Traveling to Alaska? Four Laws of the Land

Greetings.  Forgive the re-post. I’ve jumped at the past week of good weather in Alaska and enjoyed Seward and Soldotna. I’ll see you next week.

Have you ever considered visiting the 49th state, or even moving to Alaska?

Every summer, thousands of tourists visit Alaska. With it’s strong economy and exquisite wildlife, Alaska has also become home to a growing number of adventurers in recent years.

If you’re thinking of coming to Alaska, please do. But for the sake of us all, keep the following Four Laws of the Land in mind.

1) You can’t pee in the pool. 

Although great in size, Alaska is still a small town. The land is rugged and the temperatures are extreme. It doesn’t take long before you realize that you need the people around you to survive. On two occasions last winter alone, my neighbors helped dig me out of my driveway so I could eek my way to work after snowstorms buried my car. A state trooper friend told me he had to ask an offender’s family to give his patrol car’s dead battery a jump after he arrested their son on a warrant. And a delightful dog I know named Lewis relied on his compassionate neighbors for sustenance and walks when owner Bob Eder was mauled and nearly killed by a grizzly this summer as he hiked around the neighborhood.
(After weeks in the hospital, Lewis’s owner is doing much better now).

2) Birds of a feather don’t flock together.

Community activist Ma’o Tosi


Inuit band Pamyua

When you travel, do you like to be with people who mostly look like you? People who eat the same foods and listen to your kind of music?

If  you answered Yes, you might want to stay home.

This past year, the U.S. Census Bureau found that Caucasians were minorities for the first time ever in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Over 100 languages are spoken within the local school district. While many people think of Alaska as home to the Eskimo, the reality is that there are many different kinds of Alaska natives. Immigrant populations come from the Pacific Islands, Sudan, Bhutan, Gambia, Laos, and many other countries I can’t spell.  And neighborhoods aren’t necessarily clustered by race or culture. We’re all snuggled in together, trying to get along, pushing each other out of snowy ditches or warning one another about bear cubs in the neighborhood.

3) Plans cannot be contingent on good weather.

An Alaskan that waits for good weather to execute their plan is a frustrated, inactive human. If you decide Alaska is for you, you’ll learn to like hiking in the snow in April, or fishing in the rain in June (After all, the fish are already wet!). Today at the state fair, I was among hundreds of other Alaskans standing in the wind and rain, happily listening to the super-group from the seventies, Styx. Life goes on, regardless of what the weather dishes out.

4) The odds are good, but the goods are odd.

I’d love to tell you that I made that phrase up myself. I didn’t. Legend has it that it came about when women learned that the ratio of men to women were something like 5 to 1 in rural Alaska twenty years ago, a mecca for husband-seeking females until they got up close and personal with the men in question. Looking for love? You might want to consider casting your net far and wide. Something about the extremes of the Last Frontier seems to bring out the quirks in us all.

Me, flanked by odd goods.

Alaska is a place of mystery and wonder. If you haven’t already been here, I hope you’ll come. And if you’re considering it or have questions about it,  please leave them here!  And as always, thank you for visiting my blog.

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Robin Jeter and Jordan Dickerson/ A Recipe for Successful Family Reunification

Sisters in track and in life met for the first time a few months ago.

It’s amazing what a seemingly trivial decision can make, isn’t it?

If 17 year-old Jordan Dickerson had not decided to run track to get in shape, she may never have met her long lost sister, Robin Jeter. But she did. It was at a track meet that other runners noted an uncanny resemblance between the girls. “She looks just like you, “ Jordan’s teammates pointed out.

The girls had grown up so differently. One sister remained with her mother before bouncing around in foster care and then landing with a legal guardian. The other was adopted at birth. But they lived close together in Washington D.C. and have been inseparable since meeting.

Why is it some reunions go so well between separated family members, and some fizzle?

I’m speculating based on my own experiences of finding missing family members.

Things go well when:

1) At least one of the separated family members knows about the other well in advance. 

Finding lost family members requires a certain bit of resilience, and it’s made easier when at least one party isn’t caught off-guard.

2) Both parties are committed to not blaming the other for the separation. 

It could have been touch-and-go for these lovely sisters if the one given up for adoption immediately blamed the sister who was not. Why did mom keep you, but give me away? What’s wrong with me?  On the other hand, the oldest could have been resentful for all the struggles she had to endure in foster care while her little sister led a stable life with her adoptive parents.

3) The reuniting family members don’t have complicated lives that are threatened by the sudden reunification.

Let’s face it, if these two met ten years down the road, they might have had relationships, children of their own, or emotional scar tissue that could threaten the joy of finding family.

One trivial decision led to one critical event. A track meet unveiled a new future for two separated sisters.

Best wishes to these two sisters. May they know themselves more fully as they get to know one another.


Thank you for all of the kind words after last week’s post. I appreciated it.

Resurrection Bay, Alaska

Goodbye to Mother’s Little Helper

What is the role of a mother?

To protect her children, to comfort them when life acts up, to guide and to amuse them, among other things.
 It’s a big job when shared with a partner. It is an impossible job when attempted alone. As a single-parent, I’ve welcomed any and all reinforcements.
This week, my family said goodbye to this mother’s little helper.
Tana, our nearly seventeen-year-old cat, passed away with family surrounding her on May 8th.
Tana was much more to me than a cat. She helped me do the impossible; parent two traumatized little girls who blossomed in to sassy and self-confident young women.
To tell her story properly, I have to take you back to the spring of 1996. I’d been reunited with my daughters in Greece two years after their abduction. They were 7 and 8 years old. While we went through a series of court hearings, my girls began to regain their English. “Can we have a cat when we go back to Alaska?”  Not a cat person, I hesitated, but the girls had been through so much. “Sure,” I told them, hoping they’d forget.
They didn’t forget.
Two daughters. Two cats. Tana was the second one to join our family. A friend bought her as a gift to us at the animal control center on base. A military family had moved abruptly and put their two kittens outside in the brutal Alaskan winter.  Tana survived, but her feet were frostbitten. The other kitten didn’t make it.
From the beginning, Tana was quite an individual. She enjoyed being with the girls constantly. She wagged her tail and fetched toys. When I took a bath, she sat close by on the rail, flicking her tail in the water. She easily mastered our electronics, turning the channel of our old fashioned cable box by pushing the buttons, and turning the CD player on and off at will.  
For a while after Tana joined our family, I was busy with my job, a paper route, and graduate school.  There were nearly three hours a day the girls were home alone after school. They amused themselves by stuffing Tana into baby doll dresses and putting blush and lipstick on her. She appeared happy to let them. When I neglected changing the kitty litter, Tana kindly pushed the litter scoop into the box and placed a plastic bag into the corner of the litter.
Through my daughters re-learning English, through grade school, junior high, high school suspensions, and college, Tana was there. Through the girls’ first dates, and first dumpings. In sickness, and in health, Tana was there. She shared her love indiscriminately,  once scratching a hole in the next door neighbors screen door in summer, barging in and making herself at home on their bed. Though self-proclaimed cat haters, my neighbors thanked me for Tana’s company and got a kitten of their own after they returned Tana two days later.
Tana enjoyed spending time with her family, meeting strangers, eating tuna with gravy, and watching the Real Housewives of Atlanta.  Anxious when alone, Tana spent her afternoons often sandwiched between stuffed toys until my daughters returned home.
Tana is survived by my 24 and 25 year-old daughters, and by her cat sister Nikko. 
If Tana felt pain towards the end of her life, she never let on. Kidney disease plagued her the past three years, and then cancerous tumors grew at a dizzying rate.  She died as graciously as she lived, and kept her eyes open, looking at my girls even after her last breath.  
Thank you, dear Tana, for your unselfish service and for a job well done. Your memory will be eternal, and the hole left by your passing will never be filled. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers, and to all of your helpers.

Return of Dead Mom Brenda Heist / When Reuniting with a Lost Loved One is a Bad Idea

This past week, the story of the missing mom who returned after ten years caught my eye. Did you see it?

Alachua County Jail

Brenda Heist was apparently overwhelmed by her divorce in 2002, so the Pennsylvania mom of two disappeared. For good. Leaving her estranged husband to become a suspect in her disappearance, and her children to grow up motherless. Eight years after her disappearance, Brenda Heist was declared dead.

And then Heist turned herself in to police in Florida last week. She looks remarkably different  Her children, now grown, didn’t want to see her immediately.

Then I read about the Family Reunification Act that the state of Minnesota passed to allow parents and teens to reunite after the state had previously terminated parental rights due to abuse. As a former social worker, I’ll bet that’s caused some trepidation in the hearts of those who intervened in the first place.

I spend a lot of time writing about the benefits of reuniting with lost loved ones, but these stories point out some possible exceptions.

When is reuniting with a lost loved one a bad idea?

  • When more information is needed.  Perhaps the missing family member had a mental illness or addiction problem that coincided with their disappearance. That’s important information that a left -behind spouse or child would need in advance of a meeting.
  • If the meeting is initiated to serve only the interests of an adult that abandoned a child. I use the term abandoned broadly, thinking in terms of parents who’ve drank or drugged their children’s lives away and then want to see them once they’ve gotten back on their feet. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in second-chances and in redemption. But rehabbed parents’ I’ve worked with in my career have sometimes wanted their kids to meet their needs. They needed money from their working teen, a babysitter for newer offspring, or a drinking or drug-buddy. Which leads me to my last point.
  • If the left-behind family member isn’t feeling strong enough emotionally to handle the reunification turbulence. I was a twenty year-old woman when I found my father through a lawyer. An unintended consequence was that it forever changed and then ultimately crushed my relationship with my mother, who had told me many untruths about my missing father and family. If you knew my mother, you might agree that not having her around is not a bad thing, but I can’t imagine going through that at a younger age or if I’d been at a low point in my life.
 So good luck to Ms. Heist’s children as they determine if and when to see their mother. May Minnesota pave the way for teens in the foster care system to have choices about contacting their wayward parents that other states may emulate.

Reuniting with missing loved ones can be fantastic, especially when expectations are reasonable and support is available.

Have a great week.