Monday, June 29, 2015

Return to PKA

I was so excited when we stepped off from the plane in Anchorage on May 5. The thrill of being back in Alaska energized me, even though we were a little sleep deprived from the night before in Chicago. Within a couple of hours, we had stopped for a late at the Spenard Road House, which has become one of our regular choices in Anchorage, and we were in our hotel room.

Alice had been great throughout the flight, despite the fact that she had slept only a little. But now, our little Kusko girl was tired out. It was only five o clock local time, but she had had all that she could take. Crash!

In the meantime, I had dropped the word on Facebook that we were in town. I learned that some village friends were there, too. After a few exchanged messages, there was a soft knock at our door. It was our friends Alex and Jolene, along with the younger of their two sons. Their visit provided a warm welcome back home.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Circle Goes Round Again

It has been nearly a year since we left, and we are preparing to return. A week from tomorrow, we will drive back to Chicago, a trip we made many times to begin the school year, or a new semester. This time, however, we are returning at the end of the school careers of several of our former students. It is graduation time in Napaskiak.

We have been planning to do this, in some halting way, since we left. We promised to return, for my wife's graduation in Juneau, and for the kids that I first met as seventh graders in Napaskiak. Although my wife just completed her degree program, with a Master's degree in Special Education, the Juneau trip has fallen by the wayside. The commencement at the University of Alaska/Southeast conflicts with commencement in PKA. Guess how long it took to make that decision?

We will be in the village long enough to celebrate Mothers' Day with our friends, and we intend to do some visiting in Anchorage as well.

It won't last nearly as long as we would like, because our lives here don't have the flexibility that used to permit us long, leisurely vacations. Michigan is a more jealous mistress of our time than was Alaska. We need to get back, and we need to go to work, and we need to tend to our responsibilities here. But for a little while, the three of us will go back home again. For a little while...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Home (?)

We looked at houses what seemed like every Monday evening after work. We would pick two or three of the offerings in our price range. We didn't want them to blend in together too much. We found the one that we wanted on our last set of visits. We thought about it, and looked at it again.

This one was the one. Lots of room, plenty of bathrooms, a playroom for Alice, and a den for Dada. Maybe we were reacting to years of living in small spaces. We bought it.

We have been in since just before Halloween. We have done a few things already. We had the main level painted professionally. We loved the colors that we picked.

I didn't realize, though, how it would feel until today, when we returned from taking Alice to see her grandparents, both in Alabama, and in Southern Michigan. I didn't realize fully that I would walk in and feel like this was home. Calming, and peaceful. A place to rest.

Friday, December 26, 2014


...months ago today we returned. Did it make sense? Was it a good idea? Should we have done it in the first place? Those questions go through my mind nearly every day.

There are times, like yesterday, when it seems clearer. The days when we are surrounded by family, the people from whom we were separated by distance and time for nearly the whole year. The days when I can look at the Christmas tree that we went with Alice to pick out. The days when Alice wanders into her playroom, and the fact that we have the space and the good fortune to provide her that room (she has already drawn on the walls!).

But there are so many days, when I wonder why we left, wonder what is happening with those that we left behind, wonder what the point of the last eight or nine hours was...wonder why we are here.

As summer went on, we started scheduling a "date night," where Alice would stay with a babysitter, while we went out for a few hours. It quickly became the time when we would take care of things that were really hard to do with her around. Appliance shopping. Car shopping. All of the things that we actually now had to contend with as a practical matter.

Toward summer's end, our focus shifted. We began to search for a home. A place to be. Something permanent. Something that we didn't have in our old cycle of four months here, two months there. A place where Alice could grow up, a place where she could bring her friends, a place where we could gather our large and strange (in a good way!) family. A place of our own...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Story Continues...

My mood was testy as we left behind our totes in the garage and headed for the freeways of Chicago on the morning of Memorial Day. Traffic was, fortunately, light, and we headed east and, ultimately, north to the state of Michigan.

We were heading to Cadillac, where we had traditionally spent our summers during our time in Alaska. The previous summer, however, we had sold our house to the friends that were renting it from us, because we were not moving back to Michigan. My wife's mother and stepdad had moved to Alabama, and we were going to try to spend some time in both places in summers to come.

One summer's experiment with that and an infant convinced us that we were going to have more of a stationary base of operations, so we rented a house in Traverse City, one of the finest places that one could hope to recreate in. Two months off, two blocks away from Grand Traverse Bay. What a fine plan!

And we had knocked it off the table. I was lucky that someone had rented the place for July, so we got that month's deposit back. I was not so lucky for June. Coming back here involved a lot of trade-offs like that. Less income, different benefits, less time off. On the other hand, real weekends off, more opportunities for Alice to do new things, and convenient stores with reasonable prices easily accessible if we needed supplies.

We spent the first week at my wife's aunt's house, and driving around getting some furniture into the apartment that we had rented. We also got about the business of finding all the stuff that we has stashed around here in various locations. The apartment actually had a basement, so that we had some real storage available without renting a storage locker any more. A week of laundromats convinced us to buy a washer and dryer.

Gradually, we began to settle into life back here. We took Alice to the city park, where she learned that she loves splashing water from a fountain. We enjoyed concerts at the pavilion on Lake Cadillac, and began to explore businesses in town that had opened since we had left. We brought Val and Miranda, and showed them what real trees looked like. They got to see Lake Michigan and Mackinac Island, and some of the things that make this part of the world wonderful...

It's Been A Long Time...

It's been nearly seven months. I haven't had much to say. How do you sum up five years of your life succinctly? How can you even make sense of it all, let alone explain it to others? How do you convey the sense of unreality, the feeling that nothing is quite real, that it is all hazy and just a touch out of reach?

For anyone still wondering, we came back to Michigan on Memorial Day. We hit O'Hare Airport at about 8:30 in the morning, and began to sort out the mountain of stuff that we had managed to bring directly with us. My wife's aunt had brought our new Chevy Traverse up to one of the discount lots at the airport, and finding it was very easy. Big Red Chevy with Alaska plates.

Loading it was a little trickier, though. We put two dogs into the same kennel, and broke the other one down. Despite the cavernous space in the Traverse, we could not fit all of the totes that we had brought with us and the kennels. I ended up disgorging the contents of the totes into the back of the car, and leaving three out of four totes sitting next to the garbage can in the parking garage.

The days leading up to our departure were crazed and emotional. We sold everything that we did not take and just left the rest for the next residents of the building. We never did get postage on all 28 totes that we were shipping before we left. Our postmaster was kind enough to permit us to leave 21 of them in a very small building until we could get postage in the Lower 48 and ship it back to him. Our house was filled with people coming back and forth shopping our going out of business sale. Our friend Charlotte Larson was kind enough to come over and take Alice back to her house to play with her little girl, so that we could concentrate on packing and selling, packing and selling. Alice's babysitter, Valerie, and her cousin, Miranda, helped us every day, even though they knew that a painful parting was coming in a few days.

On Saturday night, we were invited to the house of some friends under a pretext. Because my wife was accosted by someone else wanting to do some shopping, I went over myself, with the idea that she would follow. I walked in to the house, and it seemed as if half the village was there. A beautiful going-away dinner, with words of thanks from all. A beautiful quilt that different hands joined to make. Many tears. Nice.

Sunday came, and we wrapped up what we could. Val and Miranda hauled our stuff in a trailer that they hitched to Val's dad's 4-wheeler. Off to the airport with Chelsea and Alice, and three dogs they went. Fortunately, Chelsea went back up to our apartment before she left and found the $800 in cash that I had forgotten there. Damn...I clearly wasn't thinking. I walked to the strip myself, and tipped my hat to one of my now former students who stopped on her 4-wheeler to say goodbye. Hugging Val and Miranda goodbye was as heartbreaking as you could imagine, and nothing that I try to describe will suffice. The plane was waiting as I walked up, so the parting was at least relatively brief. (Good news flash: they came to stay with us less than a month later, and ended up staying for 3 1/2 weeks.)

We had a last supper with our friends the Jungs in Bethel, and then boarded the Alaska Airlines jet in Bethel for the last time in our Alaska sojourn. We were leaving the life that we had known, and heading back to Michigan to see what kind of life we were going to find...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

USPS-We Love 'Em

My poor wife is trying to negotiate the USPS website in order to purchase adequate postage for the packages that we are having to mail back to the Lower 48. The Postal Service is not our friend in this matter. They don't want our packages, in spite of the fact that they are the only way in which we can get these packages back to where they need to go. It is going to be more costly than we anticipated. We cannot buy stamps adequate to do the job, because they have to be mailed here. Perhaps more advance research was in order.

I am also treading water in the COBRA system. I need one month of coverage. Our insurer cannot get the packages out until Friday. Swell. And that is by email. Our coverage with the district ends the following week. We are in transit during at least part of that time. I just looove me dealing with some bureaucracy. And this one isn't governmental, which is the bugaboo that we are usually offered. This is the private sector at its inefficient best. I have worked in both arenas, and I would advise the reader not to be fooled by the rhetoric out there.

Moving sucks enough without extra stress.