Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Bit of a Nightmare (and a Bit of a Dream)

I'll take icy feet and treacherous biking over taming the hooligans any day...

Today the students were crazy.

It could have been because the schedule was abnormal.
It could have been because of predicted snow.
It could have been because they have half days for the next two days and Friday off due to conferences.

Whatever the reason, tomorrow had better be different than today.

Today the technology wouldn't work.
Today my interesting lessons worked out to be boring.
Today everyone had a distracting comment for everything.
Today I had to constantly remind myself to be patient. Be patient. Be patient.
Today I bit my tongue to not verbalize the sarcastic comments floating around in my head.

Today was a bit crazy.

Perhaps tomorrow should be a silent work day.

(Is that possible? A silent work day in an eighth grade classroom?)

I can dream.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Multiple Personalities, or Choosing My Own Adventure


When my teaching pal from Ohio called this evening, I reported that my Sunday afternoon was feeling quite productive: 90 minutes of ironing, a load of folded laundry, dinner in the oven, and a loaf of banana bread on the way (in addition to the apple pie made on Saturday). In response to Curtis's yell from the background that he has "the best wife ever" she commented that I was quite the domestic one this weekend. "Right now I am," I told her, "but you should have seen me three hours ago when Curtis took me on one of the roughest mountain biking outings of my life, involving a hill steep enough and rocky enough that both of us had to walk our bikes a significant way down, only to find a large creek to cross over the next hill."

Did I mention this creek had snow and ice gathered in the midst of the rocks?

It was then that I started to feel like someone with multiple personalities. I could easily spend hours in a book store, or hand stitching a quilt, or grading eighth grade papers, or baking in the kitchen, or mountain biking through icy creeks. While I would choose some of those options over others (depending on the day), I can appreciate that at the end of this weekend I felt like I truly was able to exercise many pieces of myself.

"Why can't we do what we want to do?" my students sometimes ask me. And sometimes, when I'm feeling exceptionally honest, I confess the truth: adults don't often get to do what we want to do either. Sure, I chose my profession, and many of my commitments, but even tasks you choose can become a burden at times. I don't always love grading papers. I don't always love coaching. I don't always (pretty much never) love ironing.

While I've been baking and cleaning, Curtis has spent much of the evening reviewing paperwork for his job, and now I can hear him listening to audible suturing instructions online in preparation for a surgery rotation. Our time, even when "out of the office" still isn't fully ours.

Perhaps that's why today felt like a gift: soaked frozen feet, messy kitchen, laundry strewn bed and all. Today was a day I chose to fill with activities that suited my fancy.

Tomorrow I will teach classes, coach a team, work out, eat, and crash into bed. Tuesday will look like much of the same. And even as I find much joy in my work, I may find myself day dreaming during the week of adventures that are off the proverbial path, excitedly awaiting the weekend so that we can be in the wild again.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hazy Memories of a Grocery Store

Preparing for my mom's surprise birthday party, where we served all kinds of Mexican was a good day.

I feel awake and rested for the first time in several days, which could be because I was in bed by 8:20, and asleep by 9 on a Friday night...and then didn't wake up for eleven hours. Despite the sleep, the exhaustion of an overflowing schedule seems to haunt me on a Saturday morning when I have no plans or commitments. Should I go to my brother's basketball game? Bike across town to visit my sister working at the coffee shop? Read for pleasure? Make an apple pie? Unpack and organize? Iron?

A week full of activities both chosen and necessary has left me with little free time. Now that I have a few hours to myself, I feel like a kid in a candy store: what shall I eat?

Last night, after a day of distracted giddy students, and chaperoning the junior high dance that made them unruly all day, I wandered around the grocery store trying to make sense of the aisles, asking myself the same question. The answer was clear to me: apple pie. But since I am practical even in my most exhausted and hazy existence, I also bought lettuce (found to be rotten at home), oatmeal and a frozen pizza.

After all, everyone knows you can't have apple pie for dinner.

And so this morning I realize that my extreme exhaustion last night was not all a loss. I have now found a new item to add to my list of "foods that make me feel better when everything seems to be a bit too much". Other items on that list? Fried egg sandwiches and almost all Mexican food.

Next time we have a junior high dance I think they should serve apple pie instead of nachos and pizza. It would be a big hit.

(And then maybe next time I will win the teacher dance contest...)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lessons of At Least 500 Words

A summertime visit to my classroom back in Ohio, back when tank tops in the summer were still an option...

I recently graded a very large batch of eighth grade stories. These essays, which were written in response to my request that they "tell me about a personal experience that taught you an important lesson" tended to fall into three main categories.

First: Lessons About Safety.

Since majority of my students have lived in Alaska for a while, with quite a few of them having spent some time in rural towns and villages, their experiences with large machinery at the age of fourteen is quite extensive. I read stories about four wheeling crashes, snow machine crashes, even car crashes (because who enforces driving licenses when you're in the middle of nowhere and there are hardly any drivable roads?), which made the stories about bike crashes seem like child's play. They all tended to end with the same trite statement about "wearing helmets" or "not taking dares" or "watching where you're going" and after a while were very anti-climactic. This lack of suspense was not the case with the second set of stories.

Second: Lessons About Loving People.

I was surprised at how many of my teenage students are missing parents. These stories were often twisted and confusing, with many of the writers giving me the feeling that the topic was too difficult to write about with good detail, but too meaningful and fitting for the prompt to write about anything else. I often finished these stories trying to trace the pronouns throughout, getting lost in the "he did" and "she left" and "he never called" and "I haven't seen her" statements throughout the story, sometimes applying to one parent, sometimes both, sometimes applying to mutilple relatives that have been present for only a short while only to disappear. The students often struggled to pull lessons out of these stories, often ending with some general statement about "not taking people for granted" which I knew hardly covered the emotions associated with the tale. This was a story that was far from over, a story that would never fit under the umbrella of not appreciating someone enough. And while some students tried to make meaning of deep and complicated events completely out of their control, others recounted tales of obvious missteps.

Third: Lessons About Doing What You're Supposed To.

This third category was a bit more developed than I would have expected, given that I'm their teacher and all. I guess I didn't expect the paper writing process to turn into a confessional on all sins committed great and small. After reading papers about everything from bad grades, to sneaking out, to drinking underage, to inappropriate games of spin the bottle, I'm pretty sure I will lock my theoretical children up before they hit this age. Much like the lessons on safety, the lessons tended to manifest as closing statements that all sounded the same: "And now I know to never (insert sin of choice) again."

Today is the end of the first quarter, and thanks to this deadline I have everything graded and posted for the helicopter parents to check online tonight, and the negligent parents to ignore even when mailed home. So what is the lesson I learned from this personal experience? Wear helmets when operating any machinery; always watch where you're going; know that every student could have an unstable home.

Oh, and never put off grading 120 stories until the last day again.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Finding My Mittens

Curtis with his cousin last December while visiting Minneapolis. I think I would like to wear a snowsuit like that...

My foot slipped on ice as I ran under a bridge this afternoon. That momentary loss of traction, that brief absence of grip reminded me that the days of running without gloves, in the occasional pair of shorts, on pavement that is dry or wet but not covered in snow and ice are almost gone. The snow line slowly creeps down the mountains in the distance, hovering closer and closer to our sea level existence, reminding me every day as I drive toward the mountain range making my way home, that the roads will soon be covered.

I have plans to purchase snow tires, to get them studded, to get them put on my vehicle. I haven't ever had to do this before, and the whole process makes me feel a lot like a grown up. When I was in high school my mom would get studded tires put on the vehicles, looking to add yet one more measure of protection for her driving teenagers. The studs would help gather traction on the icy roads that linger all winter. Ice covers the lines on the roads and makes starting and stopping and driving up and down hills infinitely more tricky. I never got in an accident in high school, but as I reenter the realm of treacherous driving, I find myself wondering if I've lost my touch for icy roads and snowy conditions, much like I've lost my resistance for cold weather.

In preparing for the coming temperature drops I've been evaluating my winter wardrobe. While my sweater/jacket/layer wardrobe was a bit excessive for the Midwest, it is already starting to feel a bit minimal. I found myself perusing high quality gloves and mittens while out shopping yesterday. Wind resistant, multi-layered, hand coverings were offered in a wider variety than I thought existed. I briefly considered a pair of "extra cold" mittens on clearance, complete with a wind resistant shell, before leaving empty handed, ever a frugal shopper.

Later I rode my bike with Curtis as he ran the local trails. The air was wet and cold, and despite my dress of two long sleeved shirts, a wind breaker, tights, an ear warmer and gloves, by the end of the forty minute run I was frozen. It took a bath to get circulation going in a couple stubborn toes, and my hands were cold for the rest of the night.

And so I prepare for the coming of winter, completing some tasks in advance and others by trial and error. In the end, that is life: Some obstacles are foreseen and prepared for, others come at inopportune times, leaving us frozen, unsure of how to respond, missing a pair of mittens that were offered earlier in the day.

Next time, I'm buying the mittens.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some Things Just Don't Change

In the interest of saving our digital photos for posterity, I spent quite a while Sunday transferring files from our "medical school laptop", whose battery won't hold a charge and has given us many signs that it is near crashing, to our new lovely macbook, which was purchased shortly after I nailed down a job.

In the midst of labeling and organizing all sorts of files and photos, I stumbled on all sorts of memories that made me smile. The gem above? Taken six years ago while making lefse with Curtis's family the first time I made the trip out to the island. On that occasion I was dumbfounded by the potato based tortilla-like items we were making. This past Labor Day I knew how to jump into the lefse making process, eager to devour the results.

I was (once again) overwhelmed again with how much in the midst of change some traditions remain the same. Granted, the digital camera I now use has a few more megapixels, and a bit more clarity, but after a few rounds of making lefse I still walk away from the kitchen covered in flour.

Some things will probably never change.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Meet the Neighbors

There are many qualities I have come to love about our new home since moving. The windows are thick, or well-fitting, or something more than the 1920’s windows that we had at the old place. They keep noise out. They don’t whistle when the wind blows really hard. They don’t have to be propped up with wooden rods because the weight/cord/pulley system broke. And when some middle of the night random 4:30am visitor feels like blasting the current rap trend of choice, it sounds more like background noise, rather than something getting directly piped into our room.

Also, the drawers in the kitchen don’t shower dust on the pots, pans and bowls stored below. I still find myself whisking my hand along the insides of pans as I pull them out for use, looking for traces of dust, preparing to wash it away. And then I remember that our cabinets are not the dust-showering kind that we left behind in Ohio.

One of the qualities I love most about our new place is the lack of intruders, or more specifically, mice. Every fall we would find ourselves setting (and emptying) traps in an attempt to keep mice excrement from appearing in the bathroom, under the kitchen table, on the bed—a feat I’m still not quite sure how they mastered. Yet, since we’ve made ourselves comfortable in the midst of boxes and piles and sparse furniture, apparently, so have they.

On more than one occasion I have been guilty of throwing things at these invading moths as they perched on our vaulted ceilings. When they came flying around the room looking for cover, Curtis was poised with a wad of newspaper in hand, ready to take care of them, hopeful that with the insects extinguished I could go to bed in peace.

Curtis assures me that the moth camp that exists outside our front door will disappear when the snow falls. Much like the mice, they will be forced to find a more permanent residence, or die. I am not concerned enough to research what or how moths do to hibernate through the long winter that exists in this city. I do know, however, that they will not be taking residence on my ceiling.

Sometimes you just have to draw your boundaries.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Something Old, Something New

The leaves raining at the cross country state championships, showering everyone with a bit of gold.

I went on my first run from “our new place” on Monday. It was a beautiful afternoon: sunshine, fifty degrees, golden leaves blowing everywhere and covering everything.

On days like this I am quite sure it is the last of the season. Temperatures above freezing in October are a luxury. Above fifty? A lucky break.

A man on the radio proclaimed this morning that experts are calling for a frigid winter, despite the glorious fall. I don’t want to know what “worse than normal” means for us up here (unless, of course, it means we will be getting snow days—which are also a lucky break in this state).

Yesterday I biked with Curtis as he ran after work. We wove our way through the trail systems that surround our condo, reacquainting ourselves with trails neither of us have run much in years. We talked about work, stories and plans from the day, the week.

By the time we were finished the brisk breeze that had kept Curtis cool during the run left me with numb hands and red ankles, which had peeked out above my socks and below my tights. We went inside to make dinner (or rather pop a frozen pizza in the oven), and I was struck by the contrast of things new and things that haven’t changed. I use the same pizza cutter, just in a new kitchen. I wear the same bike helmet, but ride different trails. I watch the same seasons; they just manifest themselves in different ways.

And after a season of transitions, with new people in a new place with a new job and a new home, those bits of familiarity are more than welcome. They make living in a place with a long winter (with expectations of a harsh one) that much easier.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You Do The Math

The drive out of town on Friday night: A breathtaking mix of autumn and winter, sunshine and rain (which this photo clearly doesn't do justice)

When I climbed into bed at 1am on Saturday night, I have to confess I was quite pleased with myself.

I can't remember the last time I willingly stayed up past midnight.

Make that 9:30pm

These days the hectic schedule of teaching + coaching + grading + unpacking = exhaustion.

This weekend found me shuttling back and forth between being in and out of town. In town Friday for teaching and practice, out of town Friday night to join Curtis and his co-workers for a retreat. In town Saturday morning by 8:45am for the cross country state meet, back at the retreat around 6pm for an evening of games and a spontaneous dance party. Back in town Sunday morning to camp all day at the condo being productive.

Four loads of laundry, a lot of unpacking, one outing to run/bike in the sunshine, and one attempted craigslist entry later, I had a lot of clean clothes + several empty boxes + a little bit of exercise + one treadmill that apparently no one wants--even if it's free = one very satisfied (albeit exhausted) lady.

Today I found myself mesmerized by the mountains again, examining the snow caps as they creep down the sides with its fresh, clean white. As I ran outside in the sunshine, I found myself wondering if the 50 degree temperatures of this afternoon will be a memory all too soon, wondering if each day above freezing with be the last.

Snow is fair game in October, after all.

But as I welcome the snow and cold of October, I also welcome a bit more of a relaxing schedule, a bit more time to read and cook and quilt.

And, you know, occasional late nights.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Winter Whispers

Though autumn was officially marked on the calendar just over a week ago, winter is undoubtedly approaching close behind. A week ago snow was spotted dusting the mountain, tapping the windshield as it was swept aside along the highway, leaving no trace on the road but weighing heavily on those that observed it.

Winter is coming. Soon.

Curtis and I have both commented that the fall colors are more radiant this year than we remember them. The gold colors flush the mountains with various shades causing pause between summer and winter even as we search through boxes for hats and gloves.

Perhaps it’s because fall in the Midwest was so radiant.
Perhaps it’s because September was so mild.
Perhaps it’s because the summer held record rainfall.

Whatever the reason, the trees are sporting their richest shades, and in I am desperately trying to soak them in before they disappear.

It will be days, weeks if we’re lucky, before the snow comes to stay and I am left pondering:

Am I ready for seven months of cold and darkness?

(I am rather out of practice with all this…)