Sunday, December 23, 2012


I don’t need a calendar to see that Christmas is nearing. I am being bombarded with television commercials telling me what I need and what I must give to my wife so I don’t look like a turd again. I’m suppose to enjoy receiving and using power tools around the house while my wife sits behind the wheel of a new luxury car, wearing her sparkly new diamond neckless. Not only don’t I enjoy using power tools, I don’t exactly understand how to use them. I’m pretty sure it involves doing work or a chore, so I don’t see how that benefits me in any way. Plus, I don’t see a beer holder on any of those handheld tools. And giving those gifts to my wife? I’m a teacher, not a congressman. I cannot afford to make her that happy. We’re lucky we can order online from the Dollar Store. Nothing shows off the color in my wife’s eyes like an edible neckless made of candy.
11:40 am sunrise. Our days are now getting longer.

Another way for us to know Christmas is near is to hang around children all day. Christmas will be brought up everyday, several times a day. We have a countdown on the whiteboard, reminding us how long until Christmas. We won’t be taking a full break from the school. I’m teaching our after school tutoring program, so we’re going to hold some sessions over the break. The kids wanted to do this and I think it should be fun for us. 

Christmas break started on Thursday at our school. I believe the staff was more excited about the break than the kids. Most of the teachers headed south to visit their families in the lower 48. We are going out to Anchorage for Christmas this year. We had originally planned on staying in the village for the entire break. Last weekend, we decided to head down to Anchorage for a week. This will give us a chance to do some things that we are unable to do here. The most obvious thing we can do is go to a place that sells things. Going to a store is something we take for granted most of our lives, but up here we don’t get to do it. We are fortunate that we have loving family members who will shop for us and send us packages from Oklahoma and Idaho. The upside of not having a store means there is no place where two women can bring all of their kids, block a narrow walkway (aisle), and catch up with each other’s lives. All the while totally ignoring everyone else in the store who are trying to get through the spice isle so they can stock up on beer. Maybe I won’t go to a store.
Some old bald guy at the Christmas program.

If you’re reading this, it means we survived the end of the earth. I think this is my 14th apocalypse I’ve survived in a row, so I’m feeling pretty good about that. Not that I have any special survival skills for this sort of thing, other than not believing in nonsense. Also, if there was an apocalypse, I think it would take about 20 years before anyone of us up here realized it, so we’d be fine anyways. 

Monica and I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We will be spending Christmas in Anchorage and New Year’s here watching football, I guess. Then we can get back to some normalcy on TV; like more erectile dysfunction ads and commercials about yogurt that makes us poop. Now that’s better.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


After taking a week off from writing this blog, one would think that I would have plenty to write about. But just because I have stuff to write about doesn’t mean it will be written.  Just as when there is work to be done, don’t assume that it will be done by me.  I am what the scientists term as “a lazy- ass”. Actually, you can put the word “ass” after any adjective and it would probably describe me pretty well. (I’ll pause here because I know you will try out a few and say, “Yeah, he’s right.”)

This is the 'wrist carry' event in NYO.
We did have activities at the school. Our school participated in the Native Youth Olympics (NYO) along with several other schools in our district. Events consist of several different athletic and academic contests. One event our school excelled in was the stick-pull. This is an event where two contestants grab ahold of an eighteen inch stick, similar to how you hold an oar. They sit flat on the floor, facing each other. Their legs are outstretched with the bottoms of their feet pressed against their opponent’s. Then they pull. The winner is the one who pulls the stick out of his/her opponent’s hands. Our kids did surprisingly well in spite of being the smallest school competing. This should be a lesson to the rest of the Yukon Delta: Don’t try to take a stick away from a Nunam kid, you will lose. Or a candy bar. 

An activity I participated in was as a member of a reading curriculum review team. About a dozen teachers from our district got together at the district office in Mountain Village to help chose a new reading curriculum for our district. The new reading books were chosen by two people grabbing ahold of a book and the one who pulled the book out of the other person’s hand got to chose the curriculum. Then the curriculum director walked into the room and said we must discuss both programs and take a vote before making a decision. 

His stern voice of reason won out and we were forced to listen to two separate sales pitches from the publishers. During the sales pitch, we were encouraged to ask questions. I asked her how old she was. The Stern Voice of Reason suggested we ask pertinent questions. So I asked her if she thought I could fit 7 donuts in my mouth at the same time. She pretended not to hear me and muttered something about research-based data and best practices. Whatever nerd, I’m know I can fit them in. Then the Stern Voice of Reason encouraged me not to ask any more questions. 

After a day and a half, we took a vote and decided on a new curriculum for our district. Both would have worked out nicely so I know we made a good choice. Our state has changed our standards to align more closely to the common core standards, which has been adopted by most of the other states. This new curriculum will be a better fit that what we have now. I am happy we are changing curriculum from what we have now, as are most of the other teachers in the district. 

This is how trees grow down here on the Delta.
With the curriculum review finished, I can now concentrate on our Christmas program. Since our program is next Friday, I guess I have no choice but to do something about that. I may put a third grader in charge just to give them a life lesson. The lesson will be that planning a Christmas program is no fun. And I maybe I’ll have him write my blog for next week. Yes, I know I’m a Grinch-ass.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Thanksgiving 2012 is in the books and the refrigerator is full of leftovers. Which is surprising because of the amount of food I ate. I guess it is a bit ridiculous when I look up to ask someone to pass the gravy and find myself alone at the table. Then I have to decide if the effort is worth it. I quickly decide that it is, and poured that liquid meat over my third plate. Really, I knew all along that I’d be using that Gravy, so it was not too smart to allow the bowl to be placed so far from my seat.

This is our group in Nunam. Guess which one is me.
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving here with our Alaska family. We had the usual fare: turkey, potatoes, stuffing, Gravy, green bean casserole, rolls, and other stuff I didn’t have room for on my plate. As we sat down to dinner, our guests spoke of the things they claim to be thankful for. I was looking down on our turkey and wondered that if Ben Franklin had his way, would we be eating eagle for dinner? When it was my turn I said I was thankful that eagles were protected. With that, there was a collective “Shut up Clay” and everyone started eating.

Our Alaskan family includes mostly other teachers. Essie is our special education teacher, and this year her boyfriend, Daniel, from Arkansas came to visit. Brittnay teaches language arts for the high school. And Bethany is our science and math teacher. We share many meals together, but not as big as this one. We all pitched in and made different dishes for the meal, so I didn’t get stuck with all of the cooking.  And it was all delicious.

There wasn’t much conversation at the table, mostly just the sounds of forks going from plate to mouth. From time to time people would ask someone to pass a plate or to ask Monica if I was really going to eat all of that. I did hear someone, whom I won’t name because it might embarrass his girlfriend, say that he stopped eating because he didn’t want to unbutton his pants. The way he said it made it sound like it was something to be ashamed of. I let it go because I was wearing my fleece pants with elastic in the waist (stretchy pants). But to be fair, I wear those pants most of the time around the house. 

The dessert choices were so much I could not sample all of them. For six of us, we had apple pie, two peanut butter pies, pecan pie, and carrot cake. By the time I got to dessert, I was only able to sample three of them. I’ll get to the rest later; that is what Black Friday is for.


Black Friday is for eating leftovers and repeating the words, "I ate too much... again." For some, Black Friday is for standing in lines to buy more things to be thankful for. I have made a list of things that I’d rather do than participate in Black Friday shopping:
1. Everything else.

I suppose I could   go  on  about  the  downside  of   feeling compelled to purchase things we don’t need, but I’ll let it pass. I’ll instead think of the things that I am thankful for: My almost perfect wife, many good friends, a great family, a job I love, and a warm house. I’m also thankful that our plumbing is working better. We had some troubles with our sewer system at the house, but it seems to be working close to normal. Which means I don’t have to make the one-mile walk to and from the school every morning during our break. And this is especially comforting knowing the amount of food that will be eaten on this four-day weekend. With that, I’ll wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and let you back to your leftovers. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Sunset on Swan Lake.
We are standing in the middle of the lake.
Well, the elections are over for this cycle and the voice of the people was heard through the vote: the theme on our bulletin board will change.  The chant in our class wasn’t, “Four more years!” but “Change that board!”. At least our election wasn’t filled with fear mongering and distortions of the truth like a couple of adults I’ve heard about.

I’m not sure if I’m more proud of the fact that my students behaved better than the adults or disappointed in the behavior of the adults during this election. Good God, those commercials were driving me crazy. Each one tried to paint their opponent as some evil monster, hell-bent on destroying our country for no other reason than their pure evilness. And those were the pizza commercials. The campaign commercials were worse. One of my students found out that “Obama don’t allow gum!” I didn’t watch all of the debates, but I’m sure that was put out there. 

But we are changing the out board. I do believe that it has only been changed once since school started in Aug. One of my many shortcomings as a teacher is my inability to offer more art projects for my students. I know the kids enjoy it but it is difficult for me since I have no artistic talent. My creative process usually involves bacon somehow. And I won’t waste bacon by hanging it on the wall.

The board will be changed to turkeys this week. We are involved in a project with another class in Wichita, Kansas through video teleconferencing. I went to Seward earlier this fall for training on how to work and use this equipment, so now we’ll see how we do. I know the kids are excited about talking with students in Kansas. I hope to use the VTC more this year, connecting with other schools in the country. 

Working hard in Mr. Clay's class.
We are also going to start using our VTC to receive Yupik instruction this year. We will start this on Tuesday, so we’ll be getting a lot of use with this VTC. I am excited about doing this because I am much worse at teaching Yupik language to Yupik kids than attempting to instruct art class. The Yupik language is difficult for a non-Yupik speaker because of the sounds of the language. I could be totally fluent in Yupik and still not be understood by the elders. The instructor is a Yupik speaking teacher at another school in our district. This makes more sense than having me attempt it. I fear I would totally screw up these kids’ ability to ever learn their language. 

Now with the elections over for a while, we can be bombarded with Christmas commercials. I am already sick of the jewelry commercials where a man spends way too much money to impress his wife/girlfriend/mistress. And here I look like a schmuck because I gave my wife a new bakeware set with explicit instructions on when to make Cinnabon cinnamon rolls. We call them delicious rolls. 

I want to thank all of our veterans for their service. And I want to give a shout-out to all of my shipmates. Thanks for what you did/do and thanks for the memories. Some memories are still fuzzy, some are embarrassing, and some are confusing. But most were a blast. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012


I was looking through my blog stats and saw that this was my 100th blog posting. For me this is a big deal because I haven’t done many things 100 times. Here is a sampling of some of the things I’ve done 100 times: Said the words,”I’ll never eat that much at one time again!” I’ve even said this more than once in one day. “I’ll never drink that much at one time again!” Sadly, I’ve said this more than once in a day too. “I think I’ll just sit here and watch football on TV all day today”. This sometimes leads to the eating and drinking things mentioned above. 

I even had a student dress up as me.
Yes, the big kid in the Homer mask is me.
I have not read through my blogs yet, except to see check a date of an event from the past. This should be apparent because I don’t know if I repeat something that I blogged about the year before. Or last week for that matter, because sometimes while watching a movie I think of something and think that just made it up. Then Monica will roll her eyes and point out that I said that last time I saw that movie. And the time before. So I apologize if I ever repeat from an old post.

Halloween went well this year. I believe that Halloween should always land on a Friday, like they have some federal holidays always on Mondays. I didn’t really think about this until I was a teacher and Halloween fell on a stupid Wednesday. This is worse than the 4th of July falling on a Wednesday. The only thing on the kids’ minds that day was holding a bag full of candy. Then eating that full bag of candy. We did send a note home asking parents to have their kids stop trick-or-treating (or as looked upon by some as demanding candy while concealing their identity) by 9pm so their teachers could go to bed. When I reminded my class of this, they asked what time I went to bed. I told them that by 9:30 I was asleep in my bed. They laughed. Not the  polite laugh sometimes used to protect other’s feelings. They laughed like they just watched someone slip and fall on the ice with their arms full of groceries. They even pointed at me while laughing. But to their credit, nobody came to the house after 8:30.

Last night we had our Halloween/Fall carnival at the school. We had most of the kids come and play games and try to win cakes in the cakewalk. Monica and I set up our X-box with kinect. (It’s a video game system.) Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even us teachers who spent 6 hours setting the gym up. We don’t have many entertainment opportunities in our village, so even a game of beanbag toss is fun. 

Our carnival last night.
Now that Halloween is over, all of our attention can turn to whining about the lack of snow. We have very little snow yet this year. Usually we have a white Halloween, which had been Bing Crosby’s original wish. This year it is a brownish color from the dead grass. But it has been cold, so that will help with freezing the ponds and especially the Yukon, which we use as our winter road for our snowmobiles. The lack of snow will allow the water to freeze deeper without the blanket of insulation. 

So in honor of my 100th post, I challenge you to think of something that you’ve done at least 100 times. And then think of something you’ve done at least 100 times that wouldn’t get you arrested if you did it in public. I’ll share one last one:“It smells kind of funny, but it’s only been out of the fridge a couple of hours, I’m sure it’s ok.” There is another activity that goes with that, but I'll not share that one. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012


End of the first quarter. Report cards have all been mailed home and parent/teacher conferences have been held. I always feel funny talking to parents about their children. Of course I try to highlight the student’s successes but I also need to touch on areas where they need work. That part will always be a bit awkward for me because I know a parent doesn’t enjoy somebody else reminding them that their child may have difficulties focusing. But it is always awesome to be able to show a parent a paper their child wrote that surprises them. Or share an anecdote about something nice the student has done for another student.

I’ve written about this before, mainly because it brings up memories of my school years. And my report cards were not full of flowery adjectives. Unfortunately, blogging was not invented yet, so I had no way to vent my frustration. My outlet was to “not apply myself”. I was not a talented student. I’m not really sure why, because I did enjoy school. Well, not report card day.  But the rest of the time school was fun for me. 

Saturday afternoon on the way to school.
Another cruel part of report card day was that the school would send the report card home with the students. Today, we either mail them home or hand them to the parent at the conference. So, our teacher would give us the sealed envelope with instructions that they were not to be opened by anyone except our parents. We rode the late bus, so we had to wait at the school for our bus to make a 45 minute run before it came back to pick us up to take us home. 

I had to hold on tight to that sealed envelope for over an hour in my grubby little hands for fear of losing it. I knew that if I lost it, nobody would believe that story. I would be accused of destroying the evidence of my laziness. Nobody ever thought that maybe I was too lazy to conjure up such a scheme. I was forced to deliver the evidence of my shortcomings to my parents. 

My class doing a yoga exercise. Notice I am not in the picture.
What made the delivery worse was that I had two brothers who were talented students. Apparently, they did “apply” themselves. They were overjoyed to hand over their envelopes, knowing that warm smiles and possibly gifts from overseas would be coming their way. I stood a few steps back, hoping that in the celebration my parents would forget about me and my envelope. But they wouldn’t. Their joyous smiles would fade and their gaze would shift from the envelope to my eyes. Everyone in the room knew what to expect, but there was always some suspense. Maybe they were all hoping I had turned the corner and began “applying” myself. I didn’t and I was always sent to bed without supper.

Ok, maybe I over dramatized things a bit. I was always fed supper. But I do empathize with my students who may lose focus or take longer than needed to finish a project or even a single assignment. I feel for the less talented students and their plight. And I don’t enjoy talking to their parents about how “if they would just apply themselves”, their scores would improve. But I will never make my students hand deliver their own report cards. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I guess I missed a week. But, I have a good excuse. I was in Anchorage attending training for our after school program that I will be teaching. Ok,teaching isn’t a good verb here; I think juggling would describe it better. Either way, I have found a way to spend an additional six hours a week at school/work.

Swan Lake and our School.
The truly bad part of flying out of the village to Anchorage is that there are a lot of people there. Not New York City crowded, but more-than- 4-people-ahead-of-you-at-a-Walmart-checkout-stand crowded. And to answer your next question: yes. People in Anchorage Walmarts act exactly like people in Walmarts across our country. I did indeed stand behind the man with the full shopping cart and a handful of cash, telling the clerk to stop scanning when she hit $100. When that event happened, he then had the clerk take back some of the item that were deemed by him as unimportant, so he could add the important items. He did have the decency to scowl at me and say that this would take a while. I have seen this man in other incarnations at other Walmarts. Once as a drunk woman in Grove, OK and another as a confused, older woman with a tiny coin purse, a wad of coupons, and bad eyesight in Wenatchee, WA.

Even though I was in Anchorage only 4 days, I was ready to get back to Nunam Iqua. And in those four days things sure changed. Looking down from the plane as we flew over the tundra, I could see how much the ponds and lakes have frozen over. The small lake here in the village, Swan Lake, was 75% frozen over. It is not ready for me to walk on, but children and several rocks have found it sturdy enough to support them. Looking back at my time-dated photos for the previous years, it seems that the freeze is right on schedule. The Yukon is already starting to form ice, so that means the road will soon be reopened for traffic.

This weekend our school will be holding a community dance, featuring fiddlers from Emmonak. Communities up here have dances where they feature fiddlers regularly. Our village, sadly, has not had one in a couple of years, so people are really excited about this. It is difficult to imagine, but our village has only one event each year where the people gather, and that is our annual potlatch. Other than that, there are literally no community gatherings for the next 364 days. No places where people can just sit to share coffee, stories, and jokes. The post office is the only place where people are likely to bump into each other.  I believe that this event can help this community after a couple of rough months. 

Our whole school playing volleyball.
Now that I’ve had a couple of trips to the big city this past month, I think I’ll be hunkering down here until May. And I really don’t mind at all. I like being able to walk to work everyday. Not having to stand in line to buy Spam. And not seeing a car or pickup for another seven months. My daily arguments with the village dogs on my walk to work everyday gives me my anger-outlet. Plus, I think they are beginning to agree with my point about the upcoming election.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


When Monica and I were first married, we didn’t spend a lot of time together. You may think it was because of too much awesomeness too soon for Monica.  But it was because of our work schedules.  Monica was a 911 dispatcher at the time, working nights.  I was employed by FedEx,  working the normal 6am-7pm shift.  So we didn’t see each other much. I left for work before she got home, and she was getting ready for work when I got home.  She also had to work most weekends, so that didn’t work out for  us either.  

Then we decided that I would finish college and become a teacher.  Monica then worked more overtime so we could afford me going to school full time. I still worked at nights, driving truck for FedEx, but only for 5 hrs.  Monica started working 60 hours a week, so again, we didn’t see much of each other.

Fast forward to today.  Not only do we have the same schedule and work in the same building; we also teach in the same classroom. On top of that, I am her supervisor.  Yes, I am legally allowed, if not obligated, to tell my wife what she needs to do. This causes confusion on both our parts, because apparently at home, she is legally allowed and obligated to tell me what to do. And I’ve been informed, by Monica, that I must comply. When I ask, “By what authority?”, she just gives me that look. Gentlemen, you know that look, and ladies, you have perfected that look. That look has caused the delay of many football games and interrupted several poker games. That look has also kept the worlds’s population at a lower level than it already is. We are frightened by that look and you women know it.

I have yet to get that look in the classroom from my lovely wife.  She may roll her eyes when I tell the kids a story about my childhood that she thinks I am embellishing, but that is different from the look. She also thinks I use the word ‘poop’ too much in the classroom, but she doesn't try to stop me. When I ask her to do a task in the classroom, she politely says, “Yes Mr. Miller”. 

The best part of having her in the classroom is that she is able to help me with my disability: spelling.  I feel so alone when I am at the whiteboard (chalkboard for you old-timers) with the pen in hand, fumbling in my brain for the right letter order.  Unfortunately, the whiteboard doesn’t have those red lines appear under the word when I have misspelled one.  Usually, I’ll take a step back to get a better visual perspective of the word I was trying to spell.  Then will come a chorus of “HaHaHaHa.  You spelled it wrong!”  This by third graders. I don’t even get the courtesy cough, to let me know I should run back up to the board and erase it quickly.  Nope, just jeers and laughs.  With Monica there, I can confidently stand at the board while writing.  If I think I may have a problem, I just pause, wait for her to cough, then erase the word and use my thesaurus in my head to think of an easier word.  We have ridiculous and contradicting spelling rules.

I am thankful I have Monica in my classroom daily.  She is tough with the kids and is able to get the most out of them.  We both have the same philosophy on what should happen in the classroom, so it makes it easy to lesson plan with her.  And I always know when she’s mad at me because she won’t give me the courtesy cough and lets the kids yell at me.  I hate you resurant. (cough)

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Some weeks drag on and some weeks fly by.  And some weeks I get on a plane Monday morning and head to Seward, Alaska.  Ok, that will only happen once this year, but I still get to count it as something I did.  I spent last week at the Alaska SeaLife Center learning about video teleconferencing.  

Being in such a remote part of the world, it makes sense to utilize technology that can connect Nunam Iqua, Alaska with Nunam Iqua, France.  Since I don’t have an Internet connection as I’m writing this, I cannot verify there is a group of Eskimos living in the suburbs of Paris.  I’ll ask Professor Google when I have the time.  But it could be I just made that up.

Video teleconferencing is a very good way to see different cities and cultures.  There are hundreds of groups around the world that offer live, interactive lessons about a variety of topics.  The Alaska SeaLife Center is one of those groups.  While we were there, we were able learn how to do our own live, interactive lessons. I am now ready to connect with other teachers to share our culture and for my students to learn about another culture by asking their own questions.

Just before the lights went out.
There were eight of us attending the workshop; representing the state from Barrow to Juneau.  Three of us were classroom teachers while the rest were either curriculum folk or technology nerds.  It was a good group of people to learn from too.  My own group of four did a lesson on octopuses.  Yes, the plural of octopus is octopuses not octopi.  I was informed by the resident marine biologist that only jerks use that term. We were able to touch and handle a live octopus.  Their suction cups on their arms are just like a bathtub mat’s cups.  They make popping noises when you pull it off.  Please do not ask me how I know that bathtub mats can stick to human skin.  At one point while we were handling the octopus, the power in Seward went out. This had three of us with octopus arms wrapped around our hands in total darkness.  That was a very anxious 5 seconds.

This is what a baby octopus looks like.
The other fun part of being in Seward is that it is a small town but includes services for the thousands of tourists that visit each year from the cruise ships.  That means many bars and restaurants to sample. And sample I did.  I recommend The Seward Brewing Co.  Good eats and rumor has it, their beer is excellent.

Another part of getting to towns with stores is that I can bring some perishables back. I brought back cheese, butter, cheese, coffee creamer, cheese, and lunch meat.  I am thinking that getting a cow might be a more efficient way to satisfy our dairy needs. It might also lead to an efficient way to feed the local wolf population. They like their cheese too apparently.

So the week away from home was fun but it is good to get back home.  I brought back Monica's Christmas present (Mac Book Air), I learned some awesome new stuff, and met some good people. I will be heading back to Anchorage in two weeks for more training.  I think I’ll sample some local Anchorage restaurants and find some liquid treats.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Finding material to write about weekly (weakly?) can sometimes be difficult. Some weeks there is an abundance of events that happen and all I have to do is write about them.  Other weeks, nothing out of the ordinary takes place, so more effort is required to find things to write about.  

Well, things do happen, but I’m not going to write about everything.  When I started my blog two years ago, I made the decision to try to keep it light and humorous.  When I say ‘try’ I mean ‘do a task with little effort’. I figured that if I though it was funny, maybe somebody else would too.  And if they didn’t find it funny, at least they had solace in the fact I wasn’t in their school, teaching their kids.

We have issues up here that are just like everywhere else.  Some of the issues up here are not just like everywhere else.  We have an extremely high rate of substance abuse.  This is an issue that touches the school with a cruel, unfair hand.  With substance abuse comes neglect of children in a variety of ways we witness at the school every day.  And being in a remote area, we don’t have resources readily available to help solve these problems.  When these problems persist, the young victims continue to suffer.

We have no law enforcement in our village to respond quickly when needed.  This allows for some to not be held accountable for their actions, and continue with behavior that is detrimental to the community.   I want to strongly emphasize that the overwhelming majority of citizens are law abiding and only want to do the right thing.  But in a village with less than 200 people, it only takes a few to disrupt the community.  Like Monica says, “The smaller the room, the more potent that fart.”  I married her for her flowery prose.

Every day I get to go to work with 19 amazing kids.  Some kids come to school carrying more baggage than I could possibly endure.  They may come in wearing the same clothes for the past two weeks, having only two hours of sleep on a living room floor that night, and a small bag of Doritos for dinner.  But they walk in with a big smile on their face.  It makes the whining about Romney’s tax return or that Obama is a communist sound ridiculous and trite. 

So, I do have plenty to blog about.  Monica and I don’t feel that we are here to save a village.  We are here to work in a community and try to become a member of a group where we are the outsiders.  I also don’t think I would be benefiting anyone, including myself, to comment on specific tragedies we may witness.  We love being a part of this community.  While we don’t ignore the adversities, we want to relish all of the positives; which greatly outnumber the negatives.  I will try to write about the things that make me smile and laugh, not the things that break my heart.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


The remoteness of this area is one of the main reasons we we love living here. I’m not offended by modern conveniences, but it is nice not having any cars or trucks in our village.  The occasional airplane is usually the only traffic noise we are hearing this time of year.  By November the sounds of snowmobiles will become audible; even to my annoyance.  But with the airplane noise comes the opportunity to fly out of here sometimes and see other places.  At the end of this month I will be getting on one of those Era planes and fly to Anchorage for a workshop in Seward.

Since our school is so remote, the state and district have invested heavily in technology. One of our technological goodies (I think that is the nerd term) is the ability to participate in field trips at long distance.  I will be attending a workshop on how to facilitate those field trips remotely.  Plus, spending a week in Seward and Anchorage will be a nice break.  Monica unfortunately will not be accompanying on this trip, as she has to teach my class for me.  I know they will be in good hands while a beer and a cheeseburger will be in my hands.  Yes, at the same time.

I am finally getting settled in with my class.  The new kids are still trying to figure out if I’m really that mean.  I’ve learned that scared students make quieter students.  For some of my students, this is their third year with me and they have figured out what they can or can’t get away with.  I try to give the older kids more privileges and responsibilities in the classroom, so that makes them happy.  Mostly.

This is a picture Monica took of the Yukon.
This week we had some fun in science.  I was trying to answer a question about what happens to our food after we eat it.  Now, if you think I enjoy being gross with elementary students, you are correct.  I was explaining that they all have bugs in their guts, bacteria that breaks down your food.  Puzzled looks is what I got.  So I asked them, “Who has eaten a hotdog?”  Every hand enthusiastically went up.  Then I asked, “Who has pooped a hotdog?”  Nineteen hands slowly went down.  I explained that their stomachs digest the hotdog, taking out what the body needs, and shoots the rest out the backdoor.  It was silent for about 30 seconds until one of the shy students raises his hand and says, “I pooped corn.”  Then the discussion began.  This is why I love teaching.

We have had some good frosts this week.  That means that the lake will freeze over pretty soon and our walk to school will become significantly shorter.  And colder.

I will be gone for a week and Monica will have to stay.  I feel badly for her, but not bad enough to decline to offer of the workshop. It will also give me the ability to let my class see other parts of the world through  this project.  I will bring Monica back some creamer for her coffee.  I will do a little shopping for a few perishables we don’t have enough of; mainly butter and cheese.  I should just get a cow.  And the trip to Seward will give me the opportunity to sample some more of the local craft beers.  You know, just trying to help the local economy.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I’ve always taken the availability of electricity for granted.  I’ve never lived in a place where we lost power for any length of time, so I guess I’ve lived a charmed life.  I’ve also never been bitten by a snake, but I don’t think those two are connected.  Before we moved up here, I read about villages whose power was disrupted constantly.  Until this fall, we continued to be lucky.

We had a few outages prior to this fall, but nothing too bad.  Maybe a few hours at a time, but then it was back on, just in time for us to watch yet another reality show about Alaska.  But this year has been brutal.  

This is an uluaq, or ulu in English. It is a Yup'ik
knife used for cutting up meat and such.

Our village, like most villages in rural Alaska, gets power from diesel generators located in the village.  There is usually more than one generator, just in case one fails.  This fall, we would have 3-4 power outages a day, usually only lasting between 15 mins to an hour.  Which is not a big deal unless you have a classroom where technology is used.  I happen to have one of those classrooms.  So it has been a constant struggle to reboot computers while students are acting like it is the apocalypse.  Even though it would be the tenth time it had happened that week.  Drama kings and queens.  It does get pretty dark in the classroom during this, so there’s not a lot we can get done during this time, except for me to talk about the apocalypse.  (They frighten easily.)

But, it looks like the problem has been solved.  On our way to work yesterday, we talked with a man who was waiting to go to the airstrip.  He said he was here to work on the generators and thinks he had the problem fixed. He said words like “air in the fuel line” and “breaker’.  I swear he even said “salami pudding”.  I don’t know because I’m not mechanically inclined. I was born without the Mr. Goodwrench gene.  I don’t know how to work on a car and never had the desire to. Some people find that odd or even offensive that a man doesn't know how to fix his own car when it breaks down. I ignore them and go back to my specific skill set: eating and updating my moth collection.  (Not at the same time, that would be ridiculous.)  So far, we’ve yet to have a  power outage since seeing the stranger, so I guess it wasn’t an hallucination from breathing moth dust.
Another look at the delta and the mighty Yukon River.
Again, these are Monica's photos. This shows why it
is so difficult to get from one place to another.

We are getting into our groove at school.  The students remembered that they don’t like doing school work and their teacher remembered that he doesn’t like writing lesson plans on Saturdays.  But even with the larger class, we’re making it work.  One 5th grader told me he missed me this summer.  I asked him how he’s going to feel next year when he moves up the the middle school.  He said, “Sad”.  Then his face lit up and he said, “I’ll have a locker!”.  So it seems I will be easily replaced by lockers.  

With the power fixed it looks like football season will be enjoyable.  Last week the power went out during the last few minutes of a close game, so I wasn’t looking forward to a whole season of that.  We now can go back to the charmed life of continuous electricity and snake-bite free living. Until the next big storm and they have to string together paperclips as a makeshift power line.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Week one down, 39 to go.  It’s not like I have a countdown set up on my computer dashboard, but I kind of do.  I’m not a teacher who complains about his job and only does it for the big money in education. I love my job. But I do enjoy getting the time off at the end of the school year.  I think it’s like a marathon runner.  They enjoy the training and the run, but I imagine that by mile 17 they’re completely over the thrill and just want it to end.  I understand the ridiculousness of comparing myself to a marathon runner.  The only marathon I want to be involved in is a Man Vs. Food marathon on TV.  Even with that I’ll need a break or two.

The class is ready for Clint Eastwood's lecture.
So our first full week of school is over and all of us are still alive.  There are more than a few changes from last year.  We have a new principal.  I don’t know how this will affect me because it is still early.  I had fooled my old principal into thinking that I knew what I was doing.  I’m hoping the new one will be as easily fooled.  We also have a new science/math teacher and Social Studies teacher for the HS/MS.  That doesn’t seem like a big turnover, but when we have only 7 teachers in the entire K-12 school, it does make a difference.  Our SS teacher grew up here in Nunam Iqua and taught for 12 years at other schools in the district, so he’s making his homecoming.  The math teacher is just out of school and beginning her career here.  She knows what the challenges will be and is ready.  The rest of us will be able to help Bethany because it wasn’t very long ago we were in her shoes.  I keep telling her that the hardest day of teaching was her first day.  Every day after will get easier. I hope she believes that.

The biggest change this year is that Monica will be my classroom aide.  I will now be my wife’s boss. Unless she reads this, then she’ll put a stop to that nonsense.  She’ll be in the my classroom until just after lunch.  After that she will have a half-hour break and start her preschool class.  So with two jobs and being a full time college student she will be plenty busy.  But being the helping husband I am, I told her she didn’t have to do the laundry until Friday nights.  And dishes could wait until the next night while dinner was cooking. Since clothes don’t fold themselves, she could do that while taking breaks from her college courses. I should be writing a blog about how to keep a marriage strong.  We didn’t make it to nine years because we listened to Dr. Phil.  (Happy Anniversary honey)

One thing that didn’t change is that I’ll still have students in my classroom.  I have 19 this year, which is about 7 more than I had last year.  More kids, more desks, and more grey hair.  Actually, the amount of grey I get is counter balanced with the rate of hair loss.  So whatever I gain I lose.  If I can translate that into weight I’ll be rich.  And skinny.  But they are a good group of kids, most of whom I’ve had in my class before. They know most of my tricks so I’ll have to find find some new ones. 
This is a picture Monica took of sunrise.

The weeks will rush by now since we’ll be so busy.  Come Feb. that will all change: time comes to a dark, cold crawl.  So for now we’ll keep busy with everything coming at us and not worry about the countdown.  I’ll just have to hope for a Here Comes Honey Boo Boo marathon in February.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

8-24-2012 (Part Two)

I had every intention to finish part two of my blog last Sunday.  I also had every intention of having only one plate at dinner. Or just one drink.  But, as things sometimes go, I had difficulties with motivation.  Writing is not strenuous, but it does involve thinking.  Not astute thinking obviously, but thinking none the less.  But since I’m lazy and easily distracted, I didn’t write part two on Sunday.  I was distracted by college fishing on ESPN.

I did not know that colleges now compete in fishing. Oklahoma State was fishing against Auburn.  I looked for cheerleaders but didn’t see any.  I wondered how the recruiting worked for college fishing.  Do they have coaches?  Do they have boosters luring high school fishing talent with beer and Evinrudes?  How do they scout unless there are high school fishing teams.  I’ll check into that.

But with the distractions gone, I’m going to add part two.  This is the part where we left Oklahoma and arrived back in Nunam Iqua.  It was a relief to find cooler (much cooler) temperatures up here.  As usual, the plane ride sucked.  This time it started with a solid hour of a small human being screaming at the top of her lungs.  Not just crying, but screaming.  And her 4 yr old brother thought it fun to kick the back of my seat.  

Another reason I’m not comfortable on airplanes is because I won’t use the restroom on the plane.  Ok, I will if needed, but I try to stay dehydrated so I don’t have to try to pee while traveling at 500 mph.  But some people, usually those who sit next to me, find it very convenient to use the lavatory several times during a 5 hr flight.   Monica and I were not sitting together on that leg,(she said it was the airline’s decision) and I was stuck between a married couple who didn’t want to sit beside each other.  I decided to try my new icebreaker to start conversation: I asked each of them for their air-sickness bags because I might need all three.  Strangely that was where the conversation ended.
Monica took this picture of Nunam Iqua just before we landed.

But we made it to Anchorage and stayed two days so we could get our vehicles registered and so Monica could get her driver’s license.  We also needed to do some shopping before heading out to the village.  We went to Mr. Prime Beef and ordered our meat for the year.  They’ll cut it up and ship it out to us.  We have a big freezer, so we have the room. Paying for 241 lbs of meat at one time isn’t fun, but since it lasts most of the school year we swallow and pay.  We ordered our dry goods in July and it arrived in the mail before we got there.  So now we have most of our food for the school year. 

Our pantry filled.
We landed in Nunam Iqua on the 12th of August.  The sun was shining and people were complaining about how hot it was; it was a perfect 70 degrees.   Kids were hollering at us to welcome us home. And we had many, many flies in our house.  Monica said it reminded her of Amityville Horror.  I said it reminded me of our pig barn when I was a kid.  Either way, we killed flies for a week and finally got that under control.  I think our vacuum cleaner bag is full of dead flies.

The school year is beginning and we have food.  I think my motivation was all used up with making sure we had plenty of food for the year.  I obsess about that. Maybe my motivation cup is filling back up, like my belly, so I’ll get back to writing in a more timely manner.  I will try to update what is happening to us up here weekly. Monica says she’ll help motivate me by withholding food.  I believe that will work.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

8-17-2012 (Part One)

One my greatest benefits of being a teacher is having summers off. This is a time we get to visit with our family and friends we don’t get to see for 9 months.  Also, we get to eat food that doesn’t come from a can.  Another plus is that Monica is able to get more than 1 mile away from me if she chooses. (The answer is yes, she chooses.)

 We left Nunam Iqua on May 21 and went to Las Vegas.  When we planned the trip it sounded like a good idea.  When we got there it was hot, noisy, crowded, hot, noisy, and crowded.  Since I don’t like giving other people my money, I didn’t do much gambling.  I mostly wandered around the casino floor with a beer in my hand wondering why we came here. Then I lifted my glass to my mouth and remembered.  We did have fun, but I think we’ll go straight home next summer.

We spent most of the summer in an oven.  I realize most of you did too, so I won’t go on about the heat; but good hell it was hot! It made me think about the 50-degree summers up here and contemplate just staying.  But the whole ‘eating food not from a can’ thing kept me on course. 

Without having to work during the day, I was able to catch up on some TV.  So my morning routine would be to get up, sit in the recliner, get back up and make coffee, sit back down in the recliner, turn the TV on, get back up and get my coffee.  (These workouts can be exhausting.) Another benefit of summers off is having the option to wears pants.  On my legs.  While watching TV I realized that the reality shows have exploded.  I guess they have been there for a while, but I just noticed how many shows are on TV about ordinary people doing boring, random jobs.  It’s not like they have lion tamers on; they have people running a cake shops or people bidding on storage units.  How bored do I have to be to watch other people’s lives that are more boring than mine?  So I spent the entire day watching people bid on storage units.  There are a whole lot of TV marathons on in the summer.

This summer also marked the loss of a very important man in our and many other people’s lives.  Monica’s dad passed away at the end of our summer break.  This was very difficult for Monica, as her dad was very important in her life.  She was able to spend most of her summer with him and was beside him when he passed a way.  Bill will be missed by many people for the rest of their lives.

I was able to attend my family reunion in South Dakota in July.  This is always a highlight in my year because it is good to catch up with family.  It was also fun to talk with my cousins who are teachers to compare our classes.  They teach on an Indian Reservation so we found that we face many of the same challenges.  I also noted that as we were discussing our classes, I had more cousins who were teachers at our table than we have teachers in Nunam. 

The summer is done for us and soon school will start.  Although I will miss smoking ribs and pork butts, visiting with family and friends, and not using a can opener, I’m looking forward to the school year.  This will be my third year up here and we don’t regret for one second our decision to come live up here.  It’s nice to return and hear kids and adults greet us with “Welcome home”.  It’s good to have two homes.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The end of the school year is a busy time for everyone.  (This is my excuse for being late updating the blog.)  Once we hit that last week, everything seemed to be due.  We had report cards, inventory (yes, all kids were accounted for), checkouts, and stowage for the summer.  Then we had to pack for the summer, which didn’t take too long since Monica did most of that.  Well, it didn’t take very long for me.  If Monica could type in here, she may have a different version about the difficulty of the pack.  But she isn’t so we’ll stick with my version.
We left Nunam Iqua and spent one night in Anchorage before heading to Vegas.  Nunam and Vegas are on the opposite ends of any spectrum you can imagine.  Alcohol is illegal in Nunam whereas it seems to be required in Vegas.  Population in Nunam is about 200.  The number of people standing in line for a Buffet in Vegas is about 200.  We had to be ferried to the airstrip in a snowmobile when we left Nunam and it was over 100 degrees our first day in Vegas.  There are many more things I could juxtapose here but you can see that we didn’t have much time for adjustment to crazy. 
Flying from Numan back down to Oklahoma is an ordeal in itself.  We had to change planes seven times.   That is seven more times I have to wonder about how humans have fought off  Natural Selection.  People must know that there are others behind them while in line, but many show no concern holding up the line while fiddling with their carry-ons or cell phones.  It amazes me how long it takes for people to file in and out of a plane.  Or how difficult it is to understand the complex seating arraignment on the plane.  I see it as matching what my boarding pass has printed on it to the number and letter designation printed on the plane.  Others see it as a frantic scavenger hunt, trying their best to decipher the cryptic symbols hidden on their boarding pass.  I think I’ll stop my air travel whining now and not even get into the baggage carousal fiasco.  You’re welcome.
 We are glad to be back seeing our family and friends.  We’ll spend much of the summer trying to catch up with people, whether they want to see us or not.  I also have plans today to BBQ my first three of many racks of ribs.  We are still adjusting to not having to get up for school.  Also our culinary choices have expanded (as will my waistline I’m sure).  But we’ll get rested up and will be ready to head back up there in a couple of months.  Last summer we were ready to escape the heat down here after the first of many weeks over 100 degrees.  See, I haven’t been here a week and I’m already complaining about the weather. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012


You know how when you were in high school you wondered how useful calculus would be in your life?  I mean unless you were a nerd.  Because as a nerd, calculus will play a large part in every aspect in your life.  Like when you would attempt to talk to a girl at a party.  You would say hi.  She would ask you what you liked and you would say calculus. She would then abruptly turn around and walk over to the guys who were trying to light their own farts with matches.  I never understood calculus and I never understood girls.  As I got older, I forgot about calculus and never understood women.  Another part of high school I never thought I would relive was the prom.  But just like my estimation of women, I was wrong.

Sheldon Point School prom 2012.
Our school had its prom on Friday night.  I was asked to be a chaperone, mainly because I happened to make eye contact with the person who was planning the prom during a staff meeting.  When a school has only 6 teachers, I ‘volunteer’ for many activities I normally wouldn’t choose to attend.  The prom being one of them.  I don’t dislike the idea of the prom, just the idea of me being at the prom.  My main responsibility was to hang out in the hallway to keep kids from loitering.  That was much better than being in the gym where the noise was blaring out of the sound system.  Yes, I just referred to the prom music as noise.  I even had a discussion about “music these days” with another teacher.  But the kids enjoyed themselves so it was worth the slight headache.  The biggest difference I saw from the proms I went to and this one was the walk home at 11pm: it was still light out and it was snowing. 

Since we are down to our last week, we are becoming creative with our menus as we try to eat the last of the perishables before we leave for the summer.  We did a pretty good job of buying in bulk and having enough to last throughout the year.  Our meat order lasted us for the year, so that one was about perfect.  We have a few eggs and one more meal of potatoes.  Of course, we still have some canned and dry goods that will keep until we get back next year.  We will eat our last two cans of chili next Friday night for our last Chili-n-Rice night.  I’m thinking we can get the candles out for that one.

With school winding down the kids are beginning to get restless.  Not too bad, but they can sense the end.  It hasn’t been above freezing much this spring and the snow hasn’t been able to melt.  Normally it is warmer here by now and most of the snow would be gone, so maybe they’re fooled into thinking it isn’t Spring yet.  I’m not fooled though. 
We just rewatched The Hangover to make sure we’re in the mood for Vegas.   I think my expectations may be a little bit different than Monica’s.

I want to wish all the mothers a happy Mother’s Day.  I have four important women in my life, three of whom I am not married to.  Two of them came with my wife in a package deal.  They have been more than understanding with me and the crazy places I have dragged Monica to.  Well, at least to my face.  Polly keeps me well fed and entertained when we’re home.  Caroline also keeps me well fed and fusses over me more than she should.  I am lucky to have them in my life.  And to my own mother.  She gave birth to me a little over 25 years ago (give or take 20 years) and has also fed me well.  But she is also a strong and determined woman who has passed down my tendency to be pig-headed at times.  Thanks Mom, and happy Mother’s Day.