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Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Atlantic Ocean, My Love

I grew up on the eastern end of Long Island and have spent most of the summer days of the first 25 years of my life enjoying the Atlantic Ocean. I have memories that date back to kindergarten of my mother bringing me to the ocean and trying to keep me from adventuring too deep into the unforgiving waves. She implemented the "belly-button rule," which implored me to stay shallower than my belly-button unless she was accompanying me deeper. I would spend the day trying to sneak deeper without her noticing me and screaming "Meg! You are going to have a time-out" at the top of her lungs, alternating with begging her to take me deeper. When we went in together, we would dive under the breaking waves and then tread water floating up and down with the incoming waves. Occasionally, I would accidentally catch one and get tumbled and scraped against the sandy bottom before emerging from the water gasping for air. Secretly, I loved when this happened, even if it was terrifying.

As I got older, I was allowed to swim by myself and I learned to catch the waves on purpose. When a wave would suck me up and drop me over its falls swirling me in the white water, I now knew to let my body relax and to let the water move me at its will, trusting that eventually I would be able to steal a breath and then the wave would release me from its grip. I absolutely loved this sensation and throughout middle school and the beginning of high school, my mom would drive me and my siblings and friends to Cupsogue, the county beach in Westhampton, almost everyday. This beach was about 30 minutes from our house and at the end of Dune Road, the only road that travels the barrier island that protects the shores of Eastern Long Island. The speed limits are tight and well enforced on this road, but it is not possible to drive quickly, anyways; the road is lined with impressive mansions of all shapes and styles with shiny cars that I never saw in my own neighborhood, and most people driving this road were looking intently at the houses and cars trying to imagine the fabulous people that lived inside and what their lives could possibly be like. Everyone in my family had a favorite house and it felt like we had some special ownership over those houses; as we drove, my mom would call out "there is Meg's house! There is Pat's!" This part of the day was fun in its own way, but I always felt impatient and excited about arriving at the beach. On holidays it was particularly painful as the road would be backed up all the way to the bridge and it could take hours to get to the beach! When we finally arrived, I would spend the days body-surfing and walking down the beach admiring the backsides of the ostentatious houses I had observed on the way there.

When I was finally able to drive myself to the beach, I stopped going to the county beach in Westhampton and started going to Ponquogue in Hampton Bays. This beach was across the street from the bridge to the barrier island, so it was much easier to access as it did not require a drive down a long stretch of Dune Road. I would buy a non-residents season pass for $200, because I lived in the next town over, and make sure that I got my money's worth. Going to the beach became a social adventure, with my classmates hanging out at a cluster of towels near the volleyball net. It was important to be present as often as possible to be established as part of the beach crew, but I really just loved the ocean, even as a shallow and superficial teenager. 

In college, I learned to surf while studying abroad in Ecuador. The trip was during J-term and I arrived back home to a frosty New York. I absolutely could not wait for the spring to spring so I could get in the ocean and start surfing at home. As soon as the trees started to bud and the days became a bit warmer, I went to the surf shop and bought my first surfboard and wet suit. As a beginner, there were not many days that the Atlantic ocean allowed me to practice. Many days the waves were big, daunting, and downright terrifying and others the water was perfectly flat, but there were a couple here and there when I was able to get in with my board and practice surfing. Playing in the waves with a large fiberglass board attached to your ankle is much scarier than diving and swimming freely. When I would fall and get tumbled by a wave, the board would drag behind me and pull me backwards, keeping me underwater longer and making it more difficult to steal some air from the surface. Sometimes the board would come over the wave and hit me on the head or the fins would scratch some part of my body. But, when I caught a wave, stood up, and rode it all the way to the shore, all the abuse and anxiety were forgotten and I was so elated it is barely possible to explain in words. Here, a whole new way to love the ocean. 

Last weekend, I flew to Florida to spend time with Jamie while he is training there. The hotel where he is living looks directly over the Atlantic Ocean. When I woke up the first morning, I looked over the balcony at the familiar waves crashing on the unfamiliar beach and felt all the love I have always known for the ocean, but later when I was laying on the beach reading my novel, I had an odd mix of emotions. Reading novels at the beach once made up a very large proportion of my existence, and here I was feeling like a tourist, out of place, at the ocean. That afternoon the sky was overcast and it was quite windy; I was chilled and the ocean was windblown, choppy, and less than inviting, so I stayed dry on the beach. The feeling of visitor, non-native, even intruder, lingered until the following day when the wind died down a bit, the water smoothed out, and I went swimming in the ocean. All the familiar feelings of elation, excitement, fear, and joy that I feel when diving through and catching waves, tumbling towards the beach came rushing back and I felt like I was home. Sometimes I wonder at how a natural formation like a body of water can make me so very happy, but seeing that the Atlantic has been one of the most constant, reliable and long-term sources of joy in my life, it shouldn't be much of an enigma. Now, I am back in Albuquerque, enjoying the crisp, dry desert air and the beautiful views of the impressive mountains, but still thinking about the next time I can visit the sweet, lovely Atlantic Ocean. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dog Shaming

My new internet addiction is Dog owners take pictures of their pups after they perform some misdeed, write a confession for the dog, and post it on this site to "shame" them. Here is an example:

I took 4 sticks of butter from a grocery bag.  Ate 2, smeared 3rd into the couch.  Mom is still searching for the 4th.

Obviously, Gnasher deserves a spot on this website, but it is hard to decide what to shame him for...
Some potential shame for Gnasher:
"I ate the straps of mom's Patagonia messenger bag"
"I ate mom's $40 smartwool compression socks the same day she bought them"
"I have consumed at least one sock out of every pair of smartwool socks mom owns as well as any fancy running socks she buys"
"I ate the straps of mom's havaianas flip flops the same day they arrived in the mail from Zappos"
"I tried to eat a shark jaw mom uses for teaching, but it hurt my mouth and I was only able to half destroy it"
"I pull books off the bookshelf and eat them"
"I pulled dads rainbow flip-flops under the closet door and ate 1/4 of each shoe. Dad still wears them"
"I pull plants in the back yard, bring them inside and shred them, making 'salad' for my parents"
"I shred paper that is left within my reach"
"I eat stuffed animals and then my poop is multi-colored fabric"
"I jumped up on the table and knocked a full bowl of cereal onto the carpet"
"I peed in my parents bed when dad asked me if I wanted to go out to pee"
"I eat holes in the fleece blanket on my parents bed"
"I ate a $5 bill"

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sky Ninja!

Yesterday, I jumped out of an airplane by myself for the very first time. Years ago, I did two tandem jumps with an experienced skydiver strapped to my back, but this was a completely different experience. This weekend, I went to a four hour course on Friday night and then had 3 more hours of instruction on Sunday morning before exiting the airplane alone and flying my canopy to the ground. I did have some help, however. This first solo jump was what is called an IAD or instructor assisted deployment. My instructor pulled out my pilot shoot before I jumped so it was trailing behind me and pulling out my main canopy as soon as I exited the aircraft. This ensured that the rip cord would be pulled even in all the excitement and adrenaline of my very first solo jump. In addition, another instructor was on radio and started helping me complete my landing pattern as soon as he saw I had control of my canopy. He instructed me to turn left and right and to "flare" or break when it was time. Obviously, I survived the experience since I am writing about it now, but I don't think surviving adequately describes how it felt. When I reached the ground I was smiling and shaking and so happy that I could barely gather up my chute and carry it to the van to return to the airport and debrief my jump.

One of the instructors recorded me exiting the airplane, for which I am so thankful because I can barely remember the seconds after letting go of the plane. To make the exit, I put my feet out on a step over the wheels of the plane. At this point the strength of the wind outside the plane became a little intimidating and I was not sure if I would be able to climb out the rest of the way, but I put my hands on the strut that connects the wing of the small plane to its body and slid my hands out further towards the wing. As my hands slid towards the wing, I stepped off the little step and was hanging from the strut flying with the airplane. My instructor said "go," and I said "should I let go?" He responded "yes" and I asked again, "Should I yet go now?" He said "yes," again, and I took a deep breath and let go. I remembered to keep looking up at the plane and I arched instinctively, but I did not count as I had practiced, "Arch one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, check canopy." I was falling, slipping away from the plane and then my canopy opened. As soon as I heard it start opening I watched it unfolding and inflating and took note that it was "there and square." I completed my controllability check by turning left, then right, and then braking. As soon as this was complete, Rudi, my instructor, began talking to me on my radio and giving me commands. At this point, I was so completely ecstatic; I kept looking around with a huge grin on my face telling myself, "this is really my life right now, I am really experiencing this." I looked all around and picked out the Sandias in the distance and found the landing area below. Soon, too soon, it was time to think about my landing. I tried to read the windsocks and determine the proper landing pattern, but Rudi beat me to it and I just followed his instructions. I landed off mark, but safely and softly. Once I was on the ground, I was shaking like a leaf and so happy and proud that I had not backed down and that I was able to allow myself to experience something so special. About 10 minutes later, when I had collected my chute and made it to the van, all I could think about was when I could jump next.

I will do a jump just like this one more time, and then I will jump from double the height with two instructors by my side and perform a true free fall before deploying my parachute. Eventually, hopefully, I will be able to jump completely alone and do fancy tricks like backflips!

Gnasher wishes he could jump, too.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Reflections on a long weekend

It has been a couple days since the long labor day weekend has come to a close and I am still feeling a little sad that the weekend is gone and past. Jamie's parents flew to Albuquerque from Washington D.C. on Friday evening and they visited our house for the first time. They brought gifts from Jamie's grandfather: a handmade table made of cherrywood that Jamie's grandfather cut on his land in upstate New York. The table is beautiful and it really reminded me how much beauty and utility humans are able to produce if they just make the effort. Then we were off to the casita we rented in Santa Fe. Despite living in Albuquerque for a little over a year, I really haven't spent much time in Santa Fe; most of the time I have spent in the area were Salam Academy field trips! So, together as a family, we set out to discover Santa Fe as tourists.

On Saturday morning we slept in a little bit and then walked to the Santa Fe farmer's market and craft fair. The farmers market was huge! I could not believe how many small organic farms were in attendance. I was particularly interested in a Montessori school that had adapted farming and selling produce and other products into their curriculum. The students learn to grow plants and do all the labor involved in producing food. They harvest the food and bring it to market and use the money they make to buy seeds, plants, and materials for the next year. The students learn biology, botany, horticulture, finance, budgeting, carpentry, mathematics, and the value of hard work while living healthy and spending time outside. It is a model for schools that is growing in popularity and I think could really improve the educational system as it currently exists. Learning about this school made me miss teaching and look forward to my next teaching opportunity!

On Sunday, Jamie, his dad, and I went with a guide to the Pecos River to learn how to fly fish. The guide used thin colored string and wound it around very small hooks in such a way that they perfectly resembled different species of flies and their larvae. There is one fly that floats and one that sinks at the end of each fishing line. The line is cast out about 20 ft and the floating "fly" floats by with the current of the river. The caster carefully watches the floating fly and if it jerks and is pulled underwater, the fisher pulls the rod up and back to "hook" the fish. At first, I could not jerk the rod back quick enough and while Jamie was catching lots of fish, I was not. But, eventually, with lots of coaching, I was able to catch many fish. We caught rainbow trout and brown trout. The brown trout are usually smaller and are a brownish gold color with pink spots. The rainbow trout are an iridescent pink and green. The fish are truly beautiful and are smarter than you would expect. They watch the flies go by and often observe the fly and choose not to eat it. When they do eat it, they instantly spit it out when they taste the metal, which is why it is so important to pull the rod quickly, or you will lose the fish. We released all the fish that we caught and there were not any fatalities, just a fun day trying to take advantage of evolution and use our faculties to trick another species while enjoying the great outdoors. And, great are the outdoors near Santa Fe. It was beyond lovely to be up to my knees in cool rushing river water. I often found myself neglecting the fishing and simply observing the fish and the water, the trees and the rocks. The air is cooler and crisper there and I couldn't help but sit and smile in the warm sunshine.

Monday was the end of our little vacation and upon waking we needed to pack up the car and move out of our casita. But first, Jamie and I walked to the N.Y. Deli and they actually had bagels that brought back the sweet taste of home. Bagels and coffee were a great way to start the day, but the day only got better from there. We drove with a very full car, lots of bags, 4 people, Gnasher, and his crate, to the Santa Fe ski basin and hiked a trail named Aspen Vista. It was a lot cooler at that altitude and the ecosystem was completely different. Grasses, low shrubs, and Aspen trees dominated. Aspens are all interconnected by their root systems and some people believe that large Aspen groves are actually the largest living organism. The trail was a bit steep and Jamie's parents were not used to the altitude so we took t nice and slow. Gnasher does not take things slow and he found another dog to spring up and down the mountain with. He exhausted himself and slept like a baby while we drove from Santa Fe up the back of the Sandias on the Turquoise Trail. We hiked to the spot Jamie and I got married last year and had some snacks and watched the sunset to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary.

Tuesday brought me back to the farm fields, but I did teach yoga on Tuesday night at Nishtha Yoga where I earned my teacher certification. I am now teaching at the studio every Tuesday evening! It is challenging and rewarding at the same time. At the beginning of class, I am always nervous and excited at the same time and at the end I know I am one class better at teaching. Every class is an adventure!

How was your long weekend? What have you learned this week?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Science Fair Workshop

I hope you have all been thinking about your science fair projects all summer and have a project picked out by now! All the Salam Academy students did a fabulous job at the fair last year, and I hope you are planning to work just as hard this year and hopefully even more will go to states! 

The UNM STEM program hosts an annual Student Research Workshop for middle school students at the ASK Academy in Rio Rancho. The workshop will help you develop a winning project, provide ideas, tips, and materials, and there will be fun activities and lunch and snacks. It is a fabulous resource for you if you are interested in winning at regionals and states. Seats at the workshop are limited, so register as soon as possible. 

The link to register for the workshop and read more about what it will provide is here: STEM Student Research Workshop

Also, I am available for private tutoring and science project advising. If anyone is interested, please email me: