Snapshot of Life as a Jesuit Volunteer

Let me explain what grocery shopping looked like this afternoon with my housemate Jackie:

Decked out in our finest fully-body rain gear, Jackie and I hopped on our bikes with empty backpacks and a relatively short shopping list in my pocket. Having received a lot of donations from various people in town this week (randomly 8 dozen eggs showed up in our fridge, several containers of chive cottage cheese?! and an abundance of cookie dough!), we only had a few essential items we had to pick up at SeaMart this weekend. Since we’re working within a pretty strict JVC grocery budget we have to plan when bigger items are purchased. So this weekend, with many of our necessities taken care of, toilet paper was the hot item.

Having successfully biked the two miles, we grabbed a shopping cart and Jackie whipped out her cell phone to start calculating the total cost of the items in our cart, hoping we wouldn’t go over our $88 for the week (yes, you read that correctly, $88. We try to average $100/week for six girls in Alaska. Challenging? Indeed. We went over budget last week! One of the values of JVC, however, is simple living and with this sort of budget we’re learning exactly what the entails!). After one loop around the store, feeling rather satisfied with ourselves, we checked out at the register having spent just under $80.

But this is where it got fun.

Jackie and I took all the items out of our cart and started stuffing them into our backpacks. Camped out on the bench next to the doors, despite feeling optimistic in the beginning, we realized that the 36-pack of toilet paper wasn’t going to fit, even in the large backpacking pack I borrowed from our other housemate Gina. But we live in Sitka, where it’s impossible to go anywhere without seeing someone you know in town (yep, we’ve been here two months and know enough people to run into them everywhere!). So our housemate Steph’s boss, James, showed up at the store about the time we were left with eight rolls of TP still sitting on the bench and our bags stuffed to capacity. We made a little arrangement, handed off the last eight rolls to James, and they will be waiting on Steph’s desk tomorrow at work for her to bring home.

The remaining items, one bag of tortilla chips and one loaf of bread, were left outside backpacks for the ride home. Jackie held the bag of chips dangling off the handlebar of her bike while I zipped the loaf of bread into my raincoat. We hopped on our bikes, I looked like I was ready for about a week on the trail with my stuffed pack and, honestly, with 20 rolls of toilet paper, I probably could have lasted several weeks in the wilderness. Jackie’s pack was at least double the width of her body. We took off from the SeaMart parking lot (by the way, what kind of grocery story parking lot is on waterfront property?!), laughing as we saw our reflections in the window, loaded down with our assortment of groceries and TP. I’m concerned how many people in town that we know may have seen us. I’m sure we’ll be getting reports of sightings this week from friends.

As JVs we have also discovered the joy of volunteering at events so we don’t have to pay to go to them! Friday’s Red Molly folk concert is a perfect example, and we’re lucky to live in a town that gives those opportunities to us. As a house, we ushered, took tickets, and sold CDs so as to not spent $20 of our $80/month stipend on one evening of entertainment. The folk group Red Molly was AMAZING, and I really recommend their folksy female harmonies to anyone who likes that genre.

And of course we had to get outside, so we enjoyed a rainy/blustery day hike with Tyler and Ruby (Tyler’s beautiful Golden Retriever) yesterday afternoon to Indian River Falls. We hiked in about five flat(ish) miles to the beautiful falls and were greeted with not only a great view, but also with the smell of pot. After scaring away  the two smokers, we frolicked around the falls area, testing the ability of our XtraTuffs, and I’m happy to report my toes were clean and warm despite lots of mud and wading through chilly water. After an incredibly busy week of work and post-work activities, this jaunt in the woods was much needed and incredibly rejuvenating! Pictures of the falls to come later.

The pace has certainly changed since we arrived here in August, and, as a JV community, we have handled the transition from summer to fall by taking advantage of all the town events and have found plenty of opportunities for continual socializing. Next Monday, October 18 is Alaska Day, commemorating the exchange of Alaska from being Russian land to being ruled by the good ol’ U.S.A. What kind of state has its very own day? And Alaska Day celebrations go from October 11-18. Can anyone explain that to me? Anyway, we hear it’s one heck of a big party, so we’re looking forward to it, especially the reinactment of lowering the Russian flag and the raising of the American flag on Castle Hill here in Sitka, where the original transfer occurred.  Yes, there is a parade, and bagpipers from Seattle even travel here to perform. Ha! I’m laughing just describing this, it sounds hilarious to me. There will most definitely be a post about it later. More to come after the next adventure!

Well, What Do We Have Here?

Writing first sentences has always been difficult and I’ve spent many Sunday afternoons staring at a blank page with the cursor impatiently blinking at me as I attempt to collect my thoughts. Lucky for me (and you, since you’re reading this) I am not a loss for words because I’m trying to create a thesis statement for a paper about Chaucer, but because I’m not quite sure where to begin my explanation of the past few weeks. Last time I relied on photos, this time I’ll try a combination, despite my computer rejecting every effort I have made to upload photos this morning.

Fall began here in Sitka with 11 straight days of sunshine in the middle of September. Everyone was outside at all times soaking up the final moments of warmth and I even heard complaints of it being too dry from my co-workers. After work one afternoon, Steph and I headed out with Tyler to find his longline without any halibut. But the sunny evening was salvaged when we pulled up on the beach, built a campfire and cooked venison steaks wrapped in foil while watching Mt. Edgecumbe reflect the sunset. Can’t complain about that!

Steph and I also made new friends with one of the local starfish despite Steph’s not so feminine touch!

And a couple of the sunny weekend days were enjoyed on the top of Harbor Mt for a little picnic time! What could be better than riding in the back of a truck to reach this beautiful spot? (Do I sound like a hick yet?)

(A couple of these pictures were taken on my phone and after fighting with Verizon Wireless, they are now on the blog. Ergo, the quality isn’t amazing, but at least they’re on there!)

Don’t pack your suitcases to come visit yet, those days really are gone here and we’ve most definitely transitioned into autumn: gray, wind, rain, big puddles to step in. One of the traditional events here in Sitka that marks the end of fishing and cruise ship season is the “Running of the Boots” which refers to XtraTuff boots aka: Sitka slippers, that everyone (fisherman primarily but it’s infiltrated the whole town) wear year round. This event is complete with costume contest and someone throwing a boot in the air to commence the ridiculousness that ensues as we all run down Lincoln (Main) St. reclaiming the territory from the tourists who never venture off the beaten path of shops and restaurants. There is a free lunch for everyone in town, burgers, hot dogs, and of course, rockfish. YUM. Feeling like we had to make a statement at our first “Running of the Boots” my housemates, our visiting area director, Jamie, and I all dressed up as Jesuit priests. All black outfits, white clerical collars, cross necklaces and of course, drawn on mustaches and goatees.

I think we may have gained a bit of a reputation and though we didn’t officially enter the costume contest, the judges couldn’t let us go without being recognized, so together we managed to win a gift certificate to a local restaurant!

After a crazy Saturday of running around town as men, in the evening we headed to one of our favorite local spots (there are three places worth getting a cup of coffee in town, this is one of them), the Larkspur Cafe. With live music there almost every weekend, it’s an intimate venue and a nice mix of coffee shop/bakery meets restaurant/bar. Being the seven lovely ladies that we are (area director, Jamie, included) we made a bit of an entrance and were announced at the JVs in town. As we sat and enjoyed the local musicians of “Belly Meat” play, in walk two flanneled fisherman about our age. A glance was shared between me and my housemates as we all silently acknowledged that two rather attractive young guys had walked in. But at second glance, I realized I knew them! They were two of the guys that I spent a couple weeks skiing with at Alta in Utah last winter, ha! So I immediately walked up, asked if they were who I thought they were and, before my roommates knew it, I was up front getting hugs and talking with them while my housemates wondered what the heck was going on. It was hilarious and also fun to catch up with those guys who I hadn’t connected with at all since leaving there last December (apparently Alta did have a good season–600 inches, but I’m still not sad that I left for Jubilee!) After closing down the P Bar on Saturday night/early Sunday morning with the Utah boys, the socializing continued as we held a “JV potluck” at our house on Sunday evening and invited basically anyone in town between the ages of 20-35. A three-hour game of Catch Phrase concluded the rather eventful weekend. So we’ve gone from constant outdoor activity to constant socializing!

Throw in 40 hours of work this week and then we come to our next noteworthy event: when Tyler took Elle and me to the shooting range! I don’t believe I’ve shot a gun since going to Camp Orkila in the San Juans and shooting a BB gun at church family camp! And Elle’s comprehensive gun experience consisted of pulling the trigger on a rather large water gun. So, we were beginners to say the least, but according to Tyler, I’m a pretty good shot. It was also a particularly wonderful people-watching place. All I will say is: I’m all for women’s empowerment, but I will NEVER go there without a guy that I 100% trust.

Now, if you’re not impressed with that photo, that’s ok, because I’m not trying to impress anyone, I’m just trying to prove I did it. Being the gun expert that I am, I understand this isn’t the most flashy of riffles, and I must say I’m totally ok with that. This little .22 and I got along just fine.

And finally, this week was concluded last night when we attended and volunteered at our first “Grind,” the monthly local talent show here in Sitka. It was quite a night, sold out, lots of home made desserts entered in the contest, and where else will you find a 10 year-old that gets on stage and performs an incredible cover of “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley? Exactly… not anywhere else I have been recently. My housemates and I hopped on stage for a photo at the end of the night, please note the XtraTuff boots 🙂

This week promises to be a full one with events for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Disability Awareness Month, and a New York state folk trio, Red Molly coming to town! Yes, I really am working full time here! And sometime when I have the chance I really will describe more of what that work looks like exactly.  Much love to everyone, thanks for the comments, emails and love! I leave you with a parting shot, my favorite photo I’ve taken in Sitka so far.

Boat, Buoy