Monday, May 24, 2010


We woke up Sunday morning before the alarm, and started our final load of laundry. We spent the morning kind of puttering around in a sort of rushed way, making sure everything was clean and packed. B had made the last trip to the post office on Saturday, with our final 2 boxes (we'd hoped to send back somewhere between 12 and 15, instead we got all the way to 20), so everything left in the apartment was either going in the trash or coming with us. But once we were completely packed, and the apartment spotless, there was nothing to do but wait and hope for the fog to clear. It was back and forth for a while - the sun would almost break through, then the haze would gather on the hills again - but finally, about 90 minutes after it was scheduled to, our plane landed and we left the Village for the last time.

As OFL drove the Honda through the muddy, melty streets, I felt a wave of sadness at our going. We waved good-bye to the people we passed, our students and neighbors, and at the same time that it was painful to think that we'll most likely never see any of them again, still I was so happy to be leaving. It was a hard year.

What finally helped us decide to go was the thought that, if we didn't go, we might always wonder what it might have been like, and maybe regret that we took the easier road and kept on doing what we'd been doing. I think that argument still holds, it was an experience like nothing else I've ever done. Also, I know that between the classes I was taking and the challenges my students presented, my teaching grew significantly. Besides those two rather vague, general comments, it's much too soon to reflect on what our year in Alaska meant, or how it changed us. I guess that understanding will unfold slowly.

It's strange and a little sad to be here, in the city we've thought of as home for the past 10 months, and not be able to actually go home yet. The plan, though, is to fly back to the east coast today, visit our parents for a few days, then drive back to Portland, visiting some friends along the way. I don't know B's plans, but I don't think I'll be posting about that trip on this blog. We called it ten months in Alaska, and that's what we did.

I wanted to say thank you to everyone who sent us packages or letters, or stayed in touch by phone or email. Contact with our friends and families and the real world helped us feel content and connected this year. Especially thanks to our parents who sent us many packages, and to my friend T.G., who, since hearing in December how lonely it got sometimes, sent me an email every single weekday with a song, a comic, or something else to cheer me. But thanks to everyone who sent us love and didn't forget us. We can't wait to see you.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Last week

It's very hard to believe we're down to less than a week left. The snow is mostly melting away, but there are still big stretches of snow here and there between the BIA and school, and lots left on the beach and in the village. The river is fully open and running, and in the lower areas giant puddles of snowmelt have formed, making us very glad we went ahead and bought those rubber boots back in the fall, not sure if we'd get much use out of them. We're wading through almost-knee-deep puddles just to get to school.

As B said below, we're all packed up and our apartment is rather barren and forlorn. We're down to just a few changes of clothes and working hard to get all our end-of-year stuff done before Friday afternoon.

The kids are definitely getting more antsy about us leaving. They ask me every day, "Where will you go? Why don't you stay here? Will you come back to visit?" I don't know how to make them understand that if there was one part of this whole experience I'd like to bring home with me, it's them.

Mail Move

We have mailed 15 boxes home so far. I know this because we have lettered each one and letter "O" went out on Wednesday. We have a spreadsheet with the dates each box was sent, the way it was mailed and whatever tracking information we put on it. We also listed the contents of the boxes. We have lists of what we're leaving here that we need to buy when we get home, what we need to pack to ship home before we go and what needs to end up in our bags to bring with us. We have one more box to ship that is mostly empty right now. It's going to contain any last minute items that we have not yet remembered or been able to send already (such as my French press and our rubber boots). There's nothing on our walls, we're using the few pots and pans we found at the apartment when we got there and I'm down to 4 shirts and three pairs of pants. Internet and phone are cancelled. Mail forwarding is in place. We're ready to go. (This is not to say that we don't leave with some sadness. I'm just illustrating that we're ready.)
My hope is that the weather stays warms so the snow melts enough to make using a 4-wheeler easy. Right now we've got a mix of slushy snow and open ground making neither snow machine nor 4-wheeler a very good option. Last weekend I snow machined to the post office with the sled attached and two passengers in tow. We got stuck in the dirt right away and then the sled detached on the way back. I'm hoping the ride this weekend is easier.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A little more about spring and my birthday

5 days into it, 30 is going pretty well. My birthday was a fun day. I woke up to a present (a tradition I got used to as a kid and which B has continued to indulge) and pancakes, then came up to school for a few hours. Luckily, Friday was a work day for teachers, no kids, so I was free to go when I needed to, which I did around 10, when my dad arrived. Amazingly, he made a Boston-Phoenix-Anchorage-Athol-Village series of flights with no delays, and arrived just when he expected to. He was super excited to be here, but after I put him to work organizing math worksheets, he got really tired and headed back down to the BIA for a nap. I did a few more hours of work, then headed home, too. I spent the rest of that afternoon finishing up the 6 batches of cookies I'd started the night before, then B got home and my dad woke up right around the same time.

B made dinner, then a handful of my students came over to bake one final batch of cookies and play some Wii, which was really fun and extremely giggly. B trying to teach 5 little girls Wii bowling is really a lovely sight. I opened my presents from B and Dad, and at 8 the other teachers, along with OFL, came over for cookies.

It was a little sad to not be around my friends and family for my birthday. It was great to have my dad here, and obviously B, and the other teachers are all nice people to be around, but all the same I would've preferred to be in NH with my parents and B, or in Oregon with my close friends. I suppose it just means I'll have to have belated celebrations in each of those places when I get there.

Dad stayed for the weekend, and we went on lots of walks around the village. He especially liked the store and went there several times. I don't think he ever quite adjusted to the time difference, especially the midnight sun. He got to meet some of the kids, and stopped by my class one last time on Monday to say goodbye before heading back down to the airport. From what I hear, he had kind of a wild time getting back - a missed flight here and a delayed flight in Anchorage - but is now safely home. It was fun to have him visit and really helped break up the time. I'd been looking to his visit not only on the face of it but also because I knew once we got to that weekend it would mean only 2 weeks left. We are unabashedly counting down the days at this point, and there aren't many left to go.

This Thursday there's a dinner for the seniors (all 4 of them), and then they graduate on Friday. Next week we have 3 full days, then a morning for clean-up and a community feast, and that's it! Next Friday is a final work day and I think some of the teachers are flying out that night. We're leaving that Sunday (or, if the weather is looking bad for Sunday, that Saturday).

I think there'll be more time for reflecting on the year as a whole as the end gets closer, so I won't do it now. But I am definitely feeling a pull of two emotions - super-happy-can't-wait to get back to the Lower 48, and very sad to leave the kids here.

One more thing about spring: it's muddy. Over the last week or so the daytime temperatures have been in the high 30's to low 40's, and the snow is melting like crazy. The river's been looking less and less solid in the middle, and today I looked out the window and noticed that it's fully open. The sea ice is still there, but you can see where it opens past the bay. There are huge puddles, small ponds almost, in lots of inconvenient places, like right outside our front door, and right at the bottom of the steps leading up to the school. Our rubber boots are in full effect.

I'll try to get some spring photos (and a shot of my over the top cookie spread) up soon.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Turning 30 in Alaska

When I was 21, I had to take an astronomy class at City College with a real, live, famous astronomer, Michio Kaku. I remember the day he told us about how Isaac Newton had basically mapped out the laws of the universe by age 23. I remember thinking, wow, I'm in my 20's and I haven't done anything remotely approaching that.

Last night, with exactly one day left in my 20's, B and I were watching a TV show with Stephen Hawking in which he tossed off this little gem: "In my twenties, I spent about 3 weeks doing some new calculations on black holes." Which provoked a little discussion among E, B, and myself as to how we were spending/had spent our 20's.

I never did do anything in the neighborhood of discovering universal laws of nature, or even something as mundane as discovering new things about black holes. I did, however:

Become a teacher
Marry someone who should have been way out of my league
Move to Portland
Get a degree, and then get another one
Have a crazy Alaska adventure

Lots of other things, too, like making friends who I really, really love, and reading lots of wonderful things, and learning to play guitar, and becoming a doula, and I guess if I sat here long enough I could probably come up with about a million tiny, medium and big things that I've done over the past 10 years that are pretty awesome.

I did a lot of truly, purely, incredibly dumb stuff too. I'll leave that for another post, or maybe not.

I'm not afraid to turn 30. My hope for the next ten years is that, in relation to my 20's, I do less dumb stuff and more awesome stuff.

And now, let the wild rumpus start!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

On the Farm

Our Fearless Leader has a proto-farm going at his place.  He was out of town this weekend so I took care of feeding the animals.  There are two rabbits, a few chickens and a dog team.  Here are some pictures:
These are the chickens.  I didn't have to do any thing for them actually.
The rabbits.  The things hanging from the cages are their water bottles.  They froze the day before OFL got back.

Here is the water bucket.  It froze over every night so I had to chop it up with an ax before I could fill up the bucket to bring to the dogs.  

It got really cold by the last day with the wind blowing really hard.  That said, it was sort of enjoyable to feel like a rugged outdoorsperson.  Not enjoyable enough for me to want more animals at my house though.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grades vs. Phases

In this school district we have something called the continuos progress model also known as the phase system. The phase system was created so that students could move at their own pace as they progress through their education. There are 19 reading phases, 19 writing phases and 24 math phases. Once you pass all of them you are done. You could finish when you're 16 or you could finish when you're 21 or never. You might finish all of your reading phases but take another two years to finish your math phases. Again, the idea is that a student can move at her own pace.
There's a lot that is good about this. Students are grouped according to ability rather than age, social promotion is bypassed and specially designed instruction - the method of delivering special education services - is built into general education classes.  (This is usually a real problem elsewhere.  Here it's a non-issue.)
Downside is that if the students don't pass the phases (this means passing quizzes in math, completing a particular set of pieces for writing and demonstrating certain skills in reading) then they don't move up to a new grade level. This has resulted in 15 year old students in 5th grade (normally 11 year olds are in 5th grade) and very few students graduating at 18. Also it has led to a great deal of "teaching to the test" in math. Students learn a skill well-enough to pass a short quiz but often don't understand the underlying concept which leads to problems later down the educational road.  Also, you might have students in 4 or 5 different phases in one class making instruction very difficult.
Students here often tell me that the grade system is easier which is why I, and almost everyone I know, graduated at 18. I have often told them that I would have graduated at 16 in the phase system. The debate has been, "Which one is easier?".
Typing this I realize that the phase system would probably be easier for me because I was motivated and held accountable by my parents (and of course, was taught in my first language and the language spoken in my house). In addition, the expectation of my community and most of the community I grew up in was that college was necessary so high school graduation was a must. Here, some students are expected to do well in high school but very, very few people in this community have attended college. The upshot is that many students move very slowly through their phases because there's no real worthwhile goal at the end of high school (because there are so few jobs here) and little expectation to do be successful at school coming from the community.
There are other factors at work here too: drug use and drinking are problematic.  Plenty of kids in my high school drank and smoked pot but for the vast majority of these students they kept their partying to the weekend. Not so here. Many students are up very late every night making school success very difficult the next day. Also, the kids are bored. They don't have to participate in subsistence activities most of the time and there's not much else to do. Bored teenage students without the expectation of school success is a pretty good recipe for failure at school. Finally, the school has a rotating cast of teachers experiencing 30-50% turnover per year.
This is all to say that the question of Grades vs. Phases is not answerable.  My circumstances (and the circumstances of most of my classmates) were such that we were set up for school success.  The circumstances here are quite different.  There's no comparing beyond that.