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...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fun Fact: How to Qapsraq Seals

Qapsraq (pronounced kup-shuck, sr makes the 'sh' sound in Inupiaq) means to remove blubber from seal skins. It was the second part of my seal butchering adventure. Much to the delight of my extremities, it took place inside.


First you have to gather all the supplies. You will recognize the blade in the above picture as an ulu. (This is one of the tasks for which ulus were intended. They were not intended as pizza cutters, as frequently used in the VFN household.) The other items are qapsraq boards. They are curved cutting boards made from driftwood. These qapsraq boards are very old and were used by the grandmothers of the ladies were were working on the skins. Very few people make new qapsraq boards, and they're prized possessions.


This is a small stool. You sit on it while you qapsraq.


You also need rubber boots because the blubber makes an oily mess. Some boots are pink and girly...


And some look like they've been ordered from Cabela's. I didn't have boots, so I was in my bare feet.


You start by using your ulu to cut in between the blubber and the skin at a corner.


Then you stretch the skin over the qapsraq board. You use the ulu to slice the blubber away from the skin. Sometimes you have to scrape a couple of times in order to get all of the blubber off of the skin (it's actually not really scraping, it's more of a quick slicing motion).


You continue pulling the skin over the board as you cut off the blubber. This is a really good workout.


When the blubber is removed, the skin is a lot smaller (duh).


We took the de-blubbered skins outside to soak for a while.


Then we dumped the water and brought clean water inside for another round of washing.


People use lots of different solutions to clean their seal skins. The ladies I was with prefer Dawn or Joy dish soap.


I actually got to help wash the skins. It was fun.


You have to pay extra attention to the edges of the seal skin, because you want to make sure you remove all traces of oil and blubber. If you don't, the skin will turn yellow when it's tanned. Yellow seal fur is ugly, although you can sometimes still use it to make things to sell to ignorant tourists. I personally know better than to buy a handicraft made with yellow seal fur.

(By the way, you can tell that those are my arms washing the furs because they are so white. Not even six weeks in Southeast Asia could remedy that.)


After scrubbing you squeeze out excess water.


Then you spread the skins out to dry. You try to make sure the fur doesn't curl under at the edges because that can cause discoloration. Astute readers will notice that the above picture is of me in my barefooted glory. Don't you recognize my pootoogooks? (Pootoogooks means toes in Inupiaq).


Unfortunately, some of our skins needed to be rewashed. The above picture is one of our skins the day after we washed it. Can you see it? Around the arm hole? The discoloration? It looks kind of matted? And greasy? That would make for some ugly slippers or mittens, so it was rewashed.


My fabulous Eskimo lady friends agreed to let me try my hand at qupsruq-ing (please forgive me, I don't know how to conjugate for present participles in Inupiaq yet).

You can tell a couple of important things from the picture: 1. They lent me rubber boots. 2. They had to really help me to get started.


I actually managed to qupsruq by myself for a while. It's a lot harder than it looks. You have to really use your muscles. All of them. Ask me if I have a sore back. Or a sore neck. Or hamstrings. Or shoulders. Or gluteal muscles. Go on, ask me.


I started to feel like this because I was bad at the following things:

-holding the ulu appropriately
-completely removing the blubber from the skin
-not hacking up the skin

(Note to my mother-in-law: please don't be offended that I wore the shirt that you gave me for Christmas while I was qupsruq-ing. It isn't a statement about my feelings toward you or our relationship. Thank you.)

(Note to the surprised student who dropped by, took this picture, and said I looked scary: Ha ha, I learned to qupsruq before you!)


I perservered, and after an hour and forty-five minutes (and some help with the hard parts), I completed my first skin. That's an extremely long time for one skin. Some of my friends had finished three seals in the time I did my one.

Note to readers: You may notice two arm holes in the skin. Those are supposed to be there. You will also notice a large hole in the middle. That's not supposed to be there. That's the result of an idiotic white lady who had an unfortunate incident while she was trying to cut off excess blubber. Sigh...


Luckily, the seal was only a common seal. Common seal fur is less valuable than spotted seal fur. I still felt stupid, incompetent, and lame for my oops, but at least it won't be financially devastating to somebody.

VFN would like to, again, give a shout out to her super tough incredible Eskimo friends for showing her what it means to be a true Alaskan woman. I hope one day I will measure up...