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.

 

 

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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.

Seward Side Trip

On our way back to Napaskiak this year, my husband and I decided to spend a few days in Anchorage before heading out to the Bush. I had to visit the OBGYN who would be taking over my maternity care in September, so we figured it would be nice to spend a few days shopping and exploring some more of Alaska.

On one free afternoon we were talking and decided that we should take the Seward highway out of town and visit the Kenai Peninsula. I was excited to see some glaciers in the fjords. Despite having lived in state for a year, we have not traveled outside of Anchorage or Bethel. Alaska is a huge state with really diverse populations and geography, so we had only had a small taste of what the state has to offer.

People are always remarking about how it must be nice to live in such a beautiful place, and while I love living in Napaskiak, it looks nothing like the ‘postcard Alaska’ that most tourists experience when they come here. We don’t have any mountains nearby, and because it is so flat and near the river, you can’t really appreciate the beauty unless you are flying in a plane above.

Our drive down the highway was accompanied by fantastic views, and I tried to catch what I could with my camera phone. We didn’t have time to stop at the many roadside photo pull offs if we wanted to make it in time for our dinner cruise, so we lived in the moment and tried to preserve what we could.

The highway hugged the water the whole way to Seward. It was beautiful!

The highway hugged the water the whole way to Seward. It was beautiful!

Road signs at one of the very few gas stations along the way.

Road signs at one of the very few gas stations along the way.

The nice thing about this trip was that it was very easy to get there. We hopped on the Seward highway, and drove essentially to the end of it. Alaska’s road system is pretty straightforward. We had to be careful about gas though, as there were long stretches with no amenities. It’s important to plan ahead in that respect.

Hugging the rocks on one side, and water on the other.

Hugging the rocks on one side, and water on the other.

More beautiful landscape.

More beautiful landscape.

Finally we arrived in Seward about two and a half hours later. We parked in the lot designated for our tour and caught a bus into town. Seward had that seaside charm that reminded me of Maine… if Maine had mountains that is.

The view of the downtown from the port.

The view of the downtown from the port.

I was in love. Immediately I was dreaming with my husband about opening a bed and breakfast in the town and living there after we decided to leave the bush. It’s just a pipe dream for now, and one of many for sure, but I love to dream and plan for the future. If I’ve learned anything it’s that life can take some pretty crazy turns when you least expect it, so just go with the flow. If you decided to be happy in your life it doesn’t really matter where you land on the map.

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The boat for our dinner cruise.

The boat for our dinner cruise.

Our cruise was scheduled for three and a half hours, including a dinner on Fox Island. We would not get far enough out of the bay to see the larger glaciers, but they did say we would see all sorts of wildlife, and the views were amazing. On the trip we saw Eagles, puffins, seals, and even a lone humpback whale surfacing. I was giddy with delight. To see these animals in their natural, unspoiled habitat was simply breathtaking.

View from the boat.

View from the boat.

Bowl glaciers up on the mountain.

Bowl glaciers up on the mountain.

Arriving at Fox Island for dinner.

Arriving at Fox Island for dinner.

Walking on the stone beach of Fox Island after dinner.

Walking on the stone beach of Fox Island after dinner.

Fox Island

Fox Island

After dinner and some time exploring on the shore, we were back on the boat. Some more wildlife sightseeing, and then warm chocolate chip cookies served by the crew capped an unforgettable trip.

The wake off the boat.

The wake off the boat.

Cold, but loving every moment!

Cold, but loving every moment!

Hopefully in the future we will be able to plan a little better and take one of the longer day cruises and get out into the fjords and glaciers. If you are planning a trip and wanted to check them out, I would highly recommend Kenai Fjords Tours as they have an amazing variety of options. (I’m not being paid, just passing along some advice- I really had a great time!)

Thanks for reading! Any advice on other day trips out of Anchorage we should try in the future? Let me know in the comments!

Alaska State Fair

I am now in the final month of my pregnancy, so that means that I have left the village and am staying ‘in town’ (Anchorage) until the big event! As much as I miss my husband, it is kind of exciting to be spending some more time in Anchorage, and exploring the surrounding area with friends!

This past weekend I went to the Alaska State Fair. I was excited to see how it compared to The Great New York State Fair, which was one of my favorite events every summer before school started up again. I haven’t been able to go in years, so I jumped at the opportunity to eat fair food and explore!

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The Alaska State Fair is held in Palmer Alaska, about 45 minutes north of Anchorage at the base of the Chugach Mountains. It was a chilly morning when we set out, bundled in coats, gloves and winter hats.

We spent three hours checking out all the fair had to offer. It wasn’t as large as the NY State Fair, but it was jam packed with great exhibits, and I didn’t even feel bad about not being able to go on the rides.

The first place we visited was a small booth selling Birch Syrup. Think maple syrup, but from birch trees. Having grown up in Central New York where I looked forward to the taps and buckets hanging from our large trees each fall, and the promise of sweet treats to come, I was immediately interested in birch syrup. It was fascinating to learn about the process from Dulce East of Kahiltna Birchworks. She took us through a tasting of the various blends from the 29 day harvest- from the spicy notes of the dark first day reserve, to the final run that was much sweeter, but still had that spice and citrus that set it apart from a traditional maple syrup. What really blew my mind was that it takes 110 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of birch syrup; compare that to the 40:1 ratio for maple! I left the booth with an 8oz bottle that set me back $17, but the promise of that spicy syrup on homemade pancakes in the coming cold months made it worth every penny.

In the farm pavilion I saw baby chicks hatching, and even got to pet some that were a few days old. There were adult chickens of all sorts, including some with fancy feathers sprouting out all around their heads that looked like something you would see on the Parisian runway.

Along with the birds there were rabbits, cows and the biggest pig I’ve ever seen- it was as big as some of the calves! I’ve also decided that tiny jumping baby goats are adorable, and someday I want to own some… I just need a yard to keep them in.

Alaska is also known for it’s large vegetables, and the fair certainly didn’t disappoint on that count. Not only could you purchase a zucchini the size of my thigh for $5, there were prize winning veggies on display as well.

Crazy big zucchini!

Crazy big zucchini!

Many people assume that the growing season in Alaska is too short, or too cold, but the long summer days and warm temperatures of June and July lend themselves to monstrous produce.

Prize winning produce

Prize winning produce

The annual cabbage weigh-off wasn’t scheduled until later, but one of the contenders was this amazing entry, weighing in at over 100 pounds. Imagine that!

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After visiting the produce pavilion, we headed on over through the booths to the craft building. I’ve always been amazed with the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the artists in this state. Alaska seems to breed people with imagination and the talent to transform simple materials into beautiful art. The building showcased not only native art, but a wide variety of crafts including quilting, crochet and knits, mixed media, photography and visual arts.

One of my favorite examples of the ingenuity of the Alaskan people came from the spinners presentation:

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This was a sample blanket made entirely with yarns spun from various dog breeds. I’ve always joked about making a blanket with our puppy’s hair, because she sheds like no one’s business, but I didn’t know that it actually was a possibility! Each square in the blanket was a different breed and pattern. They were so soft, and quite frankly, I want one! I am going to start saving our puppy’s fur from when we groom her. Now I just need to learn to spin…

My husband would have really loved the next display:

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Behold: crocheted hats complete with beards, for all of the characters featured in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The time and effort that was put into this display is mind blowing!

What day at the Fair is complete without food? I enjoyed a huge Alaskan baked potato smothered in cheese and broccoli, and then for desert I stopped by the donut shop for mini donuts and hot cider. It was the perfect combination to cut the chill of the air.

Mini donuts and hot apple cider- Mmmm.

Mini donuts and hot apple cider- Mmmm.

Three hours after we passed through the gates, we were headed back to our car, peeling off our layers as the sun began to warm the crisp Alaskan air. I was thankful that we had arrived early though, as the parking lots had filled up and the road into town was jammed with people headed to the fair for the day. It was a great experience that left me tired- but inspired as well!

Summer 2015

Hello everyone! Sorry it has been so long since last writing- summer was jam packed with travel and weddings and baby showers, oh my! I thought I would get more writing in, but I was so happy to be surrounded by all the people that I loved (…and okay, Netflix too) that I didn’t really get anything in.

Now, however, I am back on the tundra, and getting everything ready for baby’s arrival, and I thought I would add writing back into my routine. The routine that will be surely shattered with the lovely newborn cries arriving in just over six weeks, but I can try right?

Okay, so summer… let’s recap the adventures! And what better way to do that than with pictures?

Sammy’s 1st Birthday:

Happy First Birthday Sammy! Her first Ice Cream!

Happy First Birthday Sammy! Her first Ice Cream!

If you are new to the blog, you may not know the story behind how we adopted our puppy, but we don’t know exactly how old she is. We guessed based on her teeth, but she isn’t any one breed so it was still pretty subjective. We knew she was probably born sometime in the spring or summer though, so we picked her birthday to be May 25th. We celebrated with some treats and ice cream!

Great Theatre by Friends:

We saw the Comedy of Errors and later in the summer Almost Maine both produced by our awesome friends atGhostlight Productions in Clarks Summit, PA. We enjoyed both shows so much, and loved seeing live theatre again. If you are ever in the area, they put on really professional quality productions, and don’t charge admission to their outdoor shows- you can’t beat that!

The Cast of The Comedy of Errors. Circus Style!

The Cast of The Comedy of Errors. Circus Style!

The cast of Almost, Maine: all bundled up in the summer!

The cast of Almost, Maine: all bundled up in the summer!


Ballet in Roanoke:

My brother and sister in law rehearsing for Sleeping Beauty.

My brother and sister in law rehearsing for Sleeping Beauty.

The first weekend back, Nathan and I traveled down to Roanoke, VA to see my brother and his fiancée perform in Sleeping Beauty with Roanoke Ballet Theatre. The area was beautiful, and it was so special to see the two of them dance a pas de deux knowing their own personal love story- it just added so much to an already amazing performance.

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Safari!

If you ever get the chance and are driving through the middle of Virginia, check out the drive through Safari! Nathan and I got the chance to see a bunch of animals up close and even feed them. Llamas are really pushy, a highland cow drooled all over Nathan, and a camel stole our bucket! All in all it was a great time!

Getting up close and personal with a Zebra!

Getting up close and personal with a Zebra!

Childbirth Classes:


It was up in the air for a while if I was going to stay with my family in New York and deliver the baby at the end of September, or if I was going back to Alaska. It hinged on a lot of things, but primarily the fact that if I were to return, I had to spend the last month of pregnancy living apart from Nathan in Anchorage or Bethel in order to have access to proper medical care. It’s not just a matter of opinion either, I actually had to sign documents stating that I would leave the village by a specific date; after that they would not be liable for any problems with my pregnancy, and they wouldn’t be responsible to medivac me out. This was serious. So we decided to take some childbirth classes at a hospital in New York where I would be delivering if we decided that was the best course of action.
I learned a whole lot, and hopefully armed with that knowledge I will be better prepared for the craziness that is childbirth. If anything it was nice to meet other couples going through the same things, and have someone to commiserate with.

In the end, we were cleared by all doctors to come back to Alaska and for me to deliver in Anchorage. I’m really excited that this means less time away from my husband, and hopefully an easier journey back to the village after birth.

Conference in Vegas and my week in Rochester:

The school district set Nathan up to go to a professional development conference over the summer in Las Vegas, NV and at first I was super excited. I knew that Britney Spears (don’t hate!) had her show out there, and I was dying to see my favorite pop star from my youth- I had heard really great things about the show. Unfortunately, when looking up the dates, it appeared that she was on vacation from the show the entire time we would have been there. So, with a heavy heart, I decided to stay behind.

In a really great turn of events though, I was able to spend most of the week with my two best friends from high school who live together and work in Rochester NY. We had an awesome time playing mini golf, cruising on the Erie Canal, going out to eat, and just generally hanging out. I didn’t even think about missing Britney Spears once 😉

Mini-golfing, and a big chair!

Mini-golfing, and a big chair!

Erie Canal Boat tour!

Erie Canal Boat Tour!


Baby Showers!

Both my sister in law and I are expecting this year, so we had two baby showers this summer- and lots of fun! We are both expecting boys, and I couldn’t be happier- I never had cousins close in age and this is going to be great for the boys!
So, we had fun with showers and baby related goodness:

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Neighborhood Girls (friends since Elementary School!) reunited at my baby shower.

Neighborhood Girls (friends since Elementary School!) reunited at my baby shower.

Dana, my best friend from college, (and the godmother!) just having a chat with baby Emmett.

Dana, my best friend from college, (and the godmother!) just having a chat with baby Emmett.

Duckie Themed Baby Shower for my SIL <3

Duckie Themed Baby Shower for my SIL ❤

Amanda, my sister-in-law; My Mother-in-Law, and Me at Amanda's Shower

Amanda, my sister-in-law; My Mother-in-Law, and Me at Amanda’s Shower



Boating!

Nathan and I had always talked about how we wanted to get a boat before we had a baby. It was one of those fanciful dreams you have, that doesn’t always work according to plan. So we found ourselves expecting and alas- no boat. Then by random happenchance we were at the mall and walked by a display with a blow up style dingy boat that said it would hold 4 adults. You could even put a motor on it! And it was less than $100- so we jumped at it and are the proud owners of a boat- BEFORE baby 

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Wedding!

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My brother and his amazing (and beautiful) fiancée got married this summer at the picturesque Potomac Point Winery. I was super bummed that I had to abstain from the wine tastings, but I did get a bottle that we are going to celebrate with as soon as Baby is born!

It was a beautiful day for the ceremony, and both William and Caitlin were so full of love and happiness- you couldn’t ask for more.

Beautiful Centerpieces!

Beautiful Centerpieces!

The 'naked' cake- so tasty! I couldn't drink, but I sure had a whole bunch of cake!

The ‘naked’ cake- so tasty! I couldn’t drink, but I sure had a whole bunch of cake!

An exciting sparkler send-off for the newlyweds!

An exciting sparkler send-off for the newlyweds!



3 year wedding anniversary:

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Only two days after my brother got married was my three year wedding anniversary with Nathan! I can’t believe that time has gone by this quickly. Leather is the traditional gift for year three, so in our yearly picture we made our sign out of some craft leather from Michaels.

Here is a collage of the other years, and the photo that inspired this tradition!

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Shortly after our anniversary we headed back to the Tundra, stopping in Anchorage for shopping and doctors appointments before returning to the bush. It was an amazing summer for us, with lots of travel, smiles and family, but it is sure good to be home.

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Flying by the Seat of Our Pants

lessons-learned

If I have learned anything by living out in the bush, it is that mistakes are expensive, and by golly you are bound to make mistakes. Traveling home for Christmas wasn’t a mistake, but I sure learned some important lessons that will hopefully help me save some money in the future.

Lesson Learned #1: First of all, if you plan on moving to Alaska (and I might have said this before, but it begs repeating) get the Alaska Airlines Credit Card. You will be flying a lot, and the points and miles add up. There are also a lot of other benefits if you have the premium card like companion fares, etc. Okay, now that I have made my little advertisement (I swear I’m not getting paid, but wouldn’t that be cool) let’s move on to booking flights.

Lesson Learned #2: In October there are PFD Sales all throughout Alaska. The PFD is the Permanent Fund Distribution, or oil dividend money that every resident of Alaska receives if they have been living in the state for more than 1 calendar year (Jan-Dec) and have the intention of staying. Because of this money being injected into the economy, everyone is vying for a piece of your PFD and the sales abound. We were given a heads up about these sales and that they were the perfect time to buy your tickets home for Christmas.

Lesson Learned #3: The time of day you fly out of your hub DOES matter. I scheduled our Christmas flights for just whenever, and it ran into some expensive problems. To get from the village to Bethel you have to travel by frozen river or plane. The planes only fly at specific times, and the first flight out of Bethel from Alaska Airlines is scheduled before any of the small charters can get you into town. So I had to travel in a day before and get a hotel room. Which of course was about $200 for a single night, and the only place in town that would accept my dog. Like I said, expensive mistakes. At least with the extra time I was able to get my Alaska driver’s license! Looking on the bright side of life!

Lesson Learned #4:This one only applies if you are flying with a pet, but it was an expensive mistake. If you book multiple airlines (a common thing when going from AK to the East coast) you have to pay EACH airline’s pet fee. So we paid Alaska Airlines AND Delta BOTH WAYS to take our puppy for the holidays. She is wonderful and we love her so it was worth it. (and would have cost the same to board her in Anchorage or Bethel) From now on, we will fly into a different airport on the East Coast in order to stay on Alaska Airlines the entire trip.

Lesson Learned #5: You will rationalize overspending when visiting the Lower 48. Grocery stores and the mall were dangerous, sneakily expensive places over the holidays. Prices looked so good in comparison to Alaska that I didn’t keep track of spending like I would have normally. It adds up.

Life is about the adventure, and hopefully you can learn something along the way. I am already planning a trip to Tampa to see my sister’s Master’s Thesis Defense, and have made much better choices in my flights- hopefully saving time, money and a little bit of my sanity!

Home for the Holidays

The snowy view out our window in Central New York over the holidays. There was more snow there than in Alaska!

The snowy view out our window in Central New York over the holidays. There was more snow there than in Alaska!

It has been a while since my last post, and I apologize. I really intended to write more over the holidays, but I was much busier than I thought visiting family and finishing my NaNoNovel (more on that later!) I visited family on the East Coast in the Lower 48 for just over a month during the holidays. It has been exciting and overwhelming all at once. I didn’t realize how I had gotten used to the slower lifestyle in Alaska until I touched down in Anchorage. Don’t get me wrong- I walked straight to Starbucks and ordered a Venti Eggnog Latte and couldn’t have been happier about that- but I was also super aware of the fact that there were more people in the airport than my entire village.

I left Alaska about 10 days before my husband and flew to Syracuse New York with our dog. I think I was more stressed out about her flying for the first time than I was about the 24+ hour trip. I actually had to leave our village on Monday afternoon, visited the DMV to get my Alaska Driver’s license and then I checked into my hotel with the puppy. Our flight the next morning was the first one out of Bethel, which was why we had to go in the day before. A charter from the village wouldn’t be able to get us early enough. Logistics are complicated out here, and I can’t wait until we own our own 4-wheeler and can drive around ourselves. Anyway, I left the village on Monday afternoon and after 5 planes, 2 taxi rides, 1 airport train, and another airport bus transfer I arrived in Syracuse New York where my mother was waiting to pick up me and the dog.
They lost my luggage, but considering the fact that the dog and I were safe, and we had missed the blizzard by a couple hours I was totally okay. My mother drove us to The Gristmill, a truck stop diner that I love. Real eggs, hot chocolate, bacon, sausage never tasted so good.

I gained back all the weight I had lost in Alaska by going back to eating fast food. It’s interesting how I crave things while I’m away and can’t have them, but then they seem like so much less of a priority when I can just hop in my car and be there in five minutes. Regardless I ate far more fast food than I should have, and it was interesting to actually feel how it affected my body. I felt sick after some of my old favorites. Something I couldn’t get enough of though was espresso. I miss that so much while I am in Alaska, and while I have some instant, it just isn’t the same. Too bad espresso machines are so super expensive!

Spending time with family was wonderful, and made me realize how many people read my blog (beside just my mom!) So now I will have to play catch up, and make sure I keep writing.

Bradley Family Photo during Christmas

Bradley Family Photo during Christmas

Smith Family Photo Then and Now. We are only together twice a year if we are lucky because we are scattered all over the country, so my Dad thought it would be cool to take this photo!

Smith Family Photo Then and Now. We are only together twice a year if we are lucky because we are scattered all over the country, so my Dad thought it would be cool to take this photo!

Christmas was wonderful, and I got to spend time with lots of my family, both in PA and NY. Logistically, things are more difficult nowadays, but I wouldn’t trade the time for anything. The break also included my birthday on New Year’s Day. Normally, I just have some friends over at home and have a small party there, but this year was different. I don’t really have a place that is my own on the East Coast, so I decided that for the first time in my life (other than the very first year!) I would venture outside of my home on New Year’s Eve.

A montage of wonderful moments from a wonderful night spent with- you guessed it- wonderful people!

A montage of wonderful moments from a wonderful night spent with- you guessed it- wonderful people!

I’m glad I did. I got together with some of my oldest friends from childhood and my sister and husband and we went to the casino. It was overwhelming and fun, and we had a great time- even sprinting outside from the car to the door without coats in the frigid weather.
I feel so blessed to have such amazing friends and family. Everyone took the time out of their busy schedules to meet with us, and talk for a while made me feel so at home. Thank you.
We also got some good shopping done and mailed it all back so it was here when we arrived back in Napaskiak. I was literally hauling cases of canned goods into our cart to mail flat rate back to the village. I am planning a blog post or two about what grocery shopping is like in the bush, so just wait.

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Returning to the village on January 13th there were fireworks for Russian New Year that had been delayed. They were beautiful in addition to the bonfire that everyone came out for down by the frozen river. It seemed to be the perfect end to our vacation. Nathan is back to school this morning, and I am back to the daily writing as well. Stay tuned!

Freeze Up

You can see the frozen river out beyond the power pole.

You can see the frozen river out beyond the power pole.

Within the past few days, travel has become difficult in and out of the village. We are in the limbo time where the river is no longer passable by boat, but the ice is not yet ready for snow machine (snow mobile to those of you in the lower 48) travel. All traffic in and out must happen via bush planes from Bethel. This time is generally referred to as the “Freeze Up” by people in the village.

To illustrate how quickly this happened let me share a few anecdotes:

On Tuesday I was subbing for a teacher who had to go to Bethel. She was planning on boating over. The morning was too cold for the boat motors to start so she waited until the sun had been out for a few hours, but then could not find anyone who was headed into town that day.

The next morning (Wednesday) I awoke to see ice on the banks of the river! It started creeping out during the day, but there was still a visible flow of water in the center.

Two days later it is Friday, and all the boats are out of the water. Several people who were traveling to Anchorage for the weekend have had to book charter flights out last minute because they were planning on traveling by boat to the airport in Bethel (the cheaper, although longer and colder, alternative).

View of the frozen river from my window.

View of the frozen river from my window.

There have been multiple safety talks at the school this week- especially with the younger kids- to stay away from the river and the ice for now. Later on in the winter the river becomes the ice road that connects all the villages and towns up and down it, but right now it poses a big threat, because it looks safe, but the ice is still very thin. There is a high risk for drowning accidents at this time of year, and we hope to do everything we can to prevent that. The river will not open for traffic for a few weeks yet.

Perhaps this weekend I will venture out to the sandbar to get some close up pictures of the frozen river. The wind here makes the temperatures so much more bitter cold.

A Whirlwind Wedding

My sister in law has been engaged for over a year, and early on she asked me to be her matron of honor, and of course I said yes. Later on, Nathan and I learned that we were going to be moving to Napaskiak AK just a month before the ceremony. There was absolutely no question that we would have to travel back to the East Coast that second weekend in September. I can say now that I am extremely happy that we did, and that the more than 44 hours of traveling through airports, navigating the rental car experience, and high-speed driving on the highway after a month of no driving at all (eek!), was nothing when it came to spending just under 2 days with old and new family members.

We started out on Wednesday evening with a chartered flight at 6pm out of Napaskiak. I had strategically packed our suitcases so that we could go shopping in the lower 48 and bring back some things we wished we had sent up the first time around. (TIP: Pack a Vacuum Spacebag for your dirty clothes, so that you have extra space in your suitcase for things on your return trip!) It was really interesting to find that it was cheaper for us to Charter a private 3 seat plane for the two of us, as opposed to taking a regularly scheduled flight. Waiting at the airport in the village for our flight we took some pictures to pass the time.

The trooper plane at the airport.

The trooper plane at the airport.

Waiting for our Charter Flight!

Waiting for our Charter Flight!

Our pilot soon arrived, only about 10 minutes late. He explained that he had been sent to the wrong village at first, and then apologized that he was late. I have really relaxed about punctuality since being here, so it didn’t bother me in the least- and our next flight from Bethel didn’t leave until 9:35pm, so we had plenty of time built in for situations just like this. Like everything else here in the Bush, weather can wreak havoc on the best laid plans, so it is better to plan ahead and think of the worst case scenario. It is better to be pleasantly surprised, than really stressed out.

In a tiny 3 seater plane! Our seats actually folded up in the back. I love Bush Planes!

In a tiny 3 seater plane! Our seats actually folded up in the back. I love Bush Planes!

Our Pilot, ready to takeoff!

Our Pilot, ready to takeoff!

The airports in Bethel are set further out from the town, with each airline in a separate building.

You can see the airport buildings as we landed in Bethel.

You can see the airport buildings as we landed in Bethel.

Because of this, we were isolated and needed something for dinner. In the Yute Airlines building there is a restaurant on the second floor, so Nathan went over and ordered a pizza and some sodas for us (the most expensive small pizza ever- about $22!). So over in the Alaska Airlines building we snacked on pizza and watched America’s Got Talent on the TV’s. In Bethel, you don’t go through security until just before you are about to board the plane. We watched as delivery people came with food from town, and realized that this may be a good idea next time we come through and have a craving for something other than pizza.

Our flight to Anchorage went without incident, and we boarded our plane to Seattle only a couple hours after landing and were on our way back to the lower 48! Our new GCI cell phones would incur lots of charges if we used voice calling or data outside of Alaska without upgrading our plan, so we made sure to let everyone know to contact us via text or through family that would be at the wedding.

After an hour delay in Seattle we did some shopping, and let the wedding party know that we wouldn’t be able to pick up Nathan’s tux before the shop closed, and that someone would need to pick it up for us.

The Philadelphia airport is so much larger than I really realized. I have flown out of there a couple times now, but when we went to go find the rental cars, we had to take a shuttle bus to a different location entirely. Thankfully I had sat next to a woman on the flight who needed a rental as well, so we made the journey together! After about a half an hour, I jumped into a bright shiny red VW Jetta and we were on our way to the wedding in Scranton!

We had missed the rehearsal and picnic after, but we made it with time to spare for getting ready and the ceremony. As a former Stage Manager, I helped put together the time schedule for the big day while on my layovers, and kept an eye on the clock making sure that everything happened (mostly) on time. It is amazing to me that I can be so relaxed about timelines while in the village, but I slip so easily back into my clock-watching ways on the East Coast!

Needless to say, the wedding was BEAUTIFUL, and we had an amazing time! I will let the pictures speak for themselves:

The beautiful bride and myself on the way to the ceremony!

The beautiful bride and myself on the way to the ceremony!

Bridesmaids and the Bride. I LOVED our orange lace dresses and cowboy boots- I was so comfortable AND fashionable!

Bridesmaids and the Bride. I LOVED our orange lace dresses and cowboy boots- I was so comfortable AND fashionable!

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The bride's family.

The bride’s family.

Having some fun at the park while the photographers were working with the bride and groom.

Having some fun at the park while the photographers were working with the bride and groom.

Then the next day, we did some last minute shopping, packed our bags and left for the Philadelphia Airport to head back to the tundra. A note to anyone with a rental car going back to PHL- there are NO gas stations, so be prepared to prepay for your gas, or just suck it up and pay the ridiculous $5+ a gallon charge.

With my hair still curly from the ceremony, and my jewelry still on, we ventured through the airports grabbing what sleep we could on our return trip. I tried to keep my bouquet intact, but after the first flight, it was pretty devastated. So I tied it’s ribbon on my luggage and called it a day. Flowers don’t really hold up as well as people on a 4,000 mile journey!

The bouquet's ribbon on my luggage.

The bouquet’s ribbon on my luggage.

A 10 hour layover in the Anchorage Airport called for my bathrobe to be brought out!

A 10 hour layover in the Anchorage Airport called for my bathrobe to be brought out!

I found it a little cruel as we stepped off the 3rd of 4 planes we took to Bethel to see this painted on the body of the plane:

"Follow me to Disneyland"

“Follow me to Disneyland”

We most certainly were NOT in Disneyland! In fact Bethel greeted us that Sunday afternoon with a cold wind and intermittent rain.

Our last charter back to the village was flown by a young 20 year old guy from Seattle. It was his birthday and I was super impressed that he was a bush pilot- I hadn’t even stepped foot on a plane yet at that age!

5 days, over 8,000 miles, and lots of laughs later, we were finally back home. It was great to see family (and welcome some new members) but it was just as good to be back in the village, our home.

Arriving in Napaskiak

The view from our front door in Napaskiak, AK.

The view from our front door in Napaskiak, AK.

As soon as we climbed out of the bush plane and set foot on the gravel runway in the rural town of Napaskiak I could hear the shouts of children running towards us. Along with them was one of the other new teachers, Liann. We turned to help our pilot unload the plane, stacking our luggage and boxes of groceries on the runway. Joe, the school’s secretary would be coming out to meet us on his ATV with a cart to move all of the luggage to teacher housing. He arrived within a couple minutes, just as we had unloaded the last of the boxes. Our pilot, seeing that we were taken care of, climbed back into the cockpit, waved goodbye, and was taking off down the runway back to Bethel.

We had learned so much about the people and the culture of the village that we were moving to, but all the knowledge in the world couldn’t have really prepared us for our first journey through the village. An overwhelming feeling came over me as an ever increasing group of children surrounded us, took our hands, and asked us an unending amount of questions. All of the advice we were given kept going through my head, and I was trying to think of what to say and do, but it all just kind of went out the window, and I just said whatever came to mind with all of their questions buzzing around me. The little girls fought over who got to hold my hand, but we took turns and everyone got to hold hands so no feelings were hurt.

We talked about how I was married, and they all wanted to look at my ring. When the little girl on my right saw that I was wearing my class ring too she asked me if I had gotten married twice! I explained to them that where I grew up when you graduated from high school you could get a ring. Moments like this really made me realize what a different world we were stepping into.

Walking along the boardwalk through the village children joined our group and peeled off to go play as well. Everyone wanted to know our names and if we were teachers. I exchanged names with so many little girls that I’m not sure I will remember any of them. They chattered away as we walked and I tried to take it all in- seeing if I could discern one building from another. I knew that the village had a store and a post office as well as a health clinic. We passed by the store, but arrived at the teacher housing before we saw anything else.

Teachers and their families live in one of two 4-plex apartments connected by a large ramp. The two story buildings look out of place in the village comprised of one story houses on stilts. Joe had already unloaded all of our luggage at the bottom of the ramp, so we began moving boxes up to our apartments. Nathan and I will be living in apartment 4 in the left building, and they had left a key for us taped to our door inside. However when Lisa, the dean of students, attempted to open the front door her key went in and turned, but the door stayed locked! We had traveled over 4,000 miles across the country to our new home and couldn’t get in the front door!

Never have I known the saying ‘so close but so far’ better than while we stood on the porch waiting for the maintenance man Paul to arrive and let us in. He had been taking a steam (more on that later) when we called, so we felt bad for interrupting, but he came right over on his ATV. Paul looked at the door, took the lock apart, fiddled with something and then took Lisa’s key and pushed hard on the door while turning it. He had worked some sort of magic because we were finally able to go inside!!

After bringing our boxes upstairs and saying goodbye to the kids outside we had some time to explore our apartment and unpack. As overwhelmed by everything as I was, I loved the feeling of community that I got in the village. Everyone was connected, and we were going to be a part of that.