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Far From Home for the Holidays

Sunday was Easter, and like most holidays in Nome – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years – the KNOM volunteers are far from their loved ones by virtue of their, well, being KNOM volunteers. In my year and a half as a volunteer, I’ve learned that there’s one silver lining to not being able to spend that time with your friends and family from “home:” the meal at the Schmidt’s.

Ric and Lynette Schmidt – KNOM’s General Manager and Business Manager, respectively – open their home to volunteers (and other friends in Nome) for a truly wonderful gathering. It’s not just a great meal, but the food is always superb; it’s not just a gathering of good people, but the company is always excellent; it’s more than the sum of its parts, a moment to be a part of the KNOM extended family.

At our meal on Easter Sunday, in addition to the Schmidt family and the volunteers, we gathered with friends from the National Weather Service and the National Park Service, a teacher from a local tech school, a hockey-obsessed new arrival only on his second week in Nome, a volunteer from the local Methodist church, and other KNOM staff. We gathered for a delicious meal of ham, crab salad, crab cakes, shrimp stir fry, pounds of mashed potatoes, home-made bread, and a gallon of gravy. Oh, and turkey. (Oh yes, turkey: I have a rather robust love for Meleagris gallopavo – the secret is the brine! – and will use any occasion even faintly resembling a holiday to prepare a profoundly delicious bird.) The meal is huge, and truly (though this word is almost meaningless in its overuse), truly delicious.

As wonderful as the food is, it’s what comes after the meal that I’ve really grown to love. Because what follows is a variation on a theme every time: we all sit around the Schmidt’s house and we … talk. We tell stories, make jokes. Sometimes as a big group, other times in smaller groups, weaving your way through clusters of conversation as you go back for just one more piece of pie. (Oh, did I mention that Lynette and the Schmidt’s make amazing dessert?!). The TV is off (thankfully), the radio is off (just this once!), and you get to spend some quality time just being with the people who have come to make up your life in Nome. It can be townie talk, about what’s going on in Nome, or it can be the inevitable “Alaska in Relation to the Rest of the World” conversation that never seems to get old. We’ve played epic, hours-long games of Apples to Apples that left the entire house laughing. During Christmas, we exchange gifts in the most elaborate White Elephant game I’ve ever seen. And like most good holidays, you get up to leave begrudgingly, wishing there was just a little more time to hang out and enjoy the moment.

A good meal and great people: it’s a simple combo that helps make holidays during your volunteer year feel a little more like home.