Students in Writ 095 are currently working on their blogs. The first assignment is an “About Me” piece. Simple, right? Maybe not. “Pay attention to length,” said I, “and grammar and mechanics matter. This is a writing class, after all…”
What about you, Teach? (Spoken in a true, Vinnie Barbarino accent…look it up, you young’uns). Yeah, so I have been teaching at Helena College for five and a half years now, was tenured this last May, and plan to die in my heels. In other words, I’m pretty sure this is my last professional stop, despite my young age…and I have no plans to permanently retire. At some point, I’ll cut back to 3/4 time or part time…but teaching runs through my blood as much as merlot. Not gonna get loose of me in the immediate future.
So, teaching, English, writing, literature, learning, all these are some of my priorities in life. Student success is my biggest celebration, and I would not quit teaching if I were rich, but I’d like to try rich for a while…
I live alone, but I do have a cockatiel who’s my companion. His name is Leo, short for Leonardo, and he and I have weathered 20 plus years together. I have a son who’s 30 years old, and an ex-husband who I don’t write about but who was an important part of 25-plus years of my life. My other passions are hiking, kayaking, music, reading, and teaching, not in that order.
Fall semester 2017 is a new experience for me: it’s the first fall semester, ever, that I’ve entered college with the status of “single.” It’s the first fall semester that I’ve entered college without my dad. It’s not that my dad was especially critical to my teaching, but he was critical to my sense of self: I always had a mom and dad (lucky, I know). He died last October 31st. Every day since then has been, “the first _____ since Dad died.” November 1st will change that, but October 31st will be a tough day for me to survive.
You want to know “about me”? I was a mediocre high school student who grew into a pretty darn smart mom, who became a really smart college student who excelled, who became a competent, committed, caring college teacher, who lives her life to the best of her abilities without regret. Let’s get to work.
Fortunately, I’m not paid to blog because, if I was, I’d be running a deficit right now. Neither am I paid to write, and that, too, would be a less-than-productive source of income for me based on the amount I’ve written lately. However, I AM paid to teach, and I’ve been doing a fair amount of work related to my teaching, especially and including The Rocket Project, formally known by the publication title, Helena’s Rocket Slide: The History of a Cultural Icon.
Astute readers might be wondering at the lack of symmetry between this and my previous blog post where I stated that the summer of 2017 would be dedicated to play and nonacademic pursuits, but those who know me well will not be surprised. Without an overabundance of things to occupy my time, I subconsciously start seeking other projects, and no one is more surprised than I when suddenly there’s no time to accomplish them all.
I’ll begin with The Rocket Project: since last August, that silly rocket has been in the periphery and then eventually at the forefront of my consciousness until finally culminating in the publication. Never having done an oral history project before, I began with researching what such a project entailed. Next, I tried to imagine how I could get lots of different people to “buy in” to the project, including students who would have to push out of their comfort zones (challenged already by the whole college experience) and call, setup, and interview complete strangers about a local landmark. Putting myself into their shoes, I knew they would hate it, and they did. I also banked on the hope that my cultural capital with enough of them would float the project well enough to be successful, and it was a good bet. Everyone eventually carried out their responsibilities, and many of them found that they grew dramatically as students—and citizens—after meeting such fascinating and inspiring people who were also donating their time and energies to support the fairgrounds and the Rocket Project. After literally hundreds of hours of my own time planning, arranging and facilitating interviews, grading papers, listening to and editing transcripts, and then publishing the book, I came away with a new reverence for civic engagement, selfless service, and the importance of “place” in our lives. I will never forget the experience of The Rocket Project.
I will be at the Lewis & Clark Last Chance Stampede Fair next week, from Wednesday until Saturday, selling copies of the book. TRIO Club Students2Scholars fronted funding to purchase a dozen copies of the book to sell, and when they’re gone, we’ll take orders for later delivery. Come by and see me! Say hello and take a peek at the book! Help me pass the time on a hot summer day.
Reflections, Writing 095, is in late production due to The Rocket Project, and I’m sweating bullets wondering how I’ll get it finished before school begins, but stranger things have happened, and I’m hoping to somehow pull off a miracle. Between that, planning fall classes, and my responsibilities as a member of the hiring committee of the UM President, I’m beginning to feel the pressure of fall pressing in.
The Rocket, however, has not entirely dominated my time, and Facebook friends know I’ve been very busy enjoying summer enthusiastically. I’ve hiked Refrigerator Canyon, Hanging Valley, Hauser Dam, Fleschers Pass, McQuithy Gulch, and Mount Helena, all new experiences except for Mount Helena, my go-to hiking area. I’ve kayaked Hauser Lake, Canyon Ferry, and the Reservoir and hope to get out on the Missouri before I head back to school. In terms of outdoor fun, it’s been one for the record books.
I’ve made time for friends and cultural pursuits, too, and my high school chum, Cinda, visited over the 4th of July, just before all of us were jolted awake by the 5.8 earthquake on July 6th at 12:30 a.m. What to do in the middle of the night after being wakened by a house-shaking earthquake? Why, check Facebook, of course! All my local friends were up and chatting about the frightening experience of waking to an earthquake in progress, and my own thoughts reflected my literary background: I’m not supposed to die in an EARTHQUAKE! I wonder if that’s how it feels when the time actually arrives, if the person is annoyed or shocked at how it all goes down.
Cinda in repose on my patio
My mother left today after visiting me for the first time since I’ve lived in Montana City. We took the Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour, the Last Chance Trolley Train, went sapphire mining at the Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine, and saw Tarzan at the Grandstreet Theatre. Along with a variety of Snapchat photos, meals out, and wine, I enjoyed the time with my mom tremendously and look forward to our next opportunity to spend time together. Since my dad died last October 31st, we’ve all been learning how to move forward as a family, and individually, without him here, and this was the first time Mom and I spent time alone, just us with nothing to do but have fun, and we did.
Finally, some people missed my December and January posts where I wrote about my failed marriage and were surprised by recent revelations that my hiking and kayaking partner is also a romantic partner. Mark is indulgent of my penchant for social media and indifferent to whether anyone knows or cares about our relationship, which I appreciate a lot. So, regular readers of my blog should expect to see frequent updates of the adventures of Mark and Karen, and I appreciate the many expressions of support and affection I’ve received, not only in the last couple months but the previous nine or ten months. I lived through several dark days and lots of self-doubt, but I’ve emerged on the other side, and though way behind in my goals for summer 2017, it certainly has been one to remember.
Hey all ya’all, and happy summer! Officially off the clock on May 17th, I’ve been busy in the best kind of ways ever since! This won’t be a post about teaching; I’m going to stray from the norm and write about the importance of leisure and the soul-soothing warmth of the summer sun.
Since May 2003 when I first started my college education, I’ve either worked or had internships or taught or took classes or did research or sometimes a combination of those during the summer months. I still enjoyed the slower pace and time for fun, but always in the background loomed some kind of major goal: create a new class; pass a class (or two); put together a promotion and/or tenure portfolio; read texts for ideas for assignments, etc. Not summer 2017.
I earned my tenure this spring (yeah, that’s a pretty big freaking deal) and my classes aren’t changing at all next year, so aside from putting together my syllabi, which I do every semester, I have no academic tasks to complete. I renewed my K-12 Class 2 license this year, good until 2022, at which time I’ll be 60 (gasp!!) years old and possibly will have won the lottery, so I won’t have to worry about renewal credits (better start buying some lotto tickets). All those years of working, planning, striving, studying and learning finally paid off and landed me here: the summer of 2017. And I’m going to enjoy it.
So far, I’ve been kayaking twice, hiking five or six times, and out with friends. Some of that time was spent in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park and some was spent on the waters and mountains surrounding Helena, and mixed in with that has been later-than-usual nights and leisurely mornings, sleeping late and coffee on the patio, time for journaling and shopping and friends.
I’m still working on the Rocket Project, and the longer I spend thinking about and reflecting on that incredible event, the more privileged I feel to have had such an opportunity to be involved in it. The sense of community that I found in the audio recordings, the reminisces of the community members who generously donated their time and memories, is tremendous; it resonates like a marching band on July 4th and humbles me that I am able to compile and prepare an historical artifact that encapsulates the civic-minded spirit of Helena’s community over the past sixty years. Publication is forthcoming but dependent upon my ever-encroaching social calendar. I plan to have the book completed before the Lewis and Clark County Fair in July. Stay tuned…
Speaking of books, I haven’t even begun work on this year’s edition of Reflections, but it’s in queue, after the Rocket Project, and it will be published before the end of July also. I have a long list of “to read” books for the summer, beginning with The Name of the Stars, a sequel written by Pete Fromm, a look back, in a way, at Indian Creek Chronicles, one of my all-time favorite books. I can’t wait to read it.
The rest of the summer is filling rapidly with an upcoming concert, a family reunion, friends visiting from out-of-town, my mom coming to visit me for the first time since I’ve moved here, and more kayaking, hiking, and of course, wine! Today, I spent the day on the water with my beloved June Caudle, and my soul sucked up the nourishment of sunshine, warm temps, calm waters, and June’s friendship. Every day I have like that—and there have been several already this summer—sustains me during the trying times (midterm, anyone???) during the academic year and the bleakness of winter. These days, these friends, these experiences are just more reasons why I love my job.
The past year was a challenging one, with many, many dark days, loss, heartbreak, and difficult decisions. I can’t be certain I’ve emerged from the cloud of darkness that hovered during that time, but it sure does feel like I have. I am hopeful and happy and excited to see what the future holds, how many days I can spend in my kayak, on a mountain trail, enjoying a good read, a nice bottle of red, or with friends. This is going to be a summer to remember: Summer 2017.
Happy Easter! It’s day 17 of alcohol abstinence; it was pretty challenging last night when my friends Karen and Mary and I went to dinner after the roller derby bout between Helena’s Hel’z Belles and the Great Falls team. They had drinks at the bout, and it’s such a raucous atmosphere, I would have enjoyed a drink, but I had a diet coke instead, all the while remembering a paper one of my students wrote last fall about how bad diet soda is for one’s health. She ruined diet soda for me; since then, I buy flavored seltzer water.
After the bout, we went to MacKenzie River Pizza for dinner, and I really would have liked a glass of wine with my salad, but I had club soda instead. More than anything, now, it’s getting tedious to talk myself out of it, but I’m pretty determined.
To celebrate my 17 days of success, I went hiking with Adam today. He and I haven’t spent much time together over the past year. He was traveling over the holidays, when we usually have time to reconnect, and now he’s getting ready to go back to work for the Forest Service this month, so we had planned to hike today.
I met him at the junction of Lincoln Road and Highway 200, and then we went a couple miles toward Lincoln and turned north onto a road that was supposed to take us to the trail head of the Lewis and Clark Pass Trail. We got about 4.5 miles from the trail head and couldn’t go any further due to snow in the road, so we decided to walk, not knowing exactly how far away we were. When we got to the trail head, the trail itself was only 1.5 miles more to the top, so after eating our lunches, we decided to go on despite the snow. In some places, it was probably about two feet deep, but it was still frozen enough that we didn’t break through.
We saw lots of scat on the way, wolf scat (which I’ve never seen before) and elk scat, and Adam found a grizzly paw print in the mud. He said it looked like a small bear. We didn’t see any live animals on the entire trek, nor did we see another human the entire time. Adam works for the Forest Service, in the Lincoln district, and he said the trails in that area are lightly used. I guess there’s no big attractions out that way to draw people in. I definitely plan to go hike that trail again this summer, and maybe I’ll even go on from the top. There are a few different trails that lead off from the top of that one.
I left the house a little after 9 a.m. this morning and returned home about 5 p.m. After a hot bath and a light supper, I’m just about ready for bed. What a great day it was, and the best part is that summer isn’t even here yet. This is just the beginning of another great summer of adventure!
You’ve been wondering; haven’t you? Come on, admit it: you’ve been wondering how I was doing with my April abstention. Fair enough, it was a lofty goal, but as my bff June said to me today, when I make a decision, I’m like a bulldog with a bone. It’s gonna happen or I’ll die trying.
That might be what happens, actually, because I have been very under the weather this week, and it seems to be getting worse. Now, I caution my students about drawing conclusions about causation where there’s only correlation, but this seems to me too coincidental: I quit drinking on March 30, and I started feeling a little ill soon after. A sore throat, head congestion, fatigue, those were the initial symptoms, close enough to my usual spring allergies that I ignored it at first. As the week went on, the symptoms got worse: terrible head congestion, plugged ears, headache, fatigue, sore throat, and now, today, a cough! The congestion has begun to move from my head to my lungs, and I get to coughing so hard sometimes that I nearly pass out. I quit drinking—I get sick: coincidence? I think not.
Nonetheless, I’m stubborn that way, and if I can make it ten days (albeit with pneumonia), then I can make it another twenty. And besides, anticipation precedes satisfaction, right? Think how great that first glass of wine will taste on April 30th, and even better, my tolerance will be down, so I’ll only need two glasses before I’m giddy as a teenage girl.
Due to my illness, I’ve not been able to hike. I did walk about four miles today, between fits of coughing that double me over like a punch to the gut, walking to the store in Montana City for a newspaper. A man came up to me and said, “I like your socks!” I was wearing one of the mismatched pairs I got as a gift from Pam, a student from the fall of 2015. One was a bright, neon pink with green stripes, the other neon yellow with pink stripes, and I love those socks (one of several she gave me) because they remind me of her, and because they’re silly. The man went on to say, “It reminds me of how I dress!” I noted his Carhartt ensemble and his long, messy hair and wondered what that says about me.
April continues to move ever closer to summer, and I’m not gonna lie: that makes me very happy. My birthday is just days away now, the big 5-5, which brings me around to that other “A” word from last week. I didn’t have any mystical experiences this past week, which is a little disappointing, but I still had some encounters with beings I would consider angels. A male colleague, a friend who shall remain nameless, asked how old I am, and I told him 55 in 10 days. He said, “You look good! I would have thought you were in your forties!” We will be friends forever, now. And then there is Kiera, a student from last semester, creative writing class, who’s also a member of the newspaper club that I advise. She emailed me Thursday morning and said she had a gift for me and when could we meet? She came to my office that afternoon, with her father in tow, to deliver a beautiful rock-like mineral called a geode that has dark purple crystals on the inside. She got it for me in Arizona while on her spring break, and the fact that she thought of me at all during spring break makes me feel like I won the lottery.
And so it goes, friends. That is a recap of week one, addiction detox. Do me a favor, will you? Leave a comment, so I’ll know who’s been visiting my blog. My stats show visitors from all around the world, and I just can’t imagine who in Australia or Romania or Canada would have any interest in reading the blog of a middle-aged teacher in Montana who quit drinking wine in April. But thanks for reading.
April is special to me; besides the fact that I hate winter in Montana, April is my birth month. In a few days, I’ll turn 55 years old, halfway between 50 and 60. It seems like a good time to reassess my life, especially considering that it seems only weeks ago I turned 50. Since this is the beginning of April, and we’re still in the Lenten season (not that I practice a faith, but…), I decided to practice a little abstention of addictions. This is day three without any wine or alcohol of any kind (not that I’m counting). It’s okay, actually, because my addiction is psychological rather than physical, but it’s true that I drink wine nearly every day, and sometimes more than the recommended “one glass.” I really love wine. However, it has been suggested to me, by some who shall remain nameless, that I should cut back on the vino, and so for the rest of April I will not drink wine or alcohol of any type. It’s an exercise in self-control. My second addiction is too personal; it’s not illegal or harmful (though possibly dangerous), but it’s not something I’m comfortable putting out on the World Wide Web. It will require at least the same self-control and conscious effort. Buddhists believe that attachment to people and things is what causes us pain in life, so I’m consciously trying to detach to improve my life and my spirit. In any case, I intend to indulge to my heart’s content on April 30th. Just sayin’.
I hiked Mt. Ascension today, perfect for a hike: cool but sunny, not too many people on the trails, and I managed to get to the summit and back to my car without any detours. I love hiking, and it’s a good activity to keep me focused and physically fit. Maybe I’ll even lose a few pounds since I won’t be imbibing as usual. Lots of people hike Mt. Helena, but I prefer Mt. Ascension for several reasons, partly because of memories of hiking it with special people, but also because of the challenge it offers in following trails and because it’s less popular. It’s a good hike for contemplation and meditation, a couple hours at least from start to finish. I usually sit at the top and think, which I did today. As this was my first hike of the season in Montana—I hiked in California last week—I hoped I might see some early wildflowers, but I wasn’t too hopeful; it’s early and has been so cool, I didn’t expect to see any, but on the way down, I saw two beautiful little groups of purple flowers, nearly fully blooming. They were short, close to the ground, but with good-sized petals, almost like wild tulips, really lovely. I was surprised because I saw no other flowers on the entire hike. It seemed odd and out of place that these two little clumps of flowers should sit so isolated and close to the trail. I hoped it was a sign.
While I sat at the summit, I tried to meditate, but I’m not very successful at quieting my mind. Last week in California, Jamie and I talked about “setting intentions,” the idea that if a person sets an intention and asks the universe, or God, or whatever energy one believes in to bring about the intention, it will come to pass. Nancy, my counselor, tells me there is data that show if a person attends to her spirituality, emotional healing will happen faster and better. I didn’t ask her to show me the studies (doubting Thomas that I am), but she’s been pretty spot-on in everything else, so I believe what she says. The problem is that I have a pretty negative attitude toward religion in general, all religion. I consider myself agnostic; however, I know there are several people who pray for me on a regular basis—now including a shuttle driver in Portland whom I met on a ride to the airport! Random! And despite being a nonbeliever, I also feel like a slacker when so many people are spending their valuable time and prayers on me. I should at least be helping! This is where the angels come in; there seem to be signs, there’s something tugging at me, wanting me to listen to the silence. The flowers. I set the intention, I hoped I’d see them, and they were there. I almost took a photo, but I didn’t because I hoped they weren’t real, that they were meant for me alone.
I’m not at all a superstitious person, but I’m open to the possibility that maybe I’m wrong. Gasp!! Steady yourselves. Maybe there is something beyond this consciousness, this life.
Since 2003 when I first started college at Montana State, I’ve never vacationed during Spring Break. Other people would talk about their vacations, sometimes even exotic locales, but not me: I had work to do. As a nontraditional college student, I was driven and focused on doing well at school, and just generally, vacations were few and far between. As a teacher, I always have plenty of work to catch up on, and I always used that time to grade papers or finish up unfinished business. Sometimes it was spent working on taxes. Finally, after fourteen years of higher ed, I planned and enjoyed a real Spring Break. This might be the beginning of a tradition.
My friends know that the last several months have been difficult; during that time, my cousin Jamie has been one of the stalwart supports in my circle. Always just a text message or email away, she frequently checks in and checks on. More like a sister, she and I share a connection that goes deep. We understand each other at a very intimate level, and we share pretty much everything. Despite that we’re separated by more than ten years, we have a lot in common. I’ve wanted to visit her in the Bay Area ever since she moved there, and finally, we made it happen. I gave myself a gift last Christmas: a trip to San Jose to visit Jamie over Spring Break. Finally, I was one of those people who actually spend Spring Break having fun rather than working the entire time. Maybe I’ve turned over a new leaf!
The first day of my “vacation” was spent traveling, and it started out badly. Due to stormy weather in Salt Lake City, my flight was postponed so that instead of arriving in SJ around 4:00, I didn’t get in until after 9 p.m. Dinner plans with Jamie and friends were ruined (for me, at least), but I still arrived on the same day. On Sunday, Jamie had everything planned: brunch at Absinthe in Hayes Valley; a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge; a stop at Coit Tower; shopping at Union Square; a drink at a beautiful hotel in the area; dinner at Dosa, a fabulous Indian foods restaurant. It was perfect.
Monday Funday was reserved for wine country! We started our day leisurely, then drove first to Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma County. A light breeze cooled the day, but the sun shined, and I felt crazily indulgent, tasting wine midday on a Monday. We shared the patio with only a few other lucky people. From there, we headed north to Robert Keenan Winery in the Napa Valley. There, we were nearly alone with the winery staff who were very friendly and accommodating, even inviting Jet to join us inside. I splurged and bought two bottles of wine and spent much more than I usually do (think 14 Hands Hot to Trot at Costco), one for me and one for Jamie. I brought mine home in my suitcase, worried that all my clothes would be pink when I got here, but all’s well, and I’m saving the bottle for a special occasion. We wrapped up with dinner at Rutherford Grill, where I ate the best veggie burger I’ve ever had and drank more wine.
Tuesday, we hiked; it was beautiful and pastoral, and Jet joined us. Happy dog, happy dog, happy, happy, happy dog. I miss my dogs a lot, and spending time with Jet was therapeutic (she also shared the bed with us). She is a beautiful animal with a loving heart. The first hike of the new year, it was challenging and exhilarating at once. My smile in the photos shows clearly how I was feeling. After returning home to shower, we ventured to Half Moon Bay where we shopped in some sweet little stores and bought matching bracelets. I had bought us both matching bracelets when we hiked in Glacier last fall, and we were wearing them while I was in California; it might, also, be a new tradition. We stopped for drinks in a watering hole/hotel and it seemed like we generated a certain amount of attention though I’m not sure why. Maybe we were having too much fun.
Finally, we ate dinner at Moss Beach Distillery; enjoying an ocean view table, we watched the sun set on the water as we ate and contemplated our last day together. The meal was perfect, as all our meals were, and I felt really happy and content and about five pounds heavier. We also laughed, a lot. More than once during my visit, we found ourselves wiping away tears as we laughed about some silly thing. It was a bitter-sweet ending to an exciting and emotional four days together.
Yesterday, we rose early, and Jamie delivered me to SJC for my journey home. It was mostly uneventful except for some crazy turbulence between Seattle and Helena; I wondered for a moment who would teach my classes if I didn’t make it home. Sorry, students: we didn’t crash. I was in bed before 8:30 last night and slept until nearly 7 a.m. today. I guess I needed the rest after such a fantastic experience.
Today, life resumed its normal rhythm: I graded papers, went for a lovely 4-mile jog, and did some laundry. I also got word that my tenure has been approved by my college; now I just await the final decision by the Commissioner and the Regents. That’s a nice gift to return home to and a reminder that my work is what enables me to enjoy the finer things, like visiting my cousin in San Jose. I guess I’ll keep teaching for a while; I can’t wait to open that special bottle of wine. Cheers, friends.