Thursday, March 27, 2008

A vague prompt...

Today in writing class I assigned a prompt to my students. I asked them to describe something and briefly talked about sensory details. I also have a huge list of possible topics they could choose from and upon glancing at the prompts I saw the option to describe a storm. A story popped into my head right then.

Many summers ago (it's been about 7) I was working at a local tree nursery. Although I liked my work (for the most part) I still rejoiced every time a huge storm front would move through the Valley. Storm fronts meant thunder and lightning and pounding rain and being sent home from work.

On this particular day I woke up to rain and gray skies. What amazed me how hot the day was even though it was raining out. I went into work and immediately got sent home. I guess they didn't want me out in the stormy weather digging trees up and pulling weeds (although, pulling weeds is much easier work when the ground is wet).

I got back into my car and drove home. My memory is a little spotty at this point but I remember that my brother Brian, who worked construction, also had gotten sent home. The thing that stands out in my mind about that day is that the sky was so dark and gray we had some lamps on in the living room. The lamps cast a soft warm glow and it felt comforting and safe although the thunder was banging and lightning flashing outside. We had all the doors open and the smell of rain wafted through the screen door. The smell of rain is wonderful and is one of my favorite smells on earth. It smells like a mixture of earth, water, and electricity. Some rain smells heavy and the smell is overwhelming. That type of rain wraps around you and you can't get away from the smell no matter how hard you try. Other times, the smell of rain is elusive and evasive. You have to step outside and turn your head just right and breathe in at just the right moment to catch it.

I also remember that the thunder was especially loud during that storm. My favorite type of thunder is the kind that shakes and reverberates through the whole house. That type of thunder sounds like it is sitting right next to you in the living room and sometimes it scare the Bejesus out of you! When we were kids my mom used to tell us that thunder is the angels in heaven bowling. I still think of that and when a huge clap of thunder shakes the house I think, "Someone up there got a strike!" My brother and I sat all morning in the cozy living room listening to the sound of the thunder and laughed every time the windows or lamp would shake.

Lighting is amazing as well because it keep yous on your toes. You never know where it is going to strike and instead of taking cover during the bad storms my family members and I tend to stand out on the porch watching it. I like the type of lightning that zig zags across the sky and rips through the atmosphere. I also like the kind that flashes a couple of times before disappearing.

Although my memory has faded of that day I do remember hanging out with my brother, watching TV and just enjoying the sounds and smells of the thunder storm.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wow...I'm amazed

While I was gone to Phoenix I left my class in charge of my class. I designated one student in each class to be responsible for reading the lesson plans and running class each day I was gone.

I was a bit nervous about leaving the students in charge. However, I received an email from my substitute at about 10 a.m. the first day saying that she was already bored because the students were running the classes and being completely responsible about everything.

When I got back I was so tired I didn't even go to the school to see what the students had done. Instead, I went to bed and figured I would deal with whatever mess was awaiting me when I got into school the next day. The cool thing is, there was no mess awaiting me. The students had worked on EVERYTHING that I had asked them to work on and had gotten quite a bit done while I was gone! All I had to do was quickly check in with each class to see where they were at and I could pick up right where I left off.

I amazed right now as I sit here. It's a little after 5 and although I want to go home I just can't seem to make that announcement. Right now, I have three students in my classroom. One is working on some homework that isn't even going to be assigned until tomorrow, another is working on editing and revising a short story that she wrote earlier this year and another is filling out an application to attend RAHI this summer. I'm blogging.

Three years ago I walked into this classroom not knowing what to expect from my students. I was unsure of myself as a teacher and felt like nothing I did was ever going to matter. There were many times that first year I felt like a failure and felt that I just would never be able to figure out how to teach in this district. There were lots of tears and frustrations that year....both from me and from my students. We had plenty of hiccups along the way...I was learning how to become a teacher and they were learning patience.

As I look around this classroom at this moment I am floored by the growth that has occurred right in front of me. I have seen boys and girls becoming young men and women. I have seen them go from being unsure of themselves to taking risks and trying new things. I have seen them gain confidence and my heart leaps every time someone asks a question and before I can even bat an eyelash another student jumps up to help them.

Don't get me wrong...days aren't always great here in O-ville, things don't always go smoothly and yes, the tears still come (more on my part then theirs now..they are much tougher than I ever will be). However, we have formed a small little family within this school and I know that I am so lucky to be working with such great students. I am so proud of them and am so grateful for each and everyone!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Downtown Tempe, the Wedding and the Aftermath of the Wedding

On Wednesday evening Scott informed me that I would be checking out of the hotel Thursday morning and crashing at his place the rest of my visit. Which totally worked out for me.

So, Thursday morning I woke up early and packed up my stuff and dro
ve over to Scott's. I drove past his house about a hundred times before I realized that I was continuously driving by his house. He gave me a quick tutorial on the alarm system and rushed out the door to do some wedding-y type things.

I had about 5 hours before I needed to be at the ceremony so I got in my car and drove downtown Tempe and did some shopping on Mill Avenue.

Mill Avenue is similar to Church Street in Burlington, VT and State Street in Madison (only not so big). There were lots of cute little shops and I hung out in an import store talking to the worker for quite awhile. She was super cool and we hung out for almost a half hour just talking. There were some people selling roses made out of palm tree fronds and I sat down and talked with them for a little while as well. I found the picture of the two guys on the right on the internet but I am positive the guy on the left was one of the guys selling roses. After browsing in a few more shops and eating a super good hot dog I was done shopping for the day.

I got in my car and proceeded to drive about 10 minutes in the wrong direction until I realized I was in Mesa and Mesa was not where I wanted to be. So, I turned around and finally made my way back to Scott's house and got ready for the wedding.

The wedding was beautiful and I was on the verge of tears the entire time. I know that sounds cliche and cheesy, but it's true. The place where they had the wedding was gorgeous. As the music started the bridesmaids walked down a staircase where the groomsmen met them and led them down the aisle. Mya looked stunning in her dress...absolutely stunning and the look on Scott's face as Mya walked down the aisle was priceless. I have never seen Scott look so happy.

The ceremony was beautiful. I can't say that enough. After the ceremony we went into the reception hall for a wonderful Mexican dinner. I commented to Mya later on that I loved the food choice. I thought it was unique to have Mexican food at a wedding. Mya laughed and said that I obviously have never been to a wedding in the southwest.

As tradition dictates, the bride and groom got up to dance the first dance of the evening. They took the dance floor as the opening bars of a Rascal Flatts song started. They held each other close and were doing such a good job when suddenly....

The music changed...

It got fast and Scott and Mya performed a perfectly choreographed dance routine to such hits as "Cotton Eye Joe", "Baby Got Back" and others. It was soooooooo funny. I couldn't click my camera fast enough. At the end the music switched back to that slow Rascal Flatts song and Mya and Scott pretended to brush each off and finished their slow dance. It was great.

What impressed me most about this wedding was that Mya had everything planned out to the smallest little detail. They had a candy bar with lots of different blue and white candies.

They also had a Polariod camera and scrapbooking pages available on another table. People were supposed to take a picture of themselves and prepare a scrapbook page for Mya and Scott's wedding album. At one point the camera ran out of film and a whole group of us tried to figure out how to open the camera to change the film. Thank goodness a man was there who knew how to open the camera and he had the film replaced in no time. If it weren't for him we probably still would have been there.

After the ceremony, Scott invited me to join the wedding party in their limo and we went to Dave and Buster's.


Dave and Buster's is awesome. It is a video aracade for adults and serves food and drinks. It was fun to see everyone dressed up and playing racing games and other video games. Scott's friend, Todd, beat me at the snowmobiling race game which was a little hard to take.

The next day began with eating and Mya, one of her friends and I hit IKEA.

I've never been to an IKEA but I have no doubt that if I meet a man that I love half as much as IKEA he will be a very lucky man indeed. I bought a ton of stuff I don't need and some I did. I finally have curtains for my room and a new rug in the bathroom along with a clock for the living room. The best purchase of the day was a pet tent in the shape of a cat for Macy. Macy isn't quite sure about it but I keep putting treats in there hoping that she will go in and hang out. I'm going to put it outside for her when spring comes so she has a place to hang out.

On Saturday we all went shopping again to return wedding gifts and do various other errands. Scott and I went Frisbee golfing and it was a fun afternoon. I lost two of Scott's discs in the water which I felt terrible about. It felt so good to Frisbee golf. We also stopped off at the casino on the way home and we each won $40.

Saturday night was laid back. We hung out and watched Scott play a video game and just chilled. I did get some cuddle time in with Scott and Mya's puppies. I had to leave at 4 a.m. so I didn't even go to bed. I chatted with a friend for a long time and read to pass the time. Scott got up around 3:30 to make sure I was up. We said good bye and the next thing I knew I was on my way back to the airport and the trip was over.

In all honesty, my trip to Phoenix was probably the most fun I have had in a long time. It was great to see Scott again and to meet his new wife. They are great people. I'm so thankful that I have such wonderful and beautiful friends in my life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Phoenix -- I'm here

After a non eventful series of flights and three very uncomfortable hours of sleep...

I arrived in Phoenix about 10 am this morning. It was hot out. As soon as I got my bag I ran into the bathroom and changed into a short sleeved shirt and put my Chacos on. I couldn't stop smiling. The sun felt sooooooooo good and my insides warmed up immediately.

My next task after putting my sandals on was to get my rental car. After waiting in the wrong line for about 15 minutes I finally figured out where I should be standing and waiting for my rental car. The nice man at the counter asked me where I was staying. I told him "Phoenix Inn and Suites..I think". He kind of stopped writing and just looked at me. I continued "I am 98% sure I am staying there. I made the reservations awhile ago and I can't remember for sure if that is where I made them or not. I was just going to drive there to see if that's where I am supposed to be. I'm pretty sure that's where I have to go."

"Do you know how to get there?" the man replied.

"Ummmmm....kind of. In the book it says that it is off Camelback and 24th street. I'll figure it out."

The man looked at me skeptically and then handed me a map.

After we had all the paperwork taken care of the man told me to go to Level 1 to get my car. I said thank you and a few minutes later he caught me wandering towards the wrong elevator.

"You have to go over there, "he said pointing and laughing.

I finally got in my hot rod and started that engine up. Vrooom, vroom went the little Chevy Cobalt.

I spent the next half hour trying to find 24th Avenue only to finally figure out I was looking for 24th Street. A few more wrong turns later I arrived at what could possibly be the hotel I was supposed to be staying at. A quick chat with front desk clerk resassured me I was in the right place.

I called my friend Scott the second I put my bags down. He was frisbee golfing and I made the decision to hike Camelback Mountain while waiting for him to finish up.

My first stop was at the store to get some sun block for my oh so white skin. The parking lot at the trailhead was packed full which meant I had to park stupid down the road and walk to the trailhead. Parking stupid in Phoenix gets you $16 parking tickets. I discovered quite quickly.

The trip up the mountain was hard but fun. There were a few really steep spots but the view from the top totally made the trip up worth it.

After hiking I had only a short amount of time to shower and get ready to meet Scott.

It was so good to see him. I can't believe that it has been 5 years since we last saw each other. He looked taller to me. I realized when I saw him how much I actually miss him. We arrived at his sister's house for dinner and I finally got to meet his wifey-to-be...Mya. It was so great to see the two of them so excited and happy. During the car ride over to his sister's house I told him I already got a parking ticket which made him laugh. "What'd you get the parking ticket for?" he asked.

"For parking stupid...I totally knew I was parking stupid so I guess I deserved it." was my answer, which made him laugh even harder.

We spent the evening eating too much and talking and laughing. A couple of other fellow Wisconsinites made the trek to Phoenix to see Scott and Mya get hitched and it was good to hear those Midwestern accents.

As I am writing this I am completely exhausted. It was a big day with all the traveling, hiking and friending that went on. I'm going to try to get up early tomorrow morning to get a quick hike in. However, I may just sleep in as well.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Best Care Package in the World

My parents sent a care package today. A perfect way to end a long week. It said "Perishable" on it and I was a little nervous. Mom and Dad, I love you guys but every since I received the priority box covered in hardened maple syrup I have been somewhat wary of what is inside those boxes. I can never guess what is inside those boxes. Most of the time it is my junk mail that is still being delivered to my parents house. Someday, I'll cut the cord completely and fill out that dreaded change of address form at the Post Office, but until then, my mom is welcome to keep putting my junk mail in a box and sending it to Alaska as long as there are some goodies inside.

We received mail twice this week (big week for mail). I received some packages (more books that I don't have time to read) yesterday in the mail and today I saw a box addressed to me and my mom's return address label up in the corner. The big yellow sun in the corner of her address label was beckoning me to open it immediately...that and the "Perishable" stamp.

I tore open the box and I saw a card...a St. Patrick's Day card. It said lots of nice things. Then I saw some cookie like objects and upon closer inspection I realized that they were nice big doggie treats from the doggie bakery for Macy. My favorite treat was the bone shaped cookie with green and white frosting that said "Puppy go Bragh"(I won't let her eat it until St. Patrick's Day). I kept digging and found some junk mail which I quickly sorted into three piles...stuff to trash, stuff I want to look and possibly keep but will be sitting around my house for three or four weeks until I decide to throw it away, and stuff to save. Then, I hit the mother lode.

TWO bricks of Wisconsin cheese and TWO things (I don't know what they are called) of venison sausage. My mouth started watering instantly and I quickly put the food back in the box. I didn't want anyone to see it and to eat it. I wasn't ready to share yet. I'll maybe share tomorrow.

My mom also sent me "my" Brett Favre collector's edition Sports Illustrated. I wrote a blog reminiscing about Brett's career when he announced his retirement a week or so ago but I didn't finish it. Brett Favre is Wisconsin's hero. No one here seems to really understand why I roll out of bed early on a Sunday (remember, we are three hours behind), put my Packers shirt on, and immediately run to the couch to cover up with a blanket and watch the game. Brett Favre played the game because he loved it. That's pretty freaking cool.

So, Mom and Dad...thanks for thinking of me and Macy up here in the wilds of Alaska. Thanks for the goodies. Only about a month or so left to send stuff..I should be "stuck" again by the end of April or beginning of May and won't be able to get mail. Until then, keep those packages coming.

Macy and I thank you both very much! I may not get to enjoy some "traditional" St. Patrick's Day activities, but you made my day!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Multimedia Competition and Some Basketball

After our harrowing experience of getting stuck and unstuck (see previous post entitled Getting Stuck) we made it to Bethel for the Multimedia Competition.

After settling in Lee Sundby presented a workshop that taught the students how to storyboard their movies and how to effectively plan their movie. The students had to work in groups with students from another school and plan, film, edit and present a short movie at the of the competition.

The students all got waaaaaaaaaaaay into their movies and once again, I just kind of sat there. My students didn't need me. I worked on some of my own projects and finally got our school website up and running ( and worked on that the majority of the time. Every once in a while I would glance up from my web site project and would look at my students and say, "Just in case you guys are interested, I'm working on the web site and it is a TON of fun and I'll show you guys how to do it if you want. Then you can update it whenever you want!" One student was nice and said, "Umm..that's okay." Everyone else just ignored me.

Another project Shaun (a teacher from Nunapitachuk) and I worked on figuring out was how to chroma key in iMovie. $25 and a few downloads later we had it all worked out. After some brainstorming about what we could use for a green or blue screen Shaun went to the store to get a blue tarp and much to our delight it worked when he tested it!! We were giddy with excitement.

Once again, ALL the student there rocked! They all got to work immediately and the biggest problem we faced as chaperones was trying to figure out a way to slow them down so they had enough work for two days.

I'm also happy to report that students from Oscarville took home the second and third place prizes! Brand new digital cameras! Way to go Oscarville!

Concurrent with the Multimedia Competition was our District Basketball Tournament. The Oscarville high school students were invited to compete on the Napaskiak teams this year and three students decided to go out for basketball. We were all looking forward to seeing Qugcuun Memorial School represented on the court.

I also got to hang out with the Napaskiak girl's basketball team for a little while on Wednesday evening because the female chaperone wasn't there and the coach asked me to fill in until she go there. Since Joe B. rocks so freaking much I agreed. There was a little emergency that Joe had to take care of so I was fully in charge of the team. Here is a picture of the girls stretching and getting ready for practice after I asked them to stretch and get ready for practice.

Here's another one of them stretching their little hearts out after I asked them once again to stretch.
I have so much power over teenagers it is ridiculous.

Getting Stuck

We have had quite an exciting and busy week here in Oscarville and it all started last week Wednesday morning…(Scooby Doo transition effect here).

On Wednesday morning I arrived at school at 7:45 and sat down on the bench in the front porch to wait for my high school students to arrive. I had told them approximately three hundred times the previous afternoon that we were leaving the school and heading up to the Multimedia Competition in Bethel promptly at 8:00! If anyone was late they would be left behind and I wouldn’t feel the least bit terrible about it. Of course, that meant I had to not only be at the school at 8 but to be there a little early as well to “set a good example”. I walked through the door of the school with all my gear and my principal met me in the front porch just was I setting my backpack down.

The principal informed me that he wanted to wait until there was more daylight out to travel and that we would probably leave the school around 9 or so. Which worked out fine because we were loading up at 9 when the last student arrived for the trip. So much for leaving students behind and teaching them a lesson. Man, I never get to do anything fun at school!

Finally, it was light enough out to travel and we received word to load up. Half the students went in one truck with the principal and the other half, myself and Alex (our maintenance man) in the other truck. Alex was leading the crew out of town and we got about 20 feet before we looked behind us to see the principal’s Explorer stuck in the snow. We did the only thing we could do. We all piled out of our respective trucks and started digging. The junior high school students, upon seeing the high school students digging quickly came out to help push us out. I’m not sure how long we were out there digging but I’m guessing that it took us about 25 minutes to free the truck from it’s icy bonds. The truck sped off and promptly got stuck about 10 feet in front of its previous placement. It took about another 15 minutes of digging to get the truck freed once again and this time we made it all the way through the village and onto the river. Alex and I and three of the kids were in the lead truck followed by the principal and the other students. About 50 feet onto the river I looked behind me to see the principal’s truck slowing down. “Alex,” I said, “Chris is slowing down.” Which made Alex stop and then made Chris stop. Which then made Chris stuck.

Everyone in Alex’s truck then piled out and walked back to where Chris was stuck and started digging (we had put all the shovels in Chris’ truck and brought them with us after the second time we got stuck in front of the school). As we were digging, Chris looked at me and said, “Tell Alex not to stop anymore. I have to keep going so I won’t get stuck.”

“Okay.” I replied. “I’ll let him know.”

A short while later I was back in Alex’s truck.

“Alex, Chris said not to stop anymore. He has to go fast through the snow and if we stop then he’ll get stuck.”

“Okay,” was Alex’s response.

Once we were all settled back inside the truck Alex we looked behind us to see that everyone had climbed back into Chris’ truck. Alex then took off. He drove through the rest of the unplowed portion of the ice road leading from Oscarville to the plowed section that led to Bethel. We had gone around the bend and were heading upriver when we realized we were almost directly parallel to Chris. Apparently, Chris hadn’t moved at all since we had freed him the last time. He must have gotten stuck again immediately after he put the truck into drive. Since Chris was already stuck Alex decided it was probably okay to stop. So we stopped to watch the show.

Those of us who were in Alex’s truck were kind of stuck. There was no way Alex could turn around and drive back to where Chris was and he was quite a ways away from us although he was directly across from us. We probably could have walked over to him to assist him, but Alex’s truck was warm and cozy. And it was raining out. So, we watched as the crew from Chris’ truck got out once again and started to shovel.

We watched from a distance for a while and then Alex decided to back up to the point where the road from Oscarville converged with the road from Bethel. We could still see the other students and Chris working to free the other truck.

“Alex, could you please wipe your window?” I asked. “It’s hard to see what they are doing over there.”

“Hang on,” Alex replied. And he then put the truck in drive and angled it just right so we could watch the show through the windshield.

I’m not sure how much time passed before Chris started moving. We were having lots of fun in our truck. We were joking around that they should plow a section of river out and make a parking lot outside of Oscarville. We could then have a snowmobile come shuttle people to the village on the hour and no one would have to worry about getting stuck. We saw Chris’ truck begin to move and Alex put his truck back into drive and started to head upriver.

As I looked behind me I saw Chris’ truck bouncing and tearing through the unplowed portion of the ice road. I don’t think he let up on the gas pedal at all and finally was spewed out onto plowed section of road which caused us all in Alex’s truck to erupt in loud delighted cheers.

The rest of the drive up to Bethel was smooth sailing and only took about 10 or 15 minutes or so. We all arrived unscathed (although the kids in the other truck were complaining..something about sore muscles…I don’t know what they were whining about) and ready for the Multimedia Competition.

Monday, March 10, 2008

While the cat is away...

Two weekends ago I went to the ASTE (Alaska Society for Technology in Edcuation) conference in Anchorage. While I was gone my friend Randy's (Randy teaches about 7 miles downriver in Napakiak) brother came to town. I let Randy's brother use my snowmobile (a.k.a. snowmachine) while I was out of town.

Randy sent me these pictures of his brother and my snowmobile a couple of days ago. It reminded me of the part in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when the parking garage men took the Ferrari out and you see the Ferrari flying through the air. I kind of felt like Cameron when I saw the following pictures.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Making Movies

As part of their reading class my students have to create an oral presentation that demonstrates that...well, I guess that they read the book. I'm not really sure how else to put that.

My students rock at oral presentations. They have done all sorts of impressive things. Last year some students read Steinbeck's The Pearl show and and recreated the story with little puppets and created all sort of scenery to go with the dialogue they wrote. Then, they filmed the puppets and created an iMovie. Another group read a book called Manaic McGee and created a Maniac McGee checkers board game. One of my all time favorite presentations was done by a group of ladies who read a book called Stargirl and then held a presidential press conference to convince other people to read the book. We downloaded "Hail to the Chief" and played it when they walked into the room and everything. It was a ton of fun. Needless to say, the bar has been set quite high for these oral presentations and the students work to be creative and make their presentations awesome.

My high school students have just finished a HUGE unit on A Wizard of Earthsea and decided to create a silent movie version of an integral scene from the book. During this scene the protagonist duels with a classmate to see who is the better wizard. During the duel the protagonist conjures up a dark shadow that nearly kills him. The Archmage of the wizarding school saves the protagonist but in doing so the Archamage ends up exhausting all his powers and dies.

The students did such an awesome job making the movie. Two of the high school students took over and really led the rest of the students through the process.

They looked like little Spielbergs out there holding their scripts and storyboards and telling people what to do and where to go. Since the students had everything under control I stepped back and spent some time throwing the ball for my dog. That's all I did on this production. The kids did the rest. It was amazing to watch the students' shyness melt away the second they got in front of the camera.

Watch for our first full length movie production at the Oscar's next year.