FAMILY VACATIONS ALWAYS go by too fast. We had a fantastic time, but now it’s back to the frantic got-to-get-everything-done-before-Christmas pace. I just want to hang onto the frivolity of vacation for a little while longer. That’s where this recipe for kalua pork comes in. I love it when recipes transport you back to a memory. I wanted one that transported me back to Hawaii.
Kalua pork is traditionally served at Hawaiian luaus. A pit is dug in the ground, where a fire is started to heat up rocks. When the rocks are hot and the fire is embers, an entire pig is placed in the pit, wrapped in banana and/or ti leaves. The hole is covered, and the pig is left to cook all day. At the luau we attended, the removal of the pig from the ground was a celebration and everyone gathered around to watch. It was the beginning of the party!
Now, digging a hole in the ground in the middle of winter in Alaska isn’t practical nor possible. I’ve discovered the next best thing: a slow cooker. For the Hawaiian flavor, I use Hawaiian alaea red sea salt and hickory liquid smoke. A new twist is using bananas to flavor the meat instead of banana leaves. I was skeptical at first. It seemed rather silly wrapping bananas up with the pork. I think it was subtle, but the bananas did impart some mild, sweet flavor to the meat during cooking.
The slow-cooker kalua pork tasted outstanding. Better yet, it only took five minutes of prep in the morning (you can also start the night before and leave the wrapped pork in the refrigerator and plop it in the slow-cooker in the morning). It cooked all day and smelled fantastic when I arrived home. Fast, easy, delicious and Hawaiian.
It did remind me of the fabulous time we had at the Hawaiian luau. Watching my daughter do the hula and my boys practice their fire dancing (with fake fire else my house burn down) was about as entertaining as watching the professionals. Now if only I could duplicate the weather…
Slow Cooker Kalua Pork
Inspired by Paula Deen’s Kalua Pig
4-5 pound pork roast (boston butt or shoulder)
1-1 ½ tablespoons alaea red sea salt OR coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon liquid smoke (find it in the grocery store by the BBQ sauces)
Trim pork roast of excess fat. Pierce with a fork to allow the salt and liquid smoke to penetrate the meat. Lay 2-3 long strips of aluminum foil on your work surface, overlapping slightly, then 2-3 more strips perpendicular to the first, to form a plus (+) sign. Place meat in the middle of the aluminum foil. Mix salt and liquid smoke in a small bowl to form a paste, then rub on all sides of pork. Lay bananas on the meat (just enough so it will still fit in your slow cooker when it’s wrapped up). Wrap up meat thoroughly and tightly with the foil. Place in your slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Carefully remove aluminum foil and bananas from the cooker, and shred meat with two forks. Keeping the meat in the slow cooker, let it sit in the juices on low heat until ready to serve. Add additional salt if needed.
Serve as a sandwich on sweet bread, or with rice or mashed potatoes. We added South Carolina BBQ sauce to ours. I’m intermixing my states, but it sure was good! Let the party begin!
THIS PAST WEEK our community lost two young men in a boating accident. One was 26 years old and a co-worker of mine about three years ago. He was friendly and personable and enjoyed by his peers. I remember him always reading classic literature when he had down time, which led to some in-depth conversations for a person of his age. When I saw him this past spring he was in great spirits and excited about his summer job with Alaska Department of Fish and Game. His smile was playful and sincere. I remember thinking that he seemed to be in a good place with some positive direction in his life. I was happy for him, as he had seemed to be searching for direction when we were working together. The second young man was 23 years old and I did not know him. They were brothers.
Yes, I am very sad for this loss of life at such a young age. I cannot imagine what the parents of these men must be going through. Every parent I have talked to about this tragedy echo the same sentiment; we hurt for their loss and their lives without their sons to follow. Most parents hope to be outlived by their offspring and when this does not happen it is a life-altering event.
As a brother and a parent of brothers this loss of life has affected me to my core. This past week just thinking about this event no matter what my setting has forced me to tears; my sympathy for the family is overwhelming. It’s hard to pinpoint my specific fears, feelings and reactions but I have been and continue to be moved!
This event has also reminded me that our boys are only ours to direct and guide for a short period of time and once they reach a certain juncture of life, how they live, what they do and what situations they put themselves into will be out of my control. This reality is also a reason for my numerous tears.
I continue to cherish all the moments with our boys and show them my love for them every opportunity that I get as I do not know what our future brings.
Report no. 9: Learning in two languages - Yup'ik and English - gives these rural students a double advantage at school, life.
Reporting from: Napaskiak, AK (pop. 428)
HOST INTRO: Early in our series Being Young in Rural Alaska from the producers of Kids These Days, we learned about efforts to re-introduce indigenous languages through school programs. At the Lower Kuskokwim School District, they have a different challenge: figuring out the best way to teach reading and writing to kids who are already living in two languages. LKSD is the largest Rural Education Attendance Area in the State of Alaska, encompassing a landmass roughly the size of West Virginia. It is in the heart of Yup’ik country. The district employs 325 teachers in 23 communities, and one quarter of the certified teachers are Yup’ik, the greatest percentage of indigenous educators of any district in Alaska. The district has begun rolling out a new method for teaching its bilingual students: elementary students are now taught reading, writing, social studies and science using what is called the dual language model. Sophie Evan has more.
First graders in Napaskiak.
SOPHIE EVAN: LKSD’s mission statement says in part, that their students will be bilingual and successful in both Yup’ik and American English languages and cultures. The LKSD Yup’ik language specialists map out the curriculum in Yup’ik mirroring the English teaching and evaluation materials. Veronica Winkelman, or Atan’, is one of three full time specialists.
[Veronica Winkelman/Atan’] "It’s not the curriculum it’s the delivery method.”
Atan’ says the dual language model has to be demonstrated and practiced by the adults in the school equally.
[Atan’] "We’re asking English speaking teachers to take Yugtun classes and to learn Yugtun phrases.”
The high school students from Chefornak have recorded Yup’ik phrases and posted them onto LKSD’s website for the English speaking teachers, directions like, “please line up," "take your paper out," or "it’s time for lunch”.
[Sound of Yup'ik phrase from LKSD's website]
The teaching model’s main component is to have the students work in pairs on their activity or practice worksheets. Working together is said to encourage active learning for all students. Student comprehension is then checked three separate times. Yup’ik Language Specialist, Atan’...
[Atan’] "So when you go into a dual language classroom you will see kids with their pair.”
[Natural sound of two girls working together.]
Rita Joekay a first year kindergarten teacher in Napaskiak.
[Joekay speaking in Yup’ik explaining, how she uses the dualanguage model with narration over.]
Joekay says teachers use the language of the student as the primary language of instruction, so for example when students are speaking English as they enter kindergarten the main language of instruction will be English for reading and writing. The same applies to the Yup’ik speaking students.
Joekay's bilingual first graders.
The first test of the method is for students to be able to write a full page for Yup’ik learners, and a half a page for English learners in each respective language. Again, Atan’...
[Atan’] "Not only do you want the kids to know what you’ve taught them but you want them to be able to apply their learning in a different format, so it’s like deeper learning and deeper practice.”
Napaskiak School Principal Talbert Bentley say they’ve been using the dual language delivery method since last year.
[Talbert Bentley] "Our teachers have really bought into it, and they’re really going gang busters implementing it.”
In the dual language learning model, students continue to learn reading, writing, science and social studies in both language into the sixth grade.
Russian Orthodox Priest Father Nicholai also serves as Napaskiak’s chairman of the local advisory school board.
[Father Nicholai speaking in Yup'ik; narration over translating into English] "This is what we tell our students, our world is changing, and we need to learn the western ways, our parents were forced to learn the English language and it is important to know English in today’s world, we also continue to teach the Yup’ik ways of survival in our own language as the two are connected.”
He says the end goal is to prepare students, like his own, to be grounded in the Yup’ik culture and to succeed in the Western world as well.
In Napaskiak, I’m Sophie Evan.
This series is supported by funds from the Association of Alaska School Boards' Initiative for Community Engagement program.
THIS WEEK I received a very interesting email from FlipKey, a company specializing in vacation rental properties all over the world. Besides providing a seemingly endless list of places to rent from here to Timbuktu, FlipKey also publishes a little blog about travel, and this week posted a nifty little tool for planning vacations--family vacations in particular.
I don’t know about your crew, but mine is a four-person carousel of uniqueness, especially when it comes to travel. The mere mention of an upcoming trip is enough to spark a rush of ideas, suggestions and downright demands from both children and adults. Add grandparents or friends to this mix, and wowee, there’s a whole lot of talking going on, resulting in little actual action.
So enter FlipKey and their “Find Your Way to the Perfect Family Vacation” blog post. While savvy KTD readers will remember my mantra that there is no such thing as a “perfect” vacation, I am sure we can all appreciate the efforts to at least attempt to discuss style when it comes to relaxing together. Check out the accompanying flow chart, using my favorite fashion statement, shoes. Like trips with a lot of action? Put on those peep-toe pumps and click-clack your way along the sidewalks of Seattle. Desire a mountain-high vacation with lots of hiking and exploring? Hiking boots, definitely.
The chart leads footwear (and ultimately the respective planning family) along a series of mazes to determine, hopefully, a blissful experience away from home.
I get it, and appreciate the breakdown of overarching vacation styles before drilling deeper for specific activities. But here are a few other ideas that might help Alaska families who really aren’t looking to head to Paris or the Bahamas (although who wouldn’t, given the opportunity?):
Be realistic. If your family consists of four people with truly diverse interests, the destination is going to have to match a wide range of expectations. Searching for a “base camp” with access to everyone’s preferred activity will be appreciated, and allow for gathering time at the beginning or end of the day. Also get used to the idea that a family doesn’t have to play together all the time. It’s okay to divide and conquer, but do schedule breakfast or dinner as a group to talk about plans or rehash important activities of the day.
Pay attention to time. Cramming a long list of activities into a day in a misguided attempt to appease everyone is a mistake, particularly when traveling with children. Too much activity means too-tired children, cranky adults and little time for just being together. Before leaving home, hold a family meeting where everyone gets to list their top two attractions or activities, and do your best to schedule those before jumping into something else. A week of vacation goes mighty fast when moving at breakneck speed, so remember to slow down and take in the view, too.
It’s a big, wide, world out there, and as much as we want to show it all to our kids, it’s also important to remember their needs and interests, and respect inherent individual nature.
What's your style?
YOU KNOW HOW winter gets, especially in Alaska—long, cold and dark. This year why not give your kids the gift of creativity for Christmas? Along with their regular presents, shock them with a box of possibilities? We’ve given variations of this theme to our kids pretty much ever since they were able to use tape. The ability to use their OWN foil to make endless boats to float in the tub or, during a warm spell, in a puddle, is amazing for kids. No longer do they have to use “only a little bit,” it’s all theirs; they get to make the decision to use it all or save it. For the record, we have one user (!) and one saver (!) and one too grown up to care much.
Give it to them in a box which they can then use to make something or else a crate or an under bed storage box to tuck it out of the way between creations. If you’re only giving them a few items, make sure you give them things that can work together, like the glue gun, paper and markers. You might laugh at some of the items on this list because they seem so normal to adults but these are guaranteed creativity inspirations.
1. Low Temp Glue Gun–Make sure to get a true low temp glue gun and your kids will spend hours cutting boxes into helmets or crowns.
2. Truly Good Pair of Scissors–Use your discretion here. What is truly good to a five year old (safety scissors if needed) is vastly different from a good pair of scissors for a ten year old. Whatever you pick make sure they are sturdy and sharp so they can cut safely.
3. A Roll of Aluminum Foil–Mix this up with the glue gun and your kids could be making armor, swords, bigger boats and the like.
4. 6-Pack of Scotch Tape–The first time a child used all my tape I KNEW it was a hit--I immediately put it on my gift list and it never fails to be a hit--plus side? You can usually pillage their supply if you run out
5. Large Pack of Markers—I bought one of these this fall on a whim and I didn’t actually see my kids for a couple days straight. They were BUSY creating castles, sunsets and oceans full of fish.
6. Sheaf of Paper—It goes hand in hand with markers but the glue gun works wonderfully well with it too. If you know how to fold paper into boats and hats, well, your kids will love to learn that, too.
7. Roll of Duct Tape–You know, for the jobs the scotch tape just can’t handle, like making a castle with moving parts or taping your brother to the wall (JOKING!!), a roll of duct tape makes building bigger things possible.
8. A Box of Boxes–All different size will suit the creators perfectly. Throw in some paper towel tubes and a kleenex box and they’ll be set.
9. Glue Sticks–Like regular glue but in a tube, and it sticks so much better than glue in a bottle.
10. A Ball of String–Or skein of yarn. Teach them to braid OR make cat toys OR do the cats cradle. There is so much fun to be had with string.
11. Paper Clips–A small jar or box of paper clips will give children the ability to make fishing poles (true story: our seven year old caught his first fish on a pole he made with a paper clip for a hook) or clip important pieces of paper together or bend and make swords for gnomes--the sky is the limit with paper clips.
12. Chenille–You know those furry covered wire things? Yep, that’s what I’m talking about here--a nice big pack and your kids can make just about anything with them including, but not limited to, an advent wreath.
13. Rubber Bands–Don’t teach them how to shoot them unless you don’t mind them shooting them everywhere. Otherwise rubber bands can be used to make a paddle wheel boat or for lashing things together.
As you can guess, our kids don’t get television or Nintendo and we don’t have cable either so they are left to their own devices as far as entertaining themselves. They love boxes full of STUFF to make OTHER STUFF with. But here’s the thing: even kids who get television and life handed to them on a silver platter LOVE this stuff, too. Kids are makers.
I'M TYPING THIS on the deck of our cabin, about 50 yards from the beach, in the 80 degree heat. Rough life, I know. We’ve been planning this trip to Hawaii for over a year, and it’s finally here! I’ll spare you the details of all the fun we’re having, but I will tell you that it hasn’t been a traditional Thanksgiving for us. We had Alaska sockeye salmon for Thanksgiving dinner. It was delicious, and the envy of all our neighbors. Afterwards, we hit the beach and boogie boarded for hours. Certainly not typical, as we usually spend Thanksgiving in Fairbanks and watch for the Northern Lights in the below-zero weather.
Our cabin is equipped with a full kitchen, so in an attempt to save money, we’ve been making most of our food. The only exception has been the Hale Koa Luau and the Dole Whip we had at the Dole Plantation. If you’ve never had Dole Whip, I’m so sorry. It’s delicious. It’s even better when surrounded by fresh cut golden pineapple from Hawaii.
I did bring along one appliance--my immersion blender. I brought it to make smoothies. We can’t live without our smoothies, especially in Hawaii, where fresh fruit is plentiful and local. We usually use a high-powered blender, a Vita-mix, but that was a bit too heavy and cumbersome for the suitcase.
Inspired by the Dole Whip we devoured the previous day, I set out to make a similar smoothie. You can find copy cat recipes on the Internet, but I lacked some of the ingredients. Most importantly, I lacked the patience to blend it and put it back in the freezer for hours before I could eat it. Instead, I decided to freeze some of the pineapple we had left over, and try to blend it with lime juice and a little yogurt the following day. It worked like a charm. No need to refreeze, and it came out like soft serve. Granted, the motor of my immersion blender was not liking me, but it still did the trick.
My children and husband thought it was awesome, which was all the encouragement I needed. I had to freeze more pineapple and make more the next day. And the next. We’ve had it almost every day, and my immersion blender hasn’t given up on me yet. Although it worked well, I don’t recommend using an immersion blender unless you have to. A regular or high-powered blender would make it much faster and easier.
It doesn’t taste exactly like Dole Whip, it’s more like a sorbet. However, unlike Dole Whip, there are no preservatives, less calories and I guarantee that you can pronounce all the ingredients!
Pineapple sorbet, Dole Whip-Style
Makes approximately three ½-cup servings
2 Cups frozen pineapple chunks*
Juice of one lime or one lemon (I prefer lime, my kids prefer lemon)
3-4 Tablespoons plain fat free yogurt (try vanilla yogurt, too, mmmm….)
Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until smooth. Make sure you use a blender that you can press down the ingredients to keep the food in contact with the blades. If you want a thinner product, you can use more liquid, such as pineapple juice or more lemon/lime juice. We like it more like a soft-serve consistency; Dole Whip-style!
Garnish with fresh pineapple, if desired.
*We used fresh cut pineapple, but I’m sure drained canned pineapple would work well also. Freeze in a freezer bag or a freezer-safe container. Save the pineapple juice for another use, or use it to thin down the sorbet!
Report no. 8: Efforts to prevent tobacco use among rural Alaskan youth.
Reporting from: Kotzebue and St. Mary's, Alaska
HOST INTRO: Statewide, Alaska’s tobacco use rate hovers around 20%; it’s gone down significantly over the last decade or so, and is only slightly above the national average. But among Alaska Natives the rate is much higher – in some places, more than double - and often kids begin using tobacco at young ages. Jessica Cochran has more, in the next installment of our series “Being Young in Rural Alaska” from the producers of Kids These Days.
Posted outside the Maniilaq Health Center in Kotzebue, Alaska
JESSICA COCHRAN: Samantha Lindeman began smoking when she was seven; she grew up in Quinhagak in Southwest Alaska.
[Samantha Lindeman] "My mom kind of smoked, she’d go on and off, but everyone else around me in town smoked. And it was a small town, thirty people."
JC: Not that the adults condoned the kids using tobacco.
[Lindeman] "We’d go to the store and get candy and have someone else get us cigarettes, and then we’d have to wait hours before we could go home. So that was never fun having to wait, especially in the rain."
JC: They’d wait until they no longer smelled like smoke. At some points, Lindeman craved cigarettes so much, it was all-consuming.
[Lindeman] "It’s just like taking care of an infant to me; that’s how it feels."
JC: Bethel Alternative Boarding School helped Lindeman quit; they require students to stop smoking and keep pretty close tabs on them. Having a son clinched the deal: diapers and formula are expensive in Bethel. People around Lindeman still smoke, and the temptation is always there, but she’s determined not to start again.
• LEARN MORE! State of Alaska Tobacco use statistics
Much of the tobacco use in rural Alaska isn’t smoking: it’s chewing tobacco, snuff, or an extra-potent homemade blend of tobacco and punk ash fungus called iqmik, or blackbull. It’s a little easier to hide chewing than smoking– except at your dental check-up. In Saint Mary’s, dental health aide Bernadette Charles has seen signs of kids as young as 8-years old chewing tobacco products.
[Bernadette Charles] "Most times they say no, no they don’t, but you can notice how that tobacco pouch is in the mouth, it’s been there for quite some time. It’ll have some sloughed up tissue or be red and wrinkly."
JC: Charles says patients argue that they have relatives who have used it for years, with no problems; but she tries to remind them tobacco use is linked to many forms of cancer – and cancer is the leading cause of death for Alaska Natives in the region.
Laura Ellsworth is manager for the nicotine control and research program at Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. The program used to focus primarily on helping people quit, but she’s trying widen that effort to include more education and prevention efforts across the region. Tobacco use hasn’t been at the forefront of community conversations, maybe because, as Ellsworth says, it doesn’t fit with the culture to judge others, to tell them how they should live. She’s trying to break through that barrier.
[Laura Ellsworth] "I like to get local community members, people who have lived here a long time, who are Alaska Native to bring that message back to their peer group. So to say, I am Alaska Native, I value our culture very highly. Here are some things I know about tobacco, these are the reasons I don’t use it, these are the reasons I quit."
• LEARN MORE! Laura Ellsworth’s You Tube video on why she works to reduce nicotine use.
JC: In Kotzebue, a group of teen leaders have taken on tobacco use as one of their main causes. They’ve focused on enforcing the no-smoking- or-chewing rules at school – and teaching younger kids about the health risks, and general yuckiness of tobacco use. Fourteen-year old Nyla Ivanoff:
[Nyla Ivanoff] "Like this morning, I saw somebody spit on the gym floor. And the gym floor is new. Smoking is not only bad for the air but for the communities, for the families."
Youth Leaders Nyla Ivanoff (L), Levi Foster and Lorena Gephardt teach other kids about making healthy choices, not smoking...
JC: Members of the group have performed plays for younger kids, trying to spread the message. Michelle Woods of Maniilaq Association says kids need to get these prevention messages at school, because they don’t always get them at home: parents didn’t grow up with anti-tobacco messages and some don’t understand the health risks to their kids.
[Michelle Woods] "We’ve had reports back that parents will use chew tobacco as a reward for good behavior; if a toddler is crying, they’ll use it and put it in their gums to calm them."
Maniilaq Health Center in Kotzebue, Alaska
JC: Iqmik has come to be associated with Alaska Native traditions; one study showed people who use it are more likely to participate in subsistence activities, to be actively engaged in their Alaska Native culture. But as anti-tobacco advocates see it, since tobacco was introduced to Alaska Natives by westerners, none of its forms are truly traditional. Elmer Howarth Junior is a tobacco cessation counselor for Maniilaq.
[Elmer Howarth Junior] "It isn’t in our culture but it kind of got adopted in, you know you go hunting you see your dad chew or smoke a cigarette and you start too. So we’re trying to break that tradition - that non-tradition - and restore who we are as Alaska Natives."
• LEARN MORE! Anchorage Daily News article on Iqmik
JC: It’s a message he hopes will catch on. Two-thirds of underage users report they get their tobacco from others in the community. So successfully reducing tobacco use isn’t just about individual habits, it’s about addressing the social norms of entire communities.
With help from Sarah Gonzales and Anne Hillman, I’m Jessica Cochran.
This series is supported by funds from the Association of Alaska School Boards' Initiative for Community Engagement program.
LAST WEEK'S STORY in our Being Young in Rural Alaska reporting series addressed the need for more childcare in some rural Alaska hubs and towns. In other rural Alaska villages, jobs are scarce and unemployment is high, so there may not be much demand for full-time childcare. But there is still a need for early education programs, to make sure children are ready for school when the time comes.
Rural Cap operates Head Start programs in many Alaska communities: some are half-day or full-day programs, and some are home visit programs. During home visits, Head Start staff watch how kids are developing and reaching milestones, play games with them, and answer questions for parents. In those communities, Head Start also hosts “group socials” to get all the families together.
Jessica Cochran attended a group social in Saint Mary’s and spoke with program manager Bay Johnson and some of the parents there.
I HAVE THREE boys. They are responsible for all my gray hair, all my wrinkles, all my best memories and the reason I have spent so many, many hours getting comfortable reading to kids out loud. We’ve read on airplanes, trains, in hotels, on camping trips, in front of fires, snuggled in every bed in the house, in our hammock, on a blanket on the lawn, sitting by our chicken coop and in blanket tents in every room in the house. We love to read to kids! My husband and I came up with a list of books we think every family should read together, not just families with boys, but all families. Our list is best for kids between the ages of six and ten. We did include whole series as one book, because just one makes you want to read the whole series.
In no particular order here they are:
So there you go 10 great books to read to kids. Now bring on winter so we can snuggle in and read.
BE THANKFUL FOR a bounty of Alaska family fun!
It’s not just about eating or football this weekend. Put down the remote, leave those drumsticks behind, and make a conscious decision to forego anything involving the term “Black Friday.”
Thanksgiving weekend is a long one, and there’s no better time to bundle up and get outside to take advantage of many seasonal opportunities. Whether hiking over the river and through the woods, or singing a holiday carol with your neighbors, Alaska provides the perfect atmosphere for a little wintertime mood lift. Here’s a few of our favorites, with more listed on the AKontheGO calendar of events:
The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage kicked off a winter of ZooLights Friday evening at 5 p.m. with a full house of lighted displays, animated characters, and a chance to see the zoo’s more active nocturnal creatures. Walk underneath tunnels of light as you wander the grounds until closing time at 8 p.m. Remember to dress in layers, and pull a sled with hot chocolate and snacks to maximize your family’s fun. Visit the zoo’s website for ticket information and dates.
Saturday, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center will open for its annual Free Day, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Everyone gets in at no cost on Saturday, so walk (recommended) or drive the property and say howdy to moose, elk, bison and a particularly snarky porcupine named Snickers. The center is located at Mile 79 of the Seward Highway, near Portage. Allow a solid hour to drive from Anchorage.
Fairbanks residents always enjoy the Fairbanks Children’s Museum “Museum Without Walls” event. This organization hosts fantastic hands-on opportunities around the community to raise both awareness and funds to create a stand-alone facility. $5/child, or $15/family. This event is best for kids 0-7.
Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks welcomed families to their “Thanksgiving for the Birds” celebration on Saturday where kids could make some snacks for birds, take a winter walk and enjoy our feathered friends at one of the finest outdoor recreation spots in Interior Alaska.
Care to explore on a whim? Pack a wintertime picnic and head out to a local park or trail, and dine al fresco with the birds and trees. Fill a thermos with hot cocoa or soup, make some popcorn and enjoy a slower paced meal than the usual grab-and-go to which so many of us are accustomed. No matter the activity, take a few moments to reflect upon the blessings Alaska affords, indoors or out.
For more adventure tips, visit Erin at AKontheGO.com.
WITH COUNTLESS PEOPLE, things and situations to be thankful for this Thanksgiving I am challenging myself to think of one encompassing thing to be thankful for. I am thankful and grateful for time. In the past 365 days as a father I have been able to watch our sons develop into their own people. This time has not passed without demands and challenges, but when I think about the year since last Thanksgiving, the good memories are the first that come to mind.
In the past year, I watched our oldest learn to ski down a gentle slope with ease and no fear, which made my eyes tear up with joy. This was a fantastic moment that connected him to my numerous memories of winter youth. Celebrating his 4th birthday and watching him be showered with thoughts, care and love of all who care about him showed me the Meadester is already making a memorable difference in his own world. This past year we took our first boys’ trip together. It was more fun than I ever imagined having with a 4 year old. I think I may have gotten more out of the trip than he did!
Many parents fear a walking baby, but I was elated when our youngest took his first steps in pursuit of his brother. The motivation of keeping up with his older brother was inspirational to watch. We could see his mind was there but his body was working to catch up. How fortunate we were to have daily front row seats to this evolution of our son pulling himself up and around furniture to eventually chasing down his mentor. Celebrating his first birthday was very exciting with enough chocolate-cake-smear and joy for everyone’s enjoyment.
Our children spend time with my parents almost daily since they’ve made the move to our town just over a year ago. The time that they have together has bonded them for life. Our boys also spent three weeks with my partner’s parents and there is a bond there that has been established with this investment of time.
As a family we have had the time to take multiple trips—more than five weeks of dedicated time with one another, enjoying new experiences. This time together experiencing the new and the mundane that is always present in families with children and the simple flexibility just to be a family has nurtured the strong bonds that were already firmly in place. With this year of time I feel more bonded to my sons and more vested in our family. I am beyond thankful for this last year of time.
Thank you to the staff of Kids These Days for their dedicated time to this resource. Thank you for your time in reading my musings, thoughts and reflections.
I hope you are making the most of our commonality - time. Happy Thanksgiving!
SOMETIMES THE BEST thing about Thanksgiving is the leftovers. I know you haven’t even cut into your turkey yet, and you’re stressing about what side dishes to prepare and how to get it all cooked and then served hot at the same time. Whew! It’s stressful sometimes, but just for a moment, I want you to close your eyes and imagine with me...
Your family and friends had a great time. They loved all the food you prepared, especially the lingonberry sauce. The children didn’t make too much of a mess. The Lions and Cowboys won their respective football games (hey, we’re dreaming here). The dishes are all washed and NOT by you. (Again, you may have to use your imagination.) The house is cleaned up. Everyone is full and happy. You glance out your window, and it’s sunny and 80 degrees. You strap on your sandals and head to the beach.
Sorry, I was getting a little carried away there. Some of that may actually happen, but the warm weather and sandy beaches are probably out of the question if you live in Alaska. This is precisely why my family and I took the trek to Hawaii for Thanksgiving. Sorry, I can’t take you with me, but I’d like to transport you there through food. We’re going to turn your leftover turkey into a tropical vacation!
I made up a recipe for Tropical Turkey Salad and continued to modify it until I had something I absolutely LOVED. Even with the less-than-perfect-tropical-produce available in Alaska, it was still great. It’ll be even better when we make it in Hawaii. (sorry, not rubbing it in. Well, maybe a little…).
Wherever you make it, I guarantee if you close your eyes and eat it, you can envision yourself on a warm and sandy beach, with your children playing lovingly in the surf, while you relax and take it all in. Yep. Just ignore the children that are screaming “Mom’s asleep! Mom, wake up!” Well, it was fun while it lasted…
Tropical Turkey Salad with Mango and Macadamia Nuts
Add the chopped turkey, mango and celery to a large bowl.
Toast the macadamia nuts and coconut together (I’m probably breaking some culinary code by toasting them together, but I’m just being practical. Feel free to toast them separately.) in a small sauté pan on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until browned on the edges. WATCH CAREFULLY, as it will burn quickly. Immediately transfer to a paper towel to cool.
Make the dressing: combine yogurt, cilantro, Dijon, and curry powder and mix well. Note: If you’re not a curry fan, you may still like this! If you’re adverse to curry, try cumin or chili powder.) Using a fine grater or microplane, remove zest from lime. Cut in half and extract juice. Add lime juice and zest to dressing and mix well.
Add dressing mix to the turkey, mango and celery. Mix in half the nut/coconut mixture. Stir well, and add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with remaining nut mixture when serving.
This can be served many ways: on a bed of lettuce or romaine, atop of crisp or soft pitas, in a sandwich between two toasted pieces of your favorite bread, or all by itself.
*I could only find chopped macadamia nuts at the Alaska grocery store. If you have whole nuts, chop them first, then toast them with the coconut.
For another Thanksgiving leftover idea, try Turkey Minestrone!
Report no. 7: A lack of early childcare in rural Alaska is spawning creative and cultural solutions.
Reporting from: Barrow and Bethel, Alaska
HOST INTRO: Finding quality, affordable childcare for young children can be a challenge anywhere in Alaska. It’s especially difficult in rural Alaska’s hub communities where the cost of living is high and space is often hard to find. The lack of childcare becomes a factor in attracting professionals to jobs at regional health and other organizations. In the next installment of our series “Being Young in Rural Alaska” from the producers of Kids These Days, Anne Hillman takes a look at how some communities are trying to meet the challenge.
Image via lksd.org
A Busy Bees classroom in action in Bethel, AK...
ANNE HILLMAN: At Ilisagvik College in Barrow, president Pearl Brower tries to concentrate on an interview, but she’s a little distracted:
[Sound of baby... "Do you want to go sit with auntie?"]
Her 10-month old daughter is crawling into the hallway; she had a babysitter problem this morning:
[Pearl Brower] "We don’t have a formalized daycare here so that makes it very difficult because its all personal caregivers."
Brower is not alone. April Blevins struggled to find childcare when she first moved to Bethel, where there are currently no licensed childcare facilities for children under three.
[April Blevins] "And when I went to visit babysitters, you would see up to 12 children with one provider and in my mind it was just not a safe, or an environment I would want my child in."
So a cousin came to live with her.
[Blevins] "And then the following year, me and about four other friends hired a nanny through a nanny service and she came up and we provided housing and she kept our five children."
Later, Blevins did find home care she was happy with.
Marcey Bish, childcare program manager for the state, says the biggest hurdle for many providers getting licensed is background checks: every person living in the home must pass them, not just the primary care provider.
[Marcey Bish] "So a lot times there’s barriers that come up as part of those checks that do not allow somebody or a family member to move forward with the licensing process."
And many people do home day care for only a few years, while their children are young. Child care centers struggle to be able to pay decent wages; staff turnover is high and it can be hard to find a qualified person to be the facility administrator under licensing rules. Stephanie Berglund is director of thread, Alaska’s childcare referral agency; she says it’s not just a rural problem. Statewide, most parents can’t afford to pay what it takes to run an independent, quality early learning childcare facility.
Those are statewide issues. Even in urban areas, the best childcare programs are subsidized by employers. That’s how April Blevins is trying to meet the need in Bethel; she works for the Lower Kuskokwim School district and manages its “Busy Bees” child care program for children ages 3-5. School district employees have preference for spots at the school, and the waiting list is long. LKSD is opening a second facility, for children as young as 6 weeks, and expects it to be full right away. The staff is employed by the district, so they have better benefits than an independent facility could offer. And they have donated space:
[Blevins] "If it hadn’t been for the Bethel alternative school offering us a space, it would have been difficult for us to expand."
Families in Barrow and other North Slope communities are grappling with two problems: a lack of childcare facilities and a loss of language. So staff at Ilisagvik College created a combined solution - the Language Nest, an early childhood language immersion program.
[Classroom sound - singing Row Your Boat in Inupiaq.]
Teacher Tuuqlak Diaz sings “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in Inupiaq in a room that looks like a typical preschool, except every bit of decoration, from the toy caribou to the dolls in the tent, reflect life on the North Slope.
[Tuuqlak Diaz] “The language, it’s going to be instilled in their hearts in the beginning and it’s going to go along as they become adults.”
The Language Nest just opened and eventually will accept students ages 0 to 3. While at the school the kids will only listen to and speak Inupiaq.
[Martha Stackhouse] “You just say simple things, simple commands that you usually use in the home and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
That’s teacher Martha Stackhouse. She says that by teaching the children Inupiaq with words that they would typically use at home, they will also teach parents the language. And kids will only be accepted to the program if their parents commit to being involved in the classroom at least 8 hours per month.
Martha Stackhouse, Tuuqlak Diaz & Mary Sage
Program director Mary Sage says the Language Nest is part of Ilisagvik’s larger Inupiaq Early Learning Degree.
[Mary Sage] “Under the business track there will be some courses to help them establish their own language nest in their home anywhere on the North Slope.”
Future teachers can earn school credit by working in the current Language Nest, and the college will teach how to get state daycare licenses. The North Slope Borough is also working to address the need, with a childcare task force looking at re-opening a borough-run facility. Across the state, as new health care centers and school buildings are built, advocates are pushing to add to the plans, to make space for the care and education of the very youngest Alaskans.
With help from Jessica Cochran, I’m Anne Hillman.
This series is supported by funds from the Association of Alaska School Boards' Initiative for Community Engagement program.
IT HAPPENS EVERY year at our house. Jubilant, excessive, and somewhat frenetic holiday spirit abounds from Thanksgiving until December 25, when presents are unwrapped, roast beasts are consumed, and goodwill toward our fellow relatives means lots of kissed cheeks and long-distance phone calls. Children fall into bed content, if not downright giddy, and parents clink glasses in front of the fireplace as snow softly falls outside.
Then everyone wakes up the next morning to two solid weeks of vacation. Or, as my husband likes to call it, “Sixteen Days and Nights on the Good Ship Crankypants.” With kids released from school December 21, and not returning to the higher halls of learning until January 7, there are indeed a large number of days needing to be filled with family adventure, especially if you are not planning to spend the academic break on the beaches of Hawaii (and if you are, stop reading this immediately).
It’s not often that a school break falls so perfectly within the bounds of a major holiday, and many Alaska tourism businesses are responding with excellent opportunities for family fun.
Santa is always glad to lend a knee to good girls & boys.
Fairbanks is, of course, next to North Pole, and everybody knows who lives there. Santa Claus House has been the headquarters for Christmas fun since the 1950’s, and starting this weekend, the Big Guy will be occupying his favorite chair and listening to Christmas Lists. Full of cheer and charm, Santa Claus House is by far the kitchiest place to celebrate the holidays, and with most of Santa’s reindeer outside in a nearby paddock, it really does complete the perfect package.
image via Jim Lee March
Just taking the reindeer out for a walk, kids, be back soon!
Looking for more than a quick adoring gaze at Santa’s main source of transportation? Give a call to the Running Reindeer Ranch in the Goldstream Valley area of Fairbanks and take a few of these ungulates for a little stroll through a snowy forest. Rapidly becoming one of the most desired tours in the Interior, the Reindeer Ranch is a delightful journey of understanding the biology, science, and history of reindeer (and it’s not really about Santa at all!). Kids will be intrigued by the personalities of each resident reindeer, while owner Jane knows how to engage young visitors. Note: Bring your camera; this is a wonderful family photo op.
Anchorage residents know that Alyeska Resort in Girdwood is the spot to head for a little holiday fun. With a penchant for treating kids just right, Alyeska consistently delivers classic, affordable family luxury just 45 minutes from Anchorage. This winter, the resort is unveiling its newest special, aptly called the “Sweet Dreams Family Package”. Featuring a one-night stay, cookies and milk, a family game bundle, and $50 in resort credit, I can easily imagine moms and dads scrambling to snuggle underneath those oh-so-heavenly Hotel Alyeska comforters with a vintage edition of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. This package starts at $299/night, double occupancy, making it a pretty affordable option for the high winter season. Don’t forget, too, that Hotel Alyeska offers one of the best indoor swimming pools in the state, with an excellent mountain view to boot. And the skiing? Always epic, especially with the grand opening of the resort’s new high-speed quad, Ted’s Express, ready to whisk you and your little skiers to the top in record time.
Make this winter break a joy-full experience by exploring Alaska, together!
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation in Alaska. She lives with her family in Anchorage.
THANKSGIVING IS JUST around the corner. No other holiday is more focused around food. We gather around the table, and give thanks. Thanks for our life, our food, our many blessings. Everyone has different traditions, but in our house, we stuff ourselves with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie. We unbutton the top button of our pants as we sit on the couch and watch the Detroit Lions get annihilated. These are memory makers: food, fun, football and giving thanks.
I love it that food is so closely tied to memories - good or bad - tastes and smells can bring back a moment in time. Food is so much more than just physical nourishment. It nourishes our body and soul.
I want my children to associate food with good times and wonderful memories. I savor the moments when they’re in the kitchen with me, creating memories to last a lifetime. My heart beams when I hear my children say, “Someday, I’m going to make this for my kids, Mom.” Or, my favorite: “Will you give this recipe to my future wife?” Um…that might not be the best idea.
Part of our family memories are picking berries every summer. In our house, it’s a crime to serve the canned cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving - especially when we have a freezer full of Alaskan berries. I look forward to breaking out the lingonberries (aka low-bush cranberries) each Thanksgiving. They are very similar in taste to commercial cranberries, but are smaller and have more flavor and color.
Kids rule at picking lowbush cranberries because, well, they're closer to the ground...
When we serve lingonberry sauce each Thanksgiving, our family loves to reminisce about the fun we had while picking them. This year, we had to forage for a long time, since our usual picking spots didn’t produce very well. Thankfully, we still had some from the year before, when the yields were plentiful. When properly stored, lingonberries can last over two years.
This is our favorite lingonberry sauce. In other words, this is the “give-the-recipe-to-my-future-wife” recipe. If you don’t have lingonberries, substitute cranberries. This can be made ahead of time, as it will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. We like our sauce tart. If your family prefers it sweeter, add more sugar.
Orange-Ginger Lingonberry Sauce
Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Sauce will thicken as it cools.
Report no. 6: An alternative high school concept is helping rural youth graduate.
Reporting from: Bethel, Alaska (pop. 6,219)
Alaska’s high school graduation rate lags behind the nation - and Alaska Natives are more likely to drop out of school than others. In rural Alaska, high school students who have their sights set on graduation may not be sure what to do next. In the next installment of our “Being Young in Rural Alaska” series, from the producers of Kids These Days, reporter Mark Arehart looks at an idea designed to keep kids in high school, by giving them a glimpse of their possible futures.
(image via Andrea Pokrzywinski/ACE Academy)
A student at the Aviation Career Education Academy
[natural sound: bell, kids chatting]
MARK AREHART: Usually this sound [bell] means it’s time to pack up and move on to the next class.
Not these kids, though. They are prepping for the ACT college admissions, and they work straight through the bell. They come from villages across the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta to Bethel for a special program, one that’s not just for kids with straight A’s.
[Daniel Inman] “I was actually failing high school for my first two years. So this is a great was for me to get started again.”
That’s Daniel Inman, he’s a junior from Toksook Bay. He and his classmates are enrolled in accelerated math and science classes, aimed at preparing them for college and eventual careers.
[Daniel Inman] “Right now I’m taking a full year of chemistry and algebra two in half a year.”
Not all village schools can offer the upper level science and math classes students need for some college programs; so this program – called RANSEP - has students split their time between their home villages, Bethel, and a summer session at UAA.
RANSEP students learn how to build computers
For the Lower Kuskokwim School District, the college prep program is at the center of a larger idea: the hybrid high school.
It’s an effort that brings village students to Bethel for intense learning segments, ranging from a week to an entire semester, then sends them back to their villages better prepared for the next step. Assistant Superintendent Dan Walker.
[Dan Walker] “The whole idea of a hybrid high school would be to find ways to have a positive effect on graduation rate.”
And Walker says to do that, schools need to keep kids engaged.
[Walker] “It’s how do we go about creating that environment, where kids… they want to be at school. So it’s not the only thing, we have to have really high standards in reading, writing, math, science, social studies all of those things. But what we’re finding is that we also have to have these other highly engaging, motivating activities for kids that keep them excited about school. And that’s the whole idea behind this.”
[Plane assembly sound.]
Another branch of LKSD’s hybrid high-school is the Aviation Career Education Academy, or ACE, a special week-long program that also brings kids in to Bethel from villages across the region - kids like Bruce Simons, a 7th grader from Toksook Bay.
[Bruce Simons] “I want to be a pilot when I grow up like my dad. So I can explore Alaska."
Bruce and other students jump in the cockpit of an old plane used for instruction at the local flight school hangar.
The ACE program is giving kids a chance to delve into how aviation works, both in the classroom and in the field. They are learning about everything from the right conditions for flight…
[Simons] “If there’s turbulence you can’t fly and look at the forecast before you take off.”
… to how to actually put the wings on a plane.
(image via Andrea Pokrzywinski/ACE Academy)
[Andrea Pokrzywinski] “We have 23 students this year.”
Andrea Pokrzywinski directs the Ace program.
[Pokrzywinski] “And we had well over 84 applications, so lots of interest.”
She says students were picked based on the essays they wrote, not just the grades that they’ve made.
Again, Dan Walker of LKSD:
[Walker] “Aviation is huge here in the YK Delta and we’ve got lots of kids who are interested in aviation careers.”
And that’s the reason Walker says the Hybrid High School has been a success; it gives kids that have dreams of growing up and being a doctor or a pilot the tools to learn how to do that.
Kids like Daniel Inman.
[Inman] “It’s given me my motivation back. It’s made it so I want to succeed and I want to get to college. And I want good things for my life again.”
Similar programs to LKSD’s Hybrid High School are in place in Nenana and in the Nome and Bering Straights school districts.
Reporting from Bethel, I’m Mark Arehart.
ALASKA IS A state of military presence. From the moment Russia handed over this 586,000 square mile chunk of northern real estate, the United States armed forces has walked upon, sailed across, and soared above the largest state in our union. Did you know that per capita, Alaska has the largest population of veterans? Some were born and raised here, some are currently stationed here, and others have returned for retirement in a land flush with recreation and scenery. Whatever the reason, Alaska’s communities are standing tall to honor the men and women who sacrificed time, effort and life itself for freedoms the rest of us enjoy on a daily basis. Veteran’s Day is Monday, November 12, and although it is a school or work day for many, plenty of opportunities exist over the weekend and throughout the winter months to offer kids a healthy appreciation for Alaska’s heroes.
A great place to begin is the Veterans Administration website and a comprehensive series of fun activities, facts, and insights on their VA Kids pages. Perfect for educators, parents, or scout leaders, this is an excellent way to begin the conversation about military service and veterans, and is relevant to our state’s large contingent of Air Force, Coast Guard, and Army families.
The Alaska Veterans Museum (above) in Anchorage is tucked away in the 4th Avenue Mall downtown, yet is full of interesting exhibits and a ton of perspective from its director, Sue Ellyn Novak, herself a vet. A superstar when it comes to storytelling, Novak is an enthusiastic evangelist for Alaska’s veteran force, past, present, and future. The museum is small, for sure, but with an interactive map, intricate dioramas, and uniforms loaned by some of Alaska’s own, it’s an excellent stop for kids ages 5 and up. Open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $3/pp.
The Alaska Aviation Museum (above), located near Anchorage International Airport, is another worthwhile option for exploring the valuable contributions provided by pilots and planes in Alaska. Marching through aviation history in a very real way, the museum showcases the mechanics and emotion around peace and war, including an excellent video shown in the Aleutian Base theater. Don’t forget to browse the photographs, either; these are larger-than-life heroes in black and white. Open Wednesday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday 12-5 p.m. Admission is $10/adults, $8/military, seniors 65+, and veterans, $6/kids age 5-12.
The Juneau-Douglas City Museum is hosting an event on Saturday, November 10 to honor the USS Juneau. Sunk in 1942, the ship’s name was carried on by three subsequent ships and all will be celebrated at the little museum in downtown Juneau at 10:30 a.m. A number of artifacts from the original USS Juneau will be presented, making this a great event for older elementary and middle/high school students. The museum is also offering free admission and refreshments.
Appreciation comes through information, and Alaska’s kids are fortunate to have a number of outlets through which they can do just that. Take time this month to recognize and honor our veterans. It’s the right thing to do.
“Find thankfulness within your mind, and speak gratitude for our bravest kind.” - Roger J. Robicheau
For more on Alaska's military and families, check out our special report on Support for Alaskan Military Families with Deployed Spouses, or read about Learning History at Pearl Harbor.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and publisher of AKontheGO, a website dedicated to Alaska family travel and outdoor recreation. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and two sons.
IN MY FAIRLY new world of parenthood I know from personal experience that many organized people can often be reduced to flying by the seat of their pants in many aspects of life. That is never more true than during the holiday season - a time that demands even more planning, thoughtfulness and attention to the family's needs and wants than usual.
I'm gearing up to stay on top of what I know is expected of me this year. Here's what I am thinking about as the holiday season quickly approaches:
1. Charitable Donations: The closer our family gets to the gift exchanging events of the Christmas season the less room we seem to have in our budget. Making a charitable donation now will get this very important item off our list. This is also helpful to the non-profits as they can pre-plan the delivery of their added services during this active time of year.
2. Gifts: I have already made some decisions about some gifts I will be giving to family members so I am purchasing them now. I am doing so to continue to get things checked-off my list. We have family that lives outside of the United States and shipping can take up to two weeks to those locations, so I am beginning to think about our seasonal care-package to them.
3. Greeting Cards: At 36-years old I can be old fashioned and I still look forward to personal mail. I like to give this gift to others. Every year I send out 50-85 greeting cards to family and friends. It is never too early to confirm my address list and start considering my options for greetings.
4. Santa: If writing letters to St. Nick is part of your family’s tradition, considering asking him to send a reply this year! For over 20 years, "Santa's Helper" in Washington state has been composing personalized replies to children's "Dear Santa" letters for a nominal fee of $5. The look on our son’s face when he hears that Santa wants him to clean-up his cars or be more helpful with the morning routine is well worth the price. (Send letters & 5 bucks to: Santa’s Helper 141 Alder N.E. Castle Rock, WA 98611.)
5. Thought: Battery toys lose their pep and most toys will eventually break beyond repair. The latest technology will soon be replaced. Giving myself a little extra time to prepare for family gifts I have time to think about giving experiences as gifts as opposed to stuff. This is a priority in our family to give experiences and not stuff! A family trip to the ski slopes, the ice rink, or a fancy holiday dinner can create moments and memories beyond the life of stuff.
Even in the Last Frontier it can be difficult to avoid getting caught up in the commercialism and market driven hype that is the holidays - especially when you have kids. Giving myself a little extra time to plan a thoughtful season will hopefully keep me away from frantic stress or a less meaningful season. Start planning now.
I WAS AWAY last week. Well, that’s not completely true; I was just not in this space. Our household almost suffered a catastrophic loss when our oldest son was in a terrible car accident. He will eventually be fine but the “almost-ness” of that accident has really got me thinking about gratitude and appreciation in my life.
What if something were to happen to me and I never let my kids know how much they mean to me? Or vice versa?
Replace kids with husband/mother/father/friends and you can see that this can apply to anyone in your life. Gulp. So with that in mind I’ve been working on being MORE grateful to the people who I value in my life. I hope that SHOWING my kids how to appreciate the people in their lives will be the best way for them to learn. Because isn’t modeling good behavior the best way to teach?
1. Be There Now. When catching up with old friends, my kids or my husband I will be more present. I will NOT check my smart phone every 3 minutes, I will close my computer and have real conversations. I will schedule a time for my computer useage and it will not be when my kids are present or during down time with my husband. All of this will be to the best of my ability, because no one is perfect, right?
Smartphones are good for adorable kid/dog photos though...
2. Greetings & Salutations. I will meet each person I know and love with a hearty and glad “it’s good to see you!” or some other appropriate greeting. I want to make sure the people that mean the most to me know that I am deeply appreciative of them and that I am happy to see them.
3. Be Thankful. When someone is kind, thoughtful and helpful we will be properly thankful. A scattered “thanks!” is ok but it won’t quite cut it every time. I want my kids to see and feel me being thankful. To get us started we will being making and giving out thank you cards to all the friends who supported us during our recent upheaval.
Beautiful flowers work well, too - lovely to receive, beautiful to give...
4. Love the one You’re With. I need to make sure my kids KNOW how much their dad means to me. Spouses and significant others can definitely get the short end of the stick sometimes and I wouldn’t want my boys to think that they should treat their spouse poorly. Or, on the other hand, be the recipient of ill behavior. So ramping up my appreciation of my spouse is on the to do list.
5. The Beauty Around. This one we practice quite a bit but it’s really worth a mention, noticing and sharing the beauty of the world around us. When our kids know and love the beautiful places of this world they will have a real appreciation for them. Raising conscious kids means they won’t litter, will respect the natural places and hopefully lead others along that path too. It can be as simple as observing the clouds or watching migrating birds or rain puddles. There can be wonder in everything.
How about you? Could you inject a little more appreciation into your life on the daily?
"I LIKE CHICKEN!" My oldest son says that all the time. I don’t know why. It will come out when you least expect it. We’ll be sitting around playing a card game and he’ll spout out “I like chicken!” He’ll be with his friends and they will all start saying it, producing gales of laughter. Maybe it’s code for something else. Or maybe he just likes chicken. Or maybe I have weird children. I think that’s it.
Weird or not, they really do like chicken. It used to be that buying a whole roasting chicken was the frugal thing to do. This isn’t the case anymore. Depending on where you buy food, it’s actually cheaper to buy it cut up, or even better, pick up a cooked rotisserie chicken...
...and turn it into this!
I’ve gotten into the habit of buying a rotisserie chicken almost every time I go grocery shopping. It’s a wonderful time-saver. It only takes about 5 minutes to turn a rotisserie chicken into a pile of chicken to use for recipes. Here’s what I do:
1. Rip off the lid. You can use the lid to put the chicken into.
2. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Don’t bother with a knife. Just put your hands in there and start ripping off the meat. Wear gloves if you must, but it’s much more satisfying, in my opinion, to use your clean bare hands. Channel your inner cavewoman/man.
3.I start with the breast. There’s a bone in the middle, so start by separating each breast from the bone. Yep, get your fingers in there and tear it right off. Feels good, doesn’t it? Take out your frustrations on this chicken!
4. When you get as much meat as you can off the breast and have it transferred to your lid, start with the legs and thighs. You may even get some meat off those little wings. Just pull the meat right off the bone, careful not to include the ligaments and cartilage.
5. There’s great meat hiding on the bottom of the chicken. It’s been sitting in the chicken juices, soaking in all that wonderful flavor. So, flip over that bird and pull away the meat on the underside of the chicken.
6. When all you’re left with is a one container of boney carcass, and one full lid of meat, the hard part is done! Rejoice! In less than five minutes, you’ve created enough meat for one or two meals!
7. Tear or chop it into smaller pieces if desired, or leave it in larger portions. Freeze in freezer bags or use right away. Here’s one idea our family uses for a quick and easy meal using diced up rotisserie chicken!
Quick Teriyaki Chicken
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in sesame oil, about 4 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds.
Add remaining ingredients (except chicken) and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 tablespoon of water if sauce gets too thick for your liking. Add chicken and stir until chicken is heated through.
Serve over rice. We also like this wrapped in butter lettuce with carrot slices. Either way, it’s simple, quick, and delicious!
Report no. 5: How one Community-wide Effort to Prevent Suicide is Helping Kids to Thrive
Reporting from: Kake, Alaska (pop. 561)
While recent reports show the suicide rate falling slightly within the state, Alaska still has the highest rate in the nation – especially among Alaska Native young men. One community in Southeast had nearly the highest rate in the nation back in the 1980's, but today they see almost no suicide in their village. In the next installment of our “Being Young in Rural Alaska” series, Sarah Gonzales goes to Kake to learn about what it means to successfully prevent suicide.
[ambient teen center noise]
SARAH GONZALES: Here at the Boys and Girls club in Kake, Alaska, teens gather after school to play pool and video games. Scott Jackson is their mentor. A man in his 30’s, what he lived through as a child now accounts for his job as a suicide prevention counselor.
[Scott Jackson] "Just being here in the 80’s during the epidemic when I was a young man, a young kid, it was a little difficult losing the family members that I did which was cousins and uncles and a cousin that was like a brother to me, so in the last couple of years I decided that was a field that I really wanted to partake in.”
SG: In Kake, residents remember “The Epidemic” as a dark and difficult time during the 80’s: 15 young people took their own lives in two years. Joel Jackson was the local chief of police during the epidemic - when he was barely 20 years old.
[Joel Jackson] “It brought it to light…You know, everybody was going through it when it started happening, it was like shellshock. It was one after the other and it uh kinda caught everybody off guard. We had some suicides before but nothing like that. It was all due to alcohol.”
SG: The residents recognized the need to cope with this immediately and it's why the decided that talking openly and honestly - as a community – was the only way to heal.
Kake resident Anthony Gastelum is a suicide survivor himself and he’s candid about his past struggles with drugs and alcohol. Today, he’s been sober for almost 20 years and he works in suicide prevention with youth. He knows from experience that successful prevention is so much more than a one-off class or a pamphlet you hand to kids saying don’t do it. It’s learning Tlingit dances, it’s a safe place to do homework, and it’s helping adults heal from substance abuse and alcoholism.
[Anthony Gastelum] “Being around adults that live a clean and sober life and can learn by example is very attractive to the students that are involved in the things we do in the community.”
SG: Gastelum says that if you asked them, most of the kids in Kake wouldn’t pinpoint suicide as an existing issue in their village today. And he likes it that way. He’s working to help to create a physically and mentally healthy environment for these youth to grow up in.
[Gastelum] “…and you know it is true that it does take a whole community to raise children.”
Kake students mugging for the camera...
SG: Community efforts like culture camps for kids teach traditional knowledge, instilling a strong sense of place and self in the residents – this year Kake held it’s first adult culture camp.
Research shows that indigenous people who live in communities where they are able to participate in traditional activities will rate their levels of happiness higher than those who live in communities where they feel detached. Doing things like hunting, fishing and - carving.
[Joel Jackson] “When you carve, for me anyway, it’s like putting my mind at ease.”
SG: Former police chief Joel Jackson started a carving group for boys and men of all ages – they create duck calls, canoe paddles – but the main goal of this group isn’t making wooden items.
[Jackson] “And when you’re carving and you’re dealing with sharp knives you basically have to concentrate. And everything else that is bothering you – well, first of all you have to have your mind in a good state - and it’s just more or less trying to get them to, you know, put their things, whatever’s bothering them, aside to put their mind at ease and, it seems to work.”
A young student's Tlingit class homework...
[Extended cut - SG: Former Kake resident 24-year old Megan Gregory is attempting to partner her suicide prevention project with the South East Regional Health Consortium in Juneau with existing organizations that already know how to get rural kids involved, - organizations like 4-H.
[Megan Gregory] “The benefits of 4H in rural Alaska are bridging the gap between elders and youth, teaching them about sustainability, how to be leaders in their communities. You’re getting these kids to network, not only with their peers but also with adults, and also just showing them a healthy way of life because I honestly feel that a healthy body equals a healthy mind.” - end ext. cut]
SG: 36-year old Evon Peter from Arctic Village also struggled with growing up in an unhealthy environment. Today he is making a film about suicide prevention and he also hosts workshops in rural Alaska, bringing the idea of “cultural healing” to entire communities, empowering people to health.
[Evon Peter] “It’s kinda this coupling of raising awareness, healing and the pursuit of self-determination. And I think when those all meet up and come together we’re pursuing something that is so positive and so valuable to ourselves and to future generations and it just makes sense.”
SG: His work acknowledges how historical traumas like colonization and assimilation led to loss of traditional ways, while institutional abuses like punishment for speaking indigenous language only further exacerbated a deep collective sadness. Peter says self-determination is key to future prevention effort.
[Peter] “Being able to be in control of the direction of our destiny. I mean it’s what all people want, to be able to self-govern ourselves. To have educational institutions, economic institutions , social, government institutions that reflect our values. What we believe in, what’s important to us as a people moving forward.”
Kake has the tallest totem pole in the world at 128 feet!
[Extended cut - SG: Like Peter, Wilbur Brown, Jr. has learned during his years as the Behavioral Health Program manager at the Southeast Regional Health Consortium in Sitka that active listening, engaged talking are key. He knows firsthand what suicide prevention success looks like because he, too, grew up in Kake, living through the epidemic in the 80’s -
[Wilbur Brown, Jr.] “Bottom line the goal is out kids grow up in a healthier environment and have a long productive life. For years we’ve been riddled with suicide, alcohol, negative thinking about our people, I want to work with these youth – raising awareness of our culture, telling them that you’re strong in your culture, you’re strong in who you are, you’re strong in your community. If they’re going to grow up strong hey have to know where they come from.” - end ext. cut]
It’s a message that bears repeating – especially in the communities where there is still awareness to be raised, lots of listening needed and cultural healing to be done. And communities like Kake which have significantly reduced their suicide rate are positive proof that this holistic, out-in-the-open, community-wide method will help kids to live - better lives.
Reporting from Kake, I’m Sarah Gonzales.
EVEN UNDER THE best of circumstances, the process of travel remains highly unpredictable, and travel with children exponentially so. On the heels of a super storm that slammed the east coast and major transportation hubs, and with a busy holiday season just around the corner, it’s critical to recognize and address potentially stressful family travel topics now. From fevers to delayed flights, sometimes just getting the family out the door - never mind to Hawaii - is an exercise in pre-planning, patience and the utmost in parental persistence. Below are a few tips that might serve as a helpful reminders once your sleigh full of children is packed and ready to head out the door.
You have the tickets, right?
1. Plan before packing. I believe in flexibility, I really do, but there are simply some elements of adventure that tax even the most seasoned traveler. Thinking beyond the obvious; airline tickets or hotel reservations means your family is better prepared for any situation, delay, or emergency that could stall travel to and/or from your final destination. If flying into an unfamiliar airport, or making connections with a layover, visit the facility’s website for a map detailing layout, restrooms, restaurants, and the all-important children’s play area (hint: it’s a great way to allow older kids to play “leader”, too). Need a rental car at your destination city? Step away from airport rentals and check the company’s website for off-site lots. Most major car rental agencies have shuttles and the extra step could save cash, too, that you can spend on the fun stuff like attractions.
2. Stow extra patience. I trumpet early arrival at the airport, train station or ferry dock with good reason. During peak Alaska travel times - early in the morning, late at night, and over the holidays, travel simply takes longer. Do your part to expedite efficient departure; make sure kids are fed, changed, and have adequate amusement for long lines, delays, and anxious moments. Make sure all travel documents like passports, ID cards, and tickets are easily accessible, and luggage, car seats and strollers are clearly marked with tags to avoid delays at the baggage claim. Talk with kids about the importance of sticking together and using their best manners; opening doors for elderly or disabled passengers, or waiting their turn to board an airplane are all examples of patience personified. Children will take their cues from you so no freak-outs, please.
OMG airport waiting around...
3. Know when to be persistent. There are times when pushing back is appropriate. As adults traveling with children, you are the ultimate voice of authority when it comes to the health and well-being of the youngsters in your care. Unsure about TSA’s screening procedures? Take your time, ask questions, and refer back to the planning portion of this post. TSA has a wealth of information and some excellent videos for parents and kids detailing the “what to expect” aspects of security screening. A fast viewing prior to leaving home may help alleviate a case of the “security blues”. Have you reached your hotel, but are unsatisfied with the accommodations? Make a personal visit to the property’s front desk, and if necessary, voice your concerns directly to the on-site guest services manager. After all, it’s their desire to see satisfied customers, and a good hotel or resort will include children in that mission.
Of course, even the most prepared traveler will experience hiccups during a trip; I think it’s some unwritten law. But taking a few moments at home to research, discuss, and implement a plan with your children could help promote a blissful holiday travel experience.
For more travel tips, visit Erin at AKontheGO.com. Also, check out 5 Tips for Holiday Travel with Kids and Flying Solo - 5 Tips for the Single Parent Traveler.
ALASKA TAUGHT ME about voter apathy that I had not experienced before moving here twelve years ago. I still hear residents of this state say: “The election will be decided before I get the opportunity to vote. Why should I bother?” This apathetic approach damages the spirit and privilege that every citizen of our country has to vote for representatives in our government. Regardless of where our family lives now or in the future the civil responsibility to cast a voter at every opportunity will be something that my partner and I model.
When I was born, my father was not a citizen of the United States of America. My partner was born into a household where neither of her parents were citizens of the USA. The day my father became a citizen in 1982 there was a school board election in our town. After driving 160 miles to be naturalized my father also cast his first vote as a US citizen. He has never missed an opportunity to cast a vote since. Both of my parents clearly modeled what was expected of citizenship in a country where citizens are given the right to vote.
Baby's first visit to the polls at 2 months old...
Looking back at my childhood I cannot recall any conversation that I had with either of my parents about the importance of voting but, now as an adult, I could easily direct you to every polling station where they would cast their ballots. I can do this because they always took my brother and me with them to the polls.
Without ever discussing how to impart the duty of this civic exercise to our own offspring, my partner and I have included our sons in every vote we have cast since their births. I can only hypothesize that our parents modeling strong examples of what citizenship means has led to the strong examples we are modeling for our sons.
Yes, I understand that you could be suffering from being over exposed to political choices and views every time you turn on the radio or television and/or every time you walk around your neighborhood. Yes, I understand that you may feel that your choice of candidates is a choice between the lesser of two evils. Yes, I understand if there is not a contested election in your state district but there is still the choice of our State Representative and our country’s President. The next generation of Alaskans needs to be shown the importance and value of the votes we have regardless of the fact that our votes are counted second to last in our country of 50 states. Please vote and take your children with you!
HALLOWEEN, FOR ME, didn’t used to be about bags of candy. My mom would make popcorn balls of all different hues, wrapping them around tootsie pops to hand out to trick or treaters. Since there wasn’t a stranger in the small Alaska town where I grew up, no one had a problem with this. The children came, they trick-or-treated and they ate because we didn’t worry about tainted candy back then.
My husband fondly remembers one of his teachers setting up a propane stove in his front yard every Halloween. On it was a huge pot of simmering soup. Instead of candy, he’d hand out bowls of his hot soup to trick-or-treaters. That sounds like my kind of treat!
Now, I love my peanut butter cups just as much, if not more, than the next person and I know my kids love to sort their candy and eat it (3 per day is our limit). I even have them trained to save a few of those peanut butter treats for me! BUT, I have seen healthier alternatives. Some of the edible ones include; bags of pre-packaged pretzels, small bags of microwave popcorn, trail mix, granola bars, juice boxes, and cheese sticks. My children have also had some non-edibles end up in their treat bags: toothbrushes (I think that was from a dentist) and Halloween pencils. One person I saw even gave out quarters to trick-or-treaters!
So, here’s my family’s favorite soup. We like it any time of year, for any occasion. I even made a batch this week for the teachers at my kids school. The pot came back empty. I may set up on the porch to serve it to trick or treaters, but really this is a great, slow-cooked meal that can be kept warm for when you come back in from the cold after an evening of collecting candy.
CROCKPOT TACO SOUP
Yield: about 15 generous portions. Leftovers freeze well.
(I changed the original recipe which included packets of taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix. Being salt sensitive, I found the sodium content too high. Not to mention all those ingredients I can’t pronounce. I came up with my own “seasoning mix”, but if you’re in a pinch, feel free to substitute the taco seasoning and ranch dressing mixes.)
Brown the beef and sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat until all the pink is gone. When the meat starts to render some fat, add the onions and cook with the meat until soft. Drain fat by tipping the skillet and scooping out the fat that accumulates.
Transfer to a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker, and add the remaining ingredients.
Stir and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4 hours.
Serve with optional toppings if desired: shredded cheese, green onions, sliced olives, sour cream.
Dine with your trick-or-treaters!
Report no. 4: How one school district successfully combined culture + academics
Reporting from: Barrow, Alaska (pop. ~4000)
[Alaska News Nightly host intro] It’s hard to get excited about school when you’re reading a typical textbook written in the Midwest, and you live in a place with no trees, no sidewalks, and no elevators. That’s why educators on the North Slope are making a change. In the next installment of our “Being Young in Rural Alaska” series from the Producers of Kids These Days!, reporter Anne Hillman looks at how the North Slope Borough School District is revamping the way they teach to help kids connect to academics and culture all at the same time.
ANNE HILLMAN: When Robin Stockton started teaching math in the North Slope Borough 16 years ago, she did it like everyone in the Lower 48, with examples like the arc of a foul ball to teach parabolas.
[Stockton: “They’d have it for one day but then they wouldn’t. It only made sense in my four walls. When you can’t apply it to anything, it doesn’t stick.”]
AH: So she made the math lessons apply to her student’s lives.
[Stockton: “Tying quad functions to whale bomb or to a jumpers height, it makes sense, it sticks, that’s the important part.”]
AH: The problems with standard teaching examples don’t start with abstract math; it starts with the books kids read in elementary school. Kids can’t relate to climbing trees or feeding chickens in a big red barn - those things don’t exist here. They know more about riding snow machines over the tundra and butchering whales with their families.
And that’s the motivation behind the North Slope Borough School District’s new teaching curriculum. It systemically incorporates Inupiat culture into every subject while still meeting all of the state educational standards.
North Slope Borough in red. image source
AH: School Board President Debby Edwardson says the board and the community have been trying to incorporate Inupiat culture for years.
[Edwardson: “What we had done before was create lots of units in the classroom. What we’re doing now is completely regenerating our system with an Inupiat base. We’ve never done that before.”]
AH: The first step was to talk to all eight of the communities in the district and find out what they wanted their kids to know and be like when they graduated from high school. They used that to develop the Inupiat Learning Framework, which lays out the core values and ways of life that the community wants taught in their schools. Then, Robin Stockton and a team of other teachers and administrators used a proven method of curriculum development called Understanding By Design.
[Stockton: “The whole UBD process is having the end student in mind. And students being able to take the content they’ve learned in thirteen years of schooling and apply it to real world tasks.”]
The symbol of the Inupiat Learning Framework which includes 4 "realms": environmental, historical, community and individual
AH: The new system meets the state’s standards and the community’s standards in an effort to get kids more motivated and involved. And district officials say it’s working. Attendance rates are at (the highest ever) *record highs* for the alternative school, the number of office referrals at the elementary school has been cut in half, and the drop-out rate is almost halved as well.
Fifteen year old Donna Sabo says that when last year’s end-of-the-year writing prompt focused on families, it made it easier for her to show her abilities.
[Sabo: “It was a good change because we know more about it. We understand it. Better than ‘what do you know about the trees or…. I don’t know, politics'…somewhere around there.”]
AH: The culture-focused curriculum also gives students the chance to learn more about their identities, something that school didn’t used to do. Sabo says she stopped doing cultural activities because she was too busy with academics and sports.
[Sabo: “I feel like now that I’m older I made a bad decision because I didn’t continue on with my cultural…whatevers.”]
AH: Now, as the district undergoes the lengthy process of cultural integration, students won’t have to choose between culture and academics. Middle school principal Carla Seavey says it gives the students a forum for educating each other.
[Seavey: “You might think that they all have the same experiences in terms of hunting or subsistence lifestyle, but they don’t all necessarily. A lot of our kids can learn from their peers about their own culture.”]
AH: And they can also learn about other cultures. Only 60 percent of the students in Barrow come from the region. Others hail from around the world, including Samoa and the Philippines. Middle school teacher Tony Bisson says the framework helps the students connect to each other to see how they are similar.
[Bisson: “I had one boy yesterday who said ‘yeah, I’m a hunter-gatherer, we gather rice in the Philippines.’ So it just makes a connection and whether or not, its not Inupiat, but it’s still hunting and survival. You see it in all cultures.”]
AH: Inupiat communities aren’t the only ones trying to incorporate culture into their schools. The Alaska Native Knowledge Network is amassing culturally-based curriculum resources and making them available to the state’s teachers. The University of Alaska Fairbanks has developed an elementary school math series based on Yupik knowledge and culture. And in Southeast Alaska, the Sealaska Heritage Institute recently released coursework for grades six to eight - focused on Alaska Native history and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Reporting from Barrow, I’m Anne Hillman.