Monday, March 29, 2010

Haircuts, or On Picking Your Battles

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I have always loved Curtis’s hair.

Before we were dating he and his college buddies decided that they would participate in the “Locks for Love” donating frenzy, and grow their hair out to a donation worthy length (Note: ten inches). It was then that I noticed what superior hair genes he had been blessed with: thick, straight, shiny. It was every young woman’s dream.

The first time I actually got to cut Curtis’s hair we were still in college. He was running his first marathon, and I was conveniently present when he decided he was ready for a buzz. I ran my fingers through it as I chopped off the excess locks, and when I was finished, the desired look had been accomplished. And my love for his hair was cemented.

After that initial buzz, my hair cutting skills were forgotten…until we got married.

The past few years have found Curtis and me at the center of many cost-cutting measures, hair cutting included. Every four to six weeks we pull out the clippers and he dons the plastic smock and I layer his hair with any number of measured combs until the desired look is attained. Afterward I sweep up the mess while he washes himself off, and we are set until the mop has grown unruly once again.

We have run into many problems with this seemingly perfect routine. There was the time I was so wrapped up in an ethical dilemma I was expressing to him that I started cutting—without a comb attached. Did I mention that this was a week before he was the best man in his best friend’s wedding? Thankfully his thick hair saved the day, jamming the clippers before I could make it half an inch, and then mercifully covering the mistake. (Though that was almost the end of my hairdressing career)

And while Curtis’s lovely thick locks saved his handsome face on that occasion, they have endlessly frustrated me on countless other occasions. Many a hair cutting session have left Curtis and me fuming when the clippers jam, causing the cut to take FOREVER, and leaving his scalp raw from all the pulling. It doesn’t matter how much we spend on clippers, his “beautiful” hair seems find the need to show us who’s boss on a regular basis.

Yesterday morning on the way to church Curtis began to mentally prepare me for the haircut he absolutely needed that afternoon. He knows that between the clipper battles and the post-cut itch that inevitably happens with small hair granules stuck everywhere, a necessary trim can make me instantly annoyed. I made up my mind that I would enjoy the experience, and annoyances aside, I did.

They tell you when you get married that “things change”. They warn you that the rose-colored experiences of dating will fade and that reality will rear its ugly head. And in some ways “they” are right. Someday (when the extra cash for a haircut doesn’t seem quite so dear) I will probably let someone else take care of the itchy, frustration that plagues me every month, and I will tuck the worthless clippers away until they are further needed.

After all, at the end of the day you have to choose your battles, and fighting with a pair of finicky hair clippers doesn’t quite seem worth the effort.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Flirtation of Spring

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Let the record show that on the evening of March 25, thick snow fell.

Driving home yesterday evening found me incredulous. I had worn sandals to a friend’s house for the evening (my own personal willing of spring to press forward) and when I exited the house I had to scamper through slush to make it to the car. The flakes were large and think and mildly blinding.

This morning I looked out the window to find the fresh spring buds covered in snow, the freshly green grass completely absent, and my car so badly iced that I struggled with all four doors before succeeding entry. As I scraped off the windshield, a wind blew collected snow off the tree above me onto my head (lovely). That’s when I noticed a budding flower enclosed in the soft, cold fluff.

Spring was trying to come, and failing.

This has been a year of odd seasons. Fall was mild; winter came late but was then fierce. Spring has been teasing with the intensity of a flirtatious teenage girl, unwilling to commit, though throwing out attractive signals at every turn.

Just make up your mind already.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Strength We Gather Along The Way

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One of many aid stations at the National Marathon this past weekend.


Four years ago,
while feverishly searching for a job,

I took a temporary house-sitting position. This job involved two GIGANTIC dogs, and one senior in high school. While I never would have ventured to call it babysitting, it was more like chauffeuring—because alas, she had no driver’s license.

Every morning I would wake, and quietly feed the dogs and let them out. Then I would make myself breakfast (from their gorgeous array of all things natural and organic) while I waited for T’s alarm to go off. At 10am her clock radio would blare the latest pop/rap tune (think “Ridin’ Dirty”) for two minutes while she summoned the energy to roll out of bed. Twenty minutes later we would be on the road to a class she was taking in standardized testing, and two and a half hours later I would pick her up.

The afternoon would often be spent with her chatting on the phone about the latest gossip to her high school BFF’s, and I would read or work on a quilt I was making for my mom (which amused her greatly).

Mid-afternoon she would shower and ready for work—hostess at a local restaurant—and I would drop her off, confirm a pickup time, and plan out the rest of my evening. After all, I had it all to myself; she never needed to be picked up until 2:30am.

Carrying this schedule for two weeks taught me several things:
1. There aren’t that many tunes that circulate on the pop/rap station.
2. A college degree, quilt making abilities, and a voracious reading appetite are far from impressive to a high school senior.
3. You have a captive audience when you are the one preparing food, and the other is waiting hungrily for the result.

T and I talked about many things in those two weeks: boys, high school, career aspirations, college possibilities, and pop music. One song that circulated constantly that July was “Lips of an Angel”, which T absolutely loved.

“Have you listened to the words?” I would ask T while she watched me chop vegetables.

“Yeah. It’s really sweet.”

“Really? It’s sweet that this guy, who is clearly in a committed relationship, is expressing affection for a different girl that he’s talking to on the phone?”

“Well…it’s sweet that he cares about her so much.”

“Which girl? The one on the phone? Or the one sleeping in the other room?”

And this is when T would laugh at me for analyzing the song with such depth. And this is where I told her that someday she would probably not want to be in that relationship—as either the girl on the phone or the one in bed.

--

A few months ago Curtis and I went out to eat on a Monday night. It was a spur of the moment decision, and completely out of the ordinary. At the end of our meal, the girl bussing tables came to clear the table next to us, and I was surprised to find T, four years later, still working the restaurant circuit.

She gave me a hug, and joined us at our table, and quickly proceeded to spill what had happened in the last four years. She had damaged relations with her family nearly beyond repair; she had moved in and out with several boyfriends, finding little satisfaction. And then she started asking my opinion on various circumstances in her life, while I sat quietly in awe of what had just happened. Our conversation was brief, but meaningful, and we spoke on the phone a few times after, before our relationship—briefly rekindled—dissolved once again.

--

This morning I heard “Lips of an Angel” on the radio as I rode to work, and was instantly transported to that summer of all things rap and organic, to chauffeuring at all hours of the day and night, and to thoughtful conversations over meal preparation with seemingly little significance.

I wouldn’t know that she grasped the depth of our conversations until four years later, when she vividly recanted things we had discussed over dirty plates and an empty basket of chips.

In reality, I still don’t know what she truly clung to or acted on, and I probably never will. What I do know is that there are times when I am quite sure that my words are falling on deaf ears, and in reality I have no idea who is listening.

As I pack up my life here in Ohio (physically, mentally and emotionally) I find myself wondering if and when I will again cross the paths of those I leave behind. As a teacher there is so much investment made with so few opportunities to witness a return. Moving thousands of miles away makes it even more difficult to hope for feedback.

Whether or not the feedback makes it across the country (or on facebook, or in a letter in the mail), I am grateful for reminders from people like T.

Appearances can be deceiving, and impact can never truly be known.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Organized Chaos

My Last Week in a Nutshell:

2 complete tissue boxes (due to five-day snot-nosed virus)

2 track teams (and sixteen meets...which start in a week)

2 speech competitions (which took all day...and night)

2 baby showers (I kid you not. I tell you, everyone I know is pregnant.)

80 research papers (almost finished grading)

800 miles of driving to a race and back (and good company)

4000 miles to move (in three months)

$320 and counting (current total to get a teaching license in a different state)


And now, without further delay, I need to get back to research papers and license applications.

(Oh the dilemma! Which will I choose!)

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Highlight of the weekend: Personal best for Curtis in the half marathon, and free McDonald's Frappes while we waited under sunny, blue skies for him to finish.

Does it get any better?

Friday, March 19, 2010

North to the Future (Literally)

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Yesterday morning while I ironed the shirt I was planning on wearing to match day , I grew frustrated with our cheap, wobbly ironing board. Not knowing our fate, I proclaimed to our listening furniture “We are definitely not taking this.”

--
For the last six months my husband and I have been walking around our apartment, orally making lists of things that we would like to keep (should we end up moving):

Our green dishes

Our pillow top mattress

A select collection of books

Our simplehuman trashcan
(which we love and could only afford because of an unsightly dent)

Items not worth a cross-country move:

Our non-stick pan that sticks

Several boxes of paper from college, graduate school and medical school

Random tacky trophies from races

Our gold velvet couch

--
We went.

We matched.

And we are moving.

4,000 miles.

In ninety days.


Let the whirlwind begin.

--
Post Edit/Clarification:

Curtis put his tack in the corner of the map (in the picture), rather than on an actual state like his classmates, because the large display map only had 49 states on it.

The match day coordinator was nothing short of horrified at this oversight, but we just laughed it off with audience, knowing that Alaska is commonly "forgotten" by the rest of the country.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fragments of Medical School: Match Day

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Tomorrow is match day.


It is not the day they hand out sticks of flammable wood out to potential doctors, giving them a chance to torch all the books and papers they have accumulated as a symbol of moving forward (though that would be entertaining, and perhaps more satifying).

Instead, it is the day where are medical students are “matched” to their residencies.

Tomorrow is the product of three and a half years of work, and while a piece of paper divulging your future place of work is good information, it is still another three months before the job begins, and it may or may not be the place you wanted to go in the first place.

So when did this all begin?

Four years ago each medical student interviewed at medical schools in hopes that one (or several) would accept him or her as a good candidate to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of work into their program.

Three and a half years ago they all started classes. Oddly enough, they started at a fairly moderate pace, but picked up speed pretty quickly. The after class hours of studying were all consuming, sleep a luxury and relationships nearly impossible.

Two and a half years ago we got married.

Two years ago, before starting rotations in hospitals as medical students (where you are officially bottom of the food chain slaves) each student had to take the first of three board exams. Preparation for these exams included four to six weeks of studying from 7am-10pm (though Curtis liked to take breaks to run, and on occasion, eat dinner with me).

Last summer was the second of three board exams, which also included mountains of studying, though perhaps not as much as the first (due mostly to the schedule of hospital clinic hours that also had to be carried at this time).

That was followed in the autumn by a third board exam, which contrary to the first “book” tests, actually tests a future-doctor’s ability to interact with and diagnose a patient.

This winter found an abundance of free time (which felt odd) while students were given time to travel the country to interview at residency programs. Back in September all students applied to various residency programs, submitting essays and board scores and anything they could scratch up to make themselves look good.

Throughout the fall we heard back from programs asking for interviews, some of them offering to pay for travel expenses, most of them giving us a place to stay if we made the trek out.

And so now we find ourselves finally here…at the end of the line.

Tomorrow will reveal where we will live for the next three years, whether we will (re)establish roots or continue the relationships we have been investing in for the past eight years.

Tomorrow will be the start of many plans and much chaos, or a continuation of life as usual.

Tomorrow will tell it all.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Catalog of a Tissue Laden Weekend, or Listening to Doctor’s Orders

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On Saturday I woke at 6:30am for no reason at all, a lingering ache in the back of my throat. I’ve been intentionally ignoring that ache and the occasional full tissue for a couple weeks, feigning ignorance of the signs of an impending sickness.

I went out baby clothes shopping with friends (for them, mind you) and then to breakfast, enjoying the company but still weary of the occasional sneeze and constantly attentive to my leaking nose.

Back at home after four hours I found myself exhausted, and climbed into bed with Curtis…for a two and a half hour nap. While it made sense for him to sleep well into the afternoon after working into the morning, I had already gotten a full night’s rest, and was now up to ten hours for the day.

The afternoon and evening progressed with a depleting supply of tissues and a raw patch forming under my nose. Lesson planning became increasingly more laborious when it was interrupted at five minute intervals with nose-blowing, and the evening concluded with me half-consciously watching the NCAA Division I indoor track championships that Curtis had gleefully found streaming (live!) on the internet.

On Sunday I woke up at 7am (or 8am, depending on whether you believe in turning clocks forward) and rolled around for forty-five minutes, willing myself back to sleep in hopes that I would wake in better spirits.

It didn’t work.

I made eggs and toast in our non-stick pan (that sticks despite generous greasing) while Curtis did IT band strengthening exercises in the other room. He has been following a strict regime of stretches and exercises since his doctor visit three weeks ago. His battle with his IT band has been a long series of wins and losses for the last eight years, and in an attempt at high level training in this short window before residency he is determined to win.

While the first bite of eggs over easy lifted my spirits, the slightest thing brought me crashing down. My congestion acted like the constant sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, putting me on edge at the slightest additional aggravation.

The morning was filled with church, bringing many conversations of “where we’re going next year”, as the countdown to match day continues. Afterward we went and found a baby shower gift for next weekend (when we go to DC for Curtis’s half marathon and to meet up with old friends), and then to the grocery store where we bought toilet paper (for when the tissues run out) and apples (to keep the doctor away…oh, wait).

This afternoon brought another nap…only ninety minutes this time, putting my sleep for the weekend at twenty hours.

And that’s when I discovered it was raining.

This would be great if I was planning on sitting on the couch for the rest of the day, which I normally would do given my state of aggravation. Instead, I had made plans earlier in the week to go running with a friend I haven’t seen in a few weeks. As much as I wanted to cancel when she’d called to confirm hours earlier, I couldn’t. I workout much less when I’m coaching and I desperately needed the exercise.

But it was raining.

I sat on the couch with Curtis, watching the minutes ticking by until my running date and asked, “Why don’t you make me better? I proofread your papers and make them better; you are a doctor and thus should make me better.”

He didn’t even try to reply. (Wise choice)

“I don’t want to go running in the rain” I protested.

“I think you feel better” he retorted.

(Scowl)

I put on my favorite running hat to shield from the rain, the one Curtis gave me when we were first dating, along with a bag jelly beans. I donned my favorite long sleeve running top, and a pair of shorts already on the floor, slipped on my shoes and went outside.

And it was cleansing.

Forty-five minutes later I felt renewed, stimulated by good conversation, and mind (and nose) refreshed with the cold, wet air. My legs and butt were covered with the splash of puddles, and my sleeves were extra salty from wiping away snot, but I was no longer wallowing in a pool of snot and self-pity, and that made me quite content.

Even if my nose was still running.

I am endlessly surprised how hard work is often what makes me feel better—when it’s the last thing I want to do. While I would not suggest it is the cure for all illness, sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.

(literally)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Restoration



So often I notice when things are not as they were intended.


Once in a while I am overcome with the realization that things have, contrary to what would be expected, been resolved.

There is peace.

The seasons bring a constant reminder of the cycles that come with life:

Growth, death and restoration.

And sometimes in a beautiful show of solidarity, life events mirror the change.

The icicle collapsed into a pile of ice on the porch, and our house shed the hanging hazard once and for all.

The practice field shed most of its remaining snow, leaving us room to tread lightly on the spongy surface, rather than on the abrasive asphalt.

And an e-mail returned a branch of peace extended after several years, granting hope for future renewal.

In all that is dark and conflicted in the world, it is so easy to lose hope. Yet, glimpses of renewal and redemption always seem to come at just the right time, granting just enough inspiration to carry on, even when it is difficult.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Craving Apathy

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Last night as I lay in bed half asleep, my husband commented:

“I sometimes find it comforting to hear you rant about your job.”

(Unspoken thoughts in my head) “Really? Do you like to know that I share in the misery that you find in night-shift ER work?"

(Words actually spoken) “Why?”

Curtis: “Because it means that you care. You’re not satisfied with mediocre work from yourself or from your students, and when it’s not happening, it bothers you. I like that it bothers you.”

And even though I was utterly exhausted, from both a long day at school and an evening of ranting about my frustrations to my husband, I let the conversation roll around in my mind.

He was right.

Earlier in the evening I had confessed to him that I had tried to do a halfhearted lesson toward the end of the school day. I was quite sure I was too mentally and emotionally exhausted to carry on with my full-blown lesson plans given the battles I had been fighting with students all morning. I was going to cave and do a by the book boring lesson.

Surely they would forgive me in the long run.

I had them get out their books; I had them read the instructions along with me. And I couldn’t do it. I asked them to pause while I dug out the original props for the lesson, and we proceeded according to the original plans—which called for creativity and fun and singing.

I did have the energy. I did care too much to do a second-rate lesson…as much as I tried to be apathetic.

There are times I wish I didn’t care. Sometimes I want to show up to work with no attachments to student learning and no personal accountability about the quality of my lessons. But the reality is, when I get to that point, I should probably find something else to do with my time. Apathy is oddly contagious, and doesn’t pair well with teenagers anyway.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Coming Back To Life

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I know the almanac calls for a March 21 start to spring, but as far as I am concerned, it started today. The sun was shining, we broke 50 degrees, and the icicle monstrosity finally was laid to rest.

Though the massive amount of snow accumulated this winter is still lingering on our practice field, track started today as well, and the athletes trekked on the streets and sidewalks with the sunshine on their shoulders (causing John Denver to circulate through my mind all afternoon).

You could almost hear our rickety frames circulating back into motion after a long time of being cooped up indoors. Though the trees are still barren of leaves, they are coming. Without notice they will burst with colors, reminding us all that all has not been lost in the months of ice and snow.

There are very few things that can compete with sunshine when it comes to adding a spring to my step and a smile to my face. Though winter was late in coming, it was fierce, and I am more than ready for the changing of the guard.

Can I get an amen?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Somewhere Between Practical and Elegant

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I often struggle with taking time for intricate details. My tendency for practical efficiencies causes me to not always appreciate the beauty that can come from a little time and attention.

This weekend I helped host a shower for K, one of my many friends who is pregnant. Curtis was working all evening in the ER (a current trend that finds us sharing only the hours we are asleep), and I volunteered to help her mother-in-law with the preparations.

Kathy runs a local bed and breakfast and has a flair for hospitality that never feels pretentious, but is always laden with beautiful details. I arrived at the house to find a bucket full of fresh baby’s breath, kermit mums, daisies and roses. I had brought along four dozen large strawberries to dip and decorate in chocolate, and together we worked and talked and laughed for hours.

Somewhere between spraying chocolate all over the floor, snacking on smoked Gouda, and looking at pictures on the internet for inspiration we ended up with beautiful flower arrangements—complete with asparagus and corsage pins—and exquisite deserts.

When I arrived the next morning, the detail arrangement continued with bows around lacy napkins, holding baby’s breath and daisies. The water glasses were garnished with fresh raspberries, and the dessert serving platters were layered with fresh ferns.

There was very little about the occasion that was practical, but I found that it didn’t really bother me...even when we had to hand wash nearly one hundred pieces of china. Every piece had come together to create a beautiful celebration of life and hope for the future.

I was grateful just to have been a part of it.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Small Victories, or Reconnecting with Nature

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Last weekend Curtis and I ventured away with five other couples and four children under the age of two. It was a retreat of sorts, one filled with overly indulgent meals, no internet access, thoughtful conversation, Guitar Hero, and sleeping in (well, as much as four children under two will allow).

In the midst of intense battles of House Rules Uno, endless bags of Doritos, and frequent diaper changing, the men folk wandered away from the cabin into the wilderness to demonstrate their brute strength and bravado by constructing a larger than life snowman on the frozen lake.

The first snowball (the one J is standing on) grew according to plan as they rolled it around until the three of them couldn’t even move it. The second snowball was constructed in a more reasonable size, but too late it was determined that they had no means of hoisting the second onto the first.

Enter: Creativity.

They determined the dock (near Curtis) would be the perfect launching point of second snowball onto first, but unfortunately the first snowball was already too large to move. First snowball was abandoned (hence J’s jubilant deconstruction seen in picture) and second snowball became the new base. A third was now constructed, its growth timed to cease at the end of the dock.

In the end, a two-part snowman was constructed, and the three victorious males returned to the lakehouse with soaked jeans and sweaty brows to recount their feats, delighted that it had been recorded for posterity in both motion picture and film.

--

As K (see: Local BFF) and I watched this whole thing (while entertaining A’s darling baby) we pondered the years of education at work constructing this challenging snowman: three bachelors degrees, one masters degree, and one (nearly finished) medical doctorate.

And here they were, finding so much joy, just by playing in the snow.

Sometimes we need to get away, to retreat from the chaos of life, to remember the joy of simplicity. In our modern, technological society it is difficult to find isolation from life’s expectations; there is always cell phone service, an internet connection, a need to be met and work to be done.

None of those things are inherently evil, but they can crowd our appreciation of people, nature, and storytelling around a large table after dinner.

At the end of the weekend we returned to our homes and our duties, rested from responsibility. We prepared for the battles in the weeks ahead, and mused that challenges of building snowmen are a welcome relief from the actual challenges we faces, things that cannot be easily solved using docks, large branches and a good shove.

Yes, the experience was rejuvenating; sometimes you need little victories to find the will to continue to persevere against the large ones…even if all they involves is a pile of snow.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Faces of Celebration and Despair

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I watched the conclusion of the Canada/US Hockey match yesterday evening and while I missed the game tying shot that sent the game into sudden death overtime (blame it on a good book) I was entranced by the moments that followed the game winning goal.

The cameras panned from the dog-piling Canadian teammates jubilantly throwing their gloves off to the shocked blank faces that canvassed every United States player. Back and forth the network cut…jubilation…grief…..again, and again.

I’m not sure which is more enchanting to witness, because they are both moments so pivotal to the human existence. I would venture to say that just about everyone observing the moments that followed the game winning shot can identify with both parties. We have all had the big wins.

And we’ve all had the tough losses.

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Next week will mark the official start of track season, a sport I have been involved in as athlete or coach for over a decade. For three months I will spend hours with students after school, into the evenings, and on weekends, trying to teach and train them to run faster, jump higher and throw farther. For three months I will sacrifice any freedom I had in my evenings to invest in the lives of students because I think there are lessons to be learned.

I don’t coach because I want to win, though I’ll admit it’s nice when it happens. I coach because I believe that sports often mirror life. We have wins, and we have losses—and we can learn from both. We find the most improvement we work hard at something. And few things worth celebrating come easy.

On a daily basis I try to teach these life lessons in the classroom, but it rarely comes as easily as it does on the track. There is something about physical exertion that far outdoes anything I can mimic on paper. And this is why I relish the hours in the rain, and sometimes ice, pounding out miles alongside my students as they struggle.

Victory or defeat, when hard work has been done, I feel my students are better prepared for the struggles they will face for the rest of their lives—regardless of whether it includes a gold medal.