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.