Cold Hands, Warm Heart

My photo
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.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Union Negotiations

In an attempt to protect the innocent, no names or actual numbers will be used. I'll just tell some stories.

It all started last year, sitting on the couch at the district office, going to the yearly union meeting. It was time for new officers. In an attempt to be friendly, my new buddy nominated me for secretary, and then promptly slapped his hand over his own name-tag, in an effort to keep himself from receiving the same honor. I have since learned his name:  James the Wrestling Coach from Shaktoolik.  This is how we keep track of people. 

Since I did such a fabulous job being the secretary, I was nominated for the bargaining committee. Is it a great honor? No idea. I got to go grocery shopping, so that's a bonus, but I had to leave my kids for two days a week before state testing, so that's negative. I think I was useful. 

We started out asking for a lot, and they started out offering a little, and after 7 hours of negotiating, we reached a consensus.  7 hours is the shortest time I've ever heard of. We had two and a half days planned, with two more next month in case we couldn't agree this time.  Everyone says it was amazing how quickly we agreed on everything.

In the end, rent went up a little, and paychecks went up a lot, and we'll all have enough money next year to put gas in everything that needs gas. Way to go us.

Sorry this is so short, ladies and gentlemen, but I have no clever pictures for 10 people sitting at a table, and no one wants the blow by blow. I could give it to you, I took notes, but I won't bore you with it now.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Grocery Shopping

There are several ways to get food to the table here in Shishmaref. One of the fastest involves going out and and converting an animal into a piece of meat with the assistance of a small piece of magic we call "a bullet." 

Here are a couple boys with the leftover packaging, after they converted the caribou into steak.

Here is the meat. It's drying out. It can be re-hydrated later for use in soup. 

There is also fishing.
 These guys were probably caught in late August or early September, and were cleaned, split, and left to dry. They'll be eaten over the winter. 

Another popular way of getting food
 is to buy it at the store. While faster, it is more expensive to purchase one's food. It also requires one to make decisions not required while hunting. When hunting there is one choice: the animal in front of you, or hunger. At the store, there are more options.  Food is brought to the store one of two ways, in airplanes all year, or on the barge.
 We get two of these a year. The barge brings gasoline, furniture, and anything else too large to fit on the plane. If you'll notice, this one has a piece of construction equipment on it. 
 The Shishmaref Native Store has four isles, making it one of the larger stores in the area. 
Always available are: Pop, bottled water, canned milk, and juice are available at the store for drinking. It also has a pretty good selection of frozen foods, considering the size.
Mostly always available are: Cereal, flour, canned goods, and dried pasta. Frozen hamburger, banquet chicken.
Pretty regularly available are: Cheese, eggs, and margarine. Potatoes, and onions. Frozen chicken parts. Bread.
Less frequently available:  fresh fruits and vegetables. They had six heads of lettuce last time I went, and half a box of tomatoes. There was also half a box of oranges, so I got some oranges and tomatoes. The lettuce wasn't worth it. I saw bacon yesterday. Hamburger buns.
Very rarely, we'll get bananas or kiwi. Red peppers are unheard of, as are melons and bagged greens. Hot dog buns.
We don't get fresh milk, cottage cheese, or sour cream. 
(Don't even get tricked into thinking that tomato is from our store.)

While you could live on the supplies in the store alone, it might get boring after a while. Luckily, there are other options. One of them is to fly to a store in Nome, and bring back supplies like fresh meat and produce. This gets pretty pricey pretty quick, and is bulky to try to hide in luggage.

A phone call can be placed to Wal-mart or Fred 
Meyers, and they'll mail groceries in COD. Then one just has to go to the post office and pick it up.

Personally, I get most of my dry or canned goods (pasta, corn, flour, pineapple, etc) from Span Alaska sales in Everett, Washington. Then I get my fresh and frozen stuff from Nome when I pass through. Union training, and dentist visits have kept me in the meat. I also have an additional freezer so I can keep larger quantities of meat and tortillas than the average bear. 

If you see me over the summer, and for some reason I just can't get excited over canned pineapple, this is part of the reason. Things that used to be a treat, like canned Mandarin oranges, which I can no longer stand, just aren't as magical as they used to be. 

Another guy I go through, for unusual items, is Mike Werts, out of Anchorage. I fire him e-mails from the senior class, asking for 20 cans of nacho cheese, 15 boxes of chips, six boxes of peanut butter cups, 1000 Mr. Freeze, etc etc etc, and he just buys it, boxes it up, and mails it to me. He'll shop at Walmart, or Costco, or the grocery store. Really, he's just great. He gets a cut, but it's worth it, and his shipments get here in four to seven days, instead of 2-4 weeks, like items from the states take.  

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Favorite Visitor

One of the nice things about living in the bush is that I have a lot of friends. Or, more specifically, I have a lot of little kids who have me wrapped around their fingers. Which is okay for both of us. 

Today I bring you: The small people who have a large part of my heart. 
Carter in front, Harley behind. They are cousins, and the children of two of our teachers. This picture is from last year, they've grown since then. We're in my room, in the springtime. I'm supposed to be working. 

And this is what happened once they realized that I could take pictures. 

I'm trying to remember why he is in my room. After school, or a teacher workday, or something. So of course, I get the camera ready. Yup, he's winking at the camera.

For those that don't know, that's me on the left, and my precious "monkey" on the right.

Here are the older brothers of the other two. It took a lot of sneekyness on my part to get this. Ed, on the right, likes to hide from the camera. This is at a community feast this year. Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Harley in the front, his brother Jared in the middle-distance, and Rod way in the back. We're hanging out at my house. Which, if you'll notice, means we trade off the controllers for Mario Kart, since I only have two that work. 

This is my darling neighbor from the other side. Sometimes she comes to visit. We used to make cookies before I became the senior class advisor, and stopped doing things with my little buds.

Well, that's it for today. I just though you'd appreciate the wonderful little buddies in my life.

Friday, March 13, 2009

New Doorknob

Today, instead of a general idea of Alaskan life, I would like to share with you the events of my morning. I find them both amusing and action-packed, and I hope you do too.

7:25 Alarm Clock goes off "Beep Beep Beep" We're too far from any radio station to have a choice when setting the alarm. Beep is my only choice.

7:25:03 Hit snooze for the first time. The plan is to do this until the clock says 8:00.

7:30 The phone rings. Because of a previous event involving me sleeping in, and getting a call from the school, I take morning phone calls very seriously. I jump out of bed, wrap my blankie around me, and race for the living room, where I left
 the phone the night before.

7:31 Answer the phone. It's my Dad! He wishes me a happy birthday, and we chat until it's time for me to leave for school. Unfortunately, I'm still sitting on the couch wrapped in a blanket, instead of being dressed like I could be if I had a longer phone cord on the phone. 

8:13 We hang up, and I head to my room to get dressed.

8:16 Dressed in black pants, my tie-dyed green and white school shirt, and a camouflage handkerchief, because it's Friday!  I leave my room, ready to find my shoes and go to school.

8:17 Attempt to open the door so I can leave my house. It doesn't open.

8:17-8:25 Twist, pry, shove, rattle, and curse the doorknob. It refuses to open.

8:25 Claim defeat and call the school. Floyd is very sympathetic to my cause, and informs me that he will send help. 

8:26 Move the shelves away from the window in the kitchen so I can communicate with whoever shows up to save me. 

8:27 Try to open the window. Realize it's locked, unlock the window and try again. Realize that it was unlocked in the first place, it's just frozen in place. Unlock the window for real and pull harder.

8:28 Feel pretty proud of myself for opening the window. Realize that this is the least of my problems.

8:30 Greet the principal, and both maintenance men as they troop onto my porch. Watch my principal fiddle with the door for a minute, decide it needs the attention of the maintenance men, and leaves. 

8:32 Talk to the men as they work on the door. Go screw the doorknob in
 tightly, hoping that will help. Try to take the screen off the window so I can pass them my keys.

8:33 Realize the screen is also frozen in place. Watch Warren hit it with his Leatherman, breaking up the ice, while John works on the doorknob.

8:34 Listen as the maintenance men decide that taking the doorknob off is the best bet. 

8:35 Try to unscrew the doorknob from the inside while John twists and wrenches it from the outside.  Curse John for trying to pinch my fingers. Realize that the
doorknob is completely unscrewed, but still won't move. 

8:36 Return to the window, where the screen is mostly free. Use the screwdriver my dad gave me to pry it the rest of the way out. Silently thank Dad for getting me tools. 

8:37 Get a chair John can use to land on when he comes through the window.

8:38 Watch John break the doorknob, twice. 

8:39 Race to school, feel guilty about how late I am. Watch how no one seems to care.

8:45 Start school like a regular day!!

10:00 Receive new key for the new doorknob the maintenance guys are putting in. Wonder just how cold it's going to be in my house with the front door open for an hour.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Recess, at 20 below

Recess at 20 below is actually a book. Which, by the way, I've never read. Also, when it really is twenty below zero, we have recess inside. We actually have recess inside from Mid-October to the beginning of May. 

We do have playground equipment. It looks something like this. There's a slide or two, and some ramps, a climbing thing, etc. When it was put in, because there was no solid land to put it on, the guys putting it up had to sink all the uprights into 5 gallon buckets of cement. These were then buried, and the rest of the playground was built up around it. 

Last summer, when we came back from break, it because obvious that a lot of sand had blown away from the playground, and some more was brought in from somewhere else (where? I don't know, the whole island is sand, it's not hard to find) and piled up to make the toys safer. There was no longer a big gap between the bottom step and the ground. 

This toy is still fun to play with in the winter-time, to a certain point. In March, when the snow comes, it becomes difficult to walk on any of the ramps, or use any of the slides. Simply because we can't find them under all the snow.

Monday, March 9, 2009

December is the dark month, January is the cold month, February is the short month, and March is the snowy month

We have already had the opportunity to discuss December, and how it is the dark month. The fact that January is cold and February is short are self-explanatory, though we may discuss the cold later on. 
I would like to take today to show a couple pictures for those of you who are less than willing to believe me when I start telling stories about the snow.

This first picture is what I found when I opened the front door of my house on Sunday afternoon.  I shoveled it out, all the way to the ground, and actually found boards, but the next time I opened the door, it was like this again, so I gave up. I've started sticking the snow I shovel either into a rubbermaid tub to melt, or directly into the storage bin. This way, I have somewhere to put the snow besides on top of other snow that I'll have to shovel later. I heard from one of my aids this morning that they used a dustpan to dig themselves out, as their drift went higher, and they just didn't have the leverage. I'm not sure why this picture is so bright on the top, it was a rather dark and dreary day. Probably just a reflection of the flash.

I have told people about my snowdrift before. I have also mentioned the snow that piles up outside my door. It was once said that we don't really get snow that deep, just that the snow blows up against the door. In my defense, I would like to submit the following picture. Notice, if you will the snow piled up against the door, the very slight depression, and then the snow drift, you will see that my porch really is buried about as far as it can be.  In the back, you will notice Ken's house, and how he has his own drift starting. Between this drift and his house, there is a road. There were not a lot of people on it this day, for some reason.As a little piece of perspective, I offer this shot, which goes along the side of my house. You can see the length of this snow drift, and get an idea of how high it is. That's my door frame on the left, and the roof line at the top. The drifts in the front and back actually got so tall that high school boys climbed up them and walked around on my roof last night.  *Thanks high school boys, thanks.*  At the very end of the snowdrift, you can see, sort of off to the right hand side, the honey bucket bin (more on that later), and half obscured by the falling snow, Mary's house. Her house is only 12 feet away from the end of my house, and my house isn't that long.  To the right of Mary's house is her father Rich's house. It's only 4 feet away at the closest point. 
This morning, to avoid spending an hour digging myself out, I simply dug enough of a space to stand, so I could close the door. Then I climbed up on the porch railing, and rolled out into the road. Luckily, there are not a lot of people out and about at eight a.m. on a Monday morning.  

My plan was to borrow a shovel from the maintenance guys and dig a path back in this afternoon. Then I would spend parts of the evening digging out the rest of the porch, so it would look nice. In a bizarre twist of fate, the roommate wrenched her knee this morning, trying to follow my plan. I assumed she would dig herself some stairs to get up on the porch railing (not everyone is as freakishly tall or long-legged as I am) and roll also. Alas, she tried to follow my actual footsteps, which led her to a painful situation.  She talked to the principal this morning, and he sent a boy over to shovel the path open again. So there is one thing off my list of things to take care of. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Shortest Day of the Year

It is currently 5 p.m. and still light outside. I know what most of you are thinking: this is not a big deal. Saying it's light at four in the afternoon is like saying the sky is up, and rain falls down. Those of you, however, haven't spent a winter in Alaska. 

Actually, according to The Old Farmers Almanac, we have 10 hours and 42 minutes of sunlight today. By March 21st, we'll be at 12 hours, just like everyone else. 

Our shortest day of the year is on December 21st, the winter solstice. On that day, we had 2 hours, 49 minutes of sunlight. My first year up here, over Christmas break, I sat and watched the sun come up, go across the sky, and touch down. My own records say 1 hour, 55 minutes. 

In the weeks leading up to the solstice, and in the couple after, I find myself getting grumpy.
 Two or three hours of light is just not enough, even with our freakishly long dawn and dusk time. I started taking pictures, because I just couldn't believe that people had decided to form towns up here. Here are some of the pictures out of my classroom:
This one was taken at 12:10 p.m. That's Angie's Portable on the right, and Laurie's on the left, for those interested, and a sign welcoming people to the playground in the front. This picture is facing due South, and that bright spot is the sun, thinking about coming up.

Here's a couple minutes later, we've finally, fifteen minutes after noon, reached a level of light so that we can see outside without turning porch lights on. But we leave them on anyway, because of what's coming: 
Yup, sunset. And what time was this picture taken? 2:48 p.m. There the sun goes, setting over the tank farm. (Burying  tanks of gasoline and oil in a ground that undergoes 100 degree  temperature variations is not the best idea. So the tanks live above ground.)

Lest you feel too sorry for me, please remember that in the summer-time, the opposite happens. Mostly. The sun sets around 1 a.m. and rises again around 3. However, because of the freakishly long dawn and dusk, it never actually gets dark for weeks in a row. 

Here is an interesting piece of information I found out while I was looking up actual sunrise times, from the Alaska Science Forum, May 10th, 1976: 

Shortest Day--Shortest Night
Article #66

by T. Neil Davis

This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. T. Neil Davis is a seismologist at the institute.

Why, asks Mr. Jim Schneider of KUAC, is the shortest day longer than the shortest night?

Looking over sunrise-sunset times, he noticed that the shortest night (June 21) at Fairbanks is only 2 hours, 11 minutes long, but the shortest day (December 21) is 3 hours, 42 minutes.

Were it not for refraction of the suns's rays in the atmosphere, the shortest day would equal the shortest night at a particular latitude. Atmospheric refraction bends the rays so that they can pass over the horizon. Hence, the sun appears to rise before it actually reaches the horizon and it is still visible at night after it is actually below the horizon. Consequently, every day is longer than it would be if there were no refraction.

Hopefully this clears up any questions anyone has been having, and allows me to post some pictures while I was at it. 

For those of you who looked at those photos and thought to themselves, "That doesn't look so bad," I offer this: 
Remember that sign from the beginning of the post that welcomed people to the playground? That's it, sticking out of the snow behind that snow drift. The only reason we can see it is because the school is built up high enough to give us a view over the drift. And if you wonder where that snow drift goes, here is the rest of it:
These are not the best pictures, I took them with the laptop camera, and it's not getting the light right. I'll take more some other time. 

Thanks for listening. I hope you find this science stuff as interesting as I do. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Church in the Bush

When the Russians took over Alaska, they brought the Russian Orthodox church with them. As time passed and most of the Russians left the state, there was room for other schools of theological thought. Small missions sprung up in in the larger areas. When the time came to spread the word to the rest of the state, it was decided that it would be best just to divvy up the smaller town, as places like Shishmaref aren't big enough to support two churches. 

I'm not sure how it happened, but Shishmaref ended up Lutheran. I don't think the LDS were invited to the meeting, as I have not seen a single town that is all Mormon. Along with the English Language, stove oil, and frozen waffles, the Lutheran church has a big white church, and graves with white crosses on them, and a pastor who has to write "For Church Use" all over the box of wine (more on that in another post). 

When I first moved here, I had a roommate, Darcy. She was religious, and went to church every Sunday. I asked her if she minded going to a different church than the one she was raised in, and she said they were all about the same. Some of us, however, are highly attached to our religions, and don't want to leave them behind just because we move to the middle of nowhere. Enter the joy that is teleconferencing. 

My little congregation out here consists of people from little villages across the state. There are usually 15-20 families that call in on Sunday morning for Sacrament meeting. By the time we get to Relief Society, there's maybe nine women. 

Our branch presidency is based in Anchorage, and the rest of us just call in on teleconference. 
We can mute ourselves individually, so no one hears us anything going on on our ends. The presidency can also mute all of us, just in case. Prayers and talks are done over the phone, the passing of the sacrament is done in every little town that has a priesthood member. Songs are a little tricky, as there is a bit of a delay over the phones. If we all tried to sing in tune with everyone else, we'd really be behind, and they would hear us even after that. So songs are played at one place, and we all just listen, or sing along with-out sound on our end.

It's awkward sometimes. I don't ever know if I'm being heard. Maybe I'm just talking to myself here, and everyone else is wondering where I am. I know it doesn't sound like "Mute off" and "Mute on" could be confusing, but it's true, it's sometimes hard to tell them apart.

There's not a lot of time between classes to socialize, but we do get out faster than the average group. When I go home in the summer, and one class gets over, I wonder why everyone doesn't just automatically go to the next class. I get used to the idea of hanging out in the hall about the time I've packed for Alaska again. 

How do you like the pictures? I realized my blog needed a little something to perk it up. So far, I haven't really had anything to put pictures up about, so I've been snagging them online. As more relevant things come up, I'll post real ones.