Notes from the Arctic Circle

This blog is being moved to another host! New entries have been posted there, as will all future entries.

I will (probably slowly) be migrating the old posts from here to the new site, but everything will remain here, as well.

Password-protected entries on the new site will use the same password as was used, here. If you don’t remember it, please contact me and I’ll send it to you again. Thanks for following!


Link  —  Posted: 08/07/2013 by JPV in Before


Posted: 07/26/2013 by JPV in Before, Pictures

I was in the exact same spot on this flight as the last – how does that happen? When I sat down, the woman who was my neighbor patted my shoulder and smiled without a word. After some attempts at conversation, I discovered that she spoke almost no English, though once she was settled, I asked her name and told her mine, and she seemed to understand, though spoke a little uneasily.

As the plane prepared for take-off, she 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…).

I made it about a chapter further in my book when the plane finally did 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.

My quiet neighbor noticed, reached into one of her bags, and produced one of those U-shaped neck pillows, nudging  me to offer it. Though I politely refused, she was insistent, so I finally accepted and she smiled once more. Unfortunately, I slept nearly the entire duration of the flight, and neither made progress in my reading, nor any further conversation with my neighbor.

I walked out and took my first steps into the state of Alaska.


Posted: 07/25/2013 by JPV in Before, Pictures

I woke up and started to pack away a few of my things for my trip to Minneapolis – the first flight on the way to Kaktovik.

It’s the first day of the rest of your life,” quipped Lizzy. That corny notion is a little bit dizzying.

I have a lot of people to thank for being so accommodating, helpful, and generally rad. To prove it, Lizzy presented me an amazing little gift from my family and friends – a photo portfolio of well-wishes:

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

Thank you, everybody, for showing your love and support. I hope to see most of you again when I return for the holidays in December.

Leaving alone, but satisfied with my friends-in-spirit, I made my way to my far back “window” (there was no window) seat on the flight to Minneapolis. I spoke a little bit to my neighbor, a young man who works for the city of St. Paul for a while.

After an otherwise-uneventful flight, I arrived in Minneapolis, and await boarding for the next leg of my trip – to Anchorage, Alaska!

Remember to follow me on my Tripline map!


Posted: 07/23/2013 by JPV in Before, Pictures

The place.

Arrived in Grand Rapids about 3:20pm; the first (and, well, shortest) stretch of my trip is done!

Thanks, Nick, for the ride!

The other place.

I’m 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’ve settled in and am blogging from a neat little cafe right down the street. (Hey, look, they’re on WordPress, too!)

I walked in and was the only person.

I feel extremely hip right now.

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

Time to catch up on some reading!

Oh – follow me on my Tripline map to see where I’m going and where I’ve been!


Posted: 07/23/2013 by JPV in Before, Pictures


I’m leaving Traverse City 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, Alaska and will arrive in to Kaktovik the following morning.

Kaktovik, Alaska.

I thought it would be appropriate to recognize some of the people who have helped to make this trip – this huge step in my life, really – happen. 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:

  • 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’ll miss everybody; I already do miss some of you!

As an aside, I’m pretty sure that I have already spammed a lot of you (some, 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 out.

This tool will give me another cool medium to record and share both fun and educational experiences. Whether the petition successful or not, I’ll still be sharing loads of content through 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 this blog.

Most of the content on here is password-protected to keep out the “general public”. I trust my friends and the families and friends of my friends to check it out and comment and share and discuss what’s going on, here, so if you contact me (anywhere, really), I will be happy to share the password with you.

You’ll notice that there’s a lot of other content linked from here, including the main Classroom Compendium page, where I’ll be posting most of my educational material, including student-submitted works, and links to the social and media networks I’m using, including YouTubeTwitterInstagram, and Flickr.

As of earlier this morning, I’ve also created a Tripline map to share with everybody, to see where I’m going and where I’ve been along my trip. I’ll try to post a picture or two (they’ll likely end up on my Instagram, as well) in each spot alongside various other information I post on this blog.

Stay tuned, and stay in touch!


Posted: 07/18/2013 by JPV in Before

About two months ago, I switched my phone service from Verizon to AT&T, since AT&T is the only provider on Barter Island. I broke down and got a smartphone (99-cent iPhone 4, can’t beat it) again, because I figure I’d actually use a lot of the features this time around, as opposed to just downloading apps, seeing how terrible they are, and subsequently deleting them.

(I’ve been doing that, anyway, between spurts of productivity.)

Home internet access came up once or twice, too, and I’d been given the names of a few providers, so I assumed there wouldn’t be much of an issue actually getting access there, and so did not look into it until just recently.

I learned that the most reliable service provider in the area is ASTAC, shortly before I learned exactly what “service” entails. We’re stepping back to DSL, and what I mean by that is, this is about the range of speeds we saw during mankind’s first forays into the realm of broadband internet.

Check out these killer speeds:

I don’t know what I expected. I’m going to be living in the arctic circle, not Chicago.

But now I’m expecting that I’m not going to bother with home internet access.


Posted: 07/18/2013 by JPV in Before, Environment, School, Teaching, Video

Tev and I just completed the follow-up to yesterday’s “Questions” post with a compilation of what kids from Traverse City Central Elementary School think they know about Alaska. Check it out!

What do you think you know about Alaska and the arctic?


Posted: 07/17/2013 by JPV in Before, School, Teaching, Video

Tev and I finished compiling a video of all the recorded questions from my students this past year at Traverse City Central Elementary School!

I’ll answer some of them in brief, below (I’ll update as I get more), but I do aim to elaborate on most of them in later posts. Stay tuned!

  1. I was wondering what school you’re going to teach at in Alaska. Harold Kaveolook School.
  2. What will it be like walking everywhere when it’s freezing cold? I imagine it’ll be cold, unless I’m wearing adequate gear. I did prepare!
  3. How big are polar bears? Polar bears can be very big – up to 1400 pounds!
  4. How much snow do they get on the island?
  5. How long are the nights there? If you’re talking about darkness, that depends upon the time of year; during the summer, “nights” are not dark at all, but in the middle of winter, it’s dark throughout the day.
  6. Do they speak a different language? Everybody speaks English, but the native language, as I understand, is Inupiaq.
  7. Will you live in an igloo in Alaska? No.
  8. Is there grass in Alaska? Yes.
  9. Is it warm in the summer? Yes! Right now, it is 55 degrees, in fact; last week, it was in the mid-60s.
  10. Are there penguins there? No; penguins live in Antarctica, on the other side of the world.
  11. Do you know how cold it gets there? I’m told that temperatures can reach as low as -40!
  12. Do they play football at school?
  13. What kind of clothes do you wear in Alaska?
  14. What do they eat?
  15. What school are you going to be teaching? Harold Kaveolook School.
  16. What grades are you teaching? Sixth, seventh, and eighth.
  17. Do they have sled dogs in Alaska? Yes! The Iditarod Trail is in Alaska, though not near where I will be.
  18. Why are you going to Alaska? To teach in an interesting, adventurous, and culturally-different setting.
  19. Are you ever coming back to Traverse City? Yes! I’ll be home for the winter holidays and during parts of the summer.
  20. Do you have to wear snowpants in the summer? It doesn’t look like it.
  21. How long will it take to get from Traverse City to Kaktovik? It looks like I’ll be flying for a total of about ten or eleven hours, but the trip will be several hours longer than that.
  22. What was the thing that surprised you the most? At this point, the whole idea that this unique situation came to be; I’ll let you all know about a lot more interesting stuff, though, once I get there!
  23. What kind of animals are there?
  24. What continent is Alaska on? North America.
  25. Are people still whaling? Yes.
  26. How much snow do they get on the island? Didn’t you already ask me? 🙂


Posted: 05/18/2013 by Class Compendium in Before, School, Teaching, Video

In addition to the questions I have, since the announcement of my position at Harold Kaveolook School, I’ve been asked about a good number of things – some of which I’m pretty curious about, myself!

Many of these things, I don’t readily have answers for, either. Though I’m pretty busy, myself, and am still looking into answers for my growing list, I thought that it might be pretty neat to explore some other things, as well. (I actually enjoy answering good questions, especially from students, other kids, or genuinely inquiring minds; it’s sometimes a problem, but I can stop whenever I want.)

This is an open call for quesitions; that said, there are some important rules. In addition to those common-sense considerations, for the purposes of this blog, I have some additional stipulations:

  • Must be appropriate, not ridiculous. Though the Classroom Compendium has (more or less) welcomed a certain degree of silliness, I am going to have to reserve that (limited) privilege for the students in my current classroom.
  • Should focus on Alaska, and (if possible) the region where I’ll be.

Anything not in adherence to these, as well as the initial rules (have I given you the link enough times, yet?), will be ignored. Sorry. Questions will be published in the Compendium (unless otherwise requested; though I do request names, they are for record-keeping purposes only; I will not publish), and printed in a bound copy of the Classroom Compendium, to be shared with my current and future students.

You can submit your questions any number of ways:

Question. Name. Place. That’s all.

  • E-mail them to me. Please be sure to include your (full) name somewhere in the e-mail; it would also be a good idea for you to say where you’re from.
  • Send me a video. This can be slightly-more-complicated, so here’s my explanation: I will be compiling a set of short videos of people asking their questions, which I will post here. Your video needn’t be more than five or ten seconds long (really, as long as it takes you to ask your question), and you don’t need to crop it or edit it or post it anywhere. Just send me the file, or a link to the file, and I’ll take care of the rest, myself. I will try my best to answer these questions in the same posts as the videos (I may – if I can find the time – even re-compile the videos with clips of me answering the questions, just for fun). (NOTE: If you’re a minor – that pretty much means “under eighteen years old” – please, please, please, in the name of sanity, make sure that you have a parent or guardian’s permission – and prove it, if you can – before you send me this stuff!)

    Pretty simple, right?

  • Text them. You can send texts to the Classroom Compendium’s Google Voice number: 734-707-7826
  • Leave a voice message. A cool thing about Google Voice is that it can also receive voice messages (it can even transcribe them, or at least make hilarious attempts to). You can call 734-707-7826 and leave a message. I won’t answer the phone or return your call, but I will transcribe it to the Compendium and answer the question, there (so long as it follows the rules).
  • Tweet them. Yep, I broke down a while ago and made a Twitter account for the Classroom Compendium.
  • YouTube them. For aspiring vloggers, I even made a YouTube channel.
  • Post them to Facebook. There’s a Classroom Compendium Facebook page, who knew?
  • Post them here. Kind of a no-brainer, I suppose, huh?

It might seem like a lot of rules, but they’re pretty common-sense. Submission might look complicated, too, but I’ve set up all of those avenues so that you can submit questions as easily and readily as possible, from wherever you might be; you’ll find that once you’ve asked a couple, it’s really not.

Let’s all have some (good, clean) fun with this, huh?


Posted: 05/08/2013 by Class Compendium in Before

In addition to my now-enthusiastic family, I have a number of friends, coworkers, and students who are (increasingly) interested with me sharing stuff about my upcoming journey to the northern reaches of Alaska. Some blogging-types on Reddit suggested that I could apply for Google Glass, the wearable eyeglass-model computer devices designed to take pictures, video, and do all sorts of cool social, ‘augmented-reality‘-type stuff. (It’s sort of like a PipBoy for your face.)

Okay, then. Why not?

Sadly, they are not accepting new applications, though it’s suggested on the website that they will send more out in the future.

With a “well, this couldn’t hurt” sort of thought, I made petition to Google to have them send me Google Glass, anyway. I’m unsure if the petition will be effective, since I’d think that their goal with the pre-market models they’re sending out are targeted toward developers and people in communities with significant target audiences.

I suppose my goal, then, should be to make some noise in the local media that’d be worthy of Google’s attention. I’m not really certain how to do that, but this could be a good opportunity for me to see what kind of support I can garner from my friends and community.

Have any ideas on how I can make some noise in the media? What types of things I should include in this blog? I have some ideas, myself, but what would keep you coming back here? Do you know anybody who can get me some (free) advertising, of sorts?

Whether I actually get Glass is kind of irrelevant (though it would certainly be very neat, as I clearly – friends, back me up, here – have a thing for experimenting with new ‘tech toys’), as the purpose of this blog will be to share my adventure with my friends and family, my home communities, and the rest of the world in any way that I can. I’ll be taking plenty of pictures, and hope to share a good deal of videos when I get there.

Stay tuned, as they say.