Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Celebrating An Anniversary Alaskan Style

Step One: Plan ahead. You will not be able to purchase quality meat on demand in Shishmaref on the day of your anniversary, so it it imperative that you bring steaks with you from Seattle after Christmas.

Step Two: Find this biscuit recipe on Amateur Gourmet. Use it to get results like this:


(Steve told me that these biscuits were better than KFC's. As a full time lover of KFC biscuits, I took this to be a supreme compliment.)

Step Three: Find this steak recipe (also on Amateur Gourmet) and follow it to make some pretty good meat. Be so involved in the searing process that you are unable to take a picture. :(

Step Four: Eat the above food in addition to salad, cinnamon sugar carrots, and Guava juice.

Step Five: Take obligatory anniversary photo:


Third Anniversary

Blast from the past:

2nd Anniversary

2nd Anniversary

Inupiat Days 174.jpg

1st Anniversary



Our favorite game to play with these pictures is "Spot the Weight Gain." You will notice a distinct difference in face shapes from the beginning of the pictures... You will also notice for the third anniversary picture that I failed to bother with makeup or even lip gloss. (You will also notice that Steve has a slightly stupefied look in each picture, although each year it is a slightly different stupefied look...)

The cutest part of the evening was reading the cards from Steve's third graders. I am going to share a few of my favorites. Be prepared for major cuteness...


"Sup Happy Cupul" or "What's Up Happy Couple." This gives you a good idea of slang and spelling in Shishmaref...


The same student offered us a nice compliment. It's good to know people around here think we are a nice couple, as opposed to a mean couple, an ugly couple, or a nightmarish couple.


This one cracks me up. Apparently, Steve's kiddos didn't make these cards of their own free will. This little guy gives us an insight into the instructions Steve gave his class. I love that he wrote it down. My favorite part: I don't care what you draw.


The kids are absolutely obsessed with my maiden name. They are fascinated by the idea that I used to have a different name. They call me Angie Busch all the time.


Some good advice for an anniversary evening.


Most teachers in Shishmaref go by their first names. Steve has his kids call him Mr. Alston. I think it's funny that this little girl addressed the card to "Mr. Alston and Angie," as opposed to "Steve and Angie, " or "Mr. and Mrs. Alston."

Here's my favorite:


Okay, Sarah. We will.

Field Trip: A Birthday Party

Birthday parties are a regular part of life in Shishmaref. We were lucky enough to get invited to one last night, and you were lucky enough that I brought my camera.

Invitations to birthday parties come via phone calls. Because nobody has a house big enough to host all of their friends and relatives (which pretty much encompasses the entire island), guests are called in waves. As soon as some leave, more are called.

We got our invitation call at 9:15 pm. This was a pretty early phone call. We've been invited to birthday parties as late as 11:00 pm. This is probably due to the fact that we're not related to anybody, so we're never "first wave" guests.


After our phone call we put on our coats and walked to the house. This is an unusual Shishmaref house because it has two stories. Everything else about it is pretty typical of the homes in our village.


Most walls are covered in family pictures. There are lots of pictures of the family's children and grandparents.



Cash is the typical gift at birthday parties. Once in a while people bring presents, but most just bring bills. Most birthday kids have a money cup. You walk in and put your money in a cup. This birthday boy was holding his loot in his hand (He was not very cooperative about posing with his cash).

If the birthday child is little, Steve and I usually bring a few dollars. Older kids get five dollars. If we know the family really well or are especially fond of the birthday child, we will give up to twenty dollars (for the record: I am outrageously more generous than Steve).


(The birthday boy obviously had no problem posing with his tongue.)


Food is a central part of birthday parties. A typical spread includes birthday cake (called "Nome cake," it's flown in from Nome for about $120), berries, homemade donuts, pies, and jell-o (always, always, always, always, always jell-o).


People in Shishmaref love Nome cake because they only get it at birthday parties (it tastes just like a Costco cake). This little guy loved it so much that he was willing to lick the crumbs off of his face!


These are the berries. They grow locally. Women and children pick them during the summer and freeze them to eat during the winter. The orangish berries are salmon berries. The purple ones are blueberries (but they're not like the blueberries in the Lower 48). The really dark round ones are blackberries (again not like the ones in the Lower 48). Daph also told me that there are cranberries (of the Alaskan variety, not the Thanksgiving-Ocean-Spray variety) mixed in. Berries are my favorite birthday party food. I usually eat lots of them.


I also look forward to the donuts. Here they are in all of their deep fried goodness! I was very proud of myself for maintaining my self control and only heating one half of a donut (my strapping husband ate the other half).


Blueberry pies are pretty popular. They are usually made with canned blueberries, not the same kind of blueberries pictured in the previous picture of a bowl of berries.


Birthday parties are also a good time for admiring babies. This birthday party had two very cute babies to admire, and I got to hold both of them. This baby belongs to a former student. I heart him because before he was born, his mom would come over to our house, and we would order baby clothes online. Every time I talked, his mom would feel him move!!! I like to think it was because he couldn't wait to meet me.


This is the other precious baby. His mom is the preschool teacher. She always tries to get me to play basketball. (Have you ever seen babies with bigger cheeks?)


The babies were even introduced to each other during the party! And I was a witness!


Steve didn't pay very much attention to the babies. He spent the evening riling up all of the other kids and provoking them to be really loud by tickling them, wrestling with them, etc. (Sometimes I am amazed that we continue to get invited to birthday parties. It seems like this type of behavior would have blacklisted us by now, but we've been in this home several times).

I tried to convince Steve to let me throw him a Shishmaref style birthday party, but he won't let me. My birthday is in the summer, and we're always downstates. When we have kids, I am totally going to bake up a storm and invite everybody over. It will be fun.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

How To Survive: Buy Whatever the Store Has

We are lucky to have two stores in Shishmaref. Their selection is amazing compared to the stores in other villages we've visited. However, their inventory isn't exactly reliable. When we lived in Seattle, I would go to the store to buy, say, milk. I would drive to the store, walk in, pick up the milk, and go home satisfied.

In Shishmaref you can't go to the store expecting anything. They may or may not have it. They may also have something completely unexpected. I've learned to just wander over to the store every once in a while just to scope things out. I've also learned to buy whatever they have- no matter what it cost. Today I went to the store to get something to drink, and it ended up being one of the best shopping days EVER.


This is what I came home with. You will notice that my haul includes oranges, an onion, a green pepper, YELLOW peppers (I have never seen yellow peppers here), potatoes, grapefruit juice, and a gigantic bag of lettuce, spinach, and greens. (The pop was a gift for Steve who is married to someone who thinks that pop is unhealthy. I also knew he wasn't going to get all jazzed over some vegetables.)


I was especially excited about the large bag of salad fixings (which is why I am tenderly embracing it). When I carried the bag to the cash register, the employees had no idea how much to charge me. It turns out that the bag arrived in a big mis-shipment (which explains why so many fresh things were at the store at the same time). After searching the inventory lists, they decided to charge me $8.85! I was so totally amazed. That it about the same amount I pay for a head of iceberg lettuce at the store normally.


The best part was when they rang up the total. Only $41.42! That may sound like a lot, and I would have once thought the same thing. But, it is an absolute bargain for Shishmaref shopping.

We will be eating lots of salad over the next week, but that's okay! I am willing to completely adapt my entire eating schedule any time the store has produce.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How To Survive: Creative Cooking

Curious readers have asked how we survive in the food department up in the frozen north. In addition to expanding our diet to include exotic animals, we've also had to resort to some creative cooking. It's easy to want to choose starvation over boredom (from eating the same food over and over), so we occasionally try to spice things up with new recipes. Tonight I had an adventure with an Onion, Cheese, and Bacon Tart. Inspired by Adam at Amateur Gourmet and his brilliant attempt at the same recipe, I decided to give it a try (seriously, you should read his entry about making this tart and the accompanying comments; they are outrageously hilarious).

You can read the recipe via the above link if you want specifics, but these were my basic steps:

-Prepare to make said tart.

-Feel like a good wife for actually planning to make dinner.

- Reread the recipe and realize the dough has to chill for an hour. Realize I am way too hungry to wait that long.

-Heat up some leftovers and eat them. Spouse eats canned chili sprinkled with cheese.

-Make the crust and refrigerate overnight.

-Go to school.

-Come home tired but excited to make dinner.

-Remove dough from refrigerator, roll it out, and place it in pyrex pie dish.

-Vaguely recall the recipe stating that if you don't have pie crust weights, you can use dry beans to hold the shape of the tart crust while baking it.

-Dump a bunch of dry kidney beans into the crust.

-Remember that the recipe said "line crust with foil" before it mentioned adding beans.

-Feel like an idiot

-Scoop the beans out of the crust.

-Bake the crust.

-While the crust cools, slice an onion and sautee it in a frying pan.

-Substitute dried bacon for bacon because I don't have any bacon and don't know how to get any without having to auction off random body parts (because it's so expensive at the stores here).


-Marvel at how yummy it looks so far.

-Substitute 3/4 cup of powdered milk and 1/3 cup of butter for 1 cup of cream (thanks to the instructions at switcheroo.com).


-Realize that milk and butter don't exactly mix well together and look nothing like actual cream. Hope it turns out okay anyway.

-Pull down the spice box.

-Curse at the fact that although I have Dried Mandarin Orange Peel, Chinese Mustard Powder, and Curry Seasoning, I have no Nutmeg.

-Send spouse to the store for nutmeg. He agrees because he's so excited I'm cooking.

-Spouse calls from store because nutmeg costs an astounding ten dollars.

-Curse at high food prices in rural Alaska.

-Call two neighbors who don't have nutmeg.

-Curse in disbelief that NOBODY has ANY nutmeg.

-Remember that there is nutmeg in my classroom left over from my Explorers and Spices activity.

-Ask spouse nicely to please go to my classroom and locate the nutmeg in a box under my desk.

-Spouse is annoyed but complies (again with the gratitude about me actually cooking).

-Switch Ipod Playlist to Simon and Garfunkel.

-Rock out to "I am a Rock" and dance in circles around the kitchen waiting for Steve to come back.

-Be disappointed that he comes back so soon. Add nutmeg to the goopy mess.

-Be double disappointed that he turned off the Ipod in order to watch MacGyver on DVD.

-Resume Simon and Garfunkel via my laptop.

-Feel happy.

-Scoop onions into the crust.

-Sprinkle cheese over the top. Substitute cheddar cheese for Gruyère cheese because I've never heard of Gruyère cheese and certainly can't buy it in Shishmaref.

-Pour milk, butter, and precious nutmeg mixture over the top of everything.

-Scrape the remaining hunks of butter into the dish.


-Observe that tart does not look anything like the pictures on the website (the website version was free of the butter clumps because they used real cream).


-Put the tart in the oven at 7:55 pm. Be shocked at how late it is.


-Check the tart. Sigh in relief at the fact that the butter clumps have melted and nicely combined with other tart elements.

-Get sucked into watching MacGyver.

-Pull the tart out of the oven. Let it cool longer than necessary in order to finish episode of MacGyver.

-Serve dinner at 8:45 pm.

-Say, "Gee, I wonder why I don't cook more often, it only takes two and a half hours." (Insert sarcastic tone here.)

-Steve says, "I was thinking the same thing."

-Realize he was kidding before I punch his lights out.

-Eat tart. Tart is good.

-Watch Steve get a second piece of tart. Feel good about myself.

-Get offended that Steve put ketchup on tart, but don't let it ruin my night.

All in all, it was a very successful culinary experience. We were well fed, and we did not die of food boredom.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fun Fact: Sliding

When I was a young child, and I slid down a snow/ice covered hill, I called it sledding. In Shishmaref, the same activity is referred to as sliding. In fact, I've heard adults correct little kids if they call it sledding. (The Inupiaq word for slides down a hill is sisugaqtuq; although, I've never heard anyone use it.)

I think it's because, in Shishmaref, "sled" means something very different from the thin plastic discs I grew up "sledding" on.


This is a typical Shishmaref sled. The men around here make them. It is a very involved process that includes steaming the wood to get it into the right shape.


These sleds are attached to snow machines and used to haul ice, groceries, people, animals, stove oil, and pretty much anything else that needs to be carried around.

So, sledding is a practical every day activity, not something you do for fun. Hence, the term sliding to differentiate. Kids in Shishmaref spend a lot of time sliding because we have snow for most of the year.

When I came out of the gym tonight, a gaggle of kids were sliding on a hill behind the school. Luckily, I had my camera with me, so I was able to capture the magic.


Some were using boxes (I so remember wishing I had a box during elementary school recesses when it snowed).


Some were snowboarding sans snowboard.


The little ones were mostly going down on their backs or tummies.


Some kids were actually using a little plastic sled (although the activity is still referred to as "sliding," even if you're using said sled). This sled, with a different boy on top, crashed into me and a surrounding group of small children, knocking me completely off of my feet. Do not worry gentle readers, I and -more importantly- my camera emerged unscathed (also, the small children I landed on top of were only mildly injured and traumatized).


The kids were having lots of fun, and they were being super cute. I had a lot of fun watching them. It was one of those moments when I've been truly grateful to be in Shishmaref.

(By the way, all of these pictures were taken after 10:00 pm! The daylight is courtesy of living in the "Land of the Midnight Sun.")

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Field Trip: The Shishmaref Tannery

Welcome to the first View From the North Field Trip!!!! Inspired by American Dresdner's adventures at the Semperoper and the Striezelmarkt , VFN decided to offer its own adventures (not pretending for a moment that VFN's adventures will be as glamorous and AD's; we here at VFN specialize in more "rustic" experiences).

Our first Field Trip comes by way of an accident. During the aforementioned Inupiaq Days (see previous post), I was walking down the hallway when a fellow teacher approached me and said, "We need a staff member to take a group of kids to the tannery." Knowing that all of the secondary teachers were tied up teaching butchering, beading, basket weaving, and other assorted cultural activities, I volunteered to take the kids as long as I had time to change into my boots (walking outside in non-insulated shoes for extended periods of time = bad).


This is us walking to the tannery. I've been told it's only a half mile away, but it felt SO MUCH FARTHER than that. It might have been the fact that I was only wearing jeans (the kids were all wearing ski pants), so my legs felt like they were going to fall off. It also might have been the fact that I didn't have my face mask with me, so my cheeks were in serious danger of frostbite. I ended up walking with my gloved hands pressed up against my face. (It's kind of embarrassing, but the person that complained the most on the walk to the tannery was me...)


These are my happy kids outside tannery. They are filled with overwhelming glee at the thrill of the field trip, as evidenced by the fact that their hands are all raised above their heads.

Inupiat Days 157.jpg

(Note to self: if you walk all the way to the tannery with your camera idiotically outside its case, it will freeze up on you, and you will be unable to take pictures during the actual tour, and you will be forced to take all of your pictures in a mad frenzy during the last thirty seconds of the field trip.)

At the tannery they soak and dry animal skins. I wish I could tell you more details about the process. Unfortunately, I was so busy fiddling with my camera that I didn't listen very well... (VFN's field staff will work on improving technical details during the next Field Trip.) Skins are mailed to the tannery from all across Alaska. The tannery processes them and mails them back to the owners.

The above picture is a seal skin that has been, soaked, stretched, and dried.


After soaking the skins, they are put in this giant spinning machine that acts kind of like a large dryer. The machine spins the skins and makes them soft.


They throw handfuls of sawdust into the giant spinning machine.


They also use fabric softener in the giant spinning machine. It totally cracked me up to see big jugs of pink fabric softener next to the big machines. Just think, the same stuff that makes your jammies soft and yummy smelling is used on animal fur!


This is a seal skin. It is yellowish because it wasn't washed very well before the tanning process. Seal oil discolors seal skins if it's not washed right away.

Inupiat Days 150.jpg

In addition to seal skins, the tannery also processes wolf skins...

(Disclaimer: all of these pictures were taken by my handsome husband in 2006 when he visited the tannery. I am using these to supplement by photos because of the aforementioned problems with my camera freezing.)

Inupiat Days 167.jpg

bear skins...

(Disclaimer: if I misidentify any of these animals, I sincerely apologize. Please remember that I have never actually shot any of these animals myself, and I have only eaten a few of them. Thank you.)

Inupiat Days 159.jpg

polar bear skins...

Inupiat Days 161.jpg

and other soft things nice for making into coats.

Inupiat Days 163.jpg

You can also buy slippers at the tannery. They are made out of seal skin and beaver fur. They are super warm, and I love mine. (If anybody is interested in a pair, let me know, and I will hook you up.)

Overall, it was a very enjoyable visit to the Shishmaref Tannery, definitely worth the risk of frostbite and frozen legs.