Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer bliss for a teacher!

There are times when I think that I should change the name of my blog to something more teacher-y since half (or more) of what I mention here deals with teaching or school or the stress/anxiety/happiness/personal satisfaction that emanates from or permeates the job. It is, however, summer, which means THREE MONTHS of vacation!! Pure, unadulterated fun, excitement, zero stress. At the moment, I happen to be sitting around the house eating bon-bons, I wake up whenever I want, usually around 10 am, don't shower for days on end, and my schedule revolves around which talk show is on at what time.
Reality check moment.
I'm actually not sure if that "schedule" would even appeal to me, but my gut instinct says an emphatic "NO!" since I have yet to employ my summer vacation in such a fashion. I would try very hard not to judge a person who did spend his/her summer vacation in such a way, although the deck isn't stacked in my favor, try as hard as I may.

While there are variations to my summers, usually, my summer "vacation" involves two words: Professional development.
I've never before stopped to ponder the idea that other people, in other professions, apply to attend conferences while on "vacation". What sort of masochists would they be?! Apparently I do possess this masochistic characteristic because for the past however many summers, I have spent at least a week and often more time dedicating my body, brain and energy to 'professional development'. Usually I schedule this sort of experience a few weeks into the summer so that I can keep my restlessness at bay and channel it into some sort of program.
This year, I opted for a totally different experience and signed myself up for a week-long extravaganza at the beginning of the summer. As the year ended and my dread to attend this program deepened, I swore on a daily basis at myself and said program. Especially when a thick packet of "required reading" arrived in the mail for me. Hello, I did not see 'required reading' in the information when I signed up for this conference/seminar!!
So, in a very disgruntled state, I headed east to Colorado (that is another story), hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
Fortunately, the hopes were confirmed. I am not about to be all "teacher-y" here, but it is, in my mind, the rare experience that a conference/seminar leaves me feeling THIS jazzed and excited about the upcoming year. Especially when I'm still tired and emotional about the end of the past year. Wow!
In the meantime, I have summer school that starts tomorrow, and then we (Michael and I) need to seriously think about/plan/pack for a trip to Europe. Now THAT is summer bliss!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Return from the wilderness

That could be a metaphorical "wilderness" or something much more literal. Not that I would describe camping around Santa Barbara as a wilderness adventure, but one feels a bit closer to nature when having to be on the lookout for skunks at night or when kayaking with dolphins (the former was true; sadly, the latter didn't really happen, but it sounds so awesome!). The kayaking for me always constitutes one of the highlights of an outdoorsy-beach-adventure-type of a trip. One of these days, I promise myself, I will try surfing, but I think I would prefer for it to be on my own terms. For instance, I would rather look awkward as I struggle in and out of the wetsuit without a bunch of 17- and 18-year-olds watching me in my self-conscious splendor.
So, there were some good times, but after a few days of major exposure to the elements, my burnt skin, scalp and toes were crying for a break. Woe to those of us with pale skin and freckles!
And, to be completely honest, I enjoy the camping experience when I am with Michael, our dogs and/or friends. Somehow, spending 3+ days of non-stop so-called fun with students does not have the same appeal, especially when it has already been a long year and when I need a mental break from school and work and people. Camping with kids does not offer that much-needed respite, even though the setting would seemingly offer such a retreat.
I actually returned from the trip completely exhausted and in a bitter mood, feeling unappreciated and disgruntled. So, my experience on the trip did NOTHING to improve my rapport with and amongst the kids, nor did it give me a sense of closure. Of course I realize that the trip is not for my benefit, but I cannot deny that I had hoped for a satisfyingly fun experience. Maybe I would even solidify my coolness factor with some students, if not all. Instead of reveling in fun and uber-coolness, I found myself frustrated and tired. I even wept on the phone with Michael the last night of the trip, and upon my return, I wept again in a colleague/supervisor's office. I was definitely out-of-sorts, since tears are not a normal part of my quotidian experience.
Fortunately, time, rest and good conversations can work wonders when it comes to healing a fragile emotional state (note to self: you are tired at the end of the year).
So can laughter. At the school's Baccalaureate service, which I attend because it is required of me, while there was some grave reflection, there was also much laughter and joy, and my resentment and bitterness dissipated as I congratulated students and shared the happiness that they felt (although my own was deeply tinged in relief) at their many accomplishments.
As they move on, the cycle for me, for my colleagues, will begin anew, but it is certainly time for a break.
Summer beckons, and I must come!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to camp I go!

Sometimes, a picture is worth more than words, words, words:

Yes, you would think that I'm going away for at least a month, but really it's only 3 nights, 4 days.
You try to pack lightly when you have to schlep a tent, sleeping bag, eating utensils, sleeping pads, water bottle, appropriate clothes for warm and cold weather, multiple bottles of sunscreen, two books, and other essential items.
I'll be back!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Las Vegas state of mind

I must confess that I'm one of the handful of people who don't really like Vegas. Maybe there are a few more than a 'handful', but living in Southern CA, Las Vegas seems to be elevated to the position of a pilgrimage site. Why not take a Hajj to the Mecca of sin? Follow to the route from Santiago to Vegas!
Admittedly, I have limited experience, having been to Las Vegas only twice. My first time in Vegas was at the end of a Spring Break trip (2002) to the Grand Canyon and Utah National Parks (Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce and Zion). A friend and I flew in and out of Vegas, so we spent our last night in the "City of Lights". Can you imagine the contrast - spending Thursday night in a tent at Bryce Canyon and then the next night in a seedy hotel off the strip?
Just think about it:

Looking back, I believe that I suffered from some culture shock as I drank a sidecar or two at the Tropicana or some other old venue. After spending the week exploring some of the country's most dramatically stunning and beautiful landscape, we found ourselves surrounded by the fabricated glitz and gleam of Vegas. The contrast felt almost surreal, as I pinched myself as a reminder that I was not dreaming.
The second trip to Vegas did have a few more components of a "typical" Vegas trip. First of all, it was a weekend venture rather than a one-night layover before catching a flight. No, this time, Vegas WAS the destination. Michael and I stayed on the strip at a 'decent' but not luxurious hotel (no Mandalay Bay for us). I actually placed a bet, and we went out for drinks at Tao and Rum Jungle and ate the fanciest dinner of our lives at Joel Robuchon in the MGM Grand. It was a pretty crazy experience - we felt like we were eating in a garden, but we were inside the casino. Also, they brought a stool on which I was to place my handbag - God forbid it touch the floor! So crazy! In addition to that once-in-a-lifetime experience, we each had a massage at the Mandalay Bay, and I spent major time swimming around the pools in the spa.
So, we had some good times, but what probably saved both of us from going crazy from the crowds and the weird fakeness of it all while we were in Vegas during that short trip was the proximity of Red Rocks Canyon, a wonderful little state park that is ridiculously close to Vegas but still feels secluded from, again, the fabricated glitz of the city. I wonder if one of these days they'll create a "Red Rocks Canyon" on the Strip so that people don't have to leave the strip for their "outdoor experience"? Similar to going to New York or Paris or Italy while in Vegas... Seriously though, Red Rocks was great, and I attribute my sanity to that lovely place.

Keeping all of this in mind, it is curious that Michael and I have watched a few Vegas-themed movies recently, just by chance. Not, thankfully, "Leaving Las Vegas" which I have seen once and that was/is plenty. No, no. "The Hangover" finally inched its way up our Netflix queu, so we decided to bump it on up to the Number 1 position and enjoy a silly movie. "Silly" is a good description of the movie. While I did laugh at some parts (quite a few), despite or because of the infantile and gross humor, I do not ever have to see it again. It made me appreciate the fact that neither Michael nor I needed a big bachelor/bachelorette weekend, or a big wedding, for that.
The very next night, a friend fortuitously loaned us "Viva Las Vegas" which had been on our Netflix queu for a year or so. Michael put it on the queue, and I've kept moving it up and down but never high enough to slip into that Number One slot. (A quick aside here: Do other people obsess about their Netflix queu as much as I do?)
I would be hard pressed to say that one movie was actually better than the other. "The Hangover" is certainly a contemporary flick, and it will be interesting to see how much staying power it has over the long run, and while "Viva Las Vegas" is silly in some or most parts, the song and dance scenes are loads of fun (my favorite is "The Lady Loves Me), the sets and color schemes definitely represent another era, and how can you not like the Ann-Margaret and Elvis combination?
So, there might be another Vegas trip left in me for the future afterall, if only to sing and dance or steal a tiger.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I remember, when I was about five years old, my parents marveled over my crazy rubber-band of a body. Ah, those were the days! On a good day, I can touch my toes. Keeping that in mind, the flexibility to which the title refers is not of the physical in nature but is more figurative.
While I consider myself to be a 'go-with-the-flow' type of a person, I have to wrestle with and finally reckon with the fact that I am not. Oh, I'm not a grossly controlling or controlled person, and there is much evidence that points to a more laissez-faire tendency. I could haul out all of the evidence to defend myself and say, for example, that I don't keep a regular calendar or planner (a dreaded word to me), that my office is a disaster (as are my closets, my work bag, the state of my panty drawer and all other drawers, really). No, I don't need the stereotypical supports to keep my life under control, it's more a mental thing and a planning thing. I like plans - I like to daydream about them and I also like the follow-thru. I can deal with some plans that change. For example, I was supposed to work and live in Southern CA for three years, MAYBE four years, and then move on to another city, another region, another school... That plan changed as my life changed, and I've dealt quite swimmingly with all of that change. Pats on my back all around.
Life plans that change are one thing, weekend plans that suddenly surge and bolt and form are another beast altogether. In that small-scale, micro-arena, I can become terrifyingly neurotic.
And so, this weekend was a welcome break from "Kristina-the-time-control-freak". Some plans did happen, like drinks on Friday night; some plans formed in an impromptu fashion, like brunch at a friend's place on Saturday morning, blueberry pancakes made by yours truly and we all quaffed a mimosa or two (!); hanging out Saturday afternoon for what was supposed to be an hour or two but extended itself to four; ditching a hike before finishing it and heading to Ventura, CA for a nice, relaxing late morning/early afternoon excursion.
The last item was a bit of a bummer, to me, as I was really looking forward to the hike which offers wonderful 360 degree views. However we were hiking with a friend who is not only not 'athletic' but falls into the 'inactive' category, I believe. That is not a judgmental statement, just a fact. I don't consider myself to be athletic, but Michael and I try to stay active so that we can take the occasional hike. Anyway, he's a great friend and the hike really WAS a bitch, so it didn't hurt us to turn around. Michael and I plan on 'bagging' Mugu Peak at another point and time, so rather than be frustrated that I didn't meet MY personal goal for the day, we called it a morning and headed to Ventura. Life really isn't so bad when you have to face those sorts of choices. I was still, however, impressed that I could take on a more flexible attitude. Maybe there is hope for me yet?