Wednesday, October 29, 2008

VFN is in Paris

Okay, so VFN will only be in Paris for six hours, but it still counts. Well, maybe not since I'll be in the airport the whole time... (Note to readers: I have been to Paris before. Just not for six years.)

Anyway, I'm on my way to Morocco for my Fulbright Teaching Exchange! I'm excited, nervous, exhausted, and all sorts of emotions all jumbled into one.

Now is a good time to announce my Morocco blog:

I created a separate blog for my Morocco adventures so that my students could follow along without being overwhelmed by the intelligence and profoundness that is VFN.

I won't be updating VFN while I'm in North Africa. Steve was offered a position as interim editor of VFN, but he declined. I will return after December 14th, so DON'T ABANDON ME. Please.

P.S. Lest you worry that my Moroccan experience will keep me from exercising my right to voice my opinion in the future of America, I offer the following proof that I voted:

Hey State of Alaska! Thanks for sending my absentee ballot in time! (You'll notice I took the picture before I filled in the bubbles. That was on purpose. I didn't want to offend any friends and/or family members who may have different political philosophies than me. VFN needs all the readers it can get. It doesn't have the luxury of pontificating opinions with reckless abandon.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Field Trip: New Playground

Shishmaref School got a new playground this year. This has been a colossal event to the kiddos in town. Steve and I took a jaunt down to the playground (before the snow fell), and I thought I'd bring VFN's faithful readers along for the ride...


Here is the playground in all its splendor. To truly appreciate it, you have to know that our old playground was tiny and WITHOUT SWINGS (doesn't that seem criminal?).


One of the coolest features of the new playground is the vortex. It appears to be a type of merry-go-round. The kids use it to pile up on top of each other and then fight about whose turn it is to get off.


I took a few twirls on the vortex. It was fun. It had all of the thrill of a merry-go-round without the omnipresent risk of flying off to your doom. I appreciated that.


Steve enjoyed spinning kids as fast as possible. He gets a real kick out of making people almost throw up.


Another cool feature of the playground is the steering wheel. You may not be impressed, but wait until you see the next picture.


A gear shifter!!!! That's brilliant. If I had one of these growing up, my life would have been a lot easier (I learned how to drive a stick in front of an audience of middle-aged men. I was working at the paper mill in Lewiston the summer after my freshman year of college. Part of my job included driving an ancient truck. It was scary. I didn't like it).


The second best feature of the playground is the swings. I don't think any playground should be without swings. I have always loved swings, even though I received the only pink slip of my entire elementary career while on a swing (hey playground monitor at Grantham Elementary, I'm sorry! I didn't know that having four people at a time on one swing was against the rules! I was only a kindergartener).


The Shishmaref kids were extraordinarily impressed with how high I could go on the swing. I tried to explain the physics of why I could go higher, but I failed miserably. (VFN extends moderately sincere apologies to anybody that is offended by the above picture. It seemed necessary to illustrate exactly how high I was able to go on the swing. Thank you for understanding.)


Without a doubt, the best feature of the playground is the adorable kids that hang around.


Seriously, be still my heart...


This girl is cute AND sweet!


I'll never get tired of watching these kiddos have fun.


They remind me of everything I love about Shishmaref.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Social Studies Rocks: Mock Election

A Message From Your Friendly Neighborhood Social Studies Teacher

This is a message from your friendly neighborhood social studies teacher reminding you to vote in the upcoming election or any election that might be happening in your respective country/state/province/city/village. If the students of Shishmaref can vote, you can too.


The Shishmaref Mock Election was school-wide, but it was kind of sponsored by my older kids. We started by making posters to hang in the elementary school hallway.


The posters featured facts about each candidate and posters cut up from five months worth of news magazines. (Hey Shishmaref Library and fellow teachers! Thanks for letting me steal all of your magazines!) Since we get enough negative advertising in the actual media, I insisted that the posters all be positive, much to the disappointment of my students.


You may be noticing quite a few McCain posters. That's only because I made my kids draw names out of a basket. They were forced to make a poster for the candidate they drew. (It's not a secret: I'm mean.)


Otherwise, all of the posters would be like this (my kids are nutty for Obama). Notice the obligatory Biden mention. Ha! It's a nice representation of the percentage of real news coverage he gets. (Note to readers: do not interpret that as a Biden bash. It's simply commentary of his non-domination of campaign coverage.)


My big kids were the poll workers. When the other kids came in, they had to sign their names on the "voter rolls." If they hadn't filled out a registration form earlier in the week, they had to do that before they voted. (The second question on the mock registration form was: Are you at least five years old? Ha!)


The city let us borrow their voting booths and ballot boxes, which made things feel really official. The IRA let us borrow one of their buildings, so all of the kids got to leave school to come vote.

The tiniest kids had to stand on chairs to reach the voting booth. My big kids helped them fill out their ballots (anybody caught coercing an elementary student to vote for a certain candidate was threatened with the wrath of Angie).


The kiddos put their completed ballots in the ballot box.


My older kids voted too, but, let's face it,


they are straight up not as cute a the little guys, especially when the little guys have to stand on their tippy-toes to reach the box.

(Note to my students: I still heart you!)


We made stickers to give to all of the students that voted.


Some of my big kids decided it would be cool to put their stickers on their foreheads...


starting an epidemic of little kids who also put their stickers on their foreheads.


I have to admit, it was kinda cute.


Don't you just want to take this girl home? I do. Unfortunately, her mom and dad like her a lot too...


This little girl took things to the next level.


I let my big kids tally the votes. They learned what it was like to be an election judge (what if somebody circled Barack Obama and Sarah Palin?) and had to determine when to disqualify ballots. It's too bad we didn't have punch out ballots. Then I could have introduced them to the intricacies of chad. As you can see, we used the highly scientific method of tally marks.


We found this ballot when we were counting ballots. I laughed. This pretty much sums up the sentiment of most of my students.

When all the votes were counted the results were as follows:

House of Representatives: Don Young (Republican)

United States Senate: Ted Stevens (Republican)

President of the United States: John McCain (Republican)

My big kids were furious. They blamed the results on the elementary students and suggested that we do the vote without them next time. I tried to explain why it wouldn't be fair to disenfranchise over half of our school, but I don't think they bought into it. Maybe that's a lesson for next year...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fun Fact: How to Butcher Spotted Seals

Today was one of the best days I've ever had in Shishmaref (and there have been some pretty good ones). Today I learned how to butcher a spotted seal. I didn't actually do any of the butchering, but I watched very carefully.

***WARNING: The following post contains seal guts. Lots of them.***


First, you make a cut through the skin all around the tail. The blade Aaka is using is called an ulu. You can tell by the condition of the blade that this wasn't the first butcher of the day...

These seals are spotted seals. They are not used by the Inupiaq people as food, even though some places in Alaska eat the spotted seals. The people of Shishmaref only ate the spotted seals during starving times. Otherwise, the meat is used to feed dog teams. The skins, however, are beautiful and used in making mittens, hats, ornaments, and just about anything else.


You make a similar cut around the head. I am aware how disturbing this picture is. Aaka noticed me staring sympathetically at the seal, and she said, "Real cute, huh?" Then she commented that it's easy to see how people are against eating meat when you see the butchering process up close. So much of our food is generally processed, so we never see its original state.

We then had an interesting discussion about the use of animals to sustain human life. Aaka said that the Eskimo way is to kill animals with as little suffering as possible. Good hunters will keep all of their tools in good condition to be able to end an animal's life quickly without much pain. Good hunters and their wives will even keep their knives sharp to be able to butcher the meat quickly and easily.

There's an Eskimo legend about a man who turned into a caribou. He lived with a herd, and they explained to him the difference between good and bad hunters. Bad hunters killed for pleasure and wasted meat. Good hunters killed for food and took care to waste no meat. The caribou always fled fromt the bad hunters, but they allowed to good hunters to catch a few of their herd. The caribou would comment among themselves about the state of the hunters' tools and their treatment of their prey.

The lesson of the story is that the best way to have success as a hunter is to treat the animals with respect, even after they've been slain.

That story made me feel better about taking the above picture. Hopefully it makes you feel better about looking at it.


Of course, this story was told as Aaka continued to butcher her seal. She sliced the seal down the middle of the tummy.


This little guy kept interrupting in order to get his picture taken.


He insisted on equal screen time as the seal.


But after modeling his ultra cool camo face mask he got cold and went inside.


We were taking samples for the Fish and Game Department, so we measured the layer of blubber. Turns out, spotted seals have slightly less blubber than Alaskan teachers who have spent a lot of time on their couches during the last three and a half years...


Then we felt for the joint in the flipper. You're supposed to cut right on the joint.


Found it!!


Once the flipper is cut off, it's discarded. This flipper happened to land on a previously butchered seal, close to the intestines. I'm kind of amazed that I can take pictures of this without vomiting.


Then you use your ulu to cut between the blubber and the dark meat.


If you're doing it right, you will be able to easily slide the ulu underneath the blubber along the contour of the body.


We had to take a sample of the liver and the kidney. I can't remember which this was.


This one I know. This is the stomach. We also needed it for our samples.


Anybody know what this vital organ is? Yeah, neither do I. I just know it was in the way when we were trying to get to the stomach.


Inupiaq girls used to learn how to butcher seals when they were about ten. Nowadays school takes up a lot of the time that would otherwise be used learning how to butcher. Most women now learn after they're finished with high school.


Sometimes it's easier to hold the seal with a metal hook while you cut. I got to hold the hook for one seal. I felt very helpful.


This little guy is almost done. You can see that his skin has been almost completely pulled away from his body.


If your skin ends up being really messy, you need to carry over some snow...


And use it to clean up.


Then the skin gets folded over and put in a pile.


VFN would like to thank the amazing Aaka...


and her lovely sister Kate for modeling the correct procedure for spotted seal butchering. Stay tuned for our next installment when you learn how to qapsraq (and, possibly, what qapsraq means).