Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Second Helping

One of many line-ups of award recipients at last week's region championships...

When I was in high school I ran. A lot. I say this not to brag, but to offer some context. Running was a big deal to me, and running fast was even more important. I needed to be fast enough to win championships, fast enough to win scholarships, fast enough to prove that I was worth something.

You can see why this was a problem.

My high school running career was all but smooth. It started in an unexpected whirlwind when I placed second at the state cross country championships my freshman year of high school, and ended with disappointment when my senior year was capped off with my fourth runner-up finish, officially giving me the "always a bridesmaid" status among the high school running elites.

I still went off and ran in college, but even as I raced at national championships on a very competitive team, winning came to mean less and less. By the time I graduated, I was content to hang up (or box up) my running spikes for a three month hiatus from running, and almost a year break from racing. I was mentally exhausted from eight years of training and racing and carrying heavy expectations--which were mostly my own.

This fall has found me back in the running scene, running alongside teenagers as they train for races and yelling along the sidelines as they test their limits. I have been asked by many if it feels odd to be back--back at the same races, training on the same trails, following the same schedule (exhaustion). The answer: sort of.

Yes, it feels odd to walk into coaches' meetings when some of the coaches knew me as a high school athlete. Yes, it is odd to jog the courses where I lost state championships in the final stretches. At the same time, the time I invest and the emotions I carry with me to practices and races are very different than back in high school. There's no pressure on me when I show up to races. There are no expectations haunting me when I cross the finish line after someone that I think I should have beat. There is no nausea the night before every race and nightmares the preceding week.

A couple weeks ago I ran the community race after all the high school races were over. The athletes I coach lined the course and chanted sayings to me that I often yell at them while they race. They were loving the role reversal, every minute of it. After I finished (in a time "only" a minute slower than a high school comparison) a parent that used to watch me race in high school commented to me that it's the first time she's ever seen me race "without a piano on my back". I was out there, physically challenging myself, but just having a good time doing it.

And I guess that's why when people ask me if I "wish I was back" in the high school racing scene, I really am not tempted at all. Carrying that piano around got pretty old. I'm not quite sure when and where I dumped it, but I'd be just fine with never seeing it again.

This weekend will mark the first state championship races I will attend since I lost my senior year. And while I have fond memories of the experience of being on a high school team, I am perfectly content to watch and cheer and yell and take pictures from the sidelines.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Now, where is that attic?

Curtis texting his brothers about "the new place"...while I admired the autumn leaves outside.

"It looks like someone walked around our house and vomitted stuff...everywhere," I commented to Curtis as I walked around demonstrating what that might look like.

He agreed.

The massive amount of unpacking that took place Sunday left us with cupboards and closets and drawers a little more full, and a mountain of boxes and newspaper in the family room that would be any small child's dream place to play.

Maybe instead of recycling all the used packaging we should just make a fort.

Despite the fact that hundreds of items were put away yesterday, it seems like there are still thousands of items that still need to find a "home" in our condo. Piles litter the perimeters of rooms, the hallway, the counter tops. Even though we went through a massive purging before moving this summer, we still seem to have brought far too much "stuff" with us. This could be due to the fact that we had a huge attic at our last space that stored all items that couldn't fit in closets or cupboards, and now we have no such stow away place to house all miscelaneous items.

Out of necessity we must simplify our lives a bit further.

As I head into this week, and another busy weekend, I know I will be facing many evenings of putting items away: candles, extention cords, photos, files. And with organizational tools being so expensive ($12.99 for a tray to organize a drawer? I don't think so) I am getting more creative by the day.

Maybe that pile of cardboard boxes will end up coming in handy after all.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Endless Treasure Hunts

It has been less than 72 hours since we received the keys to our new place, and already it is feeling like home. I haven't had a free evening since we moved in, and consequently the boxes are still mostly taped up and stacked all over. Last night found me searching for a towel--of any size and shape. Endless hunts have already taken place for sheets, and socks, and soap.

Despite this chaos, the fact that we are moving in the direction of organization and away from suitcases and househopping every few weeks finds me welcoming the disorder and the work. I am actually thoroughly enjoying it.

I have spent what feels like a fortune the past couple days stocking our new home with various necessities: toilet paper, Ziploc bags, milk, laundry detergent, eggs, marshmallows. Every time I put things away I find myself lacking a different forgotten item that should have been purchased at the store: a kitchen brush, hair spray, vinegar. Despite the face that these lists that grow and wane as fast as I can write them, I don't think I have ever been so happy spending gobs of money on essentials. These essentials represent a home that is being developed and established, they represent settling in and reestablishing normal.

Yesterday I left the condo at 7am, bowl of oatmeal in hand because there wasn't a spoon to be found, and returned after 8pm. A First Aid class after school kept me for five hours while I day dreamed about unpacking and organizing and putting miscelaneous items away to a proper place. As exhausted as I was when I arrived home after thirteen hours at school (and a trip to Target), I was endlessly energentic as I tore open box after box, flinging newspaper and packing materials to the side, carefully choosing drawers and cupboards to hours spatulas and pots and pie tins, thrilled to have an hour to invest.

Today I am tired.

I have stayed up too late every night this week, have run ragged from getting up until going to bed, and have been eating a lot more junk than normal along the way. This weekend we will spend time traveling to and from another cross country meet, leaving Sunday as the only day I can truly attack the mess of boxes in which I live.

Last night as we lay in bed falling asleep, I mentioned to Curtis that Sunday was going to be the most productive unpacking day yet. It made me excited just thinking about it. He paused before replying, choosing his words carefully, and commented that perhaps we should think about resting for a small part of it.

He's probably right.

Next week won't slow down one bit, with teaching and practice adding up to nearly twelve hour days, and trips to cross country races (for me) and a conference (for him) eating up the weekend.

But when you haven't seen most of your belongings for four months, every lid opened feels like a present. And taking a nap to recoup for another week feels a lot like trying to sleep the night before Christmas.

Yes, I know that rest is the proper choice.

I'm just not so sure it's going to happen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Disappearing Acts


It's fall in Alaska. It has been for almost a month.

In Ohio Autumn meant sweaters and cider and pumpkin patches. It also didn't start until October. Here the fall has meant cool breezes and late sunrises, working toward a dreaded winter solstice with far too little daylight to counter the frigid temperatures. The trees started to change colors in late August, and wet morning often brings the sweet aroma of decaying leaves.

Despite the shifts in the seasonal changes, the biggest difference that has come with autumn is the absences I see in my classroom: everyone is out hunting.

This past summer when I was meeting Curtis's co-workers at the annual resident camp out, I had a discussion with a fellow spouse who is a local teacher as well. He was lamenting the early start to the school year, which was nearly three weeks before my comrads back in the Midwest. I commented that the early start meant for early dismissal in May--a definite plus when May tends to be far more sunny than August. He countered that the early start was good in theory, and terrible in practice...thanks to hunting season.

Oh, that's right, I forgot about that.

There are a small handful of people in Ohio that skip town in search of deer or other edible animals every autumn, but the number of people that disappear for a few days or a couple weeks is much higher up here. I have several students that have disappeared for a week and a half only to reappear back in the classroom, face flushed with days out in the sun, and stories abounding from adventures out in the wilderness.

One student was back in 48 hours after a moose was ready for the taking shortly after they arrived. Another student came back days after his expected return after poor weather left them stuck waiting for their plane. A third student is still gone, but has been texting his friends updates on the "6 by 6" beast that was landed over the weekend.

The hunting and gathering culture that is so prevalent up here also makes regular appearances in meals with caribou and reindeer sausage and moose meat added to spaghetti. Street corner venders downtown sell such goods all summer, but the quantities seem to only increase as the temperature drops.

While I don't personally go out to capture animals to fill the freezer, I appreciate these subtle differences in the way people appreciate the food in their every day lives. In most parts of this wealthy, civilized country we live in people are very disconnected from the food that they eat. It comes from a grocery store, or the refrigerator, not from a living breathing animal that wanders in the wilderness.

The city that I live in is pretty close to "normal" when you look at any other city across the country, you know, other than the extreme changes in daylight and the studded tires to combat five months of driving on ice. The difference is that it takes twenty minutes (or less) to find areas without cell phone service, areas you'd be foolish to trek through without the protection of bear spray or a weapon, areas that are still pretty rugged despite the thriving metropolis nearby.

Hunting season, just like a hike in the mountains or a day when the sun doesn't come up until 10:30, reminds me of this once again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Four Months Late

It has been almost exactly four months since we sent off a moving truck in Ohio to transport our belongings to this frigid Northwest. We've been living out of suitcases and bags and duffles and boxes, in other people's homes and guest rooms and basements, for days and weeks on end.

In the midst of our vagabond existence I have slowly made peace with our temporary living situation. At first the suitcase existence felt like a vacation. After all, I was hopping from house to house on a week by week basis, slowly saying goodbye to many friends around the Midwest. Slowly the suitcase went from feeling like a welcomed accessory to an annoying appendage that was attached to me where ever I went, constantly reminding me of how fragmented and disheveled my life had become. I would periodically "freak out" about how unorganized my life was, frantically emptying and filling bags and duffels in attempt to organize everything a little bit more.

Attempting in vain.

More recently I have accepted the mess that is my belongings. I have large piles of documents that need to be filed. Duffels that contain things that are undoubtedly important, but I can't seem to remember. A pile of pennies and dimes and nickels that cry out for a change collection point...that doesn't exist.

With the closing on our new home scheduled for tomorrow, I am trying to mentally prepare myself for the chaos that is about to ensue. With every relocating event over the past four months I discover more items I can't find, that are broken, that were mistakenly thrown away. And in those moments I am constantly faced with a decision: get really frustrated that I wasn't more organized or just accept that it was inevitable.

A broken trash can
A lost ipod cord
Misplaced paperwork (which may or may not involve late fees)

"I think we have done pretty well handling the changes and stress over the past four months", Curtis commented to me as we biked back to our basement after completing the final walk through for our new home. And with the exception of a few breakdown moments, evenings, days, I would have to agree.

I know this next week, or month rather, of moving and settling for the last time will not be without it's struggles, but the fact that we are working toward settling long term--and not just another three week stint--should offer more than enough motivation to make it to the end.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spreading the Wealth

The view from the bus this weekend...another one of my favorite pretend-to-be-a-teenager past times.

Let me be the first to proclaim: The side ponytail is back. Also spotted on numerous occasions on teenagers everywhere? High tops with neon accents. When I noticed my students strutting about wearing their hair and shoes like I did in the second grade I did a double take: This is the first fashion trend I participated in that I am witnessing for a second time.

Now before you get too concerned, don't worry--I'm not going to be sporting the high tops, lopsided ponytail and silly bands when I go out on the town (you know, five weeks from now when I actually have time). I'm not sure I'm that cool.

But just in case you are...I didn't want you to be out of the fashion loop. Not everyone has the privilege of hanging out with teenagers more than people her own age.

Just trying to spread the wealth around a bit.

Monday, September 13, 2010


"Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen." -Jerome K. Jerome, British Humor Writer

When the bell that releases the students for lunch rings at 10:45, I sigh with relief. For the next 33 minutes I can breathe deeply, sit quietly, and allow myself to process the events of the morning.

I pull up NPR's music site on my computer, and choose from whatever "First Listen" options strike my fancy. I have previously maxed out Pandora accounts listening to music at school, but alas, Pandora has been found to be offensive by the almighty internet protection software at my current school, causing me to be a bit more creative.

Next I venture to the teacher's lounge to retrieve my lunch from the refrigerator. The teacher's lounge is spacious with several four-person tables and multiple refrigerators and microwaves, but I rarely stay for lunch. What do I have against this hideout? It has zero windows. I may only have two in my classroom, but if the sun is shining (as it was this morning) I can't bare to sit in the cave that is the teacher's lounge if I could sit at my desk with the quiet stream of music, accompanied only by a freshly ripened autumn pear.

When I finish my food I usually turn to grading: essays, worksheets, posting scores online. I had a student walk in this morning and express to me in dismay that her make-up work wasn't posted online to her grade. "Wait," I said while I processed what she said, "You mean the make-up work you submitted yesterday afternoon?"


"Well, you need to give me at least 24 hours to grade the work, and then post it online. It doesn't magically appear on there once you turn it in. I actually have to enter the grades." She looked at me like she honestly hadn't thought about it that way before.

Usually around 11:12 I look at the clock and sigh, acknowledging that the break is coming to an end. I reevaluate my plans for the afternoon classes, and usually start to consider the state of my plans for the following day and week. As wonderful as the break is, the quiet and calm of my lunch break is about the only such time in my day. I often feel like I am getting away with something, stealing this time and keeping it for myself feels like a crime. Shouldn't I be socializing? Planning? Doing something that is a little less enjoyable?

When I was unemployed this summer, the time of quiet to read and reflect was abundant. It sat heavy on my mind as a glaring reminder of my state of being: u-n-e-m-p-l-o-y-e-d

Now? I relish these moments almost as much as my juicy, ripe pear.

After all, the moments are fleeting.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This is my job, Or working toward more than 83%

A conversation I overheard between a seventh grade student and his teacher:

Teacher: You can't run around the lunchroom.

Student: Do you think you have power over me?

T: Well, I have some power over you.

S: How much? How much power do you have?

T: I am not going to have that conversation.

S: 1%?

T: I am not going to talk to you about how much power I have. As your teacher I have some power, yes.

S: I think you have 83% of the power.

T: I think I have 100% of the power.

S: Oh, crap.

I tried not to laugh out loud.
It was really hard.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Taken during a muddy hike this weekend, where the ground was steaming moisture under the radiating sun.

My shoes stink.

I'm not talking normal, foot sweating odor type of stink. I am talking about dragged through the mud, squashed through a bog and have done so on a daily basis for the five weeks stink. Every evening I take off my shoes at the door, pull up the tongues (for maximum aeration), pull out the insoles and hope that they dry out by morning.

Some days the trails are dry, the sun is shining, and the only thing wet is the sweat on my brow. Some days it feels like you're running on a wet sponge, working twice as hard as normal for each step, collecting gallons of water into shoes and socks with each stride, and splashing even more mud up your back in and in your hair.

Today was one of those days.

The sponge running workout followed a long day of catch-up, thanks to an all day computer training I'd taken Tuesday while a substitute covered my classes. I slogged through piles of grading, struggled to stay on top of my planning, all while catching up on the events I missed.

Other things I am struggling to get through these days? A 5000 page binder provided to us by the condo association that spells out everything from where you can park, to what kind of wallpaper you can hang, to what hours of the day you can sit on your porch (those may or may not be a bit of an over statement). Let's just say that it's not exactly a light read.

Yes, today was a bit of a slogging day all around: school, run, paperwork.

Tomorrow? Perhaps the trails will be dry, the students will be lovely, and all of my grading will magically appear in the online system.

Then again, maybe I should just pack a rain coat and a fresh pair of socks.

After all, the weather is calling for rain.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Laborless Weekend

Taken on a walk on Sunday afternoon...

My husband spent most of his life pre-college growing up in two different small Alaskan villages, the kind you have to fly to, the kind where everyone knows everybody, the kind where diplomas and degrees hold much less value than the real world because most jobs require manual labor and/or common sense.

Visits to the grocery store with Curtis's mom take seven times as long as they otherwise would because we run into endless people that she knows and loves. Sundays at church usually end with us as the last ones in the parking lot, with everyone looking to catch up with Curtis--who is "all-grown-up". It's a small town in the truest sense, and because it is cut off from society unless you're getting on a plane or a very long ferry, it is tight knit down to the very core.

This is the kind of village that people from "Deadliest Catch" come from--literally.

We flew out for the long weekend after a long week of work, looking forward to the first three-day span Curtis has had off since he started work--his 9th, 10th and 11th days off in nine weeks of working. We were not disappointed. The first day's heavy rain left us inside to bake and nap and share company with longtime neighbors. The second day's sunshine found us out hiking along the coast and running with a past coach. Every day found us eating favorite meals, sharing stories of years past, and playing card games until we were exhausted.

And then we'd play longer.

My brother's cross country team had ferried out to the village to race over the weekend, and some of the first time visitors were in awe of the beauty of the island. "I want to retire here" one whimsical girl confessed, mesmerized by the mossy forests and the crashing waves. While I commend her for planning ahead, there is one crucial piece of information she wasn't fully considering in her decision: the fact that it was sunny.

In my many trips out to the island to visit Curtis’s home and family the days of sun have been few and far between. I have spent many more days running in sideways sleet and slush than I have basking in the sunshine. With that said, the weather hardly puts a damper on the visits. Everything about Curtis’s childhood home is relaxing: the baby pictures posted in the stairways, the posters on the bedroom walls that weren’t ever removed after Curtis graduated, reflecting 90’s professional sports stars and high school special events. The medals from high school sporting exploits are dusty and still stacked on the bookshelf in flimsy cases, and a letterman jacket still hangs in the closet.

Returning to the house of his childhood leaves me feeling like I’m a child again for the weekend, waking late in the morning to a fresh hot breakfast, lounging in sweatpants past lunch, losing track of time because there is nothing that really needs to be done.

Except, of course, just being together.


I returned to my normal 11+ hour work day today with a full day of computer training and a nice long run along the coast for practice. I’ll finish the evening grading a stack or two of papers while my wet hair soaks the shoulders of my shirt. In a couple hours I’ll turn in for the night, ready to do it all again.

But even as I re-enter the busy schedule that consumes my existence, I will revel in memories of lazy walks along rocky beaches, the sound of sea gulls filling off in the distance, the smell of salt water and decaying fish being carried in the breeze.

And a little piece of me will (thankfully) still be at rest.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Let's Rename them "Piano-men"


I have immersed myself in the realm of all things teenager in the last three weeks, spending close to twelve hours teaching them or coaching them six days a week.

I have caught their germs; I have graded their papers; I have timed their races.

I have almost lost my voice, twice.

And even as I lie in bed at night exhausted from the run-around of the day, and lie in bed in the morning calculating how many minutes I really need to be out the door by 7:10, I remind myself how much I love it.

Because let's be honest, sometimes it's easy to forget.

Such as when I organize 67 pairs of muddy shoes that have been discarded in the entryway because I figure it will save me fifteen minutes later when someone (or 19 of them) can't find his right shoe.

Or when I collect 12 different pieces of warm up equipment that have been discarded and never claimed at the end of race day travels.

Or when I spend several minutes trying to organize mismatched papers--without names--based on handwriting.

Or when I carefully stash their glasses and cell phones in my pockets minutes before races, only to have them lose them later in the day.

Or when I muddle through stacks of papers that need to be evaluated, eating up hours of my "free" time.

Or when they ask me what I did to my hair this morning..."It looks really different, really fluffy."


After teaching all day last Friday, hopping directly on a bus for three hours to the race location, spending the night in bunk beds in camp cabins with high school girls, wandering the meet the next day for seven hours in the rain, and then hopping back on the bus for a three hour ride back to's really no wonder I got sick.

The only question I have left is this: How do you teach a grammar lesson with sentences themed about music, without getting snickers about the word "pianist"?

If you figure that one out, you let me know.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Photo taken in Ohio, when my favorite place to camp while ill was on the beloved gold couch, surrounded by windows.

Once upon a time I was really busy.
Then I became really* sick.
I subsequently became really frustrated,
because who likes to lay in bed (and miss practice)
when it is really nice outside?

All I have to say is that I'd better get better
really soon.

I have no time** for such illnesses.

*"Really" sick might be a bit of an overstatement,
seeing how I still made it to work.

**Other things I have no time for right now include cleaning, organizing our boxes and duffels, and painting my toe nails (sorry, mom).