Monday, December 15, 2014

Dreaming of a White Christmas

When we moved to Alaska, I certainly didn't think that lack of snow would be a problem! It seems that I am going to have to move to Minnesota if I want a white Christmas! As we packed up to travel to Texas for Thanksgiving, there was still not a flake to be seen. We had a couple of barely-there sprinkles of snow, but nothing that stayed on the ground more than a few hours. As Thanksgiving week approached we started breaking warm-weather records. Unfortunately, even though the snow held off, the dark did not. Without the snow to reflect any light it has been a darker-than-usual winter so far.

Fortunately, we got a short reprieve from the dark as we headed to Houston to celebrate Thanksgiving with the newest member of our family: my little niece, Samantha Jane.

The first time we met Sammi

The kids were instantly in love with their new cousin

It was so wonderful to see all of our family! Living in Alaska makes it difficult to get everyone together, but our whole family traveled to Texas to be together, so we were able to see everyone in one fun week.

The Hallam/Allen/Ball/McDonald clan at our Thanksgiving dinner table
 Grace decorated everyone's napkins with customized napkin rings (curtesy of Nana Marsha) and her own creative touches. No one wanted to use their napkins, which made for an interesting dinner etiquette-wise.

Steve was as helpful as ever in the kitchen. His usual job as "turkey-carver" hit a snag when I bought a ready-made turkey breast and stuffing combo from Costco. No carving required! :)

The day after Thanksgiving our family threw a "sip & see" shower for baby Samantha. Friends from the neighborhood joined us to ohhhh and awww over our precious little girl.

Mary, the sweet woman I work with in the library at ACC sewed a kuspuk and some booties for me to give to baby Samantha. She makes one cute Alaskan baby!

While we had everyone together we took some family photos to commemorate this phase of our life. I will treasure these pictures, especially the multi-generational ones, for years to come.

The trip to and from Texas was a long one! I have decided that there just is no easy way to get to Alaska. I honestly traveled fewer hours when I went from Hawaii to Australia in high-school. Any trip we take starts with the 3-4 (in the winter) hour drive to Anchorage. Often we overnight in Anchorage because of early morning (or middle of the night) flights. Then, there is the 3 1/2 hour flight to Seattle, and then however long of a flight from Seattle to the final destination. In this case it was a 6 hour flight from Seattle to Houston. 36 hours of traveling really cuts into your quality visiting time, but every hour is worth the hassle if it means seeing our family and friends. Our kiddos were troupers, but by about 3am Texas time Noah was ready for the lights on the plane to be out. :)

 On our return trip we stopped by Costco (as we do whenever we are in Anchorage) to stock up on things like toilet paper and school snacks. This time we also purchased a few flowers as gifts for friends here in Kenai and a few other Christmas gifts. As we were shopping we did not think about fitting everything into our already packed-to-the-brim car. While standing looking at the full car, and the overfull cart a (slightly condescending) passerby commented "you'll never fit all that in there." Challenge accepted!
 Noah is still going strong with his hockey. I am learning a lot in my role as team manager (usually a day late and a dollar short, but I will know more for next season!) It is wonderful quality time spent for Steve and Noah.

The days are getting much shorter now, the shortest day of the year (December 21) is coming up next week. The sun comes up around 10:30 am, and then sets at about 3:15 pm. This picture was when I was leaving campus at 2 pm a couple of weeks ago. Now it looks like that at around 12:30. It takes some getting used to, but we have been having some beautiful sunrises and sunsets, so that helps soften the blow.

Noah's birthday (7!) was last week. I went to visit him at his school for lunch. It was Taco Thursday, and I think I have been put off of tacos for life (or at least this week) after watching 50 first graders "build" their own tacos.

Noah wanted to have a "camo" birthday so we kicked it off with a camo ice cream cake the night of his birthday. He asked me to buy the camo decorations that he saw at Walmart (these are not the cute kiddy decorations... it took me awhile to figure out how to work them in, but they were cheap!) and we had a party at Jumping' Junction with some of his classmates and hockey friends.

For his birthday Noah asked for a specific Lego Technic plane. We found one at the Lego store in Texas on sale on black Friday. I was busy getting ready for the baby shower, so Steve's mom and dad took the kids and managed to buy it without Noah seeing. Then, we had to get a suitcase big enough to fit it inside. When we got back to Alaska and opened up the suitcase we found that TSA had not only unwrapped the gift (I knew that was a risk) but they had opened the entire lego box and pulled the bags of individual legos out. I was so disappointed! We did our best to tape everything back together and said a prayer it was all there. Steve got the pleasure of building the 13+ recommended- age Lego for Noah. It only took him 3 nights of intense concentration before Noah finally had his plane. The smile made it all worthwhile!

Before leaving for the semester I had my mentees over for a "goodbye to Marlene" dinner. I really love spending time with these girls! We had a great dinner of grilled salmon and green bean casserole (their request) and then watched a Christmas movie together.

 As we neared the end of the semester there were lots of fun events on campus. At our annual "singspiration" we got to hand out gifts from a church in Plymouth Minnesota. Members of their church each selected a student and filled a whole box with gifts for that student. Everyone was grinning ear to ear as they showed each other their gifts.

We finished the semester with a graduation recognition for the 6 students that graduated with their AA degrees this semester.  Marlene was thrilled to show off her diploma cover after receiving it from Jeff, our academic dean. (She was crying all morning and wouldn't take off the sunglasses, even for the group shot. Keep her in your prayers as she heads home.)

Last friday we sent our students on their way. Most return home for winter break, while others stay with friends and family in Anchorage or around town here. It is always bittersweet saying goodbye to these great people!

With rain in the forecast instead of snow, I am truly dreaming of a white Christmas this year. I hope that your Christmases are filled with hope and joy, family and friends, whatever the weather outside!

We have mailed out our Christmas Cards, if you did not receive one and would like to, or if you have moved, please email me your address ( and I will get one in the mail to you. We have loved reading the cards that you have all sent, keep them coming! They make us feel like a part of you is here with us -even if it is just your picture hanging on our Christmas-card-covered-door.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Living La Vida Alaska

Somehow as I sit down to write this October is almost over. I truly intended to update our blog much earlier, but I cannot believe how busy this semester has been! Steve and I have decided to cut back a bit next semester (where we can) on our time-commitments because this semester we have been FLYING from one place to the next. In short, you can expect more timely blogging next semester, but for now you will have to take it all in one big gulp. :)

It is quickly cooling down here in Alaska. We knew that last year was unusually warm, but that fact is really starting to hit home as the 17 degree mornings arrive.  We still haven't had a significant snow fall, but the frost isn't melting throughout the day any more. The one evening it did sprinkle a bit of snow both kids immediately ran outside and celebrated.

Catching snowflakes on their tongues
Despite our busyness we have been able to spend some really good quality time with both our family and our students.  One of our family's favorite activities is going to the local Brown Bears hockey games.  Many of our students volunteer as ticket-takers and security at the games, so it ends up being a fun hang-out time with them as well.

The kids always find friends at the games- one of the many benefits of living in a small town. This is Noah with a couple of his buddies from hockey.

With the coming of winter we have had some beautiful views of the "termination dust"- our name for the snow as it moves down the mountians.  This is Mt. Redoubt, our local volcano. It is still active, and last erupted in 2009. 

Winter also bring some hungry animals, trying to put on that last layer of fat before the food sources are covered in snow. This is our neighborhood Mama Moose. She still has one baby with her- they stay with their mom's for two seasons.

Mentoring continues to be a really fun time this semester. Every Monday I get to meet with three great girls. Sometimes we grab coffee, sometimes we run errands. We always have good conversations- I learn just as much from them as they do from me.

One of my mentee's hanging out in my office

Last week my girls surprised me by asking to go to the public library. As you can tell from this picture, I was not at all excited!

Another group of students that I have had the opportunity to get to know better are my student worker's in the library. Unfortunately, because of our small budget, they don't get to work at the same time as me. They come in in the evenings and on weekends to run the library when Mary and I are unable to be here, but we get to talk during training times, and whenever they stop by to give me updates. I have such a great group of hard-working students! I never have to worry- the library is in good hands when I am not there.

One of my student workers
Grace has been hearing about the "Egg-take" field trip since she first started school up here in Alaska a year and a half ago. Her teacher has coordinated with the Department of Fish and Game to provide the local third graders with an amazing experience. The students travel by bus to Anchor Point (an hour and a half away) where they get to learn about salmon reproduction. It had snowed lightly the night before the field trip, and was FREEZING cold. There is no building or shelter where the trip was held, they just gather the students by the side of the river under a couple of pop-up tents. I got to go as a parent chaperone, and lucked out when another mom offered to drive behind the buses and had an open seat, saving me from a 90-minute, bumpy, cold bus ride with some VERY excited 3rd graders.

The "mommy" and "daddy" fish
Prior to the field trip I knew very little about salmon reproduction. Let me just tell you, they left nothing to the imagination. I now know all there is to know about how those salmon come to be.
They started by slitting the female fish open and dumping the eggs into a jar. Each female has 2-4 thousand eggs.  Then, they poke a strategic hole in the male fish and squeeze out the milt (yes, that is the name for sperm in fish). Grace's eyes kept getting wider and wider. They mixed the ingredients up in the jar and then added the magic ingredient- water (since they spawn in the river, water is what activates the fertilization process.) As they mixed everything together 50 3rd graders yelled "Happy Birthday!!!" And that is how Grace learned the facts of life.

The eggs were then taken back to the school where they will grow in a tank until they are ready to be released back into the water next spring.

The fertilized eggs
Our yearly ACC Vision dinner, which is the major fundraising event of the year, was the same day as Grace's fieldtrip. We raced from Anchor Point (which is almost to Homer on the Southern tip of the peninsula) all the way to Anchorage (North of the peninsula, 5 hours from Anchor point).

 The proceeds from this year's dinner went towards student scholarships. The dinner was a big success, and provided an excuse for a much-needed trip to Anchorage for our family. Prior to this month we haven't left the peninsula since July! It is usually good to get out for a day or two every other month or so at the minimum to catch up on bulk shopping (Costco), as well as just to fend of the small-town claustrophobia that can set in without a few breaks.

We gave a ride to some of the other staff member's kids which made for a fun trip to Anchorage for Grace and Noah!

Some of our students with Governor Sean Parnell

Our ACC dance team

Governor Parnell spoke a few words at the beginning

Levi shared his amazing story with everyone at the dinner

One of our new students shared how ACC has impacted her life already in the time that she has been here.

This is how Noah does Costco
After we got back from Anchorage, fall festivities were in full swing here on the Peninsula.  Last week the kid's school had a pumpkin patch and some fun fall games for all the students and their families. Every student got to pick a pumpkin- our kids were in heaven! 

Noah with his buddy whose dad is the principal at their school

The night after the school pumpkin patch we got together with friends and carved the pumpkins. Of course the kids didn't want to go with the traditional two-triangles and a smile design, so Steve got to pull out his hidden artistic ability. (I have no pumpkin-carving talent.) The kids are all ready for Halloween- this year we will have an Elsa (along with most of the girls in the nation) and a teenage mutant ninja turtle (because it came with nunchucks).

Grace loves the costume Mema made for her!
Hockey is now in full swing for Noah. He has moved up from the younger Mini-Mites group to the older Mites group. He absolutely loves playing, especially since Steve helps coach his team.  I can't believe how much his playing has improved in the year that he has been skating! Swimming doesn't start until the beginning of November, but once it does we will have some very busy kiddos. Fortunately each activity is just one hour, two days a week (plus meets and games) so it is just enough to keep them (and us) active through the dark cold winter.

The most exciting news of the month (and year) is the birth of little Samantha Jane Allen, my sister Katelyn's beautiful rainbow baby. Samantha is Katelyn and Sam's second little girl as big sister Everly is joining in the celebration from Heaven. We have prayed and prayed for this child, and here she finally is, beautiful and healthy. Grace and Noah are SO excited to meet Sammi when we travel to Houston this Thanksgiving, but until they can see her in person they insisted on Face-timing with her. I think they got a bit more out of the conversation than Sammi did! ;)

Life on campus continues to be great. Our students are at that hard mid-semester hump, but most are getting through it with some hard work and encouragement.  We got to see a solar eclipse last week when the science teacher brought in her telescope, the students loved that. We also got to celebrate Mary, the library technician I work with, on her birthday a few days ago.  Our staff and students truly function as a family here at ACC- I love it!

Noah had a birthday party last week- I had to add this picture because it cracks me up. Noah is the yoda in the front row. This party was incredible- pod racing, a piƱata, science experiments, and more! Only in Alaska do you have a birthday party with major outdoor elements when it is 20 degrees outside- and have the kids LOVE it. :)

And last but not least...the kids school pictures for this year. That's right folks, we have officially entered into that awkward "Elementary Big Kid" phase. When I saw their pics, along with the re-take slips I asked the kids (very tactfully) ... "sooo....what do you guys think about your pictures this year? Are we keeping them or doing retakes?" They answered "They are amazing- the best pictures we have ever taken!" So, here they are, no retakes for us!

Tune in next month for pictures of snow, Houston with Sammi, and more! :)