Snowmachine Ride on NYE

I spent a few days in Anchorage over Christmas break. My return to the village did not go as expected, but it was a great adventure.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of the beginning of the story because I didn’t know that it would become blog-worthy. I was scheduled to fly home via Ravn Alaska on New Year’s Eve. But, as is sometimes the case when traveling to the Bush, weather became an issue. We boarded the 32-passenger plane to St. Mary’s on time, and soon after we were asked to deplane. Half an hour later, we repeated this process. Finally, we were told we could board for the third time. However, we planned to catch a connecting flight out of St. Mary’s, and Ravn warned that the village flights had been canceled all day. Another option was to rebook for the next available flight…five days later! This meant not only returning to work late, but also paying for an additional five nights in a hotel. My principal, who happened to be on the same flight, said it was best to fly to St. Mary’s even though there was no guarantee we would get the rest of the way home.

We flew more than 450 miles to St. Mary’s and, sure enough, the smaller planes could not fly to Pilot Station. Thankfully, my principal has a lot of contacts. After making many phone calls, he had arranged for people to take the 11-mile trail by snowmachine to pick us up. (A snowmachine is what non-Alaskans call a snowmobile.)

Since the airport was shutting down for the night, we met our drivers at the local Alaska Commercial (AC) Store. Alaska rule states that you haven’t been to a village until you’ve visited its school and its store, so I was excited to take the first step. St. Mary’s is a hub, and their store is huge!

outside store

It looks like Walmart!

inside store

OK, maybe more like Dollar General. But it has a nice selection of fresh produce!


I wasn’t prepared with my best winter gear, so I bought a face mask.
Brittney in facemask

We left nonessential luggage at the airport to be delivered by plane later. The stuff that we had to bring was put in trash bags to keep it dry.


Then we went outside and waited expectantly for the snowmachines to come. Although it was too foggy for planes, it was not too cold. About an hour later, we saw a series of headlights come over the hill. It was the snowmachines from Pilot!


We loaded our luggage in a sled that one of the snowmachines was dragging. Then we got on our way.

loading the sled

The “trail” between St. Mary’s and Pilot Station largely consists of frozen bodies of water. Now I understand why my students get so excited when the temperature falls: It opens up a whole new mode of travel! We drove down into lakes and rivers, then up into wooded areas.

My driver was Niles, the son of our 2nd grade teacher who was visiting his dad for the holidays. I had to hold on tight, so I didn’t get many pictures. Besides, this was around 7pm just a few days after the shortest day of the year. I did snap a pic during one of our pit stops. Several times we regrouped¬†to make sure everyone was doing OK.

pit stopEverything went smoothly, for the most part. There was that one time that my principal fell off the snowmachine, but I promised not to tell about that ūüėČ

It’s hard to describe the sensation of riding a snowmachine. My first impression was something like this:

flyingBut it is probably more akin to a very fast, cold horseback ride.

The trip home took about an hour, and it is not one I’ll soon forget. I immediately texted my dad, “Will you buy me a snowmachine for my birthday?”¬†He never answered.

All in all, it was the best New Year’s Eve of my life.


Ordering Sushi in Rural Alaska

We’ve had a busy week. The first quarter is ending, and grades and progress notes are due. Plus we’ve been getting ready for Halloween. So another teacher and I decided to skip cooking for one night and order food instead. 

This morning we called Chopstix, an Asian restaurant in Bethel, Alaska, to place the order. At 5:30 pm we got a call that our food was on the way. I took the school truck to the airport.  

 The plane landed just as I got there. It was “the big plane” — a Cessna 208 (with a center aisle) as opposed to a tiny 207.  

 This happy little box holds dinner for two people.  

 My two rolls, plus my half of the $25 freight charge, cost $40.40.  

 It was so worth it! 

House Tour

Most school districts in rural Alaska lease furnished housing to teachers. My district is no exception. Today I want to share some pics with you, my dear readers.¬†outside of houseAnd here it is! This shade of red is a common paint color in Alaska.entry to houseI’m lucky to have a roof over my front steps so they don’t get too slippery. The blue tote¬†stores garbage until I can get to the dump.

view from the porch¬†I’m also lucky to have a nice view from my porch ūüôā

Moving inside…¬†arctic entry¬†This is called an arctic room or arctic entry — like a foyer, but less fancy. Basically, it’s a small room that separates the front door (brrr) from the rest of the house.

living room¬†Take a right, and you’re in the living room.

shelf with items from Alaska wilderness A bookshelf in the corner holds some items from the Alaska wilderness: driftwood from the Yukon River, an unidentified green rock found on the beach in Gustavus, and a fossil.

birch tree paintingOn Labor Day weekend I made this artwork for my dining area. I painted the sky with a paper towel and the birch trees with an old credit card! Click here to learn how to make your own.

kitchen¬†Here’s the kitchen. The art¬†above the sink was made by Pat Minock, a local artist. He invited me to his house last spring to look at his prints. He’s a really nice guy with interesting stories. You can see and buy his art¬†here.

hallway¬†This is the hallway. To the left: pantry, roommate’s bedroom (not pictured), and my bedroom. To the right: kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. At the end: spare bedroom.

pantry¬†It’s hard to keep this space organized, especially when you buy groceries in bulk.

bathroom¬†The bathroom is not too interesting, but it’s clean!

bedroom Most of my decorating efforts occur in my bedroom. I got the tapestry to hide some of the wood paneling.

bedroom  The curtain hides my closet.

top of dresser
photos on twine I have a few mementos on top of my dresser and some pictures hanging above.

laundry room¬†The hottest room in the house: the boiler/washing machine room…

storage room¬†¬†storage room…and¬†through the door on the far end, the coldest room (which is really an attached shed): the storage/dryer room.

spare bedroom Finally, the spare bedroom.

I hope you enjoyed touring my humble abode! Feel free to leave questions in the comments.

Scenes from a Bush Plane in the Fall

Labor Day may be the unofficial end of summer, but here in Alaska, fall is in full swing. On Monday I took a Cessna 207 to Mountain Village, the site of the District Office for the Lower Yukon School District, for curriculum training. The pilot, other teachers, and I got a good view of the fall colors.fall treesThis picture was taken not long after liftoff in Pilot Station. trees and mountainsAs you can see, we don’t fly too high above the ground.trees on a mountain mountains and Yukon RiverI got to ride co-pilot. Every time this happens, I think about the book Hatchet. And I silently pray that the pilot won’t have a heart attack and force me to land in the Yukon River, leaving me to survive using the emergency equipment in the back of the plane. I have an active imagination ūüôātundra and laketundraI love tundra. Tundra is spongy and fun to walk on. It also smells amazing. I want to capture tundra in a candle. Pitka's Point and Yukon RiverThe village of Pitka’s Point used to have a school in our district. Due to low attendance, the school was shut down and the students now take the bus to Mountain Village.St. Mary's and Yukon RiverIt’s hard to see, but St. Mary’s is behind the hill.road from St. Mary's to Mountain VillageHey, look — a road! It even has a car. It goes from the airport in St. Mary’s (a hub), past Pitka’s, to Mountain.

This 26-mile trip takes about 15 minutes by plane. Within two months, the landscape will change to white, blue, and gray. No matter the season, I love looking out the window at the scenery of the Yukon Delta.

Classroom Tour

We’re two weeks into the school year, and I just found out I’m moving out of my classroom. But since I already snapped pics, I wanted to share them with you.

 This is the view when you first walk in. As you can see, this classroom was designed for home economics.

 This is the white board (obviously). I put up butcher paper to cover things I will use later in the class period. I find this helps students focus on the activity at hand.

 This is a close up of the left hand side of the white board. It has my behavior expectations, a place to praise students who are meeting these expectations, and my lesson objectives.

“Bricks” and “mortar” are part of an instructional program for English Language Learners called Constructing Meaning. Basically, bricks are your academic vocabulary words; this bricks bulletin board is similar to a word wall. On the other hand, mortar is the language function (text structure) used to write or talk about your bricks. Mortar makes the bricks stick together — get it?

 Under the bricks board is a table where I keep supplies for the day, including the bell work that students work on the first few minutes of class while I take attendance.

 Here is my desk area. I planned to have students write goals on their handprints to put across the bottom of the bulletin board, but I’ll have to save that idea for another time.

 The desks are in an unusual arrangement to allow mobility around the kitchen. I put down painter’s tape to help students and custodians know where the desks should be. I put my class rules on both freezers since most wall space is covered by cabinets.


And here are a few pictures of the back of the room. We have a great view of the village!

I hope you enjoyed my classroom tour. I plan to make shorter, more frequent posts like this for my readers this year.

Moose Chili

When life gives you spaghetti sauce…make chili!

You see, grocery shopping in rural Alaska can be tricky. Freight to this distant location is expensive, so local stores mark up the prices by 200-300%. I bought a bunch of groceries on Amazon and at the Anchorage Wal-Mart ahead of time, but it’s hard to know what/how much you’ll want to eat for a whole semester. (My frozen broccoli was gone in about two weeks!) And I forgot one important item that local stores don’t carry: tomato juice.

With the weather getting colder (10 degrees at the moment), I’ve been craving chili. Too bad…or so I thought. During last week’s trip to the¬†AC, I found pasta sauce that was about to expire; I scored it for half off (about $2 per can)! And since necessity is the mother of invention, I decided to try making chili with what I have.

  • I¬†did¬†remember to buy chili beans and chili powder in Anchorage.
  • I¬†do¬†(for the moment) have running water.
  • Several locals have given me moose meat.

I mixed some water, chili powder, beans, and scrambled moose in with the pasta sauce to simmer. After it cooked for a while, I thought it still looked and smelled like, well, pasta sauce and beans. So I added my new favorite ingredient —¬†green Tabasco¬†— and some quinoa to make a heartier mealIMG_3901I topped it with some shredded cheese ($16 for a 2lb. block) and sour cream ($4.50 for a small container). It turned out pretty well!

It just goes to show…if you find yourself in a situation where you have moose meat but no tomato juice (ha!), you CAN make chili. ūüėČchili in bowl