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.

 

 

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!

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!

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.

Bush Flying

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This is the plane that we took from Anchorage to the hub town of Bethel. I’m actually watching them load my bright orange luggage on now.

This was unique because we had to check all our bags except for our backpacks, tell the check in clerk how much we weighed, and then we didn’t have to go through security. Of course we didn’t know this and got in line. The TSA agent checking boarding passes informed us that we were welcome to go through security, but it was unnecessary. We were pointed down a long hallway on the other end of the terminal, and found the small gates for each of the regional airlines.

It was akin to stepping back in time, to a place where people could trust one another, and air travel was much simpler.

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.