Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pro: Develop Super Powers

[Sorry about the post title. It's reeking lamenessosity, but it was better than the alternative: Pro-Do Things You Never Considered Yourself Capable Of Doing. I almost vomited while typing that title. I tried adding a clarifying subtitle: This Post Sounds Cheesy, But It's Actually Not. However, I ultimately decided I didn't wanted to be associated with the original title, let alone attach my name to it. So I settle for something vaguely synonymous, if slightly inaccurate. :) ]

Shishmaref has presented the editor of VFN with a lot of first:

-eating various parts of marine mammals
-being lost in a blizzard on foot
-having my picture in the newspaper with a balloon shoved up my shirt
-and, losing my only pair of inside shoes so completely that I was forced to teach in my socks for a week.

Earlier this month, I experienced another first: making a wedding cake.

VFN readers may not appreciate the magnitude of this achievement, so allow me to share the following facts about myself:

-my first grade teacher used to make me stay inside during recess in order to practice coloring in the lines
-I couldn't tie my shoes until third grade
-when I told my brother (who I know for a FACT happens to ADORE me) that I was asked to make a wedding cake, he responded with, "Wow, that person must have been desperate."

Let's just say that a life of craftiness and hand-eye-coordination has not been mine...

However, I've recently teamed up with one of my students who oozes craftiness, good taste, and overall perfection. Daphne and I try to bake during as many weekends as possible, and our efforts have been met with good results and a reputation as skilled creators of all things yummy.


Leaning on a recipe recommendation from my sister (who inherited far more than her fair share of domestic ability) and the expertise of our heroes Bakerella and Pioneer Woman, we produced our first fondant creations. They were by far the cutest things I have ever been a part of (this parenthetical comment exists solely to prevent this sentence from ending with a preposition).


We produced a host of them and shared them with people who provided appropriate validation by ooohing and aaahing. (Steve does his best, but he can only feign so much interest in the adorable.)


Our next challenge was to master full size cake layers. Which we did. We also learned how to make fondant turtles and experimented with peppermint flavored fondant (which I loved, but Daph thought tasted like toothpaste).

(Note to Readers: Please consider not judging me based on the messy table and cake platter. Thank you.)


For the sake of comparison, this is Daph's.

(Note to Readers: Please see the note for the above picture. Thank you.)

We were happy with our mastery of larger-scale fondant use, but we weren't completely sure what to do to elevate our decorations from cute to elegant.


Luckily for the bride, the universe fortuitously send us Erin (Hey Universe, thanks!). Erin teaches Family and Consumer Sciences at NACTEC and minored in food garnishing. She made a visit to Shishmaref and agreed to teach my tutoring group (of which Daph is a part) how to make fondant roses.


Erin introduced us to all sorts of amazing things, including this little tool that we found in the Home Ec room that cuts perfect circles.

(Note to readers: I apologize for the blurriness of the above photo. I'd like to be able to say that one of my students commandeered my camera and took the photo, but I don't think that's true, and I try to avoid lying whenever possible. Please consider that there's an excellent chance that the photo is blurry because my fingers were covered in marshmallow fondant and not because I possess zero photo skills. Thank you.)


This photo documents my pathetic attempts at learning the art of edible flower sculpting. While I am using the correct technique of beginning with a series of an odd number of overlapped fondant circles, I used way too much water as an adhesive and ended up with a gooey mess.


Not surprisingly, Daphne was far better than me at creating sugary flora. It was at this point that I officially became her assistant.


We started on the actual cake two days early by making the cake layers and the fondant. The next day we made several fondant roses of various sizes.


When I say "we," I actually mean Daphne. I did apprentice level tasks like roll out the fondant, cut out the circles, and get Daph beverages.


We used a shiny frosting recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

(Tip: When you quadruple a frosting recipe you need to consider that, even with a Kitchen Aid, you will not be able to beat that much frosting. Even if you tackle it in two batches. Be prepared to beat the frosting to the appropriate stiffness in layers using your friend's hand mixer.)

(Tip: Quadrupling the Better Homes and Gardens Shiny Frosting Recipe results in way too much frosting.)


Kate helped us smooth the frosting. Kate also provided us with the pans in which to bake the cake. And all of the decorating tools. And her kitchen table. And her husband, who proved himself immensely useful.


The finished product with the topper the bride selected and ordered.

For most wedding cake creators, the hard part would be over. We still had to get the cake to the church. A challenge considering it was both windy and snowy on that typical Saturday afternoon. Kate's resourceful husband John saved the day by loading the cake into a sideways microwave box and taping a garbage bag over the open side. John was also the champion who carried the cake to the church. (Hey John, thanks!)


Image of the evil tape dispenser that prevented me from being able to assist John in the taping.


With the cake in place, Daph and I were free to enjoy the wedding.

Just because I know you're dying to see, I'll share my favorite moments of the wedding (please do not consider the following pictures as an accurate representation of my actual ability to take wedding photos. Consider that I was exhausted from the extremely stressful yet satisfying experience of baking the wedding cake. Also consider that a hard drive failure took with it my copy of Photoshop. For an example of an Alston with actual talent in wedding photography, see here) :


The ring bearer trying to wink at me...


The flower girl who got scared and froze halfway down the aisle (for maximum enjoyment, note the equally terrified flower girl seeking refuge on Grandma's right hip and the wedding guest sticking her pink camera into the aisle for a picture of the bride)...


The son of the bride and groom hiding under his mom's veil after fussing to be picked up in the middle of the ceremony but before being removed from the chapel (let's just say that the wedding was not the best day of his life nor the most fun he's ever experienced).

It was a great wedding. I was honored to be part of it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Flat Stanley's Final Adventures

Flat Stanley had to return to his home in North Ogden, Utah. He enjoyed a Priority trip via the USPS. (Hey Post Office! Thanks for getting him there safely!) In his honor, I thought we would do a showcase of Flat Stanley's final adventures in Shishmaref.


FS made lots of new friends. Some of his friends were even cute girls! Wahoo!!!


One of FS's new friends even shared a candy bar with him! (Don't worry, no germs were spread.)


FS made cinnamon rolls. He was a little disappointed that he didn't get to learn how to butcher seals or walrus, but the school was having a little water shortage problem. No water = no way to clean up marine mammal guts = gross.


The older girls gave FS a lesson on scissor safety and let him help make kuspuks (traditional Inupiaq shirts). FS was going to make his own, but he didn't like the flowery material.


There was more sewing action in the elementary wing.


FS couldn't thread his own needle, but his stitches were nice and even.


FS was super excited when we let him paint. I guess he doesn't get to do that very often at home.


His finished product turned out pretty good. Way to go FS! (You'll notice he labeled the paper underneath his lantern so he could tell it apart from all the other ones.


FS even got to help the eighth graders make cotton candy for a fundraiser. That could have been a drag, but he got to eat some of the extra cotton candy, so it was all good.


FS watched some kids coloring Tlingit headbands.


The kids were especially cute and friendly.


They invited him to join in, and he got to show off his mad skills with a red crayon.


The finished products turned out pretty good.


This is FS with Peggy. Peggy came to Shishmaref from Fairbanks to teach art for Inupiaq Days.


FS took advantage of Peggy's expertise by creating a Zen Tangle under her direction.


FS also learned what happens when you have high cholesterol. Your blood is supposed to flow through your arteries like the tube on the left, but if you have high cholesterol your little blood beads get blocked like the tube on the right. Very sad.


I heart Flat Stanley.


Thanks for staying with us.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fun Fact: Ice Fishing Hooks

Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is a popular past time and subsistence activity in Shishmaref during the winter.

Note to readers: I've never actually gone ice fishing in Shishmaref. I've only, so this post might lack the usual VFN expertise. My apologies.

Other note to readers: This picture was taken decades ago in Shishmaref. I got it from our librarian Bill Nayokpuk.

You will notice that the "fishing rod" is a small piece of wood. That piece of wood is usually referred to as an ice fishing hook, even though a hook is only a small part of the apparatus.


My kiddos got to make ice fishing hooks during Inupiaq Days, and Flat Stanley joined in on the fun. They started by using a file to make an indentation down the length of the wood. FS did a great job filing, even though the file was as tall as him.


I got to give the filing a shot too. My kids totally cracked up. Let's just say it's harder than it looks. Hence the look of extreme concentration.


The next step is to sand the wood so that it's nice and smooth. FS got to master the use of sandpaper and, uh, the clampy things.


Once the wood is smooth, you have to drill a hole to tie the fishing line through.


My high school boys made sure FS was instructed on proper use of the drill. Power tools can be fun!

FS wasn't able to take his finished hook fishing, but he can rest assured that his efforts helped secure a yummy dinner for somebody.

Note to readers: one more Flat Stanley post coming up (in time for the due date). Stay tuned!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fun Fact: The Inupiaq Alphabet


In the early seventies, linguists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks partnered with local experts to create a standardized written version of the Inupiaq language. Shishmaref is extremely lucky to have one of the local experts in our village. John Sinnok was instrumental in creating the written version of Inupiaq and preserving our local dialect. He taught a basic Inupiaq Writing class during Inupiaq Days, and Flat Stanley and I attended.

The Inupiaq Alphabet has 23 letters. Some you probably recognize. Some you probably don't. (Wow, that was profound. Get ready for the Pulitzer nomination...)

Picture 1

This is the "belted l." You begin pronouncing it like you would a regular English "l," but then you make a sound kind of like you're clearing your throat.

(Note to readers: Stay with me. The descriptions will get better from here on out. I promise.)

Picture 2

This is the dotted g. It's pronounced kind of like the belted l. You begin pronouncing it like an English g and end with a sound like you're clearing your throat.

(Note to readers: Just kidding about the improved descriptions thing...)

Picture 3

This is the "n" with a tail. It is pronounced like the "ng" in "song."

Fun facts about Inupiaq consonants:

-you will never have three consonants together in an Inupiaq word

-the letter "v" makes a "b" sound if it precedes the letters "l" or "z"

-zr together sounds like "sh"

-the Shishmaref dialect of Inupiaq has five consonants that are not used in other Inupiaq dialects

-four of the consonants in the other dialects are not used in the Shishmaref dialect (they are represented in the top picture with a squiggly line underneath them)


Inupiaq only has three vowels: a, i, and u, but they can be combined in nine different ways, each with its own pronunciation.

a = uh
aa= aahhh (like a doctor is checking your throat)
ai= long a (like ape, ate, or angelic)
au = oh (like oat, only, or ode)

i= short i (like is, if, or iridescent)
ia= ee-uh
ii= eeeeeeeeeeeee (like something started you)
iu= eee-oo

u= oo (said in a short syllable, like you're shouting "Boo!" at someone (you wouldn't say, "Booooooooooooooo!"))
ua = oo-uh
ui= oo-ee
uu= ooooooooo (like booing a bad ref at a basketball game, "Boooooooooooooooooooooooo!")


After learning the basic phonics of Inupiaq, John gave us a series of quizzes. He would say words or letter combinations, and we had to write them down, spelling them according to Inupiaq phonics. Flat Stanley and I did AWESOME on the quizzes until John got to the six- and seven-letter words. Then we started tanking it.

I guess we need a little more practice. Maybe we should check out the following sites:

Alaskool's Inupiaq Text Dictionary

BSSD Inupiaq Dictionary With Pictures and Sound Recordings

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How to Survive: Keep Warm

Subtitle: Flat Stanley Arrives in Shishmaref


VFN would like to extend a warm welcome to our newest cast member: Flat Stanley. Flat Stanley hails from North Odgen, Utah. He was sent first class to Shishmaref by my cousin Ben. (Hey Ben! Thanks for sending us Flat Stanley! We're taking good care of him, I promise!)

One look at Flat Stanley told me that he was not going to survive in Shishmaref unless he got some warmer clothes.


This is a parka. It's the traditional Inupiaq winter coat. The student in this picture is making a silly face because he's wearing a woman's parka. A man's parka wouldn't typically be purple and pink. Or have flowers on it.

Note to readers: In Shishmaref, parka is pronounced "park-ee."

Hunting Parka

This is a pretty common man's parka. It's called a hunting parka. They are all white, thus camouflaging the hunters amid the winterscape.


This isn't really the best picture of a parka, but I thought it was too adorable not to include. Ahhhhhhhh!!! Cuteness attack!!!


I took FS over to visit my friend Kate. She hooked us some supplies to make a parka. FS wasn't sure what size he was, so I had to trace him. He wiggled a little bit, but we managed to get a pretty decent outline.


We made the parka out of blue material so there would be no doubt about FS's masculinity.


Much better. The fur ruff is Tuscany lamb. FS now has a chance to make it in Shishmaref without freezing.


FS should consider himself pretty lucky. Neither Steve or I have a parka. We brought our Rexburg coats up to Shishmaref. (Hey BYU-Idaho! Thanks for preparing us a little bit for the cold!) They lasted for about 3.5 years before we upgraded. We both went with The North Face jackets. Steve got a coat in rust, and I got one in black.

Note to Readers: In the above picture, Steve is demonstrating a very UNwise way to dress around Shishmaref. Shorts are a no-no, unless you don't mind sacrificing your knees to frostbite. However, he is wearing the boots that are very typical for life in Shishmaref. We both have a pair. Thank you.


The latest addition to my cold weather ensemble is my gloves. They are made out of seal skin and lined with beaver fur. I received them as a gift in the staff Christmas gift exchange. Steve took this picture of me right after I opened them. I might have been a little bit excited about them. They are super warm and super comfy. I recommend them to anybody that in need of warm fingers.