Saturday, December 25, 2010

Family makes me slow on the blogging...

December 23, 2010.
Mike and Kim and their cuteness. 

Asheville was a delight!  Mike and Kim’s apartment is cozy and comfortable and we enjoyed spending time with them.  Delicious food and beers were had, stocking trinkets were purchased, and we took in some of the beautiful waterfalls in the densest waterfall per square foot area of the world.  Mike was a great tour guide and as is his habit, he brought us to some very special places.  We saw Triple Falls, Hooker Falls, and High Falls, all of which were magnificent and thundering.  It helped that we had a 50 degree, sunny and crisp day, and leaving the city, getting into the forest, I wanted to sling on a backpack, tighten my boots, and walk off into the woods.  I have realistic visions of hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail this Spring: we could hop on the trail near Asheville, and Mike could pick us up a week or so later 100 miles away, my brain has it all planned out.  I’m realizing more everyday that I have a short list of things that make me happy, and the woods are one of them.  

The bearded fellows take in the falls. 

Beautiful Kim and the water. 

On the road back to Cincinnati, we have reentered snow territory, it began just north of Lexington.  It’s kind of amazing to change climate so much in only a few hours.  In Asheville, the ground is hardly frozen, it felt mild and springy, and we sat beside the waterfalls for long stints and wore sweatshirts.  We’re about an hour from Cincinnati, and the snow is still thick, no signs of melting.  I don’t even want to think about the snow in Chicago or Iowa.  

Asheville has a great energy.  I don’t know what the industry is, but it felt balanced.  The downtown was a great mix of restaurants and shoppes, and the focus is definitely on local and organic consumption.  And there is a yoga studio that offers several free community classes every day!  If we moved there I would immediately tap into my latent, wishful artist skills and I would create.  The town feels pregnant with possibility, like everyone is trying to be their best, healthiest person, continually accessing their own potential.  I can easily see how so many people love it, Mike and Kim are really happy there, and I am happy for them :)  
We are slugging ourselves back to Cincinnati.  Asheville felt so great, and there was so much more that I wanted to see and do.  I still have a little dread about the holidays, precipitated by my continued lack of preparation, but also just not ready for it.  In other years we thoughtfully craft hand made cards and gifts, and spend time getting into the holiday mode.  This year without a space of our own, and with busyness and traveling, the crafting part has been nearly impossible.   And every time I even think about holiday shopping, my mind always wanders to homey things like decorative bowls and cozy rugs, soft towels that would make a home, things that I imagine would work in our apartment (the one that we don’t have).  I have nesting syndrome bad right now, “home” feels like a foreign concept, and I don’t know where it is.  Asheville felt good probably because it felt like making a home there was possible.  
The more I write the better I feel, we’re almost there and we have dinner with Matt and Maggie to look forward to.  It’s a family bridging dinner (Maggies and ours), these sorts of things always promise some element of absurdity and hilarity.  Cheers!

Quick pic of the festivities.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What have we been up to for the past few days? (pictures to be uploaded when I am less tired)

December 21, 2010. 
It’s a few days before Christmas, and I couldn’t be less in the spirit.  I don’t know if it’s because we essentially skirted the natural rhythms of Fall by skipping to the west coast, or because the last few months have been so challenging and I don’t yet feel like celebrating.  I’m sure the holiday bug will catch me soon enough, but for now we are escaping to Asheville, North Carolina for a mini visit with my brother Michael and his girlfriend Kim.  We’ve spent the past few days in Cincinnati with my family.  My sister Julia has been home (filling her 6 week college break with taking 12 credit hours of online classes, and working full time at UPS).  My brother Matt and his fiancĂ© Maggie have also been around.  Matt is intermittently staying at my parents house until they move into their new apartment tomorrow.  Maggie is wedding planning, starting a new job and mostly stays at her parents so we don’t see much of her.  And of course my lovely and idiosyncratic mom and dad have been so great to be around albeit briefly.  My mom’s slowing getting into the swing of relaxation, the knitting has taken on a life of it’s own, and the decorations have appeared!  My dad is working a lot and is sleepy most of the time, but we’ve had a few classic and epic conversations that only Dad’s can authenticate.  And Julia, well she’s as brilliant as ever, tortured with the struggle of making the world a better place and her “idiot professors” who clearly aren’t fit to be in charge of propagating knowledge and reason to the online masses.  If anyone can save the world, it’s her.  
Of course, we’re in the car right now, and of course I’m writing.  Much has happened in the past few days, Nick’s been shoveling up a storm, we’ve been riding the elliptical in the basement, we went to a XAVIER game with my folks, Matt and Maggie, and her parents.  XU wins!  We’ve done some purposeful hanging out, some half hearted holiday preparation, a bunch of lengthy conversations around tea and coffee and the breakfast table, and a whole lot of sleeping.  As mentioned in the last blog, my students have given me the gift of the never ending and transmutable cold.  Somehow it infiltrated my ear canals too, and I am on heavy antibiotics for a bad left ear infection.  Today my right ear started crackling, I’ve been out of school for a week and a half now, and I am still a sicky.  Geez that was some powerful cold.    
The primary reason we came back to Cincinnati so early was because I wanted to take the opportunity that this 3 week Track E break affords to go to my high schools annual Alumni day.  Every year, Alumni day falls on Friday of the week before Christmas, which is always way too early to take off of work.  It worked out for the first time this year that my break included this week.  The School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) is in a new, beautiful, state of the art building, the school that I grew up in is no longer, and while some of the traditions are the same, being in the new building was almost like spending time with a different school entirely.  It’s clean and gorgeous, the dance studios look nothing like the rippled marley that I learned ballet on, and the wide open hallways were nothing like the musty and dark corners that a random saxophone music would waft out of, but, when the music to FAME started, and alumni music theatre majors took to the stage, all was well at SCPA.  It was great to see progress, and it was amazing to see that the legacy of public, top notch arts education lives on in Cincinnati. 
Right now, our soundtrack for the trip to Asheville is Hank Williams and Willie Nelson, two cds I procured from my favorite bookstore, Half Price books yesterday.  Of course, these are both Christmas presents for someone in my family (can’t say because I hope to publish this before then :), I’m sure he won’t mind that we opened the cds to help pass the time!  I worked at Half Price Books the summer I lived at home post college.   It was easily the best job of my entire life so far.  I got to stick my nose in books all day, the hours were a perfect 11-7 or 10-6, I got full health benefits (not that I used them, but it was nice to know I could if I wanted to), and of course I had a summer bookstore boyfriend that I really liked, which made the days fly by.  I loved being able to recall authors and titles as if I’d read all of them, I felt smart and everyday there was a tangible amount of work that had been accomplished.  And now I know, if all else fails, I can always feel successful at a used bookstore. 
Of some note, we have been distracted the past few days with Matt and Maggie’s dog Lola, who has been habituating the green rug in the front room of my parents house.  She is a golden lab, Matt says she’s a cross between a deer and a dog; I added “cow” to the mix because she is SOLID, and makes her presence known by side humping your leg, not vicious or voraciously, just solidly.  She’s beautiful, but hilarious in her intellectual shortsightedness.  Apparently she hasn’t been around kids or people bundled up for winter weather ever, and sees them as threats.  Nick and I were walking her and coming upon a 6 year old kid with a hat on, she got in to serious attack mode.  We had to turn around, Matt says that she puts on a big show, but then is timid and ignores the unknowing offender.  And this takes the cake: today was trash pickup day, so people had trash bags and trash cans out last night when I was walking her.  With no person or animal around in sight, Lola starts to growl, her tail goes down, and she is barring her teeth.  Turns out she is growling at the trash bags on the sidewalk.  Hilarious.  I don’t mind a simple minded dog, I’ll take whatever I can get, I am in serious dog coveting mindset these days.  I think it has something to do with wanting a home.  Having a dog implies settling of some sort, and that seems to be at the forefront of my mind lately.  
We’ve left the snowy environs of Cincinnati, and have been enveloped by the cloudy and misty southern states.  Here in Tennessee, the snow is completely gone, the ground looks soggy and light rain prevails.  It’s a springy 40 degrees, and we are almost to Asheville!  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Respite for the weary: tv and books and tea

December 15, 2010
Well it’s what, official Day 3 of my winter break (which is an oxymoronish statement because I haven’t been working for that long), and I am clearly milking all of the typical break sorts of activities.  These are some of the things I’ve been doing: 
1) Allowing myself to actually have a cold.  Now that I’ve slowed down a little for the first time in a while, my body seems to be processing all of the latent germs that I picked up in the past few weeks with 9 and 10 year olds.  Rhino virus no longer dormant, I am a little bit miserable, but appropriately so, I couldn’t think of better weather or time of year to be a sicky.

2) Avoiding the sub zero temperatures by catching up on some apparently required classics of the screen.  Yesterday Nick treated me to not one, but several episodes of  Kids in the Hall, season 1 (apparently they're still around, check the link).  This is Nick’s kind of humor, slapstick and ridiculous, usually based in human behavior extremes.  His is the sole laugh heard in the room.  I am mostly appalled, and find it incredibly unfunny.  

 Clearly, not my kind of humor, which is ironic, because my favorite show is America’s Funniest Home Videos, so it’s okay for elderly people to fall off of chairs, but not okay for men to dress up as women and make fun of each other.  I’m not sure why.  

3) The Dark Crystal.. I had never heard of it, shocking.  Apparently this is a muppet family favorite of Nick’s, and of course I had not had the pleasure of viewing it.  For those of you that know me, this is not a surprise, because you know that my parents kept our telly in the closet during my formative years.   I was one of the lucky few who had to sneak over to friends houses to watch My So Called Life, and hadn’t seen an episode of the Simpsons until college.  I do however have a working knowledge of all of the Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman episodes, and Walker Texas Ranger, because for some reason my parents deemed these convenient Saturday night shows appropriate for family viewing.  Anyway, now you know why I never get TV or pop culture references from the 80’s or 90’s: it’s because I wasn’t there sitting in front of the television, I was outside playing hide and seek :)
Anyway, The Dark Crystal is the real deal, the skecsies are terrifying, I can’t help but see how Avatar drew on some of the movies precepts, and Jim Henson clearly had some foresight into the tyrannical reality of today. 
Gelflings are so cute.  Jim Henson was amazing. 

What child would not be frightened by this monster?

4) I am reading a joy book!  Throw back to our road trip days when we were footloose and fancy free, when we listened to NPR all day long and got countless recommendations on amazing fiction and non fiction to pick up, I am reading The Magicians, by Lev Grossman.  I heard an interview on NPR a few weeks ago and in passing made a mental note to read this book.  Lo and behold, the beautiful Dubuque Library has it, and I can get a library card, and we are all happy.  It’s a beach read for me, light and intriguing, and this wintry vacation day is perfect for tea and books.  All I need now is shortbread.

First vacation book, so far = delightful escape. 
5) Speaking of treats, today I am waiting for the delivery of a new stove.  Nick is at the car shop getting out catalytic converter, oil rim thing, and weird sound in the steering column looked at, and I am here waiting for a stove.  Nick’s mom is replacing her old stove with a new one, whose oven should work, and then I will bake shortbread, because golden, buttery, shortbread with milky earl grey tea is perfect on days like today.  

6) Lastly, yesterday I signed up for a Netflix account.  This is really exciting news for me because I for the first time ever, I feel guiltless about spending winter days reading and watching movies.  Something to do with having a job (that will most likely be ending, but for now I’m counting my blessings), with not having a house to clean up, and with the weather being as undesirable as it is, I don’t feel the magnetic pull of outdoor activity.  I am completely content to have tea and cinnamon toast (until we get the stove!). 
I’m going to check the mailbox for the my latest installation of THE WIRE (thank you Molly Shanahan/ Kristina Fluty/ Bobby Redwood), and if it’s not here, it’s time for more tea and The Magicians.

Monday, December 13, 2010

We're back! (for a little while)

I don’t know where to start.  I am a complete failure at the multitask of writing a blog and teaching.  When I come home from school, in order of priority, my tasks are:  change my shoes (Mr. Rogers style) eat snacks, greet my husband (that sometimes comes first), check my email and facebook (guilty pleasure), and sit down.  Usually once I sit down, it’s hard not to lay down, and then I convince myself to close my eyes for a few minutes. Soon after, dinner is usually ready.  If I don’t have planning, grading, preparing, reflecting, crying and venting to do, we watch an episode of THE WIRE (new favorite way to take my mind off of school, also responsible for the development of new, disturbing dreams).

Seriously, this show has gotten me through my first month of teaching.   It puts everything into perspective. 

I’ve just finished teaching ELL students idioms, so appropriately, “at the end of the day,” my life is great right now.  I am so challenged and fulfilled with my students.  And I am lamenting the possibility of leaving so soon.  Thankfully, our last day of school before their winter break, was a great one.  My plans and activities went off smoothly, my “Compliment Christmas Tree” (students created “compliment” ornaments for each other, and pasted them up on our tree) was successful in fostering increased classroom community and kindness, and our Holiday Party was great.  My students were surprised to find that they actually enjoyed my old fashioned Holiday videos.  At my school, it is tradition for each classroom to get to watch a holiday movie on the last day of school.  Of course my students requested Ironman and other mostly inappropriate movies, and of course I decided to show PBS holiday programs that I checked out from the library.  One was the history of the man who figured out how to photograph the snowflake, and the other was a LeVar Burton (LOVE HIM) Reading Rainbow holiday special.   As they ate their terrible snacks that they brought in to share (flamin’ hot popcorn, doritos, and sweets), I was thrilled to see engaged eyes and quiet voices. 
Nick came in to help me out with a math fraction holiday food lesson on Thursday, and students also got to feast on our creations during their holiday party.  We are learning about fractions: finding equivalent fractions, adding and subtracting fractions, and accurately making mixed fractions from improper fractions.  Earlier in the week, I gave my students a math challenge problem that involved writing out their thinking process while figuring out the correct quantities of Holiday chex mix for 25 children.  It was a simple adding mixed fractions problem, but for some reason when it’s a word problem, students freeze up.  Anyway, after figuring out the math, Nick facilitated actually measuring out the proportions of M&M’s, corn chex and pretzels.  I am so bummed I didn’t take pictures, it was so successful!  Kids were motivated to discover proportion, fractions, and measurement in a real life contextualized experience.  That night, I took the mix home and added the fat to make it delicious.  Butter, peanut butter, and marshmallows completed the treat, and the kids got to sample it during their holiday party.  
This is a slightly gooeyer version, but close to what we/ Nick and the kids  measured out. 
I miss them!  Its only been a few days, and I just wish we were in school, there are so many things they need to learn, and I have so many ideas I want to try out before time runs out. 
Right now we are driving Northwest to Dubuque for a short visit.  It seems like I’m always writing in the car--- it is one of the few times I slow down and process.  As we leave Chicago behind and drive into the sun the differences out here couldn’t be more stark.  Where in Chicago you might see beautiful snow for a few hours, out here it’s pristine.  Driving along the snowdrifts look sculptured, painterly as the sun sets on the whiteness.  Animal tracks leap from the snow, you can see where they’ve come from and where they’re going.  It’s a little bit magical, the snow on the trees making them white on their southern sides.  We are passing through canopied Tapley Woods, and it reminds me of Narnia in the winter.  

(Can't take credit for this internet photo, but this is what Tapley woods looks liked like today.)

Reindeers should be walking through, snow creatures are in bliss.  But my cynic is wakening with all this talk of beauty because it will be most definitely less so when I get out of the car and my eyes are frozen open because its about 1 degree out there.  Our windshield fluid is frozen, and I’d rather stay in the car than do anything else. 
For us, and with the cooperation of weather, the next few days hold a bit of traveling.  We are planning on being in Dubuque for a few days to visit with family, then heading to Cincinnati on Thursday for a brief stop over.  My high school , SCPA, has an annual Alumni Day on the Friday before Christmas, and I can never go because I am always working.  This year, since I have a generous winter break, and because it works with our holiday plans, I get to check out my high schools new building and maybe visit with some old friends. After Alumni Day, we are heading south.  Not sure where, I just know that I am craving sun and warmth, and the possibility of walking through the woods without fear of frostbite.  We might drive south, we might find a last minute flight out of Cincinnati, not sure.  As is our way, we will figure it out when the time is right; the path will be revealed.  
As a side note, we are passing through Galena, IL right now, on the way to Dubuque, and Nick and I agree that this little historic town is one of the more beautiful ones when covered by snow and decked out in holiday cheer. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

Thursday, November 25, 2010
Here we are again, in the car, it’s dreary out and early.  Unfortunately, we’re not driving across the wide states of the west, just through Illinois towards Iowa for Thanksgiving weekend.  My backside remembers the familiar curve of the passenger seat, we were living in this car only a few weeks ago.  So much has changed, and none of the change is permanent, which is a really interesting place to be.  This constant flux is a great lesson in living in the moment and seeing the great things that life offers all the time. 
To recap- I accepted a temporary teaching position at John Spry Elementary School.  I was thrown in to tame the sharks of grade 4 with zero direction or assistance.  Since that first day, to be fair, I have gotten a lot of support and recommendations.  As my coworkers started to realize that I was going to come back everyday, they began to make efforts to explain the rhythm of the school and her students to me.  It’s been a largely positive experience.  I am learning huge amounts, and I think the students are learning some.  
For the most part, I am loving being in Chicago again.  It feels a little weird to have left at all, yesterday I left school right away and was able to catch a dance class at Hubbard with Molly, it was delicious, and whet my appetite for more dancing chances to take advantage of this time.  The crux of it all is that this is such a rich time.  I am inundated with a new, very demanding job, we are living in a brand new neighborhood, I’m seeing a few massage clients to make some extra $$, and I am trying to grab the opportunities to dance and yoga whenever I can.  One top of it all, I am exhausted from teaching and acclimating to my new role.  I am overstimulated and sleepy, but so full. 
I am missing being in Cincinnati for Thanksgiving, my brothers and sister and parents are probably all sitting around making sweet potatoes and stuffing.  Actually, my dad is probably at the dining room table with apple pie ingredients all around, flour on his nose,  taking a few hours to assemble and check the recipe twice.  It’s such a great memory of mine, Dad with a hand written recipe, measuring cups and chopped apples all lined up in the order in which they are to be used.  It takes Dad a long time to make anything, but it’s always meticulous and perfectly crafted. 
I’ve never been to Iowa for Thanksgiving, and I am so looking forward to relaxing, visiting with family, and making a pie, (and riding the recumbent bike in the basement!)  Theresa’s house is so comfortable and easy to be in, and since our belongings are there, it feels more like home than any other place right now.  Our sublet in Chicago is great, Bobby is a fabulous flat mate and new friend.  Right now, he’s backpacking in Yellowstone, he’s through hiked the Appalachian trail, and is a really interesting, driven, inspiring person to spend time with.  We really lucked out. 
Side note, while we were on the home stretch of our trip, I was reading A Walk in the Woods, by BIll Bryson.  My grandmother recommended it and sent it to me and I met up with it when we were in Seattle.  Bryson writes a humorous, tender and eloquent memoir about his time and experience on the trail.  It’s definitely a process book, his end goals change with his experiences along the way.  I loved it, and I think it’s helping me with this time in my life.   Aside from encouraging in me an intense desire to hike at least a section of the Appalachian Trail, Bryson takes life lightly, sees the small bits of beauty, and revels in the intensity of his experience.  I’m trying to do exactly that. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grutz says, "Back in the saddle again. By saddle, I mean Chicago." or "No, It's a 'Right Now' coat!"

Greetings one and all. I have been neglectful. I have been doing stuff. Lord oh lord. But now I can spill the beans. We're back in Chicago, specifically the Pilsen neighborhood. I'll get to that shortly, but first, some recap from our trip out west.

Arches National Park

Yes, some of the many arches in, um, Arches National Park.
During and after our travels Carleen and I discussed all that had happened to anyone and everyone. I found myself again and again saying more or less the same things over. Arches, too, was part of this continuous description. Out west, in the arid regions, things we're both drastically different and yet somewhat the same. Ok, ok, I sound like a moron, but Arches truly was different from Zion and Joshua Tree, but there were elements that we're so profoundly similar. The sky, the dryness, the lack of vegetation (ok compared to Iowa, the lack of vegetation). Stone and sand, wind and glare.
"Seriously, Carleen! Put down the damn camera and give me a hand! Christ!"

Everyone asks us what was our favorite park. Speaking for myself, honestly, I loved them all. Each Park and Monument so interesting and special in its own right. Yet, if I truly must pick a place, it would have to be (oh this is so hard)....Joshua Tree. Sparse and beautiful. Not boastful or majestic, but intricately detailed and minutely gorgeous.

More to follow, now to Pilsen!

Pilsen, home to the heart of the Latino Community of Chicago and a refuge for hipsters and artists. We live with Bobby Redwood, a med student, searching for the right residency program. We found him on Craigslist and has been a great roommate. Along with Rusty, the uber-dog. Pictures included later once I find the camera. It's quite a treat to step out our door and see, hear, and smell such a diverse community. The murals and Aztec discs. Spanish, mexican music, Croatian mass, the trains. Two tortilla plants (within two blocks!) bbq honky tonk, mexican cuisine. Sensory overload.
Aztec Sun art inlaid in the sidewalks of Pilsen.

Mural found at the end of the block, along the tracks, in Pilsen. (And no, it has not snowed here, I found the photo online, smartguy).
Smoked brisket? Yes, please! Around the corner from us in Pilsen.
Aside from the occasional (ok, one) moody drunk latino bemoaning how we're stealing the neighborhood (boo hoo gentrification!) the neighborhood has been amazing. It's very exciting and there seems to be a buzz. And that buzzing is the iphones in the hands of the hipsters. Boy oh boy, and I thought Logan Square had the masses of tight-jeaned youth! I've no problem with 'em. It's starting to get cold, so many disappear. I still think, like all social groups, they're kind of funny and worthy of any mockery. Anyway, I just saw this movie and supposedly(wink) they're going to film the sequel right here in Pilsen. Look out hipsters. Charles Bronson.

I'll continue later with more odds'n'ends from the trip, what I'm doing with my time now that Carleen is working for the man (boooo CPS booooo, hisssss), and more about Chicago. Oh, and what I'm thankful for. (Happy Sigh).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Return to writing and announcing change!

To our fearless dear readers, so sorry to leave you hanging!  This blogs intention is to document this whole year, even though our first leg is over and the adventure is taking on a new face, I’m going to keep writing.  
What a journey this has been.  I know I ended one of my last few blog entries with “what follows is blissfully unknown,” and while it is all unknown, I am rescinding the blissful part.  On the way back from Denver, I got a call from a Chicago Public School, desiring to talk with me about a 4th grade position.  I called back, left a message, and expected to hear nothing, as has been my experience with CPS.  We made it back to Dubuque in record time, by 8:55 pm, voting closed at 9pm.  We were more thrilled than ever to exercise the right to vote in this election, I wanted to make my mark on preventing the Republicans from gaining control, unfortunately my ink wasn’t strong enough, but it was still exciting being the very last person to vote in the Holy Trinity church basement in little Dubuque, IA.  
Even though Dubuque isn’t home for us yet, it’s more home than anything else, besides our faithful Subaru, and frankly, Theresa’s house is way more comfortable that our car.  It was so great to be “home,” for the very short time that we were able to be.  The next morning I did hear back from the assistant principal at Spry Elementary School, they needed a 4th grade teacher to fill in for a maternity leave.  Interestingly, they are hiring a full time teacher and offering full time pay, even though it is a temporary position.  
Today, about 1 week from the phone call, I’ve been teaching for 3 days, Nick is back in Dubuque tying up loose ends, and we are looking for a sublet.  This opportunity feels too good to pass up, and though this is not the absolute last place that I thought I’d end up in the next few weeks, it’s near the end of the list.   The school, from all angles, appears to be a great place to learn and grow.  When you look up the idiom “trial by fire,” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of me, with 26 ELL (English Language Learner) smiling students, all of whom speak Spanish as their first language.  They are 9 and 10 years old, most come from families with five children, and most of their parents are my age or younger.  This is going to be fun. 
Yesterday was my first “official” day, with an employee id swipe card, a position number and a salary.  I was with the students all day long, with a quick break for a grade level meeting (these happen once a week on Wednesdays).  The kids are thrilled to have someone consistent in the room, “Ms. Healy, are you coming back tomorrow? Yes?  For the whole day?” Imagine kids fist pumping and high fiveing, and I haven’t even done anything yet.  The more I think about it, and despite the obvious struggles of being in a room with 26 pairs of inquiring eyes and flying by the seat of my pants as I plan in the moment, this is an ideal way for me to experience teaching.  These kids are joyful, willing, even a little nerdy, in the best way.  Something has been instilled in them about the nature of education, the importance of it, and how worth it is for them to be present and attentive.  They exhibit genuine concern when another classmate is struggling, and all are willing to help their peers whenever I ask.  They all have homework notebooks, and without any sort of prodding, accept any assignment I give them.  I think it’s going to be good.  Of course, it’s all contingent upon my heart settling down a little bit, and knowing where I’m going to be sleeping next week, and figuring out if Nick is going to be with me here or not.  Once I know these things, it will truly be alright.
But until then, and so far, it’s been hard.  It’s important to note that I fall into the category of humans that need daily hugs and for whom big life changes incur incredible fragility (and likewise strength).  This time hasn’t been without teary conversations and uncertainty, deeply unsettling nights, and husband miscommunication, only made worse by cell phones.  Thanks goodness CPS appreciates their Veterans, I don’t know if I would have made it out of bed this morning.  After 3 days in the classroom, almost a week of inhabiting my good and so gracious friends apartment, countless trips walking to the CPS building in an inconvenient area of town, spending 3-4 hours on the train everyday, and immediately taking on the teacher role with very little transitional time, I was very ready to crack.  All this compounded by husband incommunicado (equal parts cell phone issues and other things), my crack turned into a fissure.
Today I slept in until 6:45, laid in bed and looked for sublets, could not rouse myself to productivity until at least 9, when I had some food and decided that I needed a yoga class.  Thankfully, Yoganow has a new studio near my friends Laura and Tim’s house.  I took a Forrest yoga class, my first, and tried desperately to calm my thinking and concentrate on breath.  Success came and went like smoke around a campfire, but still I enjoyed the flames.  And now, I continue my therapy with writing and hanging out in a nearby coffee shop.  I am impressed with The Common Cup, so nice to have tasty tomato florentine soup and a huge brownie.  And all for a steal.  I even had enough cash. 
Now that I can hear the individual thoughts again, instead of the mash that my brain has been for the past few days, I’m going to start planning for next week.  Spry has an interesting approach to curriculum; they combine a few different curricula together and give teachers much latitude in sharing the information.  I have so much reading to do, despite my late entry into this classroom, everyone seems to think that I can pull it all together and be on board for everything that’s expected, without really telling me what’s said expectations are.
Nick is on his way, he’s bringing some of our things so that when we find somewhere to stay we will have tea from our teapot and our own pillows and blankets.  The day is slipping by, looks like we will be looking for apartments tomorrow after school instead of today.  It’s calming knowing he’s coming, even if for a short while.  I think he’s struggling with the idea of being back in Chicago, even for a few months, but I don’t know for sure, another casualty of cell phone communication. 

Note: Regardless of where we are in the world, I am dedicated to continue writing in this blog format, it gives purpose to what we are doing, and it's a competent way to document this year, so while there will be lulls, I will always come back to it so keep reading!  As for Nick, he still owes us a post on Arches National Park, so keep bugging him!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Colorado to Nebraska to Dubuque...

November 2, 2010

I was just serenaded by the radio to buy a mule for all of my farm and field work needs; yes we are driving across the unending state of Nebraska.  I couldn’t possibly accurately measure how many thousands of cows in feedlots we’ve seen so far.  And the smells!  Every so often, in wafts decisive skunk or cow pie or horse or animal on the road scent.  Delectable. 
We’ve just come off of three nights and two days in the Denver area with Nick’s aunt and uncle, spoiled and chubby, we’ve ended the last leg of our trip in style.  Jill and Dave in Littleton, CO treated us with showers and three plus square meals a day, great conversation, and Halloween hijinks with Maggie the Wonder Pug and Max the floor rumbling, rambunctious German shepherd mutt.  I got to see cute kids in costumes, and they actually came to the door, a completely foreign phenomenon in our Chicago apartment style living history.  The Littleton cake was iced by amazing sushi with the whole family for Will’s (Nick’s cousins) birthday, candy apple making provided by Renie (Will’s wife), and a somewhat tedious but rewarding hike at Red Rocks.  I even ran up the stairs for a view! 

Nick, Will and Renie dunk and decorate their caramel apples. 


Awesome Uncle Dave and Aunt Jill (Dave is hiding behind Jill) ... we miss you guys!

The view from the top of Red Rocks, a sign says that I burned a mere 40 calories running up the umpteen steps... lame. 


Of course my favorite part was the close up I got of these mule deer.  I had to sneak up on them, it was totally worth it. 

We are about halfway through the 14 hour drive back to Dubuque, my mind is already reminiscing about our last night camping at Arches, the stars were probably the best we’d seen.  I had a left over star map from a night ranger program at Zion, and so many constellations were clear.  The milky way looked dimensional, and Jupiter was huge and sparkling.  The longer we craned our necks back, the more we saw.  It’s addicting, seeing the lighter stars get more visible as eyes adjust and allowing the shapes to take form.  Of course, my knowledge of constellations leaves something to be desired, but, I think my burgeoning desire to learn is commendable.  
We had our last campfire and went out in style, burning all of our wood at once in a huge bonfire.  Our last meal was anticlimactic: we had sandwiches with cheese, spinach (day old= 99 cents!) and salt and pepper potato chips, but I toasted mine a little on the cast iron skillet, which made it gourmet.  We still had a hidden chocolate bar from Vancouver which punctuated the meal perfectly and made the cheap tasting Utah beer palatable.  
I know these sandwiches don’t sound too satisfying, but understand that after a big hike in the sun, everything tastes great.  In Arches we did a few short trails to different sights, but the big trail we did was 7.2 miles, and it was labeled “primitive and unmaintained” which should have clued us in to the incredibly strenuous aspect of the trail.  We stared the trail in the afternoon at around 2:30, and had mild concerns about finishing it before sunset, but were mostly excited to be out again (even though we’d just left Zion that morning).  The sights and feats and rocks were amazing.  Arches is mostly carved out of a red sandstone, which grips hiking boots really well, but also offers a fair amount of slippery sandy areas.  We scrambled over rocks and up nearly sheer edges, hiked along ridges, got great views of the valley and the mountains, and were awed by the splendid, naturally formed arches.  It was here I was most convinced that a God exists, if only because Nature is so powerful and full of beauty and simultaneous purpose.  It all exists within a cauldron of planning and abandon, perfectly formed and raw.  
Leaving Arches, we felt grateful for the experience, for the constancy of the sky and the sun, and gift of time.  It was a little strange, knowing that after Denver, we were going “home” to whatever that is right now.  Home is the car, and each other, and that’s been the reality for a while now, it’s bizarre to think about a return, and not know what that return is.  I once took a dance workshop called Opening to the Unknown, and that is really what I am trying to do right now.  

PS- Nick is promising to write and post pictures about Arches, it was amazing. 

Catching up on Zion.

October 28, 2010
Here we are again.  I am letting the big drink of water I just had pass through me before I crawl into my sleeping bag for the night, and Nick is whittling away at bundles of firewood that we bought, making kindling for a tomorrow nights fire.  Tonight we went to a Ranger talk about the night sky, and are skipping the campfire in service to early rising and needing to rest weary legs.  We’ve been in Zion National Park for 2 days now, and have enjoyed every minute of it (except maybe being driven into the tent or car to escape the wind, which I’m hope isn’t a trend).  Zion is, like all the National Parks so far, breathtaking and unique. 

This is the Watchman, overlooking our campground. 

There were so many spots that invited meditating, I wish I'd done more. 

Zion is so amazing, it makes me fly. 

I’m being called to bed: to be continued in the morning.
Zion is a desert, situated in a canyon, carved by the perennial Virgin River that flows through.  Having such varied land and water formations, this park draws amazing biodiversity, including plants and animals happy in arid desert climates, mountainous regions, and in the path of the rocky river.  In the desert areas in both Joshua Tree and Zion, desert tortoises!!!!! are found.  I did not see any, but we will for sure be back for a desert tortoise watch.  Interesting factoid about these neato creatures: when desert tortoises feel like they are in danger, they “void themselves” creating a potentially deadly possibility because they become dangerously dehydrated and in a desert climate it’s very challenging to replenish lost water.  The only time humans are to touch or come close to a tortoise is if she is on the road and is in imminent danger.  Fascinating.  We also saw spotted lizards, a variety of furry, small creatures, big birds (Zion is one of a few places with a content population of Peregrine Falcons) and copious mule deer with huge racks, these guys are thriving in such a protected area.  Some of the more elusive creatures that live in Zion are the cats.  Mountain lions thrive in this community, and we were not (or were we?) lucky enough to see one, but we have turned into quite the trackers.  As hikers we are so tuned in to animal tracks and (apology in advance) animal poo, and we’ve definitely seen evidence of mountain lions in their recorded tracks in wet mud, near the river.  They’re stealthy, a sighting would have been incredible, but it was pretty neat to see a variety of cat tracks on our hike.  
The real draw of Zion though are the rocks.  Zion is a geologists heaven, it’s enough to make a believer out of anyone.  Time becomes visible as you hike through different exposed strata, formed originally by sand dunes and shallow seas.  Ever present and always visible, the canyon walls and mountains share with us stories preserved in rock.  Of the many different formations, two interesting ones are the Kayenta Mudstone Formation which features dinosaur tracks, and the Moenkopi formation that shows a shallow sea withdrawing, the top and bottom layers have different marine fossils.  It’s amazing, and I don’t know enough about it.  This trip is really showing me how much more I want to learn.  
We were able to squeeze in a lot of hiking on this trip, we hiked Watchman Trail, up to a gorgeous view of Watchman Mountain at sunset on our first night (and found mountain lion tracks!).  We hiked the Grotto trail to three different Emerald Pools, naturally forming waterfalls descending into mountain pools, emerald by the color of the surrounding rocks.   

We walked under this gentle waterfall.

Upper Emerald Pool

Carved by water and wind and time. 

We also hiked the Hidden Canyon trail, which though a little treacherous, was so rewarding.  An amazing view, and an unmaintained trail leading through a hidden canyon and dry creek bed to a free standing sandstone arch.  The drop offs on all of these trails were real, and thankfully the park provides chains to hold on to as you walk on slippery sandstone ledges.  The power of nature in the form of wind and water is visible everywhere.  The canyons were cut by ancient and current rivers and seas, and finished by winds.  The strength of nature is tangible in the rocks, I touched the spirals and curves in the sandstone, carved by time.  It’s powerful. 
We were treated to a little bit of Fall!

Rocks soft enough to swirl.

Nick is a perpetual walking advertisement for Iowa.

Of course I needed to climb up and balance on a tree...

In the background you see the Hidden Arch


We barely caught sunset on our second night at Canyon Overlook, which was a drive up the mountain, through a 1 mile tunnel, and a short but scary hike up to a view of the whole canyon.  Nick’s officially tired of posed and scenic photos, so we’re switching veins and talking action shots!  No rocks or people were harmed in the process... 

You had to be there, the sunset was spectacular. 

Nick flies too!

Sun and wind burned, we’re in our “home,” heading northeast towards Arches National Park, driving through the high desert country of mountains and plateaus of mid Utah.  We feasted on a bit of NPR, and now have our choice of one country music station, evidenced by Nick’s non subtle frequent guffaw.  They’re all about pickup trucks, lost loves, cheating wives, and drinking, so predictable, singable, and awesome.    
I’m starting to lament the end of this iteration of our lives.  Arches is our last National Park, after which we will start the long trek to Dubuque, stopping at Nick’s aunt and uncle’s home in Colorado for a break.  Last night was the first time I started to look at the stars a little longer, to relish the tired feeling at the end of the day after great hiking surrounded by beauty.  I don’t like endings, and this wont be an end, only a transition to something next.  What follows is still blissfully unknown.  

Sunset from the road, on our last day in Zion.  See the cactus in the middle? So long valley in the mountains.