Monday, December 28, 2009

A Flurry of Activity

In the past week there has been a lot of this...
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...which has led to this.
sandals

After more than one book on tape, 35+ hours in the car, and several stops at taco bell, we have visited or crossed thirteen states, way too many gas stations, and many friends and family. I am thankful for good company, beautiful countryside, and (for now) a week to relax and refresh for the new year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Things (and people) I Share

BB

The first Christmas I visited Curtis when we were dating, his mom gave me a metal tube of lotion, explaining that it was some of her favorite. Not being a regular connoisseur of lotion in metal tubes, I sensed its value and kept it the drawer of my desk back at my dorm, pulling it out in the midst of evening studying, the smell bringing me back to relaxing times with people I love.

There would be other birthdays and Christmases with the metal tubes wrapped in tissue paper, promising soft hands smelling mildly sweet and refreshing. Even as I saw Curtis’s family two or three times a year, I had a constant reminder of their love and care from afar.

Yesterday another metal tube found its way into a gift bag, this time from another mother-in-law—one of my good friend’s. This lovely woman, like my husband’s mother, had only sons, and relishes those females with whom she can share feminine pampering products to appreciate and relish (along with good company, and a warm meal).

My friend has her own stock of metal tubes, which she generously shares with me when I have lost my own, much like she shares her mother-in-law.

And for that, I am grateful.



*Decorative details in this lovely woman's home...

Monday, December 14, 2009

When I Live By Myself...

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This weekend’s project…

I don’t enjoy cooking. I end up eating whatever I cook for the next seventeen meals, and inevitably get sick of it.

I go to sleep later, because no one in the house is getting up at 4:30am.

I work on projects for hours at a time, leaving dishes, messes, and laundry to wait.

I inevitably revert to former habits: tidying everything, going to bed at a reasonable hour, and cooking because I can’t eat frozen pizza and taco bell for every meal (because that would be irresponsible).

I'm glad I'm only living by myself for a few more days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

“Last Day of Math FOREVA”

That is what my sister proclaimed after taking a final exam in her college algebra class. Thanks to a liberal arts education, as an art major she still has to solve and balance equations.

As much as I love learning, final exams are not something I miss.

I do, however, miss my sister. I am anxious to rejoin her (in a month!) in the frigid north, so we can catch up while she makes me lattes and biscotti. We are even hoping to fit in a photo session, where she will cover me in hair spray and face paint while I hopelessly object.

Siblings are a wonderful thing indeed.

Elisa
*Taken last summer, on the sister road trip.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In Due Time...


Today was the first snow. It has been a long and beautiful fall, with leaves fresh with color lingering on tree branches and in gutters much longer than usual. It has been warm on some days, fresh and cool on others, but void of snow all along.

My classroom, which sits on the corner of the third floor, was cold from a weekend void of heat, and the old radiators that line one wall struggled to make a difference in temperature. Something about the fresh flakes made me earnestly desire quiet, an unlikely reality in my profession.

But even more, I craved peace.

It was a silently tumultuous weekend, full of discontent and frustration and memories of unfulfilled hope. In church we spoke of advent, of being pregnant with hope and anticipation, of being present and full of peace and love and joy. And my eyes welled with tears as we spoke of it. I wanted it: the peace, the love, the joy.

And it was then that I realized that I had much (or just something) in common with Mary and all those that desperately awaited the arrival of a Savior for 400 years: I was ready.

I am ready to be free of the frustrations and brokenness that comes in this fallen world, but even as I am ready, I accept that there is much to be done in the mean time. There is much to love, much to find joy in, and much to appreciate with hope and peace.

Even as the snow covers the lush green earth that bears fruit in season, it promotes a time of peace and rest, revealing fresh life in due time.

In due time, much like a Savior, and the first snow.


*Photo from here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why I Will Bother To Decorate

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Right now I am the proud owner of a wonderful conglomeration of household décor that has been pieced together from hand-me-downs, garage sales, the side of the road, and the landlord’s girlfriend. My house was assembled with these items, with tasseled embroidered curtains in the living room, long white woven curtains in the kitchen, and wallpaper border that mirrors the shower curtain, accented with lavender paint. And even though it may not be to my taste, or coordinated it is better than nothing.

I visited a friend from high school last week, whose apartment felt so warm and inviting. There was a color scheme (what a thought) and throw pillows and rugs and curtains…and the contrast to my own mismatched décor was striking. Things fit together. They did not just function or serve a purpose, they were beautiful.

Every morning when I wake up I (somewhat) decide whether I want to be functional or fashionable. Do I grab the khaki pants and the comfortable sweater? Or do I don the tights and heels and complimenting skirt and cardigan?

And now, in the midst of a holiday season grows another dilemma: Do I decorate?

Now I’m not so much of a scrooge as to pass on holiday decorations as a rule, but this year they don’t seem so worthwhile. First of all, I’m the only one that will be living in our apartment until after Christmas…do I assemble decorations—just for me? Second, I’ll be out of town part of the month anyway…do I hang decorations—just for two weeks? Third, compared to my good friend (the holiday decoration queen) my selection of all things red, green and sparkly is mediocre and lacking—at best…do I arrange decorations—even if they are pitiful?

She promises to come and admire my half-hearted attempt, despite my submission to her reign.

While the lack of décor comes from limitations in finances and the absence of fashion comes from lack of energy, I have come to the conclusion that lack of gusto for Christmas decorations comes from an abundance of practicality. I love all things sensible, functional and realistic. Holiday decorating is none of those things. (Neither are wedding cakes, long hair or meticulously crafted cards). But despite my practical leanings, I also am drawn to that which is beautiful and creative, even if slightly frivolous.

And holiday decorating (and creatively assembled outfits, and thoughtful home décor) is all of those things.

So rather than letting everything remain packed neatly away in two boxes in the attic, I will set our two foot Christmas tree on the end table, circle it with lights and dutifully turn it on and off as I come and go. I will hang spools of ribbon from the picture frames and garlands from the curtain rods. And I will sip egg nog while sitting on gold velvet, listening to a constant stream of holiday tunes, appreciating the beauty—even if it is impractical.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Narrating the Journey

Wisconsin Farm
Somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin...

It started three summers ago, the summer I spent trying desperately to find a job in a market that was oversaturated with teachers—experienced, inexperienced, elementary, secondary, whatever.

There were hundreds of applicants for every teaching position in the area. Every Monday I would check every website in the district, don a professional outfit that would hopefully make me look older than twelve, and try to make it past the secretary in order to hand the principal my resume and hopefully set myself apart from the growing stack of applications.

When it wasn’t Monday, I lived an independent and thrifty existence, biding my time while I waited for a more scheduled, constructive life. I would often ride my bike the four miles to the library to use the internet and gather new things to read. It was then that I stumbled on the audio book section, or rather rediscovered it. I listened to hours of tape that summer, while cooking and quilting and running. It made me feel productive, even as I was unemployed.

---

When I was a child my family would travel to Eastern Washington each August so that we could spend a couple weeks with relatives. Traveling 1000 miles up the West Coast with four children is no small feat, however, and my mom was always prepared. In addition to a large supply of snacks, treats, coloring books and regular stops was a brand new set of “Adventures in Odyssey” Tapes—which we were not allowed to touch until we were on the road.

Over the course of the travel---16 hours there and then back—my sisters and I would swap tapes from walkman to walkman, chatting about the various episodes, quoting funny one-liners and trying to work out a system so that no sister had the buzzing walkman longer than any of the others.

It was somewhere on I-5 that I developed a love for stories during long car rides.

---

Last summer my sisters and I revisited the Odyssey saga as we drove to New York City for a couple days of touring and exploration. We laughed and reminisced as we drove through the night, too cheap to pay for a second night at a hotel.

This past weekend my husband and I drove for hours across the Midwest, enjoying hours of barren farmland, billboard advertisements, holiday drivers and…a book on cd. The drive was littered with intermittent conversation, about the book, about the scenery, about how much we were not looking forward to three weeks apart.

---

Various times and trips have become laced by the books I read and listened to while I was experiencing them: winters of quilting, summers of running, long trips here and there and back again.

And even though I have a job now, and a car, and the internet…I still treasure the simplicity of a story that unfolds over time. It can’t be rushed or controlled. It develops with twists and turns. And in the end truth and character are fully revealed, all because of the journey.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Solitude

Since leaving school on Wednesday,
I have driven 961 miles,
on three different days,
with various amounts of stopping in the midst.
We crossed five states,
listened to almost an entire book on CD,
and took pictures of fun and exciting sites across the rugged Midwest, including:

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...large Christmas trees travelling at 70mph.

Today, after a morning of strong coffee,
good conversation,
a run in the cold air blowing off Lake Superior,
and several hours in a couple airports,
I was back in the silence of an empty, cold apartment, greeted only by
a stack of mail
and wilted plants,
already somber about the impending three weeks apart.

Until I travel back up North, to rejoin Curtis for Christmas break, I’ll keep busy around here: hanging my own Christmas decorations (minus the gigantic Christmas trees),
mailing gifts to our families in all corners of the country,
and appreciating the benefits of solitude in the midst of a chaotic season.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Brokenness, Thankfulness, and Hope

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There is a student who sits in my class each day who has experienced much more than I hope to ever know. Abuse, neglect, dishonesty, divorce and abandonment start a long laundry list that she had already known by age seven. Double the years and you meet a student that has built walls of protection so thick that she hardly knows how to feel.

Despite the magnitude of emotions and experiences she has only begun to unpack in the conversations we have once in a while, I have hope that someday, somehow, she will see the brokenness redeemed.

That she will love.

That she will trust.

That she will have a faith is someone bigger than herself.

It is so easy to be thankful when the world is bright and cheery and all is well. But when I am surrounded by such brokenness, when I see people whose faces are rubbed in such darkness, there are moments when I wonder—when I fear—that such heartache may not be redeemed.

I am thankful, so thankful, that I have faith in something so much greater than myself.

That all will be redeemed, someday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where Are You Going For Thanksgiving?

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Today, at approximately 6pm, I will get into the car with my husband and drive three and a half (straight, flat) hours to Michigan. The sky will get dark but the route will still feel familiar.

We are headed to late nights, laughter, and a house of people neither of us is remotely related to. We will sleep in the basement and wake to the sound of small feet on the wood floor above us. We will eat together and load the children in running joggers and loop through the neighborhoods on routes we’ve long since measured and memorized. I will make the mashed potatoes, Curtis will eat the last of the pecan pie, and all of us will share in leftovers for the weekend.

The Lions will lose, the economy will be discussed, and the problematic nature of the US education system will be dissected. We will play Dutch Blitz and eat popcorn after the children are in bed, laughing and antagonizing each other to our hearts’ content.

It will be wonderful.

The Michigan tradition started my husband’s first year of college. As an Alaskan attending college in Ohio, a trip home for Thanksgiving was not practical, so he decided to “go home” with the first person who asked. This person was a running teammate at the time, but would eventually become a best friend. They would be in each other’s weddings, celebrate each other’s victories, and cry over devastating turns in one another’s families.

But before any of that could take place, Ryan invited my husband home for Thanksgiving.

The next year I would join them. I wasn’t yet dating my husband, but the three of us had already become good friends, journeying the 200 miles from college to his family and back again for brief visits over spring break and Easter, as well as for trips during May when we were stuck on campus for track, but long since done with our classes.

A couple years later Ryan lived in Jamaica for a year to do mission work, and we continued to visit his family without him. They made it clear to us that we did not “need” Ryan in order to spend time with them, and we were grateful.

Eight years later, we (through Ryan) have gained three “nieces” and one “nephew” that await our arrival each holiday. They expect that we will take them on runs through the neighborhood and push them on the swing in the back yard. They beg for us to sleep with them in their rooms, and want us to join them for episodes of Dora and coloring pages at the kitchen table.

Will we always go to Michigan for the holidays? Probably not. We will move and our relationships will be based on phone calls and e-mails and seasonal reminiscing. Someday we will tell our children of our seasonal trip while we look at pictures of grown children on Christmas cards, remembering how much fun we had.

And we will tell them of what a blessing it was to find family so far from home.

*Boating in Michigan this past fourth of July

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why I Love the Postal Service:

Yesterday brought the arrival of a gigantic, heavy box filled with ice packs and dry ice, protecting the arrival of:

Salmon, Halibut, Cod, King Crab and Moose sausage…from home.

I unloaded the frozen parcels into our freezer, filling it until it nearly spilled out…
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…with the exception of one package, which will be thawed out and served up tomorrow.

--

It’s amazing what sentimental value food can hold. Omelets make me think of Saturday mornings with my dad cooking breakfast. Coffee reminds me of my mother. Warm milk reminds me of my sister’s ritual before bed. Fish makes me think of being home.

If I am a few thousand miles away from family, at least I can have a taste of it here.

But for tonight, I will partake in another food I especially enjoy:
frosting
Chocolate frosting (because who doesn’t like frosting?)

Friday, November 20, 2009

(Winter) Whispers At My Door...

It was already fifty degrees when I drove to work this morning, an unseasonably warm temperature for mid (practically late) November in the Midwest.

When I think of November I picture leaves on the ground, snow in the air and a crisp wind that chills your bones as you scurry from place to place. November is the time to break out the thick sweaters and knee-high socks.

Scarves are needed.

Sandals are unthinkable.

Gloves are important.

Yet today I wore a skirt to work--with no nylons or tights, (gasp!) mind you. I didn't need them. All I needed was a light sweater, heels, and the warmth of my classroom space heater as I waited for my room to warm as the morning progressed.

Christmas music is already playing on one station (that I've discovered so far), and for once I'm not even really tempted to listen to it. It doesn't feel quite right, listening to Christmas music in a skirt and bare legs. Without gloves.

They say there will be snow in time for Thanksgiving. They say...

It's time for all of these things, but they aren't here. Everyday I look longingly at the shelf laden with sweaters and think, "Yes, soon will be a perfect day for a sweater...but it's not today" and I choose a skirt or another warm weather option, and try to appreciate such a warm, long autumn.

---

This school year I have been working to appreciate the present. Curtis and I may be moving at the end of this school year, and while the prospect of living closer to family is a welcome one, I am ever aware of what I would leave behind.

People will get married, students will graduate, children will be born, and grow and mature.

And I will miss it all.

And yet, I remember, I miss all those same things as I am away from home. These past eight years away from my family have been a constant exercise in appreciating what I have where I'm at--because without that focus I am left mourning what I am missing in whatever location I am not.

So even as I hear and think of events that may transpire after my departure, I try to choose the appropriate response for the time being: gratitude for the present.

And when winter finally arrives, as it inevitably does, I will appreciate the warmth of my sweaters as I shiver against the bitter cold.

Moose
*Visions of home...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

“Teachers are amazing beautiful creatures”

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I taught a lesson this week about defending opinions with persuasive strategies. I gave the eighth grade class examples of opinions to defend such as “Pizza can be eaten for any meal” and “Eighth graders should be given an extended lunch”. They laughed as I tried to come up with completely serious defenses for my ridiculous opinions, modeling the strategies with good humor.

After the show I put on for them (which is often what I feel like my job entails: crafty entertainment with lessons hidden inside) I set them off to write their own opinions and come up with defenses using the practiced strategies.

As I circulated the class, offering feedback on each student’s progress, I came to one student whose opinion was that “Teacher’s are amazing beautiful creatures.”

I couldn’t help myself; I laughed out loud.

This moment of unabashed laughter cost me the attention of the entire class, who was now hopelessly distracted from opinions and defenses. As I shushed their curious banter and encouraged them to concentrate, I heard the guilty students proclaim, “Well, they are!” defending his (seemingly) brown-nosing comment for the rest of the period.

It made my day.




*Taken in the quiet of August, before the chaos and humor ever began.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Perils Of Overdoing It

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When my husband and I moved into our lovely apartment as newlyweds two years ago we inherited a lot of character and quirks. The second story of a house built nearly 100 years ago, it is far from up to date. In addition its poor retention of heat is its poor tolerance of power—of any kind.

When we use the microwave, we can’t use the toaster oven, or a combination of the coffeepot and the radio. When we’re using the dryer, we can’t use the hair dryer, or a combination of the microwave and anything else. The landlord’s latest introduction of a high tech heater as a way to cut down on the expense of radiator heat has complicated this power issue further, since we have to remember to turn the heater off before running the microwave, dryer or hair dryer (or any combination of anything else).

Are you taking notes? There will be a quiz afterward.

This would not be a problem if we did not live in such a multi-tasking , quick moving society. I don’t always have time to use only the hair dryer or the microwave. Sometimes I really need to microwave my oatmeal while getting ready for work and maintaining the temperature of the house.

But, alas, that is not an option.

When we inevitably forget to turn one thing off before turning something else on, the circuit blows, EVERYTHING shuts off, and we have to call our downstairs neighbor to turn it on. Thankfully, he is ever gracious and patient with us and our need to rush through things, and returns power to us once again.

He does not seem to ever blow the circuit.

--

The other night I fell asleep to the faint smell of burning plastic. I had searched unsuccessfully to find the source, and settled my mind with the notion that something weird had circulated through our space heater.

An hour and a half later I woke to the beeping of our heater and the sharp smell of burning plastic. I was being intoxicated by the fumes of burning something, and our heater (sensing the danger of burning plastic) had already turned itself off.

Since it was late, and I was not in the mood to play detective, I settled for throwing open a window (which inevitably involves a lot more struggle and effort due to the age of everything), climbing back into bed with a headache and mild nausea from the smell.

The next evening when I finally had time to investigate the problem, the source was discovered: the plug. You see, our house only has two-prong outlets. In order to plug anything with three-prongs in, you need a converter. Our converter had apparently had quite enough and decided to melt to the cord.

Lovely.

--

This week as I made my plans for next week's lessons I was shocked to find that I am eight days away from Thanksgiving break.

Eight days!

Since Thanksgiving celebrations lead to the chaos of December, January shows up in the blink of an eye, and then the school year is halfway over.

It is so easy to be sucked up in the chaos of the holidays, or the chaos of my job, or the chaos of all the things I desperately try to commit myself to: relationships, learning, committees, students.

At times I find myself akin to the cord I pulled out of the wall: dead, burnt, far from functioning properly, and (figuratively) smelling things up.

This summer I practiced relaxing and resting in ways I hadn’t in years. I read. I cooked. I sat outside in the sunshine. It was beautiful and cleansing and rejuvenating. I feel so good when I am well-rested and not trying to stretch in so many directions. I am better at serving others as well: my husband, my students, my friends and family. When I am too busy, I don’t do it for others at the expense of myself—they suffer too.

It has taken me a long time to truly understand that reality.

I may keep that melted converter for a while because it’s such a good reminder: when we try to do too much, we break down and stink everything up. Sometimes it's just a blown circuit; other times it's a melted cord. Both are an not only an inconvenience, they are also a warning: Be careful. Tread carefully. You may be doing more harm than good.

In the end it's just not worth it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The End of Innocence

For those who are keeping track:
Us-4, Mice-0

Sometimes you have to celebrate the small victories.
(Especially when you can no longer live in blissful ignorance.)
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Dreams You Just Have to Let Die...

Sisters
My sisters and I, past our primes as gymnasts.

When I was in the sixth grade the US women’s gymnastic team won gold. Every girl that was remotely close to my age was quite nearly obsessed with this group of seven girls who danced and pranced and balanced and twirled on international television better than any other seven girls from any other country.

And we were taken.

My sisters and I discussed and negotiated the picture spreads from USA Today on a daily basis as we developed our own gymnastics collages. We watched them perform as late as our parents would let us stay up, celebrating with each high point performance, feeling crushed as Kerri Strung hurt her leg one vault shy of finishing her performance, only to be blown away by her tear-jerking, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring finish which solidified the gold.

We had won. We had all won.

For me, no Olympics has ever been quite as climactic, no athlete quite as endearing, no performance worth emulating quite as much. I can still list all seven members of that team (but I will spare you).

Throughout elementary school I secretly hoped there was a chance, just a small chance that I had a shot at being an Olympic gymnast. I dreamed of flipping through the air in the midst of a floor routine, landing a perfect finish off the uneven bars, waving at the flashing cameras with my gold medal.

And then I grew up.

At some point I realized I didn’t have a shot since I hadn’t been practicing twenty hours a week since the age of two. I also realized that I didn’t want to practice twenty hours a week, let alone for a decade. And thus I began to learn that dreams don’t always come true, or rather, dreams aren’t always what you think they are going to be.

As a teacher, I inevitably discover the dreams and hopes and aspirations of my students. Sometimes I ask for this information; sometimes it is offered. Sometimes these aspirations are feasible, and sometimes I wonder how the student has made it this far (14 years? 16? 18?) without a decent reality check. (You want to be what? With your grades?)

When I am faced with these dreamers, I am faced with a decision: perpetuate the dream, or squelch it? If I perpetuate the dream they continue to think that D’s in high school are not a problem in becoming an astronaut or veterinarian or columnist for Seventeen. If I squelch the dream I am "the bad guy". I am condemning the student to a lifetime of low self-esteem, poverty and a lifetime of minimum wage service.

The year before the life-changing gold medal performance I went to a gymnastic practice session with a friend from school. She actually had been training since she was two because her dad was in charge of a gym. During this practice session I was assessed and the coaches gave me a general idea of where I might be placed if I were to begin training with them. At the age of eleven even I could figure out that I was behind the Olympic curve. Gymnasts were champs by fourteen, or too old to make it. I was eleven and already a realist: I knew three years wasn’t quite enough time. Had I been scouted at nine, perhaps it would have been a possibility, but eleven? I was just too late. There would be other Olympic opportunities, I determined.


The line I walk with students who still think they can be gold medal gymnasts (both literally and figuratively) is a delicate one. I don’t want them to give up on the Olympics; I just want them to recognize what it takes to get there.

In the end I don’t really need to proclaim anything to them, as much as the cynic in me wants to. Most students will figure out, soon enough, what it takes to reach their goals. Eventually most of them will meet a dead end and have to refigure what their destination is going to be. For some students it will be painful, for others it will be just another bump in the road.

Some day I hope one of my students blows me away and nails a performance that “couldn’t be done” to bring home the gold. I will gladly eat any predictions I made prematurely, and be glad nothing I said or thought in my quiet (and sometimes loud) cynicism kept them from trying for the seemingly impossible.

And that will be a newspaper clipping worth saving.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anniversaries, Awards and Things That Sometimes Seem to be Overrated

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Flowers from Curtis, on our second anniversary...

This weekend my church celebrated twenty-five years. There was a walk down memory lane filled with speakers, pictures, videos and puppets from the past and present. Many out of town guests came back to see “where we are now” and to share with the more recent members “where we came from.”

I sat in the back with a couple friends and took in the experience. We sang old hymns and new praise tunes. We watched adults reenact old children messages. We listened to charter members recant the miracles of our past, that have brought us to where we are now. And then we cut and consumed twenty-seven (or so) different kinds of cake before departing for home, only to return twelve hours later for Sunday services.

Last week I attended a banquet celebrating local teachers for their stellar performances. Each district in the county celebrated one teacher for his or her unique and thoughtful teaching career. The teacher I accompanied to the banquet has a classroom that neighbors my own, and we frequent each other’s rooms regularly for a listening ear, pieces of chocolate, and computer print outs (since we share a printer). We make fun of each other to the students, and tease them for liking the other teacher better. New students sometimes get us confused, and once in a while we close our doors with joking scowls to the other because a class has gotten too loud.

She deserved the award. She’s challenging, thoughtful, and will listen to any student, any time—no matter how much grading she has to do.

Last July my husband and I celebrated two years of marriage. I made a nice dinner after he got home from a twelve hour shift delivering babies, and we sat together for a half hour before he secluded himself away to study. Eventually we would find time to take a break, but it would be a month later.

And I was okay with that.

I have always prided myself on being low-maintenance. When we were dating, it wasn’t important to me to keep close track of how long we had been together, and to celebrate various increments as we reached them.

Last month I received a plastic plaque celebrating my finish in a local marathon. The race was miserable, my finish disappointing. It seemed ironic to receive a carefully packaged object celebrating a time that I was not proud of, something that seemed far below my potential or expectations.

I was very proud of myself for finishing; I didn’t need a plaque.

Last year I saw an episode of “The Office” where a character seeks to motivate employees by giving out tokens (Schrute Bucks) for good behavior. Earn enough and trade them in for rewards. The parody successfully critiqued our current culture, where reward and recognition is of the utmost important, while pride in performance—in and of itself—is seemingly not enough.

I am guilty of handing out my own Schrute-Bucks in the classroom, stamping and stickering perfect homework papers, promising the students rewards for gathering a collection. No homework! Trade a bad grade in! Earn a party! Long assignments garner DOUBLE STAMP rewards. And the truth is I have never seen fourteen year olds so attentive to detail.

Unfortunately, it works.

I have sold my soul to the culture of incentive-based-performance.

What does this have to do with a church celebration? Or my anniversary? Or a well-deserved award? (Or a disregarded one?)…in my mind they are not so different. They are all celebrations of occasions: a successful church, a continuing marriage, a thriving professional, a perfect paper.

This string of celebrations over the past few months, some that I embraced and appreciated more than others, caused me to realize that somewhere there is a line between celebrations that are frivolous and selfishly motivated and those that are worthy of months of planning.

Because some milestones truly matter.

Six months of dating? Not really. Thirty-seven perfect answers to questions about present, past and future perfect tense? That’s pushing it. Twenty-five years of building a thriving supportive community? Absolutely.

When it comes down to it, celebrations and awards and milestones are all opportunities for encouragement, for a job well done, and for work that has been done well and should continue. Sometimes the immediacy of everything in the present causes us to lose sight of the entire journey. Sometimes we need to take a minute to appreciate the beauty of what has come already to appreciate the potential for the future.

And that is when these milestones come in handy. May my cynicism of the culture and my disdain for social niceties never keep me from offering true and genuine encouragement.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What does a long week at work look like?

This:
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Is it bad that I mourn the loss of these socks? I remember buying them with a friend I have since lost contact with, on a Thanksgiving weekend years ago. Call me sentimental, but throwing away these socks made me sad. (Don't worry, I still threw them away...)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fourteen Minutes


This weekend I watched in agony as Paula Radcliffe finished fourth in a marathon that, given her past times, she should have easily dominated. It was fourteen minutes slower than her world record, far slower than she is capable. And I knew that those last miles, those last fourteen minutes represented so much: pain, frustration, and agony knowing that things are not turning out the way they should.

I felt for her; I really did. I could feel my tears coming as she crossed the finish line.

Even though I have never done it on national television, I have run many races that have turned out less than, far less than, I expected—marathons included. Inspired first by my mom, second by my husband, and simultaneously by many other running influences, I ran my first marathon (26.2 miles) thirteen months ago. Inspired by my first experience, I ran my second six weeks ago.

I ran my first with not only nervous anticipation of the pain, but also an excitement to find out how fast I could go and how well I would endure. I ran my second with a similar (but more informed) nervousness, and even greater excitement about improving my time from my previous year, confident that I would not only endure, but also excel.

Running a successful marathon requires months of training. While I train year round to stay in shape, in the four months before the big race I ran up to seventy miles a week, in runs up to twenty miles at a time. I carefully monitored how fast I ran during workouts, increased my sleep to encourage recovery and monitored my food to make sure I was taking in enough and good quality calories.

Training for a marathon makes me feel a lot like my pregnant friends. I am always tired, always hungry, often aching and always looking forward with a lot of preparation to one big day where the moment of truth will occur, the pain will be felt, and the results will be seen.

The first marathon went well. I felt great for the first thirteen miles, under control for the next six, and pushed my way through the last seven. I could barely walk afterward, but was euphoric with a sense of accomplishment. I had worked hard. I had endured. I could rest on my laurels and enjoy my aching body with joy. I finished as the seventh woman, in three hours and nine minutes. I was content.

Six weeks ago I started my second marathon and was almost instantly concerned. I felt nauseous within the first mile, and it built through the second mile causing me to break out in a cold sweat. I felt ready to vomit any second. While the intensity of the nausea ebbed and flowed over the course of the next several miles—it never subsided. I dry heaved several times throughout the race, which left me frustrated and uncomfortable and weary.

By mile six I was tired, much more tired than I should have been or ever was on training runs at faster paces. When my husband, who doubled as my Gatorade carrier, asked me how I was feeling, I broke into tears. I was exhausted, and the impending twenty miles had me more than nervous, I was flat out dreading it.

Sure enough the next twenty miles proved to be some of the longest hours of my life. My body settled on four-minute cycles: feel good, feel nauseous, want to quit, talk myself out of quitting, repeat. It was a miserable mental exercise that would have been bad enough without aching legs that were growing more tired by the minute.

In the end, I finished. I finished fourteen minutes slower than last year, twenty minutes slower than I had hoped to.

I was so proud of myself I was practically glowing.

When I crossed the finish line I started crying, not because I hurt (which I did) or because I was exhausted (which I was) or because I was disappointed (which I was), but because I had pushed through and endured a grueling challenging task that despite months of preparation had proved to be miserable.

It still amazes me that with months of preparation the reality turned out so sour, so bitter, so wearing. Everything about the race was wrong given the work I’d put in ahead of time. And, for better for worse, this is also true of life in general. Despite the greatest preparation and toil, things can turn into bitter, trying ordeals that end much differently than plans might have indicated.

Differently than they ever should have.

In the last six weeks I have run outside twice. Once was to let a dog out for a friend that was out of town; the second was to enjoy a beautiful fall day with my husband. Both were for a half hour. Both turned out to be miserable.

Since the marathon, running has turned into a task similar to trying to eat food after vomiting: everything about it is unappealing. I still workout in other ways, sometimes even for an extended period of time, but grinding out time on the pavement is still too vivid of a reminder of a recent, grueling three hour and twenty-three minute run. It’s still too fresh.

I know someday I will enjoy running outside again. It has, after all, been my primary means of relieving stress and enjoying nature for twelve years. It may be next month; it may be more. Regardless of how long it takes me to mentally and emotionally recover, I know I will someday return to working hard at something I love to do, even when things turn for the worse.

I hope I always have this faith to endure troubled times, knowing that all is not lost, trusting that in time everything will be redeemed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Holidays Can Now Begin...

...the egg nog has been purchased (and enjoyed).

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Guest Blogger: Third Grade Memories

Today I am feautured elsewhere, click here to enjoy. :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Zinc

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Curtis and I at Niagra falls, back when we were dating.

Yesterday evening after dinner I mentioned to my husband, who is six months from being an official doctor, that the back of my throat was “ever so slightly irritated.”

“We need zinc. Let’s go to the store,” was his prompt reply.

“Right now?” I didn’t want to go now, I was settled in for the evening. It was dark outside. And raining. Perfect combination for staying inside.

“That’s the only time it works. If you take it after the illness has developed it’s useless.” And everyone thinks marrying a doctor is a great idea.

It’s a good thing that the wardrobe at 8pm in the grocery store is sweatpants, because that’s what I was wearing. And because I was wearing sweatpants, I was destined to run into all sorts of people I knew. As we picked out bananas that were already too ripe, I saw a past student.

Do I talk to this individual? Or act like I didn’t see her? After all, to compliment my sweatpants I had a hooded sweatshirt, half dried hair (it’s raining anyway, right?) and a splotchy face. Later as we passed the juice aisle, I saw her and her dad again, and ventured acknowledge the meeting. We chatted briefly and politely, surrounded by plastic containers of all-natural sugar water, and then went on our ways to finish shopping. Not too unnatural or embarrassing.

As I turned around I ran into (almost literarily) a professor from college. He asked my husband and I if we were dating (haven’t been asked that for years…since we were dating), and as I noticed his own attire (exercise pants, t-shirt, mismatched coat) I didn’t feel so shabby, even if we were talking about his recently published book about Shakespeare. Who knew resurrection images in Julius Caesar could be such casual conversation?

In the end, the longest delay of the trip wasn’t casual conversation about Elizabethan drama surrounded by wheat bread but trying to figure out the right kind of zinc to purchase. Shall we choose the 50 tablets of 100mg, which are candy coated? Or 100 tablets of 50mg? Or are the 60 lemon zinc lozenges (30mg) going to be absorbed more effectively into my system? This is when you’d think having a doctor along would help.

He didn’t know either. Determining factor for him? “Which one is the cheapest?”

There seemed to be some sort of philosophical health care statement being made in that moment, as we walked away with the all-natural lemon-zinc lozenges that were on sale for $2.45…

…But all I really cared about at that moment was getting home, out of the grocery story and the rain, and back home, where I could nurse my aggravated throat with lemon flavored zinc, and debate the merits of the flu vaccines (another perk of being married to a doctor).
But that’s another debate altogether.

Monday, October 26, 2009

And yet another use for...

My Latest Discovery:
Why pack gifts with paper...or bubbles...or foam peanuts...or air pockets, when you could pack with...

Candy

...candy.

Thanks to the in-laws for this great invention.

Who knew?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Endearing Annoyances: Our First Home

House
I am cold.

The weather has changed, the sleet and rain have moved in and snow is only a matter of time. The leaves are brightening in color, though fewer and fewer are intact on the branches each evening as I look out the window.

Our landlord is trying a new method for heating our apartment: space heater. Not heaterS …just heater. This heater is guaranteed by Bob Villa himself—1000 square feet can be heated by the Eden Pure Gen3 Quartz 1000. Yet, my apartment is 59 degrees.

When we moved into our apartment after getting married, we began a relationship…with the second story of a crimson brick house built in the 1920’s. Some of the windows loudly slide into place, balanced on cords with weights. Others have cords that have long since rotted or broken with time, and must be propped up with rods that we store on the windowsill.

Mice get in through the dryer venting, from the washer/dryer unit that is poised three feet from our front door. It shares plumbing with the bathtub, and every time a load drains it backs up into the tub, leaving lint and hair from cloudy water in a ring around the edges.

The oven is just barely wide enough to fit a 9x13 inch dish, or a cookie sheet. It cooks unevenly enough to merit turning things two or three times to make sure that the front is cooked completely and the back is not burned. It is exposed on one side, adding several degrees to the temperature of the kitchen when it is on (a significant plus with the current temperature).

Each room houses old radiators that have been painted white. The steam heat they emit warms the rooms of our home, always accompanied by a symphony of hissing, and warmth that slowly moves across the length of the metal frames. I have sat on the metal as it warmed in the evenings, sliding from one side to the other as the heat became too great, eventually getting off altogether.

Unfortunately, old steam heating radiators are expensive to operate, thus the arrival of Bob Villa’s comrade: the Eden Pure.

Someday I imagine us living in a home with airtight windows, a full size oven, and an entrance void of a washer and dryer …or maybe just with central heating. But even as we approach that, I know I will miss the jeweled handles of closet doors that don't fully close, the built in cabinets and drawers that get stuck, and the abundance of character that comes with our one-of-a-kind apartment, that will always be “the first place we lived.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In which I use "exceptionally" too many times

Everyone I know is pregnant. Maybe not everyone, but a significant percentage of my female friends between the ages of 23 and 30 are carrying a live fetus in their bodies that is due to arrive in April or May. They are all exceptionally tired, and hungry, and nauseous. They don’t like brushing their teeth, staying up late, or spending money. Typically this would suit me just fine, as someone that enjoys a solid nine hours of sleep a night, and a budget that is exceptionally tight due to the massive amount of loans accumulated in the education of my spouse. Brushing my teeth? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the feeling of smooth, white enamel.

But I agree on the other two.

Despite these similarities, I am still in an exceptionally different boat than these (former) peers. I don’t peruse the internet for information about the development of my (non existent) child from week to week. I haven’t registered at the mecca of all expectant mothers. I can’t say I own a copy of their guide to their (constantly changing) universe…and why would I? I don’t live there.

Nevertheless I would be lying if I said I don’t allow myself to look into their morphing existence from afar, secretly wondering if I’d like to join them. Dare I admit I would like a growing fetus of my own? Might I care for a dose of constant nausea, clothes that are built for a large growth, and more than my fair share of exhaustion?

And this is when I realize that for every stage of life I’ve inhabited, I have also looked forward with longing to the next. In elementary school, it was the halls of middle school. In middle school, it was the freedom of high school. In high school, it was the independence of college. And then a job, and then marriage, and now it is children.

I have a good enough memory to recognize that for every step forward, something is lost with the last. Approaching adulthood brought much responsibility in addition to freedom. Marriage has brought beautiful companionship, but a little less independence. So much about life is being content and appreciative of the present…knowing that every step forward may not be reversed.

Someday I ardently hope to experience this change of existence, but for now I will enjoy minty, fresh breath, and handing crying babies back to their owners when I have had enough.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gray Hair

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I pulled out a white hair this morning. It wasn’t my first…just my second. The first one I taped to a piece of purple card stock with two pieces of scotch tape. I felt like it was some sort of mile mark, some defining moment that I would look back on in latter days when the colorless hair is endless and my joints ache with movement.

It’s funny to have these moments of aging at 25. My body recovers more slowly for strenuous activity. I pull muscles more easily, and my joints ache with cold weather. I know I’m a long cry from what I’ll experience in older age, but I notice a difference all the same. So much is unpredictable in life, and yet I can count on aging. My body will deteriorate, my skin will stretch and sag, my organs will cease to function, and to dust I will return.

I went to a cemetery this weekend, to visit the dust of those I love, those I have loved. I have been there once before, on a rainy December morning, though on this day it was fresh and cool and comfortable in the fall sunshine.

Circulating the gravestones reflected such a mix of experiences. Some died as infants, with fresh skin and new bodies and lives that seem so full of potential. Others were surely ready, with bodies that gave in at a natural moment, surrounded by loving arms and voices that recalled years of living. And in between are a myriad of stories finished—though seemingly at premature moments. Though their bodies are buried, there were surely things left undone, milestones unseen, moments never experienced.

And I mourn for those. Seven years after burying the shell, the mourning for those is fresh.

I mourn for the moments that will never be witnessed. I grieve the loss of told stories, of shared experiences, of a warm body full of memory and love. Yet, I know some day I will rest there as well, empty of warmth, and the physical shell of a deceased being. Even though the circumstances of death are often tragic, dying is not. Aging is not. These are natural, and will happen to all of us as we near the end of our lives.

Much like gray hair.

Some see cemeteries as ominous and dark and sad. I find them to be peaceful. Because at cemeteries, much like at death, things are at peace. Life is at peace. The turmoil has ended; the battles are over; the fighting can stop. And finally, there is rest.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Flowers for Algernon

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The eighth grade reading class is one of my personal favorites. There’s something about being at the top of middle school that brings a little too much confidence, a few too many hearts hand drawn in the margin, and a mouth quick to hand out advice—about anyone or anything.

Last week we read “Flowers for Algernon,” a thought provoking story about a man named Charlie, who takes part in a surgical procedure that increases his intelligence. His progress is detailed in his personal journal, and measured against a mouse, Algernon, who consistently betters his attempts at a maze. As the plot progresses Charlie supersedes Algernon, only to watch him deteriorate before his eyes, predicting Charlie’s own inevitable demise. In the end Charlie runs away…he can’t stand to be around people that knew him at his peak, knowing that they would watch him fall further, when he would no longer be able to protect himself against their demeaning or pitying remarks.

So was it worth it? Should he have had the procedure? The students overwhelmingly said no: it was better for him to not know what he was missing. Better to not make sense of the criticism behind his back, better to not appreciate symphonic music, understand multiple languages, or experience a relationship. Better to just stay away from risk, or pain.

Surely it’s better to live in oblivion.

We had our own Algernon wander around our apartment last week. And then we had another. We caught them in a couple traps, but only after determining that the tiny piles of dirt around the house were actually mouse excrement. There was a pile in the bathroom, a pile under the kitchen table, and a pile…on my bed.

Curtis went out to the store at 10:30pm, and returned a hero with the necessary weapons to fight off our apparent invasion. The traps were set, but after a nearly sleepless night no rodent had ventured under the poised, tense metal.

The following evening we returned to find, with eyes bulging, a dead mouse in the trap. I never actually set eyes on the deceased intruder; Curtis cleaned it up, and set the new trap without ever needing my (unwilling) assistance.

Minutes later, tucked away in bed, we were jarred awake by the loud SNAP of the trap as it caught yet another assailant. Adrenaline rushing, I once again supported (from under the covers of my defiled bed) Curtis as he tossed the still-moving mouse and set up yet another trap.

Every evening when I return from work, I check this third trap with much anticipation, and find great joy to find it empty.

Yet sometimes I wonder if it was better not to know…not to scour the apartment for small pellets, not to race to turn the lights on to reveal a rodent.

I prefer traps.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Evidence.

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There have been so many evenings in the last couple years where I have wondered if I am still single. Not legally single, single on my taxes, or single on a piece of paper...just alone, at home, again.

There was one year, nearly to the day, that I lived by myself. I grew up in a home with three siblings and one mom that were all very close...both emotionally and physically. When we watched a movie, the five of us would squeeze together on two cushions of couch, nearly on top of one another as we scratched each other's backs and ran our fingers through long thick hair. Half of us recited lines and named actors and actresses, half of us sat quietly wishing the others would keep quiet. We would rather be all together than by ourselves.

I lived in a residence hall for four years after I left my home, and the girls that populated the floor and littered the cafeteria and screamed in the halls at midnight...they kept me company. I was never alone.

When I graduated I was ready to have my own space...I was desperate to have my own space. The space I existed within never felt like my own, and for crying out loud I wanted a kitchen. The creative options in the cafeteria (granola mixed with waffle batter, soup doubled as dip for vegetables, grilled chicken made into sandwich meat) had long lost their luster. I wanted leftover chili in the fridge. I wanted freshly cooked oatmeal in the morning. I wanted a real egg. I wanted to eat after 6:59pm if it meant I didn't have to rush out of a hot shower after a cold run outside. More than anything, I didn't want to walk outside in all types of weather to get there.

My apartment was quiet, and furnished, and clean, and mine. I relished quiet mornings with the sun streaming through the sliding glass door. I would make two slices of french toast to eat while I read selections from Devotional Classics. It was fitting to read selections written by monks and martyrs that had spent much time alone, writing about the joy they had found in silence, in rest, in breaks from the chaos of the world. I was finding this to be true...but I also found loneliness.

The paradox is that in having your own space, you are alone.

A year later, many people warned me of the difficult transitions that marriage would bring: living together, eating together, sleeping together...all of this would require much adaptation and work. We would get tired of being around each other soon enough; we would learn to love the normalcy that came with marriage more than the excitement of dating.

But when he is working 80 hours a week and studying in his free time, it's hard to adapt to being around one another. When he gets most Sundays, some Saturdays and a handful of holidays off, and spends 95% of them studying, you don't do a lot of "living" together. We share twenty minutes over dinner, and a few more as we lie in bed falling asleep.

But he is here.

I find his stethoscope in the back seat of my car, his socks in the laundry basket, his empty water glass on the kitchen table. I find his hair in the sink after shaving, two plates in the dish rack after a meal, a stack of books on the dining room table, a stack of books on the desk, and a stack of books on the coffee table. And even though I grumble as I carry the books into one large stack by his closet, and laugh as I wonder how long he's been missing his stethoscope, and trip on his shoes as I carry his dishes to the sink, I am content. Alone, but content.

Our lives have become woven together, sometimes silently, sometimes despite very little time together, but knotted together nonetheless, in a beautiful tangled dance that will continue long after the current stresses are over. He may not be here very often, but the evidence of his existence, our existence, is here. And for that I am happy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Seasons

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The coming of fall brings memories of so many things to the front of my mind. The change of every season brings memories: childhood, high school, college…every season of my life flashes before me like the brightly colored leaves fluttering to the ground.

The leaves are changing early this year, I think. The tips of some trees are fluorescent pinks and reds; others are nearly saturated with yellow and brown. I gaze at them as I drive to work, to run errands. I get lost in their transformations as I run through the neighborhoods, becoming startled when a squirrel’s movement brings me back to reality.

I have lived through twenty-five autumns, this year marking my twenty-sixth. I do not remember my first couple autumn seasons, though as I grew older the season would be marked with the beginning of the school year, a crisp moving breeze, the donning of sweaters and the sipping of crisp apple cider.

Funny how my memories are so colored by Hallmark clichés.

This is the first September that I have not returned to school. I am still a teacher, running my day by bells that ring at 41 minute intervals. I create assignments, plan lectures, collect tests and assign grades. I am still very much “in” school…just not as a student.

And even though I go to school every day, I feel somehow I have gotten older. I have left the role of student, perhaps for now, perhaps forever, and entered into my time exclusively as teacher, as caretaker, as advocate, without care for my own educational career.

It’s freeing, and yet I mourn it as well. Entering a classroom with colorful ink pens, crisp three-holed paper and the stomach for an insurmountable syllabus brings a smile to my face and activities to my evening.

And now my evenings are empty, a reality just as difficult to stomach.

I am one who has marked my worth by the productivity of my days for as long as I can remember.

And now I am learning (because I will always be a student) that I can learn new things with the empty evenings:

To find peace.

To find rest.

And to appreciate the changing of the seasons.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Escape

I found this series of questions while poking around the internet, ardently avoiding the editing and photocopying required to construct a Unit Exam for my 10th grade English class. The idea of escape was interesting to me, because it's not something I normally think about. I'm a realist. I deal with things that are plausible and likely--I don't often allow myself to dream freely. This doesn't bother me, it just makes the occasional dreaming session out of the ordinary, and in this case, quite fun.

Feel free to join the indulgence...reality will always be there.

1. If you could escape to anywhere in the world where would it be?

Rural England, specifically the western coast a few hours outside of London, would be my first choice. I went here with my aunt four years ago, and the beauty of it was haunting. My aunt now struggles with her health, and I would love to visit her, and the beautiful country in which she lives.

2. What song do you play when you are by yourself in the car?

“Fields of Gold” by Eva Cassidy. It’s so relaxing and peaceful, in a life that sometimes feels so chaotic.

3. If you had a night to yourself, and money was no object, what would you do?

Drive to Cleveland, eat a nice dinner and dessert out, see a Broadway musical at the Cleveland Playhouse, and spend the night at the Renaissance downtown.

4. What is your guilty pleasure?

Watching reruns of television on the internet, because we don’t have live television in our house.

5. What is the farthest place you have traveled away from your home?

Negros Occidental, the Phillipines, which I went to in High School as a service trip.

6. Last book that you couldn't put down?

What is the What? By Dave Eggers, which altered my understanding of the turmoil in the Sudan.

7. When you want to escape into another time, what movie do you watch?

Braveheart. I love the passion in their living, and their simple existence (though I would miss modern plumbing)

8. What is your favorite local escape?

The Amish Door, a quaint inn in Amish country where you can walk for miles undisturbed, or sit on the porch and read in the calming breeze.

9. How do you escape on a budget?

Escape by visiting friends and family where the entertainment is abundant and cheap, and the couch to sleep on is free.

10. Best food you've ever had while on vacation.

Fresh papaya in Hawaii, one of my most vivid childhood vacation memories, or fresh sushi in San Francisco.

...and now, back to work.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Contrast

Exercising inside,
when it is beautiful outside,

listening to overplayed pop music,
while turning the pages of The New Yorker
and The Economist.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Periwinkle Memories

When I first witnessed a cross country race, it was the Alaska State Championships my 8th grade year. Wanting a weekend activity, and seeking to get involved at our "new school", my mom loaded up four kids (age 3-14), a bag of white cheddar popcorn, a trunk full of rain gear, change for hot chocolate and drove an hour to Palmer High School, and a set of dirt trails I would eventually know like my own backyard.

We watched the muddy races in the midst of sprinkling rain, marveling at the nasty conditions in which this sport took place. I thought it was ridiculous and wondered what kind of person would sign up for such a thing. As I sipped hot chocolate that burned the roof of my mouth, and cheered for athletes wearing my high school's jersey, I recognized that though the experience seemed a bit absurd--it was it's own culture. It was a group of people that enjoyed being a little crazy, a little out there, unfazed by the mud and grimaces and unfavorable conditions that came along with it--they were almost bolstered by such realities.

A year later I joined my school's cross country team, seeking to be a part of this group. Donned in baggy mesh shorts and a paint stained Reebok t-shirt I joined new teammates through sunshine and rain, through mud and gravel, spending the night on the floor of high school classrooms, and doing homework through the jostling of 15-passenger vans.

Slowly, I began to look like I belonged. I gathered the yearly team t-shirts, the mud-stained socks, the black spandex tights, the school's hooded sweatshirt, and of course, a few pieces of dry fit material. I still have my first "running" shirt, a long sleeved periwinkle blue Patagonia top that zipped a few inches down to be easily pulled over my head. It was too short for my short torso, and a little wide for my narrow frame, and a tad short on my arms--but it was great. As far as I was concerned, it went with everything I owned, and was a the perfect pullover for all non-formal occasions. When I wore it, I felt like a runner. I felt like I belonged.

I now half a dozen half-zip dry fit pullovers in many different colors, each representing a different memory, from a different phase of my career. There's a white one I got from my cross country coach when I started my first collegiate season, and a navy one with the team's logo that I took with me when I completed my college career. There's a couple black ones I got as gifts from my grandma, a neon green one I got from my mom, and a navy one I got from my husband's parents while we were still dating. My most recent one is powder blue, which I got from my aunt in the days before my wedding.

I don't wear these items with quite the fervor I did at the age of 16, but they hold a special place in my wardrobe. And even though the blue Patagonia top makes few appearances in public, it still makes me smile to see it in my drawer when I dress for my daily run. It reminds me how far I've come as a runner, the people that have (and do) accompanied my journey, and the many lessons I've learned along the way...the least of which being I don't need an ill-fitting top to belong.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rain.

Rain has not often been something I have loved. I am an outdoor person...and rain is not often conducive to being outside. As much as rain used to be readily appreciated for water supply and thus cleansing, in our modern society it seems to makes things dirty--from the car, to the mud, to the splashing of pavement oil on my clothes as I scurry from place to place. I still have running water in my house, regardless of what the rain forecast has been.

This summer has shown a clear need for rain. The grass is brown and crunchy; the plants are withering; the vegetation is dying. In the midst of shortsighted appreciation for sunshine in this non-dessert area of the country, the consequence of a beautiful abundance of sunshine has taken its tole.

A couple summers ago I remember sitting with my aunt as she told me of something she was working harder to do: appreciate rain. She told me how the Israelites often pined after rain, for they readily appreciated all the ways it met their needs: nourishing food, providing drink, and cleansing from the ever-present dust. It was God's provision for their needs; she wanted to remember that. I think of my aunt often in the absence of rain, though especially in this season of absence, because she desperately needs to be cleansed, to be touched by God's provision, and to find rejuvenation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Falling Apart Part II

Irony (noun): Incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.

Yesterday I found out that my aunt, who is a few years older than fifty, likely has ovarian cancer. She has previously had bouts with breast cancer, which she treated with natural methods, aggressively purging her body of toxins, rather than pumping them in through chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

"Obviously, I don't know how extensive things may become," she wrote in an e-mail to my sister. "The staging is considered to be a minimum of 3 (out of 4, though there are varying sub-stages) if cancer cells are found outside the mass. If so found, and if it is intermediate to high grade cancer, it means the necessity for swift systemic cleansing/killing of the little devils before they create problems elsewhere."

Little Devils Indeed.

I couldn't help but smile as I read her eloquently worded message, complete with plans for making a life in the downstairs of her house because of the pain and discomfort of going upstairs to her bedroom. A bedroom next door to an office that my uncle used before he died of cancer seven years ago. I don't know if she has cleaned or filed through the details he left behind, which had remained seemingly untouched when I was there four years ago.

"This may be debilitating to a greater/lesser extent," she continued "depending on whether I opt for chemo/radiation, though you should know I am not a fan of those and prefer healthier alternative methods. Ovarian cancer has a high recurrence and low survival rate, not least because severe chemo toxins are used to attack it, and they have been proven to cause secondary/recurring cancers soon after remissions."

"Damned if you do; damned if you don't" as the old adage goes.

As I shared this information with Curtis, a handful of days after he had proclaimed the truth and risk of the presence of ovaries in aging women, he was in disbelief that this would happen now, as he witnesses and assists in the examination/treatment/removal/assessment of so many ovaries every day.

How interesting that such a life giving organ can be a home for a massive collection of such silent little devils. It happens all the time, I'm told.

But that doesn't make it any easier.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Falling Apart

Our house is quiet. The waning daylight fills our living room, four open windows allowing the fresh air of summer to temp us with the essence of charcoal burning, children laughing, overdue fireworks and evening yard work.

I wonder if the neighbors have any idea how clearly we can hear their shared remarks, broken only by a passing car or conversing bird.

We are inside, and my feet rest on his hips as he studies Grant's Atlas of Anatomy. He remarks to me that a woman having her ovaries removed before fifty will likely die at a younger age, while being less susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. I let that reality turn over in my mind, settling on the fact that disturbing your body that drastically, removing two hormonally crucial pieces, would seem to make you more likely to fall apart at an earlier age...even well protecting you from a different danger.

Ultimately, that's what he studies in his free moments, investing the energy remaining from 70 and 80 hour work weeks in learning ways to keep people from falling apart so quickly.

It's ironic that his study of such seems to make me prone to do so quite easily.

He puts in earplugs. He does not do well with distraction. I have always been readily able to focus in the midst of a multitude of sounds and distractions. He can't handle the conversation across the street and three doors down.

But he is a good listener, a great listener. And that was the first thing I noticed about him when we became friends. So I will forgive his florescent orange earplugs, as he has forgiven my multi-tasking and wandering mind. And I will appreciate the sounds of summer, and he can appreciate the anatomy of ovaries.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Justification.

I decided to nap this afternoon, after justifying the decision by: a) getting up at 7am, b) having run 12 miles and c) simultaneously doing laundry. Running a lot makes me tired. And even though our medical school regulated house goes to bed at 9:30, 10:00pm tops, a nap is sometimes still needed--especially when it can be taken on a gold velvet couch, surrounded by windows letting in a gentle breeze, a hint of neighboring wind chimes, and a chorus of birds.

Yes, napping can be a rich experience indeed.

Photobucket

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Things I have accomplished today:

1. Giving up on getting an antenna that works in our apartment.
2. Four handwritten letters, one accompanied by a package (bonus points!).
3. Cleaning up the family room, which has been strewn with multiple antennas, two televisions and a converter box.
4. Six 800m repeats that sucked.
5. Brushing my teeth.

This summer has turned into a time where I practice not finding my worth in what has actually been accomplished. I sleep until I want to get up (or until I fear the heat that will dominate my running experience that morning), I eat when I want, and I try to accomplish one tangible task for each day in addition to working out. (Non-tangible tasks include, but are not limited to book reading, nap taking, blog reading, internet surfing, and internet television watching)

I secretly think that getting rid of the internet would be a good thing for me, but since I already don't have television, that would leave me with the radio, and that would put me back to say the 50's? And I'm not that hardcore, though I would thoroughly enjoy having a larger selection of dresses in my wardrobe, which I could wear as I put dinner on the table for Curtis as he comes home from work. This would be an improvement on the mesh shorts I wear with cotton tank tops. But I digress...

As much as I feel like a "time waster" for not having jam-packed days filled with measurable productivity, granting me worth and value and much self-esteem, it's cleansing to remember that there is value in reflection, in journaling, in writing letters, in having the freedom to have a twenty minute conversation with the man stocking the diced tomatoes at the grocery store about his sons college decision making process. I'm not good at those things; they don't hold the tangible value that a good solid eight hours of teaching does, or the value of countless hours invested in a masters degree, or the value of coaching for hours after school and on the weekend. But tangible value, when it is all said and done, is just one kind of value. And there are so many things that never show a return, that can't be measured, and that few will ever notice...that are still important.

And so, in my two months of solitary summer existence, I hope to find myself immersed in such things...and that I won't scramble to defend my existence when asked, for the 407th time So, what are you doing this summer?

Thinking.
Writing.
Reading.
Talking.
Laughing.

...because I can, and because there is value in these things.

Monday, July 6, 2009

On egg yolks and lichen.

Egg yolk smaller

Notice the man with three grocery bags
in each hand; compliment his skill
at closing the trunk with his belly.

Do not forget your body.
You are earth inhaling, exhaling,
mud imprinted with God's face.
Do not forget the grass

which shares your souce, and the leaves
dead on that vine. Look around you: all this breathing
earth, walking, godlike.

Do not forget the color
of egg yolks. Of telephone wires in rain.
Of lichen. Of bubble gum.

Do not forget how wellyour skin covers you.
How warm another's palm is
on your shoulder blade.

Hear bird calls.
Try answering.

Remember the color of the lake when light leaks
all over it at sunrise. Be awakesometimes, on purpose
for sunrise. Trust the night;
it too is God's. Learn quiet. Learn sleep.

Learn the names of your fears.

Remember the times when you are like a cello string
drawn awake, a held note throaty with longing.
Be honest about hunger. Practice hearing that note
in human beings. Pray them awake.

Notice your laughter.
What does your soul have to do

with grocery bags?
What is it?

Never forget
to keep asking.

-Stephanie Gehring, "To a Young Thinker, or Sermon to Myself"

Friday, June 26, 2009

Things I love.


1. Hydrangeas.
2. Books on tape.
3. Wheat flour
4. Skirts
5. Perfume



6. Handwritten Letters


7. Colored Ink Pens

8. Curbside Recycling

9. Being Outside
10. Making Lists.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Treats.



Fresh basil, hand picked.

Fresh tomatoes...from the store.

Mozzarella cheese.

A pinch of salt.

Fresh ground pepper.

Love it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The neighbors.

One of the best things about living in a neighborhood is having neighbors. Not "pound on the ceiling" or "share sound through the floors and walls" neighbors, but let the smells of their barbecue and the cries and laughter of their children offer comfort and smiles in the midst of my quiet and largely independent existence.

Last week I watched as the mom and dad attempted to sprawl on a blanket in the Sunday afternoon sun while their children played, only to play referee between the stubborn toddler and poorly communicating older-toddler. They baby would scream. A parent would mediate. Silence would follow...for about 30 seconds. Later I looked out to see the older girl climbing on her father as he lay motionless on the blanket, face down. They were together...perhaps not in peace, but together.

One afternoon I saw one of the children, whose crib is near a second story window facing my own, peering out the window in search of excitement. The drapes would move back and forth as she sought entertainment despite her entrapment.

It's not so far from their yard to my second story window. The night air carries glimpses and phrases from their conversation...eavesdropping that is largely unintelligible and shortlived, yet comforting in an odd sort of way.

They sit out again this evening, in collapsible camping chairs around a fire pit modestly aglow, wafts of charred branches distracting my senses. Their children must be in bed...their day must be coming to a close...and they sit and enjoy the coolness of the evening, and the company of one another.

Beautiful.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On pain, cartoon Jesus, and redemption

I listened to an old Johnny Cash song this evening at church. I sat in the room where four and five year olds usually congregate, surrounded by cartoons of Jesus and celebrations of spring, listening to a deep voice recant self-inflicted pain and the need to feel—something, anything.

It is a morbid song, with a haunting rhythm, that felt appallingly out of place in a basement classroom in chairs that sit a foot off the ground. A woman shared this song with me because she felt it described her own experience, her own “hurt”. We both sat in silence as the song played out, faces lit by a darkening overcast sky, sound punctuated by laughing children and conversing adults gathering upstairs.

I have never physically cut or hurt myself intentionally, but I have definitely had my moments of hurt. Moments where crying doesn’t express the pain enough, where words cannot express the pain enough, where nothing seems to capture how deep the wounds truly travel. And in those moments, I didn’t hurt myself; I just quit trying to express it. And moments turned into weeks, and months and years. And crying became a thing of the past.

When the song was finished I wanted to stay in the room and talk, discuss how she came to connect with this song, what she wishes people understood about her hurt, and how she deals with her pain now. Because her pain has continued and even worsened, depending on whom you ask. Her life has been simplified into pain treatments by the week, needed to manage the pressure on fluid on her brain. Her prayer requests are surprisingly few, but the distraction in her eyes cannot be missed. She hurts, a lot, all the time, yet she is warm with everyone to whom she speaks. She bemoans the distraction the pain—and pain medication—inflicts on her life, and yet seems more focused that I am because she is not concerned and preoccupied with a million different things. The pain has made her life so simple, has created such focus, and yet is still...hurt.

Interesting silver lining.

I’m pretty sure this woman, whose pain has spanned nearly her entire life, would never choose the mess of health and family issues she has had to endure. I’m sure most of us wouldn’t choose our saddest moments for all their silver lining. But listening to that song, full of despair, reminded me that to forget redemption is to be surrounded by darkness.

“I hurt myself today to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real...everyone I know goes away in the end, and you could have it all, my empire of dirt.”

Or, as my friend said as we left the world of preschool Sunday school, “my empire of shit.”

I am so thankful for redemption, at some moments more than others. Surrounded by the plastic smell of her pain treated skin, grey from the cloudy evening sky, I was very thankful for grace in moments I don’t expect, and the immeasurable promise of heaven.