Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's Not an Adventure Until Something Goes Wrong

Every time I post a blog that is longer than a couple of paragraphs, I hear my Writing for the Electronic Media professor's voice echoing in my brain, "Keep it short and to the point."  While it pains me to break a rule of writing, I have a lot to say!  But I guess since I'm not blogging for a grade, I won't feel too badly about it.  I'm writing to update our friends and family on our latest adventures, and man do we have a lot to fill everyone in on!  I've been a major slacker in the blog apologies to any of you that have been looking for a new one! But today I have the whole afternoon, a fresh mug of coffee and lots of stories to tell--get comfy, folks, it's going to be a long one!

For the sake of clarity, I'll keep things chronological.  The last weekend in October we got to participate in the annual Halloween Carnival at school.  Brendan and I were in charge of the CoOp, and we were crazy busy the whole night!  Brought me back to my bar tending days, except I was selling bottles of soda and Slush Puppies instead of bottles of beer and Abbey Road Runners.  It was an outstanding turn out for carnival games run by teachers, a haunted house created by the seniors, bingo, and food.  I love when I get a chance to interact with my students outside of the classroom, and it was nice meeting some new families and collaborating with the staff for a fun event!  Despite having Saturday School that morning and not leaving school until almost midnight, we had a really great time and are looking forward to next Halloween!

Brendan traveled with the volleyball team to Shishmaref the first weekend in November.  Shishmaref is a village north of Nome, and is much smaller than Savoonga.  It's located on a barrier island, so if you can picture the geography of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, then shrink it down and put it in the Arctic Circle, then you can pretty much envision Shismaref. (Minus the huge houses, restaurants and stores of the OBX.)  The sea was already starting to freeze and snow machines were already running full force.  (Our sea isn't frozen, and we don't have enough snow for snow machines yet!)  Though the team didn't win any games, they were given plenty of compliments on how much they have improved since last year.  The kids had a good time and were psyched to travel to Shaktoolik this weekend for more!  Brendan had to sit this game out, as he's leaving for Unalakleet tomorrow for classroom related training.  He's lucking out big time and staying overnight in Nome on Monday.  Translation:  He gets to break sobriety and indulge in beverage(s) of his choice! 

The next bit of news made national news as well, so if any of you happened to turn into the Weather Channel this week, you know that we had a pretty major storm!  That's right, we survived our first "snowicane."  When I heard about how bad the storm was going to be, I envisioned us hunkered down in our house with all of the candles lit, enjoying hot cocoa, a good book and a snow day.  Things that didn't happen:  all of the above.

We watched the storm coverage all day Tuesday and were well-prepared for it to hit us Tuesday night.  We brought some things up to school with us on Tuesday morning, in case we had to stay the night.  The students were dismissed at lunch time, so they had plenty of time to get home before the bad weather started.  It wasn't supposed to get bad until late that night, so a few of us decided we wanted to go home to shower and eat, since we were unsure of how long we'd be stuck at school after the storm hit.  The general consensus (with input from previous Savoonga winter storm survivors) was that we had plenty of time to go home for an hour and come back.  Our principal drove us down to teacher housing in the pick up truck.  It was windy but clear--we have a few videos that I'll try to post!  The plan was for him to come back and pick us up in an hour.  The best laid plans...

There were only three of us making the trek back up to school, and by the time we were supposed to meet back at the truck, the wind had picked up and it was getting dark.  The truck's windshield wipers weren't working and our principal couldn't see a thing, so he wasn't able to pick us up in that.  He decided to try the 4-wheeler, which ended up working! We all piled on, our principal driving, Brendan sitting on the front calling out directions and warnings, and Theresa and me on the back...hanging on tight and shielding ourselves from the wind.

If we had made it back to school without any mishaps, it would have been pretty impressive.  It was a complete whiteout, with zero visibility. But we weren't trying to impress anyone.  To be blunt, I ended up getting tossed off the 4-wheeler into the ditch. (They really aren't kidding about those Bering Strait wind gusts!)  Theresa's bag filled with food, drinks, clothes and a hard drive--probably a good 15-20 lbs. worth, went flying by me like a scene out of The Wizard of Oz.  Brendan was able to jump off and grab me and the bag.  We all teamed together to try to pull the now stuck 4-wheeler out of the same ditch I had been occupying.  (By "we all" I mean Bobby and Brendan.  Theresa and I gave it a few good tugs but were more focused on not blowing away.)  After a solid effort, it became frighteningly obvious that we really needed to get back to the school.  We abandoned the 4-wheeler and Theresa's bag, linked arms and started walking. Well, trying to.

This is the part of the story we can all look back on and laugh about, though there was nothing funny about it as it was happening.  I've always been pretty happy about the sense of direction I inherited from my dad, but it apparently stops working in an Alaskan white out. Theresa and I were sure we were still down by the water, and between the strength of the wind and the distance to school, I was pretty sure we were goners.  Luckily, I date a human compass, so even though I didn't know it at the time, Brendan knew we were only about 50 yards from the school.

Picturing two people wandering aimlessly, one person crawling, and one person yelling, "GO LEFT" literally right outside of the school is the part I find most hilarious.  Throw in a record breaking storm, an anxiety attack and gear that's not warm enough and it turns from funny to scary. Brendan was able to push me inside, (he had to push me because me walking was about as productive as walking on a treadmill) where we got help.  Bobby and Theresa weren't too far behind.  The story's ending is happy and even comical, but I think we all learned some serious lessons.  Nature is beautiful and stunning and its power can literally take your breath away.  I don't think we'll be venturing outside in any future storms, as the outcome of our experience could have easily been serious.  Even though it scared the crap out of us, I'm thankful that I'm now aware of just what kind of weather we'll be dealing with this winter.  Now we know what to prepare for!

One of Brendan's favorite quotes is "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."  This was certainly our biggest adventure to date, and one we'd rather not re-live. But it was a bonding and a learning experience, and a good story to tell.  We enjoyed the remainder of the storm from the inside of the school, on an air mattress in my classroom.  If you are thinking school was cancelled on Wednesday, think again!  We had a delay, but kids came to school!  Not only did we survive the "snowicane" of 2011, we didn't miss a beat.  The 4-wheeler was recovered in working conditioned, and Theresa's bag miraculously made it back to the school.  I think the only losses suffered were Brendan's snow goggles and a bit of pride.

The semester is flying by, we'll be home for Christmas in just about a month!  I have a lot left to cover for the quarter in my classroom, and am determined to get through the material with my kids.  Some days I feel like I'm making progress and others I feel like I'm falling behind...I hope the former is what's actually happening.  We'll be spending Thanksgiving here with the other teachers and are greatly anticipating 4 days off of school in a row.  We have a few Christmas decorations, and trust me, I can't wait to put them up.

Any of you that are reading from Salem may have seen the article in the Post Star about us this morning. It was a really nice article about Brendan and I moving up here to teach.  We're not here for recognition though and are really just enjoying making new friends and experiencing a new culture and a simplified lifestyle.  We feel honored that someone other than me wanted to share our story, but more than anything we're just happy to be here experiencing these great adventures.  

Thank you, everyone, for your concern and support this week with the storm! I'm trying to get photos and videos posted, but the internet at our house is taking a while.  I'll get them up ASAP!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Your Pencils Are Ugly

I was having a rough week. I was letting little things get to me. I was feeling unproductive and like I was starting to lose my motivation.  Then one of my students angrily told me that my pencils were ugly.  And I’m really glad that they did.  Here’s why: I have absolutely no control over what my pencils look like.  I guess I could use more of my classroom budget to buy prettier pencils, but SERIOUSLY?  I don’t have control over my students’ pencil preference, and I don’t have control over any of their likes or dislikes.  I can only work with what I’ve got.

After that comment, my week started to look up. (Okay, okay, AND it’s Friday.)  I laughed it off and apologized (with a hint of sarcasm) for the lack of beauty in my pencils, and continued on with the lesson I was teaching.  My students are the reason I’m here and I feel lucky to have them motivating me.  My new challenge to myself is to find humor and creativity in their insults to my classroom supplies.

On a personal note, B and I are doing great!  Brendan is over his cold and back in the swing of things.  He didn’t miss a beat!  He’s getting the hang of having his own classroom and even our assistant principal is calling him a natural!  The kids love him and he’s starting to develop relationships with them, which is really benefiting the students he’s working with.  The students didn’t earn open gym this week due to lack of attendance last week, so we’ve been enjoying our evenings at home together!

Cooking a healthy dinner together every night has been one of my favorite parts of this move.  This week we’ve been feasting on black bean burgers, peanut sesame noodles, homemade vegan pizza, kale chips and fresh french fries. Eggplant parm is on the menu for tonight! 

Despite how much we love cooking and eating at home every night, and how much we are enjoying our new home, we are definitely counting the days until our Christmas trip home.  We are looking forward to seeing SAMPSON, friends and family, eating out, drinking beer and taking a much needed break! Can’t wait to see you all in 56 days!! (Approximately.)

This weekend we’ll be sleeping in and relaxing.  I have a bunch of grad work to catch up on, papers to grade, AKT2 obligations to fulfill, lessons to plan and bread and apple crisp to make. (We've been hog piling all of our apples from Full Circle, and finally have enough!)  B has lessons of his own to brainstorm as well as sports to watch!  We were hoping Season 3 of Dexter would arrive today, but sadly it didn’t make it.  Looks like it will be a productive weekend after all.  Lunch break is over…back to my ugly pencils!

Skype dates ALWAYS welcome!

*I keep promising people I will post pictures of our house—it’s on my to-do list for the weekend!!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why I Became a Teacher

Well, it was one of those weeks.  I think since I've been here I've been teaching on adrenaline and excitement, but this week the adrenaline ran out.  I had more than one moment where I felt like I was about six inches tall and my voice was muted.  I felt like I wasn't that productive and was discouraged about the amount of learning (or lack of) that went on this week.  The majority of my time was spent on classroom management, and it was exhausting.  After speaking to colleagues and friends, I learned that this feeling is not uncommon among first year teachers, and it was comforting to know that I'm not alone.  After journaling about my rough week, I decided I wanted to create a blog that I can refer back to when I have another week like this past one.  Although I'm optimistic that the good weeks will outweigh the bad ones, I think it's important to remember why I became a teacher in the first place, and keep the focus on progress, rather than on the fall backs.

So I'm going back to the beginning, and brainstorming all of the reasons I became a teacher, and also the things I have to look forward to.  I hope this helps any other first year teachers out there, and I'm always looking for feedback from seasoned teachers! (Hint hint: Someone PLEASE tell me it's going to get easier ;o) )

Reason #1:  I Love Learning

I'm embracing my inner geek and admitting that I love school, and always have.  I try to keep in mind that school has always come easy to me, and the fact that that's not going to be so of the majority of the students that I teach.  I've enjoyed almost every class I've ever taken and I'm always excited to learn something new, take a new class or read a new book.  I like learning about new people and new cultures, which is what drew me to this specific teaching job.  Across the country there are students that enjoy learning, and students that absolutely despise the thought of having to get up and go to school.  I'm trying to take my love for learning and focus it on learning how to motivate those that don't care to be motivated and how to make learning interesting and fun.  Everyone has the right to learn, yet the classroom is not always best suited for each individual student.  I hope that I can find a way to be an effective teacher by inspiring not only my students to learn, but myself to continue learning in new ways.

Reason #2: I've Been Inspired by Great Teachers

I have been seriously blessed to have been taught by the teacher's that I've had.  I went to a public school and was taught by teachers who were passionate and serious about learning.  The people teaching me played a huge role in the reason I still love school.  I can only aspire to be as effective and inspiring a teacher as those that taught me, but in my mind, it's a wonderful challenge and an opportunity to give back to our society.

Reason #3: I Believe in Education

You can't choose the life that you're born into, the parents you'll have or the opportunities you'll be given.  I feel immensely lucky to have been born into a caring and supportive family that loves me and motivates me to learn and to help others.  However, I know that not everyone has had it as easy as I have.   In our society, education is what leads you to independence, and I believe that everyone, regardless of whatever circumstance they have been dealt, should be educated and given the ability to stand on their own two feet.  While I have mixed feelings about the values of standardized test scores and other standards to which students are held accountable for, I do believe that school--public or private, should be the place where kids can learn without being judged, and can develop a foundation for themselves, regardless of the path they choose post high school.  I try every day to try to get my students to relate what I'm teaching them to their lives, and to apply it to life outside of school.  It doesn't matter where you teach or to what population, education is empowering and that alone is motivation enough for me.

Reason #4: IT'S FUN!

Kids are insanely refreshing.  Not a day has gone by where my students haven't  given me a new perspective on something or made me laugh.  The world changes everyday, and it's so much fun to gain perspective from the minds of your students.  As much of a chore that writing seems to be, my students are SO creative!  I hope that I am able to get them to recognize and embrace their creativity, and turn it into something productive.  While teaching might become exhausting or discouraging at times, I don't think it will ever get old.  The anticipation of meeting new students and discovering new ways to meet their needs each year is, at this point, more exciting than daunting.  Any of you that know me, know that I'm a bookworm, so if my job entails reading books for the rest of my life, then I'm pretty psyched.  Writing has always been a passion of mine, and I consider it both creative and therapeutic.  I'd like to be able to make it fun for my students, especially those that groaned when they found out that Language Arts was code for reading and writing!  You never know what the day is going to bring, but Brendan and I can bet on being able to exchange crazy stories over dinner when we get home.

There are a million more reasons I became a teacher, but these are the biggies.  Of course I'll enjoy my summers and holidays off, especially once we have a family.  The new technology infiltrating schools is an exciting perk too, one that I'm still trying to get the hang of.  The collaborative environment of a school staff has proved to be extremely helpful, and I'll forever get to cheer on my students in sports and extracurricular activities, that I can continue to take part in.

After a long, trying week, I took Saturday completely off and didn't try to work or to lesson plan.  I took a nap, read for fun and did some journaling and online shopping.  It was refreshing to take a day for myself and to spend time with B.  I decided I needed some perspective, so I'm starting my week off with this blog and staying optimistic.  There are going to be great weeks and there are going to be not so great weeks, but I think that maintaining a positive outlook and being flexible will make it easier.

Brendan gets his own classroom starting tomorrow, and is about to get a crash course in lesson planning!  He'll be in the Alternative Learning Environment, getting back to basics with some kids that need one-on-one, focused attention.  I think he's a little overwhelmed, as this all happened today, but he's going to be great!  We'll keep you posted on his success! :o)

Like I said before, ANY advice is much appreciated!  We are learning so much every day, and are so thankful to have each other.  This experience continues to be an adventure and a challenge, and we are still so excited to be here.  It's time to get ready for the upcoming week--I'm going into it refreshed and motivated, prepared and hoping for the best!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Busy B!

The Red Sox finished their season this week, which was a big bummer in B's book.  However, I think if they had continued playing for the next month, Brendan would have had to take time off to catch any games! Everything happens for a reason--maybe we'll get a TV next year and then the Red Sox can make the playoffs!

When we first started talking about moving to Alaska so that I could teach, the question that always came up was, "What will Brendan be doing?"    We had our answer memorized after the first few people asked, "Oh, he'll be coaching and working the school store and hopefully subbing!"  I think our answer was more hopeful than was actual fact. We'd been assured he'd have something to do, but were uncertain about how many hours he'd be putting in and whether or not his income would be stable.

Well, we had nothing to worry about.  He started out the year coaching Cross Country.  He got to know mostly upper elementary and middle school kids and was able to attend a meet in Unalakleet, AK.  He had kids place in the top 3 at the meet, (WOO!) and had a lot of fun doing it.  He got some great experience as a first time head coach and survived his first trip traveling alone and being responsible for a team.  Needless to say, he was well prepared for the school year to start!

He's been working the school store (the CoOp,) since school started.  The community hosts Open Gym at night for the village, as long as the students keep their attendance as a whole student body above 83%.  This happens Monday-Saturday, and occasionally on Sundays.  Brendan is the CoOp manager, so he opens it up for Open Gym every night, in addition to after school.  He's in charge of ordering and stocking food, soda, candy, snacks and apparel, and also of scheduling students to work and raise money for their class.  It's insane the amount of candy and soda (pop) that they've gone through! I think the CoOp could be a full-time job in itself, but B manages to pull off three other jobs anyway!

For any of you that know B, you know he's extremely talented at computer graphics and web design.  He's got great ideas and such a creative gift of design, that this job is perfect for him!  The principal contracted him out to design the new school website, which he has been working hard on.  If you go to right now, it will say "Under Construction," but stay tuned for Brendan's awesome creation that will be live on the web shortly!  It'd be awesome if the other schools liked his design and had him do the rest of the district...which he could do in all of his free time..HA. (This is the perfect example of me volunteering him for things...I think/hope he's getting used to it!)

He hasn't had to substitute yet, but I'm not sure he'd be able to anyway, because he has his own title at school now.  He's an Educational Aide and this is a pretty all encompassing job title.  He mans the lunch room (a job I could NEVER do) and keeps track of the kids that have to serve lunch detention.  He keeps them in line during their free gym time that they get when they finish their lunch. I'm not really sure how one person does all of these things at one time!  In the afternoons, (and sometimes in the morning) he is in charge of the kids that have been given In School Suspension.  I keep him in mind when I'm sending students to the office, and even though he has to deal with the kids that I can't handle, he hasn't gotten mad at me for writing them up...yet! :o)  Soon he'll be overseeing the computer lab, which is currently still being set up.  He's helped get teachers' classroom computers set up for students, and organized the laptop carts last weekend.  His technology background is coming in handy!

Volleyball started this past week, and he's assistant coaching the co-ed team.  You all know as well as I do that he looks forward to volleyball practice more than anything else in his day!  He coaches along with another former college volleyball player, and so far they are a great coaching team.  What are the odds that two highly qualified volleyball coaches end up in Savoonga, Alaska? Beats me, but I think they are going to have a great season, as volleyball is a favorite here in SVA!  Up next, he'll be assistant coaching Cross Country Skiing, which we are both really excited about!

Last weekend, when all of the teachers had to travel to Stebbins, two of the teachers approached B and asked him to pet-sit.  We both miss Sampson more than anything, so it was nice for him to be able to feed and walk our neighbor's husky.  The other pet was one he's not as familiar with, a Quaker Parrot.  He had a quick training session before we left, but unfortunately the parrot wasn't a huge fan of B, and pecked/bit his finger when he tried to feed it!  Everyone survived and the owners are now home.  I'm not a bird fan anyway, so it didn't break my heart to learn that we'll probably never have one as a pet!

In addition to never having a moment to himself at school, (I at least get 20 minutes of silence on my lunch break) Brendan makes me breakfast, packs my lunch, and makes an extra trip home before CoOp so that we can have dinner together every night.  He's pretty amazing and an absolute natural with the kids at school.  He's applying to a distance Masters program through the University of Southeast Alaska, and I think it will be perfect for him! As long as he has time to do the work, that is!  It's great that he's able to stay so busy and learn so much about working in the educational environment.  It's also a perk for me, that I get to see him throughout the day...he keeps me going!

Unfortunately, on the home front we got some sad news this week.  B's sister-in-law's mother passed away after a long battle with cancer.  She was a wonderful person that I know Brendan has considered family for a long time.  We are really wishing we could be at home this weekend with family, but unfortunately it's just not feasible.  Meg and Mar, we love you so much and are thinking of you and sending lots of love your way.  We're counting down the days until Christmas when we can be at home with our loved ones! While we're embracing our adventure and our new surroundings, times like these make us realize how far away we are, and how much our family means to us! Please keep Brendan's family in your thoughts and prayers as they're now missing an amazing person in their lives.  My mom will be walking for Judy at the annual Making Strides walk in Salem tomorrow, another family event we wish we weren't missing!

Another full week ahead, with the juniors and seniors taking the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.  As of tonight, the house is clean, laundry is done, the bread is rising and my lesson plans are almost done.  We'll be at school all day tomorrow, but will definitely enjoy some pancakes with our Vermont maple syrup and Green Mountain Pumpkin coffee before we get to work!  We might be missing the foliage, but we're making our own fall season. :o)

Lots of love to everyone!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

I Don't Care If Monday's Blue...

I've never really experienced a case of the Monday's, because for the last few years, it hasn't mattered if it was Monday or Wednesday or Saturday, I was working, and I was tired.  So this morning as I was grumbling about it being Monday, I looked at my calendar.  The first thing I couldn't believe was that it's already the last week of September--which means that I've already been teaching for over a month!  The second thing I realized as I flipped back a month, was that I haven't had a day where I wasn't working since New Teacher Orientation in Unalakleet.  Which was the 2nd week in August, and 49 days ago...roughly.

Things I'm not doing right now: complaining.  I'm actually pretty excited because even though I've been working, planning and teaching for 49 days straight, I'm energized, motivated and healthy.  For any of you who knew me a year ago, you know that the primary role I played in my school was not a teacher, it was a germ collector.  I literally got every sniffle, cough and flu that my kids had.  I'm not sure I made it through a single month of school without having to call in sick and had multiple bouts of the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia and stomach bugs.  The first thing that comes to mind is that my students this year actually know how to blow their own noses, and generally don't barf, sneeze or cough on me. (Knocking on some wood...)  But after leaving a weekend of inservice completely healthy, where the majority of teachers were feeling the ill effects of the first bout of cold symptoms for the school year, I am pretty convinced I've turned my immune system around.

It could very well be that I've just built up immunities to all germs possible, but I'm in a new location, teaching a new age group--so that probably isn't it.  I'm pretty sure that this new habit of sleeping regular hours for consecutive nights/weeks, adding a multi-vitamin to my diet, (insert I told you so's here from Rachel and probably my mom...) and eating three (really healthy) meals a day (including breakfast...thanks, B!)  So thankfully, Brendan and I have been feeling good and not run down yet, and B has yet to succumb to the grimy germs that infiltrate the school environment.  (I'm still perplexed about how he managed to stay 100% healthy last year, when I was hacking up a lung every other week.) Okay, now I'm seriously knocking on wood. We're happy and healthy and thriving in the arctic. :o)

I came to another important realization this weekend. In-Services are not my forte; I always leave with a much longer to-do list than I came with and a LOT of new information that my brain is not really sure how to process. We usually have to travel (sans Brendan :o( )  This weekend we went to Stebbins, AK, which is a small village on the mainland.  However, they serve a very important purpose.  They supply our orange juice for the time in between In-Services.  Orange Juice.  How do you get good orange juice in rural Alaska without paying big bucks to get it shipped in fresh?  Simple.  You go to In-Service (where food is provided,) and stock up on some 20 oz. bottles of OJ.  Before you think that I go to In-Service to loot up, I promise I only take one bottle per meal...I just pack it instead of drinking it!  Eventually, other staff members start to catch on and before you know it, you've got other people stocking up on orange juice for you too!  After two days in Stebbins, we are set on OJ for a good few weeks.  As you can tell, we're really getting the hang of survival mode...

The other good thing about this In-Service was that I got to see a new village, Stebbins.  I couldn't believe how warm it was there--at least 15 degrees warmer than here on the island.  The sun was out and we had plenty of time to walk and enjoy the beautiful weather.  The village was much smaller than Savoonga.  People were welcoming and the school was well kept.  Overall it was a really informative and motivating weekend!  I have some pictures, but left my camera cord at home (give me a break, it is Monday!)

It might be 10:00 on a Monday night with a full week ahead of me, and I'm definitely still at school working, but it's going to be a good week and hopefully a productive one!  We have a box of fresh produce waiting for us on our porch, a new Netflix documentary, and the sun is supposed to shine all week.  Brendan starts volleyball practice tomorrow as the assistant coach, so you know his week is going to be good.  We're doing great, and hoping everyone else is too!

P.S.  Coming this week...a separate post JUST for what B is doing.  I could seriously write a book, the man is so busy. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Forsake Not What's Around You, For Simple is Close at Hand...

Talk about slacking...sorry for the delay in update!  I also don't have any new pictures from this week to share, so this blog might be a bore!  Hopefully B comes home with some great pics from his XC meet in Unalakleet, and we'll get right on sharing them with you :o)

Week 2 has officially been "successfully" completed! I felt like I was drowning last week, but I think I managed to tread water this week!  I had one rough day this week where I thought I might burst into tears, (and didn't) but one day out of the 10 I've taught so far isn't so bad!  I think that before you become a teacher you have this vision of what a successful classroom looks like, and an unrealistic anticipation that your classroom will look like that by the first week.  (At least I did!)  Well, now that I'm two weeks in, I've changed my perception of a successfully functioning classroom a little bit. (But I don't feel I've lowered my expectations...just reformed them.) I think the combination of being a first year teacher, and also being immersed in a brand new culture, has caused me to reevaluate everything I've learned about classroom management, teaching and learning, and I'm trying to focus it through a new lens.  My educational experiences thus far have been different in almost every possible way than the students' that I am teaching now.  How can I be a successful teacher if I'm teaching them only based on my experiences?  If my students can't relate, then they're not going to learn...and neither am I!  I'm trying to incorporate a mixture of values and cater what I know about teaching to my students' learning needs.  Since I feel like I don't know all that much, it's a challenge, but I'm hoping I'm at least stepping in the right direction!

Updates from the week outside of school:  we thoroughly enjoyed our PB & J's on our freshly baked bread all week!  I'm looking forward to a lazy Sunday at home tomorrow, and perhaps trying out a new recipe! (That's assuming I get everything accomplished that I need to at school today.)  If I can figure out how to get some daiya cheese shipped up here, I'd like to make some pizza dough and enjoy pizza this week!  I caved and ate some dairy last night after paying $11 for a frozen pizza, but would really rather keep the meals dairy-less!  It's a constant challenge, but I'm determined to make it happen!

Brendan may be finally content with our living arrangement, as we acquired a treadmill this week!  It's big and loud and shakes the house a little bit, but it's a means to stay in shape and I'm looking forward to using it too.  I've really enjoyed getting back into yoga and have been putting those and my pilates DVD's to good use.  It's nice having a means to unwind after spending 10+ hours at school most days.

Our mattress pad arrived from amazon...I think it's a blessing and a curse.  Our bed is super comfy now, but it's much harder to leave it in the mornings!  We are losing quite a bit of daylight, and it seems we are losing it the most in the morning.  The sun is still out pretty late, but man is it dark in the morning!  It's an interesting adjustment, and it's difficult to be ready for bed at night when the sun is still up, but hard to wake up when it's still dark!  We haven't been relying on the melatonin to regulate our sleep anymore, and it's a pretty strange cycle we are living on!

We'll be getting into our normal routines this week, as tutoring just started and it will be our first 5 day week of school.  The weeks are already going by fast, I feel like it will be Thanksgiving before we know it!  Even though the days go by fast, the daily pace we move at has slowed down significantly from our lives in Virginia Beach.  

I don't think I realized what a high stress/high speed life we were living when we were living it, but I'm really appreciating the slower pace here.  We are coming from constantly running between two jobs, getting stressed out in traffic, running to tables and customers at work, trying to schedule time to see friends and family (something I've realized should not be stressful...which now seems so blatantly obvious, but wasn't realistic) and literally jam packing every minute of every day to be utilized.  Now we've come to a pretty abrupt halt in Savoonga, where we don't have a microwave and use the stove to heat things up (but the power goes out pretty frequently so we need a back up plan.) We have a 15 ish minute commute every day on foot, depending on which direction the wind is coming from, but we aren't rushing or stressed and we don't have to worry about traffic slowing us down--instead it's relaxing and a quiet time to either prepare for the day or wind down after school.  We traded Starbucks and our beloved bean grinding, delicious coffee making coffee maker for a french press, which we actually have to take time to make every morning, instead of having the timer pre-set.  I think it's the best coffee I've ever tasted, and I can actually enjoy drinking it instead of gulping it down trying to get my caffeine fix before work!  The store is unpredictable in what will be in stock, but we wait for our fresh produce every week and make with it what we can.  It's fun being creative and having to think outside the box!  

We've simplified extremely and are really appreciating the simple pleasures that we have.  The one time of day we are rushing is usually dinner time when Brendan has to be back at school, but how can we complain when we are actually able to eat together? The days are a unique mix of rigorous and relaxing, and I'm not sure how many places in the world you can experience that.  We're learning a lot about ourselves and what we really need, and I hope we can carry what we are learning here everywhere we go in life.  

T minus 2 hours until Brendan gets home from Unalakleet...can't wait to hear how the team did!  We will let everyone know and hopefully have some new pictures to post soon!  He's been an amazing coach so far and has settled into the school seemingly effortlessly!  He'll make a great teacher if he decides that's what he wants to do...more to come on the program he's applying to as well!  Hope everyone has a great week and that all of my teacher friends are transitioning well into the school year!
We love and miss everyone more than words can say :o)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Nobody Said it Was Easy, No One Ever Said it Would Be This Hard..

Okay, okay... so maybe Chris Martin lyrics are a tad over dramatic for discussing our first week's trials and tribulations....but the man's got a way with words, and I've been highly dependent on mellow tunes this week. (Which is soothing in it's own element, but doesn't entirely replace my normal solution to tough days at school: wine. In copious amounts.) And for those of you that don't already know: this. job. is. HARD! And as much as I'd like to say I successfully completed my first week, it's not over yet. As an added bonus to all of us first years hanging by a thread as our week comes closer to an end, we get Saturday School tomorrow! WoooHOOO! (My sarcasm should not be interpreted as a complaint, I'm merely making a feeble attempt at psyching myself up for tomorrow.)

The week has not been completely unsuccessful.  I've managed to establish some crucial classroom procedures, despite the "but our old teacher let us do this" comments, and you can actually pick up on some healthy classroom habits already!  I actually stayed on pace with my first week's lesson plans and have been really getting to know a lot of the kids.  I'd say I have about 95% of my 50-ish students' names down...hoping to secure the remaining 5% tomorrow! (I knew that Saturday School would come in handy somewhere!)  I've of course encountered some discipline issues and moments where I've said to myself "uhhh sh*t, now what?!" but for the most part I've been able to hold my own.  I feel really lucky that the staff here is so supportive and welcoming to new teachers.  There are so many people I ask for advice on a daily basis and I really really appreciate it.  The community has been just as welcoming and my students are working on coming up with a Yupik name for me.  While I doubted myself a few times this week, I don't doubt at all that this is going to be a great first year experience.

Brendan has been just as busy, if not busier than me all week!  So much for him staying home all day, sleeping in and doing housework...HA, we've barely been able to keep up with the 2 mugs and one set of silverware we brought!  He walks to school with me every morning and works on the school website, which our principal has contracted him out to fix.  He is helping out the Special Ed Department (perhaps considering following in his sister-in-law's footsteps? :o) ) during lunch as an aid for a few of the students.  There's a possibility he'll be assisting/monitoring the ALE (Alternative Learning Environment) which is still a work in progress but has potential!  He's in the school store as soon as school is out and then keeps 20-30 extremely energetic kids in line at cross country practice for the remainder of the afternoon.  By the time he's finishing practice, we have just about an hour to walk home and make dinner before he's headed back to school to open the store for Open Gym.  It's only a matter of time before he'll be getting calls to sub!  The kids adore him.  No matter where we are in the village you can guarantee we will hear a "Hey, Coach!" or a "Hey, Running Coach!"  I think his favorite is "HI GIANT!" (which is mainly from the kindergarteners.)

Needless to say, we've both been pretty exhausted by the time we are actually at home for the night.  It's a good exhaustion though, it feels so rewarding to finally be in the position that I want and to be challenged on a daily basis!  The days are long and some have been rough, but walking home watching the sunset over the top of the world every night is a pretty amazing experience.  I'm not sure I've ever felt this peaceful...I'm so thankful to have been given this opportunity!  We've had some pick-me-ups this week too--we received our first order of fresh organic produce on Monday, and were able to pick up our bulk order of groceries on Wednesday!

I think we both feel at home and comfortable in the community and ready to tackle the school year.  We were just discussing on our walk back to school tonight, how confident we feel that this is the place we are supposed to be right now and how happy and calm we feel, despite the fact that we just moved half way across the world.  It's hard going home to an empty house at night and we're really missing Sampson, but Skype and Facetime are wonderful inventions and we've been able to see quite a bit of him! (Oh yeah, and our families too ;o) )

THANK YOU everyone who called or texted or messaged us this morning.  We had no clue there was even an earthquake and I thought it was the melatonin having a crazy side effect when I read the text message "the tsunami warnings are cancelled!"  There are lots of earthquakes in Alaska, but we are luckily far enough north and pretty far away from the edge of the plates that cause the quakes, that we shouldn't be getting too much action up this way.  We really appreciate everyone's concern and love, and are hoping these next couple hurricanes coming up the east coast are less destructive than Irene was!  If anyone needs to escape the lousy lower 48 weather, there's an oceanfront room available in the Bering Strait anytime :o)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"There's No Such Thing as a Bad Day in Alaska, Only Bad Gear"

It's Sunday afternoon, the eve of the commencement of my first year teaching and I'm freaking out! I thought it might be therapeutic to take a break from the overwhelming task of preparing my first classroom to blog for a few minutes!  Though you can't exactly consider blogging productive in light of the first day of school tomorrow, it is a serious effort to clear my mind and get me back on track :o)

While our east coast family and friends were surviving hurricane Irene, (happy to hear everyone is safe :o)) I was surviving my first week of SIG (School Improvement Grant) training!  After feeling like I was relatively prepared for the first day of school a week ago today, this week of training completely changed my mind and threw me into panic mode.  The grant is an effort to help schools who are not meeting AYP (adequate yearly progress) and who need help getting their students' standardized test scores and graduation rates up.  While they throw some nice perks at the teachers (iPad 2's, free round trip flights to Nome, returning bonuses, etc...) they also supply you with student data, school wide goals, high teacher expectations and a whole lot of acronyms that I'm not sure I understand yet!  I'm really excited to be working for a school that's going through this change and I feel super motivated to make an impact on these kids and help them to succeed on their tests.  I also feel added pressure and am really worried about living up to the high expectations!  It's going to be a challenging year, but a good friend of mine and fellow AKT2 member, gave me a new motto to live by:  "Fake it 'til you make it." :o)  Maybe if I can successfully pretend that I know what I'm doing, I'll actually figure it out at some point!!  In all seriousness, I'd hoped to be at least a quarter ahead of my kids this year, but reality set in pretty quickly and now I'm focusing on executing this week successfully--I'll worry about next week on Saturday!

While there was a LOT of essential information handed to me this week, (that I'm still processing)  Brendan and I also gained some other useful facts from some pretty great resources.  We actually met the couple who lived in the house that we currently live in, back in the 80's.  Talk about a great resource!  We learned that while they were living there, a polar bear was killed on the front porch that our kitchen window looks out on. YIKES.  My new favorite game to play is displaying scenarios for B to solve.  "So what if you go to grab your coffee in the morning and there's a polar bear looking in the window?"  Don't worry Dad, we've got a solid emergency plan in progress!  We came to the conclusion that storms here will have all of the same exciting/frightening aspects like making sure we have enough water, candles and batteries, but the difference is that back home we got to curl up at home while schools and roads were closing, with a glass of wine and a good book.  There won't be any closings or delays here, just bundling up earlier to ensure that we can fight our way through the storms and still make it to school on time! We are definitely enjoying the sunshine while we have it. :o)

The couple also gave us some great names of brands and stores to look at as we continue our quest to invest in some serious winter gear.  They told us which stores will give us the best deals and which ones will ship for free.  I also took a quote from him, "There's no such thing as a bad day in Alaska, only bad gear."  We know it's going to get cold, that's a given.  I don't have a problem spending money on a jacket if it's going to keep me warm all winter!  A headlamp is essential, our walks to school in the morning are already getting pretty dark!  Rainpants are first on the list...we experienced our first rainy, windy, dark walk (which was one adventure) and then got to experience wearing the cold, wet pants all day.  Two lessons were learned that day: 1) Keep dry clothes at school and 2) invest in some rain gear!  That first paycheck is coming up...and it's definitely already spoken for!

We were able to get out of town last week and hike to some cliffs about 2 miles outside of the village.  We went with some teachers who have been here for a few years and they took us to the spot where all of the puffins fly around and hang out! It was pretty incredible, standing on the edge of a huge cliff with the Bering Sea crashing on the rocks and thousands of puffins flying all around us.  We are trying to take advantage of as many opportunities as we can to get out of the village to explore...before we know it the sun will be gone and the snow and polar bears will be here!

Brendan has had a really successful cross country week and had almost 20 kids at practice yesterday!  He found out that he'll be attending the Unalakleet meet on September 10th with 8 athletes of his choice. They have to have 10 practices to travel, and a few of them are almost there!  He might be able to coach volleyball as well, which we all know he'd be pretty awesome at! :o) He's gotten a great start on the website, which the principal approved and he's also been opening the school store.  His regular hours will start this week and the store will be open Monday-Friday from the time school gets out (3:40) until 4:00, and then Monday-Saturday during open gym (7-10 pm.)  We might be back to working opposite schedules, but at least we are staying busy and enjoying some meals together!  With the amount that we both have to do, I think this year is going to fly by!

We watched a beautiful sunset last night after enjoying some fresh local halibut for dinner, and there's a lot to look forward to this week.  School starts tomorrow, we get our first box of organic produce, we can finally pick up the rest of our groceries, and...drum roll....I finally get paid! WOO! This will be a 6 day work week, as we have Saturday school this week, but we get Labor Day off so it will be a regular weekend still.  I have high hopes and expectations for the school year, but reality is certainly keeping those hopes in check.  As of today, even though I feel extremely overwhelmed, I feel motivated and challenged, and ready to tackle the year.  All we can do is take day by day and put forth our best effort.  Since I was 5, my favorite day of the year has always been the first day of goes nothing!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back in Savoonga, Back to Work!

I got back to Savoonga last Friday evening, after my first experience of craziness while traveling in the bush!  There were multiple flights leaving the inservice on Friday.  One flight was chartered and was supposed to go straight from Unalakleet to the island, dropping off Savoonga first then dropping off Gambell teachers.  I was on the flight scheduled to fly from Unalakleet to Nome on the district plane, and then take a regular flight from Nome back to Savoonga.  Weather in Unalakleet was not good, and weather on the island was even worse!  Gambell teachers were told that Gambell was fogged in and there was no way the plane would land...they would have to sleep in Savoonga overnight.  The people flying to Nome first were told that we might end up flying back to Unalakleet later that night if we couldn't get from Nome to the island.

Talk about confusing....I was just along for the ride, with no idea where I'd be sleeping that night and, since B had the phone, no way to let him know when I'd be getting back.  I was a little stressed out but decided it wasn't worth it since there was nothing I could do anyway.  The flight from Unalakleet to Nome was less than pleasant...the fog was pretty dense and it's a bit unnerving when you can see out the same window the pilot is looking out, and you can't see ANYTHING!  But the district pilot is highly thought of and well respected, so I felt relatively safe!  We flew right above the water the whole time, never reaching an elevation of 500 ft. ( I was close enough to the pilot that I could see the control panel and gauges :o) )  It was an adventure for sure, and the first time that I'd ever felt nervous on a plane.  We decided we need to invest in some ginger or peppermint for our next bush travel...I was pretty nauseous by the time we landed!  But, we landed safely in Nome where the sun was shining!

The weather turned and we were able to catch the next flight to Savoonga.  I was home for dinner and it ended up being a beautiful day on the island!  Sadly, this past weekend, there was a plane that did not reach its destination when leaving a teacher inservice from another district, and the pilot and a veteran teacher did not survive.  While we planned on not telling Mom and Dad (didn't want them stressing...) the news made the local newspaper in Salem. Go figure!  Bush pilots fly in much worse conditions and much more challenging terrain than commercial pilots do in the lower 48.  I give all of them so much respect and credit....we have a lot to get used to if we plan on traveling a lot from here!

Since I've been back we've been hard at work setting up my classroom.  So far, we've gotten the desks arranged, books sorted and put away and posters up on the wall.  I was lucky to receive almost 40 boxes of brand new book sets that we'll be using this year.  Opening all of the boxes felt like Christmas morning--it was awesome! I've also been attending inservice meetings and training, and we've been getting to know the other teachers.  Brendan has been holding cross country practices, and hit a PR with 6 kids showing up yesterday! Go B!  Hoping for more this afternoon :o)

I'll post pictures of my classroom when we get it finished, it's still a work in progress.  I'm getting pretty overwhelmed with all that I have to do.  Anyone who's taught already knows how tough the first year is....I'm trying to prepare myself for it! The great thing is that we don't have much else to do but prepare.  There aren't any distractions here, we can't go out on the weekends and we don't have other jobs and responsibilities pulling us in every direction.  We are finally getting enough sleep every night, and have time to just enjoy each other's company!  We've been playing lots of scrabble, reading lots of books and being created with the limited food that we have until our big grocery order comes in.  Last night was black beans, corn and peppers (frozen, not fresh) with rice, which is actually a typical meal for us.  We can't wait to get our groceries, we don't even remember what we bought at this point!

The other night after dinner we went and explored on the beach by our house.  When we came in around 10 pm, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  It's so peaceful here, I can't remember the last time I felt so at ease all the time!  Even with so much to do, and the overwhelming feeling that comes and goes as I'm lesson planning, I think we are both more relaxed and NOT stressed than we've been in a really long time!

The rocky beach by our house:

Enjoying the p.m. sunshine...:o)

Home sweet home for the next few years!! (Unless of course we get lucky and the new teacher housing is actually finished in the near future ;o) )  The vice principal was pretty sympathetic the other night during our housing inspection, and is rallying for a new carpet for us...we'll see if it happens!  We did get hooked back up to the main fuel source last night though, so no more 5 gallon bucket having to be replaced every other day! Hooray for heat!!

One more picture...this is the view from our kitchen window.  There's a little cliff, then that's the Bering Sea! 

Will write more after the next week of training!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Live From Unalakleet!

It's 4:00 on Wednesday afternoon and I just finished my first day of New Teacher Training in Unalakleet, AK. The BSSD flew us here on their district plane yesterday and we flew the whole coastline of the St. Lawrence Island at 100 ft before gaining elevation to fly over the Bering Sea.  It was incredible!  Unfortunately, B had to stay home during this training, but I can't wait to show him all of the pictures.  Hopefully he'll take that route to one of his cross country meets!

This is where Flying Wild Alaska is filmed and although, unfortunately, I'm not too familiar with it, several of the new teachers are so I managed to gather some insight from them!  We apparently walked by the Tweto family's home, (sorry fans, I didn't take pictures because I hadn't yet realized who the Tweto's were!)  However, I did see some photographic proof that Ferno was, in fact, unloading some of the new teacher's luggage at the Unalakleet airport!

Unalakleet is a really nice village and is much smaller than I expected.  I'm not sure how the population compares with Savoonga's, but it is less remote and a little more modernized.  There are paved roads, several vehicles, a pizza place and a pool hall.  There is also a fish cannery, which some people are touring tonight.  We saw some locals bring in fresh silver salmon and they taught us how they prepare them.  Everyone I've met has been extremely welcoming and eager to talk about their fishing livelihood.

We visited the AC (the village store) and I scoped out some prices.  I haven't been to the store in Savoonga yet (but B might have checked it out by now,) so I don't have anything to compare it to, but here are some examples:
Loaf of bread: $6
Canister of Quaker Oats: $11
Bag of frozen veggies: $4-6
Bag of chips: $6
Cereal: $7
They did have a small fresh produce selection, so I'll be filling up the cooler that I brought before I leave on Friday!  We are signing up for Full Circle Farms, which is an organic farm out of Seattle that delivers fresh produce to several of the rural villages in bush Alaska.  They deliver once a week, which is as often as we can get it, but we will probably start off getting a box every other week and seeing how long it lasts.  It's $68 a box, which includes the actual transportation of the veggies, so in the grand scheme of things, and taking into consideration the amount of veggies B and I consume, I think it will be well worth it.  The residents who lived in our house before us left a hydroponic plant system in our boiler room, so we may be adventurous and plant some veggies of our own.  That's a pretty big project though and I'm sure won't happen for a few months :o)

Our training has been really interesting so far and even though a ton of information is being thrown at us, I'm really learning a lot.  We are implementing a new curriculum this year and I'll be working hand in hand with the Social Studies department.  We'll be doing something called Character Based Literacy, and we will be covering the same time periods as the semester progresses.  The curriculum gives the students multiple ways to show understanding, and it seems to differentiate really well.  I'm pretty excited to be at the beginning stages of it and to try it out in class in a few weeks!

Although I feel completely out of my element in this whole Alaskan adventure, and can't believe we are actually here, I feel simultaneously 100% accepted, supported and at home.  It's been a great experience so far and I hope for it to continue to be positive.  I think we've already overcome a lot, and I also think the hard stuff (tough kids and winter) is still coming.  We're as prepared as we can be and are up for the challenge.

B's in Savoonga now, making preparations to begin his cross country season.  He's going to be such an awesome coach, I can't wait to see how the kids respond to him!  He's already been great with the kids who knock on our door asking to come in and to play, and he's used the interactions wisely and done some XC recruiting!  I'm really looking forward to getting back to the island on Friday and catching up on all he's been up to in our new home!

Thanks again for all of the love and support you've been sending our way.  There's currently a cell coverage outage in Savoonga, so apologies to those who have tried to call or text--we haven't been ignoring you!!  We will keep everyone posted! :o)

Saturday, August 6, 2011


We made it!  We've reached our destination but I'm pretty sure the real journey has just begun!  We arrived in Savoonga, AK yesterday afternoon around 5:30.  We flew from Anchorage to Nome, where we had a 4 hour layover.  We went into town with a few other teachers and enjoyed one last pizza and pitcher of beer before life on a dry island.

Our second flight was from Nome to Gambell (the other village on the island,) where stopped briefly to drop off 5 of the 9 airplane passengers.  From Gambell it was only a 15 minute flight to Savoonga.  I was lucky enough to see a whale spouting off the coast of Gambell, but poor B was on the other side of the plane!  The island is breathtaking in its completely desolate beauty.  There are mountains, beaches and cliffs, and only a tiny portion is actually inhabited.  We got some great pictures as we landed.

We were greeted in Savoonga (at the landing strip, not the airport :o)) by another new teacher and one of the head school maintenance men, who has proven to be extremely helpful as we've been settling in!  He brought us in his pickup truck (we were pleasantly surprised to see a couple of vehicles on the island!) first to the other teacher's house, and then to ours.  The village is small, and we only have about a half mile walk to school from our house.

Our house is literally oceanfront property, we are about 30 yards from the waves of the Bering Sea crashing against the rocky shoreline!  So far we've seen kids playing and men fishing, even though the water temperature is probably only in the high 30's! BRRR! The house is definitely a fixer upper, but B has been hard at work and it's already starting to feel like home.  We ran into an issue with not having heat when we arrived, but the maintenance men have been working overtime and got us fuel, so we are good to go!

The school is practically brand new and extremely impressive.  We spent a few hours there today, getting acclimated and making plans.  As of right now, we think I have the wrong classroom's keys, so we held off on beginning set up.  We are planning on just using school internet for a little while, so after this post we'll be turning ours off and using it only during the day when we're at school :o)  Our cell is the best way to reach us, we have surprisingly perfect reception here in the Bering Strait!  Text or call, we're always hoping to hear from people!

We really appreciate all of the support everyone has been giving us.  It's going to be a huge adjustment and I'm sure we'll be in touch with everyone, asking for help and looking for support!  We are looking forward to getting back to the basics, simplifying and adjusting to life at village pace. As excited as we are, we've already been shell shocked a couple of times--the differences between here and lower 48 living are already innumerable and we've only been here a day!  So for now we are embracing the culture and the changes we're experiencing and rising to each challenge that comes our way.  We are really lucky to have each other, and to have the wonderful support system that we do back home!

Will write more when we get a more stable internet connection! Promise to post pics soon :o)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Welcome Wagon: Day 1, Moose Count: 0

So B hasn't seen his first Alaskan moose yet, but it took me a few weeks to see mine.  He was, however, able to experience several Alaskan beers, which I'm pretty sure makes up for it!

We were up with the sun this morning (which in Anchorage, is pretty damn early,) and got started right away with BSSD Welcome Wagon activities.  Although breakfast at Denny's wasn't quite our speed, we were able to visit with other new hires and began forming some great new friendships.  From breakfast we went to the DMV where I was able to obtain my Alaska driver's license...woo woooo! (Even though I semi-failed the vision test and am restricted to driving only cars with mirrors....yeah.)  Unfortunately, since B doesn't have a contract, he wasn't able to switch his residency over yet.  He was bummed, but at least has some time to study the manual (I missed the first 3 questions and you can only miss 4!)  So to all of our VaBeach friends and families, B just couldn't let go of his residency, he'll be hanging on for a few more months :o)

After the DMV, which was a much more pleasant experience than any DMV I've ever visited, we headed to GCI, the rural cell provider here in Alaska.  We will be sharing a cell phone in Savoonga, and got the unlimited coverage and texting plan, so that we are able to keep in touch with everyone as best we can!  We will both still have our old numbers until Friday, so text us or call if you need the new contact info!

The only other thing on our list for this week was to finish up our grocery shopping, which we'll do tomorrow. This left the rest of the afternoon for us to relax and for B to explore Anchorage!  We enjoyed some great lattes from Middleway Cafe, a great spot that some of my AKT2 cohorts and I frequented in the weeks that we spent here earlier this summer.  We also were lucky to meet up with Emily, who will be heading to Holy Cross, AK on Friday.  It was really nice to catch up with someone who is in the same boat as us and is having the same anxieties, frustrations and anticipations as we are.  I'm pretty excited to hear everyone's experiences and share ours as well!

We had a great dinner and enjoyed some microbrews at Moose's Tooth in Anchorage, a great (extremely popular) local pub and brewery that Dad and I stumbled upon when we were here in January.  After waiting out some passing showers, we checked out grocery prices in preparation for tomorrow! We are in good shape as far as Friday is looking and are eager to continue our adventure tomorrow!

We may not have seen any moose, and the mountains may have been covered in clouds, but we're enjoying the short time we have here, making new friends and catching up with fellow AKT2 participants.  We are looking forward to tomorrow and are anxious for the big move on Friday! We are missing Sampson lots...the pet aisle at Fred Meyer may have brought upon some unnecessary tears, but we are dealing and are so thankful that my parents were willing to take him for the time being!!  The sun is still just now setting at 11 pm and we are looking forward to another good, Alaskan night's sleep!

More to come... :o)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

Well, we promised everyone that we would be blogging throughout our cross-country trip.  That obviously didn't happen.  We thought we'd have a lot more time to sit down every day and write about our travels, but to be honest, I'm glad we didn't.  We enjoyed every moment of our trip and didn't spare a minute over the course of our travels.  Now that we are sitting in the airport in Portland, OR I'll sum up our trip, and be sure to add more later!

Our journey began on Wednesday, July 20th when we went from Virginia Beach to Gettysburg, PA.  Wednesday morning was crazy because we weren't packed yet, but somehow managed to squeeze all of our belongings into the back seats and the trunk of my car.  Sampson rode the whole way on our laps in the front seat, scaring us a few times by throwing the car into neutral while we were driving on the highway.  We spent a night camping in Gettysburg visiting with my Granny, Aunt Pat and Uncle Sal.  It was great to see family and break up the long trip to NY!

We drove to Salem, NY on Thursday and stayed with my family.  We caught up on sleep, enjoyed some sunshine by the pool and were so thankful to spend Saturday with our families and friends.  It was so great to catch up with everyone and get some quality time in before we left!  We were, of course, still packing Sunday morning, but were able to get on the road at a decent hour.  We rented a Nissan Altima Hybrid which saved us tons on gas and was a super comfy upgrade from our original compact car. (B's legs were extremely thankful.)

We broke up our trip from Salem to Chicago with a quick detour to Niagra Falls.  We'd both been here before, but the falls were still impressive and it was great to get out of the car and walk around.  We made it to Chicago late Sunday night and spent the day Monday with Jordan enjoying the city and catching up!  It always feels like home when I visit Jord and we always have a great time.  Monday night we got to see my second family, the Hoffmanns, and B met them for the first time.  We wish them safe travels and all the best in their new home!!

From Chicago we headed west to Nebraska, stopping briefly at the biggest truck stop in the WORLD. I mean how can you pass that up?  Although we opted out of their dental services, we did take some pretty sweet pics and got a few good laughs.  Overall, Iowa and Nebraska were flat and monotonous, but it was a beautiful day for a drive.  We saw tons of windmills and are eager to learn about wind powered energy, as we didn't realize how much of the country uses the resource.  The windmills are absolutely massive and pretty impressive when you see them on the horizon.  Since it was over 100 degrees with the heat index when we got camp set up in Ashland, NE (and the pool cost $8) we decided we could put our money to better use in an air conditioned, local microbrewery.  We hung out for a while before heading back to our campground.  We experienced our first mid west thunderstorm in a tent, and would rather not relive the experience!  We were ready to hit the road by Wednesday morning!

On Wednesday we continued west to Colorado, where we were grateful to stay with B's friends, Sam and Kate, in Colorado Springs.  We walked through the Garden of the Gods and went out to eat downtown.  The change in terrain was unreal!  We were up early and ready to go on Thursday morning.  Driving through Wyoming was a pleasant surprise, as we weren't expecting the state to be so beautiful!  We were continuously taken aback by the mountains and valleys, and the sheer, desolate, beauty that were drove through.  The pictures we took just didn't do it justice!

We thought we'd seen the best of the country but were awestruck when we arrived in Utah.  We camped in a state park in a canyon, surrounded by beautiful mountains. Our campsite sat right on a huge reservoir, with plenty of wildlife and natural beauty.  The temperature got down into the 40's at night, even though it was in the 80's when we arrived.  I was glad B was driving on the way in and out because the road were so windy and right on the edge of the mountain!  We got some great pictures and the backdrop never got old. Salt Lake City was gorgeous, and is the home to Polygamy Porter (Why Have Just One?) which I thought was hilarious and we obviously had to buy some.  It wasn't bad!

We got some pictures of the Great Salt Lake, but were way more impressed by the salt flats in western Utah.  Our next stop was Lake Tahoe, which is now high on our list of places to go back to.

The last few days were spent in San Francisco, with some good friends from college.  We got to have lunch with Maureen and B kicked another marathon's ass and we got to see a lot of the city (including the Full House house which was obviously a highlight in my book!)  We took a trip up to wine country and enjoyed a day in Sonoma and Tomales Bay.  And now it's time to board our flight to Anchorage!!

Thank you so much to everyone who has helped make this trip happen.  We are having the time of our lives and can't wait to share pictures and stories.  We are thinking of our families and friends every second and can't wait to see everyone again!!  More to come...