Last year, I received an N2 Smartpen for backing the project on Kickstarter. The donation wasn’t terribly high at the time, and I’m a gadget geek, so of course I wanted one.

When it arrived, I was sadly lost as far as what it would specifically be good for, especially in my classroom as I’d planned. I used the notebooks for conference sign-ins so I wouldn’t have to transcribe or scan anything, but that was really about it. Little notes I scrawl, by and large, are things like reminders meant to be discarded when whatever they’re for has been done, so I have no need to immortalize them in digital format.

The pen has pretty much sat untouched since the last set of parent-teacher conferences in Kaktovik.

Meanwhile, so had my writing notebook.

I haven’t written anything in months, but that feels like years. A lot of that has to do with moving around a lot and not really carrying my notebook with me (anymore/again). The random thoughts I record in Evernote never get a second glance, and when I type things on my phone, I usually use shorthand and seldom take the ideas any further. Besides all that, I find it a lot more difficult to generate new ideas on a computer screen than by hand.

This is what the smartpen is for.

I snagged up some college-ruled N2 notebooks on Amazon; they arrived today. I wrote for just fifteen minutes, generating new ideas (which were admittedly pretty corny) and just “going with it”, and that felt good. It felt new-ish, but good.

Perhaps this is something that I can get in the habit of doing each morning, now.

(Along with actually exercising again.)

No goals besides to write, no promise of any continuity unless it strikes me. Good, bad, new, old, rehashed – anything goes!

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Arrival in Anchorage, Alaska (alliteration!)

Anchorage, at last!

I arrived about forty-five minutes ago.

I had looked forward to applying my prior “friend-making strategy” on this longer flight, but when I arrived at my seat (I was in the exact same spot on this flight as the last – rear of the plane, against the window, and I swear that seat is smaller – how does that happen?), I was disappointed. One of the flight attendants was struggling to communicate with my neighbor. The flight attendant spoke only English and a few words of Spanish (si, ingles, and so on), and the woman spoke neither. After standing back for a minute or two, watching, I helped clarify with some simple gestures that she would need to stow her bags, and where.

You’d think this might have crossed the flight attendant’s mind?

When I sat down, the woman patted my shoulder and smiled without a word. Once she was settled, I asked her name and told her mine, and she seemed to understand, though spoke a little uneasily.

Essa’ka” was all I got out of her (I totally heard that apostrophe, too). Shortly after take-off, when electronics were once again permitted, I took out my Kindle and picked up where I left off in The Name of the Wind. Moments later, Essa’ka nudged me, smiled brightly, and gave me a handful of candies: delicious, coffee-flavored hard candies that not even I could bite through.

…not that I’d say I have a habit of taking candy from strangers…

After that, my reading was interrupted by cookies.

Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s the extremely-low expectations for any sort of airline food in general, but I love these little cookies.

Just saying.

I got about a chapter further when the plane finally started to take off; the back of the plane is usually worst for motion sickness, which I don’t normally get, but these things always happen at the worst of times. I leaned forward and rested my head against the seat in front of me, but the man seated there was gesticulating wildly in emphasis for a story I couldn’t hear, so that got uncomfortable quickly. The non-window was just as uncomfortable to rest against.

Essa’ka noticed.

Essa’ka reached into one of her bags and produced one of those U-shaped neck pillows, nudging  to offer it to me. Though I refused, she was insistent, so I finally accepted and she smiled once more.

Sleep came quickly.

Essa’ka and I talked at length in our own languages, indicating objects and gesturing for emphasis, and we understood each other pretty well. We even taught each other a few words.

This, of course, was just my dream.

I slept nearly the entire duration of the flight, waking to find Essa’ka, too, had dozed off without her pillow. Now I feel bad.

I help her to unload her stowed bags (she had too many) and walked out to the gate.

My first steps in Alaska, I guess.

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Grand Rapids, Minneapolis, and beyond.

Tuesday (7/23)

The place.

Arrived in Grand Rapids about 3:20pm, finishing the first (and, well, shortest) stretch of my trip.

The other place.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing and catching up with some of my friends for a while before I leave for Anchorage on Thursday afternoon. As I wait for them to get home, I settled in and am bloggged for a while from a neat little cafe right down the street. (Hey, lookthey’re on WordPress, too!)

I was the only other person there.

I felt extremely hip.

I bet it’s because nobody else has even heard about this place. It’s, like, my favorite.

Spoke with the Story Cafe’s owner, Billy Angel, for a little bit, and we eventually chatted with another customer who appeared named Clay Lewis about their weekly poetry night performances (he was very enthusiastic about his performance poetry about the Book of Revelation). I also learned that they have several different events throughout the week, including Saturday “Playback Improv”, a unique brand of improv that might be interesting for a couple of people I know in Grand Rapids to explore.

Time to catch up on some reading!

Wednesday (7/24)

Two and a half-mile morning jog made me miss Grand Rapids more than I already did.

Went past that one place where I dodged a bullet.

Shuddered a little.

Kept running.

Thursday (7/25)

Sleeping in?

What’s that?

I guess it’s actually pretty conducive to a teacher’s schedule, too, or at least adjusting to the one I’ll need to have in a few days.

Though I’ve known (at least a little) what I’m getting myself into, I’ve felt strange for about the past week.

“I feel pretty spaced-out,” I said, despite having gone to sleep at 9:00pm.

Things are becoming real.

It’s exciting.

Last meal at my favorite spot in Grand Rapids, and my last drink (hefeweis beer, of course) before Kaktovik!

It’s the first day of the rest of your life,” Lizzy quipped in response. I had actually realized that, myself, and the reality of that corny notion was a little bit dizzying.

I jogged almost an entire mile longer this morning. Slower overall, but I ran a mile without stopping, so…it’s a step?

The next part of my journey is a short flight that puts me all of one hour behind the Eastern time zone. All right, so it’s not enough time to adjust, or anything, and if it was, it would probably just mess with my internal clock even more than I’m about to have it messed with when I arrive in Kaktovik tomorrow morning.

I packed all of my things back up. I nervously tidied up some things that weren’t mine. I read a little. I paced around the house checking (repeatedly) for anything I left behind, and thinking anxiously about what I will be leaving behind: Lizzy and Ashley and Pete (though I didn’t actually see him…or Pacific Rim…) and Andrew and everybody who’ve been amazing, even if busy.

Thanks so much, guys (erm, I guess it’s mostly ladies?) for being so accommodating, helpful, and generally rad.

To prove this radness, Lizzy presented me an amazing little gift that my family and friends had collaborated on (behind my back!) for the past few weeks, and my heart jumped as I opened it:

(I’m not sure if Andrew knows that one thing about penguins or not…)

I honestly shed a tear or two as I looked through it. Thank you, everybody – GR pals, TC Karaoke Krew, friends from The Grand – for showing your love and support. I’ll miss you all (and Traverse City, and Grand Rapids); hopefully we’ll touch base again when I fly back to Michigan this December.

Hasta la vista!

Leaving alone, but with the satisfied feeling of having friends-in-spirit, I attempted to work on my “friend-making skills” by re-adopting the desperate and awkward method I’d once applied during my summer 2007 Eurotrip; I chatted up basically everyone I encountered. As I seated myself in the far back “window” (there was no window) seat on flight 1067, my first victim was my neighbor in 39C: Ben, a young man who works for the city of St. Paul. He brushed aside my attempts to converse in favor of boasting at flirting at a flight attendant who scarcely acknowledged him in return. (Humorously, when he finally turned his back to me and continued speaking at her, she turned her attention to the curly-haired toddler who was practically climbing over the seats in front of us.)


After an otherwise-uneventful flight, I arrived safely (if hungrily) in Minneapolis, and await the next leg of my trip – to Anchorage, Alaska!

Oh, and: follow me on this Tripline map I set up to see where I’m going and where I’ve been!

Categories: Experiences, Fun, Media, Pictures, Thoughts | 1 Comment

Outta here!

This place, for those of you that I haven’t yet done the zoomy-map-thing with.

I’m leaving in just a couple of hours for Grand Rapids – the first leg of my trip to Kaktovik, Alaska. On Thursday afternoon, I leave Grand Rapids for Anchorage, and will arrive in to Kaktovik the following morning.

Thanks to my family who’ve given me their love and support as I prepare for my journeys both to Kaktovik and (finally!) toward the beginning of my teaching career. Thanks, as well, to the friends who made it out to see me over these (harried) past couple of weeks – it means a lot to have seen you all. Thanks to the rest of you who couldn’t, who’ve sent well-wishes, and who’ve been (as they say) “with me in mind and spirit”.

I’m pretty sure that I have already spammed most of you (probably twice) about my (overly-)hopeful Google Glass petition; I’m submitting the petition by the end of this week, ready-or-not. I’m not holding my breath or anything, but if you haven’t signed, check it outhttps://www.change.org/petitions/google-please-send-google-glass-to-mr-vanwagner

This tool will give me yet another cool medium to record and share both fun and educational experiences. Whether that’s successful or not, I’ll be sharing loads of content on Facebook (through my wall and the Classroom Compendium page) and other networks, but I wanted to remind anybody who cares to follow me as I live, teach, and adventure in the arctic, that I will primarily be blogging most of the substantial content and sharing as much of my experiences as I can (whether I actually get those Google Glasses or not) on my WordPress blog, “Notes From the Arctic Circle”: http://arcticjoe.wordpress.com/


Kaktovik, Alaska.

Most of the content on that blog is password-protected to keep out the “general public”, but I trust my friends, and even family and friends of my friends, to check it out and comment and share and discuss. The password for all of those protected entries is misterj13 (that won’t work for any entries on this blog, though). Additionally, there’s a lot of other content linked from there, including the main Classroom Compendium page, where I’ll be posting a lot more of my educational materials, and links to the social and media networks I’m using for it, including YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr.

Thanks again to everybody who’s been there for me, and those who’ve had me in their thoughts. While it’s already been a trip getting this far, I don’t know that I could have made it (or at least stayed sane) without a lot of the (emotional, moral, and yeah, even physical) support that friends and family have offered and given. I’ll miss everybody. (I already do miss some of you!)

Stay in touch!

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Airing of the internet grievances, part one

Stupid gripes for today:

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All’s Well That Ends Well.

Went to Waterwheel Park in Suttons Bay this evening to catch Traverse City Riverside Shakespeare’s production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” with Tev.

I, of course, recognized more than half of the cast from the two productions I’d been a part of, myself (last summer’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and 2008’s “Romeo and Juliet”), though there had been a couple of people I hadn’t quite done so well with in the past. While I try not to judge or hold grudges, I inevitably do, sometimes, and my preconceived notion that actors have a tendency to be dramatic in many ways hampered my apparent willingness to accept that things would be well, here.

I was surprised.

The play was lots of fun, with a neat gypsy-and-pirate theme going on that (I thought) worked.

did show up to watch people act, but I didn’t expect genuine civility.

Maybe I finally need to start growing up a little faster.

…would that be dangerous?

Isn’t that part of why I get along with kids so well?

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Tev’s Chocolate Wands.

Tev’s Chocolate Wands

  • Twizzlers chocolate twists
  • Frosting

You probably have some leftover Twizzlers from those Cauldron Cakes you maderight? I imagine you have some frosting leftover, too!

Dip ends into frosting. (Use various kinds if you have them.)

Put in mouth.

Repeat as necessary.

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Tev’s Cauldron Cakes.

Tev’s Cauldron Cakes

adapted from a recipe on Mugglenet.

  • 4 Meijer double chocolate muffins
  • 1 container whipped chocolate frosting
  • 1 can green icing
  • 1 bag Twizzlers chocolate twists
  • sprinkles

Unwrap Meijer cupcakes and place upside-down on a plate.

Using a small spoon, scoop out a small (roughly 1/2 inch) “ditch” in the center of the flat side.

Fill each hollowed-out cupcake bottom with chocolate frosting.

Cover the chocolate frosting with green icing.

Add sprinkles as necessary.

Bend one Twizzlers chocolate twist over each cupcake, sticking each end in the “top” of each cupcake to form the “handle” of the cauldron.


Categories: Food, Fun, Media, Pictures, Projects | 1 Comment

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