Sunday, April 29, 2012


      We are down to our last three weeks.  The students are quick to remind me of how many days we have left.  I’m quick to remind them I know.  I’d like to think the kids are anxiously awaiting a break from all of the learning they’ve been doing the past 9 months.  But I realize they may be ready for a break from me.  As one student put it: “I’m tired of your voice.” 
My students pretending to be water molecules during the math/science day.
We had a math/science family day at the school this week.  Each class put together a booth that would demonstrate a math concept.  Since Monica and I are going to Vegas when school is out, the kids have asked plenty of questions about what Las Vegas is like.  I thought this would be the perfect time to fully explain   probability theory to the kids.
Our booth consisted of a spinner divided into 6 even pieces.  Four pieces had their own color and two pieces shared a color.  So, it had 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 purple, 1 blue, and 2 green.  A player was to put a marker on the color they thought the spinner would land on the most after 10 spins.  If the color the player chose matched the winning spinner color, they won a prize.  The participants were students from the entire school and any community members who wanted to come, mostly family members.  Our class wanted to see how many people would realize that their chances of winning would be better if they chose green.
My students were eager for a turn so they could win a prize.  Since we had been going over this in class for a while, they knew that by picking green they had an excellent chance of winning.  My students took turns working in the booth, running the spinner and keeping track of what colors that were being chosen by the players.  By recording what colors were being picked, we learned how Las Vegas can afford to pay their electricity bill.  While green was the color picked the most, the other four colors accumulated more picks together.  The biggest reason was because most people never bothered to look at the spinner to see if they were all equal.  Another lesson for the kids: pay attention!!
Getting ready to pull the container.
This morning I was asked to help tow a freight container from the middle of the Yukon River back to the barge landing.  Last November we had a major storm that produced a large surge from the Bering Sea.  It pulled the container out to the middle of the already frozen river, where it sat all winter long.  These are the containers that are used on ships and railcars, so it weighs about 5,000 lbs.  We are trying to tow it in using snowmachines.  They have been working for about a month and have moved it about 2 ft in that time.  We worked this morning for about 3 hours and moved it about 4 ft.  We’re on break for lunch and will try to move it more this afternoon. 
With 3 weeks left, we are getting anxious to see family and friends.  Spending time with family is the number one plan for this summer.  We are traveling through Vegas on the way home, but only for a few days.  My classes’ last project is to come up with a plan for me at the blackjack table.  I told them they could get 1% of the cut if I win over $100 dollars.  I’ll teach them about percentages next year.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Last week Monica burned her hands while she was cooking dinner.  Thankfully, everything turned out ok. I was able to finish the gravy and it turned out just fine.    Oh yeah, even though Monica’s hands hurt badly that night, they turned out to be ok with no blistering.  They’re still bright red and sore, but she’s able to get back into the kitchen perform her magic.  She’s also able to continue cooking.  Which is much better, because I can only witness somebody finding a quarter behind my ear so many times before it gets tedious. 

When Monica burned her hands, it was a cruel reminder of our lack of healthcare in our village.  The first thing we did was get her hands in cold water, which is fine since we have plenty of cold water.  Now what?  We can’t take her to the hospital because we don’t have one here.  Our Internet is not working so we can’t check WebMD or the baseball scores.  Talk about bad luck.  We do have a very rudimentary health clinic in town, but it isn’t open at this time of night.  Besides, they wouldn’t have any baseball updates anyway.  We’re on our own.

If there is a life-threatening emergency, we can call 911 and get help here.  The problem is that the help will have to fly here from Bethel, about 1hr away.  We have no paramedics in the village to assist with medical needs.  So, if we are in need of medical care, it will be over two hours before we can get to a hospital.  That is if the weather is cooperating.  Many times the weather will not allow planes to land here at our small airstrip.  In that case, we would have to travel to Emmonak, 20 miles, to a larger clinic that is usually staffed by a nurse practitioner.  And the travel would have to be by boat if the river isn’t frozen or by snowmachine if it is. 

We are very aware of our situation out here.  Every little pain in my chest causes me anxiety.  The words heart attack immediately form in my head.  Then I panic and wonder if my left arm is tingling.  I can reassure myself that I’m not having a heart attack after I remember heart attacks don’t usually happen while people are sitting still, watching TV and I calm back down.  Then I’ll have a brain tumor, or as most people call them, a headache. Monica can talk me down from that one. 

So we just have to be careful while we are here.  We purposely have dull knives so we don’t cut ourselves.  We’ve discontinued our pogo stick lessons.  And Monica has promised to be more careful while making gravy.  I do understand that less gravy should lead to less heart anxieties for me, so maybe we can both be safer.  Especially since I quit eating gravy while practicing my pogo hopping.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Warmer days are here.  This past week we felt what it was like to be in a refrigerator instead of a freezer.  We went above freezing for a few days this week.  It sure doesn’t take long for the snow to start to melt with the sun shining and it being warm.  The nights are still getting down to the single digits, but spring is creeping up here. 

Me distracting students from doing their work.
The kids seem to follow the sun’s schedule.  With the sun being out so late (10:30), the kids are still out playing past my bedtime.  It’s been a month since I’ve seen a sunset.  So on Monday mornings the kids drag themselves into the class and lay their heads on their desks.  I’ll ask “How is everyone?’ and they’ll reply “ummmffpmm”.  In unison.  I’ll give them a break to use the bathrooms and get their pencils sharpened for the day. They’ll all shuffle off like a pack of zombies, mumbling to each other about something.  Eating my brain I assume.  It takes until after lunch for them to fully wake up and want to fully participate.  This all happens mostly because they’ve stayed up late all weekend playing and doing what ever else kids do.  Eat candy and drink Red Bull I guess.  So when they get to school on Mondays, they’re coming down off a Red Bull and sugar high while being sleep deprived. 

By Tuesday morning they’re back to normal and ready to jabber about things non-school related.  Mostly snowmachines and movies.  A good teacher can get them back on track by subtlety steering the conversation back to where he/she wants it.  I on the other hand have to utilize the tried and true method of yelling, “Hey!!”   Sometimes I have to be more specific like, “Hey!! Take that pencil out of his nose!!”  Or, “Hey!! That’s not what a pencil sharpener is used for!”  The word 'hey' is a fine catch-all.  It can be use for pointing out a good thing: "Hey, good job on that math test."  Or for something bad: "Hey!  That's going to get you suspended.  I'll bet you can't do that again."

The students taking control of their own learning.
Most of my day does not involve ordering students to pull things out of their faces.  Sometimes I actually do some instruction.  While I was teaching about equivalent fractions, a debate arose about pies and pizzas.  The kids didn’t want pie on their pizza, they wanted pepperoni.   I assured them that a pizza was a pie.  “No, it is not!” was their counter.  So I go into a long explanation about the etymology of the word pizza and that it was, in fact, a pie.  “No it’s not!”  I asked them “Why would I lie about something like this to you?”  They just gave me an accusatory stare.  “OK” I said, “I was only joking about killing a polar bear with a toothpick.  But this is real.”  Same stares, only this time they were looking a little meaner.  As a teacher, you have to stand your ground and do what’s right.  So I told them, “Yes.  You’re right.  Pizza is not a pie.  I was only joking.”  Only then was I able to continue with the lesson.

With the snow beginning to soften, I may not make another trip on the snowmachine to Emmonak.  Even though the Yukon ice is still 3-4ft thick, water will come up from cracks, causing water to run over the ice.  I am by genetic engineering a chicken, so I don’t want to ride one snow and ice.  I think we have enough chili to get us by for the next 5 weeks.  Well, me at least.  Monica likes it but not as much as I do.  I went up on Wednesday and picked a few things to last us for the rest of the school year.  I just checked the coffee supply and we’re good.  Nine cans of chili and six pounds of coffee beans.  I’ll leave the Raman noodles for Monica.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012


One of the luxuries we have up here is satellite TV.  Even up here we can keep up with Snooki’s latest antics.  We don’t, but we can. I get that the lowest common denominators of the population need something besides shiny things to keep them attentive.  What I don’t get is competitive jousting.  I’ve seen the previews for them while watching other shows.  These are grown men, and women I suppose, who try to knock other people off horses with big sticks while riding around on their own horse.  We’ve all seen this in the movies about medieval times, and it usually had something to do with impressing a princess.  Princesses were easily impressed back then.  I would think surviving the Black Plague would be enough, but no.  Now, if Snooki would joust the Situation, maybe I’d watch that.

This past week was our school’s yearly assessment.  The scores from these tests will determine the success or failure of our school for the past year.  This tends to put a little bit of pressure on the teachers.  The students, on the other hand, don’t always put the success of their school ahead of their own self-interest.  Meaning, they would rather be in the gym playing dodge ball than finding grammatical errors in a standardized test.  Or determining how many pieces of candy Johnny has if he gave away 2/3s of his stash.  The real question for the kids wasn’t how much he had left, but why he was giving away his candy.  But we made it through the tests for this year.  I had zero absences for the week, so we don’t have any makeup tests. 

Pay no attention to the exposed wires.
We received some bad news this week.  The school district informed us that they would not be building new teacher housing next year.  This wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t already told us that we were.  The house Monica and I live in is about 50 years old.  Buildings don’t age well out here, so there are signs that the house may have outlived its ability to safely provide shelter.  One sign is that snow will blow in through the kitchen ceiling when the wind is blowing a certain direction.  Another is how the house is becoming more uneven, to the point where the walls are separating from the floor and ceiling.  You can feel the unevenness when walking in the house, tilting the floor towards the kitchen.  It must be gravity pulling me to the refrigerator, forcing me to locate snacks there.  One cannot fight gravity.  Crap, now I’m hungry.

This gap is just over 3 inches and growing.
With the floors dropping, Monica has developed a fear while in the shower.  It’s not a fear of me throwing ice water on her, although I’m sure it’s in the back of her soapy head.  Her fear is having the floor completely drop while she’s in the shower, spilling her out in the frozen tundra.  My picture is of her rolling around in the snow, completely naked, trying to get up.  That picture also has me pointing and laughing.  I know it’s not nice, but in my defense, well she’s rolling around naked in the snow.  I dare you not to chuckle just thinking about it.

There are six more weeks left of school.  The students can already feel it, but the weather has yet to hint that summer is coming.  That means I’ll probably end up watching some more bad TV.  Maybe the History Channel will bring back the lions and gladiators.   Watching Jersey Shore being eaten by lions would be entertaining.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Kids like to play right outside our front door.  I like to think it’s because they want to hang out close to me.  But Monica says it’s because there is a basketball court about 20 feet from our front door.  During the winter the snow is high enough for them to reach the rim and hang off of it.  They will also knock on our door and ask, “Can we visit?”  But their definition and my definition of visit are different.  Their definition of visit is a verb: to actively ask for candy, pop, or cake: to actively ask when I obtained every personal item in the house.  Every. Single. Piece.  It almost becomes an interrogation. 
My definition of visit is also a verb: to quietly sit and listen to me tell about my brave battles fought in the Navy and my heroic efforts on the sports fields. Every. Single. Story.  It almost becomes a lecture.

But yesterday morning we had an unexpected visitor at our door.  It was a census worker.  And her visit was much like the kids’ visits, only she didn’t ask for anything to eat.  A lot of questions were asked.  Mostly by Monica and I.  Our first question was, “Are you lost?”  Our next question was, “Are you sure?”  Our third question was, “Seriously, are you lost?”  She convinced us she was at the correct house and began to ask the standard questions.  Although I’m not sure if “Would you please put some pants on?” is a standard question, but hey, she had the good sense to ask. 

If the government sends someone out here to get information, I guess they’re serious.  After the census worker left, Monica and I were talking about what that job would be like.  She told us (during our question session) she was from SE Alaska, which is about 1,200 miles away from here.  Not only is she far from home, she’s traipsing out here in villages all on her own.  She told us about difficulties in getting transportation in the villages.  Also getting from village to village is very dependant on the weather.  Since there are no hotels out in these villages, she gets stuck staying at schools out here.  She was scheduled to leave yesterday afternoon on a plane.  The weather is clear, so I’m confidant that she made it out.  It’s still cold, we’re still below zero at night, but it’s been clear and beautiful today.

Last night we almost had a disaster at our home.   While cleaning out our coffee pot, we accidently got the electronic controller wet.  When that happens, it stops working.  Coffee is one of the most important things in my life.  I get up at 5am every weekday morning.  I do this so I have enough time to drink two big mugs of coffee before going to work.  Some people get up early to exercise. I get up early so I have enough time to drink coffee.   So, without the coffeepot working, I would have no reason to get out of bed.  Since going to the local Wal-Mart is out of the question, we would have to wait for Amazon to ship us a replacement.  Luckily, after it dried out it worked again.  Disaster averted.  This did force me to order a new one for a back-up.  I am not going to live through that terror again.

We’re heading up river today for some groceries.  It’s more for the ride, but we’ll get some groceries since we’re going to be there anyways.  Not a cloud in the sky so Monica should get some good pictures.  Hopefully there won’t be any kids out front playing, forcing me to drive them away with a few new stories.  Maybe they want to hear about the time I…