Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Endings, and New Beginnings

Funny, I never saw this blog as having an expiration date.  And yet, it does.  The journey's complete, the boats are docked, and we're saving up for a new roof because we're not going anywhere any time soon.

Instead, we're off on a different kind of adventure, a culinary one that is asking for a different kind of record-keeping and introspection. If you're interested in reading along, you can do so here: http://howarewegonnaeatthat.wordpress.com/

Whether or not you come along on the next part of this journey, it's been a pleasure sharing my adventures and hearing about yours.  As Walt Disney said, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. "

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It's February? Already?

Where did the time go? Christmas turned into hockey season, which is turning into spring hockey which is leading to training for our first marathon.

Our what?

Commuter Son's BFF's family are runners, and the BFF asked CS to participate in a 5k this April. We agreed, and now the two of us are starting training for a marathon. You should probably know that I am not, and never have been, a runner. I'm short, round, and middle-aged; there's a distinctly absurdist aspect to this decision.

But one of the things I know about myself is that I love a challenge and require a goal. I've been thinking about needing to work exercise into my daily routines, but going to the gym for the sake of going to the gym? ICK! I've done it before, it doesn't last because there isn't a tangible goal involved. Deciding to be ready for a run in April is a specific, concrete goal that I (we) can reach. Oh boy.

We've also decided that we're going to set our sights on the WDW 5k run in January. I want the marathon pin, and the kiddo wants churros. I've promised him that if we complete the race, we'll spend the rest of the day in front of the churro cart, and he can eat churros until he barfs. It's a good deal.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Last Call

Can we call the last two weeks of the semester a "season"? Because I have to admit that it feels like a space and time that is uniquely it's own. Not unique to Upstate New York, but definitely unique to the wide world of education. It's the academic equivalent of 15 minutes before closing time with the bartender is yelling "last call" at boozy stragglers who need just one more before they can sleep.

This is the time of the semester when we second, third, and fourth guess ourselves. When those of us who do remarkable things every single day wake up in cold sweats because we know that it's not enough, isn't good enough, and will never be good enough. Plus, we're pretty sure that we're going to be fired. Tomorrow. Because our work is so bad that the powers that be won't even let us finish out the semester. I know, because not only do I have this conversation with assorted faculty and staff on a daily basis, but I fall victim to the same kind of thinking. There's nothing quite like the feeling of losing complete grasp of everything.

In the world of academic support, our resources get stretched to breaking points; the stack of paperwork on my desk grows exponentially; students' tough veneers are most likely to crumble, devolving into yelling or, worse, tears. Factor in holiday pressure, and it's a wonder we're not all eating Xanax by the handful.

But we keep going, all of us--teachers, tutors, techs, housekeepers, secretaries, administrators, cooks: teaching; listening; guiding. We will walk students to the health or counseling center even while we're mentally going over increasing to-do lists. We will take the time actively listen, even when that puts us behind; and we will, somehow, get it all done before the last call has ended and we stagger home to pass out for a long winter's nap.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pursuit of Imperfection

In one of my alternate lives, probably the same one in which I work as a chef-instructor teaching underprivileged youth how to establish and cook with things grown from community gardens, my holidays are magical perfection.

The tree sparkles (our tree skirt has a burn-mark in it from the year one of the bulbs got caught between it and the last quilt my mother made for us)

The house is redolent of pine and cedar (ours smells a lot like furry critters, all but one of whom is either an adopted rescue or a stray who found us)

Decorations are carefully hand-crafted from home-loomed wooly bits and pine cones gathered from our yard (we still have a lot of the cheap ornaments we bought our first Christmas together, when we were flat broke and neither of us had so much as a string of lights)

The perfect gift waits, beautifully wrapped under that sparkling tree (I'm a terrible shopper, just ask my spouse who, one year, received a rubber Richard Nixon shower-head cover, and for whom I am STILL trying to finish crocheting a lumpy, uneven scarf. I also can't wrap worth a darn which means that it must be elves who come in during the night and put my askew bows to rights)

I send cards with pictures of my child beautifully posed, his hair combed neatly, his clothes matching (one year, we sent cards with a picture of him holding his shirt up to show us that he'd drawn a ginormous smiley face on his belly. With a green Sharpie.)

Plates of beautifully hand-crafted cookies decorate the table (every year, I make a recipe from CDs grandmother. She lived to the age of 102, and somehow I was the recipient of a recipe that has been handed down for multiple generations. Once the very soft, very sticky dough is mixed, it has to sit in the refrigerator for 2 weeks before I can carefully roll it out on her old cookie board, and cut them out with the even older baking soda tin that she used for all of the decades that she was the designated cookie maker. Every year, I kvetch throughout the process)

Everything in the world glows during this season in that alternate life (one more extension cord and all of the front-yard lights should be good)

But in this life? Well. It would seem that I am imperfect. My holiday visions fall flat, go awry, make me sad, tired, angry, and stressed out. What I want and what I end up with are never the same; the results never quite good enough. And now I wonder, for whom?

They're good enough for my spouse, whose holiday is complete when he tastes the first lebkuchen.

They're good enough for my son, who is happiest when we're cuddled up on the couch watching Christmas movies.

They're good enough for the pets, who have a warm home and plenty to eat.

They're good enough for the friends and family who ask only for a few quiet minutes together to reflect, to laugh, to be content in each other's company.

It seems that I'm the only one unhappy with this arrangement; the only one who can't see perfection in the imperfect, the only one who doesn't understand the concept of good enough.

This, I think, will be my gift to myself this year: the pursuit of imperfection, and a reminder that time spent together is well-spent even when the cookies are burned, the tree is leaning sideways, and there is fur in the corners of our warm and happy rooms.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Christmas Market

For the past few years, our town has had a Christmas Market a weekend or two before Thanksgiving. I haven't been before, and the excuse I most often use is that I don't like dealing with the parking. The truth, however, is that the excess of noise, bodies, and sights makes me intellectually dizzy. This year, since we're two blocks away, I had no excuse. Today, the weather is a gift, being in the low 50's with sun and a breeze--corn maze weather. But corn maze season is past and so we went to the Market.

We all went. I bought a giant snowman head for the front porch, we got a funnel cake for the boy and then I sent them home. (The giant snowman head is made of wood; it will last longer that way.) I stayed a while, wandering up and down the packed aisles, listening to the guy with the guitar playing holiday classics such as "The Boxer" and "I'm Yours." Actually, he was very good, sweet-voiced and lending a slight ethereal quality to the music that floated among the tents. He also had groupies, which made me giggle.

We do love our festivals and gatherings here in upstate NY. On any given spring/summer/fall weekend, you can find one within a 75 mile radius and the certainties are that there will be wine, there will be crafts, and there will be food that is uniquely ours (grape pies and garbage plates to name two). Christmas Market was the same, only with more greenery and lights.

My wanderings took me to the goatsmilk soap stand (guess what you're getting for the holidays) where I had a long chat with one of the women staffing the area. Like any mama she was bursting with pleasure over the results of their hard work, and the notice they were receiving. She told me about her daughter who makes the soaps and lotions, and her son-in-law who does the writing and the graphic design for the business, of how this was the first show they'd done, and about winning the prize for best booth in show much to their collective surprise. She gestured toward them and said "they do so much, and they're so good. And me?" She shrugged and let her words drift away. "You get to be proud," I said. Her face lit up, she grabbed my arm and said "Yes! And it's the best job in the world."

I love moments like this. Unexpected, and filled with camaraderie, warmth, storytelling. The tent, at first little more than a crush of the curious and the anxious, became a site of humanity, and of community; a place where potters explained their craft, woodworkers talked of turnings and tung oil, and the tile-maker described how she baked leaves into the clay and of how the blistering heat of the kiln would burn them away until only fossil records remained. A place where each hand-crafted piece came with a story, if we were ready to listen.

It is so easy to lose ourselves in our own thoughts and wants, and I am so often and so readily drawn to the solitary, that the small daily magic passes by, unseen. It's when we stop to listen to the guy with the guitar, the woman whose children are making a life from their passion, the stories of those who create things that are of and beyond themselves, that we find it again. If only for a moment. And I wonder, as I reflect, if those moments aren't truly the things that define us. And if they are not, then perhaps, they should be.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Best Practices

Like most academic types, I spend way too much time living in my own head. A project that takes a half hour to manifest has stewed internally for days while I've gathered multivocalic threads to study from a few too many angles and perspectives. A friend refers to this as "falling down the rabbit hole," and I think he may be right.

What does this have to do with seasons in New York? Well, not much, really. It connects only in that I often get so caught up in my own research and thoughts that I'm temporarily blind to everything else going on around me. It's hell on relationships. The more patient of my friends slowly back away, knowing that I'll come out of it eventually. Others are less so, giving me a swift metaphoric kick in the backside as a reminder that "Helloo, we're still here." As much as I hate to admit it, I need both kinds. Something, by the way, that I had to move here to learn.

Having spent the last few weeks buried in research about Deaf grammar acquisition and best practices for tutoring students on the autism spectrum; working on conference proposals and brainstorming outreach possibilities, and keeping my students and my staff engaged with their learning processes, I have been far less present than I think I want to be. Presence, in this example, means being cognizant of my surroundings and the people who populate them. Present as in awake and aware and engaged with the external because that is what adds dimension and color to our internal lives.

So if you see me walking around in my own private fog, give me a hug and point me toward home. It's not far away.