Cold Hands, Warm Heart

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Nome, Alaska, United States
After getting burned out teaching high school in a tiny Alaskan town, I have moved on to being a child advocate in a small Alaskan town. The struggles are similar, but now I can buy milk at the store.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Piano Lessons

School has started again, meaning it's time to pick back up on the piano lessons that I let slide last spring. Okay, so my last lesson was in January. It just kept not working out, either I'd be out of town, or busy, or at work, or Lindsay would be. And, as we all know, I only do things when there is a deadline hanging over my head. Because of this, my poor piano sat abandoned all summer. Poor piano.

Lessons are on Saturdays, and I do most of my practicing for my lessons on Friday night and Saturday morning. Yes, I know, shame on me. This week, in an effort to not waste this opportunity I have, I actually practiced today, Monday. I also printed off a set of flashcards, because I should be able to recognize notes at this point, and I can't. It's really embarrassing when I hit a wrong note, Lindsay just looks at me, and I try to figure out which one it is without counting up from middle C.

Last year, when I was taking lessons, I'd sneak off to the coffee shop to practice a couple of times a week. When I moved into my current house, I was able to pick up a piano for free, because it needs some work. The piano tuner only comes out once or twice a year, and all she could really do is figure out how many keys were broken, and what parts she needed. There was no point in tuning the piano at that point, since it would need to be tuned again once the new parts were put in anyway.

For right now, I'm only playing in C and G position, so none of the broken keys are within my range. Unfortunately, some of the keys that are within my reach are horribly out of tune. Like, don't-practice-when-others-are-in-the-house out of tune. On more than one occasion, I've gone in for my lesson, played a piece on Lindsay's nice piano, and realized I recognized it once it was played correctly.

I'm not very good at what I'm doing. Like all art, I prefer to appreciate it as opposed to create it. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the "and crafts" part of "arts and crafts." It's a trait I've picked up living with my family. I can mass produce almost anything once I can take it apart. I think my past seniors and the 800 Valentines Day cookies we used to make are a testament to that.

I may never be a concert pianist. I may never even be good enough to play for sacrament meeting, but I'm glad I'm learning, if for no other reason than to entertain myself on the long Alaskan nights that are coming up.

We're past the equinox now, and are back under 12 hours of light a day. Here in Nome we lose about 6 minutes of daylight a day, so we can get down to the three hours we get on December 21st. It's already getting colder. I'm sure Daphne wishes I'd turn the heat up. I just can't bring myself to give up on the idea of summer yet. Not just yet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The two sides of my life

When I lived in Shishmaref, there was just my life. I felt no real split between my work life and my social life. It would have been near-impossible anyway. My roommate worked at the same school I did, most of our friends worked at the same school, and those that didn't were parents of kids from our school. When it was time to sit around in the evening and share the highs and lows of our days, they were all focused on our shared kids, shared administration, and shared activities.

In Nome, there is a large divide between my work life and my other life (church life? home life? social life?)

My personal life consists of Daphne, the cabin Fosters, everyone at church, Erin Forton and her circle, and the random people that I have met and befriended while living in Nome. (I'm looking at you, Nellie from Airport Pizza.)

Work has it's own set of people, situations, acronyms, and problems. And even my work life is split into two areas: those that work for Kawerak: Wellness, Headstart, Community Planning, IT, Accounting, etc and those that work for other entities but share cases with the Child Advocacy Center: Child Protective Services, Alaska State Troopers District Attorneys Office, Behavioral Health, Sexual Assault Response Team (nurses), Department of Juvenile Justice, etc.

In general terms, I can talk about anything I want with all of the above people. However, if I want to name names, give details, or get opinions on the more difficult parts of my job, it has to be someone from the second set of work people. It's not only wrong to burden my visiting teachers with the details of my day, it's also illegal. And for those who haven't worked in social work, it's hard to explain why I continue to do what I do, when everything I say about the job sounds depressing on the face of it.

You may be wondering where I'm going with this. Well, here it is: Since I choose not to discuss even the public aspects of my job (I'm sure it bleeds through, but it's accidental), and I'm no longer taking classes to use as conversational fodder, I sometimes feel like I'm stuck with the banal aspects of my life. Travel plans, who likes who, who said what about who, how I was told by a girl who was told by another girl that she asked a boy if he would date a certain girl, and he said no, and what that implies for everyone involved. (I would like to say that was a joke example; it wasn't.)

Because of this, I have decided to expand my mind in the following ways:

-Finish reading the "College Bound Reading List" given to me by Kathy Reim, my 11th grade English teacher. It is an impressive list, and I've highlighted the books off of it as I read them. I am, however, only a quarter of the way through the list. I'm starting up again with Wuthering Heights, based on the fact that it's already on my bookshelf.

-Start up on stained glass again. I unpacked my boxes with Sarah Hofstetter the other day, because she needed some glass for a project. I forgot how much fun I used to have making projects with glass. I'm gonna carve myself out a piece of the shed where I can start working on projects again. This will help fix the problem two ways: 1) keep me away from the situations where I find myself over thinking things and getting gossipy, and 2) give me things to work on inside when everyone is hanging out together. And yes, I mean setting up a stained glass Pinterest board.

-I feel that something about world news, politics, or scientific advancements should go somewhere here. Umm, I'm going to outsource that to the vlogbrothers.

Hopefully, with these changes, my personal life will stop feeling like a Jane Austin novel, and I'll find ways to de-stress from the job. I think these are positive changes.





Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Nome supplies

Here is a barge very similar to the one that brought my truck up in the spring:
Mine had, among other things, a couple boats, a camper, and a giant pile of lumber on it. This one seems to be mostly containers.

Here is a tanker. It may be bringing us our winter gas. Right now, because of hunting season, gas is on sale from $6.10 down to $5.97. We were all thrilled, and filled up our cars.

My guess is this: Gas doesn't go on sale. It doesn't have to. There are two places in town to buy it, and it's the same price at both. I'm guessing that the tanker is here to fill up the storage tanks, and they realized there was too much gas in them from last winter, so they're trying to sell off the old stuff before they fill up the tanks with the new stuff. But that's just a guess.

This guy has been sitting out on the horizon for several days. It must be frustrating for the men on the boat to know that they're this close to restaurants, pretty girls, and beds that don't rock, and still not be able to come in.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

New house, new friends, new couch.

I will not start this post with an apology for not writing in a year. This is mostly because I've checked my blog list, and most of the people I follow haven't either. So let's do a quick wrap-up of what has happened since January.

We got the house! The paperwork all went through, the interest rate was agreeable, and one of the nice parts is that it came mostly furnished. We've since bought new living room furniture, a new mattress for me, and a piano (the piano was free, getting it to my house was not).

An amazing man is renting my cabin. His name is Ian, and before he moved in, he was living in a house he built himself on West Beach with the other gold miners.

My cabin was not entirely suitable for human habitation, so we cut a deal where he would fix it up in exchange for a reduced rent. Here is what he did, (along with Scott, when he got here):

-Leveled
-Patched and painted
-Tore out the broken cabinets and installed new shelves
-Tore out the carpet (which Scott said smelled like a 70's porno) and put in new carpet/linoleum.
-Hooked up the stove/oven that Dad shipped up on the truck
-Moved furniture, including the fridge out of the shed, the couch out of the house, and the mattresses from the UPS truck.
-Got the water turned back on, and fixed all the pipes that had burst during the freeze.

During the remodel, they had no running water, so laundry, showers, and flushing all happened at my house. It was sort of like summer camp for them. We had the girl bathroom upstairs and the boy bathroom downstairs. The water is turned on now, and it's a nice little cabin, and the boys seem happy there. What they do not have, however, is internet. So they still have to stop in to check e-mail and go on Facebook.

For a while, we had a delineation, boys in the dining room, girls in the living room. Lately, we've gotten a bit more mixed, especially if we're watching Pitch Perfect, Star Trek, or Easy A in the living room. It's nice. It's cozy, it's family.

The job is still going well. I'm a lot more comfortable in it than I was. Our CAC educator and interviewer is getting super-pregnant, and will be taking her leave sometime in late September. I think we'll be able to carry on without her for a couple months. Not as well, of course, but carry on nonetheless.

Erin Forton had her baby, which means the cat will go back to her sometime this week or next, so that's exciting for me. Daphne has already admitted that she'll miss the cat, but it will be nice to walk into the back door and not smell the litter box. Additionally, Ian has been out of town for about a week, and will be out for another week, so we've got Bullseye the dog living at the house right now. He's more fun than the cat. He does tricks, enjoys being pet, and likes to snuggle for extended periods of time. He also likes going for rides in the car, which the cat does not. He and Daphne have to fight over the window seat in the car. Daphne doesn't like sitting in the middle, because there's not enough room for her feet. Bullseye doesn't like sitting in the middle, because he can't stick his head out the window.

Of course, driving around with the windows down will soon be a thing of the past. There was frost on the truck window when I woke up yesterday. Not cool, Alaska. Not cool. Theoretically, it's still supposed to be summer. I just kept reminding myself, over the summer, that I shouldn't complain about the heat, because I'd miss it when it left. We may get a couple of warm days later, but it's not looking good.

I am happy, content, and cheerful in my current situation, and that's a combination I've been looking forward to for a while.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fairy Tale


Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess. This princess went on many adventures, and fought many dragons. She had many loyal and faithful friends who helped her on her adventures, and made them exciting and wonderful.

One day, she was invited on an adventure by a fellow princess, who turned out to be a dragon in disguise. The princess was very sad, and didn't feel safe. She spent a lot of that adventure counting down the days until she could return to the castle, and let other people keep her safe. While she was on that adventure, she found out that there was trouble at home. The king had fallen under a spell, and there was nothing the princess could do to fix it.

When the princess was able to, she ran home as quickly as she could, and helped care for the king and queen, who, in turn, loved her unconditionally. There were some small adventures while the princess was back at the castle, but they mostly ended with her back at the castle. While it was nice to be at the castle, and nice to have people around who loved her unconditionally, the princess knew that she couldn't continue to stay there forever. 

The princess bought a new steed, a beautiful blue steed with an extended cab and 4-wheel drive. The princess was very proud of her steed. She also studied under some very wise men, and was able to finish her education. 

The princess realized that the king didn't need her help anymore, so she headed off on another adventure, leaving her new steed behind, because he couldn't follow her through the mountains she had to traverse to get to her new destination. Instead, he was going to get on a barge and meet her the following spring.

I wrote that part yesterday, but I just can't get myself back into the mood to write the rest of the story that way. (No more Nyquil, probably) so I'll just give the current update:

My job is going really well. I adore the other three women in my office. I feel like I'm doing good in the world. Also, when I get lost, I just have to remind myself that I went to school for 4 years and did a semester of student teaching before I was able to teach students, so I shouldn't worry if there are things I don't understand after 3 months.

I am having a really good time in Nome. I've been to several events hosted by the Nome Arts Council, including an open mic night where I recited The Road Not Taken. I'm also taking piano lessons, and while I'm not a naturally gifted player, I'm doing okay. 

Also, I'm in the middle of buying a house. It's 3 bedroom, and has a rental cabin in the back. My offer has been officially accepted, and tomorrow the inspector and I go through it, to make sure it's okay. Then it's just down to the finance guys, and I get to move in on Valentines Day. So that's exciting.

Friday, November 1, 2013

New things to do, new things to learn

Okay the internet, here's the deal with the new job:

1) I've been there three weeks, and I don't even know if it's mine or not. Interviews are next week, and then recommendations are being made to the president, who will decide if I should keep my job, or if the other woman who applied for it should get it. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal, but the corporation is a native-owned one, and as such, have native first hiring preferences built into their bylaws. My one hope is that she got bad references and forgets to show up for the interview.

2) The ladies in my office, Luella, Stacy, and Traci are amazing. They are funny, and kind. They are all super-good at their jobs, and are teaching me a lot. Stacy convinced me to fill out a foster-parenting application. I'm halfway through with it.

3) We are working on a project right now to remodel the interview room. Partially because it has poor microphones in it, and partially because it's boring and ugly. The paint is WAY too bright, there are no comfortable grown-up chairs, and the sound echos both into and out of the room. I've been working on improving the sound quality in the room (acoustic panels and thick rugs) and Luella is working on microphones and furniture. We're also working on a Rasmuson grant to help pay for it, as our office is entirely grant funded.

4) I don't get to talk about the kids I meet there. Not their ages, genders, or reasons for visiting. Nope. Nada.

5) I am currently working on a project where I make coloring books, and age appropriate books and toys in bags for the clients when they come. Today I bought $50 worth of beading supplies, and will spend a chunk of time next week making baggies of bracelet making kits.

In other news, I've started writing my novel for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which started today. I'm 850 words in, so that's going. Also, I start piano lessons tomorrow morning, and I'm taking a pottery class through the college starting Monday. I wasn't planning on all these things starting at the same time, but I think I'll be okay. One of the ways this job most surprises me is that when I clock out at the end of the day, I'm done. Like, done-done. There's no work to take home, in fact, I shouldn't take work home. And since I'm being paid by the hour, the company doesn't really want me to stay until all hours working overtime.

Life in Nome is a bit of an adjustment, but I think I'm doing fine.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nome, Alaska


Recently, my mother posted on Facebook about how very few of her children were staying current with their blog posts. I reminded her that the URL for my blog is "Colleen in Alaska," and it was about my adventures teaching. Since I was both unemployed and not living in Alaska. I felt very justified in not updating this. Now I'm back in Alaska, and working with children again. So while the premise changes a little, the overall theme of the blog doesn't. Let's go back and recap the summer:

As my time in Akiachak came to a close, I looked for jobs on the road system, and also down in Washington. I didn't want to be more than one flight or a 4 hour drive from home. This limited me to areas with major airports, or Western Washington. 

I returned to Washington, moved back in with mom and dad, and started applying for jobs locally. I applied for jobs, and more jobs. I got an interview out at the ocean, and thought it went well, but... I also received rejection letters. Lots and lots of rejection letters. Some through e-mail, some were actually written on paper and mailed to me. They depressed me. A lot. I'm not sure how authors do it. I'd go through the mail, open a rejection, and go lay in my bed and cry for a while. It got bad. I got depressed. I kept filling out applications, but I figured nothing would happen. And I was right, nothing did.

Then a job opened up in my hometown, and I was stoked. This! This right here! This is the reason I hadn't gotten another job! I was destined to stay in Woolley, get a job, buy a house, get a dog, and live the rest of my life out as planned. Mom and I went to the open house that that particular school was hosting, only to find that they weren't actually hiring someone. They just had to post the job so they could hire the woman they already had picked out. And something in my broke. I couldn't even hold out until I was home to break down and sob. I felt like such a failure as a person. I couldn't get a job, I had few friends left in the area, and I didn't even have a dog.

I texted Matthew that night and asked if I could come to Utah for a week-long vacation. I'd been avoiding spending a lot of money, or taking too much time away from looking for work, after all, what if I went on a vacation and got a call for an interview!? 

So I gave up and went to Utah to visit family and friends. I had a fantastic time. I saw friends and family, I bought Kendall licorice, and we looked at horses. And, during that time, I was offered by four households to move in with them while I looked for work. And I know that my personal self esteem shouldn't be influenced by outside sources. I know that I shouldn't feel like a failure just because I was unemployed, and I shouldn't feel good about myself just because my friends loved me. Oh well, that's how it works.

One of the offers of residence was from one Miss Erin Margaret, in Nome. She owns and runs a coffee shop here, the Bering Tea. She needed a vacation, and wanted someone she trusted to oversee her employees and drink hot chocolate. I figured I was qualified for that. She also informed me that if I wanted, I could probably get a job or two while I was here. In fact, if you don't get a job in Nome, it's because you're not trying.

So I agreed to come up for a month. And once a couple people from a couple different HR departments found out I was coming, and with a strong recommendation from a different friend, I had people calling me. Then, this other friend, Traci, called me herself, and let me know that she had an opening for a child advocate at the Child Advocacy Center, which she ran. Since I already had an application in for Kawarek, the local non-profit, all I had to do was send my paperwork to her, and she offered me a job.

So now I'm in Nome, training to be a child advocate, and waiting for my boxes to show up. I'm renting a house with Erin, and looking into buying a 4-wheeler, which I can drive on the streets, all winter. This would be less expensive than shipping my truck up, and it gets better gas milage than a real car. I work half just about exactly half a mile from work, so while it's a nice walk home, the 8 am walk in is less than pleasant on some days. And soon we'll get snow.

More information to follow as I continue my training and become more integrated into life here in Nome.