Friday, July 16, 2010

Planes, trains and automobiles!

Not quite in THAT order, but we are OFF! Today was the last day of summer school for me which was cause enough to celebrate, but I'll add to that our anniversary (Woo-Hoo!) AND the fact that we soon leave for our Summer 2010 Big Adventure. I am a terrible blogger while traveling, but I must admit that it sort of pleases me to disconnect from the computer for a few weeks. As much as I love to read other people's blow-by-blow accounts of the trip in almost-real time, I am usually too exhausted while traveling to think of anything else BUT the trip. Also, I see travel as a respite from the day-to-day activities of my mundane, one of which is emailing and checking the Internet. No, no email, but I plan to walk a ton over the next few weeks, take in beautiful scenery, explore a few churches and cathedrals, maybe visit a museum or two, breakfast in cafés, lunch in parks and drink cheap wine with dinner in addition to consuming large amounts of jamón serrano, queso AND fromage and at least one or two baguette! Michael's plan includes many photos of yours truly, so I will also have to work on wresting the camera from him every now and again.

Before the more cosmopolitan part of the trip, we will first stay in Moab, Utah, one of my favorite places in the entire world. I can't wait to be there in just a few days! Hopefully we will experience an early morning hike here:

So, zoom we go!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Where was I on Saturday?!

Somehow, someway, the hiking bug bit me this past week. It must have been the taste of climbing to dizzyingly high altitudes last Monday that left me wanting more! So, I somehow convinced Michael that "Mt. Baldy" beckoned, it was waiting there, just for us. Mt. Baldy is the local name for Mt. San Antonio which summits at 1068 and has the distinction of being the highest point in Los Angeles county. It sounded like a challenge, but after much discussion, we decided that we were game! Especially when a friend recommended it, saying that it was his favorite hike in Southern CA. How could we resist?
Waking up at a reasonably early hour on Saturday was not too painful, and we set out east, driving a mere 40 miles before we found ourselves here:

Okay, we actually had to hike a bit to see such an expansive landscape, but we felt as though we were days away from Los Angeles rather than 40 miles and several thousand feet. We found beautiful pine trees towering over us, reminding us both of alpine wilderness areas, but then scattered beneath those grand trees were yucca plants and other more desert-like flora. It was kind of crazy, seeing such a mix!

Despite an early-ish departure, we discovered that arriving at the trailhead at 8:00 am is seriously the worst time to start off on a hike. I do now recall, from my past hiking years, that one should be on the TH at 6:00, or, in the worst case, by 7:00. Well, we started the hike with every single hiking group in the greater LA area, throngs of people (I kid you not) beginning the uphill climb. In order to give ourselves a bit of space, Michael and I kept up a very quick pace which we pretty much maintained for the ascent via the Ski Hut trail (there are different trails that one can use to climb Mt. Baldy). Blisters barely slowed me down, thanks to moleskin, and we climbed the 4 plus miles in less than 3 hours. Woo-hoo! The final thousand feet were definitely a challenge, and we slowed down considerably.
But the hard work and great effort were worth it as we happily rested and admired the views from the top:

After a quick lunch of fruit, bread, cheese and trail mix, we began the longer descent. We opted not to do the up-and-back hike on the same trail but followed the Devil's Backbone trail for the descent:

The beginning of the descent was particularly devilish for me - I even stumbled a bit, doing my usually graceful thing going downhill. At that point, I decided that the really annoying family could pass us and I would slow down. Fortunately, they stopped and rested frequently, so we passed them again and then stretched out the distance between us and them. This trail was more exposed but let us see far to the east, and it was a more gradual descent (= longer, in terms of mileage). I did enjoy that we took a different trail down because the terrain was different and it offered us beautiful views. That is, until we ended up on an old fire road. I don't mind a fire road here and there, but it was a bit of a boring hike, especially after the stunning scenery that we had enjoyed earlier. I must admit that I also became extremely grumpy at that point. I looked at the map and it appeared that we would be finishing the hike at 3:00 pm, an hour-and-a-half longer that I had mentally planned. I should also add that I was seriously exhausted at that point. I had forgotten what it felt like to have bone-tired feet. Literally. Before I experienced a total melt-down, we discovered a short cut to the road and then high-tailed it down to our car, finishing up before 1:30 in the afternoon. That gave us plenty of time to stop at the Buckhorn Lodge to drink a beer, eat some onion rings and watch the highlights of the Germany-Uruguay soccer game.

A few things that I found noteworthy on the hike:
- First of all, it was beyond beautiful, and I cannot believe that I've lived in the greater LA area for five years now without climbing Mt. Baldy!
- I had forgotten how hard a LOOOONNNNGGGG day hike is. Really.
- I do not like to socialize when hiking; I always imagine joining a hiking club so that I can "make friends", but I tend to stay quiet when I hike. I love the time that it gives me to think and to daydream and also to take in where I am and appreciate that. Apparently, I find chatty hikers to be rather annoying.
- As much as I pretend to be a "go with the flow" type-of-a-person, I am terribly competitive. I hated it when people passed us! So much for 'stopping to smell the flowers'....
- Apply, reapply and reapply again sunscreen.
- Do not wear almost-matching shirts if you are hiking with a partner, even if it is unintentional because people will comment.
- Finally, one should apply moleskin WELL BEFORE a blister forms. I always put moleskin on too late, and although I made it up and down Mt Baldy without too much pain, I have been suffering ever since. Thank goodness it is flip-flop and sandal weather because my heels (BOTH OF THEM) look and feel quite awful. I am forever grateful to whoever invented moleskin, however!

For other, perhaps more thorough reviews of Mt. Baldy:
DSLR Hiker Great pics on this report!

By the way, one can take a ski lift up or down part of the trail, but we felt that was a bit of a cop-out. At a certain point when we were on the fire-access road, I cursed my monstrous pride and ego, but now that it's all over and done with, I do feel quite "accomplished"!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spanish Score(s) Plus Spoiled and Sponsored

All of THAT just about sums about the past few weeks of my summer, but for the lay person, I may need to decipher. First of all, this could be two or even three separate posts since the topics vary, but I couldn't resist the alliteration impulse!

To begin with - MAJOR DRUM ROLL, please!
"Spanish Score" - That would be a reference to the World Cup. I dutifully trudged to the gym yesterday to see the Germany-Spain semi-final match. Why go to the gym? Oh, we have internet cable and we have a lovely TV, but we do not have cable for our TV. So, most of entertainment takes the form of Netflix movies and shows, which is usually fine by me. Not the case these days with the World Cup! So, we've been spending a crazy amount of time at the gym to see some of the matches. Mind you, if Spain would score before the 73rd or 83rd minute and even scored AGAIN, then we wouldn't be such gym rats. Anyway, I totally thought that Germany had the game all wrapped up, seeing that they'd just dominated and crushed England and Argentina, and Spain has struggled against so many teams. Imagine my surprise and absolute pleasure when I saw the game yesterday - Spain played so well as a team, and they finally put the ball in! It was a great goal too. GOOOOOOOOLLLLL! And they are in the finals!

Spanish ScoreS (plural!) - Those are my students' AP exam scores which came in this week. They all passed and most passed with VERY marks! While I did expect them to perform well, I cannot say that I wasn't worried at all. There are always little inklings of doubts and concern. I pushed them hard last year, and I will admit that I probably focused a bit too much on the product (the AP exam), but it would have been worse if, despite all of my pushing, they hadn't performed as well as they could have and as well as they did. Hopefully I can relax a bit more this year, armed with knowledge that I definitely provide the students with the tools they need in order to pass a stupid exam.
(Did I just say 'stupid exam'? Oh, yes indeed!)

Spoiled - I have felt completely spoiled lately! Yes, I am teaching 2 hours a day, but it is ideal because the class is zero pressure, I can prepare for it the hour before it starts and an hour or so the night before. Once I finish with the class, I then have time to PLAY! So far, I've enjoyed several brunches/lunches out, I love eating lunch en casa, reading books in the afternoon before and after a nap, going for walks, getting a pedicure, going out for margaritas and mexican food (last night - major celebration when I heard about the AP scores).

Sponsored - This is hand-and-hand with "spoiled" but slightly different... It has to do with my summer wardrobe expansion. Yes, I have indulged in some rampant consumerism, so I will go flagellate myself for a few hours, days or weeks. My favorite form of "sponsorship" is Patagonia, which I prefer to call "Patagucci". I did happen to walk into the local Patagonia this past weekend with Michael, looking for a present for a friend. How did it happen that we left with no present but a really cute dress for me?! See, Michael totally spoils me. He also found it very entertaining when the salesclerk said to me, "You're a teacher, aren't you", validating his opinion that I spend far too much time in the local Patagonia place.
I also discovered a new obsession/brand: Ibex! I tried on some of their pants (or trousers, but they aren't really 'trousers', but I know that some people have an aversion to the word 'pants'. I, personally, hate the word "slacks") when we were in Colorado, and at Michael's urging - I swear! - I ended up with a new pair of pants and have been stalking their products on-line ever since. I do like to think that at least SOME of the companies that I sponsor (despite joking that THEY sponsor ME, a concept I've borrowed from a friend of mine) are somewhat environmentally- and socially-friendly. Does that assuage my guilt? Just the tiniest bit.
By the way, does it strike anyone else as funny that assuage = sausage?!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy July 5th!

Today definitely fit my definition or idea of a "perfect day", although I have had several of those recently. For instance, being lazy on Saturday, with the exception of going to the gym to watch the Paraguay/Spain match. That was a pretty perfect day (the trip to the gym was followed up by left-over tacos and an awesome nap). I believe that I took another nap yesterday. It seems that the simple things in life can make me quite happy.
While today involved a bit more planning and energy, it also involved an element of simplicity - hike to/around a beautiful spot and enjoy being outside. It seems fitting that Michael and I 'bagged' Mugu Peak this weekend, seeing as our last failed attempt was on Memorial Day. This time around we did not invite a friend with dubious hiking skills to join us but woke up on the early side for a holiday Monday and headed west. We arrived at the coast amidst a thick cloud of "June gloom" which has seemingly extended into July! On the plus side, it made for a cool (temperature-wise) hike which we both appreciated and hiking in the mist and tall grass made me think of Wales and the moors, even though Southern CA cannot possibly share much flora or fauna with that part of the world! On the minus side, we could not take advantage of the awesome 360 degree views that the Mugu Peak supposedly offers because we had a very limited visual range thanks to the gloom.

Still and all, it was a most enjoyable hike, presenting a butt-kicking challenge the first .7 mile as we ascended about 850 feet. Once we survived the initial upward trudge, the trail leveled out and we were walking on a path that cut through high grass. We looped around the valley and then headed up to Mugu Peak. The description from the blog Modern Hiker describes the experience from Mugu Peak in this way:
"When you reach the top of Mugu, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of some of the most beautiful parts of Southern California — the Channel Islands, Boney Ridge, Mugu Lagoon, the Great Sand Dune, and all of the meadows you just wound your way through. All this, and an American flag to boot. Cue the patriotic music and you’re all set."

We did feel triumphant once we reached the peak, and the flag certainly added some patriotic flair to the hike. That, and the knowledge that Pt. Mugu, the naval base, was right across the way ('the way' being PCH, the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as "the 1" or "the One"). Sadly, we did could not reap the visual rewards of the peak after our hard work. Shrug. It will give us a reason to return, and that is never a bad thing! The descent was, in a few areas, a bit trickier for me with my knee. Although I am fairly strong, I still lack in confidence what I don't necessarily lack in strength, so that made a few places a bit of a challenge. Nothing that I wasn't up for, however. Ultimately, I was psyched about the hike: 5.2 miles in under 3 hours, 1255 elevation gain.

Before heading back east, we decided to take advantage of our west side stint and headed south from Point Mugu to Malibu. We ended up at a bit of a dive called the Reel Inn. Okay, maybe not a dive, but not, fortunately, an elegant or swanky locale. It offered good fish and chips and a decent bloody mary, and I did not need much more!

Friday, July 2, 2010

I'm "game"

It is the World Cup AND Wimbledon, so why not write about sports? Except that this game has NOTHING to do with sports.
Shew, what a week! It's been rough to 'get into the swing of things' this summer. You know, the summer school class that meets for two hours a day and then leaves me with endless time to mindlessly read random websites until I decide that I need a nap. The nap - Seriously. I love to nap, and summer offers up the perfect opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite 'hobbies'. I believe that I could win a gold for my 'napping' experiences.
(Apologies, by the way, to anyone whom I've offended by waxing almost-poetically about napping)

It's funny because this is the first week that I feel that summer vacation has officially started. The trip out to Colorado definitely fit into that "trip" model rather than the "vacation" model. Not that it wasn't great to be there, the conference/seminar and the trip out and back aside. I spent the last few days there in Boulder, a place where I would love to live one of these days, but if that can't happen, then I'll just continue to visit on a regular basis. It's a *great* university town where one can definitely pursue an active outdoorsy lifestyle (the type of lifestyle to which I aspire but do not quite meet).

Part of that "outdoorsy" lifestyle seems to also include or incorporate a sustainable/green living attitude, which I also have in mind but for which I don't necessarily make great sacrifices. Being around people who compost and garden and buy goat's milk and make their own cheese... Well, it inspires me to a certain degree, but then it also makes me defensive about my own lifestyle. Obviously I need to "get over it", but I feel that certain individuals are smug without reason or right, whereas I wallow in guilt about the fact that I use the clothes dryer in our house, don't compost or recyle and have a penchant for new clothes.

However, I don't feel UNBEARABLY guilty about the fact that I am a meat eater. I admire people who are vegetarians, I usually buy meat that is from a local butcher, I look at where my fish is from and what type of fish it is, but I am not sure if I could ever give up meat. Maybe I should for a month or so, just to practice. And Michael and I will eat vegetarian meals for several days in a row, but we are not overly conscientious about vegetarianism. Again, the pang and twinge of guilt!
Not to shed all sense of personal responsibility, I do blame this complete omnivorism on my part on the fact that I was in 4-H for several years and had to raise two lambs. That experience completely left me devoid of a great bastion of empathy for animals, despite the fact that I did win a ribbon for showmanship one year (if you don't know that that means, email me). My dogs, that's a different matter in terms of animal-human-relationships. I still remember being 12 years old (or so) and running all around my yard so that my lamb could "make weight" for the local livestock show. Talk about a negative experience! Michael has his own negative childhood animal experience, growing up with pigs and goats and coming to hate both of them, to a degree.

In addition to being in 4-H, I come from a family of hunters. Not that I have killed an animal (sent it off across the auctioning block, absolutely!).... I actually learned WHY I found hunting so distasteful last week when I was at that conference. It had nothing to do with my compassionate spirit. When I was a small child, my parents took me hunting, and I couldn't tolerate the sound of the guns going off. Believe it or not, girls hear better than boys, so noises that don't necessarily upset/disturb/frighten boys have a stronger affect on girls. I happened to cry and cover my ears when the guns were going off, which did not promote good hunting!
But anyway, I grew up eating venison, quail and dove that my father and brothers hunted and the animals that we unfortunately raised. The venison and the lamb tended to be overly strong and very "gamey", and I remember lying to friends who came to my house to eat. They would ask what the meat was, I would lie, they would ask for ketchup and my father would have a mild fit. Keeping all of that in mind, it wasn't until later in life when I ate tender venison and lamb that I realized how mouth-watering GOOD these could be.

So, I am an unapologetic but sometimes guilty-feeling carnivore. That said, I do try to make good choices when it comes to meat, fish and fowl. So, when Michael's brother and sister-and-law suggested a place to buy bison, we jumped at the chance. After getting lost in a small town in Colorado, we finally called the place (twice?) and found a meat-eater's paradise known as "Rocky Plains". It was almost in the middle of nowhere, and we walked into a small room that held the Holy Grail of game. Controlling ourselves, we stocked up on plenty of bison and elk, excited to use the meat over the next few weeks/months.

Transporting the meat BACK to Los Angeles from Colorado seemed to be a no-brainer for us - put the meat in the cooler that we had with lots of ice. Unfortunately, by the time we returned to LA and checked out the cooler, the meat had begun the defrost process. In a panic, we devised a play to cook ALL the meat over the course of the next few days, eat some of it and freeze the rest. We soon came to our senses and decided that we could probably freeze some of it again without major harm. Still, we worked our way through a pound of elk and a pound of bison. With the elk, we made some really great burgers with blue cheese (!), and then we made lasagna with the bison. The burgers and the lasagna were super tasty, or maybe I just convinced myself of their goodness? Despite that last thought, I do think that cooking with meat such as bison or elk is a better experience thanks to the quality of the food.
So, maybe I won't give up meat altogether, but processed beef... Why not?

I know that there are plenty of people who give up meat for a range of different reasons, but for those who are environmentally conscious AND omnivores, how to play both sides?
And for those who are vegetarian, I would love to know your story (if there is "a story) too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Professional Development, Part II

Although I have definitely moved beyond the "life-is-frantic" moment that hit me right after grades were due, final meetings adjourned, bags packed and Michael and I zoomed off to Colorado, I am still luxuriating a bit in the "I drank the Kool-Aid" sensation from the conference that I attended. Seriously, the day after our final meetings, Michael and I woke up well before dawn and headed East to Colorado. I had a conference to attend, and he decided to visit family in Colorado, so that all worked out well. 16 hours later, I wondered why the hell I had agreed to drive to said conference, since I could have taken a nice, easy flight out. I must be a glutton for punishment! That said, I really love the road trip experience and having a sense of the spaces in between some of my favorite watering holes. Utah was especially beautiful at this time of the year, the late spring greens from rainfall striking against the reddish rocks. Just amazing! One last note on the trip, I do like to drive with Michael and Gus and Milo, our dogs. It's the whole family in the Toyota!
Anyway, the conference, again, was fantastic. If I didn't sometimes 'worry' about my identity, I would put all the information possible up here on this blog. Let's just say that it renewed my passion in teaching and working with adolescents, and I also learned TONS. Being in the role of a student and sucking down all sorts of new information is such an amazing reminder of my own students' experience (hopefully I inspire them on occasion, although I have doubts about that too). I would say that I came away with a few major themes that I hope to integrate into next year, in one way or another:
- "The teachable moment" and how to comment on students' behavior, not on their identity (for instance, I can say, "When you arrive late to class every day, it frustrates me" rather than saying "Why can't you get to class on time????!!!!!!!!" with a mean tone). Not that I'm ever mean to students....
- The idea of "stretching", that we are wired or programmed in certain ways and have certain strengths, but that we can and should grow and develop other strengths. The same applies to our students - be aware of their strengths and their learning styles, but don't cater to them. Make them grow and learn.

So, yeah, some great stuff. I also met really interesting people, and the best part was to trade anecdotes or to just talk about different schools and different school cultures. There are times when I feel so apologetic for working at an independent school, despite being the fortunate product of one, an experience that literally changed my life. I do not believe for a moment that I would be teaching now if it weren't for the fact that I attended an independent (or private) school for my junior and senior years of high school. Although I am not the "best" alumnus out there, the school and the teachers and classmates left a lasting impression on me, and there resides a sliver of hope that I can, in some small way, affect one or more students whom I teach. These are not students that suffer from great socio-economical disadvantage, for the most part, but is life as an adolescent easy for anyone?
There are a myriad of reasons as to why I sometimes feel a passion for teaching, and at times that passion wanes and other times it burns fiercely. I also know that I fall into dry routines on more than one occasion, and I would love to be more inspired next year in the classroom.
In the meantime, I'm getting through summer school. So much for inspiration!