Wednesday, August 5, 2015


This has been a crazy last month. I feel like I could write a book about everything that’s been going on. But books don’t fit into blog posts.

So here’s a bullet list in chronological order:

  • At the start of the month - I traveled to Philadelphia and Maine with Andrew to spend a week with his family. It was my first time to Maine, my first time eating fresh lobster, my first time watching a lobster race, and overall a pretty intense family trip. It was beautiful and exhausting.
  • One week later - I delivered my colloquium (thesis defense) for my MFA in Creative Writing. After six years I have finally completed all of my degree requirements and I will officially receive my degree in December. You can listen to my reading here (I’m the third reader - about 20 minutes in.)
  • One day later - My friend, teammate, and supervisor Kathy Peterson committed suicide.
  • One day later – I played my first wedding as a part of the wedding band. The wedding was beautiful and logistically crazy (but was totally amazing and awesome) and took place with 200 gorgeous people in Pelican, Alaska (pop. 163). Sydney Akagi put together a wonderful video, my band is around 3:45: 
  • One week later – I attended a lovely memorial for Kathy with some past roller derby teammates, which made me realize how even though those relationships sometimes fade, they still have great meaning and impact.
  • One week later – I led my first foraging walk. I took out a group of chefs and food writers including Anita Lo and Elizabeth Falkner. It was super fun and very successful (as far as I can tell) and made me want to do that for the rest of my life.

And now we’re in August.

And I’m 32 and I can’t stop thinking about how it feels like my life is just as crazy and just as all-over-the-place as it was when I was 25. Except with more debt. How can it be that I still have no idea what I want to do with myself? I’m writing another novel. I’m trying to make the food blog take off. I’m toying with the idea of getting an accounting degree. I'm toying with the idea of writing a foraging book. I want to start a small business – catering? tourism? bookstore? party planning? astroid mining?

It feels stupid to complain. And I’m not quite sure that’s what I’m doing. I’m more trying to express how completely overwhelmed I am.

And I’m planning a wedding.

And our folk fest meetings start next week.

And I’m working on my cajun chops, getting ready for a trip to Louisiana.

And there’s a weasel living in our garden shed.

And we need to kill the chickens before the weasel does.




No wonder I’ve spent the last three days barely able to keep my eyes open.

Time to suck it up, buttercup.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I'm Sorry, Cora Campbell

“Oh my god, can you believe that’s the Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game? She sounds like a teenager!” I said as I listened to Commissioner Cora Campbell during a radio interview not long after her confirmation in 2011.  She was 31, pretty, and I assumed had gotten the job as a result of more of the oh-so-common insider Alaska political shenanigans.

Fast forward to 2014. I was working as part of the team putting together the 2nd Alaska Women’s Summit and we wanted to include Commissioner Campbell. We decided to ask her to be on a panel that felt a little crazy. The panel was called “Redefining Like a Girl” and began with a viewing of the short video put together last year by the Girl Scouts and Always (watch it and be prepared to get weepy and hopeful).  

The panel included Iditarod hero Deedee Jonrowe, Olympic skier Holly Brooks, Special Olympic Athlete Ayesha Abdul-Jilil, and Commissioner Cora Campbell.  When I pitched the panel to the Commissioner’s staff, I described the panel as a discussion of the way these woman had dealt with stereotypes, as athletes, and in the Commissioner’s case, possibly as an outdoors-woman? It felt like a stretch, but somehow I felt like the panel would actually be an interesting place for the Commissioner.

What resulted was a surprising conversation, especially between Deedee Jonrowe and Commissioner Campbell (you can watch the panel discussion here). These two whip-smart, driven, and articulate women had each spent their careers battling the same kinds of stereotypes, and both seemed to feel that the directions of their lives had been altered as a direct response to those battles. Each of them had been underestimated, looked down on, patronized, and each of them had come out swinging for the fences. They each spoke about being a woman in a culture that has a systematic and sometimes subtle way of telling women that they’re not good enough.

And as I listened to the panel, I realized that I had done the same thing to Cora Campbell. I had made assumptions about her intelligence and experience based off of the fact that she was a pretty, young woman. I consider myself a feminist, and a pretty well-informed one at that, and I had made all those same negative assumptions about Cora Campbell. I was part of the problem.

I was shocked. Like most young professional women, I’ve been there. I’ve had both men and women say things to me that they would never say to a man in my position, make assumptions about my intelligence, my ambition, and my capabilities. AND I HAD DONE THE SAME THING TO ANOTHER WOMAN. And the worst part? I’m sure it wasn’t the one and only time. These kinds of societal expectations are so insidious, so “natural” that they feel like it’s just the way world works.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I thought Cora Campbell was pretty. I think that has something to do with the way I responded to her. I recently worked in an office full of intelligent, ambitious, savvy women, who all also happened to be gorgeous and fashionable. Over, and over again I watched these women being taken for granted, talked down to, and underestimated by both men and women. Yes, sometimes you can use the fact that you’re being underestimated to your advantage (hello, sneak attacks!), but it still feels shitty. And frustrating. And infuriating. And even when I would try and empathize with whoever it was that was making these assumptions (usually older men, although not always), I couldn’t help but hope that I was witnessing a dying breed.

This morning I read Hana Schank’s piece in Aeon “Why Don’t More Women Play Chess” and was reminded again of how this issue is not just about changing societal stereotypes, it’s about being more aware, being more thoughtful, really looking at how we teach and how we talk to all people, not just young women. It’s about checking every assumption we make and allowing the people around us to grow in whatever way they’re capable of.

It's a tall order. But they say the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thank You, David Shayt

I didn’t care what internship I got, just as long as I got one there. The National Museum of American History’s website listed the likely projects that each intern would be working on and the required experience for each position. I applied to every single internship that I even vaguely qualified for.

I was 19, a displaced Alaskan girl finishing up my first year at the hippiest of hippy liberal arts schools, Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I had declared myself a History major immediately and was shocked to find myself one of maybe four in the school. I had some wild dream that I was going to teach high-school history in rural villages on the West Coast of Alaska.

It was 2002 and I wound up with an internship doing “object processing” for the one year anniversary exhibit of 9/11.

“Four people applied, but I thought that since you were from Alaska, you might be able to help more with some of these posters I collected,” David explained when I arrived for my first day. I thought this was doubtful, but he seemed pleased enough that I could find Kotzebue on a map without assistance.

With the eyebrows and voice of Eugene Levy, David’s lilting monologues on the history of Crayola’s color names and the functionality of silly putty were mesmerizing. He was fascinated and fascinating. The project David had brought me to work on, doing back-ground research and file building for four items collected at Ground Zero took me about three weeks. For the next three months I was directed along the path of the David Shayt School of Museum Studies, loaned out to anyone who would have me.

It was clear within those first few weeks that my internship was not like any of the other internships at the museum. Looking back, I’m certain David didn’t need an intern, but rather delighted in sharing his own passion and wonder. He told me how he had always loved the Museum of American History. He started out at 18 in the basement in the print-shop, back when all the materials for the museum were printed on actual printing presses. He did a stint in the Marine Corps, went to college, but then he returned to the museum. He wanted to be a curator, but he didn’t have a Ph.D., so instead he became an expert in all the things the museum didn’t have an expert in: bell casting, ivory carving, silly putty, crayons, coffin making, lunch boxes, wood-working tools, yo-yos, and on, and on, slowly building the curator position he had always wanted.

He showed me Foucault’s Pendulum, tragically stored in a wooden box. He let me touch Indiana Jones’ hat. He sent me to spend three weeks writing tiny catalog numbers on Julia Childs’ kitchen utensils. He sent me to the Library of Congress to do photographic research, which then turned into my excuse to get a LOC library card, granting me access into the holy of holies, the Jefferson Reading Room. He told me about Washington’s scandalous nipple. He took me into the bowels of the museum to see the old steam generators that used to pump life into the various industrial machines on display when the museum had been called the Museum of History and Technology.

He was in charge of making sure the bell in the tower of “The Castle” was in working order, so even though the entirety of the rooftops along the mall had strictly become off-limits in the post-9/11 world, we were allowed. We would go up and eat our sandwiches in the blessed breeze, looking down on the broad expanse of green grass and white marble.

I came out of his care confused, questioning, dreaming, in awe, and no longer a history major.

I ran into him six years later, surprisingly, in Juneau. He had come up for a museum conference that my boyfriend’s band was playing. I had crashed the party. I recognized him from across the room with his signature satchel bag and his smooth stride. He told me how enchanted he was by Juneau’s “gentle sparkling streams.”

I think about David several times a year. 

A few years ago I tried googling him to see if I could find an address to send a letter to him, to check in, to thank him for a strange and wonderful summer, but instead I found an obituary. So I wrote a letter to his wife, sent to what appeared to be her work address, trying to let her know that her husband had touched my life in a way that I couldn’t explain. How sorry I was for her family. 

How sorry I was that I had never told him.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Go Again?

Interesting that my last post, from November 2013, referenced livejournal. The majority of my blogging efforts these days are focused on, a blog all about food, hunting, foraging, and my attempts at being a dorky food-focused outdoor badass.

But I’ve got other needs as a writer. Needs that can’t be filled with blogging about food, nor by working on my fiction projects. I need a journal. And not one that I write by hand because that takes up too much time and is something I pretty strictly reserve for working through fiction problems.

So here I am, looking at this blog, and wondering if it’s too public a space to use as a journal. Not that I think the wider public reads anything I post here. But you know, nothing ever disappears from the internet and what if someday I decide to run for president and all those old musings about my hatred for Garrison Keillor get dredged up and thrown in my face?

I’ve got all sorts of things that I’m mentally working through right now  (besides how I feel about Prairie Home Companion) that it would be nice to write about, and maybe in some small corner of the internet, feel like I’m heard.

Psyching myself up.