rural Alaska living

After the positive response I got from my Grocery Shopping in Rural Alaska post, 
I thought I would share a bit more about life in the bush.

 Alaska is dry. Dry, dry, dry, dry dry.  My feet crack open, I get nose bleeds,  Josh's knees split, and the boys often get rashes.  We have humidifiers in each bedroom that we use every night.  We have had to switch the boys to baths every other day because too frequent bathing only exacerbates the dryness.  After every bath we lotion them from head to toe before putting on jammies. I lotion myself head to toe at least three times a week, and use Eucerin cream for my hands daily, especially after doing the dishes.  

 After spending a lifetime in the moist Pacific Northwest, I am still adjusting to the fact that when I set down a glass of cold water, there are no water rings. Ever.  That, and no mold in my bathroom. No pink ring that starts to form around the tub when I haven't washed in a while. The only battle I fight in the bathroom is hard water spots. That's it.  My windows are mold free-- a seeming miracle after the black mold that lived in our window sills in our old rented duplex in Washington. 

Marshall in particular is also dry in another sense. Alcohol.  There is no alcohol allowed in Marshall. At all.  It's funny because back home Josh and I never drink.  I mean, in our entire marriage (nearly ten years) I think we have had a drink together five times.  

But something about not being allowed to have it makes you think nothing sounds better.  Once we got home last summer, though, and we could have a drink, neither of us did. I guess you always want what you can't have!

Along with the dry there is, of course, the COLD.  Jack will often get rashes on his torso when he has been out in the cold too long. Like he's allergic the cold, and I can usually get it to go away with an application of thick Eucerin cream (last summer I bought four tubs and am already down to two!) and warming him up. 

Logan tends to get frostbite, like his mother, on his cheeks if he's out too long.  Pretty soon the inside of his rosy cheeks starts to turn white and then we know it's time to head in. It's interesting to me that they both respond so differently to the cold.

One thing I love about Alaska, aside from the lack of mold, is that there are basically no bugs for nine months of the year.  When we arrived in August there were flies and mosquitoes, but once it freezes, they are gone.  Then when it warms up, even a little bit, the flies will come alive again, like one did today, and they will show up in quite unlikely places. Like the shower.  

Other than the occasional appearance of a fly, I have only seen ONE spider in an entire year in Alaska. It was in August when we first got back, and it was in our shower, as well.  One spider a year are odds I like!

Last year Logan contracted Scabies from playing in the bleachers.  It's somewhat common out here, and passes easily among children who play together so physically.  I was pretty freaked out at first, but once I understood that it's like fleas for humans, I calmed down a bit.  I got a cream from the clinic and treated both he and Jack, and then proceeded to wash every single piece of linen/clothing in the entire house.  The only pain was having to keep the couch covered with a sheet for three days so that any existing scabies would die and not re-infest the children.  Just typing about it makes me itchy, and grateful.  Logan was super miserable when he had it, scratching his fingers, arms, and neck.  We now have the boys scrub down really thoroughly every time they get home from the school, to reduce the likelihood of the Scabies having the opportunity to burrow in.  I am so thankful we have not contracted it again.

One bummer about our new housing is that it is closer to the dump than the old housing was.  Now when they are burning at the dump we can smell it. And if we don't catch the scent fast enough, figure out what it is, and turn off our ventilation system, it can make our whole house reek for days!  

Last night Josh drove by the dump (on his way back from the airport to drop someone off) and saw it burning, so he called and let me know to turn the system off. I was relieved. The smell can give me a headache, so I like when we can avoid it getting in the house!

 That reminds me of another hard adjustment to living out here after living most of my thirty years in the northwest.  No recycling. I swear that for the first six months, every time I threw a pop can away, I thought my dad was going to pop out of the laundry room and scold me for not recycling.  Throwing out cardboard is equally difficult for me.  

Since I am not able to recycle in that sense, I do find myself recycling in other ways. Reusing candle jars for containers and saving things (like honey jars) to serve other purposes (like storing homemade maple syrup).  It's nice to feel so resourceful.

There are definitely things we miss about living in the city.  Like recycling, fast food and grocery stores.  I miss shopping in person.  Josh misses driving.  We both miss going to the beach; seeing people we miss; and entertainment.  {I really miss the movie theater!} I miss social outings like baby showers, jewelry parties and birthdays.  We both miss convenience- running out to the store for a missing ingredient or a last minute birthday gift.  Everything here has to be thought of at least a month in advance to allow for proper shipping time.  I ordered Christmas gifts in October.  And January got away from me, which meant I didn't realize until the day before that my Grandma's birthday had snuck up on me... Needless to say I called to let her know her card would be {a little} late!

Getting shocked is another thing we have had to get used to living in Alaska. By 16 months Wyatt could say "shock" because whenever I would transfer him from the rocking chair to the crib in his dark nursery, I would shock him.  The shocks here are so intense that if it's at all dark, like it is in his room, you can actually see the blue flash of electricity transfer from you to another object or person.  Sometimes my finger or body will be sore for a period of time after being shocked.  Especially if the doorknob gets me.  I have even been shocked by water from the faucet before. Yeow!

A few people had questions about Marshall specifically, so here are those answers.  There are roughly 350 people in Marshall.  Jobs include construction, commercial fishing, working at the store or gas station; the school (including Head Start for pre-schoolers and the Parents As Teachers (PAT) program); and the health clinic.

The health clinic offers same day urgent care.  We have been a handful of times; like to get Logan's Scabies medicine and to confirm ear infections in Wyatt.  I am so grateful it's here.

We have medivac insurance so that if there were an emergency and we had to get ourselves or the boys to a hospital quick, we wouldn't get stuck with the $20,000 (or more) bill when it was all said and done.  Our medivac insurance is through Apollo Medi Trans (AMT) and only cost $100 a year for our entire family.  I would recommend everyone purchasing medivac insurance, no matter where you live, because in the event of a life threatening injury, a helicopter ride may be necessary, and most insurance plans do not cover that type of transit. Just one simple phone call: 1-877-907-4911. {I know I sound like a commercial, but seriously, it's just $100 and could save you thousands down the road!}

Speaking of air travel, air travel is the only way in or out of Marshall. 207's and caravan's are what we usually see come in and out of Marshall.  Some carrying people, others carrying mail & groceries.  

 Last week, though, we had an unexpected visitor when a helicopter circled the teacher housing and landed, literally, in our front yard. Out on the tundra in front of our house it came down and parked.  

The men inside then went to check on the Reserve office we have here, and about twenty minutes later took off again.  It was very exciting and all the students from the school came over to watch.

We are completely off the road system.  In the spring and summer, you can travel by boat to other villages, and the occasional barge will deliver things to Marshall's port.  In the fall and winter, you can travel by snow machine to Pilot Station and Russian Mission, two nearby villages.  But in terms of roads, the only roads are in town.  One to the airport, and one that heads downtown.  They are gravel, and are, for most of the year, covered in snow & ice.  If you want out of here, you call ERA and ask for a ticket to Bethel. From Bethel you travel to Anchorage, and from there you can get just about anywhere, since it is an international airport.

So there's the airport in Marshall, the school, the post office, the co-op and the gas station. There is also a Bingo Hall (where I voted in November!) and three churches (a Catholic church, an Evangelical church, and a Russian Orthodox church).  That is literally all there is.

Aside from the co-op (and obviously the school), we spend most of our time at the post office.  We have everything shipped to the post office.  Except for companies that ship with Fed Ex or UPS.  Those packages usually end up at the school because we use a fake address. We don't have a real one.  So we write 200 Yukon Avenue, Marshall, AK. But in reality, our house has no number, and the road in front of our housing is called Airport Way.  Doesn't matter. Once it makes it to Marshall, it will get to us.  Everyone knows who we are!  Shipping things can be quite costly. I am grateful to have free shipping at Target and Amazon.  Last year, to move here, we spent almost $5,000 in shipping alone.  Every box was nearly $100 and those that were extra large or odd shaped could be even more.  Moving via the post office is very difficult for a lot of reason, but the impact on the pocket book was perhaps the worst!

Banking is also done a little differently here in rural Alaska.  There is a "bank" of sorts in the back of the co-op. They will cash checks of minimal amounts for you.  But if you want to deposit your checks, you have to send them in to the Wells Fargo in Anchorage.  I was nervous at first, but it's not like I really had a choice. If I wanted that money in my account, I had to sign it and ship it off.  Every time (so far, fingers crossed) my deposits have made it without a hitch.  But it does delay how quickly I have access to my money.  I have also found that it's best to do all my banking online. Not just for simplicity for myself, which I love (!), but also because if I send a check via snail mail, it could end up taking more than two or three weeks to reach its destination. Particularly if we are having loads of bad weather.

When we are having bad weather, I am always extra thankful for our housing.  We live in what look like townhouses, four in a row, that back up to another set of four townhouses.  They are brand new, as of November 2012, and we have been the only residents.  We have three bedrooms/two bath.  Two bedrooms and a bathroom are upstairs, and downstairs there is another bedroom, plus the living room, kitchen, dining room and second full bath.  We also have a fair-sized arctic entry, which serves as a buffer of sorts for the crazy weather.  The housing cost is taken directly from Josh's check.  We pay $800/month for it, and that includes everything, like heat and electricity, which makes it an amazing deal for us. This is the most beautiful place we have ever lived, and I am grateful for this space everyday.  

The space may not be extravagant, but we have been able to host a handful of get togethers, like the first potluck of the school year, and Thanksgiving.  And this weekend we had Joe & Krista and their four kiddos over for dinner.  All seven kids running around playing was so much fun!

While we were visiting, Joe said, in reference to our crazy lives out here, "Don't feel sorry for me.  I chose to have these children, to raise them here, to do this work.  We chose this."  It really resonated with me.  This life, these challenges, were meant for me.  Every road I have taken has lead me here.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

This lifestyle definitely comes with its share of sacrifices, but I would say the benefits outweigh the sacrifices, hands down.  And I feel blessed that one of those benefits is our "Marshall family"; the staff that surround us and make us feel at home.  Yesterday I felt especially lucky to have them when Joe was at the store, saw eggs, and bought us a dozen and a half because I had talked about how much I had wanted some over Christmas break.

Now if we could just figure out a way to get a Subway sandwich out here to me, I'd really be set!

"Everyday that I wake up and get to spend time with my family and friends is a reason to celebrate."
-Marie Louise Ludwig

{PS- Please feel free to ask any and all questions...  
I have a few more "rural Alaska living" posts in the works, 
and will try to work your answers into those future posts!}


Rox said...

I want to know if (after a few more years in Marshall) you and Josh would like to move to a bigger city in Alaska or see yourselves moving back to Washington or somewhere else?
I know it's probably hard to predict but give me your best guess, prediction or what you'd like to see happen!

Aniko said...

What a beautifully written post and the pictures are amazing. Truly an adventure that you will never forget and your children will be forever grateful.

Krystle said...

I love this!

Thanks for sharing so much about your lives.

You are an incredible woman. I wish we could grab a coffee sometime!!

cedarslodge said...
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