20 July 2006

From London

Hello from London!

Just a quick post to say it is damn hot here and that I climbed to the tippy-top of St. Paul's yesterday afternoon. The brochure said it was 523 steps, but it felt like a million, all uneven and stony and curved around the core column. Still... the view was amazing!

Today I'm off to see Salisbury and Stonehenge (and some other things). Crossing my fingers that the temperature will finally go down, or else I need to buy the biggest bottle of water in the world!

17 July 2006

Aaaand... We're Off!

My flight to Heathrow leaves in less than twenty-four hours, and I'll admit: there are still a hundred things I need to do. But what's more important, really? Blogging... or packing?

Blogging, of course.

I am ever a last-minute packer. This time, I haven't even made a list to check off as I hurriedly smash clothes and books into a suitcase. I figure that as long as I have my passport and my credit card, I should be fine. Oh, and three pairs of shoes. (Jess and I had this discussion last summer before a group of us went to New Orleans. We decided that three pairs of shoes were the ideal number; more than that is obsessive, less than that is unreasonable. And even with three pairs of shoes each, we still managed to pack for carry-on. How's that for the modern woman?)

So tomorrow I'm on my way to England for ten days. I do this every year-- just pack up and travel around the U. K. for a week or two, staying at off-the-beaten-path youth hostels and living out of my suitcase. Riding the bus, counting the sheep, hitting every tea shop within a ten-mile radius. Pretty soon I'm going to run out of places to visit, but for the moment, as long as I keep reading my British history (I'm super into Alfred the Great right now), there will always be ruins and battlefields of note for me.

This is my best memory out of all my trips over all these years:

It was 2002, and my first trek by myself (I'd been when I was 16 with my parents and again when I was 20 with a group from college-- we read Wordsworth in the hills and valleys where he wrote). I was making a circuitous route around the country; I started in London, then traveled south to Dover, then north to Bakewell (still one of my favorite places), then even further north to Aysgarth, a little out-of-the-way town I chose because it had the closest hostel to Middleham, which had a ruined castle I wanted very badly to see because of its connextions to Richard III.

The hostel was formerly a tuberculosis hospital (lovely, right?) and stood right above what really made Aysgarth famous: the Aysgarth Falls. It was also a mile downhill from the town itself... and the bus stop. So each day I was there, I would make the uphill trek past the winking barn, past the cowfields, and into the town to wait for the very reliable bus.

Well, the day before I left Aysgarth, it started to rain-- and rain-- and rain. It rained all day and all night. And in the morning, when I walked with my suitcase and my carry-all up to the town, it was still raining. But by this time, there were huge rivers running alongside the sidewalks and where there was once a cowfield was... also a river, of sorts. As I walked, cars drove by and splashed huge amounts of muddy water on me like something out of slapstick.

I finally made it to the bus stop and onto the bus. But the adventure was just beginning...

For, as we began our journey to Leyburn (where I'd change for North Allerton, where I'd train to York-- honestly, I had a lot to learn about traveling around the U. K. in those days), I watched as the water on the roads grew higher and higher. The bus driver-- a younger man than I was used to seeing driving the buses in the north-- navigated his way through them the best he could, but finally, we came to a stop in a bank of water three feet high. He leaned out his window and shouted to the cars on the other side of the bank, "You can't make it through here!"

And we turned around and drove back to Aysgarth. I wasn't exactly sure what was going to happen-- I thought perhaps he would drop us off at the bus stop and... make us wait until the water dried up a bit? Instead, the driver made a sharp right onto the road past the hostel and over the Aysgarth Falls. It went up higher, he explained to those of us along for the ride, and would likely be less flooded.

As we rode over the Falls, the water was gushing with a strength it had lacked only the day before. Another few feet and it would be over the bridge. But the driver got us over quickly and soon, we were on our less-watery way to Leyburn.

It was amazing, too-- we were only a few minutes off the bus' normal schedule. As the driver parked the bus in the square, we passengers burst into cheers for him before dispersing to our next destinations.

I've seen a lot of the world, but sitting on that bus in the middle of nowhere as the rain poured down and the waters rose around us, scared at times that the bus would tip over or float away with everyone still aboard-- that was my favorite adventure of all time.

14 July 2006

Take Me Out...

My softball double-header scheduled for tonight was cancelled for... reasons unknown. I think the field was inspected and deemed unplayable. Honestly. A month ago we played in a thunderstorm, and tonight the grass is just a little too wet? Since I'm going to miss four games while I'm overseas, I was really looking forward to this weekend's set of double-headers (we play on Sunday, too-- rescheduled games from three weeks ago when the weatherman predicted "severe storms." We got... um, clear skies all night).

I played baseball and softball until I was ten; that was the season where my batting average dropped so drastically that my parents took me to get my eyes checked. Turns out I needed glasses. And that was the end of my team sports career. (I often wonder why I let it be the end; probably because my glasses were horrible, huge pink-rimmed things, and to add insult to injury, I would have been forced to wear horrible, huge chemistry-lab-esque googles over them to play. That was enough to kill my very real dreams of being a professional ball player.)

So it's been a couple years... or fifteen. But when my brother, WS, first mentioned the idea of putting together a co-ed league softball team, I was on board immediately. My father, who coached both of us in the early days, took it upon himself to mold me back into the softball player buried beneath the years of sedentary activity (um, reading on the couch). He took me to the batting cage and played catch with me-- wow, it's almost like a sports movie montage. And I improved significantly, and now all I want to do is play softball.

WS is the team's manager/coach, and the team itself is mostly made up of people with whom he works and their significant others. We have a continually rotating roster in which WS and I are the only people who have played in every game. This is both good and bad: good when the absolutely sweet but truly terrible players can't make it, and bad when the I-played-softball-for-my-state-champion-team-in-college players can't make it. Last Friday, so few of our players showed up that we had to recruit two-thirds of our team from our fans. Really. People came to cheer us on and ended up playing for us.

It's was actually my favorite game of the season so far. Ultimately, I am forced to let go of my super-competitiveness (blame WS, whose mantra is "life's a competition") and accept that we are a ragtag bunch. The Bad News Bears of the adult softball league. Only we don't win games. Ever.

But yay! There is still one team in the league with a worse record than ours.

Okay, I can let go of some of my super-competitiveness...

Cold Shower

I love a long shower. When I lived with my parents, those eighteen years before college, no one in my family could take a shower for at least an hour after I had-- I used up all the hot water once or twice a day at least. Once, when we trekked to Nebraska and got snowed in (eight family members--rather, say death!) at my uncle's one-bedroom house for what became the Worst New Year's of All Time, I took at a minimum four showers a day because it was the only place in the house where I could get away from everyone.

During the school year, I have very strict shower times. First at five in the morning. Second at eleven o'clock at night. Since this is my summer vacation and I can stay up as late as I want (honestly, I'm almost shocked at how insignificant time seems right now-- it could be five in the afternoon for all I know or care), I've taken to showering in the wee hours.

But I'm quickly discovering that one- and two-in-the-morning showers yet surprisingly little hot water. And for some reason, half the water is coming out of the faucet instead of the showerhead, so the water pressure is terrible, and I can't get all the conditioner out of my haven't-worn-it-this-long-since-high-school hair.

I like my showers hot and my water pressure hard, dammit.

(Hm, it sound slighty dirty, but it's very true.)

13 July 2006

In Praise of Project Runway

Okay, so I'm totally lame, but here it is: the highlight of my yesterday was not the library or driving my car to the library or sitting outside Starbuck's in the sun (this was of course before the storm), drinking a raspberry black iced tea, and reading about Wales.

No, the highlight was curling up on the couch at ten o'clock and turning on the season premiere of Project Runway.

I love this show above all other reality shows (yes, even The Amazing Race, which, over the course of the last two seasons, is working it way to "dead to me"). This is what got me to fight through my often unfightable Wednesdays during the second half of the school year: the prospect of an hour of Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, and fashion designer wannabes/fame whores who have to step up to whatever wacky challege they are given that week.

I love that designers aren't voted off the island or forced to make alliances that last all of two seconds or required to eat bugs in order to remain in the competition. They just have to... be good designers. And so little of the show is dedicated to what so many reality shows these days thrive on-- the personal drama. No, the focus here is on

(1) how the designers create and implement their respective visions, like when they go to Mood, the fabric store, and pick out their materials,
(2) the runway show (my favorite part!),
(3) the judging, which seems to me an excellent critique by people who know what they're talking about, and
(4) Tim Gunn, whom I love with the passion of a thousand fiery suns.

I'll also admit that I scoffed at Project Runway's premise when I first heard it (much in the same way that I was digusted by the idea of America's Next Top Model, which I, um, now love not quite as much as I love Tim Gunn but more than I love, say, coffee. I know-- sacrilege!). But I turned it on a couple of episodes into the first season and was hooked immediately. Now it's just starting its third season, and I am so there!

Project Runway's greatness is not only felt by me, however. This past March, I was chaperoning a trip to NYC for our publications students, and at one point, we were waiting in line for the theatre we where would be seeing Rent to open. Suddenly, a group of our girls started shrieking and running up the stairs of the building we were standing in front of. Of course, everyone in line immediately stiffens, looking around (and up) suspiciously.

"What is their problem?" asked one of the other chaperones a little nervously.

I looked over, and lo and behold, the girls are jumping up and down in front of Parson's New School of Design, where all the Project Runway designers do their work for the show (and where Tim Gunn teaches, or directs, or does whatever it is his kick-ass self does). "Oh, that's the Project Runway place," I replied casually, not quite willing to admit to my fellow teachers that my nightly programming involves "Where the hell is my chiffon?" and not interviews with scholars about Shakespeare's works.

But now I feel I can declare my love in the open. So, thank you, Project Runway, for returning early to Bravo and especially for including Tim Gunn in the credits.

And a quick note about those shrieking girls-- the security guard eventually let them into the lobby of Parson's... AND gave them Austin's button. If you watch the show, you know how absolutely, totally cool that is.

12 July 2006

Grrr and Argh

Bah! I got a call from one of the assistant principals at school today-- my AP is retiring (which I've known for a while now because I've got "insider sources," i.e. a very close relative who works at HR), and the admins wanted me to sit in on the panel interviews for his position on the 26th.

But I can't! I'll be overseas on that day, and while I'm super-excited about my trip (super-duper-uber-excited, in fact), I'm disappointed to miss this opportunity. I've never sat in on an interview panel before, and it's really important that my department have a representative who can contribute. I recommended a few teachers who could take my place and who will do a great job... but I still wish it could be me.

Beyond that, however, I am having a relaxing, if not particularly proactive, day. I went to Wegman's-- I worship at the altar of Wegman's, by the way-- for some fruits (black plums!) vegetables (mashed cauliflower!). After lunch and some reading, I went to the library to pick up some books for my trip. Most of which I will have finished before I leave, but it's worth a shot.

I was surprised how crazy-crowded the library was; I could hardly find a seat, let alone a computer on which to search the online catalogue. At one point, I was walking past a desk with two computers where a group of teenagers (I just can't get away from them, even in the summer) were all hovered around one but weren't using the other, so I asked one of the girls-- because I'm polite that way-- "Are you using this, because I need to do a catalogue search."

She glanced at the desk, where she had her sunglasses and wallet piles, then at the computer, then at me, and said, "Yeah, I'm using it."

I looked at the screen. It was still on the intro page-- do you want to search for title, author, keyword, subject? "Um, okay," I replied. So not worth getting into, even though the girl turned right back to the other computer and her friends.

When I left the library half an hour later, those kids were still "using" the two computers. Must have been one advanced search they were doing.

Well, it's been thunderstorming for the last two hours, and my poor Q is sitting at my feet and shaking so hard the desk is moving. He hates the thunder, and he's come to associate it with heavy rain and heavy wind, so any usual weather leads to tail-between-the-legs, hiding-in-the-bathroom, refusing-to-go-outside. I've learned in my two years with Q that the best thing to do when he gets like this is to sit on the couch with him and rub his head. Which is what I am off to do.

11 July 2006

A Scholarly Night Out

I went to my first book club meeting tonight, and it was brilliant. I've always wanted to be in a book club (with the amount of reading I do on a weekly basis, I could join five), but the opportunity never came about until now. Well, that's not completely true. A group of teachers at school started a book club two years ago, and I was excited about it... But I never attended a meeting. Why? Because they met after school at school-- and I spend enough time at school as it is.

It's also because I've come to the conclusion that I can't be friends with the people I work with (there are some notable exceptions to that rule, but sadly, very few). I wish I could, but I'm surrounded by the in-it-for-lifers (some of whom have been teaching at my school for twenty to thirty years), and all we have to talk about is work. I envy my friends who work with people their own age and grab a happy hour together and hang out, but for the moment, that is so not possible for me. Ah, well.

One of those very lucky friends, Liz, is the one who got me into this book club in the first place (it's made up of mostly people she worked with at her old job). As I mentioned in my last post, the book we were discussing was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, a very poignant piece about what makes us human. The characters in the story grow up at a school where they are encouraged to be creative and appreciate each other-- like normal students-- but their ultimate purpose in life, what they are being raised for-- is much darker. (I'm not going to give it away in case you haven't read it, but trust me... It's upsetting but thought-provoking.)

We met at Elephant and Castle and enjoyed cider and English pub food while we discussed the book. I ate chips with massive amounts of vinegar in preparation for my U.K. trip next week and talked way more than I expected to-- sometimes I'm more shy in theory than in practice. The conversation went in fits and starts, but overall it was interesting to hear what other people thought about some of the issue Ishiguro brings up.

And then Jess and I rode home on the metro together and discussed her upcoming move... while two men took pictures of each other posing at the pole people use to keep themselves upright when the train stops suddenly. Yeah, I don't know, either.

A New Set of Wheels

I woke up at 10:30 this morning-- unusually late for me, but then again, I was up until 1:30 rereading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go for my book club tonight. I actually finished it for the first time two weeks ago-- nearly making me late for a friend's wedding-- but I thought I should revisit so I'm really ready for some adult conversation about literature. I mean, I get to talk about books all the time with my students, but it's somehow different when you're dragging the discussion out of them with threats about their grades.

Anyway-- I walked Q (who, quite adorably, has finally realized that smacking me with his paws when he's ready to get up is useless and now curls up next to me and waits patiently until I manage to drag myself out of bed) then hopped into my car and headed to Starbuck's for my morning grande almond skim latte.

My car. >sigh<>

See, I've driven my gold '95 Saturn since I was a senior in college-- it was my mother's car, and my parents gave it to me when I started my student teaching-- and I liked it, mostly because it was paid off when I got it and all I had to worry about was repairs and gas. But it had been giving me problems for a while now (most noticably, it vibrated wildly when I went over 50 mph and stalled out when I was stopped at lights), so when it failed its state inspecton, I took it to the dealership. I thought, "Well, service costs have to be cheaper than getting a new car. Right? Right?"

Apparently, not so much. Sean the Service Guy called me on July 3, and when I asked how much it would cost, he laughed at me. No, seriously, he laughed at me.

It seemed fairly obvious at that point that I had no choice. So I picked up my poor old Saturn, took it home, and tried not to drive it for several days while I figured out what to do. For the first time in my life, I was checking out cars as I walked Q and made one slightly perilous trip to Safeway. In the end, my best friend Jess suggested I looked at Hyundai (her fiance drives one), so I did a little research and realized (1) the cars were nice and came in cool colors and (2) they were in my price range.

Sold! I hit the dealership on Friday and left a shocking two hours later (I couldn't believe how quickly they managed to sell me a car, transfer my plates, work with my bank on my loan, etc.) with a 2006 Hyundai Elantra in Tidal Wave blue. I never thought I was the kind of person who would drive a blue car, but then again, I thought I'd be driving the Saturn till I died.

Well, I'm off to the library... not really because I need to go but because I need a reason to drive!

10 July 2006

To Blog

I have never been a diary-keeper or a journal-writer. I've tried over the years-- and valiantly-- to keep records of my life, but I'm inconsistent. And I tend to misplace the spiral notebooks in which I keep my confidences. And my hand gets tired easily.

But there are no excuses with a blog, so I'm making the-- yes, valiant-- attempt once again. Mostly because I can stay up late now that it's summer.

Ah, summer.

It's currently 10:30 PM, and I have no plans to head to bed soon. During the school year, this is the point in the evening at which I begin watching the clock. Thinking, "If I shower now, I'll still have fifteen minutes to read before I really should go to sleep." I try very hard to have lights out by 11 on weeknights because I get up at 5 AM to be at school by 6 AM and ready for classes to start at 7:20 AM. (I would really rather start early and end early, but on those winter mornings when the cars are coated in a thick layer of frost and the act of breathing is like dragging an ice cube down the throat, I can see the value of starting school at 9.)

But work is behind me (for another month and a half, at least), and I can forget time and date and even the day of the week right now.

I'll be honest, though-- I still check my work e-mail. I know that I shouldn't; I know that I don't have to; but I know there will be at least one e-mail daily that will annoy the hell out of me, and I would rather take care of it ASAP than have a huge pile of them waiting for me when school starts again in the fall. Practicality beats all.

Okay, so I'd like to write more, but my dog (Q) is sitting very patiently beside my chair, every so often glancing up at me with "If she doesn't get off the computer soon, I'm peeing on the curtains" in his eyes. So Q and I are off for an evening walk in which he will fertilize every bush in the neighborhood and I will try to avoid Post-It Guy, my across-the-hall neighbor and story for another time.