient load was full. They offered another option which we didn't feel right about. They also offered tele-health. This CAN work well, but Michael's care is complicated, he's in the middle of a couple of referrals and we KNOW it works best if a doc can see and palpitate. πŸ˜€We'd been told by one on our care team to avoid tele-health for most things in his situation. Parkinsons effects so many aspects of his care.

We opted to drive into Anchorage to the "big VA center and clinic."  We needed to do this as none of the offices in the valley had been able to ENROLL Michael. That had to be done before we decided about how to get a doctor.  Here, it was confirmed for us the one option presented to us is not the best option for vets. THIS clinic  finally ENROLLED Michael in the AK VA health care system. This means they can SEE what he's previously filled out, his ratings, his medical records etc. As the man filled out the necessary info,  we saw a noticeable change come over him, then he said, "You're priority 1," and looked at us. I guess those are magic words, we hadn't realized the significance it made in things like wait times etc...every clerk, doc, and scheduler sees his disability and care rating when they look at HIM in the system.    We haven't pushed for great care - we have gotten it. We wanted to stay in the VA system as the docs UNDERSTAND how the system works and how to make it work best for their patients.  We were told when the federal government implemented the "choice program," to allow vets to see civilian docs, they neglected to consider most vets want to STAY in the VA system. LOL This gentlemen "escorted" us to the Primary Care schedulers. We'd been told by an employee today, at another center, that SHE was trying to see a neurologist and there were "none" in AK.  We were puzzled as we'd called and TALKED to the Anchorage Vet Center, our doctors had called up here, before we made the decision to move. They reassured us Michael will get referrals to civilian neurologists or fly to Seattle or Portland.

Alas, they are NOT taking new patients at the Anchorage VA Clinic. They suggested the office in the Valley. I explained we'd been there, been told our options and didn't like one and the other was tele-health. They could now see Michael's records and when we said, "His care is complicated, we think he needs an in-person PA, LPN or MD," they understood. 😏 One gentleman asked if we would let him make some calls, and he would call us back. He said it may be Monday before he called us back. We were tired of knocking on doors, it was 4 p.m. and we knew we weren't going to get anywhere before Monday. We agreed.

We checked out the fam camp at JBER - E, drove to the BX and got a call from the clinic in the Valley.  They have a doctor who will be coming on the team - waiting for one signature - which is why we were told there are no docs at the clinic. They would like to assign Michael to his patient load. Would TUESDAY be soon enough for an appointment? 🐽🐽 WIN. Michael will see the doc on Tuesday, he'll be able to submit the referrals for his continued swallow/cognitive/speech therapy, dental, eyes  AND  his neurology follow-up - which is due in August. His Primary care will continue in the VA AND it will be out here where we are living.

Much of getting VA care is getting to the right office, finding the right person to speak to, and knowing the language to open doors. For us, Michael's service-connected rating AND/or that he is priority 1, are terms we will remember if we ever happen to need care outside of Alaska or move again.

We used the little bit of extra time left in the day to get Michael a fishing license,  visit JBER-R travel camp, visit and dine with all the kids, get Nolan a fishing license (the other 2 don't need them) and pick up equipment for the first fishing trip in AK - tomorrow.  We accomplished a lot.

Psst The 🐽used by me signifies ::snort:: - a peculiar way I laugh.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Entertaining in the RV

Was the 2703 mile drive worth it? Yes. 
Josiah has been in training and today was our first chance to see him. JaRissa had to work late, but Jamin and Cy drove out (45 minutes), visited and had dinner with us.  This is the promise of things to come. I can barely wait for the end of July/August to have a dinner at our new home with us and 13 of our kids/grands....and then at Christmas KRISTA will be home too!!!! I could live in Thule, Greenland if these kids were there! 😱😡😱

It took the instant pot, the convection oven and all three burners, but we got er done.

Stacia and I worked out a new brownie recipe which she baked for dessert. It was a hit. We'll tweak it and do it again to make sure it wasn't a fluke and then; if we still like it best, post it to the blog and remove all other brownie recipes. I think we can make these blondies too....hmm.....probably could have made these much earlier if we'd just thought to take our favorite blondie recipe and add chocolate. 🐽(Can the pig snout be my emoji for ::snort::???)

Because some will wonder - we had Beef Stroganoff (Mushroom for me), corn, kale salad, garlic bread and brownies.