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Patrick on the Edge: It's the Kids' Fault

YOU'VE ALL HEARD the depressing statistics about the younger generation - my generation. "Insert large number here out of 100 cannot properly locate insert easily recognizable country here on a globe." Usually what follows, if this is a newspaper story or magazine article, is a scathing criticism of our school system, saying how the school districts and the DOE aren't doing enough to help these kids succeed. But they're wrong. It isn't the districts' fault, nor is it the principals', the teachers', and most of the time not even the parents' fault that their kid can't tell Asia from their -- You get my point.

The truth is, it's the kids' fault.

Many high schools are struggling to raise their graduation rates but the students that they're trying to help aren't even trying to help themselves. Why? Because most high schoolers are entitled, lazy and unmotivated. Due to a combination of coddling parents, technology allowing everything to be accomplished without real work and being told from the first day of Kindergarten that America is the "society of the hill," most kids think they've beaten the system and don't work hard because of this.

This isn't to say that there aren't motivated, hard-working high schoolers, but from my experience more and more kids are doing the absolute minimum and they complain while they're doing that.

What do I propose we do about it? I don't know. Is there a way to motivate someone who obviously thinks he's smarter than the establishment? I don't think there is, short of forcing him to have a near-death experience. In my opinion, motivation and drive are innate things, you can't teach someone to want to do well, they have to want to. And, in the case of my generation, the only thing they want to do is watch Jersey Shore, emulate their MTV heroes that weekend, then tell whomever will listen how cool they were over the weekend.

Maybe I'm a cynic. Maybe I have too high of expectations and every generation seems like this until they grow up more. But what if my generation never grows up? I get depressed whenever I think of my future as an American, because it seems like Idiocracy is becoming more and more fact than satire. To soothe my own conscience over this, I remind myself of my mantra for this year- Control What You Can Control. I can't motivate my classmates. But I can motivate myself, succeed, and hope that my kids get the drive gene that seems to be becoming increasingly rare.

Set the Table... for Winter Warm-up Brownies

WILL IT EVER be warm again? This seems to be the longest cold spell ever. What could possibly help get us through this cold? Brownies! I know that there are a nearly limitless number of brownie flavors including, but not limited to, caramel-macchiato-hazelnut-butterscotch-chocolate-chip-mint-raspberry-swirl, but I tend to like the more basic versions.

Here is a recipe for brownies that is decadent but simple. Orange zest adds an extra complexity of flavor that elevates these sweets from ordinary to a "could I have that recipe?" level. I have made these for birthday celebrations, potlucks and more, but, most recently, I made them for my family to help us cozy up on a cold dark night.

3 eggs

1/2 c sugar

1 c brown sugar

1 c butter

1 c cocoa powder

1/2 c flour (or gluten-free flour substitute)

1/8 tsp salt

zest from one orange

Preheat oven to 350.

Take the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before preparing the recipe so that they can come up to room temperature. When they are no longer cold, cream the eggs, butter and sugars together. Sift the cocoa, flour and salt together in a separate bowl, and then add them slowly to the creamed mixture, stirring as you go so that they mix evenly. When the ingredients are fairly well combined, add the orange zest and stir it in thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into a greased 9"x13" baking pan, spreading it out evenly. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, checking it every couple of minutes after about 35 minutes to see if it is done. Allow the brownies to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

KTDontheGO: From Cold to Coconuts in Six Hours - Aloha, Hawaii!

WE'RE OUTTA HERE. Gone. Up, up and away. The destination seems rather obvious now, as snow piles up and temperatures plummet. We’re joining the scores of winter-weary souls who exchange parkas for flowery shirts and fly six hours west toward tropical bliss. Hawaii. Sun, sand, and a decided lack of anything smacking of snow or ice. 

This is the first time our family has made the break for warmer shores since our move to Alaska seven years ago. Usually, we are exploring our own state during the winter months, not running away from it. But due to a particularly tough 2011 for our family, and an equally tough year, weather-wise, we decided to take the plunge and bug out.

So THAT'S how you dress to fly to Hawaii from Alaska.

It’s been a bit of a struggle to pack, for all the simplicity of traveling to a group of islands where average January temperatures hover near 75F. The confusion arises in the form of my chronic obsession with overpacking - easy to do in Alaska since wintertime travel requires so much stuff. We're used to bringing along boots, pants coats, mittens, hats, more mittens, socks - the list is endless and still I end up using most everything I jam into our giant, green duffel bag. But Hawaii? I don’t even know where the summer clothes are, much less possess the brain power to comprehend that, in 24 hours, I will not be shoveling my driveway wearing three layers of insulation.

Flip-flops for the kid? Okay, found those, but hmmm, they seem to have shrunk since August. Either that or the boy grew two shoe sizes. Better go to the store, and while I’m at it, better stop by the apparel section and buy a few pairs of shorts for him, too, because those shrunk as well. Sunscreen? Nada, and what store in Alaska is actually going to be stocking Hawaiian Tropic SPF 50 in January? This is going to be harder than I thought.

 

Is this what Hawaiian kids wear, mom?

My husband, self-proclaimed Chairman of this trip (a nice change), hollered down the hall that he made reservations at a luau, so I’d better pack something “Hawaii-nice - maybe a dress?” A dress? I have a Skhoop, will that work? Back to the store to find something that hopefully won’t show too much of my winter-white, obviously non-Hawaiian flesh. Meanwhile, said husband was busily packing every flowered shirt he had ever worn at college parties back in the 1980’s, along with a tired pair of Birkenstock sandals from those same years. Oh dear.

I was about to give up when a friend stopped by, saw my wild eyes, then rolled her own. “All you need is a few pairs of shorts, swim suits, sandals, and stuff like that,” she said patiently. “Nobody cares what you look like, because they’re all too busy doing Hawaii stuff. Plus, if you forget something, just buy it there.” 

What’s that I always preach to my family travel audience? Oh yes, flexibility, going with the flow, taking it easy. Doing rather than worrying (verbs I interchange with regularity). I have a feeling this trip will be valuable in so many ways, starting with that suitcase.


 

Looks like they made it! Follow more of the Kirkland family’s Hawaiian vacation at AKontheGO.com

Capitol Letters: 9 Tips to Cure Cabin Fever

CABIN FEVER SEASON is upon us!

According to Wikipedia, the noticeable symptoms of cabin fever are: restlessness, irritability, paranoia, irrational frustration with everyday objects, forgetfulness, laughter, excessive sleeping, distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow, dark or hail. Sound familiar?

For our family, January and February seem to be the months when the phenomenon of cabin fever is most likely to occur. Although we prioritize outside time in the rain, sleet, or snow, during this period of the year the shortness of days and the changeable forces of nature can challenge our best intentions!

Despite these best intentions to get outside daily we were challenged with the perfect storm this past week. The storm consisted of very cold temperatures and every member of our family battling the flu. This storm led to some brief moments of cabin fever. Our young sons cannot put the feelings of cabin fever into words but the symptoms were clearly evident in our older son as the week progressed. At moments he acted like a confined animal pacing in his cage, then pulling out all of his toys and distractions.

Get on your gear and go!

Up to this point of the winter I would give our family a B- for our efforts to stave off cabin fever and here's how we attempt to do that:

1. Get outside. When temperatures are in the negative this is easier said than done. It is often during these colder months that just getting dressed to get outside can burn some calories. We notice significant changes in attitudes including our own when we spend even a short amount of time outside. Our mantra: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear!”

2. Do fun stuff outside. Just going outside is not enough of a draw for our son when the wind is howling and the cold temperatures are felt in his breaths. We have exposed him to some outside activities that we enjoy too; sledding and skiing which he enjoys! By doing this we can all get excited about going outside despite the conditions.

Try out a new winter sport.

3. Do fun stuff inside. (Just not in your own house.) Get out of the house by visiting a mall or other indoor space where physical activity is possible. In our community we are fortunate to have indoor swimming pools, open gyms, and a field-house. We get to the pool whenever the schedule allows.

4.  Get social. Accept any invites to other homes for a change of scenery. 

5. Invite in friends. Host a family for dinner or play date.

6. Check local schools' event calendars. Attend a theater, music, or sporting event. Most schools host many of these events frequently during the winter months. 

7. Hit the playground. The darkness can add another dimension to the experience and finding the wind-sheltered areas of the playground can lead to educational conversation about how to deal with the elements of weather.

8. Go on a gallery walk. This is a family friendly event because there is a good balance of outside time and inside time and usually there are sweets along the way. Enjoying and experiencing art is just an added benefit of this experience.

9. Visit your library. It is not the best place for children to get crazy but winter weather is the best time to discover this community resource.

Turn cabin fever into outdoors chillin'. 

The darkness and inclement weather in our state can be very oppressive. Cabin fever happens to most Alaskans at some point during the year. Be prepared for it to affect you and your family and be prepared to do something to make it go away!


Steve SueWing regularly posts at his personal blog AKdad.com. For more ways to prevent cabin fever check out our list of Winter Family Fun Links

Set the Table... for Spanish Rice

THE REFRIGERATOR WAS overflowing with leftovers again - plain rice, sauteed vegetables that no one seemed to want to eat on their own and half a jar of chopped tomatoes that needed to be used. Individually, each was too boring to be loved, but teamed together with some onion, jalapeno and chili powder they became an exciting side dish.

Spanish Rice  

1/4 cup chopped onion
2-3 Tbs olive oil
about 3 cups precooked rice (I used white basmati but you could use brown)
1 cup chopped tomatoes
3 Tbs chili powder
salt to taste
2 jalapenos, sliced (and/or other peppers for more or less heat)
1/2 cup precooked vegetables

In a medium saucepan heat the oil and cook the chopped onions over medium heat until they are translucent. Turn the heat down and add the cooked rice and tomatoes, stirring gently but mixing thoroughly. As it starts to get warm, add the chili powder and salt in little increments so they mix well, and continue to stir gently.

Finally add the peppers and vegetables.(The vegetables I had left over were mostly asparagus, but you could use chopped broccoli, peas, green beans, limas or any number of others.)  I don't like overcooked vegetables, so I prefer to add the peppers and pre-cooked vegetables to the rice after it is already hot so that the heat from the rice warms them and cooks them as little as possible. If you are using raw vegetables, you might want to add them earlier in the process so they can cook a bit more.  

I served the rice with black beans and steak fajitas (the steak was left over, too) in a tortilla that I had toasted in the oven. Enjoy!

KTDontheGO: Kids Ahoy! 5 Tips for Cruising With Children

AS THE WORLD continues to watch a terrible scenario unfold with the grounding of the Costa Concordia in Italy, attention is now focused upon the safety of such luxury cruises. The industry must be clenching its teeth for potential panic, either real or perceived, among both the media and would-be passengers who have witnessed the scenes on television and through viral video footage. I'm no expert in the cruising world, not like some of my travel cohorts who spend their lives sailing the seven seas. But what I might lack in nautical miles, I make up for in an overarching theme of uber-preparedness.

Hi, I'll be your cruiseship, let's get to know one another!

I’m an Alaskan, so almost every adventure our family endeavors to undertake requires careful planning, preparation, and attention, even when aboard a "floating hotel." Our last Alaska cruise was via Holland America, a classic vessel that held around 2,000 passengers and several hundred crew. We felt safe. We felt secure. We also felt empowered, because we were told to make it so. During a lifeboat drill (held within hours of our embarkation, by the way), the captain made it crystal clear that we, as passengers, held a certain amount of responsibility for our safety. Hmm, power to the people? I liked it. So, we did it.

All kids on deck! Learning the ship's areas can be a fun and safe activity for families to do together.

Here's how:

1. We knew our ship. As newbie cruisers, and parents, exploration of our sailing home-for-a-week was activity numero uno. Besides locating the kids' Club HAL, Lido Deck restaurant, and hot tub, we made sure everyone in the family knew where they were in relation to the lifeboat station we were assigned upon our embarkation, even the 4 year-old. We turned it into a game, actually. "Hey, see if you can be the leader and get us to Deck Five from the restaurant, okay?"  Over, and over, and over. After a day or so, our youngest was so impressed by this new activity, he taught it to all his cohorts in Club HAL. We also carried maps of the ship's layout (mostly because I kept forgetting where everything was), and made sure our lifeboat station was clearly highlighted.

2. We knew our crew. Charming to speak with, anyway, we quickly realized the crew could be our lifeline in an emergency. During that lifeboat drill, we make sure kids knew who would be at their station, and also made sure there were no language barriers (as has been an issue this week with the Costa Concordia's crew). Could our kids understand and follow their directions? If not, who should they find?

3. We listened during the drill. Within minutes of the scheduled event, it became clear how easily chaos could reign. Some passengers didn't show up, some had mobility issues, and still others were hopelessly unable to follow even the simplest directions to "Put on the life vest." I cannot imagine trying to navigate a circus of that nature in an actual emergency. But our crew kept at it, repeated themselves endlessly, and over all, the captain's voice boomed on a loudspeaker to shush us into paying attention. And now we know why. We could help ourselves, at least to some extent.

AK Dad is ready to float!

4. We were ready. Before we went to bed each night, I laid out sturdy shoes, placed mittens and hats in coat pockets, and had it all right by the door (easy in our smallish cabin). Everyone also had his or her own headlamp (we like them for reading at night), just in case the power went out when we had to evacuate. 

5. We made sure rules were followed. The basics, at least; no climbing on railings, no running on deck, make sure you wear non-slip shoes, and other kid-themed mantras. We clearly stated them, and absolutely enforced them.

No, I don't think the Costa Concordia tragedy should deter anyone from cruising, especially first-timers. Respect the ship, respect the crew, and take responsibility, certainly, but don't allow one horrible, tragic event to define the way you and your family travel. Life is too short for that.


Find more travel tips for your next family vacation at AKontheGO.com. 

Capitol Letters: Giving the Other 10 Months of the Year

THE OLD YEAR is gone and with it, too, the recognized "season of giving" - this is a yearly recurrence that must be stopped!

For the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s charitable giving is en vogue - many people are donating time and resources to others during this season, there is targeted emphasis on making sure that families in need have the perfect turkey dinner or the children of those family have something to open on Christmas. To donate to any cause is admirable and feels good; unfortunately this does little to nothing to solve the problems of poverty and homelessness that exists in our communities and in our state year-round.  Now where does help for families in need come from the other 363 - non-holiday - days of the year? This is what you and I should be thinking about every day of the year.

Homelessness has crept closer to the comfort zone in many of our lives.  The loss of a job - or maybe even two - has put many families into a tailspin and forced them into worst case scenarios where they no longer have a roof over their heads.  Children that are considered our future find themselves without a place to call home when home and routine is what they need the most to develop.

According to a 2010 State Report Card on Child Homelessness produced by The National Center on Family Homelessness there are 4,400 children who become homeless every day! 

For me, the thought of wanting the best for my children yet struggling day after day to find a safe place to sleep at night makes me nauseous.  For thousands of children in the USA this is their daily life. According to this same report, Alaska had 7,272 homeless children in 2010. This situation is unacceptable and with current temperatures in many of our communities far below zero degrees this is situation that is also inhumane.

Non-profit organizations are always ready to accept donations. Non-profits who are dealing with the fallout surrounding increased homelessness have even more monetary needs today. Yes it is good to recognize and contribute to these organizations during the holidays but they need even more financial help during the other 10 months of year. Please consider making a donation that is spread over 12 months of the year. This gives you the comfort of making more manageable donations and also allows your organizations of choice to forecast their income better.

As the year 2012 continues to move forward I hope that you will seriously consider where you commit your charitable donations. A simple way to start your donations for the year is to commit a portion of your PFD.  

I hope that the needs of our young fellow citizens are also part of your consideration in your 2012 giving plan. Children are our future and for many children their future looks cold and bleak at best.


To learn more about Alaska's homeless youth, check out Kids These Days! Show 54: Homeless Youth in Alaska.

Patrick on the Edge: What About LIfe After College?

With college (and the rest of my life) looming high over my head, I've thought a lot about life after college lately. It started out with the normal questions. What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? and how many millions of dollars do I want to make? But eventually, I started thinking about the things that aren't as obvious, but much more important. What will happen if I don't like my job? What will I sacrifice for my or my family's wellbeing? What is more important, the lucrative nature of my job, or the fact that I enjoy what I do?

Right now, I don't know concrete answers to any of these questions, because I have no experience to base my answers on. I'm starting to get a more big picture perspective of the working world, but it's not making it look any nicer. My view of a career is waking every morning at 5 or earlier to beat the commute, spending 8 hours behind a desk, then spending at least an hour commuting to get back home. I don't like that. Even after being in school for 12 odd years, that sort of repetition scares me. I don't think I could ever thrive at a job as mundane as something that I describe as "same old same old" day in and day out to my wife. It might be a product of my involvement in the Attention Deficit Generation, but I think it's more about the fact that I don't want to have a career that has little to no impact. I've been told my whole live that I can make a difference, and to me that's kind of a challenge to make a difference. It doesn't matter if I affect 10 or 10,000 people, as long as I believe in my work, I'll be content. 

I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. I have my dreams, options, and backups, but I don't know what will happen in college because that is what will make the most impact in my career choice. But, I know that I only have a finite time left until I'm stuck in a job with no way out. I want to make sure I want that job, and don't only do it because it pays for my house and car. Also, when I sit down at my desk every morning, I want to think for a second and smile, because I know I'm making a living doing what I love.

Set the Table... for Italian Wedding Soup

Editor's note: Last week when Brandy submitted her post for meatballs, she included a photo of those meatballs in a soup which looked amazing to my virus-stricken appetite. I'd been sick for nearly 2 weeks at that point and hot, salty, fragrant soup was the only thing I was interested in eating. She sent the recipe and I prepared the meatballs and soup a couple nights later - it was delicious, warming and a very nice change of pace from chicken noodle. Four stars, Brandy!

 

Italian Wedding Soup

2 quarts chicken broth

pinch of cayenne (more to taste)

1 bunch Italian kale (dark green, flat leaves)

3-4 carrots

1 batch pre-baked meatballs

2 eggs

1 cup parmesan cheese

In a large stock pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil. As it is heating, grate the carrots and chop the kale into strips about 1 inch wide. When the broth begins to boil, turn it down to a simmer and add the carrots and kale.  

Allow it to simmer for about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, scramble the egg, then thoroughly mix it with the parmesan cheese. Set this aside for a few minutes. After the carrot shreds have softened and the kale has turned a bright green, add the precooked meatballs and bring the soup back up almost to a boil. When it is hot, add the egg and cheese mixture, stirring  as you add so that the egg does not become stringy as in egg drop soup. You want the egg to disappear into the soup. Mixing it with the cheese and stirring well as you add it can help with that.

Cook for about 1 minute after you add the egg and cheese, stirring gently but making sure to stir from the bottom up. The cheese tends to want to sink to the bottom. Usually the salt from the parmesan cheese is enough, but you should taste the soup to see if you need to add salt. Turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool for about 10 minutes before serving. It is great with a piece of buttered crusty bread.

KTDontheGO: Allowing Kids to Fail on Vacation

Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.
 
-Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

TRAVEL IS FULL of failures. Big ones, little ones, and all the missteps in between. Be it simple as a rainy campout, or complex as a forgotten passport, the very nature of venturing even a few miles from home means we place our families in prime position for slip-ups.  

As a somewhat over-organized traveler, it pains me greatly when adventure-flops are caused by people I know and love. Frankly, if it were up to me, I’d pack everyone’s bags and have them in the car way before my son has even begun to drag himself to the bedroom and the methodical process of sorting and stacking toys (not clothes) in a too-small suitcase. If it were up to me, everyone would have day clothes, evening clothes, swim clothes, and rain clothes; not to mention extra clothes when the aforementioned previously-packed-by-me clothes become wet, muddy, or otherwise unwearable. And I haven’t even begun with the footwear, yet.  

But what will that accomplish? Might save my sanity, for sure, but if travel as a concept is truly about learning, growing, and experiencing new things, doing everything for my son might not end up doing anything in the long run. I want to raise an independent kid who will hopefully become an independent young man, one that embraces the idea that travel screw-ups do happen, but knows the skills to problem-solve and communicate toward an eventual solution.

  

Here’s how:  

Pack it. Construct a destination-appropriate list with kids, and enlist their input about clothing and gear. Post in a conspicuous place, and let them go to it. This works best if you try it first on shorter journeys, and not before a six-week trip to Europe or a wedding in Hawaii. If kids have specific outfits to wear, or gear they must bring; fine, but let them make some decisions, too. Make sure children have a bag they can call their own, as well, since ownership goes a long way toward pride in one’s ability to pack.  

Let them try. Setting up the tent, changing a bicycle tire, ordering dinner in a restaurant, speaking another language. Over, and over, and over. Who cares if they order french fries for everyone or put the tent’s rain fly on backwards? Bet they’ll learn something, and so will you. Allow kids the freedom to choose new activities, too. Ziplining not your thing? It might be your teen’s most memorable few hours of vacation, if given the chance. Do your homework together, and apply the “try everything once” guideline. You might be surprised at the level of interest. 

Let natural consequences rule. My son went through a phase where everything was my fault. Sorry buster. Remember that list? After a trip to the beach with no boots, make sure they are added to the packing list once you return home. If it’s health and/or safety, of course, step in; otherwise, let their feet get wet. 

It’s a new year - let’s allow kids the freedom to try new things and learn new skills. It may not be pretty at first, but in the long run, “Oh, the places they’ll go!”

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