Monday, August 19, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

In just about a week in this part of the country hundreds of thousands of kids will be returning to school for another academic year chock full of Readin', Writin', and 'Ritmetic, and I have no doubt that many of them will spend at least a little time in the first week either writing or telling or both about, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation."  For all the rights and privileges that come with having grown up, I'm not sure sometimes, if given the chance, that I wouldn't turn back the clock and go back to elementary school to be the kid writing that essay instead of the teacher assigning it.

I spent this morning and a good chunk of the afternoon in my classroom starting to prepare for the new subjects I'll be teaching this year, and I barely began to scratch the surface in planning even my first full week with the kids. One of the drawbacks of being an elementary school teacher is that one is expected to be able to teach any subject at any of the elementary grade levels, so reassignment to different subjects and grades happens as often as it doesn't.  I'm starting from the ground up this year with subjects I didn't teach last year.  While I'm excited to be doing what I will be doing, there's a LOT of work that will go into doing my best.  Thus, I'm not sure how often I'll be posting here as the school year gets underway and I'm kept busy doing all the things that make me who I am.

I waited for this summer vacation all last year for many reasons, praying all along that it would be the summer I'd hoped to have for each of the past five years or so.  It seemed that for about that long, every time I'd be coming down the home stretch of the school year something life-changing and terrible would happen to make the summer that I'd hoped to have for relaxing and rejuvenating into one filled with stress, and worry, and too many spilled tears.  I can still remember the excitement I felt as March blossomed over into April and the end of the school term was in sight, and then in late May when I began crossing off the days on the calendar till the end.  And now, in the seeming blink of an eye, the break is over and I'm ready (but only by necessity) to head back.

So, here it is.  How I Spent my Summer Vacation - the most blessed one in a good while...

I remember taking this picture on June 14th, my first full day off and with the smell of school still on me.  There I was at a supermarket when I spied the patio furniture and my butt fainted right into a comfy chair.  I was so geared up for summer vacation then, and when I pressed the shutter button I didn't have much of a care in the world except to pack as much enjoyment into the summer as I could.

It was later that same week, but before I got my summer haircut, that I visited Barley Creek Brewing Company in Stroudsburg, PA.  Everything outside was in bloom.  It was gloriously sunny.  God was in His heaven and I felt as if I was right there with Him.

No summer vacation would be complete without a visit or two to Water St. Brewing Company in Binghamton, NY.  To be honest, I'm not usually crazy about any of their beers, but they keep switching around what they're brewing so I keep trying them out because it's a nice drive and the ambiance is very pleasant.

Though I didn't make it to Flander's Field, I did get to see many gorgeous poppies on some of my walks.  I walked a lot this summer.  On the downside of that, last week I bought a cane because my right knee which has been "bad" since my college days and which I have so far refused to have seen by a specialist hurts worse than it has been when I'm on it for a while.  Maybe I'll need to make a scooter mount for the cane someday.

I treated myself to more lunches out this summer than I have in the past number of summers combined, and you know what?  I was worth it!  One of my favorites, only available on Fridays, was take-out pizza from Bakery Delite in Plains, PA.  I savored every morsel knowing that once vacation was over I'd likely not be back there for another Friday lunch until next June rolls around.

And I spent more time making some decent dinners instead of just throwing together leftovers and what-not as I prefer to do when I get in from a long day at school.  Everybody loves my shrimp scampi in the sauce that I created myself from the ground up running on hunches and instincts, and I like serving it and hearing all the "Mmmmm's" that it usually inspires.

Besides feeding myself, I kept up my summer tradition of feeding the birds.  The little guys go at the seed I provide like vultures working over a cow carcass, coming by the dozens and waiting their turns noisily in the nearby pussy willow.  I was happy that there were no blue jays to be seen this year.  While they're beautiful to look at, they're the playground bullies of the bird feeder knocking the littler guys to and fro while they're feeding and their awful squawking is enough to make one want to get out the BB gun.

I found myself in a number of places that I've not been to before.  I've always loved going to new places and thoroughly basked in the glow of experiencing just that a good number of times since the middle of June.  I went to no one, distant, scenic, tourist trap kind of place as a "vacation" as I used to do when the girls were still at home, but was satisfied quite richly in going on bunches of day trips and soaking up novel experiences on each of them.

And I visited a good number of places that I've been to before but like to revisit from time to time.  The Nicholson Viaduct is one such place.  It's a railroad bridge, built 98 years ago, and it's still in service.  The tracks on the bridge are the very ones that run behind my house, just a little over a football field's length away from where I sit on the deck at night and watch the stars twinkle and the planes cross the sky above my head.

I'm a sucker for Krispy Kremes, especially when the "HOT NOW!" sign is lit.  It amazes me how a trip to a simple doughnut shop can raise the spirits sometimes when it's a dreary, icky kind of day inside and out.  It's not only about gobbling up a doughnut and slurping on a hot cup of coffee. It's about standing by the glass between the production line and the gallery and watching the doughnuts moving slowly through the maze of machinery from the mixing bowl through the serving area.  It's kind of like a scooter ride - not so much about the being there as about the getting there.

There was sweet family time too, this summer, one of the highlights being Uncle Slim's annual Christmas in July party on his small front porch.  My uncle is not a success by many of the world's standards.  He lives a humble, simple life, and I am always moved when he expresses his gratefulness to God, and to his family and friends for what he does have.  Though not in all, in some respects I still hope to be more like him if I ever really grow up.

There was family time too in visiting the cemetery.  This was my first summer without my Dad.  Somebody once said about losing a parent something along the lines of, "You don't get over it, you just get used to it."  I suppose I'm getting used to visiting Mom and not seeing Dad there and not having the phone ring to hear Dad's hearty, "Hey!  What you doing?" but I will never, ever get over my Daddy being gone from my life in a physical way.  Oh, he's here just as much as ever when I talk to him throughout the course of a typical day, but how I miss the sound of his voice answering me.

Though not in some ancient part of Mexico, I found some "ruins" right here in the Poconos.  These artifacts are part of the restoration of one of the locks along the Delaware and Hudson Canal which predated but led to the development of the first railroad in the United States.  There's a tie-in to the Nicholson Viaduct picture above; the Delaware and Hudson tracks are the very ones I wrote about upon which the trains run right by me all day long.

I got to do a nice bit of antiquing since the last day of school as well.  Though I don't buy antiques because I'm at a stage in my life where I'm more thinking about getting rid of things rather than accumulating them, I just love visiting antique shops as if they were museums.  There's nothing like a cheerful shriek of, "My Grandma had one of them!" - especially when it comes from my own delighted lips.

I spent some time in the sun, though not so much as to get too hot 'cause I can't stand the heat generally.  I've found that I'm becoming more like my Dad as time goes on.  He was always content and so patient to sit around just waiting for me, or my Mom, or my Sister to be finished at appointments and such.  I'm finding that I can sit contentedly for a good while more often and longer than I used to, without a book or anything else to keep myself amused, and to be happy simply in being.

My cousin Mike with whom I took a single day's worth of swimming lesson (Note the use of the singular.) way back when we were little kids, and who is a reader here, might be shocked to see this picture of me in a large pool.  To his credit, Mike finished the challenge and learned to swim eventually, while I never did.  Nevertheless I do enjoy getting in the water and frolicking as much as any 55 year old guy can frolic as long as my toes are still within reach of the bottom of the pool.  I got to spend a nice bit of time in the water this past summer!

And I spent some time just relaxing along the side of a lake now and then, participating vicariously in the boating activities of the adventurous and again, just enjoying very much being free from the constraints and requirements of the daily grind at work.  As my free days grew shorter and fewer I was all too aware of the beginning of the school year looming on the horizon, but I was determined not to let such thoughts spoil the moments of leisure that were left.

For most of my career I never gave retirement a serious thought.  In fact, on occasion when I was asked what I'd do if I ever won a huge lottery my answer was always something like, I'd fund the school where I am so we could do more and bigger and better things for the kids, and stay in the classroom.  As the years roll by, though, now and then I find myself longing for the freedom to make each day exactly what I want it to be as the wind blows me and the spirit moves me.  It's not that I'd like to do anything besides teach, but I'm getting a little tired and more disillusioned with where Education as a whole is being led by people who think they know more than they do because they control the purse strings and/or have the power to demand things that make us veterans shake our heads and wonder where their brains are.  As far as actually retiring goes, though, in the words of my favorite poet, "But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep."

Many of my summer evenings were spent right here, away from home, in a welcoming living room where watching reruns of NCIS, SVU, and Touched by an Angel were all I needed to be most content.  I am amazed as I age that I am at peace and happy to sit and be, as I noted above, much more than in years past.  I look at today's kids always needing some kind of entertainment going on to keep them amused and although I can remember being that way myself as I was growing up, that feeling is beginning to feel foreign and even somewhat annoying when I see it in the youth with whom I work and interact.

And many of my summer meals were taken right here with this glorious view of the Poconos before me as I nibbled and gobbled one delicious meal after another.  I can look at this picture on the full computer screen, close my eyes, raise my shoulders and still be in the moment in which I took the picture.  I plan to revisit this scene and memory over and over as the weeks crawl by and the school year goes on and one.

I scooted da valley much more this summer than I did last.  No, there were no long, epic journeys, but the usual ones along familiar trails not too far from here.  The ones that raise me up when I'm down, and lift me even higher when I'm up.  I made it to the scooter rally to see Carl and Megan get married, made some new scooter friends there, and I saw the odometer hit 15,000 miles since I dismissed my last class weeks ago.

As always, good things invariably come to an end.  This was the sunset into which I drove as I made my way back from my last summer week away.  I couldn't have ordered a more fitting nor beautiful ending to the summer I so desperately needed and finally got.  To be certain, I am very depressed that it's nearly over, but not so much as to spoil the little bit of it that I have left.

I've enjoyed being back here at the blog, especially over the course of these past few weeks during which I was able to pack in all the relaxation and happiness that I could muster, some to make up for the disappointment I'd felt for the past few years' worth of summers, and some to store up for the long winter nights ahead, literally and figuratively.  It is my intention to maintain some kind of presence here, and not only to moan and groan about the school year.  Wish me well!  And, as I won't hear my Daddy say again till I join him on the other side, "I'll see you in the funny papers."


Michael Sulzinski said...

Thanks for the shout out Joe...never could imagine you being in a swimming pool

Doug said...

Joe, retirement, if all goes well, is like your summer just past. Each day is not a grand adventure but each day is what you make it and often the most satisfying days have very little in them. Learning to be content without the hustle and bustle is one of the real blessings of getting older.

Lucky said...

It sounds like, all told, you had a pretty good summer!

bob skoot said...


You are luckier than most of us whom only have limited vacation time. You have the whole summer to do what you wish.

It's just too bad that you have to prepare and teach new courses instead of just continuing on with what you know inside out

you still have weekends to ride before winter sets in

Riding the Wet Coast