Friday, July 30, 2010

Lost in My Illusions

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Speaking of illusions...

Since moving back to Alaska I have enjoyed revisiting trails and paths that I haven't run for ages. In our current housesitting tour-of-the-city I have had the option of running all over town, creating new loops and revisiting various places. While my memory has held strong in remembering the ways the webs of trails and paths connect all over the city, I have totally lost touch with how far it is from one area to the next.

While this reality has lingered in the back of my mind on several occasions this summer, it was at no point as crucial as when during today's run I rounded a corner on a trail and realized that while I had a meeting in an hour, I was at least twenty minutes from the house. The loop I had estimated to be five miles (plenty of time to run before meeting with future principal) was proving to be a lot closer to eight (cutting things way too close).

Great.

The hour between realization of estimation error and said meeting was a bit of a blur, and in the end I made it to the meeting with zero minutes to spare. This experience left me with no question that while I can weave my way all over town, I am pretty clueless in how long it may take to actually get there.

--

My husband was born in the-middle-of-nowhere Alaska, and moved away from this village when he was four. When he finally went back to visit this small town at the ripe age of 12, he was very disappointed. As optimistic as teenagers can be, the town was a small fraction of the beautiful place of his childhood dreams. Instead he now saw it for what it was, a place with little vegetation and above ground sewage, thanks to the harsh climate.

I wonder if I should think of my frequent running miscalculations in a similar way.
Maybe runs felt shorter when I was in high school.
Maybe I was just faster.
Maybe I had fewer time constraints and paid less attention to my watch.

Whatever the reason, moving back to a place after being away for a while inevitably leaves one vulnerable to crushed illusions...mistaken ideas that completely fall apart under the weight of reality.

The way I figure it, if the worst illusion I had of moving back is how long it takes to run from point A to point B, we're doing pretty well...you know, as long as I don't miss any important meetings.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Out With the Old...

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My new classroom...

Yesterday I went to visit my new classroom. I met the secretaries; I figured out how to unlock the filing cabinets; I found the stash of poster board in the library and the three different fonts of di-cuts.

And then I counted desks and windows: 32 and 2.

The last time I inherited a classroom, I wandered through it slowly and tentatively, turned off by the musty smell, overwhelmed by the junk left in the closets, unsure of how I was going to "make myself at home", exactly.

I warmed up to it as I broke it in: hanging posters while the overheated classroom caused sweat to drip down the laminated surfaces, cleaning out closets and tossing boxes of old marionette puppets, dusty props from previous plays, games of Pictionary missing pieces, old rotting stage makeup.

And it became mine.

And then one day I found out I would leave it, and I tried to uproot the ways I had grown to be a part of my room...slowly cleaning out my closets, gradually taking down the decorations that had accumulated, eventually putting out large boxes with the trash--this time with my own belongings.

And on the last day of school, as I emptied my last desk drawer, I cried. This was my space, one of my most important props in the craft I practice, and I was leaving it behind.

There are decidedly fewer windows and considerably more desks in my new classroom...not to mention that the windows don't open. I visited my new space and scouted out the wall space and grabbed a text book and headed for the door.

Because there is a new space to create...one that currently feels foreign and bland and empty.

And it too will become mine.


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I don't think I will ever again have four large windows in a classroom...so impractical--but I loved them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Humorously Ignorant

I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, but every so often I realize that while I may have some level of expertise in one area, there are other areas where I am seriously lacking. Some areas of expertise include good local running trails, how to keep your grocery budget ridiculously small, identifying the differences between species of salmon (alright, so this one could use some work), and the part of speech just about any word in any sentence might be.

On these subjects I get phone calls requiring my advice on a regular basis...or something like that.

One way that I seem to recently be finding out my areas of ignorance is through attempted humor. Have you ever hung out around medical professionals when they tell jokes? It's like they are speaking their own language.

"And then, this guy proceeds to list all the medications he's allergic to, and specifically asks for a pain medication that starts with D...though he can't remember what it's called. BAHA HA HA HA HA."

Gosh, that was HILARIOUS.

Also in this category? This ad:
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That's exactly what you were thinking when you read this advertisement, right?
Used tire, used pancreas.

What an obvious connection.

But you know what took the cake? The grocery list Curtis left me this morning when he left for work:
-eggs
-aftershave lotion
-hair gel
-Docusate Sodium

Awesome.

Guess who knows all the scientific names for everything in the medicine cabinet.

That's right; I can even tell you how to use them in a sentence.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Twenty Days of Summer Break

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Hanging streamers for a friend's birthday. Who doesn't like celebration?

On Thursday afternoon, at 3:34pm, I got the phone call I've been waiting for:
I was offered a job. "Are you kidding me?" I responded to the kind lady on the phone.
She laughed.
I smiled all evening.

I went for a celebratory run yesterday to cap off the 24 hour period that followed my employment. It had been a good 24 hours. It started with a celebratory dinner with Curtis's mom and brother...who we'd already had plans to dine with, but decided to claim it as a celebration after I got the news. Friday morning found me at my sister's coffee shop (which she doesn't own, but works at...therefore I call it hers) where she made me a celebratory mocha so I could enjoy the mountain of paperwork that accompanied my new job. And after that I did some celebratory shopping with my mom, where I found a celebratory skirt at a second hand store accompanied by a celebratory cardigan--complete with ruffles.

And thus I found myself going out on a run...because with all that celebration there had to be some sort of discipline in the mix. (or something like that)

In the midst of my run I found myself standing for no less than three minutes at a busy street corner waiting for the light to change in my favor. As I waited, two sketchy looking characters wandered up and waited next to me, while "subtly" passing a pipe back and forth and exhaling a foul smelling substance. (I'm not sure why they were trying to be discreet about their oh-so-obvious smoking. It's not like you couldn't smell it on them a mile away) As the light changed and I ran ahead and I heard them whistle after me.

Awesome.

As I made my rounds and headed home I realized how quickly summer is passing. It hasn't felt much like summer around here lately, the forecast calls for 50's and overcast/rain almost every day--and has for the last month. Despite the deceptive temperatures, my relaxed schedule reminds me that these are the few days I get for rest...much needed rest between the heavy loads I carry throughout the school year. And yet as I calculate the twenty days I have before starting another round of employment I am relieved...to have purpose and goals and valuable things in which to invest my time.

As far as I am concerned, periods of rest are only as fulfilling as the purpose found in the times when you are no longer resting. And now that I can look forward to the labor of teaching that I have found to be so fulfilling, I can truly take a break.

Twenty days of summer break...here I come.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dinner Anyone?

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Nothing like bringing home the bacon...er...salmon...

Every so often I am reminded in a dramatic fashion that I am once again living in Alaska...and not the Midwest. One of these moments happened recently when I met my mom at her office. As we were leaving she remembered she forgot something...and returned with a large fish in an opaque garbage bag. I trailed behind her chuckling as we left the office, and watched her fillet the fish on the kitchen counter the next day for dinner.

Me: "So that was a gift from your client?"
Mom: "Yeah, apparently he caught it that morning and had it in a cooler in his trunk."

Perfect.

First Fruits: The Labor of a Wanderer

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I have been dutifully watering two thriving tomato plants for the last month. I keep my flip flops by the back door and wander out onto the deck at some point every day to shower the plants in an attempt to keep them healthy, to help them grow, to give them what they need to produce fruit.

Fruit I will likely never eat.

I have been living out of a suitcase for over two months now, making piles of clothing on the floor, organizing and reorganizing and further organizing our belongings as we move from room to room for temporary house sitting stays.

We have been blessed with places to stay as we hunt for a more permanent home, but in the mean time I am constantly reminded--by baby tomatoes and kitchens in which I can't find a spatula--that I am completely unsettled and will be on to a new place with a new kitchen in just a few weeks.

In addition to my pursuit of tomatoes has been my pursuit of a job. And much like my recent gardening is my career: the fruit often comes when I am out of the picture, when the students are out of my classroom, when they grow up and move on and happen to remember their eccentric English teacher, maybe they send me a letter, or shoot me an e-mail, but most of the time flourish and bloom far out of my view.

And most of the time I am okay with that.

Watching my students, much like the golden flowers on the vine, is done with much hope and expectation for the future. And even though I don't always see that future, I am constantly reminded that the outcome is not always what is important. Sure, it is most measurable, and often most visible, but sometimes being faithful in meaningful work is just as important--maybe more important--than whether the flower ever becomes fruit.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some Cruel Joke

Yesterday as Curtis and I were brushing our teeth I proclaimed that I think that if we add up up all the time he and I get to spend together--including sleep time--he still spends more time at work.

And then I made a crucial mistake: I actually did the math.

Some board of official doctors somewhere decided a few years ago that residents should only be allowed to work a maximum of 85 hours a week. This was a significant improvement on the 100+ hours that they previously worked. (Ever wonder why they are called residents? Because they used to live at the hospital.)

One half of Curtis's weekly existence: 7 days x 12 hours = 84 hours.

How many hours does the hospital get a week? 85.

I feel like they (they being the faceless hospital people that determine such things) are trying to make a statement here. "We get 51% of your husband...MUWAH HA HA HA"

I am not laughing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Beautiful Disaster

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Disaster may be a bit of an overstatement. The afternoon hike started well just because it wasn't raining, as the forecast had predicted it would. The clouds lifted just about the peak we were planning on clearing, and the sun peaked out behind the clouds to warm our shoulders as we hiked the rocky gravel trail. Curtis and I led our drivers up the path as it gradually grew steeper, and climbed and negotiated boulders as we made it to the top. The view of the city was beautiful, and amidst jokes of "you said this hike was easy" we wandered around the flat peak alternately taking in views of surrounding mountains, ocean waters, and developed civilization in the midst.

The four of us made our way down the steep boulders, down the semi-steep gravel grades, and around to the last relatively flat portion of the trail when it happened: I wiped out. This was not a foot slip where you crouch to your hands to catch yourself, this was an awkward catch-of-the-toe that leads to both knees slamming into small (but lethal!) rocks while scraping elbows because momentum continues to carry you forward into a roll.

As I clenched my teeth against my screaming knees I heard a nearby adult say calmly "no, kids, I don't think she wants an audience." Great. I had made my inglorious fall in front of a group of ten year olds, who were now holding their breaths in hopes I was still alive.

I finally got up, brushed the dirt off, and kept walking...past the group of gawking children. As we continued on the trail I asked Curtis, "Why didn't you spread your arms in a dramatic fashion proclaiming 'IT'S ALRIGHT EVERYONE; I AM A DOCTOR.'" Curtis, without missing a beat, countered "I didn't think you would have liked that very much." And he's probably right.

Attracting any more attention on a busy trail on a beautiful day to a fall on practically flat ground was not what I was looking for in the least. Given the dramatic nature of the fall, and the magnitude of pain, the external wounds were pretty mediocre.
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Finding a Driver

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The bug-covered vehicle, safe and sound in its new home...

When Curtis and I found out that we'd be moving 5,000 miles away, our original plan was to drive. We wanted to see the country and be the seasoned travelers that camped in the woods and were truly immersed in nature. Unfortunately, due to work commitments and weddings, we didn't have the necessary time to make the trek before Curtis had to report for work. We reluctantly started mentioning to friends that we were in the market for "a driver", and were met with one of two responses: incredulity that anyone would ever do that or jealousy that they couldn't be the one to make the journey.

After a couple weeks, we had a friend who had worked out enough details to commit to the trip. A current medical student faced with the reality that he'll have little time for adventure in the next three to six years, he was determined that this summer was going to be one of really great adventure, you know, to make up for lost time in the future. With a friend along for the ride, they spent the last two weeks driving the country (reading Harry Potter aloud for entertainment) and arrived this past weekend with one very dirty car, empty kerosene canisters, hundreds of pictures, and great stories of the journey.

As Curtis and I sat and listened to them recant stories about worthless sleeping bags and endless pots of noodles, we confessed that we hoped to make a similar trip sometime in the future. As glad as we were that we could contribute to their adventures, we would love to try our hand at it.

This morning when I got in my car, to drive to glorious places like the post office and the bank, I smelled for a brief moment the smallest hint of campfire. Despite the cleaning and scouring that our drivers insisted on doing to the car yesterday night (even though we insisted they had done us the favor, and not the other way around) they couldn't scrub out the smell of the outdoors, of adventure, and of exciting placed in the middle of nowhere America.

And the aroma made me smile.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Ways We Spend Our Days

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When Curtis got home from work last night he asked me, as he always does, "What did you do today?" This is a question that I have, at times, been very dismayed to answer. "Well," I think to myself, "I did laundry" or "I mowed the lawn" or "I biked twenty miles across town and back to visit my sister while she was working at the coffee shop." And when I tell that to him, my husband who works 85 hours a week dealing with health care that shapes people's very being, it seems a bit trivial.

Thankfully, his response is usually something to the effect of "That's great!" followed by specific questions about how my day played out. He is very supportive of this unemployed, restful stage in my life. And after I tell him about the books I perused at the used book store, or the way that I conquered a resistant lawn mower while shuttling my brother around to his mowing jobs, or the wind tunnel that I rode through on my way home, I ask him about his day.

His eyes light up as he tells me about a 91-year-old woman that he's been treating for the last six days. He breaks down the different ways that her heart problems lead to breathing problems, and why she would rather take asprin than coumadin, and how her daughter waited an hour and a half for him to stop by in the afternoon, because she loves to talk to him about her mother's condition.

And then he tells me about the middle aged man who came in with stomach problems this past weekend only to find out that he has a large tumor that will probably end his life. He tells me about how the man broke down yesterday because he feels so in the dark about his condition, and that Curtis ended up sitting and listening to this man for forty-five minutes, discussing his condition--because that's what he needed more than anything.

"The biggest challenge I find," Curtis told me while we shared a bowl of anniversary ice cream, "is knowing how to connect with each patient. Some of them want to know all the details of their condition, and just want someone to be honest with them about just how bad it is. Others want little to do with making decisions; they just want to be taken care of by the doctors and nurses, left to rest."

And as we ate our blueberry ice cream, we mused about the role reversal that has taken place. He has spent the last six months wrapping up his medical school education, with few responsibilities and lots of free time, and I have spent the last six months carrying a heavy load that often felt quite chaotic.

I am glad that I have time to rest, as difficult as it is at times to be unproductive. I am even more glad that Curtis's twenty-one years of education have brought him to a place of such purpose and fulfillment. When the guy who has worked the last twelve days in a row bemoans that he will miss the progress of his patients over a hard earned weekend off, you know he loves what he does.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

On this day...

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Yesterday we put down an offer on a condo. As far as we are concerned, it is perfect: two bedroom (one for the non-existent child, my mom is quick to point out), two bath (so convenient), one car garage space (more than welcome in the long, cold winter), and lots of windows.

In case you weren't aware, the act of putting down an offer in an effort to purchase a home involves signing, initialing and/or dating around eighteen pieces of paper. And each time I dated a piece of paper, I thought to myself "This is the day I did not get married." That would be today.

When we got married in 2007 there was all sorts of hoopla surrounding the fact that July 7, 2007 fell on a Saturday. Many a female approaching a wedding identified this as the perfect day: 07/07/07.

Anyone that knows me well knows that I don't particularly care for cliches...and getting married on 7-7-7? If I were to get married on that day, I might as well sign up for doves to be released into the sky and fall into every modern wedding cliche that is observed across the country. It's not that these things are bad things, they just aren't me.

I just couldn't do it, and it turns out that it was good that I didn't want to, every place on the books had been booked on 7-7-07 for ages.

So we scheduled our wedding for the 8th, a Sunday: we went to church, we decorated the location, we got ready, we had a wedding. It was a full day, but a great one, the beautiful culmination of five months of planning the wedding, and three and a half years of building up to a marriage. And when the sun came out as Curtis's best friend Ryan wove tulle around the arch as it ruffled in the breeze, I knew we had picked the right day.

After all, on July 7 it rained all day.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Continuing Tradition

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Taken from near the base of the mountain, looking out into Downtown Seward and Resurrection Bay...

Nine out of the last ten years I have spent the fourth day in July in Seward, Alaska. Every year on this day the greater part of Alaska's running community join together with Alaskan people from near and far to watch or participate in racing up Mt. Marathon. A three and a half mile race from start to finish, only the studliest participants can complete it in less than an hour. While the race starts and finishes on downtown streets, participants gain (and lose) over 3,000 feet in elevation and scale climbs as steep as 60 degrees.

I have never participated in the race, though I have hiked the mountain for fun. Curtis attempted to gain entry to the race this year (whose spots are severely limited for safety reasons), but did not win a spot in the lottery. Alas, he'll have to prove his Alaskan manliness on another occasion.

While I knew several participants in the race, some old comrades from high school and other more recent friends, I enjoyed circulating through town talking and catching up with people I haven't seen, well, since the last time I was at the race. Many people commented that it is an annual reunion of sorts, this mountain race. This one day is set aside every year to circulate through a small town, purchase local fried halibut, and cheer on courageous racers, in sun, rain or cold...because we do it every year.

New traditions that will be established in light of our relocation have yet to be seen, but in the midst of the chaos of moving, and not being able to establish any sort of schedule or regularity, an annual tradition that can be navigated with little stress is a welcome thing indeed.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Balancing Productivity and Peace

Every summer I struggle in finding balance between productivity and rest. I work like crazy all year, but especially in the spring (with track eating evenings and weekends), and by the time school lets out, my body is usually ready to crash and burn.

That "crashing" was delayed this year due to a cross-country move, the purchase of a car, and planning a summer in-service for my school.

Now that I've safely landed? I am still having trouble resting without feeling guilty. Surely there are things I should be doing (ironing, getting a job, applying for a library card) instead of napping, and reading, and riding my bike around town for fun.

So what does my balance inevitably look like? Endlessly organizing our suitcases of belongings, while we wait for a place of our own, and hiking for hours in beautiful places with my mom and brother, because it's the perfect balance of peacefulness and productivity.

Because if I'm going to be busy, I want it to be with things like this...
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