Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays

Wishing you all a wonderful winter season and upcoming year. Thank you for following along on our journey and for continuing to read my blog throughout the years. We can't wait to see what adventures 2017 holds.

Happy Holidays!

The Middleton Family (Cody, Hannah, Specks, & Luna)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Holiday Potluck & Performance

Holiday performances are a staple of public schools everywhere.  Poems, skits, songs, and dance are all part of the normal routine. Here in Pilot Point, things are no different. The students practiced endlessly for the two weeks leading up to Christmas Break.  They prepared three songs, two poems, and we even invited the crowd to join us for a quick verse of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The students looked adorable, and helped design their own cute costumes. Their performance was a hit!

Following the performance, we invited everyone to join us for a potluck, which is a very traditional part of life in the bush. Members of our community brought spaghetti, casserole, dinner rolls, veggies, fruit punch, cupcakes, rhubarb pie, and so much more.  The families really turned out and provided some great dishes to help us celebrate.

As a part of our performance we also ran a food drive. We collected food for the two weeks leading up the the event, and then families could sign-up to receive it at the potluck. Enough food was collected that we ended up passing out food to many families.  It felt so good to give back to the community for the holiday season!

After the performance, it was time for the adults to celebrate. A couple of our local friends threw a Christmas party and we headed over to their house following the potluck. It was so fun to get out and socialize with some of the adults in the community.  We tend get stuck in a routine of going to school and then heading home, but being able to get out and enjoy drinks, laughs, and good food with other adults from the community was a perfect way to wrap-up the school semester. 

Your turn...Are you participating in any holiday events this year? 
Currently listening to...Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Winter is Here

Winter has officially arrived on the Alaska Peninsula. The snow arrived about two weeks ago, and it seems set on sticking around for awhile. With the snow, comes the cold - and temperatures in the -20's have been making regular appearances. Despite the cold, winter has always been one of my favorite seasons. I love celebrating the holidays with my family, watching fresh snow quietly settle over the landscape, spending the afternoons ice skating on frozen lakes, and snowshoeing through the hills.

With winter in Alaska also comes the darkness. Sunrise is now at nearly 10am and sunset is at 4:45pm.  The shortened days make me feel like a hibernating bear, sleepy and ready for a long rest. I'll admit that winter always makes me sleep more, which I don't mind at all.  I also spend a lot more time indoors doing little projects, watching movies, cooking, and reading.

When the sun does show its face, I try my best to find my way out into it for awhile.  After school, I rush out the door to make some time for dog walks out on the frozen tundra.  The weekends are no different, except for the fact that we load the car and drive the dogs to different, farther locations to add some variety to our explorations.

While winter is beautiful and relaxing, it can also be a season for cabin fever and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  It's really important, especially in such isolated places, to find ways to keep yourself entertained.  SAD is an especially big issue in Alaska's far northern climates.

Last weekend, Cody and I were feeling particularly cabin-fever-y and just couldn't stay inside and watch one more movie.  The temperatures were in the single digits and the sun had been set for hours, but we didn't care.  We called our neighbors (the other teacher and her husband) and asked if they'd like to go explore the frozen lake. They agreed, so we all bundled up and walked the short distance to Loon Lake. The next hour was spent with all of us laughing, slipping, and sliding our way across the extremely frozen surface.  Within ten minutes of being out there, a Honda (4-wheeler) burst to life and a posse of our students showed up.  They'd apparently seen our headlamps and wanted to come out to play too.

Winter is a beautiful time in Alaska, but it's a harsh time too.  Finding hobbies, staying busy, and maintaining relationships with those around you are all important aspects to staying happy in the bush, especially this time of the year. As winter continues to settle itself fully in the area, and we spend our days locked in hours of shrinking sunlight, life continues to be an unforgettable adventure.

Your turn...Has winter begun yet where you live? 
Currently listening to...Paint the Silence - South

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Finding Balance in Alaska's Changing Seasons

Alaska is a place of extremes. The never-ending sunlight in the warmth of summer. The all-encompassing darkness as winter settles around you. The larger than life mountains with their snow-capped peaks. The huge predators that leave you speechless when you come up on one accidentally. It is a place that makes you thankful for a warm house, or blackout curtains, or the ability to carry a firearm as you hike through the tundra.

The changing of seasons is strongly evident here, especially as we've transitioned into November. Snow fell in mid-October, ushering in the end of autumn. While the snow didn't stick around for long, it was obvious that winter had settled on the Alaska Peninsula. Thick frost greets us each morning.  Layers of the frost cover everything, and the sun no longer rises high enough in the sky to clear the ice from our porch.

As we make the inevitable transition into winter, which happens to be one of my favorite seasons, I'm finding myself doing more and more nesting because our lives are becoming more tied to the house. Bread is constantly baking in our oven and hot tea is always on reserve in the evenings. Cody and I are both devouring more books and movies than ever. He's playing his drum kit and renewing his love of art, while I bake and teach myself to knit.

That is not to say that we are staying inside the house constantly.  In fact, quite the contrary. I find myself racing out of school at the end of the day and heading out with a renewed vigor. I think knowing that after 5pm it's simply too dark to walk alone creates an invisible stopwatch over my head, forcing me out into the quickly fading afternoon sunlight.

It's actually been quite a wonderful routine that we've settled into. In the darkness, we are cuddled up inside the house with a good book. In the light we are outside enjoying ourselves as much as possible. We've found ourselves taking the guns out for target practice, stalking around the tundra in search of geese, and breaking new trails around our house that lead down to Loon Lake.

It's all about maintaining that balance out here in the bush, and self-care is incredibly important in Alaska's extreme climate. For me, the fine balance between exploration and relaxation is the key to my happiness, especially as we transition into the darkest and coldest part of our year.

Your turn...What activities have you been doing to prepare for winter? 
Currently listening to...Everlasting Light - The Black Keys

Sunday, October 30, 2016

October Inservice

The third week of October was a short week of school throughout our district. Students and teachers attended on Monday, with a half-day on Tuesday.  Tuesday afternoon, all of the teachers were scheduled to fly out of their villages and to our district's "hub" in King Salmon. Mellisa and I were all set to fly out of the village on Tuesday, but, as with everything in the bush, the weather had other plans.  By lunchtime the winds were howling and our first mini-snowstorm of the season was happening.  I felt certain that we'd be stuck in the village overnight.  Imagine my surprise when I got a call from Lake Clark Air to tell me their pilot was only ten minutes away, which meant we had five to grab our bags and go.

The pilot picked us up and shuttled us to Port Heiden, another village about 70 miles away.  Our landing in Port Heiden was the roughest part of the trip - by far. We dipped sharply as we approached the runway, rocked by a strong wind, and then proceeded to fishtail our way down the runway, finally skidding to a halt not far from where the Port Heiden teachers were sitting and waiting.  Thankfully, the 45 minute flight to King Salmon was uneventful.

Once in King Salmon we headed to the Bristol Bay Borough School, which serves students in King Salmon and Naknek.  They are something of a sister-school district to us, so our inservice trainings were done together. Much unlike our last training, this one was held entirely at the school, which meant we were all sleeping on air mattresses in classrooms, eating in the cafeteria, and showering in the locker rooms.

During the day, our trainings focused on teaching multi-age classrooms, writer's workshops, peeks into successful classrooms throughout our district, and teaching self regulation techniques in schools. We also had sessions that were specifically for us to focus on updating our grading and intervention records.  At night, we could choose to just hang out and relax, or take advantage of one of the offerings the district had set up.  There were two college courses offered (mitten sewing and net hanging), a sip and paint session at the local pizza joint, and a 5k run.

I ended up taking the mitten sewing class because it was an opportunity to learn a unique cultural skill, while gaining a college credit through University of Alaska Fairbanks. The mitten sewing class took place from 5:30pm-9:30pm three days in a row.  My days were long and I was exhausted, but it was worth it to learn such a useful skill.

The other nights of inservice I tried to take advantage of socializing as much as possible because it is one aspect of life that is extremely limited out in Pilot Point. One night we stayed in and had a girls night, complete with face masks.  The other free night I went grocery shopping (King Salmon had VEGETABLES!) and then out to one of the local haunts with a group of the other teachers.

The week was long, but filled with useful information and the wonderful opportunity to create new friendships and socialize outside the bubble of Pilot Point. At then end of the week, I was more than ready to head home and sleep in a real bed, snuggled up with my husband and out dogs. It's funny how quickly we settle into new places. By Friday, I found myself thinking that I couldn't wait to be home - and home meant heading back to my little village.

Your turn...What do you miss about home when you're away?
Currently listening to...Wild Child - Brett Dennen

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Day in the Life of an Alaska Bush Teacher

::6:30am:: My alarm goes off around this time each day.  The second it goes off the dogs assume it's time to play, so I don't get to lounge around for long. After walking and feeding the pups, I make myself a smoothie.  In the past, I've always been a cereal person, but milk is scarce out here so I've made the switch to drinking a Shakeology shake for breakfast.  

::8:00am:: After finishing up my morning routine I head to the school sometime between 7:45-8:00am.  Cody and I make the long trek (approximately 30 steps) from our front door to the school.  It's almost completely dark when we walk to work now because sunrise isn't until after 9:00am.  Students can arrive at school anytime between 8:00-8:30am.  Cody holds open gym for the 30mins before school starts to give the kids a chance to wake up and get in a little physical activity. 

I use the thirty minutes before school to get ready for the day.  I teach four skill levels, which is the equivalent of teaching 1st-6th grade.  I taught a similar age range at my last job, and found great success with writing a highly detailed schedule on my board each day.  I always include centers and every bullet point on the board represents a rotation to a new activity (rotations are in intervals of 15-20 minutes).  It's a lot of work to write out each day, but it's the best way I've found to manage so many grade levels and it really helps with behavior.

::8:45am:: After completing our whole-school morning meeting and our classroom calendar I teach ELA to five students. It's a lot of prep work to make our core content blocks work because, even though it's only five students, I need to know and plan for four grades of work. That means four separate lesson plans per class period.  To compare, in a typical classroom teachers would prep for 1-2 lesson per class period.  I end up needing to prep over twenty lesson plans per day.  

::10:15am:: Whole-school break time in the gym.

::10:30am:: For math I teach four levels again, but my class size swells to nine students. My tiny classroom seems almost bursting at the seams with so many students in it. It's interesting to have such a wide age range for math because my youngest students are working on basic addition and patterning while my oldest are working with fractions and long division.

::12:00pm:: Lunch time! We are ridiculously lucky with our school lunches.  Our school cook is a serious chef. Plus, he's made it his personal challenge to try to cook vegetarian meals this year (score for me!) and I've been getting spoiled.

::12:30pm:: Whole-school SSR time, also referred to as the "Power 1/2 Hour."  For thirty minutes after lunch our school comes together in the library and reads as a big group.  I try to read with them every day, which has been pretty awesome.

::1:00pm:: This is our writing and counseling block. One day a week we have cyber-counseling instead of writing class.  For writing class, I have four levels and seven students. For counseling, I have K-5 instead of levels, which is six students, because that is how the content is administered for the counseling class.

::1:45pm:: Whole-school break time in the gym.

::2:00pm:: It's back to the classroom and time for social studies and/or science.  For the first half of the school year (until Christmas break) we are specifically doing social studies.  Then, after Christmas, we will transition to science. We made the decision to do this because we wanted to keep students together based on levels (I keep the kids in levels 0-4 and Mellisa keeps the kids in levels 5+).  That isn't possible if we switch back and forth because one student might be a level 8 in social studies and a level 4 in science.

Our current focus in social studies is on our community.  We've been working on mapping Pilot Point, so the kids and I have been getting out for lots of little walks and excursions to create our own maps.  I alter the mapping assignment to fit the standards for each level (i.e some just show major landmarks and some are topographical).

::2:30pm:: The last hour of the day is reserved for "specials."  Cody teaches PE from 2:30-3:00, so I use that time as my daily prep. Then, my students come back to me for the last thirty minutes of the day.  Monday and Tuesday I teach art, and Wednesday and Thursday I teach technology. We don't meet for specials on Fridays.

::3:30pm:: School's out and the kids are headed home, most of them riding on four-wheelers. The only day we don't release at this time is on Friday. On Fridays, we dismiss at 2:00pm so that all of the teachers in our district can attend PD (professional development).  Some weeks our PD consists of cyber-meetings with the whole district and some weeks we just meet as a site and work on our own things.

::4:00pm-10:00pm:: I always take a short break from work right at the end of the school day and head out on a long walk with the dogs.  For the most part, I try to make the evenings my "me time" but I'm a teacher, so many days I head back to school after my walk and work until dinner time.

Our evenings are pretty much ruled by the kitchen.  There are no restaurants here, and I get very bored of eating the same thing, so we cook a ton.  After dinner, we read, watch TV (we stocked up on season DVD's), and pursue our hobbies.  We have a lot of downtime, so hobbies are important.  I've been learning to knit, Cody's been buying some of his favorite oldies video games, and together we've been brewing beer.

Our lives are much quieter here in the bush than they were when we lived in civilization. There are very few friends to spend time with, so we spend most of our free time alone.  The weather also plays a big part in our daily routine because it can be pretty temperamental, which keeps us indoors on some days. With that said, we're enjoying our quiet little lives unplugged from the bustling world outside. It's a change, but a nice one.

Your turn...What are some unique things about your daily schedule? 
Currently listening to...Mess is Mine - Vance Joy

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Our House in the Bush

"Do you live in an igloo?" This, and other questions pertaining to housing, is one of the most common questions I encounter when people find out where I live. They always seem a bit disappointed when I tell them that I do not, in fact, live in an igloo. We actually live in a fairly normal house, although it does look a bit like a Morton farm building from the outside.

The house itself is very large, with 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.  It is, without a doubt, the largest place that Cody and I have rented, and while we don't really need the space it is nice to have. Our rental rate, which is decided by our landlord - the school district - is quite low.  We only pay $625/month, and that includes all utilities. 

In traditional Alaskan-style, when you enter our home you walk into our arctic entryway (similar to a mudroom in the lower 48). This is where our standing deep freeze is, as well as where we keep all of our shoes and outdoor gear.  It's actually a very large room, which is nice for storage purposes.

When you enter the actual living portion of our house you walk into an open foyer area, with the living room on one side and the kitchen/dining room on the other. The house actually used to be two separate apartments, but a previous teacher knocked down a wall to make space for his growing family, which is why it's so large and open.

To the left of the foyer is our dining room.  The dining room is one of my favorite spaces in the whole house.  We've got a huge window that looks over Loon Lake and the tundra.  It's so beautiful and peaceful.  I often sit here and read, drink coffee, or do art projects.

From there, you walk into the kitchen, and while the kitchen is large and has great storage, I really miss having a dishwasher. Doing dishes is my absolute least favorite chore, so this has been probably my biggest struggle with living in this particular house. Plus, there are no restaurants here, so we cook every single meal we eat. SO. MANY. DISHES.

Two of the bedrooms are off of the kitchen, including the one that we have claimed as ours.  The smaller bedroom is serving as our storage room. We have excessive amounts of totes and boxes from the move and this little bedroom has been nice for keeping them all stored away from our living space. Plus, this house had way too much furniture when we moved in (three kitchen tables, an extra dresser, assorted end tables, and tons of lamps). The spare bedroom is also housing all of the furniture odds and ends.  The larger bedroom on this end is the master bedroom. It's a decent sized room with good closet space, plus it has the best view of all of the bedrooms because it also looks out over the lake.

Also on this end of the house is the biggest bathroom, which I've claimed as my own.  Cody and I are really digging not having to share a bathroom.  Seriously, it's marital bliss.

On the other side of the house we've got the living room, two bedrooms, and Cody's bathroom (I'll spare you the picture of Cody's bathroom - haha).  The living room has great space and came with pretty nice furniture.  We spend a lot of time curled up on the couch watching movies and hanging out, mostly because there isn't a whole lot to do out here in the bush, so I'm glad we have such nice living space in our home.

Off of the living room there are two bedrooms. One is serving as our guest bedroom, even though we never have guests.  It's also being used for our brewery (we are brewing our own beer because they don't sell alcohol in our village, even though it's not illegal to possess). The other room we've converted into a great little office.  Cody uses the office a ton for writing, reading, and playing video games.

As you can see, the house is still in need of some home decor accents, but those are the kind of things that tend to happen slowly. In terms of the bones of the house though, we are enjoying it.  It's been especially nice to have so much extra space.  Cody and I work in the same classroom for 40hrs/week and then we come home and hang out together.  Plus, there are very few opportunities for us to socialize separately here, so having our own space is important. I'm glad that we live in a place that allows us so much room to grow, expand, and live peacefully. 

Your turn...What is your favorite room in your house? 
Currently listening to...A Punk - Vampire Weekend