Sunday, August 16, 2009

Be Happy

The preparation for a new school year is always a busy time. To remain sane I keep the faith and the humor in most things. It sometimes isn’t easy in this day and age to find the bright side (even a laugh) in situations, but I can’t help myself. I’ve always been that way. A couple of recent experiences come to mind.
When I was in Bethel August 4th – 6th for the District Wide In-service there were several hundred educators roaming around. I was impressed with the organization of the event and pleasantly surprised at the learning that took place. Then the fog set in.
It wasn’t a problem at the moment because we still had another day of inservice, but we also know that the fog can stick around for a few days. There wasn’t anything we could do about it so we went about our business.
However, I never really thought about how hectic it could be at the bush airlines on days with heavy fog and they are unable to get a plane in the air. That is until my wife told me a short conversation they had with a person at one of the airlines. Apparently the person had been receiving a lot of phone calls that morning and was a bit stressed out.
My wife had called from Texas to make reservations to fly from Bethel Eek on August 17th after she would arrive from Anchorage. I don’t know if she knew it was foggy or not in Bethel, but she soon found out. When she called the person on the other end picked up the phone and didn’t say “Hello” or “Hi” or “----Air.” He just said, “We are waiting for the fog to lift.” That was it. The guy probably didn’t see any humor in it, but we did.
Then last week while my day was hectic from the pre-school opening demands I got a call from a local resident in Eek. It was the first time I had talked to him since I’ve been back. What he said after I answered just made my day – and I told him so afterwards. He said, “How is my white brother from another mother?” There was nothing odd about that coming from him. It might have offended some people, but hey – I am white, I do have another mother, and we are “brothers” in the friend sense.
After I stopped laughing we talked of how our summer went and then we got down to the business he had on his mind. I still think it was funny and probably always will when I reflect on it.
Happy people are what makes the world go around. Remember that life is what you make of it. Problems do arise, but it is how you react to them that can make the difference. Some people may think you are crazy and laugh when you shouldn’t, but in my book I like see the bright side of things and see humor in the unexpected. I’ll continue to do so.
Give humor a chance in your daily life and try to be happy no matter the situation. I bet you will feel better.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I've Returned

Readers: I'm kind of opposite when it comes to weather and living. The winters are spent in in Alaska and the summers in TX. The following is my first column for The Delta Discovery newspaper (Bethel, Alaska) upon my return for another school year. It is a weekly column that I will post as I write them. Be sure and visit my other blog ( for more of your reading pleasure.

Howdy all. I made it back for another year. Sure hope everyone’s summer went well. Ours was busy. We barely had some down time.
I arrived in Anchorage July 31st. My luggage showed up later. It wasn’t bad though. The flight from Houston, TX was an hour late to Seattle. My layover was only 1-½ hours. By the time the plane pulled up to the gate and we got off it was 12:35PM. My connection was to leave at 1:05PM. The flight attendant told me not to worry as the flight to Anchorage was only two gates away.
He was right. A flight to Anchorage was near by, but not my flight. It was then that I found out Continental had hooked up with Alaska Airlines – and the plane to take me to The Last Frontier was a terminal away. The race was on.
Running isn’t in my forte anymore so I walked as fast as I could. When I got to the correct gate it was the only time I was thankful that an airline was late. They hadn’t even begun to board yet.
Even with the delay my luggage didn’t make it on the plane with me, but it arrived on the next flight about a half hour later. No big deal.
After shopping and shipping items for a couple of days in the big city I found it was already Sunday and I was on a plane to Bethel. The flight was uneventful until we got to Bethel. The plane was coming in for a landing and then it pulled up at the last second. It made a wide circle and then finally landed. I heard two stories on why we were given an involuntary air tour of Bethel. One tale was “there was a plane on the run way.” It made sense. The other rumor was that the landing gear was not down. Now that was a bit more frightening and didn’t make nearly as much sense. I don’t know which one (if either) was true and quit frankly don’t really know if I want to.
Nevertheless, we made it safely to the terminal. The rain was falling in Bethel. No surprise there. For the last few years it has been raining the first day I arrive back to the Delta after summer break.
The next morning in Eek I was heading to the Post Office and some kids stopped me to show me something I’d never seen in my 12 years in the bush. They pointed to a telephone pole with a big transformer at the top. There, nestled and balanced next to the transformer, were crows that had been electrocuted. It was intriguing to say the least.
The week went on with work and a couple of days of inservice in Bethel. Then today, Saturday, August 8, 2009, I spotted an unusual and somewhat sad sight walking to the store. It was another first – okay second for this column. I was passing a steam house and noticed that the door had a hasp and lock on it. I can understand locking a house, a vehicle, storage sheds, and the like, but a steam house?
What can they steal? Maybe the lock is to prevent usage by other people while the owners are at fish camp or vacation or some other legitimate reason. I rightly don’t know. Now maybe locking a steam house is more common now days than I think. I can understand a latch on the inside as people are bathing, but to have to resort to putting a lock on the outside is sad in a way.
Well, it is getting late and I’d best close this article. Have a safe week, fish well, work hard, and find time to play and make time for family.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Still Me

There was a time when most of my adventures happened beyond the village on the tundra or river. It didn’t matter if I was near or far from the house. The Lord had a way of reminding me/us of the danger that can lurk in bush Alaska. And He had let me live to relate the stories.
Then I became older, had an accident that pretty much eliminated any thought of risky behavior, and now I am a bit wiser. I still tend to attract the unusual and my eyes still observe life and the environment my way. The difference now is that the attraction is limited to home, school, and the immediate confines of the village I may be in at the time. Guess you could call me more of an introvert than an extrovert, but I’m still me. I can’t escape myself, or Murphy’s Law.
I went to Good News Bay (about a 45 minute ride in a bush plane) last Wednesday and stayed the night at the school. They offered me a choice of sleeping arrangements. I chose a couch in one of the classrooms. Slept well, but probably could have been better. The next morning they asked me how I slept.
“Y’all need a longer couch,” I joked, “but I was comfortable and got some sleep.”
“Did you know that it is a hide-a-bed?”
“No, I didn’t, but I know now.”
Have you ever been to Good News Bay? It is a beautiful place. Mountains surround the village. They are everywhere. Did you know there is even one in the sewage lagoon? It isn’t really a mountain. It’s more like a mound and no; it isn’t made up of what you may be thinking. Some maintenance was done to the lagoon and the pile is just dirt – or so I was told.
When I got back to Eek it was time to prepare for next week’s testing required by the Federal Government and No Child Left Behind. One thing on my list was making sure there were plenty of snacks and drinks for the students. It should have been a supposedly a simple, easy chore to carry out – call stores in Bethel and get the stuff flown out to Eek.
It was easy at the beginning. After phoning one store and placing an order for drinks and snacks, it was time to call a grocery store for other items I wanted. That wasn’t so easy.
Never before had I been turned down by a grocery store until now. All I wanted to buy was fresh fruit for the students’ breaks during the dreadful testing week. I called the store and said something like, “I’d like to order a couple cases of oranges and apples to be delivered to the airport and shipped to Eek School.”
Their response left me wondering why, in these economic times, would a business turn down customers? The lady told me that they weren’t taking any orders until Monday (this was Thursday) because we’re full right now. All I could mumble was, “Okay, thanks.”
Maybe I will try to order again Monday, but testing begins Tuesday. It is now Sunday afternoon and I just got my drink and snack order I placed Thursday. There may not be enough time.
It looks like I need to follow my wife’s advice. For two days I’ve been expecting the order to arrive. I was worried that I would miss the call and not be able to go to the airport and get it. Irene told me that the agent should bring the stuff to the school and to “not worry about it.”
So, I kind of didn’t worry about it and do you know what happened? The plane landed and the agent brought the order to the school. Weird, uh?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Camaii Trip

Note: Camaii (pronounced Ja-my-ya) is a Yup'ik Eskimo greeting meaning "Howdy, Hi, How are you doing, etc" The Camaii Festival is an annual event that draws dancers and people from all over. You can also find furs, jewelry, sculptures, carvings, grass baskets, etc hand made and created by the people of the Kuskokwim Delta and surrounding area.

Bethel is approximately 40 miles from the village of Eek. I am the school Site Administrator (glorified principal) in Eek. The area is wide open tundra and the weather constantly plays havoc on travel, which by the way, is only by boat, air, or snow mobile depending on season.

Enjoy the read.

The month of March is about to end and I have neglected this column for too long. Time to get back to the weekly writings. We are in Bethel right now. Camaii was fun. We haven’t attended the festivities in a few years. Glad we did.
The cab dropped us off shortly after the doors opened. The place was already hopping. It was time to shop. Irene always carries a list with family names and when we find something that we think they will like we buy it. She writes the item we purchased by their name and it then becomes a gift at a later date. I never see the thing again. Irene will store them away and then wrap and mail the package. If she left it to me to keep up with the item, then neither of us (or the recipient) would ever see it again. It is a good system.
We looked at all the wonderful, skillfully made crafts, clothing, art, carvings, etc and got ideas. Then headed to watch the dancing for a while. Along the way we passed the concession stand. It was crowded so we kept on. So glad we did.
We got to see a couple of dancing groups. Or does one call them teams? Or is there another name for several people together dancing? Does it really matter? Anyway, we watched about three sets(?) of dancers before our stomachs talked to us.
The crowd was gone from the food area, but so was some food. They ran out of hamburgers, hotdogs, and a couple of other edibles. How do we know? It appears the process of elimination works in all sorts of cases. By narrowing down the choices one doesn’t really need to make the decision. It is made for them. I’ll explain.
Irene ordered a cheeseburger.
“We are out of cheeseburgers,” the concessionaire (?) replied.
“How about a hotdog?” I blurted out.
“No hotdogs either.” She blurted back.
I gave her an “I-don’t-understand-why-there-isn’t-any-food-at-the-concession-stand-on-the-first-full-day-of-Camaii-when-there-are-so-many-people-here” look.
Sometimes I hate logic, especially when it destroys my logic. “We are waiting for our stuff from Anchorage,” she explained.
Oh yeah, blame it on a volcano. One can’t argue with that.
Irene decided to be simple about the matter, “Well, what do you have?”
Irene countered, “Well then, nachos it is,” and with that we had lunch and headed back to the gym and the dancing. Glad we did.
The Akiuk Grizzlies were on stage and to us they were fantastic. The drumming and singing were super and the dancers were great. It was the first time I had seen a nine-year-old boy do solo dancing. I know all dances tell a story, but it was the first time I had seen male dancers apparently dancing a story about women. It was very entertaining and had good light-hearted humor. Wish I knew the story they were dancing, but you don’t have to know the story to enjoy the dancing.
Intermission followed their performance so we decided to go by some things. We knew what we wanted to buy to fulfill some of our gift list. Of course, we bought more than we anticipated, but that is usually the case.
Back at the hotel we regrouped, put on snow pants and such and headed to the store. Sort of glad we did. After looking at how much prices have risen since the last time we shopped in Bethel our wants were quickly eliminated from our minds and we pretty much stuck to our needs. We figured about a hundred bucks for the small amount of groceries we had in our basket. Wrong. It was more like a hundred-fifty.
Saturday night was noisy for Irene. Seems our neighbors in the room next door were quite wound up. She was glad she brought earplugs. Me? I sleep without my hearing aids.
All in all it wasn’t a bad trip. We spent more than we budget for, had noisy neighbors in the room next door, watched superb dancing, ate junk food lunch and dinners, and now have woken up to iffy weather.
Maybe we will spend thee days at the airport waiting for the weather to clear - or maybe not. Who knows? At least we pre-reserved a hotel room and hand washed some clothes last night in preparation. We might be glad we did, but I hope not.
Until next week, be safe and stay warm.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Since my last column...

Howdy everyone! It is good to be back writing. A lot has happened since the last time I wrote – 2008 I believe. No excuses on my end, at least not a one that justifies my lack of writing. That being said (or written), it is story time.
Let’s title it, “Since the last column.”
Since the last column…
We returned from Christmas (yes, Christmas, not “Holiday”) vacation January 11th and things have been hopping since. You can’t stop sickness and the infection never ends with only one person. Last week we had a day with five staff members out on sick leave. It brought back the memories of when Irene and I were at tiny schools. With help from other staff we managed to cook and feed the kids, cover the classes, and handle other day-to day challenges. It is fun to be back.
Since the last column…
We have learned that when people told us there isn’t Federal Express package service they were not kidding. We had some documents to send out and the company had sent us a Fed Ex return envelope. The post office doesn’t accept them and the Fed Ex truck hasn’t been out here in…I’d say…a couple thousand years.
The envelope was given to the airline agent who gave it to the pilot who gave it to the people at the Bethel terminal. That was as far as it got. We were notified that the company hadn’t received the envelope so we tracked it down. The airline still had it and they said they. “were waiting for someone to come pick it up.”
It had a to and from Texas address…I don’t know.
Nevertheless, we had them send it back to us and we repackaged it and sent it via post office Express Mail. It got to its destination in a few days. The whole mailing took more than two weeks.
Since my last column…
I again was reminded that you can't start a four-wheeler while the kill switch is on “kill.”
Since my last column…
A theory that I had wondered about was confirmed. If you press hard enough or continue over the same area too much you can cut yourself with an electric razor.
Since my last column…
Irene and I learned that no matter how hard you try not to give the other a cold – you usually fail. Within a day or two after I recovered Irene decided not to be left out of the suffering. She is about well now.
Since my last column…
The school basketball season has begun. It is a time of travel and no travel. Our high school boys’ basketball team experienced both this past weekend. They traveled to Kongiginak Friday and their Saturday 12:30PM flight is late. In fact, it is now after 3:00PM on Sunday and they aren’t here yet.
So as you have read, nothing much has changed in regards to life in Bush Alaska since my last column.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I'm Finally Back...Miss Me?

I apologize to everyone, but December 27, 2007 I had an accident that laid me up for almost four months. I fell from 16 feet from a deer stand and broke my left femur a few places (now rod and screws in it), my right foot and ankle about a dozen fractures, and to top it off I broke my back.
When I managed to get back to the village of Atmautluak, Alaska where I was teaching it was already April 30, 2008. I flew to Eek (yes, it is a real village) the next day, interviewed for the Site Administrator's position, and got the position.
So, the month of May was spent packing and then I recovered more over the summer. I haven't written Tundra Teacher Tales as consistently for the paper and finally got around to posting them again.
Below are the ones up until now. I sure hope to write and post more often from now on.
Meantime, enjoy the ones below.



New Home, New School Year

Howdy All! Irene and I are back from summer vacation and now live in Eek. I guess that is appropriate after a personally scary spring, but all is pretty good now. I haven’t used my cane in a while and am probably close to as fully healed as I will be. It feels great to be back
in the administrative saddle.
The first week of school was a success. There are things to tweak, but not much. It actually went smoother than I thought it would. We had some problems with scheduling, classroom materials, and the usual stuff, but nothing major. Of course, the most confusion took place the
first morning back while a member of the LKSD School Board was visiting the school. My good luck continues.
We had parent conferences Friday to go over their child (ren)’s spring test scores and how things are so far. The turn out was close to 100% due to technology. The students had to bring their parents to school so they could sign a form in order for the student to be issued
his/her laptop. What a coincident it happened to correspond with parent meetings…ummm.
The district had two new four-plexes built for teacher housing, one in Eek and the other in Kwigillingok. They are nice. Irene and I arrived July 29th with the intention of moving in and getting our unit set up. I had been emailing and letting the district know our plans, but
some things are beyond anyone’s control.
It seems the closer we got to the 29th the further away the final inspection date became. Before leaving Texas for Anchorage, the inspection date was July 31st. In Anchorage it turned into August 6th. By the time we got to Eek the date had manifested to August 10th. We
were to stay in the old administrator’s house until we could live in the new place. However, we were allowed to move furniture and personal items into it, we just weren’t
able to live there until the final inspection was complete.
Now, I’m not a construction person or an inspector of such, nor do I intend to present myself as one. That is why all I could see that needed to be done was the installation of three ranges and leveling a couple refrigerators. At the time I had trouble understanding why the builders left with so little to finish. It was like someone leaving a few drops of milk left in the carton.
Just spend an hour to complete things and then be on your way.
One thing I do like about LKSD is that most departments will work with the sites to accommodate or come up with a solution or compromise satisfactory to all. They
were able to arrange the final inspection for Monday, August 4th. On the 2nd a couple people come out to prepare for it.
It turned out that there were a bit more tedious items to fix than I imagined. I only saw the obvious. They had a detailed list of items to check off. It was an unfair advantage that made sense. With the help and encouragement of Irene I was able to stay out of their way. Therefore, we were able to spend our first night in our new home the night of the 4th.
Now that things have settled down a bit and the confusion has subsided I’ll let you in on a few items that stood out (in no particular order of sense). The students are patient, well behaved, and pretty much know the routines and what is acceptable. The staff is very competent and
knows what they are doing. Eek is a quiet village. Irene is a good interior decorator. I’m almost able to find everything in the kitchen now. We can see the mountains on a clear day. The mosquitoes and gnats are still a problem. Frozen food for the school is still delivered during
commercial fishing days when only the site administrator and his wife are around to put it away. It only takes a week for me to “break” a four-wheeler.
Lastly, I noticed the time so I’d better close this column so it can be published on time.
Talk to you again soon.



Cable Ready Kip

As with moving to any new site there are adjustments and glitches that have to be worked out. It doesn't matter if you are a first year teacher or if you have spent years in the bush. One thing that most educators in rural Alaska think they need to survive and feel somewhat civilized is a television. Oh - AND access to channels. In Eek people have four choices to make it happen, provided they have a TV.
The adventurous viewers simply purchase an antenna. The most popular ones are usually referred to as rabbit ears. You hook them up directly to the TV. We put up with a pair when we lived in Newtok a decade ago. With them attached to our set we received two channels, one was ARCS and I forget the other one, although PBS rings a bell. Anyway, there wasn't a set programming schedule for the prime time shows viewed on ARCS. Every hour was different and usually it was a 'tease." A show would begin and get you hooked for a couple of minutes then it would switch to another program. For instance, if a crime show was on you would see the crime before the screen changed to something else. You were left without knowing how one show would end and how the "new" show began. Rabbit ears are appropriately named for rural areas. The two ears translated to two channels and two shows.
If you look around the village you will notice another kind of antennae. They are the larger ones on the roofs of some homes. I'm not sure if they pick up more channels, but the reception is probably better.
A second option is to subscribe to the local cable network through the corporation. They run a cable to your house and you pay a monthly fee. It isn't a bad deal. There are forty channels including HBO for a reasonable fee. We got the information and are keeping it handy as it prevents us from having to adjust our own satellite.
The third option is what Irene and I chose for the moment. We had cable run to the teacher housing from an existing satellite and hooked up with Dish Network - mainly because we already had a DVR receiver and an account with Dish Network. The cable was run in an hour and two weeks later we had eliminated what we hope were all the problems. I helped a lot. The maintenance man would tell me what he knew was the problem and I would proceed to let him know what I thought was the problem. It never would have gotten fixed if he had listened to me.
Then one morning last week our TV screen was black and "no signal" was prominent in the middle. I asked our neighbor if her TV was getting reception and it was. I fiddled with the cable hook-ups that evening and still got nothing. It was time to break down and call Dish Network. Maybe I shouldn't have because do you know what that sweet innocent female customer service representative had the nerve to ask me? "Is your TV on channel three?" It is now.
There are advantages to all of the above choices. If you only have two channels and your programming keeps getting switched it sure helps to keep your mind young trying to imagine the ending and the beginning of programs. Using a well-established reliable local cable network sure saves you headaches. Having your own satellite will enhance your problem-solving skills and show you (or just me) how easy a fix can be.
The fourth choice is to forego television all together. I know a few people who don't care for TV. They either do not want the expense, don't care for modern shows, or would rather watch DVD's on their computer. To each their own in the fictional, reality, true, infomercial, soap opera, game show, news, comedy, movie, history, cartoon, children, home/garden, or sitcom programming to name a few modern outstanding choices. It is a great way to waste time, but why listen to me?
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Names, Fat, and Hairy Beds

The first few weeks of a school year are always interesting. New staff arrives. Returning teachers…well…return. Students have to again fall into the routine of rising early and staying alert for hours, all this while getting to know their teacher(s). It seemed easier for the students who looked forward to getting a laptop computer issued to them than it did for the new kindergarteners. Priorities do differ.
I’m still getting to know the kids and remember their names. It is hard for them to understand why they don’t have a problem remembering Kip and I have trouble recalling their name. I try to explain that, thank God, there is only one of me while there are almost 90 of them. Eventually, I’ll get it straight.
Kids have always expressed themselves in an honest, innocent way. They tend to say what they are thinking - without thinking. A while back a student blurted out to one of the staff that she “had less fat in her face.” What a compliment. Wish I had less fat.
Then you have the first year teachers from the Lower 48 new to rural Alaska that, through their actions and “learning of the ropes,” bring back splendid memories of my bush innocence. Newbie’s soon discover that the term “snail mail” actually has meaning living in Southwest Alaska. They also learn quickly that sometimes you have to make do with what is available in the village.
Nevertheless, even as an eleven-year veteran of living the village dream, I continue to learn a thing or two from new teachers. Sometimes we get educated together. For example, one particular teacher learned that hotel and B&B space fills up fast in Bethel when there is a workshop to attend. She found that if you wait until the day before you leave you never know what type of place you may get. I learned where not to lay my head.
As she scrambled with the phone attempting to find a room for the night, I did my Site Administrator duty telling her of all the places I knew to overnight in Bethel. “No vacancy” became the norm as she kept dialing different places. Finally, she found a hotel with an available room and happily made her reservation. Afterwards, she asked me if I ever heard of the place. I told her I hadn’t and to let me know how it is in case I may need to stay there someday.
I don’t remember the name of the hotel, but kind of wish I did so I don’t stay there. She jubantly flew to Bethel and arrived at the hotel. It turns out that a person (or persons) has the option of renting a room by the hour there rather than a full night. It also became apparent to her that sometimes housekeeping skips a room.
In her case, it slipped the maids’ mind to at least vacuum the sheets. When our adventurous teacher turned the covers back on the bed she found a bunch of black hairs on the sheets. Yuck! However, the hotel staff was nice and gave her another room – one that looked clean and had bald sheets on the bed.
The year is quite young and there is much to learn. It doesn’t matter who you are because embarrassing, na├»ve adventures await us all; we should laugh and learn. Sometimes you can gain a bit of wisdom. You only need to think logically.
For instance, over the years I’ve heard Elders say that when the grass is high there will be a lot of snow that winter. The grass does look taller than usual this year to me. So I have a solution. I say if you want less snow simply cut the grass.
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I’m Steamed

Living in a village a person becomes accustomed to the distinct odor emitting from a steam house. It is unique and quite unlike any other smell, but it doesn’t take long to realize what it is. After my first steam in almost two years I remembered the main ingredient – burning flesh. About two weeks ago a couple layers of my skin went up in smoke.
“Taking a steam” is something that needs to be done regularly. You can’t just steam every year-and-a half expecting to emerge without some sign of inexperience. For me, I made the mistake of letting everyone know how good I could steam and my ability to keep up with the best of the body roasters. Their expectations of this Kussak were high.
The steam house I was invited to was recently completed. Built by a local man adept at carpentry. It turned out to be solidly constructed and, as I’d find out later, superbly caulked and heat tight.
As I drove the four-wheeler down the road and toward his steam house I smiled knowing I was about to give the men a rude awakening with my ability to stand (or sit in this case) the heat.
I parked, grabbed my bag, and proudly strutted down the boardwalk toward the steam house. When I opened the door my attitude changed and my ego took a huge hit. Several men were cooling off lying on the floor and sitting on the lone bench lining the left wall. And all of them had smoke rising from their red skin. “This isn’t a good sign,” I thought.
My initial impression was confirmed a bit later when I entered the actual steam area. The temperature was already almost unbearable to me, but like any good guest I forced myself through the opening and closed the door behind me. I’d been cooking for probably less than a minute when someone joined me. I told him to take his time coming in. The longer the door is held open the more heat he lets escape. He knew that and ignored me. My skin simmered.
About the second time I came out of the “fire room” and struggled to get up one of the men got up from the bench and told me to sit there. I guess they heard my knees creaking and me grunting a little. After I sat on the bench they told me that that was my place. They were going to write “Kip” on the wall above it. “Cool,” I managed to say while dripping sweat. I knew then I’d be back.
Darkness had settled in by the time I left for the night. As I walked up the boardwalk I felt something nipping at my heels. I looked down and it was a dog I’d later learn was named Benny. He followed me to the four-wheeler and then jumped up on the seat and wiggled his body to the rear luggage rack and lay down. He was ready to go. He was quite a friendly fellow. Either that or he smelled freshly cooked meat. Didn’t know for sure, but I did know he couldn’t go home with me. I clapped my hands and shoed him off. Then I began the trip across the village to the teacher housing.
As I drove home I felt good. The red battle scars I got will go away and my pores might close eventually. I can’t wait for the next time…and the next…and the next…
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Last week all the Site Administrators in LKSD met in Bethel for an in-service. The information was interesting to me. There was a mix of old and new information along with small group discussions and problem solving on different scenarios.
Usually, I end up rejuvenated, refreshed, and usually go back to site ready to implement all the good things we learned after attending an in-service. There is no way it all can be done. It isn’t expected, but I did walk away with some new vocabulary that may serve me well in this politically correct society.
To protect the guilty, no names will be attributed to the intricately placed words; nor do I intend to take credit for them. My newly acquired words and phrases are in quotations scattered throughout this column. It was day two of the in-service before I thought to write them down. I don’t quite remember all of them, but I will “tell you what I think I know.”
Overall the district has a great staff. There are some (including me) that have their quirks. Sometimes I am too social and there are those who possess minimal social skills. Apparently, we can be referred to as having a “social malfunction.”
We did an exercise on evaluating teachers that required us to identify the good teachers (our “Superstars”), those who needed a bit of coaching to improve, and the teachers who needed to drastically improve. There were six fictional instructors on the chart from which to choose (Ms. K, Mrs. B, Mr. Z, Mrs. C, Mr. S, and Ms. Y). Based on the information given, our Superstars were easy to pick out. However, they turned out to be Mrs. B and Mr. S. Go figure. How do you continue to support B and S?
Sometimes we Site Administrators have to write a Plan of Improvement for an employee. It isn’t something we live for. Even if you are not the recipient of the Plan, you can probably relate to the summary of emotions that it is “not a fun kind of thing.”
One exercise required us to jot some things down we may need during the discussion. We were told to “do what we normally do” and then “to use the back side” of the paper to make notes.
We know that until someone is found guilty, he/she allegedly committed the crime. Do you know what the person is called before they go criminal? They are at risk for being “potentially alleged.”
It makes sense in a warped sort of way. That is one reason I couldn’t resist making fun of it. Society itself is malfunctioning. I think I know a lot. B and S sure encompass some things that go on. Being reprimanded by my superior is not fun. I don’t know if I will ever figure out what is normal to me so I’m glad someone told me what side of the paper to use.
You may not see things this way and that is okay. I “don’t disagree.”



Busy October

October sure snuck up on us this time. Why just last week it was September.
Each month of the year has its own character and brings with it certain expectations.
This is our 11th October in Alaska and some things haven’t changed.
Education wise the month of October is referred to as “count month.” It is usually the first 20 school days (four weeks) of the month. During that time - and that time only - the amount of funding for the school’s next year’s budget is determined. It is calculated by the ADM (average daily attendance) during those 20 days.
Here’s how it works. If a school has 100 students, but their ADM after the four weeks is 95, then they only receive the per student money for 95 students and not 100. Presently, I believe it is around $5,000.00 per student. The count period began early this time. It runs from September 29th through October 24th. So please make sure your children attend school every day – all day.
A couple things play havoc on children and complicate the matter.
First, daylight is becoming less each….uh…day. Some students only notice this in the mornings. They stay up as if darkness never arrived, but sleep late as if it will never leave. We can’t control the sun or moon, but we can brighten our kid’s morning by turning on their bedroom light. We can instill the joy of not wasting a minute of life by waking them up early and getting them off to school.
Secondly, the PFD checks are always timed perfectly for the State’s benefit. Most of the time they arrive just before or during count month. This sets off a frenzy of traveling which results in absenteeism from the village and school. Two things happen. Soon the money is gone, but the State will still demand the taxes. And school’s ADM’s are lower meaning less money allocated to the site.
Sites on a four-quarter grading schedule realize that the first quarter ends this month. It is a good time for the staff to come together and reflect on what may or may not be working and make improvements. One item the kids and parents need to remember is that the quarter grade (good or bad) is essentially a progress grade. It is an indication of how the student is performing and if s/he is on tract to earn semester credit.
The report card could show superb performance and have everyone smiling. Or yes, the student may become ineligible to participate in extra-curricular activities if their grade is too low, but at least they will have more time on their hands to study. Thus, raising their grade.
October is always a challenge for the education system. The PFD’s, ADM’s, shorter daylight/longer darkness, and quarter grades are not the only things we look forward to. We also have the SIP (Site Improvement Plans) and our Accreditation Report to get done.
This year, as years past, LKSD secured new or renewed previous program grants to continue their commitment of improving the education for all the students of the district. We have teachers and administrators attending language planning, transition, ELD, writing/science, first and second year teacher training, and so forth. It seems October has it all – and we’re expected to do it all. No problem. We have 31 days this month.



Out with the old? Never!

October 6, 2008 around 2:00PM things virtually stopped for a while at school. The Ecology class being broadcast went off the air. My phone rang with questions and concerns. One teacher even jokingly asked if he could send his students home. Other students sitting in the midst of hundreds of books in the little used library were lost. They didn’t have any idea what could be done. It wasn’t the end of the world – at least not by Armageddon standards. No – just the Internet went kaput.
I found out that the problem wasn’t centralized to only Eek. The system was down district –wide. It was put to me this way when I called the district office technology department, “The district (system) is fine. Anchorage is down.”
My initial thought was, “So.” Then I remembered that the district gets its Internet via satellite from Anchorage. Seems that our system relies on a server based in Bethel, which depends on a server in Anchorage and the big city server was having problems.
It would be a while before things were fixed.
In an instant the contrast between the generations showed itself. The kids “couldn’t” write their papers. The teachers were not able to use the classroom Smart Boards (a fancy whiteboard which is virtually a giant computer touch screen with speakers). It was like nothing could get done without the Internet up and running. Not true, but maybe because I am a member of one of– if not the - last generation who grew up without computer access, it sure seemed that way.
Adults from “our time” remember the old ways of surviving school. It was a time when learning and communication had a more meaningful personal touch. We talked to the person next to us instead of chatting through a web site. We know a library contains not only magazines with the latest gossip, but also books and newspapers and that researching a topic can still be done through encyclopedias. In fact, it is more enjoyable. You learn more. A pen or pencil and paper writes just as well when penning an essay or a letter. We also don’t mind reading an actual book instead of web pages.
Does retaining the old ways while embracing what you feel you need from the new sound familiar? Villagers, especially the Elders have always emphasized that. You never know when you may need to rely on skills learned in your youth whether it is in school, home, or on the tundra. It is technically (no pun intended) all learning.
We educators talk of having concrete, tangible items for our students to learn better. Wouldn’t that include novels, pens, pencils, and actual paper? We could also show them that there is a purpose to those little white cards in that mysterious chest in the library. They can hold and feel the novel they’re reading.
Yep, we can do a lot of things to spread the joy of the old ways, but they can argue that the new way of living is better. Why have pencils, pens, paper, novels, encyclopedias, etc when a computer is an all-in-one machine? Because in this unpredictable world you need to at least be exposed to the old ways of doing things – especially in rural Alaska.



No Cash? No Problem.

We recently got back from Anchorage and learned a few things that will come in handy when planning our next trip. First, it is nice to know that the least expensive price isn’t always the best way to go. In some cases it will cost you more. The “service” industry is quickly losing its service.
Our costly experiences began in Bethel. The word “free” is being pushed aside. I’ve heard of airlines that are beginning to charge for items we once got free, but I hadn’t experienced it. Up until that time it was a “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. Well, I am now a believer.
I remember well the moment I felt the truth. I was reading a sign in the airline terminal lobby. It explained that snacks and meals would be five dollars. You could also rent what looked like a mini DVD player that was loaded with various movies, etc. You could buy $5.00 vouchers at the ticket counter to pay for them or you could pay with their debit/credit card during the flight. Cash would not be accepted. I guess the value of the dollar has sunk more than I realized.
After that, we had the fun TSA security check to endure. Irene went through without a problem. I threw our bottled water away and walked to the metal detector. The security guard signaled me to walk through. I almost did. The thing shrieked. I backed up and took off my wristwatch, walked forward, buzzed it again, then removed my belt, and made it through without setting the alarm off again. Eventually, it might be wise to fly in only swim trunks and a bag of food, snacks, and a dozen 3 oz bottles of water.
Airlines are one thing, but have you tried renting a car lately? We did and it is beginning to get interesting too. We booked our rental car through a popular web site that enabled us to find the “best” deal at the “lowest” price. Until we got to the car rental company at the Anchorage airport we were happy with our selection. For $221.00 (taxes, etc included) we had a car for a week with unlimited mileage. Too good to be true? You probably know that answer.
Did you know that if you use a debit card to pay for the purchase that they put an additional hold of $500.00? How about a second licensed driver this day and age? That will now set you back another $5.00 a day. But all was good. The gentleman upgraded our car (they always have) and gave us a big 5% discount. So actually our bill was around $7.00 less.
Only seven dollars off $262.00 didn’t seem right and the last time they only withheld $350.00 when we used the debit card. I found out that the 5% discount was only off the actual rental price (without taxes, etc) of $149.00. The $500.00 hold is because they said debit cards are hard to trace and they have had a couple of cars stolen.
I guess having the money in bank at the time of transaction isn’t acceptable anymore– and after our experiences on that trip, I know why. Our bank accounts contain only worthless cash.
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Howdy and Merry Christmas to all. I apologize for not writing much this fall. It has been a busy semester at school. Things are slowing down now. I had a list of things to write about, but they are not what I would call “time sensitive” so I will include them in future columns. I’m still the same old me that keeps Murphy’s Law close at heart and Irene is still the one that seems to have become the one with interesting happenings when traveling.
Irene was to leave for Texas a week early to get our house ready for Christmas. As always, we keep a watch on the weather as our day of departure from Eek near and we noticed a storm was to roll soon so she took off to Bethel the day before her flight was to leave for Anchorage. I’m glad she did. The weather did turn bad the next morning and the jet was quite late getting to Bethel, but they managed to take off to Anchorage.
After the plane landed Irene called to tell me that they almost couldn’t land in the big city due to heavy fog. The pilot finally got clearance to land. She said that it was a very hard landing. “The airport just snuck up on them. It suddenly appeared,” she stated and then added, “When we landed everyone went (gasped).”
Once she got settled at the hotel she did what most women do with a day to kill downtown. She went shopping. Not to buy anything particular, but to see what was new. While in one shop she had to phoned me again to inform me of the latest selections in what I guess would be deemed toys. It seems that manufacturers are producing items that are…well…vastly different than when we were young’ins.
So if you are looking for that latest stocking stuffer read on.
For those who would like to demonstrate to their friends and family the strength of the Lord you can purchase a Jesus action figure. Close by is an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder action figure complete with a sanitizing wipe and a facemask. The male nurse figure was keeping a healthy watch over the others, but he doesn’t come with a facemask or a wipe.
There were also a couple of play sets for those who enjoy crime and are intrigued by gossip magazines. You can purchase a Paparazzi play set or an Angry Mob play set. It has nine figures that are a mix of male and female. One holds a rake, another a machete, a gun accompanies another figure, a fire stick adorns yet another, and one can’t leave out the good old "mobber" with a pitchfork.
Do you like murder mysteries and forensic shows and books - how about a “Death Spread” pen? You can make your own dead body chalk lines – only this time using a pen.
By now you might be ready to stop reading. Maybe your heart is beating faster. It could be that your mind is trying to make sense of it all. Not to worry, the store also had an item for sale to help you. How about one of those stress balls you squeeze with your hand to relieve the burden sound to you? There is one for sale that is a man in a fetal position.
Living in the bush one feels cut off from the “real world.” Some say we are missing things and are out of touch, but are we? It makes one wonder what, besides friends and family, are we truly missing?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Have Faith and Live With It

Merry Christmas and Happy almost New Year!
As another year comes to a close I again feel happy to have survived it. I haven’t experienced nearly as many death-defying adventures as I have in the past. My desire of knowingly tempting fate has drastically been reduced. My body’s limitations have become more pronounced recently and maybe – just maybe – I’ve grown a bit wiser.
Risk is a four-letter word that I had used quite often, but it has pretty much faded from my vocabulary. It has been replaced with two others - slow and easy. Life is better that way. I may not be able to literally stop and smell the roses in rural Alaska, but I do improvise. I pause now and then and smell whatever I want whenever I want to. It doesn’t take much time, especially when it is cold outside.
There is always something to do at work or home to keep me busy, but I’ve realized something after 46 years on God’s Green Earth. No matter how stressful or frustrating your work is you can’t get it all done in a day. It took God almost a week to finish project Earth. With the demands of our present society it is easy to get overwhelmed – and even harder to remember that you will get the important things done each day. Things do come together in the end, especially if you live on faith.
However, you need to prioritize your undertakings. For instance, the first item on God’s list when He tackled the impossible Earth Project was to turn the light on. It is still on. You just have to open your eyes.
Look around you and at first you will notice both bad and good. Now peer a bit closer and you can make out the good in everything. Sometimes emotions will blind your thinking and all you can do is dwell on the negative aspects of the situation and how it affects YOU without regards to others.
Take today, December 15, 2007, for example. I’m in Nunapitchuk chaperoning the Junior High Basketball Team. A few weeks ago, I had told the coach and site administrator that I would be happy to chaperone when needed. It turned out that this was the time and what did I do? I immediately thought of how my helping out would affect my schedule and my plans. My enthusiasm wasn’t very high, but then someone told me that if a certified teacher didn’t go, then the trip would be canceled. The other teachers had plans or didn’t want to go. I felt a bit guilty and agreed to go.
Now that I am here, all is good. I had never been to Nunapitchuk before, but have always wanted to. I’m glad I came. So yep, be careful of what you say. You have to live with it. It is like I tell my students, “You said it. It was your choice. So, quit whining and live with it.” It is good advice that I also need to remember.