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Part 5: Beets, Boulders & the Beautiful Stories People Tell

CHAPTER 1: I'm all the way at the end of the Banks Peninsula. The town is named Akaroa. There are dolphins, seals, penguins and many tourists here but I haven't seen any of them. I hitchhiked here from Oamaru, the place with the most interesting architecture I've seen in New Zealand, a million second hand clothes shops, cheese, whisky and chocolate factories to tour, basically so much to see. I wandered around, getting lost in the gardens and sampling a few meat pies. I met many interesting people at my hostel..... more to come this internet is running out...

CHAPTER 2: The best part of Oamaru is that the little blue-eyed penguins come swimming next to the harbor right at dusk. I wanted to keep one of those spotted, waddling, adorable birds. Before Oamaru I was wwoofing for a few days. I pulled carrots and beets, tended to the cows and sheep, helped cook, baked bread, made butter, yogurt and cheese. Catherine, the owner of the farm, told the most entertaining stories about her psychopath ex-husband, her cowardly neighbor, her brave minuscule dog and all the other kooky people in her life. Ahhh this dumb internet...!

CHAPTER 3: From my wwoofing farm near Palmerson I was picked up by some Aucklanders. I told them about these Moraki Boulders I'd heard about and they loved me for sharing part of their own country with them. The boulders were marvously round and planet-like, and one looked like an egg being cracked open.

I didn't have enough time in Oamaru but there was another place I wanted to see before flying to the North Island: Akaroa. On the Banks Peninsula there are many little bays cutting into the mountains and the one close to Akaroa is the largest. There are no docks in the harbor, to access a boat a person needs to paddle out in a small kayak. I biked through the one-road town and hiked up part of a mountain with a girl I met. If not for my sunscreen, my whole body would have been burned like a marshmallow in the sun that day.


Back in cell phone service, I recieved a call from an elderly couple who picked me up hitch hiking and invited me to spend the night and a big smile of relief came over me. Sometimes, in the bustle of young travelers deciding where to go next and which pub has the best dancing music I seek out company from older people full of enthralling stories. Vicki and Reg laughed about their 5-week boat expeditions to New Zealand from England, the different farms they owned, the various marriages they'd dealt with, managing a rock band, working with the first computers in New Zealand and all the changes they've seen unfold in the years of resedency in what they call paradise.

Close to Christchurch, the home of sorrow and recent catastrophe, I am currently in the center of an old, inactive volcano. Like Alaska, New Zealand rests on some of the largest tectonic fault lines. The land has formed elevated mountain terrain and in the center of it all is my favorite: a lengthy tear-dropped spit of land, which is owned by the Maori people.


Travelers from big European cities have all shared with me their surprise at the kindness of New Zealanders. To me, people are similar to Alaskans in mentality, there are times I feel so happy and grateful for that. Vicki and Reg had no idea what they got themselves into by picking up an 18-year old hitchhiker I'm sure, but they generously shared their life with me for a day.

Later on today I will fly out of Christchurch and into Wellington. There I will be driving with a radio journalist and musician to a music festival called WOMAD where she has played in previous years.

Listen to Part 5 of Aviva's audio blog below... Have a New Zealand tip for Aviva? Leave it in the comments down under!


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KTDontheGO: Cemeteries Full of Alaska's History

WE LIKE TO visit cemeteries. Is that weird? Perhaps it’s my inexplicable need to connect with those who settled this far northern land, so long ago. Or maybe it’s the sepia-toned images I upload from my camera at the end of the day; visual reminders of who, and why these homesteaders, miners, Native Alaskans or soldiers lie beneath our feet. 

When our family lived briefly in South Carolina, I wrote obituaries for a small-town newspaper. Visiting a cemetery in the deep south was visiting history. When we moved to Alaska that history expanded beyond that which I thought I already knew. 

Just as southern gravesites were often divided between Black or White, Yankee or Confederate, so too are Alaskan cemeteries, although not necessarily by law. Culture, tradition or simple logistics play a large role, and discovering the backstory can be an exciting adventure while visiting the smaller communities of Alaska. 

Do kids enjoy visiting graves, tombstones and the like? Certainly I cannot speak for all Alaska children, but mine seem to appreciate, if not enjoy, the chance to find the oldest grave, or sweep clean the surface of a small child’s headstone while learning more about the difficulties of living to old age 200+ years ago. Morbid? I don’t think so. Children will learn in school about such terms as “epidemic” or “war;” where better to see the direct result in a peaceful, serene, and beautiful setting? 

Here are a few ideas for visiting the final resting place of interesting Alaskans:


Sitka National Cemetery: Set on a gentle, rolling hill above Sawmill Road in Sitka, the National Cemetery is a lovely example. At just over four acres, the cemetery features the gravesites of many notable Alaskans, like Territorial Governor, John Green Brady, who sat in the hot seat from 1897-1906. The cemetery was established between 1868 and 1870, changing hands a number of times before the federal government gained management rights and now oversees the maintenance and organization. Truly a soldier’s last, peaceful resting place, it was humbling to see the number of recent plots now filled in with the stark, white stones of the United States’ most recent conflicts, and we stood for a time beneath a fluttering American flag to offer our respects. Free. Open year-round. 

Gold Rush Cemetery, Skagway: Not quite as somber a place as the Sitka site, the Gold Rush Cemetery features graves of scalawags like Jefferson Rudolph “Soapy” Smith, and the dude who shot him, Frank Reid. Located on the “other side of the tracks” across the White Pass Yukon Railroad yard, this cemetery is a fascinating terminus to the great Skagway Walking Tour, and fun (yes, fun) for kids. Set beneath old, twisted trees, with equally old grave plots, this little graveyard will be the scene for many a tale of old time Skagway. Find the cemetery by walking (or driving) up Alaska Street to 23rd Avenue, and cross the tracks to the parking lot. A great hike to Reid Falls can accompany your visit, up the 2 miles toward a rushing waterfall, and back again. Open year round, but obviously more accessible during the summer months. Free.

Eklutna Historical Park, Eklutna/Eagle River area: First created in 1650, this graveyard is dedicated to the Dena’ina-Athabascan people, and features beautifully-apportioned “spirit houses” to help the dead arrive safely in their next world. Tour the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, too, and see the blending of two distinctly different cultures. Bring bug spray. Take the Eklutna Exit off the Glenn Highway, head north to the park. Donations requested, open only during summer season.  

Nome Cemetery: Yes, a stretch for most families, but if you ever find yourself in this little city, do stop by the cemetery, located on Cemetery Hill at the outskirts of town. Miners, homesteaders, and Native Alaskans rest comfortably here, which was not always the case during life. Epidemics like the diptheria outbreak of the early 1900’s took many lives, as did violence and the environment. The City of Nome has been working to improve the cemetery, but somehow, to me, I like it this way, with waving grasses and years of history tucked away underneath the crowberry patches. 

History is here, and there. We need only to stop and look for it, everywhere.

Follow the Kirkland family’s adventures at AKontheGO.com 

Capitol Letters: The Pros & Cons of a Faith-Based Upbringing

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE with organized faith happened within my first weeks out of the womb. My family was anchored by the beliefs of my parents and the Bible church we attended religiously every Sunday morning and evening for a total of three hours. My brother and I went to a weekly Bible club, a church youth group weekly when we were older; Vacation Bible School was a staple to our summer schedule and we occasionally attended church camp.

For the first seven years of my educational experience I attended a small Christian school. Most of my education was surrounded by the teachings of the Bible and life lessons rooted in interpretations of its teachings. When I reached high school I started attending a Catholic school. I will never forget the feeling of liberation making this transition. Catholic school felt like I was no longer surrounded by the strictness and constraints of the past seven years of school. Yes, there was a mandatory religion class that had to be taken and I felt like I could have taught my own at this juncture in my life. I was very relieved that many of my other classes were centered on a subject matter with no mention of faith or the Bible.

Close to my 17th birthday my father informed me that I now had the option of attending Sunday service with the family. At this point this was the only staple of church in my weekly life. I wish I had said, “I will be sleeping-in next Sunday.” I cannot remember my exact words but this is how I felt.

Atlas goes to church with an uncle

This Jesus-centered environment came along with strict living at home. We didn’t have television, instead religious radio was a staple in the rhythm of our daily lives. Moody Bible Institute was a household name and Pastor James Dobson’s voice still reminds me of evenings beginning the daily bedtime routine. Every book or music cassette that came into the house had to meet the approval of my parents. “Secular music” was not allowed but bootlegged tapes from friends did make it to my Walkman.

Moving into early adulthood attending church became less of a consideration for me. Occasionally I would attend with my parents when home from college because I knew how much it meant to them and I knew that this was an avenue to show-off their offspring to their community. Because of my extensive experience in the surroundings there is always a level of familiarity in church. But there is also a level of apprehension that occurs in me – it’s a byproduct of the constraints that ruled my life for so long.

In my early 20’s I did harbor some small level of resentment towards the vacuum of life in which I was raised. I felt like I had missed out on other life experiences and options that so many of my counterparts had gotten to experience. I also felt like I had no comparison and very little exposure to other faiths. Becoming a parent has tempered these feelings.

My faith-based upbringing taught me respect, honesty, humility, charity and volunteerism. My parents are the best living testimony of faith in my life! In becoming a parent I understand that focus and parameters are important and I see that my parents’ faith aided them accomplishing this. Sometimes I feel like I lack focus and direction in how I live my life and guide the life of our boys. I can now see how this faith and Biblical basis of values provided this guide for my parents when I was a child. I have no intentions to raise our children in a similar vein, but I am grateful that Grandma and Grandpa are alive and very involved to provide another outlook on life.


Steve SueWing lives in Juneau, Alaska with his partner, Susan, and two young sons, Meade and Atlas. He regularly posts to his personal daddy blog AkDad.com where he discussed everything from football to ski lessons to dealing with poop.


Patrick on the Edge: Amazing Aurora

THE AURORA WERE out in spectacular form this past week. My memories of the Aurora consist of my parents dragging me out of the house to look up at a murky red blob. It wasn't awe inspiring, not at all like those pictures you see in tourist guides. But, last Tuesday night, I got really, really lucky.

I went up to Flattop with a couple of friends to shoot photos for my fledgling clothing company, “Think Tank”. I started it with a couple of friends last July as a joke, but now it actually resembles something that could be mistaken as a company. We try to send the message of introspective thought with each of our products, and while we only have one product right now (a logo hat), the intense Aurora activity gave us a perfect setting to get some stunning shots for advertising this concept. I’ll write more about Think Tank next week.

On top of Flattop it was clear and with the full moon, the mountains would be lit up to produce some pretty solid shots. When we got up there, we realized that we were the latest victims of Alaska's fickle weather. It was now mostly cloudy, obscuring the moon, but the moon was still too bright for us to use the city lights in our shots. So we tried to make do for about half an hour, but really didn't get anything decent. Then my friend glanced northward, and thought he saw something green in the sky. I thought he was just seeing things so I ignored him. But then his voice got hysterical as he cried, "Guys, look! It's the northern lights!"

They were dancing like crazy, and were an emerald green shade reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz's palace. For the next 40 minutes, I took nearly 100 pictures of the Aurora, the uninspiring red blob of my youth now a distant memory.

I tried to get more shots for the next few nights, but I just wasn't lucky enough. I saw the incredible light show on Thursday, and even tried to climb Little O'Malley on Friday in hopes of getting above the clouds, but I didn't catch a glimpse of them. Really what it came down to was dumb luck. If you're in the right place at the right time, you'll get a picture that’s worthy of a publication. If not, you froze your butt off for the night, and all you got from it is a sore neck.

This is another reason why I'll miss Alaska. There is no other place in the U.S. where you can see natural phenomena like this, save maybe Hawai'I with the sunset Green Flash. I'll miss the prospect of being able to see the lights 6 months out of the year but now I have some great photos to remember how the Aurora can really look.


Set the Table... for Carnitas

I LOVE MY pressure cooker. My mom bought it for me as a Christmas gift a few years ago, and I don't know how I lived without it before then. I cook many many meals in it, but one of my family's favorites is carnitas. Carnitas are sometimes cooked slowly in the oven, but I don't often have time to do it that way, so I cheat with my pressure cooker. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can try using a crock pot for several hours until the meat falls apart. 

  • 1 lb pork loin cut into 2" cubes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water (you may need more for a crock pot)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs chili powder
  • 1 Tbs cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
  • 1-2 tsp salt (also to taste)

Put all the ingredients into the pressure cooker and seal the lid. Cook it on high pressure (check your cooker's directions) for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the cooker to cool enough to be opened.

Remove the lid and use a potato masher to shred the meat. It should fall apart easily. Turn the heat up to high and stir often, allowing excess liquid to boil off.

When the liquid is boiled off, remove the pot from the heat and, serve with warm soft or crispy tortilla shells (flour or corn) depending on your preference. Garnish it as you like. I like mine with fresh chopped lettuce, red onion and cilantro. Cheese, salsa, sour cream and guacamole are also tasty toppers. Serve it with your favorite sides and enjoy!

Part 4: Remarkable Hiking, Scenery and Friends of Friends

I'M DOING WELL now. I have to admit, there was a two-day period where I felt completely overwhelmed and was not sure where I was going or what I was going to do. So I took out my thumb and after a bit of waiting, I was picked up by some people heading to Queenstown.

I wandered through town and ended up at Fergburger, a signature Queenstown hamburger joint. As it happens, the longer I'm in New Zealand the more faces I recognize. That first night in Queenstown I spent with my friend from Hong Kong who happened to be in the same place as me. We woke up in a 12-person dorm room and walked outside to a sunny farmers market. There I began talking to two brothers from Pennsylvania who were friends with the Jonas Brothers and had been on tour and on TV with them. They invited me to drive with them in their minuscule toyota up Skipper's Canyon, an old gold mining location. The canyon was beyond beautiful and the mountains ridges looked sharp as knives.


Skipper's Canyon, just north of Queenstown

That night I got in touch with a family who moved outside of Queenstown from Colorado; Sarah Gonzales, KTD's producer, knows them and hooked me up with the family. I've had a lovely time with them, hiking The Remarkables (really steep snowy/icy mountains) and overlooking one of the biggest lakes in New Zealand outside my window.


Some serious hiking in the accurately named "Remarkables"

They live on a station, a farm, with a few really nice cabins situated next to different lakes surrounded by sheep and cows. I was lucky enough to stay in one last night with a friend I met from Holland.


"Station" = "Farm" in NZ

Tomorrow I leave, with my pack and my thumb to Switchback Road. There I will farm.

Listen below to part 4 of Aviva's audio blog...



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KTDontheGO: Alaska Learning Adventures

ONE OF MY primary reasons for establishing a family travel website was to help parents instill an abiding love of Alaska in their kids. Be they visiting grade schooler or local teenager, we believe all kids should have the opportunity to see, touch, hear and taste the unique textures of our state. Nothing fancy, mind you, just a simple, honest activity or two that helps build an appreciation for the 49th state.

I truly believe there is no such thing as a non-learning environment, especially while visiting a new place (i.e. on vacation), and Alaska, with its enormous expanse of land and extremely diverse ecosystems, is perfect for teachable moments, everywhere you look. But where, exactly, do you look? That can be a bit difficult in Alaska, land of cruise ships and tours, and literature geared toward the older traveler. But worry not, we've put together some great activities around Alaska that hopefully will fuel the fires of learning. Tried and tested on our own kid, hopefully your little adventurers will enjoy them, too.

Working on a Jr. Ranger badge at Klondike Goldrush
Nat'l Historic Park in Skagway

Junior Ranger: Truly the National Park Service's best idea ever, the Junior Ranger program is present in all the popular Alaska National Parks: Denali, Kenai Fjords, Glacier Bay (if you're cruising), Sitka National Historical Park, Lake Clark, Wrangell St. Elias and Klondike National Historical Park. Preschool kids to teenagers engage in age-appropriate activities, park ranger interactions, conservation efforts and plenty of writing and reading to earn the coveted Junior Ranger Badge. Go ahead, collect them all.

Young "Raven" tells a story for visitors at Sitka Tribal Tours

Native Alaskan Culture: No matter where you visit in Alaska, strong ties to Native heritage are a vital link to understanding the relationship among Alaska's First People and those who arrived much, much later. Anchorage features the Alaska Native Heritage Center, Sitka has Sitka Tribal Tours, Ketchikan is home to the Saxman Native Village and Fairbanks offers wonderful insight at their Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. Each facility centers around a different Alaska Native group, and each provides a valuable lesson in cross-cultural understanding.

Checking out the critters at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Wild Lives: Animals are so important to the history and industry of Alaska, it's almost a shame most people forget to stop and learn more about them. The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage is perfect of all ages, with a wealth of classes and camps for kids; Portage is home to the fabulous Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center; Fairbanks' Creamer's Field takes children and parents on guided hikes through a boreal forest and Interior Alaska meadowland and the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka is the only place where injured or orphaned wild birds are given a new lease on life, including an indoor flight center. Don't forget Denali National Park's working sled dog kennel, either, where you and your kids can learn more about how vital sled dogs were, and are, to the health and safety of Alaskans. Cool, huh?

It's a big, wide, Alaska world out there, and it's not just for grownups. Get out and explore!

For more Alaska adventures, follow the Kirkland family at AKontheGo.com.

Capitol Letters: Family First

THIS WEEK THE power and importance of family has been in the forefront of my thoughts. My partner left this past weekend with our 7-month-old son to travel Outside to Florida. While my oldest son and I are digging out from another dump of snow, they are basking in the heat and glory of 80-degree sunshine. She's checking in with her older brother who is recently separated from his wife. My partner has been very concerned about her sibling but also for her young nephews. While in the Sunshine State, she'll also see her parents who live in the same area as her brother. They have recently relocated there and it has created some challenges establishing their place in a much larger and isolated community.

Our own home now feels incomplete with the absence of my partner’s voice chatting with our oldest son about a line from Cars or the shrieks and gurgles of our youngest. I can almost hear these sounds around our home as the daily routine continues. I can almost see Lil’ A when I look at the play area where observes his world or discovers new shapes and textures with his mouth. Their absences are felt in many, if not most, of the moments that we are home.

I wouldn’t say that my partner is close to her family, so I was a little surprised when she expressed interest and a need to make this trip. Now that there are grandchildren, nephews and nieces in the family dynamic, my partner’s family seems to have grown closer. I knew we needed to make the trip happen despite the realities of splitting our family locations for nine days. Close or distant, our priority is putting family first.

"I didn’t want mommy to go," our almost 4 year-old said in the first days of this temporary separation. "I did not want them to go either," was my response. I knew I had a teaching moment: "If Atlas lived somewhere else and he was in trouble, you would get on a plane to help him."

"Yeah, and if I was in trouble and lived somewhere else, Atlas would get on a plane to help me,” was his response. Yes, this is the response I wanted! This is proof that he is continuing to connect the importance of family. The infrequency of our visits with these family members is dictated by distance, but this is the reality we chose by living in Alaska. A reality shared by so many other families in the 49th state.

"Family first" is a value priority that we want to imprint on our sons as they grow. This experience is not only allowing my partner to connect better with family members in crisis, but also shows our sons how we care for family and to what lengths we go to make it happen. I tasked our son who is here at home with the job of taking care of me in the absence of his mother and brother. "I will take care of you while they’re gone and I need you to take care of me."

"And the animals," he adds. Yes, and the animals, which we value as family, too.

Patrick on the Edge: Tests of Patience (special audio blog)

PATRICK WALGREN HAS taken the SAT and the ACT and wonders just how much they really matter in college admissions in a special audio blog below.


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Set the Table... for Guacamole

EVERY TIME I have gone to the store lately, there have been the most lovely avocados. I have been eating them like mad. One of my favorite ways to eat them is in guacamole. Here is a recipe for quick, easy and delicious guacamole. No one in my house, except me, will eat avocado, so this recipe is guacamole-for-one, but this recipe is easy to multiply if you have multiple guac lovers in your house.

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 Tbs chopped onion
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro
  • pinch of salt

Halve the avocado and remove the pit. You can easily remove the pit by striking it gently with the knife blade (which should stick in there) and giving it a twist. The pit will pop right out.

Score each half of the avocado inside the skin two to three times up and down and across. Using a spoon, scoop the pieces out into a bowl. Add the chopped onion, and use a fork to smash the onion and avocado together.

The more you smash the onion with the avocado, the more flavor you will get. Add the chopped cilantro and the salt (to taste) to the mixture and stir them all together.

Serve immediately with your favorite tortilla chips, tacos, burritos, quesadillas or anything else you like.

Don't let it sit around for long because it will turn brown. Sometimes, I like to prepare the onion and cilantro in advance in a small container and pack the whole avocado in my lunch to be smashed together when I am ready to eat it. Enjoy!

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