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.