Thursday, December 29, 2011

No Time to Spare

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I always think I'm going to have more time when I finish school for the quarter and am rewarded with a break. I will paint, and clean, and organize. I will cook, and bake, and read. I will ski, and write, and accomplish all the tasks I don't have time to fit in when I am teaching.

And then the break begins.

I start with good intentions, and often maintain a fairly productive pace--motivated by the momentum of the finishing semester. Then, I realize how much time I have. Two weeks is plenty of time to paint the kitchen, read four books, and complete the mending that has been stacked by my dresser since...August. Then, I fill my time with tasks not on my list, mainly cooking, meeting Curtis for lunch, playing with my friend's children, and collecting large balloon arrangements downtown. Then, I find that my break is over and the only mending I did was the hem on a pair of pants I needed to actually wear. That sock that I am too cheap to throw away with one small hole in it? Still sitting in the mending pile, needing ten minutes of attention that I can never seem to spare.

I suppose I should be used to this cycle by now, relegating my list to a few key to-do tasks and leaving the rest of my break to the whim of a relaxed schedule.

With the exception of less than 72 hours out on the island to visit Curtis's family, we've been pretty set in town this year. Curtis had to work almost all of the break, and I was content to put off much Christmas shopping, all decorating and wrapping, and plenty of other activities knowing that I could accomplish them "over break".

Turns out that I would have gotten just as much done if we'd just headed out of town for a week...but where's the fun in that?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Break Reflections: (Insert clever title here)

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At times we speak of "coming down" at our house, that point in time after a dramatic event when you are still worked up from completing a challenging task--even though it is over. As a child this seemed to happen most often post-Christmas or birthdays, as a high school student it surely happened at the end of the semesters or after a season ended, in college post-final and post-national competetion let downs were dreaded, and seemed to often be coupled with an inevitable illness.

Despite the less extreme build ups that happen as adults with (semi) normal jobs, those let downs still happen, and Curtis and I do our best to try and plan distractions to lessen the blow. We know (from experience) that after a board exam or a 30-hour shift or a day packed with grading end-of-the-semester projects all we think we want to do is sit on the couch...but often what we really need to do is get out.

Friday night I found myself on a date with one of my best girlfriends: the one I have known since eighth grade, the one who lets me spend the night at her house when Curtis works nights for weeks at a time, the one whose kids excitedly cry "Ash!" whenever I come over. When I moved back to Alaska a year and a half ago I was so sad to leave a supportive community of people behind, but I shouldn't have been surprised to find friendships waiting for me the moment I stepped off the plane, friendships that perhaps had been dormant for a while, but ready to come back to life now that distance was no concern.

She and I went out for a nice dinner Friday night, our prearranged Christmas gift for each other, and talked and laughed and caught up on weeks of events that have been left unshared due to trips out of town, and finishing semesters, and everything else since Thanksgiving. Then, just as the evening seemed to be winding down as we walked the chilly streets downtown a stranger offered us a bouquet of balloons. This is where it becomes apparent that my friend and I are very different people. I took one look at this collection of no less than three dozen red and green balloons and chuckled, prepared to continue our chilly walk to the car. She didn't miss a beat and exclaimed an enthusiastic YES, and began prancing down one of the busiest streets downtown like she had just won the lottery. "This is amazing!" she cried while laughing, attracting the attention of all the Christmas crowds downtown on a Friday night. And I chuckled as I followed behind, wind blowing the massive collection in front and behind us, distracting traffic, making our already fun evening into a memory.

After ten minutes of her pulling and me pushing the massive collection of balloons into her SUV, jostling them around four carseats, a pair of skis and poles that popped at least one balloon on the way home, we managed to fit all but five in the vehicle for the drive back to her house. I drove behind her on roads that were slick, and we trecked several miles across town hovering under forty miles per hour, the speed at which the exposed balloons seemed destined to break free. By the time we had unloaded them at her house, two of four children came downstairs awake to see about this commotion. They were wide eyed with surprise over this massive balloon collection, a Christmas miracle for sure. An hour later when I headed home, I declared to the silence of my vehicle that let-down-day distraction was a success. The conclusion of teaching/coaching/grading/learning for 2011 had been marked with dinner out and one large bouquet of balloons that still hover on the ceilings around my friend's house. The break could not begin.

As my itch for activity wanes as the break progresses, my list of Christmas-items-to-finish also decreases, despite my inner protests against too much Christmas break productivity. Curtis rolled in this afternoon as the snow started to fall outside, bleary eyed after a thirty hour shift, content to sit on the couch and sip cider with me for a few minutes before heading to bed for the afternoon. I should have attacked the kitchen there and then: finished the dishes, sorted the mail, tossed the leftover wrapping scraps from my (solo) wrapping party the night before. I should have addressed Christmas cards or straightened the house. Instead I opted for a mid-day nap, and as Curtis fell asleep instantly I stared out the window and watched the snow fall as I listened to his breathing.

An old children's book rhyme came into my head as I lay there, making me smile as it rolled through my mind, and I made changes to fit my own meaning. "The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow, But Curtis won't be, as I've learned to my sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep! I'm being with Curtis and Curtis won't keep." (adapted from Ruth Hulbert Hamilton)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Final Stretch

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The sun rarely makes an appearance these days, each one becoming shorter and shorter in daylight as we creep toward winter solstice. Even as the gains of January and February feel slow, there is comfort in knowing we are making gains with each week, instead of suffering losses. As I walked across a dark parking lot today in what is typically considered afternoon I realized how accustomed I have become to this existence: the glare of florescent lighting on ice, the rhythmic breathing of car engines left on in the cold darkness, the audible gasp I uttered when I saw sunshine out of a fellow teacher's window--mine, unfortunately, faces a brick wall.

This past weekend I made a brief trip out to rural Alaska to visit a friend completing the same rotation Curtis did this past summer. While some questioned why I would ever want to travel "out there", the nostalgia of a trip that provided so much rest and relaxation this summer made it an opportunity I sought out and scheduled, rather than one I tried to get out of. The weekend trip was extended when all flights were cancelled Sunday evening, courtesy of the latest blizzard/wind storm. While my sister, and also my pickup at the airport, questioned me making it back before the flight was even delayed, I realized I wasn't in any hurry to return. I had read a whole book, made s'mores in front of a log-burning stove, watched Hallmark Christmas movies, napped, cooked, and ran. And yet I felt like I had lazed the day away in passive relaxation, uncommitted to any task.

When I finally made it out around 11am on Monday morning, I had scheduled a substitue, written lesson plans, and found out school was cancelled due to terrible road conditions. As the plane broke the clouds I was surprised to find myself on the South side of the plane, just in time to catch the sunrise. At that moment I couldn't remember the last time I saw the sun. It had been cloudy all weekend--the only days I even have the opportunity to see it.

I feel like I am on the final stretch for a lot of things right now: one day of teaching and one day of grading, two days of Curtis on this busy rotation, one week until we start gaining sunlight. And finally I feel close enough: to breathe easy, knowing it will be over and finished, confident that even as the daylight disappears, it will return eventually.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Rain Remians

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The temperature has dipped to a more frigid range, and I noticed myself wishing for gloves as I ventured out in the afternoon. After a month of below zero temperatures, one week in the 40's sent me running for cover--against my "toughness" instincts. Despite the neutral temperatures, the consequences of our week-of-warm left consequences that remind me of the brief foray. Ruts indented in slush are now frozen over, leaving grooves around corners and through parking lots. Rocks spray up on the windshield as cars whip down the highway, previously laid to deal with treacherous ice, now causing their own mischief with cracks in the windshields and dents in the doors. And of course the trails won't be the same until we get a generous dump of fresh snow to cover the tracks of humans and dogs, who thought slushy ski trails wouldn't notice a pedestrian's visit.

The rain remains, you see.

Tis the season for rash behavior, it seems to me. Between the massive amounts of shopping and celebration the month brings, is a generous amount of misbehavior. Students, prematurely celebrating the freedom of Christmas break or actively dreading it, seem to double and triple their typical incidents-- leaving the office full and my soul weary. Despite the brevity of the mistakes, the consequences last beyond the hour or the day, sometimes even beyond the week.

There are times when I feel like life is a series of events--some lasting longer than I want, others lasting not long enough. To find that magical moment when the time matches the experience is truly a gift; it happens so rarely it is often nearly missed. Thus I seek to create or note those moments for myself: embracing another week of school, even as the students are restless; noting the relationships I have much time to cultivate in light of Curtis's perpetual absence; soaking up the chill in the air even as I shiver.

Winter, you are beautiful: snow, rain, darkness and all.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Too Much Excitement, or Where Did Winter Run Off To?

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This evening as I walked to my front door, I couldn't help but notice the balmy breeze. My running shoes, typically coated with snow that never melts from run to run, were bare and wet. It may be December 4, but someone forgot to tell the weather. While November 1 saw us hit with a snowstorm, and daily snow falls an unimaginable number of days following, the weather this week has called for weather in the mid-30's. This brought two thoughts:
1) Might as well wear a dress; after all, with all the sub-zero temperatures I haven't gone without knee high wool socks and layered sweaters for weeks.
2) Oh no.

As a skier, I have been thrilled with our weather this winter (or fall, if you go by traditional dates to determine seasons, and not types of precipitation). The snow layered for days early on, and by mid-November we had a generous base that any local would praise as impressive. Given that there have been years that the local ski trails were barely groomed in January, a quick transition from run/bike season to ski season is something to celebrate. Sure, Curtis didn't love his daily walk/bike to work when the snow plows daily covered the sidewalks with impassible accumlation, but even he loves a nicely groomed trails. In fact, he has been anxiously awaiting this weekend when his schedule would allow us to hit the trails for a nice, long outing unencumbered with a schedule.

And then the weather report came out.

"Freezing rain" it said, and then "37". Friday's school let out with all afternoon activities canceled. Curtis and I headed out of town for the weekend, and though a couple hours north turned the snow into rain, it didn't last. By Saturday night it was raining there as well, and by the time we left Sunday the trees--formerly heavy with snow--were bare and dripping. Skiing barely happened despite all our preparation, and the sixty-five degree swing from two weeks ago left us questioning which was worse: -25? or 40?

The forecast this week calls for the temperatures back in the twenties, with maybe a little snow to top off the slush and ice that now cover every trail in town. And while the last two weeks of school always hold their fair share of excitement with the holidays and an impending two week break, I'm hoping the weather gets to be a little more predictable.

I can only handle so much excitement.