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Capitol Letters: January is Mentoring Month

ONLY IN THE recent years of my life have I discovered and acknowledged how much of a mentor my father has been in my life. 

My father mentored me by exemplifying certain values in his life. He showed me strong work ethic by being routinely early for his shifts and being dedicated to his position. Get your work done first son and then you can play! He showed me the importance of education by enrolling my brother and I in private schools and holding us accountable for our academic performance.  This school is going to cost your mother and I a lot of money, but I think it is worth the sacrifice we will need to make. He showed comfort in his skin and appreciation for what we had in our lives. We may not wear the newest fashion of clothes and have the most current vehicles but we have what we need.

Flashback! - Steve, dad and brother in the early 80's

My father’s mentorship provided me with a firm foundation and the skills to find other mentors throughout my life. My list of mentors includes, teachers, instructors, clergy, family, friends, supervisors, co-workers and community members. I feel very fortunate that I have had at least one mentor in every stage of my life.

The humbling transition of becoming a parent immediately made me aware of the fact that I needed mentors in this stage, too. I have been fortunate to find some father mentors through a father’s playgroup, a father’s support group and fathers that I have met through the daycare our son attends, as well.

Through all these ages and stages of my life so far I have experienced the strong power of mentorship - it has guided my life in a positive direction and made it possible for me to avoid some of the pitfalls and detractions of life.

Steve and his dad today

January is Mentoring Month is Alaska. There are many children in our neighborhoods that attend the same schools as our children, who are teammates or band-mates of our teenagers; some of these kids in our communities do not have one strong mentor in their life - and they might be actively seeking one.

Being a mentor to a child can being as easy as including your child’s friend in activities with your family: hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, camping, picking blueberries, or even attending a music festival. Parents can also become a mentor by volunteering at a daycare, assisting in school projects or fundraisers, become involved in a club, or volunteering to coach a team.  

There is Big Brother Big Sisters of Alaska whose sole purpose is to connect adults with children and create a mentorship possibility. This is an opportunity to become a mentor in a safe and monitored program that will benefit the adult and the child!

I want the friends and contacts that surround our sons to have strong mentors in their lives. I also want all of those children seeking a mentor to have the opportunity to experience this unique relationship. Mentoring the children of our state will lead to more grounded youth today and a stronger future for our communities. This is something that you need to do!

Show 59: Excerpt - The College Rejection Letter


Patrick in France last year

A BIG PART of Senior year is getting ready to attend college - taking placement tests, touring campuses, writing essays, applying to schools... and then all that waiting to find out where you got in. But what if your top university pick doesn't pick you?

Our resident teen blogger just found out what it's like to NOT get what he's worked so hard for - a change of pace for someone who is used to winning.

Patrick Walgren shares his thoughts on what getting rejected from his college of choice is teaching him.


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Set the Table... for Delicious, Versatile Meatballs


ON TOP OF Spagheeetiii... Though I aspire to be as Martha-Stewart-like as possible in the kitchen, I am often foiled by reality and a humble box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce will save the day on a busy evening. Quick meals are often lacking in nutrition, so I like to make this one a little heartier by putting some ground beef in the sauce or making meatballs.

Meatballs can be very diverse and are good in a number of recipes. They can top your pasta mountain, make a meatball sub, or make a soup dinner-worthy. I like them in Italian Wedding soup (recipe next week!). How do you like to eat meatballs? Here is my recipe for simple meatballs.

Meatballs in Italian Wedding Soup (recipe next week!)

1 pound ground beef or pork

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1 egg

1 Tbs oregano

1 tsp salt

1 pinch cayenne (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a large mixing bowl, place all of the ingredients. Mix them thoroughly. I prefer to squish them together with my hands, but you can use a spoon or mixer, too. Roll the mixture into 1 inch balls and place them on a cookie sheet (I like to line it with parchment paper) making sure they do not touch.

Put them in the oven for about 15 minutes or until they are golden brown on the outside.

Put them in your favorite soup, on a toasted bun with some barbeque sauce, or ...on top of spagheeettiii and enjoy!

KTDontheGO: January is Learn to Ski or Snowboard Month

MY FATHER TAUGHT me to ski when I was seven. Using a pair of old, aluminum skis I shared with my brother and sister, I stumbled and slipped and cried my way down (and up) a gentle slope at Snoqualmie Pass near Seattle. I understand why Dad thought he could teach us, he was a former alpine racer and ski jumper, and presented as pretty a picture of downhill finesse as anyone would want in those days. He was also (in his mind) decidedly cheaper than the local ski schools who wanted money for something he felt he could do better. 

A problem presented itself in the form of whining, complaining and crying - something I would have never dreamed of doing in front of a cute ski instructor but had no qualms about with my father (it drove him nuts). As a consequence there was more shouting than teaching, more snuffling than schussing. Until I reached high school and the community ski bus where I learned, sans weeping, how to do a wedge or a christy, and could parallel my way down all but the blackest of black diamond runs. Eventually, I even became an instructor myself and saw, firsthand, legions of other parents trying to teach their offspring in a manner similar to my own father’s. 

Help is here, moms and dads. January has been designated as Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. In 2007 a bunch of ski industry moguls (get it?) and professional instructors got together to provide beginning skiers and riders an opportunity to learn outside the boundary of parental assistance; LSSM now crowds slopes in 32 states and 300 resorts including Alaska.


Two areas are offering deep discounts on lesson packages for beginners. Alyeska Resort near Anchorage is offering a $99/per person special, with three lessons, a lower-mountain ticket and equipment rental. Kids who wish to learn to ski must be at least five; youth who want to give snowboarding a try must be at least eight so they can take full advantage of the resort’s “magic carpets,” Bear Cub quad and Lift 7. Alyeska Resort’s Mountain Learning Center instructors are excellent, but even better, they are enthusiastic ambassadors for the sport of alpine skiing. They also know kids and understand things like bathroom breaks, lost mittens, and occasional tears. 

In southeast Alaska, Eaglecrest Ski Area has also jumped on the alpine bandwagon with a variety of ski or ride packages that begin at just $54 for two hours of skiing, equipment rental, and lift tickets. They even have a “Bring a Friend” program, since we all know learning a new skill can be more fun with a buddy. Eaglecrest is a smaller mountain, perfect for families looking for a more intimate skiing experience. Located across the Gastineau Channel in Douglas, Eaglecrest also offers nice views from it’s forested brow. 

Adults are included in this deal, too. Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month is targeting adults who for years may have thought they were “too old” to learn a new skill like skiing. With the right instructor to boost confidence, skiing is a sport to be enjoyed by every age and every stage. 

Don’t forget, when skiing in Alaska (particularly at Alyeska), one must dress warmer than the average Lower 48 resort. Standing in a lift line or sitting on a metal chairlift gets chilly, indeed. Pack handwarmers, wear a neck gaiter, and consider goggles for a full-face warm up. Children and adults should wear helmets, too - check with the rental shop for a loaner. Also, bring kids inside periodically to check on their fingers and toes and know when to stop for the day; most skiing injuries occur on the proverbial “last run.” 

Erin Kirkland blogs about skiing and other Alaskan family activities at AKontheGO.com.


Capitol Letters: Dropping the Pumpkin on New Year's Day

DECEMBER: THAT MONTH packed full of timeless traditions is over! I am relieved. Our family participated in many of these traditions - celebrating St. Nicks with stockings, Christmas with a tree and numerous decorations around our home, exchanging gifts with family and friends. Holiday music was the common soundtrack at home and our son singing carols made for a sweet sound. We attended holiday parties at work, visited a live nativity, drove around seeking Christmas light displays, and our son caroled with his classmates. We hosted a small Christmas dinner at our home and attended a family-friendly party to celebrate the New Year.

In addition to all of these these activities we have one tradition that was created by my partner and me that is now a staple from year to year.

This tradition was created during our first December together just seven years ago. In our home we noticed that there was a pumpkin that had survived well beyond the harvest holidays, so naturally we decided to drop it off a high spot - a bridge - on the first day of the New Year. The initial purpose of this activity was that it would be fun and it was! We then recognized that we should have another purpose if we were going to continue this event, so we decided that the pumpkin should represent all of the negativity of the past year. Letting go of it would be our way of putting it beyond and behind us.

The second year of participating in this newly created tradition proved to be challenging as we were in the middle of a long-term road trip. But, our tradition survived. Just 2 days into the New Year we dropped a pumpkin off a causeway in Tampa, Florida. This pumpkin had traveled with us at least 4,000 miles!

Living at sea level for the duration of this ritual has created a challenge. Finding "dropping locations" - a bridge that we haven't yet used or a high spot accessible in the winter to a young family - can be tough. Nevertheless, we’ve been successful in finding a different place every year to release the old year's negativity.

This year the opportunity to continue our tradition on January 1st eluded us but we made the time on the second day of the year. This year our oldest son noticed the pumpkin hanging around our home beyond the fall and this was our opportunity to talk to him about the tradition. He also actively participated in the dropping of the pumpkin and saying good-bye to it. It warmed my heart to see him excited and engaged in this tradition because now that he's participated it truly feels like a family tradition.

My hope for you is that you can build on the challenges of the previous year releasing the negativity. Now let’s see what experiences 2012 has to offer us!

Steve SueWing regularly blogs at www.AkDad.com

Patrick on the Edge: At the Halfway Mark

HALFWAY DONE. The "Senior Countdown" starts creeping past milestones at 250 days….200…150, and with each day the seconds seem to fly by ever faster. People are starting to REALLY stress about which colleges will accept them, while the less motivated are scrambling to meet graduation requirements. Halfway done. Everyone told me it was going to go by fast, but this is practically lightspeed.

And I know it will only get faster as the May graduation date looms even bigger. I can still remember the first day of my senior year, the first day of snow, and the last day of the semester as if they were all just last week.

I'm not regretting how fast the year is going though. So far, I've done nearly everything I wanted to accomplish in the past 4 months, and I can't wait to lay on the hood of my car and watch that first summer sunset from Flattop. But I still have another 4 months to go before then, and I intend to do twice as much as I did last semester.

First, I'm going to do all the senior-related activities that the school puts on each year. This includes the boys vs. girls dance (a dance in the week leading up to the Sadie Hawkins, where senior boys and girls put their moves to the test and generally end up making fools of themselves), Mr. Congeniality (a talent and beauty pageant for senior boys which again, ends up in all the contestants making fools of themselves), and the Seminar Senior Statement (an opportunity to get on stage in front of the Service High Seminar program and leave them with one anecdote from your 4 years in high school). All three will be a fun way to leave my mark on Service (and, apparently, make a fool of myself).

Next, I'm going to try to play as many sports as possible. I already go to the gym (almost) every morning, but next semester I'm going to try to play tennis at least three times a week, and since I was selected to go to the Arctic Winter Games for Table Tennis, I'm going to try to get in shape for that by playing twice a week. I'm also going to try to go out for soccer if I have the time, even though I have never played an organized soccer match in my life.

Last, I'm going to try to leave High School with academic prowess. I am currently enrolled in AP French independently, but that class has fallen by the wayside this last semester, something my mother doesn't like. I plan on getting enough work done to pass the AP Test, as well as earning an A.

I don't know if I'll be able to check off all of my to-do list for this semester, but I do know that I'll be busy trying to achieve that goal. That what I want though, and I'm reminded of my sophomore AP U.S. History teacher (who gave me my last "B"), when he told us "You can sleep when you're dead."

Set the Table... for Mac and Cheese

IT IS COLD outside! I just want to stay inside and eat warm things, so I decided to make a pan of what I consider to be one of the ultimate comfort foods - Mac-n-Cheese. For me, it's the food equivalent of a fuzzy blanket and a roaring fire.

This is my short-cut version and does not involve starting with a roux to make white sauce. It's great as a side dish or all by itself. I served it for dinner with two other comfort foods, barbequed chicken and baked beans. Cozy up with this cheesy dish.


1 box of your favorite noodle pasta (I used penne)

1 cup sour cream

1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1/2 cup cream

2-3 Tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 pinch of cayenne

1/4 cup bread crumbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 400

Prepare the noodles by box directions. As I've written before, I like to put some salt and a dash of oil in my water when I boil pasta. For this reason and because of the salty nature of the cheeses, I don't add salt to the recipe. When the pasta is al dente, drain it well.

Put the drained pasta into a large mixing bowl. Quickly put the butter in it and stir gently to coat the pasta so that it does not stick together. Add the sour cream, cheeses, cream and spices and mix thoroughly. Make sure the pasta is well coated, otherwise it will get dry and unpleasantly crunchy in the oven.

Pour the mixture into a large oven-safe pan and spread it evenly. If you like them, you can sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. Put the pan into the oven and bake it for about 20-30 minutes or until the cheesy goodness is bubbly and hot. I usually turn the broiler on for a couple of minutes at the end to brown the top slightly. If you choose to do this, make sure to watch the dish in the oven. (I have started pulling a chair up to the oven and watching through the little window, otherwise, I tend to think of some chore that I need to run off and do only to be reminded of the dish in the oven by the smoke detector.)

The pasta and cheese will be extremely hot, so resist the temptation to taste it right away. Allow your Mac-n-Cheese to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving and enjoy!

KTDontheGO: Giving Back to Alaska's Natural World

PERHAPS IT SHOULD be easy in Alaska. Surrounded by a natural world that is truly larger-than-life, and immersed in an atmosphere of incredible diversity, Alaska’s children live in an environmental melting pot. From exposure to Native traditions to careful respect of wildlife, the concept of stewardship should be a natural consequence of living in the 49th state.

Merriam Webster defines stewardship as “Careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” A big responsibility. The land, the water, the air; society is constantly searching for new ways to protect what has been left to us, especially here in Alaska, the largest state, and the one with the highest raw “star power” compared to anything Outside. We can join societies, coalitions, user groups, and clubs. We can also involve our children.

Stewardship of our kids is crucial to stewardship of our planet and its inhabitants. Kids are smart; just ask one what he or she thinks about the state of things in this universe and you might be surprised at the response. They want to help, they should help, and with the right resources, they can help. Stewardship, or “giving back,” doesn’t have to necessarily be framed as such for kids to be active participants in the state of their state (or world, for that matter), it simply needs three ingredients: relevant content, enthusiastic adults, and time.

Our son, seven, has been attending the Alaska Center For the Environment Trailside Discovery Camp this week. He's learned all sorts of interesting things about the world not two miles from his home. Snowflakes come in different sizes and shapes, you know, and bears do not necessarily have to hibernate. Listening to the sounds of a forest on a snowy day is not as quiet as one might imagine. Wait, this is not stewardship, you say. But it is. Creating children who are comfortable in the natural world as they are in their own living rooms will cultivate the concept of stewardship. Yes, it will. Find a place in your own community for natural world experiences. The Sitka Sound Science Center is a beautiful example of hands-on fun combined with research. Kids will relish the opportunities there with grownups who care about what they think. A cadre of kids were there last summer when I visited, and proudly showed me around the touch tanks, whale skeletons, and drawings of marine mammals.

Exploring at the Sitka Sound Science Center

Down in Ketchikan, Allen Marine recently developed a tour called “Wilderness Survival,” traveling through the Tongass Narrows to a remote, old-growth forest for an afternoon of plant identification, outdoor survival, and important research about the invasive Green Crab (kids get to pull crab pots and provide data to be used in real-life studies). It might rain, it might be muddy, but the entire family gets to dig and record and learn about life in southeast Alaska, unfettered and unplanned. And sometimes messy.

A visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage means a cultural lesson for any age. Whether visiting during the normal operating season of May through September, or attending a special event the rest of the year, the whole family will enjoy learning about the incredible diversity of Alaska’s First People. Did you know a dance can tell a story better than any textbook, or that children truly do learn by watching elders and trying out new skills, and failing, before mastering the task? There’s a lesson in every exhibit at ANHC, and the real value of a visit is not in the bricks and mortar displays, but lies within the scores of individuals who sit in the shadows of the room, waiting to tell kids why, and how, and where.



A dwelling at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Murie Science and Learning Center, located at the entrance to Denali National Park, provides visiting families day trips, field seminars, and opportunities for endless discovery in one of the wildest places accessible to humankind. Named for the Murie family, who were tireless advocates of both Alaska and Denali National Park, the Science and Learning Center is a testament to the value of education combined with recreation. Not a typical visitor center, this is where learning and cultural curiosity are nurtured.

“We have inherited the past. We can create the future.” Help your kids learn the value of caring for their present. That’s giving in its finest form.

Capitol Letters: The Changes at Christmas

I ENJOY TRACKING the physical and mental growth in our children, their changing engagement in activities. I know other parents that follow these changes too because it is often the topic of our conversations.

Christmas is a good time of the year to gauge changes that have occurred in the previous year by watching how they embrace the special activities of the holiday.

Memorable events of last year’s holiday for our 2 ½ year old son:

  • Any live music held his attention until we could convince him to move-on.
  • He wanted to watch Santa from a safe distance but had no interest in interacting with him – yes, even in exchange for candy.
  • No interest in crafting a letter to Santa.
  • There was some interest in the Christmas tree but no interest in helping hang the ornaments.
  • Christmas lights and decorations are something that would attract and hold his attention frequently.
  • He talked about the holiday train set in a business window almost daily and we visited whenever we could.
  • Most memorable holiday moment: About 1/3 of the way through opening his presents on Christmas day he walked around the living room shouting: “No more presents!”  It was 17 days after Christmas when we finally coaxed him into opening his last present that he received for Christmas.

Memorable happenings of this holiday (so far) at 3 ½ years-old:

  • He is noticing how quickly the days get dark!
  • Music and dancing are still a favorite activity to watch. He is also singing constantly in preparation for his class caroling.
  • Santa is still revered from a distance.
  • He expressed interest and participated in crafting a letter to Santa.
  • He was excited about picking out a Christmas tree and he willingly participated in decorating the tree.
  • He notices and acknowledges holiday lights but only when we are actively looking for them.
  • We have only visited the holiday train set a few times with little mention of it.
  • He has participated with zest in crafting gifts for family, teachers, and friends.
  • We visited a live nativity experience and he enjoyed it so much we visited again!
  • His mother’s birthday was just celebrated and he participated in the gift opening and was looking for more. We are hoping that this leads to more gifts opened on Christmas day

There is no replacement to seeing the holiday through a child’s changing eyes!  I hope you all enjoy these final moments of the year by enjoying and appreciating time with family, friends, and community.

Patrick on the Edge: My Grown-Up Christmas List

I'M IN PHOENIX visiting my Grandma; nothing gets me into the Christmas Spirit more than palm trees and sixty-degree weather.  While I was talking to my Grandma this week it made me reminisce about years gone by (because that’s what Grandmas do), especially Christmases and the gifts I asked for. I realized that my list has changed over the years from impulse buys to things I would use for years to come. 

I can remember when I was in elementary school, making my list by looking through the massive Toys-R-Us and model airplane catalogs that I would get just for that occasion. My list would sometimes top out above 30 things just because I would see something that I “wanted” on every page. I’m really glad my parents weren’t spineless and they realized that I would forget about two-thirds of my list by December 26th. 

The first time I realized I was prone to impulse buying was in 5th or 6th grade when I wanted a video game in September or October. My parents, not being of the same tolerance as Veruca Salt's father, said "no" to me at the time. I forgot about it in typical kid fashion, until I unwrapped it under the Christmas tree. I was actually disappointed because I didn’t want it anymore. That was when I realized that my wants and needs didn’t necessarily always overlap, and that it might actually be a good idea to stop and think before I said I really wanted something. 

Over time, repeated instances like that taught me to hold off on the impulse buys (for the most part) and go for more worthwhile purchases or gifts.  From iPods to a phone (I’ve had the same one for 4 years), I’ve started to ask for things that I’d actually use everyday, instead of novelty toys. I think that’s the biggest change that comes with maturing - you can separate your wants from your needs, as well as the instant gratification from the delayed, but continuous gratification.

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