Teachers Head to Heaven On Earth

The Iditarod Winter Conference for Educators officially got started with an evening reception on Monday night.

Old friends…. again. I am beginning to sense this is going to be a reoccurring theme for this year’s trip. It seems like each year has a slightly different twist on it – something slightly unique that sticks out in my mind  – and this year it seems as if it is going to be old friends.

With 2016 Teacher on the Trail, Laura Wright!

With 2016 Teacher on the Trail, Laura Wright!

I had a chance to say hello to many old friends at the reception – friends from Alaska who come to visit the conference each year, as well as friends from all over the Lower 48 who have made the journey North to Alaska one more time. Alaska always greets you with such open arms and a warm heart – and it’s the people who make it so.

The conference presentations got started on Tuesday morning. I got a chance to talk to the attendees briefly by

My sled design using Imagination Playground pieces

My sled design using Imagination Playground pieces

sharing some quick facts and tidbits about the race and then sharing with them some ideas on how to stay connected during the conference. Several other teachers made presentations about thing they are using in their classrooms. The finalists for the 2017 Teacher on the Trail also gave their talks. I’m always excited to find something new to “borrow and tweak” for use in my classroom and this day had several useable ideas!

And finally it was time to pack the teachers up and head out to a little place I like to call Heaven on Earth. Or, My Planned Retirement Home. Or even, My Happy Place – the home and studio of Jon and Jona Van Zyle.

Jon is the official artist of the Iditarod, and he is celebrating a milestone with the race this year – 40 years of Iditarod artwork! Each year he creates a special poster and print for the race. He is an amazing artist and his work always amazes me – every piece tells such a story!

Here’s a short glimpse into his work:  http://www.ktva.com/jon-van-zyles-iditarod-legacy-802/

thanks to Katie Kunze for the photo!

thanks to Katie Kunze for the photo!

Now, every time we visit Jon and Jona we can expect certain things:

  • The dogs will bring smiles to everyone’s faces, especially when they are allowed to free run around the kennel.
  • Jon will talk about how the old Iditarod was tougher and harsher than today’s version.
  • You will see fifty things in his studio you never noticed before.
  • Jona will lay out a spread of food fit for a royal court.
  • Linda will tell the story of how Jon broke her credit card on his old credit card machine and tried to tape it back together for her.
  • Someone will laugh so hard they will cry.
  • Someone will cry because Jon will touch that special place in their hearts.

Those last two are so very true. And those are the two stories from the amazing evening spent at their home that I will share with you.

Every time we are there, Jon will spend hours signing books and prints and posters. 2016-03-01 18.47.36It literally takes hours. And the reason it takes hours is because Jon takes his time to speak with and to ask questions of each and every person who lines up to get an autograph and a photo. It takes so long because he often includes little personalized illustrations for people. He seems to have an uncanny knack for knowing who needs a little extra attention… who is missing pet and how to touch their heartstrings with a perfect sketch. This visit was no exception… he drew a picture from a photo shown on a cell phone of one teacher’s pet dog and it was so perfect and so meaningful that it brought not only her to tears, but everyone who was around to witness the interaction.

There are many times during our visits where we will all laugh so hard it brings tears to our eyes. Jon is a master storyteller and has an amazing sense of humor.  Which can also be seen in the little special drawings he makes for people in the books he signs for them.  Last year for example, he drew a picture of a husky playing baseball in a book I had signed for TJ. But nothing can hold a candle to what he did for my friend Sara this

Painting Tabby!

Painting Tabby!

year. Sara is a cat person. She has a cat named Tabby who is very near and dear to her heart. Tabby has been ill recently and had to be sent to Seattle to a special vet for a special treatment.  Tabby came back to Sara in Anchorage with a note that said that Sara wasn’t to spend too much time in direct contact with Tabby for a few weeks as Tabby was probably still radioactive from her treatments. So of course, Sara had to be teased a little about her radioactive cat – and as you know, laughter is the best medicine, so it was good to see Sara laugh about it as she has been so worried about Tabby. But Jon outdid himself on this one. Not only did he draw Sara a picture of radioactive Tabby – he got out some special paint and painted her so that when the light shines on the painting just right, it really glows! What a special treasure!

Old friends – the race centers around them, and Jon and Jona are two of the very best.

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