Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Holiday Celebration

As of 4:00pm on Tuesday Pilot Point School is officially on vacation for the next two weeks! Leading up to the vacation, which was much needed, we had to get ready for our annual Holiday Potluck. Potlucks are a big part of village life and in Pilot Point we typically have one every month. The Holiday Potluck is probably our biggest of the year because the students also perform at it and Santa comes to pass out presents. Even Cody had to get in on the Santa action - haha.

This year, the performance part of our event was titled "An Alaskan Christmas." We performed the play "The Sourdough Man" which is based on the classic story "The Gingerbread Man." Our play
was much more Alaskan-based. The story took place on the tundra and the animals were all Alaskan animals - musk ox, arctic hare, ptarmigan, etc. The kids did a wonderful job performing.

After wrapping up the play, we performed a song called "The Alaskan 12 Days of Christmas." It was a fun little version of the classic song with Alaskan animals substituted for the traditional lyrics.

The kids worked really hard to practice and get ready for their performance. They were happily rewarded with heaping piles of goodies on the tables for the potluck portion of the evening. It was a fun evening and everything went smoothly. It was also an exhausting day though - full of set-up, baking, performing, and cleaning. As fun as the event was, it was also nice to come home at the end of the night and put my feet up. Luckily, I now have two full weeks of putting my feet up and relaxing.

Your turn...What are some of the Christmas traditions where you live? 
Currently listening to...Joy to the World - Nat King Cole 

Monday, November 20, 2017


October was a busy month, which I'm sure all of you could have figured out by my lengthy blog silence. On top of our state of almost constant motion in the school, I was also suffering through some tough pregnancy symptoms. Throwing up became a constant annoyance in my life. By the time October ended I was actually 15 lbs lighter than I was at the start of my pregnancy, which didn't thrill my doctor since I am already a fairly small person. Fortunately, by the time I hit 16 weeks the doctor had prescribed me some wonderful medications and I was able to start to return to a more normal state of being. Unfortunately, I had to go all the way to Anchorage to be prescribed anything worthwhile. The views on my travels from Pilot Point to Anchorage were spectacular, but the need for a barf bag was not. 

After I returned from my little journey to Anchorage, things only seemed to get busier. Our all-staff inservice was in middle of October and I had to travel to King Salmon for four days of meetings and trainings. Thankfully, I did get to spend quality time hanging out with a few of my favorite teachers and I made another pair of beaver fur mittens (this pair I gifted to Cody since I made myself a pair last year). 

Towards the end of the month we hosted our annual school Halloween Party. It was a blast, as always, but also a ton of work. In the bush, the school is the center of all of the action in town, so the turnout for these kinds of events is pretty large. Amber (the MS/HS teacher), Cody, the parent committee, and myself put a ton of effort into cooking food, decorating the school, making games for the kids to play, and organizing the event. It was all worth it though to see how much fun the kiddos had at the party. 

As the month ended, we said goodbye to our nice, beautiful weather. October actually gave us some rare sunny days and I got the opportunity to get out and do a little hiking and adventuring before the weather turned. It was a wonderful break, especially after September gave us nothing but rain and wind. 

Now that it is November, we have transitioned into winter pretty firmly. Snow has fallen on multiple occasions, the wind is at an almost constant roar, and the temperatures are sitting firmly below freezing. I'm sure I'll be posting pictures of a winter wonderland here before too long, and I really don't mind the weather changing because it just means we are onto another season of adventures and one step closer to our biggest adventure - parenthood. 

Your turn...How was your October? 
Currently listening to...Zombie - The Cranberries 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Baby Middleton, Coming April 2018!

Cody and I have some big news to share, and we are very excited that we can finally say...

we're expecting! Baby Middleton - coming April 2018!

That's right, I am working on growing our little adventure babe as I type this post. Today I entered my second trimester and baby is growing right on track. Being pregnant in rural Alaska has definitely already been an interesting experience, as it is truly not like being pregnant anywhere else in the US. Typically, when you're expecting, you take a nice little drive to your OB once a month. When you live in a rural village though, the nearest OB is very far away.

Since August I've already taken two solo trips to Anchorage for appointments, which has been an expensive endeavor. It costs $800-$1,000 to fly from Pilot Point to Anchorage roundtrip and insurance will only reimburse me for two roundtrip flights (and one of those flights has to be my trip to give birth). As long as all looks well with Baby M, I'll probably only be going to the doctor every 6-8 weeks until I am farther along. Once I make it to the 36-37 week mark (March) I will have to relocate to Anchorage for the remainder of my pregnancy. Cody and I are currently looking at renting an apartment from the middle of March until early May.

The last couple of months have been a complete whirlwind for us. We're so incredibly excited and thankful. I can't wait to see how the next year changes our little family for the better.

Your turn...Any suggestions for a first time mom?
Currently listening to...I Don't Mind - Defeater 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

We're Back!

Cody, the dogs, and I landed in Pilot Point in mid-August. We spent the days before flying back to the village in Anchorage buying enough groceries to last us a couple of months, going to doctor's appointments, and enjoying our last days in civilization. Anchorage is always hectic though, so when we finally took off it was so nice to fly low over the tundra and see the little village from above. After our busy summer and week in Anchorage, I was excited to get back to the slower pace of life in the village. I was also incredibly touched by our decorated truck waiting for us at the airport. The people in Pilot Point truly are the best.

The slower pace didn't last for long though, which is why it's been so long since I've posted. The school year seemed to begin at a breakneck speed this year. We had a handful of new students join our school this year and a new teacher too. Our school year schedule is also much different this year because our district petitioned the state to do a test run with a "Subsistence Calendar." The Subsistence Calendar is something we are trying, which involves operating a shortened school year from the beginning of September to the beginning of May.  The district is choosing to run it this way because many of our students are out participating in subsistence activities with their families from June - August and attendance tends to be poor. Also, by running a shortened school year we were able to save our budget and avoid cutting essential services and positions. You can read more about it here and here.

Somehow, in the midst of all of the insanity of the beginning of the school year, we've also been trying to make time for our own subsistence activities. We've been fishing, collecting plants, picking berries, and Cody has been taking advantage of the bird migrations and has been hunting geese and ducks. Our at-home time seems to be minimal, but that will shift a bit as the weather changes. It's already fall here on the Alaska peninsula and the winter weather is undoubtedly not far away. We had our first snowstorm in mid-October last year.

As the weather changes, I suspect some of the insanity that the first weeks of school have brought will die down too. I usually love the slow pace of fall and winter, so I can't wait to get into that part of the year. The time of laying on the couch and reading good books while drinking cocoa, or watching movies while eating freshly popped popcorn. I'm definitely looking forward to those days in the very near future.

Your turn...Is fall starting to settle in where you live? 
Currently listening to...Ends of the Earth - Lord Huron 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

July Travels

July was another whirlwind month of travel. Cody and I were apart while he visited family in Illinois and Florida. During that time, I was road-tripping back from Virginia to Illinois and enjoying a week of rest and relaxation at my mom's house. While back in Illinois at my mom's house, we still managed to get into some shenanigans. Early in July we hosted a 4th of July party at her house, and we convinced the dogs to pose for adorable photos in their patriotic outfits. Then, later in that same week we drove to Milwaukee for Summerfest. At Summerfest, we got to see Tom Petty, Christ Stapleton, and a bunch of other awesome musicians perform.

About mid-month I headed up to Michigan to stay with my dad and his family. The first week that we were there my dad and I took a spontaneous trip up to Beaver Island. Cody and I lived in Beaver Island for a couple of years and I taught at the school there, so it was a blast to spend time visiting friends and former students. The gorgeous, Bahama-like beaches and weather didn't hurt either.

After our trip to Beaver Island, dad and I headed back to SW Michigan (where he lives), and Cody flew into Grand Rapids the next day. Reunited with Cody, we both then had a blast spending a few weeks in Michigan. My dad's house is on the beach, so we swam every single day. We also hiked Mt.Baldhead, watched sunset at Oval Beach, enjoyed a visit from my college bestie, and a million other fun things. I was sad when July came to a close and Cody and I had to leave.

Now that we are officially into August the countdown to heading back to Alaska has begun. We leave to go back to our village in less than a week. While we are both super excited, it is also bittersweet. This summer has been such a blast. We've spent so much quality time with family, and we've also had non-stop adventures. This school year should bring about some big changes for our family though, which I am pretty excited about, so I will be happy to get settled back in at our little village home.

Your turn...What fun things did you do in July?
Currently listening to... Tennessee Whiskey - Chris Stapleton 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Books for Teachers in Bush Alaska

Book: The Kids From Nowhere by George Guthridge
Summary: The author, George Guthridge, accepts a teaching job and moves his family to an island in the Bering Sea. The job comes with many issues: racism towards his family, lack of resources in the school, awful/unhelpful coworkers, and a million other little things. Despite all of his issues outside the classroom, Guthridge ends up creating a strong connection with his students. Eventually, he ends up successfully leading his students to win a national education competition.
Why I suggest this book: There aren't a lot of "modern" books that deal with teaching in rural Alaska. This book, while written in the '80's, deals with a lot of current issues that bush teachers face. The island that Guthridge teaches on has some particularly extreme issues, but it is still very relevant. The author also does a good job of speaking about the importance of culture in the school system, and he immerses himself in his communities cultural events, which I believe is important for all teachers in the Bush to do.

Book: Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Summary: This story jumps through the generations of an Inupiaq family who reside on a small island off of the coast of Alaska. The story opens with Nutaaq, a girl living in the early 1900's, and her family as they attend a trade fair in a neighboring village. Nutaaq's sister is married off to a Siberian man and taken back to Russia. Nutaaq remains behind with her family, but soon tragedy strikes when a plague comes to their village. After this, the story jumps forward and follows Blessing, a young female descendant of Nutaaq, who is living in Anchorage in the 1980's. Blessing is taken from her mother and placed in her grandmother's care. Her grandmother lives in the same village that Nutaaq once called home. The story then follows Blessing and her connection to her culture and ancestry.
Why I suggest this book: This book does a beautiful job at addressing the generational changes that have taken place within society. The book deals with issues that are extremely specific to Alaskan villages, and it is written by a woman who has lived her life above the Arctic Circle. The author does a great job of showing the Inupiaq culture in extremely rich detail. This book is beautifully written and I believe is a must-read for all teachers coming into schools in rural Alaska.

Book: 90 Below: Or, What Bush Alaska Taught Me About Drink, Destruction, and Survival by Eric Mack
Summary: This short story was written by an NPR contributor who moved to Alaska to start a career in radio. Mack's story opens with him at the bar and he recalls various events that transpire in his short time living in Galena, Alaska. The author details rough parties, local suicides,  and domestic violence. He also talks about the great friends he makes along the way and the ways that they have aided the direction his life took after leaving Galena.
Why I suggest this book: This book depicts bush living in a frank way, and does not shy away from   what life can be like in isolated places, particularly as an outsider looking in. I also think that it is important to note that Mack didn't stay long in Galena, which is often typical of bush teachers too, so I think that makes it an interesting insight. We often get stories from the successful teachers/people who loved bush life, Mack's story is kind of the opposite.

Book: One Man's Wilderness by Sam Keith
Summary: This book is essentially a compilation of the journals of Richard Proenneke, who built a cabin (by hand!) in Twin Lakes, which is an incredibly isolated wilderness area about a 30 minute flight from Port Alsworth, Alaska (Note: Port Alsworth is the location of one of my district's schools). Proenneke's journals detail his first 16 months off living in his remote cabin, totally isolated except for the rare visits by local pilot Babe Alsworth. Proenneke talks about building the cabin, providing his own food, handling dangerous wildlife situations, and many other unique Alaskan wilderness experiences.
Why I suggest this book: While this book may not seem like an obvious suggestion, it is a fantastic read. In fact, it is one of my favorite books of all time. I also think it gives a cool look at local history, flora, weather, and wildlife in this region of Alaska. Proenneke's descritptions paint a vivid picture of bush living, and also of the intense isolation of living alone in the wilderness.

Books about teaching/living in Alaska that are still on my to-read list:
Winds of the Skilak by Bonnie Rose Ward
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Shadows on the Koyukuk by Jim Rearden

Other notable/similar books that I've read and recommend: 
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Your turn...What are some of your favorite books about where you live?
Currently listening to...Wooly Mammoth - Local Natives

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

June Travels

The month of June was hectic and fun for the Middleton family. We arrived back in the lower 48 during the last few days of May, and tried to get a little bit of r&r at my mom's house in Illinois before we started traveling all over. However, the "rest" part of our trip didn't last long, mostly because my mom and I started getting wild ideas to go places about two days after Cody and I landed in the state. We ended up hiking two different state parks in the first week of being there. We first went to Kankakee River State Park, which is only 30ish minutes from my mom's house, so we packed up the dogs and took them on a nice hike around the river. The second state park was a little further, but also super cool. We spent a day hiking at Starved Rock State Park, which I hadn't been to since I was a kid. It was gorgeous!

The next week I drove Cody down to his hometown in southern Illinois and I stayed there to visit for a few days. I actually went to college close to where Cody grew up, so it was a blast to drive around campus and check out some of my old favorite hangouts. It was also really nice to see Cody's family because I hadn't seen them in a year and a half.

From there, I headed back to my mom's for a few days (and finally got some of that much needed r&r) before jetting off to my dad's house in Michigan. I spent Father's Day in Michigan and my grandfather, who is 84, drove up to MI and spent the weekend with us too. It  was so special to get to spend a long weekend with two of my favorite guys. We spent a wonderful weekend living the lake life - floating, swimming, watching sunset from the boat. It was great.

My dad and I took a road trip to Virginia after Father's Day, where he then left me at my sister's house for 10 days. My sister and her family live near DC, and I really love going to visit them. She has three girls (17, 9, and 5), so we had a BLAST playing and hanging out all week. We did a ton of fun stuff, but my two favorite adventures were hiking in Shenandoah National Park and spending a beach day at Lake Anna State Park. The Blue Ridge Mountains were amazing. I fell instantly in love and stood in awe of them as we hiked.  It was a truly incredible trip!

At the end of my 10 days in Virginia I headed back to Illinois, which is where I am now. It's been a crazy, adventure-filled trip, so far. The adventure is far from over though. I still have a trip to Milwaukee for a concert this week, my oldest sister's wedding this weekend, a weekend trip to Beaver Island (where Cody and I used to live) next week, another trip to SW Michigan, and an end-of-summer cookout with my Illinois family. Somehow, I am going to pack all of that in before August 15th. Wish me luck!

Your turn...How is your summer going?
Currently listening to...Hurray for the Riff Raff - Blue Ridge Mountains 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Traveling Back to the Lower 48

Summer has officially begun for those of us who teach for Lake and Peninsula School District. Before it officially started though, we had a few things to do. The first week of summer vacation we spent in the village. Cody and I spent quite a bit of time with our friends, and I even got the opportunity to learn to paddle board. One of my good friends, Sue, has a paddle board in the village and she offered to teach me one afternoon. I went over to her house and tested it out on Loon Lake, which is the lake behind the school and my house. I was pretty wobbly at first, but it was such a blast. How many people can say they've had the opportunity to learn to paddle board while living in rural Alaska? Probably not many!

At the end of the week, I was sad to see our little village disappear in the distance as we flew away, but we were also a bit spoiled with gifts and well wishes before we left. We had quite a few people call or stop by to "visit" to tell us they'd miss us and to have a good summer. I was also gifted a beautiful beaded bracelet from a student and her mother, and then our good friends Al and Sue gave us amazing glass floats.

Even though I was sad to leave the village, I was also filled with excitement because I knew I'd soon be seeing my family and I hadn't seen them in ten months. Before heading all the way to the Lower 48 we first stopped in Anchorage for a few days. Cody and I both had doctor's appointments and the dogs needed health certificates from the vet in order for Alaska Air to let them fly (this has to be done for all dogs on commercial flights and it has to be done no more than 10 days prior to the flight date).

Our trip to Anchorage ended up being pretty fun too because we got out and did some exploring. My favorite place we went was Flattop Mountain. Flattop is a very popular hike in the Anchorage-area and I've been wanting to try it out for awhile. The trail is a little steep, but the views are fantastic and it's relatively short. Cody and I were up there on a very windy, clear day. The temperatures were a little chilly that high up, especially considering it was late May, but it was still totally worth it.

Finally, after nearly a week in Anchorage, we boarded a red eye flight bound for Chicago. This was our first big, commercial flight with the dogs and I was a mess dealing with them in the airport. TSA made us take them out of the cages in order to "check" them, plus the act of just not being able to see them for the duration of the 6-hour flight was stressful (for them and me I'm sure). However, they arrived in one piece and I'm sure they're infinitely happy that they don't have to board another airplane for at least another 10-11 weeks. Solid ground is their best friend at the moment.

After all the excitement, we are now all just relaxing in the Midwest. We have plans to visit Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, Washington DC, Florida, and possibly Missouri this summer, so it's going to be a busy trip. I'm so excited for a summer of fun and adventures, and I know that Cody and the dogs are ready for it too. I will still be posting this summer and covering some of our adventures, in the Lower 48, and then I'll be back again in August with posts about the new school year and our lives back in our little bush Alaskan village.

Your turn...Any big plans this summer? Tell me about them! 
Currently listening to...Kick, Push - Lupe Fiasco 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The End of Another School Year

School officially ended on Wednesday, and just like that I've wrapped up my fifth year of teaching, my first year of teaching in Pilot Point, and my first year as a Head Teacher. It's been a wild ride, but I'm so happy with how successful this year was.

We celebrated the end of the year in a variety of ways. The first celebration was on the Friday before school ended and we hosted a preschool graduation (we had no graduating high school kids this year), an awards ceremony, and a potluck. At this potluck, we had a video tribute to our school year, which was beautifully created by our high school teacher Melissa. I think everyone really loved the video, so I thought it would be fun to share it here too.

On Wednesday, the last day of school, we hosted a cookout on the beach for all of the students. It was such a fun, special way to end the year. The weather was perfect - sunny and in the upper 50's. We cooked hotdogs, played football and frisbee, and climbed some of the big hills surrounding the sandy beach. I loved getting to celebrate the final days of our school year together in such a neat way. It will definitely be a memory that I carry with me.

Our first official day of summer vacation brought about ultimate relaxation for Cody and I. We had planned ahead of time to stay in the village for awhile, which has turned out to be a great decision because we've been doing some really fun stuff. Melissa and Ben, the other teacher and her husband, left on Thursday afternoon, so we sadly had to say goodbye to them as soon as school got out. Unfortunately, they won't be returning next year. They definitely helped shape our year out here though, and I wish them all the best in their next adventures.

As the final days of our first year of adventures in Pilot Point draws to a close, I can't help but think about how thankful I am for this experience. This has probably been my best year of teaching, so far, and I know that Cody feels that he has really found a job that he loves too. In fact, Cody enjoys it so much that he is starting a teacher certification program in August, which he gets to attend for free thanks to two wonderful tuition reimbursement programs (one funded through our school district and one funded through our village). This experience has opened many doors for both of us, and I am happy that we will be retuning again next year.

Your turn...What are your summer plans? 
Currently listening to...Electric Feel - MGMT