One Long Summer

It has been a long time since I have seen this view, the city of Amman from my back porch. I spend a lot of my time during the school year looking over this perch, and it has been almost ten weeks since I have been back. When I was younger, this was a normal amount of time for summer break, but the schools have slimmed them down a bit. There are numerous reasons for this. Schools wish to have more breaks during the school year to help reduce the pressure that many students feel at certain points of the schedule. Districts also wish to reduce the summer slide when students put the books down and pick up the game console controllers. It is also a long time to be a way from work, and by the end of it, people are bored, no longer being productive about anything in their lives. This is the reality for many schools around the world, but for me this year, it was not the case. There were a couple of complications with the way the holidays landed this year that complicated things, and extended the summer. The school I work for now also does not believe in the smaller breaks, following the work hard, play hard philosophy. Because of these things, I have had a long summer to explore the world.

When I first thought about what this prospect of a long summer meant for me, I started to think about how I would spend my time. Most of the time, I head back to the United States and visit with family and friends, but there is a limit you can stay at a place before you wear out your welcome. I prefer to have my time spent with these people to be quality time, and not just passing the time. Also considering that the last couple of years had made travel difficult and I now had an opportunity to see a part of the world I never had before, we made arrangements to spend the first part of the summer in Iceland.

Iceland seemed lie the perfect place to go in a world still getting over its post-Covid hangover. The danger of the disease still lurked around every corner even though right before we boarded the plane to start on our travels, the United States followed suit with a lot of the other countries in the world, and decided to no longer make having a negative PCR test part of flying into the country. Everything was coming together to make for a great summer of travel. Still, it was going to be nice to be in a country without many people in it and the main attractions that tourist go and see being outside. We didn’t even need to worry about catching the disease in hotel rooms because we spent our time traveling around the island in a camper van and rarely did we have contact with other people.

Still, this did not make our travels easy in Iceland. We ran into rain and cold weather during most of our three weeks we were there. The people we did interact with told us time and time again that Iceland was experiencing the coldest June in thirty years. It created some challenges along the way, and there were many nights that we were huddled up in our van staying warm in our sleeping bags while waiting out the rain and blowing wind that was beating itself against the side of our vehicle.

Still, there were plenty of moments where the sun came out and we took advantage of those times to gaze upon the beauty of Iceland. It was the perfect way to start this long summer. I was able to let go of all the stress and pressure that comes with the school year, and concentrate on something else. I didn’t have a lot of down time that usually comes from vacation, but it was okay because I had plenty of time later on to take advantage of that. I also did not experience a lot of heat, but I knew I would eventually run into it when I made it to the second part of my trip Oregon in the United States.

But the Pacific Northwest can be a fickle place as well. My father-in-law is always telling me that he never expects it to get warm in Oregon until after the Fourth of July, and not to get mad if it doesn’t happen until after the fifteenth of the same month. Well, this summer put that saying to the test. I would like to say that I had made it all the way to the 24th without experiencing a day over 90, but that was not the case.

There were two days early on in the month where we traveled down to Tucson, Arizona to attend the wedding of a couple of friends from both Korea, and Jordan. We ran into day over 100 degrees there, but if they weren’t that hot in mid-July there, I would have been worried. The wedding wasn’t an actual wedding either. The happy couple had gotten married the previous summer to allow them to move to Jordan without any trouble. The problem with that first ceremony was that it only involved a handful of people due to the speed in which it happened and the fact that the world was still in lockdown during the summer of 2021. This time around was a celebration of a marriage that had already happened, but it was with all of the people they would have invited if it wasn’t for those strange circumstances surrounding their first ceremony. It was more than just a celebration of love because a lot of the people invited to the ceremony were also people I had worked with in Seoul, and had not seen since I had left that country. It became a reunion as well from people who live all over the world now. The world had moved on from Covid and was willing to get back together again. All of these things were expressed in that tiny ceremony, and it was one of the highlights of this summer, right around the halfway point of my time off as well.

I did not get to enjoy the heat for long though because it was back to the Pacific Northwest, and though I got a couple of days in the high 80s in Central Oregon, we left that behind to go up to the Puget Sound of Washington. Being so close to the ocean so far north meant cooler days, and nights where we actually built a fire to enjoy the evening outside. It was around this time that I was hearing about the heat that the rest of the country was experiencing and I felt really lucky that I kept avoiding it. I was even able to dodge that bullet when those temperatures finally hit the Pacific Northwest by making the jump to another part of the country, but I knew that I had a long way to go this summer, and there was no way I could avoid it forever.

But I wasn’t that far north to enjoy the weather. It was for another celebration that was put on hold because of, once again, Covid. My in-laws had been planning a little getaway for their whole family to celebrate one of them hitting a significant milestone in age, and both of them celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. This trip had been scheduled early in 2020 before Covid became a worldwide pandemic. I remember many conversations from that year about whether the trip should be canceled or not. It is funny looking back and thinking that it would have been a possibility in 2020, but I am sure many people had the same kinds of conversations. I am just happy that we were able to eventually get to celebrating these moments, even if they were a couple of years later; they were still important, and still needed to be recognized. I am sure that there were a lot of people around the world who also wished to make up these lost moments for the last two years, and that was probably the reason that travel was so crazy this summer.

It wasn’t just the visiting of family and friends that returned to a sense of normalcy this summer. Business was also getting back to the way that it once was. Some considered this a good thing; whereas, others thought that something could have been learned about the way we conduct business from the last couple of years. As a teacher, I am required to take class to keep on top of the latest developments in education, and they have been annoying the last couple of years. I have had to sit in front of a computer, and watch a tiny screen as some trainer babbled on about what I should know. This is not a good form of education. It is easy to get distracted, and all of the teachers I had in this kind of experience, rambled on about nothing for way too long. I get a lot more out of the experience if I show up and have face to face conversations with my colleagues, and interaction with the person running the training. This summer, I was able to enjoy that kind of experience again. During the end of July, I flew to Wisconsin to have some training on English Language Learning with the WIDA Institute. It was a great trip, and I got a lot out of the experience, and am looking forward to more like it.

Though I appreciated the in-person conference, I understand why things have changed for companies all over the world. A lot of money has been spent on office space over the years, and they have learned that this is not necessarily needed. They are beginning to see that their employees will get their work done from their homes, and there is no need for somebody to watch over them to make sure they are doing their work. These companies are starting to recognize that they do not need to spend a lot of money on office space, and have their employees commute into work every day. They can have happy and productive employees and allow them to make their homes their workspace. This rethinking of the way we do things is one of the effects of the last couple of years. Both the old and the new ways have advantages and disadvantages to them, and it is interesting to see how the world makes the changes because of the adjustments that needed to happen the last couple of years.

Of course, as anybody living in the United States over the summer can testify, it was impossible to escape the heat that gripped a lot of the country. It was only a matter of time before I ran into that heatwave in my home state of Colorado. I enjoyed it at first, but of course, heat is always oppressive and I found that spending my time indoors was more comfortable than being outside in the heat. Still, it was nice to make it back home and have the chance to visit with family and friends. The time always seems so short for this, and I try not to fill it up with too many other things that would take up my time.

But of course, you can’t head back to the place where you used to live and that has a part of your life still at it, and not have some business that you need to attend to. For me this time around, it was with my storage unit. It had been getting to be a mess from years of just rummaging through it without me giving much thought to how well I organized it after I had left. The company I was renting from was also raising the price, and it was getting to be a little ridiculous with how much I was paying per month. So I spent a couple of days going through all of the stuff I had left behind, so I could move it to a new storage space that was more reasonably priced. There were moments with it that had a nostalgic feel to it. I was looking at stuff I had not seen in over seven years and it brought back some great memories. Of course, there was a bunch of other stuff that I went through and wondered why I had kept it for so long. When it was all said and done, it was great that I had gone through it all, and my stuff was a little more organized.

It was a great and busy summer, and it was a great time to make up a little bit of what was lost over the last couple of years, and I feel that a lot of people had the same idea with their summer. I was lucky to avoid the heat that many other people had run into on their summers, but in the end, we were all able to form some great memories with the adventures we had. It is back to the grind, and based on the adventures I had, I am ready to take on that challenge to build up to that next time I get to go out and have another adventure. Until then, keep on

Campus During the Summer – Madison, Wisconsin

When I was in college, I would drive up 1-25 in early September every year with a carload full of my stuff to get ready for the upcoming school year. I would spend the next couple of months in Fort Collins, making the trip back to Littleton around Thanksgiving, the holidays, and Spring Break. When I finished the school year up in May, I would pack all of that stuff up again to head back down I-25 for a summertime job, leaving behind the college campus. This is the story of many college students, but what story is not told is that of the college campus that we all travel to. During the school year, it is a crazy place of activity and stories are being written around every corner, but what happens to that campus during the summer months when the population drops because of the mass exodus of college students?

I was lucky enough to have stayed behind one summer to be able to answer this question. It is a strange experience to be on a college campus without all of the students. It is calm, and relaxed. The insane parties and rallies to support the college lifestyle are also gone. It is instead populated by people who are considering on attending the school some time in the future, the students taking summer classes because they are really interested in learning, and people coming out for professional development in their fields. I am having a similar experience I had during that summer on the University of Wisconsin campus right now.

Let me start off by saying that the campus of the University of Wisconsin is absolutely beautiful. It sits on a lake, and there are amazing old buildings and some really cool statues usually centered around Bucky the Badger. It also is not far from the state’s capital building on State Street where there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops, so not only does it make for a cool place where the students can hang out, but it also presents a place that attracts tourists that seem to always wandering about. I never knew that Madison was such a destination place, and I was surprised about the amount of tourists that I saw as I wandered around the campus.

The experience that I had though was a completely different one than the ones that happen as soon as the school year starts up. There was a little bit of the hustle and bustle that I saw with the tourists, but they did not have an agenda, and could leisurely make their way around town. As soon as classes start, the students will need to be at certain places at certain times, so there will always be this constant flow of people moving from one place to another. State street will also have a different feel to it every night. Instead of easily getting into restaurants or bars, I am sure there will be places packed with people inside, and even more waiting to get in. I could also imagine more of a party atmosphere as people hop from one bar to another. I was not getting that kind of flow while I was out here.

There is also the aspect of the weather. I was here during the summer months and was lucky enough to experience that time during a mild spell during the summer, so the days just begged for me to come outside and enjoy walking around. I have been told that this not always the case during the summer, that sometimes it gets really hot and humid. The winter months can be even more brutal with the winds and snow that sometime blow in from the lake. So this made this moment in time even more special. I got to be out here during the slower summer months with the weather that people hope to find when they go traveling to any place in the world.

All of this probably helped in the way that I fell in love with this city and campus. I have to keep on telling myself that this is not the way that it looks most of the year, and it makes me want to come back again some other time to see it in its other iterations. I do hope that I get to do that some day, and for those of you who consider yourself badgers, thank you for sharing your school with me during this week.

Iceland’s Traditional Farm Houses

I know that the Vikings were the first people to discover Iceland, and they were the ones to give it its name, but there was another group of people that eventually made their way over to this island. These people had to face harsh conditions to cultivate the land and survive. I never gave much thought to these people and what they did in order to survive, until I visited their traditional farm houses, Glaumbaer.

I got to see them during the summer months when they were free from snow, and really showcased how they were built. Basically they had turf for their roofs that would look like rolling hills if it wasn’t for the fact that on the front of each one of these hills was a wooden facade giving the place the look of a typical Scandinavian house from the 1800s. I thought of it as a strange little addition, but I get why it was added. It probably gave these people a small semblance of home and made it feel more comfortable.

Going inside set me up for another surprise. Basically, all of these small houses were not separate, but were instead part of a big chain of house brought together for one large community. The rooms were designed to keep people warm during the long winters with big pantries, a large kitchen, and rooms in the back with personal bunks where the community could sleep. The big huge roofs would acts as a great insulation against the pounding storms, and the people could get light from the small windows dotted all along the inside each room. There was even a small location where the pastor of the community could prepare for services to help guide these people through the tough times.

This community was a far ways away from any of the larger towns on the island as well. The people that chose to live out here knew that they has to rely on themselves and their own ingenuity to live a comfortable life. They would venture out to the larger towns a couple of times a year to collect the supplies they might need in order to survive the next season. Otherwise, they made do with what they had. They would use everything that they could find to make life comfortable from the bones of whales to vision sleds and plows to the blubber that they could use to make shoes that would keep them warm and dry. Sledgehammers were made out of large stones, and the beds were made out of whatever timber they could find.

The windows were another feature of the place that surprised me. They were tiny, but they let in considerable light. Considering that a good portion of the time they spent here was during the summer when the sun would never set, I could understand why they made the windows so small. It would let in just enough light so they could see by, but not enough so they could also sleep at night. I could also see the function they served during the winter months. They weren’t going to let in any light because there wasn’t any light to enter, and they wanted to keep out the cold, so larger windows would be a problem. It showed me that everything that they did in these farm houses was of a practical nature, and it was for this reason that they were able to live and farm in this far away place up north.

It was a great stop along the Ring Road of Iceland, and it was my first insight into the people who lived here long after the Vikings. Glaumbaer is a must stop for anyone who ventures out this way and it is worth the small entrance fee to get to tour its lands.

The Eternal Guest

I slept in Sakari’s room.

Sakari is a big Alaskan malamute who owns my brother and sister-in-law. She is an easy going dog that likes nothing more than to be petted, long walks, and frozen green beans in her morning and nightly kibble. She usually sleeps in the room that my sister-in-law uses as an office because it is cool at night and nobody else is using it at the time. When guests are in town and are staying with them, they pull out the hideaway from the couch and it takes up the whole room. This means that Sakari needs to find a new place to sleep.

I was unaware of all of this as I got ready for bed. After reading a little bit to get myself sleepy, I decided to go to the bathroom one last time before I slept. This is when I found the place that Sakari had found to sleep for the night. If I was going to take over her room, she would take a different important place in the house, the spot right in front of the toilet, and she wasn’t going to move for any reason.

I get it. Try to explain houseguests to a dog, and they will look at you sideways and wonder who will be taking them on their next walk. They will not understand the delicate balance that takes place as soon as a stranger walks into the house and takes over a little corner of it. They don’t know how long they will be there for, or even why they are there in the first place.

As hard as it is for the dog, it is also difficult for me as the houseguest. I want to make myself at home, but as long as I am there, I know that it will never be my home. I am always stumbling on the routines, and trying to find my place in it, knowing that I will only be there for a short time and will never have a chance of figuring it out. I know that I will never be able to feel completely at home while I am a visitor. There is only one place where you feel completely at home, and that is at home.

I know that as I write this, members of my family will read this, and they will think that I am saying that I am not comfortable in their presence. And this is not what I am saying. I love the summertime as an international teacher because it gives me the opportunity to go home and see my family and spend time with them. I would even say that I have gotten to know them better by moving half way around the world because when I do see them, I get to witness those intimate routines that they have in life, and I get to be a part of them. When I lived in Colorado and got to see them on a regular basis, it was only for celebrations and family gatherings, and there is a small facade that you have to work through because we are always trying to put on the best that are homes have to offer at that time. When you become a houseguest, that facade gets broken down quicker because we can’t and don’t always want to break from the routines that we have created to make us feel comfortable in our own homes.

This makes things a little difficult when you are a houseguest. I feel a little off when I am staying at other people’s places. I want to be polite and respect their routines, but I also can’t just give up mine. It is always a tightrope wire act trying to balance spending time with the people that you are there to see, but not get in their way when they need that downtime that everybody needs to recharge themselves. It feels like everybody is on all the time when there is a houseguest.

Being an international teacher builds on this feeling as well. One of the perks of taking one of these jobs is that the school will purchase a round trip airline ticket for you once a year, so you can go back and visit family. Most people take advantage of this during the summer because they will have lots of time to catch up with family and friends. This means that you will be a houseguest for a long time. This summer is a great example of this. I got two months off to go visit friends and family, and I love to have this opportunity. We get to spend a lot of quality time together and catch up with what has happened over the last year. This time was even more exciting because it had been two years since we had seen each other, and there was a lot of catching up to do. But staying at somebody’s place is a lot different than staying at a hotel room. Even though you are given space in both places, it is never completely your space when you are a houseguest.

This is okay when it only last for a couple of days to a week, but once it starts to extend into time beyond this then things start to become a little bit of an imposition for those whose house you are staying at, and it starts to become a chore living out of a suitcase for that long.

I have loved seeing my family again, and being able to spend time with them, and I know that as soon as I leave, it will only be a short time before I miss them again. But it has come to that time that I need to move on, and get back to my own life. I am pretty sure that the people whose houses I have stayed at are looking forward to getting their space back as well. I know that Sakari was happy to have her room back.

It will be a bittersweet moment when I have to leave in a couple of days, but at the same time it will make it that much better when I get to see everybody again. I will be that guest again, and I look forward to that time, but I also need my own space again as well.

A Walk Around Black Butte Ranch – Oregon

Summer has been hiding behind the clouds ready to pop out. It isn’t quite the weather for shorts and swimming pools yet in Central Oregon, but it will come soon. That does not mean that I need to hide in my house and wait for it to come. I could still get out there and enjoy the view of Black Butte Ranch. I just need to plan a little better and make sure I am wearing pants and warmer clothes.

Black Butte Ranch boasts some dramatic views no matter what the weather is. It might even be better during those cool, cloudy days because it add something more to look at in the sky than just a warming blue. It is also early enough in the season that the people have not flooded into the resort yet and taken over the paths. The cool weather reinvigorated me, making the length of this walk tick away with each happy step I took.

It felt as if the empty roads were built for me alone, and each bend gave me another view of the spectacle that is the natural landscape of Central Oregon. I am happy to be out of the towns and cities right now, and am able enjoy these quiet streets. It would be a different scene in Bend, or Redmond, or even Sisters as they get their businesses and restaurants ready for the summer rush that will happen as soon as the nod from the Governor comes, telling them that can ramp things up again.

It will nice to get back to that normal way of life, and hints of it keep peeking out from my periphery. But until then, I will enjoy the lack of crowds and having the feel that the ranch is mine alone.

Underneath the Mango Tree

As the fading light on the horizon
Sputters out the last of its final glow,
I have found my place to enjoy the sun
Underneath the tree that gives me mango.
I know I can find a cooler respite
In my house with the air conditioning,
But then I would miss the coming of night
For a moment of comforted living.
The brutal heat may wish for me to hide
In the safe seclusion of my cocoon,
But there is more that is offered outside.
I’ll be able to make my retreat soon.
I have made the choice to live with my sweat
As I only will witness this sunset.

The Pool Life – Around the World Day 37

Sometime during the day, take a step outside of your house and listen really carefully. You can tell what time of the year it is by what you hear. If it is winter a muffled hush will try to make itself heard over the fallen snow. Autumn will have the sounds of cars rushing by as people return to their busy lives that they had left behind during the previous months. But if you hear the sound of splashing water and kids screaming in the distance, you know that it is summertime. It does not matter where I have settled down in the United States, this sound was always someplace in the background during the summer months. It is either the sound of summer for the United States, or I have always lived within earshot of a pool.

It is the same for the quiet community I have found myself in during the last part of my trip around the world, Black Butte Ranch. This place is a paradise in central Oregon. It is full of houses that people either own or rent for a week, and they use it to get away from the bustle that their real lives force them to live. One of the features of this place is the four pools that they have in various parts of the grounds. During the summer months, these are the places that are packed with vacationers trying to unwind a bit and escape the heat. They allow families the opportunity to spend some time together and have fun. It is also the place where kids can play games that have nothing to do with their electronic devices. It might be the last bastion where you can hear the shouts of joy from children left in the United States because it is the one place where Apple, Android and Microsoft can’t invade.

Where I grew up, there was a pool a fifteen minute walk away from my house, and the call of it always sounded in my ears during the summer months as this joy of my friends having fun floated over the roofs of the houses and made it to my front yard. I spent my summers at the pool helping to create that lure. It was my escape. I would spend forty-five minutes of every hour playing some kind of game in the pool, whether it was Marco Polo or some kind of elaborate team game of keep away involving a beach ball. If we ever tired of those games, we would go over to the deep end and show our skills on the diving board for a while. During adult swim, we would find a warm piece of concrete that we could lay down on to quickly dry off before we ran to the snack shack to fill up on candy so we would have energy to run wild in the water after the fifteen minutes was over. If I think back on the summer months of my youth, I automatically go to these.

Going to the pool does not hold the same magic. My wife does not want to walk around the pool with her eyes closed yelling Marco while I swim just out of her reach responding with Polo. It is still a great place for us to hang out during the hot summer months. We just find a comfortable recliner around the pool and bathe in the rays of the sun while losing ourselves in the story of some novel. The children screaming and having fun might reach our ears, but it turns into background noise that reminds us what time of the year it is. We will still grab a treat from the snack shack but it will be a cool drink or some ice cream to cool off a bit. Every once in a while we will dip into the water to cool off a little further, but we do not play games. Instead we wade around the water, occasionally going completely underwater, and talk about what the future holds for us or what the past has taught us. It may not hold the same appeal that I found when I was a kid, but it does not mean that I do not enjoy them any less. It is still the one thing that pulls me to it every summer.

I have not spent a lot of time around a pool this summer because I have been busy doing a lot of other things, but as the sun started to beat down a little more than usual, I was glad that I was able to find some time at one this summer. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, it is the sounds of pool life that makes me know that it is summer.

 

Moments like These

The bug flies to rest upon your finger
And crawls up it as if you were not there.
You watch its investigative linger,
Making sure to respect your guest with care.
This is when you bring your finger to me
And ever so carefully and gently
You guide your friend over to my left knee
Where in its new environment it’s free.
The bug wanders around its new terrain.
It peeks its head into every nook,
When, for reasons that I cannot explain
Up into the dusk of day, off it took.
That has become my favorite moment
For it was so simple before it went.