Sunday, February 26, 2012


When February ends, we will have been in winter for 5 months.  Not the calendar winter of course, but the winter where it’s cold, dark, and cold.  In addition to that, it’s cold.  The good news is that the darkness is receding.  The bad news is that it’s still cold and stormy. 

Yesterday, my class had our monthly Saturday Funday.  We ate hotdogs, played computer games and yelled loudly in the gym.  Man, those kids can yell.  And for no reason that I could tell. They were playing a game of basketball/yelling.  At least they had fun.  Monica baked cookies for them in addition to the hotdogs.  We kinda throw nutrition to the wind on our Saturday Fundays.  Next month we’ll just set out a bowl of sugar cubes and gum.

Outside our front door.
Our middle school basketball team traveled upriver to Marshall for a basketball tournament.  They were able to arrive on time Friday, but couldn’t make it back on Saturday due to a storm.  The way the storm is going, they might have to stay in Marshall until Monday.  It’s about zero degrees right now and snowing sideways, so visibility is about 500 ft.  I do not envy the coach and chaperone who are stuck in a school with three other teams for two extra days.  The kids will enjoy spending the weekend hanging out at the gym.  The adults probably have a different perspective of the enjoy ability of the weekend. 

Our spring break starts Wednesday of this week.  Larry’s memorial service will be held Friday.  We’re only going to be down for 5 days, but we’ll have a lot to do.  It will be a bittersweet few days and I’m glad we’ll be there. 

One of the things we will do when we are near stores is to stock up on a few supplies.  With only a few months left until we leave for the summer, we don’t have to bring that much back with us.  We’ll be going down with empty luggage and will check our bags on the plane for the trip back.   Alaska Airlines offers two, free checked luggage for Alaska residents while flying into and out of Alaska.  This will be much cheaper than trying to mail them up and wait for 2-3 weeks for them to get here.  We’ll load up on some non-perishable items like soap, shampoo, and Breathe Right Strips.  The commercial says they help with snoring, but Monica says I don’t need any more help.  I’m not sure if they stop me from snoring, but those bruises on my back in the shape of Monica’s fists have disappeared, so I’ll keep using them.

Twelve more weeks mean that we are starting to make our summer plans.  We are going to spend most of the summer in Oklahoma.  We will make a trip or two to see family elsewhere, but we haven’t filled in the calendar yet.  One thing I do know is that we are going straight to Vegas from here in May.  We’ll see two distinct extremes in a matter of hours.  The Yukon will still be frozen when we fly to the desert of Nevada.  The only thing cold I want to feel there is the drink in my hand.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Tuesday evening we got the call we had been fearing: Larry, my stepdad, had passed away after a ten-year long battle with cancer.  The last few months had been rough on him.  The news was not unexpected, but it was dreaded.  I wrote a few weeks ago about him and what he meant to me.  Selfishly, it’s going to be tough not having him around.  Even though I didn’t talk with him on a daily basis, the fact he was there to provide me advice was comforting.  I’ve grown accustomed over the years to refer to my folks with just one name, like they’re one entity: MomandLarry.  It will be strange calling just Mom.

Being away from family is one of the unfortunate circumstances we face by living up here.  We knew that by moving up here, we were sacrificing the ability to leave at a moment’s notice.  Even knowing that, it really doesn’t lessen the guilt of not being there.  I kind of liken us moving up here to what the settlers had to go through when they moved out west.  They left family behind, knowing they would never see them again.  Of course, we are able to communicate daily via phone or Internet with our families.  And, we don’t have to worry about our wagon train being attacked by surly bandits looking for a quick score.  Or coming down with cholera.  But we love gravy and we do have problems from time to time with running water and sewer. So, in our own little way, we are a bit like settlers.  

Our usable daylight has been increasing dramatically.  We are gaining over 6 minutes a day. More daylight means more time to be out riding on the tundra, including visiting the store in Emmonak.  It has been nice having eggs in the refrigerator.  And toilet paper in the bathroom.  And paying $9 a bag for chips.  It’s also warmed up, so it isn’t so painful outside.  I’m able to make the ½ mile walk to school without bundling up like Ralphie’s little brother in ‘A Christmas Story’.  At least I don’t have to wear long johns for now.   

Monica and I will be traveling to Waterville for Larry’s funeral on the 2nd of March.  We will only stay for 5 days, but I’m glad we’ll be able to be there.  For 32 years I’ve looked to Larry for his approval and asked for his advice.  Now I’ll have to grow up and figure things out for myself.  But, I think I’ll keep his number in my phone just in case.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


A colleague shared with me last week that we had reached our 100th day of school.  I didn’t realize this day held any significance.  He obviously did since he repeated himself, this time with more excitement.  I think he was hoping that I would join him in his joy.   Instead, all he got was a blank stare.  All this meant to me was that we still have 80 days left.  Now, if he had notified me that we had 2 days left till summer break, he might have gotten a kiss.  I don’t think he was hoping for a kiss, but he seemed a little disappointed that I didn’t share his joy.  I get that a lot.

Last week also began Monica’s first week as preschool teacher.  She has 5 students who were excited, scared, and curious to begin school for the first time.  A couple of them had older siblings, so they had been coached on what to expect. Monica really enjoyed meeting the kids and starting their routines for the rest of the year.  Her classroom is across the hall from mine, so I peeked in her window to see how everything was going.  It looked like she had been doing this for a long time.  I guess her years of telling me what to do and how to do it are serving her well with preschoolers.  Her first day started at my 100th day.  This doesn’t seem too fair.

Foxes vs Mustangs.
We also hosted an elementary basketball tournament this week.   Marshall and Alakanuk came to play with us.  Since the teams eat and sleep at the school, we were able to get several games in.  We played four games Thursday afternoon/ evening and another three more Friday morning.  The visiting teams usually don’t get a lot of sleep, so there were some tired kids when they flew out Friday afternoon.  We had a shortage of refs so I put on the striped shirt and did one game.  I had been a referee in my prior life, so I kind of knew what I was doing.  Luckily, there were a few people in the stands that would shout our helpful hints as to how I was suppose to do it.  The worst part was since I was not prepared to ref, I was not dressed for the part.  They did have the shirt, so I didn’t have to wear my flannel.  But, I was still running up and down the court in my Levis and long johns.  I can recommend strongly not wearing long johns while running on a basketball court.

The weather has warmed up to the positive side of zero.  That means we can get out on the snowmobile more often when we get the time.  I took a trip up to Emmonak last weekend with others to do some grocery shopping.  It was sunny and about 25, making it a beautiful day for a ride.  This weekend was filled with a very informational workshop on making digital movies in our classrooms.  This was done with video teleconferencing at the school.  We had five schools from our district participate and I think we all learned quite a bit.

Proof that there is learning in my classroom.
This week I also was offered my contract for next school year.  They offer them early up here because of the difficulty they can have finding teachers to teach out in the bush.  And to get them to stay.  I will sign it and return for next year.  Monica and I truly enjoy being out here.  Now that she has a job doing what she wants to do, it makes it pretty easy for us to stay here.  We have a great school and great students and I don’t think they’re done teaching us yet.

Well, here’s to the next 80 days going as smoothly as the first 100.  Some days it can seem like it’s all been in a row.  I’m looking forward to head south at the end of the month to see Larry and Mom for 5 days.  I know for sure I’m going to have a beer and a cheeseburger.  Maybe more than once.  Maybe more than once at the same time.  I have two hands after all.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Larry and Mom sitting on the poop tube.

Larry Utzinger turned 70 last week.  Larry has been married to my mother since I was 13 years old.  He was the one who would wake me up before the sunrise to go duck hunting.  He introduced my brothers and me to Chinese food.  He taught me how to use my elbows when blocking out much larger players.  He also was the only person to tell me not to listen to everyone else and follow my dream to play college basketball.  I made the team and vividly remember seeing him sitting in the stands when we played in Lacy, WA.  We lost, but that was ok.  He pointed out what I did right and gave me advice on how I could improve.

Larry last summer at my brother's house in Chelan, WA.
Larry gave me some great advice during a moment in my life when I thought I had ruined it.  That moment happened while I was a senior in high school.  It involved: me, empty beer cans, parents coming home unexpectedly, being suspended from the football team, and cancelling homecoming.  Larry was the school’s superintendent.  Monday morning I was called into his office to face the consequences for my actions.  Larry, the principal, and my football coach were waiting to chat with me.  The coach was very upset because the rest of the season had to be cancelled.  (We had a small school and a small number of players on the team.)  I remember exactly how upset he was because he made a comment about how he wished I was 18 so he could legally kick my ass.  I didn’t think it was appropriate to speak, so I didn’t point out that I was in fact 18.  I just made sure I kept a desk or one of the school’s administrators between him and I. 

Larry, Mom, Monica, and me.
After the others left the office, Larry asked me to stay behind.  When it was just the two of us, I braced myself for a stern lecture about responsibilities and acting grown up.  Instead, I received the most important advice I’ve ever been given.  He said, “Don’t sweat it.”  Huh?  He said that I wasn’t the first person ever to do that and I won’t be the last.  He explained that we all make mistakes, even big ones, but we have to keep living our lives.  He explained that while it seemed big at the moment, people would forget about it.   He told me not to worry about what other people wanted me to do and to live my own life.  For good and sometimes bad, I’ve lived my life that way and have no regrets.  Lots of great experiences but no regrets. 

Larry also was the man who, in addition to giving me a bowl cut, accidently shaved one of my eyebrows off.  I was in the 8th grade.  It took me a while to notice it, mainly because of how hideous the bowl cut was.  When I saw it I was horrified.  When I confronted him about it he just shrugged and said I was lucky both weren’t missing.  For the next few weeks I learned a little bit about how to use an eyebrow pencil.  Oddly enough, I also learned which color blush goes with my eyes.  (Burnt rosebud)

 Larry and Mom came up here to our place in Aug for a look at isolation. He told me he had always wanted to teach up here and needed to see what it looked like.   They looked for two weeks and then went home.  I am glad he was able to come up here and spend some time with us.  He was able to see what it is like out in the bush and I was able to get some more advice about being a teacher. It was a great reminder not to sweat the small stuff.  Happy birthday Larry, I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.