Friday, September 29, 2006


As I stood in class, minding my own business.
Maybe teaching.

There was a knock at the door.
One of the administration staff was peering in my classroom window. She waved me over.

I opened the door and slipped out. Escaping for a moment from the hellions inside and braced for whatever extra work or bad news that awaited me.

In her hand was a bowl.
In the bowl was maktak.

That means whale. Pickled pieces of whales blubber and skin. The skin is a good inch thick and an inch of blubber was stuck fast to it.

There was a strong whale-y odor mixed with the pungent smell of pickling.

“It’s your initiation,” she said simply with a smile.

I popped the little morsel into my mouth and chewed.
And chewed.
And chewed.

Whale tastes a bit like pickled mushrooms.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pain in the Ass

I have a problem with pens.
Pens and markers and pencils, and really any sort of writing implement.

The problem lies with a combination of my distractibility and the ease of misplacing those ink filled canisters of doom.

You see, I lose my makers.
I lose pens.
I lose everything.
In my classroom, while I am teaching.

It’s not all that hard to figure out why. I have the memory of an end stage Alzheimer’s patient and when I get distracted I quickly forget where I set down whatever I was holding. Then, I have to search through my desk to find a new one.

Here’s the catch. My id, knowing my predilection for misplacement, stuffs those inky torture devices into number of different pockets. Moments later, I have forgotten about the pockets, or that I even have pockets and am back at my desk looking for a new one.

By the end of the day you can gauge my stress level by the number of things stuffed into my pockets.

Today I had three markers in my right pocket.
Two markers and a clicky pen in my left pocket.
A pair of scissors tucked into my belt.
A combination lock on my belt loop.
And an easer-less wood pencil in my back pocket.

All and all, not an entirely stressful afternoon.

Usually this extra baggage has no ill consequences.
Except for many trips to nearly empty desk drawers.

But today. Oh today.
I went to the bathroom.
I pulled down my pants.
I began to assume the sitting position, in one, rather quick, movement.

At that moment I was forcibly reminded where I had stuffed a sharp wooden pencil.
In my back pocket.
And now, it is in my lower right ass cheek.

My memory is suddenly clear. It’s a pink and purple Tinker Bell pencil. It was the victim of a vicious eraser removal before I confiscated it.

I stood up and had to actually pluck the pencil from my leg.

The wound on my ass will stand to remind me of what I can never remember.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Where did Jonah go?

This is just a shot of the whale's mouth.
The large feathery looking things are like teeth, sort of.
They strain water to avoid the big chuncks so the whale only gets yummy little plankton and sea monkeys.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Whaling what?

Well, I have posted a few pictures and brief descriptions of the recently caught and killed whales.
But, after talking to a friend I realized that you may still have questions about this strange new hunting sensation.

Each year the villages on the slope are assessed based on their population. The number of people within determines the number of strikes they get during whaling season.

A strike is a hit. Regardless of if the strike is successful it still counts against the town. Barrow is allowed about 18 strikes this year. 18 chances to bring home the bacon.

The whaling captains take their jobs very seriously. They work all year on their crew and gear. They hunt for seal in order to build their skin boats.
(Skin boats made out of a light wooden frame that is covered in seal skin. These boats are very light-weight and can easily be carried over sheets of ice.)

When the season begins they head out into the ocean searching for the prize whale. The whale I have pictured below was caught 16 miles out. They use large harpoons with a small explosive tip.
They shot the harpoon into the spine of the whale, it detonates on contact and blows out the nervous system.

Here’s where speed is of the essence. As soon as the monster dies it begins to sink. The whalers much quickly sink their hooks into its blubber to keep it afloat. Several other hunting boats come to help, all hooking in and pulling the whale that long distance to shore.
The tail it cut in the water to create less drag.

This whale was a 44 footer. It was huge.

Now we have the whale on shore. The cutting begins.
They carve the blubber off to be eaten.
Raw, boiled, frozen, or pickled.

The red meat is used for an assortment of different dishes.

And the bones can be used in different structures or to lure the polar bears away from

More whale photos

Big slices of blubber.

Whale fin. That big bubble looking thing in there is the ball joint.

This is a whale penis. I wish I could have gotten something so that you could better gauge the size but due to the out pouring of blood, I couldn't get close enough.

Look, Guts!


At 6 O’clock this morning the whaling boats left shore in search of the biggest game.


By noon we heard that three had been killed and were being pulled in.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Almost Fall

Side note:

Though I have already said the fact that we have already had snow, I thought it beared mentiioning that we had, last night, the first sticking snow.
The kind of snow that says on the ground. The kind that's still on the ground.

And it's still snowing a bit, very much like a winter wonderland.

The first day of spring is tommorrow.

It keeps going and going and going

This is the fourth of my 12-hour days.

My fourth and not my last. Long, long days. After teaching for a tiring number of hours a weary person wants nothing more than go home, prop their feet up, zone out on something mindless, and have a stiff drink.

However, this week has not allowed for those kind of relaxing practices.

This week has been,
Parent teacher conference week.

Technically, parent teacher conferences should only be two days long. But due to new management there are fun and fresh time-consuming things to be done. Stretching the traditionally stressful-enough 5 minute quickies to hour long meetings that details the student’s performance, goals, and requiring much in the way of paperwork.

What does that mean for me and my happy two-day conferences?

The two-day fun has been stretched to two weeks.
That’s right, two weeks. Two weeks of staying after school until my evening is nothing but a few minutes before bedtime.

Two weeks of extra duty and extra work.

Two weeks of talking to people who would rather not talk to me.

It has been great. I am almost half way through my incarceration.

I hate that word, almost.

Like, I almost had time to have dinner tonight or I almost bathed recently*.

*The bathing thing, well, that’s almost a joke. For the past night or two I have fallen asleep out of sheer exhustion on the couch before getting all clean and shiny. The mornings don’t make for good showering times owing to the fact that I am addicted to the snooze button.
Plus a 5 minute walk in 30 degree weather with wet hair** is not a favorite past time of mine.

**I don’t actually have a hair dryer. And no, mom, I don’t want one.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Today my class took another field trip.
This time we ventured to the beach, as far as possible from school and lemmings. It was a beautiful day to spend several hours on the shore frolicking.

The kids had a very simple assignment. They had a set number and type of things they had to collect.

1 piece of bone
2 rocks
1 piece of beach glass

So we walked. We collected. We meandered on the rocky shoreline, enjoying one of the last few pretty days of the year.

Overall it was a good day.
But the real story lies in the details.

One of my students, formally one of the most notorious lemming killers, found a bone.
Being male and a young teenager he was curious about the origin of this bone. He came to me, while surrounded by other students and asked,
“Is this a Boner Bone?”

All the boys were laughing. I tried to ignore the comment, simply saying, that I didn’t think so.
I wasn’t about to go into the anatomy and physiology of a penis at this moment.

The rest of the fieldtrip was occasionally punctuated by penis questions and comments.

Boner Bones!

After hours on the beach we finally arrived back at the classrooms. The students excitedly showed off their rocks, glass, and bones.

Boner Bones!

That always-inquisitive killer of the small and furry was the last one out of the room today before lunch. He asked again,
“What do Boner Bones look like?”

“Actually, there are no bones in that, um, region of the body,” I responded as tactfully as possible.

“Oh.” He said and then went to the hall.

Within moments I heard his voice ring out,
“There are no Bones in Boners!”

Oh dear God. I scampered out to the hall where two of the 7th grade teachers looked from me to the loud mouth sociopath, laughing.

To make matters worse, after explaining why I was even talking about Boners in class and my facing turning a violent shade of magenta, one of the teachers turned to tell me that I am, in fact, wrong.

As it turns, walruses and seals have penis bones. A walrus penis bone can even be two feet long and is often used to make axes and shovels.
My eager annoyance may not have been simply spouting forth his newly acquired testosterone, but may have been honestly questioning something he found.

Plus, after closer inspection I found that a few of the bones collected might actually be Boner Bones.

All I can currently do is shake my head in shame.

What's in a Name

I have been known to have nicknames. My nicknames are rarely flattering. They are rarely something you would want to write home about.
Though, I tend to write about them anyway. I’m very mock-able.

You all remember my nicknames from last year.
“The Farting Kassik.”
“Ody-J Arted-Fa”
“Ms. McFartland”

These nicknames make me proud to stand up and say, “Name change, anyone.”

This year I decided to eliminate the possibility of last year’s last monikers. You see, my last name lends itself to be warped and twisted into something more gassy. By the simple addition of one letter you can make my name take on a life of its own.

And a 12 year-old mind can figure this out long before I have time to let them see the true nature of my intestinal tract.

So, to avoid the inevitable warping of my family name I have chosen to take on a new one.

The year I go by Ms. Mac.

My new name has been great.

Though now I have new nicknames.

Ms. McDonald, which is funny because only a few of my students have ever even seen one of these fast food chains.

Big Mac, my tushy took this name a little personally.

And my personal favorite:

Mac Ten

Sunday, September 10, 2006


I have been asked for a follow up to my story of the alcohol search.
After digging through the trash, fingers squishing into unimaginable grime, we finally threw in the towel. Accepting the fact that the money order is gone and will never return.

We made other plans, wrote other checks. We made arrangements to somehow get back the runaway funds.

The following day, with the stench still lingering on my over-washed fingers, I check my email.
My neighbor sent me a message. She found that missing money order, in her desk, at school.

So, the order is in and a few short days from now I will have a few bottles of something yummy.

Thanks to all of you and your support in this trying time.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Getting It Done

One of the joys of living in the bush is the effort and trouble gone through for the simplest of things. For little stuff, stuff a normal person in a normal town would never think twice about.
If that normal person is over the age of 21, that is.

The “normal stuff” in question is, of course, the acquisition of alcohol.

Last year was spent in a village devoid of any booze. It was not a big deal. It was not something I pined for. It was not something I missed terribly.

But now, when liquid refreshment is within my reach, tickling my finger-tips, I decided to look at the necessary steps to get it fully in the palm of my hands.
This has not been easy.

Buying booze in a damp town is not as easy as driving to the county line and picking up what you need.
This is mostly due to the mere fact that the nearest town with these particular goods is several hundred miles away.

First you have to register. You have to become a card carrying member if the alcoholic club. This costs 25 dollars, includes long wait times, and requires going to the police station the alcohol distribution site and then the police station again.
And typically can extend from several hours to multiple days.

There are also several taxi rides at 6 dollars a pop.

Now you have your card. Now you are on the road.
The next step is to send a copy of your driver’s license to the liquor store in question, to be kept on file. Once they have proof that you are over the legal age and are approved to receive their substances you can place your order. This order must be mailed in.

For ten dollars Hageland Aviation will overnight your order and your check to Fairbanks.

The booze will arrive, safe and sound, a few days later. It will include a high cost for the usual fair and a nifty shipping fee.

I thought about the steps. I though about ordering.
I decided; I am way too lazy to for that kind of work.

My neighbor, however, was up for the challenge. She made the effort and offered to include me in her order.
Yay! Booze! Without all that “work” stuff!

However, my inclusion in someone else’s order does not make it easy.

My neighbor bought a money order in the necessary amount.
She brought it home.
She had it in a bag, possibly.

She threw it in the communal dumpster outside our building.

The dumpster was full of diapers, food items, moldy some-things.
And juicy parts of recently slaughtered caribou.

This is the dumpster we dug through for a two hundred dollar money order.

My nose is currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

God, I need a drink.

Monday, September 04, 2006


I know that ice bergs have made up a vast majority of the uploaded pictures, but they are just so neat!

Deal with yet another big chunck of ice.

I went out today in hopes of catching a whale in the daylight, no luck.
So, more ice.

Two For the Price of One

There are many cool things about living in a place like Barrow.
There are all kinds of nifty animals and interesting activities. Whale hunting, fishing, and seals all around.

But more than the dead animals I have talked about on numerous occasions, occasionally there are live ones out there.

Tonight was awesome.

I was dragged out to a bon fire by some friends. It was quite a-ways past the football field and the place where the barges comes in, out in the middle of nowhere. The fire warmed us all greatly, staving off the chill of arctic winds.

Close to the beach we laughed and joked and possibly drank a few beers.

Suddenly, there was a noise out in the water. A splashing.
One of the guys grabbed a spot light and shined it toward the water. Right off the shore there was something protruding from the icy depths.

A fin!
A whale!

There was a freaking whale! I finally saw a freaking whale.
Several of them. Frolicking just off shore.

They blew water in great spouts, flashed their fins, and splashed about in a generally happy way.

I jumped in jubilation! I giggled! I clapped in a manically joyous way.

Then a few moments after my very first whale sighting there was a shout from the group. This time people were pointing to the sky.

The northern lights! Streaks of green crossed the dark sky.
Lighting up the area in interesting patterns. It was beautiful and fascinating and exciting.

Seriously, tonight was the best night ever!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Draw Me a Picture

Today is the Writing Assessment test.
It is a yearly tradition that strikes fear in the hearts and minds of all the little children.

Writing Assessments give students a writing prompt, usually something socially relevant or outrageously fictitious, and asks them to write a paper.

For several hours, and for possibly the only time this year, silence echoes in my classroom. Only the gentle scratch of pencils against paper, the crinkle of turning pages, and the muffled thud of an eraser being thrown from one head to another breaks the eerie quiet.
They think I don’t know, but I know.

I am in class right now. Staring out at the sea of bent little heads, all working diligently, or at least faking it fairly convincingly.

The fun part about the writing assessment test is the creativity involved on both the part of the student and myself.

You see, when a students finishes the test, like in most other academics situations, they cannot disturb the others still testing. They must sit quietly and read or work on another assignment.
The problem: students have an unlimited amount of time to finish the test. They are given 3.5 hours this morning.

Two finished in the first half an hour. At least one will take the entire time frame.
One unfinished tester is currently napping.

So, you ask, what will those hyper active 12 year olds do for several hours in complete silence?

They color. They draw. They make pictures.
They avoid, at all costs, the bonus puzzles and math games that I spent hours working on.

Throughout the morning I receive many pictures.
One of my favorites was a detailed drawing depicting one of my angles hovering over a pile of dead lemmings. His stick figure self grinned at their broken bodies as he added to the heap.

Another was a pretty picture of a pair of purple eyeballs. I smile, thanked the student, and began to add the small sheet to a pile of others. But this girl had other ideas. She quietly took the eyes back, found some tape, and taped the paper optics to my ponytail.
She whispered, “Now you really do have eyes in the back of your head.”

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