Sunday, September 30, 2007

Skype to the rescue!

According to the tech person at my school, all of the long distance phone capabilities of rural Alaska are down! Fortunately, the magic of the internet phone service "Skype" has allowed me to call everybody back home in Washington. I feel weird just talking at my laptop, but it works pretty darn well! And only 9 bucks for unlimited (well, 7 hours a day) calling to anywhere in the U.S. for 3 months. Total score!

Well, I have to leave for NACTEC tomorrow and I'll be gone in Nome for 4 days. NACTEC is kind of a career/life skills camp for middle school and high school students, and I am taking our middle schoolers there to learn about different jobs. Plus, we get to swim in a heated pool! Planning for the substitute is taking quite a while though...

Here's a picture of me with my new laptop! Warhol-ish.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Muktuk and Mr. Frost

The first "jack" frost of the season came through yesterday. Unlike cold weather down in Washington, where it will frost on Tuesday and be 80 degrees on Thursday, the frost in Shaktoolik is here to stay. According to the natives, it will be frosty here pretty much every morning for the next, oh, 5 months or so. Woohoo! I had to go berry picking one last time...

The crannberries can only survive a few frosts before they turn to mush. Here is some juice that I processed last week (I needed to make room in the freezer). According to my students, I've either made it "too sweet" or it "needs more sugar." Hmm, I like it just fine!

Also a new experience for me over the weekend--muktuk! There is the "white" muktuk, which is beluga skin & blubber, and "black" muktuk, which is bowhead whale. The white muktuk is pretty tasty, like chicken, but...a little chewier...with a sort of scrambled-eggish flavor. It's mighty fine when it's pickled! The black muktuk has an even stranger flavor, and chews like a hard piece of gristel. You can't really chew it down, you just have to swallow the lump of cartilage-y blubber. It tastes more like...fishy walnuts...with...almonds...and chicken again. It has sort of a weird nutty flavor. Here's a close-up:

Then here's my leftovers from a wedding reception that I took home. Homemade bread is a staple here, as is desserts involving berries. You can see the remnants of the delicious "agutuk" I had (eskimo ice cream: made with berries, seal oil, and rendered fat of some kind, a real treat if you can get past the aftertaste), and next to the fork is some pickled white muktuk.

Other than that, we had our last cross country meet in Nome. I took 6th place in the open race, but none of our runners went to state. Kotzebue and Nome have fierce cross country teams that know the course. The course has a brutal one-mile uphill climb through the tundra that just kills your legs--and it's at the beginning of the race! We got to ride in the short bus though, classic!

Here's the sprawling, 3,500 population town of Nome. They have a Subway, 9 bucks for a footlong was a real treat for the end of the season.

And one last picture, the north side of Shaktoolik at low tide.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Breathtaking view this morning

Simply an awe-inspiring sunrise this morning. My camera lense would need to take a 270 degree picture to truly do it justice:

We had our meet in Unalakleet this past weekend also. The team didn't do as well for several reasons. I was sick (and wasn't whipping them as hard during practice), the weather was stormy, and there were many more runners. Here we are, leaving in our tiny airplane. I got to sit in the co-pilot's seat!

Very strange race across the tundra though. It wasn't a circular course--we all drove 3 miles out of town and dropped the runners off to run across the muddy sponge-land. Here's Bart at the starting line:

Marie and Dorinda were getting changed when everyone left for the girl's race! Argh! I asked the superintendant of the whole district, Jim, if there were any more vehicles going to the starting line. His response was, "Sure, just take my Blazer. The keys are already in it." WOW! What superintendant in the entire U.S. leaves his keys in a car outside the school, then lets a first-year teacher drive his students down a bumpy dirt road?

It felt almost foreign, driving a car. Considering that I've ridden in a car maybe 5 times in the past 2 months. I've ridden in the back of a truck for 2 miles on my way to the airport a few times, but that's been about it. I grinned ear to ear when my students remarked, "Woah, you know how to drive?"

The flight on the way back made for some spectacular views of the Iditarod trail. Here's a collection of pictures:

That last picture of Shaktoolik really makes my world here seem small!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Bering Sea blows a wicked wind

Just recovered from my first Alaskan sickness today. I picked crannberries for 4 hours during a rainy, blustery storm on Sunday. I figured, "Sweet, no bugs today!" because the last time I went berry-picking I had gnats suiciding into my eyes. It turns out that 45 degree rain and wind is actually WORSE for you than bugs, as I caught a debilitating cold/sore throat kind of a thing.

I went to school on Monday anyways. When the other teachers asked why I was coming to school sicker than a dog, I said, "I knew it would be more work planning for the substitute, so I just came in to make it easier." The other teachers grinned and looked at each other. "He learns FAST." The high school english teacher even used my predicament as an example during her lesson on irony:

Jess went cranberry picking to make juice that would keep him from getting sick, and while doing so he caught a cold.

On a happier note--I found some old pictures! Here's me diving into the Bering Sea after the other teachers and some students "triple dog dared" me.

And of course, my first salmon, and the 3rd fish I've ever caught in my entire life! A lot of very jealous fisherman are not going to like this picture...

And she was delicious! Nothing like a fresh silver or "coho" salmon. Jake the science teacher/fisherman extraodinare smoked her out that night.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

First XC meet was TOP NOTCH!

Got to see some trees in the village 60 miles north of Shaktoolik for the Cross Country meet today. The Koyuk Invitational Meet was a blast, a race filled with huge hills and twisty roads! The kids in Koyuk are very open though--one of them asked me why I had such a big nose. I told him it was so I can smell lot of different things. He kept pointing at things far away and asking me what they smelled like. He pointed to a tire across town and I said, "Smells like rubber!" He thought that was amazing. Koyuk is very different from Shaktoolik geographically, take a look:

This is Shaktoolik from the air. See the tiny dots? Those are houses.

Here is a very tired Dorinda walking up a Koyuk road.

The race was awesome! Dorinda took 8th place and Marie took 5th. Here they are at the starting line. Yup, that's all of the high school girls from like 6 villages who run xc.

They even have lots for sale in Koyuk that teachers can buy! One Koyuk teacher bought a lot and put herself a yurt on it! I asked her if it gets cold in the winter, and she just laughed pointed to the woodpile. Not much wood though, at least by Washington standards. Maybe it doesn't take a lot to heat a yurt?

The Koyuk store got a fresh shipment of Mushrooms ($3.50), Granny Smith Apples (8$ for 10 apples--a real steal), and Green Peppers (one big pepper for 1.50). I know you're not supposed to capitalize vegetables, but I am really happy to get these! They were to celebrate my win! I placed first in the open race with a time of 20:06 (not too shabby for 5k). Everyone who wants to run gets to run up here.

Everyone was very tired at the end of the day though. Here we are flying back. Bart was very excited to get 3rd place with a time of 21:00. If he takes another minute off of his time, he might go to state in Palmer!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Things taken for granted

A lot of you probably wonder how a "normal" day runs for me, so let me break it down for you:

7:00 am--wake up to the same alarm clock I've had for 10 years. It's a good alarm clock! Recently, the sun has been rising after 7:30, so I get to see a nice sunrise with breakfast.

8:00 am--Head to school. The 30 second commute is brutal.

9:00 am--School starts, my Success For All reading class is first for 1.5 hours. The curriculum is insanely scripted, so there is very little preparation on my part. I have 4 students, ages 10-13, who are all 5th grade level readers.

10:35 am--Levels 5/6 math. 9 students ages 10-15. This is my biggest class, so I have a paraeducator. Weird, huh?

11:25 am--Lunch! Choice of food A or food B that I prepared on Sunday. I try to avoid working during lunch via the advice of the one and only Ms. Plantz.

11:55 am--Levels 7/8 math. 4 students ages 12-15. Trying to instruct them all at once but I will have to start doing more individual tutoring soon.

12:45 pm--Levels 9/10 math. 4 students ages 15-18. Similar to the previous hour.

1:40 pm--Prep time, will someday be tutoring time, but I really need the extra preparation time and the other teachers are generous because this my first year.

2: 40 pm--Middle Level Project Period. 8 students ages 11-15. I supposedly teach technology, career skills, life skills, and cultural awareness. My hardest class to plan for, because the students need to be individually working on projects and there are 8 different students at different levels. I probably need to model what individual project work looks like.

3:30 pm--School is out! Spend the next half hour cleaning up and in meetings.

4:00 pm--Cross country practice. Go out and run/discuss running with the team.

5:00 pm--Come home, across from the school and unwind. Eat cookies =), read a book, draw something. My Grandma sends me the Christian Science Monitor news, which I actually enjoy reading with a cold glass of Ovaltine/powdered milk and a snack.

6:00 pm--Back to the school, more planning, grading, etc.

8:00 pm--ish. Email friends and family. Post to blog. Rely on the internet for crucial life functions. Etc.

9:00 pm--Prepare for the next school day. That reminds me, I need to go into the basement and look for some dowels for the tetrahedral kites we are building.

10:00 pm--ish, get back home. Get ready for sleep.

That's not how every day has been going, but a majority of them run like this. I like my sleep, so I have been getting 8+ hours a night! It's FANTASTIC. My next plan is to post some pictures of my classroom. I am currently laminating a bunch of stuff...

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Shaktoolik X-C Fundraiser

We started a little fundraiser so we could buy some jerseys for the X-C team:


Our first fundraiser for our cross country team, a movie night! After many attempts to rig up a working contraption, I had a dvd player and projector playing Arthur and the Invisibles on the open wall space in my classroom. That's Leonard, the community activities director, taking some pictures in the foreground.

We had two-thirds of the cross country team helping out in the fundraiser--Marie and Dorinda. Here they are selling some concessions. Lisa on the far left graduated last year, and she was helping out, too! Marie is holding little Jakie and Leslie is in the front, munching on some popcorn.

Linda the principal was out in the hall taking ticket money. She's been a wonderful principal and is originally from Montana. We ended up making 150 dollars for 2 different movies--one for kids and one for teens.

And just so everyone knows, my apartment feels very "Jess" now and I have my living room set up. The Mad Max picture really gives the whole place some good feng shui!