Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer Traditions: Bike Commuting

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On Monday the car sat in the garage…almost the entire day. We have been a one-car family since my brother got his driver’s license this spring and we handed over the beloved family suburban. Since then Curtis has been commuting to work via bike, and I have been silently jealous. Despite the muddy face and extra coordination that come with a bike commute, I often wish that I lived a bit closer to my work, or that my hair looked a bit better after being stuck in a helmet. Since neither of those is changing soon, I settle for biking all over the city while class is not in session.

This biking frenzy started (or rather resumed) the first day of in-service: bike to work day. I’m typically opposed to anything so stereotypical as biking to work the one day that everyone in the city is doing the same. It just so happened that I had decided to bike that day before I read that it was an official city event, before I heard that they were serving bacon at major intersections in town, and before I saw the t-shirts. I was biking because it was the first day that I didn't feel the need to dress professionally. Unfortunately, I didn't have the forethought to make a t-shirt to proclaim my circumstances to the countless passing cyclist.

I guess my motives don't need to be defended because the biking has continued this week: to the class I’m taking to keep my teaching license, to a friend’s house to visit, to Curtis’s work to meet him for dinner (where our bikes were locked up together on the rack, looking like quite the pair). It helps that the sun has been shining and the temperatures superb, but the reality is that this is a summer tradition for me. It started with sharing a vehicle with my siblings, continued when coming home for the summer from college found me vehicle-less as well, and now it is my favorite way to revel in a leisurely schedule.

When I bike, I know I have time to enjoy my surroundings, even if it’s rain. As long as we don’t break the rain record again this summer, I think the biking tradition will keep going strong.

It’s definitely one of my favorite summer things.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thoroughly Satisfied

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Today, on my first official day of summer break, I spent the day in class. I spent eight hours inside, seated next to two story windows showcasing green, growing birch trees against a bright blue sky.

That’s right, folks. On the day where I could have been outside, I voluntarily spent it inside—all in the name of a teaching certificate.

The good news is that come 4:30 I was released to a day with plenty of daylight left, and after a quick phone call I had myself a hiking date. The day was gorgeous, the temperature perfect, and there was only one sighting of bear poop. As I drove home this evening, the sun still high in the sky and the air fresh, I felt like I might burst with satisfaction.

Even though I have to sit inside tomorrow for another eight hours and the temperature is expected to hit seventy, I certainly won’t be stressing about it. I will sleep well tonight with the warm glow of the sun still on my face, my legs weary.

And maybe tomorrow, I will do it all again.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hello, Summer.

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Today is officially the first day of summer. Yesterday, classroom cleanup and organization followed Thursday’s final lessons. The students have been squirrelly all week, and between their high energy and my low energy (thanks to last weeks far too busy schedule, and Sunday’s triathlon) I found myself crawling into bed on more than one afternoon.

I. was. exhausted.

Today? I’m feeling energized. Curtis walked out the door for work by 8 and I was up doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher, organizing miscellaneous items and trying to resume a semblance of order at home. And that is when the dreaming begins: summer projects.

Summer projects were shafted last year due to our nomadic state, job hunting, and “the move”. I suppose I had lots of summer projects, they just weren’t the usual suspects: buy a condo, get hired, try to find _______ in any number of duffles/bags/locations. The constant rain put a damper on aspirations of outdoor adventures, though many an outing happened anyway.

More than anything I guess today is a day to look forward and back, take stock of where I’ve come from, and where I’m going. The summer will go quickly; it always does. In less than three months I’ll be unpacking the cabinets and drawers of my classroom and assembling the world of teaching once again.

Only then, I hope, I’ll have passed on this exhaustion and will feel refreshed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Painful Perspective

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As if I didn't have enough things on my plate this past week and weekend, three months ago I signed up for the state's largest triathlon, and one of the largest female-only triathlons in the country—due to take place on Sunday.

My first triathlon since the summer after my senior year in high school, I have spent the last three months trying to find time to swim laps at the local pools, bike both inside and out, and squeeze in a run now and then. The training had been going pretty well until these past two weeks.

When forced to choose between sanity, sleep and training, training lost every time. Come yesterday afternoon when a 500 yard swim and an almost fourteen mile bike transitioned into a 5k run, I was feeling my lack of energy. My stomach cramped, my back ached, and mid-way through the run I was dry heaving. Eventually, I finished. It was a few minutes slower than my goal, but at the end of the day I was sure that it was all I had in the tank this time around.

Perhaps coaching, teaching, and just trying to maintain relationships took its toll on my athletic aspirations; when it comes to priorities in life right now, this just wasn’t it.

Looking back, the years that mark the difference between my first and second triathlon are significant. When I did the last one I was marking the months before starting my college running career. Athletics were very important to me, and perhaps I defined myself a bit too much by my accomplishments in that area. Sacrificing training and competition for anything wasn’t a decision I considered very often—if at all.

Personal goals are perhaps one of the easiest ways to trace priorities over time. They tend to be objective and measurable by nature, allowing the observer to consider what was the focus of energy—and what, by default was not. There is no question that what I value in 2011 is different than what I valued in high school. Though the changes are sometimes slight, they can come glaring to the surface at unexpected moments when I realize that a decision made would have played out differently not so long ago. And in that way perspective that comes with age can be welcome, even when it means that the task hurt that much more in the process.

Friday, May 13, 2011

New Rhythms

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And just like that, the season ends.

The jackets are returned; the hurdles are stored away. And in a couple days, all I have to show for it is a file of paperwork and face still flushed from wind and sun.

Three meets in one week is brutal on anyone’s energy level, but when the third day turned out with 60 degree warmth, a clear sunny sky, and barely a breeze, I found myself more than happy to spend hours in the infield of a track in shorts and sunglasses. We had some great performances, a couple photo finishes, and more than one disappointing finish. Yet, it’s easy to feel satisfied with a job that is challenging, but completed.

Perhaps the best part is that green arrived this week: in blades of grass still buried in a brown infield, in buds on the branches that are slowly coming to life, in the line on the horizon that used to be barren and sparse. It is lovely, and rejuvenating, and reminds me to seize the moment. One moment the trees are bare; the next they are exploding.

Blink, and snow may be back on the ground once again.

There is still much to be done between now and the end of the school year, now and the end of the month, now and our visit to the friends we left behind one short (and long) year ago. But this is a good life: teaching, track meets, soccer games, Sunday lunch with my family after church, catching up with Curtis while we bike the trails around town.

The tempo of my life will shift drastically in a week, from a meticulous schedule packed and overflowing to days with space and flexibility, free time, and options. Sometimes I struggle with this summertime existence, especially as I watch Curtis clock unhealthy amounts of hours at the hospital. Sometimes I revel in the beauty of reading in the sunshine, hiking my favorite trails, and preparing leisurely meals that take planning and organization.

Today while I folded laundry I stared at the trees outside my window and closed my eyes when the fresh air blew in the window. Cleaning up the piles that have accumulated during the week has become a Friday duty, trying to make space for a relaxing weekend, desperate to slow the pace for a few hours now and then. Next week will mark a new rhythm, and everything outside seems to be ready for the change.

I know I am.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

That Kind of Week

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Evidence of summer: avocados on sale.

When I get to the end of a week and I haven't had a chance to write, it usually means one of two things: it has been extremely busy, or it has been extremely hard.

This week has been both.

Monday morning held a rude awakening when I found out that the mother of one of my friends unexpectedly passed away. I was driving down the highway on my way to school, admiring the sun rising above the mountains at such an early hour--a welcome change after a long, dark winter. All of the sudden the details of the sunrise didn't matter. I struggled to remember my lesson plans for the day, to communicate my plans for track practice, to eat my oatmeal before the first bell rang. Life stopped for a moment while I remembered what a delicate existence I really hold, and then it had to continue.

And continue it did...through the planning and execution of one track meet--held in four hours of steady rain--and the planning and paperwork for three more held this coming week. My cold continued, and my voice faded. A wedding shower was a smash hit, and news from another friend came, indicating her marriage seems headed for failure.

And next week will continue as well, with a funeral, three track meets, and picking up the pieces from any potential crises that have yet to appear. Maybe this week will be easier, maybe it won't. All I know is that when I get to Sunday after a week like this I find myself content to melt into the songs and words of sermons and hymns as they wash over me. I wish I could drag endless people in behind me on weeks like this, to experience the peace that comes from a faith in a plan that is bigger than my own, a faith in the redemption of situations that seem cruel. I enjoy so many things in this life that are rich and beautiful and deep, yet this is a very broken world--with intense hurts that we both choose for ourselves and those around us choose for us. And when I am knee deep in anguish for the pain that those I love are suffering through, I crave a life beyond my own, beyond this brokenness that will always exist this side of heaven.

Perhaps that craving should be nearer to me every week, on weeks that are beautiful and filled with satisfaction and beauty just as it is during weeks that are filled with trauma and pain. And yet perhaps that is the beauty of darkness. It takes months of dark days to bring me to appreciate the rich satisfaction of the early summertime sunrise. Yet during weeks like this, the sunrise is a welcome sign that winter has come to an end, just as it always does.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

That Kind of Weekend

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Though most of the weekend was spent in bed with a box of tissues, there were some bright spots to be had. First? Our second bedroom is practically finished. The walls are a warm yellow, the baseboards a fresh white, and the windows freshly washed. Most of this was Curtis's doing while I alternated between folding laundry, and lying in the pile that formed on my bed. Sanitary, I know.

There is something hugely satisfying about cleaning up, clearing out and putting together a room, or watching someone do this for you. The fact that Curtis's parents are coming to stay with us this weekend may or may not have anything to do with the push to finish the project.

Second? Sunday afternoon was absolutely gorgeous. The sunny skies that taunted my congested body on Friday while I headed home to bed disappeared late in the afternoon and didn't reappear all day Saturday. I suppose Saturday's grey skies matched my disposition, but it didn't do much to lift my mood. I could not have been much more frustrated to be stuck in bed on a weekend where Curtis was off if I had tried. I pretty much alternated between sleeping and moping.

Third? On Sunday morning, as if in sync with the weather, my cold lifted. There is no doubt that I am still a snotty mess, but I am feeling rejuvenated, and able to be physically up and about without crashing into bed completely exhausted within the hour. An hour bike ride in the sun and wind almost made up for being cooped up 48 hours in advance. It also made heading into another busy week feel like a feat I can realistically accomplish.

I suppose weekends come in all different shapes and sizes: busy, slow, packed, empty, healthy, sick, lonely, and content. I'm just hoping that the weekend I happened on this time doesn't cycle back through for several months.

I much prefer the other kinds.