Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ignorance was Bliss?

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A glimpse of the sun from the weekend...something I probably won't see much of until next weekend...

When Curtis and I purchased a car this past summer, we had no idea all the bells and whistles we would stumble upon along the way. Given that this vehicle is ten years younger than either of our former vehicles (which were "well used" when we acquired them), we have been quite surprised on numerous occasions about what our lovely car can do. The latest discovery? Yet another warning light, this one telling us that "our tire pressure has lessened".

When this light went on Friday night, I feverishly pulled out the car manual to search out what this orange exclamation mark surrounded by an orange ring meant. The last time I searched out the manual, it was for a blue light that signals when the car has not yet been sufficiently heated up. (This light is my husband's dream. As someone who warms up a vehicle with the utmost patience and diligence even when it's -10 outside, he thinks this light represents perfect communication between the driver and the vehicle.) This time I found the information I was looking for pretty quickly, and was relieved to find out that the overly anxious looking warning light did not mean that the car would soon explode.

As I drove to work this morning, still gazing at the warning light, I found myself thinking that perhaps I would benefit from warning lights in other areas of my life. For example, I would love to have a light that pops on as I drive home in the evening, warning me that I had better stop at the grocery store, because I have no food of any substance in my fridge, and pie will not suffice as dinner. Another helpful warning? A light that turns on before I run out of clean socks and underwear, or spoons. It would also have been very nice to have a warning that the snow plow would be constantly blowing snow against my first story window throughout my morning classes, interrupting productivity. Perhaps the most helpful light would be one embedded in my forehead that turns on to warn my students when I've had little sleep in two days because my husband has caught an awful cold (from the children he is treating on a daily basis) that has caused him to cough all night long.

Despite these morning daydreams that transpired on a dark drive to school, I think not knowing what is coming can also be a good thing. If I had known that I would have to stay an hour after practice to wait for parents to pick up their children last night, I might have lost it. If I am destined to lose every game in our volleyball tournament this afternoon--much like what happened a couple weeks ago--I'd prefer it to be a surprise. The reality, fortunately or unfortunately, is that results are typically preceded with warnings. Mediocre, unfocused practicing leads to similar play in games. I may have been shocked to lose all of our games, but losing most of them wasn't much of a surprise.

I am often chastised by parents for not giving them enough warning--about grades, about behavior, about anything. When a grade turns out to be an "F", or behavior requires a detention, the parents want to know why no one told them THIS was the direction things were headed. While the occasional surprise could have used a bit more of a warning, typically the signs are already there: the grades are online, the disrespect happens at home, the trends have only continued from years past.

Most of the time, the light has been on, and the driver has been ignoring it.

I don't have a flat tire--yet--and I'm hoping to deal with the pressure issue in the next few days. But if I end up with a flat tire because I have not addressed a light that has been glaring me in the eye for the last three days, as much as I'd like to blame the tire manufacturers, the winter pot holes in the road, or the frigid temperatures, I've got no one to blame but myself.

(If only my students and their parents felt the same way...)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Choosing the Response

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I sat on the couch this morning and watched the sun rise at 9:30am. The condo was quiet, with Curtis's visiting parents already out for the morning to appointments needing to be taken care of in "the city". I sent them off with fresh coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls and settled in, wrapped in a quilt, to evaluate papers about courage.

It's interesting to read what fourteen year olds perceive to be courage. We had many conversations about the topic in class, with my redirection often needed to remind them that egging your neighbor's car when no one else will is not courage. Neither is going off an idiotic jump with your snow machine. Or sneaking out at night for a midnight run for ice cream. "Well if those don't count," my students recounted, "then I have never been courageous."

I tended to disagree.

Thanks to the last set of papers I had a starting place for conversations with these students about areas in their lives where they'd been courageous. "What about when your dad died?" I would ask one student. "What about when you moved in with your grandparents?" I would suggest to another. We had discussed as a class what defined courage before we started this project: overcoming obstacles, persevering in tough situations, withstanding fear. Despite these discussions, my students didn't see their challenging life circumstances as requiring courage.

They just see them as what life has handed them.

When I was originally handed this writing prompt to assign to my students (by the "higher ups" that determine district-wide which writing assignments will be best), I was not that excited about it. I thought it felt a bit forced and a bit idealistic. What about the students that haven't been courageous? What about those that don't stand up for themselves and what is right? In some ways I feel I was right: some students don't have a good personal example of being courageous. In more ways, I was wrong. These students needed to be reminded that they face situations that require them to choose to persevere, to push forward, and to work for the best in everyday life--sometimes when adults in their lives are working against them.

As I push through this set of papers, trying to remain fresh in my perspective after reading over one hundred responses, I am reminded that at times my students are completely unaware of the baggage they carry around with them. It weighs them down, affects their perspective, shapes their character--without them ever realizing it.

And while I hope they walk away from this assignment with a greater understanding of sentence structure and comma splices, I also hope they walk away feeling empowered. I want them to be able to see that even though they cannot control their circumstances, their response to events outside of their control will shape the path their life takes.

We are not often able to direct our lives (or our essay questions) in the way that we would choose, but recognizing the power of perspective and choice has been, perhaps, a valuable reminder that I needed just as much as them.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You're Making Us Drive In This?

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The roads were icy this morning. Really icy. So icy that I heard a truck spinning its wheels in the middle of the night, desperately trying to make it up the hill outside our condo. So icy that Curtis called to warn me of the treacherous drive ahead of me. So icy that the police department called our superintendent to express that there were "significant problems" on the highways and roads. So icy that twenty miles per hour felt more like more than enough speed on a road that normally calls for fifty.

But apparently not icy enough, early enough.

The freezing rain that could have kept me warm at home in my bed made its appearance about a half hour too late to make a difference in my work day. On the other hand, some of my students, or their parents rather, went ahead and opted for the warm bed against the temptation of treacherous roads, leaving my first period class attendance at 42%, with my second period only rising to 66%. On days like this a teacher is forced to make a tough decision: Teach a new lesson to (less than) half the class? Review while trying to maintain the attention of students anxious to make it to the late-week holiday? Give up and allow the students to do whatever they want?

I choose D: Hope for a day off tomorrow, when the freezing rain is scheduled to make another appearance.

Meanwhile, I dream of making another round of the delicious cinnamon rolls I created this weekend...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Escaping the Predator...

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This afternoon, I was chased by a moose. This has happened to me only two other times in all my years of living in Alaska. The first two times I was on a bike, and after the startled moose clomped after me for a few seconds, it gave up the chase.

This time, unfortunately, I was on skis.

Curtis and I have been going out skiing on the past few weekends, replacing our back country biking adventures with the exploration of the local trails. I spent quite a bit of time on those trails in high school, going out night after night as a member of a cross country skiing team. Curtis, on the other hand, was a much cooler breed than I, and subsequently was on a basketball team. Now that we are adults and trying to maintain our fitness despite our busy schedules, he has come to see the value of gliding around on skinny skis through the woods.

We arrived to a full parking lot and after putting our skis on ventured to a nice flat, straight area for Curtis to warm up. While our first several outings involved him gliding back and forth on long flat portions of trail while I completed loops close by, he has since gotten good enough to venture out on the "real trails". I skied behind him at least fifty feet as he ventured down the long, straight path. I was confused when he reached the end, turned off to the side to turn around, and didn't come back toward me. I was looking over to figure out what was going on when I spotted the problem: a moose, camped out, chowing on the tree branches, directly to my left about ten feet.

I did what I have always done in my years of countless moose encounters: I kept going. I maintained the same pace, planning on sweeping up around to where Curtis was standing without raising any concern for the moose to pay attention to me. For some reason, despite my meticulous composure, I was seen as a threat. The moose looked up at me. I looked over at Curtis, and then back at the moose--which was now starting to move toward me. I began to turn, to try and move onto a trail veering off the right, but as I did so the moose was clearly not happy with my decision and as I looked ahead I saw why.

There was a baby calf right in front of me.

"Awesome," I thought to myself, "I have just planted myself BETWEEN a moose and her calf." In the split second that all of this happened, I decided that my best bet was to head into the dense woods, where the trees might make it difficult for a moose to trample me for threatening her child. The problem? I still had long, skinny skis attached to my feet. Consequently I launched myself into a dense collection of trees and started pulling myself into the brush, skis dragging behind.

At this point I was desperately looking around for the moose, who I was quite sure was now going to trample my legs, which were hanging out of my protective collection of trees. Instead, the moose had made its way over to the calf, and the two were probably chatting about the spectacle of a person that had just dove head first into the woods with skis attached. After a couple minutes (or maybe twenty seconds) Curtis called out that I could probably come out. I backed myself out of the brush, tried to stand back up on my skis, and realized my legs were shaking. I looked behind me to see the moose just hanging out and chowing down on a different tree, the baby further down the hill.

We were safe.

The rest of the ski was pretty uneventful: quiet trails, a sunset sky, and best of all, no moose. And even though I was thoroughly freaked out by the whole experience, I can't help but love that those kinds of things happen. It's one of the things I love about living up here; it's a little more rugged, a little less civilized, a bit more adventurous.

Besides, after two weeks of fighting off illness with more than my fair share of coaching frustrations, it was nice to have a battle that could be fought face to face (or snout to ski as the case may be), with a distinct beginning and end.

Sometimes it's just nice to know that crawling off into the woods is a simple, acceptable escape for a problem.

(Now if only that fixed all my issues...)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Teams

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The invitation that stared me down on last night's hour bus ride...

"I need a vacation," I proclaimed to Curtis this morning.

Yesterday was too much. Just too much. If it had just been the fact that our bus driver was thirty minutes late to pick us up for our tournament, I would have been okay. If it had just been that one of my athletes thought herself entitled to the use of her cell phone throughout the tournament (encouraging a similar disregard for team unity amongst her teammates), I might have been alright. If the only down side of yesterday had been our loss of all nine games in the six hour tournament, I might not have gotten home, taken a shower, and crawled into bed a rat's nest of frustration.

But it wasn't.

The late pick-up, snotty attitudes, and record-breaking losing streak all culminated in a one hour bus ride where the driver blared static filled radio tunes while the girls proclaimed their frustration with his music choice. As if they hadn't been the ones that had begged him to turn it on in the first place. Couple the aggravating audio with the constant flash of the camera as the girls took self portraits, and I was so disgusted with their selfish attitudes I could hardly give them instructions without them dripping with sarcasm.

I was done. I was so done.

As I think back on yesterday's downhill progression, part of my problem was my expectations. Last week the buses were on time, the students were fairly well behaved, but more than anything they were present. They were playing hard, cheering each other on, and evaluating their efforts all the way up until the bus ride home. Perhaps it was naive of me to expect the same from the other half of my team, but I did.

And when my expectations of focused enthusiasm were crushed with self-centered apathy, there was nothing I could do to stop it. I tried to make up for their lack of gusto by cheering and encouraging and clapping after every play. I was on my feet all night. But with only a few exceptions, they had made up their mind to drag their feet through the tournament, more concerned about the text they were missing on their confiscated cell phones than their teammate--right in front of them--that just made a great serve.

Today I am very aware of the pendulous nature of my job. I invest endless hours in a profession with little concrete feedback to inform my practice. The concrete feedback that is available isn't always very reflective of energy expended. Grades don't always equal ability. Scores don't always equal effort. Uniforms don't always signify a team.

Today, I will try and teach my team, or what I'd like to be a team, how to do better next time.

Today, I will hope for the best, even though the results last time would suggest it's not worth it.

Today, I will keep going; I will try new tactics; I will continue to push forward.

Today, I will not quit.

Tomorrow? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Learning My Lesson

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The view from my confinement in bed....

It's been a bit more quiet than normal around here, thanks to the lingering effects of my latest illness. I lost my voice on Friday afternoon, in the locker room waiting for the gals to gather their belongings and head home for the weekend. I looked amongst the abandoned Uggs and forgotten orchestra instruments, but it was nowhere to be found.

More than two days later, it's still AWOL.

Despite the abandonment of my voice, I started to feel better Friday. With my energy level nearly normal, I was looking forward to a weekend of catching up: laundry, unpacking our last three boxes, grocery shopping. But more than anything, I was looking forward to getting out on the trails for the first ski of the season.

Saturday went as planned, a mix of unpacking, fresh air, and four loads of laundry. Unfortunately, sometime Saturday night I took a turn for the worst, leaving me exhausted all day Sunday, and forcing me to skip another round of skiing on a sunny afternoon.

Despite my frustrations with a sickness that is now on day seven, a weekend with minimal speech left me feeling quite reflective. Listening has never been my strong suit, but when left with the choice to listen or struggle to squeak out a few words that are difficult to comprehend, I usually choose the former.

Thus I became an observer, helpless to participate even when my husband and brother-in-law conspired over dinner to tease me shamelessly because I couldn't defend myself. In some ways that was freeing. I tend to suffer from a need to always participate. This need could be the reason I have been sick for a week, is probably the reason I agreed to coach volleyball, and is unfortunately the reason I am not always the best listener.

Of course, there's always time to learn to slow down and appreciate things a bit more rather than always feeling the need to be on the go. A week long sickness may be the perfect classroom for such a lesson.

Now, if only a weren't such a reluctant student.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Taking Ownership, or Learning to Love

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This week turned out to be just as long as expected, though thankfully was not without its share of entertainment. While Tuesday's cold symptoms turned into Wednesday's day home sick in bed, Thursday came through as expected: with a day of teaching followed by a six hour volleyball tournament.

Yes, they really are six hours.

I agreed to coach volleyball a little over a month ago when a coaching deficit was discovered, and I volunteered to referee games.
"Do you have any experience?" they asked.
"Oh, yeah" I replied, trying to convince them that I was a perfect referee for after school tournaments.
"Then I think you should coach."
"Wait. What?"

The discussion ended when I surveyed Curtis to find out how much he would be working during the eight week season.
"A lot," he replied, unsurprisingly.
"I'll take it," I told the head coach.

And so I agreed. Agreed to ninety minute practices after school with 35 junior high girls. Agreed to six hour tournaments and bus rides across town. Agreed to negotiating hurt feelings, babying girls that got hit in the face, or hit the ball too hard. Agreed to surveying the locker room to watch for cell phones (whose idea was to put cameras in those things?). Agreed to wait while irresponsible parents show up 45 minutes after practice is over.

I'm not really sure what I was thinking.

The past three weeks of practices have been interesting. There has been a lot of hair flipping, heart drawing, and gossiping. There has been a little serving and passing, and an occasional spike. In general, practices have left me frustrated. I have too many people, in too small a space, with too many attitudes.

Yesterday that all changed.

We left for our tournament in the afternoon, and as we boarded the bus I wasn't really sure what to expect. I would be the first to admit that my team's talent pool was, well, lacking. Our serving was atrocious. Our passing unreliable. And as we suited up and played our first game, my athletes (if you want to call them that) looked a lot like the team I coach in practice: unmotivated, distracted, and not good at getting balls over the net.

And then, all of the sudden, they transformed.

One girl dove across the court with such gusto that she slid under the net and onto the other side. Another girl served the ball over the net--for the first time in her life. And then she did it again. They were moving, and passing, and covering each other's weaknesses. They were cheering and chanting and screaming (as much as I discouraged the later), and they were getting into it. Really into it.

And I was too.

Game after game was played and they continued to improve. I was on my feet cheering. I was on the floor when that's where I wanted them to go. I was losing my voice, and I didn't care. This was fun.

Finally.

As we boarded the bus back to the school, a few of the girls strategized about how to help the weaker players. They wanted my input and support in improving their team. It was finally their team: a team they cared about, a team they wanted to see succeed.

And this was an even bigger change than the one I saw on the court.

My team, from the very beginning, has been an insiders/outsiders team. I have a queen bee, her BFF, and an entourage of wanna-be populars. I also have a group of outsiders: the ones that don't care, don't notice, or have been flat out rejected. In practice it hasn't mattered what I've done to split them up, group them differently, or tried to show them that this is a team sport. They have their friends, and they have the nobodies.

And the populars don't care about the nobodies.

Perhaps I should be concerned that the only reason "the nobodies" now matter to "the populars" is because they are directly tied to winning and losing. The fact is, I'm happy they care about them at all. Because yesterday night as we chatted on the bus, the populars determined--for themselves--that everybody matters.

And even with the miraculous serving, and unforeseen court-side passion, this was clearly the biggest victory of the evening. And I'll take that over a winning record any night of the week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scrambled Eggs and Bleeding Knuckles, or Just Another Tuesday Night

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

I spent the evening Tuesday night lying on the couch, blowing my nose, constantly reapplying chapstick and hand lotion. With the recent onset of nasty weather has come the dry, cold months that make my hands crack at the knuckles with the slightest bit of contact. Couple that with coaching volleyball and generous applications of moisture-sucking hand sanitizer throughout the school day, and you can picture the result.

It's not pretty.

Of course, who cares if my hands are covered in small cuts when my face is flushed, my head is pounding, and my nose is congested?

I've never been good at being sick. I am good at productivity, efficiency, and high energy activities. I am good at continuing to move when everything wants me to stop, continuing to work when other people know I should call it a day, and maintaining a reasonable bedtime and a healthy diet in order to (try to) maintain a fairly hectic pace.

Yet, despite my best laid plans, sometimes my body fails me, leaving me to half pay attention to outdated Hulu while Curtis makes me a scrambled egg and salsa burrito for dinner.

After all, when life is tough all I want is eggs, Mexican food, or some sort of combination.

And so I head into the rest of the week, a bit compromised, but still kicking, determined to finish out a week that may or may not include a volleyball tournament and a massive field trip.

Wish me luck.

(And plenty of tissues)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Making the Best of It All

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My "gourmet concoction"...which didn't taste quite as good as it looked...

This is the weekend I finally caught up on paperwork.


Ever since the move, I have had very organized and meticulous stacks of paperwork...all over my bedroom floor. Between the condo purchase, the car purchase, both job switches, and the move quite a bit of paperwork had accumulated. And while there are other ways I like to spend Sunday mornings before church, I must admit that ninety minutes of pure organizational productivity turned out to be a great start to the day.

Follow that up with breakfast for lunch with the family after church watching the NYC marathon, and a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen making some gourmet concoction, and I am almost ready to head back to a full week of classes and volleyball.

Almost.

Would I rather lay on the couch, watching the inches of snow accumulate on the window sill, while reading a thought provoking novel? Of course. Then again, I'd also rather have my paperwork organize itself, and my dinners always turn out tasting spectacular.

Sometimes you just have to make the best of what you have.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Slightly Slower Pace

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Evidence that Curtis was home at some point during the night...even if he went to bed after I did, and left before I woke...

The city was covered with a blanket of snow this week, a bit later than what is traditionally normal but sending people in the mode of "winter" all the same. Drives were slow; boots were everywhere. The array of hats and gloves abundant, and the number of snowmen (made with the perfectly wet snow) comical. The students went a little crazy, mesmerized by the thick white flakes falling in the light of the street lamps, and eventually the daylight.

Thus I find myself in the bridge before the next song of the season. The days of biking on tree lined trails are over, but the necessary blanket needed for cross country skiing has not yet accumulated.

Right now the sidewalks, streets and trails are covered with a mixture of snow, ice and slush, depending on the time of day. With the daily temperatures hovering on either side of freezing even as the snow continues into the weekend, it's anyone's guess when the local trails will be fresh and ready for a nice long ski. Until then, the only thing I'll be gliding on is the stairwell outside our condo. I am pretty sure it is only a matter of time until I lose my grip on those icy steps.

Here's to winter: the slower pace, the fresh beauty and the unexpected adventure it brings.
(all six months of it)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thoughts Over One Serving of Roast and Mashed Potatoes

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Me, talking with my hands as usual…

At 7:52pm, I finally caved.

I had successfully busied myself since getting off work: working out, three loads of laundry in progress, fresh mashed potatoes and a clean kitchen, a tidied the house. It was time to throw in the towel.

It was time for dinner.

The pot roast was incredible. The vegetables were soft and saturated with roast juices after a day in the crockpot together. The potatoes were creamy, with a hint of garlic and pepper, balanced with salt. And as I served the scrumptious meal and set myself a place at the table I couldn’t help but check my cell phone. Again.

For the thirty-seventh time of the evening.

Maybe Curtis had called? Maybe I had missed a text. Perhaps that was his car pulling in the drive, his steps on the stairwell. Perhaps the hospital was finally finished with him for the day.

Alas, no such luck.

Marrying someone in medical school (or residency) requires a delicate dance with independence. Sure, you’re attached to this individual for all legal rights and purposes, but in real life you’re often on your own, making your own plans, eating your own dinners, maintaining your own relationships. We have found this fragile shuffle to be most effectively executed with clear expectations, meticulously coordinating schedules to maximize time together while minimizing disappointment.

So I don’t end up alone for an evening with a delicious tender roast.

Unfortunately, we operate with an imperfect system. No matter how carefully we plan, the hospital holds the almighty trump card. Health emergencies occur whether or not there is a roast waiting for dinner. And while I’d like to think I’m a patient person that capitalizes on opportunities to catch up on laundry and dishes, the reality is that I’d be happy to let them pile higher for one more night.

As long as it meant that at the end of the evening remnants of mashed potatoes would be growing crusty along the edges of two dishes, instead of just one.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hibernation

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The snow is creeping down the mountains, coating the sidewalks, the roads, the trails, the windshield. The dustings we’ve received already are not enough to cover surfaces completely, but enough to make corners slick, trails crunchy, shoes slip.

Curtis and I went out for another adventure bike ride this weekend and had to reroute our intended course after only ten minutes. The road up to the trails we’d settled on was more icy than expected, and while we were confident we could make it up the hill to the trails, I had concerns about getting back down on icy surfaces. I had visions of cold, painful wipeouts while trying to turn corners.

It wouldn’t be pretty.

The alternate route, while still snowy and occasionally slick, was executed without mishap. We still returned with frozen toes and fingers (even without a fall in an icy creek), but as we put the bikes away we once again wondered if the ride was the last of the year, just as we mused last week.

Our hibernation is imminent at this point.

Many places have beat us to snow fall this season, their streets already covered, their trails being readied for skiers. The meteorologists say we are behind, having a very dry month, but I don’t mind. Even as our pavement reflects a tardy showing for the winter season, the darkness doesn’t lie.

Every day as I listen to the news on the way to work the time of sunrise grows later, with a loss of five minutes each day. In the next month we will lost another two and a half hours.

It’s true; the snow will come, just as the darkness already has.

Now that we are settled in to our new life, I feel that life has become a bit more predictable. We go to work: teaching, coaching, practicing medicine. We make meals on weekends to reheat during the week. We go out when Curtis has a weekend off. We go to church.

My coworkers muse at times about how they wish their lives were more exciting and I must admit I don’t really share their sentiment. I have all the excitement I need at this point in time: the unpredictable shrill of Curtis’s pager in the middle of the night, the endless question of what we will eat for dinner, the questionable conditions of the trails we will traverse on a free weekend.

That is all I need.