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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sheep Hunt Preparations

Pretty soon Gregg and I plan to head off on a Dall Sheep hunt in the Brooks Range in Northern Alaska. We do not know much about Dall Sheep hunting so I doubt we'll bring back a sheep but hopefully we'll learn something and maybe we will bring back a caribou. I'm really looking forward to just hiking and exploring a part of Alaska I have never experienced before. I first came to Alaska in 1985 but I still have never gone hiking in the Interior. The only parts of the state I have ever explored are the Aleutians, the Alaska Peninsula, and Kodiak. So this will be completely new. Heck I've never even been north of the Arctic Circle - even when I worked on Baffin Island in the East Arctic.

Today I checked out the new stove and mosquito netting we'll be using in the small tent we hope to live in. The stove and tent weigh about 4 pounds total combined weight. And I am very happy with how roomy it is inside there. The stove cranked and Stuey and I even boiled a pot of water on top of the stove. Gregg and I plan on saving weight by taking along very little in the way of fossil fuels and relying on the wood stove to cook our meals. I was worried about the mosquito netting but it is quite simple to use and ought to keep us sane if the bugs are really bad.

Anyhow, the kids REALLY liked the tent and want to sleep in it. Stuey like planning out where Gregg and I would sleep and where we would have our 'kitchen'. Patrick

Kids' First Dig

The first week of our Community Archaeology 2011 excavation at the Amak site is complete. And things have been going pretty darn well. We have already moved so much dirt that it is clear we will have to open up another excavation block. I already have another area of the site where there is a depression that might represent an old house pit picked out. We also plan on doing some test pitting in the immediate vicinity to find other sites and get a handle on the local geomorphology (where the beaches were and how all the local land forms were created).

It appears that the site was a temporary camp 3 to 4000 years ago, and we found a simple structure associated with this level. In the older levels around 5000 years old we are uncovering a huge pile of rocks whose function has us all a bit miffed at the moment. Next week we hope to get into the really old stuff at the bottom of the site.

But the highlight of the week for me was when Stuey and Nora visited the site with Jenny F last Thursday. They got to help daddy with the dig, and even do a little bit of their first ever excavation. Now they now exactly what daddy does all day during the summer. Their favorite job was returning everybody's buckets from the screen. Either Molly or I screen all the dirt from the excavation and after each bucket of dirt is screened it needs to be returned to the particular excavator to be filled again.

Photos: The landscape in front of the site is flat with bushes here and there and sort of reminds me of the planes of Africa - so I joked with Molly that the top photo is of her with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background (complete with snow). The second and third photos are of Stuey and Nora experiencing their very first archaeological excavation. The fourth photo is of Leslie W taking notes, and the bottom photo is the excavation in progress late in the day on Friday. Patrick

Friday, July 29, 2011

How the Amak Site got its name

Back in 2005 when we first found the Amak site I caught all the student interns giggling. 'What's so funny?' I asked. More giggling - and then Tristan K an Alutiiq intern informed me that the 2 mounds on the site looked just like Amak. Amak is the Alutiiq word for breasts. And yes the 2 mounds at the North end of the site do look remarkably like the breasts of a woman sleeping on her back amidst the willow and alder. And when I mapped the site there was no getting around it - the site topography does indeed look like a headless and legless woman lying on her back (bottom photo). And so the name stuck. I don't know of a more aptly named site.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Renovation nearing completion....

I"m nearing completion on the new birth class location--there was a major renovation in progress (see before and after pics!). About a month ago I showed a picture of a garage which needed some serious love to host birth classes. Its almost totally ready! Tonight I held the second session in it and am loving the space. It is warm, small and seems to be the perfect fit for my classes. The only final touches will be a couch and loveseat to make it complete. 6 moms were in attendance tonight and they were able to make themselves comfy on the mat and floor.
There is an electric heater which looks like a fireplace and kicks out some serious heat. In the winter, it will be quite cozy with the faux burning wood....


Community Archaeology Underway

After 3 days of digging Community Archaeology 2011 is well underway. This year we are excavating at the Amak Site near the Salonie Creek Rifle Range. The site is almost a mile from the current shoreline, but 3,000 years ago Womens Bay extended a lot further inland and the site was situated right above the beach. During the last 14 years of Community Archaeology the Alutiiq Museum has been examining the Alutiiq Seasonal round in the Womens Bay area through time. Among other types, we have excavated late Fall fish camps up on Buskin Lake, Spring Cod camps on the outer coast, Winter villages, and Summer camps at the head of Womens Bay. We have excavated sites as old as from the 6th millennium BC and as recent as the 19th century AD. This year we hoped to learn what the Alutiiq were doing at the extreme head of Womens Bay 3-7000 years ago. We also hope to find one of the oldest sites on the archipelago (knock on wood here).

And so far so good. We know from a test pit and our excavation so far that the site has been occupied at least 3 times - once in the Early Kachemak period between about 3-4,000 years ago, in Ocean Bay II times around 5,000 years ago, and finally there appears to have been a super early occupation around 7,000 or so years ago. For the last 3 days we have been excavating the Early Kachemak component. What's cool is that unlike the contemporary and nearby site at Bruhn Point the Alutiiq do not appear to have used the Amak Site as a fish camp at that time. We have found none of ulus for cutting up fish or the netsinkers used to catch fish - both of which we found so many of at the Bruhn Point Site.

3,000 years ago the Amak Site appears to have been used sparingly as a temporary camp, and the occupants did not leave much behind for us to find. But we have found a surprising number of complete hunting tools - a sideblade, a chipped stone endblade, a pumice abrader and whetstone, a couple of scrapers - and very little in the way of flakes and other chipped stone debris that would have been created if people were making tools at the site. My initial thought is that the Alutiiq people at the site were bringing completed tools to the site from somewhere else and hunting seals. Perhaps they sharpened their tools as they waited for a seal to appear. The seals would have been up there in late summer chasing salmon up Salonie Creek.

Photos: Top photo - the team removes the last of the 1912 Katmai ash. The ash rested on 3000 years of grey silt tsunami deposits left behind by repeated tsunami inundations up the bay. Second photo is of Drew with a complete sideblade that he found. A sideblade would have been inset into the side of a bone lance and would have acted much like a modern broadhead on an arrow to create an extensive wound channel on a hunted animal. Third photo is of a red chert endblade that would have been set into the tip of a spear. Fourth and fifth photos are of the team digging down into the top layer of the site. The top layer represents all of the soil accumulation between the last major volcanic eruption and ash fall circa 3800 years ago and the 1912 Katmai eruption and deposition the thick layer of white ash seen in profile.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ferry Adventures--And the kindness of people

Travelling with kids brings on challenges of many sorts, one of which is how to help keep little ones entertained for hours on end. I am always amazed by the goodness of strangers, friends, acquaintances who come out of the woodworks to help and this trip was no exception.

The ferry ride home was a memorable one for two reasons--Stuey's airplane frenzy as well as our tour of the wheelhouse.

As of late, Stuey has learned how to fold and fly paper airplanes. Our friend Mark R. who visits frequently from California to hunt and dig with Patrick, gave stuey hours of instruction on his last trip. Since that time, Stueys airplane making skills have really "taken off"- no pun intended.

In Homer, Stuey created 12 or so airplanes, which he flew and insisted we pack for the ferry. When we got on the Kennicott mid morning, we sat in the kid section. There was one other family there with two kids as well as a childhood acquaintance, who was returning from living in Australia for a several month visit-Aaron.

It didn't take long before Stuey's airplanes started flying and and landing all over the place. Stuey got Aaron's attention, and before long, Aaron started helping modify the wings of Stuey's planes to help improve the flying dynamics. Aaron is a civil engineer and added things like flaps to the wings, and ensured that the wings were of equal width so the plane wouldn't steer to one side.

The whole scene became quite comical, as it turned into literally 5 hours of Stuey flying paper airplanes. There were several people who were repeatedly "hit" by Stuey's airplane, and they were so nice about it. Stuey would have to offer occasional "Sorry" to people, which he was ok with and people appreciated that Stuey cared enough to apologize. And Aaron was so nice about continuing to fix Stuey's airplane every time STuey asked him, "You fly airplanes with me?"...which was about 6 times an hour, at least!!
After several hours, Stuey's wrist became tired from flying airplanes and he would shake his wrist in a funny ritualistic manner after each throw, which brought some laughs out of us.

Towards the end of the trip, we pulled out a bag of unused balloons i had and all the kids ran around blowing up balloons. Stuey would blow his up 1/2 or 3/4 way, then let go of it and it would go whizzing around the room. Amazing how much joy a few balloons can bring kids!

I am so appreciative for the family that was near us as well as Aaron as we all worked so well keeping the little ones entertained. There was a lot of laughter and all of us adults had a good sense of humor about things. There is nothing better than travelling around other people who are understanding and empathic with kids. And everyone around sure seemed to be. It isn't an easy task at times.

In the cafeteria at dinner, Nora asked a gentleman who was in a ferry shirt if he was the captain of the boat. The gentleman, Matt, very casually said, "yeah, I am. Do you want to see the wheelhouse where we steer the boat?". I was surprised and thrilled at the prospect of seeing the wheelhouse, as this has always been a secret dream of mine. Matt asked us to meet him 1 hour later outside the cafeteria, which we did. He took us through secret passcode locked doors, up a red-lit stairwell and into the Kennicott wheelhouse. I was in awe. The view was amazing. It was much larger than I imagined.

There was a gentleman, Shane, who was steering the boat and both he and Matt were so nice and let the kids sit on the captain chair and steer the wheel. I was thinking that Matt was somehow directly involved with the navigation of the boat, but wasn't necessarily the captain, as the chances of him being the captain were just too coincidental!! As we prepared to leave the wheelhouse, I said, "Thank you captain, Shane!". Shane replied, "I'm first mate, Matt is the captain." I felt so silly and had to explain to Matt that I didn't think it could be that Matt really was the captain of the boat...I thought he was pulling Nora's leg by telling her he was the captain. Matt was so kind to the kids and it was great of him to offer the tour to us. I felt like a kid on the tour!!

It was a ferry trip with so many high points. And Nora didn't get sick, which she was elated about. She has a tendency towards sea sickness, so it was nice for her to not get sick on either ferry trip.


Monday, July 25, 2011

To the Mainland and Back

Last night the kids and I made it home from a 1 week trip to Anchorage and Homer. I've had the ferry ticket booked since April and I have been looking forward to going on a mainland road trip. We left on the Tusty ferry and slept all night on it. Nora was so thrilled to not get sea sick, as she often does. The crossing was almost completely flat--very little swell. When we arrived in homer we stopped for breakfast at my parents place then drove on to Anchorage to see friends and family and do fun kid stuff.

More pics and details to come later, just wanted to share some of the highlights...

The deck of the Tustemena as we pulled away from Kodiak. It was a gorgeous evening with temps in the high 60's.

The kids and I on deck the following morning in the Solarium as we pulled into Homer.

My friends Meghan (left) and Julie (right)-we went out for dinner at Sacks, a fun restaurant downtown.

Doulas of Anchorage! My friend Elke coordinated a doula hour so I could meet 2 other Anchorage doulas. These are women whose websites I've seen so it was so great to meet them!! What wonderful women they are. It was lovely to talk shop with other doulas!

Ice creams at the park. The ice cream truck accepted credit or debit card! Isn't that wild! I can't quite wrap my mind around the concept of using credit card for ice cream truck, so I paid the $3 in cash.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Garden Doing Better

It has been a slow garden year, but I am happy to report that the garden is finally getting productive. Usually we are eating a lot of stuff out of the garden by the end of June - Just not this year! Still better late than never or not at all. And at least it is not a jungle of weeds either.

The snowpeas are about to bloom and the lettuce is prime. Since the potatoes are blooming I think I can dig up up some 'new ' potatoes too. I have even eaten a few carrots. The radishes have already all been eaten. I think we will eat beets on Monday night when Zoya, Stuey and Nora are back. Finally! Fresh veggies. Patrick

Monday, July 18, 2011

Daddy's Super Basic Jelly Recipe

For the last few weeks Nora has been dying to use her homemade berry bucket to collect berries and then make jelly from them. Only problem has been the lack of berries. On saturday she found some bushes with a few ripe salmonberries and picked them all. I was surprised she found and picked so many, and while it did not look like enough to make jelly (and not all them all that ripe either), I did not have the heart to tell her. And so we were off to the kitchen to make jelly. She was so excited!

I have not made jelly for years but at one time I did make it quite frequently. I remember when I first started to make jelly I was intimidated by the whole process and tried to get everything exactly right. Through trial and error I learned that you can get a lot wrong and still get good jelly. So what follows is my super easy (read lazy) jelly recipe.

NEEDED: Berries, sugar, lemon juice (optional), cheese cloth, pectin, jars and lids (and jar 'tongs').

1) We did not quite have enough berries so I added some frozen blueberries from cost savers to bulk up Nora's haul.

2) I put all the berries in a pot and filled with water so just the tops of the berries were sticking out.

3) And then as Nora puts it - 'Munch, Munch, Munch'. Nora got to thoroughly mash the berries on low heat with a berry masher (we used the thing I use to make mash potatoes with).

4) Bring the berries and water to a simmer and thoroughly crush them one last time.

5) Put some cheese cloth in a big bowl and pour the mixture on top, and then carefully bring the edges of the cheese cloth together on top and tie tightly. Then lift up above the bowl and let drain into the bowl. I tie the bag onto one of my cabinet knobs and let drain into the bowl below. Let drain about 5 minutes or so but DO NOT squeeze the bag (this makes for muddy jelly).

6) Pour juice into measuring cup and then back into pot, and add a little less sugar than you had juice. Then I read from the pectin packet and added the correct proportional amount. I said one packet for every quart of juice - so I added 1/2 a packet for my 2 cups of juice. I also added a little lemon juice to give the jelly some zing.

7) Bring to a boil and stir pretty constantly. Keep a spoon handy and occasionally dip it into the mixture - when the syrup sheets off the spoon you are ready to pour the syrup into the jars. Up until the syrup 'gels' it just drips like normal off of the spoon, but at a certain point it sort of 'double drips' or 'sheets' off of the spoon. Make sure you use a cold spoon every time or your syrup will never seem to gel. I was super intimidated about this when I first made jelly but it is sort of obvious when you do it - and hey if it does not gel up into jelly in the jars (what happens if you do not reach the 'gel' point) - then you got tasty syrup!

8) I have my jars resting in an inch or so of lightly boiling water and remove them with tongs. I then fill each jar up to a 1/4 inch or so of the top. Clean the rims with a damp towel and put the seals and ring on the jars. I then put the jars back in the water (I used my pressure cooker which has a plate on the bottom to keep the jars from touching the bottom). I poured more hot water to cover the jars with an inch or so of water and brought it to a boil. I let it boil for 15 minutes to sterilize and seal the jars and then took the jars out with my 'jar picker upper' that I use to remove hot jars from my canner. You may want to get one of these.

And that's it! Nora (and Zoya) were super happy with the finished product and Nora is taking jars of jelly with her to Grandmother's house this week. I think I know what she is going to make for Christmas presents. Patrick

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Job in old Suid Afrika

Back in the day I once worked at a diamond mine in South Africa. No kidding. It was my first real job after college way back in 1989 during the waning days of apartheid. Basically I ended up in South Africa because I had not really planned for what I'd do with my life after graduation. So I did nothing for about half a year (other than helping on a summer archaeological excavation in Larsen Bay, Kodiak), and at a certain point it became obvious that I had to have a plan. The family was getting on my case. So I told everyone I was going to South Africa. It seemed like an OK idea. It was a country that spoke English, and unlike Commonwealth Nations an American could probably get a working visa. Heck I figured with Apartheid and all they'd be happy just to see a foreigner who was willing to work there. Everybody was happy I had a plan - and so I shipped off to South Africa. I just went - no contacts, no references, no nothing. On arrival I was so freaked out that I shut myself into my hotel room and slept for 3 days.

But it all worked out. I met people, and they were excited to see an American who was willing to give their country a try. It was hard to spin my liberal arts degree in anthropology. Down there everyone is much more specialized in their schooling. But I convinced someone that since I had studied anthropology I was good with dealing with people. And so I got a job in the personnel department at a diamond mine north of Pretoria. The mine I worked at was the Premier Mine in the small dorp of Cullinan in the Northern Transvaal.

De Beers owned the mine and the whole town. I lived in company housing, ate at the company mess hall, drank beer in the company bar and bought food from the company stores. All the migrant workers lived in the hostel which was just outside the security fence for the mine. Each worker travelled from the homelands (mostly Transkei or the Sotho homelands towards Botswana) and worked a year at the mine before going back home for a three month vacation. I worked in the Hostel. And that is a story for another whole post - arms raids, witches, SAP raids, Xhosa plumbers, NUM strikes, gardens full of dagga and mealies. One of the biggest issues was that the workers would rent out their beds to other migrant workers who did not work at the mine. So if we were not careful rooms built for 16 men would actually be home to 40 or more men.

Anyway, more on my experiences at the mine in a later post, and a bit on the mine itself. The Premier Mine is famous for the Cullinan diamond - a 3100 carat piece that was found in 1905. Diamonds come from diamond pipes and the big hole in the bottom photo is the Cullinan diamond pipe (over a kilometer across!). The Cullinan diamond was found on the far side just below where the old hostel (abandonned in the 1970s because it was too close to the edge of the pit) is located.

When I was working at the mine all the workings were far under ground below a 'gabbro' sill. I remember taking the elevator down to the bottom some 800 meters underground. Everyday an entire shift of 1,000 men would climb onto a HUGE elevator shaft and then drop 450 meters in a big swoosh down to the workings below the gabbro sill. The day was punctuated by 2 big ring blast explosions - one at dawn and one in the evening - dust would rise up from the pit and the whole town would shake. Everyone would wait for the dust to settle and then another shift would go back into the mine to clean up the newly blasted kimberlite (diamond bearing ore) and drill new holes for the next ring blast.

In 2004 Zoya and I went on a vacation to South Africa and visited the mine. It was totally changed. Everything had been privitized. Even the hostel was open to anyone - no more security fences or gates. I could barely recognize the place. The top two photos are from when I worked there in 1989/1990. The top is the company town and the second photo is of my 'senior singles staff housing'. The third photo is what my old apartment looked like 14 years later when Zoya and I visited, and the 4rth photo is what we found in the old hostel. Anyway, I have already rambled on too long for one post. Patrick

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Work Happenings

The past several months have been busy ones at A Balanced Approach. Last weekend was the semi-annual class reunion, which was very fun. There were 10 moms and babies in attendance....youngest one was 1 month, oldest was 10 months. The birthing class reunions are nice conclusion to the classes, as everyone can see the other babies and when pregnant women attend, it gives them a chance to learn about other women's birth experiences in Kodiak.
Nora and Stuey were in attendance for this one--Nora had fun playing with the little babies. I"ll look forward to the next reunion sometime in November or January.

I'm adding another class to the fitness line up at A Balanced Approach, which is due to start in September. It is a full body, group weight training class. Participants have their own bar, step and plates of weights. I'm super excited about it, because its similar to a circuit class in that people can get a full body weight workout guided by an instructor (with music to keep it fun!!). THe trainer from Alaska Club in Anhorage is coming over in 3 weeks to do the training with instructors for it.

Because of the equipment and space necessary for the class, I"ve decided to move the birthing classes to our garage. It is in the remodel process. I posted a BEFORE picture. The painting has begun and it is already looking much better. I"ll be putting throw carpets and professional mats on the floor along with throw pillows for moms to sit on the floor on. Its all coming together and by the time the classes start, my hope is that it is inviting, warm and cozy. It will be great to have a dedicated space for the birthing class, where equipment won't have to be set up and taken down. Stay tuned for the AFTER photos.... :)

Also new is that Julie M. who is an RN and a childbirth educator is teaching the classes. This has freed up my Thursday nights for the summer (and indefinitely!)! Julie is a friend of mine and is enrolled in a program to be a certified nurse midwife. She knows all the ins/outs of hospital birth policies and also brings the holistic/natural approach to birth, as she has had both hospital and home births herself! She does lots of fun interactive activities and keeps the class fun. Its been so fun to have her on board at A Balanced Approach!

So, needless to say, its been BUSY. The weight equipment sits unopened in boxes in a pile in the back of the fitness room--a rack waiting to be assembled. All of the birthing class sits in boxes in the unfinished garage. But I know that in 2 weeks time, things will gradually fall into place and there will be new fitness classes at A Balanced Approach and birthing classes in a fun, new location!!


Monday, July 11, 2011

First Salmonberry

Judging by how cool it has been you would never guess that it is summer. But today we got confirmation - the first ripe salmonberries of the season. When the salmonberries are ripe it is summer. We found 4 of them, and so it is official. But it sure does not seem like summer. It has been grey and we have had only a few days where the temperature has topped 60 degrees.

Nora is excited because she wants to pick a bucket of berries and make jelly. Lately she has been beating up frozen strawberries (from Cost Savers) in a bowl and making her own 'jelly'. This morning she even put her 'homemade jelly' on toast for breakfast.

Nora's recipe for Homemade Strawberry Jam
"Here maybe you get a frozen strawberry, maybe 5 or 4 or however many you want.
Put them under water, take a fork and a bowl and munch (mush) them up.
Munch and munch.
Take a spoon after you are done and put it on a piece of bread. And then gobble it up!!" Quoted directly from Nora



The problem with campfires is that you wake up in the morning smelling like the night before. Wood smoke permeates everything. This is not a problem at the beach on a picnic or with the fire pit in our back yard because you have the option of taking a shower and changing your clothes. When camping for extended periods of time off of the road this option does not exist. And I have not lit fires when camping for the last 15 years or so. For many years I relied on a lightweight gas stove for cooking, and we'd sit around the tent staring at some sort of gas lantern pretending it was a fire.

And then about 5 years ago we discovered the joys of a wood stove and a floor less tent. They provide lots of heat, dry stuff off and you can cook on them. They are lightweight and compact too. One of mine weighs less than 2 pounds and is just a little bit bulkier than my old whisperlite gas stove. Best of all, when it is raining you got the camp fire there in the tent with you and everything stays smoke free and dry.

Still for our recent family adventure to Afognak I was a little worried that everyone would want a fire on the beach. How would the family like the woodstove? It was a HUGE hit. It did rain but we stayed cozy by our campstove. The kids even cooked hotdogs and marshmallows over the stove. Zoya admitted that the woodstove made camping A LOT more comfortable. I think I got some converts! Patrick

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Sometimes you hear that the mosquito is Alaska's State bird - I think it should be the de Havilland beaver floatplane (it's actually the willow ptarmigan). Anywhere you go in rural Alaska you will hear the deep-throated, rotary engine roar of beavers flying overhead. As distinctive as it is ubiquitous. In Alaska there are not a lot of roads so if you want to go some place you generally have to fly, or take a boat. As far as floatplanes go, beavers are pretty slow but they can carry a lot of awkward cargo and can take off and land on really short lakes. They have been flying since the 1940s and no new ones have been built for the last 45 years, and yet, nothing has been made that can replace them. They remain the workhorse of rural Alaska taking care of our transportation needs.

After our weekend camping on Afognak it struck me that people living in the lower 48 would find it kind of weird that we took a floatplane to get to our camping spot. No one does this in the lower 48. But really, we had only 2 options. There are no roads to Afognak so we had to go by either boat or floatplane. And we don't own a boat. So we went by floatplane and made our kid's summer. Also, if you only need to go to remote places a few times a year, going by float plane is FAR cheaper than owning a boat.

Every day beavers fly over our house and the kids always go 'floatplane'. And then I have to tell them if it is the floatplane I usually fly in. We know all the planes - the USFWS plane is red and white, Kingfisher flies bushhawks, Andrew Air has orange beavers, the Island Air beaver is light blue, and the Seahawk beaver (the one I usually fly in) is blue and white. This weekend the kids finally got to fly in it too.

Our pilot was Willy and I've been flying with him for well over 10 years. He's a great pilot, and knew right where we were going. On the way we flew over our house and the kids all got to look down on our neighborhood from the air. In Marmot Bay we flew over some humpback whales feeding on the surface. You could see their outlines even when they were under water. Near Afognak we saw sea otters lounging on the bay surface. We landed and Willy carried both kids off of the plane and to the beach. Our camping trip had begun. Patrick