Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reluctant Surrender

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Taken while out of town a couple months ago...an option I wish we had right about now.

Yesterday, I was overwhelmed.

In a world that I try to keep as organized as possible, I began to lose control. Meetings that needed to take place didn't. Students that needed to be disciplined weren't. Nights that Curtis should have off were taken. And as I lay in bed trying to coordinate with often-absent husband what our plan for the rest of the week was, I began to feel despondent.

There was no joy in the quiet of the evening; there was only frustration with what should be and isn't.

I often wait for morning with hopefulness that some cure-all-magic came in the night and wiped the slate clean: anxiety, frustration, desperation--be gone. But this morning the magic was no where to be found. I lingered in bed for an extra fifteen minutes, hoping that the moments of calm might make up for the gloomy reality check that was sure to follow the instant I started my day. It didn't. The gloom followed me as I washed my face, packed my lunch, made my tea, and drove to work, where I found out I was late for a meeting I had forgotten about.

In what should no longer be a surprising trend, I often find myself soothed by the rhythm of the day once it has started: taking attendance, executing a lesson, circling and weaving throughout the desks endlessly as I surveil students distracted or distraught, trying to prevent issues before they come to pass. By lunch time I may not have been satisfied with my plight, but it no longer weighed on me with a distracting force. I was doing what I could with my situation; I could not control the actions of those around, no matter how frustrated I was.

By the end of the day, one situation was resolved for the time being, and the rest still hung as they had in the heat of my frustration last night. But even though my situation hardly changed, I had made peace with the situation, acknowledging that I had done all that I could with what I had control over. At the end of the day, it doesn't feel like much is mine to decide.

Perhaps that is the better place to be.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Distraction, Delay, and Temptations Outside

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A couple of calves and a mother moose hanging out by our cars a couple weeks ago...

The chill subsided yesterday, granting one glorious day of above ten degree temperature not accompanied by a dumping of snow. I packed my skis in the morning, hopeful that the morning snow would cease by afternoon.

And it did.

But not before we had three fire drills, thanks to a faulty system where one intentional drill turns into two more unintentional alarms that must be obeyed even though we are quite sure they are futile. Though I stood with students and co-workers out in the snow in a skirt and tights, my honest thought was still, "It's warm out here; what a great day for a fire drill."

The glide of my skis on the trails an hour later was a welcome feeling, especially when coupled with solitude and quiet. The hills strained my lungs, but the glow of the 4:30 sunset was gorgeous: a clear day with bearable temperatures, and groomed trails just a few miles from my house. I declared to Curtis later in the evening that if or when we move away, I will miss afternoons like this.

Today I was ready for round two: just me, my skis and quiet afternoon trails. Unfortunately the sun betrayed us again today, and the clear skies left temperatures in the single digits, with a wind chill that knocked them below zero. It is hard to pick your poison on days like today: frozen fingers that ache once warmed and swell for the rest of the night? Or yet another day in the germ-infested gym, surrounded by anonymous patrons, entrenched in the clanking of weights and whirls of treadmills?

Today I chose abused fingers, aching joints, a splotchy face and a slow glide that comes with the sharpening of cold crystals. Ten minutes into a friction-full ski, I rounded a corner to find a nice tall moose chomping on the local foliage. I stood for a few minutes and waited for her to move, given that she was almost completely blocking the trail. Eventually a nice old lady caught up to where I stood, and when she saw that we may wait for quite a while for the trail to clear, we agreed that our fingers were already frozen, and I confessed to her that what I really wanted at the moment was a hot bath. (We also noted that given the latest local moose story, we were unprepared without a shovel for protection.) One shortcut through fresh powder in the woods later and we made our way back on the trail circling back to the parking lot.

Given the same conditions tomorrow, I'm not sure what I would choose. The glow of the mountains and the promise of fresh snow is hard to refuse, even with the expected discomfort. I guess the truth is at the end of the day all bets are off; even with a poor weather report I cannot promise that I won't venture out with my best mittens resigned to collecting a deep chill.

After all, it's nothing a hot bath can't fix.

Friday, January 20, 2012

January Dreamer

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The chill continues.

Last week's blizzard plummeted quickly into a freeze, and we haven't crept much above zero since then. It's been -15 on average at our house, and though Curtis continues to bike to work without much complaint, even short jaunts outside seem to chill me to the core. Every afternoon I check the weather online, comparing the predicted high for the day against the actual afternoon temperature, disappointed once again to see that though we were supposed to hit 3 or 6 or 10 (!), we instead hovered at -1 (feels like -1,000).

Yesterday after work I spent just a few minutes in the cold--enough to gather emptied garbage cans and attach the bike rack to our hitch--and by the time I got inside I walked straight to the tub to draw a bath. A twenty minute soak is just enough to take the edge off a chill that often continues all evening.

I am craving a good ski these days. The sunny, clear skies and glowing mountains are so inviting--until you see the temperature. As the announcement went out at the end of yesterday's school day that cross
country ski practice would be inside--yet again--I groaned on their behalf. I'm not sure which is worse: skiing in temperatures below zero, or running the halls instead.

The good news, I suppose, is that I seem to be talented at keeping myself occupied indoors. When the laundry and cleaning is done, I find myself enrolled in yet another class for the quarter. Curtis was not overly surprised to find out that I was picking up another few credits, but I find myself increasingly convinced that the role of student is one of my favorites. The moment I feel I have conquered a task or subject, I get bored. I am always looking for new books, new recipes, new lessons and classes to teach and take. Sometimes I feel myself growing weary of teaching a single grade instead of multiple grades like I used to. One thing is for sure, I won't be the teacher that teaches the same thing forever--it's just not in me to do so.

And I suppose that this is a typical January reflection: growing tired of the cold, though still enjoying skiing; growing weary of the school year and keeping an eye out for that which is fresh and original; huddling up inside with quiet activities, while keeping an eye out for hints of spring and plans for summer.

January is a dreamer's month: it's important to remember where we are headed so as not to get bogged down in where we seem to be stuck.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Final Reading of 2011

I have been trying to put this list together to finish off my 2011 reads even as I already have three books on my 2012 list. I have found I really enjoy having a record of what I am reading, especially as an English teacher when I feel like I am constantly referencing books.

Young adult literature was mixed in this fall with reading I was completing for a class on teaching writing. While the YA lit was undoubtedly more in the "page turner" category, the professional development reading was interesting and helpful in many ways.

Young Adult Reading:
 
Ashes was a book I picked up because students were reading it, interested in the historical World War II setting. This award winner features an interesting mix of fictional and non-fiction characters, and the reader inevitably learns a lot about pre-war Germany, the indoctrination happening within the schools, and the choices non-Jews had to make about what they were willing to live with. It ends before the war even begins, but showcases how that time period undoubtedly changed the German teens coming-of-age in a controversial era. Overall, I loved the many literary references (Jack London, Ernest Hemmingway, Mark Twain) and the way the author wove quotes from these authors in as commentary on the events.


The Maze Runner was the new young adult series that caught my eye this winter. Picked up by several of my students, I packed it in my bag when I returned to rural Alaska for the weekend to visit a friend of mine. I finished it in 48 hours and could hardly wait to pick up book two (The Scorch Trials) from the librarian before Christmas break. I finished book two to cap off 2011, and have since started book three (The Death Cure). This series starts in a Lord of the Flies sort of scenario: a group of teenagers struggling to survive while creating a community without the authority or guidance of adults. They face many unique challenges including green, blob-like grievers that live in a maze that the teens need to solve in order to escape this other world. While this first book is my favorite so far, the series is engaging and raises interesting questions about loyalty and whether the ends justify the means.

 
 Chains was a book I picked up as the summer ended after it was announced as a school-wide book to read. While the participation in the reading didn't elicit as much participation as we hoped for, I still enjoyed reading it. Two sisters are sold as slaves even though their masters made arrangements for them to be free when she died. They end up in the midst of the revolutionary war in Philadelphia, and have to choose where their loyalty lies: The patriots of the city? Or the loyalists they serve at home?

Professional Reading
 
This was one of two books I read for a writing class I took this fall. The class was rigorous and I spent many hours every week reading articles, writing responses and reflecting on how to apply the lessons I was learning in the classroom. It was by far one of the most beneficial classes I have taken since becoming a teacher.


This was the other text used for the class. It was a bit longer and more "text book" feeling, but still full of great information.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Long Engagement...

Valentine Card - Ventricles
Last year's Anniversary card, purchased after finding this gem for Mother's Day...

I started shopping for Valentine's Day cards yesterday afternoon, perusing Etsy looking for crafty inspiration to represent my "undying love and affection" for my husband. When I told my sister this while we worked out on neighboring eliptical machines, she exclaimed, "But you always make your cards!"

She is traditionally correct, but when last year's Mother's Day find led to the discovery of the perfect medical-themed-anniversary card, I thought I'd pick other crafty creative brains to see if they were full of inspiration I was lacking. Note: I haven't found anything yet, but the search continues...

While making an evening run to Costco this past Monday night, Curtis and I ended up trying to remember what we have done for every anniversary. We realized that this year's celebration will most likely be out of town due to the schedule of his rotations, but given that we have celebrated no two years in the same place (or on the same day for that matter), it just means searching out worthwhile options when the opportunity presents itself.

Today, on the anniversary of our engagement, I have decided to record our anniversaries past, because every circumstance had a story:

Year 1: We celebrated while visiting Alaska, for the first and only time on our exact date, by driving out of town to a restaurant in a small town with a cult following. While I had been there before (deeming it the location of the best-steak-of-my-life), it was Curtis's first visit, and he was not disappointed. We took pictures in front of the cloudy inlet on the way home, and returned to turn in early because even though I was off for summer break, Curtis was not. He was eagerly trying to put his best face forward; this was the location a potential residency, after all.

Year 2: This year we scheduled our celebration a full month following our actual anniversary. Thanks to both board studying and an unmerciful OB rotation, the actual two-year anniversary was celebrated with a twenty minute dinner of baked salmon and salad, with a promise to celebrate properly when time allowed. At the appointed time we used a gift certificate won in a drawing to head out of town to our favorite Amish inn, with lots of surrounding area to walk, a large porch with a swing, and an incredible breakfast the next morning. It was delightful.

Year 3: Though only eighteen months ago, this was the year we had the most difficulty remembering. This is unsurprising, since the day fell one week after Curtis began residency and two weeks after I arrived to start moving in/job searching/starting a new life. It was chaotic and a couple days late, but we found an evening to go out for dinner downtown, and spent it making plans. Time to dream and plan was short in supply those days, with me making decisions while Curtis slaved away at the hospital, but that was one occasion where carving out time to just be together felt like gold. It is fun to remember how much our lives would clarify after that point: a week later I would interview for a job, two weeks later I would have a contract, three weeks later I would tour and eventually make an offer on the condo we came to own(while Curtis would see it only shortly before closing), and five weeks later (on my birthday) an offer would be accepted. 

Year 4: This past year we celebrated early, thanks to the trip to rural Alaska which would find us separate on the actual date. My sister dolled me up and took photos of us to celebrate, and then we went out to a quiet dinner at a local place known for spectacular seafood. We followed it up with a trip downtown to walk around in the lingering summer sunshine, appreciating our time together which had been pretty sparse in the midst of Curtis's traveling rotations.

Year 5 will find us out of town, location to be determined, and I find myself already excited for a specially planned date--a welcome break from whatever chaos we are in the midst of at that point. Today that is a welcome idea, as I find myself wishing Curtis wasn't on call five of seven days this week, and that our free time was more abundant to enjoy each other and the generous amount of snow we are getting.

Yes, today is the anniversary of our engagement, and though it is not a date we typically celebrate, I am finding myself nostalgic. It's hard to believe that we've been married for almost five years, but much harder to imagine living apart.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Year of Patience

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Taken on New Year's Eve...

2011 was a year of settling in and adjusting. Though the year started six months in to Curtis's new job and our cross country move, it felt in some ways like it took us that long to hit our stride: our relationships with those around us deepened, the rhythm needed to match our often-conflicting schedules was established, and we made our condo more of a home.

At some point this summer, I realized that 2011's theme was and would be patience. Perhaps it was the product of settling in to our new life, which inevitably loses the honeymoon glow. Perhaps it's that this year is "in the middle"--not the beginning of Curtis's training, but not the end either. Perhaps it's the reality that my group of students this year held a different set of challenges. Whatever the reason, that will be the quality I remember from this time in my life: learning to be content, learning to appreciate qualities and circumstances that clash with my inclinations, remembering that patience is a fruit of the spirit, and not something I can cultivate with my own sheer will power.

Even though these challenges did not dissipate with the fireworks we watched on New Year's early morning, I look forward to turning the calendar just the same. A new year, even one that happens in the midst of so many commitments already in motion, feels fresh.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hazy and Overdramatic Ramblings on MLA

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The trees wear gloves of frost these days, iced over with the frigid temperatures that have settled in the area. I was shocked to see my thermometer read double digits when I climbed in after school, and fully expected the impending drop as the number corrected on the drive home.

While above zero temperatures make skiing in the waning sunlight more than fair game, I find myself in bed. It was a bit premature for me to reflectively note on Monday that I'd made it through Christmas break without getting sick--apparently I just waited until the last day to do it. My head has felt foggy for the past two days, making the instruction of Bibliographies and source citations even more challenging than normal. One student in particular, who has made it known on more than one occasion that he loathes rules that don't serve a very distinct purpose to protect one from harm, found particular issues with the conventions of MLA. At some point during the period I convinced him that he could conquer the rules in creating his bibliography masterpiece, but I don't remember how.

Despite my hazy memory of today's events, I do very clearly remember repeating the same phrases over and over again: "Don't forget to capitalize that." or "The period after______ isn't optional." I also remember literally leaning to the side when a student didn't know what it meant to italicize something. After all, sometimes verbal explanations don't quite cut it.

I left my desk this afternoon with substitute plans marginally created, should this cold double down on me overnight. After all, MLA has gotten the better of me when I was in great health and adequately energized. Trying to teach teenagers that balk at details like bringing pencils to class about the necessary commas and colons while I am sick? It could be the end of me.

Hazy Memories of Break, Which Now Feels Miles Away

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This morning came early, with my mind awake and swirling literally hours before my alarm was actually scheduled to go off. Perhaps the charm and nerves of the first day of school never quite dispel, no matter how many years (23) one has been attending...

Today I feel tired. It could have been the early morning, though I fear it has more to do with symptoms of brewing illness I detected as I turned over in the middle of the night. How lame is it to call in sick after two weeks off? I guess I may find out, depending on how these germs play out...

This weekend was simply wonderful. After a full week of work for Curtis, we packed up the Subaru (almost to the brim) and joined my family out at the lake. An hour and a half out of town is the perfect amount I have decided: too far to drive back for anything; close enough to leave at 8:30pm if that is what work requires. After unloading skis and games and hot cocoa and books and all the supplies needed to construct and sleep in a snow cave, we crashed for the night, ever aware of how the temperature (well below zero) would affect our activities.

Turns out that a house full of people raised in Alaska (plus one transplant that is currently dating my sister) makes for many a trip outdoors, even if it's -25. We explored the local trails on snow machines, ever aware of frozen fingers but taking in the glittering branches and vibrant sky around every corner. Curtis determined it to be a perfect weekend to sleep in a snow cave (what better way to ring in the new year?), and along with my brother and my sister's beau, mounded, hallowed out and crusted a spectacular snow cave. Perhaps the most entertaining part of this year's cave was that Curtis was determined to impress me with new and improved snow-cave-engineering. When I scouted it out around 10pm New Year's Eve, I was impressed with both the shortened entry tunnel, the raised ceiling, and the warmth inside. There had to be at least a 50 degree improvement. Curtis still hopes that I'll join him in his snow cave at next year's winter-survival-extravaganza. The jury is still out on that one.

After a full weekend of activities, we were ready to head back to civilization, and unfortunately found ourselves with a vehicle that wouldn't start. While we reminisced about what a regular occurrence this was last January, we huffed and puffed and pushed the car into the garage to warm up, aided by some "Heat" in the gas tank. Two games of Eucre later, we managed to bring the car to life, and headed home about three hours behind schedule.

Sitting at my desk with a calendar empty of finalized lesson plans and bins empty of graded papers, I find myself still feeling very full. This break felt a bit more "normal" than usual due to Curtis's work, but the time we managed to steal away with family and each other was a gift. Though I would have traded all my presents for two weeks off with him, but I'll happily take two weekends.