Seeing the Finish Line

I know that I have been talking more about my career as a teacher lately, but that is because I am finishing up my school year in a remote location. It is not the typical way that I have done it in the past, and with all of the ways we all have done things differently over the last two years, I thought it would be interesting to document my feelings along the way.

I am getting to that point of the school year where things are wrapping up and I am starting to work on thinking about what I will be doing next year. This time of the year is always busy and very stressful, and Covid has not made it easier. Tracking down students to get them to turn in missing assignments and finish up the school year is made more difficult by the fact that I am hoping that they will eventually check their email to see the urgent message I have sent them. I get that the latest video game is more exciting than an email from an English teacher, but I wish they would prioritize enough to make sure they finish the school year before they start playing their game. But I can’t blame them because I would be in the same spot if I was them.

Despite this, I have gotten to the point of where I have checked all of my boxes and completed most of my duties. There are a couple of other responsibilities I need to take care of before I go, but they are minor and don’t add to the level of stress I am starting to shed. Really, all I am doing is waiting around for that final metaphorical bell to ring so I can log out of email account one last time, and get to enjoying the summer. It is a lot of sitting around which has made me feel bored and busy at the same time, but I will take this feeling over the stacks of papers I had to work through a couple of weeks ago. It is nice to know that it is finally coming to an end, and I am looking forward to next step in my career as I switch schools and countries next year. It is the spark I need right now, but I am just not there yet.

It is that finish line that is always the hardest to cross. All of my years of running has taught me this. It is the time of the race where you are spent. You lungs are burning, and your muscles are wishing to seize up, but in order for the pain to stop, you have to keep plugging away at it. The location of the finish line never changes, just your relation to it. I can see that finish line right now, and I know what it feels like when you finally cross it. All of the tension and pushing you have done during that long race is finally released as you can now take life at stroll and collect your breath. Their is always a refreshing drink waiting for you at the end, and the rest of the day can be spent the way you want to. But looking back at the path you came from, you can give yourself the satisfaction that you just finished that race, and accomplished something many people are afraid to. It is a simple feeling, but it is one of the best feelings in the world, and I am looking forward to it.

There are only a couple of days left until I get to cross that finish line, and I will keep slowly plugging away at it until I reach it. And once I cross it, I can go back to the usual posts that having nothing to do with work, and have more to do with taking the world in I get to visit. I hope to see you there.

A View from the Sidewalk

I have enjoyed being back in the cool air of the Pacific Northwest again. It is refreshing after the heat wave that I was experiencing in Thailand. I am in that position of making sure to keep my contact with other people to be minimal, so I have, for the most part, stayed inside. But I have taken a moment every day to get out and walk around. It is nice to walk on these streets free from the crowds, and enjoy the weather.

Every where I look, I see those little pieces of Americana that I have missed during the last couple of years. There are the tree houses and graduation celebration signs in people’s front yards. There is the sound of lawn mowers trimming the yards, and there are people out walking their dogs. I do have to remember to keep to the sidewalks. After two years of sticking to the edge of the roads and paying attention to the sounds of oncoming cars and motorcycles, I forgot that there are places where you are supposed to stay off the road, and stick to the safety from the sidewalk.

It is a different view from the sidewalk. There is always so much to see from there. People like to put a little bit of themselves in their yards, and it is fun to see their personalities. Sometimes the yards are well manicured and sometimes they are a little more sporadic. Every once in a while, there is a little joke that offers up a little laugh. It makes these walks more enjoyable to take.

My favorites are the free libraries that can be found all over the Pacific Northwest neighborhoods. On our little one mile walk, we came across three of these book deposits. People in the neighborhood can take a book or drop one off, and each little library offers a different collection of books to browse from. There are ones that cater to a younger audience, and some enjoy the thrillers that can be found all over the place, while others have a more literary selection.

It was nice to get out to enjoy this activity again, and make it home without being a hot, sweaty mess. I am looking forward to the day when I get back to the more populated parts of town, and enjoy this cool weather even more. But I still have a few more days of quarantine to go through as well as another vaccination shot. It is still nice to know that it is getting closer to enjoying a more normal life, and to be back in America to enjoy it.

Searching for Snow

Growing up, one of the things I enjoyed the most about the holiday season was the blustery, wintery days of Colorado. When I moved to Korea, I was not able to enjoy this as much. Yes, for all of you worried about the Winter Olympics, it does snow in South Korea, but not nearly at the same level that it does in Colorado. I am lucky to see a snow that is over three inches in depth once a year, and it turns into an icy mess that slowly disappears over the next couple of days. I do live in Seoul which is close to the Yellow Sea, so it does not experience the same snowy weather that a landlocked location like Colorado does, but if you go further inland to the mountains of Korea, it gets the cold and snow necessary for a big event like the Winter Olympics.

When Winter Break came around in my school, I decided to do something a little different than I had during my other two years of living overseas. Instead of taking a long vacation to a country that was far away and I had never been to before, I decided to go back to the place where I grew up because I knew that I would be able to find snow there. There was an added bonus to this, I would be able to experience a Christmas like I had grown up with, cold chilly nights, presents under the tree, and family to share the experience with. That is not to say that the other countries I traveled to did not know what it is like to celebrate Christmas; it is just that the warmer climates I had been for the last couple of years gave me a different holiday experience than I am used to.

I know that I can’t expect the world to celebrate Christmas the same way that they do in Colorado, especially considering that they have their own cultures and their own climates, and because of that, they are going to view their world in their own special way. It is funny to see the banners with pictures of Santa or Frosty the Snowman on a sunny day in Australia. It is even weirder to hear Christmas carols in New Zealand that praise the hot weather. But I should expect those things when I fly to the other side of the world during their summer months. I can’t expect snow down there.

That’s why when I landed in Vancouver and started to get closer to my destination, I started to get excited about what I would find in Colorado. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy spending time in hot, sunny climates, but I appreciate them even more when I get to experience a serious snow event every once in a while. Vancouver is not one of the places in the world that can really boast about its annual snowfall because of its proximity to the coast, but I could feel the nip in the air as I wandered around the airport, and I knew that it was only a few more hours before I got to see that snowy climate.

When I finally did arrive in the land of my youth, a strange occurrence happened. The snow I was hoping to see was not there. In fact, it was nice and sunny outside. It wasn’t as warm as it was my two previous holiday breaks in Australia and New Zealand, but it was warm enough where I could walk around outside with nothing more heavy than a hoody on. I had apparently forgotten about one of the main factors of Colorado, it is not always cold and blustery there.

Many people, when they think of Colorado, think of it the way that I had thought about it during the last couple of months before I got to return to it, snowy and cold all of the time. But there is a secret about Colorado that many of its citizens do not like to let out into the public. Colorado has more sunny days a year than Los Angeles. I know most people would call me a liar when they hear this fact, but it is true. Colorado has weather where one day it is cold and blustery, and the next day it is sunny and warm. In fact, when I first arrived back in Colorado, I was experiencing temperatures in the mid 60s. People have asked me that if this was the case then why don’t more people move to Colorado, and even though there are a lot of people moving there right now, there is still a good reason why they do not come. Denver is a really ugly place to be at during the winter if there is no snow around.

Unlike places that have mild temperatures during the winter and do not get to as much sun, they do get a lot of rain during those times. The only moisture that Colorado gets during the winter months is from the snow, and this snow is completely different than the kind that is found on the coastal regions. It does not contain a lot of moisture in it, so it is light and fluffy creating that amazing skiing powder that Colorado is famous for. Because of this, the trees out in Denver do not get a lot of much needed moisture during the winter months, and so the grass grows brown in it dormancy, and the trees look like bare stick protruding out of the ground. It makes for a desolate scene that can only be saved by snowfall.

This is in stark contrast to the other place in America that I visited during my trip, the Pacific Northwest. This part of the country does get snowfall from time to time and I was told on our trip that last year Oregon experienced many days of snow around the holidays. It did not get that much snow this year though. What it did get was more typical of a Pacific Northwest winter, rain. Even though it is cold outside, it is still really beautiful because the trees are getting the moisture they need to remain green giving the landscape a beautiful covering that looks as if life stills breathes through it.

Even though it is really pretty, it still did not give me the Christmas feeling I was looking for. Where were the piles of snow that would indicate that the holiday was right around the corner? It made for some nice chilly walks, but I still wanted to huddle inside a home with a warm cup of coffee as I watched the sky dump white stuff everywhere. But I should have expected as much when I came to the Pacific Northwest. Snow is not that natural of an occurrence out there.

But it was while I was traveling through the cold paths of the Pacific Northwest, that I started to find something else that reminded me more of the holidays than the snow I longed for. It was a little subtle at first, but the more I moved around the area, the more I was able to discover it.

It was with me, even in the darker corners of the bars and restaurants I went to. It was a warmth that was created by the holiday season that the lack of snow could not contain.

It was really strange to find this thing in bars, because there is a weird vibe that can be found at these places during the holiday season. It can be a group of friends gathered together sharing a good time, but at the same time, it could be a group of individuals huddled around their separate drinks, drowning their pains and sorrows in the moment. If you are having a hard time deciding which type of bar it is as you stroll outside, just listen to the music playing inside. If it is 70s Christmas music, then the bar is filled with the lonely because there is nothing more depressing than hearing “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” in a bar.

Luckily, the bars I wandered into were of the second kind filled with good beer, and good friends. This was when I started to realize that what I should be looking for shouldn’t be snow, but reconnecting with a world of people I had left behind, and a culture I had not gotten to experience for a couple of years. I needed to soak in the absurdity that is Americana, and enjoy it for every moment I was there.

When I started to look at my trip through this lens, the world began to change drastically. I quit searching the ground for flakes that would never arrive, and instead started to see the changes that had taken place over the last couple of years. By the way, the free water you get from the tap is better.

I also started to see the ever-present trends presented in a new way but which I could still embrace because of its comfortable familiarity. I know that C3PO has become an international symbol, but I believe only America could find him as a lawn decoration in celebration of Christmas.

It showed me the other really cool things that Americans did. Walking through a neighborhood, I came across a couple of the give one, take one libraries that bring a neighborhood together. Even though this is something that happens year round in these places, it did show me the true meaning of the holiday spirit. It is about the bringing together people under a single idea instead of isolating them behind the warm doors of their homes, protecting them against the cold that was piling up outside, but excluding them from society.

I spent a lot of this trip looking for something I had missed when I moved abroad. I wandered down many paths and looked in many crooks and crannies to try and find it. The sad thing was that what I was looking for was not what I should have been looking for in the first place. There was something bigger that I was missing from being away from America and when I came across it, I found that this is what I should have been looking for all along.

I wasn’t going to find it in the desolate landscape of Colorado, or the piles of driftwood found on the beaches of West Seattle. I could only find it in the place where I already was, and it was the greatest thing I could have taken away from this trip.

The warmth I wanted huddled inside while watching the snow fall to the ground outside a frosty window was already there. That warmth comes from my loved ones, and being able to spend quality time with them. It is these moments that I took with me as I came back to Korea. Being able to enjoy the company of a dog again. Dinners with family.

The next generation of my family enjoy Christmas the way I used to as a kid. It didn’t matter to them that there wasn’t any snow on the ground; they were just happy to be with their other siblings and cousins in the celebration of the holidays. It wasn’t about what they got, but who they spent time with and how they could be goofy around them. It was the tiny moments like this that made the holidays worth the long voyage.

We need to keep this in mind, especially around the holidays. We usually get so wrapped up in the commercial aspect of what the holiday season brings that we forget about what makes this season so great, spending time with the ones that we love. Too often we become like the salmon swimming upstream always pushing for that final destination without bothering to look around at the people around us and seeing that this is what is really important in the first place. I came to realize that I shouldn’t expect the holiday season to be a certain way, but instead just enjoy it for the way it was handed to me.

When I did that, the snow I was hoping for finally came. It made for the perfect trip back home, and one that I will treasure for years to come.

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