Thursday, March 31, 2011

Unpredictable Variables

A very small patch of green I scouted out last weekend near our condo. Needless to say it was gone this morning...

Yesterday was yet another valiant effort at spring: 50 degrees, mostly sunny, balmy as I walked out to my car in shorts and a t-shirt after practice. Never mind that the sidewalks were covered in snow and ice and slush (with a small lake forming toward one end of the parking lot), it felt like spring, an arctic version of it anyway.

And then today happened: Good morning, snow storm. How are you? The ice ruts that have been forming on our road with the freezing and thawing of slush were covered in an uneven, rugged blanket of white. Small flecks of white stuff hit the windshield as I drove to school, small flecks that turned into healthy flakes, accumulating on everything as I arrived on campus. It made it look a lot like......winter.

By the time it was 10am, the snow plow was clearing the sidewalk outside my classroom, adding more volume to the mounds of snow pushed into corners and along walls over the course of the season.

We were making such progress...and I feel like we have taken two giant steps backward.

I guess it's not all bad. The 5-9 inches that were supposed to show up today materialized as 2-3, and a look at the weather report shows renewed hope in springtime. Indeed, perhaps the fickle weather is taking a cue from the adolescents I hang out with on a daily basis: every day brings something unexpected. And yet, that is one of the reasons I have always loved my job in the first place. There is nothing mundane or predictable about walking into a classroom with thirty variables.

I suppose that means I should also love spring in Alaska. Because even though the weather report called for inches of snow when it is practically April, the forecast calls for mostly sunny tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Full Palate



I woke up before 7am this morning, without an alarm or other stimulus. My body knew it was time to get up--to do laundry, and dishes, and get moving on the day.

My counters are overflowing--with dishes, yogurt over its date, empty milk cartons and mashed potatoes from four weeks ago. I'm cleaning out the fridge, and then taking out the trash. And the trash stinks, let me tell you.

By 9am I am in my all-day grad school class, presenting my final project...


I woke up just after 8am this morning, and quickly calculated the time it would take to continue my quest to return the house to a semi "normal state". I folded yesterday's now-clean laundry. I finished what was left of the kitchen. I straightened. I put away. I left by 10:20am.

After church and lunch I am back out running errands: dropping off an old road bike to get tuned up for a May triathlon, returning studded bike tires that were deemed unnecessary for Curtis's bike commuting, purchasing materials to paint our second bedroom...all in heels and a skirt. The lady that waited in line behind me while I held 29" studded tires was trying not to chuckle I turned and commented "I must look like quite the walking contradiction, wearing this outfit, carrying these tires. Have I lost all my outdoorsy credibility?"

She assured me I hadn't.

On my way home I updated Curtis, who was hard at work on overnight shift #2 of the weekend, on my progress. Turns out, he had zero patients and was contentedly watching my March Madness bracket fall apart while I ran around town being productive. I suppose there are some perks to being required to live at the hospital.

After a relaxed visit with Curtis, I was back home and hard at work taping, covering, moving and painting. With half the edging left, I headed to bed.


By the time I left the house at 7:10am I felt behind. There were ever accumulating pieces of paper to deal with: track physicals and roster, papers to grade, outlines to critique, and track practice for 150 to plan indoors--all while sharing space with other extra-curricular activities.

Because of a few parents late to pick up their students, I didn't make it home until after 6--only to find myself in the midst of a mess left by my almost finished painting project. The weekend's cleaning frenzy seemed to be invisible when surrounded by paint cans and drop cloths. I felt discouraged.


It has been a week since I've had a moment to compile any coherent thoughts, even as I jot down thoughts and observations as I go about my day. When I don't have time to write, I feel like I don't have time to process...I am just running around aimlessly, accomplishing whatever arbitrary goals have been set for me (or I've set for myself), checking items off the list and hoping they don't add up more quickly.

Today was just as busy: packing meals to eat on the go, teaching a full day, continuing on at practice, trying to squeeze in some personal exercise, and hitting the pillow with a list circling my head as I drift off to sleep. It looks a lot like tomorrow...and a lot like last week.

Some days I feel like I have to count down the 37 days of school in my head to convince myself that the energy reserves will last that long. Some days, 37 days does not feel like nearly enough to finish the school year off with everything I want to accomplish.

In the end, the busyness will ensure at least one thing: when the break for summer eventually arrives, I will be ready...for hours outside instead of under florescent lights, for projects that can linger and not be rushed, for meals that don't have to be stored in Tupperware and reheated in the microwave.

Until then, I hope I can enjoy this last push of chaos. As much as it is exhausting, there is still joy to be found and fruit to be enjoyed from the labor. Some days there is nothing more satisfying than a stack of folded laundry, an empty dishwasher, or the smell of fresh paint lingering in the evening.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hypothetical Miles

"On His Way", by Jean-Jacques SempĂ© on this week's cover of The New  Yorker Magazine

The miniature cartoon man greeted me from his stationary bike as I sat down on mine. I have not always embraced mechanical contraptions for exercise, but when the weather in unpredictable and the sidewalk are littered with ice, I enjoy the predictability of a machine where I can close my eyes and zone out as the miles pass me by. Some days I could take it or leave it; other days I need the hamster wheel to think, work through ideas, burn off some steam. After an hour I can move on: go to the grocery store, run an errand, visit my sister, go home. And I can do all of it without wondering if I'm going to lose it when someone crosses my path.

Teaching often feels like a roller coaster. I'm twisting and turning, unsure of when things will slow down--let alone stop. Sometimes it feels glorious, and sometimes I just feel sick.

When the painting on the cover greeted me as I cranked up the resistance to settle in for an hour of methodical predictability, I quickly opened to the inside cover to find the title: "On His Way", it read.

I suppose.

Where am I on my way to?

I am on my way to reading a whole bunch of papers on "A Person That has Impacted History." Based on yesterday's questions, I'll be reading papers on everything from Metalica to Marilyn Monroe to Stalin to Wayne Gretzky to George Washington, who--as one student discovered while becoming momentarily confused--is different from George Washington Carver.

I am on my way to four nights of a grad school class, coupled with the first week of track and a full day of teaching.

I am on my way to another weekend of skiing, assuming this week's weather prediction for four days of snow comes through.

Indeed, me and the man on the cover of this week's New Yorker Magazine have much in common: an evening content to pound out hypothetical miles, because we both know that life moves on regardless of whether we make any physical progress during a workout.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Effort, Galoshes & Loosely Defined Progress


It was a valiant effort, for spring that is. All week the temperatures have been hitting the mid-30’s, and it was written all over the vehicles. The puddles have been getting deeper, the slush more persistent, and everything has been covered in wet, muddy snowmelt.

And then today it snowed…almost all day.

There were already a few inches of accumulation when I left for work at 7am, Curtis’s footsteps from ninety minutes before nearly hidden on the walk outside the condo. And the snow continued as I drove to school, and as I peaked out the window between classes, and as I graded papers at the end of the day. By the time I left it was mostly clear, but the damage had been done: one fresh blanket of white coated the city.

Keep in mind we have a high of 38 for tomorrow, ensuring the yesterday’s puddles will double in size for tomorrow’s post-snow melt. And thus begins the annual rite-of-passage for summer that people in this town lovingly refer to as breakup: a month or so melting of all things frozen that turns the city into a dream for anyone that likes to clomp through mud with rubber galoshes, and a nightmare for anyone attempting to wear white before Memorial Day.

Yes, it was a solid effort, and a solid fail. And as long as that trend doesn’t follow suit in my classroom, I’ll go ahead and ignore the mud splattered pant legs and film covered car windows. After all, as long as the snow is melting we are making progress. Even if it keeps falling.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Illogical Musings

Last night the sky was still awake with light when Curtis finished his studying around 8:30pm. Daylight savings may have caused our mornings to rewind into darkness, but the evenings have found me craving summer.

I see spring all over but outside these days. My friends in the Midwest talk of warmer temperatures. Pictures on the internet claim the coming of green. Sandals make their way into storefront displays. And yet I see snow and ice and a minus in front of the temperature in the morning.

I wanted to wear cropped pants to school this morning. With sandals. I felt like a child that was craving the totally illogical outfit while giving in to the measured, responsible choice. Then I saw one of my co-workers wearing cropped pants while on my way to lunch. I stopped. Did a double take. And walked up to inform her that I totally supported her decision.

Who cares if it's below zero if your calves are still tan from the spring break sun?

Perhaps tomorrow I will wear a dress. With no tights. And a pastel cardigan. Later I will sip lemonade on our balcony (while wearing my down coat).

Yesterday I went skiing, on groomed trails, with no sign of ground peaking through. I felt like a rebel, betraying my sandal cravings with every stride and turn.

Soon enough, spring will arrive. Soon enough, the track will be free of the thick blanket and the skis can be stored in the closet until next October. Soon enough, our daylight hours will dwarf the darkness and the stars will disappear for several weeks.

But for now there is snow in the forecast, closely followed by an appreciation for skiing in reasonable temperatures with abundant sunlight...even if it is just a handful of days before "spring".

Monday, March 14, 2011

Victory for the Home Team

Sometimes Curtis and I play this game with our's called "Try and Convince All Our Siblings To Move To Alaska To Be With Us". Before we lived here, our extended family from back home played it with us. This is how it works:

Tactic 1: Send text messages (often with pictures, for maximum effect) whenever "the family" (minus absent member(s)) is doing really fun things like eating out at local places, attending sporting events, or participating in traditional rituals.

Tactic 2: Make comments whenever absent members are visiting about how great it would be if we could hang out/do things like this ALL THE TIME.

Tactic 3: Try and find job opportunities for absent members to convince them that surely the set-up up here would be better than where they are at.

Now obviously some of this is done in jest, and we all recognize that there are totally legitimate reasons why our siblings may live in other areas of the country. With that said, this month we are celebrating victory. My entire family will all be living in the same city for the first time since 2001 once my sister arrives back in the homeland to start her new job at the end of the month.

Obviously Alaska is not perfect, especially since mid-March looks JUST LIKE mid-January, and is so far from spring it's not even funny. And yet, there is no place like home.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Catching Up


After flying in from spring break 2011 after midnight this morning, today has been spent restoring order: grocery shopping, chili making, laundry washing, luggage unpacking. Our weekends are often spent like this, trying to make sense of messes that accumulate in weeks full of activities so that we are ready to face another round.

Tomorrow starts fresh for both Curtis and me. I start fourth quarter, with track beginning the following week. He starts a new eight week rotation, with new duties and lessons and patients. It's hard to believe that in just over two months the school year will be over, and that Curtis will have finished his first year of residency is just over three.

As the old adage states, time flies.

And believing that to be true on this sunny Sunday afternoon, I am going to get back to folding towels and putting away my passport rather than day dreaming about a satisfying week of relaxation. I am hopeful that I can record my memories from my spring break adventures very soon while holding a cup of hot tea rather than staring at a pile of wet laundry needing to be hung...especially when I am secretly wishing the laundry was wet with salt water from a round of chasing waves.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Am Not the Maid

Taken near the museum, one of many weeknight adventures taken while Curtis was working nights... 

Curtis has been working for 23 days straight now, on the weekends, through the nights, and has only complained once. He has weathered busy patient loads, the hospital switching to a completely new electronic system and missing all sorts of social events. Some would say it’s “what he signed up for”. Some would argue that “it’ll all be worth it in the end”. Yet the reality is that when you’re in the thick of it, exhausted, overwhelmed, and deprived of all balanced, it’s hard to see through the moment.

For both of us.

Despite this crazy streak, we reached a significant milestone yesterday: the end of night shifts. As much as I’d like to think that the nights at the hospital are gone forever, the reality is that this hiatus will last for about three weeks. At this point I’ll take it. I would take one week, because with him on nights and me on days I start to feel like the maid: I fold the clothes; I stock the towels and the fridge; I leave mints on the pillow.

Well, maybe not that last part.

I’m ready to be on the same schedule, when my eight-hour days happen at the same time as his 12-15 hour shifts, rather than opposite of them. I am ready to have someone to share meals with, so I am inspired to eat something other than cereal or leftover mashed potatoes for dinner. I am ready to retire "the book" for a while, rather than paging through it like the latest hot novel.

I am ready to have him back.

I know that it won’t be a lot of time, and that he’ll still get held over, and that time together is limited. I will take it. It’s better than no time together, with no chance or hope to connect. This stretch of Curtis’s career won’t last forever, but gathering moments of balance in the midst of it is still crucial. And that is why I celebrate small victories: weeks without night shifts, a weekend off, an evening together. Because on nights like tonight, when he texts me as I am scheming about dinner to let me know he is “Going to be LATE tonight” (emphasis his), I have to remind myself that there is tomorrow. We’ll try this play again, and see if we can’t make it work.

It has to work eventually.