Posts Tagged 'life'

Running with Deer

Have you ever had one of those moments when you felt like everything was a part of you and you were a part of everything? I had one of those last week.

It was a Wednesday evening, maybe 6:30 or so. Cloudy, warm, but not hot. I decided to go for a short run through the timber at Whitetail Country Estates (a resort near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa that my boyfriend Brett manages). [[*UPDATE 6-2012* Brett no longer works for Whitetail, so I’ve removed the link above.]] I love running in the summer and we’ve been fortunate enough to have summer-like temperatures for the last few weeks in March so I’m jumping right on that. Anyway, I had been running for about a mile when I came up to an open field of tall grass and weeds. The trail that cut along the field was really more of an area of slightly shorter grass with pretty irregular ground underneath. So I was focused less on my environment and more on making sure I didn’t roll my ankle.

This photo of the trail and field were taken two days later at the same time of day.

As I huffed and puffed my way down this long stretch of field, I started looking around and I noticed a few white tails off in the distance bobbing in and out of the tall in a similar rhythm to my stride. Now, it’s nothing new to see deer in the timber at Whitetail. I mean really, it’s called Whitetail Country Estates. But I usually see them from my car or from the utility vehicle that we drive around the property. There was nothing between me and the deer that day but grass. So I kept running, and watching. My attention turned completely away from my level of fatigue and my strides per breath and instead on the growing crowd of tails bouncing around me. After about a minute of this, there were deer everywhere around me, running in front, on both sides and behind me. Some were as close as 10 feet away. We were all running together. Not towards anything, or away from anything – just running. Doing what our bodies are meant to do. And we weren’t afraid of each other. It was magic.

A photo of one of this year’s junior bucks in January.

Of course, whitetail deer run faster and longer than humans, and certainly me, so the moment didn’t last long, maybe only a few minutes. But in those few minutes, I felt myself let go of everything that had exhausted my mind all day long: the difficult students, the impossible responsibilities of work and life, the guilt and self-doubt that comes with a good Lutheran upbringing. After those minutes passed, I silently said thank you to God, to nature, to Brett, to this beautiful piece of Iowa landscape, to everything in this world, for allowing me to be a part of it and pulling me back to the amazing beauty of the real world. Because it’s when I’m trapped in my mind that I’m not a part of the world at all.

Anyway, I finished my run strong, took a really awesome shower and had a wonderful night with my honey. My life is beautiful, because I am more than just me. I am a part of something bigger and better than I can possibly describe, and it is a part of me.

A stretch of trail at Whitetail Country Estates in the full glory of fall.

Who died?

I’m not dead. Just took a couple weeks off of writing anything. I’ll spare you the litany of excuses. That’s not why you’re here. But I’ll let you know what I’ve been doing to get you up to speed before I return to celebrity bashing and book reports on science news.

A lot has been going on lately, professionally and personally. I’ve been struggling to get my lectures together for the spring semester. It’s all new stuff that I’ve never taught before so my self-doubt has turned into wicked procrastination. I’ve finally turned a corner on it though and I should be able to meet my printing deadline. It’s ridiculous that I have to have all of my lecture materials prepared months before I’m going to give them, just so they can make a billion copies for the students. Where’s the spontaneity and energy in something that overly prepared? tongue-deep-dissectionAnyway, what I’m teaching is the neuroanatomy component of the dental gross anatomy course (The image at right is from Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, 11th edition, Agur and Dalley editors, LWW* citation added 3-18-2011). I’m pretty psyched about the subject. The muscles and bones of the body are interesting, but the nervous system is how it all actually works so you can go a lot deeper into the meaning of the anatomy. I think it will be alright if I can just strap myself down to my desk and finish this shit.

I started piano lessons again. It’s been almost ten years since I last took lessons at Concordia. It’s fantastic to be in it again. I’ve been playing quite a bit in the last ten years thanks to a very productive collaboration with a friend who is a great singer. We spent a few years making music together – stuff from all genres of the musical world, except gangsta rap and bluegrass. When she moved last year, that marked the unofficial end of my standing accompanying gig, so I thought that whenever I got my shit together, maybe I’d take lessons again and try to take myself to another level with the instrument. I never did actually get my metaphorical shit together, but J and I got a house and a pretty nice rhythm to our lives, so there suddenly seemed to be room for something else – something just for me.

It just so happened that J was working with a gal who teaches piano professionally (she works at the blood gardens in the mornings for extra cash). She was taking new students, J mentioned that I played and had been thinking about taking lessons again, next thing you know, I’m talking Bach with her over a pair of grand pianos in her home.

A big part of why I wanted to give this a try again was that I feel like I’ve changed so much in the last 8 years and I wanted to find out if I could approach the piano with a different perspective and be more successful with it. I think I’ve always had talent and a good musical ear, but problems in the motivation department. Part of me wondered if my growth and maturity as a scholar and teacher would make me a better student and a harder worker. Also, could my extreme knowledge of the musculoskeletal anatomy of the hands and the neurological pathways behind learning somehow help me think about the instrument and learning new music in a entirely different way? So far, I think the answer to all of the questions is yes. I’ve had more fun practicing the last few weeks than I think I’ve ever had preparing for lessons in years past. I don’t think I’ve been at it long enough to know if I’m actually getting way better or not, but in terms of sheer enjoyment, it’s a great success.

So that’s what’s new with me. Expect some excellent social commentary soon. I’m kind of over the whole election thing, so forgive me if I don’t weigh in on that one. Thanks for reading. Below is a quiz for all you pianists and anatomists out there. Which images represent which thumb movements – Abduction, Adduction, Flexion, Extension, Opposition?  Which movements are used in the passing under of the thumb in scales and long passages?pop quiz hot shot

Time Stands Still

I think the Hallidron Collider did in fact create some kind of distortion in the fabric of space time when they turned it on last month, it just only got to Iowa City last week. Last week was one of those weeks that I will forget before the following Monday is over. Seriously, almost nothing of significance happened. Granted I spent much of last week in a strange anxiety bubble which prevented me from making anything of significance happen, but usually things at least happen to me, or around me.

My suspicions were confirmed this morning when I checked the box office results from last weekend and there it was: Beverly Hills Chihuahua is number 1 at box office for the second week in a row. There’s no good explanation for that other than a rogue black hole. Industry analysts suggest that this is evidence of tough economic times leading to increased consumption of escapist entertainment. Possible, but I looked at the other films in the top 10 and I gotta tell you, it’s all looking pretty escapist. Nights in Rodanthe? Please, Diane Lane and Richard Gere could only be coupled in the most obscene of fantasies. Quarantine? A predictably jarring trailer, but hardly high art. Isn’t another good explanation that the intelligensia has all but abandoned movie theaters, leaving the multiplex to be little more than a playpen for minors and their least-common-denominator films? Aren’t the new status symbols of a film buff the length of his netflix queue or the number of downloads on her home computer?

Anyway, it’s not just the movie world that got sucked up by the black hole. There was no elimination on DWTS last week either, with olympic volleyballer Misty May-Trainor inexplicably rupturing her calcaneal tendon in a dance rehearsal. Project Runway aired the dreaded “part 1” of the season finale, a.k.a. all the crap leading up to the big fashion blowout finale without the fashion and without the blowout.

This weekend, I even raked the carpet of pine needles threatening to choke out the grass beneath our three stately pines. I then burned them into oblivion in our sweet fire pit. Hours were spent raking, burning, staring into the thick, white, mashed potato-ey smoke and wiping my inflamed eyes. This morning, the pine needle carpet was born anew.

Here’s hoping that this week something actually happens and the mini black hole that briefly descended upon me will find its way somewhere else. Somewhere harmless. Somewhere where they need for nothing to happen for a while. How about Wall Street?

Best Week Ever – not VH1 style

As you may have heard or already be aware, the University was closed for all non-essential activities last week due to the flooding. Most of the truly essential activities are related to patient care, so our little summer anatomy class was on hiatus for a week. Faculty and staff were also asked not to come to work unless absolutely necessary to reduce power and water usage during the crisis period. I was happy to oblige.

So I had an unexpected mandatory 5 day “vacation.” I quote it because I still worked everyday from home and actually got quite a bit done, but I didn’t have to come into the office, and that is liberating in a very big way. I managed to get some major garbage removal done from the house. I also did some yard work and took Brody for an afternoon walk every day. He normally gets walked once a week at best, so this was pretty major for him. Finally, with my spare time I beat Rockband on drums once and for all and got to about 40% completion on Grand Theft Auto IV. I would say that this was a week well-spent.

Brody made huge leaps and bounds in his neighborhood walking skills. I have to qualify that as “neighborhood” walking because for him it is very different than if we drive to a park somewhere and walk. He’s always been really good at park walking when he has no spatial reference for home. Getting him to voluntarily walk away from home though has been quite difficult. I made it one of my goals for the week to see if walking every day would make him more comfortable on the trail locally. I’m so glad to say that it did. Yesterday Jason came with for the big test, and I didn’t have to drag him or hold him back from running once. That tiny little dog makes me so happy sometimes that it’s actually kind of embarrassing.

Last week I also officially turned the corner on being emotionally prepared to move. Over the week I went from, “I think I might miss coming home to this place a little” to “I would rather live anywhere than this dump.” How we got used to some of the less pleasant things about this house is unknowable. If you live somewhere for five years, you just stop caring about the things you can’t change (mold, bugs, energy inefficiency, etc). I would do great in AA because I have no problem accepting the things I cannot change. In fact that is one skill that saves me much stress at work. I call it the “not my problem” principle.

Returning to work today was actually a joy. I was so happy to be reminded of the 42 students who need my help on a daily basis. It’s nice be needed in a way that I can be of use. I was also happy to look at my weekly to-do list and see that I actually did get a lot of miscellaneous things out the door last week, so this week is much simpler. I was also happy to learn that instead of compressing our course to accommodate for the missed week, which would require me to turn 3 really good lectures into 2 questionable ones, we are adding some saturday sessions and rearranging the schedule so we can proceed on the same pace. Thank god. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to rework those pelvis lectures for different logistic demands. I think it just feels good to be back at work, reminded of who I am and what I do well. When you’re on your ass at home for a week, you get out of your routine of effort-reward, effort-reward…

Finally, I should also mention that we grilled twice this weekend, which is about as much as we usually grill in a year. We don’t have a fancy grill like David and Sam’s, so it’s less fun. Don’t get me wrong I love the act of grilling, it’s the coaxing the earwig colony out of the grill, dumping the ash mountain, and cleaning the horrific grill bars that I’m not so crazy about. A nice gas grill is high on the priority list for new stuff at the new house. Anyway, we grilled chicken kabobs and served it with a greek salad. It was really pretty amazing. Simple ingredients (literally less than 10 ingredients for both the salad and the kabobs) plus simple cooking techniques (kabobs- 9 minutes on the grill, salad- no cooking at all) equals culinary success in my world.

So I’m back on the prowl in Bowen Science Building, badder and better than ever. Expect to see more blog action now that I’m back on my routine. Until next time, just to let you know, there’s only 22 days left until moving day!

I cleaned the basement

Okay, I mostly cleaned the basement. Over the five years we’ve lived in this place, the basement has flooded with sewage at least twice. It’s an unfinished basement, so it’s not really a major problem except for the stuff we had stored down there (and the fact that sewage is revolting). Most of the important stuff was off the floor, so it’s fine, but there was a lot of junk, A LOT of junk that was in various stages of stinkiness and decomposition. I’ve been afraid of cleaning that stuff up for a long time but Jason was working Memorial Day and it felt wrong to do nothing all day. Now it’s done! Well, there’s still a lot of empty boxes in the back part of the basement to sort out, but the light bulbs in that part were burned out and it was scary and spiderwebby back there, so I saved that for another day. You know that age-old problem of whether to keep or toss your junk becomes so much easier to deal with when you junk has been soaked in sewage. You should try it!

On the subject of my diet…

Last night I had a delicious dinner prepared by Jason in the smallest kitchen in America (our kitchen). The new big kitchen is near the top of the list of things I can hardly wait for in the new house. Anyway, he made these great salads with portabellos, feta, garlic and all kinds of balsamic-y olive oil goodness. I cut the mushrooms and crumbled the cheese, so I guess you could say I helped. Cooking together is one of my favorite things that Jason and I do. Usually there’s good music in the background, lots of sampling and complimenting each other on how good we are in the kitchen, and a really wonderful sense of camaraderie in making something as a team. It’s those moments that give real meaning to that coldly clinical term “partner.”

Generally, we eat pretty healthy food. Jason makes food way better than I do, but I try. And I think I try harder when both of us are eating together. If I’m left alone to make myself dinner, the results are usually pretty sad. Witness at left my gourmet meal from last thursday night. Jason had to be at a late work meeting so I was flying solo. Now, I do LOVE Cheezits and I could hardly have grown up between three reservations without gaining an appreciation for Orange pop, but 2 plain hot dogs without so much as a little dill relish?! What’s wrong with me?

Financial Follies

A couple years ago I doubled my salary. I’m pretty sure that’s the only time that will ever happen in my life, so it’s a thrill worth reliving.

I’ve always had money problems as long as I can remember. I think I just lack the part of my brain that gets satisfaction from having money that isn’t spent. Nothing about my financial history is unique. I got a bunch of credit cards in college, took out some student loans in college, took out a lot of student loans in grad school, filled up credit cards in grad school… During grad school I made a sub-poverty level “salary” that was technically called a stipend so that I wouldn’t have to work at a real job while I did my research. That was nice and everything, but seriously, that was not enough money for me to manage my debt AND eat. So I got really good at paying minimum payments and dodging phone calls during the hard months to just barely make it. By the end of grad school, I had more debt than I ever thought would be possible without owning property.

Then I got a job. Literally one day I was a grad student in a shitty cubicle making nothing – the next day I was faculty in a questionable office making plenty (plenty to me). The first six months after grad school were fantastic. With no student loan payments during the grace period, honestly I didn’t know what to do with that money. Then the student loan payments started. They’re crazy, seriously. Then we decided to get a second car. Then we decided to upgrade some of our electronics. Suddenly the monthly paychecks didn’t seem so big anymore.

This year J and I bought our first house. We haven’t closed yet, but we’ve done everything up to that point. People had always told me that buying a house is so much smarter than renting because at least your money is staying with you, not the landlord. That is true and I’m really psyched about that. But there’s a lot more things that I have never had to even consider that suddenly come into play as a homeowner, making life assuredly more complicated – a water heater, washer/dryer, hardcore landscaping, etc. Thank god the house is already fully renovated.

A few months ago Jason and I made a list of all the things we’d want/need to buy after we moved in. It was incredibly scary for me to look at all of that cost. We broke them up into a timeline over the next couple years so we don’t have to decide what to buy right away. Still, the money’s not going to come out of nowhere, so learning to save money has become essential.

By some miracle, we’ve been saving money for the last few months and it feels so good. Granted none of my credit balances have gone down during this saving crusade, but I’ll get to it. I am starting to feel comfort in having a pile of money that hasn’t been spent, and that’s an achievement in and of itself. It’s been pretty boring not spending money for months, but I know that if I just keep doing it, the free balance will only get bigger. Then when we move we can get those things we need and pay credit cards in big chunks instead of these meaningless monthly payments. I swear if we can get out of credit card debt, we could afford a second house.

I’m not sure there’s really an end to this story. I’m pretty sure I won’t get out of credit card debt for 10 years or so, but it’s going to happen. I’m definitely becoming a bigger and more responsible person through this. My hope is that we can continue to find the balance between living life enough (which costs money, let’s be honest) and building up some kind of financial freedom. Maybe then the dream of a debt-free existence is actually possible.