Friday, August 26, 2011

Right-Wing Ranting

I sit on the couch right now exhausted.

I've been back working full time for two days now. That's it. And I'm spent. But let me first explain that I agreed to a job that has so far yielded me doing absolutely nothing of value in two days. Ah, government waste. As a taxpayer, it drives me mad!

Yesterday was student orientation at the elementary school. When I was teaching in Cali, teachers were responsible for all the paperwork-- health info, lunch money, girl/boy scouts, etc. Not only that, but I taught a regular class size of 32 students! I checked off which student brought what signed paper back and hounded them until they brought back the emergency cards. This school has a system where students and their parents come in to "orientation" where they fill out bus paperwork, health forms, sign up for stuff, and get their class assignments. Then, they visit the classroom and meet their teacher and see their new desk-- the week before school starts. It's a great idea. And filled with an entire day of paying every single teacher and support staff person that works at the school site. I see it both ways-- I love it for students and find it incredibly wasteful of taxpayer dollars on the other end! There is so much value in students preparing themselves for the year and having family involved from minute one. However, yesterday I spent the entire day standing and pointing when parents walked into the school doors. That's it.

Yesterday was tough-- despite me just standing and pointing the whole day. It was tough on my feet. But it was also tough on my heart. Usually I'm pretty comfortable in schools even though children surround me all. day. long. They aren't my kids and I see them as students and less as family members. Yesterday, I saw them as family units. And of course I saw their little brother or sister in the stroller or cute little toe-heads running wild that struck me so similar to what I'd have in Andrew. That was brutal. I was not pre-occupied with paperwork or anything but standing there, pointing, and smiling. So I had a lot of time to think about what I was missing out on and how much I long for that family that I'm working so freaking hard to achieve. I also had a nice, long conversation with like one student. His parents came to the side just to chat with me because I seemed like I needed company or something. And their son's name, Andrew. And he's super white with reddish-blond hair and super smart. Yep, pretty much what I'd expect from my own Andrew if I had the chance to experience that. He's quite the chatterbox, too, and I would have talked to him all day long.

Today was much of the same. I came in because I'm on contract and it was required. There was a meeting all day I was not required to attend. Instead, I had nothing. to. do. again. Finally, I was able to convince a teacher to leave the meeting to give me some busywork so the day would go by faster. What school doesn't have a zillion things piled up in each classroom to prepare the Friday before school starts? I remember it all too well and knew I'd be able to find something to help another teacher out with. I printed, cut, and created magnets of student faces for most of the day. Then I had lunch. Then I worked for another 45 minutes, found another classroom to work in for a bit, and hung out with another girl who was equally bored and counting the minutes until we could leave.

I'm not so much complaining about the boredom as I am complaining about the waste. I just felt useless! I know that once the school year starts, I'll manage to find my way into a busy space. I'll be present and helpful to assure that these kids learn. But oh, government waste.

And let's not forget about the family units that made my ovaries ache ever since Thursday. Goodness gracious.

I drove behind this vehicle on Thursday after the family day at school:

Those friggin' family stickers. Ugh.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Leave Your Grief at the Door and Party

Last night we skipped out on the ever-so-raunchy Bachelor Pad and were daring. We went to a party where we knew absolutely no one. Despite being in a mood all day of sadness and self pity, I still showered, dressed in my best attempt at rock 'n' roll gear {a ruffly black blouse and holey jeans} and applied makeup. I'd almost forgotten how to use that mascara stuff. Better get back on the wagon because I start subbing on Thursday and I'd prefer the rest of society not see me looking like hell. Ray arrived home and changed into his best attempt at rock gear as well; an old Von Dutch shirt that looks country and some Rock & Republic jeans that fashionable SIL made him buy while single and still playing the ladies. It had rock in the name, right?

This wasn't our first party full of people we don't know. I write online reviews for a website I adore. Because I am so loyal, I'm considered an elite member and get invited to parties about once a month. Rarely do we attend, but it's an excuse to get out, try new things, eat free dinner, and also provides free publicity for the restaurants and bars we visit. Being relatively new to an area, it's a nice way to pull us into places we aren't as familiar with. We also attended one last summer at a Spanish tapas restaurant that we love. I was pregnant and had no reason to doubt mankind or the art of pregnancy. I was blissful and oblivious and, well, living the dream.

Over 8 months later and I dusted off those party shoes once again. I left my grief at the door like a checked coat to be picked up on our way out. Our main goal was free food and locally brewed beer and then we'd scoot. But you know, even after we were done eating pepper and goat cheese empanadas (p.s. I hate goat cheese-- tastes like feet smells), veggie tacos, roast beef sandwiches, BBQ pork, marinara chicken, salad and gobs of wedding food-style veggies and salamis, we stuck around. There were two bands playing and we actually sat down at a table with two complete strangers (who apparently boycotted the rock 'n' roll theme) and actually talked to them for a few minutes before listening to both bands perform. And in that moment, I didn't think about dead babies or the unfortunate circumstances of loss. I was just thinking about being with my husband, trying to get my hands on all the free vegetarian food I could, and listening to some fun music. It felt a bit like home in that historic railroad roundhouse-- mostly because the California beach cities where I'm from are carefree and left-wing. People dress crazily, tattoo parts of their body that just shouldn't be inked, and lose count on the number of piercings visible to strangers. This place was full of crazies like that and I loved it all. Because let's be honest... the suburbs of Chicago don't exactly burst with creativity or the disregard of society norms. People b-l-e-n-d. And the guy about 10 years past his prime dressed in an old Bad Religion t-shirt creating his own mosh-pit of just himself made the night that much more enjoyable.

On our way home, we left our grief in the back seat. I rolled down the windows, opened the sunroof, turned up the volume, and sang loudly. I miss that life about as much as I miss my son. Grief is so much more than losing someone you love. It's losing you and having a really hard time navigating back to whatever it is that sounded normal before. But no, I still miss him more.

Now I'm holed back up on my couch during this rainy Tuesday just trying to piece together the rest of my syllabus and rubrics for my upcoming course. That, and of course I'll need to catch up on the latest trash TV that I missed last night and eat my weight in chocolate.

It felt good to pretend, at least just for a little.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Upper Peninsula Vacation

I'm about to give up on this post. Blogger has ruined it twice. TWICE. I've wasted about 3 hours on this and am close to just uploading images to Flickr and calling it a day. GAH.

So where was I... writing this for the THIRD time now. We visited the Upper Peninsula. The UP. They're considered Yoopers there. Yooper = UP. Get it?

Here was our route minus the stop we made in Mackinac. Let's just pretend that comes right after Sault Ste. Marie (F), mmkay? Great.
Day 1: Chicagoland to Green Bay, WI. We drove through Milwaukee for the first time and fully intend to make that a weekend getaway destination in the future. For the holidays this year perhaps? The jury is still out on whether we'll be celebrating that business. We checked out Lambeau Field and had dinner at a fun German restaurant in town.

Cheesy husband. ;)
 At dinner enjoying a German brew...
 Dinner! You're looking at potato balls (remember those from Oktoberfest, Alison?) and rindfleisch (beef).

Day 2: We drove from Green Bay, WI to Hancock, MI where we picked up Ray's parents at the airport. Post-pickup, we headed to Copper Harbor, MI. We hung around to check out the boat we'd be taking the next morning, visited a lighthouse, explored the area, picked up some supplies from the miniature country store in town and had dinner. This was our first experience with a pasty (pronounced past-ee). Don't ask me. It seems the Upper Peninsula folks beat to a different drum and apparently different grammatical rules. ;)

Our hotel rooms are behind my MIL who is taking this photo.. right on the water in Copper Harbor.
The boat we would be boarding the next morning!
My husband and FIL in Copper Harbor.
A lighthouse we visited...
The boat and dock from our hotel rooms! We were close! My husband is a pretty incredible planner.
Day 3: Boarded the boat in Copper Harbor to Isle Royale National Park (pronounced royal. I know.). Once there, we had a delicious lunch of PBJ and various other snacks we trekked along with us. The island itself has two restaurants that are basically the same restaurant since they come from the same kitchen. We rented cabins so we could use the kitchen if we wanted to. Great idea! We also took a 4.8 mile hike this day.

Fresh raspberries!
And fresh blueberries right outside our cabin door... I couldn't get enough.
Our hike to Scoville Point.
A little reversed, but here we are on our 3.75 hour boat ride over to Isle Royale. Not a single person of the 100 aboard became sick. Lots of awkward middle schoolers but very few small children-- because 1. it's expensive to get there, 2. there is no water warm enough to swim, 3. the boat ride is long, 4. lodging is super expensive if not camping (which is not a Wilson favorite. We like beds. Sleeping on the ground is for the birds).
Wee, we're on a boat!
Hello Isle Royale, hello!
During our first hike on the island
Lewis and Clark. ;)
Ray's parents
Day 4: Our second day on the island and my favorite. I have a load of canoe photos because it was obviously my favorite part of the trip!
We hopped off our canoes, hiked up a 1-mile trail to see Ontario. Can you see it? If you squint? It's about 10 miles from where we were standing. The closest Michigan route by boat is 3.5 hours away at 56 miles. The closest spot to Canada? 10 miles. It's also closer to Wisconsin and Minnesota. But Michigan claims it.
These are thimbleberries. My wilderness-survival-trained-Air Force Academy-graduate husband can tell you that they are safe to eat as all aggregate berries are safe except some white ones found only in Alaska or something. Don't quote me... I didn't look that up. But anyway... they're a tart, not as good raspberry.
We watched the alternate transportation option (expensive seaplane) come and go while canoeing on our second day.
Wee! Canoes!
Some rich guy behind us-- don't worry about them. They're just showing off.
Toad. The island boasts over 500 moose and 25 wolves. We saw a total of zero. But we did see a froggy.
Day 5: Our last day on the island and also the worst boat trip of my life. Y'all. Listen. There were about 30 people on our boat ride back and roughly 25% of the people were vomiting at the stern. None of us four were part of the vomit-fest. Instead, I was laying completely horizontal the entire time and still was able to see a full view of the water as the boat rocked back and forth, back and forth for three hours and forty five minutes. We returned back into dock and the captain said it was their absolute worst trip of the year thus far. UM, they have two trips everysingleday. Yes, people. This was scary business. The waves were up to 7 feet. And to put it in perspective, there are 10 shipwrecks that surround the island alone. It is about 40-50 degrees during the peak of summer, indicating that {the lake} rarely gives up her dead. It's known for being a violent body of water and we all knew it. But, we're alive. Somehow there is still some luck left in this body of mine.
Here's a photo of Lake Superior
Our boat departed from Copper Harbor Michigan (that finger that juts out into the lake) to that long island Northwest. We took the same route back. 3.5-3.75 hours. It's bigger than all of the Great Lakes combined.

Back to the photos... from Day 5. A couple photos of the cabins we rented...
Pancakes each morning with freshly picked blueberries!
We look happy-- because we're relieved we still had our lives after that crazy boat ride!
We hopped off the boat, packed up the car, and headed down to Houghton, MI (pronounced hoe-ton, not who-ton. I know.) where we'd stay for the next two days. Chinese food for dinner and off to sleep for another adventurous day!

Day 6: We explored an old copper mine (the UP is known for rich copper resources), had pasties for lunch, walked around another mining town with a park ranger, explored Michigan Tech University, and McClain State Beach.
We took a cograil car down to the mine.
This ladder-looking item behind us used to hold 30 men at a speed of 15-20 mph down to their mining stations. Scary job!
The mine is about 45 degrees inside, so they provide jackets for our tour. And those schnazzy hard hats. ;)
Mmm pasties. Disclaimer: I didn't have one. They were all ruined by meat.
Here's the doughy perfection. Originally from Europe and a mining staple because it was a large pocket that held their entire lunch of veggies, starches, and meat. Basically a pot pie without the cream sauce or a calzone without the sauce. Or a hot pocket. It was chock full of meat, potatoes, rutabaga and onions. I think.
Here's is the pasty-making production line.
At the state park just exploring... totally my saddest moment of the trip. I watched my husband and FIL spend at least an hour just scouring the beach for cool rocks. They'd compare their rocks. They'd scrape and bang them on things. They'd put them in their pockets and steal them. Rinse. Repeat for about an hour. My heart was just so full of jealousy. Not directed at any one person, just knowing my Andrew will never get to be cute and dorky with his dad and grandfathers. He'll never walk the beach and pick up random rocks and do messy boy things. I know. He won't do anything else either. But in that moment, it really made me sad. Simple things really do matter, especially when those simple things are the very things you want for your own children.
Day 7: Last day with Ray's parents before they headed back to Maryland and we headed back on the road! We walked along the Houghton riverwalk before lunch and the airport dropoff. At one time, the bottom level of the bridge (blue) was used for a railcar. Now it is permanently raised, it seems, until an even larger ship comes through and then it can be raised like an elevator to the very top. Ray is wearing a cape because we were trying to prevent him from being further sunburned. Our poor, poor children and their white, sunburn-proned skin.
Our next stop was Sault Ste. Marie. No passports meant no crossing into Canada. We headed straight to the water to see the Soo Locks. About 10,000 ships per year cross through the locks which allows them to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. We were lucky enough to watch a barge cross through the locks within the hour of us arriving!

We first made our way to Tahquamenon Falls State Park to see some of their falls. They weren't overly dramatic-- but that's just because we're jaded. We've seen some incredible falls and these were just nice.
Here are some of the lock photos. The red ship in the background is headed into the second (farthest) lock from us. There are two locks, the farthest is for very large ships and the closest to our viewing point was for shorter ships.
 Heading into the lock!
The ship is continuing to inch forward ever-so-slowly. Once in, the locks close and water fills the lock, bringing the ship to the height of Lake Superior's "higher" waters.

Day 8: Our next stop was Mackinac and Traverse City, MI. We crossed over the Mackinac bridge and touched our feet in cold Lake Huron. We decided not to "do" Mackinac Island this trip because we felt we'd done enough. Also, we felt like that would make for a nice, leisurely family road trip vacation in the future. You know, with kids. Sometimes we reserve things because it feels right. This one felt right. Mackinac Island reminds me very much of Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. I've been there by ferry and by plane (thanks to my pilot friend, Nic Grillo). It's a touristy island and it's fun to hit up for a day trip. And it's especially nice with kids because they get the boat experience and to be on an island. Plus, I can just picture the strollers and ice-cream eating little ones on the island. It wasn't our time. We wait.

Also, we chose not to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore this time around, either. We'll do so when we're back visiting Mackinac Island. I was not about to get back on another boat! We felt like we'd seen so much and that visiting the rocks would be perfect with kids, too.

Getting credit for Lake Huron...
 Driving over Mackinac Bridge

Traverse City was the coolest little city we'd been to in all of Michigan so far-- or the entire Midwest, I think! It was a bit of a hippie town with eclectic shops and great restaurants and shopping. It reminded us so much of Sonoma, California or anywhere in Colorado. We love that culture. Hence the reason we have tentative plans to retire in the Pacific Northwest someday. I'm kind of a hippie chick and quite enjoy the relaxed vibe you get amongst the heavily pierced, organic foods, hemp bracelets, and nature. Anyone get what I'm saying? We stuck around for a street fair they were having and had some delicious pizza. Anyway, we have NO photos of Traverse City except of an old insane asylum turned loft apartments and businesses. The insane asylum was established in 1885 and is gorgeous! Some investor bought it up after being closed for a long time and about half of the remaining buildings have been restored and are currently in use. There are still quite a few in disrepair. Loft apartments are going for $400k-$700k from what we saw-- and while they are beautiful, our concern was that there are a bunch of (still) dilapidated buildings around and no guarantee money won't run out. Who wants half of their living complex to be run-down?

Here's an aerial shot: 

Here are some photos I took while there... mostly of the areas still in disrepair.
 Old (left), New (right)

Day 9: We attempted to save a little cash by staying overnight (day 8-day 9) somewhere other than Traverse City. We found a little town, Cadillac and explored a bit there before calling it a night. The next morning we headed to Grand Rapids to check out the city but only managed to step foot into the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum of which we refused to pay the admittance fee and left. C'mon. There are so many more cooler Presidential Museums we want to see and Ford's was definitely not going to be our first on the list. He wasn't even elected formally for crying out loud. ;) Simple justifications for being cheapskates. And honestly, we didn't really think they'd have anything cool to show us-- unlike Reagan's that has Air Force One!

We then scooted our way to Kalamazoo and explored their town and their Panera Bread. Mmm good. This is where our road trip really started coming to a close. We decided that instead of just parking ourselves in another hotel, we'd head home and stash the cash for another weekend adventure sometime soon. We felt that 9 days was good enough for R&R. Not that we were ready to be back in civilization and reality just yet, but because another vacation just sounded so great.

So here we are, back.