Perspective is a funny thing

Perspective is a funny thing.  It is both a physical and mental location.  It is one of my constant challenges as a beginning artist and the more time I spend with it the more I realize how big a part it plays in our daily and professional lives.  Our point of view on any subject, from how we see this particular day to our expectations regarding a student’s progress, to how we see our own successes and failures (only a small sampling) can manage our actions and reactions in any situation.

Our success or failure, even our emotional health depends on our perspective.  Psychologists refer to this as “framing” a situation and it literally is.  Depending on where we actually place the frame, it may appear that we are viewing the object from afar or very close up; from above or to the side.

Teachers and mushers have a very similar task in many ways.  Our goal is to get our team across the line healthy, strong and having overcome the obstacles along the way.

Being aware of our own perspective manages our expectations and consequently our successes.  Being able to adjust our perspective, reframing as we move down the trail with a specific goal in mind requires flexibility, but also strengthens the possibility of success.  Flexibility and reframing allow us to see our teams and our goals in the most clear and useful manner.

So our first step this year is to imagine our goal, put a frame around it and examine carefully what we included and how we arranged it.  Is the most important thing the biggest? In the center? Or small and off to one side?

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Now that I have made your planning more complex (no need to thank me) . . . enjoy the experience . . . and my stumbling attempts to get it right.

Staying on the trail,


A Challenge

Up until a year ago I couldn’t draw.  It was not for lack of wanting and wishing.  I just couldn’t.  I did the standard stick people or a flower now and then, but even those were deformed.  I remember always being thrilled to go to a friend’s house when I was a kid and find coloring books because we didn’t have those at my house.  My friends always produced better pictures than I did since they got more practice.

Well, a year ago, when school let out I decided I was going to change that.  I know what you’re thinking . . . an old lady worried about coloring books?  Seriously?  But I wanted to draw so I decided to pick one thing everyday and attempt to draw it correctly . . . to really see the details.

You can imagine that it started off pretty sadly, but I was determined.  I was looking more closely at things, they just didn’t look the same on paper.  Thank goodness for erasers.

Long story short, I didn’t give up and things began to change.  I drew something everyday and I started to improve.  I found that I am not too bad at drawing animals and since they have a special place in my heart, I was happy with that development.

I started by trying to copy artists I really liked.  One of my all time favorites is Jon Van Zyle, artist of the Iditarod poster every year.  I started learning technique that way because I was examining the pictures so carefully.

Alaska is full of amazing wildlife and my visit here is almost over so I thought I would share some of my bird sketches with you.  All of these birds live here in Alaska.

The lesson here is that if you want something badly enough –  you accept the challenge, commit to a plan and carry it out and all along the way observe carefully those that do what you want to do well and notice exactly what they do.

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Challenge yourself everyday – the work and the product will make you proud of your accomplishments.


Books to the Trail

 The Iditarod Books the Trail program has been running for several years now.  Schools in the lower 48 and others team up with sister schools along the race trail to deliver much needed books to these remote schools.  Recently the Anchorage Public Library has joined our efforts so that even more books can be enjoyed by school children without convenient access to such a broad spectrum of reading material.

On Monday, after camp, Diane Johnson and I visited the Anchorage Library to thank them for their efforts and learn more about a program they have developed called Ready to Read.  This program targets preschool children with the motto “The foundation for reading begins at birth!”

Ready to Read is based on the six basic skills needed to begin reading:  print awareness, print motivation, narrative skills, phonological awareness, letter knowledge and vocabulary.  To encourage the development of these skills the Anchorage Library has created hundreds of tubs of books containing 30-50 board and paperback picture books, a resource guide for the adult childcare provider on a six-week renewable loan.  In addition the program provides bags in which the children can take the books home to share with their families and “lapsit” bags that are thematically created including a music CD and a puppet.  That sounds like a perfect experience all ready to be delivered.

I was understandably excited when I arrived to see shelves and shelves filled with these tubs and tables covered with stacks of books being arranged in themes and it brought back wonderful memories when I spotted some of my favorites.

It will be my job this year on the trail to connect the Books on the Trail with the teachers they have been created for and get the word out there about the Ready to Read program.  Being an English teacher myself I am very excited to be a part of the connection.

If you and your school would like to part of this effort, contact Diane Johnson, Director of the Iditarod Education Department.

Read On,


Editor’s Note: Attention Teachers who are located in Alaska, you can get involved with the Ready to Read program. The Anchorage Public Library has a “Ready to Read Resource Center”at the Z.J. Loussac Public Library.  This is a statewide resource for anyone who works with infants and toddlers anywhere in Alaska. For additional information and to find out how to get a free reading tub to your community, click here.

Visit the Anchorage Public Library website at this link.

Bears, Bears, Bears

Though in MOST situations you should think about your actions before you do them, sometimes the most important thing is NOT to think about it – just DO IT.  I had one of those experiences yesterday and it taught me a great deal.

I have never flown in a bush plane, or anything that small and was concerned how that was going to go for me during the race.  So I scheduled a bear viewing trip for my husband and me that required flying in a bush plane from Homer to the Alaskan Peninsula, about an hour and a half.

Several times I started to think (read that WORRY) about the plane ride and then I forcefully pushed the thought out of my mind because I knew that would lead to panic and me bailing out of the opportunity. Well, I did manage to NOT THINK and just DO IT, and I am so glad I did.  I would have missed one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

With the knowledge and special understanding of our experienced bear guides we hiked for roughly three hours through a preserve where Grizzly Bear roam free and share a mutual respect of humans.  We were able to get very close to photograph bears interacting with each other and pretty much ignoring us.

There were ten of us and two guides.  We had to adhere to very strict rules and patterns of behavior, but the understanding we gained of these amazing creatures is invaluable.  The picture I have included is literally of a bear dance – a very slow, affectionate play.

You see what I would have missed!  Sometimes don’t think too much, just DO IT.

By the way, the plane ride was AWESOME!!!

Challenge yourself every day – the rewards are worth it.


The Last Day

Our last day at camp was bitter sweet.  We all went Shannon Keene’s house to experience first hand authentic artifacts of the Inupiaq people.  Shannon taught for many years in Kotzebue and had collected many special items.  She also has a keen eye for the authentic versus the “for tourist items.”  Everything from clothing, to weapons to hunt seal, to the tiniest of baskets with real working lids were examined.  We learned about the materials, age and function of these items and many traditions still practiced were explained.  We also learned the rules about the possession versus sale of these artifacts that are strictly adhered to.

Then the teachers shared their favorite lesson plans and projects that they used based on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.  Everything from simple art projects, to Physical Education theme programs to inclusive program units drawing in statistics, reading, writing, simple math computations, physical and life science, geography and history was shared. These units were impressive to say the least.

Then it was time to say goodbye and that was hard.  This has been an amazing group of teachers from all over the country, from a wide variety of experience and discipline and yet they bonded as a unit to explore, learn and experience an event and way of life for which they all had a passion.  I feel very strongly that it is that very passion that bonds teachers and ignites students to become involved in their learning experiences.  And we all know that a student engaged in his learning is a student that is truly LEARNING.

Then we tried to say goodbye again and it was much like Diane Johnson (Iditarod’s Education Director) commented – a Minnesota goodbye where you hug and say goodbye, then stand around for another hour chatting.  Many of these teachers are planning to come up for Winter Conference at race time or back to Summer Camp next year, because there is so much more to learn.  I hope some of you will join us.

And by the way, you haven’t heard the rest from me.  I will be posting regularly so check back here often for new updates, lesson ideas and hopefully just inspirational thoughts the kind that keeps us going throughout the year.   But for the moment I am still exploring Alaska so I will be in and out of internet.  Will try to share whenever I can.

The more the merrier.