Wednesday, July 25, 2012

If Once You've Slept on an Island

Tylerton, Smith Island, MD
If Once You Have Slept on an Island

If once you have slept on an island
You'll never quite be the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name.

You may bustle about in street and shop,
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep
But you'll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh, you won't know why, and you can't say how
Such a change upon you came,
But - once you've slept on an island
You'll never quite be the same.
Rachel Field

I'd forgotten about this poem.  It sums up perfectly how it feels to be on Smith Island.  I was so happy to share that experience with my son today.  Lucky me!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Smith Island

Since the beginning of the summer I've had limited work days.  I go into my office approximately 1-2 times a week to check things & make sure nothing is falling behind, complete some stuff before the new school year begins...that kind of stuff.  Which means that I've been home a lot more than not & recently I became friends on Facebook with about 5 of my former students from when I was in the classroom around 1998-2002.  None of this is especially remarkable except that during this time I was allowed to really plan my own curriculum which I did in what is considered an "experiential learning" environment.  And what would I create an experiential curriculum on you might ask?  The Chesapeake Bay of course! We spent an entire year adapting the regular curriculum to the Chesapeake Bay.  I did this in conjunction with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's school trips their curricula as well.  In 2000, I'd participated in a 5-day teacher's trip to learn about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's programs for kids--starting in the Inner Harbor to Annapolis to Smith Island, MD. It was amazing & I came back from that determined to take my students through these experiences as well.  

A little background: I worked for what is called a "non-public" school.  This means that it is a state-funded school that the public schools send their students when they are unable to provide the level of service needed to educate them in a regular public school setting. This school was for students with very serious disabilities.  In this particular case all of my students were labeled with an emotional disability (back then called seriously emotionally disturbed or SED).  Many of them also had very intense ADHD & learning disabilities & most took some serious medications too.  So needless to say, these kids were very tough to handle at times (chairs thrown, anyone?) But also most of these kids were VERY smart too.  I recognized that they really needed to be challenged academically which brought me to my plan to take these kids, meds & all, to Smith Island for three days to explore the Chesapeake Bay. Crazy, right??

Not so much.  As I said, these kids were smart.  They were also very limited in their exposure to the world beyond their very urban city blocks. I was determined to expand their worldview so that they knew that there was so much more that the world had to offer them if they just went & looked for it. And so began my year-long quest.  In order to go, we had to have a "service learning" type project.  We chose stream renewal-we did water testing on the Herring Run, planted trees, & cleaned up the streams in our area.  We started in the fall by going on one of the Bay Foundation trips to the Inner Harbor & out to Fort Carroll to look at oyster environments & then in early spring we went on the Stanley Norman, a skipjack out of Annapolis--again looking at oysters & Bay ecology.  What I wanted the kids to do was compare & contrast each area on the bay--from right around their neighborhoods in Baltimore to down in Annapolis (more wildlife according to the kids) & then finally all the way down to Smith Island in late spring.  And in 2001 & 2002, I took my class & about 10 school staff down to Tylerton on Smith Island. I must thank all of the adults who made this possible because without them, we would never have been able to accomplish this amazing journey.  And it was amazing which brings me back to why I wrote this post so many years after the fact.

When I friended these former students on FB, they all said how much that trip changed them & how, when times are tough, they think back on when they were in my class & how much I pushed them to become better people.  They all thanked me & posted very public statements about how I cared about them when no other teachers did.  That is the best reward that any teacher can get. And I'm happy to say that most are doing OK, if not doing pretty good--college for some, & most are working.  These kiddos were my "dream class"--they were always willing to try any hair-brained scheme I wanted to do, & fully embraced all of the challenges I threw up against them--& they excelled despite their circumstances.  They are my heroes really.  Because of them, & their enthusiasm, I have continued to support Bay causes & tomorrow, going full circle if you will, I am taking my son down to Smith Island as I promised him years ago.  I want him to experience some of what my students saw & did.  I have been inspired by them to continue the experience.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Screwpile? Sweatpile!

Ok, so most sailors on the Chesapeake know that the summer doldrums hit about mid-July through August--there's usually just no wind!  And you'd think that a lot of us would say "fogettabout it!" & some of us actually do, but not me or Xing Fu or about 123 boats who converge on Solomons Island, MD for the Screwpile Regatta in mid-July.  But this one was a HOT one--(shout-out to one of my sailing friends--C, for the phrase "sweatpile") 'cause I for one sweated gallons--couldn't get enough Gatoraid in me. Anyhow, as per usual there was a lot of flukey wind--day one was pretty good, day two was pretty crappy, & day three was mixed (at least for the West circle).  Poor Xing Fu on the North circle really got screwed (heh).  His RC (Race Committee) just couldn't figure it out. And after making them bob even longer than we did, they sent them on a 1.1 nautical mile course only to abandon race just as his boat was to the weather mark.  And then for them, that was it!  

On the West circle, I have to give it to our RC--yeah, we bobbed for a couple hours first thing after we motored out to our circle, but they really worked hard to find us steady enough wind above 4 knots of wind.  And eventually, we were able to get a race off--not the 4 legs, but shortened to 2.  And then we bobbed again waiting for air.  Instead of just giving up, the RC talked to the South circle & found out that the breeze was filling in nicely--apparent wind to at least 8 knots & gusting higher--just a few more bobs & then we'd get a second race in. And we did--4 legs & a very exciting start--near collisions (not with our boat) & protests--always good for an adrenaline rush! Despite the heat & waiting, a good finish to three days of racing.

And I didn't even have a ride when I got down to Solomons!  Talk about taking a chance.  It had been a real struggle to find a ride for Screwpile--both Xing Fu & I tried to find one for me but to no avail.  A lot of skippers that I know told me to just go down there & that I might be able to catch something for Monday & Tuesday as a lot of folk can't take off those days (ah, being a 10 month employee has its advantages!).  I was fully prepared to find something to do on Sunday around the island while Xing Fu sailed (shore wife--so NOT what I wanted) but I got lucky.  Xing Fu's skipper walked a few slips down the dock on Sunday morning & said that he had extra crew could they use someone?  And there it was--I had a ride for all three days.  Now I was fully prepared to be rail meat or something like that but instead I was really needed for jib & spin trim (not just pole) on a Tartan 10 with only 4 crew--and as I've stated before, sometimes you mesh as a crew & sometimes you don't--this was a case of a very good fit for all of us.  Problem being, they are from Deltaville, Va.--a little far to travel for Wednesday night races & weekends.  But perhaps I'll go down for Southern Bay Race Week next year--looks like I have a ride already!  It was so nice to be back on the spinnaker trim--and to do a good job--we heard the pack coming up behind us (there's that tell-tale water-coming-off-the-bow noise that grows louder) on one of our downwind legs & I was able to move us ahead significantly--even better it was away from I boat that I used to race against on the West River! My skipper told me how pleased he was with my trim--especially on the kite--I really needed that confidence injection.

But one of the most important aspects of participating in Screwpile has naught to do with sailing.  It is the 3-day mini vaycay that Xing Fu & I have together doing what we love (even if it isn't on the same boat).  In an email I wrote to Xing Fu, " ...these trips we take together seem to be very good for injecting the appreciation for one another back into our relationship--something we've been struggling with because of all of our life adjustments recently."  So true.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Well...How Did I Get Here?

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well...How did I get here?

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
After the money's gone
Once in a lifetime
Water flowing underground
--Talking Heads, Once In A Lifetime

The Bean in Chicago reflects 180 degree shifts
OK, so this is not a fatalistic posting, just me reflecting on my birthday--is it an epiphany post?  Nah, don't think so--or mebbe.  Just yesterday I was over at my BFF(J)'s house & told her that when I had gotten up that morning, I looked around my bedroom in my new house & thought to myself, "How did I get here?"  Just like the Talking Heads---just feeling all the changes in my life recently come crashing in.  Not a bad thing, just reflective of this critical point in my life.  Was it really just a few years ago that I sat down to write about all of those frogs?  Back then did I ever think I'd be where I am now?  No way! And, did I ever think that being with my "soulmate" would be as challenging as it sometimes is? NOPE!  Definitely had those rose-colored glasses over my eyeballs...I don't regret where I am now--I embrace this time but I sometimes just stop to scratch my head..."into the blue again."  A lot of my life is in flux believe it or not--strange because I have a place to live, a job, etc., etc., but it has all rotated 180 degrees from where I was less than two months ago.  "Well...How did I get here?"

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Suck It Up!

I came across a cool blog about being a stepmom called The Erin Experiment . I liked what I read there--especially her last post about why people feel the need to say to stepmoms to "Suck it up!"  I'm pretty new at this gig & I gotta say to all those folk out there who tell me that "I have to rise above it", or "You knew that he had a ton of baggage", can blow it out their collective ears!  Yeah, I'm well aware of what I signed up for--it just doesn't mean that I truly get it & frankly I probably won't for a while at least--maybe never.  Do you?  Does anybody?  And when will I have the emotional fortitude to rise above the fray?  I think I asked in my last post when do I get a break? And I'm seeing that stepmoms usually don't get a break & are expected to be calm & have a quiet grace--ah, anybody out there believe this load of crap??  OMG!  I think I may be in trouble here--I'm really good at that mantra below in a professional way but when it comes to my personal life, well....I keep looking for gray hair.

I've discovered that I'm a very different person when the kids are around--not my kid, the Skids (I'm finding ALL kinds of acronym-like stuff for stepparenting).  I am a ball of stress & anxiety--one of my girlfriends stopped by last week to see the new house & as we were sitting at the kitchen table enjoying cold glasses of water (I know, not wine!), she told me that I looked very different from when I lived in my old house--she said that I looked anxious & stressed.  Even Xing Fu said something to me about it--that I act differently when his kids are around--wouldn't you if you felt scrutinized & judged at every turn?  I don't want to feel that way & when they are not here I definitely relax & am able to think more clearly.  

Like this morning as I sat looking around at the boxes still to be unpacked in our bedroom--I thought to myself, "is this what I really want?  How did I get here? and, Am I delaying the unpacking because of the drama/trauma I've been going through trying to be the uberstepmom?" I decided that I did want this & that I've gotten to this place because I love Xing Fu & want to share my life with him.  Ah, such romantic notions--hard to see because those feelings are often clouded by everything that's been going on.  But, as a way to face the fears, & prove my commitment, I unpacked a bunch of stuff