Saturday, May 20, 2017

May Flowers

Boating on Six Mile!
Last week, after a seemingly never ending year, the reality of the upcoming summer break hit me like a freight train. My stress level was through the roof as I wrapped things up in my classroom, helped prepare for my student’s graduation ceremony, began packing for my summer travels, and cleaned up my apartment for the arrival of our last set of visitors. Ever patient with me, Sam continued to remind me that I was supposed to be enjoying myself and not stressing so much as the semester came to a close. He made sure not to let me dwell in my stress and we got outside quite a bit last week. We were even able to get out for a boat ride on Six Mile as the ice finally decided to thaw. Though I appreciated experiencing a normal Alaskan winter, I’ve been ready for spring and summer weather for the past month or so. 

Photo Cred.: Captain Wayne
Last week brought with it some beautiful weather, which was just what I was hoping for as my Dad and Meg were coming to spend the weekend. On Thursday, it was all I could do not to pace back and forth as I waited for their plane to land. I hop on our little "puddle jumpers” all the time, but knowing that your parents are flying in them sure does raise your heart rate and stress levels! Luckily, the day proved to be mild in terms of wind and before I knew it, they were climbing out of the plane and I was able to relax a bit. Of course, over the next few days, I felt like an overprotective parent as I ensured they both had enough layers, were being cautious when out on the hondas, and that Sam was cooking nut-free foods in an effort to ensure both parents would survive their trip to the village. 

The Gorge
That evening, after taking a walk and a short boat ride, we had a relaxed night as Dad and Meg were drained from their day of traveling. Friday brought with it warm temperatures and clear skies that allowed us to drive the hondas on some back trails and all the way up to Lake Clark. The day also brought with it an insider look at how a graduation takes place in the villages. That night, we went to school for my student’s graduation ceremony. Our “Class of 2017” consisted of just one student, and I’ve been anxious for this day for weeks. Our gym was a packed house and we had people watching as we live streamed through our Facebook page. My Superintendent, Ty, was able to fly in to speak and present my student’s diploma. It was a bit strange and surreal as I was helping people find seats and making sure everything was ready, to turn around and see my parents and Ty deep in conversation.. 

Roadhouse Mountain
While I normally would have been concerned about that conversation, my momma bear nerves were on hyperdrive and I had bigger things to worry about. Earlier in the evening, Ty joked that I was a wreck because my "first baby” was leaving home. Though I’ve had one student graduate this year, I didn’t work nearly as long or as closely with her as I did with the young man that was graduating. The ceremony was short, as most village graduations are, but it was beautiful and I tried to soak up every minute to ensure that I won’t soon forget it. I was glad that Dad and Meg could be there to see it and that they were able to meet half of the village, including all of my students. Afterwards, there was a live band dance at the community building to celebrate the graduation and though Sam and I only stopped in for about an hour, it was a fun time! Live band dances are a big deal in the villages, so there were a bunch of people there and it was nice to see everyone enjoying themselves and having some carefree fun. 

Dad tackling his first
steep Bear Creek Trail hill!
The rest of the weekend was spent outside adventuring. Saturday brought with it some off and on rain showers, but we still spent quite a bit of time outside. On Sunday and Monday we spent our time seeing the sights in Newhalen. Both my dad and Meg got a kick out of how we get hondas back and forth across the river on the boat, and by Monday morning, they had mastered the crossing process. We were able to get out to see Tazimna Falls, the Gorge, introduce them to some of our Newhalen friends, and traverse Bear Creek Trail, which is by far my favorite. I will say that there are some rather steep and extreme hills on this trail and I was hesitant to let my Dad drive up and down them. However, since he’s the grown up and the dad, he told me to be quiet, relax, and to let him do his thing. I think his inner teenager came out to play and he very much enjoyed mastering each hill. Meg and I were happy to watch the boys tackle the hills as we got our exercise for the day in walking up and down said hills. 

Ferrying hondas on Sam's water taxi!
Before I knew it, Tuesday morning approached and our East Coast visitors were climbing back into a plane and heading back to Pennsylvania. I was sad to see them go, but content in the knowledge that I would see them in just a few days. Once they left, I got back to school and spent the next day and a half making sure I was packed up and ready to go. It is always bittersweet to finish the school year, but I am comforted knowing that I will be working with the same students next year, unless any move over the summer. After saying our "see you laters” and ensuring my kiddos that I would be returning in August, I was ready to put this school year behind me. Though I am looking forward to returning in a few months, this summer break will provide a much needed respite from the village. 

Happy Graduation Ricky! 
As I write this, I have been back on the east coast for a little over 24 hours, and have already had a great time visiting with my family. Last night I was able to visit with my mom and see Katie’s progress in her gymnastics routines. I then spent a little while with my Dad, Meg, and some family friends. This morning, we traveled to Elizabethtown College to see my younger brother, Ricky, graduate. Not only was it great to see and celebrate with Ricky, but I was also able to visit with Nikki, Frank, Jason, and Ashley. It is rare that we are all together at the same time, so to get this reunion on my first full day home was a pleasant treat. This summer is already off to a great start! While I hope to get some rest this summer, it promises to be another busy one. Some of the highlights for the summer include the following: 

My sweet girl/Jr. Bridesmaid<3 
-Hip surgery this week to repair a honda accident/running related injury. In the surgery spectrum, it is a minor one, but this will keep me off my feet for a bit. However, if all goes well, I will be back to running in just a few months! 
-A trip to Michigan to see Sam’s sister, brother-in-law, and niece.
-Wedding dress shopping and other wedding planning!
-Spending the month of July in Juneau as I begin my master’s program. 
-Traveling to Greenville, South Carolina to spend time with some close friends.
-My fingers are crossed for a beach trip at some point!
-A trip to Florida to see the future in-laws (I love being able to say that!).

I am sure there will be many day trips and more visits than I count, but I have the best intentions to be more active in my blogging than I was last summer! Until then, and as always, thanks for following along with my journey! 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

April Showers and What Not

Things are thawing out! 
There have been times in the past when I have gone back and forth about what I would discuss in my post. Should I only talk about the good stuff? Do I let people in on the “ugly”? How honest should I be, can I be? It sometimes delays a post for days or even weeks. Truth be told, I started this post last week and had to leave it because I became too overwhelmed by my thoughts and emotions. However, I always go back to the fact that this blog is supposed to be about my journey. This is one of the most incredible adventures I could hope to be on, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But let me make it clear and say that it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes it is frustrating and aggravating, confusing and saddening. I’ll be honest and say that this past semester, this past month, has included a lot of those not so great moments. 

The Newhalen River
Teaching in rural Alaska is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. In my village, there can often be a disconnect between the community and the school. I don’t leave school and drive three towns over, or to another city, or even another state. I leave school and am surrounded by the families of the children I teach or who have students in the school. When things are so closely connected, as they are in a village, it can have an impact on both your career and your personal life. No matter how long I live here, I think I will always feel like an outsider, a burden, a "white person”, someone to distrust the moment change occurs. This is not to say that I feel this way every moment or that it ruins my experience, but it is a deep down feeling that is there at the end of even the best days. I wish I could explain to anyone who will listen, that I am not here for the money. I did not move 4,000 miles away, leaving my family and friends, just for the incredible views; they sure do help keep me here though. I do not continue to sign my contract “just because”. My sole purpose in coming here, in being here, in staying here, is to help the kids. 

Hatcher Pass 
In the past weeks, I have done a lot of reflecting and have spent countless moments going back and forth on whether I am meant to be here, if I am meant to be teaching. I’ve always admitted that I don’t envision myself in a classroom for the rest of my life. Yet, I never thought I would want out after only three years into my career. Again, at the end of the day, I stay for the kids. I’ll give it one more year out here and then we’ll see what happens next. Maybe Sam and I will stay in Alaska and maybe we won’t. Maybe I’ll continue to teach and maybe I won’t. I’m not so sure what the future holds for me, so for now I’ll take it one day at a time. I try to find comfort in the fact that I truly feel that I am meant to be here right now, in this place, doing what I am doing. If only I could remind myself that on the days in which I am questioning everything.. 

Reunited! 
While there have been many trying times in the past weeks and months, there have also been some really great moments. I think I'll go with a list recap for this post because to be honest, it has taken a lot of my mental energy to write this much. Here's what happened in April.. 

*State testing came and went with no major issues.

*I made a very short, overnight trip to Pilot Point, and had a great time seeing my first set of “my kids”. 

*I had the chance to spend a night snuggling with sweet Ila and visiting with her momma. 

Santa was on vacation:/ 
*I became an “Auntie” again as two of our friends welcomed their son in early April! Auntie Paige won’t get to meet Baby Brunn until August, but I’ve been loving pictures and updates from his momma! 

*Wedding planning has begun! We’ve picked a date and location, and are so excited to tie the knot:) 

*Speaking of weddings, I got my engagement ring back after sending it to be resized! I only got to wear it for a few days after the special day before sending it out. I’m thrilled to have it back on my finger. 

A mini Hammill family reunion:) 
*Nikki and Frank (My sister and brother-in-law) and Shawnee and Joey (my best friend and her boyfriend) came to Alaska!! Sam and I met them in Anchorage and we had some fun sightseeing adventures, rode the tram at Alyeska, went to the Wildlife Conservation Center, and more. After Caitlin joined us, the 7 of us road-tripped to Fairbanks to visit Santa Land in North Pole (yes, it’s really a town!), soak in Chena Natural Hot Springs, visit an Ice Museum, see the Northern Lights, and tour "Alaska Land". We had some long days, but the memories and sights were worth the lack of sleep and long hours in the car! It was such a great week and was a much needed break. 

Flattop Mountain
*During our trip to Anchorage, we were able to meet up with my cousin Jeremiah who lives there with his family. (He's the one I very randomly ran into in King Salmon at the beginning of the school year). I was happy for the chance to visit with him and hope to see him again soon! 

*This past week brought with it Culture Week, a week in school were the community comes in and we spend the entire week focusing on culturally important things, specifically Dena’ina traditions. We made kuspuks, worked on tanning moose hide, practiced Dena'ina language, mended nets, beaded necklaces, heard stories from elders, and focused on Dena'ina values.

Moose hide blanket toss!
*One project from Culture Week that fascinated me was tanning the moose hide. This is such a laborious process that yields a beautiful product at the end. The end result is leather that can be used for a variety of projects. One of the steps was wringing out the hide after it had spent a day soaking in caribou brains and bear fat (kind of gross but equally fascinating). Once it had been wrung out, it was to be taken inside where it would be stretched out and left to dry. Someone mentioned “one time when we were tanning a hide, they tossed the kids up on it…” and before I knew it, we had one of our youngest students on the hide and we were tossing her into the air. Then, we went into the gym, grabbed a mattress and some stronger adults, and began tossing anyone that wanted a chance. Though I was hesitant, I had to give it a try! It was terrifying to trust students and community members to catch me, but oh how exhilarating it was! The kids have teased me ever since because I screamed the entire time (check out my Instagram or Facebook to see the video). Life will bring with it experiences you never thought possible. Being thrown into the air and caught on a moose hide is not something I ever even thought might happen to me, and yet I can now add it to the list of things I’ve done. 

Can you come back now??
*The weather just keeps warming up. Our lake is finally, albeit very slowly beginning to look like a lake again. My parents come out in two weeks and I’m curious to know if we will still have ice in the lake when they arrive. 

*The days are getting longer and longer. The sun rose at about 6:20 this morning and the sun will set around 10:15. This is one of my favorite times of the year! 

Love that I get to walk through
 life with this guy by my side<3 
As I said earlier, there were a lot of great things to happen this month! I look at this list I’ve typed out and it helps me focus on all the positive things going on and helps push the frustrating things to the back of my mind. Another thing that helps me is knowing that I will be heading back to my east coast home in less than 20 days! Let's hope the April showers really bring some May flowers to get us through the rest of the school year! 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March Madness

A 9pm drive home from Lake Clark
Another month has gone rushing by since my last post, though some days and weeks have seemed to last forever. It’s hard to believe that we only have 37 days of school left and that in the next two months I will be having some visitors from the east coast! I’m looking forward to those visits and will be sure to update on them, but for now I wanted to do a recap of the March “madness” here in Alaska. 

Our flight to Nondalton! 
Similarly to other months, I had a nice visit to Pilot Point at the beginning of the month. The visit itself was uneventful, but the flight home had some surprises. On my return trip, we stopped in a few villages before heading to Nondalton, one of which was Igiuigig where we picked up Sam. I was excited for us to be able to fly home together, but then was grateful to have a hand to hold. The pilot warned us that the wind had picked up in Nondalton, but that he would try to land us. We flew over the runway at which point he told us the winds were gusting over 50 m.p.h. and that we would not be attempting a landing. Instead, we were flown to Iliamna where the wind had also picked up. We had a bumpy but safe landing, but then had troubles trying to walk to the building where we wait for a pick-up. The wind was blowing so hard that we had to dump our baggage and trudge through the gusts to the building. I felt that I was going to blow away! Luckily we were able to spend the night in Newhalen and then hop on a plane the next morning for a mostly smooth flight to Nondalton. 

Carry the Cure at Nondalton School 
After my trip to Pilot Point, we had an organization called "Carry the Cure" come to visit Nondalton. They were part band/part motivational speakers and it was their mission to spread the message of hope, especially to those living in Alaska's rural villages. It was a privilege to have them come to our school and we were all excited to watch their performances. The band played, a woman preformed some beautiful native dances, our community joined together in dance, and different people traveling with the band conveyed their own messages of overcoming struggles and choosing to commit to life. It was a much needed night in which everyone got to get out of cabin fever mode and come together to support a great organization. 

Having fun on Iliamna Lake:) 
March also brought with it Kokhanok’s annual carnival! Sam and I had gone our first year out here, but weren’t able to attend last year due to our Honda accident. We were eager to attend this year and were sure to take extra safety precautions in the weeks leading up to it. The thing I was most anxious for was the fact that this year, Iliamna Lake had frozen over and was safely crossable. People have been telling me about the ice road since I moved to Nondalton, but our past few winters have not been “true” Alaskan winters. This year we got lucky and the lake has been frozen for about two months, making many people happy to be able to cross between villages. At this point, people can easily travel between Port Alsworth, Nondalton, Iliamna/Newhalen, Igiugig, Pedro Bay, Kokhanok, and a few smaller private communities in the surrounding area. With that said, someone had gone out and plowed a specific path to Kokhanok for those wanting to get to carnival. Sam and I geared up and hit the “road”, enjoying the surreal feeling of driving across 23 miles of frozen lake. We saw a few cars and trucks crossing over at the same time and I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we were on ice and not on some dirt road in the village. 

Driving to Kokhanok
After making it safely to Kokhanok, and spending some time warming up at our friend Kelsey’s, we enjoyed a weekend with friends! Some of our friends from Nondalton had flown over and we were all grateful for the weekend getaway. We had visiting student teachers who decided to join us and I was glad they did! We all had a great time playing games, taking part in carnival activities, and hearing about the different places people had traveled from and how their journeys went. Much like Newhalen’s carnival, this one included a lot of basketball, a craft show, raffles, and also more traditional activities. I had an awful sore throat which caused me to miss out on some of the activities as I tried to rest and not spread my germs. However, I was just happy to be around friends that I don’t get to see often. Sunday night brought with it a potluck in which everyone brings a dish, dinner is had, and then raffle winners are chosen. This event, at every carnival, seems to last hours. The line for the potluck took us 45 minutes to get through!

An evening drive on Iliamna Lake 
Once this "end of carnival" potluck and raffles had finished, it was around 11pm and many of us made the trip over the lake that same evening. I was a bit weary of the thought of crossing at night, but when we got on the ice road, I noticed I had nothing to worry about. We were in a line of at least 20 vehicles crossing back over. It was a beautiful yet cold drive home and at one point Sam and I stopped on the ice just to look around and admire the reality of what we were doing. This adventure I am on never ceases to provide me with new adventures! I am so glad that we finally got a typical winter and that we were able to cross the lake at least one time. 

 We <3 bonfires and visitors! 
After carnival, things normally settle down in Nondalton until April, but this year March has definitely brought some madness to Nondalton. Cabin fever has been a difficult thing across our village, and everyone is eager for the increasing daylight we have been receiving. In school, our water has been an issue for a few weeks. The week after carnival was our first week of having problems with it, and we had to cancel school one day and then have early release days the rest of the week. To make up for the cancelled day, we decided to have school that Saturday. Many schools in our district will do this if school needs to be cancelled as it allows us to let out in May on the planned last day of school. We didn’t expect many of our kids to show up, so it was a pleasant surprise when all but two of our students came in on Saturday morning! Thankfully, the school’s maintenance team worked very hard to fix the problem and we are almost back to normal. The two weeks of uncertainty were not fun, so we are hoping that all will remain well throughout the remainder of the semester. One positive thing during this time was that we had a visit from our friend Jon. We enjoyed having him around for the weekend and I know Sam was thankful to have some guy time after being around our mostly female staff (minus our principal who travels often) all the time. 

Annabelle's 1st Birthday! 
Another highlight from this month was getting to celebrate Sam’s niece's first birthday this week via FaceTime. While we would much rather have been with the whole family in person, I continue to be thankful to have the technology that allows us to take part in special events from so far away. Also, I just realized that she will officially be my niece in the near future (See below)! 


I said YES!! <3
With all the chaos going on at school, Sam and I were looking forward to a relaxed weekend in which we could get outside to enjoy the sunshine and some fresh air. We were thinking of going to a neighboring village, Pedro Bay, yesterday but then decided to go to Kokhanok instead. I was looking forward to seeing my friend Kelsey and celebrating her recent engagement. During our trip to carnival, we had been focused on getting across safely and warmly and hadn’t stopped to take pictures at all. Yesterday, we found a spot, about halfway across the lake, to stop and take some pictures. I was glad to be soaking up the sunshine with Sam and not to be on a timeline or to have anywhere we had to be. After taking some pictures, Sam and I were talking when I sensed that something was about to happen.. Our conversation turned into one in which he was talking about our relationship, and then before I knew it he was down on one knee in front of me holding a box with a beautiful ring in it. He asked me a very special question that I said yes to and suddenly I was a fiancĂ©! 

Some love from a sweet student<3

It’s been almost 24 hours and I still haven’t quite grasped the reality of it; it will probably take a few days or weeks to wrap my head around.. Until it really hits me, Sam and I are enjoying the newness and spent a lot of yesterday and much of this morning telling our family and close friends. With that, one of our stops on the way home today included visiting our close friends Bill and Kate who just welcomed a beautiful baby girl to their family. We’ve been anxiously waiting to meet the little lady since she was born and I was also anxious to tell them our exciting news. It made for a great end to a joy filled weekend! 

Beautiful things are on the horizon! 
One more thing I am excited to announce is that thanks to living in rural Alaska where I have virtually nothing to spend money on, I was able to completely pay off my undergraduate student loans last week! It has been a grueling two years of putting two-thirds of each paycheck towards my loans but I am so thankful to be 100% debt free. I never expected to have them paid off in two years and it certainly removes a weight from my shoulders. It was perfect timing too as I embark on my graduate program and begin planning for a wedding! 

March is on it’s way to a close and April promises to be the busiest month yet! For now, I am going to keep taking it day by day and enjoying the fact that I get to marry and spend the rest of my life with my best friend! 




Saturday, February 18, 2017

Forever Playing Catch-Up

One of 10 moose
 seen in Anchorage!
It is a quiet, snowy Saturday and here I sit, on my couch, with an episode of Grey’s Anatomy (that I’ve seen at least 7 times) playing to give me some background noise. As I laze here, I realize that this is the first time in almost two months that I have been able to just “be”. Granted, I keep glancing at my always growing “to-do” list, thinking about what I can get crossed off today. However, I think all my tasks can wait for a few hours so that I can just binge on some Grey’s re-runs, write this blog post, and finish the book that I have been working on for about five weeks. I will admit that “blog” is an item on the list for today, but it is also something that relaxes me. While a lot has happened since I have returned from winter break, I will try to stick to discussing the big ticket items in an effort not to put anyone to sleep. Then again, maybe my parents are the only ones reading this and they have parental obligations to read the whole thing...so I know at least a few people will stick with this post until the end. Without further ado, let’s get caught up on the happenings in bush Alaska! 

Kuspuk Monday! 
While school is always busy and sometimes hectic, my kiddos and I are in a good swing and cruising through our work. In January, due to weather, I had a quick trip to Pilot Point and I am looking forward to getting more time “on the ground” when I head down for my visit this week. Mother Nature sure does have a way of changing a lot of plans, especially out here where travel is all dependent on our little planes being able to fly. We were scheduled to have a basketball Jamboree the last week of January, and everyone was bummed when it got delayed by a day due to strong winds. However, the next day it was  calm and planes were able to safely shuttle students from villages all over the district to play some ball. While I have been to plenty of jamborees, it was a new experience to host one in Nondalton. We all had a great, busy, week and many people from the community came to watch the games that went from about 9am-10pm for two and a half days. I enjoyed catching up with some of the teacher-coaches and students, but I was also glad for the quiet that came once all the teams had flown out. When you are used to seeing and talking with the same 20-30 people every day and then your school is flooded with many more moving bodies and chatty mouths, it is easy to get overwhelmed. All in all, it was a fun week for our school site! 

A student teaching
me how to fish:)
My favorite adventure partner<3
The day after the jamboree ended, we were able to have a whole school reward “field trip” to the lake to do some ice fishing. Though this is my third year living here, I had never been. The kids loved teaching me how to do something that they all love to do. I didn’t get to stay the whole time though, as I flew out to Anchorage that afternoon for a special education conference. A few of my Sp.Ed. co-workers and I were able to have a girl’s weekend in Anchorage before the conference began and it was just what I needed. While it took us a bit of time to grow our “town legs” again (bush life to city life takes some major adjustment time!), we were thrilled to be in a city again. We ate out, had Starbucks, went to the movies, shopped in a mall and at Target, and so much more. The conference itself was a mixture of information overload, great breakout sessions, and much needed collaboration time with the Sp.Ed. teachers in my district. By the end of the week, with my belly full of all the noms and my mind full of so many new strategies to try, I was ready to be off the road system and get back home to Nondalton. 

A beautiful day for flying!
Our trip home was uneventful for the most part and I had to laugh when we landed in Kokhanok and our pilot was unable to open the door because it had frozen shut during our flight. We then had to play charades to get the attention of some people on the runway and have them open the door from the outside. Some things you just can’t make up! We all had a good laugh when it happened again when we landed in Iliamna. Once there, I was transferred to a smaller plane and since it had been windy in Nondalton that day, I was given the choice of staying or trying to make it home. Knowing that I would be flying with a very experienced pilot, and just wanting to be home, I hopped on the plane and said some prayers. While mentally prepared for a bumpy fifteen minute flight, I was grateful to find that the wind had almost completely died down and provided us with a super smooth flight. I even got to see a wolf running across one of the many lakes that surrounds my village! 

All aboard the "Honda Express"!

After getting home, I didn’t have too much down time as the following morning, we were heading down to Newhalen for their annual carnival. We woke up early, put on every layer we owned, and made the trek in the -25 degree weather. It was an especially fun trip to make because we had some teacher friends coming down with us for the weekend. We made the thirty minute drive as a "honda train" with our three four-wheelers and six excited passengers. The weekend was an eventful and fun one as we watched a lot of basketball and volleyball games, attended a talent show, participated in "Minute to Win It” events, and socialized with people from Port Alsworth and Kokhanok. We are experiencing a “real” Alaskan winter which includes seeing many new faces at big events because the lakes have frozen and allowed for ice roads to form. It is so fun to know that people are able to travel to and from the six or seven (I think) surrounding villages! We are hoping it will continue to stay cold so that we can make a trip up to Port Alsworth soon and then get to Kokhanok’s carnival in a few weeks. The Kokhanok trip will require almost an hour of driving on just ice as we cross over Lake Iliamna, which is the largest lake in Alaska! 
Had to do something "crazy"
in Anchorage, right?<3

What a blurry whirlwind the past few weeks have been. In addition to all these events, we celebrated four birthdays just this week! After seeing it all written down, it’s no wonder I have not been able to shake the cold I have had for the past few weeks. I am even more grateful now for the two days of quiet that I have been awarded and will not take them for granted. This life is such an incredible adventure and I am reminded every day what it truly means to live. The only thing missing now is a puppy and a tiny house;) 







Saturday, December 31, 2016

Summing Up '16

One of my favorite
photos from this year
As another year comes to a close, I am thankful to have a chance to reflect on the year and all that has happened in just 365 days. There have been moments of pure happiness and also moments of tragic loss, and then everything in between. While I feel that I have been able to keep up adequately enough on my blog throughout the year, I wanted to take the chance to highlight some of, but not nearly all of, my favorite moments from this year. 

Top Moments of 2016-
My favorite picture
from Ryan's visit<3
1. Visitors!- 2016 was the year of east coasters coming to visit the “Last Frontier". The visits started off with an unplanned visit from my mom and older sister after mine and Sam’s accident in early March. Though I don’t remember much of their visit, I appreciate their ability to come and help to care for us in the days following the accident. 
Later in the year, April brought with it a stream of back-to-back visits. From mine and Sam’s friends Jon and Elisabeth (who got engaged during their stay!), to my sister and brother-in-law, to our final visitor of the year, our friend Ryan, the month was nonstop. I valued every minute of these visits and often reminisce on the adventures had and memories made during the month. *I look forward to seeing more familiar faces stepping foot in Alaska in the coming months! 

Annabelle and I loving Dr. Seuss
2. Annabelle Dixie- I cannot get enough of Sam’s niece that made her debut in late March. I wanted nothing more than to fly down to Florida to meet this sweet girl the moment she was born, but the wait was worth it when I finally got some baby snuggles this summer. Don’t get me wrong, her parents and grandparents are also great people, but Miss Annabelle totally steals the show these days! *Two of my Alaskan friends are currently expecting and I am pretty darn excited to meet their little ones!

3. Tiny Houses- For those who might not know, Sam and I enjoy anything and everything tiny house related. I was thrilled to finally be able to go visit a company that designs custom tiny homes while I was in Orlando this summer. It should also be noted that I was ready to purchase a home that day, and often refer back to it when the topic comes up. I call it the “wedding dress” effect in which I can’t help but compare all other tiny house to this particular one. It’s a shame that this house was custom made for someone and was leaving the warehouse a few days after our visit.

4. Back with my Kiddos- By the time August rolled around, I wanted nothing more than to get back to school to see my “kids”. I was even more excited to get final word that I would be the itinerant special education teacher in Pilot Point this year. I count down the days to my monthly Pilot Point visits and am thankful to have the opportunity to work in two schools that have both stolen my heart. 

Our trip to Tanalian Falls
5. Port Alsworth- Early in the school year, I joined Sam, Caitlin, Emily, and Racquel on a boat trip up to Port Alsworth. We spent the night camped out  on the beach under an incredible Norther Lights display, and got to visit with good friends the following day. I loved the trip that our friend Abbey led us on, as we took an 8 mile round trip trek up to Tanalian Falls and then on to Kontrashibuna Lake. The trip home to Nondalton was certainly unforgettable and this trip remains to be one of my favorite Alaskan memories to date. 

A late night viewing:)
6. Northern Lights Sightings- This year has brought with it many middle of the night wake up calls to see some breathtaking Northern Light shows. I don’t think this will ever grow old, and each night of interrupted sleep is well worth the extra caffeine needed the next day. 

7. A Growing Family!- Though I wasn’t able to be there to witness it, I was over the moon when I heard that my future sister-in-law said yes when my brother proposed to her in October. I was then brought to tears last week when Ashley asked me to be one of her bridesmaids. I am so excited to take part in their special day and cannot wait to see what the future holds in store for them!
Sully A.K.A. Ugly Dog <3

8. Ugly Dog- Oh man, my “not my dog” dog has quite simply stolen my heart this year. This little stray is the cutest “Ugly Dog” ever and he has quickly claimed me as his “person”. We’ll see what happens for Sully (he couldn’t be called Ugly forever ) and I in the New Year! 

9. Quality Time with Loved Ones- I love nothing more than to be surrounded by friends and family. Whether adventuring or just sitting around playing games, I crave time to visit with those I love. This year was filled with countless memorable visits and I hope that 2017 provides me with more of the same encounters. 

10. Birthday Celebrations- This year, both of my parents celebrated their 50th birthdays! I am so grateful that their birthdays fall during my school breaks and that I could be home to celebrate both of them. Though his birthday was last week, we are celebrating my Dad’s birthday tomorrow and I am looking forward to the party and to seeing family and friends that I haven’t seen since in months! 

Along with summing up the year, I wanted to come up with some goals for the new year. I don’t want to call them resolutions because that term tends to bring with it guilt when said resolutions are not followed through with. In setting a goal, I feel that I can either take the steps to meet my goal or not, and at the end of the year I can then reflect on the goals and re-evaluate steps I can take for the following year. 

Goals for 2017-
1. Spend More Time Crafting- Definitely did not have enough crafting time this year! I’d like to start something new but nothing has caught my interest enough to commit (suggestions greatly welcomed!). 

Six Mile Lake, Nondalton
2. Get Outside More- To start reaching this goal, Sam and I are planning to acquire my principal’s bikes and to explore our communities from a new perspective! 

3. Stay Present/Remain in the Moment- It is a daily struggle, but I try to remain mindful and stay wholly focused on the present moment.

4. Take Better Care of my Emotional Health/Learn to Say “Sorry, but NO”- Another daily struggle, but I’m getting better at politely saying “No” when my plate is too full.

5. Continue to Strengthen my Faith- I have witnessed unwavering faith during two tragic times this year and both instances have inspired me in ways I cannot put into words. Last year my goal was to read the Bible, and my progress has been slow but also steady and I am eager to continue my reading in the upcoming year!  

Monday, December 12, 2016

Processing, Prayers, and Positivity

Miss Paige sure was having a “Monday” today. From the moment she saw me this morning, Emily kept saying that I wasn’t acting like myself, and asking what was wrong. I continued to swear that yes I was fine, that yes I got sleep, that yes I had my morning coffee. However, as the day went by, I too noticed that I was having an “off” day, but I pushed through, feeling thankful that to know that this time next Monday I will be on the east coast, surrounded by family. Yet, when I got home from school, I just couldn’t shed this feeling of “off-ness”, this tired, sorrowful feeling; that is, until now. 

Throughout my teenage life and now into my adulthood, writing has been my go to in times of need. I journal almost daily, I write cards and letters to family and friends, and I do my best to keep up with my blog. There is an emotional release that comes along with each time I put pen to paper, or fingers to keypad, and tonight I am in desperate need of this release. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling grateful for the tears that are finally flowing as I type this. Sometimes in life, really bad things happen and we do our best to process them and move on. For me, writing helps to process and to express feelings that I cannot otherwise share, and so tonight I am going to share and process, so that tomorrow is not a “Monday” kind of Tuesday. 

As many people who read my blog also follow my Facebook postings, I don’t think I need to go into the specifics of the tragedy that occurred in a nearby village last week. However, for anyone who might not know, I will share that there was an airplane crash involving two students from our district, their father, and the boyfriend of a close friend of mine. Before there was official word of the crash, the plane and it’s passengers had been missing and a wide-spread search took place. As this happened during the school week, it was impossible and would have been unfair for us to try to keep our students in the dark. By the morning after the plane was listed as missing, students had come to school telling us who was on board and details that they were hearing through word of mouth, many of which were inaccurate. It was important for us to talk with our students and to be there for them should they have questions. 

As prepared as I thought I was for the questions and concerns that may arise, I was wrong. I was in the middle of a reading block with three students when one of them looked at me with such innocence and concern and asked a question that will forever make my heart ache. I was almost brought to tears when I realized that I didn’t have the answers to their questions. To feel helpless in the search and in comforting my friend was one awful feeling, but to be unable to answer the questions that my sweet young students were asking me was one of the worst feelings I think I will ever encounter. I think back to times in which I must have asked my parents questions that they were unable to answer, and can now sympathize with the sorrow they were faced with in being unable to answer them. 

Shaken, I decided not to join my students for our normal lunch routine, and was then able to, with Caitlin and Emily, reflect on the conversation that occurred during reading block. Later in the day, as I talked with one of our paraprofessionals, who is also a mother of four, I realized the pain that she was feeling as a mother. What we both agreed on was that we felt so shaken because it could have been anyone. It could have been me last week during my unsettling flight home from Pilot Point, or this para and her son returning from a trip to Anchorage. While we try to remind ourselves that driving down the highway is much more dangerous, I think the reality of having flight as our only true means of travel is what makes this hit so close to home. Yet, I truly believe in and have faith in God's plan and try to live my life knowing that he is in control. 

Similarly to what I experienced when my friend Ryan unexpectedly died this summer, I have again witnessed such unwavering faith since the search began last week. The family and friends of those who were on the plane have come together and have displayed inspiring grace in this difficult time. I admire the strength that I have witnessed, and I know that the families and friends, the community, our district, will make it through this. We will come together, we will listen, we will try to answer the hard questions, we will provide hugs, love, and comfort, and we will celebrate the lives of those that we lost. 

As people will do after any tragedy that they can connect with, I have since re-evaluated the way that I prepare for traveling by plane. I realized that yes, the extra layer can fit in my bag, that yes I can toss a lighter in my backpack, and that taking lint from the lint trap (a fire-starter) is not unreasonable. Much like packing an emergency kit for car accidents, flat tires, or snowstorms, it is equally important to have items packed when traveling on our small planes. In talking with my principal yesterday and hearing as he offered to help make me a survival kit, I suggested that we get the supplies to have our students that travel make them as well. I think in doing so, they will feel better, but they will also realize the importance of being prepared in the event of an emergency. 

The past week has thrown my already anxious brain into near panic everyday, but it has also shown me some really positive things. I have seen a community join together to offer help and prayer through the search. I have read about the incredible love that my friend and her boyfriend shared. I watched as our students came together today and put a lot of thought and effort into making cards to send to the students and staff in Port Alsworth. I read about the strength of the brother, and son, of those on the plane, as he and his volleyball team continued on in a tournament in honor of his younger siblings. I watched in awe as donations poured in to help provide loved ones with travel and memorial expenses, raising over $30,000 in the short span of 48 hours. Though a great loss took place last week, it did not cripple the community or our district, and I will continue to try to remember that when I am feeling helpless or when I just don’t have the answers. 

If I have learned one thing in my life, it is that this life is short and it is precious. I urge you to take the time to called loved ones, write letters, send texts, to just let the people you love know that you love them. To anyone reading this, please know that I love you for taking the time to read my posts and follow along with my life, though the good and the bad. 

For anyone wanting to help relieve the families of upcoming expenses:

*The original donation page set up for the travel and funeral expenses for the Bloms went over the $20,000 goal in just 24 hours. They have since created a separate fund to help the two surviving sons with their college expenses in order to help remove some of the future financial burdens this family might have to face. 

For anyone wanting to read more: 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gobble 'Til You Wobble!

Out shooting on the ice
It is Sunday as I write this, and I think I am still recovering from Thursday’s post dinner food coma. Either that, or the amount of activities from this long weekend have simply worn me out. Though it was only two extra weekend days, I feel as though I haven’t been in school for weeks. Hopefully the return of the work week tomorrow won’t be too rough on me. However, if I am a bit sleepy throughout the day I think I can just remember all that happened this weekend and the memories will hopefully help me power through the urge to curl up and sleep on my desk. 
The Northern Lights at 5a.m.

This weekend's fun started on Thanksgiving Eve when I had everyone over to play games and hang out. In addition to Sam and Racquel, all of my Nondalton coworkers were over, so it was basically just a dress rehearsal for Thursday. The girls and I stayed up late to go to the airport and see the Northern Lights, and an amazing view of the Milky Way. However, the lights were a bit faint and the real entertainment was a curious fox who wanted to be our friend. Luckily, Caitlin called me at 5a.m. to tell me that the Aurora was out again, and the two of us took a quick walk down the beach to watch them as they danced in the dark. Watching them is something that will never grow old or become any less amazing. 

Our Thanksgiving Dinner!
While Thanksgiving has always been a great time to gather with friends and family in the past, I had never felt the stress of being a hostess for the holiday. In past years, I have just helped out or simply showed up to see my family and eat the deliciousness that had been cooked up. This year though, Sam and I decided to host Thanksgiving at my place and therefore I went into hostess mode. On Thursday, along with Racquel, we spent most of the morning preparing for the feast. It was fun to spend the day sharing memories of past Thanksgiving get togethers and family traditions; the smells that filled my apartment made my stomach growl for most of the day. Thanks to a very generous Alaskan man, all of the people in my village get a turkey for Thanksgiving, and thanks to Cassie, I was not in charge of cooking mine for our dinner! I made some pumpkin spice cookies and used my grandmother's recipe to try to recreate her famous, delicious mashed potatoes. When the rest of the crew joined us, our combined contributions made for a mouth watering buffet style feast. 

My newest dream catcher:)
After we had eaten, instead of letting ourselves lay down for the naps that our bodies yearned for, we were all rather productive and creative. Sam, Caitlin and I went out on the ice to skeet shoot for a little while which was a first for me. It was fun, but it was also very cold out so we didn’t stay out for long. We came back into the apartment and joined Cassie, Emily, and Racquel for a few hours of crafting. Emily, Racquel and I made dream catchers while Cassie sewed mittens and Caitlin worked on her newest hobby of jewelry making. I appreciated the time to sit around and to productively relax after our dinner. We then went down and ended the night by sitting around a fire on the snowy beach. Days like this make me feel as if I am getting a handle on this whole “adulting” thing! 
Ugly Dog! 

The rest of the weekend followed suit in terms of being fun, creative, and productive. After eating green eggs and ham for breakfast on Friday, I went out and fed my “Ugly Dog” his meal of Thanksgiving leftovers. Ugly (whose real name is Snoopy) is a mangy dread-lock covered stray village pup that I have fallen in love with. I have been thinking very seriously of taking him in, but for now I just feed him whenever I see him going by. He even responds to me whistling for him and yelling “Ug!” down the street when I have something for him to eat. It certainly isn’t helping this whole crazy dog lady thing that seemingly worsens by the day.. 

A beautiful, snowy ride
After feeding Ug, my priorities for Friday included watching Gilmore Girls and being a bum. I think I did a pretty good job of that, but was also glad to get out of the house when Sam and I went to take Racquel back home to Newhalen. The trip was refreshing, but also solidified the fact that winter is right around the corner. The temperature has been dropping and not stopping, and the ice is getting thicker by the hour. We should be able to cross any day now, and hopefully it will be a longer freeze than last year in which we only got to cross for one weekend. As the tundra is a glistening winter wonderland right now, it was a gorgeous ride to Newhalen and then back home. This past week has shown more snow than I’ve seen during my entire time of living in Alaska, and I am hoping it is just the beginning for this winter!
Red pancakes with
 green eggs and ham:)

Saturday brought with it mine and Sam’s second anniversary and I was grateful that we could be together for it. Though we thought about hitting the newest restaurant in town and then seeing a movie at the theater (just kidding, those don’t exist where we live), we instead spent the day outside Christmas tree hunting and enjoying the snow. Though the trees are simply not Wyckoff’s Tree Farm material, the Alaskan wilderness has some pretty nice trees to offer and it didn't take long to find one that we both liked. We chopped it down and quickly got it put up and decorated. I love being able to look up from my chair and see it standing in the corner!

Christmas is around the corner! 
Today was a recovery day from all of the socialization and activities from the rest of the weekend. It was nice to just sit on the couch and binge on some more Gilmore Girls. I did have to "adult" for a bit and get some paperwork done, but I didn’t mind it. I felt that I had received plenty of time for pleasure this weekend and that was definitely worth spending a few hours working today. I am looking forward to seeing my kiddos tomorrow and hearing about their Thanksgiving dinners and their snowy adventures from the long weekend. Let’s hope they got some sleep and aren’t too grumpy or wild tomorrow! I only get one full day with them before I hop on a plane and head down to Pilot Point on Tuesday where I will spend the rest of my week. While I will be missing my Nondalton students, it has been a while since my last visit and I am eager to see the students and teachers down there! 

As always, I am thankful that you join me as I reflect on my adventures and excursions! I hope you all gobbled 'til you wobbled and got to spend time with family and friends this weekend!