Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Tease


Just a few days later, Thanksgiving feels like a distant memory. The extended weekend was full of visits with family, basketball games, Christmas shopping and the occasional quiet, slow-moving hour. Curtis was supposed to work through the weekend, but got off early Thanksgiving morning, which was quickly dubbed "a Thanksgiving miracle".

The break has been referred to by many of my colleagues as a tease, and I am inclined to agree. While I did manage to catch up on grading, clean the house a bit, and spend more time than usual sleeping and working out, I reached the end of the weekend ready--at last--to settle in for a break, not ready to get back to my labors.

I suppose, in the spirit of the season, this puts me in line with an attitude of advent. I seem to be always aware of the next opportunity for peace and rest, and in this life it is surely fleeting. And so we press forward, into the weeks of chaos that lead to a moment's quiet, trying to appreciate the moments of peace and joy that can be gleaned from routine struggles in everyday life.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Winter Activity: Hiding Away

Essence of fall wrapped in winter…

On Friday night Curtis and I skipped town, cramming in all our chores and errands as the evening wore on, finally heading down the highway when it was nearly nine. I put together a playlist with everything from Coldplay to Sinatra, and Curtis watched the road while I fed him bites of soft serve ice cream—courtesy of Costco’s food court, our last stop for supplies before hitting the road.

The temperature dropped steadily as we made our way to the interior, starting at -4 in town and reaching a low of -19 by the time we hit my parent’s cabin. Curtis unloaded the car while I ran around the inside adjusting the thermostats, turning on the hot water heater, bringing the house to life. After a quick look around we settled into bed, falling asleep sometime after eleven—a pretty late night by our standards.

Thanks to our typical schedules we were both awake by eight, just in time to see the first signs of light across the lake. Southern exposure is highly sought after in this state, where winter light is provided by brief visits from the sun, rising and falling in a narrow arch on the South end of the sky. With more than two feet of snow on the deck we bundled up after breakfast to find the temperature hovering at -25. As our eyelashes and face-masks became covered with crystals, morning broke before our very eyes, with the brilliant sun almost causing us to forget about the frigid cold.

As we headed inside we started the car, knowing that a night and morning that cold had clearly chilled the battery to the core. It barely turned over, sputtering a few plumes of dark exhaust before roaring with force. Turns out our vehicle may need an engine block after all—that convenient means of plugging the car in for those very cold nights, an amenity not included on cars purchased in Ohio.

Later my family arrived in waves, the parents, the siblings, my sister and her beau visiting from out-of-state, and together we cooked and laughed and played games long after the sunset—which was around 4:30. The next day thin clouds hovered, just enough to take the edge off the cold, though still below zero. We gathered shovels and made sledding routes, employing an old sled to transport us back to our childhood—where hours on a hill covered with snow and sunshine were all that was needed for entertainment.

By the time we made it home there was laundry and preparation for the week ahead. We put together a pot of soup and commented on how exhausted we were—perhaps a few hours hiking up and down a hill is more work than it felt at the time? I suppose our muscles will confess all truth tomorrow, when we return to our lives as professionals with responsibilities and schedules. Until then we make our plans for a return to this winter wonderland as soon as possible, to the place where clocks and thermometers can be ignored, and nothing is on the schedule.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stuck Inside

Today, I am thinking of this...

Right now the thermometer reads -3, and that is without windchill. Given that the temperature has dropped six degrees in the last hour, I would say it's going to be a cold night. Either that, or the sunset (at 4:30pm) had a delayed effect.

Warm beaches, poolside reading and evening hot tubs are sounding really good right now, and spring break eight months ago feels like a memory from long ago.

It's getting to be that time of year: when the holidays are close but the break feels so far away.

Restless? You could say that. Spirit week at school seemed to breed a mischevious creativity amongst the students, and staying on task was more difficult than ever. Perhaps these hick-ups in the schedule are necessary in recognizing the value of "normal", but they also leave me exhausted in the evening, struggling to work on the necessary research for a paper on high-level-writing.

High level writing? How about just focus in general?

Yes, the beach is sounding very good right now, that or temperatures that don't make being outside miserable. Thick jackets and mittens are a necessity right now for a fifty foot walk to my vehicle...I can't even imagine voluntary, sustained exposure.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Winter Activity: Monday Matinee

Movie-lovin', photography shootin', this sister reminds me not to take my schedule too seriously...photo taken during our sister trip to NYC a couple summers ago, which she had a large part in pushing inspiring us to do...

Today my sister and I ventured to round two of what has become known as our "Monday Matinee". A local small-touristy-theater decided that to boost winter business they would present a series of 80'sish films for the viewing pleasure of all who wouldn't mind seeing a young John Cusack wearing high tops and oversized trench coats. Last week we circled a few blocks too many downtown in seeking out our destination; this week we crossed the snowy streets with purpose, a careful eye toward sliding vehicles lest we miss our showing. Greeted with a selection of canned soda and gourmet popcorn, we have ventured into the miniature theater both times to find it completely empty.

Just our luck--we are the only ones that see this opportunity for the lovely outing that it is.

We laughed loudly at the subtle humor and commented on hair-dos and outfits to our hearts delight, spoiling our dinner with salt and vinegar popcorn and cherry coke. When the credits rolled, we cleaned up our empty bags and found ourselves in rush-hour downtown traffic. Never fear, we had an ipod full of a variety of music, and though the ten minute commute took us twenty-five, I hardly cared--it was hangout time at its best.

It's true: I had a backpack full of gear and skis in my car when she called me at school this afternoon asking for accompaniment to the flick. The sun was shining, the trails were calling my name, and in that moment I had to decide: sunny ski in isolation? or 80's hair on the large screen with top-notch bonding and treats?

I'd be lying if I said I wavered for a moment, but in the end, I have no doubt the right choice was made.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Quiet Accumulation

Hanging wipers, lifted off the windshields in the midst of the storm to make clean off easier...

Yesterday I drove to work in a mild snowstorm. Several inches accumulated on the roads into the morning, and that was on top of the several inches that had fallen the day before. The roads were a bit more treacherous than normal, but thankfully my commute is against the grain of traffic, and when you have three lanes to yourself, it is not quite as scary to have less-than-ideal visibility.

After all, the snow cover I was craving had arrived.

On Sunday morning I woke with time to spare, thanks to daylight savings. Anxious to fit several tasks in before church, I scheduled my morning carefully: work for my online class, breakfast, further work, run, shower, tidy the house, head out. By the time 8:45 rolled around, I was ready for a break from my research and writing, but one look outside surprised me: it had snowed--a lot. Several inches had accumulated while I slept, and what previously looked like a mild case of winter was now progressing very nicely. I debated whether I was still up for the challenge, and decided that even a small run would be better than none--especially since I had already set aside the time for it.

Curtis and I live near a busy intersection, not far off of one of the major roads in town. Thus, it came as a shock to exit the neighborhood to find quiet--the fresh blanket of snow absorbing what little sound was being made by the sparse Sunday morning travellers. I headed around the corner to discover that there was no sidewalk trail to be found this quiet morning, just inches of untouched powder, waiting for someone to blaze a trail on what is typically a well-travelled route. With piano music quietly echoing in my ears, I plowed through: knees rising a bit higher than usual, ankles eventually aching from the unsteadiness of every step, breath heavy with the extra resistance every step offered. It was quiet, and challenging, and perfect.

Forty minutes later I found myself finishing my run ten minutes behind schedule. Despite the nagging notion that breaking trail would cause the "short" loop to be a bit longer, I couldn't bring myself to cut the run off. Some other task would have to wait until later, because this was an enchanting moment that only comes around once or twice a year. As the lavender sky brightened with daylight and the snow clouds melted further away, the neighborhood came to life as well--snow-blowers spitting snow off driveways and onto long ago lawns, wheels spinning as vehicles tried to negotiate inches of loose powder, vehicles sputtering down the road after an extra hour of sleep. By the time I made it home, the last stretch of sidewalk was already plowed and life was back to normal.

Later that afternoon, Curtis texted me from work to let me know that my run through the snow had officially made me his hero. Granted I felt like that was generous, but I was pretty proud of myself for actually getting out the door when I knew the run would be challenging. There are days when I look at the conditions and never bother to get out my running shoes.

Then there are days like today, when I take my mom's dog and venture out in temperatures that are heading down toward single digits, content to watch the clear sky glow as the sun sets, the pitter-patter of the dogs feet the perfect accompaniment to the sound of my rhythmic breathing.

The weather report calls for more snow this week, and if I have my way I'll be out on my skis some time this weekend. But until the next quiet, snowy adventure comes around, I'll let my still-sore muscles remind me of the time a busy thoroughfare turned into a quiet, snow wilderness, conscious of the powerful force that nature always is, even though I don't always notice.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Silent Night

I went out running in a brisk wind today.
Brisk, mid teens in temperature,
not frigid like it will be come January.
After Sunday's brush with snow,
winter has continued to move in.

Halloween's costumed children had to prance around in a blowing snow storm Monday night,
with visibility that I wouldn't choose to drive in,
let alone voluntarily walk around in for an hour or two.

While the trick-or-treaters were scarce in our oh-so-boring condo complex,
they were multiplying in my friend's neighborhood,
where I ventured for the haunted evening.
I stayed at her house to hand out candy while she ventured out with her preschoolers,
perhaps more eager to fight through snow drifts than the children
in their costume covered snowsuits
let on.

And I was happy to let her go,
wrapped with a Moby wrap bundled around her two month old,
grading papers in my free moments,
watching the sugar highs and subsequent crashes as the evening wore on.

Tonight I spent my few free moments grocery shopping,
cleaning out the refrigerator,
folding dry laundry from yesterday afternoon,
fixing food to take to school for lunch,
replacing the battery in a smoke detector,
changing light bulbs in the bathroom,
in the flashing light Curtis affixes to the back of his bike.

And in these simple moments, I feel satisfied.

Once in a while my life hits a rhythm where the early morning alarm is not a burden,
where quiet reading before starting the day is a solace,
where conflicts with students are met with patience,
and the end of the day comes with a quiet sigh,
content to do it again in the morning.

I do not know if tomorrow will feel the same,
but for now my world is at peace,
a place that felt a million miles away not so many days ago.