Last month Mr. The Alaska Teacher and I celebrated our thirteenth anniversary. Since we moved to Shishmaref three months after getting married, that's thirteen years of marriage in the Alaska Bush.
And we've learned a few things. Which we thought we'd share.
1. Don't make school your whole life.
There's always something that needs to be done for your classroom. There's always something to prepare, something to grade, something to research...Don't let it become your whole life. There are so many other aspects to life in the Alaska Bush (or anywhere for that matter). People who go straight from work to home and back again miss out on the richness available in the community.
2. Quality winter gear is a must
I've tried to make it through the winter with a $30 coat. Bad call. Steve's tried to get away with cheap winter boots. Another bad call. Just shell out the big bucks for quality gear. It will last longer and keep you warmer. I haven't quite made it to the point of owning a full fur parka, but I do have beaver fur mittens and a hat made of Tuscan lamb. The nice gear comes in handy when the weather gets super bad.
3. You can make do with less than you think
We've lived years without indoor plumbing or a flush toilet. Our situation is a lot more posh now, but it wasn't always. And it wasn't that bad. We spent five years hauling our laundry to the school once a week to wash and dry it. And we survived. We've spent thirteen years without more than a basic general store in town. And we survived with a little creative online shopping and recipe adaptations. We've had college apartment furniture our entire time in the Alaska Bush, no drapes, and tiny living quarters. And we've still been happy. Stuff is overrated.
4. Angie gets crabby in the winter
It's the darkness. It really gets to me. I don't notice it until the light starts coming back, and I feel like I'm waking up for the first time in months. Being crabby isn't really in my nature, so it was kind of a surprise to Steve that first winter (poor guy had only dated me in places full of sunshine...). Now a combination of sunlight simulators, Vitamin D, and getting outside as much as possible helps take the edge off. (But I still get a little crabby.)
5. It's possible to pursue your academic dreams
Steve and I both earned a masters degree from the Alaska Bush. We found the programs available through the University of Alaska system to be relevant and flexible enough to handle while teaching and parenting full time. There was a time when I thought my academic goals would have to wait until I left the Alaska Bush. I'm glad I was wrong.
6. A good Internet connection can change your life
We used to have Internet so slow that it took for-e-ver to attach a single picture to an e-mail. Our Internet speeds are still slower than most places in the Lower 48, but we can stream Netflix, and that was life-changing. Our entertainment options multiplied exponentially with the arrival of faster Internet, so did the possibilities for Skyping with family, staying caught up with the news, and uploading photos of our kids to our hearts' content (within reason). I also love that I can access Google Classroom at home and do a little classroom prep after the kids go to sleep (while remembering tip #1).
7. Good food contributes to a good life
I've written before about my favorite Virginia Woolf quote "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well." Steve and I disagree about what constitutes dining well. One of us thinks that means Chili Mac with crushed Doritos on top. The other one of us thinks it means fresh produce, infused vinegars, and truffle zest. I'll let you figure out who is who... Food is one of our great pleasures, and it's work the extra effort and expense to make sure you dine well.
8. Board games are a great indoor hobby
We're not really outdoor people. That always shocks people when they find out where we live. One of the major perks to living in the Alaska Bush is the access to outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing. We don't love to be outside when it's cold, so we've taken to indoor hobbies like board games.
I wish I could say that this was our entire board game collection. It's not. It's not even half. It's just all that would fit in one picture. Steve spends most of his free time trying to convince people to play board games with him. I agree every once in a while, but he would play all day every day if he could. Some of my favorites from the above picture include: Terraforming Mars, Five Tribes, Stone Age, Twilight Struggle, Xia, and Charterstone. The biggest downside to the board game hobby is the amount of time it takes to play each game. Some of them last hours. I get maxed out at about two hours, and that's one of the reasons Steve considers me a weakling. 🙂
9. Having kids is funny (and hard and exhausting)
One of the best things we've done in the Alaska Bush is become parents. Kaitlyn and Levi provide endless opportunities for cute photos. They also say some pretty funny things. Steve is moderately famous on Facebook for his hilarious documentation of epic parenting fails. My documentation is slightly less epic. For example, this conversation a couple of years ago:
Kaitlyn: Can you poison them?
K: People who are mean to me?
Me: Like who?
K: Like Levi.
Note to readers: I did not poison Levi as a result of this conversation.
Levi's funny comments usually come in the form of mixed up words. He currently says "waterlemon" for watermelon and "gotfor that" instead of forgot that. It's stinking adorable.
The funny things help make up for the lack of sleep, inability to use the restroom alone, and the constant hurricane of toys that surrounds our living room.
10. Connecting to our faith community keeps us grounded
Everybody has a different way of connecting to the wider universe. We do that through organized religion, and we are attached to our particular denomination. We participate in local Lutheran services on occasion, but most of our worship happens with our denomination's congregation, which meets over the phone. Phone church is an interesting experience. Sometimes it's remarkably similar to in person services, and sometimes it's drastically different. Keeping ties with our denomination while participating in the fellowship of the local faith community has been the right choice for us.
11. Being far away from our families necessitates finding new family
Our parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews are all thousands of miles away. We keep in touch with them via phone calls, Skype calls, and social media, but it's not the same as having in-person support. Family isn't always about blood relation. We've been lucky that we've found people in Brevig Mission that we love like family. They help us. We help them. They're central to our success and happiness in the village.
12. Establishing relationships is key
This one kind of relates to #11. You can't find your family if you're not constantly developing relationships. Not everyone you meet will become your family, but you need to cast a wide net to find the people you really connect with. Don't wait for things to be perfect. Don't wait for the house to be spotless. Don't wait to have something fancy for dinner. Just invite people over! Share simple food! Play games! Talk! Watch your kids run around and chase each other! Get to know people outside of the school environment, and don't hesitate to extend an invitation.
13. If you want time alone together, you really have to work for it
There is no shortage of babysitters in Brevig Mission. There is a shortage of places for Steve and I to go for date night (especially considering the admission in #8 that we aren't outdoor people). If we want couple time, we really have to work for it. Once the kids are in bed, it's easy to let school take over our time (see #1) or want to go to sleep immediately (is that just me?), but it's also prime time to do things together that aren't attending a staff meeting or talking about whose turn it is to take out the garbage. The effort to maintain regular couple time is worth it, even if it means losing out on some sleeping or prep time. 🙂
So there you have it. Thirteen years of marriage in the Alaska Bush distilled down to 13 semi-pithy paragraphs. Readers will be happy (and maybe surprised) to know that this is one of the few posts that Steve collaborated with me on. I definitely still had editorial privileges, but his views are also represented. 🙂
Angie, this is SO special. I have told my husband about “my amazing friend” in Alaska, and how your smile carries through all the ups and downs and challenges of life in the Alaska Bush. I will never forget meeting you in Mobile and hope that our paths will cross again soon. Everything you have written here is perfectly applicable to my life (some with a little imagination!) and such a wonderful reminder. Much love.
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