After some weeks, the women were comfortable enough for Chantel to call Patti "sweetie" and for Patti to call Chantel "Chan" or "white girl," as in: "What do you want to eat for breakfast, white girl?"
During the days, the children went to school, came home and played. Chantel and Rob went to work, while Patti stayed at the house, watching movies, baking cookies and occasionally cleaning house.
The families ate dinner together, except for Patti. While Chantel might prepare a turkey-breast meal with fruit and salad, Patti would stay in her room and later cook up some red beans and fried fish for herself.
Tokobey found a way to make Rob and Chantel crack up: He would talk like black comedian Dave Chappelle, spouting raw street language in a little-boy way. It worked every time, but Chantel eventually told him the girls might overhear and start imitating him. Tokobey stopped.
There were bumps.
Chantel's 6-year-old, Olivia, once kicked Gionni in the back. The two girls had similar temperaments, theatrical and strong-willed -- a couple of tiny drama queens. When they got along it was bliss; when they fought, it was no-holds-barred. Olivia was bigger.
Tokobey accidentally started a small fire in the kitchen, setting off an alarm that brought fire trucks. Chantel's other two children, Gabrielle and Gwyneth, looked on in glee, as they did for much of the two months.
All three adults came to parent all six children. One day, Patti yelled at Olivia for "being manipulative" after Olivia had started a group game in which she engineered a way to leave Gionni out. Another day, Chantel got furious at Tokobey for wearing his muddy boots in the house for "the ten-thousandth time."
Each mother resented the other's tone toward her children, but tolerated it.
By the middle of November, the Kalish family was ready to get their space back, and Patti and her children were ready to move into their own place. The parting was emotional and affectionate. The families keep in close contact.
"We would do it again in a heartbeat," Chantel said. There were challenges but nothing insurmountable. Race became irrelevant. She said she couldn't imagine not keeping in touch with Patti's three kids as they grew up.
For Patti, it was the end of her first phase of realizing that most of Alaska was inhabited by white people. "I didn't know," she said. "I thought Alaska would be full of Native Alaskans."
New Orleans was two-thirds black; Anchorage is about three-fourths white. Whites make up about 70% of the state's population, natives about 15% and blacks 3%.
Gionni and Tokobey attend a public elementary school where each is the only black child in class. The family attends a predominantly white church, whose members, Patti says, have been welcoming and generous.
But it's definitely not like her church in New Orleans -- Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church -- where the parishioners were black, the singing was raucous and the preaching was so fiery that members had to fan themselves after the service.
Patti says her new church is ... "What's the word? Tamer."
Their apartment -- a narrow, two-story, three-bedroom cottage painted sunflower yellow -- resembles a birdhouse in a row of birdhouses in a part of town called Jewell Lake. The back patio door looks out at a snow-covered field, and beyond that, to an evergreen forest. Above the trees loom the Chugach Mountains.
"I opened the blinds and there was a moose. He was looking at me, and I was looking at him," Patti says into her cellphone.
She's telling someone in New Orleans about a recent visitor on her patio. It was about 8 feet tall and 1,000 pounds. She took four close-up pictures of the largest nostrils she had ever seen and sent them to relatives.
"If I'd have opened the door, he would have walked right in," Patti says.
Every day brings something new, she says to another visitor, her cellphone tucked back in her pocket. The other day "they shot a bear in town." She took a boat ride in Cook Inlet and checked out some glaciers. The glaciers looked much grander before she and her kids all got seasick.
She would like to learn how to ski.
She's also looking into nursing courses at the University of Alaska. Patti's housing is paid until the summer of 2007, thanks to a state emergency-assistance voucher. Between savings and child support from her ex-husband, she has enough to live on until she decides on school or work.
Day by day, Patti is learning about the one essential trait required to survive in Alaska: an independent spirit. It might even help to be a bit of a loner. Isolation from the rest of the country is one of the state's great offerings, but not everyone is cut out for it.
"It takes commitment to live in Alaska," Chantel once told Patti.
She's finding out what her friend meant. You can't just get in a car, drive to your hometown and shoot the breeze with old friends and family. A visit like that, if you can't afford airline tickets, amounts to an epic journey.
"I get a little lonely sometimes," Patti admits.
But she says she doesn't like to dwell on it. There's too much adventure waiting to waste time being glum.
Outside, Tokobey tinkers with a new all-terrain vehicle that someone gave him for his birthday. Gionni plays with Ginsi in the snow. Tiny flakes have begun falling, and the housing project has taken on a snowy glow.
"What does that look like to you?" Patti says, looking out at her neighborhood. "Doesn't that look like a picture of Christmas?" Here it is, months after the fact, and it still feels like the holiest day of the year.
Her family would get a kick out of that.
The cellphone rings. She grins.
Someone back home must have been reading her mind.