Advice to Newbie on Essentials

This is the new version of the Alaska Teacher Placement (ATP) forum for teachers, education majors, and school administrators to discuss working and living in the state of Alaska. Those considering an Alaskan job, or considering a new Alaskan education job ask questions, and those with information and/or opinions provide answers. Although many users are teacher or principal candidates from the Lower 48, a large number of current and former school district HR and school administrators subscribe.

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Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby larksong » Thu Jun 11, 2015 6:22 am

I'm moving to Atka! ::happy dance:: I chose the Aleutian Region district because of the educational philosophy, though I'm also really excited about the location. I'm making plans for getting to the island. Since I'm traveling with two dogs, the only feasible choice is to drive to Anchorage. The bonus is that it allows me to pack as many plastic storage containers as I want, load them into the van, and then ship them from Anchorage to Atka.

What I'd really like to hear from the old hands is what do I need to pack that I might not already own? For example, somewhere along the way I read that I should get ice cleats. Sounds good to me. What else? Long underwear? Silk, cotton, wool, or a blend? I happen to own really good boots and about a dozen pairs of wool socks. I can also crochet socks and mittens if I need them. What else will I want that's easier to pack than to order from Amazon later?

Don't limit yourself to cold weather gear. I know from living in China for the last 2.5 years that sometimes there are silly things you can't get locally that you would never think of, like a potato masher, a can opener, and an egg slicer! And I never have found a salt shaker for my Chinese kitchen! ;)

Thanks in advance for sharing your expertise!

Lauren
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby Bushteachers » Thu Jun 11, 2015 8:13 am

Light bulbs. Seriously.
Spices
Cleaning supplies. We use vinegar and baking soda mainly.
If you do long johns go with synthetic or wool.
If I can think of anything else I'll let you know.
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby Bushteachers » Thu Jun 11, 2015 8:14 am

And congratulations.
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby Johncn » Thu Jun 11, 2015 5:42 pm

Lauren,

Congratulations on your new position! Atka is the single most beautiful place I've been in Alaska. You'll love it. It's more remote than you probably realize, and another time zone West of the rest of Alaska, but it is a very special place. Don't over pack. It will be expensive to get your things shipped there from Anchorage. Don't buy a ton of winter gear. It snows and melts and sleets and snows again all winter. However, it does not get below 20 F or so air temperature.

I would think about a very good rain gear set / parka shell, layers of mid weight polypropylene underwear, a couple good fleece sweaters, ski goggles (for sleet and sideways rain) and waterproof gloves (neoprene rubber with glove liners underneath), and a neoprene skier's face mask. You don't need any of the real "arctic" winter gear. Seriously.

For footwear, I recommend Extratuf rubber boots (http://www.xtratufboots.com/product/non ... Hwoder0Aow), and a pair of hiking boots with waterproof liner.

I would leave much of what you think you want to take in storage the first year. Your house will be basically furnished, so bring personal items that you find essential, and a few things to keep you busy, or intellectually occupied.

I'd also seriously consider buying and shipping a four wheeler (if you can afford one) so you can get out and around the island more easily. Atka is spectacularly beautiful, and truly unique in geography, history and culture. There are miles of black sand roads you can ride, miles of black sand beaches with volcanic sea stacks, Korovin volcano (with a the westernmost glacier in North America), a hot spring site, and remote streams you can fish if you have wheels or don't mind a hike. Make sure you ease into all that, and ask locals for advice. I found them very warm and genuine people. There is still Aleut spoken in the community. Atka people still subsistence fish (in addition to commercial fish), hunt seal and birds, and harvest from a resident reindeer herd - essentially small caribou...same species - descended from source animals placed there in the early 1900s.

It's been too long since I've been there to have any truly meaningful shopping advice for most things, other than what I offer above, but the superintendent will be a good person for you to get practical advice from. Enjoy your exciting move, and have a great experience.

Regards,

John
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby larksong » Fri Jun 12, 2015 7:40 am

Thank you so much for the advice!

By the time I get across the country and mail boxes to Atka, I may not be able to afford a 4 wheeler, but that's a great idea. I've got some physical issues that would limit hiking, but I know I'll want to get out and explore. One thing I'm investing in is a good digital SLR camera. I had a good SLR, but it was stolen a few years ago. I'm going to be somewhere worth photographing, so I want to make sure I have the equipment to do it. If I can't get the 4-wheeler when I pass through Anchorage, maybe I can get one later on.

Thanks again!

Lauren
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby marymatt718 » Sat Jun 13, 2015 9:20 pm

Hey Lauren. Congrats on the new position.
John gave you most of the really good advice you need, but I can think of just a couple more things to tell you.

If you use bleach at all for washing, etc., it is VERY expensive in the village stores (like, $11 for a half gallon). In the laundry section at Walmart in Anchorage, you can purchase a bottle of bleach tablets that, when mixed with a gallon of water, will give you a gallon of bleach for pennies. I have been here 2 years, buying bleach sparingly because it's so expensive and it can't be mailed. I found out about these bleach tablets from my Vice Principal.

If you can't afford a TV or it's a pain to ship it, consider buying a mini HD projector from Amazon. The better ones will cost about $100, and are Prime eligible. This, in essence, will give you a screen size of up to 100", which would cost you upwards of $2000 in a TV. It can hook up to a computer, iPhone, iPad, portable hard drive, Dish Network box, USB thumb drive, DVD players, game consoles, pretty much anything. We have The Walking Dead nights here in my village when it's on, and we all get together around my little 32" screen. I just recently bought one of these little mini projectors, and now I CAN'T WAIT for October and season 6! It is the coolest thing! I was going to buy a bigger TV, but the logistics, and the cost, of getting one out here were daunting...$700 minimum for a 48" on sale at Costco...that's a lot of grocery money to be wasting on a TV, even if it is for The Walking Dead. The only drawback to this little projector is, like any projector, the room needs to be pretty dark to see everything well. You don't need a screen. Just buy a flat white sheet and iron it really well before tacking it up on the wall. This is just a thought, especially in your case, since you are going to be doing some photography. It might be nice to project your photos to really appreciate them.

Palmolive dishwashing liquid is flammable. (I know! Weird, right?) Walmart and bypass mail expeditors will not ship it, so go for Dawn instead. If you mail it out yourself in a mail box, at least you know you can use it to start a campfire. ;) (I know this because Chris Jett, who runs Express Yourself Expeditors, the Bypass Mail company I use, actually tried it and used Palmolive to start a campfire...who knew?)

Don't pay for a personal hotspot on your GCI phone plan. It doesn't really work out in the Bush. If they offer you one for free, take it. It will work in the Lower 48, but it's not worth paying for here in Alaska. Also, go ahead and get the National Plan, so your phone works in the Lower 48 and you don't have to have two phones with two different contracts and two different numbers to keep watch over. My GCI phone works down in Texas just as well as it works in my village, 4500 miles away. Actually, it works even better there, and I can still text.

This I think I've mentioned in another post, but in case someone else hasn't seen it, I'm putting it here. Definitely get Amazon Prime and check out Amazon's Subscribe and Save section. There are products they send out on a monthly basis to every 2 months, to every six months. If you have at least 5 items sent each month, you get 15% off of each item. I buy dog food on the Subscribe and Save program. I get 24 cans of wet food for what I would pay for 4 cans in the village store, and I get 4 -35 pound bags of dry food for less than what I would pay for 2 bags of the same food in the village store. All are Prime eligible, so I pay NOTHING for shipping. I even buy Coke Zero on this program, 24 of the little 7.5 oz. cans for about $9, which is still get a better price than the $13 for a 12 pack of 12 oz. cans in my village.

The two best tasting dry milk mixes I have found on Amazon are Nido and Peak, and both are whole milk, not non-fat dry milk <gag>. I just switched back to Peak though, (little more expensive than Nido) because I am boycotting the Nestle company, which makes Nido, for its irresponsible water practices in drought-stricken California. You can mix the reconstituted powdered stuff with your regular milk to make it go farther, or drink it on its own, (with these two, that's possible), and both are Subscribe and Save items.

Powdered eggs are good for cooking, so you might want to purchase some for putting in things you are cooking and buy real eggs to eat for breakfast. Real eggs are expensive in the village. In baking, eggs are mostly there for their chemical properties, not their taste, so you will never notice a difference in flavor, but you will notice a difference in your budget.

Yes, a 4-wheeler is wonderful to have. I have been in my village for 2 years, and I just bought a 4-wheeler. I am SOOO happy to have it, but I did manage for two years without it. You will find that other teachers and the school will be open to helping you get to the Post Office and the village store. My principal lets the teachers use the school vehicle once a week for teachers who have no transportation. Our school is 3 1/2 miles from the village, so he is very open to keeping his teachers happy. I am sure you will find that is the case in your school. After you're there for a while, and have some savings, you can get a 4-wheeler. You will feel LIBERATED once you get one. I bought mine for $2400 from a departing teacher this past May, but sometimes, the local AC store also sells them and will finance them. One teacher did that this past year. Her husband came with her and she didn't want him to feel isolated, so they financed theirs through our village AC store. A new one will run between $9000 and $11,000, depending on the bells and whistles and shipping.

If you are driving, and what a gorgeous drive it is, make sure you get a current issue of The Milepost, which is the road atlas through Canada and Alaska. It is very handy to have, not just for the maps, but for all the bits of historical information and recommendations of things to see. I drive from Texas because of my dogs, and I have found The Milepost to be invaluable. I don't know how far you're driving, but I drive from Austin, TX and it takes me most of 8 days to get to Anchorage. I rarely stay in a hotel, but camp and sleep in pull-offs most of the way. There is even a subculture of RVers that stay in Walmart parking lots. I did that in Durango, CO and Moab UT this past July as I was coming back up. Both are extremely expensive tourist towns, and I couldn't justify the expense of a hotel in those towns. I drove by the local Walmart and notices about 50 different RVs parked in the back sections of the parking lot...even with the signs that say "No Camping." I pulled in and joined the crowd, feeling very safe staying there overnight. The back of my SUV is the size of a double bed when all the back seats are folded down, and I have a cheap memory foam mattress topper back there to sleep on (tried the inflatable thing, but my dogs have long nails, so they took care of that thing in less than 5 minutes), so I just curled up with the dogs and slept in the back. I did have to wait to sleep in the car until I got out of the deep south, but once I passed Denver, it was cool enough to sleep in the car almost every night. The Milepost will also tell you where all the campgrounds are in Canada, and you can find which ones have shower facilities, which ones don't allow pets, etc.

Oh, car storage...I store my car at International Self Storage ($85 a month) which is on the corner of W. International Airport Drive and C Street. It's about a block (walking distance) from Motel 6 which is where I stay in Anchorage with my dogs. Motel 6 allows pets and does not charge pet fees. There are some cheaper hotels, but by the time you pay their pet fees, they are more expensive than Motel 6. Some of the cheaper ones are not in good neighborhoods, and since you are going to have to walk your dogs several times, that's something you need to consider. Unfortunately NOTHING is cheap in Anchorage in the summer, but Motel 6 is reasonable ($179 a night), has a free shuttle to the airport, is pretty close to all the shopping (go south on C Street and you will be able to turn right onto Dimond where everything is), is within dog-exercising distance of a Starbucks, and is within walking distance of a car storage lot.

Okay, so a few tips turned into a treatise. I'll be there from 1-7 August. If you're there then, send me a private email from this forum and I'll give you my cell number. I can show you where everything is. Good luck!

Donna M.
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby Sonjalm » Sun Jun 21, 2015 7:40 am

:D I am going to Atka, too!!
Super excited to meet you, Lauren...and so happy you also have two dogs.
Looking forward to hearing of your experiences in China.
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby larksong » Mon Jun 29, 2015 9:21 pm

MaryMatt,

Thank you so much! You've answered some things I wasn't able to find info on.

My parents protested my driving to Anchorage from Baltimore alone. For the sake of peace, I changed my plans to flying. Even at 56, I'm still their baby! ;) I may change the travel date, but right now I'm supposed to arrive in Anchorage on August 22. I'm hoping I can maybe go a week earlier. I'd like to settle in and get the dogs acclimated before I have to leave them alone all day.

Perhaps we'll get to meet some time. Where are you teaching?

Lauren
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby marymatt718 » Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:12 pm

Hello Larksong!

I HIGHLY recommend you go early, as early as you possibly can, ESPECIALLY your first year. August 22nd seems really late. My district's school year starts on 28 August, but our in-service is 17-20 August. Has your district told you when new teacher in-service is? You might want to arrive at least a week before that date, whatever it is.

My first year, I arrived 3 weeks before school started, and I was so glad I did. I was completely unpacked and settled into my apartment and my classroom before school started and even before in-service. I was relaxed (well, as much as possible on this adventure!) and ready to go on the first day of school. As the head of the Togiak Teacher Welcome Committee (Yes, really, there is such a thing!) I try to get our new teachers here in Togiak to do the same. (Southwest Region School District; I teach MS/HS Science). We had a big group last year, and every one of them made a point to come up and thank me later for having STRONGLY encouraged (okay, insisted) they come as early as possible. We actually got nearly everyone there during the last week of July.

It's a shame you aren't driving. If it helps, tell your parents I drive every time by myself all the way from Texas, and have never had any problems. I've made the trip there and back twice now, so that's nearly four times driving 4500 miles for 8 days on my own. My "boys" sleep in the back, and most of the time I just pull off in places where I see others staying overnight and sleep in the back with them. It's a great adventure! I'm 58 and love the drive...except for northern Texas, Oklahoma, and southern Colorado...hot and boring! I don't take any stupid chances, am always aware of my surroundings, and never isolate myself anywhere...which is another reason I won't drive the Cassier Highway again...not enough traffic. (It helps that my sister is retired from the FBI and was a supervising agent in violent crime for a while in NYC. She scared the crap out of me and taught me to be careful.)

Of course, my dogs are HUGE (Deerhounds), and I don't have the option to fly. They are so big that the kennels required for them are not allowed on regular AK Airlines passenger flights. They pretty much keep me safe on the road, but just in case, I carry wasp spray in my car within easy reach. (Yes, you read that right, wasp spray.) An airline pilot I met in line at the Passport Office, while I was renewing my passport for my first drive to Alaska, recommended it. He has his wife carry it with her in her car if she will be driving for any distance. It's more painful, he said than pepper spray, almost as painful as mace, but is legal, and it will spray to a distance of 20 feet. I've never had to use it, but I have it. I don't carry a gun because I don't want to kill anyone, I just want to incapacitate them long enough to get away. He said this stuff will do the trick. I also keep a phillips-head screwdriver in the console next to me.

If you think you might get to Anchorage as early as 1-5 August, send me a PM and I'll send you my contact information to meet up and help you with your shopping.

Ooooooo, it's getting close. I know you're excited! Good luck!!
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby marymatt718 » Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:27 pm

Oh yeah, I finally broke down and got an AARP card this year. (In my mind, I'm only 34, so I resisted joining AARP as long as possible!) Motel 6 gives a 10% discount to AARP members, which is saving me $18 a night on my room this year. Like me, you're probably mentally in your 30's but time has not cooperated with that scenario. If you're 56, I'm sorry to tell you, but, you're eligible too.

Gads, I'm depressed! :( When did all that grey hair show up?!? :shock:
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby tnuts20 » Thu Jul 02, 2015 12:16 pm

This site has been beyond helpful! My roommate and I are flying into Anchorage on July 21st. We will be there for a couple of days to get supplies. We will then fly to Barrow, then Atqasuk. Looking for hotels now ...
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Re: Advice to Newbie on Essentials

Postby marymatt718 » Thu Jul 02, 2015 12:49 pm

If you are going in that time, the place I stayed last year might still be available. It's called the Sea Wolf Inn and is actually a basement apartment in a woman's home. You would need to rent a car, but her price per night makes that affordable. I think I paid about $110 per night plus tax last year. For a two room apartment with a separate bathroom, a full kitchen, a queen bed, a futon, cable/satellite TV, and WiFi, that's VERY reasonable. It might be slightly more this year, but should still be very reasonable. I'm going later this year and wasn't able to get into her place. It was booked. She's really nice and the apartment is comfortable, clean, and in a nice neighborhood. I stayed with her most of my visit and moved to Motel 6 for the last night because I could take advantage of their free shuttle to the airport (so no $30 cab ride) and was within walking distance of the place where I store my car.

I found the Sea Wolf Inn through a website called bringfido.com because I was looking for a place that would take my dogs, had a kitchen, and wouldn't cost me the soul of my first born. :shock: Others I know have found reasonable accommodations on airbnb, so you might also try that. Check the neighborhoods and the reviews of the really cheap hotels before you book. I almost stayed at one last year that allowed pets and was really surprised when I read the reviews and more than one previous guest talked about the noise late at night and the obvious drug deals they saw going on in the car park. :geek: I kept looking.
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