Welcome to the South


You don’t realize how much the area you grow up in influences your life until you move away. I have lived, however briefly, in many parts of the county, but I always find myself comparing it to life in small-town Central New York. Even in Alaska, I was comparing the cold (way colder in AK), and the snowfall (much less in AK because a lack of Lake Effect) to what it was like where I grew up. 

Of course, most people do this. I remember talking with our neighbor in Napaskiak about her first winter with snow. She had never seen it in person, having grown up in Puerto Rico. I love meeting people who have lived such different experiences than myself. 

Having a son now, I spend a lot of time thinking about how the choices my husband and I make will effect how he sees the world. I want him to have the pieces of childhood that stick out in my memory so positively. Playing outside until we couldn’t see, dancing with fire flies, stargazing in the fields around town. But I also want to have better access to things I didn’t: live theatre, museums, and other amenities that come with a more urban life. That’s really how we came to decide on moving to the Roanoke Valley. It seems like a great blend of country living with city amenities. 

The city itself is green and beautiful, nothing like the concrete cities in the North.   Now, it is much smaller than Philadelphia where we used to live, so maybe it isn’t a fair comparison, but it is certainly much more my speed. And I appreciate being able to get places downtown in less than and hour. Traffic in Philly was killer if you wanted to live anywhere outside city limits. 

And while the arts scene in Roanoke doesn’t boast nearly the options that we had in Philadelphia, it certainly isn’t hurting either. Everywhere you look there is art, and opportunities and support for art. That is so exciting, and we have lots of plans for our future here. 

Of course, there are some weird culture shock things here too, beyond the southern drawl and ‘y’all’.  I always have to specify that my tea is unsweetened, or I’m given undrinkable sweet tea. I know I have many enemies when it comes to this debate, but I like my tea bitter and pure. After more than 20 years drinking it that way, I don’t think I’ll ever accept sweet tea. 

And did you know people call shopping carts ‘buggies’ here? I was a little baffled the first time I heard that one. 

You know, however, that you are truly in the south when you walk into the local diner and see this: 


Jesus figurines for only four quarters screams ‘Welcome to Bible Country’ if nothing else does. 

I’m super excited for this next chapter in our lives, and I hope that you will keep reading! Here’s to adventure!

Many Homes

Sunset in Napaskiak
It’s about 1am the night before we leave the village. The sky is finally dark, but not for long, and I lay in bed, unable to sleep. Three years have come down to a flurry of cleaning and packing and tearful goodbyes. 

I hate saying goodbye. But, I love new adventures, and the two go hand in hand. I have learned to laugh through the tears and embrace the whole range of emotions I feel each time we embark on some new adventure. 

I’ve been so lucky to call so many places home. I’ve never been one to like living out of a suitcase. Even in hotels, I love to unpack and really make wherever I am for the moment feel like home. Napaskiak has been home for me longer than anywhere else since my childhood home in New York. Leaving here has been hard. Every picture I took off the wall, every drawer I emptied brought that tightness in my throat. I’ve been so busy with trying to coordinate all the details to move a family and dog back to the Lower 48 that I haven’t had too much time to get excited about my next adventure. 

Sunset in Roanoke, VA:

Sunset in Roanoke

We don’t have an apartment yet, but we will be visiting later in the summer to see my brother and sister-in-law who live there, and hopefully we will find something on that trip. I think having that concrete will really help me get excited. 

I’m not sure we will move again in the future, but then again, we didn’t ever think we would move to Alaska either. I’d be happy to settle down for a while though, and watch my baby grow up in a place he can come to love and call home like I did. My childhood home holds such a strong place in my heart. I hated it as a teen and couldn’t wait to leave after high school, but now I find it is a great place to visit family and spend time. There was so much there that I took for granted as a kid, but I don’t think I would have been able to see that if I hadn’t left. In fact, one of the most important things I have learned is the real importance of family and how the people will always be more important than the physical location you inhabit. In fact, it may seem odd to you reading this, but even though we will be a nine hour drive from my hometown when we move to Roanoke, I am downright giddy at the thought of being able to just jump in my car and see my parents’ faces in less than a day. To be once again easily connected to the people I love makes all the complications of packing worth it. 


Although we will wave goodbye to Napaskiak tomorrow as we fly away, this tiny village will always hold a big piece of my heart. Watching my baby be embraced by a loving community was a priceless thing that I will miss. His babbled conversations with staff at the school as they taught him Yupik bring a smile to my face even now. Thank you to everyone who has welcomed us and embraced our little family that grew so much here. I look back at the person I was stepping off the plane with my husband three years ago, and I can’t believe how much has changed. I was told that we wouldn’t regret taking the leap of faith to move 4,000 miles to a world so different than anything we had ever experienced before, and I can honestly say that I don’t regret it for a second. Thanks, Napaskiak.  ❤

Cycles


Springtime is quickly approaching rural Alaska. Tickets for the Kuskokwim Ice Classic are being sold and bets placed for the exact date and time of the breakup of ice on the river. It’s a time of year that brings longer hours of sunlight and long walks through the village. This year it also brings a tinge of sadness. 

We have made the decision to leave Alaska at the end of this school year. I’m actually tearing up writing this, and it won’t have been the first time I’ve cried. But this sadness alone isn’t enough to change my mind. Life happens in cycles, and this one is just coming to an end for us. 

We are leaving for a multitude of reasons, so it can be difficult to name any single reason. Our original plan was to only come for two years. Then that changed to five. And now, we have realized that three was our ‘goldilocks just right’. Just about five years ago, Nathan and I took our pre marriage counciling class. When asked about what we saw for our future we excitedly listed our dreams and schemes (none of which included Alaska- and yet…). The priest stopped us and said, ‘You guys are planners.’ He didn’t mean it as a compliment. At the time I didn’t see how it was a negative, but now, I can’t imagine how different our lives would be without being able to let go of our carefully made plans and trust that if we put in the work, God will lead us where we need to be. 

Living in Napaskiak has really taught me to let go of so much that was holding me back before. You can’t plan everything in life, and it’s more enjoyable to roll with the punches- because otherwise you just fall down. We are leaving this place, but we will be vastly different (and hopefully better!) people for having lived here. 

We don’t know where we will end up after this. We are shipping everything back to my parents’ house where the things we didn’t take to Alaska are stored. Nathan is going on interviews, but no job offer has been made yet. It’s still early for schools to be hiring, so we are trying  to relax and trust that we will find a way. It was terrifying to take the step to move 4,000 miles to Alaska, but it seems equally difficult to try and find our footing back in the lower 48. Prayers and good vibes for this next cycle in our lives are greatly appreciated! 

Now comes the cleaning, and the packing, and the selling, and the shipping! Here we go! 

Holidays are Here!


The holiday break has officially begun! Last night was the school Christmas pageant. Emmett enjoyed the singing and clapped at (mostly) the right places. His favorite part was probably the lollipop and orange he got from Tribal though. 

He sat on santa’s lap and didn’t cry at all which is an improvement over last year. He seemed fascinated with him and would t look at the camera. I count it as a win though- the picture is super cute. 
Our charter flight out of the village is scheduled to leave in 45 minutes so we are all now just playing the waiting game. The airline calls when the charter is on its way and we all bundle up and head down to the airport. 

As much as I say I want to travel light I have a bunch of things Emmett has outgrown and other clothes I never wear that I’m taking to put in storage. Alas, maybe next trip. I do plan on not bringing much back other than select Christmas gifts and food. We’ll see how that goes. 

I am vey excited about our flights this time though because we don’t have any layovers over 4 hours either way! This has never happened to us before and I’m super thankful. That means no hotel and no overnight which means saved money. And that always makes me happy! 

Can’t wait until we touch down on the East Coast! 

Building a School in Rural Alaska: A Photo Journey

Over the past two years construction crews have been working day and night in all types of weather to construct the beautiful new school we have moved into this past month. I have taken photos during the process and wanted to share them with everyone. Sadly the river view I had out my apartment window when we moved here is gone, but once I stepped foot in the new building that is blocking the way I knew it was worth it.

Enjoy the photos!

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To read a great article about the new school opening check out some great local coverage of the day-long festivities!

 

PFDs and Full Freezers

A full freezer is a happy freezer!

Almost 100 pounds of meat flew in on a tiny bush plane this weekend, with our name on it! I was excited to receive our first PFD this year. The PFD (Permanent Fund Distribution)is money given out each year to every qualifying Alaska resident. It stems from the fact that Alaska is an owner-state, and each resident receives benefits of profits off the land. Oil money goes into the fund and dividends are distributed yearly. You have to have lived in Alaska for at least one full calendar year, and be able to prove your residency before applying. So for teachers who move in August, it takes until your third school year to actually receive any benefits.

Many Alaskans (especially out in the bush) hunt, so their main supply of meat is wild game including moose and caribou among other things. Neither my husband or I hunt, (although he always talks about wanting to go- he just has to find the time!) so we either bring meat in with us in frozen luggage on Alaska Airlines, or we have to order it from a store to be flown in freight. This is an expensive option, as you have to buy in bulk, but it is certainly easier than packing and hauling coolers from the East Coast or Anchorage when we are visiting.

Last year I ordered from Span Alaska, and while there was no problem with that order, I found that ordering from Mike’s Quality Meats in Eagle River was cheaper. For those interested in numbers I have included the invoice below:

Yes you read that right. Shipping and handling is more than half the cost of the meat itself. Welcome to the Alaskan bush. Overall, I was pretty happy though. We got a large variety of meat for about $4/lb, and they gave us a bigger turkey than what was listed on the order form. Thanksgiving will be good this year!

The absolute best part of this though? I placed our order on Thursday when the PFD’s were distributed, and it arrived- wait for it- SATURDAY. Like, in the same week! It was at least a two week wait with Span Alaska, and ordering anything from Amazon is at least a week, sometimes up to a month for larger items. I couldn’t believe it when we got the call that our freight was on it’s way to the village.

When we decide to move back down to the Lower 48, it’s going to be nice to just walk into a grocery store and pick up whatever I want for dinner that night, but I do think I will miss the great feeling of having a full freezer. It’s like having the grocery store right at home! Do any of you shop in bulk? What is your favorite part about it? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

 

9 Essentials for Living in the Alaskan Bush

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A dog sled team training on the frozen Kuskokwim River

Now that we have lived here a couple years I find myself echoing some of the same advice to new teachers each fall. We learned the hard way, and I hope that the information I’ve collected here can help someone in the future avoid some of our mistakes. Albeit, most of our mistakes have turned into great stories, (like how you should ALWAYS choose priority shipping, or you will end up with a fridge containing only Jello and wild caught salmon) but they didn’t seem so funny at the time.

I’ve compiled a list of ‘essentials’ for anyone thinking of making the move to rural Alaska. Now, most of these I think would be pretty universal, but remember that Alaska is a HUGE state- and has a lot of diversity in its land. Make sure you do your research and ask questions about the specific location you will be moving to. We live in the Kuskokwim Delta of South West Alaska, and it is vastly different from say, the Northern Slope.

 

Essential #1: Good Quality Winter Gear

Don’t wait until you are here to get your winter gear. Cold weather comes early, and especially if you come from a more temperate climate, you are going to want that heavy coat sooner than others. Your winter gear needs to be from head to toe. Wind chills are intense and frostbite is a real threat. Think, Hat, Balaclava or face cover, Scarf, Heavy Coat (longer is better!), Snowpants or Snowskirt (my personal favorite!), wool socks and good snow boots.

If you haven’t had to buy good quality gear before, the price tags can be a little scary, but don’t skimp- try and shop sales, or if you know far enough ahead of time, see if you can get anything from last season. Online you can find great quality stuff from Lands End (my favorite) LLBean, or REI. There are also several stores in Anchorage that ship to the Bush and have a great selection.

 

Essential #2: Ice Cleats

Where we are at there is a ton of ice, and in the winter there is no plowing, so Ice Cleats are essential for walking anywhere in the village. We decided to skip the cheap elastic type pairs at a neighbor’s suggestion and got the heavy duty “Stabil-icers”. It has been worth every penny. They have held up great for two winters getting daily use. And when you have to go out and walk the dog multiple times a day they are a lifesaver. I had fallen several times in the week before they came in the mail, and not once since.

 

Essential #3: Good Rain Boots

The last clothing essential would be good rain boots. There is a lot of debate about brands, but really you just want to avoid the cheap pairs that will split after a few uses. It rains a lot in the spring (and right now in the fall!) and at least in South West Alaska that means mud- and lots of it. I literally only wear my rain boots and winter boots outside in Alaska. I have other shoes I keep at the school, but I avoid wearing them outside. Not everyone does this, but I have found I have to clean my shoes a lot less, and it is much simpler.

 

Essential #4: Blackout Curtains

Regardless of where you live in Alaska, there will be days where the sun is out longer than you want to be awake. Blackout curtains for at least your bedroom are lifesavers. I have them in every window in our apartment and try to close them before it gets too late, otherwise it is so easy to find yourself still awake and full of energy at 1am.

 

Essential #5: Candles/Lantern

Electricity isn’t always a given in the Bush. It can go in and out, and especially in the winter time you want to have alternate sources of light. We have multiple candles as well as a couple battery powered lanterns that have gotten a lot of use.

 

Essential #6: Extra Water

The water situation is different everywhere you go, but we have learned that it is important to have extra water at all times. We have piped water, but when things break it can be days before they are fixed or a part comes in. So we have containers with extra water for drinking as well as non-potable water for other uses.

 

Essential #7: Alaska Airlines Credit Card

While not strictly essential, you would be hard pressed to find someone out here who doesn’t take advantage of this card. Travel is expensive and airline miles are gold. In addition to miles you also earn an annual companion fare for only $99 plus tax. You pay an annual fee for the card, but it is more than worth it to us.

 

Essential #8: Amazon Prime

Another negotiable essential, but with recent changes to shipping rates for almost every company out there, Amazon Prime is becoming more and more my one stop shop for everything. Prime doesn’t guarantee two day shipping to us, but it does send priority, which means we get things in about a week if all goes well.

 

Essential #9: A Good Sense of Humor and Laid Back Attitude

Things are always in flux when traveling and living in the Bush. I was a serious type A personality prior to moving here, and it hasn’t always been easy, but relaxing my attitude and remembering to laugh has made this whole experience a lot more enjoyable.

 

Like I said before, Alaska is an extremely diverse state and not everywhere in the Bush is identical, so needs vary. What are some things that you have found to be essential? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

 

*I have not been compensated by any of the brands mentioned, I just seriously love their products! As with everything, you can take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Year Three Alaska

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Snack time on the first flight!

It has been a long time since my last post, but I have long since given up on the dream of writing over summer vacation- we are simply too busy soaking up every moment we can with friends and family. And that’s okay. At least I keep telling myself that!

It was a long trip back, with an overnight in Anchorage, and I was really nervous about traveling with a 10 month old. The baby has been flying since he was only 4 days old, but now that he is mobile I can’t just strap him in the carrier and bank on him sleeping on our 4(!) flights back to the village from the east coast. Lucky enough on our first flight there were enough open seats that the other person in our row opted to move. It’s a six-ish hour flight from Newark, NJ to Seattle, WA, so having the extra seat in our row was a godsend. If tickets weren’t so expensive I would just book the baby his own seat.

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Baby Boy loved looking out the plane window!

Once we got back into Alaska, we had a 14 hour layover in Anchorage. We learned that there is a little known rule in the fine print that if you have a layover longer than 12 hours Alaska airlines short checks your luggage. For us that was almost 200lbs including a cooler that had to be frozen. After paying to keep our luggage in the storage at the airport until the morning, we called our hotel and grabbed a shuttle downtown. We have stayed in teh airport during long layovers before, but figured that it would be more comfortable to get a hotel. It was seriously the best decision we could have made. We were all able to relax, shower, and even go shopping downtown. We stopped in at GCI and got new phones. Our old ones wouldn’t connect to the 3g in the village, even though it has been available for about a year and a half now. New iPhones in hand, we are now connected!

The next day we left the hotel at 3:30am on the first shuttle, and headed back to the airport. We dealt with our luggage, and back through security again, and we were on our way. We arrived in Bethel on the first flight, and then took a shuttle over to our favorite charter service Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures. It’s refreshing to deal with great customer service, and it doesn’t hurt that they tend to run on time, and cost less than the other airlines to the village!

Unfortunately we were on weather hold due to fog- something that is rather common in South West Alaska. After a couple hours the fog lifted enough to take the short hop to Napaskiak. It was still pretty low though, and even in our tiny busy plane we were skimming the bottom of the clouds!

We have finally settled back in to the beginning of our third year here in Napaskiak. Although I haven’t put away the suitcases yet, they are (mostly!) empty, and our boxes with food and household goods have started arriving. I didn’t do an inventory at the end of the year like I did at the end of our first year, and I thought it would be okay. Mostly we are okay, but I did run out of canned potatoes, and I didn’t buy any over the summer. So only one thing isn’t too bad, but it’s surprising how many recipes call for potatoes!

It got me thinking about how influential the way we grow up is on things like how you cook. I was so used to hearty Irish cooking, that dinner to me is usually some variation on ‘meat and potatoes’. If Alaska has taught me anything, it is certainly how to be flexible and think outside my normal cooking box. And now with an almost 1 year old, I’m even more conscious of creating meals that tick all the nutritional boxes, while dealing with a limited supply of food- particularly fresh foods.

I have a cook book that really frustrated me in the desert section too. Normally I love ‘easy’ recipes that use ingredients that everyone has, but here I tend to make all baked goods from scratch. It’s just more sensible money wise to buy staple ingredients in bulk that can be baked into anything as opposed to premade mixes. However this cookbook is all about starting with cake mixes! It drove me up a wall. I did look up how to make my own premade cake mix, and I think I’m going to have to put some together in jars or ziplocks or something.

In other news, Nathan has started teaching, and finished the first full week of classes today. It is so exciting to see him grow in confidence as a teacher- the difference I see in him (and his overall demeanor) from year one to now is amazing. Teachers don’t get enough credit- I swear it is one of the hardest jobs out there, and it takes a special person to go in every day into what can be a battlefield and foster learning and growth in their students, not to mention dealing with the enormous mountain of bureaucracy and paperwork on top of it all! So a huge thanks to all the teachers out there! You guys rock!

The new school is coming along too. We took a tour of it the other day, and even though things need to be finished, it is beautiful, and huge! Nathan will be able to teach all of his classes in his room without having to move because there aren’t enough desks. And the library is beautiful! The library now is located in the lobby of the old school, and there simply isn’t enough room. I went in the first week to organize the books that had been messed up over the summer, and it took two days. Having a separate space for the books away from just anyone who passes through the school will hopefully help with the organization.

They are hoping to be in the new school before too long, so we are going to keep our fingers crossed that everything keeps going well! I plan on a bigger post (with lots of pictures!) about the evolution of the school construction once it’s open.

 

 

Initiation- Flash Fiction

I’m so excited to announce that my first piece of flash fiction has been picked up for publication over at StrippedLit500, for their first issue of this online literary magazine.

I have always wanted to write about the really visceral experience I had when I first landed here in Napaskiak. This short science fiction piece grew out of that experience. (And a super thanks to Seraphima for her awesome name that I totally stole!)

Check it out! (Click the SOURCE link for the whole story)

By Elizabeth Bradley

Dust exploded all around Seraphima and she shielded her eyes as the shuttle winked out of sight. The silence that followed settled heavy on her ears. Seraphima scooped up her b…

Source: Initiation

Marriage isn’t the End

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Two Married People Traveling- What?! Adventure and Sarcasm after Marriage??

I am the first of my friend group to get married. And after that I’m the first to have a baby. If you believed the myriad of articles and mommy bloggers on the internet than you would think that I no longer have any friends, I sit alone all day, and my life is basically over. Quite frankly that is so far from the truth, and I’m getting tired reading articles that purport this kind of thinking.

I have found myself reading articles like this, or this, or this one, a lot recently. Maybe it’s because I have a lot of single friends that they keep popping up on my social media, but I feel like I need to scream. This has to stop. We need to stop treating marriage like it is simply a destination, and the end of being an individual. The fade out, happily ever after at the end of the movie, nothing else matters. The same goes for articles that have the same sentiments about having kids. Sure things change, but I don’t know why our culture is obsessed with listing X things you MUST do BEFORE you are in a relationship/married/have kids. Perhaps it is just a way to feel better about not having reached these (extremely personal) milestones by an arbitrary age.

But I think it does more harm than that. Stating that there is a list of musts before you do any of these things isn’t exactly the problem. The problem are the types of things that are listed. Over and over again I read that you have to travel before you are in a relationship, or married, or have kids, because it will be impossible once you are. I’m married with a kid. And a dog. And guess what? I still travel! Yes, it takes a little more effort, but these things are not mutually exclusive. So let’s stop treating them this way. Writing and sharing articles like this reinforce the ideas that these things can not be done once you commit to anything else in life. How many people are afraid to commit because of these lies?

Babies are really good at hanging out in airports. They travel better than you think.

Life is a journey where we can continually expound on our experiences. So that means if you value traveling, even when you find someone you decide to spend your life with, you will continue to value traveling and make time and space for it in your life.

Now this doesn’t mean there aren’t things that you should focus on prior to a relationship. Learning to communicate, and love yourself as well as learning sacrifice are all great things that will deepen relationships you do have. I guess the message is that life doesn’t stop when you get married. You will continue to grow, just with someone else by your side. In most cases, that other person will help you grow in ways you couldn’t alone.

Same goes for saving money or being set in your career. There isn’t some magic number that your bank account hits that makes you ready to plan a wedding or have a kid. If you waited until you had enough money, you would never decide to get pregnant in the first place. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know how to budget, or save as they are both important life skills for anyone, but please let’s stop pretending that you have to be completely secure before living your life with someone else. If I waited for that time, I would still be alone, worried about the balance of my savings account.

Maybe this is why we have commitment issues nowadays. We are being slammed with ‘advice’ from all directions saying we have all of these things to accomplish before we settle down. We have to have our fun before we say ‘I do’. Quite frankly, if you aren’t having fun in your marriage, you’re doing it wrong. Every relationship has ups and downs for sure, but if you look at your wedding day as the death of yourself as an individual, you are doing a disservice not only to yourself, but your partner as well.

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Still Havin’ Fun. Take that!

In full disclosure, I write this after almost 4 years of marriage to an amazing man, with whom I have a beautiful son, and spunky adopted dog. We have lived in Pennsylvania and now Alaska. We travel each year, albeit with more luggage than we used to. We are still spontaneous, and occasionally have vacations away from each other. We didn’t stop having individual needs and wants. We didn’t stop seeing our friends, shared or individual. We didn’t stop being fun people when we had a kid. Life got more complicated, but really, it became so much richer because of it. Live each day as a gift, and you will worry less about what ‘Musts’ you have checked off someone’s arbitrary list.