Sunday, February 27, 2011

Night at the Museum

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Last weekend I put on a well-worn (hypothetical) hat and returned to the classroom as a student. I found out a year ago when I started to research moving my teaching license across the country that the move would necessitate such a return, and here I was, eleven months later, putting in my time so that the state of Alaska would allow me to continue hanging out with adolescents on a daily basis.

In addition to the obligatory 45 hours of class time, which for the sake of the professionals taking the class is packed into two weekends rather than over fifteen weeks, the students are required to go on a couple field trips on our own time. The first? A trip to our local museum.

I can only remember one trip to the museum in all the time I lived here growing up, but this happened to be my second time in two months. Last month when I made the outing I went with a couple friends from work to see a special exhibit. This time I went to see the general collection--and I wasn't disappointed.

The state requires all licensed teachers to take at least one class about Alaskan culture and history, which seems appropriate given the unique nature of both the people and places up here. While there were sections of the museum dedicated to both Alaskan artists, and those that have captured Alaska with their artwork, there were also sections dedicated to the relics and culture of the original Native Alaskan tribes who have walked a delicate line between preservation and assimilation in the past 250 years.

Glass case after glass case showcased clothing, tools, and artifacts from a lifestyle that seems like it existed ages ago rather than while my great grandparents were alive. Videos showcased native speakers sharing the challenges of trying to maintain a language and traditions even as the world they live in changes so quickly. It was obvious that the temperature, humidity and lighting in the room was intentionally controlled--yet one more way the breakdown of these symbols of communities is desperately trying to be fought.

As I continued to circulate the cases and exhibits, mostly alone in my evening perusal, I couldn't help but wonder what will represent this time in which we currently life. What artifacts will be valued and preserved? What traditions and values will be lost--for better or for worse? Try as we might to preserve pieces of our past, we are constantly moving forward and changing. Eventually this "modern-day-era" will be left behind for something else, and remnants of this age will be gathered as mementos of a time left behind.

There is something sobering about recognizing that I am one small piece of a story that is so much bigger and longer than I can often comprehend. This world has existed long before now, and will continue to turn long after I am gone. Perhaps this is why the museum is so enchanting, because it reminds me--if few ways that our current culture does--that I am not the center of the universe and that the true value in life lies in truth that transcends time or individuals.

And I guess that's one of many reasons that I am glad I'm returning to my status as a student for the next couple weeks. It may eat up a bit of my free time, but it also reminds me to think beyond grading papers and making dinner and all the other every-day-life necessities that quickly consume my thinking if I allow it.

Next up on the list of field trips? An outdoor adventure. I'll keep you posted, but suffice it to say I'm glad it does not involve snow caves.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Good Thing

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On Thursday, I will do laundry. I will gather the random piles of clothes throughout the room, evidence of a weekend of condensed grad school classes, night shifts, basketball games near and far, and days of conferences preceding it.

On Thursday, I will do dishes. The lunch Tupperware and salad bowls and muffin tins and tea strainers are accumulating in piles, begging to be dealt with and yet able to wait a moment, a day longer.

Yesterday? I was on vacation, which I spent gathering a couple hours with Curtis before he went to work and then driving seven hours round trip to my brother's basketball game.

Today? I squeezed in a workout before Bible Study and yet another basketball game.

Tomorrow? I have sewing group. Yes, a sewing group. Don't worry, there are two other 20-something in this group, along with the mom of one of our best high school friends (who unfortunately is out of state).

And so it all waits for Thursday.

Good thing there is enough random food to stave off a trip to the grocery store. Who needs an organized meal when you have yogurt, and blueberry muffins, and granola, and leftover mashed potatoes?

Also a good thing? Soup and salad day at school for lunch tomorrow...provided by people other than myself.

For now I will ignore the piles forming in favor of a good night's sleep and good time with friends. I'm pretty confident it will all still be there in a couple days.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Book

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When Curtis graduated from medical school, we received a lot of wonderful cards and gifts from friends. With a move close on the horizon, we cherished the well-wishing sentiments and memories, often tearing up as we remembered the special relationships we had built in our time in the Midwest.

In the midst of our stack of memories was a small gift from a couple that lived down the street from us. A couple years older, we had known these two from college classes, from medical school, and eventually as our neighbors. The wife, two years ahead of Curtis in the same medical school, offered advice and a listening ear on classes and loaned him books, while the husband would invite us for dinner and humorously dialogue with me the ridiculous schedule that our spouses carried—all while validating the frustration and loneliness I often battled in the midst of it.

So what did this couple give us? A journal. In a thoughtful card they noted that they had begun to write love notes back and forth in a journal when the residency schedule took over their time, and cut into any opportunity to connect and share face to face.

Turns out they knew what they were talking about.

We don’t use the book all the time, but this past week has been a book week. Curtis finished week two of four without a single day off, not to mention some nights. We normally leave each other notes for all sorts of reasons: notes about dentist bills, notes about schedules, notes about groceries and anything else. When I wait to tell him information face to face, it can days or weeks until the conversation happens.

Thankfully, that’s not what this book is for.

This book is for all the things I think about when I fall asleep without him. It’s for the stories I want to tell him the minute I get home but am afraid I will forget by the time we actually sit down for a conversation. It's for the gaps I notice in his absence, and the plans I look forward to for when he is finally home. This book makes me feel like we are a bit more connected…even when we go days without being in the same space.

Someday we will probably rely less on a book to communicate with one another. Curtis won’t be working 80+ hours a week, and our shifts won’t cross over one another in ways that mean we go days without face to face contact. Someday I think I will enjoy looking back through this book, happy to have a record of thoughts we had to record on paper if we wanted to share them at all.

Until then, I will pull out colorful pens, and try to record a small bit of what happens in his absence, hopeful that a new note will be waiting when I get home, after he has vacated our home once again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Evasive Hope

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The morning sky this past weekend, not quite the florescent scene we experienced today...


This morning I stood outside and watched the sunrise, just like I did yesterday. I have been appreciating the addition of daylight this week as I drive to work parallel with the mountains. The night sky has taken the slightest glow lately, allowing me to barely make out the towering silhouette against the sky. This slight light at 7:00am as I drive to work brings a sunrise around 8:30...just as first period comes to life.

We've continued progressing through The Outsiders in class this week, moving along as we get to know the characters, are surprised by the tragedies, and consider their conflicts in light of personal circumstances. We have continued to have conversations about life and learning, about choices and consequences. Today and yesterday, however, we were studying a poem that Ponyboy quotes as he watches the sunrise with his friend Johnny. At this point in the story they are fugitives, running from the law for crimes committed in self-defense. Ponyboy comments that so many beautiful things in life fade as quickly as they come, much like the sunrise.

Despite the single digit morning temperatures, I took my morning classes out to watch the mountains bathed in the pink hues as the sky came to life. We bothered to gather our coats, inform the security personal, and chance a total loss in control and focus so that we could "practice" the act that our narrator was talking about--holding onto the moments in life that are "gold".

We didn't stay out long, only long enough to soak in the beauty, briefly discuss the relevance of the activity, and rush inside before everyone began to freeze. As we spent the period dissecting and analyzing the poem it was apparent that the mountain-gazing exercise was comfortable for some while foreign for others. Some students totally connected with the elusive side of nature, while others just stared at me, silently begging me to just give them the answers so they could be done with the tortuous exercise.

Spring is starting to feel like a distant hope these days. We see the sun a bit longer everyday, and while the snow will be around for another two months at least, it won't be around forever. Eventually, the trees will come to life. Eventually, our nights will all but cease to exist. Eventually, the school year will come to an end. And as I approach this point in time, I already find myself becoming nostalgic with the reality that there are many students that I currently teach that I may never see again. And when that truth settles on my mind, the urgency to share so much with them makes me ponder what they will truly remember when they walk away from my classroom for good.

I hope that they remember this day. I hope they remember when we took the time to appreciate the beauty of creation, which despite its elusive moments of beauty will always come back around. There is hope in the daily sunrise and the annual spring, even though it sometimes feels fleeting. That is a lesson worth remembering, all the days of your life.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Seven Years Later...

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Seven years ago I went out to a movie with several friends. The movie? Miracle: the latest greatest inspirational sports film, complete with Aerosmith, goose bumps and reliving the best of American sports.

But I was hardly paying attention to any of it, because I was sitting next to Curtis.

I had already had my eye on Curtis for over a year, and while we had become good friends over the 3+ semesters we had been at the same college, I had little indication that he was remotely interested in me. We attended the same practices, travelled to the same meets, and even ended up in a couple of the same classes…but that didn’t exactly make us soul mates.

And then there was (a) miracle.

The movie outing, though taking place on Valentines Day, was merely the reality of a weekend off: no traveling, no racing, just time to act like normal college students. And like said students, several of us searched out the cheap movie theater for the latest showing of a past-prime film and followed it up with a nice Italian dinner—at Fazoli’s, the fast-food Italian chain.

In that theater, some time after Team USA was chosen and before they won the Olympics, Curtis gathered my hand in his and held it for the rest of the film. Later we talked, and word got out that the Alaskans were dating, but for that moment I was elated to know that my feelings were reciprocated, even if it happened to occur on February 14.

I’m just not that person.

Despite my dislike for romantic cliches, on Valentine’s Day I started dating a man that I am now married to. It started with sly hand-holding in a dark movie theater, and progressed as we waded through medical school applications, my complicated perspective on marriage due to my parent’s divorce, potential post-graduation options and locations, residency applications, match day, and then a cross country move.

February 14th represents so much more than an obligatory card or gift, it marks one more year that we have worked and developed our relationship. It marks one more year of stories and victories and losses. It is the anniversary of our relationship, as cliché as it may be.

I consistently struggle with the balance between appreciating anniversaries and holidays as an opportunity to remember, and getting frustrated with how cheesy and superficial they can be. I don’t want my relationship—with its depth and history and meaning—to be confused with that of my students, which finds them sneaking kisses in the hallway today and sneering across the classroom tomorrow. Yet, in spite of this potential confusion, I will not sacrifice an occasion to mark my continuing marriage because it happens to fall on the day that carnations and candy will be handed out to a myriad of students for $1 apiece.

I don’t need carnations, or candy, or a holiday marked on the calendar to appreciate a man that has added so much joy to my life. I don’t need anymore than a handwritten letter, left by the front door for me to find when I get home from work, evidence that Curtis was home resting for his night shift while I was out working all day.

Last night as we lay in bed trying to sleep we kept getting caught up in conversation. It was day seven of twenty-six that Curtis working in a row, and we were trying to catch up on the last week as well as coordinate plans for the future one. Attempts to schedule a date night were proving to be over a month in the future, and while we had fun discussing where we might dine and what we might do, we gave up on nailing down a specific day.

No, I don’t need much on this anniversary of sorts; I have been blessed with one more year with my favorite person. And that is better than all the bouquets that sat in the main office, all the candy the students sneakily ate throughout the day, and any candle lit dinner—today or a month from now.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Choosing Carefully

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A small selection of the foot apparel at yesterday's dance...

I had a good talk yesterday with my kids; you know, those students I am paid to hang out with on a daily basis. While the last three weeks have been consumed with structured, academic style writing, we finally got to transition from our research project to a novel.

The Outsiders is definitely a book about choices. Some situations in life are handed to you; some situations are the direct result of the choices made in life. I had a student ask me the other day why we were allowed to read this book. “It has smoking and drinking and gangs and fights; the school is okay with this?”

Yes, because it also has truth.

The book isn’t a picture of what we wish high school was like, or what we wanted high school to look like. The book is a reflection of the author’s true feelings about social classes, high school cliques and gangs, and the difficult situations that are handed to teenagers by their parents. And these situations strike pretty close to home for some of the students that sit in my class every day.

So what exactly were we talking about yesterday? Being guilty by association. In this day and age social networking is easy and available to anyone and everyone. It’s easy to broadcast your feelings to the world. It’s also easy to broadcast pictures of where you go, who you hang out with, what you do while you’re together. Facebook doesn’t discriminate between appropriate and incriminating pictures, but your future employer might.

“Besides,” I remind them, “What do you want to be known for?”

I started to talk to them about the decisions I make, living in a town when it is very likely I will run into a student or parent just about anywhere. Personally, I don’t want to ever be embarrassed by a situation I might find myself in if I were to be confronted with one of them.

Granted, there are times when I try to avoid running into students. I don’t exactly love it when they are across the restaurant while I’m out on a date with Curtis, and I’m not totally thrilled when I’m in sweatpants at the grocery store and I spy them further down the aisle. But wanting space to myself aside, it still matters to me that my students see me as a role model—whether I am in or out of the classroom.

The students had a lot of questions after I opened up this can of worms, mostly about what organizations and businesses are legally allowed to take into consideration when they accept or reject you. In a lot of ways they were very good questions, ones that our society grapples with more and more as social media further pervades our everyday life. Despite the questions, the message I was trying to get across to them doesn’t change: You need to decide who you want to be for yourself, because the choices you make determine who you are.

We will keep working through this book for the next couple weeks, and as we get to know the characters better, we will see them grapple with consequences for their actions—both positive and negative. I hope that today’s conversation was the beginning of them choosing more carefully—who they spend time with, what they spend their time doing, even what they post on Facebook. Because as much as they’d like to think their teenage years won’t affect who they are as adults, they are choosing who they will be come a little more every day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Recent Reads

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Last year I read a blog post where the author listed all the books she had read in 2009. Every last book, organized by genre, was briefly dissected and reviewed both for personal records and for the good of anyone looking over her shoulder, anxious for a thought-provoking or feel-good or informative read. I felt personally inspired to keep a log of my own reading, both because I'm curious and because I can't always remember the good ones to recommend later, but I didn't do anything about it. Then came the end of 2010, another blog post where author listed and dissected, and I still had no list.

2011: This is the year.

I figure the key to keeping such a list is to start early. While I'd like to have some organized system of book listing (by month, or every other month, or something to that effect), this is a totally random post approximately one third of the way through February. When will the next book post be? Your guess is as good as mine. So without further ado, here are the first three reads of 2011:

Great House: Nicole Krauss
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In the interest of not boring those that don't enjoy reading (or teach it for a living, as the case may be), I will sum this book up by saying that it is a web of stories. Krauss earned my affections when I read "The History of Love" in the summer of 2009 (which is not as chick-lit, cheesy as the title makes it out to be); her voice in writing is enchanting. Her characters are quirky and interesting, and her use of multiple first person narrators keeps things interesting, and rarely obvious. I would compare the book (loosely) to a show like Lost (which is a personal favorite): the characters are a part of a web of connections that they themselves are not completely aware of, and that you as the reader get to discover. I would recommend Krauss as a writer any day of the week.

Point Omega: Don Delillo
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This book made it on to my stack thanks indirectly to my boss. A book club was started at my school in the late fall, and this book was slated as the read for February's meeting. I did not vote for this book, would not have chosen this book, and read it because I am the student that feared showing up to class without my homework completed. I was (am?) quite sure it was (is?) a poor reflection of myself. Personal insecurities aside, I practically read the entire book the day of the book club meeting. How? It's only 120 pages, double spaced. For anyone that's read Delillo, this book fits. It's vague and philisophical and ends up where things started with little progress. I read part of "White Noise" in college as part of a Modern American Literature course and while his dark dreary statements about modern society are interesting, his stories lack the color I like to see in my reading. Maybe I'll start reading Delillo once every six years to stay current. That's really my only motivation to return to his writing.

The Outsiders: S. E. Hinton
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Through some tragedy in my middle school career, or so I'm told, I am just now reading this book. This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I am teaching it, starting this week. With both this book and the above option looming over my head this weekend I opted for this one every time. The characters are fresh, the conflicts make me cringe, and it was written by a sixteen year old in the 60's. As I read it I find myself daydreaming about Mustangs and students that write beautiful published novels. As a teacher that knows that my students face some of the devastating situations in this book, I actually get somewhat depressed while I read it. The novel is about brokenness, and classism, and following social rules because the rules have always been followed. I hope that my students get sucked into the book the way I have, because I think there's a lot of potential.


That's it for now on "Book List 2011". Next up on the list?

Freedom: Jonathan Franzen

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I'm about 60 pages in, and I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Restful Satisfaction, or Loving a Hot Breakfast

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On weekends when Curtis is not working, I often crave a nice hot breakfast. It’s not that I’m particularly hungry for a salty, sweet pairing of pancakes and eggs, or the light, fluffy texture of blueberry muffins, or even the overly sweet delicious cinnamon rolls. No, when I want to make breakfast it is because I want to feel relaxed and able to spend twenty minutes or an hour preparing our first meal, not in a rush to go somewhere or do something. I want to have something other than oatmeal in a Tupperware that I consume at my desk while checking my email and organizing papers for the day.

I want to feel at rest.

Some weekends I feel like the “rest” factor is compromised for ever necessary “productivity”. This Saturday it wasn’t. A leisurely pancake breakfast led to a couple hours of waxing skis. Lunch turned into reading and eventually a nap. Soon enough we made it out skiing, and watched as the sky turned from daylight to sunset, with vibrant colors radiating off the sky and the snow and the ocean. We talked, we laughed, we fell, we skied past other late-afternoon patrons and past moose just off the trail. When we finished, we were tired, but it was a good kind of tired, much like after you’ve laughed too hard for too long and are intoxicated with satisfaction.

And then we went home.

The evening wrapped up with enchilada preparation (for Sunday’s Superbowl party) and a last minute invitation to friends to come over and play games. Given that they are Curtis’s co-workers, the discussion was not absent of jokes about medical terminology, even while they all mused about how wonderful it is to have a day off.

Eventually we went to bed and fell asleep, satisfied with a full day. After all, on Sunday we found ourselves with a bit more of a full schedule with church, squeezing in a ski, and circulating through parties hosted by friends and family. On Sundays I can often get a bit somber, recognizing that Curtis doesn’t have another day off for two weeks, frustrated that time together until then may very well be spent in the hospital when he’s not busy but still expected to be there.

And on those days I will still make a hot breakfast, wrap it up, and bring it to him (and his team) at work, a good excuse to visit him for a bit and win points with his coworkers. Because let’s be honest, homemade baked goods are always a welcome alternative to the hospital cafeteria, even if they aren’t accompanied by a leisurely day at play.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Conflicted

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"Today was the pinnacle of my professional satisfaction," Curtis proclaimed to me upon returning home Wednesday, after I'd spent a day slogging through frustration. I'd already spent several minutes ranting about my research paper woes, in response to his innocent, loaded question, "So, how was your day?"

I laughed.

I suppose it's good that my day of semi-crippling lows in the classroom was countered by the perfection he found in his own. We are ever amazed by the similarities in our professions. I try to lead students through activities to teach them important skills. He tries to lead patients through procedures and habits that will save or improve their health. Unfortunately, both of us find our audience uninterested or reluctant to hear what we have to say--let alone act on it.

Today was far from the pinnacle of my professional satisfaction, but it was an improvement. The reluctance of yesterday's students to format bibliographies and create interesting introductions and conclusions was met with focus in today's students. They were quiet. They were making progress. They were asking questions.

So what changed? Well, there was a band field trip that took out a third of my class, leaving me with a quaint collection of twenty students in my morning class. It's amazing how much more manageable twenty students feels when you perpetually are overloaded with thirty...or more. The funny part about this was that Curtis had identified numbers as the number one reason his day on Wednesday had been so satisfying: a lone three patients were in his care. This is a far cry from the typical ten, or the dreaded twenty, and allowed him to invest generous amounts of time to planning and executing care.

Given this revelation, how do I feel about the announcement from the local school board that in response to the budget crisis, middle school sports will be saved while my classroom will be stuffed a bit more full? The answer: rather conflicted. I love sports, both participating in them as a student and an adult and connecting through my students through coaching them. Unfortunately, when I'm faced with the reality of choosing an increasing class size in order to keep that activity, I question the depth of its merit.

What good is an after school connection if I can hardly keep up with each of my students as it is? And yet, perhaps that's why we need to save those extra curricular activities now more than ever. If I can hardly connect with them now, what will happen if that after school connection is eliminated?

It's finally the weekend, and while I left my grading at school, the questions of student learning lingers in my mind as I put away groceries, as I go out for an evening ski, as I make social plans. Will they finish their work? Will their parents ask them about it? What will they have in their hands on Monday?

I don't know. And while I've told Curtis too many times to count that my job (and his) would be infinitely easier if I didn't care, I do.

I care a lot.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Slush and Such

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Today was a slogging kind of day.
Slogging through the fresh blanket of snow that turned to slush when the temperature hit the mid-thirties.
Slogging through research papers at school, where absences and laziness have left some students on step two of the process while the rest of the class is on step five.
Slogging through my lunch break when a handful of students come in for extra help, when all I can think about is the students that should be there, but aren't.
Slogging through three loads of laundry.

It's just feeling like a really long week.

The good news? Curtis doesn't have to work this weekend, a welcome break after two thirty hour shifts last weekend.

The bad news? We still have two days of school left, and despite the intense storm that is giving my comrades in Ohio a couple of snow days, here there is no inclement weather in site.

And so I press forward: through the slush, through the research papers, through the laundry.

Sometimes, you just have to keep moving, knowing that it will all end--eventually. After all, when you hang out in the slush too long, you just end up soaked, salty and gross.

And then all you end up with more laundry.