Friday, April 29, 2011

Out of Commission

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Curtis's biking coat...sloppy from a wet commute home.

After Tuesday's meet I was duly exhausted, but on Wednesday morning it became apparent that the exhaustion was beginning to manifest itself as a cold. In an effort to prevent what was clearly becoming inevitable, I laid in bed for twelve hours after a full day of work and practice.

And the cold got worse.

On Thursday, after a full day of work and practice, the idea of climbing back in bed for a twelve hour stint was appalling, despite my worsening cold. It was a gorgeous day outside: blue skies, light breeze, temperatures in the fifties. A friend called for a last minute running date and I couldn't turn her down. After a "short" run (to be kind to my cold) turned into six miles, I felt invigorated. Once home, I jumped on the bike to accompany Curtis on his run, only my second ride of the spring. The fresh air made my congestion seem to disappear. Unfortunately, as soon as I made it inside to work on dinner, I realized that perhaps two rounds of outside activity was not going to be the best treatment. I crashed in bed and could feel my congestion worsen, a pile of used tissues growing by my bed.

The cold was full force, now.

Today I made it to school only to turn around and come home half day. I was a snotty mess, and making it through a full day was going to be nothing short of miserable, not to mention probably not going to help me get any better. I made it home by noon, climbed into bed, and quickly began working through the tissue as I struggled to sleep.

Hello, weekend. Good thing I didn't have any pressing plans.

Sometimes I don't know what to do when I can sense my body is failing me. Rest? Get fresh air? Keep going with life? Stop everything? It seems, at times, that the cold will do what it wants regardless of how I curtail my schedule to appease it, and that frustrates me. I like to know that my efforts work toward meaningful results. In the mean time, I will watch the weather forecast and dream of unclogged sinuses and a full tank of energy.

I've been waiting too long to see all this beautiful spring weather go to waste.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Missing: Couch, Gloves, Rain

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Taken last Saturday, when I was finally able to make a game...

When I looked in the mirror yesterday night, I couldn't tell if I was sun-burned or wind-burned.

It was certainly one or the other.

The unmistakable outline of my sunglasses, used for both brightness and protection from quickly traveling sand and dirt, could be clearly traced on my face as if I'd been out sunbathing by the beach. Until sand pits used for long jump are accompanied by waves and ocean however, I don't think beach quite covers it.

Beaches call for leisurely reads, quiet bits of noise masked by waves, reclining with a cold drink and a sun hat. Instead, I was on my feet for a 13 hour day, feverishly reading off my heat sheets, yelling at students and listening to my radio as we searched for athletes that were missing from their events.

And they weren't the only thing missing.

Also missing? My gloves. I carry them religiously during track season and yesterday afternoon they were gone. I pulled out my handy-dandy "keep in the car for any cold situation" pair, but I am still quite curious on where they went.

Thankfully, the rain was missing. This morning I woke up to soaked pavement and a steady mist. Though the wind that slowed down every athlete on the homestretch appears to be a bit lighter this morning, I wouldn't trade it for rain. 400 teenagers + steady rain + over four hour track meet = bad news. I'll pass, thanks.

I was also missing my brothers soccer game, which was being played simultaneously. Last week's meet also coincided with a game, and my mom (still ever supportive of all of her children's athletic endeavors) showed up from one to the other, ready to help me run the second half of the meet while she warmed up from two hours on a chilly set of bleachers.

And last (but not least), I am now missing a beautiful red couch. Turns out my busy schedule, which prevented me from picking up a craigslist couch until today, also prevented me from getting said couch. I don't blame the guy for turning me down for a better offer, but if I'd only had a moment's free time to pick up the most recent object of furniture interest--it would have been mine.

Yes, we all make sacrifices for the activities we love. Perhaps it's important to have those conflicting emotions; after all, they cause me to constantly question where and how I spend my time. What is a season of track worth: a burned face? a pair of gloves? a red couch? my brother's soccer game?

Because I have to choose, I believe I am aware of everything that I have, even if I am also aware of what I am missing. And I know that missing it makes me appreciate it that much more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Round 2

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Today finds me back on our track hosting a meet after a local opponent's track failed to rid itself of snow and ice over the weekend. The sun is currently drying the rain soaked surface; I am hopeful that a return of showers will wait until this evening, and the wind will be kind to our faces. Even in dreary exhausting weather I appreciate a few mandatory hours outside. It makes me feel a bit more relaxed, even if I do so surrounded by hundreds of teenagers.

Tonight? I fully expect exhaustion, but at this point I can make it: three weeks of track and four weeks of school is all that stands between me and a summer break.

I will be ready.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Unexpected Gifts

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It was a cold afternoon on the track. The predicted rain and snow, shown on the weather forecast for the past ten days, didn't show, but the chill in the air reminded everyone outside that we were not fully finished with winter.

And yet, it is spring. The track meet today, the first outside event of the season, proved that we don't wait for weather in this town--the show goes on.

Today's meet was hosted by yours truly, an added project that has caused grading and planning to stack up neglected, my typically meticulous desk space to grow quite unorganized, and my list of daily to-do's to multiply exponentially. Yes, today was the culmination of much planning. Even as the meet played out amidst flaws (timer batteries that die in the middle of the 1600?) and forgetfulness (bullhorns, anyone?), it rolled by fairly smoothly and showed how much support I have in this community that I joined only eight months ago.

After all, if I can convince people other than immediate family to join me out in frigid wind to help corral and direct distractable teenagers, I have much for which I can be thankful: a supportive community, a lack of snow, and a whole weekend to catch up from this exhaustion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Matching the Rhythm

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Remnants from a conference with a parent with many young children in tow...

A student returned to school today after an extended absence and struggled to acclimate to the changes. It’s hard to return to a rhythm when you have missed the escalation; the dance was slow when you left, and now it flows at a feverish pace.

It’s that time of year.

Emotions and attitudes have escalated, and all high and lows play out in dramatic fashion. This student didn’t expect everything to be so magnified, so extreme.

It’s not altogether unexpected, but it is exhausting.

This weekend was a welcome reprieve from the chaos. Content to attach myself to Curtis for 48 hours, I welcomed our less-than-efficient cleaning and grocery shopping, and embraced the generous napping and eating. He was coming off a week on nights. I was coming off another week. I doubted my ability to sleep a solid nine hours on Saturday night after three hours worth of naps during the day, but the sleep came easily, and I lingered in the quiet, welcoming a free moment to just exist.

Monday came too soon, as it often does, and the memories of biking in the sunlight, sauntering along on errands, and folding laundry over lazy conversation floated in the back of my memory as I attacked stacks of papers, practice and meet arrangements, and plans for the rest of the year. It seemed like I’d existed in another universe, just for the weekend, and like this student I reeled from the reality check I faced the moment I unlocked my classroom door.

Teaching is a spiritual experience for me, but at no time is this more present than at its conclusion. It is at this time that I am required to face a couple hard truths:
First, there is always more that could have been done, and I never could have time for all of it.
Second, the fruit of my labor, the impact of my daily forty-five minutes can never truly be measured—least of all by me in the midst of the toil.

Neither truth is easy to swallow, and reflecting on either exhausts me emotionally as I come to grips with the reality that the last day of the school year will be the last day I ever see or speak with many of my students. One day everything is finished, and I send them on to make something of themselves, to grow up, to mature, to become the person they will be.

And while that moment is fairly anti-climactic, surrounded with the pressure of posting grades, washing desks and filing paperwork, the build up to that moment leaves me perpetually nostalgic. And like it or now I find myself riding the extreme waves the students follow from day to day: glad to see you, can’t wait to see you go, glad to see you, can’t wait to see you go, glad to see you…will I ever see you again?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Craving the Tangible

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I found myself cooking swiss chard at 7:30 last night.
It was a last minute recipe find, a craving to make something, create something tangible. I have often found myself with a recurring urge for such things since I began teaching.

Teaching is a beautiful, messy labor that rarely leaves one with tangible results. Thus I find myself cooking, cleaning, quilting, and creating into the evenings to enjoy a few moments of working with my hands, pondering the quiet, and ending up with a finite, physical result: fruit from my labor.

There was little that made sense about the venture: making a pie crust after seven at night, enjoying a steaming slice of goodness after 8:30 while basking in the lingering sunlight coming through the window. I was secretly hoping that Curtis would call from the hospital to tell me that he wasn’t busy, that yes—he would love for me to bring a fresh, beautiful quiche to the hospital for him and his colleagues to enjoy as they head into another night of work.

But the phone call didn’t come.

Instead, I served myself one, then two pieces of pie, lingering over the steaming concoction and wondering why I don’t spend more time cooking and less time completing dull tasks like opening the mail and emptying the dishwasher and grading papers.

I suppose everything has its place, and my place has felt empty all week.

It doesn’t matter that I know that Curtis has been sleeping at home while I am away at work, our condo occupied more than usual as we exchange habitats within an hour or two of each other, flipping from our day to night shifts.
It doesn’t matter that dishes magically move from the sink to the dishwasher, from dishwasher to cupboard in my absence.
It doesn’t matter that I often find handwritten notes in our book awaiting my arrival after a long day of work, or that half the quiche will surely be gone when I get back this evening.

He has not been here. And even though evidence of our shared existence is a comfort, sometimes tangible is what you need.

Thank goodness the weekend has finally arrived.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Making a Case for Cold and Wet

I paraded my wet, rank dirty shoes all around town Monday evening, even though I felt I carried a stench around with me everywhere I went. When I finally arrived home it was after nine at night and I’d been gone for fourteen hours. School, track, paperwork, workout, visit my sister, visit my husband, shower, bed. That is the ritual I follow from day to day during this season. And it’s invigorating and exhausting all at once.

So why the soaked shoes? Well, the athletes needed some…inspiration. The track was cold, and wet, and covered in slush and moose poop. When I’d finished my work with the hurdlers I started circling the track alongside several of them, encouraging them to keep working, to pick up the pace, to run. “You’re not as cold as we are,” they protested “not as wet. You just got here.”

So I have no credibility because I’m not cold and wet? I can fix that.

And with that I cut in from lane eight, where the track was mostly clear, to lane one where the thin ice cracked through to ice water and slush inches deep, splashing up my legs and onto my back as I continued, yelling back all along “Now? Now will you run?”

With that they joined me: splashing, running, chuckling as we continued around the backstretch, basking in the simplicity of running through puddles on a sunny—albeit cold—afternoon. And as we tracked back in the hallways after we’d finished, they ditched their shoes and left wet footprints of various sizes that gradually evaporated in the warmth of indoors. The stench of wet, dirty feet grew stronger as they piled in, and even though they complained, I couldn’t help but feel invigorated with the ice splashing activity.

Yes, it’s track season, and all wet, muddy, gross accessories that it brings.

It will all be over so quickly; I’ve coached too many seasons to think that it might linger. The meets and practices will run together as the school year comes to a close, and though one minute I am planning out events for our first meet, in the next I will be taking inventory of returned track jackets.

This will be my fourteenth track season and my fifth as a coach. Spring would not be spring without it. Even as my free time is quickly filled with the logistical planning and execution of practices and meets, I find myself slipping into autopilot, content to reappear into society in late May with a face two shades darker than the rest of my body from long days in the cold sunshine, and a pile of mud-stained gear that will never be quite the same.

Coaching is nothing if not consuming, but on days when splashing through puddles of ice wins over adolescent boys that rarely follow my lead, I notice much less that my schedule too has been won over by teenagers looking for guidance in a sport that I have long loved. And sometimes there is nothing more rewarding that remembering how much you love your job, even if it leaves you with soaked, smelly shoes that you have to put back on tomorrow.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fighting for Spring

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I woke up every morning this week to find fresh snow on the ground. Sometimes a dusting, sometimes an inch, sometimes practically a frost, the ground seemed to be a daily reminder that the battle for spring was still raging. Yet with the temperatures breaking forty sometimes fifty on a daily basis, and a windstorm on Thursday blazing with gusts strong enough to knock down trees and cut off power, the snow is melting and disappearing slowly. The gutters that line the streets are overflowing with the accumulation from the melt, reminding drivers and bikers with every splash that even as the battle continues, the war will be won.

This time of year in the classroom seems to reflect the same, and the gray wintery skies are actually helpful in keeping large groups of teenagers content to be indoors, in the classroom, working. But even if the casual observer notes that everything appears to be “under control”, anyone tapped into the current running beneath the surface knows that there’s a strategic battle playing out on a daily basis.

“And who will win today?” I ask myself as I prepare my classroom in the morning.
The distraction of the weather?
An engaging, relevant lesson?
Variables and tensions at home outside of the student’s (or teacher’s) control?
The inevitable breakup of a two-week relationship?
The looming and nearing reality of a summer without ______________.

Indeed, the battle for spring seems to be the perfect embodiment of the battle fought in the classroom every day. Unfortunately, in the latter battle, there’s no predictable winner.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Local Legends and Truths

In the past month I've done quite a bit of reading, which has been burdensome at times, but mostly a good excuse to curl up and enjoy quiet moments at home. The latest three books I've read are all about Alaska, but from very different angles.
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First I completed "Last Letters From Attu". I read this in Mexico and the contrast of reading about long rural Alaskan winters while camped out by the pool in a swimsuit was not lost on me. This book tells the story of Etta Jones, an Alaskan pioneer that traveled in from the Midwest with her sister when they were both single and around forty years old. She married a local; her sister had enough after nine months. Over the next twenty years she lived in several villages working first as a nurse and eventually as an educator. Her appreciation for local Native Alaskan culture and her effort to integrate that in educational systems as she established them was very different from many educational philosophies of the time. When World War II hit she was in Attu with her husband, one of the only places in the United States to be invaded. Her husband was killed and she was taken as a prisoner of war to Japan for three years. Her story of is cataloged by both personal diaries and her avid letter writing throughout her adventures. While I read this book for a project I needed to present in a grad school class, I enjoyed the story thoroughly.

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Second, I read the "text book" for that same class, "Conflicting Landscapes: American Schooling/Alaska Natives". It was co-written by the teacher of my class, who lived as an educator and Russian Orthodox priest in rural Alaska for over thirty years. His personal experience and knowledge of what federal mandates have done in shaping rural Alaskan schooling, and what is actually needed out there, is very interesting. I initially was frustrated with the required six credits that I had to take to get a permanent teaching license up here, but after taking this class I am convinced it is a valuable requirement. Whether I teach in rural Alaska or teach students from there, I will be a better teach if I understand the history and conflicts that these students are coming from.


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Last, and following in the same theme, I read a book about Alaska that is fiction. This was the latest read for the book club I have been (somewhat) participating in, and given the class I took and the direction my thoughts were going, it was fitting. The author for this book was local and actually came to our meeting to discuss the book this past week. I enjoyed this book for both the way that it wove simultaneous stories in present time and through flashback, the use of traditional Native Alaskan stories (the author grew up and went back to teach in the rural Alaskan area this book is about), and the fact that it is about the struggles of teaching in a culture that is different than the one "setting the standards" for education. A fairly quick and easy read, this was a perfect "weekend" book to dive into when the slush and snow make outdoor activity of any kind mostly miserable. I would definitely recommend it, and can't wait until Curtis has time to read it (you know, sometime this summer when he is stuck in his own rural village).

Up next? The same book that was up next last time...and that I have barely moved on since then.

(Sorry, Ali. I'll finish it some day!)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Incognito

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I have often heard it said that one should not go to the grocery store while hungry. For me, the grocery-shopping caveat should be exhaustion. Somehow I regularly end up wandering the aisles with the attention span of a gnat and energy tank that has been sucked dry. I try to conjure recipes in my mind. I strain to remember anything that I regularly cook. And I fail.

Instead, I end up gathering miscellaneous materials to populate my fridge in hopes that I will no longer be disappointed every time I approach the kitchen with a growling stomach. I end up picking out two pieces of every type of fruit on sale, because I can’t decide which one makes the most sense. I end up running into miscellaneous displays of angel food cake and hair spray, all while trying not to run into the next person that unexpectedly stops within three feet of my cart.

I feel like I am six years old all over again, entrusted with control of the grocery cart only to blow it when I get distracted with a display of candy and run into my mom while she checks out the selection of yogurt. And then the cart is taken away.

There was no one to take the cart away from me tonight, however. I rounded corners and made impulsive decisions and continued to the check out with the goods I’d accumulated, mentally trying to concoct a dinner out of the ingredients. I kept half an eye out for a student, who would surely catch me in this lowly hour: half-asleep, half-confused, disheveled from track practice, and hair fluffy, frizzy and out of control.

This time I made it out without being spotted.

Last Friday, I was not so lucky. A student rounded the corner display of laundry detergent just as I was checking out; I ducked behind the tabloids to avoid being seen in my disheveled state. I was running the same disoriented grocery-shopping play: 9pm, exhausted, and starving.

And then, as I waited behind an older woman purchasing a large collection of frozen meals, I discovered that gathering staples at that hour has its perks: half-price rotisserie chickens. All of the sudden it didn’t matter that I was still nasty from working out after track practice, or that I hadn’t had dinner, or that I’d only had time to eat half my lunch, or that at least one of my students had seen me in this lethargic state.

I was getting one cheap chicken.

I didn’t eat a thing when I got home that night (well, except for a Samoa from the dwindling girl scout collection), but the trophy for my late night venture greeted me every morning for the next several days. I was victorious. And thankfully come Monday the student didn’t bring up the compromised teacher she’d spotted that Friday night.

It’s possible, I suppose, she didn’t even know it was me.