Shasta Taiko Japanese Drum Group

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Shasta Tyco at the school in Napaskiak

If life in the Bush has taught me anything, it is to be flexible and spontaneous. Nathan came home for lunch on Monday and told me about a really great Japanese drumming group that had preformed at Cama-i (an annual dance festival in Bethel- read more about it Here) and that they had just given a performance at the school. They were going to have a second show in less than an hour, and he thought I should go.

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I wasn’t dressed, and neither was the baby, but I didn’t hesitate, and I’m glad for it. The performance was amazing. It was really cool to see a family rediscovering their cultural heritage, and having do much fun at the same time.

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It was more than just drumming. Each song has a cultural significance and story behind it that they shared. And they moved like they were dancing or fighting.

The kids favorite had to be the lion song. We were told that if you were bit by a lion you would have good luck for the rest of your life. The kids went crazy and stood up, ask hoping to be bit!

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The lion in the audience

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The lion dancing

Baby boy liked the drums too. Since people were worried that it might be too loud, but he was happy, and not scared at all. He even feel asleep half way through the performance and slept soundly in his carrier. Hooray for baby wearing!

I love to see people across cultures sharing their heritage. It reminds you just how vast the world is, and that even though people are different, you can learn from them, and maybe even find something in common. We all have the same ancestral roots after all.

If you are interested in learning more about the Shasta Taiko group, you can check out their website Here!

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Six Essentials on my Breastfeeding Journey

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Becoming a mother was one of the biggest transitions of my life. I was excited and scared about everything. I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby from the beginning because my mom had, and I knew about all of the health benefits for baby. Beyond that though, I didn’t know too much. So I did what any type A person would do: I researched and read everything I could get my hands on, and even went to a La Leche League meeting before I gave birth.

Armed with knowledge I was confident that I was going to be great at breastfeeding. Like any mom before she gives birth, I knew it all. Of course, as they say, having a baby changes everything. It has been a crazy journey with ups and downs, but we have made it six months now exclusively breastfeeding, and I couldn’t be happier or more proud.

In celebration of six months, I’m going to share six things I couldn’t have done without on this breastfeeding journey:

1. Nursing tank tops

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These have been a lifesaver for my wardrobe. I find nursing bras to be uncomfortable, and it’s difficult to get the right size. The tank tops are stretchy, and offer enough support for someone who is small like me. They are also great to layer with t-shirts, and then you can discretely nurse in public!

2. Nursing infinity scarf

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I personally hate nursing covers. They look like unattractive aprons. So when I saw an infinity scarf that doubled as a nursing cover, I was sold. I could look stylish and nurse modestly in public? Sign me up! Now I don’t always use it, because baby boy doesn’t like it when it’s too hot, but I love having the option, and because I can wear it, it doesn’t take up precious space in the diaper bag.

3. Lanolin
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Don’t skip out on lanolin thinking that you will see how things go and buy it only if you need it like I did. You will need it. Even with a good latch and no problems you will still be sore.

4. La Leche League
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The women and volunteers involved with this organization have been lifesavers. No question was ever too dumb, and they were available all hours through Facebook for support. Living rurally I wasn’t able to attend meetings, but I never felt alone. They helped me get through it when baby and I got thrush (twice!) and when I had mastitis the leader of the Anchorage group checked up on me and got me in contact with an IBCLC who talked me through everything on the phone, and encouraged me even after I developed an abscess and ended up in the ER. With their help I was able to keep nursing even after I dried up on one side because of the abscess. I would have quit after one month without their support and knowledge, when the ER doctor gave me bad advice.

5. Support at the hospital
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I was lucky to be able to deliver at one of the nation’s top hospitals. Providence Alaska Medical Center was amazing, and really focused on helping you form a strong breastfeeding relationship from the start. Skin to skin immediately, lactation consultants on staff to help even after you left the hospital, and nurses who were knowledgeable about breastfeeding as well. Baby roomed in with us, and nurses made sure I had everything I needed- including filling up my huge water bottle at all hours so I could stay hydrated.

The hospital you choose and their policies are really important in the crucial early days of establishing breastfeeding.

6. Support of friends and family

The most important thing I found though, was having the support of my friends and family. When I wanted to give up my husband would remind me that I wasn’t to quit on a bad day. I could quit, but not in the middle of the night just because I was tired. He knew I could get through it, and I just needed him to tell me I could. Breastfeeding can be very lonely and polarizing if you don’t surround yourself with people who share your goals. Once baby and I established a good nursing relationship I never felt like I had to leave the room or seclude myself to feed him because my friends and family supported me however I wanted to feed my baby. There was no judgement and nothing but love- something I really can’t be thankful enough for.

Looking back on those early days, when everything hurt and leaked and both baby and I shed our fair share of tears, I’m so happy I kept at it. Now we have a rhythm and a great nursing relationship that is especially awesome when traveling. Baby boy is happy and healthy and in the end that is really all that matters.

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Here’s to six more months!

 

What essentials do you swear by for nursing? Have a breastfeeding story you want to share? Let me know in the comments below!

Flat Stanley Visits Napaskiak

When my cousin contacted me about a week ago about her son’s school project I was super excited. They had read the book Flat Stanley in class (it’s all about a boy who gets squished flat, and then mails himself around so he can travel) and they were sending out their own Stanleys. She asked if I would be willing to take some pictures, and I immediately agreed. I had read the book myself in Elementary school, but never participated in a project like this. The students are going to be sharing and mapping where their Stanleys go, so it will be cool to have Alaska represented.

Check out our tour of the village with Stanley:

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Looking out at the frozen Kuskokwim River

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Checking out the fish drying

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Bush Planes are cool!

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At the School

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More Alaskan Handicrafts at the School

Next up, Stanley is headed to my sister in Florida- hopefully he will warm up a little bit, and maybe even see a beach. It will be a good vacation after the frozen tundra I think!

Camp NaNoWriMo 2016

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With April right around the corner, I find myself prepping for this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo. Last year’s camp project was a disaster. I started out with lots of hope and ambition; I wanted to reach a goal of 60,000 words. In the end I finished out the month with just over 7,000. Some would say that any words written were a success, and in that light they are right, but I was sad that I couldn’t meet my goals.

My pregnancy was a lot tougher than I had expected. Physically, it was pretty mild, I didn’t have too many complications other than my gallbladder, but emotionally I was a wreck. Anxiety would keep me awake for days, just staring at the clock, and then depression would hit and I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. I was still working at the school at the time as well, so between yo-yoing emotions and trying to put on a happy face and work, I was not focused on writing at all.

This year I’m in a much better place. I was really worried about post-postpartum depression, but things have been really positive. The first three months of being a mom were a blur, so I didn’t even attempt NaNoWriMo, but now I feel that I’m in a good groove with parenting, so I’m going to give Camp a go. Baby boy is by no means on a strict schedule, but he does nap several times a day, so I’m taking advantage of those times to get back into the swing of writing.

For this year’s Camp, I am going to be working on the sequel to my first Nano novel. After I finished that one, I realized that it served better as backstory for another character and his journey. At first I was really upset that I had written almost 300 pages of something that only scratched the surface of the story I really want to tell, but in actuality, I feel like I’m in a much better place to write this new story, because of all the work I did on the first.

I don’t have a title yet, but I do have a blurb written:

Hal, an orphaned young man lives in the restrictive confines of the American Resistance Compound. The world outside is a dangerous place; ravaged by war and disease after the North American Power Grid failed twenty years prior, the once free country fell to the oppressive power of the Chinese government.

Now with the ARC’s infrastructure failing and the appearance of a beautiful young Chinese scientist carrying a mysterious vial, the outside world is crashing in. People are getting sick from the plague they have battled to keep out for so long, and the only way to save them is a dangerous journey to a laboratory run by the Chinese that is rumored to have a cure.

Can Hal survive the outside world long enough to save the only family he has ever known? And can he trust his heart along the way?

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I’m really excited to get started! And with Camp’s more relaxed rules, I may just get writing a little early.

Are you participating in Camp this April? What are you writing? Let me know in the comments below!

Winter Walks

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Ravens Flying Over the Boardwalk

Alaska winters are long and dark. I’m always looking forward to the time of year when the days are getting longer, and the temperatures are rising enough to go outside for more than just a few minutes. The past week has had some really nice days where I could do just that. Winter walks are some of my favorite. You experience the vastness of the world in a different way after being cooped up inside all winter. The crisp air bites your face, but it feels fresh and exciting, and as long as you wear your ice cleats, you can really go anywhere!

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I’ve taken several walks now, strapping the baby into his carrier and bundling him under one of my husband’s coats. I’m worried about him getting chilled, but after each walk he has been toasty warm- kept so by my own body heat. I don’t know how people live without baby wearing, it is seriously a lifesaver, and one of my favorite things. You have a happy cuddly baby, and you can continue to actually do things- it’s a win-win!

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Sammy, our dog, has enjoyed these walks as well. I feel bad for her being cooped up in the winter as well. We take her out multiple times a day, but when temperatures are below zero, we hardly want to go trekking on an adventure, so she settles for running around the apartment for her exercise (sorry downstairs neighbors!)

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Winter is far from over yet, but I think the worst is over. Tickets for the river breakup are being sold. Nathan and I have decided to try and guess this year. Last year we didn’t buy any tickets, but his guess was off by only a day. Essentially the idea is that people buy tickets to guess the day and time that the river ice will break up. They have a tripod set up in Bethel on the ice, with a rope leading to a timer. When the tripod collapses, it pulls the rope, stopping the timer. People from all over the delta try to guess the exact date and time. Whoever has the closest guess wins the prize of $10,000. Talk about an awesome opportunity!

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Last Years Tripod on the River

I’m looking forward to the warmer weather and longer walks. As the boardwalks clear up, I will be able to take off my heavy boots and cleats, and the longer days will let us take walks after dinner. I can’t wait!

 

Do you ever take winter walks? Where are your favorite places to explore? Share with me below in the comments!

Shopping and Shipping

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The closest grocery store in Bethel

The question I get asked the most about living in the Bush is “How do you do your shopping?” Without a major grocery store in our village, and the unreliability of goods at our small local store, I’ve had to get pretty creative in my food shopping.
Despite reading every blog I could find about living in Rural Alaska, I still made some mistakes early on that resulted in some weird dinners. When all you have in your kitchen is fresh salmon, Jello and some canned goods, you certainly aren’t going to starve, but meals can be a little disjointed.

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Expensive fruit in our Hub Town, Bethel

Now that I’ve lived here for almost two years, I’ve gotten into a good groove, and explored a lot of options. Some of them were really great, and others not so much. Which methods do I use the most?

1. Amazon Prime
The bulk of my everyday shopping happens on Amazon. Prime has been a lifesaver. We learned early on that if you don’t ship something via priority mail, it can take up to a month to get to you in the village, because it comes in by a hovercraft from Anchorage (no joke!). If you can wait, and plan ahead, you can save by mailing things yourself, but my Prime membership has paid for itself over and over again in shipping costs.
Just a note- two day shipping takes about a week out here, but it is still the fastest option.

2. Walmart.com
Walmart changed its shipping policy to now ship free if you buy more than $50 worth of items. I turned to them after Amazon took my favorite flour brand off of Prime. I was happy a friend told me about this, because it was a lifesaver- you get to pay Walmart prices, and they ship for free. I also bought some stuff for the baby, and a few basics for the kitchen. They shipped separately, but I got all of my orders in the span of a couple weeks, which is pretty good for out here.

3. Walmart Bush Orders
If you are spending some time in Anchorage, and have the ability to get to the Diamond Center Walmart (don’t make the mistake of going to the one near Benson and A street!), they have a really great service for those who live in the Bush. Basically, you fill your cart with everything you want, roll it to the back of the store, and the bush department takes care of the rest!
You can pay by card, or opt for cash on delivery. They charge a 10% fee to package everything for you, and you also pay for shipping. We’ve done this a couple of times, and I’ve been super happy with it. Now with the changes on Walmart.com shipping I might not use this as often, but it’s still a pretty solid option.
There are a few things they won’t ship for you based on USPS regulations, so double check those before you shop or throw those items in your airline luggage, but for the most part you can get anything you need!

4. Flat Rate Shipping- Canned Goods
We travel down to the Lower 48 to visit family twice a year. And during that time, I always make sure to have a big shopping trip for canned goods. I shop at Aldi where I can buy things by the case, and nobody looks at me too funny. My sister always likes to come with me because it amuses her when I debate about whether I want one or two cases of something. I usually spend about $100-$200 on canned goods that will last us until the next time we come home.
Then I pack them all into the flat rate priority boxes from the USPS. Based on weight, I really make out on this deal. Essentially it doubles the price of each can- but when you can pay discount supermarket prices, it is still cheaper than buying canned goods at the village store, or even in Bethel. I print my own shipping labels to save even more, and then schedule a pick up from the post office and I don’t even have to lug the boxes further than the porch- win!

5. Checked Luggage
When we travel on Alaska Airlines we get two free checked bags each as Alaska Residents (Yay Club 49!) so we usually have a tote or two with fresh groceries from the Lower 48 or Anchorage. You can also check a cooler in their frozen section, (we have a great one on wheels) and as long as they are under 50lbs, they travel just like any other luggage.

Not everything I’ve tried has been a great success. Some methods I’ve tried, but don’t really like:
1. Mailbox Groceries/Expediters
We used an expediter once- and I swear never again. It was by far the most expensive option we have tried. My husband bought some things in bulk at Sams Club in Anchorage. They don’t have bush orders the way Walmart does though. He purchased the items, they kept them at the store, and he arranged a pick up with an expediter after he left. Basically you pay someone to pick up your items, package them, and then you pay priority shipping on top of that. If you are really crunched for time, and need something that you can’t get anywhere else, it may be worth it. Expediters will shop for you too, if you aren’t in town. Of course there are extra charges for that as well. But if you need multiple things from multiple stores in Anchorage, it’s like having your own personal shopper!

2. Span Alaska Sales
It’s not that I don’t like Span Alaska; their customer service is amazing, they deliver fast, and they are Alaska owned and operated, but they just tend to be more expensive than other options. I usually check their paper catalog first and then compare prices online. If you want to save time it’s great for a big bulk order- especially since they include shipping in the prices already (except for frozen)- you are just going to end up paying a little more. Since I now am a stay at home mom, I have the time to dedicate to finding the absolute lowest price.

And of course I do still buy things at the local store when they are in stock, and I’m in a bind, or my husband will pick up fruits and veggies when he is at an inservice in Bethel and can hit the real grocery store.
I think about the days of just stopping in to the store quickly to pick something up for dinner after work when we lived in Philly, and I miss it a lot, but I’ve learned to plan ahead, and get a lot more creative and flexible with my cooking, so there are some upsides!

 

If you live in the bush, what is your favorite way to shop? Anything I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments!

2015 Reading Recap

Last year I took upon myself the challenge of reading 52 books (one a week) for Popsugar’s 2015 Reading Challenge. How did I do? Well, I didn’t finish the challenge, but I accomplished a great deal of what I set out to do.

Overall I read 48 books, in more genres than I normally do. Sci-fi and YA are my personal favorites, and while a good deal of the books that I read fell into those categories, I found myself genuinely enjoying many books in other genres. A nonfiction book that I chose for the humor category A Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs stands out as one of my favorites. It not only made me laugh, but made me really think about how we pick and choose what rules to follow when it comes to religion, and what that says about who we are, and what kind of world we want to live in. This is not a book I would have picked up previously, but I’m so glad I did.

Being married to an English teacher, I’ve always felt pressure to read the classics. Don’t get me wrong- I love me some Shakespeare, and I’ve really enjoyed other classics like Dante’s Inferno, Jane Eyre, and The Great Gatsby, but I do find most of the classics really hard to get through. However, for the challenge I stepped up and finally read Frankenstein, and added Wuthering Heights to the list as well. Frankenstein was okay, but took me a real long time to get through. Wuthering Heights on the other hand bored me greatly. I started and finished three other books while trying to get interested in it. I find that the Victorian style of writing about someone’s life from start to finish is taxing on the reader. I’m much more used to (and fond of) the later point of attack that modern books tend to take. Not to mention that Wuthering Heights had multiple characters with the same name- I can’t stand that!

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Overall, I’m really happy with what I have accomplished. You can check out all the books I read and my ratings over on Goodreads.

I’m also excited to announce that this year I’m going to be attempting this again, along with starting an online book club with some friends. Popsugar’s list this year is only 40 books, but adding in the book club selections I’m up to 46. That gives me a totally achievable goal for this year.

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I’ve already checked one off the list- A book recommended to me by a family member: After the Cure by Deirdra Gould. I really enjoyed it, and it’s free for the Kindle!

Are you participating in a reading challenge this year? Have any suggestions for books I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

New Store!

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The New Store. It’s so much bigger than the old one.

This past week was extremely exciting here in the village. Our new store celebrated it’s grand opening, and I was positively giddy. I’m sure it’s my ‘small town’ showing, but I couldn’t wait to set foot in the new building and do some shopping. The store is bigger, brighter, and full of so many amazing things that we couldn’t get in town before. Prices are still really high, but it’s nice t know that if I really need something I don’t have to wait a few weeks for Amazon to deliver it.

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The old store

Oh- and I had eggs for the first time since being in Anchorage back in September. I have been using powdered eggs for baking, but they are no good to eat by themselves. I can’t tell you how great it was to see that cooler stocked full!

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The whole aisle of candy and snacks was my favorite!

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Fully stocked and beautiful!

The new store is further away from our house now, but the longer walk is totally worth it.

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Nathan overwhelmed by all the choices for jam!

Snowvember and Caribou

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Winter has arrived in November!

Snow came to the village a little later this year (last year our first snow was in October) but this year it stuck. It is a winter wonderland, and got cold fast. The river road is open already too. Personally I prefer it this way- the constant tease of snow, only to melt the next morning in a depressing drizzle, was no fun at all. And completely contrary to my thoughts about Alaska- the East coast where my family lives was getting hit with snow and cold, while we dealt with almost constant gloom and rain. I’m much happier this year, and the cold and snow being a constant means something else great as well: caribou hunting is possible.

Last year we received a little bit of caribou, enough for a roast and a stew. I fell in love with the meat. Think of the tastiest cut of beef you can… caribou is even better than that! It is a tougher meat though, so cooking it in the crock pot is the way to go for sure.

This year, it was like we were thrown into the deep end of bush living when it came to caribou. No nicely packaged and cut piece for us this year, no. We’ve been out here now for a while- so we got to butcher our own half of a leg that a neighbor shared with us. Not just cutting, but cleaning the hair off as well 😉

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So I put on some clothes that I wouldn’t mind getting messy, and dove right in! I was actually pretty excited. I have carved a chicken before, but nothing like this.

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Here we go!

My husband was surprised that I volunteered for the task. In the past I have acted pretty squeamish when it came to gutting the Salmon. I’m not sure why but the scaly texture of the fish freaks me out, whereas the caribou leg wasn’t that bad. Regardless, he was happy to play with the baby while I hacked away at the meat.

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It was a hard, messy job, but in the end it was so worth it. We now have a whole bunch of meat stored in the freezer- at least 3 pounds of stew meat and several roasts. It’s going to be a tasty year for sure!

Have you ever tried caribou? Any favorite recipes? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

Throw Party and Baby’s Yupik Name

Hello internet! It’s been a couple of crazy weeks since I last wrote. I was a little bit busy having a baby, and learning how to keep him alive while only half awake myself. Fortunately I had my amazing mother fly all the way out to Alaska, first to Anchorage and then out to the village with my husband, new baby and I. It has been a hazy time filled with laughter, tears, and clichés. 🙂

Introducing Baby Emmett, born 9/19 in Anchorage AK at 7lbs 5oz.

Introducing Baby Emmett, born 9/19 in Anchorage AK at 7lbs 5oz.

I never expected anyone from my family to come visit us out in the bush. In fact, for the most part, I don’t recommend it. There isn’t much to do out here, and with the price of airline tickets I think it’s a much better idea to meet up somewhere tropical. However, with the birth of her first grandchild, my mother would have it no other way and I was so relieved to have her here, guiding my husband and I through those crazy first days.

Mom left the village today, starting her almost day and a half journey through five different airports back to New York. I’m really sad to see her go, but know that we will visit again over Christmas, and really I call her almost every day anyway!

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While she was here I was excited to share not only the new baby but also some of the local culture with her. We were fourtuante enough to attend a feast in the village on Sunday. This feast was held for two of the boys who had their first moose this year. I was very excited for them, as they are some of my favorite kids in the village, and it is always nice to go to a happy feast.

While we were there, Baby Emmett received his Yupik name. Both my husband and I received Yupik names last year, and knew that it was only a matter of time before baby got one as well. His Yupik name was passed down to him from a girl who passed away last month. Her family member was so filled with joy to see a new baby to give the name to, and it really touched me as well. I think it is amazing to keep names alive in this way, and really honor those who have come before us. It is a way of keeping in touch with those we lose. His given name is Anguuq (pronounced like ung-ook). It doesn’t have a ‘meaning’ or English translation, but I love it, and all the history behind it.

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After the feast, the family was having a ‘throw party’. Throw parties are more of a coastal village tradition that goes hand in hand with seal hunting, so I had never attended one. I was excited to share this new experience with my mom. It was cold and started to rain icy pellets from the sky part way through, but it was still a good time.

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The two boys kicked off the event by tossing out stuffed moose to the women gathered below. Only women participate in the throw. After they tossed those out, they began throwing all sorts of other items off the roof. It was exciting, and a little dangerous (have you ever had a package of clothespins thrown at you? They hurt to catch with half frozen hands!) but I had a great time. All the items thrown are useful in some way, especially when you don’t have access to larger stores. Plates, socks, wash clothes, cups, cooking utensils, and laundry baskets among other things rained down with the sleet.

The things mom and I caught.

The things mom and I caught.

Waiting to begin!

Waiting to begin!

Overall, I think my mom had a good couple of weeks visiting, and we will miss her a lot- and not just because she did my laundry!