Why don’t more residents know about Anchorage’s flag?

Alaska, Audio, News, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media.

It’s bright yellow and only flown in only a couple spots around the city. Few people have probably seen Anchorage’s municipal flag, but it plays an important role in the city’s symbolism. Victoria Petersen has the story.

At Anchorage’s public library, the geese are returning from winter, and people are shuffling in and out of the newly renovated building. Abigail Ash comes here two, to three times a week, always passing by the library’s three large flagpoles.

“I noticed the flag, but I didn’t know what it stood for. My daughter’s even come here and they’re like ‘what’s that?’ It’s like ‘I have no clue’,”

Ash is referring to the municipal flag, which flies next to the U.S. flag and the state flag at the library.

Most people don’t notice it, or know what it stands for. Don Burgman also frequents the library about twice a week.

“I look at the flags, all three of them, and occasionally I notice they’re at half mast and I’m curious about why. But I never noticed it was the city flag. Now that I know that I’ll appreciate it,”

The library and museum are among the few places in Anchorage where you can see the flag flying in the wind. Both Burgman and Ash agree that Anchorage needs a city flag, and that they’d like to see it around more.

“Oh yeah sure, we need a flag,”

“It stands for us,”

The flag features the municipal seal, designed with Captain Cook’s ship the Resolution, a nod to the explorer’s history with Anchorage. It has a large anchor and a small airplane to symbolize Anchorage as a port and as the air crossroads of the world. The seal sits on a field of bright yellow, and the words Anchorage, Alaska adorn the top and the bottom of the seal.

Ted Kaye is a vexillologist, which means he studies the design of flags. Kaye lives in Portland and is the secretary for the North American Vexillological Association He says poorly designed city flags are flown less. Which may explain why few Anchorage residents recognize their flag.

“I like to say that in every bad flag design, there’s a good flag design trying to get out. Anchorage’s flag is no exception. It has great imagery, an anchor for Anchorage is just super. But writing the words Anchorage, Alaska on the flag, in a sense, shows that Anchorage is insecure about its symbolism.”

Kaye has written numerous books about flag design, including one about the history and design of 150 different city flags across the nation. He says his researchers found nearly nothing gathering information about Anchorage’s flag page.

“We know what the design represents, but we didn’t know who had designed it or exactly when. That was just not available to our researchers when we contacted Anchorage.”

After reaching out to the museum, the Mayor’s office and the library, it was discovered that Anchorage artist Joan Kimura was the original designer. A long time artist in Anchorage, Kimura taught art at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and formerly the Anchorage Community College from 1973 to 1994. The UAA Kimura Art Gallery is named in her family’s honor.

Kimura submitted an acrylic painting of her flag design for a contest the city was having in 1973. It’s almost exactly the same as the flag flying at the museum and the library today.

In 1975, in a Anchorage Assembly resolution, the seal design from the flag was adopted as the official seal for the city of Anchorage, the same seal the municipality uses today.

Thorne Bay, Wrangell, Wasilla, Homer, Houston and Ketchikan are a handful of other cities in Alaska that have official flags. North Pole features Santa Claus on their flag. Seward’s flag was chosen in 2016 from a contest that featured art from over 350 schoolchildren.

Some might ask why a city flag is important. Kaye says flags can be used for people to identify with and to rally around.

“City flags look both inward and outward. Inward they create a sense of identity to tie the residents together and help define who they are. Outward a flag creates a brand to represent the city to the outside world.

Residents see the municipal seal everywhere, from liquor licenses, to ballots, to the sides of municipal vehicles. However, spotting it flying is far rarer.

In Anchorage, I’m Victoria Petersen

Reception mixed on ASD proposal to switch school start times around

Alaska, Audio, News

Originally published on Alaska Public Media.

The Anchorage School District is considering a huge change. The district is looking at implementing new school start times, with elementary schools starting earlier and high schools later.

The district held a series of open houses recently to educate the community and hear feedback.

At the first open house for school start times, poster boards are set up on tables inside Lake Hood Elementary. Parents, teachers and community members were gathered around tables, talking with school district personnel about the potential start time changes.

Pamela Witwere, a parent and a teacher at Gladdyswood elementary school, says she’s worried about the potential change.

“I have major concerns because my kids aren’t early risers, and many of the families that I work with, none of their kids are early risers,” Witwere said. “So these aren’t kids that are up at 6 a.m. They struggle to get to school at 9 as it is,”

Witwere isn’t alone. Nearly every parent and teacher interviewed at the open house expressed similar concerns.

The school district is proposing the change in an effort to improve attendance, reduce tardiness and increase graduation rates. The school district cites national research that suggests middle schoolers and high schoolers do better with later start times and and younger students benefit from starting earlier.

Anchorage School District superintendent Deena Bishop says the open houses are an opportunity to gather input about the new start times.

“This change isn’t as simple as just change the start time and everybody will be happy. The entire community is nearly affected, so we wanted to be sure that we data sourced it,” Bishop said.

Bishop says she recognizes that switching elementary schools to an earlier start time will not be easy and she understands the change would ripple throughout the community. Childcare is a big issue — making sure daycare providers are able to adjust their schedules to match the school district. Bishop says the district would hope to tackle that issue through partnerships with local nonprofits.

“We would never want a parent to be stressed from just having a family, and running a family, and getting to work on time, and getting to school and back and forth, and getting food on the table. All those things are real life worries and actions for our families, so we wouldn’t want the school to put extra stress on families,” Bishop said.

The school district is proposing four scenarios, one of which is no change to the schedule at all. The other scenarios have high schoolers starting at 8:30 am or after, and the elementary students starting no later than 7:45 am.

Last year, a student created an online petition that urged the school district to study later school start times for high schoolers. The petition gathered thousands of signatures and pushed the school district to hire Western Demographics to study the issue.

Shannon Bingham is leading the research team. He says it’s clear high schoolers benefit from later start times. But the research isn’t as conclusive on elementary kids starting earlier.

“So as far as the quantity of research that’s out there, there’s significantly less. So some of the minority opinions and some of the more recent research is saying earlier start times are not necessarily good for elementary school children either.”

But Bingham says the research they conducted on elementary students showed that younger children who had to wake up earlier weren’t negatively impacted.  .

Jose Lopez attended the Lake Hood open house with his wife and three children. He thinks it would be hard for elementary kids to make the switch.

“I have three kids that attend school early. I kind of have a hard time making the younger kids start earlier than the older kids,” Lopez said.

The Anchorage School District says the comments received so far have been mixed. Parents of middle and high school students tend to be in favor of the change, while parents of elementary students are not.

The Anchorage School Board will make a decision later this year, and any change will be implemented in the 2019-2020 school year.

49 Voices: Ylli Ferati

Alaska, Audio, Spenard, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media

FERATI: When I first got into it, I got thrown behind the bar, and people come in, they order whiskey and ask you questions of how does it taste, what do you think, this and that. I didn’t like whiskey at first, so throughout the days, I just started trying different things and came across a certain bottle, the Balvanie, and decided, “Wow, I really like this stuff.” It took me a while.

A couple years ago, say about five years ago, I had a guy from Diageo come in, and he was a master of whiskey. And he walked into the bar with their reps, and he takes a stop and he looks left and right.And the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t believe this is in a neighborhood bar in Spenard.

People come now and they want to try new things. I do classes and stuff like that. They just love it; they want to learn. They love to learn. And that’s kinda propelled my whiskey knowledge.

As far as I know, nobody’s ever came to say [otherwise], but we have the biggest whiskey collection in Alaska. I was just put in a Thrillist arcticle for top whiskey bar in the state. Pretty honorable. It’s still growing, there’s bottles added every week.

We want you to relax, enjoy, have a good time. Especially if you’re at the bar. Meeting my regulars, and everybody… it makes the bar seem fun. It makes my job fun to ee everybody else happy.

49 Voices: Carolina Vidal

Alaska, Audio, Uncategorized

Originally published in Alaska Public Media

VIDAL: At first I started calling myself a word I made up — “Piñateur” — which is silly because it has some Spanish and French, but now I’m just the owner of The Piñata Shop.

Almost a year ago, my now-seven-year-old was about to turn seven, and she asked me for a Trolls-themed birthday party. And she doesn’t have to twist my arm to make a party. I enjoy parties a lot. I was an event and wedding planner in Mexico and I worked doing the same in New Jersey. I knew I wasn’t going to find it in Anchorage, because I knew when I’d seen piñatas before. I think I know piñatas; I’d been around them all my life. Usually, by the time the second kid hits it, it’s broken in pieces, and I thought they were very fragile and not very well made.

So I told her, “I’m going to make you a piñata. And she want the cloud guy. She wanted the cloud to rain candy once it was broken. And I gave it a shot, and I loved how it turned. And that was the beginning of it.


I wanted to do something different, so I went for a salmon, a humpy salmon. And I loved how it turned out, and my husband, the Alaska guy, was very proud. He took a picture of me holding the salmon piñata and sent it to all his relatives. And our neighbors and friends started looking at what I was doing, and I started getting orders from them.

I’ve seen them being whacked and people ask me, “doesn’t it hurt to see your work, and those hours invested in them, just being whacked.” And I say no. I thought it was going to be like that, but I’m excited for the kids. I’m like, “Get it! Harder! Come on, Johnny! Come on Lulu! Come on, go for it!” That’s nice for me to make their very first piñata and I have people coming back to me and asking for more.

Back to the roots: A short history of Mountain View

Alaska, News, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Mt. View

Michael Dougherty and his family first moved to Mountain View in 1950, when he was only three years old and the city of Anchorage had only two paved streets, one stoplight on Fourth Avenue and a brand new high school: Anchorage High School.


“We lived in a small mobile home park in Mountain View,” Dougherty said. “Years later, my wife’s sister bought a house there, and in her backyard was the concrete pad from one of the mobile home sites.”

An appropriate name, Mountain View offers views of the Chugach Mountains. The name was first recorded being used by the Army Map Service in 1941. Homesteaders and construction workers for Elmendorf Air Force Base were the residents of Mountain View in the 1940s.

Consisting of mostly cabins and small houses, the neighborhood was rezoned to allow the construction of multi-family housing in 1965.

The Good Friday Earthquake

As the state population and infrastructure grew rapidly in the 50s and 60s, the Good Friday earthquake brought a brief halt to the development.

When he was 13, Larry Cline’s family home suffered little damage during the 9.2 magnitude earthquake that lasted for nearly five minutes. However, just a block away at a playground behind Mountain View Elementary, the earthquake left a huge crack in the asphalt, Cline said.

“School was out, being Good Friday, and I was home watching TV… Things just started going crazy. The ground was rocking and there was a low roar the whole time. I moved to stand at the front door and my mom stepped outside. She immediately fell on her butt in the snow,” Cline said. “I stayed in the doorway and braced myself.”

Cline said he watched his family’s ‘56 Chevrolet four-door station wagon rocking back and forth until all four wheels were off the ground at the same time.

“It didn’t last but a few minutes, as I recall, but I remember wondering if it was going to go on forever,” Cline said.

From pigs to lions, Mountain View was a wild place

Born and raised on Bragaw Street, Paula Shaw Vincent lived across from what is now the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School in an area that used to be an 80-acre pig farm. The farm was run in Mountain View from 1942 to 1951 by John Vanover, who homesteaded in the area in 1940.

For decades two domesticated lions, Timbo and Princess, also called Mountain View home. They lived in modified trucking trailers that allowed the cats access to views of Mountain View Drive. The trailers were placed between Leon and Lois Brown’s A&W Drive-in and their electric business, Brown’s Electric. Leon — whose late brother George owned the popular Anchorage eatery, The Lucky Wishbone — helped take care of the lions from the late 50s until the late 70s. The lions were then mounted and put on display in Brown’s Electric. After the electric business moved buildings, Leon donated the lions to the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature. There the lions were put on display until moved to storage. The current whereabouts of the lions are unknown. The Alaska Museum could not confirm if the lions were on site.

A diverse history

Today, Mountain View is America’s most diverse neighborhood, according to U.S. Census data research conducted by University of Alaska Anchorage professor Chad Farrell in 2013. The majority of Mountain View’s diverse population came in the late 90s and early 2000s, but since the beginning it was a place for people from all walks of life.

“It was a very diverse neighborhood even back then. Mostly black, white and Native though. Not quite the mix it has now. [There was also] lots of military [people],” said Terri Floyd, who lived in Mountain View from 1956 to 1974. “I think Anchorage as a whole changed a lot with the pipeline. Small neighborhood stores went away, larger grocery stores and malls opening changed the face of Anchorage.”

The neighborhood has seen its fair share of changes since it was annexed to Anchorage in 1954.

Georgiana Criswell Gooch lived in the basement of her church located at 403 N. Hoyt St. At the age of 17, she left home to take a job at Sears in 1970. During this time Gooch lived in a small house across the street from her church.

“It was like a nice urban area where you could see the mountains really well. It was a neighborhood where everyone knew each other, kind of like a small town,” Gooch said.

Gooch left Alaska in 1974 and came back in 2006. Her brother, who lived in Anchorage at the time, told her to stay away from the neighborhood they once called home.

“I was shocked at how small the buildings seemed and how worn down everything had become. The post office was gone. The sports store wasn’t the nice place I recall,” Gooch said. “My brother… got really upset with me when he found out I had driven to Mountain View to look at the old neighborhood. He told me, ‘Don’t ever go back there again. If you must, take someone with a gun. Better yet, just stay away.’ I couldn’t have been more surprised.”

For some, Mountain View has changed for the worse. For others, it hasn’t changed at all.

“Mountain View is not the scary place people think it is,” said Tisha Smith, a current neighborhood resident.

Smith, who grew up in south Mountain View in the 1970s, bought her childhood home from her mother a few years ago. When it was built in 1963, Smith said, her home was part of a pretty nice and new neighborhood, and that pocket of Mountain View has hardly changed at all.


This story appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Mountain View Post magazine: Find copies — including more stories, photos and recipes from Mountain View — at the Mountain View Neighborhood Library and select local businesses.

Meet the teens running a Midtown Anchorage bakery

Alaska, food, News, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Anchorage Daily News

When 18-year-old Alisa Louangaphay took ownership of the Midtown Anchorage bakery A Pie Stop in March, she wanted to surround herself with people who were as passionate about baking as she was. So she hired three other teenagers.

“It does sound a bit scary. (But) we aren’t a bunch of delinquents. We all do extracurriculars. We all work hard in school. We all do our best. We try really hard to make sure every customer that leaves here is satisfied,” Louangaphay said.

Newly graduated Lily Rodriguez, 18, and her 16-year-old sister Carolyna are bakers in the shop. Christian Bowers, an 18-year-old senior at Polaris K-12 School, is the bakery’s barista. Louangaphay assists in the baking and, with the help of her grandfather, handles all the business aspects of running A Pie Stop, all while she finishes up her senior year at SAVE High School.


Together, the crew turns out 27 different kinds of pies, plus fruit turnovers, cookies, cinnamon rolls, cheesecakes, brownies, quiches and espresso. Cornish pasties – a hard-to-find meat hand pie – are a popular item, typically selling out around 2 p.m. daily. Gluten-free pies are also available by special order.

Louangaphay may still be a teenager, but she’s been baking for most of her life. She was first introduced to it by her grandfather, Steve Satterlee. When she was very young, she would help him bake at the Chokecherry Inn, a bed-and-breakfast their family owned in Fairbanks.

“She started baking pies with me when she was just 4 years old. She always wanted to help me. That’s all she’s ever wanted to be, is a baker,” Satterlee said.


Louangaphay studied at the King Career Center culinary arts program in 2016. She attended the University of Alaska Anchorage Bakery Boot Camp for several summers in a row and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Business Week, where high-school students learn about entrepreneurship.

Last spring, she spent a semester at A Pie Stop under its previous owners as part of a culinary internship. She had been working there about four months when her grandfather proposed purchasing the bakery for her.

“I was eating (at A Pie Stop) when I overheard a conversation that the shop was for sale. I made the decision to cash out some of my retirement money to make Alisa’s dream come true,” Satterlee said.

Satterlee bought the bakery in March. Both Satterlee and Louangaphay worked for two months with previous owners Dawn Kauffman and Fanny Miller, Amish and Mennonite bakers who taught Louangaphay and Satterlee their recipes. Many of those recipes are still on the menu, including whoopie pies, a traditional Amish dessert. Amish butter shipped from Ohio is also available for purchase at the bakery.

“I’ve always had that dream. I’ve always been set on this path … I wanted to prepare myself for when I got older, for when I actually got to run my dream. I didn’t think it’d happen so soon,” Louangaphay said.

It was through the King Career Center culinary program that Louangaphay met with Bowers and Lily Rodriguez.


“It’s fun working here. It’s a bunch of kids here, so we’re just baking and having fun,” said Rodriguez, who completed a year at the King Career Center culinary program and graduated from Service High School in 2017.

Rodriguez has been the shop’s head baker since August and recruited her younger sister Carolyna, a home-schooled student, to work at A Pie Stop with her in October.

“People are usually surprised to see me working here, like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a 16-year-old work at a bakery.’ And yeah, because that really doesn’t happen that much because people don’t want to give them a chance. I got lucky,” Carolyna Rodriguez said.

Carolyna Rodriguez, Louangaphay and Bowers are all receiving school credit for their work in the bakery.

A learning curve

Starting as a new business, Satterlee says they’ve had some stumbles. Whether it’s locking down the perfect recipe for pie crust, removing or adding items to the menu or figuring out how to be efficient during the holiday rush, running the bakery how Louangaphay envisions it has been a learning experience.

“After the previous owners left, business went down. Anytime a business changes ownership, you lose some of those old, loyal customers. We have had to build a new customer base,” said Satterlee, who’s in charge of the bakery’s finances. Before Satterlee retired three years ago, he worked as a purchasing agent for Alyeska Pipeline.


But since then, Satterlee says, they’ve been able to grow their customer base with strategies like radio advertising and contests for free pies.

A recent partnership with The Magpie has also increased business. Since November, The Magpie, which operates a food truck in the summer, has rented kitchen space in A Pie Stop.


Customers can now order breakfast and lunch from The Magpie at the same counter where they get pies and pastries. Plus, Magpie owner, Amanda Cash, is an on-site mentor to the young bakers.

“Amanda is great because, you know, we haven’t been in the culinary field for very long, and if we have any questions about anything we can just ask her,” Carolyna Rodriguez said


In addition to running The Magpie, Cash spent two years as a chef in Denali and served as the executive chef of a restaurant in her home state of Indiana. She also spent several years as a cooking instructor.

Cash has some creative ideas for 2018, including a pie-of-the-month club, creating an area for live music and having pies available to take and bake at home.


As for Louangaphay, once she graduates from high school, she plans to increase her hours and dedicate more of her time to growing her young business.

A Pie Stop

Hours: 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday

Location: 3020 Minnesota Drive, Suite 1

Contact: 907-677-PIES (7437) and apiestop.com

For TNL: Tai Yen Jimmy Kim and the American dream

Alaska, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

When Tai Yen Jimmy Kim isn’t at UAA studying for his justice and theater classes, one can find him performing in plays across Anchorage, working at Rustic Goat or at a local open mic rapping about institutionalized racism.

Photo courtesy of Tai Yen Jimmy Kim for The Northern Light

Photo courtesy of Tai Yen Jimmy Kim for The Northern Light

Tai Yen Jimmy Kim is a “dreamer.”

When he was four years old, Kim moved from South Korea to New York. Accompanying Kim was his mother and her family. The family hoped to become citizens with the help of Kim’s grandfather, who had moved to Chicago and became a citizen himself before Kim was born. A petition was put forth by his grandfather to help the family gain citizenship, but unfortunately proved futile for the Kims.

“I can’t help but think if we were able to afford an immigration lawyer in New York years ago, we could be citizens by now,” Kim said.

When Kim was 12 years old, his family moved to Alaska where he’s been ever since. Kim graduated from West High School in Anchorage and now is in his senior year at UAA, where he is double-majoring in theater and justice.

“I spent hundreds of hours participating in the Anchorage Youth Court, a specialized court for minors. That’s when I became interested in law,” Kim said. “I hope to work in rehabilitation rather than become a lawyer. Anchorage is unique in that it has specialized courts for domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse, among others. I want to help these individuals reintegrate back into society. I want to find funding for mental health programs for these inmates who need it most.”

Kim is 22 years old and not a U.S. citizen. Kim is protected from deportation and eligible for a work permit because of an Obama-era immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program has offered protection to nearly 800,000 children who were brought to the U.S. illegally, allowing them to remain in the country without fear of deportation.

Photo courtesy of Tai Yen Jimmy Kim for The Northern Light

Photo courtesy of Tai Yen Jimmy Kim for The Northern Light

DACA recipients must have entered the U.S. before 2007 when they were 16 or younger. The protections of the DACA program are renewable every two years. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that they would be rescinding the program, although the future of the program is still up in the air and in the hands of the nation’s lawmakers and politicians.

“Why couldn’t he keep the protections offered by DACA, while pushing Congress to create a more comprehensive bill? It shouldn’t take putting 800,000 young adults in limbo for Congress to do their job,” Kim said. “These immigrants are striving to make this country great. We are hardworking individuals. If you truly believe that we are the reason you can’t get a job, then I can see why you’re unemployed.”

If the Trump administration were to wind-down the program, Kim could be at risk of losing his work permit, or may even be deported back to South Korea.

“I am not worried about deportation. I built an extensive network of kind, intelligent people here. They wouldn’t let that happen. Also, Trump and Homeland Security are a long way from deporting over 800,000 DACA recipients,” Kim said. “I am worried, however, about my ability to work legally and receive scholarship funds for graduate school down the line. My work permit expires in January.”

Kim’s father stayed behind in South Korea. Due to visa restrictions, Kim has not been able to visit his father in nearly a decade. The two have been able to communicate via text and video chats without costly international fees through an app called Line.

Photo courtesy of Tai Yen Jimmy Kim for The Northern Light

Photo courtesy of Tai Yen Jimmy Kim for The Northern Light

“We thought we would be able to visit Korea regularly, but that’s not how it played out… He pays for my college tuition, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’m proud of him and worried about him. He works hard for a family he can’t be with,” Kim said.

If Kim traveled to South Korea to visit his father, he would not be allowed re-entry into the U.S.

Kim with his mom and dad in South Korea. Kim has not seen his father in over a decade. Photo courtesy Tai Yen Jimmy Kim.

“My lawyer has informed me that travelling back to Korea would be dangerous, since I wouldn’t be allowed re-entry into the U.S., something my USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] issued work permit makes abundantly clear on the bottom front of the card, ‘NOT VALID FOR REENTRY TO U.S.’” Kim said.

Besides his father, the only other connection Kim has to South Korea is the language. Practicing with his mom at home, Kim is able to keep a basic retention of the language.

“It is the only time I get any practice. I can’t speak it at an intellectual level. I won’t be conducting any literary analyses in Korean anytime soon. However, I can keep a conversation for the most part,” Kim said.

One of Kim’s hobbies is rap. He’s had the pleasure of collaborating with friends at open mics and has even rapped on stage with Inspectah Deck, something Kim has said he is very proud of. Although Kim hasn’t rapped about the DACA policy yet, he hopes to write a rap as well as a play about his experiences as a young American immigrant.

For ADN: WindSync wants to change the way you think about wind quintets

Alaska, Beyond Alaska, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Alaska Dispatch News

Radiohead and Billy Joel might not come to mind when you think of a wind quintet performance, but WindSync is on a mission to expand and modernize the repertoire with new arrangements that span genres.

Each musician, from the flutist to the bassoon player, helps modify the source music — which might have been originally written for a full orchestra, singers, piano or even a rock band.

“We put it all together and we end up with something that sometimes is poppy, sometimes has jazz influence, often draws heavily on the classical tradition, but it’s sort of a different spin on that tradition. It takes extra work, but it’s well worth it,” said Kara LaMoure, WindSync bassoonist.

WindSync has gotten a lot of their recognition from videos of their performances of popular music, especially covers of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” and George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” In addition to new and popular music, WindSync also dips into jazz, folk and musical theater.

“For us, if we program top-40 music or anything that’s considered a more popular genre of music it’s because it’s really a key component of our programming. So for us they’re few and far between, but they are important because we do want to celebrate all genres,” LaMoure said.

“We don’t say, ‘Oh, we’re classical musicians so we’ll never play pop music.’ We think of it as just part of our programming.”

LaMoure said WindSync is influenced by American composers like Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, who incorporated different musical traditions in their work.

“We’re really inspired by any music that tells a story or that can relate to a very wide demographic,” LaMoure said. “We’re exploring music that does that with a wide variety of influences: Melodies that can connect across wide audiences.”

The original ensemble was born out of the Rice University music program. Two of the original members — Garrett Hudson on the flute and Anni Hochhalter on the horn — still perform with the group today. Based out of Houston, the current ensemble also includes Emily Tsai on the oboe, Julian Hernandez on the clarinet and Kara LaMoure on the bassoon. Eight years after getting their start, WindSync spends about 100 days out of the year touring across the U.S. and internationally.

“We are dedicated to expanding the quintet repertoire and making a difference in the communities we perform in,” LaMoure said.

WindySync will be performing for students in the Anchorage School District. LaMoure said they want to engage the students through participation in their performance.

“We do ‘Peter and the Wolf’ in elementary schools all the time. When we do it we act out the story, we’re running around the stage. We are even playing our instruments while we’re running around the stage, so that gets crazy and intense,” LaMoure said.

“We also introduce them to how sound is produced on our instruments. We want them to have the beginnings to the idea of how music works.”

WindSync often strays from classical music performance decorum, something LaMoure said is intentional.

“In classical music there’s a lot of issues of ‘don’t clap between the movements,’ wear this specific kind of dress, or, you know, there’s a certain etiquette that’s expected,” LaMoure said. “But for us we kind of want that connection with the music to be more immediate and personal. So if the response is organic then we’re really happy.”

Overall, the ensemble hopes to create a visual experience as well as a listening one.

“Even the most seasoned wind quintet fans will see something new and interesting to them,” LaMoure said.


When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Discovery Theatre

Tickets: $40.25-$54.75 at alaskapac.centertix.net

For ADN: Cherish the Ladies brings a traditional Irish Christmas to Anchorage, Fairbanks

Alaska, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Alaska Dispatch News

Growing up in the Bronx, Joanie Madden would listen to her father, an Irish immigrant, play his old accordion. She learned under her father and began playing traditional songs on tin whistle and flute. But it was still a shock to her parents when she decided she was going to become a professional traditional Irish musician.

“I remember my parents had a heart attack when I told them I was going to go into playing Irish music. ‘Are you out of your mind, what are you going to do?’ I told my dad I wanted to be the next Chieftains,” Madden said.

Madden continued her studies, eventually working with traditional Irish musician and scholar Mick Moloney. In 1985, Moloney organized a series of concerts showcasing women from across the country who performed the Irish music.

It was from that concert series — the first of its kind, Madden said — that all-female super group Cherish the Ladies was formed.

“It was something that was never planned, it was something that happened. We got together just doing some concerts in New York City celebrating women playing Irish music. We were all the top women in Irish music around the country. All the shows were sold out. We decided to record an album, that album was named the best folk album of the year by the Library of Congress,” Madden said. “That’s when the band was born.”

Madden found that the women she was playing with also learned the music first from their fathers. They decided to give the band a traditional and fitting name.

“What once had only been a male-only genre, for centuries it was always passed from father to son, but now it’s being passed from father to daughter, so I suggested Cherish the Ladies, an Irish jig we play,” Madden said.

With 16 albums, the band travels to about 100 cities a year. Cherish the Ladies has played in five continents, been named the top North American Celtic group by the Irish Music Awards and was nominated for a Grammy in 1999. The album “Woman of the House” made the top 10 list of the Billboard world music chart when it was released in 2005.

Their success paved the way for other female Irish musicians such as Eileen Ivers, Winifred Horan of Solas, Cathie Ryan and Heidi Talbot.

“In the early days it wasn’t really proper for a woman to be in a pub; nowadays some of the biggest names on the scene are women, without a doubt,” Madden said. “For years, we’ve had to overcome major stereotypes. When we first got together, people used to think ‘oh, little pansies,’ and then they would hear us play and go ‘oh, oh my God, these girls can play.'”

Traditional Irish ensemble Cherish the Ladies will perform in Anchorage and Fairbanks this week.

Madden and Mary Coogan (who plays guitar, mandolin and banjo) have been a part of the band since its beginning in 1985. Despite worldwide critical acclaim during the last three decades, Madden said the approval that still matters most to the band is that of their fathers.

“We would be more worried about what our fathers would think of the records than what the New York Times music critics thought. We are purists very much at heart — 70 percent of the show was composed by us and composed in a traditional idiom,” Madden said.

“They took the music so seriously. When they passed the music down to us, it was the greatest gift that they could give us. We never felt the music needed bass or drums or rock ‘n’ roll to make it sound good.”

Cherish the Ladies will be performing a special Christmas show in Anchorage and Fairbanks this week, sharing songs from their most recent album, “Christmas in Ireland,” and other Christmas music favorites. They’ll be accompanied by traditional Irish step dance.

“It’s always amazing to me how well Irish music and Christmas music gel together,” Madden said. “Our job is to get people in the Christmas spirit. That’s what we hope to achieve here. We’re going to work our behinds off to make sure everyone has a ball.”

When the members of Cherish the Ladies aren’t touring, Madden said, they are teaching.

“To me, this music is beautiful. So many people were turned on to Irish music and became fans. We have people from every ethnic background who follow our music and love Irish music. The virtuosity level among Irish musicians is second to none,” Madden said.

“This music touches people’s soul. This was music that was passed down. We’ve all been handed this music down; we are all keepers of the flame. Now it’s our turn to pass it down.”

Cherish the Ladies

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9
Where: Atwood Concert Hall
Tickets: $32.50-$66 at alaskapac.centertix.net

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Where: Hering Auditorium in Fairbanks
Tickets: Varies depending on membership level; see fairbanksconcert.org

For ADN: The Mowgli’s bring California vibes for Anchorage show

Alaska, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in Alaska Dispatch News

Most of the members of The Mowgli’s met while growing up together in the Los Angeles area, but it wasn’t until college that the group coalesced around the upbeat sound that would become the six-piece band’s trademark.

“California kind of has a style and a vibe and our music encapsulates that in some way. It’s got a sunniness to it,” said Katie Earl, one of the lead vocalists. “We definitely have a goal to make people feel less alone and ideally inject a little positivity out into the world.”

The band — whose name was inspired by a friend’s dog named after Mowgli, from “The Jungle Book” — channels pop, garage rock and indie folk with a dash of boy band flair. But Earl said they’re resistant to much in the way of genre descriptors.

“I think genre is kind of dead — I could throw six words at you right now. Pop, rock, I really don’t know. I think genres are molding together. Whatever the listener feels like it is, is what it is to me,” Earl said.

The Mowgli’s music follows the pop traditions of the Beach Boys and One Direction with a hint of the indie garage rock sound of Fidlar and Weezer. With a little electronic keyboard, anthem-like lyrics and get-up-and-dance beats, their sound is like a background soundtrack to a late-night summer beach party.

The band’s latest album — “Where’d Your Weekend Go?” — was released in September and keeps with the same simple energetic pop/rock sound.

“A lot of the band grew up on the Beatles. Some of the band listens to punk, emo, rap, R&B. We all just have a lot of different influences,” Earl said.

The Mowgli’s website notes that “I’m Good” was written for an anti-bullying campaign and “Room For All Of Us” was created in support of the International Rescue Committee.

“We definitely make music and write lyrics to make people feel a little less alone and a little better about themselves, because we think the world can be a better place with a little more positivity,” Earl said.

For TNL: Haunted tales of the Wendy Williamson

Alaska, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

Mysterious doors that lead to a wall, showers and sinks running on their own, pianos playing by themselves, an elevator shaft that leads nowhere and lights that will never reach the stage are just a handful of the spooky scenarios that have occurred in the Wendy Williamson Auditorium.

With construction beginning in 1973, the auditorium sat dormant for 18 months before money became available to finish the building. When the builders finally completed the building, there were multiple mistakes.

Creating doors that lead to walls, an elevator shaft that leads to a second floor that never was, a catwalk visible to no one and a spotlight room angled in a way that makes it impossible to spotlight the stage are just a few of the unusual engineering aspects of the auditorium.

Many cultures attribute energy to spaces. The Confucius Institute has even been said to have visited the auditorium; telling the manager that the energy of the space was evil and the feng shui was all wrong.

“The lightroom is by far the most sinister, but all the place is funky,” Shane Mitchell, a UAA alum, the auditorium’s manager and director at TBA theater, said.

Mitchell, who has worked in the auditorium for twenty years began his relationship with the theater as a student in UAA’s theater program in the 80s.

“When I started here in 1982, the place had a reputation for being haunted. It hadn’t even been open for a decade yet,” Shane Mitchell said.

The auditorium bears the name of John Wendell Williamson, professor of music at UAA since 1971. Williamson, nicknamed Wendy, passed away in 1988. The auditorium was named in his honor.

“Weird things happened way before he passed on,” Shane Mitchell said.

Shane Mitchell has his own share of less-than-ordinary occurrences. Once while acting in a performance of “The Monkey’s Paw,” Mitchell opened up the coffin he was going to use during the show, backstage. The cast and crew surrounded him as he lifted the coffin to see what was left inside by other cast members. As Mitchell opened the coffin door, all the props for the show flew off a table and against the wall, just about ten feet away from them.

“It became a habit to open up the coffin backstage before I went on. The whole cast gathered around me to crack up. With all the cast around me, all the props flew off the prop table, against the wall. Like someone flew them off with their arms,” Shane Mitchell said.

In that same show, about 350 school age kids were in attendance on a field trip. A question and answer session soon followed the conclusion of the show.

“This one kid raises his hand and says, ‘at the end of the play, how did you make the lady in the white dress float above your heads?’ The director said ‘what?’, then the teacher said, ‘he just wanted to know how the special effect worked.’ The director said ‘next question.’ There was no special effect,” Shane Mitchell said.

Many years ago, a self-proclaimed psychic and FBI profiler toured the building and sent a thorough document explaining the energy and presence inhabiting the auditorium.

“She mailed a document that listed things that made her seem pretty credible in our eyes. She said she sensed five beings, one of a little girl who died in an automobile accident on Lake Otis, the ghost of a teen boy, a young woman, and two men, one kindly and one violent,” Shane Mitchell said.

“The worst part is people always ask ‘did you see something or hear something,’ you get these horrible, horrible feelings that you’re just not safe. I can explain anything I see or hear, but something I feel? I’ve had things happen that I can’t explain,” Shane Mitchell said.

Twin brother of Shane, Wayne Mitchell, is a technician in the auditorium who has his own share of spooky tales.

“There used to be a nighttime janitor here, after a while he stopped coming and asked what happened to him. I was told he got reassigned because he doesn’t want to be where the ghosts are. This was all based on his own experience,” Wayne Mitchell said.

In an attempt to de-spook the building, different members of the auditorium’s staff have brought different items or symbols to ward off evil spirits and energy.

“Different people who have different cultures bring different items of charm. There’s a Pennsylvania Dutch design hanging on the wall, Celtic knots carved into walls, a lady had a statue of the Virgin Mary filled with holy water that she set above the door. Although, right after the place was smudged, stuff started to happen for about 12 days. All it did was irritate them,” Shane Mitchell said.

Not all who spend time in the auditorium experience events unexplained, but the rumors are abundant and enough to give anyone the creeps when they enter the depths of the Williamson auditorium.

“I haven’t actually seen anything scary happen. But from hearing it is haunted so many times over the years, I definitely get creeped out if I’m there working an event by myself. But mostly because I’m a scaredy-cat,” Garren Volper, a UAA student activities employee and frequent participant in the annual Anchorage Folk Fest, said.

On the center wall of the main lobby of the auditorium sits a large bolt. What once bolstered the large portrait of Wendy Williamson, is now a dark dot, sitting as a reminder of the mysterious happenings of the auditorium.

When Shane Mitchell began his career at the auditorium, he found a painting of the Williamson himself, playing the piano. He pleaded with his manager at the time to hang it up, but was swiftly told no. When Mitchell became manager, him and his brother decided to hang the painting up to commemorate the late professor and building namesake. They proudly hung the painting up in the foyer of the lobby for all to see. The next morning the painting was on the ground. This scenario repeated itself multiple times, until one day while Wayne Mitchell was hanging up the portrait the wire on the back snapped, fell to the ground, tearing the carpet, and breaking the floor beneath it — the painting and frame unharmed. The Mitchell brothers put the mysterious painting back into storage, eventually to bring out just one more time to hang in the green room. The next morning, the painting was not on the wall, but on the ground. The Mitchell’s put it back into storage where it sits today.

“It’s not the most flattering portrait. Maybe Wendy hates it?” Shane Mitchell said.

While these experiences are mysterious, the painting itself is unusual in its own right. The painting has no date and no artist signage. It is unknown who painted the painting and when. It bears resemblance to the late Wendy Williamson, but without a title, date, or artist signature, who’s to say?

With numerous stories of his own, Shane Mitchell is the main guy for others to report their unusual happenings to. Audience members, pageant members, musicians, actors, employees and janitors to just name a few of the folks who go to Shane Mitchell with their ghost tales.

“Just about everybody who spends any length of time in the Williamson ends up experiencing some stuff. I think everyone has their thing they can’t explain. There are people who embrace it and people who don’t want to embrace that,” Shane Mitchell said.

The ghost of Wendy Williamson is said to have visited the auditorium himself. Playing jovial piano music in the lobby during classes or rehearsals.

“You’d be up on stage and you can hear someone playing a piano in the lobby. I would come down these stairs and around the corner and nobody would be sitting there at the piano,” Shane Mitchell said.

Although no one has died in the auditorium, many students or artists at UAA have passed away who have ties and traditions with the building. Whether haunted or not, the Wendy Williamson auditorium puts on quite the show.

For Show Me Alaska: Conquering the Denali Park Road

Alaska, Online, Uncategorized

Originally published in Show Me Alaska

One moment we were enjoying the ride through Polychrome Pass. The next, we were nearly teetering on the edge of a cliff with the wind rocking the car and a sandstorm brewing right outside our windows.

In September 2012, my parents won their first ticket in the Denali National Park road lottery. A rare opportunity afforded to several hundred lucky Alaskans every year, the ticket allows you one day in the park with your own private vehicle. My stepmom, my grandmother and my aunt packed up the Subaru and made our way north. Binoculars, cameras and a sense of adventure accompanied us on what was sure to be a memorable drive.

The weather was windy and rainy but we were determined to get the most of Denali. We made our way to Polychrome Pass, a beautiful and unforgiving stretch of narrow dirt road: hanging rocks and steep slopes on one side and at least a 500-foot drop on the other. We continued on. Loose gravel from the mountainside was picked up by what were now hurricane force winds. Lack of visibility was becoming an issue, but we persisted.

Then there was no visibility whatsoever. We began to panic. The wind got stronger and stronger and with one large gust, the car shook and the rear window of my stepmom’s new Subaru Forester shattered. Dirt and rocks blew inside. In the back seat, I ducked my head as my stepmom stepped on the gas and propelled the car into the sandstorm’s abyss.

Getting out of Polychrome Pass felt like an eternity. I kept my head on my grandmother’s lap, covered with a jacket to recover from the ferocious windstorm we passed through. We duct taped a garbage bag over the rear window and made a beeline back home to Anchorage. My parents have won the lottery and visited the park every year since. They always invite me and I always decline; too soured by the memories of being a little too close to the edge.

But this year I’m back.

A unique opportunity reserved only for Alaska residents, the Denali Park Road lottery began in 1990. In the 1980s the road was congested with over 2,000 cars a day, according to the National Park Service, and NPS decided to implement a lottery system, capped at 300 cars a day at the time, to reduce the amount of traffic on the narrow dirt road.  In 1994, the cap was raised to 400 vehicles a day, where it remains today. The National Park Service receives around 10,000 applications annually for the 1,600 tickets offered in September of every year.

To enter the lottery an Alaskan will pay the $10 entry fee, and if that Alaskan’s ticket is chosen, an additional $25 road lottery fee. Upon entering the park, the driver and attendees will visit the visitor’s center and pick up their permit and pay the $10 park fee. Winners of the road lottery can forfeit their tickets to friends and family with a small note and signature on their printed confirmation. Each ticket is good for a permit for one private vehicle or, for the more adventurous, motorcycle. The permit allows the vehicle and its passengers access to the park road for the entire day (6 a.m. – midnight). The lottery takes place on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday in mid-September.

This year I drove with my cousin Quinn and his girlfriend Tressa. We rallied our way to the park entrance, excited for wildlife and whatever lay ahead. We packed the Subaru with snacks and drinks. Quinn, a first-time road lottery participant and experienced mountain climber, made a successful trek to the summit of Denali back in 2013; Tressa was a park newcomer, eager to see the mountain in all of its glory.

It is important to check the weather before you go and to plan accordingly. It is not uncommon for the weather to change dramatically in a short amount of time.

As we rounded the corner into Polychrome Pass, the golden-colored canyon rocks came into view, sparking an immediate flashback to that unforgettable drive four years prior.

This year, we made our way to end of the dirt road, driving more than 90 miles, socked in by a mild snowstorm; the landscape dusted white, the mountain as mysterious and elusive as ever. This year, I saw Wonder Lake, the remote ranger station and the historic cabin of Joe and Fannie Quigley, famed miners of the early twentieth century.

One bear and three bull moose later, we left the park and were back on the Parks Highway headed home; this time with great memories of the Denali Park Road.

For TNL: UAA Professor Offers Solutions to Alaska’s Roadway Problem

Alaska, News, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

Learning to dodge potholes and control your car in ruts is just part of learning to drive in Alaska. Professor Osama Abaza is hoping to change this.

In the civil engineering department, Abaza and his team are researching and working alongside the department of transportation to tackle the issues of Alaska’s highways.

For over 10 years, Abaza has worked with a myriad of student researchers to come up with, test and experiment with a new form of concrete. This rubberized concrete uses crushed up waste tires and is strengthened with steel fiber. The combination allows for durability as well as flexibility, both of which are important for climate-related road expansion and contraction.

“This research could revolutionize how materials engineer combat rutting. By using steel fibers and rubber, they are fighting against rutting from studded tires while also protecting our roads from permafrost heaving and cracking. If this concrete is the answer to our rutting problems, this will mean less road maintenance, and ultimately less money spent on costly repairs and road rehabilitation,” Melissa Frey, an undergraduate engineering student at UAA and a member of professor Abaza’s current research team, said. “Our state hasn’t really seen a material like this before, but implementing this material could really change Alaska’s transportation engineering.”

What’s special about this concrete is that it will prevent ruts and potholes from occurring on the states highways.

“It’s going to prevent ruts from happening. Concrete doesn’t develop potholes. You’re not going to see any ruts or potholes on our roadways, that is of course if we decide to use this material,” Abaza said.

More than ruts and potholes, this material will allow Alaska’s highways to last longer.

“Our roads have a lot of ruts on it. Usually what [Department of Transportation does] is rebuild the road every 4 to 6 years. That same road lives in the lower 48 for 20 years. We have all these issues because of our weather and the use of studded tires. With this concrete, our roads could live for 20 years and we can avoid turning our town into a construction zone,” Abaza said.

When testing this new material out, students and faculty were able to take advantage of the engineering buildings state of the art pavement lab.

“We have one of best labs, even in the lower 48, for testing this,” Abaza said.

Last September, UAA put a slab of this new concrete in front of the parking garage near the Consortium Library. It’s being tested, while students during the summer created slabs to place on Abbot Road. Those test slabs, which will have sensors in them to detect expansion rates, will be placed onto Abbot Road in the spring and then observed for three years.

“We know for sure it’s going to work, but now we have to convince the public,” Abaza said.

The price of this new concrete is much higher than the asphalt the DOT uses now, but the state will be saving money in the long run if the roads can last longer.

“The concern is that the material is going to cost a lot more, but if you look over life cycle cost of the material it’s going to be way cheaper than what we are doing now,” Abaza said.

With UAA and the DOT working together. students can get hands-on training working in their community and have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to the field.

“I’ve been working with him when I came on board to do further testing on the feasibility of construction. My background is with DOT construction. I’ve been working with him since the start of my thesis,” Mahear Aboueid, a UAA grad student who is also a project manager at the DOT said. “I think the chemistry behind this material is definitely positive towards resisting stud ware and freeze/thaw. As part of DOT and UAA, it’s nice seeing both sides are wanting to work with each other. I think it’s a great thing to be mutually beneficial in helping the community.”

Abaza also sees the benefit UAA can have the community. Whether it be putting students in the hands-on learning environment by working with DOT or working on research that can save the state money while also keeping Alaska drivers safer; Abaza looks to build a bridge with UAA and community entities.

“In order for us at UAA to be really effective in the community, we are supposed to help the community and figure out new solutions. I want to show that UAA is really a resource to provide solutions. We have way more responsibility than to just graduate new engineers,” Abaza said.

Abaza and his team are currently waiting til the spring to place their concrete slabs in Abbot Road. Once placed, the slabs sensors will monitor expansion and contraction for three years.

For TNL: Sonia Sotomayor visits Anchorage

Alaska, News, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

Over 1,200 people gathered in the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage on August 17 for a last minute presentation by Justice of the United States Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor was the first Puerto Rican judge to serve in any state, the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court, the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court and is one of the youngest people to have ever served on the Supreme Court.

The Alaska Bar Association organized the event, allowing practicing attorneys to receive Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits if they participated. Of the sold-out show, 40 percent of the 1,200 attendees were practicing attorneys.

Mary DeSpain, CLE director of the Alaska Bar Association introduced and welcomed Sotomayor with a traditional Spanish greeting — “la bienvenida a nuestra ciudad” — Welcome to our city.

The event was a Q&A, with Alaska resident Judge Morgan Christen of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Questions were canvased and chosen before the event by the Alaska Bar Association. With questions from attorneys, the general public and children of the community.

Sotomayor revealed a vulnerable, human perspective in her poignant responses.

“I can’t imagine a better role model. I like how she talked about her human perspective with the importance of making decisions that affect everyone,” Johanna Richter, an economics student at UAA said.

Christen opened the talk with discussing Sotomayor’s book “My beloved World.” In the book, Sotomayor speaks about how she wanted to speak honestly about the experiences in her life — the good and the bad. Sotomayor discussed the hardships of being in the public eye and nearly turning down her Supreme Court nomination from the pressure of tabloids ruining a reputation she spent a lifetime creating.

“You get nominated for the Supreme Court and it’s like getting on a rocket ship to the moon, and it doesn’t take you back,” Sotomayor said in her discussion.

After a few questions from Christen, Sotomayor decided to leave the stage and walk among the crowd. Making her way through over 1,000 people she hugged, shook hands and signed autographs with the audience as she answered the rest of Christen’s questions.

A crowd favorite, a kid-canvased question submitted to the Alaska Bar Association asked Sotomayor what Harry Potter house she belonged to. Without skipping a beat, Sotomayor answered with Gryffindor, and further discussed her love affair with the book series.

When asked if diversity is important on the court, Sotomayor discussed the importance of life experiences as diversity in perspective and decision making.

“I don’t define diversity by gender, ethnicity or race,” Sotomayor said in her discussion.

Audience members ranged widely in age and profession. With members of the Youth court present, and small children with their parents, to Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and practicing attorneys, the crowd was diverse.

“I’m obsessed with her. I love everything about her, and any exposure i can get is great,” Madeline Parrish, age 16 said. “This is what I want to do.”

Sotomayor, who spoke in Fairbanks days before, is traveling around Alaska visiting over 12 communities around the state. Visiting Alaska has always been on Sotomayor’s bucket list, and it further helped her reach her goal of visiting all fifty states. When she got asked to speak at UAF, she decided to take the opportunity to see the sights throughout the state.

For Show Me Alaska: Chitina a stop along the way

Alaska, Online, Uncategorized

Originally published in Show Me Alaska

You might miss it if you’re not paying attention.

Past farmland and through canyon country sits Chitina, Alaska: Nearly 250 miles from Anchorage, the town is noted for being the end of the Edgerton Highway and the beginning of the historic and seldom-maintained McCarthy Road. It may be the last place to get gas before journeying the next 60 miles to McCarthy, or a place to grab snacks on the way home from a weekend exploring the historic mill town of Kennecott. Chitina may seem unimpressive to the shallow traveler. However, when you dive beneath the surface, the town of less than 150 opens up, showing you a unique Alaska you may have never experienced.

Walk into Uncle Tom’s Tavern in the center of town to meet the people who call Chitina home. An old piano greets you at the door; a wood stove, taxidermy and plenty of rocks and fossils soon follow. Quintessential bar memorabilia adorns the interior. License plates, slot machines and posters of scantily clad women hang as ornamentation in the small, smoke-filled room. Old-timers and local folk sit at the bar with pints in hand and ash trays nearby. The woman at the end of the bar turned her generator on that morning so she could watch a movie with her friends that night. She lives in a one-room cabin with no electricity, no water and no heat. In a town where people are still talking about last year’s Fourth of July celebration, movie nights and new visitors are hot topics.

When Uncle Tom himself walks into the bar, he shows us some gold he found in the area, a nice small handful, telling my friend and me that the special rock is called “leavurite,” and if we find any we should “leave-it-right” there and let him know where it is — a joke he’s probably told 1,000 times to gullible tourists. What Uncle Tom didn’t know is that my friend is a student geologist. Needless to say Uncle Tom’s joke was quickly squandered.

The ladies at the bar know all the hidden gems and are eager to tell interested passersby about the hot spots in Chitina. Liberty Falls, just north of town, is a large, rapidly cascading waterfall, just off the Edgerton Highway. This state-run park is also a campground with 10 spots available. To the south of Chitina, at the beginning of the McCarthy Road, the canyon walls open up to the west bank of the Copper River, where fish wheels and dipnetters fight for the prized Copper River sockeye.

Once a thriving railroad post, Chitina was a stop for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway. The railroad hauled copper from the mines of Kennecott to Cordova, leaving Chitina a bustling and prosperous community in the early 1900s. When the mines at Kennecott were shut down and abandoned in 1938, Chitina was left a ghost town.

Remnants of Chitina’s past can be seen today. The old tin shop, now an art gallery, is on the National Register of Historic Places, while the Chitina Emporium pays homage to the old pioneer spirit. The gateway to Kennecott, McCarthy and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is unapologetically Alaskan. From the locals and their homesteading endeavors to the subsistence salmon fishing on the famed Copper River, Chitina leaves visitors coated in a gritty Alaska aura.

For Show Me Alaska: Riding to Spencer Glacier, a whistlestop in the heart of the Chugach National Forest

Alaska, Online, Uncategorized

Originally published in Show Me Alaska

There is no such thing as a typical day aboard the Glacier Discovery train. For the summers of 2012 and 2013, I was a tour guide on the Alaska Railroad: I helped people on and off the train, cleaned up after passengers and provided onboard narration explaining the significance of the areas we passed through.

The Glacier Discovery train carries people from all walks of life: young tourists going to adventure around Prince William Sound, an elderly couple from Nebraska who sold their farm to see the 49th state via cruise ship from Whittier, locals on a day trip to see Spencer Glacier with some out-of-town family, handsome river raft guides gearing up for the day’s tour and U.S. Forest Service rangers more than willing to share their knowledge of the area.

Every day is different, but the highlight is always Spencer Glacier.

Only accessible by train, Spencer Glacier is a recreation spot like no other. Tours booked in advance — like rafting, canoeing and kayaking — can get you up close and personal with the glacier. A complimentary ranger-led nature walk is an option for the more inquisitive explorer. The walk is easy; the entire 1.3 miles from the train to the glacier lookout is a flat and well maintained thoroughfare.

The glacier can be enjoyed in a day trip, or just from the train, but the best way to take in Spencer Glacier is to stay overnight. Immerse yourself in the remote area and feel a sense of solitude as the train pulls away back to Anchorage, not to return until the next day. Listen as the glacier shifts and slides against the mountains, its echoes reverberating through the Placer River Valley. If you’re lucky, like I was, you can even catch the glacier calving.

Fall asleep to the sound of a calving glacier and distant freight trains chugging their way through the Kenai Mountains. Stay overnight in the group campsite or the new Spencer Bench Cabin. Approximately 1.2 miles from the train, the group campsite offers well water, restrooms, bear boxes, picnic benches and a fire pit.

The Spencer Bench Cabin, which opened in the summer of 2015, sits at an elevation of nearly 2,000 feet. The hike extends less than 5.5 miles from the trailhead, with the last three miles being rigorous switchbacks. The group campsite and the cabin can bereserved for a fee through the Alaska Railroad. For free camping, continue hiking along the Spencer Glacier trail to find multiple dispersed sites.

Rounding the tracks heading south towards Grandview, I’d bring passengers back in time to 1905 with the story of Edward Spencer. According to a story published by the Seward Gateway on Nov. 3, 1906, Spencer, a timekeeper for the Alaska Central Railroad, was traveling by foot from camp 52 to camp 55 in the area where Spencer Glacier is today. Despite warnings of darkness and treacherous conditions from members of the camp, Spencer proceeded on. The ill-fated timekeeper was found frozen to death nearly a year later, his body face-first in the snow, 2,000 feet from the winter trail on a slope above the glacier.

Spencer Glacier is the first of five whistle stops created in collaboration with the Forest Service and the Alaska Railroad. The whistle stops will be checkpoints along the Glacier Discovery trail, a trail system that will connect Alaskans to the Kenai Mountain backcountry, a place not accessible by road.

Spencer Glacier was completed as the first whistle stop in 2007, and since its creation the stop has received over 10,000 visitors, according to the USFS. The other four whistle stops are still under construction or in the planning phase.

With breathtaking views, opportunities for adventure and the clickety-clack of the standard-gauge rails below you, the Glacier Discovery train will awake the romantic inside you. Follow your inner explorer to Spencer Glacier whistle stop, and take advantage of the beauty in Alaska’s own backyard.

For TNL: From fishing to flowers: Adapting in remote Alaska

Alaska, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

According to the USDA, EagleSong Family Peony Farm is one of America’s most remote farms. Located near the North base of Mt. Susitna, EagleSong grows over 12,000 peony roots in over 22 varieties. In addition to growing and selling peonies worldwide EagleSong also grows all types of vegetables to feed their crew throughout the summer and family through the winter, and hops for use by local micro breweries. EagleSong is one of the states largest peony farms and co-owner Mike Williams is the founding owner and managing partner of Alaska Peony Distributors, LLC, a commercial peony pack house that buys peonies for area farms. The peonies are transported to the pack house located at Lake Hood where they are inspected and graded, then marketed and sold around the world.

Before EagleSong became a success in the ever-growing Alaskan peony industry, Williams, along with his wife Paula purchased an old homestead and created the EagleSong Lodge in 1993.

“We were the traditional hunting and fishing lodge with some winter business catering to snow-machiners, dog mushers and acting as a checkpoint for various winter races. We gradually lost our salmon runs that sustained our summer business due to the invasion of northern pike. They ate up all the salmon. It is tough being a fishing lodge with no fish. During our peak there were over a dozen lodges operating around us. By 2009, we were the only lodge still open. We knew the end had come,” Williams said.

Forced to switch gears, the Williams family looked to peony farming to save their home.

“We didn’t want to leave our home of 15 years so we looked into farming and settled on peony farming since it primarily evolves around air transport which we had relied on since we moved here,” Williams said.

The homestead is a family run farm where the Williams family raised four children, as well as peonies and other vegetables. Beyond farming, other artistic endeavors that originate from EagleSong include hand carved birch and spruce sculptures by Mike Williams, an experienced commercial carver. While Paula uses her locally grown produce to further her culinary skills. A cookbook is in the works and is looking to be completed by 2017.

EagleSong is an avid host of volunteers from the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization, which matches volunteers and farms across the world for farm stays in exchange of labor and agricultural experience.

“We have hosted dozens of volunteers, WWOOF-ers and interns over the years and not one has gone away less than satisfied with their experience here. The farming experience coupled with the experience of living in back country Alaska is an opportunity that few ever experience,” Williams said. It is hard to put in a few words all the things our visitors can experience. Hard work at times, but the satisfaction at the end of the day brings them back for more. We insist all our visitors participate in the growing of the food we consume and give them the opportunity to create their favorite dishes so we can all experience their culture. It is not unusual to have WWOOF-ers from far flung parts of the globe. Last summer we had WWOOF-ers from Denmark, Germany, India, France, China and all over the U.S.”

EagleSong was the focus of a 13 episode series, called Building Alaska, last summer. The show finished airing in May and is currently playing in Europe.

You can find EagleSong at the Downtown Saturday Market selling peony roots, and a few flowers. They have been a fixture of the market for over ten years now.

For more information and to get in touch with Mike and Paula Williams at EagleSong you can visit their Facebook page or website, www.eaglesongalaska.com.

For TNL: Homemade fettuccine in the Widgeon II

Alaska, food, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

I just got home from spending the weekend at Tutka Bay Lodge, a remote lodge in Kachemak Bay. The lodge is home to a remote cooking school. The Widgeon II is a historic boat that went from a World War II vessel to a crabbing boat, and was drug up on to the beach of the remote lodge and transformed into the cooking school it is today. Unique and rustic, the cooking school is without running water and an oven. I was sponsored by UAA’s Department of Journalism to attend a food writing retreat hosted by Alaska’s own Julia O’Malley and New York Times Food editor Sam Sifton at the lodge. We ate, cooked, and wrote the weekend away. Here’s the homemade fettuccine recipe I derived  from this weekend.

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Homemade fettuccine

Hearing the word homemade followed by something you’ve only ever thought ywould buy can be daunting. I’ve made homemade pasta once in my life as part of a ‘culinary boot camp’ my parents put me in one summer as a kid. In the class we learned knife skills and basic cooking repertoire. Of all the things we did that week making pasta seemed to be the most time consuming and tedious task of them all. Flash forward a decade later in the Widgeon II, a remote cooking school in Kachemak Bay, I’m assembled with a small team consisting of a fellow writer and a gifted cook. Tasked to work with the ingredients at hand, we are inspired to make pesto, and the idea of pasta soon follows. Investigating to see if fettuccine was available, we were greeted without pasta, but with a clunky metal machine that I spent numerous afternoons avoiding as a kid. The ominous crank wasn’t enough to deter my hunger. I turned the crank and helped to feed the pasta through. Shocked at how little time it took to make such a small amount of flour go so far, I was having a revelation. Maybe making pasta isn’t as annoying as I thought? Maybe everything seems to take hours as an 11 year old? When the water was boiled and the pasta was done I tasted for doneness and it clicked. The kneading, feeding, and cranking was worth it for the delicate, melt-in-your-mouth, almost buttery consistency of the pasta. Create a taste you can’t buy from a store.


2 ½ Cups of All-purpose flour

½ Tablespoon of kosher salt

6 Egg yolks

1 Egg

1 Tablespoon olive oil



1.       In a large mixing bowl incorporate 2 cups of flour and salt. Create a well in the center of the flour.

2.       Place the olive oil, egg yolks and the egg into the well and with two fingers whisk the eggs into the flour until a tacky dough is formed.

3.       Knead the dough  for about 7 – 10 minutes. Set aside and cover with plastic. Allow to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes.

4.       While dough is resting set up pasta roller and cutter per manufacturer’s instructions.

5.       After the dough has rested cut into even thirds. Set the excess two aside, keeping them covered, and work with the first third by flattening the leading edge until it reaches about ½ inch in thickness.

6.       Feed the flattened dough through the pasta roller on the widest setting. Once the dough has been fed through, take the stretched dough and fold into thirds. Dust the pasta dough with flour if tacky.

7.       Repeat step 6 ten times, folding the pasta into thirds each time, creating layers.

8.       Once the layers are created, proceed to thinning and stretching the pasta dough. Reducing the width of the rollers each pass through until you have reduced the width 8 times. Dust the dough with flour as needed.

9.       Add the pasta cutter attachment to the pasta making machine per manufacturer’s instructions. With the widest pasta cutter setting or the fettuccine setting, feed the pasta sheet through the cutter. Once pasta has been cut dust liberally with flour and form the pasta into a small nest, set aside and cover with plastic.

10.   Follow steps 5 – 9 with the other two pasta dough thirds.


Directions to cook pasta:

1.       Fill a large deep pot with 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil.

2.       Once the water has been brought to a boil, toss in 3 – 4 tablespoons of salt.

3.       Shake the remaining flour off the pasta before placing the pasta into the boiling water.  Sir the pasta until the water has returned to a boil, and allow to cook until desired doneness, approximately 2 – 4 minutes.

4.       Once pasta has reached desired doneness, reserve a cup of the cooking water for later. Drain the water and serve.

Time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 – 8 servings

For JuliaOmalleyMedia: A Spenardian grandma’s blueberry crumble

Alaska, food, Online, Spenard, Uncategorized

Originally published on Julia O’Malley Media.

My grandmother, Sylvia Butcher, a true Spenardian and Alaskan in her own right, has been living in Alaska since the early 1960s. She met my grandfather, who grew up in Anchorage after his parents homesteaded here in 1943, in California and they started a life together in the city of Anchorage.

One of my grandmother’s favorite Alaskan pastimes is blueberry picking. She knows all the spots, from the shores of Seward to the mountainsides of Broad Pass. Of course, she would never permit to say where her favorite spot is, as that’s a heavily guarded family secret. She claims that the peninsula is the way to go. She notes that Girdwood blueberries are wormy and that Seward and Whittier are good places to explore, claiming that coastal blueberries are better in taste and easier to pick than their alpine cousins.

Don’t even think about buying blueberries for this recipe. Grandma scoffs at the mere thought of store bought blueberries, lacking in taste and authenticity.

After my grandma agreed to teach me how to make her special blueberry crumble, I visited her in her kitchen. She pulled out of a bag of frozen blueberries that was thawing in the fridge.“They have to be Alaskan blueberries, not store bought. There’s no comparison,” she said. Grandma held the bag in the air and examined it, as if checking to see if a nugget of gold was actually just pyrite. The bag, with the date “8/15″ written in sharpie on the side, was gently poured out into the baking dish. As I spread the blueberries evenly in the dish, Grandma told me about picking those berries with my mom last summer while they were in Seward.

“We picked them until we couldn’t pick anymore, brought them back to the cabin, and went out and did it all again the next day,” she said.

The recipe for blueberry crumble was given to my grandmother in a cookbook published by the women’s club of Anchorage in the late ‘50s. Today, the recipe book is near shreds, the stack of papers are held together by an old rubber band. My grandma received the cookbook from my great-grandmother, her mother-in-law, as a wedding gift. My great-grandmother was part of the women’s club and had her own recipes published in the book as well. My grandma tried the Blueberry Crunch recipe, as it’s called in the recipe book, and has been in love with it ever since.

The recipe is relatively simple, despite the delicious and crowd pleasing results it receives. Make sure to let the dessert completely cool before serving, as it’s too runny and messy if served right after it’s taken out of the oven. The perfect way to serve it — the way it’s been served to me my entire life — according to Grandma is to “warm it up and serve it with vanilla ice cream.”

Grandma’s Alaskan Blueberry Crumble


4 cups Alaskan blueberries

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the topping:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup butter, melted

1 cup rolled oats


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Place the blueberries into a baking dish. Pour in the sugar and flour, and stir with a spatula until the blueberries are covered. Distribute evenly across the bottom of the baking dish.

3. For the topping: in a separate bowl, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, flour and oats. Mix until evenly combined, then spread across the top of the blueberry mixture with a spatula.

4. Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.

5. Let the dessert cool completely. Serve warm and with vanilla ice cream.

For Knik.co: How to live in a dry cabin

Alaska, Online

Originally published on Knik.co

Living without plumbing is a lifestyle choice many Alaskans make. According to a state economic trend analysis published in April 2014, around 12,000 Alaskans live without water; a significant number in a state home to just a little over half a million people.

Whether it is by choice or necessity, living without water is particularly evident in the interior of Alaska. In the interior of the state winter temperatures dip far below zero, making it easy for pipes to freeze. In addition permafrost, ground frozen solid, is common in northern Alaska, making the idea of a modern septic system, a pipe dream. For some, living without water is a way to save money. For others it is a romantic existence, full of self-discipline and self-sufficiency.

I was all on my own during the summer of 2014. In late April of 2014, I moved into my dry cabin off Farmers Loop Road in Fairbanks, Alaska. I went into town the first morning I woke up in Fairbanks. I found my five gallon jug in the local Fred Meyer and carried it to the nearest water station. The water stations in the Fairbanks area are a dime a dozen. About two cents a gallon, I would pump my water, just like I was pumping gas, into my little blue jug. I dragged little blue, significantly heavier when full of water, up the hill from where I would park my car to the cabin, about 200 feet away. I would then gracefully set my blue jug on the lip of the sink where it would live for three to five days; then I would do it all over again.

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Before I lived in a dry cabin, thirty minute showers were common and part of my everyday routine. Washing dishes in the dishwasher and cleaning my clothes, just a part of the weekly chores I powered through for majority of my existence. My biggest concern at first was how I was going to shower. I got a gym membership and took advantage of the showers in the locker room. With the hassle of having to drive 20 minutes away to shower, baby wipes and dry shampoo found their way onto my weekly grocery list. There was once a time the gym was closed and I was forced to wash my hair in a bucket on my front porch. I never was much of a bath person, but I remember my first real bath after moving out was more luxurious than I could have ever anticipated.

I never considered how much water went into cooking and cleaning. I’d say that 75 percent of my water usage went into a combination of cooking and cleaning dishes, the rest for drinking and other miscellaneous things. I learned to conserve my dish use and gained a carefree judgment of what was actually dirty when it came time to clean. This is because cleaning the dishes was an event in itself. I had to first try to figure out how much water I needed to finish the dishes. Boil that water. Then over the sink, carefully, I’d rinse the dishes with the water, scrub it with soap and hope for the best. I will never take the invention of dishwashers for granted again. The dishwater would drain through about six inches of PVC pipe into a bucket. Every night I would take the bucket of dirty water and toss it free off the deck. This is imperative if you don’t want your living space to smell like a garbage disposal.


It’s easy to remember the wasps, mosquitoes, and dirty dishwater when I recall my dry summer. However, it’s hard to forget the romance and the solitude that comes with sequestering yourself in nature.

Nolin Ainsworth, a former student at University of Alaska Fairbanks, lived alone in a dry cabin while attending school.

“My favorite part [about dry cabin living] was the absolute quiet and sound of the wind when it swept through the trees at night.” Ainsworth said.

With a literal laundry list of things to do, living dry adds hours of chores to your week. Whether it is hauling water, washing dishes, or waiting at the laundromat for your load to finish up; living in a dry cabin takes a lot of time, work, and patience.


The dry life is not for everyone. I’d even admit that it’s not for me, despite how “Henry David Thoreau” I like to think I am. Whatever your reason for choosing to live water-free, the experience will no doubt give you a new appreciation for modern day luxuries most of us rely on daily.