Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Yupik Word of the Week - Quyana

Last week we started off simple. Ii-I (pronounced ee) was our word of the week and it means “yes.” I hope you get lots of use out of that one and are ready for a new Yupik Word of the Week!
Our word this week is “quyana” (pronounced Goo-yah-nah) which means “thank you.” Now it should be noted that the proper pronunciation doesn’t come off completely equivalent to English sounds, this is as close as we can get though.
Pronunciation will be a common challenge as we continue to explore more Yupik words. I’m hopeful that we can get an audio link up on the blog so you can click and listen to it!
So have at it my fellow Yupik learners!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Open Line

The art of public radio has receded into the background throughout much of the radio world. In most of the country, those under the age of 30 might not even know how to find their public radio station. This, however, is not the case in Alaska, particularly rural Alaska.
Public radio is a lifeline, a source of news and entertainment, a constant in your daily life. In Dillingham it is KDLG. KDLG is how I learned Sarah Palin was a vice presidential candidate while we were at the cabin on 2nd Lake (Lake Nerka for those of you with maps). We even acquired our first dog from a fundraising contest on KDLG.
Music mixes include all genres and talk shows cover any topic you can imagine. Cell phones have only recently become available, satellite phones are reserved for emergencies and VHF has a limited range, in Southwest Alaska so KDLG fills the gap with a weekday program called Open Line. Monday through Friday, 11 am – noon, Open Line becomes the most informative, amusing and embarrassing entertainment you’ve ever heard. There’s no five-second delay, it’s just a guy answering the phone talking to whoever might be on the other end about whatever they might want to say.
It goes something like this…
“Hello, you’re on Open Line.”
“Hi, yeah I’m calling to wish Bossy a happy birthday (We’ll discuss nicknames another time). Bossy we love you and we want to sing happy birthday to you. (Away from the phone) Kids! Come wish Bossy a happy birthday on Open Line! (Lengthy pause) Kids! Come on! I’m on the radio and you need to come wish Bossy a happy birthday right now! (Muffled objections heard in the background) Get over here right now and sing to Bossy! (Reluctant children arrive at the phone and launch into the slowest, least excited version of Happy Birthday you’ve ever heard) Happy birthday, Bossy! (Click)
“Hello you’re on Open Line.”
“Yeah, I have a snow go I need to sell. Yeah it’s a 2000 Polaris 600 RMK. I want $3500 for it. Call Mike at 842-….” (Click)
“Hello you’re on Open Line.”
“Yes, hi, I want to tell Joey he needs to get himself home! Joey! You’re in big trouble and you need to get yourself home right now! I’m not kidding! If you don’t come home right now…Just get home!” (Click)
“Ok Joey you better get home. Hello you’re on Open Line.”
“I want to wish Tracy a happy birthday. Kids...!”
On and on it goes passing on useful, embarrassing, happy, and always amusing news to KDLG’s listeners. Story after story, you smile, you ponder, you laugh out loud at what you hear emanating from your radio; and then a familiar voice makes an appearance.
“Hello, you’re on Open Line.”
“Hello, this is Jimmy (a man says in an endearing native drawl). I want to wish everyone a happy birthday and happy anniversary. Bossy, Tracy…”
Jimmy has been calling everyday for as long as anyone can remember. I’m sure he’s missed some days but no one remembers them. He has a long list of people whose birthdays and anniversaries he’s collected throughout the years and every day he lists them. His sweet voice warms my heart and makes me smile.
Jimmy used to sing happy birthday in Yupik each day. KDLG finally recorded it for posterity – and propriety I’m sure – so now they just play it.
“Angneq anguteq elpenun…”
KDLG and Open Line is just one of those things that are a wonderful constant. I remember laughing hysterically at it my first couple of summers in Dillingham. I used to work in radio and I couldn’t believe they would just let people call in and say whatever they wanted! And who were these people calling in? I would never…!
And then, July 14, 1999, right at the peak of the commercial fishing season, with no way to reach my in-laws because they were out on the boat, Gary and I found ourselves waiting…
“Hello you’re on Open Line.”
“Hi, yes, we wanted to let Joe and Molly Chythlook know they are Grandparents! His name is Colton Charles and he was born at 9 am! Congratulations Ana and Uppa!” (Click)

NOTE: You can tune in to Open Line each weekday from 11 am-noon Alaska Time (noon -1 pm Pacific) at

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Ate Moose – Once

The summer of 1995 was my first season of commercial salmon fishing with Gary in Bristol Bay. (It was also my last, but that’s another story!)  I decided it would be my first summer as a carnivore as well. I set out with great gusto, a bite of baked salmon here, a couple bites of barbequed salmon – ok so mostly I just tried salmon.
Midsummer, I had conquered the mighty salmon and I set out to broaden my carnivorous horizons.  I came to this decision upon finding my mother-in-law hard at work on some moose burgers. Already fried, they looked nearly like the veggie burgers I was craving so badly. I convinced myself they couldn’t possibly taste much different.
I was wrong. The moose meat had no more than touched my tongue when my stomach decided it would revolt. I had barely enough time to drop my plate and run outside our little cabin before everything I’d eaten that day – and what seemed like every thing I’d eaten that week – came spewing out.
I decided right then and there I was resigned to vegetarianism!
So why then, am I cooking a moose pot roast tomorrow? You see, we have some lovely friends coming over for dinner and I became inspired to prepare something Alaskan in nature. This poor creature, whose sirloin tip will be roasted in my crock pot tomorrow, came from the banks of lake Nerka to our freezer with the love and sweat of my husband and father-in-law and IT WILL BE RELISHED! Not by me, or Colton and probably not Grant; realistically Ella probably won’t eat any either, but Gary and our guests will RELISH IT!
Hence I have a recipw to share with you. Perhaps you will be inspired!

Moose Pot Roast
2 Onions;medium
1 lb Alaskan sweet carrots
4 lb Moose rump roast
2 Cloves garlic
2 c Water
1 pk Onion soup mix
2 tb Cornstarch
2 Beef bouillon cubes

Preheat oven broiler to high. Make small slits in roast and insert slices of garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Broil for about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven.
Use a large slow cooker on high temperature setting. Dice onions and carrots, put half in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add moose roast. Put remaining onions and carrots on top. Add water onion soup. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for 4 hours.
Drain juice from meat into saucepan. Add bouillon cubes. Bring juice to boil. Add cornstarch and stir until juice turns thick and clear.
Pour gravy (juice) back into the slow cooker with the moose and carrots/onions. Cook for another hour.
When done, slice moose in thin slices. Place in center of serving platter, garnish with carrots and onions. Pour a small amount of gravy over moose and serve. Mashed potatoes, rice or baked potatoes are fantastic with the remaining gravy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Yupik word of the week

Yupik word of the week is a feature I’m very excited about! Our family has decided to learn more Yupik this year. So we are adopting a new word or phrase weekly that we will be working into our daily language.
In this regular addition, I will share the word or phrase we are working on with all of you. My mother-in-law, Molly, will be our guide through this journey.
Today we start things off easily.
The word of the day is: Ii-i
Which means: Yes
And is pronounced: Ee
Like the “e” sound in: Me
It is said with a short, guttural feel.
Try using ii-i this week instead of saying yes.
You will be amused to find that even those who have no idea what you are saying will understand! Have fun!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Akutaq Recipe - Eskimo Ice Cream

This recipe is a regular in our home! Berries are a staple in the Eskimo diet. While wild berries are only available fresh in late summer, freezers and grocery stores now allow this treat to be eaten year round! Enjoy!

AKUTAQ – Eskimo Ice cream
1/2 Cup vegetable shortening
1 Cup granulated sugar
1 Pound frozen berries

Mix the vegetable shortening and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Then, in a separate bowl, pour the frozen berries and slowly add the sugar and shortening mix until you get the consistency you desire, you may not want to mix all of it in. You can also mix in anything you like with it; a little vanilla, maybe some almond extract. Eat immediately and store leftovers in the fridge or freezer.

Nothing with a face!

The Yupik say a vegetarian is just a bad hunter. I have yet to meet a vegetarian Eskimo – with the exception of my son who still abides by his self-described cultural affiliation – so perhaps the adage is true. Either there aren’t any or the good hunters share with the bad ones. In which case, there aren’t any.
It seems nearly impossible to explain vegetarianism to people in rural Alaska. It’s even difficult in urban Alaska. My education on this challenge began abruptly with my first attempt at ordering a vegetarian meal in Dillingham.
We went to dinner at a little restaurant located right in the heart of town, which is to say it was between the two grocery stores, on one of the two streets. The menu included a large array of sandwiches - a vegetarian sandwich it is, I thought! Our lovely waitress went around the table taking our order with nothing but a nod and a smile until she came to me.
With a puzzled look she said, “I’m sorry, did you say you want a vegetable sandwich?”
“Why yes!” I replied. “Vegetarian, with just vegetables and some cheese, please.”
“No meat?” she questioned.
“No meat,” I replied.
She left.
Shortly, a lady touched me on the shoulder and said, in a thick Greek accent, “Excuse me. You want a sandwich with just vegetables and no meat?”
“How about lamb, do you want lamb?” she asked.
What an odd question! Those of you who have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding are wondering now if I’m just making this all up. I’m not and the movie did not yet exist.
“No thank you,” I said, confused, “Just vegetables and cheese, please.”
 “I will have to ask the chef,” she said shaking her head as she walked back to the kitchen.
I was keenly aware that the entirety of the tiny restaurant was staring at me. But my sweet future family ignored them so I did the same. Meanwhile I could hear a loud discussion coming from the nearby kitchen.
“What!” a man said. “What do you mean no meat, just vegetables? That’s not a sandwich!”
To which the thick Greek accent replied, “I know! Just do it! Make it with no meat! Just put mushrooms, lettuce, tomato…”
I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or crawl under the table.
It was a delicious sandwich. It’s a good thing it was because the waitress, the lady and the chef all came out to ask how I liked it! Thus I learned how foreign vegetarianism is to rural Alaska – and to the Greek, for that matter!  
It is much easier to be a vegetarian in Anchorage, thankfully.  We have wonderful grocery stores. We even have a farmers market that continues through the winter with hydroponic vegetables. Periodically, though, I find myself explaining my foreign dietary habits. At one particularly memorable event in an Anchorage hotel, which shall remain nameless, I was served a mixing bowl of salad when I requested a vegetarian meal. The enormous bowl was only slightly less embarrassing than the waitress standing over me while shouting across the crowded room, “This one doesn’t eat meat! What are we supposed to serve her?!”
In recent years though, many vegetarian-friendly restaurants have popped up all over town. So if you happen to be on the hunt I have several I can recommend. The Middle-Way Café has a lovely selection as does Snow City Café. The City Diner has veggie burgers which are delicious. In fact, many restaurants in Anchorage now offer a vegetarian menu option or will make something upon request without batting an eye. My favorite, though, is Kinley’s! Their menu changes seasonally and always has two very creative vegetarian options. Kinley’s never disappoints!
Now if I can figure out how to explain my vegetarianism to Alaskan friends, family, talk radio hosts (Are you listening, Dan Fagan?)…I’ll have it made. The simple truth is that I just don’t like the taste of meat! I’ve tried it. I don’t’ like it! I’m not offended if you do. I don’t have an ethical problem with meat eating. I can even get a couple bites of fish down - which I do regularly for the sake of my children and my commitment to wild Alaskan Salmon - but that’s it.
I’ve come to accept that potlucks, parties, in fact, any food-serving programs I attend will result in me discussing my culinary preferences. I have fun with it now! Whenever one couple comes over I make tabouli. It began as an accident. Now I do it on purpose. They think that’s all we eat! I do like me some good tabouli!
My eldest child is proven correct once again. Vegetarianism is, in many ways, my culture. It is the fodder for curious conversation much the same way Gary’s preference for moose, caribou and seal oil is when we visit my family. And, as all things cultural should be, it is a great bridge for building relationships. A lesson I learned a few years ago while at a child’s birthday party. Having just launched into my “nothing with a face” conversation, a thickly accented Greek voice asked, “Did you ever eat at a restaurant in Dillingham.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Rules of the Steam

Behind our home stands a nondescript little building. It’s unpainted, has no siding and sports a tar-paper roof. Although entirely unimpressive, it was, I believe, my husband’s deciding factor in the purchase of our home. In its former life it was a woodshop. But now - drum roll please - now it is The Steam!
Taking a Yupik steam bath is not just about getting clean, and yes my father-in-law does prefer it to a shower, it is a lesson in culture. In this nearly unbearable heat you are literally stripped of all which protects you and come face to face with the intricacies of Yupik culture. Problems are solved, wisdom shared, alliances hatched, relationships strengthened; all in the heat and intimacy of the steam.
I was introduced during my first visit to Dillingham. My mother-in-law invited me to steam with the women and, as any fiancé worth her salt would, I agreed. In true Yupik tradition, the stories began as we waited to head out.
They told of a time long ago when missionaries arrived in Southwest Alaska. Luckily for them - and for me I might add - the Yupik are a very patient people. So, as the story goes, the locals listened to the missionaries and welcomed them into their villages. It was during a particularly impassioned sermon about the fires of hell that the steam bath made its first appearance in theology. As the missionary described how the fire would lick at the sinner’s feet, one elder turned to another and summarized his interpretation with a steam bath analogy.
“It’s probably just a matter of getting used to it,” he said.
You can imagine this did not instill confidence as I waited for my first steam. Many more stories followed with topics ranging from men trying outlast each other as the temperature rose well past 200 degrees and even people dying in the steam.
Gary assured me I would live, I wasn’t sure I believed him. Soon though, it was time.
Donning my swimsuit in spite of my fear, I headed out to the little low-lying building behind the house. I trailed slowly behind the other ladies in avoidance of the inevitable. When I finally entered the steam I was hit with a wall of heat and nakedness!
The intensity of the heat shocked me only slightly less than seeing those sweet women disrobed. I suddenly understood the reason as my swimsuit felt like it would spontaneously combust! Furthermore, it was clear that we were not there to just sit and soak up the heat. I was in the center of a flurry of water  splashing, washcloths slapping and soapsuds floating around the room as all around me began to bathe.
Once past my shock, I was aware that the women before me had been transformed. While quiet and retiring indoors, they had become animated, even giggly, in the steam. Not that I had a clue what they were saying, seeing as they were speaking Yupik. Well that’s not entirely true, I did pick my name out more than once. I tried to ignore that on each mention it was followed by excessive laughter.
In and out we went; hot, cold, hot, cold. Each time they said, “Wash, rinse!” Then, what seemed both like an eternity and an instant later, we were done.
I wish I could say I’ve now fully embraced this tradition - but I’d be lying. I do, however, have an appreciation for the steam and all steam related things. My forays into the sad little building behind our home are few, I admit. But periodically I venture forth in the spirit of cultural cooperation.
It became easier when I realized I could develop a list of rules, recommendations really, that I suggest when steaming with ladies at our home. They are more for the sake of those experiencing the steam their first time - really. How grateful I would have been…well, you get the idea.
First, clothing is optional. I know what it feels like to prefer that my swimsuit spontaneously combust than to uncover all that it graciously hides! Who knew you could love a swimsuit so much? I, however, have found a Yupik compromise. I call it the “naked but covered with a washcloth” technique. Some prefer a bath towel. That’s fine too.
Secondly, please attempt to not pass gas in the steam. I believe that rules is self explanatory. But just in case...the heat, the close quarters, you understand. I learned this one the hard way. Spend an hour opposite a darling, little old Yupik lady farting her way through a steam and you’ll never be the same. Trust me on this.
Finally, any item dropped in the steam shall be considered lost for the duration. This rule I adamantly enforce. No one wants you bending over!
So if you ever happen to find yourself invited to the Chythlook home for a steam, I promise it will be everything you imagine and much, much more. But take my advice, do it! It’s not everyone who gets this honor. We only bathe with the ones we love!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Welcome to our little world!

Colton, our oldest who is now 11, came home from one of his first days of kindergarten with a big announcement! His teacher asked all the kids to tell everyone “what they were.” He went on to tell me how they’d gone around the room; one boy was Samoan, one girl Korean and so on. I started to get the picture. Naturally, I inquired as to what he said when it was his turn.
“That’s the thing, mom! I finally figured out what I am!” he exclaimed with great excitement. “I’m half vegetarian and half Eskimo!”
It seems to fit, so here we are, The Vegetarian-Eskimos!  
This blog is a way for me to talk about who my family is and how we find our way through our life in Anchorage, Alaska. There will be many stories to come, recipes to share, Yupik words to learn, questions I have some insight on and many more I don’t have any answers to. More so, it’s about me learning more about Yupik culture and how to help preserve it for my three amazing children.  
It turns out that it’s fairly uncommon, statistically speaking, to be married to an Eskimo! Who knew?! What’s not uncommon though is blending cultures. We all have a culture and if we’re going to live in relationship with others, we are all faced with the challenge of trying to blend that culture with another.
Gary, my amazing husband, and I met in college during a social psychology class. The truth is it never occurred to me “what” he was. He was Gary! I loved him from the start. It wasn’t until Gary and I were engaged that we headed north to Alaska for the first time.
The day we arrived in Dillingham, Alaska, Gary’s hometown, was the first time I realized we came from two different worlds. Stepping off that little Saab commuter plane took me into, in many ways, a third-world country. I remember standing at the top of those airplane steps having an “oh help!” moment (refer to “The Sound of Music” for clarification).
And so began our life together; Denise Brown, the vegetarian, and Gary Chythlook, the Yupik Eskimo. That’s our world and you’re welcome to it!