Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Just like Yesterday (and Tomorrow)

The morning glow of the mountains, before the sun makes its arrival...

It's 6:30pm, and I am finally back home.

Sometimes when I drive up to this place that we currently call home I find myself wondering where the day (ie, the last 11.5 hours) has gone. Have I really been gone that long?

I left this morning at 7am, dried oatmeal in a container tucked safely alongside my packed lunch, and a change of clothes. I arrive half a day later in sweaty clothes, dirty shoes, a new stack of papers to grade in my bag, and an empty sack of food.

The day has been a flurry of activity: driving, eating, e-mailing, teaching, grading, eating, teaching, e-mailing, meeting, grading, driving, running, coaching, running, coaching, driving...and now eating--which will then be followed by more grading, and hopefully a generous dose of sleeping.

Tomorrow: repeat.

I am tired.

But I also love it.

And though my creativity is shot for the evening, sometimes it is worthwhile to record the satisfaction of a day that was packed to the brim with productive activity.

Even if this day looks just like yesterday (and tomorrow).

Friday, August 20, 2010

130 Names

The sun came out on Wednesday, after 31 days of rain. What did it take to elicit the past three days of gorgeous weather? The first three days of school, of course.

The weekend is here and the first week of students has come and gone. In the midst of learning 130 names, I have also been trying to learn 130 personalities, strengths, weaknesses.

130 stories.

Today we wrote biopoems in class, poems that ask the students to share a little more about themselves with each line. It starts easy…three adjectives to describe themselves. I forbid words like “nice” or “good”…boring words that don’t really tell me anything about them.

And from there we proceed, line by line, writing poems that tell me the things they love, that they need, that they hope for, that they fear.

Some make jokes about needing more sleep.
Some play it safe, saying they love texting.
Some are brutally honest, admitting they hope to some day they can meet an absent parent, or both.

It’s sobering to be back in the classroom after a summer away.

I have felt stressed with moving, trying to find a job, our lack of housing. But I’m an adult, with a fair amount of control over the situation, and the assurance and security that things will come together, sooner or later.

Some of these students are in the midst of vast brokenness…with little control or hope to find assurance in. Their poems seem to cry for sunlight in the midst of a very long rain.

I can’t give them sunlight, and telling them to “enjoy the rain” seems trite in the midst of their very real conflicts. And so I do the only thing I think will help: I tell them my story.

I reveal it in small pieces over the course of the year, and the students who are looking for that glimpse, that promise of sunlight, begin to listen closely. Sometimes they say nothing. Other times they linger as the rest of the class leaves. And a select few will seek out moments for thoughtful conversations.

“Are you sure?” they question, not convinced that there is actually any hope beyond their darkness.


On Wednesday night, after that first glorious day of sunshine, I received a phone call from a former student. She has reveled in more than her fair share of darkness, and she has questioned me more than I’ve ever been pressed my whole life.

But this phone call held no questions, it only held hope--a glimmer of hope that has been fought for over the past eleven months.

And with that gem clenched tightly, I press forward into another school year, prepared for whatever may come.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Catalog of a Day

Some days are glamorous...yesterday wasn't really one of those days.

Some days come and go with little recognition.
Some days measure the anniversary of a significant event.
Some days important things happen.

Yesterday was my birthday, and it felt like all of the above.

The funny thing is that I work at a new school, with a large staff, most of whom don’t even know my name. Did they know it was my birthday?


Everyone there was so consumed with the excitement for the first day of school, the white-paper-shortage that came because no one (?) ordered white paper over the summer, the fact that no one can figure out how to work the new printer/copier/scanner machines, especially in the midst of the meetings and endless paperwork that must be filed.

And I was okay with that.

I travelled from school to my brother’s cross country meet, where I was greeted with an entire team of people singing “Happy Birthday Coach Ashley” at the top of their lungs. And in an instant the day went from “normal” to “celebratory”…in front of lots and lots of other high school students and parents looking on.

And I was okay with that too.

Over celebratory birthday dinner I received a phone call from our realtor, the lovely lady that has carted me around to no less than eleven condos while we sought something that fit our specifications. On this anonymous, celebratory, busy day, we would have an offer on a condo be accepted, taking one step forward toward eventually having a place of our own.

And I am more than okay with that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

28 Days

(Insert picture of this morning's gorgeous pre-rain mountiains, which I can't upload due to a misplaced camera cord, compliments of moving...again.)

On Saturday we broke a record...for rain. Apparently the summer of '51 was pretty terrible; 27 days of rain in a row is pretty bad. But this year, in the summer of 2010, Saturday marked the 28th day, and the record has now been broken.

As I searched the internet for information about this broken record, I stumbled on another measurable downer for this summer's weather: top 10 coldest.

Apparently "The unshakable rain and cool weather are the result of a low-pressure system that's been stagnant over the Bering Sea since early June and helping funnel tropical moisture into the state," said forecaster Shaun case you were curious.

Whatever the reason, the clouds and the rain and the average temperature of 62 showed up this summer and have effectively worn out their welcome.

With that said, is it bad that I now root for rain on a daily basis just to prove that this summer's weather has been officially horrendous?

If you're going to break a record, you might as well just shatter it.

Article can be found here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Sense of Belonging, or Finding My Keys

A collection of our belongings, in between locations two and three.

Three months ago, one of the first things that forced me to recognize that we were really moving was the absence of keys
. One by one those keys disappeared: first a couple for my school, then another for my gym locker. Subtract the apartment keys, then one car key and then the other, and all of the sudden I was left with a ring that was...empty.

I felt like I didn't belong anywhere.

It was funny to reflect on feeling so displaced. If I don't have the "key" to anything, did I not have the "right" to anything either?

House sitting over the past two months has caused me to reflect on these ideas once again. We gather our things (or rather, I gather them while Curtis is at work and they magically appear at the next location for him) and relocate to someone else's house to take care of someone else's stuff (or animals, as it may be). Meanwhile our belongings remain tucked away in boxes, not needed when we reside for weeks at a time in furnished houses, forcing us to operate on minimal levels. None of the things in the house belong to us, and yet we use it for a short time in order to continue our existence.

In every move things seem to get lost or broken. Paperwork is misplaced; soap is left behind. Earrings are lost; clothes are wrinkled....again. It makes everything about our possessions feel a bit more temporary, a bit less valuable. And as we enter our third month of living in places that aren't our own, I am beginning to think it's been a bit cleansing.

Lately I have been accumulating keys once again. It started with a car key, which was joined by the key to a bike lock, a house key, and then another. Last week I was given a classroom key and the keys to multiple filing cabinets. But be it because of our constant migration, or the fact that the Tinkerbell key on my chain is to a house I will never call my own, I hold my keys a bit more loosely now.

Even as we continue to peak into boxes for various items of need, I am content with a bit less, having acclimated to a much simpler existence. And I hope that as the summer fades into fall, and our migration shifts into a settling-in of sorts, I don't forget how to hold my possessions--as temporary fragments--that in the big scheme of things are relatively insignificant.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Goodbye, Summer.

Taken in June while in Michigan, in the midst of our "Farewell" tour...

I have operated on the school calendar for most of my life
, and if August means one thing, it's the beginning of a new school year.

As a tribute to the beginning of the school year (and the last day of summer vacation, which for me is today) this post will be "the year in review"...because as far as I'm concerned, tomorrow is January 1.



This fall I found myself out of school for the first time in ages. Elementary school had led to junior high, and then high school, which was immediately followed with college and graduate school. What would I do without night and weekend classes? Perhaps enjoy the classroom a bit more.

As if on cue several of my friends announced pregnancies within days of each other, and I was thrust into the world of all things pregnancy and baby related. And while Curtis and I were (and are) satisfied with our childless state, it is interesting to be surrounded by so many people entering a new phase of life...and leaving me behind.


The changing of seasons was late but eventually brutal, and we found ourselves surrounded with depths of snow that were seemingly preparing us for this year ahead. Storm after storm rolled through the Midwest, leaving us with several snow days and abundant snow banks.

I found myself to be knee deep in nostalgia as I sensed the impending (though still unsure) move ahead. Lingering over the details of our apartment and the nuances of my classroom left me quietly reflective on more than one occasion, and I desperately tried to soak in every experience as the year plowed full speed ahead.


After a whirlwind of trips around the country to interview at residencies, we matched. With 90 days to pack up and move across the country, spring began. I applied for jobs, transferred my teaching license, packed and purged my belongings, and even bought a new car at the last minute.

I collapsed with exhaustion shortly thereafter.


As I type this brief summary I am amazing that twelve months lie within a few brief paragraphs. Where has the summer gone? I find echoing in my head. Where has the year gone?

This summer has been a time of transition, of stress, of trying to relax and adjust and connect in a new place with some old faces and new expectations. Curtis works endlessly, and in the mean time I have organized and reorganized our bags in an attempt to create some order in our vagabond existence.

Tomorrow begins a new school year. Here is to twelve months of new experiences and memories in this new place. May they be rich in learning and abundant in joy.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Hello, High School

We just happened to make a "feeding" stop near an ice cream stand...and do you blame her? She wanted both...

This past weekend found me watching stars for the first time in months. Granted, this was only because I had stayed up until 2:30am, but I was still happy to see these absent beauties. Endless daylight is intoxicating in its own way, but there is still beauty in the night.

So what was I doing up at 2:30am? Catching up with some old friends. Two high school buddies that I have kept in contact with all these years hopped in the car with me for a 24 hour trip out of town. Nothing like a good old fashioned sleepover with your girlfriends and one breastfeeding baby...just to remind everyone that we're not 18 anymore.

The two and half hour drive flew by in the midst of relaxed conversation and abundant laughter. We shared stories of life since we'd last been together; we relived and divulged details of stories from long ago. And somewhere between the city and a small cabin on the bank of a river, years of living in different states melted away.

After a late night of chatting and a hearty breakfast at the local small-town diner we headed back to reality, ever more aware of how much life has changed since high school: husbands, degrees, babies, houses, jobs. We lingered in small shops and made unnecessary stops for hot chocolate, all while reveling in the gift that "time away" can be.

Because when all is said and done, sometimes "getting away from it all" helps you realize just how much you have.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Recipe for Exhaustion

A glimpse of the hospital in the quiet of morning...right about the time he is heading home.

This week I have been staying up late.
This is completely against my nature...and yet, I think it's my way of responding to the end of summer.

"Fight discipline" my rigid, scheduled, organized mind whispers as I linger over tasks late into the evening.

I traditionally find myself staying up late when Curtis isn't home. There is something about being "home alone", unaccountable to the person who normally heads to bed before the three year old children of my friend, that leaves me bargaining with myself for "fifteen more minutes" until two hours have dwindled away.

Today I paid for it, folks. My week of late nights (due to Curtis's current two week stint on night shift) caught up with me when I had to report for an 8am "new teacher orientation". Ever try to get your body to go to sleep two hours earlier than it has been all week?

Miserable fail.

Couple that with one barking dog with a fractured pelvis (thank you, housesitting job) that likes to bark at random intervals around 3:30am and you have one tired girl.

Now add the fact that the school district just put down new carpet and furniture in the room that you are meeting in (thus making any non-water beverages, which may or may not have caffeine in them, illegal) and you have one very sluggish girl.

Top it all with eight hours of endless power point presentations on navigating the school district's website, details about employee benefits, and general policy information and it's a wonder I wasn't asleep in the re-upholstered chairs (which still managed to already have stains on them...).

Good thing I'm wide awake to revisit the website now, in the midst of the quiet evening
...because shockingly enough I don't remember a thing from this morning.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dinner for Fifty

On Sunday, four days before the true transition, my sister and I organized all sorts of people together to celebrate my mom’s birthday. We sent out secret invitations, made six dozen enchiladas, hung streamers from every corner of the room, and waited for the moment of truth.

“Your mom is no dummy” a friend’s dad commented to me as I rolled tortilla after tortilla the afternoon of the gathering, wondering if we would actually pull off a surprise.

It’s true; she’s not.

But there was no question when she came around the corner at the party that she had no idea the scheming we had done.

“What are you doing here?” she asked incredulously to a group of excited people “And what am I wearing?” she followed it with, ever aware that she wasn’t appropriately dressed for the occasion.

Later as a blurry-eyed, post call Curtis pulled me away from the constant conversation he made an interesting connection.

“Do you know what your mom’s response reminded me of?” he said quietly as I finally served myself some food.
“What?” I responded curiously.
“The night I proposed,” he concluded, smiled, and walked away.

And I would be guilty as charged. The night he proposed I was caught off guard, convinced I was sharing in an informal birthday dinner for the mother of a friend. I’d had a long day at work, had squeezed in a cold run out in the snow, and in the rush to get ready for dinner had thrown on a long sleeved t-shirt…which so conveniently matched—his tie.

The party was a hit, the enchiladas were aplenty, and I can now add my ability to make a Mexican dinner for fifty to my resume.

If I didn’t have a job already, surely this would seal the deal.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I'm glad we both love enchiladas.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Progressing Grief

Curtis returning to evening work in the midst of janitor carts and empty hallways...

It is a funny thing, starting a week with all the wonder and possibility of a fresh piece of paper and finishing it only to see that is dark and deep and full of emotions you might not have anticipated. This past week, in many ways, turned out to be a week of loss.

It started small, small in body anyway, with a friend that lost the hope of a child with an ended pregnancy. Those types of loss are difficult because they are intangible. They are losses that come silently, invisibly, slipping in and taking something precious--while no one else notices. While that type of grief comes quietly, it is certainly no easier and perhaps the anonymity that can accompany such a loss is even more stifling. The loss, after all, doesn't receive the same measure of note.

Contrast that silent passing with a plane crash that happened two days later. I knew no one aboard the plane, and yet four people still died. Four people that thought they were going to head home from a normal day of training passed away--just like that. I received an e-mail from a friend who flies that same aircraft the night it happened, a friend who knew every passed member on the plane, a friend who might have been on that plane on a different day at a different time. And I was struck by how such an anonymous crash could have easily been devastating.

And then two days later beyond that I received a phone call from a good friend in Ohio whose father has been diagnosed with cancer. It is aggressive, though it has not spread to other areas in his body. And while decisions are made about treatment and options we wait for news of how far it has spread, for information about the benefit of treatment, for estimations of life and death.

And then with two days more there was a memorial service. Yet again I had no personal connection to the individual, and yet knew several people deeply wounded by the untimely death. Even though I wasn't grieving someone I knew personally, I ached for those experiencing the fresh loss, for the hurdles they were already facing in light of the absence, for the waves of grief they would face this week, and next month, and for years beyond this one.

Because grief doesn't go away quickly, it ebbs and flows like waves on the water--which sometimes roll softly, and other times crash with a fierce vengeance.


I met Curtis for dinner on Saturday night in the midst of one of his thirty hour shifts
. These mid-shift dinners have become a highlight for me, sometimes offering more time for conversation than we get in the brief window of time we find between when he gets home from work and when he heads to bed on a normal working day.

The chief resident joined us after a while with her dinner and when talk came to duties for the evening she and Curtis ended up discussing the difficulties of letting patients go. The chief is currently facing losing two children, both less than two years old, both born with deficiencies and handicaps that prevent them from ever living apart from tubes and machines...and the time has come for them to die. Adding yet another machine or tube or man-made device to their life does not make sense at this point, and yet she finds herself crying over their broken bodies. "I know it is their time to die" she shared with tears in her eyes as we sat amidst yogurt cups and sushi containers. Life will be better for them beyond this broken world in which we live, and yet it is so painful to let our loved ones pass beyond our grasp--through tragedy, or illness, or any other means.

After a while Curtis and I wandered the hallways of the hospital, cherishing coveted time for quiet conversation, reflecting on the many calamities of the week. And just like that an alarm came over the loud speaker, announcing a code blue for a specific room number. And with barely a goodbye, Curtis took off down the hallway first briskly walking, then running, then disappearing down a staircase to respond to the announcement. Someone, somewhere was dying. And he needed to be there to offer what he may to the situation.

I quietly walked to the nearest elevator, and made my way through the maze of hallways to my vehicle in the parking garage, and silently drove home. Death is all around us, sometimes in ways that are visible and present, sometimes in places that are near and painful, sometimes in a distant thought brought to mind by a familiar smell or song that freshens a memory of times past. And yet, life continues in spite of the grief and loss, insisting that we continue our journeys--journeys that are very much in progress.

For even in a week steeped in loss, there is life to be found, hope in what has been preserved, and redemption to be anticipated when all is eventually finished. Redemption which can comfort us in our brokenness as we are surrounded in the grief of loss.