Friday, July 27, 2012

This, That, and the Other Thing

Mum's the word on the blog as of late.   Life has been pretty hectic lately and I've had little time to recount my adventures.  So here's a quick overview of what I've been up to this summer before I go back to the craziness of my schedule.

An Indulgent Weekend of Memories

I recently sojourned back to my hometown for a doubleheader of social event - the wedding of my oldest friend and my 10-year high school reunion.

The wedding was seriously one of the best I've ever attended.  Held at a local park, there was only close family and friends, maybe 45 people at most.  Everyone sat down to a picnic-style lunch and then they had their ceremony.  Everything was simple, refreshing, and meaningful.  A perfect example that weddings don't have to be a big production.

Simple but tasty cake and cute homemade table decorations

Wild flowers formed the ceremony centerpieces
After a quick break, I journeyed to the opposite side of the lake and took a trip into the past.  Maybe 25 of my 100 classmates came, but honestly, it was really nice.  Those that came really wanted to be there.  To talk and connect, not just reminisce.  I genuinely had a fantastic time catching up with people and spent 6 hours doing so.

It was also a good lesson in judging people.  When you come from a small town and you're one of the few who has moved away, you tend to think that you've escaped the shackles of stagnation and gone on to something better.  It's easy to look down on those who have never moved away from their place of birth, particularly when you see the town never changing.

But as I listened to my classmates who are still locals, I grew to understand and respect their decisions.  They talk about how their families are still there, aging relatives need a helping hand, they found jobs like anyone else, they have a strong network of friends, and it's a good place to raise a family.   

I mean, isn't that largely what everyone wants out of where they live?  When I consider that Mike and I are still searching for the right place to truly call home, I am glad for them.  It's a true gift to be where you want to be.


In addition to my magazine job, I also teach several times a year for a private Iowa university.  I made this connection when we lived back in Cedar Falls and I now split my teaching duties between the Cedar Rapids and the Waterloo centers.  I generally teach four courses a year (8-week schedule) and classes are offered sporadically.  Because students don't always need what I can teach (gen. ed.), my services aren't required on a routine basis.  

I love teaching.  Anyone who knows me can tell you teaching isn't a skill of mine, it's a personality trait.  There's many ways to become a teacher, but I've always gravitated to it naturally.  It's just a part of me that needs to thrive.  

In my head, I hope I'm as interesting as McGonagall and not laughable like Trelawney (source)
This summer's teaching schedule has been challenging.  I have not only one but two courses I've never taught before - a public speaking class (not even in my field) and a popular literature course. 

This means that I had to create these classes from scratch - everything from lectures and PowerPoints to in-class activities and worksheets.  Not to mention the very structure of the course - assignments, text list, reading schedules, grading rubrics.  I'll be all the more prepared the next time I teach these courses, but preparing for these has certainly demanded more of my attention than I was counting on. 

I'm also teaching two courses right now when I normally do one at a time.  With a 4.5-hour night class, that means two of my evenings are completely accounted for and one involves a 2-hour roundtrip commute. 

Luckily, I have awesome students and they never seem to have a clue when I'm feeling less than competitent because I'm in new terrain or I'm a touch frazzled because I'm working two jobs at once.  

Fun with Friends

As I move into the second half of this deployment, my social schedule is much more managable.  It's true that most weekends I have something on the calendar, but it usually only involves one of my days and not the entire weekend.  The activities are usually low-key as well.

For example, I went on my first scrapbooking retreat earlier this month.  Some girlfriends and I rented a local place that was for quilting/crafts marathons and provided cute sleeping quarters.  It was nice to not go far but feel you were somewhere else.  

Mine looks NOTHING like this (source)
I'm not a crafty gal by any means.  I always loved arts and crafts as a kid, but I never found a medium that really spoke to me (or honestly, that I was good at, lol).  I have friends who knit, cross stitch, crochet, make jewelry, do photography, paint, and sew clothes.  I just like other people's art :)     

I scrapbooked in college but haven't touched anything in five years despite collecting odds and ends from trips and weddings along the way.  Certainly had enough material to work with! 

I find that while I don't gain any concrete pleasure from scrapbooking, like it would be something I was in the mood to do, it is an easy way for my brain to shut off and my hands to stay busy.  It's relaxing and helps me to slow down.     

Work + Life Balance

As I struggle to keep my schedule and sanity in check, I am implementing a new rule - weekend activities can only demand one full day of my time.  For example, I will be visiting my sister in several weeks.  I will go up on a Friday and come back on a Saturday, leaving all of Sunday to myself.   

I find that I really need a solid day or an uninterrupted half day to just be spontaneous, to have no demands or schedule, and to simply be a home relaxing.  I become irritable when my life is really scheduled and I'm always on the go, which has pretty much been the last couple of months.  This restores a touch of balance to keep me recharged for the next round of must-dos and take-care-of-this-nows

Movies/TV Watched Lately

Citizen Kane, Some Like It Hot, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?, and Silence of the Lambs (all for the film class I'm teaching)

We're Not Married (Marilyn Monroe)

Scrubs - now halfway through Season 5 (thank you Netflix and 25-minute episodes)

Books Reading
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (class)
The Apt Pupil (also Stephen King, for pleasure)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (amazing book, also for class)
The Hunger Games (re-reading for class)
The Help (you guessed it, for class)
The Outliers (have borrowed from a friend for too long and need to finish stat!)

On the shelf - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (patiently waiting in line) and Shadow of Night (resisting the temptation to start because I know I won't be able to put it down!)

How is your summer going along?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July 4th - My Least Favorite Holiday

News shocker - I'm not a fan of July 4th.  

What's that, you cry?!  How is it possible for a military spouse to not enjoy massive amounts of grilled food on her country's birthday?  How can she not shed a few tears every time the anthem is played or a flag waves?  How can she not break out a red, white, and blue outfit on the most sacred day in the US?

In short, because it's just another holiday that is commercialized, overly busy, full of scheduled expectations, and soaking wet in disingenious patriotism. 

There, I'm officially a party pooper :)  

You have to understand that I hail from a small town that lives and breathes for its July 4th celebration.  The population doubles from a cozy 10,000 to a nauseating 20,000+.  The crowds get even more insane depending on which political pundit makes an appearance in a given year.  

The parade is one long commercial for local businesses, a reverence for all of the area sports teams, and a deluge of church pamphlets.  The carnival downtown is as you would expect - overrun with teenagers on a sugar high and iffy looking rides.  I'll give them credit for the fireworks though.

Out of my 28 years, I have spent virtually every Independence Day in Clear Lake.  I have been in 9 parades - 1 time as a flag, 6 times playing an instrument, and twice herding students with instruments.  I have played in 8 evening concerts for the Municipal Band and would be happy if I never heard a march again. 

Aside from the obligatory funnel cake, I am 4th of July-out.  Seriously.  After Hillary Clinton and Bill walked the parade a few years back and there were 40,000 people in town, I vowed to NEVER be in Clear Lake on the 4th.  

It's not just a battling the crowds issue.  Or sweating like a pig at a hog roast while you watch the parade.  Or awkardly running into people from the past who have the same Leave It To Beaver worldview.  Or that when my husband's deployed and I see him being treated like a disposable tool (more so than usual), Uncle Sam and I tend to exchange dirty looks.   
It's simply the general hullabaloo that goes with the 4th.  To me, it's become obnoxious.  It's so American - big, brassy, and busy.

I know, that's what people love about it.  I'm not knocking the Statue of Liberty and all she stands for.  And I'm certainly not hating on all of you grill-happy, sparkler-holding, parade-loving junkies out there either.  I just cringe at the thought of being subjected to so much stimulation in one day.  

I relish that I have tomorrow off and no where to go, no one to see, no schedule to hold to.  It's my personal independence day from work and teaching and I'm going to spend it patriotically watching movies and reading.  

Because that's one things we Americans need more of - rest and relaxation.

How are you spending your 4th?