Saturday, August 1, 2020

Palmer, Alaska - My Favorite Things

We've lived in Palmer for a little over two years now, and I have to admit that it is a really unique and picturesque little mountain town. There's so much to love about it! I wanted to do a post highlighting all of my favorite things about Palmer, but I honestly had to edit quite a bit because it was going to get loooong. In the end, I decided to just focus on five of my favorite things about Palmer. 

Five of My Favorite Things about Palmer, Alaska

1.) Hatcher Pass. Hatcher Pass is a 300,000 acre state recreation area located right outside of Palmer, in the Talkeetna Mountains. It's truly otherworldly with how beautiful it is up there. There's a seemingly endless number of trails available for all skill levels, and in the winter it becomes a playground for skiing and snowboarding. It's also home to the Hatcher Pass Scenic Drive, which is a stunning drive up through the mountains, and in the summer you can actually drive all the way to Willow. This drive holds a special place in my heart. You see, when we first moved to town we lived right outside Hatcher Pass. Annika was a horrible sleeper as a baby (actually, she still is), so when she was a little I would sometimes take her for drives to get her to sleep. I got in the habit of grabbing a coffee from the nearby coffee stand and driving up into Hatcher Pass. It was a relaxing and scenic way to spend naptime. 

2.) Coffee, Coffee, Coffee. Palmer is home to some great coffee. Vagabond Blues is my favorite restaurant in Palmer and also my favorite place to sit and sip a cup of coffee while I get some work done on my computer. There is no shortage of drive-thru coffee huts here, which is something I LOVE about Alaska and haven't encountered in many other places. Brew HaHa is a little drive-thru coffee hut that is by my office that I frequent and I cannot say enough good things about it. There's also about a million other good places to get coffee.  

3.) Breweries. So many good place to get beer. Bleeding Heart is my favorite. It used to be set back on a really beautiful farm and beer was served outside in a cool, old farm building. The setting was amazing. They were moving/expanding this summer + COVID, so I'm not sure what their current setup is. I love their beer though. Matanuska Brewing is another great one. They have a quirky little brewery right underneath the famous Palmer water tower. I highly recommend stopping by there too. Or, if you want food with your beer, check out the Palmer City Alehouse. In non-COVID times the alehouse often has live music and events too (my personal favorite is their weekly Yoga & Beer class during the summer!). 

4.) Little Shops. So many cute local shops. Palmer is one of those unique towns that hasn't totally sold out to big business and it shows in a big way. The downtown stretch of Palmer is so scenic - big mountains rising in the distance and tiny shops lining the streets. You can get food at any number of local restaurants, buy books at Fireside Books, or get some locally made goods at Alaska Chicks, Cobb Street Market, Poppy Lane, or any number of other spots along the main drag and beyond. 

5.) Community Events. Palmer is all about the community events. There's the Palmer Wine Walk, Friday Flings, Food Truck Fest, Vintage Home Market, Yoga & Beer, Colony Days, Colony Christmas, Halloween Hollow, the Alaska State Fair, and so many more. Seriously, I can't even begin to describe how many cool events we've been to since moving here. There is something new happening every week. It's really neat to be a part of a small community with such an active group of residents constantly working together to make events happen. It really makes Palmer a cool place to live (or visit!). 

Currently listening to...Taylor Swift - Cardigan 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Denali Road Lottery - September 2019

As I dip my toes back into the world of blogging, I thought recapping some of our adventures over the last two years might be a good place to start. It is doubtful that these adventures will end up being in any sort of chronological order, because let's be honest - organization has never been a strength of mine. I'll try my best to label the posts with dates though to provide a little bit of context to our adventures.

In the summer of 2019 (Annika was 1.5 at the time) we found out we'd won a ticket for the Denali Road Lottery. Cody and I were so excited! You see, personal vehicles aren't allowed in Denali National Park. Generally, you have to book a tour on one of the park buses if you want to see the entirety of the park. The exception is the Denali Road Lottery that happens each year. In order to qualify to drive your car into the park you have to enter a lottery ($25ish per ticket) and hope for the best. Miraculously, we won the first year we entered, which we are told doesn't happen very often. The park assigned us a single day in September that we were allowed to drive the park road.

The second week of September we packed up our Jeep for a long weekend spent in Healy, AK (the town right outside the park). We booked the best little AirBnb (here's the link!). It was a secluded cabin probably 15-minutes outside the park. We really loved the location because the front porch hung right off the mountainside and we could sit out there and drink coffee while staring out onto the most beautiful scenery. They also had a great grilling area and lots of flat play space for small children (Annika pictured below running around behind the cabin).

The day that we drove the park was a little crazy, but in a good way. It can take 10+ hours roundtrip to drive all the way to Wonder Lake (mile 85), which is the final stop on the Denali Park Road. With a toddler in tow, we didn't even entertain the idea that we'd make it that far. Our goal was to make it to Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 of the park road. Driving 60 (or 80) miles might not sound that far, but you have to consider the condition of the park road. The Denali Park Road isn't like your typical road. It's extremely primitive. There are no road markers, traffic signs, or even any pavement. The roads are roughly graveled (in some places VERY rough) and often only one lane through mountain passes. At one point, we actually traveled a section of road that was one lane, covered in orange cones, and had a handmade sign asking us to "stop, get out of the car, and make sure you don't see any oncoming traffic before proceeding." Turns out that particular stretch of road collapsed the following winter.

We succeeded in making it to the visitor's center at Eielson. It was a bit of a long day for Annika, but lots of stops and playing at the different campgrounds was helpful. Eielson was gorgeous and we are so glad we made it that far. It took us just over eight hours roundtrip. Unlike many visitors to Denali, we didn't really see much wildlife along the drive. We did see a couple of moose, but they were pretty distant. We weren't hugely concerned though because after years in the bush, we'd seen more wildlife than most people will in a lifetime.

One other cool thing about the trip was our dinner at 49th State Brewing Company. The brewery has a great location in Anchorage too, but we just adored the one in Healy. It was much more rustic and the outdoor seating was great. They also had a decent vegetarian menu, which is a huge bonus for me. Our favorite part was the bus though. I was a big fan of the Into The Wild book and movie in my younger days, and they happen to have the movie set replica of the bus at the brewery in Healy. Cody and I loved exploring the bus and taking pictures in front of it. I'd definitely recommend hitting up the restaurant and seeing the bus if you're headed to the park.

Currently listening to...Woodland - The Paper Kites 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

It's Been Awhile

It's been awhile! A long while. I'm not sure if there's any readership still on this little corner of the internet where I poured my heart for many years, but I thought I'd give a little update in case there is.

The last two years have been a whirlwind. Having a baby, becoming a mom, moving to a new city, starting a new job...there's been no shortage of changes in the Middleton household. That is likely why this blog fell by the wayside. I also felt like I didn't have much to write about anymore. This blog was sort of fueled by Cody and I's lives in remote corners of the world that were primarily unknown to the general population. However, our lives in the bustling Matsu Valley in Alaska don't seem nearly as exciting. We are still having wonderful adventures, but we no longer rely on 4-wheelers for transportation or await the mail plane for our Amazon boxes that we ordered 6 weeks prior. We go to work, we eat at restaurants, we go on playdates at the library and the park (well, before COVID hit that's what we did), we grocery shop weekly instead of once every six months. It's a much different life.

Annika, 2018
A big part of our new life is our sweet baby, Annika. Her start to life was bit tough, as she was born with some health issues that kept us in the NICU for awhile. Thankfully, between excellent doctors and lots of love from her family, she made a full recovery. Now she is a spunky, opinionated toddler who is happier in the mountains than she is in the house. Cody and I really got lucky with this kid. She is such an adventurer and we can barely keep up with her most days. She is truly our little Alaskan wild child.

Annika, Summer 2020
We've slowly settled into life in the Valley. Although, if it were up to me we'd probably still be living in a village somewhere - growing our own food, set netting for fish off of the beach, hunting caribou out on the tundra, and enjoying a good steam on the cold Alaskan evenings. Ah well, a girl can dream about her husband building her a little cabin and living off the land, right??

I might try to start writing again, regardless of whether or not anyone reads. Writing is such an amazing outlet for me and I've really missed it. Hopefully I can work it into my routine in some form or fashion. Until then - happy adventuring!

Currently listening to...Stay Wild - Shook Twins

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Same District, New Job

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. Well, if I'm being honest, this whole year has been a whirlwind when I take into consideration the craziness that has been this pregnancy and general life/teaching in the bush. It's been a wonderful year, but a busy one. Weighing heavily on Cody and I's minds this year was what we were going to do next year. We really love Pilot Point and have enjoyed living and working here. There are quite a few things working against us staying here for next year though. For starters, we have no childcare. Cody would have to stay home with baby, which he and I were interested in doing, but he wouldn't have any other young families/parent groups to socialize with here because our village is just so small. Also, the lack of healthcare and inaccessibility of it has been heavy on me. It costs $1,100/person to travel to the hospital in Anchorage and unfortunately our school's insurance doesn't cover health services in our village.

With these two issues weighing on us, we eventually came to the decision that we needed a change for next year. I began speaking with my district administrators about moving to one of our northern villages for next year. Our northern villages have much better, cheaper access to Anchorage and there is a clinic in one of the villages staffed by a PA that our insurance will cover. So, I proceeded through the second half of this year thinking I'd probably be calling one of these villages home soon.

Then, I found out that our district's Registrar was retiring and that they were combining his position with the position of Teacher Mentor. The district advertised that they wanted a current LPSD teacher to take the role because they wanted it to be someone who was already familiar with how we do things. I applied on a bit of a whim and told myself that the job was a total shot in the dark, especially since I heard that many others were applying too. I interviewed and tried to remain optimistic, but I had strong hunch that it wouldn't work out.

Well, I was wrong! The district offered me the position of Registrar/Teacher Mentor for next year. The position will actually be located in Palmer, Alaska, which will be a HUGE change since Cody and I haven't lived in a road system location in over six years. I will be traveling some and will still get to spend time in our villages helping new teachers adjust to life in the bush. Most of my time will be spent working remotely from our new district office in Palmer though. It'll be a huge adjustment and very different than being in the classroom, but I am super excited for this next chapter.

With all of this new knowledge, we've been adjusting to what our new lives will entail next year and starting to panic a little bit about moving with a newborn. The next couple of months are sure to be crazy. In less than a month we move to Anchorage to have the baby, then sometime before May 15th we will be moving back to Pilot Point to start the packing process, sometime in late May I am going to spend a couple of weeks training with our current Registrar, and then in June we will be relocating to Palmer. While it will be crazy, I am really optimistic and hope this will be our last move for quite some time. This will be our fourth city we've lived in over the last 7 years and I'm hoping it's the one we get to stay in and raise our child. Fingers crossed for a smooth transition!

Your turn...Have you ever made a big job switch?
Currently listening to...Good People - Jack Johnson

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Videos for Teachers Interested in Rural Alaska

It's that time of the year! In many Alaskan districts (including Lake & Pen) contracts have gone out and the hiring season is getting ready to begin. As always, districts across the state are looking for quality teachers to join the ranks out in the bush. Making the decision to move to rural Alaska isn't an easy one, but there are many good resources out there to aid you in your research. One of the many great resources out there are videos. There are tons of videos out there on YouTube and school district websites. Below, I've compiled four of my personal favorite videos that I recommend checking out if you're thinking about making the leap to become a teacher in rural Alaska.

Bushed: Teaching Life in Rural Alaska
This is a four-part documentary series, and even though it is long I would highly recommend watching all four parts of it. The couple in it does a wonderful job of looking honestly at some of the challenges that come with being a teacher in rural Alaska. When I was first researching teaching in Alaska this series helped me so much. The wife from this series maintains a really great blog, which I recommend checking out too. BONUS - This family is a total success story because they still live and teach in rural Alaska!

KTUU Teaching in Alaska: Pilot Point School
This one is about us! KTUU (an Alaska news network) came to Pilot Point a few years back and shot a special about teaching in Alaska. It does a great job of highlighting the pros and cons of teaching in such a remote, small village. The teachers in it are also great, and one of them actually still works for our district just in another village. I watched this one more than once before making my decision to move to Pilot Point and found it super helpful. This video will be particularly informational if you're considering a one or two teacher site.

INDIE ALASKA: I am a Whittier Teacher
INDIE ALASKA does a lot of really amazing videos, which I highly recommend checking out. This one in particular is great because it follows a teacher in Whittier through her daily life. Whittier isn't exactly a Bush community, but it isn't exactly a normal community either. For anyone unfamiliar with Whittier, it is a small community south of Anchorage that is only accessible by tunnel. In addition to this oddity. Whittier's entire 200 person population lives in one building. This teachers story is super interesting and she has some good insight into living under a microscope, which is inevitable as a bush teacher.

First Year Teacher Adjusts to Life in Rural Alaska
I think this one is super informational because the teacher in it is a first year educator who has only been in Alaska a few short months. She discusses the intensity of being somewhere so rural and some of the difficulties that come with teaching in the bush. She addresses homesicknesses and texting her family to tell them she's ready to come home, which I think is something some new teachers don't always realize will be so amplified in the villages. Her principal also makes a guest appearance to talk about what makes teachers successful in rural Alaska.

There are so many other great videos out there, and I highly recommend you watch some of them before making the leap. As always, some of the videos you find will be from educators who had successful experiences and some are from those what had not-so successful experiences. It's important to look at all sides before you jump into such a big decision though and listening to people's firsthand experiences can be super helpful with that.

Your turn...Do you have any great video suggestions about where you live or your profession? 
Currently listening to...Heavy Feet - Local Natives 

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