Friday, January 30, 2009

Winter in Unalaska

A little more snow came falling today.

After work, we took a drive to enjoy the sunshine and snow.   This is the historic Russian Orthodox Church.

What  a peaceful view.

We drove past the quarry but couldn't get too far into the hills before the road got slippery and we turned back.

A view of downtown, near my office.

I took a photo of this house surrounded by buttercups in the summer.  I like its look in winter, too.

Another view of downtown.

The Grand Aleutian Hotel where Rich  heads to work each day.

We live in the middle duplex with the bright buoys in front and a gorgeous view of the bay.

It's Friday!   Happy weekend, everyone.   

Thursday, January 29, 2009

It's a good night to stay home and relax

We're under blizzard conditions tonight.  It snowed most of the day and the wind was blowing like crazy.    All after-school activities were cancelled and my friend Darcel was trying to fly out to Bethel (via Anchorage) with the basketball team but that didn't happen.  Maybe tomorrow if the skies clear up and the winds calm down.  

I was going to be one of the hosts for Flash! Unalaska at 8 PM, our weekly community news program on Channel 8.   But because of the nasty weather, the staff pre-recorded the program so no one would have to venture out.  It's fun to do, and just another little perk of living in a small town where everyone can get involved in just about everything.   :)

Our organic produce came in yesterday, one day early, which is surprising and also lucky for us since there's no way it would have arrived today. Rich had just made a nice soup with the veggies from last week and now we have even more produce to try to keep up with.  Tonight we had left-over soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.   Perfect for a snowy evening!   I finished reading  Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood, a book out of my bargain bin stash.  It's a quick read but another of those inspiring stories that I love.    One of the big boys at Microsoft, Wood went trekking in Nepal and came face to face with the severe need for books and schools in the poorest villages.  He made a commitment to return with books for the students, ending up leaving his job to dedicate his life to building schools and providing books to many of the most needy places in the world.   It's somewhat similar to Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen from the Central Asia Institute.   Of course, I always start thinking about what we could do to support all of these very worthy organizations! It seems overwhelming to know of the many  issues around the world and to feel like we can't make a dent in solving these problems.   As much as I love to read, I can't imagine that there are so many people who are illiterate due to the circumstances of their birth. We are certainly fortunate to have the opportunities for education that we do.

Speaking of reading and educational opportunities, I just heard about a great program that our school district is beginning.   Apparently, Dolly Parton has a fund to provide books to children from birth to age 5 and we have received one of her grants.   All parents have to do is sign up with the school district and their child or children will receive an age appropriate book each month till they start Kindergarten!  Pretty cool, huh?   I'm not a country music fan, but hurray for Dolly!

Doesn't Ajax look comfy?  He sometimes climbs up to the top shelf in the bathroom and snuggles up in the towels.   He'd rather be outside but thought better of it when he saw the snow blowing everywhere. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Busy Weekend!

Sushi/sashimi platter
Vietnamese spring rolls

Lots going on!  Last night, we went to the Aleutian Arts Council's annual membership meeting at the hotel.  Rich and crew prepared lots of great food, as always.   We enjoyed mingling with friends and bidding on  auction items to help the Arts Council raise some money--even came home with a couple of things (though we didn't get in on the bidding for the $500 and $600 Ray Hudson art!)  We also received some very cool long sleeved Tshirts to go with our membership renewal.  I will have to see if I can post a photo.  I think there are some left if anyone wants one--I can probably hook you up.

Our itinerant dentist is in town so I  planned to meet his assistant and hygienist for brunch this morning.  Fellow blogger Cookie Dough and her two adorable younger kids joined us (while her older son, aka "Junior," was cooking, though he did come and sit with us for a little bit). She has photos on her blog, so go see!  

I've been working on a grant for my job a lot of the weekend.  It was nice to take a couple of time-outs to have some fun!   Tonight was book club at Anne's house (who also did a fabulously enthusiastic job as auctioneer last night).     Steve, another local blogger (we are getting quite a little blogging community in town....but his has been around the longest) came to book club for the first time.   Funny that we've never met, but felt like we knew each other somewhat from reading each other's blogs and commenting back and forth for a while now.   (Thanks for coming, Steve--great to meet you!)  Hopefully all of the strongly opinionated women did not scare him off from returning next month.   :)    We discussed Out Stealing Horses by Per Pettersen.   Book club members don't always agree, but this time we all loved the book and thought it was very well written,  even more striking because it had to be translated from Norwegian (bravo to the translator, too).  I'm going to look for some of Pettersen's other books which were highly recommended by those who have already read them.   Then, as always, the discussion turns to other subjects--history and culture and politics and addictions and kids and whatever else pops up.   It's always an intellectually stimulating evening.

Hope everyone has a good week ahead!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What is Culture?

Father Michael Oleksa talks about the difficulties in defining culture and the ways in which we tend to misunderstand each other.   Culture may be briefly defined as "the way we look at the world."   But there are too many look at the world differently than women, one generation looks at the world differently than the one before it or after it, people from different places have their own unique view of the world from their own vantage point.   It's as if we are in a beam of light and we can only see what our own beam reveals, not what others see in theirs.  

Culture may be explained as if it were a ball game being played.   One people only know  a game like football, another people only know a game like basketball.   Then they are brought together and told, "Play ball! Have fun!"  If they've never experienced each other's way of playing ball, they think something is WRONG with those other people...they don't know how to play ball!  

Father Oleksa is a dynamic, inspiring and very funny speaker.   He's a Russian Orthodox priest from Pennsylvania who came to Alaska 40 or more years ago, married a Yup'ik woman, learned her language, raised four children with her, and became adopted and beloved by many in Alaska, Native and non-Native alike.   He is a storyteller most of all.   He weaves a tale that draws us in, makes us laugh, helps us see our common experiences, and gives us ways to connect with one another.    His final definition of culture is "the story into which you were born."   He suggests that it's hard to know our culture unless we know the story of our grandparents--where they were born, what words like "school" meant to them, what they did for a living,  where they lived and how they lived.   Most cultures pass those stories down for generations, parent to child, grandparent to child, aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings sharing a common history, one generation after another.  Unfortunately, the dominant Anglo culture seems to be the one whose members do not tell stories, talk about their family's history, pass down the culture.   He suggests that we are Generation 3, with our parents being Generation 2 and our grandparents being Generation 1.   This makes our kids Generation 4 and our grandchildren Generation 5.   If my grandkids (Generation 5)  are unaware of the stories of  Generation 1 (my grandparents), our culture is disappearing.   If we don't know where we come from, it is hard for us to understand where others are coming from, literally and figuratively, as we try to meld our cultures together in this extremely multicultural place.

Rich and I both thought that Father Oleksa was one of the best speakers we've ever had the pleasure to hear.  We continued the discussion on the way home, thinking about our grandparents and how much we don't know, wondering what our grandchildren will know about us, knowing that, sadly, in a few generations, most of our story will be gone.  We don't belong to a culture where grandparents and parents and children sat around on dark, cold nights and told stories of ancestors.  We didn't even live near our grandparents.   We didn't all huddle in a big bed under a soft quilt and talk about our traditions. We didn't sing age-old songs or perform dances that told of our history and our rituals.   We didn't walk from house to house visiting our relatives and establishing strong bonds.   We didn't know the importance of asking questions and preserving our history till it was too late and many of our older generation were gone.

Father also made an important point that Alaska is the place where the Native Alaskan cultures will live and die.   Italian Americans can still look to Italy for preservation of their original culture.  Filipino Americans still have family and friends in the Philippines continuing the traditions of their culture, even if some of the traditions get lost in the US.   Most people who now live in the US can look to the "old country"  (or countries) of their family's origins if they want to delve more deeply into their backgrounds.    For Native Alaskans, that "old country" is here.   There is nowhere else to look and not another place where the culture is lived and preserved.  If the traditions and language and skills and ideals of Native Alaskan cultures are lost here, they are lost forever.    It is our responsibility to help our neighbors and friends to keep their culture alive and well for all of those Generation 5s coming long after we are no longer here.

I wish I could just post a transcript of Father's talk because I know I can't do it justice in this brief summary.   He has many publications, has taught at several universities and has traveled the world educating people about diversity and culture.  His website is and you will find many more references to him and his work on the web.   Take a look!   

At our celebration of diversity in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. last night, we enjoyed the Filipino-American dancers, the Unangan dancers and drummers, and a multicultural brass band from the high school.   We honored students who'd written essays and created posters showcasing their perspective on the topic of diversity.  We met and mingled and talked and laughed and ate.  I think maybe we all looked at each other a little bit differently than we had in the past.

Do you know your story?  What are you preserving for Generation 5?

PS  Sorry for no photos.  We took our small camera, but with the lighting in the gym, the distance from the stage and the limitations of the camera itself, the pictures were not the best.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The People Have the Power

What a year it has been!   Driving home from a meeting tonight, I was listening to David Dye on NPR's World Cafe (yes, on our great local station, KUCB FM 89.7), playing  Patti Smith's "The People Have the Power."  How fitting for a day like today!   I wanted to write something meaningful and profound about the inauguration of Barack Obama but I have the feeling that anything I say will sound silly and trite.   I was thinking about all of us who have worked for almost a year (some even longer, of course) and remembering the many highlights of that work. So, even though some of you have seen these photos before, I decided to do a little retrospective of the path to the White House, from an Unalaska vantage point.

Above, high school students Eric, Haleigh and Robyn were enthusiastic supporters and worked diligently to get people to our local Democratic Caucus in February, 2008.  Tammy  and Robyn registered participants as they entered the event.  Despite blizzard conditions, slippery roads, City offices closing down early, no phones and no internet to connect with the rest of our District to coordinate, we had 46 people come out for the Caucus in Unalaska.  Now, to many of you, this might not sound like much.   But compare that to the TWO people who showed up at the Caucus in the year 2000 and the fact that we didn't even HAVE one here in 2004.    We were ecstatic!

We fanned out to cast our votes for our candidate of choice.  In the end, Obama received 28 votes and Clinton 18.   Hurray, Unalaska!

I was honored and thrilled to be chosen a delegate from District 37 to attend the State Democratic Convention in Palmer in May.    Here are some folks from the "bush" districts of the state.

Below, just as we did at our local caucuses, we fanned out in Palmer and cast our votes for the candidate of our choice.  Obama took 77% of the vote.

Oh, my gosh!  We're elected to go to Denver to the National Convention!  What a huge honor and one that I will never forget, especially at such an historic time.

The "bush" delegation in Denver at the National Convention.  

Alaska and US flags being held high at Invesco Field for the final night of the Convention and Obama's acceptance speech.   What a memorable experience!

All of the Alaska delegation wore these matching kuspuks which generated lots of buzz.  

The Convention was over but the work was nowhere near finished!   Next, voter registration in Unalaska.

Then door-to-door canvassing to encourage people to vote early.   And debate watch parties, and postcard writing projects, and phone calls, and more door, Sarah and I are passing out literature supporting all of our district and state Democratic candidates along with Obama.

Finally, Election Day was upon us!  Tammy and I braved the freezing weather to stand across from City Hall and remind the passing motorists to get in there and vote.   We had a record turnout.

Darcel makes her choice clear!

Jack, Rich, Willie and Jeff take a break from their cooking duties to cast their ballots.

Congratulations to President Obama!  And for the first time in a very long time, I believe that the people have the power again.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Unalaska Youth Prepare to Celebrate MLK Day AND Happy Birthday to my Mom

This coming Friday, we are having a community celebration of diversity in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.    Today, Darcel and I met with our Natural Helpers group to make posters to be displayed at the event.    

Father Michael Oleksa, a well known and well respected Alaska diversity educator, will be our guest speaker.  I have heard so many good things about him and have read one of his books, but have never had the honor to hear him in person.   

If you live in Unalaska, the event will take place at the PCR at 7 PM on Friday, Jan. 23.   We will also have a variety of cultures providing entertainment.

Isn't it interesting that our first African American President will be inaugurated the day after Martin Luther King's birthday?   I know I have written this before, but after living in segregated Georgia when I was a child, and going through the Civil Rights movement as I grew up, it is truly a day I didn't think I would ever see in my lifetime.

I watched some of the pre-inauguration activities on CNN today and felt a sense of hope and pride that we have come so far.  I know there are many obstacles on the way to solving our country's problems but we also have the opportunity to reach for the best in all of us and to work together to make a positive difference in the world.

Hard at work!

Each poster shows the unique interpretation and talent of one or more kids.

Unalaska is a very diverse community, with people from all over the world.  Our English as a Second Language Program at the school is one of the biggest in the state!

Yet most of our kids do not let language, ethnicity, color or anything else stand in the way of friendship.

Pretty impressive, huh?

What a great group of kids.   We are very proud of them!

Happy Birthday, Mom!  We hope you had a wonderful day and we send lots of love your way.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Seals, a Sea Otter, Snow, Halibut Tacos, and Easing into Semi Retirement

These photos were taken a couple of months ago when we looked out our window and saw a large group of harbor seals swimming and frolicking in the bay.   One of my favorite things about living in our duplex is that we look right out over the water and catch some amazing sights of the marine life in Unalaska.    As always, if you click on the photos, they will enlarge for you and you can get a better look.  I can tell I am back home because our slow internet will not allow me to upload big pictures so I have had to go back to resizing.

  The Raven Bay is a local boat that belongs to the family of one of my coworkers.

Cropped and close-up!

I love these cute little sea otters.  Occasionally, we will spy one outside our window, usually all by him or herself!  I read once that a sea otter floats on its back while eating, "using its stomach as a table."   That's what this one is doing here.

The eagle is either enjoying or toughing out the snow in our yard.  We had so much snow yesterday that my car is stuck in the parking space in front of the house.   The snow plows have a habit of coming by and clearing the road but, at the same time, creating a huge berm that my not-such-a-good-Alaska-car cannot get through.    Sometimes I like being stranded since it allows me to hang out at the house and get some things done that I might otherwise ignore.  I spent most of yesterday cleaning out closets and drawers.

A couple more views from our doorway.

A few years ago, I heard people talking about fish tacos.   Having lived in Texas for a long time, tacos meant beef to me, maybe occasionally chicken, but FISH?   No way.  Sounded disgusting.   :)   But after experiencing Rich's halibut tacos, I became a huge convert!   These are the best tacos you will ever eat, fish or otherwise.   From the (just right) soft tortillas to the perfectly battered and deep-fried halibut (we avoid a lot of fried foods, but we make an occasional exception for these!) to the tangy chipotle sauce, topped with a crisp, fresh slaw of cabbage, cilantro and jalapenos, lightly pickled with lime, sugar and salt, it's a taste combo that can't be beat.   We both gained weight on vacation (note all of the blog entries about food and restaurants and you know why) so it was our last treat before getting back into the eating-healthy-and-going-to-the-gym routine.  

I've begun a new phase of my work life as a part time employee.   I am calling it "semi -retirement" and I am enjoying it already!   I will be able to do some of my work from  home and will go in to the office at other times for meetings and specific activities.   Thursday I had lunch with my fabulous co-workers Darcel, Judi and Donna, and I know I will miss seeing them on a day to day basis but we will also have plenty of opportunities to get together and to work on certain tasks.  They are definitely the very best part of my job.  (Thanks, gals!)

With a little more time on my hands, I hope to keep up with the 100 book challenge, take part in more community activities, stay on top of housework a little better, get more organized (LOL) and learn some new things.