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.  ❤

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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! 

Setting up our Apartment!

Walking into our apartment here in Napaskiak for the first time I was relieved to see that our boxes that we had been shipping over the summer had already been delivered from the post office; I had not been looking forward to carrying the 15 or so 60lb totes across the village and then up a flight of stairs. It had been hard enough getting them to the post office on the East Coast with the help of a hand truck and my car. Going through the inventory I had on my computer we saw that we were only missing a few things: The TV we shipped as an oversize item, a tube of posters for Nathan’s classroom, and our four food totes that were on their way from Anchorage. The arrival date that printed on the receipt for the food totes was Wednesday the 8th (the same day we were to arrive there in Napaskiak) but everything out here is subject to weather and other factors so dates are flexible and only estimates. Fortunately our flat rate boxes with all of our canned goods were sitting in our kitchen and we had our fresh groceries from Bethel, so we were far from starving, but rather lacking the staples like flour, sugar, powdered eggs and shelf stabilized milk that we had purchased in bulk back in Anchorage.

After talking a bit with some of the other teachers who had already moved in before new teacher orientation in Bethel, we returned to our apartment and I began to immediately take things out of the totes as Nathan went around with my Leatherman multitool breaking all but one of my color coded zip ties on each tote. That way I could still identify them on my master shipping list, but get into them as well.

In the first day after arriving I got most of our items put away, and it started to feel like home. I had packed a lot of pictures and decorative items that I felt would make our new apartment feel more personal. That fact outweighed the cost of shipping what some may have considered superfluous items. I wanted to create a home that we would want to live in for multiple years.

Although I’m still looking for permanent places for some things and will probably be moving stuff around for a couple of weeks, the hardest part is over. Now, enjoy some pictures of the apartment!

As you walk in, here is the living room.

As you walk in, here is the living room.


And our dining room- Nathan hard at work doing some lesson plans!

And our dining room- Nathan hard at work doing some lesson plans!


The Kitchen! A little messy, but I was unpacking still!

The Kitchen! A little messy, but I was unpacking still!


Our cozy bedroom

Our cozy bedroom


Nice big closets! Now I wish I had brought more hangers!

Nice big closets! Now I wish I had brought more hangers!


Our second bedroom where I am organizing things currently. We hope to get a desk, and maybe someday it will be a nursery!

Our second bedroom where I am organizing things currently. We hope to get a desk, and maybe someday it will be a nursery!


Most excitingly- a large chest freezer in our storage room!

Most excitingly- a large chest freezer in our storage room!

Thanks for reading- bear with me as I deal with internet and power issues here, and I will keep updating the blog as much as possible!

Charter Flights

The huge pile of luggage we had to transport downriver!

The huge pile of luggage we had to transport downriver!

To travel from Bethel to Napaskiak after the orientation days our school principal chartered two separate planes for our group of five because we had so much luggage. I saw the manifest at one point, and in addition to the five of us we had 515lbs of luggage. Mind you, this was because we had been shopping and Nathan and I still hadn’t been out to the village yet, so we had all of our large luggage we had carried with us on the commercial flights.

The first group of three teachers and a miniature schnauzer dog got onto the small four seat plane at about 5:50pm.

Such a tiny plane!

Such a tiny plane!

We watched with anticipation as they took off down the runway and disappeared into the sky. I was surprised at how quickly the plane lifted off the ground and was gone!

We were supposed to be right behind them in a six seat plane with all the luggage. However, the airline had been running really far behind that day because of all the fog in the mornings. Come to find out, after speaking with the girl in the Charter room, this time of year is notorious for being behind schedule. They simply don’t fly when it is foggy or the weather is bad because safety of the pilots, passengers and planes must come first. So we sat down and watched other flights take off and land for about another hour and a half until we would get news that we had a plane.

During that time, we might have gotten a little silly…

#bearselfie

#bearselfie

#angrymoose

After the principal came by the airport to see if we were still there, they did some digging to see if they could find us a plane any sooner. About half and hour later they had confirmation that a plane the size we needed was coming back in; We actually jumped up and down and cheered- Nathan, myself, and the girl in the Charter Department who would finally get to go home too! The airport workers grabbed all of our luggage that had already been weighed and tagged to put onto a pallet to bring out when the plane parked.

The view of our plan from inside the airport building

Loading our luggage inside!

Holding the door open for us to get inside the tiny six seat plane!

The flight itself was only five minutes. Our pilot told us that it is the only flight they fly that doesn’t have an interim period- it is simply taking off and landing procedures. I have posted the video I took of the flight on my facebook page, and it really was that short- in fact it has taken longer to upload the video than it took to fly here!

I was so excited to finally make it to our village after such a long journey… More posts later to explore what we have found here!

Anchorage Adventures- Shopping and Shipping!

We had a bunch of things on our to-do list for our three day stay in the city and shopping for groceries was a big item to check off our list.
We decided to stop for a couple of days in Anchorage before we flew all the way out to Bethel and then subsequently our village. We were fortunate enough to have friends in the city that we could stay with for the weekend, because hotel prices are really high, or shady hostel-like conditions. Arriving at 1:30am we took a cab to our friend’s house and then back to the airport to pick up our rental car in the morning when Avis opened. Anchorage isn’t really a town you can get around on with public transit, we planned on getting a lot of groceries, and had about 80lbs of luggage to hang onto until we could check it on our next flight.

Shopping was more stressful than I had anticipated. I planned on doing a bush order from Walmart- I had heard that you just took your shopping cart to the bush order desk and they added a flat fee of 10% onto the bill plus postage. When we got to the Walmart I headed over to customer service, and found that the guy there didn’t know anything about bush orders and said he didn’t do them. There was a sign with a phone number so I called them and got connected with the bush order department all the way down in Ketchikan (in the south east down past Juneau). After talking with the guy on the phone he told me it was just him in the bush department and I could just tell him what I wanted over the phone and it could be processed. The idea of buying all of our start up groceries without seeing them myself stressed me out even more, so we decided to go to plan B and head to Sam’s Club, buy things in bulk and ship them out ourselves.

Nathan with the Cart from Sam's Club- Yay for bulk shopping!

Nathan with the Cart from Sam’s Club- Yay for bulk shopping!


It turns out that there are multiple Walmarts in Anchorage and we just were at the wrong one for bush orders. The one in the Diamond Plaza does let you shop the way I had heard. In the end it worked out okay though because by shopping at Sam’s Club I could buy in bulk and that saved me money. It also forced me to get a membership. Now I should be able to do bulk bush orders with them over the phone.

Overall we spent about $700 in bulk groceries and personal care toiletries, etc. The hope is that these will last us until Christmas. It isn’t an exact science, and I tried to plan the best I could but it is hard to judge exactly what we will need because I haven’t ever had to cook every meal at home before. Nathan and I fell into bad habits of just going out to eat when I didn’t feel like cooking, or when traveling between jobs. That time is definitely in the past now; I don’t have the excuse of working multiple jobs that’s for sure!

Just to be safe because we are getting close to the limits on the credit cards, we bought some gift cards at Sam’s Club. I could use my store credit card to buy these, so essentially just borrowing cash against a card that I wouldn’t have been able to use anywhere else. This experience has been so much more expensive than I originally thought, and we haven’t had a full paycheck in about three weeks. Nathan gets his signing bonus when we arrive, but it has essentially already been spent. I can budget and make it work, but things are tight.

It was then time to pack all of our purchases into totes again and take them to the post office.

Packing up our Shopping goods in Anchorage.

Packing up our Shopping goods in Anchorage.

The best thing I found out was that there is a post office by the airport (on Postmark Drive) in Anchorage that is open Every. Single. Day. Until like 11pm. That is amazing. We had finally hit on some luck, in the fact that we didn’t have to scramble on Friday night to get packed and arrive during limited Saturday morning hours.

This ended up serving us very well. A word to anyone attempting this move- liquids weigh so much more than you would think. A large bottle of shampoo is about 4.5lbs, and takes up very little space. So you end up packing a lot of weight into a much smaller space then when shipping things like clothing or small kitchen stuff. Of all of the totes we had shipped previously we hadn’t really come too close to the weight limit of 70lbs the USPS set. Even with 27 gallon totes we were underweight, so I thought it was almost impossible to hit the weight limit in the 18 gallon ones. How wrong I was. We had four totes total that we brought to the post office on our first trip, and only one of them was under 70lbs. Our heaviest was 96lbs! The other two were only 1.5lbs overweight, so we left to re-pack and figure it out.
Buying another tote and dividing up the purchases solved our problem. We were also able to send out our winter boots this way. The post office guys laughed at me as I cheered when each tote came in under the 70lb limit on our second attempt. They were really good humored, and asked us all about where we were going and guessed correctly that Nathan was a teacher. All in all we paid about $100 to ship all 5 totes that were around 60-66lbs a piece. So if you have been reading from the beginning you can see how much cheaper it was to ship from Anchorage- this was a big relief this far in the game. The estimated arrival day for our boxes is Wednesday which is great news because that is the day we will arrive in the village after orientation. Of course everything is weather permitting out here, but we will keep our fingers crossed.

Now the only groceries left to buy will be some fresh vegetables/fruits and frozen meat to get us started in Bethel.

Chasing the Sun

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Sunlight over the wing of our plane on the way to Anchorage: approximately 12:30 pm

After leaving Chicago, we were on our longest flight to Seattle. It was interesting to find about 5 other groups were on their way up to Anchorage as well. Some were visiting family in nearby Wasilla while another group was heading down to Kodiak for a fishing trip.

We took off at about 7:30, delayed a bit by a snafu with a mysteriously wet seat in front of us. The poor guy who was supposed to sit there kept being shuffled around while the airlines looked for a new cushion. The passenger sitting next to the wet seat accidentally touched it, and caused a big to do about having to go wash his hands, and needing to bathe in sanitizer. We all just hope that it was water. Eventually someone from the airline was able to find a spare cushion, the last passenger was seated, and we were on our way.

This hadn’t been the first odd flight delay on our trip however. On the first flight we smelled something rotten. No one really wanted to say anything; I’m assuming that others like me were just thinking that they had the unfortunate luck to be seated near someone with less than ideal hygiene. However when I looked over towards the aisle I saw what appeared to be some smoke in rising from the vent in the floor that was causing the smell. This alarmed both myself and the woman across the aisle, so Nathan flagged down the flight attendant. When we asked if that was normal, she said “No” and went to grab the captain of the plane. The captain came back quietly so as not to cause any alarm and checked out the situation. After walking back and forth a couple of times she informed us that the smoke was just some condensation burning off because of the heat. That answer didn’t seem to account for the smell, but it was dissipating, and we all agreed that if that captain didn’t seem concerned, neither should we.

Needless to say the flight was uneventful.

The final flight of the trip was from Seattle to Anchorage. We had just enough time at Sea-Tac to board the train to the north terminal, use a bathroom and board. There was a good sized group of us headed in the same direction, so it was easy to find our way with so many eyes looking out for the right path.

The sun had already set in Seattle when we were taxing for takeoff, and all of the lights glittering below were beautiful. I have been in this airport twice now, and never seen the sun. Heading north though, we were chasing the sun as we had been all day- traveling back in time. It was incredible to look out the window at cruising altitude about two hours into the flight and see the pink glow on the horizon. The sun was setting on the sea just south of Alaska. By the time we touched down in Anchorage at 1:30am it was dark again.

More than 20 hours after we left my childhood home that morning we had our baggage and were tucked in safely at the home of friends here in Anchorage. One of our longest travel days was finally over.

Planes and Powerstrips

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Officially on our way!

Today is the day! We left Camden New York this morning at 9:30 to truly begin our adventure. We got to stop at one of my favorite local diners called Flo’s. It is known as the home of the 10¢ coffee, and features all of your favorite traditional diner fare. I think that is what I am going to miss the most outside of family; really good (and cheap!) diner food.

We have left the land of cheap anything for sure. I joked with Nathan that when we come back airport prices are going to look good to us!

I brought a power strip in my luggage after reading some tips for travel online, and it is truly a lifesaver. You would think that large airports like Chicago would have more plugs, but they are rare. I’m sitting now under a bank of pay phones at the sole plug in my area. It is placed far from the seating area of course.

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Does anyone use payphones anymore?

This has proved beneficial in more ways than one though. I am meeting people and hearing their stories as they share the plugs. In particular, a family of 10 all headed to vacation in Italy just unplugged to go board their flight.

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Extra plugs at the airport!

Our flight path for the day takes us from Syracuse to Chicago to Seattle, and finally to Anchorage, arriving at 1:29am: more than 16 hours after our first boarding. Our longest layover is here in Chicago for more than 6 hours. Thankfully the weather looks good across the country despite some thunderstorms early this morning in Central New York. Hopefully everything stays on track!

For now I’m going to go in search of some good coffee!

Moving Day!

Thank goodness I had a head start on packing, and that my mother insisted on coming down to help pack and drive a car for us. When we moved to our apartment back in November, I really thought that we would be staying in this adorable two bedroom. It was almost perfect, and we had a heck of a time moving all of the books we owned from our previous apartment. This was supposed to be it. So of course I have been accumulating more and more stuff: furniture, small kitchen appliances, craft items, and of course home decorations. Now having to choose what is really important enough to pay to ship all the way to Alaska, and what I could live without was a challenge.

Logically speaking I could have just pared down to things we had before we moved, but I simply couldn’t part with some things- I mean my immersion blender may be new but it has mad cooking certain things so much easier! Into the shipping box it goes!

Speaking of shipping boxes, we mailed a total of 2 uhaul dishsaver boxes, 1 uhaul large cardboard box, 1 poster tube, 1 TV box (the most expensive to send), 6 27gal plastic shipping totes and 5 18gal Rubbermaid roughneck totes. Overall it cost just about a thousand dollars. That is insane. For the basics for two people. I keep hearing about people who think it would be great and inexpensive to UST move up to Alaska and live off the land as a cheap alternative to living in the lower 48. I guess if you are just taking a suitcase then sure its cheaper, but then you have to have a job and all the essentials and a way to avoid dying of exposure. This move is taking a lot of time, money and planning. Thankfully we have a great school district that helps with a signing bonus, and a really great air miles credit card with Alaska Airlines.

All of the rest of our stuff that we haven’t shipped had to be donated, thrown away or packed into a uhaul and put into storage. We are storing everything in my grandmothers barn and my parents house. They will also be taking care of our cars while we are gone. I had hoped that we would be able to pack everything into the truck and drive all the way to central new York (5 hours away) in one day. That turned out to be really optimistic. We did get everything packed (use a hand truck or dolly when moving!) And made it to Clark’s Summit PA. Booking a room via hotwire was the best idea at that point; we were tired and sore from all the moving we had done. After a good nights sleep we were back on the road to CNY!

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Goodbye empty apartment!!

Last day at Sears

I have been working at Sears as an appliance sales associate for almost two years now. It was a great flexible part time job with great earning potential because it was a 100% commission structure.

Tuesday was my last day before moving to Alaska, as we are packing up the Uhaul tomorrow morning and heading up to Central New York to my parents house. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of thanks, gifts, baked goods and goodbyes. It really goes to show that you can really make an impression even if you are only one person.

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Three Amazing Cakes from Jeanette!

It has only been a few days since then, but I keep finding myself telling stories from work. I even had to go into the small appliance store on Main Street here in Camden to satisfy my curiosity. It hasn’t really sank in yet that I am officially done with work for at least the next nine months or so, and I must work for myself now! But first- Vacation!

I am really going to miss everyone!

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Goodbye Dinner at Applebees

Packing Part Two- Shipping!

We have begun to ship our belongings to Napaskiak AK where we will be spending at least 9 months of our lives.

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Lots of Stairs!!

I went to the post office myself with the majority of the totes. I had to take them all the way down our stairs from our second story apartment and into my car. Moving in steps I was able to do it. I left the tote full of books for when Nathan was home though- that one was weighing in at 65 pounds on our scale at home, and that was too much for me to carry! Everything just barely fit in my car anyway.

At the post office, everyone was so nice and helpful. People held doors and chatted with me. People seem really shocked whenever I tell them that we are moving to Alaska- like it is a different country, and they can’t imagine ever doing it. What is really crazy though is that I ran into a man who was shipping his stuff and moving himself and his family back to Bangladesh! We wished each other luck, and he was off to the airport. And I thought the shipping costs were going to be high for my packages- at least I don’t have to worry about customs and international charges! I was a little annoyed that I had to lift all of the totes high up onto the counter ( about 4 1/2 feet!) to get onto the scale. I thought that they might have a larger lower scale like the airport, but no dice. It was funny to see them try to balance the totes on the little scale without bumping into their computers or other items.

Thankfully, our scale at home was pretty accurate so I had a good idea estimating the cost on the USPS website. They make it easy enough to put in the measurements and weight, and then give you a cost estimate. All of our boxes were too large to pay for postage at home (you can save money that way) and had to be verified by a postal worker. If you are planning to move to rural Alaska, be prepared- a 45lb tote costs about $80 to ship from the east coast. And we had five totes to send in our first batch. Hopefully we will only have about three more to send, but it is not a cheap thing to do. This is why most school districts offer a signing bonus or some form of reimbursement. However, the reimbursement is only really meant to cover the costs of ONE person moving, and in this case it is the two of us, so we obviously have more stuff despite donating and sorting and paring down everything. I couldn’t imagine doing this with a whole family!

Next on our list was to send ourselves some canned goods. The school district instructed us that it is cheaper to send yourself flat rate boxes full of canned food than buying it at our sites. In a flat rate box, “if it fits- it ships!” so they are ideal for shipping compact but heavy items. A can of soup can cost $5 at the local co-op in Napaskiak, so we went to Aldi (a really great discount grocery store) and got a whole bunch of cans:

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It felt like we were stocking up for some sort of catastrophe! I found myself apologizing to the cashier for the sheer amount of cans, but I’m sure they see a lot of people coming through and getting things in bulk because of the really low prices.

We tend to buy a lot of our staples there anyway, so I know that they have consistently low prices, even when you factor in shipping costs. We used the Click and Ship option on the USPS website to save on postage for the flat rate boxes, and I was even able to schedule a pickup so that we just had to pile them down by the mailbox in our lobby!

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In the end, this method has just about doubled the cost of each item, as we have spent just a little more on shipping than we did on the actual groceries, but because of the low prices here we will have still saved money in the long run.

Now we just have to keep packing everything that we will be putting into storage. The only things left to send to Napaskiak will be the kitchen and bathroom things that we will be using right up until we leave. Thankfully we are going to be visiting friends and family for about two weeks before we leave, so our boxes will have time to arrive before (or sometime close) to us. The school advised sending things 3-4 weeks ahead of time, but the post office gave us arrival dates of only 2 weeks away. We have tracking on all of our stuff, so we shall see!