Monday, June 29, 2015

Considering Lilies

I woke up this morning and realized that it was a Monday and I didn't have to go anywhere school- related.  This hasn't stopped me from thinking about school, planning lessons and piling up the teaching books that I optimistically hope to have read by summer's end.  I am my own worst enemy.

What will I do after I retire?  I've realized that this is my last summer planning for the next school year.  For the past 31 years, I've told people that I refused to be defined by my career.  I'm here to say that I was wrong -- teaching is in my bones, my heartbeat, my breath.  I'm already consumed by regret that here at the end of it all, I'm finally getting a glimpse of the teacher I always longed to be.  I'm a slow but steady learner.  Part of me wants to dig in and keep at it for a while longer, but I know that it's time to stop.  My aspirations have always been a moving mark well-ahead of my skill -- I can pat myself on the back that I've never given up trying to improve.  I'm defined by that as well, and hope to carry that quality with me when I begin my new life next summer.  What that new life will look like is still a mystery.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Walk

School's been out for three weeks, but my workload didn't let up.  I helped conduct the writing workshop for the first two weeks and then attended a science institute the third week.  So my summer break officially began this past weekend.  I celebrated my liberty by taking the dogs for a walk on Saturday.  My momentum for walking has been ebbing away as I've gotten busier and tireder.  I had great reasons for not making the effort to get the steps in, but in the end I felt so disappointed in myself that this feeling got me moving again.  So on Saturday morning I decided to tackle Gopher Ridge.

From our road, Gopher Ridge just doesn't look like that big of a deal.  It's a big bump of a hill that lulls the uninitiated into a false sense that it's an easy walk.  The dogs, the horse and I know better.  It makes for a lovely view, but it's not nicknamed "Buttbuster Hill" for nothing.

It's starts out gradually enough, but it just never lets up and keeps getting steeper.  My Wharf to Wharf run I'm entered in is at the end of next month and my legs know that they've been slacking off.  So I walked at as brisk a pace as I could muster.  The dogs hated me for this.  They stopped at every clump of shade and sat and panted sadly at me.  I cracked the whip (metaphorically) and kept them moving.  A sixty year old lady should not be able to outwalk her whippersnapper dogs.  Have they no pride?

The answer is that, no, they don't.  As the road became steeper, I could hear them grumbling under their panting.  I ignored the lack of enthusiasm and kept the lot us going.  The sun got hotter and the ascent began feeling like a trek up Mt. Everest.  I told the dogs that we were having fun.  They didn't believe me, but (since they are dogs), they went along with the charade.  Reluctantly.

The view from the top is amazing.  Our home in the foothills is in a pretty but unremarkable location.  But from the top of nearby Gopher Ridge, one can see the soft blue of Sierra Nevada Range waltzing across the horizon.  Every time I stand in this place I'm struck by the fact that nothing separates me from them but air.  If I could leap high enough, I'd be there in an instant.

Needless to say, the dogs didn't notice any of this.  All they knew was that they were hot.

At the top, we rested for a few minutes and then turned around and went back down.  Gravity was our friend and we picked up the pace.  We startled a small herd of deer and they leaped up the hillside with no trouble at all.  The dogs didn't bat an eye -- too much effort.

Everything is so dry.  How many years of drought is it now?  Four, I think.  The trees and bushes are hunkered down, intent on surviving.  I love this place so much but am powerless to conjure up a rainstorm  So I drink in the beauty and hold the thought that we'll somehow make it through these dry times.

The dogs survived their own dry times.  When we got home, they made a beeline for the ever-shrinking pond and splashed right on in.


In another few weeks the pond will be gone.  Enjoy it while you can, sweet puppies!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Birthday Mama!

Mama's birthday is always a joyful celebration:  we do know how to enjoy ourselves!  Summer birthdays lend themselves to delicious (and easy to prepare) dishes.  The hardest part is settling on the menu -- so much choice.

We settled on starting with a salad of tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella with a drizzle of olive oil.

We moved on to grilled oysters with butter and garlic.

And then we had rice pilaf, grilled salmon with rosemary, and chicken.

We ended with a fresh lemon bundt cake (it had 9 lemons in it!).  Arby helped blow out the candles.

It was a splendid day -- relaxed and easy but also full of laughter and happiness.  We're blessed!

 In a day that was full of nice things, I think that one of the high points were the water snails.  I'd gotten them for the summer class on snails and they seemed to be asking to go to Mama.  As soon as she clapped her eyes on them, everyone's fate was sealed -- those are going to be two very well-taken care of and loved mollusks.

Happy birthday, Mama!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Traveling at a Snail's Pace

Tomorrow is the last day of the two week science/writing camp and we'll be having our Open House.  The students will read their work to parents, show off their art and the snails, we'll play the slideshows that they created and drink punch and eat cookies.  Then, after everyone leaves, we'll clean the classroom, pack up all of our stuff and leave it (hopefully) exactly as we found it.

We had a fun group of second/third graders, but am reminded once again of why I chose to leave teaching the primary grades to other teachers: I can only take so much barely-contained, bouncy energy. However, the children and I have developed jokes and bonds in the short time we've been together and I'm going to miss them.  I think some of them will miss me too, which is nice.

Me, in my persona of Snail Lady (all the students will leave knowing that malacologists study mollusks.  This tidbit of arcane knowledge should prove useful to almost none of their bright futures, but who cares?  It's a great word!)

But I'm ready for a break from teaching.  I'll also admit that I'm mildly resentful to have already used up two weeks of my summer break by being back in the classroom.  I didn't have to do this, but agreed to it anyway.  What's with that?  I appear to have turned into one of those teachers who are never able to drop school and pick up with their own life.  I have a garden crying out to be loved, a horse that needs riding, legs that need to get back into walking 7-10 miles a day, a loom gathering dust, drawers of stuff that need cleaning out.

But before I can get to all of that, I'm signed up for a one-week science curriculum conference at our county office.  Am I insane?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Here comes the judge!

Yes it's been many weeks since I posted last.  As the days pass, I make my usual mental notes of what  I'll write about and compose things in my head.  I entertain myself with this and then never actually sit down to write it all down.  Since I last wrote, I took my 4th graders on our overnight trip to the ocean, survived all that comes with the last few weeks of school, and sent all my students away to have wonderful summers.  For myself, I drove to a nearby town to meet with the teacher I'm working with to teach a summer writing/technology session to second and third graders.  The subject is the study of snails and there are teachers who have signed up to watch how we teach -- so we have to be in top form.  I worked on lesson plans for this all last weekend and then my teaching partner and I launched into teaching the unit on Monday.  The 20 students are great, the other teachers are wonderful and even the snails in their terrariums are adorable -- but by late afternoon Friday, I was feeling fried.  Beat.  Exhausted.  Ready for a long nap.

So this is what I did instead.  I changed my clothes and drove out to the long-abandoned Copperopolis copper mine to learn how to judge a trail horse competition.  And seeing my old friend Mary was more invigorating than any nap -- she's the one who's been right there as horse trainer to all my young horses, riding coach for me and person-to-turn-to in all dire horsey emergencies.  Plus she's just a good buddy!  Her latest venture is hosting a trail riding competition sanctioned by The American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA).  She and her family laid out a trail through the hills, creek beds, and slag heaps of the deserted mine that lies on over 300 acres just a stone's throw from our Main Street.  All these years living here, and I never even knew that the mine was there.  Anyway, she'd asked if I'd like to judge one of the obstacles and of course I said, "Yes".  The fact that I had no idea what this entailed didn't stop me at all.  By Friday evening it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to sign up, but Mary assured me that I'd do fine as a judge.  She explained it all and I spent the rest of the evening at my laptop watching videos on how to judge a trail horse obstacle.

And then it was the next day and I arrived at the mine hoping I knew enough to be at least an adequate judge.  Barring that, I hoped that at least I looked like a judge.  Summer has blasted into northern California several months early and we were in for another 100 plus day.  I wore shorts and so did many of the other judges.  Point for me.

This was the judges' meeting.  It is a universal truth that a clipboard and a pen makes anyone feel and look more official.  A hat also helps.  But not as much as a clipboard.

Of seven judges, only one had judged before.

But Mary explained it all in a way that gave us all confidence.  Plus we had the clipboards.

Bruce (along as a photographer and my official chauffeur) drove me to my obstacle: "Trash Compactor"

All it consisted of was a bunch of plastic bottles thrown in a ditch.  The riders job was to have their horse walk down the middle of them without argument or hesitation.  My job was to keep score of how well they accomplished this.

Some horses quickly decided that they were being unreasonably being asked to walk through a valley of monsters and made a  point to walk up the sides of the embankment rather than let their hooves touch plastic.

Others just stepped right on down the middle of the bottles and took no mind of scattering them.  The man on the left was an elderly gentleman whose horse took heartwarming care of him.  The girl on the paint horse on the right was in perfect communication with her mount.  They both radiated happiness and trust -- lovely to see!

It was a joy to do something horse-related after none-stop school for so long.  Now my mind is turned to riding Corny and putting some of these obstacles in front of him.  I want to see how he walks through plastic bottles (he'd probably try to eat them...).  This has been good for my soul.