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Set the Table... for Turkey Minestrone

DO YOU HAVE one of these in your refrigerator?

We had plenty of turkey meat in our refrigerator, so it was time to get creative with leftovers. This weekend, I made turkey minestrone and was able to use up some other leftovers, too (sweet potatoes and kale). If you have already eaten all of your turkey, you can easily substitute chicken. Just cube up some breast and/or thigh meat in about 1/2 inch pieces and cook it in the broth. This soup is warm and lovely and, perhaps most importantly after last Thursday's all day cook-a-thon, easy to make.

2 quarts chicken broth

1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp dried parsley

1 pinch cayenne powder (optional)

salt to taste

1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 16 oz can kidney beans, drained

about 2 cups shredded pre-cooked turkey (or chicken)

1/2 package of penne noodles (about 8 oz)

1 bunch kale, chopped with woody stems removed

about 12 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped (plus extra for garnish)

parmesan cheese

In a medium to large stock pot, bring the chicken broth to a gentle boil and add the seasonings (minus the fresh basil) and sweet potatoes. Allow to boil for about 10 minutes and then add the turkey, the tomatoes and the beans. Allow to boil for another 5 minutes and then add the penne. Cook it as long as the package directs you to boil the pasta.

Finally, add the chopped kale and basil and stir thoroughly, turning off the heat. If the pasta has taken up too much of the liquid, you can add a little bit of water or more broth. Serve hot with a little basil and parmesan sprinkled on top. Enjoy!

KTDontheGO: 5 Tips for Holiday Travel with Kids

WE'VE ALL BEEN there. Teeth-clenching trips across the country or across the state to visit family for the holidays, children in tow. Nothing says “stress” to many parents like the idea of traveling during the busiest time of the year. It’s estimated that 2.3 million people will be traveling over the next month, so below are a few top tips for saner family travel, courtesy of the family who sometimes finds themselves “winging it:”

1. Plan, plan. Oh, and plan. Who will take you to the airport? Who will pick you up? Which kid will be managed by which parent? Who will board first with the car seat? These are important questions that should be addressed ahead of time. Think I'm kidding? Last week on a return flight from Portland, I listened to a couple arguing in the ticketing line. Dad said "I thought you called the shuttle service to pick us up!" Mom said, "What, are you nuts?!"(No, she didn't actually say 'nuts.') “I had three kids to pack, you big bazonga!” (No, she didn’t say ‘bazonga,’ either.)

Up, up and away!

2. Embrace the TSA. Not really, because they drive me nuts. But in a fit of almost-intelligence last month, TSA instituted a Brilliant Proclamation that Kids Can Keep Their Shoes On. Children under 12 are now pemitted to keep their shoes on during the security process in order to, get this: save parents time. However, see this photo?

That's AK Kid, waiting, waiting, and waiting some more for Mom and Dad to finish their security screenings. Not so much time saved, but it was nice worry about one less pair of footwear. Do visit TSA’s website for important holiday information about what you can, and can’t bring with you.

3. Pack it in. It’s all over the news; moms begging for milk on crowded flights, babies running out of diapers, older children losing battery power for the DS. It's mayhem, all right. Bring extra snacks, power cords, cell phones, books, quiet toys, and other activities for kids. Driving? Get an in-car charger - I've been saved by mine more than once. Carry gallon zip-type bags for trash and/or wet stuff (because it will happen, guaranteed), and cups or bottles with sippy lids, even for the big kids. Ever been on a turbulent flight? I started bringing zipper bags after an entire cup of bright, red cranberry juice spilled by our own child ended up staining my white shirt. Uh huh, they're never too old for a sippy.

Patiently waiting at the boarding gate

4. Check it. Have you seen the "carry-on" bags people are trying to bring aboard airplanes these days? Let me 'splain it to you, Lucy: baggage fees are going up and up, people want to carry on as much as they can, luggage companies respond by making bags that just.barely.fit.the.requirements. Then, you and 200 other frugal airline consumers try to squeeze those bags into overhead bins not designed to hold 201 barely-legal bags. We parents compound the problem with our required car seats and very-required equipment I mentioned above. I think we should check our bags. Alaska Airlines Club 49 members now receive two free checked bags per member, and many airlines also offer free "at the gate" checking for carry-on luggage on full flights (which seems to be all of them). Ask, and you might receive.

5. Keep cool. Flying late at night? Try, try, to have everyone packed and fed and rested hours before you leave the house. Set out a quiet craft or project at home and let the kids have at it while you sip a cup of tea and relax a bit. Flying early in the morning? Send everyone to baths and bed early; even if they are excited, at least they are corralled. Get to the airport two hours early. Read the paper, eat Christmas cookies, walk around the different gate areas. If driving, take the least-traveled route, and make a surprise stop at a roadside attraction, or have a meal at a local diner. When was the last time you all sat down together to eat, anyway? The whole point is to create a concept of "joyful journeying," and the more effort we parents put out, the more likely our kiddos will respond in kind. And that, my friends, could be the greatest gift of all.


Keep up with the Kirkland family at AKontheGO.com as they journey in, above, and around Alaska this holiday season.

Patrick on the Edge: A Miniature Earth on Thanksgiving

I'M ASHAMED TO say it, but I'm spoiled. Thanks to my parents, I've never known what it's like to not live in a nice house or not have food whenever my stomach even purred. I haven't had to face any Pursuit of Happyness-esque adversity growing up. My parents are still together, they both work, and they both are wise with their money.

Due to these fortunate circumstances, I feel that if I would say I'm thankful for the easy childhood of prosperity I have enjoyed, it would be superficial because I can't compare my childhood to anything tough in my own life. Of course I know people that don't have as good fortune as I do, and my heart goes out to them. But I can't identify with them because my life so far has been filled with blissful ignorance.

Some kids my age have had to deal with a death in the family- the closest experience I've had with death was when my best friend's dad died when we were in 7th grade. But even then, I felt terrible because I had no idea how it felt, no idea what to say. I also think it's kind of cruel to say I'm thankful that something didn't happen to me, as in "I'm thankful that my family's house didn't burn down." I see that as saying "that sucks for the families whose houses that DID burn down." I mean it in the most thankful and respectful way possible, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm using another's misfortune to celebrate my own well-being. I guess the only thing I can be genuinely thankful for is that I can see the state of my life right now, and recognize that I'm not the average for the world.

I'm reminded of the Miniature Earth concept; if we were to look at the Earth as populated by 100 people, how would it break down, and where would we end up in that number:

 

 We, as Americans, are extremely lucky just because of our nationality. If you have your own room, bed, and closet in a house, you are wealthier than 75% of the rest of the world. It's humbling to take in that statistic, and the whole concept is very effective on kids around Thanksgiving, who are probably most thankful for the boyfriend/girlfriend or their new cell phone. But the miniature Earth concept gives us kids a great perspective of how good we've got it. We're lucky our biggest challenge in the day is dealing with friend drama, because it could be much, much worse.

That's why this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for being American, having a brain, and having a family.

Capitol Letters: Thanks to the Kids We Grow

It’s the holiday to be thankful and celebrate!

My life experience has convinced me that making a list of people or things to be thankful for can often be troublesome because somebody or something almost always gets omitted. I am thankful for my life and all of its aspects but this post is specifically about my thankfulness for our two sons.

Thank you Meade and Atlas for the following and much more that I know I must be forgetting:

Defensive driving. Before I chauffeured you around on a daily basis I would have considered myself a very safe driver. Your presence has made even more defensive and safety conscious. Thank you for keeping us safe on the roadways.

Direction. There are many times you have made me feel lost but ultimately you have given me direction than I have never had. Thanks for giving me the responsibility of dad to give me direction.

Getting outside. We live in a place that presents many natural challenges or excuses not to be outside. In my want to show you how important the outside environment is I have found myself outside often no matter what the conditions. Thank you.

Grandparents. Your life has shown me another side of my parents that I have never experienced. Thank you for making another facet of my parents show.

Motherhood. Your challenges have showed me the extent of your mother’s strength!

Patience. Sometimes my frustration is as simple as a night with little or disjunctive sleep. Sometimes it’s frustration of your defiance. Thank you for teaching me to be patient with you and in-turn showing you the power of patience.

People. Thank you for showing me that family is the most important priority in life. We also need to value everyone that surrounds and supports our family.

Priorities. Before you, watching a big game or a night out with friends was something that would be almost unmovable on my schedule. Now I am thankful for a routine evening home with you and your mother, interacting as a family.

Slowing me down. When I am rushing around the day or week with a demanding schedule thank you for slowing me down by asking me for a hug and a cuddle, asking me to read a book to you, or just engaging me to gaze at you with the flash of your smile!

Stamina. I knew nothing about stamina and how much I could push my body and brain to do until you arrived. Thank you for showing me that I can perform as a father on very little sleep.

Unconditional love. I knew love when I began to learn about your mother and spend more of my life next to her's, but your births took me to the next level of how I could love somebody without conditions.

Sons I am thankful for all of the moments that we have shared together and I look forward to our future together.

Set the Table... for Single-Serve Quiche

QUICHE. It sounds so fancy, but I'm here to say that it ain't nuthin' but a bunch of eggs and stuff.

We like quiche in our house for quick breakfasts. I often make one on the weekend and heat slices for breakfast throughout the week. I recently made quiche with my class, so I had to individualize the quiches.

Here is a recipe for mini quiches that is quick, easy and can be customized for individual eaters. Using uncooked tortillas as a bottom crust makes this even easier because you don't have to mix and roll out a regular crust.

Preheat the oven to 350°

8-10 large eggs

1/2 cup half and half

about 2 cups total of chopped veggies and/or meats and cheeses

olive oil to grease the pan

1-2 uncooked flour tortillas (usually in the refrigerated section of the grocery near the packaged cheeses)

Let your eggs and half and half come up closer to room temperature (about 1/2 hour out of the refrigerator) and chop your veggies, meats and cheeses into about 1/4" pieces. I used sweet peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, ham and cheddar, but you can use almost anything you like. You can even let everyone make his or her own little quiche with his or her own favorite fillers.

Use a round cookie cutter and cut out 12 little rounds of the uncooked tortillas to about the size of the bottom of the cup of a muffin tin. Use the olive oil to grease the cups of a muffin tin and place a little tortilla round in the bottom of each cup. Put in enough of the fillers of your choice to fill each cup about half way.

Thoroughly mix the egg and half and half and pour enough into each cup to fill it nearly to the top but not all the way. If you want, you can sprinkle a little cheese on the top of them. Place the pan in the oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes. They will puff up a bit but shrink back down when you take them out of the oven. When the egg is fully cooked it will not look shiny and wet. I do not recommend letting them brown as the egg will become tough and rubbery.

After you have taken the pan from the oven, allow it to cool for a few minutes then, with a butter knife, gently loosen the quiches around the edges and carefully dump them out onto a cooling rack. You can enjoy them right away or let them cool and refrigerate them for future breakfasts, snacks, lunches or appetizers.

Enjoy! Or should I say, Bon Appétit!


Brandy Steinhilber grew up in Kentucky as a member of a cooking family. Breakfast, dinner and larger family gatherings always meant sitting together around a table full of good home-cooked food, and she has carried that tradition into her home with her own family. She is a firm believer in the importance of family meals as a time to be together and listen to each other. Brandy works as an elementary school teacher at the Anchorage Waldorf School, and her hobbies include, knitting, sewing, camping, cycling, skiing, hiking and cooking.

KTDontheGO: Alaska's Rich Cultural Tapestry

IT'S TOUGH TO BE A KID - just ask one. Growing up surrounded by both positive and negative influences isn’t always easy, especially once kids begin to question who they are, and how, and why. In Alaska, Native Youth in particular are constantly bombarded by past, present, and future all at once, and without some serious roots to set down at an early age, kids often take the path of least resistance. 

The state’s Native groups have responded, showing real-life examples of success stories and offering opportunities for all kids, not just those with an Alaska Native background, how important it is to connect with one’s culture. Across the Last Frontier, museums and cultural centers strive to be living, breathing examples of Alaska’s texture, helping kids see that a tapestry of people is not merely one, but many. Below are a few of our favorites. We hope they will inspire your family the next time you visit these Alaskan communities: 

Juneau : Alaska’s state capitol is home to the Alaska State Museum, where visitors can immerse themselves in past and present with a comprehensive eye. Featuring both perpetual and temporary exhibits (the most recent was about hats), the State Museum is an excellent place to begin an investigation into Alaska’s rich history. Best for school-aged kids. Open all year. 

At the helm of a merchant ship at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau

Sitka: The Sheldon Jackson Museum sits on the former campus of the college of the same name, and boasts one of the most extensive collections of Alaskan artifacts ever assembled. Housed in a rotunda, the museum houses drawer after drawer of art, tools, clothing, household items, and toys, and a number of life-sized exhibits that are sure to capture kids’ attention. Preschool through high school ages do best in this smallish museum. 

Anchorage:  Many believe the Alaska Native Heritage Center is strictly a “summer-only” facility, and indeed it does not hold regular hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day. But, ANHC offers a consistent docket of events that are well-worth attending, and all include free admission. Try the Multicultural Drumming and Dance Festival in March for a daylong celebration. Check the ANHC website for a complete calendar, and don’t be shy about jumping in to the music or dancing; that’s the whole point. All ages are welcomed, and indeed embraced at all ANHC events. 

An Athabascan fiddle lesson in the Hall of Elders in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center in Fairbanks

Fairbanks: The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center on Dunkel Street is a wonderful opportunity to wander through the seasons of Interior Alaska and immerse your family in the vibrant colors of the Native people who have thrived for centuries. See how the Athabascans take time to teach their younger members the valuable skills that will carry them through life, hear some fiddle music, or take a peek at Native art that always tells a story. The entire family will enjoy this facility, a cooperative effort among the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, Alaska Geographic, Alaska Public Lands Information Centers, and the Tanana Valley Chiefs Conference. 


If it takes a village to raise a child, then I am happy to do my part. Find more cultural experiences at AKontheGO.com

Capitol Letters: A Wise Stranger Provokes Parental Pondering

RECENTLY I HAD the luxury of traveling on my own, and one of the advantages of traveling alone is the opportunity to talk to strangers. For those strangers who seem unsure of my conversational intentions I try to mention Alaska up front which breaks the ice nearly every time. Almost everyone seems fascinated about this state we call home and it seems to convince them that I am not some loony chatterbox who is trying to sell them something.

On a short flight I struck up a conversation with the businessman next to me and within sentences of our initial exchange I mentioned my two young sons at home. He then, in turn, mentioned his two mid-teenage daughters at home and our conversation began to revolve around children and some of the neverending challenges that exist in the parent-child relationship.

Pictured: Neverending challenge #304 - who gets to ride shotgun on the dinosaur

Because this man was farther along in his Father Adventure I took this as an opportunity to maybe gain some advice and insight.

“We had a rough-patch there for about six months until we got things figured out,” he began a cautionary tale of parenting in the hi-tech age. He didn't give specifics about what actually happened but the topic was technology and its use or misuse by his teenage daughters. His family eventually agreed upon a solution: the daughters were not allowed to have a social media accounts, and phones and laptops lived in a certain place in the home when the daughters went to their room for the night.

As a blogger, I’m someone who has splashed his children’s faces and family’s activities all over the internet. I felt immediately guilty and almost a month after this talk with a stranger, the question of family and safe technology use is something that I am continuing to process.

This is what I know at this juncture in my processing:

• As parents of younger children we currently have full-control over what is distributed online.

• Setting boundaries for offspring is always essential! Currently we are setting boundaries for dealing with anger and frustration and child 2 is a little young for boundaries. I am now on-notice about technology and creating a plan to manage it within the family.

• Constantly accessing the current threats for where children can get into negative situations and finding solutions (almost always creative) of how to avoid them is an ongoing and evolving process.

• Parents sharing their story in the parent experience can almost always be an opportunity to learn about challenges and various approaches of how to deal with them.

• Every parent is different and every child is different. What may be a challenge in one family may or may not be a challenge in another family, especially if parents can be proactive about the possible challenges.

• A united front between individuals that are actively involved with parenting children is key, so communication must be open.

Sure, dads can be father-friends, too!

I am glad I had this conversation with that father stranger! Attentive and good fathers like to share their achievements and disappointments - but do not always have accessible opportunities to do so. Dads, find your opportunity to share with your father-friends or find the opportunity to listen to father-friends. It can provide you both with an opportunity to learn more about the parenting adventure and may give you some insight into situations your child may face in the future.

Patrick on the Edge: Jean Luc, Pierre & No Shave November

NO SHAVE NOVEMBER. The new rite of passage for all adolescent and college-aged men to see how much facial hair they can grow if they shun their razors for the entire month.

All this month, you will see young men sporting facial hair, if you can call it that. Most contestants don't grow enough hair for that patch of peach fuzz on their upper lip to be called a mustache, so before you buy one of these people a razor, know why this wonderful 30 day tradition exists, and what it means for men everywhere.

No Shave November was officially created in 1999 in Australia. It's main purpose was to gain awareness for Prostate Cancer and men's health in general, and it was originally created as the male equivalent to Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. But since then No Shave November has gone global, infecting college campuses and high schools all across the country with the spirit to revolt against the tyranny of the shaving razor. I'm sure only a fraction of the people who participate know what its intended message is, but a fraction is more than nothing, so I think that the creators have to be proud that their brainchild became the Godzilla of all testosterone-influenced exhibitions. Truth is, No Shave November is never going to go away now.

(Image source)

During the first week of this month I could walk up to any of my friends, and the first topic of conversation wasn't sports, girls, or school. It was how we were weathering the November cold by growing insulating whiskers, and how long we thought we would last before we realized it wasn't our year to go all the way. This year is the first year Service is holding a school-wide competition - with categories like Macho Mustache.

No matter how gross the women in our life find No Shave November, us men will keep and grow the tradition as a symbol of our independence and ability to live in the woods for 4 weeks straight, making campfires, hunting with our bare hands, and wearing only flannels and Carhartts.

But, I'm sad to say that I had to respectfully bow out of the running on the 11th. I realized that in my facial state, I was at my plateau, and even I could see the gross starting to peek out through the manliness. I was proud of myself though, because I didn't make the decision on anyone else's recommendation. No matter how many girls laughed at my mustache (who I named Pierre) or beard (who I named Jean Luc), I knew that I was a man, and they appreciated that.

So, until next year, I'll shave every day, and nobody will even know I can grow facial hair. But then, on November 1st, Jean Luc and Pierre will come out of the shadows like the Phantom of the Opera - just not coming from the sewers of Paris.

Set the Table... for Orzo With Vegetables

 

IT WAS POTLUCK night for the wrestling team on Wednesday, and I had a special request from our young wrestler for this orzo dish. When I make it for dinner I serve it with  spicy Italian sausage, but it is just as good as a pasta salad served hot or cold. The vegetables make it colorful, tasty and healthy. You can vary the veggies as you like.

 

1 16 oz package of orzo pasta

1/2 stick of butter (or substitute slightly less olive oil)

2-3 cloves of garlic  finely chopped 

1 zucchini

1 yellow squash

1/2 bunch of asparagus

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes

salt to taste

 

I find it best to start by getting the pasta water ready and on the stove warming. There is a great debate about what is the best way to prepare your pasta, but I like to put about a tablespoon of salt and a dash of oil in the water to give the pasta more flavor and keep it from sticking, boiling it until it is still a tiny bit chewy. Once you have the water heating  on the stove, wash and chop the garlic and put it in a large skillet with about 2 Tbs of the butter and begin to cook it on low to medium heat. Don't let it brown. As the garlic is cooking, wash and cut the zucchini and squash into 1/2 inch pieces. Toss the veggies in with the garlic and butter. Wash the asparagus and snap off the woody ends, then snap the spears into approximately 1" long pieces.

When the zucchini and squash are nearly cooked, add the asparagus and the sun dried tomatoes along with the rest of the butter and cook for about 3 more minutes. This should take about as long as it takes to heat the water and cook the orzo. Drain the pasta thoroughly and, in a large bowl (it helps to warm the bowl with some hot water or in the oven on a low temperature for a few minutes if you plan to serve the pasta hot) mix the pasta with the veggies and butter. Salt to taste and enjoy!

Capitol Letters: Time Keeps on Tickin' - 8 Tips for Managing It

TIME: THE UNAVOIDABLE constraint that we all get to live within. From morning until night and even into the early morning, time is something that we are constantly tethered to.

When talking to other parents about time, time management, and endless things to do there seem to be two common responses:

     1. “Oh, the time passes by so quickly so enjoy it."

     2. “I never have enough time!”

Response #1 inevitably comes from those parents who no longer have children at home, while response #2 almost always comes from those parents with children that are still at home. There is truth in both of these statements about time.  It does seem like yesterday that I was holding our first-born for the first time and he is now 3 ½ years old! There was also the planning and preparing for child number 2 and he is already 3 months old. Unfortunately in a household with two young children and two working parents I would whole-heartedly say; “My partner and I never have enough time!”

They grow up so quickly, don't they?

Recently I have come to the realities of active and involved parenting - there will never be enough time. I often hear other parents wishing for more hours in the day and I wonder why they would want to do this to themselves? If there were more hours we would find the activities and commitments to fill those hours too.

Weekends seem like a good time to catch-up so for months I would actively put together a long list only to be disappointed on Monday that because of the family hike, grocery shopping, surprise guests in town, two hours of sunshine, and a birthday party only two things had been completed.

Making time for the outdoors!
 

Here is how I have hit my Father-stride and come to terms with the realities of time:
 

1. Accepting that there is never enough time is the foundation component to stop being frustrated about the lack of time.
 

2. Prioritizing tasks into the must dos and the it-would-be-nice-to-get-done things. Realizing that realistically the must dos will probably be the only things that will get done.
 

3. Looking at commitments outside of the family and downsizing them. There will be time to fill when the home is kid-free.
 

4. Realize that not everything can be done as a family and sometimes it is best to divide and conquer. Mom and child do one thing and Dad and other child do another.
 

5. Get some help with responsibilities. Hire someone to do some home cleaning or trade-out a play date with a friend to provide some time to focus on important tasks.
 

6. Take some time off work to get caught-up on project that may not be able to be fit into the daily and weekly schedule.
 

7. Everything else gets planned so don't forget to plan fun events often!
 

8. Always remembering what is ultimately important: spending time with children, as a family, and finding some time to have focused conversation and time with partner.
 

Until next time….

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Talking about raising Alaska's future today!

Mental Health & the Alaskan Family

Being Young in Rural Alaska

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