Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Unalakleet: People

Filed under: Culture Shock,Friends,People,Travel — Amy @ 9:21 pm

One of the noticeable pieces of Eskimo culture is that there’s a strong history of storytelling.  When folks get together, they tell stories of funny things that happened last year, 10 years ago, or when their parents were young.  And no matter how many times a story has been told and retold, it gets the same uproarious laughter when the punchline is reached.

When Jens’ family gets together, approximately 50% of the conversation consists of stories or updates about people from Unalakleet.  Having no visual or experiential point of reference whatsoever, when the conversation veers that way my eyes typically glaze over and I start thinking about whatever project I’m currently trying to muddle my way through, while half-listening with one ear.

So I was really pumped about finally MEETING some of these people and being able to put faces and places to the names.  Here are just a few…

Joel and Olga

Joel and Olga, our hosts while we were in UNK.

Joel is the pastor of the Unalakleet Covenant Church.

Inside the Covenant Church. The recess behind the pulpit used to be curtained off, and when Jens was 1 he would run back there during the sermon to poop behind the curtain. I hope he doesn't mind me announcing that to the world.


This is Joel Jr. and his family - wife Sarah and two boys, Jonas and Lucas. Joel Jr. has been Jens' friend since they were 2. We call him Joey to avoid confusion, even though he doesn't really like it.


This is Sarah, Joey's wife. She grew up in the lower 48 and moved to rural Alaska after college to teach. She picks berries and fishes and combs qiviut out of musk ox pelts and smokes salmon and helps with the children's ministry at church. She raises two boys in a 400 square foot house and keeps them from killing each other while her husband works long hours as a pilot. She's sweet, classy and totally awesome.


Joey and Sarah's boys, Jonas and Lucas. They're good kids.

Eva and Family

This is Joey's sister Eva and her family. They have been living in Anchorage but have just moved back home to Unalakleet.


This is Eva and Jason's little 1-year-old, Emma. She's very quiet (all kids are quiet compared to mine, but still...) but she can wrap you around her finger pretty quickly.

Sarah and the cousins, who play really well together. The boys just can't give Emma enough love and she's a trooper and doesn't complain when the occasional toy bops her on the head.


This is Kris, who knew Jens when he lived there as a kid. It really surprised me how many people still recognized Jens, since I personally think he looks totally different than he did as a kid. Kris teaches at the high school now.

Like most small villages, there are a few prevalent family lines, and everybody seems to be related in one way or another.  Also, everybody knows everything about each other.  A person’s last name says as much about them as a resume.  And people seem to have very long memories.  Many of them even remembered Jens’ grandparents, who were teachers in the village for a few years back when Jens’ dad was kid.

(to be continued … )


Filed under: Culture Shock,Travel — Amy @ 10:28 am

I just realized that I never actually blogged about our trip to Unalakleet, which we took in August.

Unalakleet is an Eskimo village located on the Western coast of Alaska, squeezed between the ocean and the Unalakleet River.  There are no roads to that part of the country, so the only way in or out is via plane.  The population is less than 800.

It’s the village where Jens spent the first 12 years of his life.

He has been back a few times but this was my first trip to UNK to see the place where he grew up and meet the people and environment that had such a profound impact on him.

I knew I was in for a bit of culture shock when we were picked up and driven home from the airport on an ATV.  UNK has one (dirt) road and no stoplights.  Transportation is mainly on ATVs (four-wheelers) in the summer or snowmobiles in the winter.  Even the 80 year old women truck around on these.  And they’re totally fun.


You'd be surprised how many people you can actually fit on one of these.

Because the only way to get supplies or anything else delivered in UNK is via plane or the (very) occasional barge, recycling is a big part of the culture.  Need a place to wipe the snow off your boots before entering your house?  Just lay down some old snowmobile treads!  Need a fence for your garden?  Bury one edge of an old ladder in the dirt, and voila!  Also…

Spool Table

Need a table? Find an old cable spool.

Boat Seating

Need seating in your boat? A couple of old school chairs should do it.

UNK is a subsistence culture, which means that a good portion of their food comes from living off the land.  For a few weeks out of every year, everyone takes advantage of the long summer hours to gather and store as much food as possible so they can get through the long winter months.  The main sources of their food storage are salmon from the river that borders the town, and blueberries from the hills that surround it.

Our first evening there, we took the opportunity to go upriver and try a little blueberry picking on the tundra.

Blueberry picking

Blueberry Picking

The mosquitoes were beyond insane.  Despite hoods, coats, and GENEROUS use of bug dope, I still came away with about 20 mosquito bites from the couple of hours we were out in the field.  Fortunately, I seem to be less allergic to Alaskan mosquitoes than Texan mosquitoes, so while they were a nuisance, at least they didn’t swell up as big or itch as unbearably as usual.

The biggest problem was that they kept flying into my eyes, probably because it was the only part of my body not coated in bug dope.  But it’s a little difficult to pick berries when you can’t SEE.

Unalakleet Blueberries

Jens with the town of Unalakleet in the background. Behind the town is the ocean.

2 hours of picking netted us about 2.5 quarts.

Blueberry picking is surprisingly demanding, physically.  Walking through tundra is actually quite difficult because the ground is full of little invisible pits so you’re constantly having to balance yourself on little tufts of moss and falling into little knee-deep holes that you can’t see because of the way the plants cover them.  In addition, you’re constantly bending over, which can do a number on your back after a few hours.

The women of the village go blueberry picking for weeks in the summer, for hours at a time.  Another day, we went out with some of them to pick up in the hills.


Our berry-picking Caravan. Olga (in front) had nearly reached her goal of 20 gallons of berries for the season.

We rode the ATVs about 45 minutes up into the hills to find a spot that hadn’t already been picked through.  They picked for 5 hours.  We gave up after 2.

Also, the berries are very soft, so if you set your bucket on the ATV for the ride back, you’ll just end up with a bunch of juice.  For the record, holding a gallon of berries suspended on your arm for 45 minutes on an ATV ride back to town is … challenging.

(to be continued…)

Halibut Cove

Filed under: Photos,Travel — Amy @ 10:50 am

While my parents were here, they were gracious enough to babysit the kids one evening so we could explore Halibut Cove.  The Kachemak Bay Ferry runs there once per day and tickets include dinner reservations at the only restaurant in the cove, The Saltry.

The woman who owns The Saltry is an artist and has a studio right next to the restaurant.  The restaurant uses her unique dishes to serve the food on.

The food was amazing.  And there was so much of it.  I ate less than half of what they brought me and was so stuffed I could hardly walk (when they say a “bowl” of soup, they mean a BOWL of soup).

After dinner, we got to walk around the cove.  It’s quite scenic and unlike anyplace I’ve ever been.  All the buildings are built on boardwalks and everybody has horses.  I guess that’s how you visit your neighbors, since there are no roads or cars.  We walked up and down several trails and through some fields until we happened to come across the memorial for Diana Tillion.

Diana Tillion was an artist who lived in Halibut Cove.  She made a name for herself for being the only known artist in the world to paint with octopus ink.  She would harvest it herself and could make several paintings from a single drop.

She died early this year of cancer and Alzheimer’s.  Her two galleries in the cove are still in operation.

One of the workers on the boat that we got to talk with is Tara Alverson, who is a resident of Halibut Cove.  She’s an artist who studied under Diana Tillion … which I suppose makes her currently the only artist in the world who paints with octopus ink.  She told us about how she harvests it, and also how she cared for Diana during her last several years.  Apparently Diana Tillion was one spirited woman, and even in her eighties was difficult to keep up with.

Tara is a very talented artist, and when I saw this print of a painting she had done of the Altair, I had to have it.  I recognized the boat from the Boat Graveyard as one that I had particularly enjoyed photographing because I thought it had more character than most.  Apparently it was owned by a man who lived in Halibut Cove.

Alaska Sea Life Center

Filed under: Kaelin,Koren,Photos,Travel — Amy @ 8:11 pm

Cooper Landing

Filed under: Kaelin,Koren,Photos,Travel — Amy @ 6:57 pm

We stayed at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing.  It’s a scenic lodge-style resort right next to the river.  While we were waiting for my parents to arrive, the kids and I took a walk down to the river.

Yes, the river water is actually that color.  It’s glacier water, which is super-oxygenated and gives it that bright blue-green hue.

The kids also had their first experience sharing a bed.  I thought they’d never actually go to sleep, but eventually they did.  Koren was up until 10pm and Kaelin was up until 11pm because Grandmommy and Grandpa arrived a little after 10pm, so she had to stay up to greet them properly.  They brought her that face mask, which came in handy as their room was full of windows and the sun was up in the middle of the night in July.

Apparently my son is quite the bed hog.  After he finally STOPPED TALKING long enough to go to sleep I was reading in the other room when I heard Kaelin say, “Um…Mama…can I get some help here?  Koren’s way over here.”

And he certainly was.  Somehow the smallest person in the family had managed to take over the entire bed in one spread-eagle move.  I moved him back to his side, but he kept inching toward Kaelin.  Thus the pillow barrier in the middle.

It Must Be Me

Filed under: Homer,Jens,Travel — Amy @ 9:12 am

Oh, and check this out…I’m actually afraid to put this in writing for fear that it will *POOF* disappear as soon as I do, but…


I don’t think we’ve had 3 full days of sunshine since sometime in May – much less CONSECUTIVELY.

Sunny and 60, baby.  It’s a good day.

Apparently, Alaska was just determined to break the all-time record for the cloudiest, wettest summer on record.  The day after that happened, the sun returned.

Oddly the year I moved to Seattle, they also broke the record for the most consecutive days of rain on record.


Seldovia: Wildlife

Filed under: Nature,Photos,Seldovia,Travel — Amy @ 4:09 pm

Seldovia: S’mores!

Filed under: Nature,Photos,Seldovia,Travel — Amy @ 4:23 pm

Seldovia: Adventures

Filed under: Kaelin,Koren,Nature,Photos,Seldovia,Travel — Amy @ 3:05 pm

Seldovia: The Beginning

Filed under: Family,Kaelin,Koren,Nature,Photos,Seldovia,Travel — Amy @ 2:27 pm

Once we arrived, however, the kids were both thrilled to see their grandparents and to discover the new and exciting things to explore in Seldovia.

When we relocated to Homer, Alaska, we moved to one of the most remote places in the country.  Seldovia is even more remote.  The only way to get there is by boat or plane, and the whole city has a population of about 200 people.  When you’re in Seldovia, everything you do (or don’t do) is dependent upon the tide.  If you need to go to the store, but the tide is so low that your boat is high and dry on the beach… well, you’re out of luck.  But you might as well take the opportunity to go clamming while you’re waiting!

The kids think Seldovia is one of the best places on earth.  They might just be right.  I can’t think of a more perfect place for relaxing, exploring, playing, and observing wildlife… at least until the enormous mosquitoes come out and carry you away.  Fortunately, we haven’t seen many yet.

Here, Part III

Filed under: Moving,Travel — Amy @ 8:57 pm

As we drove through the Yukon the next day, the weather mirrored our moods.  Gone was the bright sun and clear skies that we had enjoyed every day of the trip thus far. 

We drove through a powdery snowfall much of the morning.  The snow was so dry and fine that it didn’t even stick to the car.  We didn’t need our windshield wipers on because it was more like driving through a cloud than a snow storm.  It was difficult to see and slowed us down as the snow covered the roads.

The roads in the Yukon, by the way, leave something to be desired.  Especially the part where half the gas stations are closed.  At one point, we needed gas, so we stopped at a station that had a sign on the pump:  “Sorry, no gas.”  The sign said that the nearest gas stations were 125 miles ahead of us, or 13 miles behind us.  Since we didn’t have enough gas to go 125 miles, we decided to backtrack and fill up at the station we had already passed.

Except, that station was closed too.  So we kept backtracking until we were almost to the last gas station we had filled up at.  It’s very difficult to digress that much when you’re so close to your destination.

Once we crossed the border into Alaska (which, by the way, was the Easiest.  Border Crossing. Ever.), things started to make sense again.  There were gas stations within reasonable distances of each other, and the roads were maintained.  We even passed actual People!  Working!  On the Roads!

The weather and our moods improved greatly, and we enjoyed a sunny and beautiful drive through rural Alaska to Anchorage.

In Anchorage, we stayed with Phyllis and Freeman, some family friends from Jens’ days in Unlalakleet, Alaska.  Jens was in school with their son Justin and they shared many childhood adventures.  It’s always a pleasure to be around this family, and they made our stay very enjoyable.  The next day, we hit Costco and Walmart, then started the remaining 4 hour drive to Homer.

We arrived in Homer to nice weather, and a winter wonderland.  As we pulled into the long dirt driveway, there was a woman there working on shoveling a 3’-deep pathway through the snow that blocked our entrance to the house.  Her head was shaved in a pattern that I assume normally fit under a baseball cap and she looked like she had the strength of a musk ox.  She had been hired to shovel the path and thought that the over-the-snow path was probably good enough, but now that she had started a real ground path, it was a challenge and she had to finish it.

So we let her.

The house was a pleasant surprise because, even though I’d seen pictures, I’ve learned that houses always look bigger and better in pictures.  I also feared that even though it was a 4-story house, it would seem cramped because the square footage is less than what we’re used to in Texas.  But it was pretty clean and the furniture, while a mismatched and eclectic collection, is in good condition.  We spent the remainder of the day and all the following day unpacking and arranging and boxing up some of the owner’s things for storage.  And the end of each day, we enjoyed a bath in the larger-than-life bathtub in our room, and dropped exhausted into bed.

We were still tremendously worried about our rent (or lack thereof) situation.  The more we thought about it, the less we could understand how every part of this journey could have been laid out before us so that every piece of the puzzle just fell into place, like it was just meant to be… and then once we had made the move, the table broke and the puzzle went crashing down.  We wondered why God would have brought us all this way, just to have everything fall apart.

We ran the numbers and the options.  To put the house up for rent to strangers, we would need to use a company to list and manage the property.  We simply couldn’t afford those fees without asking a price for rent that was too high to get anybody in there soon.  We could fulfill our 90-day agreement and head back to Texas at the end of summer… but that would still be 3 months of doubling our house payments.  We could sell the house… and pay thousands of dollars to realtor fees and closing costs in a market that would net us a price equal or less than we paid for the house 2.5 years ago.

No matter what door we picked, there was something unpleasant on the other side.  But we didn’t have time to dwell on it very long, because the next day my parents arrived with Kaelin and Koren, and our quiet house was suddenly very full and busy.

(to be continued…)

Here, Part II

Filed under: Moving,Photos,Travel — Amy @ 8:42 pm

Did you know that you can drive through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota… THEN Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, Canada, without so much as a change in scenery?

By the time we entered British Columbia, I never wanted to see another grain field for the rest of my life.  Day after day, hour after hour of driving through the same vast expanse of flat, meticulously groomed fields is disorienting at best.  At worst, it’s an experiment in the brain’s ability to handle that kind of monotony without resorting to trauma defense mechanisms.

We had the pleasure of staying the night with Jens’ grandparents in Iowa.  In addition to room and board for the night, they also treated us to dinner at Macaroni Grill, which was fun.  Jens’ cousin Ellie accompanied us to dinner, and it was nice to see that side of the family again.

As a Public Service Announcement, if you’re ever traveling through North Dakota, be aware that they don’t put gas stations ON THE HIGHWAY.  So if you keep driving and driving, hoping to come across one, there’s a good chance you’ll run out of gas right there on the highway in the middle of nowhere by yourself. 

We had the good fortune of owning a TomTom that (once we were below E and finally thought to pull it out) guided us to the nearest gas station several miles off the highway, and not a moment too soon.  When we filled up, the receipt showed that we put 18.1 gallons of gas into our tank.

We only have an 18 gallon tank.

Crossing the border was a real trip.  They pulled us into a private garage and asked a few questions.  Then they totally interrogated Jens when they found out he had a concealed weapons permit.  He got the search and pat down, his pockets emptied, and was grilled about 17 times about what kind of guns he owns, where he keeps them, what he uses them for, what kind of guns MY FATHER owns, what he hunts with his guns, why he DOESN’T have any guns with him if he’s licensed to carry them, blah blah blah.  Then when one officer finished a round of questions, another would come by pretending to have just entered the conversation, and ask all the same questions again to see if the answers changed.

I, on the other hand, could have been packing all kinds of heat on my person and in my bag, and they never would have known.  They never even looked in my purse.

The whole process took about 45 minutes.  It was a pain, but I’m glad they at least had the courtesy to put all our stuff back in the trailer and close it… because I’m not sure we could have accomplished that by ourselves.

There are approximately 5 people that live in Ft. Nelson, British Columbia.  And fortunately Jens, being Jens, knows them.  We had the pleasure of spending an evening with one of Jens’ hometown friends, Josh, and his family.  Josh and his wife Dee live in Ft. Nelson with their 3 sweet girls.  I think they’re very brave.  Did you know it’s a 12+ hour drive from Ft. Nelson to ANYWHERE?  And that -30° in winter is pretty normal?  I know I’m moving to small-town Alaska, but THAT’S CRAZY.

Once we entered British Columbia, the scenery improved greatly.  As did the wildlife sightings.  We saw a lot of buffalo, and even more buffalo poop.  It’s truly a spectacle.  These herds just move along the highway leaving their own highway of poop behind them.  If someone could find a way to make cars run on buffalo poop, we could end the energy crisis.

As we slowly crested the top of a hill, we came across a solitary male buffalo on a rampage down the side of the road.  I’m guessing he just lost a fight over the females, because he was in a BAD MOOD.  He noticed us, and we could tell what was coming next, but since he was ahead of us and we were towing a huge trailer, we would not have been able to out-maneuver him.  He charged us, but somehow chose the wrong side of the guard rail and couldn’t jump over it in time to make contact with our vehicle before we drove past him.  I snapped a blurry picture of him as he bounded past my window.  I’ve never been so thankful for a tiny strip of guard rail!

That evening, we hooked up Jens’ computer in the hotel to catch up on some email, and pretty much got the rug pulled out from under our feet.

Amid some peculiar circumstances, our renters had decided to back out of the agreement.

No options for negotiation.  No deposit.  No 30 day notice.  No rent.  We were quite suddenly up the river without a paddle, because our entire ability to make this move was dependent on having that rental income.  Even if we were to turn back now and head home, we were still bound by OUR agreement to our landlord in Alaska to give a 90-day notice.

Our fabulous opportunity had quite suddenly turned sour.

(to be continued…)

About Me

Hi. I'm Amy. I started this website in 2005 as a place to deposit my journal and photos. It has gone through a few incarnations and masquerades as a family site, but since I'm the only one who contributes to it, it's really all about ME, ME, ME.

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