I’m in the Clouds

For the past 30+ years or so, each and every year, I have travelled to the mountains during the winter.    Whether with a couple of friends or many relatives, the consistent piece has been that I have travelled to the mountains during the winter.  And this year, I was there . . . in the mountains . . . in the winter . . . once again.   This year’s crew included two of my children, their significant others, my grandson and, of course, my spouse.  The intent of my travels to the mountains is always . . . to ski.

For me, skiing is one of the best ways to experience the glory of the mountains up close and personal.  On skis, I can get to places within the mountains that I am unable to reach in any other way.  And, I can get there during winter – which for me is the best of all seasons to be in the mountains.

The ski day starts at 8:30am and lasts until 4:30pm, and minus the lunch hour, I am outside the entire time.  Now, I do admit that it takes a lot to get outside when skiing.  Helmet, goggles, gator, ski gloves, ski pants, ski coat, boots, poles, skis – are the round one necessities.  Round two includes hand warmers, toe warmers, chapstick, locker keys, lifesavers, iPod, cellphone, and a lift ticket.  All of round one and round two entities require time and energy to organize.  But . . . when complete . . . the fun begins.

Characterizing that fun . . . for me . . . is difficult.  But, for starters, it certainly is fun to be with family and friends outside all day.  And, it is fun to participate with them in a challenging sporting activity.  Whether with my daughter zipping through old skiing haunts and stopping for hot chocolate at the same spot every year for twenty-five years, or with my sons skiing well above my abilities and hoping they remember my age, or with my husband following him or leading him up and down slopes, looking for the best snow, the best run, the best view, I have fun.  No doubt, it is a fun sport.

But what draws me back year after year after year is the more personal side of fun that skiing brings to me. It is more than just sharing fun times with others.  For a week each year, I am in the mountains, and even though there may be dozens of others navigating the slopes with me, there is always that feeling of being on my own – on skis somewhere in the Rockies.

I enjoy the sounds and sights of skiing: the winds whipping through the pine trees, skis slicing fresh tracks in new powder, the chirping of a few lonely winter birds, the quiet of a mid-day snow shower, and the beauty of the sun either shining brightly or peering out from behind dark winter clouds with snow and mountains all around.  What I see and what I hear is unbelievably overwhelming with fantastic moment after fantastic moment.

As I ski my mind swirls around all that is winter.  I hear the poetic wisdom of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I have committed a select few poems to memory with this one at the top of my list.  Certainly, I am not in a horse-drawn carriage far from the closest farmhouse.  There are no harness bells shaking, and I am not skiing in the dark of evening.  But, I enjoy “watching the woods fill up with snow”, and I recognize the sound of “sweeping winds and downy flakes”.  And most of all, I, too, believe that I “have miles to go before I sleep . . . miles to go before I sleep”.

And as I ski, my mind recalls the lyrics of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.  His song, though literally describing a summer meteor shower viewed from the depths of the mountains of Colorado, invokes that feeling of serenity . . . of peace . . . of tranquility as I ski run after run after run.  And when the sun shines over the bridge of the mountain tops, I, too, see a “fire in the sky”.

At the end of a long week, I take off my skis, boots, helmet, gloves, coat and ski pants for the last time.  And as is our tradition, I meet my family at the bottom of the last run on the last slope to sit for a moment together to catch the beauty of the mountains for a few more seconds.  Without a doubt, the mountains are simply majestic – nothing better.

A few minutes later, amid the clutter and chaos of packing up and heading out of the majesty towards the open plains of the Midwest – which has been my home sweet home for a long time – I am ready.  First, I am exhausted,  as during my ski week, I have skied way too much and slept way too little.  Second, I have little time to consider anything but leaving.  The ski day is over, the sun is setting, and it is time to face the traffic as we travel down the mountain pass.

Finally, I miss the Midwest. I do.

It isn’t mile high mountains covered in snow, and skiing isn’t among the typical winter sports.  It doesn’t have Aspen covered slopes and there are no views of the Continental Divide.  And, let’s just say that it isn’t exactly that Frost/Denver vision.  But for everything that skiing and the mountain experience brings to me for a week, my Midwest roots does for an entire year.

So carving out that one perfect week each year to live in the clouds is just what I need to allow me the luxury to live in the best of both worlds.

Once again, I am lucky.

In the Mountains, Living the Dream

Gotta Love Winter Break

I love winter break.

And, I am happy to report that I have had a winter break every year of my life since I was in kindergarten.  Really – what’s not to love about it –  ten days off each winter from sometime before December 25th to sometime after January 1st.  A brilliant idea in any world.  It can be called winter break or winter holiday or semester break or just plain vacation; regardless of the name, it is still grand.

Winter break is one of the joys of the United States educational system.  Everyone and everything stops – halts – pauses for a holiday.  No one misses anything because there is absolutely nothing happening to miss . . . for ten days . . . at the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  There are no classes scheduled, no meetings to attend, no educational dilemmas to solve.  The phones may ring and email may be received, but all of it waits until the holiday ends and the next semester begins.

Winter break is one heck of an educational tradition.  Sports-metaphorically, it’s halftime for folks on both sides of the classroom.  Officially, we claim that its purpose is to re-invigorate ourselves, recharge our brains, and prepare ourselves for what follows in January.  Of course, those reasons are all true; however, behind the scenes, winter break is also a time to simply goof around during what can be the gloomiest time of year – in particular for those living in the colder and snowier climates.  Some say why, while those in education say . . . why not take a break.

Not only is winter break an educational tradition, but so, too, is spring break, and fall break, and of course, summer break – with the last being the longest and strongest both in tradition and duration.  Obviously, education isn’t shy about its official pauses.  It’s a glorious schedule . . . work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a lot.

There are serious challenges to working in education, (and I will leave those issues for discussion by someone else at some other time); but, taking and enjoying break time isn’t one of them.  How to holiday is an art form that has been heartily practiced and universally adored by students, faculty, staff, and administration throughout all education.

This winter break, I have noticed two distinct reactions by folks outside of education.  The first I take as a compliment – although it generally comes in the form of questions with twists of sarcasm:  When do you work?   Are you still off?  When do you go back?  Is anyone manning the ship while the students are away? Who is paying for all of this?

And, truly, from the outside, it must look like education is break-happy beyond belief.  In fact, I am careful not to contact my dad too much during winter break, as he is old-school.  Prior to his retirement, he worked from dawn until dusk without even as much as a fifteen minute break.  Lunch was on the fly and a vacation was earned and given during the summer months only.   So, regardless of sarcasm, this reaction to winter break is well understood and well deserved.

The second reaction I also take as a compliment, but it is much more quizzical to me:  I wonder why I am not off?  Why isn’t everything closed for a winter holiday?  Shouldn’t it be a part of world tradition to take scheduled breaks? 

Here I can only empathize and whole-heartedly agree.  These questions seem to be directed more internally towards those who are not partaking in break time rather than externally towards those who are.  Yes, everyone should pause.  Yes, everyone should re-invigorate, recharge, and prepare.  And yes, everyone should have a length of time in the middle of the winter to goof around.  The only challenge is convincing the entire non-educational world to institute the winter break system immediately each and every year.  A possibility?  Yes.  A probability?  Hmmm . . .

My itinerary this winter break was typical for me, I think.  I spent time with family and friends near and far; I completed household projects put on hold throughout the fall; I caught up on day-to-day tasks, wrote thank you cards, worked out at the gym, cleaned closets and cars, read my backed-up reading list, wrote a new bucket list, watched basketball games, went to the movies, ate too much, and slept too little.   In reality, the list of my winter break accomplishments is a lot of nothing plus a little of everything that could have been postponed if it weren’t for the great winter pause.

Yet, I love winter break.

Regardless of how mundane and inane my accomplishments have been during break, it is crazy fun.  It is crazy fun to rejuvenate and recalibrate in any way, even in ways small and silly –  especially when facing the dark days of winter.

Interestingly, one part of my winter break activities included being in a car during the early morning hours on December 25th. From my bird’s-eye view, most – if not all – folks appeared to be on break at least for the day. All businesses were closed and a true winter break seemed to be in full swing. The roads were quiet and calm with no traffic in sight and no sounds to be heard.  Everyone was on pause.  For me, it was a surreal moment thinking that more than just the education population was taking a winter break . . . together.

My take-away? As a nation, we should seriously strive for the winter break concept.  Take what happens in the halls of academia and generalize it, so that those whose fortune hasn’t led them to work in education are able to experience the true meaning of holiday.  I have no clue as to whether I am a more productive and/or effective educational employee because of winter break.  It is hard to measure as there is no control group inside education to use for comparison!

However, it is easy for me to know that winter break is just a plain good idea.  So, here’s hoping that we all pause for ten days next December/January . . . together.

It doesn’t hurt to hope!

This photo was taken moments before the official start to winter break!