Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Attack of the Teacher

Parent Teacher Conference days are so long and intense!  And for some reason we don’t get a day off like most L48 teachers do to make up for the over-contract time . . . let’s hope we at least get financially compensated.

There are occasional rewards to teaching in the bush, though.  On my street-lit  5-minute walk back home (take that, Gambell!), I spied three of my four girl students walking across the village square.  I quickly hid behind a snowbank and made a few snowballs.  When they got closer, I pelted them with snow and then tackled them.  One girl pretended to be dead, so we held a mini-funeral.  When she wouldn’t get up, I threw some snow down her coat.  We had a little snowball fight and then planned our sleepover party for next week. 

Down in the Lower 48, I would be concerned about a few lawsuits. 

Up here?  This is just life as a bush teacher.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Riding the Bus is SO Lower-48

In the village, I answer to a lot of names.  Collier.  Ms. Collier.  Megan.  Teacher. 

Almost always, my class calls me Teacher. 

It’s like stepping back a hundred years into the old prairie one-room schoolhouses, except I’m on the tundra and I teach only half of the elementary in one-room (not all of it).  So instead of Little House on the Prairie, it’s like Little House on the Tundra.

Anyway, now I have a new name: Coach Collier.

If you know me at all, you are either laughing or holding your breath out of sheer shock.  Trust me, though, it’s not a joke.  I am co-coaching High School Volleyball just like I did in Gambell. 

Our first game was an away game this weekend.  Since the villages are all so far apart, we have to fly to all our away games.  This one was a tournament against Alak School (Wainwright, AK) and Kali School (Point Lay, AK) in Point Lay.  Point Lay is about an hour west from Atqasuk, situated on the northwest coast of Alaska.

We left at 2:30 on Friday afternoon on the Beechcraft 1900 (a 19-seater operated by Era Aviation).  We picked up the Wainwright team and then arrived in Point Lay at about 4:00 pm.  We had just enough time to unpack the plane, unpack the bus, sort out the uniforms, warm up, and stretch before our 5:15pm game against Wainwright. 

Wainwright is arguably the most aggressive volleyball team in the district.  They went to state last year.  They brought 11 players, a huge playbook, and all sorts of fancy gear.

We brought exactly 6 players, no plays, and the gear that Wainwright let us borrow for the past month.

So, we lost.  We ate after that game, and then played another match against Point Lay.  We won that match, watched Wainwright kill Point Lay, and then we played our scheduled massacre with Wainwright in a third match.

We all slept on a classroom floor, and woke up before the sun (though that’s not saying much during an Alaskan October) to play our fourth match against Point Lay.  We lost the first set because two-thirds of our team doesn’t function well in the morning.  We lost the second set because we are sore losers.

So that’s that.  We hopped on the Beechcraft when it came to pick us up in the middle of a blizzard, and rode the turbulence all the way to Wainwright before landing in Atqasuk.  Magnus was our pilot on this flight, so none of us were exactly sure we were going to make it back to the village alive. 

Every pilot in the bush has a reputation that proceeds him or her. To my knowledge, Magnus has never crashed a plane.  But there are stories statewide of near misses.  Rumor has it that he’s Swedish and has a wife in Thailand, but he’s been flying in Alaska for nigh on 30 years.  Every time I see him pull up in a plane that I’m scheduled to ride in, I say a quick prayer.  If he’s flying, you can expect extreme turns, quick take-offs, and even quicker descents.  Landings are usually crooked and at a 45-degree angle until just about the time you feel like you could grab a handful of snow if the windows were open.

We did make it make to Atqasuk in one piece.  Most of the team was sleeping by the time we got near the village.  We were all awake for the landing, though, because Magnus scared us out of our sleep.  One player awoke screaming our descent and turn happened so rapidly!  No one really laughed at her though, because none of us were sure that the scream was unwarranted.

Anyway, it’s nice to be back in Atqasuk with a comfortable bed and no teenagers to herd around.    I will have to spend all of Sunday lesson planning for this week, unfortunately. 

This weekend was fun, but I could use a real break.  Sometimes I feel like it would be nice to just have a 9-5 job.  Teaching is tiring and exhausting.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Arctic Hikes and Northern Lights

I started the day with a very simple, relaxed plan:  read a book, catch up with my blogging, and maybe write a few letters. 

I ended the day in the back of a police vehicle, looking out the barred windows as the northern lights set the sky ablaze.

Do I have your attention now?

My plan for a quiet Saturday away from the school was effective for about 2 hours.  I slept in until about 10:00am, ate some breakfast, and read a book for an hour or so.  I know you’re thinking that this is boring stuff to blog about, but de-stressing time happens so rarely that I view it as a blog-worthy event. 

It wasn’t meant to last, though, because Mary Ellen called and invited me on a walk.  If you know Mary Ellen, then you know  that she actually means ‘trek’ when she says ‘walk.’  I should mention that even a small walk requires preparation on the Slope  Our winter is starting to set in (think snow-covered tundra, iced-over ponds, and twenty degree weather), so we put on our early winter outfit.  I wore my silk long johns, jeans, wool socks, hiking boot, two hats, snow mittens, fleece jacket, and parka (with my new fox fur ruff).  In a few weeks I will need to add a layer, but it’s not that cold yet. 

Once Shannon and I had geared up for the walk, we met the rest of our walking party at the principal’s house (where Mary Ellen also lives).  Mary Ellen’s boyfriend (a local native) and the principal Kathy also joined us on the walk.

The snow is perfect for packing and shaping!  I made little snowmen during the first half hour of the walk and left them on posts on the side of the road. 

There was about an inch on the ground, though there was up to four inches in places where the snow gathered in crevasses.  All of the tundra streams and ponds froze over about two weeks ago, so it’s a bit easier walking now. 

We meandered outside of the village a ways with no clear destination in mind.   We took a Honda trail south of Atqasuk, and then went west a little to a small fishing hole.  We stopped to take pictures because it was absolutely gorgeous.  You could see right through to the bottom where all the arctic grayling were swimming.

We then backtracked east and walked right past the airport just as the afternoon flight was arriving.  We stopped and waved our arms really big, and the pilot tipped his wings side to side in response before landing on our little gravel airstrip. 

A faint Honda trail led us to one of the old coal mining sites.  Atqasuk was a coal-mining community in the 1940s and 1950s, and all of the old buildings and equipment was just left abandoned when the coal mine closed.  There are old stoves and machines everywhere in this area . . . even inscriptions in coal mining shack walls that date back to the 1940s. 

We even saw some people out ice-fishing (quite successfully).

By this point, we were hungry and sore so we headed back to town.  We all changed into warmer (and dryer) clothes, and then met back up for homemade pizza and card games.  The villagers on the Slope are big Nertz fans (though they call it Snertz), so we brushed up on our nertzing skills.

It was a long and satisfying day that left us all exhausted and tired.  We put in an episode of the Big Bang Theory, and planned to call it a night after the episode ended.

Of course, plans in the Alaskan bush never go as scripted.  At about 11:30 pm, my cell phone rang.  We have no caller ID in Atqasuk (really, I’m grateful that my phone even works at all), so I had no clue who was calling me.  I mean, who do I know that would call me at 11:30 pm Alaska time? 

I thought I recognized the voice as Ray, the police officer on duty.  However, I couldn’t figure out how he would have got my cell number . . . so I wasn’t sure that it was him.  He never identified himself on the phone, either.  He kept saying he was coming to pick me up and wanted to know where I was. Strange, right?  I was even more confused when he said he was going to leave Dave (our counselor) behind so there was room in the vehicle.

Mary Ellen and Shannon were listening to my end of the conversation, and asking me what was going on during this whole time.  They asked me who it was, and all I had to say was ‘I’m not sure; this conversation isn’t going well.’  They asked me what was going on, and all I could think of to say was ‘I’m not sure, but he wants to pick me up and I think he already has Dave hidden somewhere.’

About ten seconds later the police cruiser drove up with red and blue lights shining.  Naturally, we threw on our boots and parkas . . . and jumped in the back of the police car.

Sure enough, it was Ray.  He was out on patrol when the northern lights started up.  He picked up Dave, drove out to the airport (where ironically there are the least manmade lights) to watch them, and decided that I should see come out to see the northern lights, too.

Once we got all the sheer ridiculousness straightened out, we all drove out to the airport where Dave was standing on the runway watching the northern lights all by himself.  (Good thing there weren’t any bears around today, right?)  We watched the lights through the bars of the car windows until Ray let us out of the back cage. 

It was well worth the craziness, as I’ve never seen northern lights of this magnitude before!  They were bright green, white, and sometimes purplish.  It is so hard to describe the movement . . . the lights actually dance and twist across the sky.  It looks so alien and foreign—like if you close your mind to everything you know is true about your place in the universe, you might be on another planet somewhere out in the void.  The whole thing seemed so beautifully unnatural.   

My camera doesn't even begin to do it justice.

We probably stood out there half an hour, just watching the dance.  The lights would form a tight, twisting tunnel from one end of the sky to the other, and then spread into a starburst across the entire sky within moments.  The colors rippled across the sky with increasing levels of brightness and intensity.  We are so far north that the northern lights are directly overhead (not in the northern sky).  They fill up the entire overhead dome in the most incredible and dreamlike way.  It’s impossibly surreal.

Ray drove us home after we were too cold and too tired to stand on the runway any longer.  I can honestly say I’ve been in the back of a police car more often since I moved up here than in my whole life prior.

I fell asleep about five minutes after getting home, without writing a single letter or blog post.

Life in the Alaskan bush is outlandishly unpredictable – and that’s half the fun of it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bear-ly Alive

Not much has happened lately.  I’m just working much longer days than is probably healthy and stressing out about things I should probably just let go. 

I left school today and was bombarded by a flock of kids.  They had obviously planned this ambush as they were well-armed with piles and piles of snowballs.  I tackled a few, ran behind a snow bank, and threw a few hastily packed snowballs of my own.  Twenty minutes later, I finally made it home.  These are the moments that make living in the bush bearable.

Speaking of bears, there have been a LOT of brown bears in the area during the past month.  A few bears got pretty close to the village and everyone was worried that the teachers would get eaten.  Nobody has yet.

In other news, one of the teachers left for good.  No warning, no conversation . . . all we found was a letter on an envelope.  He just got up one morning and left on the morning plane.  It’s being called ‘medical leave,’ but we all know he’s not coming back.

One of my friends in Barrow said that a teacher there did the very same thing last week.

It is hard out here in rural Alaska, and I realize it is unfair to judge another person in this situation.  Still . . . a contract is a contract, right?  And even more importantly, there is a level of decorum and professionalism that should be ever-present no matter the situation.   I can’t imagine just getting on a plane without so much as a word or explanation.  In the military, that would get you sent to the brig.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Impressions

It's amazing how two districts can be so different.

So far, I am super impressed by NSBSD.  They seem to generally have their act together.  More than that though, they aren't so enamored with themselves that they forget to be normal people.

I'm not saying *my last Alaska district, which I won't say but you could figure out* didn't have its advantages.  *My Last Alaska District, code-named MLAD* functions under a completely different (and far more superior) technology paradigm than the North Slope, and their district library system is more thorough.

That's about it, though.  North Slope beats them in every other category.

First off, let's just address the money issue.  The pay with NSBSD is better, for both salary and added duties.

The housing is better.

The administration is better, at least in my village.  I absolutely ADORE my principal!  She isn't afraid to say her mind, and she sticks up for her staff.  She doesn't drink the district brainwashing juice (so to speak).  I am so terrifically lucky this year!  It will be a dream to have a principal that is supportive and NORMAL.

And honestly, the attitude is better.  I have not heard anybody ONCE utter the phrase 'You just have to understand.  This is the BUSH.'  (translation:  Things are screwed up.  Accept it because we're too lazy to do anything about it.)  I probably heard that phrase twice a day with MLAD.

There aren't excuses here, and I like that.

There are quite a few MLAD transplants on the Slope this year.  I think that speaks volumes.

I like the people I've met.  Well, for the most part.  The hiring for this year was a bit unfortunate for me personally, as the district exclusively hired people with bush Alaska experience.  I'm the only single female new hire, and one of the few on the Slope.  I also appear to be the youngest . . . the average new hire age was somewhere around 45 years old.  There are a few young couples that I enjoy; Devin and Colby in Point Lay are two of my favorite people on the Slope thus far.  Let me sum all that up for you:  there is not a single male teacher in sight.  *sigh*

The Prudhoe Bay workers would find my dilemma hilarious and terribly ironic.

Really, the biggest downside is that NSBSD blocks Facebook.  I feel like there must be a workaround, but I find the whole thing a bit insulting.  They say it is a 'security' issue, though if you ask another time they might tell you it is a 'FERPA' issue or a 'bandwidth' issue. Really it's a 'trust' issue; they don't trust us not to Facebook during the workday.  It is a power play that I find distasteful.  I am determined to find a way around it.

Anyway, that's it for today.  There won't be many pictures to post during the next two days.  I just sit on a metal folding chair all day and watch powerpoint presentations . . . trust me, you aren't missing anything.

Monday, August 1, 2011

To Barrow We Will Go

I spent a *short* day in Atqasuk, and then NSBSD yanked me out of the village.  I had just enough time to figure out what I needed to do . . . but not enough time to do any of it.

Now I'm in Barrow for a TEN DAY New Hire Inservice.  They better have something thrilling and groundbreaking to present; ten days is an awful long time!  Luckily, they are paying us per diem so I should earn a little over $2000 for this trip to Barrow.  I'll take it.

A little Caravan bush plane came to pick a few of us up in Atqasuk, and we flew a whole 20 minutes back to Barrow.

(Actually, none of the seats in this plane are from the original caravan.  They have cannibalized a couple of older planes to outfit the inside of this one.   This card is essentially useless.)

(Our friendly Era pilot.  No co-pilot is assigned to a bush plane this small.)

(Usually, they throw in 5-6 seats and use the back area for mail/cargo.  Nothing to go out of ATQ this time, though.)

 The district is putting us up in a hotel, can you believe it?  BSSD would have us on classroom floors and showering together in public locker rooms.  No lie.  NSBSD is paying for us to stay at The Top of the World hotel for 9 days.  Are you curious how much that costs?  I took a picture of the receipt.  

No, you're not reading that wrong.  It cost NSBSD over $2000 in lodging just for me during this inservice.  Plus the $2000 they are paying me to work during this time.  Plus all the food expenses.  You can start breathing again.  I know. I know.  (Multiply that times 50 new teachers . . . repeat after me: oil money.)

Mercifully, there was nothing planned for us today.  Shannon and I went the fur shop to see what they had in stock . . . and got sucked in to a few major purchases.  :-)  I was wanting a new ruff for my parka anyway, and they had some gorgeous furs in their store!!  I bought an entire arctic fox fur pelt for my red parka.  The face is even still attached, whiskers and all!  It is mostly white with some black tipping (the season was probably changing when it was caught).  Shannon bought two chocolate arctic fox pelts since she is having a traditional parka made in the village for her . . . I won't even tell you how much that cost.  It's more than you think.  

(It's so SOFT!  I couldn't wait to try it out!)

We dropped the furs off at our hotel room, and then walked 20 feet to the northernmost Mexican restaurant in the world.  :)  Dinner at Pepe's North of the Border Restaurant is too good a bragging right to pass up!

(Yes, that is an Eskimo in traditional Mexican dress.)

If I didn't know any better, I would have thought I was back in Oklahoma!  Well, except that my Dr. Pepper cost $3 and was brought out in a can.  No refills here, I guess.  In summation: the food was good, the prices were insane, and the experience was priceless.  

Inservice starts tomorrow, bright and early.  I have no idea what to expect, except that this inservice will be WAY different than my Arkansas inservice would have been!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Over the Arctic Circle

I crossed over the Arctic Circle today!  I spent the day flying over the length of Alaska, and after four ‘airports’ I am ready to spend some time on solid ground.

I left Anchorage way too early in the morning for any sane human being to be awake.  If you’ve never flown in bush Alaska, you may never have seen the Boeing 747 Combination planes they have up here.  Since there isn’t a mad rush for passenger seats between Anchorage and rural Alaska, they have special planes built for carrying half-passenger and half-cargo loads. Locally, they are called Combis.

 The front half is a cargo hold, and the back half is dedicated to carrying passengers.  There is no way to back a plane that big onto a skywalk bridge, so you have to exit the airport down a flight of stairs and walk across the Anchorage tarmac to the Combi.  Once you arrive at your destination in rural Alaska, you exit off the plane onto the tarmac and walk into a terminal building.  To my knowledge, there are two of these Combis in Alaska.  One of them flies the western route to Kotzebue/Nome, and the other flies the northern route to Fairbanks/Prudhoe Bay/Barrow.  Sometimes the Combi skips a few of those cities and takes a direct flight, and sometimes it jumps inbetween all of them.

Apparently, I purchased the milk-run flight to Barrow . . . so my Combi plane made a stop in Fairbanks.  And then Prudhoe Bay.  And then Barrow.  This made a long trip even longer, but I did meet some interesting people along the way. 

On my flight to Fairbanks, I sat next to the Vice President of Alaskan Operations for BP.  Of course, it was evident he didn’t know a thing about Alaska after only twenty minutes of conversation.  If you have to ask me why somebody can’t drive a car from Anchorage to Dillingham, you shouldn’t be Vice President of any kind of Alaskan Operation.

On my flight to Prudhoe Bay, I sat next to an oil rig worker who was about my age.  Actually, most of the flight from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse) was primarily oil workers coming up for a shift change.  The guy next to me said that they work something like 6 weeks on the Slope, and then get 6 weeks off.  It seems like a hard job, but I know the money is fantastic.  He was saving up to build a house in Houston, Alaska.  Lots of people in Southern Alaska work on the North Slope with the oil companies just to make ends meet.  I asked him what it was really like, and he said that ‘There is a girl behind every tree.’  There are no trees on the North Slope of Alaska, once you get yourself past the Brooks Range.  They shouldn’t complain, though, because I was pulling lightning 3G speed on my iPhone just sitting on the plane.  Even Barrow can’t boast that.  Also, Prudhoe Bay has these really cool FAKE bald eagles sitting on their tarmac . . . to ward off birds, I imagine.  A bird hit is not good for a plane, no matter the size of the bird or the plane.  (Personally, I think they should have REAL American bald eagles trained for the job . . . talk about outsourcing).

(This is a picture of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, from the air.  It's much bigger in real life, with space enough underneath for animals to travel through unimpeded).

I got in Barrow around 10:30 am after 6 hours of flying and sitting on tarmacs.  It’s a funny little town of about 4,000 people.  Unlike Nome, Barrow is technically still a village.  The tourist trade isn’t as kitchy here, and it functions just like any small town might.  There is a library, a museum, an elementary school, a middle school, a high school, a police department, a fire department, a pool, a skating rink, a few Chinese restaurants, a cafĂ©, a Japanese restaurant, two pizza places, a fur shop, and a grocery store.  You can find anything you might need in Barrow . . . for a price, and don’t expect a choice between brands.  Even still, it’s better than most village stores.

I spent some time at the district office meeting people, and then hopped on the 4:00 pm Era Aviation flight to Atqasuk with 3 dozen eggs and a half-gallon of milk on my lap.  (Have you ever thought about what you can’t get without a Wal-Mart or direct flight to Anchorage?)  If you have seen that show ‘Flying Wild Alaska’ on the Discovery Channel, this is the same little airline with little bitty airplanes.  Actually, the second episode of the first season highlighted Barrow and Atqasuk.  You should watch it sometime.

My fellow Oklahomans will find this piece of information interesting:  Will Rogers and Wiley Post (Oklahomans) crashed their plane in Barrow . . . so the airport is named after them, just like in Oklahoma City!  It's kind of weird to have started the journey at Will Rogers International Airport and nearly end it at the top of the world at Will Rogers/Wiley Post Memorial Airport.  

My little plane landed on the gravel airstrip in Atqasuk about 20 minutes after leaving Barrow skies.   It is so nice living so close to a hub!  A 90 minute flight over the Bering Sea from Nome to Siberia sounds exotic, but trust me it gets old and uncomfortable in a hurry. 

Atqasuk seems like a quaint little Alaskan village.  More to come when I know more about the town . . . for now, I’m ‘bushed’ and it’s time to get some sleep! 

Friday, July 29, 2011

I Love Anchorage (even if nobody else does)

I absolutely love Anchorage.  Most bush teachers that I’ve met always say they hate Anchorage.  I think they are just jealous that they haven’t gotten an Anchorage job yet.  J   Sure, it’s a city . . . it’s not the middle of now where – but you can get to ‘nowhere’ within a half hour’s drive.  The treed mountains are gorgeous, and the trail system in Anchorage is unsurpassed in all the world.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to enjoy Anchorage this time.  I was only in town a short while, and most of it was spent running around like a mad woman buying food.  If I didn’t have to eat, it would be ever so much easier to live in the bush.  As it is, I have 10 million pounds of pisachios and chocolate raisins making their way to the North Slope (along with $800 worth of other food).  I made sure to get a good variety this time; I still can’t eat mandarin oranges without suffering Gambell flashbacks.

In other news, my Anchorage cousins are moving again!  Last time I came through in 2009-2010, they moved houses within the city.  This time, they are moving away from Alaska!  They’ve tried to move away from me every year . . . maybe I should take the hint!  ;)

I fly out SUPER EARLY in the morning to Barrow/Atqasuk, so it’s time for me to sleep.  I will post pictures soon!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

North to Alaska

It’s a fantastically beautiful day in Anchorage!

I left Oklahoma City way early in the morning today.  I’m always so sad to leave home, but I just keep telling myself this is the right thing to do.

Usually, I fly OKC-Dallas-Seattle-Anchorage.  However, a new flight from OKC to Chicago was added since I last lived in Alaska, so I chose that one.  Then I took the Chicago to Anchorage flight, and I realized why this choice has not always been offered.  It is a SUPER LONG flight!  Six hours is a long time to be in a plane and stay on the same continent.  Luckily I had my new Quiet-Comfort Bose headphones, and it was silent the whole time!  Seriously, if you travel often on planes, this is the way to go.  You can’t hear a thing.

The guy sitting next to me on the plane to ANC was the VP of Alaskan Operations for BP.  I have no idea why he was flying coach.  He didn’t know a thing about Alaska either; he told another girl she should drive from Anchorage to Dillingham because the landscape is beautiful.  Someone needs to tell him that there is NO ROAD from Anchorage to Dillingham. 

Mary Ellen and her daughter picked me up at the Anchorage airport.  She worked with me in Gambell, and will also be at Atqasuk teaching with me.  She’s an older lady, but we get along famously. 

Our most important item of business was to find a set of cats.  We both wanted a kitten to take with us to the village.  One of the hardest parts about living away from home is not having a live-in furry friend.  We were looking for a kitten about 3 months old with all their shots.  After taking a caffeine break, we set out on the hunt.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a 3 month old cat in Alaska?  This is not cat country.  We looked at Animal Control, on Craigslist, the SPCA, and finally Petsmart.  I finally found the PERFECT cat at Petsmart.  And then, the adoption process began.  I had to fill out a two page application.  They wanted to meet any human that would live with or around the cat.  They needed to call two references (my mom and my vet in Yukon, Oklahoma).  They also called the plant manager for Meade River School, and checked out my employer reference in Barrow. 

It’s not looking good for me and the cat.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Battle of the Books

Funniest Find Award: I store some stuff in the attic (because there's no more room in my room). I found two books with their front covers stuck together, presumably because it's been 1094 degrees in Oklahoma for the past month.

I'll let you figure out why I found this pairing hilarious.

Irony is the best type of comedy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Oh, The Things You'll Find

When you move to Alaska, you find all sorts of crazy things in your room. Mostly in my room, I find a lot of random books. Seriously, there are hundreds in there . . . and I forgot that I squirreled them away in so many places.

Example 1: An Introductory French Course book, published in 1858 with an 1882 inscription in the front cover.

Example 2: The Best Lincoln Stories, published in 1898 with a 1900 inscription in the front cover.

Example 3: The Giver, First Edition published in 1993 with an author-autographed inscription (Reads: With love to those who read - remember - and GIVE - Lois Lowry, 1994)

Example 4: Fablehaven, Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC)

Where did I get some of those books? I have no clue. Especially that first one. I mean, I don't know a word in French. German? Yes. Spanish? Yes. Siberian Yupik? Yes. English? Of course. But French? Why do I have that?

I have way too much stuff. I've sent tubs and tubs of stuff up to Alaska, and yet I still have a room that looks well-lived in.

I swear it all multiplies behind my back.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It All Ends Here

You know what I'm talking about.

Harry Potter.

It's over.

Well, it will never really be over for me. But the point is there will never be anything new to look forward to (unless we count www.pottermore.com).

I grieved and passed through the mourning stage back in 2007 when I finished the seventh book, though, so today wasn't as bad as I thought it might have been. Still, it is sad to see the end of an era, essentially the end of my childhood.

I didn't go to the midnight showing this time, but I still went opening day. Obligatory pictures are below. And yes, I made my Ravenclaw shirt and my sister made her badger shirt. If I have to explain why she is wearing a yellow badger, you aren't my friend anymore.

My sister's boyfriend James, my sister Amanda, and myself rockin' the 3D shades.

The flash on my iPhone was unfortunate. Our faces aren't THAT white, I promise.

I'm super proud to wear my homemade Ravenclaw shirt, and super bummed I couldn't find my lightning bolt earrings.

As for the movie itself, I enjoyed it. Certainly it was better than the sixth movie (which David Yates murdered). The CGI and special effects were SPECTACULAR. Long ago I came to the decision to treat the movies as completely separate from the books, lest I become too obsessive about the discrepancies. I am a superfan of the Harry Potter books. I enjoy the movies as an extension of the books, but not as a replacement or an equivalent.

Anyway, Harry Potter is always my grand send-off for a new school year. Really. I read the first three books, and moved to Texas. The fourth book in Summer 2000 sent me to 8th Grade. I moved to Kansas. The fifth book in Summer 2003 sent me to 11th grade. The sixth book in Summer 2005 moved me to California and sent me to college. The fifth movie and the end of the book series in Summer 2007 sent me to college for my junior year. I moved to Oklahoma. The sixth movie in Summer 2009 sent me to Alaska for the first time, and the eighth movie in Summer 2011 sent me to Alaska for the second time.

You see, Harry has been there for every life change.

And he always will be.

Because I am a nerd, and I'm finally old enough to embrace the nerdiness.

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" ~J.K. Rowling, HP and the Deathly Hallows

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Back to Alaska

You can take the girl out of Alaska, but you can't take Alaska out of the girl.

That was me this year in Oklahoma. I mean, it is really hot here so I do miss the cold and yes, sometimes I do stick my head in a freezer as a temporary remedy . . . but more than that, I just missed Alaska. So I'm going back.

This year in Oklahoma wasn't a wasted year by any means, even if I did not often enjoy my job. I got to spend a year at home with my family and my dogs, and I got seven root canals (yes, SEVEN). Actually it's a good thing I came back because there is no way I could have done seven root canals while living in the bush.

Some of you know I got a job in Arkansas in a brand new school for the 2011-2012 school year. I also financed a new car, new furniture, and leased a new apartment super close to some of my best friends in the whole world. In short, I got every I thought I wanted. I was set to move July 8th.

And then I realized I was underwhelmed by it all. Don't get me wrong; I would have had loads of fun with my Arkansas friends and I would have had a great church to join.

However, I just kept thinking of all the things I wanted to do, all the places I wanted to go, and all the experiences I wanted to have. I was looking at Peace Corps blogs. I was mapping out plans to get back to road system Alaska once I got married (way ahead of myself there; I'm not even dating). I was researching teaching abroad. I was completely skipping the excitement of my new Lower 48 life.

Of course, how could I even afford all those things once I am finished with Arkansas? I can only afford to put away $150 a month in savings with Lower 48 teacher pay . . . that won't pay for any kind of domestic trip, much less international. Good grief, I could hardly justify going home to Oklahoma more than twice a semester with the tight budget I was looking at.

Then, Alaska called. Figuratively AND literally. My friend Mary Ellen (a colleague I met and worked with in Gambell) called me and told me a position in Atqasuk was finally open, and I needed to fill it. It just so happened the principal was visiting her L48 home that very day. I interviewed on an impulse, and gave myself the night to sort it all out.

I made this lovely graphic organizer (sometimes I just can't turn the teacher off). I spent practically the whole night going back and forth, making myself crazy over the decision. How could I reverse the things I had done, and how could I turn down everything that I should want? People would think I am insane! (Maybe I am insane!)

Financially, it was a no-brainer. I would make close to $5000 a month in Alaska, with very few bills. I could save and save and save for student loan repayment, grad school, travel, a future house, whatever. Emotionally, it wasn't a bad decision. I am smarter and less naive this time around about bush life. Plus, I already know and like at least two of the teachers in Atqasuk (I taught with both in Gambell).

And yet, I worked hard to get that job. I just bought this car. I just leased an apartment. I just bought furniture for that awesome apartment. I just told everyone I'm going to Arkansas.

You can see my dilemma.

In the end, the siren song of Alaska was just too strong to ignore. And if I'm completely honest, the money was hard to turn down, too. I am in the process of undoing everything I did, though I will probably keep the car. I love it too much to sell, and anyway the insurance company would probably hunt me down if I sold it (since I crashed it a week after purchasing the policy . . . but that's another story). My dad will drive it and park it in the garage until I decide whether I will stay in Alaska for good or eventually come back and need an awesome car. The whole car thing was the worst timing ever, but then that's life I guess.

I'm not saying it will be easy this time around. It won't. It is still an isolated village in bush Alaska, and I still want to eventually live on the road system. But I'm going to work very hard to remain positive this time, and see the beauty in everything. I am going to refuse depression, and call family/friends more often. I am going to plan a little less, and live a little more. I'm going to love the tundra for what it is, and not hate it for what it is not. I will enjoy the experience to the fullest. I will.

I am also going to blog more frequently than I did in Gambell. I am still debating as to whether I will keep this blog public, or move it to a private status. I feel like I could write more honestly if it was private, but I do enjoy having a public blog that people around the world can learn from. I am undecided. Who knows, I may upkeep one of each like my friend in the Peace Corps.

If it goes private, I will notify you all on Facebook. You can either FB message me, email me, or text me at that time.

I'll post more information on Atqasuk in the near future. Until then, here's a sneak peek at the village location.

Yes, it's very nearly as north as it gets in the US. I probably won't be sticking my head in any freezers to cool off.