Sunday, November 14, 2010

Somewhere Above the Clouds

So, this is definitely a first for me -- blogging from an Alaska Airlines jet during flight! I'm currently on the leg between Anchorage & Seattle.

This is a fairly new service. Right now it's just for the Lower 48 (although I'm coming from Anchorage??) according to the brochure.

It says that it will be available in (the more populated areas of) Alaska some time in 2011.

Of course it won't always be free, but for now there's a promotional offer, to get people hooked, I imagine. I love it so far!

I was planning to post these pictures later, but I might as well do it now. This is the plane from Kotz to Nome to Anchorage. It's dark because I left at 8:30 this morning & it's not getting light until about 11:30. I don't know if you can tell, but this cabin is only half the plane. I was sitting close to the back, and about where the person is standing there's a wall. The front half of the plane is cargo. They load it with about 4 specially-shaped pallets.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Last week, after voting here in town, I headed out to Noatak. It was my last village visit for this semester.

Noatak has a new school, going on its 3rd year open I think. The old one used to be very close to the airport and village center. The new one is about a mile out if you follow the road and closer to the dump.

It's not a problem to walk unless you're carrying 140 lbs of gear and expected to teach a class in an hour. Usually at any school the teacher organizing the schedule also arranges transportation for me. Most schools have some forms of vehicle even if it's just a 4-wheeler. Having just confirmed everything with the teacher the previous day, I was expecting a ride and felt forlorn as all the vehicles drove away. One person, the village president, was walking home and stayed there with me a while. I gave them a moment thinking they might be running late. I finally called, and they said they were in the process of looking for a ride. I was glad it wasn't too cold.

After about 20 minutes, one of the teachers came roaring up on his Honda, stacked my totes up on the racks, gave me a moment to climb on, and tore off down the road. Boxes were bouncing all around, and I just about fell off while trying to keep my map tube and computer bag from bouncing out.

We made it to the school, and as I'm sighing relief, the teacher curtly mentions I'll be going to his class right after lunch. Well, that would be after HIS lunch because I still had to find out where to put my things, procure an A/V cart, set up my computer and projector, unpack program materials from the get the picture.

My cart was a mess by the end of the day. I had 3 classes right in a row after that delayed start.

I was off to a rough start, but it got better. I didn't get much of a chance to get out last year because the old principal wouldn't give me a key. If I went out too long after school was out, I couldn't get back in. This year I didn't even have to ask. Each evening I got out and walked around while it was light. The people were some of the friendliest I've met in the villages. The NPS isn't liked by many, and although it may be subtle (or sometimes not), there's a certain degree of racism towards white outsiders. So in most villages I end up talking to the kids (who see me at school) who follow me down the street and just smile and wave to the adults who usually acknowledge me but rarely engage in conversation.

So it was refreshing in Noatak to have I don't know how many people stop to ask me if I wanted a ride as I walked between the school and the rest of town (not these girls, they just stopped to say hi and ask when I was going to their class). A couple even talked to me about what I was doing in town as we walked to the store.

Their store is big and pretty nice. I usually try to go just because that's about the only place there is to go, and I support the local economy a little. This time I browsed the popcorn because I had taken my latest Netflix movie with me to watch at night. I found some I'd never seen before.

Popcorn with pepper! It was really good!

As usual, the school days are busy enough that they go quickly. The rest of the trip was smooth, and although the plane was late getting there, it was only 32 degrees, so the 40 minutes standing on the runway weren't too bad.

As far as I know, the Noatak school has the newest building. It is fairly nice. Here are a few shots.

A mural of the village - on the wall in the cafeteria / commons area.

You can find local artwork around most of the schools. These are geese carved from caribou antlers.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Post Office

Since I forgot to 1) reset my clock and 2) turn off my alarm, I'm up early this Sunday morning. Being none too excited about that, maybe it's a good time to cover the post office.

Address: 333 Shore Ave, Kotzebue AK 99752
When ordering things online, most shipping software doesn't recognize Kotzebue physical addresses because there's no mail delivery to them, only to PO boxes.

It's always tricky wiggling around the shipping catch-22. You can't ship this item to a PO box, but your physical address is an invalid address. Sometimes the website will ignore the fact that it's invalid, so you can ship to your physical address but include the 4-digit zip code extension to make sure it gets to the right box.

Once a package arrives (or sometimes a few days later), you get a yellow card in your box. Usually it's kind of an exciting thing, your package arriving. Lately there's a love / hate relationship with them, however, because it means standing in a long line.

These are the normal hours, but for the past few months, I guess they've been struggling with personnel issues, and they've been making up their own hours.

Kotzebue's a town of about 3000, and everyone who gets mail comes to the post office. Granted, not everyone has to stand in line for a package, but in this remote place, much business is done via mail. When I first got here, as far as I could tell, there were 5 employees. Lately I've only seen 2 of them. I'm not sure what's going on, but I know it's not fun to spend a chunk of your Saturday in line. The worst for me was after having waited an hour, the guy in front of me wanted to apply for a passport. That just baffled everyone and took forEVER! You always hear comments (although people have been exceedingly patient), but I guess some have reached their limit.

I just saw this posted on the bulletin board outside the PO lobby. I haven't called it yet.
Something just has to happen before the Christmas rush. If it's not fixed, I'm imagining someone - be it the postmaster or someone in line - going postal alright.

I do wonder if all of the waiting has been good business for the volunteer fire depo coffee shop beside the PO. They're in the same building, and when the line runs out of the PO lobby, it passes right in front.

It's a small place and just sells different coffees, "pops" and pull tabs or scratch-offs or whatever those money-and-paper-wasting things are.

It's a nice little space; they could probably do more with it. The proceeds support the volunteer fire department, so I buy a soda there from time to time. With much more waiting in line I may resort to playing the scratch-offs to see if I win enough to ship using UPS next time!
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I've covered Kotzebue restaurants recently, but to be fair I should throw in the convenience food. Believe it or not, this tiny, frozen town has a 24-hr convenience store.

If you get a craving for an expensive soda (or "pop"as it's called here), this is where you can go. There are two walls lined with drink coolers. As with everything here they're expensive, but sometimes there are products I've never seen before. Since when did sodas come in hybrid can/bottle containers?

For other priorities here such as keeping vehicles running or entertaining yourself in the middle of winter, just visit this shelf. There was actually a Smallville DVD, just a few episodes from season 5, but for $13! I noticed they were all a little dusty....

The convenience food includes the only sushi in town.

Sushi's not even close to a regular in my diet, but I've heard from some connoisseurs that it will do if you're desperate.

I have to say, this was only my 2nd brief visit to EZMart. On warm days it seems to be kind of a hangout for the younger crowd, and it's right across the street from the grocery store anyway.

Granted the grocery store isn't open in the middle of the night, but that would have to be some craving for a "pop" to get me into boots, quilted overalls, gloves, hat and scarf to walk several blocks to get to it!
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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bush Brawl 2010

Perhaps one of the most foreign concepts to me here in Arctic AK, is that kids don't play football in school. It was bad enough in Miami, where middle schools don't have teams and kids wait until they're in high school to play, but NO football...! I don't follow pro or college teams (of any sport for that matter), but having grown up in Central Texas with a dad who refereed a brother who played, and participating myself through band, it's an inherent part of childhood from my perspective.

Well, maybe that's what kids from this area would say about wrestling. It's a big deal here, and they start them early. I'm not sure of the dates that mark wrestling season, but I'm guessing we're well into it. Each fall Kotzebue school hosts the Bush Brawl, a tournament for schools in the whole area including Bethel, Nome, and Barrow. It's a big deal. The gym fills up and everyone goes to watch.

I don't have a clue about wrestling. I just cheered when everyone else did but probably groaned more so as I watched what seemed to me an unforgivable invasion of personal space and impossible movements of appendages and their joints. There aren't many other options for community interaction outside of work, though. The atmosphere is fun.

This tournament included elementary on up. The kids fly in from local villages and other towns - for this and other sporting events - and spend their nights like I do when I go to the villages, on the floor in a sleeping bag.

From what I could tell, Kotzebue kids did well last night. I was hoping to do so well with the raffle! They raffle off a snow machine each year as a fundraiser for wrestling. I've bought a few tickets the last two years from coworkers who have wrestlers, but no such luck. I missed the drawing last night, but I hear it went to a 7th grader.

Let it be known that wrestling is not just for boys here. In this picture, the blue suit is a girl. There were quite a few girl wrestlers involved. I think this was the only one in high school, and she lost quickly, but good for her for trying. I remember being little and telling my parents I was going to find a way to play football...see how that worked out.

I felt bad for some of the kids who left the mat crying. You don't have a whole team to lose with you, and it's not like a race where even if you don't win you might not be last (sorry last person); you're just out there for everyone to watch you lose. I think that could be daunting for a kid. Then again, what do I know about wrestling!
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Here it is, my guilty pleasure & restaurant 4 of 4 -- Uutuku. It means "tiny" in the Iñupiaq language.

It might have started off tiny, but I'm fairly certain it keeps a solid flow of business today. I say it's a guilty pleasure because I do more business with them than the waistline or the wallet should. They know me by name. Actually, they know me by name at Empress too. I like them both for slightly different dishes and different times of day.

Notice the hours? Uutuku's niche is the late night crowd. I think I got started with them during the summer when I work much later hours. Then, their French fries hooked me. Everyone has their favorite style of fries, and for me, Uutuku's is the best in town. Another hit with me is their chicken fried rice.

Since it's delivery or pick-up only, there's the styrofoam waste that always makes you feel guilty - especially here where there is no community recycling of any kind. It's also on the pricy end, and you might have noticed my two favorite items were fried, so I try to limit myself. Try.

I mentioned that they know me by name, but that's not such a telling thing necessarily. It is, after all, a small place. Also, the Koreans who run these restaurants are extremely hard working and customer service oriented - something you don't find in many other places here!

This is the inside of Uutuku, which as you can see is a little store that sells convenience foods and odds and ends.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Snow Here to Stay

After a couple of days of steady snowfall, today was clear and just plain beautiful. There was some evidence of snow melt around town, but I think what's on the ground is here to stay. It looks like there are a few sunny days ahead, but temperatures are cool and more snow is forecast for next week.

The snow makes such a difference. Just throw on a layer of snow and even a pile of junk can look pretty! The whole town looks a little softer and cleaner.

Kids have been enjoying the snow, and it was just in time for their time off for inservice the last two days. I came home to this almost snowman outside my apartment building yesterday. I'm assuming it was made by the kids that often play in our parking lot.

Today after work I went down to the beach and got a few pictures.

This spot overlooks the beach and is where we had our "Camp Willow" just over two months ago.

The beach is covered by a layer of snow.

The beach on the south end of town faces a deeper, less protected body of water, so you don't see sheets of ice yet, but parts of the beach build up a berm of ice chunks that float up at high tide.

Ice with a layer of snow. The snow that was coming down yesterday afternoon had huge flakes. I tried taking a picture on my way home from work, but you can't really see how big they are.

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Bison Street

Featuring restaurant 3 of 4 available in Kotzebue...

Yes, it is located on Bison Street at the intersection with 3rd Avenue. This place is pick-up or delivery only. I have to say I haven't bought food from here very often. It has a similar menu to Empress with prices a little cheaper on some dishes, but I haven't been impressed with the quality.

One thing about these places is they have a postman's ethic for food delivery (actually much better than the post office here in town!). They'll deliver in some gnarly get to know the cars and see them when it's snowing and blowing outside.

Bison Street's niche is with pizza. It's the only place in town to order pizza. Your only other option is frozen pizza from the store which, considering price and quality, may be the way to go.

There is, reportedly, another way to order pizza, but not here in town. In Nome there's a place called Airport Pizza, and they'll take a phone order and send it to you on a flight coming to Kotz. I've never tried it out but may have to one day for 2 reasons, the novelty of it and because they have very good pizza.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010


This is my 10 year old cat, Smoky. She's a native of a South Florida trailer park and has travelled 3 states with me.

Unfortunately for her, Kotzebue is a dog's world. Many people here have dogs. In fact, of all the people I work with, there's only one other person with no dog.

Smoky used to have a dog, a dobie named Canela, but she tolerated her at best. Although Smoky has all of her defenses, there's no good place for her to take shelter here, so she stays inside.

I don't see many cats around, but there are some. Earlier this year, during the summer, I think, I saw this flyer at the post office.

What a coincidence! My neighbor noticed it first, and having seen my Smoky as well, did a double-take. Some time later, another colleague noticed and contacted me to see if it was my Smoky. Shortly thereafter, another one did the same. Smoky may be outnumbered by dogs, but she has folks looking out for her!

I don't think this cat was ever found, kinda sad. My Smoky has used a few of her own lives and caused me some grief along the way. I've told her, though, that she'd better mind her Ps and Qs because there is no vet here in town! From time to time a vet from the Anchorage area comes to town and sets up shop for a few days. You can find out about it the same place the lost cat flyer was posted and where most news is announced...bulletin boards outside the post office.

The other main bulletin board is at the grocery store. Otherwise, news is announced on the radio -- KOTZ.

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The other sit-down restaurant in Kotzebue is Bayside.

It's considered the fancier one. It's bigger and has real wooden tables and padded booths. It has Wi-Fi, potted plants all around and huge paintings on the walls. Of course, the paintings are a mixture of nature/wildlife and some half covered Greco-Roman type scenes.

The nice diggs have a price. About everything on the menu (which is similar to all the others except that no one else has Thai like Empress) is a few dollars more expensive. Oh, and Bayside covers breakfast, which none of the others do. They offer breakfast all day long too. Today I had a Mexican burger, which I had never tried before.

Apparently Mexicans add a fried egg and the requisite jalapeños to their burgers!

I took a picture of the inside of the place, but with the low light and my trying to be discreet, it turned out blurry.

However, you can see the seating which is chairs!
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