Archive | June, 2010

A cactus blooms at midnight in Davie, FL

28 Jun

Night-blooming cactus

Windblown me + cactus (matching flowered shirt unplanned). Since I've been in FL this week, my fiance and I have gone for nightly golf cart rides. This is cooler than the cane toads we found (though he would probably pick the toads...or the lizards...or the grasshoppers...)

Captain Dad.

20 Jun

As he is every year, my dad is at Smith Mountain Lake for Father’s Day. It’s his favorite place to be, and in 62 days he will walk me down the aisle facing that very water and mountain that have been the backdrop of my childhood.  I’ve been lucky enough to see my mom the last two Mother’s Days, but since Father’s Day is usually trumped by high school graduations (and I teach the children), I rarely get to see my dad on his day. With all the changes happening so quickly in my life this summer (and some of them a bit scary), I am reminded of what is probably the most important lesson I learned from my dad:

Just because you don’t think you can, doesn’t mean you can’t.

When faced with things foreign to me, I either fake my way through until it makes sense, or hide in the corner. Do or do not: there is no try (thanks, Yoda). But there are some things you cannot fake. For example, driving a boat. Dad first taught me how to drive a car, but I never feared that–couldn’t get me behind the wheel fast enough. Dad, however, feared my lead foot during that first lesson in the high school parking lot. He also forgave me later when he discovered I was “practicing” without him. It was the dent in the cabinet in the garage that gave it away after an unfortunate forward/reverse mix-up. I misjudged how noticeable this incident was. Nothing like waking up to a good yelling at 7 a.m. on a Saturday (and Dad doesn’t yell).

But driving a boat was worlds different: there are no brakes. Make an error driving and you can slam on the brakes. Need to park on a windy day? No problem in a car. To make a boat stop, you have to carefully negotiate the wind and wake. Miscalculations lead to ramming your boat into the dock (or worse, other boats).  It was easy to steer a pontoon boat while Dad was still in the seat with me, but commandeering a speedboat by myself turned out to be a different beast. The subtleties of planing and weight shifting when people were on  board were difficult for me to grasp, though not impossible. But I started wanting to give up once we got to docking. “I can’t do this, Dad,” I used to exclaim in frustration. He then told me that when he first got the boat he didn’t know anything about docking, so he taught himself by coming up after work and practicing for hours at a time until he mastered it. “All it takes is enough seat time,” he said.

Whenever I get intimidated by tasks, I remember Dad’s words. Right now, I’m intimidated by selling or renting my house, and not having steady income at the end of August. By Tuesday, I hope to close my 7-year teaching chapter at Hanover (which will add more boxes), but this also leaves me time to focus on the beast that is my house. Just need a little more seat time. (Thanks, Dad)

People like lists (and so do I).

10 Jun

As a publication adviser, I know that readers like lists over large blocks of text. The Onion captured this trend hilariously here. What I noticed recently is how I will read pretty much anything on the web written in list form. Microsoft is the master of this technique; they feature lists of useless, yet entertaining, information on their homepage in such an inviting way that you are tricked into believing it’s helpful advice and you should click here.

Parenting lessons learned from soap operas? Seemed like a must read.

No, I’m not a parent, and no, I don’t watch soap operas (anymore), but it doesn’t matter: I read every word. I’ll admit I was amused by Jeremy Greenberg’s insight that “confidence trumps looks,” using Luke and Laura’s wedding as evidence: “All they need to do is look at this picture of Luke and Laura to remind themselves that if a guy masquerading as a Lakeland terrier found love, anyone can.” I also enjoyed the references to evil twins and amnesia (I had forgotten so much about Days of our Lives).

Top ten surprising headache triggers.

I was disappointed with the suggestions that you should eat spinach over wine and barley over chocolate (how are those equal?). Normally I would drink a glass of Cabernet to unwind, but I’ll be good and eat a handful of baby spinach instead. Bowl of Dove dark chocolate as an evening treat? Skip that, pass the barley bowl. Just thinking about that gives me a headache. Now that’s surprising (#11).

What his cuddling style reveals.

This one was straight from Cosmo, and I stopped following this line of clicks once I got to one on why men fall in love and it actually suggested that you should share your fears with your mate because “He’ll be reassured that you’re navigating new waters too, not trying to trap him.” Oh, Cosmo you haven’t changed a bit. PS. I didn’t miss you.

Nine great grilled desserts.

I don’t own a grill, nor do I make desserts. But you never know when I might decide to combine these two things I’ve shown no previous interest in. But I can assure you if I ever did make honey-glazed plums or strawberry cream cheese campfire crepes, I might be tempted to turn into one of those people who takes pictures of food and posts them on Facebook.

Stay tuned for my own list that actually relates to the topic of this blog. I’ll give you a hint: it involves a scanner.

Refocusing the lens

7 Jun

Like 56,000 other people, and thanks to the advice of my friend Allison, I subscribe to Penelope Trunk’s blog, Brazen Careerist. She gives great advice on careers and life (by sharing heavily about her own). While reading her heartily linked and meticulously organized blog makes me feel a little like I’m at the bottom of the Grand Canyon looking up, I am always inspired by her voice and insight on life. Today, I finally found the 9/11 post I had heard so much about; you should read it too. Maybe it’s that I’m also reading Elie Weisel’s Night with my students or that I saw Precious this weekend (leaving my heart a little tender), but Penelope’s way of describing that day made me tear up. After describing her survival, Trunk writes: “So, look, it’s true that I know what it’s like to be on one’s death bed. That saying that you never say, ‘I wish I worked harder.’ It’s absurd. You don’t have any thoughts like that at all. You just have your family in your heart. You see there is not a lot of room for stuff there. Your family takes up everything in those last seconds.”

Family has been on my mind lately; planning a wedding does that to you. My mom, sister, and niece drove down yesterday to get their dresses for the wedding, and saving the details on why for later, I’m honored to be a part of them.

This weekend I also read (per my friend Catherine’s great suggestion) “8 Reasons Rich People Hate Their Lives,” by Sonia Simone. Don’t let the title scare you away. The thing I took most from it was that life is about growth: it’s not about what you’re good at, but what you continue to get better at.  As a teacher I see this tendency in my students to gravitate towards things they are ‘a natural’ at, and get defeated so quickly when it feels too challenging or unfamiliar. My goal is always for them to accomplish what they think is impossible; certainly I can have the same goal for myself.  All of this gets me a little more ready to get back to my to-do to-be list.

My next post will be funny, I promise. Poignant is nice, but I think it’s run its course for now. I’m already making fun of myself for mentioning both 9/11 and the Holocaust in one post. To keep things in perspective, while I was doing all this reflecting and wedding business over the weekend, my fiance was discovering baby termites and rescuing a bee hive from inside a guy’s house he learned about on Craig’s List. These are now ‘our bees,’ he says. He loves to throw around those first person plural pronouns. It’s pretty cute, though he used the same technique to sell me on ‘our egg chair,’ and ‘our Rhodes piano.’

Muddy Waters

5 Jun

For the past two weeks I’ve been feeling a bit lost in the abyss of my constantly unraveling to-do list. I spent a month and a half burning the candle at both ends and then hit the metaphorical wall. Since then I have struggled with practicality; I know I should have my house on the market by now, I should have job interviews set up in Florida, I should have all those research papers graded…. and yet I haven’t done any of those things completely.

What I have done is help my kids finish their seventh yearbook and plan my wedding (and without the internet at home for 1.5 weeks–that’s another story). I mean given the choice, would you paint your hallway above high stairs or make sure one of the most important days of your life will not make you cry (in a non-touching, tragic kind of way). While I’m sure many people might make the same choice I did, more together and organized people might have the wedding planned, house on the market, papers graded, and job waiting…while I’d love to say that’s me, I know I’m more the “I have so much to do that I can’t do any of it” type. At least in waves I am; in other waves I can cram so much into a week that it makes my head spin.

Though today I felt the beginnings of optimism again, I have felt a fair amount of guilt and shame over my two weeks of stagnant, ‘get through the day’ behavior when my life is ultimately a blessing. It just reminds me  how selfish we are as human beings. By now, most of you have seen the relentless images of shorebirds assaulted with oil in the Gulf. I see that and I think how on earth could I be plagued by anything personally negative when so much wildlife is dying, so many livelihoods floundering. On top of that, two of my dear colleagues lost parents this week, and people close to me are hurting deeply. My heart is with them and in comparison, my to-do list and my house-as-disaster don’t mean a thing. I’ve accepted that no matter the situation, we always walk through it in our individual shoes, with our own biased eyes. We are all in a sense one of those oil-caked pelicans in the bayou trying desperately to put one foot in front of another and thrive. Some of us have thicker mud to wade through, depending on the way the tide comes in. Tonight, mine feels a little thinner.

Brown Pelican at East Grand Terre Island on the Louisiana coast. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo) If this little guy moves you, text "WILDLIFE" to 20222 to donate $10 to the National Wildlife Federation. It feels good to help even in small ways.


2 Jun

Just as school ended today, the sky opened up and all you could hear was the pounding downpour on the roof. I hadn’t noticed the preliminary signs of this as my students were giving research presentations using PowerPoint (shades drawn, lights off). When the artificial lights flickered on, and my students finished rubbing their still adjusting eyes, I saw the gloomy rain beating down on the tops of the yellow buses outside the window. I had wanted to flee the building all afternoon. Mother Nature would like me to hold off another fifteen minutes. I walked outside around 4 to an embracing sunlight and drove home in a sunny rainstorm: this merely elevated the confusing mix of emotions I’d been harboring all day.

Earlier this morning, I drove my fiance to the airport so that he could catch a flight to South Florida (his current and my future home). Some background: less than a week after we got engaged, he left studying honeybee disease and started a new job researching termites a few miles west of Ft. Lauderdale. Yes, I’m marrying an entomologist and yes, I’m moving 14 hours away from all my family and friends so he can follow his dream. Was this an easy decision? Obviously not. I mean leaving a job I love, the moving part, the getting over the fear of change: that didn’t come easy. Saying yes to marrying Aaron? Easiest decision I ever made. But maybe that’s because nothing about our relationship has ever been convenient: we’ve always been long distance (it just went from 3.5 hours to it’s faster to fly). You don’t burn up the highway in your 30’s unless it’s worth it, so pledging a lifetime to my bug man = no brainer.

And yet with all this excitement and all these good things coming my way, the burden of selling my house and unfinished work have me paralyzed a bit. I know soon I’ll get inspired and become so productive I won’t even recognize myself, but in the interim I’ll keep harboring the clouds that block all those rays of the Sunshine State.

Taken at Dania Beach, FL, in January (This was one of the few times the sun peeked out on a generally cloudy day; despite this post, I'm an optimist).