Monday, December 20, 2010


The last day of school before break is upon us. The past few days have been full of practicing and planning for the Christmas program. We're a small enough school that we can get away with having a non-secular pageant in the school. So we had the manger scene, and songs like silent night, and a play built around understanding the nativity.

After the performance, Santa arrived to pass out presents! Dave played the role of Santa, assisted by a down coat for the necessary jolly body fat. He did a wonderful job, but Julia wasn't very pleased to be sitting on his lap.

She was pleased with her presents though!

Whitney and Leanne taught us how to make Agutuk, a native Alaskan dessert. To make it, you take maybe 3 cups Crisco, put it in a large bowl, and whip it with your hand. After it begins to smooth out, you start adding sugar by the quarter cup and splashes of water. Keep on whipping, and it will start to get fluffy, like whipped cream. Ideally you keep whipping until the sugar dissolves, but that is a feat of endurance. How much total sugar to add is a matter of opinion, as some prefer sweet Agutuk, and some prefer it without sugar. After it is as sweet as you desire, you add cooked, flaked white fish, about 4 cups worth. You work this in, ideally until it is so soft and fluffy that you can't identify the fish by texture. The final step is to fold in about 6 cups tiny tart frozen cranberries or blueberries. These should be folded in so gently that the Agutuk remains white, and doesn't turn purple with berry juice. And there you go, a truly Alaskan confection.

Whitney and Leanne were living here with Taylor and Angela because their village was too small to have a school. Their mom recently decided to move to another village called Tuntutuliak, and so she has taken the girls with her. They flew away this morning. It is terrible for us to see them go. They were wonderful to Julia and a delight to have in the school. We will miss them very much.

It is 10:45 pm, and we just came inside from a cold but perfectly clear view of the eclipse. It is our 2nd wedding anniversary today, and the coinciding of the solstice and a total lunar eclipse seems to be a fine celebration indeed. I also saw a shooting star fly just under the moon and over Orion's belt. We are excited that the shortest day of the year has arrived, and we can now look forward to incrementally longer days. This is good news, as today our sunrise was at 10:48 am, and our sunset was at 4:04 pm, giving us a day length of 5 hours and 16 minutes.

December 20th, 2008

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The river has finally frozen over, but I'm not brave enough to go out on it. You can see snowmachine tracks across, but a fast-moving snowmachine can get across some pretty thin ice. It has been pretty nippy around here though, so I imagine it won't be long until the ice is four feet thick.

 On Monday, the kids went out on skis to go get a tree for the school. Blaze and Royal, Angela's dogs were excellent sled dogs, pulling the tree back. Everyone was in high spirits. Getting such a huge tree in through the door was quite the event too! Tuesday we spent the afternoon making decorations. I got each kid a plain glass bulb and they swirled paint around inside to make lovely ornaments. Construction paper, paint and glitter covered everything and everyone.

We are fast approaching the longest night of the year.  This is the last full week of school before Christmas break. The school's christmas assembly for the community is on Monday, and then we are off on our trip south! We're going to Dave's folks first, then to my folks, then Dave heads back up here and I go on to Minnesota for a week with my mom, my brother Olaf and Julia. Then I'll do some more visiting of friends and relations through most of January before heading back up north.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Full Steam December

We got our tree and I've been busy decorating. For some crazy reason I didn't pack any christmas ornaments, so I've had to make them. Good thing we got a small tree!

Gingerbread Ornaments

A seed pod from a bush outside my house made a nice ornament 
a bit o bunny for your tree?

I've also been making some ornaments out of bits of rabbit fur. That's a sign of getting used to a different culture. I've never ever worked with or worn fur before now, but the school has a ton of fur waiting to be used by the kids in a native cultures project. the hard part is finding someone to teach a native cultures project, so in the meantime, I used some sealskin and bead earrings that were given to me by friends in Anchorage as a model for rabbit skin and bead earrings. I decided that they also make good christmas ornaments. I got the 6th and 7th graders making earrings and ornaments, and they did well, though one of them said "oh, that stuff stuck to the fur is skin?? I just thought it was something they glued on to hold the fur together"     sigh....
Julia supervising

Whitney's earrings

Miguel's ornament
Julia has come down with athlete's foot. I couldn't believe it, having never heard of a baby getting athlete's foot, but I took her around to all the moms here in the village and that was the consensus. I got ahold of a doctor who recommended an antifungal cream for a week, so we are working on that process.  She's also got the signs of more teeth coming in, general fussiness, an increase in drool, a rash on her chin from said drool, but I can't feel any more teeth yet. I'll keep you posted. Her new trick is sticking her tongue out at us.
Julia's wearing a sweater knit by her dad's grandmother
Julia's favorite place, hanging onto my leg

In the kitchen part of life, I've made my first successful batch of sourdough bread. You can find Oregon Trail Sourdough, at It's an old strain of sourdough, and they will mail you enough to get started if you send them a self addressed stamped envelope. I did so, and activated it in water and flour, fed it a few times, then I followed these directions:
and made my first ever sourdough!

I'm also going to give out Bambi's Carrot Pie recipe. We had this at thanksgiving, and she created the recipe because her store received a shipment of carrots that got frozen. Trying to salvage them, she pureed them up and substituted them for pumpkin in a pie. It was actually quite good.
Here's my favorite pumpkin pie recipe, from Joy of Cooking
2 c pumpkin, pureed
1 1/2 cups cream or evaporated milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
2 beaten eggs
Mix it all up, I like to do so in the blender. Pour into a prepared pie shell and bake 15 minutes at 425 and then 45 minutes at 350.

To make it carrot pie, substitute the pumpkin for pureed carrots.
happy baking.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pomegranate season

Well, the goings on since thanksgiving:

We had thanksgiving # 2 at the school on friday. It was a community-wide potluck, or "feed"as they call it around here. Dave roasted a turkey and made mashed potatoes and gravy and everyone else brought something to share. It was a nice event, and Julia was happy to have another turkey leg to gnaw on.

We had a couple days of rain, which turned all the snow into 6 inches of slush. That was kind of gross, but it did crazy things to the ice on the river. It wasn't yet formed all the way across, and somehow the thick slabs of ice that were there got shoved up on the shore. so now the river is back to small ice flows floating down. Today it's a little below 0, so maybe it will freeze up quicker. Lots of people wait impatiently for the freeze. Several families and individuals live across the river, and principal Susan's husband Doug is upriver at his lodge, waiting for the ice to freeze so he can come back on his snowmobile.
this used to be walkable shore
We've got some fresh snow too, which is really good as the roads were solid sheets of ice. Now there's some traction. This weekend Dave and Julia and I went and cut ourselves a little christmas tree. Since we got married, we've lived in tiny little apartments, so we have to have tiny little trees. In some fit of madness, I didn't pack any christmas ornaments, so I'm making the decorations this year. I'll post more photos of the tree as I get it a little more decorated.

I found a recipe for White Chocolate Pomegranate Cookies on the blog Two Peas and Their Pod
I've never before seen a baking recipe that involves pomegranate seeds (or arils, is what they are really called. ) and I love an unusual recipe...
here you go:
1/2 cup butter, room temp
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup pomegranate arils
Cream the butter and sugars until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Seperately stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Combine the flour mixture and the sugar mixture. Stir in the oats and chocolate. either gently stir in the pomegranate or roll tablespoon sized balls and gently press about 10 arils in to each cookie. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes, until edges are brown and centers look barely done.
Next I'll be trying them with regular chocolate instead of white chocolate. And maybe some cocoa in the cookie too.

Over at the school, the kids are all in excitement because the salmon eggs have arrived! they are now resting happily in the fish tank and are due to hatch any day. You can see the little salmon eye and tail sliding around inside each pink egg.

and I am typing away here on my brand spankin new Macbook Pro laptop! sweet technology!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

8 Months

8 whole months since birth day. Julia's latest development is that she'll head into a room that nobody else is in to explore on her own. She used to follow me like a shadow, but now she's willing to head off on her own, for a little while. I don't actually know how long she would stay in another room alone, because I shadow her now. Our house is pretty safe, but it's near impossible to get all the cords stashed away out of sight, and she's getting more curious about drawers. She LOVES the bathroom drawers. It is mostly the shiny gold knobs on them that fascinate her, and she is learning to pull them open. She hasn't yet realized that she can pull everything in them out though. She has another knob that she loves. It is on the drawer of the little table that holds the tv. The knob is wood, and mouth level, so she stands there, bouncing with happiness, pausing every couple seconds to make sure she can still chew on the knob. When we have the tv on, she reaches up and smacks the screen, staring with wide eyed wonder at the images. She is getting pretty good at feeding herself small finger foods. Cheerios are no problem, and today I gave her chunks of sweet potato. She liked that a lot, but was pretty indifferent to the canned peach chunks. She drinks water regularly, so I have to remember to give it to her. If I forget for awhile, she gets pretty cranky. My solution is to put a sippy cup on the floor. She needs some help tipping it to the right angle if it isn't completely full but this way she finds the cup when she is thirsty. She's developing a bit of stranger fear now. She'll sit on someone's lap fine for a few minutes, then suddenly the lip quiver starts. Her sense of humor is developing too. The other day she blew a raspberry on my belly, and when I laughed, she laughed, causing me to laugh more, causing her to laugh more.

For thanksgiving, we joined our landlords Henry and Bambi, and our other neighbors Jane and Marion for a traditional thanksgiving feast. I loved the stuffing. Julia loved the sweet potatoes. Dave loved the green bean casserole. What's not to love about thanksgiving?

And in a fit of holiday madness, I stuck Julia in a christmas dress and took photos of her for our christmas letter. We even went outside for a couple. I don't know what got into me, but I did get some cute photos.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Science Fair

The latest tooth photo. Those little buggers are sharp!

This week I went upriver to the next village over, Stony River to chaperone 4 of our upper elementary girls at the district science fair. Julia came along too, but Dave had to stay home and teach. The girls were super excited about going, and squealed for the entire plane ride. (all 10 minutes...) They spent the first afternoon attending sessions on things like Mars Rovers, telescopes, and robots, they had a live Skype session with a NASA educator, and they got to go inside a planetarium, a large inflated dome and see a presentation projected up against the dome as if it were the sky. I had been in one before, but this presentation included tidbits about Native Alaskan beliefs, such as that the star cluster Pleiadies, commonly known as the seven sisters, but to different Alaskan groups they are known as a litter of fox cubs, a fish, a polar bear and hunters, and herring caught in a net. Julia was really enthralled with the images, especially when there was a big round planet projected. Then she'd wave her arms frantically in excitement.

On the flight

Alfreda and Leanne's project, "What would acid do to teeth?"

Chelsea and Ashley's project, "How do you make a balloon rocket?"

Creating their own planet rovers

Alfreda's rover, named Bug

Twister got the girls over their shyness with some of the other kids.

Julia's traveling high chair is turning out to be way worth the $40. 

And a smile for the camera.

The kids all slept in the school, and I got to sleep in teacher housing. The 2nd day was more sessions similar to the first day's, and my event of the morning was dealing with the biggest poop I have ever seen. Somehow little Julia defied the laws of gravity and managed to poop up, clear to her shoulder blades. I of course didn't realize this, so I started to change her in the hall, thinking it would be a quick job. Wrong-o! She was noncompliant with the idea of a diaper change, and was really pissed when I had to strip her down and scrub her back and arms and knees and heels with wet wipes. All this, as kids with rockets are running in and out through the front door that was three feet away, letting in lots of cold air to make the process more unpleasant for Julia. But we overcame all presented challenges, got her into a new outfit and managed not to get poop on any one else but me. Soon after that we had to go catch our flight home again, and our life drifted back to normal. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mid November

The school put on a veteran's day assembly full of songs and poetry and a presentation of certificates of appreciation to the village's veterans. There was quite the range represented. 1 coast guard, 1 navy, 1 air force, 2 army, 1 marine (though he is stuck at his lodge upriver until the ice solidifies), and combined they served in about 10 different countries. 2 of them were drafted, 3 were volunteers,  and one was a female career Major.
I didn't even know that the Coast Guard went to Vietnam. It was neat to hear some of the vets express gratitude for the recognition, especially those who were serving at an unpopular time. I've never been overtly patriotic, but I was pretty moved by the assembly.

And after, we had the red, white and blue cupcakes and coffee.

Yesterday we got a nice bit of fresh snow, so a couple of us went out for a ski. The frozen portion of the river is reaching out farther and farther from the bank. someone had driven their snowmobile along the ice, so we felt safe skiing along the edge of the bank. Some folks have been out ice fishing too. You can see sticks marking the holes. Mary Rose, the preschool teacher caught a nice pile of graylings, but the school kids were not having any luck. For fishing lines they have short willow sticks tied with a bit of line and a hook with a tiny bit of red yarn to look like a salmon egg. I'm not sure if Mary Rose had fancier equipment or not.

A couple days ago I did some watercolors with the kids at school. They liked doing it so much that I'm thinking of other projects to do with them. Thanksgiving decorations is what comes to mind, but I'm somewhat at a loss for what sort of decor would be appropriate. They don't really get much color here when the leaves change, and it was so long ago now that using the standard fall leaf motif seems a little odd. I asked Susan, the principal if they would know why objects like corn are symbols of Thanksgiving, but she didn't think that this group of kids had been given much if any background in the Thanksgiving story. (maybe they will this year) but until they do, creating pilgrim hats and corn shucks and native american headdresses just doesn't really seem appropriate. So I'm not really sure where I will go with the next art project. I want them to feel a sense of success and pride, and it has to be easy enough for a 1st grader and interesting enough to engage 6th graders. No problem, eh?