Wednesday, December 24, 2008

White (and spotted) Christmas

This year's Christmas is my last one before I get married. That lends everything an air of even-more-than-usual significance, as I wonder when I will next be among my family at Christmastime.

However, this Christmas has so far refused to cooperate with the sentimentalism I'm attaching to it. It will be a white Christmas for sure -- the first one in my memory (here, I mean) since I was five. When I woke up this morning it was snowing hard, but I wasn't surprised: we have been pretty much snowed in since last Wednesday. My dad has managed to make it out for church, to pick me up from the airport, and to get groceries, but now the roads look even worse. Apparently the Department of Transportation refuses to salt the roads because it is bad for the environment, and they are using rubber-edged plows so as not to damage the roads, but these pack the snow rather than scooping it away. Downtown, police officers are covering their beat on foot, because of the very real danger that they will slide down the steep hills and into the bay.

I always wanted a white Christmas as a child, but the state of the roads never occurred to me. This year, there is no way we could get to midnight Mass like I wanted to, and I am only hoping that daytime Mass won't be impossible too. Getting a Christmas tree, something that my mom has finally agreed to without any fuss, is also not going to happen.

The other trouble of the snow is that we have not been able to get Joseph to the doctor. He was recovering from an ear infection when suddenly he got a fever again -- and spots. The most likely diagnosis is the measles, though we are not sure. On the phone, the doctor said there was no point in trying to get to her office, since there's not much you can do for a virus. All we can do is try to keep the germs away from the baby -- a mammoth task. Luckily we older ones are either vaccinated or have had the measles. But all the younger four are still at risk.

>sigh< Yes, this will definitely be a Christmas to remember. But don't think I'm complaining. I remember some of our nicest Christmases involving unexpected problems. There was the Christmas we couldn't afford a Christmas tree, and put all our presents under a potted plant. And the year the roads were icy, and we had to leave our car at the bottom of the hill, with the Christmas tree tied on top, while we walked home. The year I was at boarding school for Christmas, coming home for only three days once Christmas was over -- and during those three days Joseph was born. And other holidays too -- like the Thanksgiving I had the flu and got some unexpected bonding time with my dad when we both stayed home from the feast and watched football together. My seventeenth birthday, when my brother and I got lost downtown trying to get to my party, and it was 100 degrees inside our non-air-conditioned car, but we played the Kitaro album and made up fantasy stories to go with the songs.

No, I can see that a few years from now, we'll pull out the pictures of Joseph looking like a leopard and us decorating the windows and the banisters, and we will smile, saying, "Wasn't that a Christmas to remember?"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Lights in Old Town

This little walk I took to take a few pictures in Old Town (well, all right, it was an hour-long walk, and I took about 75 pictures) was a wonderful stress-reliever. I needed it, between the end-of-quarter stress at school and the I'm-getting-married-in-just-over-six-months stress in the rest of my life. I'm this weird mix of busy, anxious, and excited that leaves me pacing around the apartment, ignoring all my responsibilities, and then suddenly grading twelve book reports and doing all the dishes.
Here are the fruits of my photo-op.

The view down Center Street. Yes, I did have to stand in the middle of the street to take the picture. But it was quite safe.

I have always loved it when people do trees like this, with shining trunks and a web of lights in their almost invisible branches.

City Hall. I have photographed this building dozens of times now, with several different sunsets. It stands out well against them -- and also without them, as you see.

Okay, here's the beginning of my clock obsession. Prepare for many more clocks. I am not sure why I like clocks so much. Perhaps it is because they are so very round and white. Perhaps it is because every picture you take of them is of a slightly different scene, because they move. But there is just something that makes the street with the lights completely different from the street with the lights and a clock.

This one is special because it has not only a clock, but also a flag unfurling in the light wind that was going by. There's something about knowing that a moment before or after would have been a different picture.

"One luminary clock against the sky"

The same clock from the other side, near the pavilion where there's an ice skating rink.

I love this picture. I had to take many to get it right. Maybe it's the circle within the square that does it. Or maybe it's the light shining out of it -- like the moon. I just don't know, but I like this clock.
The train station, all decked out. With the ubiquitous water tower. I do not understand why this town needs so many water towers. In my regular walks to the grocery store or Old Town, I see three water towers without traveling a single mile.

These are two pictures I've been trying to get for a long time. Don't the gates rising and falling look like fans? And the red light lines are dotted, because the lights were blinking. Again, maybe I like these pictures more because of the effort it took to get them. There's a lot of waiting for trains it takes to get even one take of the picture -- and then you find the shutter speed wasn't slow enough, or the aperture was too big, and you have to wait for the next train. Or you just finally get lucky when you're photographing the train station -- which is what finally happened, after all those times running outside when I heard the train whistles.

This one was intended to be symbolic. Doesn't it look like the lighted trees are there to decorate the Nativity scene? Actually, they are reflected from City Hall, across the street. I don't know if City Hall put up their trees because of Baby Jesus. But it doesn't matter what they intended -- there they are, all the same.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Recent pictures

More pictures: these from around my house, plus two from the airport when I was going home for Thanksgiving.


Here are some pictures I took this past fall. This batch is from the day I went down to Christendom for Homecoming, and ended wandering around by the Shenandoah, looking for good pictures to take. I think I found a few! (I actually took over a hundred. But these are the best.)

I had to shrink them down a good bit to reduce their file size. The original pictures were very clear and vivid. I am so grateful to my grandpa for the camera that lets me take pictures like this. I am getting more and more into photography these days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ideas so far

I know a lot of people think obsessing over wedding dresses is silly. If you do, skip this post! Some people have asked, so I thought I'd post the ideas so far.

My maid-of-honor is going to be helping me sew the dress. Actually, she's doing all the work. I am "helping" in an "advisory" sense, i.e. making all the decisions. Somehow she is generous enough to be okay with this.

So, she and I have been pattern hunting, and here's the best of what we've turned up so far. Nothing's decided yet, but here's what we're thinking.

The dress: like the picture on the left, only --

with the sleeves from this dress . They will be out of a sheer fabric like in the picture, only not blue of course.

The veil. This one I am really sold on. I really like the drop veil style. The front part is pulled back over the head later on, and it's held on with a (presumably quite secure) hat pin. I am undecided as to whether a tiara would help or hinder that staying-on process, and also whether it would look good.
Thoughts? All right, girly conversation over. Anyone who's been scrolling quickly by with lots of eye-rolling can come back now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Engagement story

I promised a long time ago that I would put up the story of how I got engaged. I'm sorry I haven't done it before, but life has been extremely hectic lately, with a lot of grades coming due, and me being sick. But here it is -- with pictures.

It happened on a Friday when nothing else was going on -- October 17th. John had been talking a few weeks before about coming down that weekend, but he seemed to have changed his mind, so I was feeling a little down. The night before, I had it firmly in my head that he would come after all, but by the time I was at work, I realized I was mostly getting my hopes up for nothing. He was not going to come, and now I would be all disappointed.

During 7th period, I saw I had missed a call from him, so as soon as school was over, I called him back. "Where are you?" he asked. "At school, cleaning the classroom," I answered. "Well, then, call me back when you're home; there's something I want to talk to you about," he said.

So I finished up the classroom and headed toward home. As I was walking out by the front of the school, I saw John sitting there near the parking lot, along with a bunch of kids who were waiting to get picked up. He just looked up and said, "Hi."

He walked along with me toward my house as far as the parking lot, but then started steering me toward his car. "Where are we going?" I asked. "On a picnic," he said.

It was a beautiful drive off to the park he had picked out. The fall colors were everywhere. After a short while we got to the park and got out of the van. He pulled out of the back of the van a picnic basket and his book bag. I took the bag, to free up his hands to carry the basket. He started laughing to himself, but when I asked why, he said it was nothing. (I found out later it was because the ring was in there, and he was laughing at the thought that I was carrying it and didn't know.)

We wandered off along the trails, passing some school kids and a little pond. Then we found a picnic site and got set up. He had everything in that basket: a loaf of bread, a jar of pickles, a tomato, some cheese, some tuna, a knife to cut the tomato, paper plates, napkins -- everything. When John does a picnic, I guess he wants to do it thoroughly. I like that. The sandwiches were great (John does something special with sandwiches -- I think it is because of the fresh ingredients). Then we put the basket aside and decided to continue walking for awhile.

Eventually we came to a clearing by a creek. This whole way I was just babbling about this and that -- the relative merits of Justin Hayward as compared to the other Moody Blues, and my day at school. He was mostly quiet, a little distracted. But when we got to the creek, he sat down on a log beside me. He started to talk a little about this and that, about our relationship and so forth. I thought, "Oh, he's not so distracted anymore; that's good."

Then he said, "I have a question." He had said this a few times along the way, with a few different questions he'd wanted to know the answers to, so I didn't think much of it. Then he slipped off the log and onto one knee. "Will you marry me?" was the question.

John says that at this point my mouth dropped wide open and my eyes got really big. (Actually, he did a pretty funny impression -- I wonder if I really looked like that.) Gathering my breath and picking up my jaw, I said, "Yes, I will," and then started hugging him and laughing and everything like that. At that moment, I do not think I could have been happier. He was happy too. At that point, a train went by on the tracks across the creek, and I waved at the train like I used to as a kid. I thought, "All those people are riding home from work; they don't know that we're going to get married!" Around then, I remembered that I was holding the box John had put into my hand when he had asked the question. "Can I open it?" I asked, feeling like a little kid with a Christmas present. It was beautiful -- very John, but also very me. Not like any old person's ring -- our ring.

After awhile we walked up from the creek, talking about plans and how we felt and things like that. Periodically I would give a little jump and a shiver, thinking, "Wow! We're going to get married!" John would laugh at me, saying it was unhealthy to be that excited. But I didn't care.

When we got up the hill a ways (where cell reception was better) we started calling people. My own parents weren't home. His mom was thrilled and was very welcoming to me. When we got to the picnic basket, we picked it up and took it to the car. As we were putting it back into the back of the van, John pulled out one last thing -- a bouquet of roses. The ride back seemed even more beautiful than the ride out had been. We passed a church -- St. Clare, my confirmation saint -- and tried to get in to make a visit, but it was all locked. So I made a little visit from outside.

Once we got back home, we bumped into Olivia talking to one of the other teachers in the parking lot. She saw John and the roses, and her eyes got big, because she knew how much I had wanted him to come down, but didn't know he was going to do it. I couldn't help myself -- I held up the ring. She squealed and made a lot of surprised exclamations before running off to buy champagne. John and I went inside, leaving the front door open and standing talking in the kitchen. A moment later the screen door swung open and in walked a priest -- Fr. Thompson. "Heard someone in here needs a blessing," he said. So John and I knelt down and got a blessing. Fr. Thompson left again after chatting for a little bit, calling over his shoulder, "I'll do your pre-Cana, if you want!" He has been looking for people to do marriage prep with.

A minute after that, there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find some of my students -- ninth-grade girls. Fr. Thompson had sent them to ask what was going on. I told them, and they squealed and hugged me. (For about a week after that, I was all the girls' favorite teacher, and they wanted to hear every detail.) Then they went away, and Olivia came back with two bottles of champagne and a cake.

We called up Sean and Andrew, who showed up quickly, and Olivia made chili. Sean had brought another bottle of champagne, which was the only one we got into that evening. The rest of the evening was spent in my favorite way -- food and companionship with friends. Olivia took a lot of pictures. During the evening, I kept calling people and being called by others. John's sisters all had to congratulate me, and I finally was able to get ahold of my parents, who were happy for me. I even got to talk to David! I had them put the phone on speaker so I could talk to Joseph (they were all in the car, and could reach the phone all the way to the back seat). "I want to marry John, what do you think?" I asked. He answered, "Actually, I would really like you to."

So -- pictures of our evening:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zoo Day

These are some pictures I just remembered I had from our zoo trip in August. A bunch of my friends in the area got together and went to the zoo in Washington, DC.

Matt and Chris imitating a statue labeled "Interdependence," or something like that.

Hanging out outside of Cold Stone Creamery, where we stopped after seeing the elephants and everything.

I was behind the camera for this one. We have Betsy, Matt, Syd 'n' Sean, and Andrew.


Life as a teacher is so terribly busy! When I'm not teaching, preparing, or grading, I'm chaperoning a dance or planning a club activity. And on the off-chance I'm not doing any of those things, I'm probably at a school volleyball game or being coaxed into going to the Legion of Mary by the other teachers. (I decided Legion of Mary is not going to be something I'm going to do right now ... I just don't have that kind of time.)

I did have time to take a few pictures, though, so I'm just going to post those in lieu of the longer post I would be writing if interim reports weren't due Monday. I have to figure out a grade for every single one of my students, plus any other things their parents should know. I have a lot of students ... something like 120, if you consider a student I have for two classes as equivalent to two students.

Anyway, here are the pictures.

Our house. The door in front is our apartment; I'm rather pleased that the other three apartments have their doors in back. That way it looks like we own the whole house!

A tree in the vacant lot across the street. I had thought at first the area was a park, but it's not, even though it has a Civil War memorial sign in front of it (these signs are scattered all over town). But it might as well be a park, because it's such a nice bit of grass and trees.

Sunset. I love the sunsets from here. We have to go out of the house and around the side to see them, but they are always lovely. The water tower is a good landmark for navigation, but it also makes a nice silhouette against the sky.

This picture, of a car going around the corner and across the railroad tracks by our house, is the result of some time spent trying to figure out how to slow down the shutter speed. I think it worked really well! I have dozens of pictures like this; I think slow night photography is really awesome.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I made it

So, this is it: I made it to my first paycheck. There were times I really didn't think that was going to happen.

Of course, I could not by any means have managed that without help. My family who let me sit around in the house like a lazy bum for two months after graduation ... all the people who gave me graduation gifts (I'd mention particulars, but for fear of embarrassing anyone .... but everyone shocked me with their generosity!) ... the office lady who handed down beds and a chair ... the friends of friends who dropped off a table ... the people at school who told me that whenever I could pay the rent was fine with them ... yes, I've been living very much on the generosity of others. I don't know how anyone starts off after college without the kind of support network that I have.

At any rate, I have groceries in the cupboard and a balance in the bank account, and that makes me happy. But it makes me happier to know that I have dear friends and family I can count on when I don't have those things. I love you all.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The First Week

So, my first week of teaching is behind me. I'm still wet behind the ears, but I finally count as a real teacher now -- one who has a class of my own dependent on me. Or actually five classes.

The first day was terrifying. My classes seemed so huge, the periods so long, the students so unruly. I thought I would never be able to manage this. The schedule of my day is like this ---

1st period--Latin II. 12 students.
2nd period--Grammar 9. 25 students.
3rd period--Latin 1. 26 students.
4th period--Study Hall. 12 bored students.
5th period--my only free period.
6th period--lunch. All the seventh and eighth grade boys, along with another teacher.
7th period--Latin II. 12 students.
8th period--Grammar 9. 27 students.

At three I reel on home with sore feet and a sore throat.

But by the second day, I was already beginning to get acclimated. I developed clever seating charts separating people by gender, attention level, attitude problems, etc. These were immeasurably helpful -- I would not have even known my classes. The kids who had been most unruly the day before simply sat in the front row and sulked because they weren't near their friends. And they paid attention!

The other thing I did was give them work to do. I honestly can't spend my whole day on my feet, talking. And they can't spend the whole period listening to me do it. So, they have in-class assignments, they correct their homework, and they aren't bored.

The other teachers have been extremely supportive. They feel it their duty to take us newbies under their wings and tell us it'll get better. Also to refer to me as "the sacrificial lamb for Grammar 9" and to gasp when I tell them I have 27 9th graders for 8th period. Apparently (well, so the students say), someone quit over Grammar 9 once. I do know that everyone who had it one year requested something else the next year. And, as they did their time, it's my turn.

I don't know, though. So far it's not so bad. Ninth graders are admittedly fuller of beans than eighth graders. But they're not terrible. They're just silly. They need to be given serious work, information to learn, and plenty to keep them busy -- but they also need smiles and laughter. They need to know I don't condemn them for being ninth graders. And I don't.

My disciplinary philosophy is: in actions, as strict as necessary. In attitude, as positive as possible. So, I won't let them talk in class, and I make my study halls actually study (horrors!). But I will say, cheerfully, "Nope, sorry, it's study time!" I try not to get angry. I hope I can keep this up.

And that's that, so far. I have all sorts of plans for my classes, things they'll do. I hope I can keep up with it all. But time will tell!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Short Update

Well, Olivia, my dear roommate, has finally moved in. She showed up Thursday and it's been good times ever since. She brought lamps, a computer that got along with the internet connection, and measuring cups, but the real blessing has been her company. She's an easy person to get along with, and it's just great to have someone else around! It was getting just terribly lonely.

The next day, John showed up. He was covering a story in DC for his paper, and so he got to spend the weekend with the crowd here in town. Sydney was hard to get together with, because of her schedule at the hospital where she works, but pretty much everyone else swarmed in now that there was some fun going on. I cooked a number of meals (I'm discovering I just love cooking for company!) and we saw a movie and went bowling. Tonight the guys (Sean, John, and Andrew) had their first recording session for a podcast they're planning. It's just been one fun thing after another--which I really needed after so much quiet and solitude!

To add onto the good things going on, we're now the proud owners of a table. It's a pretty simple one, but it has leaves to expand (so we seated six people easily) and is just a good place to sit and work on things. This was given us by Olivia's mom's friend's parents. (Isn't it great to have connections?) We got some nice stackable chairs at Goodwill for $1.50 each.

And for a final wrap-up to the other good times, my dear auntie came to visit yesterday. She's in town for a conference and was able to make it out here and meet some of my strange & lovable friends. I think she also took pictures .... ;)

In other news, my last Latin tutoring student has "graduated," so there's not much to do except a few faculty meetings until school starts a week from Wednesday. Maybe I'd better plan a few more lessons before things get really hectic.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Spirit of Radio

Yes, I know that's the title of a Rush song. I like the song, and I would agree with it that the major downside of radio is the ads. But I actually just borrowed the title to talk about what I think about the radio.

I started listening to the radio the other day just for something to do. It was too quiet and I was tired of every note of music I own. So I fiddled with the dial and listened to pretty much everything that was on. Since then I've found a station I can live with, mostly, and let it rattle at me much of the evening.

Several years ago, I stopped listening to the radio because I didn't see the point. Full of ads and needless yammering from the hosts, when I just wanted to listen to music. Furthermore, they only played stuff I like less than half the time. Why shouldn't I just listen to my own music, which I know I enjoy?

I realized the other day that my feelings about the radio were largely based on my circumstances. Living at home, most of my life wasn't under my control. I had to interact with other people and make decisions based on what the family was doing. My music I wanted on my own terms. Familiar music I owned myself was perfect--something exclusively mine, which I could choose. I didn't want to listen to strangers talking at me, because my family talked to me plenty.

Now, living (for the present) alone, I suddenly can see why people would want to listen to the radio. Right now, my schedule is almost completely under my control. I have about three hours of tutoring to do a day. The rest of the day I arrange however I like. I make my own dinner, based on what I happen to feel like at the moment. I have the choice to read, or write, or take a nap--it makes no difference to anyone but me.

So, oddly enough, I find myself craving what I never used to--a world that is out of my control. I remember hearing in a theology class that the amazing thing about human relationships is that the other human being is completely independent of oneself. You can have a conversation with someone else who may say anything, things you haven't thought of before. We pay for this with a lack of free choice. We can't guarantee we're going to like whatever comes out of our friend's mouth. But that makes it so much more exciting when we do. A human companion is an unknown factor, which can go along with our ideas or sharply counter to them. The interplay of two people is so complex that an infinite number of good novels, each with a different plot, could be written with only two characters.

In my situation, then, I guess the ideal solution is to find another human being to interact with me. But Olivia's not arriving till the 14th. My next best choice is the radio. It leaves an element of uncertainty in my life which I'd been needing. Maybe it will play something I like, and maybe it'll just have a huge block of boring ads. But maybe--just maybe--it will play some song I've never heard but will love. Maybe it will play something that makes me laugh or cry. When I pull up one of my favorite songs on my computer, it's just a song. I hear it all the time, and since I have it on call all the time, it's not special. But the other day I turned on the radio and "Don't Stop Believing" was just beginning. I own that song. I listen to it all the time, whenever I want. Yet when I heard it on the radio, I was all excited. I didn't even think to want that song, and there it was beyond all expectations. A surprise, instead of just the same old song. It made all the difference.

Another time I was just sitting around, feeling idle, when a song I'd never heard came on. It was called "Hey There Delilah" and it made me cry. A song I've never heard can surprise me, prod my emotions in a way a similar song on my own computer can never do.

The DJ's and talk show hosts can be on the corny side, and they have a rather excessive obsession with giving away free concert tickets, but I'm still grateful to them. They say things I wasn't thinking of before, give me something to think of that didn't come from myself.

Life is best when I go off to the laundromat and exchange smiles across the langauge barrier with the immigrants using the washer next to mine, or trot off to the coffee shop (where I'm getting to know all the baristas and they know me) to say, thoughtfully, that I think I'm in the mood for iced tea and they accidentally give me iced coffee, or my mom calls me up just as I'm resigning myself to an empty evening, or a friend suddenly appears outside my living-room window after dinner, making me jump. All of these things are exciting, uncertain--that exchange with someone which can go in any direction. Even the accidental iced coffee is a thrill. It's a chance for me to cheer up the poor barista that gave it to me by smiling and saying we all make mistakes. It's a chance for me to enjoy the iced tea when I get it.

But when I'm not doing these things, the radio is good to have around. It teaches me that I don't own the world. I don't even want to own my little apartment. I want to share the airwaves with a stranger, even if a stranger from a hundred miles away in a soundproof booth.

Take a walk outside yourself
In some exotic land
Greet a passing stranger
Feel the strength in his hand
Feel the world expand ....

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Life has just been rolling along, fast as ever. But it's been bringing a lot of improvements for me. The nice office lady at school gave me two beds, a chair, and a coffee table, so when my dear roommate arrives, I'll be ready for her! The generosity and kindness of these people never ceases to amaze me.

John returned my visit this weekend, along with two of his coworkers who wanted to see D.C. We also went down to Christendom and talked to people I'd been missing, so that was just wonderful. We all had a really good time, but of course now that they're gone the solitude seems even sharper.

I've been polishing and tinkering with my book, and finally decided I'd done all I could with no feedback. So I sent it to the people who agreed to help me with it, and am hoping fervently they like it ... I'm in a tizzy right now, thinking about it.

I went to the parish here for the first time today (last week, of course, I went in Philly). The building is supremely ugly, but the people seemed nice enough. I didn't know a soul, though. However, I believe I saw someone I knew leaving as I was coming, so I think maybe I should try the nine a.m. Mass instead of the 10:30. That would also keep my half hour walk to church from being quite so hot.

Going to Mass on my own is a mixed blessing. It's nice to be less distracted, but seeing all those families together and not having mine there gives me a pang. I always assumed I wouldn't mind these things as much as I do. I've been away from home so many times before, but never quite as thoroughly on my own. It makes a difference.

That's all that's going on right now. I found out Olivia isn't coming till the 15th. I sure will be looking forward to seeing her. Until then, I'm just tutoring away, waiting for school to start and the hot weather to let up a little.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


So I went to Philadelphia this weekend. That involved a lot of organizing, and up to the day before I was still not sure it was going to happen. There was the VRE train, the Metro, the Greyhound, and a ride from a friend that all needed to be arranged. Not to mention lodgings with someone I've never met ... a fellow intern of John's. She ended up being quite nice, luckily!

The trip was kind of a whirlwind, because I didn't have a lot of time to be up there before I had to come back, but I did get some pictures.

My first clear sight of Philly from the bus.

City Hall. I'm not positive, but I think it's Penn on the top.

Me in front of City Hall, sitting on a giant checkers piece. The hat is from John--it has the name of his paper on it.

View from Kate's place -- a highrise dorm at U Penn. You can see this big cemetery in the foreground, and the Schuylkill River in the background. (John tells me it is pronounced Skookle. Who knew. The internet tells me it is Dutch for "hidden river.")

City lights at night. I took tons of pictures of them, on every setting my camera had, and it was quite interesting to see how differently they turned out.

It was a good trip, but there was a lot I didn't get a chance to do. Getting together with Dr. T., for instance--there just wasn't time. I also didn't see the Liberty Bell. So I'll have to go again sometime. Till then, I'll be content with the interesting parts of the city I did see.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Moved in

Okay, so I'm here finally. I've actually been here for a few days, but blogging seemed low on the priority list after getting groceries, cooking food, overcoming jetlag (not much is open at 4 a.m., unfortunately) and finding something to sit on. That last is an ongoing process, but I have high hopes. Right now my dresser and my couch are both the same thing, a suitcase filled with (neatly folded) clothes. My weight keeps them well ironed -- sort of -- as I sit on them.

I like my little town. I like it a lot. I could live here forever ... if everyone I loved lived here too. I wish you all did. I have a church just kitty-corner from me. Sean tells me it used to be a Catholic church, but the parish outgrew the building and is now about a mile away. That's a real shame--I would love to be able to walk across the street and go make a visit.

I also have the railroad track passing right by. This might sound like a bad thing, but I actually really like trains. I haven't quite gotten past the stage of running to the window sometimes when I hear the train whistles, and watching the little gate go down and the train come roaring and rattling down the track. Luckily they don't blow their whistles at night. So far a train has only woken me up once. Last night I unconsciously took the bells at the crossing for my alarm clock.

I like cooking for myself, though it is time-consuming. I didn't want to just live on Hamburger Helper or something--I wanted real, if inexpensive, food. That's led me to create some weird dishes out of my few ingredients. It also makes me quite eager to walk out to the grocery store again and get myself some salt and maybe some other seasonings.

And I'm liking the tutoring: such sweet kids.

Okay, they're closing the coffee shop. So long and I hope to post you some pictures soon.

Seen in a coffee shop...

"Notice: Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Leaving home ....

It's strange. A week ago, I was very melancholy, thinking how sad it will be to leave my home. Today, I'm excited. I think about arriving in my new apartment and I'm just thrilled. I guess I just needed time to mourn what I'm leaving before I could look forward to the future.

Life will be pretty different out there. I'll be responsible for so many things, from paying my own water bill to teaching kids Latin. Dealing with my students' parents may be a challenge. I know summer tutoring is sure to be difficult--trying to rehash the whole year's work in four weeks. I'll be reliant on walking and buses to get everywhere--maybe I'll get more in shape.

I really look forward to having my own place. Sure, I'll be sharing it with my wonderful roommate, but it'll be more mine than anywhere else I've lived. We'll decorate it how we like, make our own food, potter around and keep it clean. Yes, I even look forward to cleaning it!

I also have a lot of friends out there. Who knows how often I'll get to see them, but I'm sure at least every once in awhile I'll be able to have them over for dinner or something. And I will be closer to John out there, though still three hours away. Hopefully I'll get to see him from time to time.

I have all kinds of resolutions to start when I get out there. I'm going to go to bed and get up earlier--much easier when I don't have to wait for everyone to go to bed for the house to get quiet. I'm going to get more exercise--in fact, this one I won't be able to help, as I'll have to walk just to get to the grocery store. I'm not going to eat so much junk food--again, easy, as I can't afford to waste money on stuff that's not good for me.

All I can do is pack up the rest of my stuff and ask for your prayers. I'm taking flight, and I hope I soar.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I Can Get Anywhere Without a Car

The above statement has been my motto, as I plan to singlehandedly solve the gas crisis and save a bundle on car insurance all at once. This coming year, I don't intend to own a car. I'm moving out and I will live in an apartment close to my work. Everything I really need is nearby. And there is public transportation out there, of a fashion.

But my confidence was a little bit shaken this past Friday when I came home from Wenatchee, across the mountains, by bus. The plan was to take a bus--which I had originally thought was a train, because it was on the Amtrak website--to Seattle, and then another bus half an hour after we arrived that would get me to Maple Valley. I must point out that there are only two buses from Seattle to Maple Valley: at five-ten and five-thirty. Since the bus was scheduled to come in at 4:30, I didn't have any worries.

I left my grandparents' cabin at 10:30, and got to the bus station before noon. The bus left at 12:50--only twenty minutes late. The bus was completely full, and there was no air-conditioning. The people around me were all complaining about how late the bus was and how hot it was. But I didn't see any reason to gripe: it was about what I expected out of a bus like that (not a Greyhound bus, but a similar company).

Across the aisle from me was a couple who had just hitchhiked from Acapulco. They were from Vancouver and had decided it was time to go home. Unfortunately, the part of their trip that was supposed to be easy and predictable had been full of snags. The bus they had been supposed to take the previous night (and had had tickets for) had been full, so they had slept in the bus station and finally gotten on this bus that morning. Out of food and money, they were starving and ended up being fed carrots and Cheetos by other people on the bus.

But I didn't worry too much. The bus wasn't that late, and I figured it would pick up time as we went. After all, it takes 2 1/2 hours to cross the mountains, and the trip was scheduled to take 4. Of course, I didn't account for the fact that half the trip across the mountains is uphill. It was an old bus, and it slowed to almost walking pace climbing those hills. We reached Everett too late to get my hitchhiking friends on their connection. It was probably Saturday before they ever got to Vancouver.

The drive from Everett to Seattle was the worst. Starting out, we were only a half-hour behind. The bus driver grumbled, "Why is there so much traffic?" It was obvious to me: it was four o'clock on 405. Enough said. There is always rush-hour traffic on that road, and on Fridays rush hour starts at noon.

More people were let off at a "Greyhound Station" I hadn't known existed--I had made my plans from the Amtrak station, so I didn't dare get off there. I probably should have, though: the Amtrak station was some distance away, and the traffic was barely moving. At this point I moved up to the front and chatted with the driver--there were only about five people left on the bus. The driver couldn't understand why there was always so much traffic in Seattle. It seemed he was used to it, and accustomed to the fact that he was always an hour late.

While I was at the Greyhound station, my dad called from the bus I was supposed to catch. "The bus is leaving now," he said. "Are you going to make it?" I did not make it. But there was still the 5:30 bus.

We arrived at the Amtrak at 5:20. I had ten minutes. My instructions were to go a short distance north to find the bus stop. But I didn't count on the fact that the road above was about a story higher than the level of the parking lot. "It's easy," said the bus driver. "Go into the train station and take the stairs."

It is not a very big train station, so I was surprised the stairs weren't readily obvious. I finally found them behind a set of glass doors bearing the sign "Stairs Closed." Dragging my rolling suitcase and lugging my heavy laptop case, I hurried out of the building, out on the lower street, and took the steep hill up to the higher street. (Seattle, for those who don't know, is not on a level. At all.)

I came panting up to the road and discovered it was 3rd. The intersection I needed was 3rd and King. I didn't see the name of the cross street, but I saw a bus stop. I paused to look at it, but there was no sign of my bus, the 143. "Maybe it's a block further," I thought, when I saw the 143 heading exactly my way. I stood expectantly, waiting for it to stop--and it breezed right by in a hot gust of exhaust.

While I was on the phone with my dad again, near tears, I glanced up and saw the road sign: 3rd and Jackson. "The 143 stops one block down," the commuters standing around commented helpfully. But the next time it would stop there was tomorrow morning--or maybe even Monday.

My dad said I should take the 101 to Renton, and he would pick me up from there. "I think you have to take that from the bus tunnel," he said.

"Where's the bus tunnel?" I asked.

"You want the International District station," he said. "Either that or the Pioneer Square station."

Idiotically, I answered, "Okay," and hung up. In my defense, I had just seen a sign labelled "International District" and thought it might have something for me. It didn't. I trudged on a little further to the next bus stop. The sun was boiling hot, and my laptop case strap cut into my shoulder as my rolling suitcase bounced on the in the sidewalk.

I found a 101 stop. With a symbol next to it, attached to a note that said "From five to seven, stops in the bus tunnel." But where was that pesky tunnel? I only knew one entrance to it, in a different part of the city, but what I did know is that they are not always marked. Again I turned to a nice-looking commuter. "Excuse me, sir." He eyed me uneasily. Maybe he thought I was trying to ask him for money.

He was relieved when I only asked for directions, and pointed me north. He was pretty sure it was that way. I went a block or so when I ran into a cop, and thought I could get further directions from him. He, however, pointed me in the opposite direction. I trudged back the way I had come, passed the nice direction-giving commuter, and took the turn (uphill) the cop had suggested.

No sign of a bus tunnel. I walked further and further, block after block, uphill and down again, passing creepy guys in doorways and pouring out sweat. I passed a beautiful park, and saw signs for Pioneer Square. I had come up a whole stop from where I had started. Finally, at my wits' end, I decided to stop somewhere, get inside for a minute to rest, maybe get some directions. A Starbucks looked promising--but it was closed. Finally, I ducked into a flower shop. The middle-aged proprietors told me there was a tunnel entrance on the side of their own building. I was afraid of walking right by it again, so the gentleman walked right outside with me, pointing out the pink railing on the side of the building. There were stairs there, and I walked down thankfully.

After some observation of signs, I discovered a number of things. First, I had walked by at least three entrances to the bus tunnel, one of which was actually inside the Amtrak station. That would have been useful to know. Second, I found my bus, and which way it would go. Thirdly, and most comforting of all, I discovered that the fare was actually equal to the amount of money in my wallet. I had been worrying all afternoon that I was a quarter shy.

The bus was crammed to the gills, the aisles full of standing people. But at the sight of my suitcase and my weary face, a man gave me his seat. After a long ride, I finally saw my dad at the Renton Transit Center, and he drove me the rest of the way home. It was about 7:30. The whole usually two-and-a-half hour trip had taken eight hours in total.

However, I am undaunted. That, and I still can't afford a car. So I will remain a public transportation user, but keeping this in mind. You can only get anywhere without it a car if you:

1. Don't care how long it takes. It has to not matter how late you are. And you have to be sure enough of this that you don't get stressed out when you're late.

2. You have to keep enough change to pay for all the transfers.

3. Keep smiling. Every time you're delayed, think of how much money you're saving, and how maybe if you try hard enough, gas prices will go down. (*snort*) Hey, you never know.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy to be here

This week, I'm at my grandparents' house in Eastern Washington. It's absolutely beautiful here ... I have always loved the desert hills. I'll be very sad to leave here and go back to the East Coast, where the beauties are tamer.
Last bits of sunlight touch the hills on the Fourth of July.

At the airport, looking at the ridge.

My grandpa took me soaring--flying on an unpowered glider--and it was lovely. The view was terrific, but we didn't get a lot of lift and so didn't go very far.

The Columbia River and Rocky Reach Dam. It's hard to get an untilted picture in a tilted plane. Even my unsuccessful efforts made me a little queasy.

We weren't the only ones soaring today. Two other gliders were trying the same air we were, and having about the same success. Apparently the haze was blocking some of the sun's heat, so thermals weren't forming the way we needed them to.

We may go to the lake later in the week, and if we do, I'll try to get some good pictures from that too. I'm just drinking in all the beauty, so it can tide me over when I'm living in the city in a flat area. There's a part of my soul that lives off mountains and wildness, and it certainly will miss this place.