Monday, November 5, 2012

"When I lose my direction, I look up to the sky"

Savoonga from the air!

Happy November! We hope that all of our East coasters were able to weather the storm without damage or loss!  You are all in our thoughts!

As we find ourselves in November and well into the second quarter of the year, we're searching for direction as we hurdle the ups and downs of daily life in Savoonga.  We had our second SIG Pod of the year last week in Stebbins, which I was feeling pretty anxious about before we left.  The inservices are always helpful and informative, but I was already feeling overwhelmed and wasn't sure how much more information my brain could contain, much less process.

But miraculously, instead of leaving Stebbins even more overwhelmed and stressed, I left with a refreshed sense of inspiration.  I realized that it's hard to maintain a clear vision when you are in your classroom for a good 12 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week.  It's good to step outside of your daily routine bubble, in my case the school, to gain some clarity.  After working with some pretty inspiring people for four days, all of whom are working towards the same goals, my sense of direction was restored and I felt ready to head back to Savoonga and tackle the world...well, island.

We were scheduled to return on the district flight, which meant we were leaving around 7:30 pm--the perfect time to catch a Bering Sea sunset from the air.  With my renewed sense of motivation paired with some Phish jams on my iPod and the inexplicable feeling of hovering over the Bering Sea on little 10 seater plane, my mind was impeccably clear and I reached a pretty sweet state of mental clarity.  I had everything figured out: lesson plans for the week, curriculum for the rest of the quarter, career path, kids names, global warming....well maybe not global warming but I was keeping an eye out for polar bears and walrus.  I was ready to get back in my classroom and start working towards productivity.

Then we landed in Savoonga.

And it was probably the freaking sweetest landing ever. One of the lame parts of flying on commercial jets is that you don't get to see everything the pilot sees.  On the flip side, this is one of the coolest things you get to do while flying in bush Alaska.  Flying isn't just a means of transportation, it's an experience that all 10 of you humans, and co-pilot dog, are living simultaneously.  When you've been descending and can see that the elevation gauge says 200 feet, and has for some time...but you haven't seen anything but dense fog for quite some can be pretty unnerving.  When you are looking out the same windshield the pilot is and you can't see a damn thing, it can be downright terrifying if you let it be. While trying not to think about the mountains that border the village, I quickly switched my iPod from "Call Me, Maybe," (I swear it just came on shuffle...) to Michael Franti's, "Have a Little Faith."  Hey, if I'm going down, I may as well go down with good karma.

With complete faith in our BSSD pilot, I was clutching B's hand and bracing myself. As I was focused on watching the elevation meter dropping, we flew out of the fog and the village came into view.  Though we were at a different angle than we normally come in on and maybe a little bit sideways, the pilot steered us to safety onto the runway.  The "cabin" erupted in cheers and sighs of relief.  The adventures in Alaska travel continue to amaze me, and my respect for bush pilots continues to rise.

We made it home safe and sound and got a good dose of adrenaline pumped through our blood.  Sadly, those clear thoughts and life plans were left in the ceiling of fog that was blanketing Savoonga that night.  The clarity has come and gone since I've been back, but generally the fog is slowly filling my brain.  After two, six-day work weeks, and what's more disappointing, two, one-day weekends, I'm once again overwhelmed, but determined and trying to maintain focus.

B keeping warm when our heat was out.
In an attempt to salvage our sanity and take some time for ourselves, we left school at 6:30 pm four out of six days this past week and let me tell you, that is a record.  When we got home Thursday night, we were ready to make a hearty meal to combat the arctic wind.  We had chickpeas soaked and ready to cook and some fresh kale and leeks to make a yummy stew.  Sadly, when we walked into our house, it was quickly apparent that we had no heat or power to half of the rooms in our house.  Two very skilled maintenance men and an hour later, it was determined that half of our fuse box was dead as a result of a burned wire to our house.  We were able to switch the heat to a working fuse, and our house has slowly warmed back up since.  However, we're without a working stove, oven, washer, dryer and lit bathroom.  For rural Alaska, these are minor inconveniences, and we were able to hijack one of the school's extra microwaves for the time being.  The biggest issue now is that I have no clue how to cook with a microwave, so the new appliance in our kitchen will be keeping me on my toes.  Candlelit showers are also on the agenda until the problem is resolved, but it makes for a nice ambiance and is actually pretty relaxing.  What's not relaxing is having to wash your undergarments in the school cafeteria washer and dryer.  This adventure in Alaska has taken any sense of normalcy I had and completely tossed it out the window.  Keep it coming!

Haunted House Preparations!
The Halloween Carnival that the school holds for the community was once again a success.  I'm the senior class advisor this year, and it's tradition that they create a haunted house for the younger kids.  With a lot of creativity, the students (and a few teachers) transformed the library into a scary spectacle.  The scariest part for me was the tombstone the kids created for me had me born in the year 1949.  It was a great fundraising success and overall a lot of fun!

Our tickets are officially booked for our trip home for Christmas, and we are getting excited about the break!  We've got quite a bit of wedding planning to do while we're home, but are ready to get the ball rolling.  We've got a couple of more months and a lot to accomplish before we leave.  Brendan has a couple of trips planned, one for training and two for volleyball!

As much planning as I've done over the course of my lifetime, living in Alaska is teaching me to go with the flow.  Which is a lesson that I definitely needed to learn.  I'll end this blog with some inspirational lyrics from my favorites that I'm trying to live by..."If I live the life I'm given, I won't be scared to die."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Is It Really October Already?

Hello friends! I've got the urge to blog, but there's not a whole lot that is new to update you about!  The school year is in full swing and the weeks are flying by.  Brendan traveled with his volleyball team this weekend to St. Michael and will return tomorrow, hopefully with a couple of wins to share!  The new uniforms arrived just in time and the kids were psyched and ready to go.

Winter is trying hard to make its appearance...we've had several snow flurries and the ground is just about frozen.  The sun is holding its own and our afternoon walks home have supplied us with plenty of Vitamin D.

As busy as we've been, we've had a little more down time this year. Wedding planning is a huge time filler, but we have found ourselves missing the comforts of home more so than we did last year.

Things I am sad about and missing:

My mom's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk...and my mom in general. This year's walk was especially hard to miss as my mom is once again fighting the breast cancer battle.  I wish, more than anything, that I could be closer to her.

Jordan's first pregnancy.  My best friend is expecting her first baby!  Even though she has two sisters, I plan on being the coolest pseudo-aunt out there and can't wait to spoil the little nugget rotten.  However, if the next time I see Jordan, she has a child, I don't think I'm going to believe that she actually gave birth to it.  We're going to have to make an in-person Christmas visit happen.

Jessie's 18th Birthday.  Not sure how this is possible.  Can't talk about it without crying. Moving on.

Sampson.  Our poor puppy finally lost his manhood last week, and the pathetic cone pictures are absolutely breaking my heart.

Movie rentals that don't take 15 hours.  Since B is traveling this weekend, I decided it was my chance to rent some chick flicks.  I rented "What to Expect" from started downloading at 7:30 Friday morning and I was able to start watching it at about 10 that evening.  I would say it was worth the wait, but I couldn't stay awake to finish it, so it's still to be determined.

Starbucks.  With all of these snow flurries and big gusts of wind...I would pretty much do anything for a caramel soy latte....mmmmm. Sigh.

TV Shows. The least of my worries but still somewhat aggravating. I'm pretty much cool with not owning a TV but I also have not been completely deprived from the few that I watch since I've been up here.  Seriously, what is up with hulu not showing the new episodes the next day?  It's probably for the best...Grey's Anatomy and Parenthood have only made me cry so far.

If you know us, you know that we don't spend all of our time wallowing about the things that we miss.

Things I am seriously excited about:

My kids wrote a compare/contrast essay in one class period. ONE. That's 90 minutes.  A complete, five-paragraph essay.  I'm pretty darn proud.

Battle of the Books.  I'm coaching the high-schoolers this year and have read three of the books so far that the kids will be reading. I'm pretty excited about kids being excited to read. (AFTER school.)

Brendan shares some of his sister's talent.  We spent last Sunday evening dying my hair...even though the kids love to take credit for my was time.  B did a wonderful job--thanks for the tools and the tips, Meg!

Mail.  We had a great week for mail, including some new movies and an amazing box from Hawaii with lots of yummy coffee and Macadamia nuts.  Thanks, made us feel like we were on a different island for a little while! :o)

A Christmas Carol.  The next book on the curriculum list.  HOORAY!!!

Well, I apologize for the lack of pictures.  Trust me, I'm used to the "WHERE ARE THE PICTURES?" demand every time I introduce a new book to my students. We will try to be more aware of it and capture some memories this week.  We might be counting the days until Christmas break, but we're also making the most of where we are.  We're hoping for some more Northern Lights and a winning volleyball season! 

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

September Snow

To all you East coasters enjoying fall beers and breathing in that fresh, crisp, fall air as you read this: take another big sip for us and please send us a sign that fall has actually just started...and is not yet over.   After several snow flurries and some pretty cold walks home this week, we woke up this morning to a fresh coat of snow blanketing the ground.

Don't get me wrong, it's peaceful and beautiful and making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside...but it's going to make for a really long semester if I'm already humming Christmas carols.

Instead of spending all of our time pining for Saranac Pumpkins, Sam Octoberfests and that perfect "sweater weather," we've been staying as busy as possible.  School is, as usual, taking up the majority of our time.  This year has definitely been easier than last year, but now that I'm getting the hang of the whole teaching thing, I'm finding that there is always more to do and always something I can do better.  I think we are blessed to be living in a place where we don't have a million other obligations pulling us every which way.  It's really allowed me to focus on becoming the best teacher I can be.  Not that we don't miss all of the distractions...

Brendan traveled to Koyuk with his Cross Country team and had a very successful race.  Each of his kids improved over last year's times and they all had a lot of fun.  He's been able to see most of the district in the past few weeks and has plenty of pictures to share! (Hopefully they will be up soon!) My kids wrote sonnets this week and Brendan's kids ran 5Ks.  That is definitely more than we could say at this time last year.  We'll take what we can get!

Wedding planning has already proved to be challenging from a distance, but we're determined to conquer it.  Save the dates are ordered, but they of course don't ship to Savoonga, so Mom and Dad came to the rescue once again and are getting them to us. We're really missing our wedding experts, Meg and Mar, and are wishing they were as close to us as they were this summer! Honeymoon brainstorming is in full swing, and gives us something [warm] to look forward to!

Veggie delivery day!
 It's Sunday evening and my lesson plans for the week aren't quite complete, so it's back to work for me!  The snow has just about melted in most places from the afternoon sun, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was back to greet us in the morning.  Stay warm for us and enjoy those fall brews.  We wouldn't hate it if you stashed a few away for us for Christmas.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

And the Adventure Continues!

Well, the first week of school has somehow already come and gone.  All in all, I'd say it went pretty well, though it was mildly chaotic.  My week can be summed up by the following:

Monday:  Fell out of bed when our alarm clock randomly started chirping.  Wrote 2011 on the board. (I'm pretty sure it hasn't been 2011 in about, oooh, 7 months and 26 days.)

Tuesday: Fell back into my snooze-button-hitting-habit...on day 2.

Wednesday:  Engagement photos, The Hunger Games and Season 6 of Dexter arrived. (Cue procrastination.)

Thursday:  Accidentally wore my slippers. all. day. long. (Which I can't say was horrible...)  Date night with B that consisted of Thai "take-out" (microwaved) and a big-screen (Smart board) movie.

Friday:  Couldn't keep up with my students, they were doing so much work. (Totally cool.)  Our big Fred Meyer grocery order arrived.  Had taco night with good friends.  Craved a glass (bottle) of wine.  Took Melatonin instead.

Saturday: Woke up at noon, ate the pancakes B made me, and immediately took a four hour nap. 

Now it's Sunday and even though there was a 40% chance of snow for the past two days--yes, it's the first weekend of September in Alaska, too...the sun is shining and I'm feeling pretty stoked for the new year.  I'm about 200% more prepared than I was last year, and my students came back ready to work. 

I've come to two conclusions so far:

1)  I should have waitressed this summer, liked I'd planned.  I'm completely out of "being on my feet all day" shape, and by Tuesday, my legs were reliving my multiple-double-shifts-in-a-row feeling of exhaustion.  For this I blame the countless summer hours I spent sitting in/by the pool/beach/lake/campfire/etc. (And enjoyed to the absolute fullest extent.)

2)  First year teacher adrenaline is no joke, and I should have bottled some up for this year.  Not that I'm not motivated or energized...I absolutely am.  And I'm even more excited this year than I was last year, because I seem to have a clue as to what I'm doing.  But I do not remember being ready for bed when the clock hit 3:40 last year.  Suggestions other than pounding 5-hour-energies are extremely welcome!!

As for other updates on the home front, I can't say there are many.  Life has fallen back into our hectic routine and we're loving it.  Brendan's cross country season is in full swing and he'll be traveling with a great group of kids to Koyuk in a couple of weeks.  

We made a major upgrade to our kitchen and invested in a dish'd laugh at all the time we have spent admiring it, so I won't tell you just how long that's been.  Our (extremely) humble abode is feeling more like home than ever...but our family and friends are in our hearts and thoughts every day!

Onto week two!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Year 2: "Welcome Home"

It’s a cold, windy, rainy August morning in Savoonga.  I’m curled up with a hot cup of coffee, the heat in the house is cranked up to 75 degrees and the water in the toilet is splashing around as the house shakes—it’s good to be home.

We had a whirlwind summer, to say the least.  We planned our wedding, traveled up and down the East coast, attended a record number of concerts and made the most of our time with family and friends.  My sister graduated from high school and is starting college this week.  My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer for a third time, and is once again kicking its ass.  We were lucky enough to be able to stay in Chelmsford with Brendan’s family and are so appreciative of all of the kindness and generosity that surrounded us the whole time we were home.

Between finishing my first year teaching and amidst all of the changes and obstacles our families have undergone and overcome throughout the past year, the summer was greatly needed and gave us ample time to reflect, refocus and reenergize.  We feel ready to tackle the year and face all of its ups and downs with an open mind. As difficult as it was to once again leave our family and friends, nothing can beat the feeling of being welcomed off the plane in Savoonga with a “Welcome home!” 

Here’s to a happy, healthy, productive and adventurous second year!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Motivating Mohawks!

Public schools and teachers nationwide prepare their students every year for the dreaded state standardized testing.  There are numerous research based methods, best practices, interventions and tried and true programs to get students ready to pass the exams.  While I don't think state testing is anyone's, (students' or teachers') favorite aspect of school, there is no point in adding any more stress to testing week by being negative.  Which is why on the eve of the first day of testing, Savoonga held a pep rally!

To show our students that we believe in them, and to get them pumped up for testing week, we offered them some fun incentives for bettering their scores and three daring staff members (Brendan included) even decided to let the students give them mohawks!!  I'm not sure they got anything academic out of the experience, but it did show our trust and support for them as they began the long week of testing.  It was really fun to be a part of and to see the kids in such a good mood even as the pressure state testing loomed ahead.  The mohawks on the heads of the staff members were a positive reminder throughout the week that we believe in our students and in their academic success.

My first week of state testing as a teacher came and went--time will tell how the students did.  Scores and proficiency aside, everyone has worked hard this year and I'm proud of them regardless.

We've had some other exciting firsts in the past couple of weeks!  Walking on water is probably the coolest.  We decided to take advantage of the Bering Sea being frozen and walked home across the ocean.  The pictures look just like the rest of the pictures we have taken here, white on white, but it was seriously cool.  We only came across one big crack, which freaked me out but didn't phase Brendan.  Every time we sunk in snow the least bit I prepared myself for water, but the ice/snow was so thick we never saw any.  PHEW!  We took the walk just in time too, because this weekend the temperatures rose and the wind blew the ice out, so it's back to freezing cold ocean.  The temperature in itself is another first--first above freezing temps since January!  Hello, spring!

While we haven't invested in a juicer yet, it's on the list for next year.  Luckily, our neighbor and good friend has one and invited us over for a school night juice session!  It still blows my mind that we have access to fresh, organic produce here and absolutely made my week to enjoy some fresh, yummy apple, beet, strawberry juice and good company. Parrot Curry is not to be excluded in that company.  Those of you that knew me in high school know that having a bird sit on my shoulder is a definite first, and that I've come a very long way.

The sun has been back for a while, but we get more of it at night than in the morning.  This past week the sun decided to peek over the horizon before school started!  It was a welcomed arrival and makes getting out of bed a little bit easier.  A little bit.

Brendan put his love of sports to work and reffed some Little Dribblers' elementary basketball games during the tournament that Savoonga hosted.  The kids were pretty cute running up and down the court, lofting up some crazy shots and wrestling for the ball.  Brendan didn't look half bad either in his ref uniform!  Plenty of fun was had throughout another busy weekend in Savoonga.

We are down to the six week home stretch!  Five weeks until graduation, six weeks until the end of school and seven weeks until we will be back on the East coast for the summer.  The next month and a half will be just as busy if not busier than the rest of the year and will surely go by just as quickly.  With the temps rising and daylight extending, we hope to get outside even more and enjoy every minute of it.

Enjoy the warm weather and sunshine that actually warms your skin for us!  Oh yeah, and Sam Summers, enjoy some of those for us too.  And save us several.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"It's Always an Adventure on the Frozen Rock"

 Wow, who's the worst at blogging on a regular basis? My apologies to anyone who has been looking for updates..we haven't disappeared into the Alaskan wilderness, we've just been insanely busy.  Blogging has been on my to-do list every week since November 12th, my last post, but keeps getting moved to the next week when I simply can't stare at a computer anymore after lesson plans, ITP submissions, Skype sessions and webinars.  My 26th birthday in February had me on a bit of a quarter-life crisis kick and I decided that I really need to learn how to find some balance in order to keep my (and B's) sanity.  In addition to getting back into yoga, making time every day to spend outside, (in the SUN!) and spending six instead of seven days in my classroom, writing tends to keep me in the blog is back in action.  As the title, a quote from one of our trusty Era pilots, suggests--it's been an adventure.

I could take up hours of your day, maybe even days of your week, filling in the blanks since my last blog, but since no one has that much time, I'll limit myself to the top 10 experiences we've had over the last four months. Yikes, that's a really long time.

10.  Holidays and Meals with New Friends

While we immediately felt welcomed and a sense of friendship among our staff, it has been a wonderful experience getting to know an amazing group of people this year.  I always tell people that ask about our experience, that it easily could have been a lot worse.  Somehow the stars aligned and we lucked out with awesome people to work with, a strong administration to work under and overall an inspiring group of people that we've learned more from than we ever expected.  Our first Thanksgiving in Alaska was spent in the MPR at school in good company with delicious food.  Some of our vegan contributions were even a hit!  Between planned and impromptu get-togethers and dinners, we've made some really great friends and definitely feel a sense of home in Savoonga.

9.  Christmas Vacation/Spring Break

Savoonga is definitely feeling more and more like home, but we’ve also been lucky to be able to make a couple of trips off the island this year.  Christmas vacation was spent on the East coast with our families.  A storm popped up the Friday afternoon that school was out, and taught us our first lesson in Bush travel. “The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.”   As I discuss with my students, this quote is true in everyone’s life at some point or another, but more often in Savoonga.

Anyway, break was great…despite an ear infection and a Christmas day trip to the ER. We were able to spend time with our families and friends, enjoy a few (too many) beers and we even caught a Bruin’s game. 

We spent Spring Break in California with Caitlin, Russ and Mac, relaxing and catching up.  We drove down Highway 1 along the coast from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, enjoyed mimosas and a walk on the beach, watched some surfers and RELAXED.  In San Francisco we enjoyed eating some delicious meals out (one of the things we miss most when we are in Savoonga,) and even caught an acoustic Guster show that was one of the coolest shows I’ve seen. It doesn’t seem possible that the trip has already come and gone.

8.  "Carpooling"

While this is not so much an event, but more of a routine…our mode of transport to school is pretty sweet.  Two of us are usually on the actual snowmobile and then we pile on whoever/whatever we can onto the sled.  The ride to school can be invigorating or relaxing, depending on the temps and the wind.

7.  Feeling Like a Teacher

This one might sound kind of silly, but it’s one of the best.  I feel like for the first half of the year I was running on adrenaline, not sure what I should be doing, relating more to being a high school student than to a high school teacher and just praying I’d make it through each day.  Somewhere along the line I figured out what was going on and am actually starting to feel like a teacher.  The days are going by faster, learning is happening (I think,) and I actually feel like I’m teaching the kids something.  Now when I’m planning my week I can actually visualize what will be happening, and I am definitely more capable of finding material my students will relate to.  I had multiple students asking me to “Please keep reading!” the last book we read, Bud, Not Buddy.  Those were some happy moments.  I feel a little less clueless, and hopefully so do my students.

6.  Following the Iditarod

Living in Alaska and following the Last Great Race on Earth has been a pretty exciting experience.  While I’m still not sure I 100% think it’s good for dogs to run 1000 miles in the freezing cold, people continue to assure me it’s in their nature.  (For those of you that know that Sampson needs a pillow, blanket and at least half of the bed to get a good night’s sleep, you know where this is coming from.)  But it was still cool to watch.  We actually came through Nome at the end…didn’t catch any finishers, but did feel the excitement and history in the air.  We flew into Nome with a family that was going to watch their dad finish…how cool would it be to be a little kid getting on a teensy little plane to go find your dad who just completed the Iditarod? AWESOME.  Unfortunately for Brendan, he started The Hunger Games (my bad) right as the race was starting, so I think he missed most of the excitement.  There’s always next year.

5.  Digging DOWN into the School

I won’t elaborate on this one, as I think the picture does it justice.  Just a little preview of the amount of snow we’ve had this year!  Yes, that's the roof.

4.  The Sun Coming Back

I don’t think I realized how much I missed the sun until it came back.  I think the least amount on daylight we had was about 4 hours, but it wasn’t direct sunlight.  A lot of people asked me if it was true about depression setting in when the sunlight went away.  Right off the bat I said no, but it definitely affected my energy. It was far too easy to sleep the day away on the weekends, and much too difficult to get motivated to go outside and be active.  The sun is out now for 12+ hours, and it’s awesome!  Maybe a little hard to get to sleep at night, but it’s much easier to get out of bed, go cross country skiing and enjoy the great Alaskan outdoors—one of reasons we came here in the first place!

3.  Signing Next Year's Contract

One of the biggest highlight’s of my year thus far—being asked to come back!  It was all at once a relief, a reinforcement and a motivator.  There are so many things I want to do differently (better) next year, and being given the chance to do it is such a wonderful feeling.  It was also pretty cool to be able to tell my students I’ll be back, and even see some changes in attitude once that realization set in.  We are so excited to be returning to Savoonga next year, and for all of the possibilities and opportunities that the new year will hold!

2. Experiencing the Aurora Borealis

If you want to feel small and insignificant while simultaneously feeling empowered, in complete awe and star struck, experience the Alaskan Aurora Borealis.  You can argue that it is solar energy/a flare from the sun.  It is.  But it’s also a good reminder that there is a whole lot out there that is out of your reach and control.  It was a phenomenal, grounding, inspiring experience for me.  I can’t wait to see more. (Pictures to come...)

1.     Feeling at Home in Savoonga

Last but not least, we are really starting to feel at home here.  We’ve managed to turn our house into our first little home and it’s a comfortable place to come home to after a long day.  We ran into some people from Savoonga when we were in Nome and received welcome greetings.  Yesterday as I was struggling home through the newly fallen snow, someone I didn’t know (but do now,) offered me a ride home.  Slowly but surely we are meeting new people, forming good relationships and feeling more comfortable.  The more I learn about my students, the better I am able to relate to and teach them.  They teach me about their culture and I share with them the things I know about the world.  Not every day is easy, in fact most days are not.  But at the end of the day we have learned something new and still have each other. 

I promise to make an effort to blog more frequently and keep everyone posted on our daily/weekly adventures.  I’ll leave you with a link to an article about the polar bears on our little island in the Arctic.  Enjoy!