Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Day I Stood in Line for an IPhone

...though it will probably never have service here--which is just fine with me.

I am not a “get-it-while-it’s-hot” kind of person. I am the person that oooh’s and aaahh’s at new and exciting things my friends purchase, while waiting until the price drops and the hype fades before purchasing something for myself.

I am not really a fad person.

When Curtis proposed that we get up at 4am to stand in line in hopes of an iphone, the voice in my head said “who are you?” The problem wasn’t the getting up early part; he does this all the time—for work, for runs, for races, but mostly for work. I’ve gotten up in the wee hours of darkness for all sorts of things…but new technology? Not one of them.

Alas, he needs this gadget for work. And for the sake of saving lives (or something like this), we rolled out of bed hours before we needed to in search of this new device.

Standing in line for two hours while we waited for the store to open was not as dull and boring as I’d imagined it might be. There were groups of teenagers huddled together coming and going at random intervals. (Voice in my head: “Ah, remember when there was nothing to do at 5am?”) There was a guy who was purchasing one for his boss. (Voice in my head: “I need to get an assistant”).

As Curtis and I stood in line it became apparent that I was the odd one out for not buying this hot, new piece of technology. “Why aren’t you getting one too?” our line neighbors questioned. “Well,” I replied, “I like to be away from e-mail, from internet, from technology.” It feels healthy to me.

They looked at me quizzically.

In the end one of the most entertaining things was watching the line get longer and longer, watching the store employees come out and make lists and count, make more lists and count again, and again…(voice in my head: “Does counting more times make more iphones appear?”)

The store opened. The line slowly progressed. And the phone was purchased.

Does it work? Well, that’s another story…

(Voice in my head: “Why must everything always be complicated?”)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Adaptation: Commence

Curtis and fellow docs taking in the mid-hike view...

As Curtis and I drove out to the camp-out this weekend, I was overwhelmed with "being back": the mountains, the green, the expansive land. It is so different to live in a place when twenty minutes is enough to transport you out of the city and into the wild. It is also so different to live in a place where an overnight camp out in an area patrolled by rangers warning of nearby bears is REQUIRED. Don't get me wrong, it was an enjoyable outing, I just thought the fact that it was required was pretty much hilarious. Also required in the curriculum? Sleeping in a snow cave you built yourself (stay tuned for that episode sometime in December...).

We arrived on Saturday morning, and as would be expected, the rain wasn't going to ruin the parade. There were hikes to complete and lakes to see and weather was not going to be factored into the equation by anyone. Unfortunately, it quickly became obvious that I've lost my touch in these wilderness adventures. We were readying to go when one of the other hikers asked "does everyone have their bear spray?" Shoot. I think I left that in Ohio.

There were lots of reminders that I was the one acclimating into life here in the wild over the course of the weekend. My thick fleece gloves were a dead giveaway that my body had already adapted to 80-90 degrees for the summer, and the obvious cocoon of layers I shed as we hiked the nearest mountain was laughable. Another thing that left Curtis and I as the odd ones out? We had zero wolf-looking dogs sleeping with us in the tent.

The introductions and activities lasted well into the evening, complete with the roasting of graduating residents and toasts to others off to new adventures. As we settled in around the campfire for the evening, toasting the largest marshmallows I've ever seen, I looked around and wondered what this next year will bring.

And so begins our acclimation into this new place, this new life.

Things to pick up at the store:
gigantic marshmallows,
bear spray,
wolf-looking dog,
One of the kids thoroughly enjoying his marshmallow...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chasing the Sun

Picture taken last night at midnight, just before we started descending for landing. It's not very often on a plane ride to watch the sky get lighter, starting at about 10pm.

It was an interesting travel day for me yesterday as I crossed the country (in a fairly inefficient way) hopping from state to state, toting the rest of my worldly belongings from terminal to terminal. The four time zone transition left me sleeping for forty-five minute stints throughout the afternoon (evening?) as I tried to repeatedly listen to the same podcast, each time progressing about ten minutes further.

Now it's 6am (10am?) and though my body says "need-more-sleep" my eyes say "it's daylight! and 10am to boot!" This is a struggle I am well familiar with, as I've made this trek every summer for the last eight years I've lived in the Midwest. Over time exhaustion wins out and the daylight fails to fool my senses into believing I don't need sleep. Unfortunately, this trick takes a few days to fail.

I will hit the ground running today after being in the state for only six hours. On tap for today? Camping with Curtis's new co-workers.

Looks like it's going to be an overcast day, with possible rain, and endless daylight.

And so it begins.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Final Countdown

My plants, which I am woefully leaving behind. (Do you think they'd make it through airport security?)

I have reached the final days of my life in the Midwest. The chaos of last week's car search coupled with an already full schedule of visits to friends in the surrounding area has made the last two weeks a whirwind. Add to that the rush of track season and the final weeks of the school year, and I feel like I have hardly sat still in two months.

I wish that were an exaggeration.

But it has been good, visiting so many people and taking the opportunity to reconnect one last time before leaving the area for what will probably be at least a year. We have treasured so many friendships throughout our journey in this place, and as I drove away from yet one more goodbye last night, I found myself saying goodbye to the rugged farmland and beautiful deciduous trees as well.

Onward I press, through these final details, and final goodbyes, and final glimpses of this chapter. I am ready to move on to new places and times and people. Ready to begin the barrage of hellos and end the lingering goodbyes. Ready to pack away the suitcase and fill dresser drawers. Ready to fold napkins and host dinners and know that everything has a place to be put away and be found. Ready for mountains and oceans.

Ready to begin.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A SWAT team, a Parking Ticket, and a Fire Alarm

Josie's chopped hair, and a lovely parking ticket. Did you know you get $10 off if you pay it within 72 hours?

...Yes, today has been an exciting day
. Actually, it was more like a day where things were consistently not working out. After finally making a vehicle purchase this week I drove three and a half hours out to visit Josie, for a final visit with my college friend. We had spent time together at the lake house, and throughout the chaos of last week's wedding, but after the chaos that has been my life these last couple months I knew a couple nights with Josie and her spouse would be a nice break.

After staying up until midnight watching the Lakers win a title (to the delight of my spouse) Josie and I were both awake at eight the next morning, readying to go out on a run. We planned a route to run downtown to the local farmers market, and after getting lost for a mile, found it to be closed. "Oh well," we mused as we snuck in to get a cold drink of water. It was blazing hot as we ran the three miles, largely uphill, back to the apartment. We regrouped, and headed out for the errands on tap for the day: check a TB test, get a haircut, fax some documents, cash in coupons for free iced coffee.

First stop: TB test. After failing to fill the meter with Canadian quarters (they're worth more than American quarters right now--why not take them?) I stayed with the car while Josie went in to get her test read. Fail--they were closed for lunch, as of one minute ago.

Next stop: Master Cuts. Josie chopped fourteen inches off for a fresh new look, and we swung by Bath and Body Works on our way out with coupons for free samples. Success.

Back to First Stop: Took the quarters we got from Master Cuts to fill the meter while going in for test reading. After getting a number and settling in to wait, we heard a loud high pitched noise followed by flashing lights. Fire Alarm? Really? We evacuated the building while all sorts of police cars and fire engines and ambulances surrounded the building. At this point, we went in search of lunch.

Back to First Stop: Stopped and refilled the meter after lunch on the way to try and get the TB test read--for the third time. The ten second reading left us free to pursue the fax machine. Note: Faxing documents has become obscenely offensive as it has become more archaic. If you don't have ready access to a fax machine, sending something from Kinkos will cost you roughly $2 a page. Per page. This is highway robbery.

We returned to the vehicle to find a parking ticket on the windshield. Lovely... I'm not sure how many minutes late we were in returning to the vehicle, but my guess is approximately two.

We just couldn't win.

Having finally accomplished the necessary tasks of the day, we set off to pick up the free iced coffees. On the way home while sitting at a stop light we watched a line of fully armed police looking fellows walk, and then run up to a house. As they approached, several police cars came flying around the corner, lights blazing, and surrounded the house. The cops jumped out and pulled out their guns just as the line-up of men yelled (just like in the movies) "Police! We have a search warrant! Open up!"

At this point Josie and I were trying to drive around this quickly developing scene, feeling like we were a little too close for comfort. After all, we could have literally touched one of the armed, ready cops out the passenger window.

We made it home about three hours later than originally estimated, and laughed while we recapped the day for Josie's husband. Sometimes things work out just as planned; other times you can't win no matter how many quarters you stick in the meter.

I have not always been good at rolling with the proverbial punches, but after this month, I am certainly improving my skills.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Practical Tips for Buying a Car

Perhaps you don't need this much sunscreen, though leave it to a medical student to ward off skin cancer at all costs.

There are lots of lists on the internet about how to best buy the "car of your dreams": check consumer reports, know the dealer's price on the car, explore the resale value.

This list will not help with that end of the purchasing process.

On the contrary, here are a few more practical things you might not consider when heading into the energy-draining process we call “buying a car”:

1. Bring lots of snacks. Everything seems to take longer than it should, and when you’ve got your momentum going (bring on the salesmen!) the last thing you want to do is stop for lunch. Crumpled up Kashi granola bar in my bag? Perfect.

2. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged. I consider myself to be a pretty decisive person, but those car salesmen make me think I really didn’t know what I am asking for (surely $500 less isn’t asking for the moon?). Thanks to free-nationwide-long-distance I could be fully confident in the decision I was making. (How many times did you walk away from the dealership when you bought your car, Mom? Seven?) Besides, what else are you going to do when the salesman goes back to "talk to his manager" about the offer you have made for the twelfth time?

3. Apply your sunscreen. After perusing the car lot yesterday I had a rosy “v” on my neck. Who would have thought? Besides protecting against unwanted skin damage, you may also feel more relaxed. (Why can't buying a car be more like a trip to the beach?)

4. Practice saying “no”. “No, I would not like fries with that.” Or “No, I do not need a refill on my coffee.” If you practice, saying “No, that is not the price I would like to pay for that car” eighty-seven time before actually purchasing something, perhaps it will come off the tongue with ease.

5. Avoid the need to purchase a car a week before you move across the country, after your spouse has already relocated. Not that we had much control over this, but the pressure just about killed me.

Who knew summer break could be so stressful?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Cars

I have long predicted that the conclusion of medical school would bring the onset of bills
--and not just the "loans-coming-due" type. Over the past four years we have gotten off relatively easy. My meager income has just barely covered living expenses, and with an "emergency fund" hardly present, we just hoped emergencies wouldn't come.

And they didn't...until now.

A month ago we started trying to sell my car. It has been a good car for me, though it was sold to me by the previous owner because he didn't find it to be very reliable. Like many of the things we currently own, it had it's own set of quirks. If the headlights were left on, the car gave no warning, leaving the driver to find the lovely dead battery the next time it was needed. The sun-roof didn't work, and the trunk had to be shimmied open using one hand to lift while the other turned the key.

Yes, this car was perfect for my six mile round trip commute...especially when it started overheating after only driving two miles. When this car, which was worth very little to start with, overheated, our hopes of making a "little" profit off of it faded quickly. But this was all okay, because the car we had invested in was still in tip-top shape.

Car #2, our beloved Honda Civic, had been purchased while we were still dating. It was in the purchase of this vehicle that I had displayed my aggressive negotiating skills to my future spouse, who just may have determined at that moment that he had to have me. (After all, if you don't like negotiating, why not marry someone who does?) We cared diligently for this car, taking care to keep up on all maintenance issues. In fact, in anticipation of the 4,000 mile move North we had invested an extra bit in readying it for the journey, all the way down to fresh windshield wipers.

And then, just like that, it was over. This car that was going to be in our possession far beyond 200,000 miles was crushed from the side by a distracted individual perusing the neighborhood a little too fast. It was towed, and evaluated, and re-evaluated, and when the final word came in we found ourselves saying goodbye to yet one more piece of our life here in the Midwest--our faithful vehicle.

As a result, a week which had been penned in the calendar as time to work on a few projects and visit a few friends has been transformed into a week where my purse is a filing cabinet of new car information and old car insurance documentation.

I have never felt so official.

After a full day of research and haggling, alas I have no vehicle. What will tomorrow bring? A new vehicle? Exhaustion due to stubborn salesmen?

Let's hope for both.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Third Annual Lake House Reunion

Reba, Kat and I at the lake house in 2008...

Three years ago I ventured to a lake house in Indiana with three friends from college. I had graduated two years before, Josie had graduated a year later, and Reba and Kat were still a year out. Kat's parents own a quaint house on a quiet lake complete with a boat, jet skis and chocolates on your pillow. Her mom has truly made hospitality an art. I learned to water ski, and shared about my first year of marriage. We chatted for hours, enjoying the solace from the busy lives we lead.

Last year, in the midst of conflicting summer schedules, we made it out again. We shared grilled chicken and glasses of wine in the evening air, hilly runs around the lake in the morning sunshine and strained necks after Kat's dad was determined to throw us from the tubes as we circled the lake. It had been another year: Josie had married, Reba and Kat had graduated, and I was training for my first marathon. We talked of hopes and plans and dreams. We pushed each other into the lake and wrapped ourselves in blankets to watch reruns of Friends. We danced in the privacy of the house to get warm enough to go outside and brave the rain. We woke early and ran the lake.

This year, against all odds, we managed to fit the tradition back in the schedule--after all, we are the wedding party. Reba is getting married tomorrow, and is then moving out West for graduate school. Kat flew in from Colorado, and I postponed a move. And for the first year ever, it was sunny when we got there.

It's amazing how much things can change in two years. By the end of the month, three of us will be married, three will be living West of the Missisippi, and two have completed graduate degrees and all have started careers. As we lay on the dock enjoying the quiet sunshine I was overcome with how quickly things change. For so many years our lives follow the rhythms of school, and then in an instant they take a course of their own, shifting with degrees and marriages and moves.

Around dinner last night we sat with Kat's mom as she shared her advice from twenty-five years of marriage. We laughed, but listened intently, appreciating her candid reflections on lessons learned. Later on the dock I asked Kat if it is funny to hear marriage advice from her mom. "It is" she said "because I don't think of my parents as having a marriage in the same way that I will."

Somewhere, in the process of becoming an adult, we realize that we are here, experiencing life in the same way that our parents and grandparents and so many others already have. It is not a new thing, and the cycle will continue long after we pass.

When we'd returned from the lake to "wedding central", home of Josie and Reba, home of many memories from college days past, there were flowers and votives and notes everywhere. I made directional posters for the church and typed scripture to be read at the ceremony. Later Josie and I sorted through all sorts of options for Reba's dance with her father at the reception. As we played the determined song for Reba's mom, tears formed in my eyes as I watched them roll down her cheeks.

"Yes", I found myself thinking, "We are here. Another daughter will marry and move across the country, and all the details of flowers and candles and songs will fade into a hazy memory of times when we were young."

As we sat around the kitchen table painting finger and toe nails as the lace curtains shuddered with the evening breeze, I could do little more than quietly take it in. I loved it so much.

Will we make it again next year? I hope we do, but the truth is that none of us can know. The only thing that is certain is that we will continue to move forward with life and love and careers and relationships. For now I will fall asleep in the company of good freinds, listening to the crickets that sprinkle the nearby farm land, reveling in the friendships that have blessed me richly--whether they are near or far.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Long Summer Nights


When our friend's children started complaining of hunger, I knew the sun had deceived us once again. It was 8:30, far past dinner, nearing bed time--and we were cutting freshly picked strawberries, the loot of a late afternoon outing in the glorious sunshine.

Outside, Curtis shovelled mulch and assisted in general landscaping, readying the swingset for a full summer of action. "A few weeks ago" our friend commented "I saw him receive his doctorate. Now he's pulling my weeds. This is awesome."

I couldn't agree more.

There is something very satisfying about a little manual labor, crouching and bending and shoveling to produce a tangible result. Summer is indeed the perfect time for forgetting degrees and getting lost in the sunshine, picking strawberries until your arms itch and shovelling enough mulch to break in a few calouses.

Tomorrow? We'll go to a first grade end-of-the-year picnic and later boating on a nearby lake.

Another day outside in the sunshine? Sounds perfect.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Glimpses of Power

Photo from here, taken of damage fifteen minutes away...

There are moments that feel grand and important, and moments that leave one feeling very small. On Friday I sat through a tearful graduation ceremony of several seniors that through teaching I have come to appreciate and love. There is such weight to a high school graduation; it has come to be such a mile marker. After graduation, you have become an adult; you gain great responsibility.

There is so much potential for the future, we tell them, the opportunities are endless.

Twenty-four hours later I would find myself huddled in a basement in Michigan with our friends and their children, watching and listening to news broadcasts warning of tornadoes. And while our hours in the basement ended with everyone going to bed, the evening ended very differently for people just fifteen minutes away.

If there is one falsity that modern technology has provided it is the semblance of control. Houses are kept at moderate temperatures--never too hot or cold. Vehicles allow us to travel to locations in any conditions or distance. Computers give us access to any information we find curious. And yet in an instance we realize that there are events so much bigger than we are, disasters that can prevent even the best laid plans, conditions that leave us helplessly waiting in the basement.

This morning we traveled, as planned, to races nearby. Curtis ran the half-marathon with our friend and despite inches of rain and destructive tornadoes the night before, the only delay came as a result of a fallen tree. Thirty minutes later, the race went on.

And life continues as well, for both those affected and unaffected by the natural disaster, pushing forward in spite of any tragic happening. And while this can be at times a devastating reality for those whose lives seem forever changed, it is also a good reminder for those who have experienced a near-miss: sometimes life works out the way we'd like; sometimes it doesn't.

And as much as we'd like to think we are in control, it's not always our choice.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Signs of Life

Seedling sprouts yet to be claimed by students...the last signs of life in a very bare classroom.

The cupboards are truly are the shelves and the closets and the walls. Last week we sent off the moving van with many of our possession, and yesterday I cleared out my classroom and packed up my bags to move in with friends.

I am officially a vagabond.

With the temperatures continually above eighty I have been rotating the same three shirts and two skirts in various combinations for the past two weeks, which makes getting ready in the morning as easy as the flip of a coin.

I feel like I'm back in college, carrying my toiletries to and from the bathroom as I venture in to shower and staying up late chatting with good friends because it's easier than tearing away to go to bed.

But then I wake up and unlike a college student I drive to my job, unlock a classroom door that sticks in the frame because of the humidity, store my bag in a closet now empty of any of my belongings, and load my e-mail at an address that will soon be void.

These are the last few fingerprints I leave behind before my final departure.

I lingered for a moment when I left my apartment, all duffels and boxes remaining packed carefully in my car.

Goodbye gold couch, and beautiful bookcases.

Goodbye screened in porch, in which I graded papers and read books in the comfortable fall evenings, listening to the crickets nearby.

Goodbye quaint kitchen, where we would cook pancakes from scratch on Sunday mornings before church, catching up on the happenings of the week.

Goodbye first home of my marriage. I will always remember the mice we caught, the fuses we perpetually blew, and the beautiful simplicity we found.