Halftime Report

Hello all! So, as most of you know I have been in Alaska for about six months now and I thought it might be good to do a halftime report of sorts for my year as a JV in Juneau. The transition at the beginning of the year was challenging and I definitely did not know how intense various aspects of the JV experience would be, but at this point in the year I am feeling more settled in Juneau, in my community, and at the school at which I serve. Before I delve into my life in Juneau more, I am going to rewind a little bit to my cherished time at home over Christmas break. At our Orientation in August, many of the JVC Northwest staff advocated against leaving for Christmas and since I have never been away from home for Christmas, the thought of being in Alaska during a time that is filled with so many deep-rooted and well-loved traditions for my family and me made me anxious months in advance. What would Christmas be like without my family? How could I get through the holidays so far away without all of my favorite Christmas traditions and favorite people to celebrate with? After looking at the prices of plane tickets early in the year, I tried to mentally accept that I would likely not be going home for Christmas. After multiple conversations with my parents, looking at the Alaska Airlines website more than what seems healthy/normal, and considering getting a loan from the Irish mob to fund my trip, we found tickets that were somewhat reasonably priced and it was finalized that I was able to travel back to the East Coast for some Yuletide merriment! The best Christmas gift that I received this year was my plane ticket home to New Hampshire and the opportunity to see my family and friends. Going home and seeing my loved ones rejuvenated me and their support helped me to realize that I could get back on the plane returning to Juneau and finish my year of service. I was ready to call it quits and being reminded of how much my friends and family love and support me is what will get me through these next six months. I am so grateful to all of you who have been supporting me throughout my time in Alaska. Please know that without all of your love and kindness, I could not have overcome the obstacles of the first six months and would have likely called it quits early on. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

After getting back to Juneau, it took a little while to get back into my groove. The weather here was rainy, dark, and depressing and it made the transition from my sunny, snowy, joyful Christmas break even more difficult. I noticed myself having no tolerance for any kind of malarky from my students at school, (and as some of you may know I’m always game for some malarky and shenanigans,) I was coming home constantly in a odious mood, and I had trouble finding joy in the pastimes that normally had a way of grounding me when something was awry. Needless to say, I was not myself and something had to change. I couldn’t figure out what it was at first. Did I need more sleep? Did I need to meditate on a more regular basis? Did I need to floss more? Did I need some dark chocolate? (just to be clear: the answer to this question should always be yes, regardless of the circumstances) I knew changing some my habits might help to make me feel more like myself again but in a completely unrelated conversation with my parents, they brought up the idea of joining a gym/health club in Juneau. I toured a gym in downtown Juneau called the Alaska Club and after talking to both trainers and other employees, I decided to join. Because I joined the gym during the New Year’s Resolution frenzy that occurs every January in gyms across the land, I received a glamorous package of benefits which included a session with a personal trainer. Upon making my appointment with the trainer, I became nervous and anxious that my health and fitness report would be nothing good. When I met with the trainer, Tony, he was supportive, excited that I wanted to make a change in my life, and gave me advice to help stay motivated and to get results. He also helped me to realize that I needed to change my relationship with exercise and fitness and that I should think of exercise as a positive part of life instead of something that I dread at the end of the day. After working out regularly for about a month, I have noticed multiple changes within myself both physically and mentally. Now the gym is something I not only look forward to but I have noticed if I don’t exercise, something feels off and I don’t feel as well. This was a mini-breakthrough for me and I am excited to keep working towards my goals and discovering all the things I am and will be able to accomplish.

At my placement, things are going really well. We just finished a Spirit Week that included various dress up days, a healthy dose of competition, and to conclude the week there were multiple contests to earn points and win a pizza party. I was hesitant at first because the students aren’t exactly the most interested in school-related group activities but they surprised me this week with their willingness to get involved and help their advisories earn points. It is almost the end of the quarter which means Spring Break will soon be here! I do not have any exciting plans but I am excited to have a bit of a break before the last quarter of this year. In other school related news, I am co-teaching a class next quarter that is a girls group about healthy relationships, healthy self, and overall wellness which I can’t wait to start. It feels weird that there is only one more quarter and then the school year is over. It seems like there is so much time left but in reality, these last few months are going to fly by.

Overall, things in Juneau are going pretty well. I have been focusing on doing things that bring me a lot of joy and I have been doing more in the Juneau community which has been quite life giving. Recently, I have volunteered for concerts, gone skiing with the adaptive ski program, gone to plays and other cultural events, and have just tried to be more active and do more things outside of the house. I was always so busy and active in college and while having down time to reflect, relax, and reenergize has been wonderful and caused me to realize that I need to make time for taking care of myself, I was feeling a bit trapped by Juneau because I wasn’t as active as I had been the last four years. Just the simple act of doing more outside of the house has allowed me to get out of the rut I was in and begin to appreciate Juneau in new ways and through a different lens. These next few months, I am going to focus on taking in all that Juneau has to offer, deepening my relationships with all the incredible people I have gotten to know this year, and try to appreciate as much of Alaska as I can before the end of my year as a JV and my return to New England. I am still looking forward to moving back home in August (hopefully with a puppy in tow) but I am now realizing that I am only here for a few more months so I should be present and appreciate all I can before I depart and move on to the next stage of life, whatever that may be!

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Winter is Coming

Greetings from Juneau!

Even though it’s Tuesday afternoon, I have the day off from work today and wanted to update all of you wonderful people who aren’t in Alaska with me! Juneau is slowly transitioning into winter and it has been pretty cold here the last few weeks. When we came back from our first JVCNW retreat in Wasilla AK (yes, Sarah Palin land!) the mountains were snow-capped and it felt like Jack Frost has made his first of many visits to Juneau this winter season. I am looking forward to the colder, snowier weather that will give way to more rosy cheeks, a different set of outdoor activities, and cozier days and nights spent reading, writing letters, knitting, and watching a variety of movies with my community members. (We’re currently working our way through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Downton Abbey series on DVD, and the Harry Potter series.) Even the weather during the winter is more brutal than other seasons, it will be quite the thrill to experience winter in Alaska. Winter is coming and I could not be more excited.

I mentioned retreat and what a rejuvenating, relaxing, and life-giving time it was! All of the Alaska communities (Bethel, Sitka, Anchorage, and us) came together to take time and reflect about how the transition process and first few months of the year have been with a specific focus on community living and building/maintaining relationships. There were many break out sessions in which we got a chance to talk with people in other communities more intimately and check in with our own communities about a variety of subjects. There was also an even balance of free time and scheduled activities which allowed for more bonding time, bountiful laughter, enriching conversations, and strengthening relationships. The Anchorage JVs hosted all of us the night before retreat actually started and threw one hell of a Halloween party. All of us Alaska JVs had creative costumes and we all got to catch up informally which helped to alleviate the awkwardness that could have happened had we just reconnected starting at retreat. We even got to explore Anchorage a bit the next day which consisted of going to REI, Barnes and Noble, and a funky Fair Trade store, and eating at a delicious cafe all while being in the presence of many chain establishments that none of us had seen for the last few months. Barnes and Noble and Walgreens were my two favorites. If only we could have gotten to the Target…Anyways, retreat came at the perfect time and I know that it provided me with new insights about not only my community but community living more generally which was extremely helpful.

Transitioning back to Juneau and daily life was a bit of a struggle after four days of rest and relaxation, but I’m starting to get back into the swing of things. Things at YDHS are going well since we started a new quarter in late October. I feel like I’m starting to build stronger relationships with my students and I feel like I’m becoming a more involved member of the YDHS community. I’m getting to know the students and teachers better and I am sharing more of myself with them as well. Some days are challenging, especially when wanting to balance the “cool factor” with the respected staff member role but I am learning how to navigate these waters better, even when the water may be choppy and rough.

I am thankful for all the support I have gotten, from both within Juneau and from all of my loved ones in the Lower 48, and I would not be able to get through this year without all of you! Also, please leave your addresses, especially if they have changed within the last few months, because I would love to write you all letters!

Right now I have to run and catch the bus, but until next time, know that I’m sending love and warmth from up North!

<3 Meredith

P.S. Unfortunately, I did not see Sarah Palin BUT I made sure to do my impression of her while in Wasilla. Also, I am even more relieved she did not become our Vice President after seeing the town where she was mayor. I’m almost positive there are more moose and bears there than people.

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Two months into my year in the Last Frontier…

Hello from Downtown Juneau!

I’m currently sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops downtown and am FINALLY getting around to updating this here blog business. I’ve been in Alaska for about two months now and it has been quite the roller coaster of changes. After getting here and moving into my new house, I started work almost immediately, was living with six other people who I just met, and had to learn all about this new place where I would be living for the next year. Needless to say, it was a little, okay a lot, nerve-wracking. I’m a person who is usually excited to try new things but I have to do it at my own pace and all of these things changing simultaneously freaked me out and continue to freak me out at times but overall, the first month has gone well!

My placement site is Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School which is the alternative high school in Juneau. Yaakoosge Daakahidi means “House of Learning” in Tlingit, which is one of the Alaska Native tribes in Juneau. Yaakoos focuses on the specific needs of each student and is a tight knit community that works to educate students in alternative ways and prepare them for life after graduation. Since accepting my position last Spring, my role in the school has completely changed. I was supposed to work on a program called BrainPaint but the district cut funding for it (as is the reality of the American education system, unfortunately…) so I am now in charge of something called the Learning Center. The Learning Center is a place where students can go to work on Independent Study classes, take a break from class if they are overwhelmed, complete work from other classes quietly if they need to, and just hang out for a few minutes if they need a break. The first quarter is almost over and while there have been lots of ups and downs, the staff and students have been welcoming and supportive. Most of the students that I’m working with have had to overcome terrible challenges in their lives and these abuses, by a variety of people and systems, have deeply affected them. It’s amazing how courageous, determined, and resilient my students are even though they have faced some abhorrent experiences, despite only being in high school. I am still trying to figure out what my role in their lives and the school is going to be this year but I really hope to be a person they feel comfortable confiding in and coming to with anything that might be going on. Any advice for becoming that person for students? I can already feel that starting to happen with some students which has been incredible but I want to be that person for anyone who needs it…Only time will tell I guess!

In addition to starting a new job and moving to a very new place, I live in community with people who, up until a couple of months ago, were complete strangers. This has been one of the most drastic changes of the JVC Northwest process for me. All of my housemates and I share money, meals, space, thoughts, stories, bad days, good days, and everything in between. We have a community budget to pay for all of our bills, housing costs, household items, and food. This shared budget paired with the JVC Northwest value of simple living was very difficult to get accustomed to but it’s finally starting to feel more normal. The sharing of a limited food budget was REALLY hard to get used to because of my love to cook and my former freedom in the kitchen. If I thought of a recipe that I wanted to make, I would just run out and get the ingredients at the grocery store, not really thinking of cost or how significantly food choices affect the world around me. At the JV house, we eat mostly vegetarian, even though none of us are vegetarians, and only eat meat when we get donations from people. So far, we have been extremely fortunate because multiple have given us salmon, halibut, and other meats. The amount of freshly caught salmon I’ve eaten in these last couple months has made me feel like a bear getting ready for hibernation! Even though the limited budget and community decisions about what to get at Costco and the grocery store were different, it has become a great learning experience and has allowed me to be more creative in the kitchen and always on the lookout for simple yet delicious recipes!

After we eat dinner together at night, there’s a lot of down time before we go to bed and we don’t have TV or internet (like I said, SIMPLE living) so we all hang out, listen to music, watch a movie together (yes, we do have a TV for movies), read, chat, or write letters and this relaxation time has been one of my favorite things about life as a JV. I’m finally getting around to reading all those books I have wanted to read for a while and I have always wanted to write letters on a regular basis which I now have a chance to do! The formerly overbooked and overworked English major is rejoicing because I am able to read for pleasure and not be stressed about it.

In addition to work and community living, Juneau itself is a wonderful place! There is an abundance of artistic influence here which is expressed through live music, art shows, gallery openings, concerts, plays, indie films, and so much more! I think it goes without saying that there is an overwhelming amount of nature stuff to do as well. Juneau has hiking, fishing, boating, hunting, kayaking, skiing, and berry picking and this list is limited. While I am more inclined to take part in the artistic side of Juneau, I am excited that I can try things that I have never really been into before, like hiking for example. There are hikes for all levels of hikers here and I am at a very low level so it’s a good place to learn. I am going to experience so many new things this year, both good and bad, and hopefully I will grow a lot as a person. I already feel like I am starting to change and grow and I am looking forward to using this year to cultivate myself into the person I want to be. Some things make me homesick but I think it is just a testament to how much I love my family, my friends, and where I’m from and homesickness reminds me how grateful I am for all the opportunities and experiences I’ve had thus far in my life. Juneau and JVC Northwest will just be another chapter in my life and as in books, life is more fun when the chapters have lots of ups and downs.

Also, for anyone who wants it my address is:

3231 Nowell Avenue, Juneau AK, 99801 :)

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Orienting myself to a new kind of life

Hello to everyone in the Lower 48! Greetings from Juneau!

These last few weeks have been quite the whirlwind! It all started with a six hour cross country flight from Boston to Portland, Oregon. I got off the plane with many other East coasters who were also part of JVC Northwest and we all went together, picked up our luggage, and search anxiously for the staff table to figure out what our next steps would be. The people in the blue JVC Northwest shirts sitting behind a table full of snacks and surrounded by luggage and other volunteers was, thankfully, very easy to find. The next step was to get on a bus that would take us to our week of Orientation and even though that may seem easy enough, it was a bit of a challenge trying to lug an 82 pound suitcase, a backpack stuffed to the gills, and a Vera duffel containing a week’s worth of clothes and a sleeping bag both on and off of the bus. 

Upon getting off the bus at Camp Adams in Molalla OR, we trekked up a rocky dirt road with all of our luggage because the buses didn’t fit over the bridge into camp. For the people that followed the rules and only had two bags, this was no problem; for Meredith, the notorious overpacker, it was a bit of a challenge. Let’s just say there was a great deal of sweat and some wheezing involved but eventually, I got to the top of the hill, checked in, and got settled into the Alaska cabin! I looked at the schedule and was excited for all the week had in store. It was packed with workshops, meetings, breakout sessions, and other various activities including time at the beautiful swimming hole, a night of Square Dancing, and multiple meditation sessions.

One workshop I particularly enjoyed that simultaneously freaked me out was the “Making It!” workshop, in which we learned how to make multiple items that are usually purchased such as soap, lim balm, laundry detergent, and shampoo. The idea of being able to create everyday products with simple, chemical-free ingredients intrigued me but some were easier to swallow than others. Using baking soda and borax for laundry detergent? Sure! Combining bar soap with water to make liquid soap? Yeah! Using vinegar and baking soda as shampoo and conditioner? That’s where I draw the line. I happen to enjoy the light floral scents of Tresseme and I can’t mentally overcome the hurdle of my hair, and me by association, smelling like salad dressing each and every day. This workshop occurred on the second day of Orientation and many of the second year volunteers made it seem like these practices were necessary aspects of JVC Northwest. Cue freak out. After two weeks living in my community in Juneau, I can confidently write that I have mainstream shampoo, conditioner, and body wash and will likely continue to use it the rest of the year. I’m all for trying new things but certain things, I just don’t think I can compromise on.   The rest of the surprises at Orientation were pretty tame in comparison. Even the break down of our monthly budget wasn’t quite as shocking as the salad dressing shampoo incident!

Throughout the week, there were many other workshops, community bonding opportunities, late night laugh sessions, and other joys that made me increasingly more eager to get to Juneau with my community members and start this new adventure! The last night, there was a missioning liturgy that included many former Jesuit Volunteers, supporters of the program, the JVC Northwest staff, and all of this year’s volunteers and it was an ideal way to transition out of orientation and into our new lives as JVs. The sense of community, support, and love put my overthinking, overanalyzing, worrying mind at ease. The mass was the perfect culmination of the new experiences and insights, awkwardness, and joy that occurred during Orientation, specifically in the stories and readings shared, the multiple blessings we gave one another, the connectedness we felt during the songs we had been singing all week, and the whole group conga line to close the service.

Only a few hours after the conga line and the missioning liturgy were over, we boarded a school bus and were on our way to the airport. We got the airport at 3am for our flight at 5:05 BUT the Portland airport doesn’t open until 4am so we all were anxiously sitting around until the first airline clerk arrived and then it was a mad dash to check our bags, get through security and board on time. Thankfully, we all made it onto the plane with plenty of time but again I was foiled by my neurotic overpacking habit so my backpack wouldn’t fit into any of the appropriate carry on spots. I thought I would be fine if I just tried to squeeze it under the seat but the extra cautious flight attendant informed me if we were to crash, I wouldn’t be able to get out and I would probably die. With that in mind, I didn’t hesitate to take as many item out of my backpack as I could to make it fit. That first plane ride to Seattle consisted of my holding a small stack of books, an empty Nalgene, and a Toms Shoes bag full of random knick knacks in my lap which was uncomfortable but safety first, right? We made it safely to Seattle and then had more than enough time to get the necessary large cups of coffee before boarding our flight to Juneau. The flight to Juneau seemed to fly by (pun intended) and before I knew it, we were landing in the breathtakingly beautiful Juneau Alaska. We got off the plane, were met by many of our support people, and our adventure in Alaska had officially begun!!

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Let the journey begin!

Tonight is the night before my year of service with JVC Northwest begins and there are so many thoughts, feelings, and worries going through my head all at once! I cannot wait to embark on this experience but as with anything new, there are many mixed messages going through my brain but hopefully I will be put at ease after getting to Orientation tomorrow. We have five days of orientation/training before being sent to our respective sites and that should definitely answer some of the questions I have and clear some things up. The unknown is always somewhat intimidating but is often accompanied by excitement, especially when one is as passionate about what they are doing as I am. I can’t wait to further develop my passions and maybe even find some new ones! (I’m thinking dogsled racing might be a good one…)

I am so thankful for everything that my family and friends have done to help me get to where I am today and all of the support they have given me! I can’t imagine my life without all of their love, words of wisdom, laughter, and encouragement, and I can’t even put into words how appreciative I am for each and every one of them.

I’m supposed to be leaving for the airport in 2 hours but I am too hyped up to even consider sleep so I think I’m going to try and mentally prepare a bit more, repack my backpack one last time, and play some Candy Crush to ease my nerves. Next time I blog, I will likely be in Alaska! (EEK!)

<3 Mere

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