Monday, December 14, 2009

My first award!

Terria at the Daily Good
graced me with a Best Blog Award. I am honored, surprised and happy. It's so nice to be recognized. The Daily Good is a cool spot on the web that, as listed on the site "was created to highlight and share information and news about people and organizations who are doing good in the world; the people and the issues that need our help and support, and ideas related to humanitarian service, being kind and caring, and green living", which is as cool of a mission statement as I can imagine. Thanks Terria!

So, in turn, I get to bestow the honor on my picks, as well.  Some of my favorite blogs have already received this award, so my list of Best Blogs will be a bit shorter than the list is officially supposed to be, but I think my list will make up for that in quality and variety.

 Amy is so funny and makes me laugh with every post.  She is also super smart and says things in just the right way, which gives me vicarious satisfaction, as if I'd expressed myself in just the right way.

This blog is so freaking beauitful; the pictures are amazing.  And this cool, crafty lady lives in Scotland, and, as only a select few know, Scotland was my first choice before Alaska (obviously it didn't work out, and that's OK!).  I spent the summer of 1998 in the Highlands and Islands and it was the most incredible, transformational few months of my life.  So it was awesome to find this awesome blog.

The Daily Good also awarded her the Best Blog Award, but, hey, she's one of my favorite bloggers, blogging about a subject close to home (and yet so far. She lives in Kotzebue, which is close by Alaskan standards, but probably not by the rest of the world's standards), so I'll doubly grant it to her, all in one day. She is so cool and talented, and I'm sure if you read her blog you'll be hooked.

Reading this Fairbanks guy's blog makes me feel smart. Especially since sometimes I even know enough to make a tentative comment one of his erudite topics. :) 

Too many years ago, now, when I was a student at Warren Wilson College, I thought I wanted to be an organic farmer. I had the whole plan in my head, how I would teach for a while to support the creation of my farm (replete with draft horses), and then full time dive into it.  Even though my love of experiencing new places and cultures won out over my farm dream, I still like to visit it in my mind, which this site allows me to do.  And I still want to figure out how to get a Kombucha mushroom up here to Alaska! 

I really like this mom's sense of humor and cute pictures. :)
This blog was recently made a "Blog of Note" by blogger, so maybe this award is silly on top of that, but I love it so much, beyond words.  AND a creature from my blog (well, actually from the bay) was featured on this blog recently.  So, to spread the joy, a best blog award to you!

Enjoy, all!  Thanks!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Not to Postpone Packing the Emergency Bag

I was all set with my long to-do list Thanksgiving weekend, excited for days to accomplish things that have been wasting away on that thing for months.  Something I kept chastising myself for postponing was the chore of packing the Emergency Bag -- that is, the bag that stays full of everything we would need in event of having to fly to the hospital in Bethel at a moment's notice: changes of clothes, diapers, toiletries, travel toys & crayons, etc., as well as IDs and credit cards and things that I never need on a day to day basis here in Hooper Bay -- I only need those things when I travel.  Every summer after we come back from our travels, I need to reorganize and get everything in the leave-in-a-moment bag. I hadn't done that yet this fall, and recognized I was tempting fate leaving it unpacked.

Also Thanksgiving weekend I even planned a special snowmobile drive down to check out the frozen beach and let the dogs have a run and I would take pictures of it and blog about it! Especially since the snowgo is new to me -- a couple other teachers and I went in on it together and are sharing it, and I was excited about its purchase and the outdoor adventures we could do with it.  And please don't be picturing me hot-rodding through fresh powder like the snowmobile commercials, because it's more me puttering along looking for fox tracks as I go. 

But then it doesn't matter because it didn't happen. Because on Wednesday afternoon we crashed on said snowgo.  And then, wouldn't you know it, we needed the emergency bag, yes, the one that was not packed yet.

So now, instead of reflecting on a weekend productively spent with a nice outdoor adventure,  I'm going to post the story of our crash and and any pictures I may have squeezed out of the whole experience.

First of all, I don't think I've written about the most amazing thing that has come to Hooper Bay, yet (even more amazing than the windmills and the black plastic road)  :  The Sub-Regional Health Clinic, our link to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC).  It has been a long-awaited and highly-anticipated structure, here, because all time before this, we have only had a tiny trailer-esque health clinic staffed by medical professionals called health aides.  I wish I'd thought to get pictures of the inside before the clinic officially moved; we happened to be seen there a day or so before they moved over to the new building.  But here is a picture of the outside of the old clinic:
The appointments for the day are always filled by 9:am, and the health aides are overworked, underappreciated, and stretched in 15 directions.  They are the people who keep the village sewn up at the seams, and yet they only get a few weeks of training a year.  Now there is a proper facility and many more medical professionals to support them -- we get itinerant physician's assistants, doctors, and dentists, but it's still the health aides who are the spokes of the wheel. Here are pictures from the grand opening barbecue of the facility we had in August, where the whole community was invited for a Halibut Barbeque, with other delicacies rarely known here (like salad!):
Above is Tuluk anticipating the great eats while we wait in line by the entrance, and below is Esther with her cousins Avery and Jasmine and her uncle Alex:

And the building is so freaking beautiful -- it's just like a real, normal medical clinic somewhere else closer to civilization. I took these pictures of the waiting room while I was waiting for Iris's appointment before all the calamaties began:
It even has a child play area:
So on Wednesday afternoon we had an early release from school, so we scheduled an immunization appointment.  It was time for Iris's MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) and Varicella (Chicken Pox) shots.  These shots make me nervous anyway because they are live vaccines and because anecdotally I've heard of many reactions to these shots -- but since we live in a town with no running water and a plane's ride away from a hospital, we do our vaccinations.

But, actually, all goes well that afternoon, Iris is not happy to have the shots, but gets it overwith, and she was running around the waiting room while we waited our mandatory wait time after the vacs.  My good friend Amy over at Pretty Babies gave us a call; her daughter Mary Grace wanted to ask Esther why she wasn't coming to her house for Thanksgiving, and by then it was time we could be released.  I had driven the new snowgo to the appointment, with Esther in front of me and Iris in the hip carrier, strapped to me. I only drove it so that I could get gas for it, since the gas station was going to be closed the rest of the week for Thanksgiving, and I had the trip to the beach planned, remember?

There is a significant dip between the parking lot of the clinic and the road if you don't hit it just right, and the way the snowgo was parked, since it doesn't have reverse, I would have had to physically drag the skis around to make it hit just right.  Why oh why am I always so lazy to do that sort of thing?  Well, whatever, I decided to go through the dip because I saw other snowmobile tracks go that way and I figured it would be ok.   Ugh.

So at the top of the dip, right at the edge of the road, I had to accelerate to get up on top.  Being only the second time I've driven the thing, I didn't know something crucial about it:  it has a belt that is too small and makes it leap into its acceleration at times.

So it did the leap -- it hit ice on the road -- and there was no stopping it.  Way too fast for belief, we skidded across the road and sideways-hit a metal pole that prevents people from driving over the above-ground water pipe on the side of the road:
Actually, my arm hit it, as I was trying like hell to turn the skis.  But I didn't even feel it at the time -- since my arm was around Iris, what I felt was Iris smashed against me as we ran into the pole. I was sure we were done for, especially when I felt the snowgo flip out from underneath us and dump us to the side.
Somehow Iris turned out, facing away from me, while still in the carrier, when we fell.  That's the moment her leg was broken. I think she took the brunt of the fall for both of us.  It's so wrong!  It's supposed to be me that takes it -- whatever hurt -- for the both of us.

Meanwhile, Esther was fine.  I don't think she felt anything but a nice little topple onto the ground -- but she was freaked out as I was incredibly freaked out, thinking I'd killed both of them.

Being a few feet from the clinic, we turned around and ran back.  I was too panicked to say anything so I laid Iris down on the desktop of the registration cubicle , and tearfully said, "We crashed!". 
Wow, those health aides can move!  It was pretty amazing how we were immediately surrounded and supported. The new urgent care room was well put to use.  It was clear pretty soon that Esther was just fine, and I was OK besides my banged-up arm.  They were able to x-ray my arm right then and there with the fancy, brand-spanking new x-ray machine that was installed in the clinic, and it was not broken. Here is the picture of the gnarly bruise several days later:
Not too pretty, but at least it didn't end up looking like this (sorry, fun with photobooth):
Because if you think my arm looks bad, check out the tilt in the pole, now!:)
So anyway, Iris seemed fine -- she was responding well to all their tests, all their movements of her body -- except that she was inconsolable, crying so sad and pitiful.  But that might have been expected since she had had immunizations (and she always goes downhill for the evening after immunizations) and also experienced the crash and watched her mom freak out AND had not napped well earlier.  So it was really hard to tease out what exactly was going on with her, especially since she would move all her limbs and joints just fine.  Here is a picture of us in the urgent care room:
So once she had calmed down and actually slept a little in my arms, and we had spent another mandatory waiting period, we were able to go (Tuluk driving us slowly on the 4 wheeler) home, where we were shaky and sad and freaked and went to bed as soon as possible.  However, before we went to bed we realized that Iris would not stand on her own.  We said we would reassess in the morning.

Thanksgiving Day was a perfectly funked up day. I woke up feeling shaky and anxious, but I had invited 10 people over for Thanksgiving, and I didn't feel like cancelling, as it would just make me feel worse, so I decided to just get started and then I might perk up.  But I was not at the top of my game; everything I cooked was just a little off.  The rolls had burned bottoms, the pumpkin pie was bitter, the turkey got done an hour after we got done eating (I promise it was thawed!  Thank goodness John & MaryEllen brought turkey, too.), and there was a cranberry incident involving the kitchen floor and all of us walking around with the bottoms of our feet dyed purple.  But we got through it; it was fine. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food I had cooked, even if it was not quite the level of what I usually produce.

Iris still would not stand on her own, which was worrisome, but there was no swelling, no bruise, no redness anywhere.  We kept doing little tests on her, like me holding her towards me and Tuluk would come up behind her and touch or move various parts on her body and legs to see what got a reaction.  We could do whatever we wanted and it did not hurt her, seemingly.  So even though she spent the day scooting herself around, we couldn't isolate the problem --  we pretty much all agreed that it must be a reaction from the vaccinations.  Again, we decided to reassess in the morning. 

Friday morning was no question. I noticed during the night that while Iris kicked her right leg, her left would stay still. It felt hot to me, and so we called the clinic right away who told us, despite the fancy new x-ray machine that had cleared me of a broken arm Wednesday night, that I would have to fly with Iris to Bethel to x-ray her leg.  The x-ray technician has not been trained in infant legs at this point.

This was bummer news to me, because a trip into Bethel means several things.  First, there is always the chance that you will not be able to return the same day, because weather can change during the day and cancel the evening planes, especially since we were on weather delay in the morning already (usually the morning flights arrive in Hooper around 10:am; and we actually got out of Hooper around 12 that day).  The next thing is that the ER in Bethel gets really backed up and the wait times are extreme sometimes -- also a contributing cause to missing evening flights home and having to spend the night in Bethel.  The third issue is cost -- right now it is $209 one way from Hooper Bay to Bethel.  It's not pocket change, and it's not something that I'm likely to have lying around, and it also meant that I couldn't just bring Esther with me, and I've never left her behind.  And it was likely that I was leaving her for overnight, since I would most likely get stuck.  And it all came to fruition, just like I thought.

After we finally got on the ground in Bethel, I was lucky to have awesome friends Marta & Frank were waiting at the terminal to help us.  It was only a moderate wait (a couple hours) at the ER, and here are some pictures of our wait with Iris in her precautionary splint:
After Iris got her x-rays, the doctor summoned us to the computer where the images had come up.  He pointed to a little line above her knee and said, "That's a fracture."

Oh, the guilt. It was an avalanche, crushing, horrible weight.  I broke my poor baby's leg!

However, the doc had plenty of reassuring things to say.  It is a stable break, which is why it didn't hurt her when we were moving her leg around, and it is above the growth plate, so it won't interfere with how her leg grows.  Also that infants' bones mend so well at this age that the fracture won't be visible on an x-ray a year from now.  The nurse said that a common adage of bone doctors is that at Iris's age, you can put two bones in the same room and they will grow together.

However, there is a chance it could kink as it grows, especially since it will be hard to keep her from using it.  They chose a fiberglass cast (in a sparkling blue color) and put it at a certain angle to try to discourage her from using it, but you and I both know that it's not going to slow this child down for long.  She has already developed an adept butt-scoot, which thankfully has been cleared as an OK activity for her, because this is not a child who will sit still.

But in order to make sure that the bone is not "kinking", the bone doctor wants it x-rayed once a week.  And since we have already been through it that the brand-spanking new x-ray machine already installed in Hooper Bay is of no use to us, I guess that means we are going to have to be gifting the airlines with $400 a week until Iris's leg is healed.

Not that I want anything to compromise Iris's health, and of course the money is nothing if it means she'll be healthy, but it still is a huge financial undertaking, not to mention the other things listed above -- especially leaving Esther behind.  However, at the time of this post, I'm not giving up yet.  I still have some paths of inquiry to explore,  so I'm going to keep my fingers crossed.  Till then, here are the pictures of poor little scoot-scoot in her cast:

 (She's not allowed to crawl, but she can pull it along, which she's doing here)

And finally, with her sister, the queen:
Oh, yeah, and on the homefront,  Esther had a fabulous time staying home while we flew to Bethel, making cookies and going to the school gym to watch basketball with Tuluk, and with Melody and Katie, going to Katie's son's birthday party. She was no worse for the wear when I returned home Saturday morning.

BUT then as if we didn't have enough going on already, pretty much the moment we got home from the plane on Saturday, Esther woke up from a nap (which she never takes) with a rocket-high fever and signs of what we thought was swine flu, but the folks we got it from were tested positive for Influenza A, so I guess that's what we've got.  Tuluk fell prey to it on Monday, and for the past two nights Iris has been battling it.  No fair to have flu AND a broken leg all in one week.  And I refuse to go down -- somebody has to keep this crew alive! :)

Of course this set me off into high overcompensation-mode and had me dragging out all my (child safe) herbal and nutritional remedies.  One of the tests run on us after the accident said we all three were slightly anemic, and so I latched on to this as something I could fix, so I tortured my poor children some more making them eat wierd combinations of vitamin C and iron-containing foods ("Here, have a spoonful of molasses right after you sip this home-squeezed lemonade" Blech!), before I got hold of myself and calmed down.  (While I get that iron and calcium compete in the body for absorption, why is that both calcium and iron are often contained in the same foods? Anyone out there nutritionally savvy that can answer that question?)

Thanks for sticking with me on this long and involved post!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Princess Esther's 5th Birthday and Mischevious Miss Iris

Princess Esther turned 5 on November 19, and we celebrated in style.  She had a party in her Kindergarten classroom with cupcakes (above).  When we came in to the classroom with the party goods, I saw evidence of how awesome her Yup'ik Language Immersion classroom is:  the kids were "storyknifing" in plates of mud, which was a traditional way of telling stories while drawing pictures to accompany it in the mud or snow:
Then, over the weekend, we had a celebratory homeade pizza party with a Pink Lady Cake with adult friends.  Then it was no holds barred for her kids' party, for which she wore a special YaYa-chosen sparkly party dress:
Which was fabulously accessorized by the faux otter stole that was given to her by Auntie Marta:
Hordes of children came to eat cake and play party games which included a Dora Pinata (thanks tons Carla!):
It was a fabulous birthday week.  I believe Esther felt sufficiently presented (understatement of the year!)! :)

And not to bypass the other lil' chick in our household, Miss Iris has been showing off her mischevious side lately, by getting into interesting places:

 By figuring out how to spend momma's money:
By putting on big sisters's winter clothes:

 By making funny faces at momma:
And trying to sneak computer time:

What, baby, do you want your own blog?  :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My efforts towards producing produce have been productive!

Now that the ground is frozen and the snow is starting to cover everything, I feel the need to be nostalgic about my forays into tundra gardening.  And to share my excitement over something new that literally drops into my life every week that makes, well, not everything, but pretty much most things, feel OK.

So the raised bed garden box was a project I started nearly 3 years ago, in the unusually early spring we had in 2007.  We had just moved to the new housing, and I was feeling the need to make it homey.  As the snow melted, it became evident that the ground around the new houses was littered with construction trash -- screws, pieces of wood and drywall, cigarette butts, and gross things I never could figure out what they were, that I assume were just tossed aside during the winter construction, in the rush to build the housing, and by the time spring came there was no one left to clean up.  So I started my beautification project, and that project led to planting of Alaskan wildflowers all around, and that project led to my clothesline, and that project led to my garden box.

It was fun to have an excuse to go down to the beach often for supplies (logs, etc),  and to use found materials (such as nails and wires), and to have an outside project while then-toddler Esther played in the dirt, as she always wanted to do.  I had no idea what I was doing, having only been informed by a few web searches.  But sometimes it's fun to have a project in which nothing too much is riding on it, and so it doesn't matter if I make mistakes and can learn through trial and error.

I didn't get anything planted that summer, but I read that letting a box settle for a year was helpful anyway, so I felt pretty good about it.  I ordered two big bags of soil, but other than that I filled it up with seaweed and other things I found on the beach, to enrich it.  I also started my compost project that year, as well, with an old washer found at the junkyard. I love composting. It's just one of those things that makes me feel good, even if I'm not really good at it or do it super well. I have ideas about how to do it better, but it's just one of those projects that is forever on the list.

So then the summer of 2008 I was pregnant, and didn't do too much with the garden bed except put the compost from the previous winter into it and mix it up and cover it with a tarp. Tuluk helped me dump the compost bin and it was still kind of smelly and he almost lost his lunch. It made me pause and realize who was going to be changing all the diapers in the near future. Ha!  Anyway,  then when I returned with Iris, everything was already frozen and snowy, so it was put off for another year.  But I think the extra time helped the compost enrich the soil. 

So this summer, I thought, what the heck!  I'll give it a shot.  I had some old seeds that needed to be used or tossed anyway, and so if they didn't grow, no big.  The question I have always had about this garden project is when to plant, because June is generally 40 degrees and rainy, and end of July/August is the time when it gets warm if it's going to get warm at all, but then I've only got about a month & a half till first frost.

Plus I generally travel in the summer, so when to tend it? How to protect it from marauding dogs and children?  Elders I've spoken with about gardening here said that earlier in the century, about the time of the reindeer herding, there were some gardening projects (maybe started by the missionary teachers? I don't know) here, and they had to be surrounded by large fences to protect them from the dogs.  Well, I haven't gotten to that part yet; we'll see about how I would make a fence in the future -- I think it probably would be necessary, because dogs seem to be drawn to the box as if it's a magnet -- not for eating the veggies, but for using the bathroom! But I think the danger was early in the season, rather than when the veggies were full grown.

Regardless, it was a success!  I tossed the seeds in about the middle of June, and although nothing had popped up by the time I left for our summer travels, by the time I came back the first week in August, I had great growth!  The spinach and kale was pretty fabulous.  The broccoli had already gone to flower, but we ate it anyway.  And the squashes seemed like they would have grown, but they just didn't have time. 
However, now that we sucked all the nutrients out of the garden experiment that we could and it's all under snow now, we still have access to fresh, organic produce, something that is unprecedented in all my years here.  It is definitely an expensive undertaking, but considering the cost of wilted, squishy, unknown-origin produce in the store here in town (and that's when it's available), and considering the cost and effort I put in to getting frozen fruits & vegetables out here as well as dehydrating fruits & veggies in the summer, it really pays off.

Who knew it could be possible?  I'm now a member of Carnation Washington's FULL CIRCLE FARM CSA! And I've converted many members of the teaching staff as well.  I'm actually kicking myself that I didn't research it earlier, because the farm has been shipping to rural Alaskan communities for a while -- many of them -- it just never crossed my mind that it could be possible.  It totally changes our quality of life -- my family is eating fresh, crunchy, ORGANIC things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Again, I ask, Who knew?

Basically the farm packs it on Monday mornings and ships it Alaska Airlines freight, which means it goes in the belly of a big daily freighter (I think?), and then it goes on the passenger planes out to Bethel (half of which is just cargo anyway), and then on the small plane with the company Hageland Aviation that comes here three times a day.  Most of the time it gets here by Tuesday evening, its scheduled delivery time, but there are times, mostly because of weather, that it gets delayed because the plane gets delayed -- however, that's been the minority of weeks.  Then it gets dropped off at the airport, and our very nice vice principal collects it for us, since he's often down there meeting the plane anyway, or our extremely nice plane agent Peter, who brings it to us out of the kindness of his heart, because it's not in his contract to haul freight to town from the airport.  There have been some weeks when I've been worried it would be frozen, but, really, for the most part it arrives in an amazing fashion.  AND Full Circle Farm guarantees everything -- so even if it's a loss for them, they credit or replace whatever has arrived badly.  They even will ship eggs!  Free-Range, natural eggs!  No more hormones or products of chicken cruelty for us!  Hoorah! 

With the quantities of subsistence food coming through my door, and the weekly deliveries of a produce box, who needs the store?!  AND who needs to leave?  I love my life. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Wonders of Grass

Ha! I wonder how many hits (I meant search engine hits you guys!) I'll get off of that title? Just kidding. I really mean Grass, the stuff that grows all over the ground:

Hooper Bay is famous for its grass baskets that women weave.  These baskets, that are in our school's display case, have been referred to by an elder as "modern art" because the truly traditional baskets were big, functional food-holders.
They're still pretty.  The smell is the best part -- it's like fresh-mown sweet hay smell inside the basket, no matter how old the basket is.

So, anyway, the grass that can make these baskets has been a mystery to me for a while -- which grass? There are so many different grasses on the beach and tundra. Well, a kind Hooper Bayer took me under her wing this past weekend and showed me which kind it is:

and it's totally easy! It's everywhere! Here's Esther picking her first grass:

 We took the grass we picked that day to Esther's great-great Aunt Helen -- since it was our first grass we ever picked.  I know it's only traditional to do that for the first catch of an animal, give the catch to an elder, but I like the tradition, and Helen was very happy to hear about our day and grateful to receive the grass. This is the auntie that waxes long about how many uses there are for grass, how invaluable it is to survival and quality of daily life.  I like to think about what of my things I could replace with natural materials.  I like to think of how long I could subsist at my camp, making the things I need with stuff found around me.  Learning all of this about grass, a very simple plant that is plentiful around me, is a step in that direction. 

 We had such an awesome day; it was warm and sunny and calm enough that we could just loll around on the tundra.  This grass is all over our camp, so we spent the afternoon picking grass there and just being relaxed, spending time with the dogs and each other.  It was like saying goodbye to our camp for the winter since it was the last time we were able to hang out there before it was covered with snow....

Learning to weave it, however, will be another story.
Next up brewing mystery:  which moss did the people in earlier times use for seal oil lamps?  How did they make the moss into a wick?  How did the lamp function?
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