A Bucket of Rattlesnakes

I stood in the new workroom as I waited for the machine to finish printing 104 copies of an assignment for my students. Our workroom has a sink, full-size fridge, tables to sit around, two microwaves, a new copier, and a coffee machine. It’s a serious upgrade from our last work area which was nonexistent. We met for lunch in Mr. W’s science room and sat in old desks and wandered into the office or an upstairs classroom for a cup of weak coffee. When I made copies last year, I often had to lay hands and pray over it in order to get my copies without it jamming, running out of paper, or just refusing to copy.

A few weeks ago, while I waited for my copies, I decided to tidy up the place. I washed a few dishes that had been left in the sink, wiped down the counter, and then decided to empty the white paper circles from the electric hole punch. As I was bent over the trash can, cursing the design of emptying the punched holes, I was suddenly ripped from my quiet cleaning session by the battle cry of Coach T, the Social Studies teacher. I jumped about 10 feet in the air and yelled my standard, “I can’t work with you, Coach T!” as I watched him back down the hall, laughing so hard he could barely breathe.

Now that our classrooms are closer in our new building, Coach T has jumped out at me from around corners, screamed at me in quiet rooms, made fun of me for liking Bob Dylan, and even greeted me with his best Bob Dylan impersonations. I have jumped and squealed more these last few weeks than any of my combined years of teaching. Each time I’ve threatened him with a life-sized cut out of Bob Dylan placed in his classroom or a bucket of rattlesnakes dropped over his head.

We had Friday off this week, and on Thursday I told Coach T that my friend had sent a video of a woman who worked with someone who was constantly jumping out at her. It had made me think of him, and we both stood in the hallway and laughed after school. Last night I received an email from our school pray list that Coach T had left the football game and was being taken to the hospital. I sent him a text letting him know that I was praying for him and he responded with a, ‘thank you.’ Today we learned that at some point he had suffered a heart attack and was waiting for a room at the hospital. Then tonight I learned that he passed away.

An hour after we received an email, my friend Beth called in disbelief. I told her about how you could always hear a scream on the 7th grade hallway because he was either jumping out at me or pinching Mr. W the science teacher. Beth started laughing and said that he would always steal her office chair. She would walk into her office and have to go searching for her chair because he would hide it in various locations. Last year we had a counselor retire, and he would enter her office crying like a baby and on her last day he curled up on the floor in the fetal position and begged for her to stay. It helped to remember what a prankster he was.

My favorite memory though, is one day when I was making coffee during our planning period. I leaned on the counter and sipped my coffee as my heart rate settled to a normal level after Coach T had entered the workroom with his signature scream. He sat at the table, and we talked about the Lord and our favorite Scriptures. We both whooped as we left the room, and I told him I felt like I had been to church. One thing I really appreciated about Coach T was that he was very vocal about his love for Jesus.

Last weekend, we had a high school student die. As I talked and laughed with Beth as we remembered Coach T, she said, “Not many people know this, but Coach T led that student’s father to Jesus.” Wow, what a testimony. I hope and pray that my last few days on earth I’m telling others about Jesus.

Although it’s going to be difficult to go to school on Monday, I know that my school family will pull together to support each other and our students. I don’t exactly know how and in all honesty, I’d just like to skip work this week. If I stay on my couch, it won’t be reality, but once I enter that building and see that empty classroom and face those students Coach T and I shared, it’s going to be real.

I’ll miss the yells, the jumping, the Bob Dylan impersonations, and the laughter that permeated the hallways, but I’m sure now that Coach T is with his Savior, Heaven is filled with one more voice of laughter and praise.

Blue’s Clues

One of the best years of my life was getting to be a nanny to my then three-year-old nephew, Carlton, and my twelve-year-old niece, Jessica. My brother-in-law worked out of town and my sister worked 60-hour work weeks, so I spent my days dropping my niece off at middle school, cleaning house, doing laundry, and taking care of Carlton.

After just a few weeks, we had settled into a routine. I would drop Jessica off at school, tell my sister goodbye as she left for work, drink coffee and read for a bit before waking up Carlton. We would spend the day playing, eating lunch, and running errands. In the afternoons, right before we picked Jessica up for school, we would watch “Dora the Explorer” and “Blue’s Clues.” Watch is probably the wrong term. Carlton insisted that we be actively involved in watching those shows. When the opening lines to Dora came on, Carlton would make me come into the living room and run around in a circle, singing the theme song. Dora wasn’t my favorite, but I watched with him and always loved watching him answer when Dora said at the end of every episode, “What was your favorite part of the trip?”

After Dora, we would watch Blue’s Clues. Personally, I preferred Blue’s Clues to Dora. Carlton would get really involved in trying to follow the clues that Blue left us, and I’ve always loved getting mail and so did Steve and Blue- so I could relate on that level. We sang the songs even when we weren’t watching the shows. Carlton proudly wore Blue’s Clues sneakers until his toes were practically bursting out the front end of the shoes. My sister and I were so relieved when we were able to find the exact pair of shoes in the bigger size that he needed, because Carlton did not do well with change.

Although some would say that it was just a silly kid’s show, Carlton didn’t take it well when the main character, Steve, left for college and his younger brother, Joe, took over. We still watched the show and sang the songs, but it wasn’t the same. I think we both missed Steve. Carlton wasn’t old enough to understand that Steve was just playing a character and decided to do something different. I was definitely old enough, but still felt a little slighted.

Carlton is an adult now, which is just ridiculous. He works and lives on his own and has managed to keep a hamster alive for the last year, so I would call that success. He calls while he delivers pizza, and we talk on the phone about new music we’ve discovered, books we are reading, funny things we remember, and sometimes heavier topics like the death of my dad and how we miss our friend Chuck. We sometimes even talk about Dora and Blue’s Clues, and I always sing the Mail song. I still sometimes think of the song when I check my mail.

Today was a tough day at work. I’m finding that the learning loss and behaviors due to quarantines and lock downs and virtual learning are greater than I could have imagined. I have kids who have no interest at all in school work because they haven’t really been in real school for a year and half or they have some much drama happening at home that school is pretty far down on the list of things to care about. In one particular class, it’s a struggle to get through the lesson because of the behavior of a few kids. It’s difficult some days for me to leave work at work.

I came home today after 11 hours because of my live online class and a surprise after school meeting. It wasn’t really a surprise, I had just forgotten about it, but by the time I got home I was a little deflated. I sat down on the couch and tried to stay upright as I decided to see what had happened in the world while I was working. I opened a news app and scanned the articles, regretting with each one that I had even bothered.

Then I saw Steve, from Blue’s Clues. He recorded a video explaining, after all these years, why he left the show. Watching the video flooded my mind with wonderful memories of toddler Carlton running around the living room in his underwear, that he wore backwards because he liked to see the pictures of the characters, and singing the Blue’s Clues’ songs. I remembered us trying to figure out the clues, watching Salt, Pepper, and Paprika and Blue’s best friend, Magenta, and singing along. In the midst of all the bad news, I had unearthed a precious gem. This video was what I needed to see today. I can’t wait to hear what Carlton has to say about it.

The Joys of Middle School

The school year is in full swing and it feels as if summer break never happened. I find myself constantly thinking of all the things I could grade or plan, the parents I need to call, and the organization that should take place in my classroom, lesson plan book, car, house, life. It’s like a constant cloud that follows me around, hanging over my head threatening my time to relax.

I take a clogging and a tap dancing class each week just so I can turn my attention from impending school work and focus on something totally different. While I wonder why it feels like someone nailed my foot to the floor when learning a new step, I’m not thinking about how Joey has a 9% in my class because he won’t put forth the effort to lift a pencil. As I attempt to catch up with everyone when I’m three steps behind in a routine, I’m not worried that I have 103 grade notifications waiting for me to sit down and grade.

There are times I wonder why I chose to teach middle school English with all the essays and short answers that take half my lifetime to grade. Why didn’t I choose to teach math or P.E.? Math would be easy to grade, it’s the teaching of it that would be a struggle. P.E. would be amazing. because I could wear workout clothes to school everyday and drink coffee while telling kids to run or playing games with them.

I do love teaching English most days. I like to read stories and talk about the characters as if they are real and write poems and learn new vocabulary words with my students. Mostly, I just like my students. They keep me laughing daily. Sometimes I laugh to their faces and other times I have to hide my laughter until they are out of the room.

Here are just a few things that had me laughing these last few weeks.

  1. I have a boy in one of my class that is the quintessential middle school boy. He’s long and lanky and his movements resemble a baby deer learning to walk. He’s goofy and likes to laugh. He dances when he thinks nobody is watching. The other day I looked up and he was seated at his desk, reading his book, but he had the draw string of his shorts wrapped around his neck. He seemed comfortable, so I didn’t disturb him, but I wondered if I should remind him that he was in public and not at his house.

We are living in a time when people are wearing masks, bathing in hand sanitizer, and worrying about checking out books from the library because ‘other people have touched the books.’ One day I saw Marcus get down from his seat at the tall desks and lean over to pick a bright yellow something off the floor. For a moment I thought, “How nice that’s he’s picking up his trash .” Most kids think the floor is a place to put trash because it saves the 8 1/2 steps they would have to exert to walk it to the trash can. Marcus and I made eye contact just as he was putting the chewed gum that he had dropped on the floor, back into his mouth. I audibly gagged and told him to get that out of his mouth and into the trash. He was upset that he had to throw it away, but I reminded him that I probably saved his life because one look at the floor should convince a person that it wasn’t a sanitary eating surface.

While grading an assignment, I saw that David wrote his answer, “They met on a street in New York City.” Then he included, “Wow it rhymes.” Only it didn’t rhyme. Not even a little bit.

We were playing a class game where students enter their names and it flashes up on my TV. They love to put emojis with their names and as long as it’s school appropriate, I don’t mind. A girl put her name, ‘Kasey’ with a green sick emoji. I said, “Do you feel sick today, Kasey?” She answered with her typical deadpan face, “No, that’s just how I feel about everything.” Awesome. As the weeks march on by, I’m discovering that there isn’t much–or anything– that excites Kasey.

As a child, my parents would sometimes get on to me for clomping through the house. Apparently, as a preteen I Hulk stomped from the kitchen to my room regularly. I guess over time I’ve perfected a quiet ninja like walk. Multiple times this year, in different classes, I’ve been walking around the classroom, getting my steps in and monitoring student work, helping when needed, when I have had a student turn their head and jump three feet in the air. Each time they declare that I snuck up on them and scared them and how did I walk so quietly and wasn’t I just across the room helping that other kid? I always tell them that their reaction makes them sound just a tad bit guilty and they typically smile sheepishly at me. I think I can use this to my advantage when managing classroom behavior.

The Hunger Games, Fishing Line, and Kayaks

My last class of every day is made up of students who love to read. We talk books and characters in between assignments. It has been fun to complete a book and have people who want to hear about it. Many of my students in that class either are currently or have read The Hunger Games series. I find myself talking daily about Katniss, Peeta, and the evils of the Capitol.

It has been several years since I’ve read the books or watched the movies, so this week I started reading, Catching Fire again. Since I had today off from school, I sat down last night and turned on the movies, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

Katniss Everdeen is one of my all-time favorite book characters. I like that she’s just a regular girl, trying to protect her family, and inadvertently becomes the face of a revolution. Her humanity is relatable. Her archery skills and fight reflexes….not so much.

If there were a revolution and someone said to me, “This is the start of the revolution and you are the Mockingjay,” I would hope to emulate Katniss Everdeen. Unfortunately, as I delve back into the story and do a little self-reflection, I find I’m actually more like Peeta Mellark. Peeta is a good baker, but he finds himself in need of being rescued a lot. If I were in the arena fighting to the death in the Hunger Games, I would probably find that my cooking skills were useless and that I would need rescuing pretty frequently.

My being more Peeta than Katniss became even more clear this weekend as I was kayaking with friends. It was a gorgeous day on the lake- sunny and in the high 70s with low humidity. For a holiday weekend there weren’t a lot of other people on the lake. We put our kayaks in the water and paddled for about an hour, watching cranes and trying to avoid the waves caused by the occasional passing boat or jet ski.

Three of us were ahead of the other two, so we decided to row into a cove and wait for the others before having lunch. We usually just float alongside each other, eat lunch, talk, and take a photo. While waiting, my kayak started floating under a low overhanging tree. Laken pointed out that there was a fishing line stuck in the tree and for me to be careful. I told her that it was just the line and there wasn’t a hook. I used my paddle to push back to Laken and Jami. Pretty soon after we saw that Robert and Ethan were within eye sight.

While waiting for them, we chatted and laughed and before I realized it, I was back under the tree with the fishing line. Someone with fight reflexes might have calmly paddled backwards to get in line with the other kayaks and gone on to eat lunch in a quiet cove with the sounds of waves lapping against the kayaks while conversing with friends.

I took a different route to getting to lunch. While floating toward the tree, I noticed I was heading straight for the fishing line in the low hanging branch. Not a problem. I had already discovered there was not a dangerous hook to snag me. But then I looked up and saw a spider climbing up the fishing line that was really close to my face. As I watched the spider climb, I then saw a webby nest of some sort hanging a little above the fishing line.

My flight reflexes took over, and before I had time to process all these things, I found myself treading water. I guess my brain decided that abandoning ship was better than getting caught up in a line with a spider and a nest. And from the safety of my couch days later- I think I agree with my brain’s decision.

From my perspective it all happened so quickly. I saw the spider on the line and the nest and then I was in the water. Everyone else in my group said they were saying, “Audrey, watch out!” as they watched my kayak slowly tip over and dump me into the lake. I guess if I’m going to flip a kayak it’s best that I did it with three trained lifeguards.

I suppose the lesson here is should you ever find yourself with me, and I just suddenly disappear- whether on land or in the water- be aware that danger is lurking. I won’t have time to warn you, because I’ll already be gone.

Ballad Sunday Cont’d: The Crane Wife 1, 2, and 3

Yesterday I shared the story that inspired theses songs which are written and performed by The Decemberists.

The Crane Wife 1 and 2
It was a cold night
And the snow lay 'round
I pulled my coat tight
Against the falling down
And the sun was all...
And the sun was all down
And the sun was all...
And the sun was all down

I am a poor man
I haven't wealth nor fame
I have my two hands
and a house to my name
And the winter's so...
And the winter's so long
And the winter's so...
And the winter's so long

And all the stars were crashing 'round
As I laid eyes on what I'd found

It was a white crane
It was a helpless thing
Upon a red stain
With an arrow in its wing
and it called and cried...
and it called and cried so
and it called and cried...
and it called and cried so

And all the stars were crashing 'round
As I laid eyes on what I'd found

My crane wife
 (repeat 4x)

And now I helped her
And now I dressed her wounds
And now I held her
Beneath the rising moon
And she stood to fly...
And she stood to fly away
And she stood to fly...
And she stood to fly away

And all the stars were crashing 'round
As I laid eyes on what I'd found

My crane wife (repeat 4x)


My crane wife arrived at my door in the moonlight
All starbright and tongue-tied I took her in
We were married and bells rang sweet for our wedding
And our bedding was ready and we fell in

Sound the keening bell
And see it's painted red
Soft as fontanelle
The feathers in the thread
And all I ever meant
To do was to keep you
My crane wife
My crane wife
My crane wife

We were poorly, our fortunes fading hourly
And how she loved me, she could bring it back
But I was greedy, I was vain and I forced her to weaving
On a cold loom in closed room, down the hall

Sound the keening bell
And see it's painted red
Soft as fontanelle
The feathers in the thread
And all I ever meant
To do was to keep you
My crane wife
My crane wife
My crane wife

There's a bend in the wind
And it rakes at my heart
There is blood in the thread
And it rakes at my heart
rakes at my heart
heart (repeated)
My crane wife

The Crane Wife 3
And under the boughs unbowed
All clothed in a snowy shroud
She had no heart so hardened
All under the boughs unbowed

Each feather it fell from skin
Till threadbare as she grew thin
How were my eyes so blinded?
Each feather it fell from skin

And I will hang my head, hang my head low
And I will hang my head, hang my head low

A gray sky, a bitter sting
A rain cloud, a crane on wing
All out beyond horizon
A grey sky, a bitter sting

And I will hang my head, hang my head low
And I will hang my head, hang my head low

Ballad Sunday #4: The Crane Wife

My first year teaching I spent a lot of time in my classroom before and after school attempting to discover what exactly I was suppose to do with unfamiliar curriculum and 110 middle school students. I would have Pandora playing on my computer and a balled by The Decemberists kept coming up called, “The Crane Wife.” I decided that I really liked the song and would need to check out the band and the album.

Before I was able to do either of those things, I was sitting at my kitchen table on a Saturday morning looking through the textbook I had been given. As I scanned the table of contents I came across a story called, “The Crane Wife.” I read the story and immediately began writing up a lesson plan for my students to read the story which is told from the third person omniscient point of view and then listen to the songs which are told from one of the main character’s point of view.

This is one of my favorite stories, and I wanted to share it here. Today I’ll share the story and tomorrow the ballad.

The Crane Wife
Retold by Sumiko Yagawa
Translated by Katherine Paterson

In a faraway mountain village, where the snow falls deep and white, there once lived all alone a poor young peasant named Yohei. One day, at the beginning of winter, Yohei went out into the snow to run an errand, and, as he hurried home, suddenly basabasa he heard a rustling sound. It was a crane, dragging its wing, as it swooped down and landed on the path. Now Yohei could see that the bird was in great pain, for an arrow had pierced its wing. He went to where the crane lay, drew out the arrow, and very carefully tended its wound.
Late that night there came a tapping hotohoto on the door of Yohei’s hut. It seemed very peculiar for someone to be calling at that time of night. When he slid open the door to look out, there before him stood a beautiful young woman.
“I beg you, sir,” she said in a voice both delicate and refined, “please allow me to become your wife.”
Yohei could hardly believe his ears. The more closely he looked, the more noble and lovely the woman appeared. Gently he took her hand and brought her inside.
“Yohei has got some fine wife at his house,” the villagers gossiped among themselves.
And it was true. The young woman was modest and kind, and she served Yohei faithfully. He could no longer recognize the cold, cold dreary hut where he had lived all alone; his house had become so bright and warm. The simple Yohei was happier than he could have ever dreamed.
In reality, however, with two mouths to feed instead of one, poor Yohei became poorer than he was before. And, since it was winter and there was no work to be found, he was very quickly coming to the bottom of what he had stored away.
At this point the young woman had a suggestion. “The other women of the village have looms upon which to weave cloth,” she said. “If you would be so kind as to allow it, I should like to try my hand at weaving too.”
In the back of the hut, the young woman set up a loom and closed it off with sliding paper doors. Then she said to Yohei, “Please, I beg you, I beg you never look in upon me while I am weaving.”
Tonkara tonkara. For three days and three nights the sound of the loom continued. Without stopping either to eat or drink, the young woman went on weaving and weaving. Finally, on the fourth day, she came out. To Yohei she seemed strangely thin and completely exhausted as, without a word, she held out to him a bolt of material.
And such exquisite cloth it was! Even Yohei, who had absolutely no knowledge of woven goods, could only stare in astonishment at the elegant, silken fabric.
Yohei took the cloth and set out for town. There he was able to sell it for such a high price that for a while the two of them had enough money to live quite comfortably and pleasantly.
The winter, however, stretched on and on until, finally, there was very little money left. Yohei hesitated to say anything, so he kept quiet, but at last the young woman spoke up, “I shall weave on the loom one more time. But, please, let this be the last.” And, once more, having been warned not to look in on the woman as she wove, the simple Yohei settled down to wait outside just as she asked.
This time the weaving took four days and four nights. A second time the young woman appeared carrying a bolt of cloth, but now she seemed thinner and more pathetic than before. The fabric, moreover, was lighter and even more beautiful. It seemed almost to glow with a light all its own.
Yohei sold the material for an even higher price than the first time. “My,” he marveled, “what a good wife I have!” The money bag he carried was heavy, but Yohei’s heart was light, and he fairly skipped as he hurried home.
Now the man next door had noticed that Yohei seemed to be living far more grandly than he had in the old days, and he was most curious. Pretending to be very casual about it all, he made his way through the snow and began to chat. Yohei, being a simple and innocent fellow, told the neighbor how his wife’s woven goods had brought a wonderful price.
The man became more curious than ever. “Tell me,” he said, “just what kind of thread does your wife use? My woman’s cotton cloth never fetched a price like that. If your wife’s stuff is as marvelous as you say, you ought to take it to the capital, to the home of some noble. You could probably sell it for ten times—for a hundred times more. Say, how about it? Why don’t you let me do it for you? We’d split the profits right down the middle. Just think of it! We could live out the rest of our lives doing nothing but sitting back and fanning ourselves.”
Before Yohei’s very eyes, gold coins great and small began to dazzle and dance. If only he could get his wife to relent, if only he could persuade her to weave again, they could seize such a fortune as had never been known before.
When Yohei presented her with this idea, the young woman seemed quite perplexed, “Why in the world,” she asked, “would anyone need so much money as that?”
“Don’t you see?” he answered. “With money like that a man’s problems would all disappear. He could buy anything he liked. He could even start his own business.”
“Isn’t it plenty to be able to live together, just the two of us?”
When she spoke this way, Yohei could say no more. However, from that time on, whether asleep or awake, all he could do was think about money. It was so painful for the young woman to see Yohei in this state that her eyes filled with tears as she watched him, until finally, unable to bear it another day, she bowed to his will.
“Very well then,” she said. “I will weave one more time. But truly, after this, I must never weave again.” And once more she warned the now joyful Yohei, saying, “For the sake of heaven, remember. Do not look in on me.”
Yohei rubbed his hands together in his eagerness and sat down to wait.
Tonkara tonkara. The sound of the loom continued on and on into the fifth day. The work in the back room seemed to be taking longer than ever.
Yohei, no longer the simple fellow that he had once been, began to wonder about certain peculiar things. Why did the young woman appear to grow thinner every time she wove? What was going on in there behind those paper doors? How could she weave such beautiful cloth when she never seemed to buy any thread?
The longer he had to wait, the more he yearned to peep into the room until, at last, he put his hand upon the door.
“Ah!” came a voice from within. At the same time Yohei cried out in horror and fell back from the doorway.
What Yohei saw was not human. It was a crane, smeared with blood, for with its beak it had plucked out its own feathers to place them in the loom.
At the sight Yohei collapsed into a deep faint.
When he came to himself, he found, lying near his hand, a bolt of fabric, pure and radiantly white, through which was woven a thread of bright crimson. It shone with a light that the world has never known.
From somewhere Yohei heard the whisper of a delicate, familiar voice “I had hoped,” the voice said sorrowfully, “that you would be able to honor my entreaty. But because you looked upon me in my suffering, I can no longer tarry in the human world. I am the crane that you saved on the snowy path. I fell in love with your gentle, simple heart, and, trusting it alone, I came to live by your side. I pray that your life will be long and that you will always be happy.
“Wai-t!” Yohei stumbled in his haste to get outside.
It was nearly spring, and, over the crest of the distant mountains, he could barely discern the tiny form of a single crane, flying farther and farther away. 


When we read this story, most of my students are upset and don’t care for the ending. It leads to great discussions about greediness, peer pressure, honesty, etc. One year I had a student, who was an avid hunter, say at the end of the story, “I’d just shoot the bird. Then I’d have supper.” I guess that’s another way to look at it.

Fancy Peanut Butter Cookies

In my class this week we read a story about a grandfather and his grandson. I asked my students to either write about their grandparents or to write about what they thought a grandparent should be like. I then told them about my Nanny and Pawpaw.

I was blessed with the world’s best Nanny and Pawpaw. Growing up I spent a lot of weekends at their house. My Nanny would make me a snack of sweet sun tea and peanut butter and nilla wafer sandwiches. She and I would watch TV together or talk on the porch swing. My Pawpaw would take me on rides to town. He was a very slow driver, so what should have been a 20 minutes ride would be a couple of hours. He would make weird food or buy something a little strange at the grocery, and I would try it with him. I loved being at Nanny and Pawpaw’s house.

I told my students about a very distinct memory I have of being with my Nanny. One night we were in her basement kitchen making homemade peanut butter cookies. We mixed the ingredients, and I helped Nanny roll each cookie and put it on the baking sheet. Before we popped them into the oven, she did something that blew my mind. She took a fork and made a crisscross indention on each cookie. In my kid mind I couldn’t believe that she knew how to make that fancy design on peanut butter cookies. I was under the impression that only professional chefs and Keebler Elves knew how to do that. I thought she was a genius- the smartest woman in the world. I told my kids that story and they thought it was funny that I was so impressed by something so simple. I told them that it didn’t take much to impress me, so some things haven’t changed.

We continued with the lesson and by the next morning I had forgotten that I even shared that story with them. The first bell rang, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and I called roll. My students were busy putting their first unit into their binder when I noticed a Ziploc baggie on my desk containing four homemade peanut butter cookies with the fancy fork design. One of my students said, “Yesterday when you were talking about peanut cookies, I really wanted to make some. So, I made them last night and thought you might like a few.”

Isn’t that the most precious thing ever? It really touched my heart that someone would be so thoughtful, especially when I had sort of forgotten about even telling the story. What a great way to end the first week of school. Also, just so you know, I’m usually pretty picky about eating things that students bring me. In a previous post I told about a student handing me a cookie straight from her jacket pocket. Unwrapped and warmed from her body heat. I did not eat that cookie. This week’s peanut butter cookie student is a kid that I know her parents and taught her brother; besides- her cookies were in a Ziploc housed in her backpack and at room temperature.

Usain Bolt and The First Day

Today was the first full day of the school year. I slept surprisingly well last night; typically I wake up every hour worrying that I will oversleep and spend the day running on adrenaline and caffeine. Not this morning. I was well rested and fell easily back into my morning routine.

Yesterday I left school stressed. When I’m stressed I make stupid mistakes. Like parking my car at Wal-Mart and getting halfway to the door before realizing I was wearing my school backpack, complete with laptop, record book, and popsicle sticks. I walked back to the car and deposited the backpack. When I got home, I hopped in the shower. I washed my hair and grabbed the conditioner. My hair was suddenly super sudsy. I briefly thought something must be wrong with my conditioner, so I conditioned again and again realized something was off. I then noticed that I had just washed my hair three times because I was grabbing shampoo and not conditioner. I received a compliment on my hair today, and I determined that it must be because it is super clean.

After arriving at school this morning I decided to tackle the assembly of a floor lamp. While attaching part A to part B, part C fell over and smacked me right on the bridge of my nose. I spent the rest of the day with a big red sore on my nose. Soon after the lamp incident, I realized that I had forgotten to wear the staff shirt we had been given for the day. I only realized after I saw four teachers standing together and wondered how odd it was that they all wore the same shirt.

Surprisingly, my stress level declined as I met my students. It’s only day one, but I already feel like it’s going to be a good year. My classes were fun, and I really enjoyed getting to meet my students. The absolute best part of my day, though, was during third period. We were sharing stories and a kid looked at me seriously and said, “Hey, I know who you remind me of. You know the fastest man in the world, right?” I tried not to be insulted that I reminded him of a man, but said, “I’m not sure who the fastest man in the world is right now.” Another kid said, “Usain Bolt?” and the first kid said, “Yes! That’s who you remind me of! Have you seen that video?” The other kid quipped, “Um, sure, because they look almost identical.”

I didn’t know what to say. I’m a short white woman in my mid 40s with what I’m sure is the exact opposite body fat content of Usain Bolt. I’m also not quick, nor was I running in skimpy shorts when this comment was made. I’m pretty sure I was going over classroom procedures. And at a normal rate, not fast. So, instead of working on necessary lesson plans this evening, I’ll probably be spending the rest of the night wondering how in the world I could remind a kid of Usain Bolt.

Identity

I recently finished a TV series about a vampire with a soul. This is apparently a rare thing. In the last season of the show, one of the characters is taken from earth and later returns. Upon returning, she has no idea who she is or who any of her former friends are. As the viewer, I knew that she could trust the people who were filling in the details of her life- her name, occupation, etc. However, the character had to decide if she could trust the information she was receiving and the people giving it to her.

After that episode I wondered what it would be like to suddenly not remember my name, my address, my occupation and not recognize family and friends. It would be bewildering and terrifying ,and I would probably do whatever I deemed necessary to find out that information. It would be hard to know who to trust.

After I graduated college I had a little bit of an identity crisis. I, of course, wasn’t taken to another plane and didn’t forget my name, but I remember not being real sure of where I fit. I was no longer a student and yet I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I actually sometimes still struggle with that last one.

After graduation, I moved to Southern California to work at a girls’ group home. Through our church I met a lady named Joyce who agreed to disciple me and suggested we study what my identity in Christ was as a believer. Around that same time, my friend Matt and I were talking on the phone one night, and he encouraged me to read through the entire New Testament and write down all of the promises that we are given as followers of Jesus Christ.

Through both of those studies, I met Jesus. I had been a Christian for fifteen years at that point but being in God’s Word daily and seeing all that He gives to those who follow Him- well, that changed everything for me. I suddenly knew who I was when reading Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Despite my quirks and imperfections, I am fully known and fully loved by God. Mind blown. That’s an identity where I can find rest, peace, hope, and fulfillment. I know that when He tells me who I am, He can be trusted.

Ballad Sunday #3: I Killed Sally’s Lover

This week’s ballad is a good ol’ murder ballad. I don’t know what it says about me that I prefer a story with some dark twists and turns. A few weeks ago I read what I discovered was the equivalent of a Hallmark movie. Plot: Girl is committed to her work and has no time for romance, but has to go back home and settle the family estate. She plans to be in town for a week, but decides to stick around until house renovations are completed by off-putting man who turns out to be a really good guy, just misunderstood. They fall in love and all things fall into place beautifully. Gag. I rolled my eyes more than once before putting it away. Don’t get me wrong- I am a fan of romantic stories, just not cheesy ones with weak plots. Zero questions were raised as I read the book, and I didn’t really care to find out how things ended up.

I like this ballad because there’s some action. It’s obvious that Sally and the main character were once in love. Well, at least he was- that is before Sally got a wandering eye. This conflict leads to the main character taking matters into his own hands. This- this holds my interest to the end and even has me wondering what happened to the main character- how much jail time did he get? What happened to Sally? Did she get become faithful or continue with her reckless ways? Did he wise up and pick a different kind of girl later on?

I hope you enjoy this little ballad.

Somebody get my shotgun
Somebody get my blade
Sally's been layin' with another man
And he's sleeping in my place
Somebody get my shotgun
Gonna shoot him sure as rain
You can run as fast as you want to boy
I'll kill you just the same
Somebody get my pocket blade
Gonna cut him don't you know
You can try to hide all you want to boy
There ain't nowhere to go
Somebody get my shotgun
Somebody get my blade
Sally's been layin' with another man
And he's sleeping in my place
Now Sally don't go thinkin'
That you got off so clean
I'd kill you too if I had the nerve
But I just ain't that mean
So I go and get my murder tools
I throw them in the lake
Gonna steal me an automobile
And drive so far away
Now I am a fugitive
I'm always on the run
Sally told the policeman
Exactly what I'd done
I went and got my shotgun
I went and got my blade
Killed poor Sally's lover
And I put him in the grave.
Now all you ramblin' fellas
You listen close to me
That woman gonna bring you pain
Your heart is gonna bleed
But it ain't worth the trouble
The sufferin' or the grief
A bleeding heart is better than the penitentiary
I killed Sally's lover
One dark and dreary day
Sally got another
And I got sent away
Somebody get my shotgun
Somebody get my blade
Sally's been laying with another man
And I set him in his grave

- I Killed Sally's Lover by The Avett Brothers

Watch and listen to the song Here

Ode to the Green Coffee Cup

Teacher in-service began this past Wednesday and we’ll welcome students next week. I’m not exactly sure what happened to summer break. I know I had one, but it was so quick that I’m struggling to believe it really happened. We are moving into a new school building, so the last few days teachers have been busy unpacking boxes, rearranging desks and tables, decorating walls, attending meetings, and making phone calls to locate classroom phones, printers, and projectors. I went from working in a school that had only two hallways to what feels like a complicated labyrinth. This afternoon I entered through a new-to-me doorway and found myself in an unfamiliar hallway. I had no idea what wing I was in or even what floor I was on. Luckily, instead of having to battle a Minotaur, I found a teacher who was able to lead me to a familiar hallway. I left 15 minutes early for a meeting today because I knew I needed time to find the correct conference room. We used to only have one conference room to having about ten.

I enjoy the people that I work with, but if someone doesn’t teach on my floor and my end of the hallway, I have never had an opportunity to really get to know them. I often joke that the entire upper level could skip work for a month, and I’d never know.

Today we had a meeting at 8:00 am, which is actually a little late for us. We were given instructions yesterday to bring a tangible object of something that was important to us. If it was a picture, it couldn’t be on our phone, it had to be printed. An activity like this is not a strength of mine. I tend to forget all about it, and when I remember at the last minute I don’t have time to put a lot of thought into it and then I think of about 12,000 things I could have talked about.

I walked into our new cafeteria and saw all the chairs were in a circle. For the next 2 1/2 hours a microphone was passed around as people shared pictures of their families, rings given to them by their grandparents, teddy bears given when an adoption was final, baseball cards, a handmade lighthouse, a DVD given by a beloved brother, the Bible to represent a person’s faith, and many other items that offered a small glimpse into the lives of my co-workers. There were many tears shed as people shared about relatives that have passed away, but greatly impacted lives.

This time, I did put thought into what I would share. It wasn’t super profound, but I brought my $0.49 coffee cup that I purchased at Big Lots about fifteen years ago. I have three of the exact same cup. I think at one point there were four, but I vaguely remember breaking one of them. In thinking about what I feel like represents me, I thought of my green coffee cups. Every morning when I’m reading the Bible and praying, I drink coffee out of one of those cups. I then take it to school and drink out of it as I teach middle school kids because I don’t really like to drink out of travel mugs. When family and friends come to my house and we spend time together, I typically make coffee and I always choose one of my green cup if one is available. When I sit down to read or to write, I usually make coffee because a part of me thinks, “This will go better if I have something warm to drink.” And it does.

In a few days, my green cup and I will face our fourteenth first day of school. The years have passed quickly and pleasantly with my green coffee cup.

Ballad Sunday (on Monday) #2: The Curse

This is the second installment of Ballad Sunday where I share one of my favorite ballads.

Several years ago I worked at local college campus as a Resident Director. I worked with twenty-three Resident Assistants and helped them plan residence hall events. Several of the RAs became close friends and through those relationships I was introduced to the music of Josh Ritter. It didn’t take long for me to become a fan of his lyrics and style.

During my first year of teaching, one particular album, “So Runs the World Away,” was on repeat for awhile as I drove my daily hour commute. I had heard all the songs, but one day I actually heard the lyrics of the song, ‘The Curse.’ And then I listened again because I fell in love with the story of the song. It also helped that I’m a fan of anything dealing with a mummy, a curse, and a love story gone wrong.

He opens his eyes, falls in love at first sight
With the girl in the doorway
What beautiful lines, how full of life
After thousands of years, what a face to wake up to

He holds back a sigh as she touches his arm
She dusts off the bed where 'til now he's been sleeping
Under miles of stone, the dried fig of his heart
Under scarab and bone starts back to its beating

She carries him home in a beautiful boat
He watches the sea from a porthole in stowage
He can hear all she says as she sits by his bed
Then one day his lips answer her in her own language

The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves, it's her hair that he touches
She asks, "Are you cursed?" He says, "I think that I'm cured"
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bullrushes

In New York, he is laid in a glass-covered case
He pretends he is dead, people crowd round to see him
But each night she comes 'round and the two wander down
The halls of the tomb that she calls a museum

Often he stops to rest, but then less and less
Then it's her that looks tired, staying up asking questions
He learns how to read from the papers that she
Is writing about him and he makes corrections

It's his face on her book, more and more come to look
Families from Iowa, upper Westsiders
Then one day it's too much, he decides to get up
And as chaos ensues, he walks outside to find her

She is using a cane and her face looks too pale
But she's happy to see him, as they walk he supports her
She asks, "Are you cursed?" but his answer's obscured
In a sandstorm of flashbulbs and rowdy reporters

Such reanimation, the two tour the nation
He gets out of limos, he meets other women
He speaks of her fondly, their nights in the museum
But she's just one more rag now he's dragging behind him

She stops going out, she just lies there in bed
In hotels in whatever towns they are speaking
Then her face starts to set and her hands start to fold
And one day the dry fig of her heart stops its beating

Long ago on the ship, she asked "Why pyramids?"
He said, "Think of them as an immense invitation"
She asked, "Are you cursed?" He said, "I think that I'm cured"
Then he kissed her and hoped that she'd forget that question

-The Curse by Josh Ritter

Then I found this video and my love for this song only increased.

High, Low, and Wow: Cabin Edition #4

Last night I went to bed a little earlier than the previous days because I had a 6:00 am flight. Around 1:45 am the dogs were whining in their crate, and I woke up and checked my phone. I discovered that my flight was delayed by 3 hours. This wouldn’t have been an issue except that I would be arriving just as my connecting flight was leaving.

Suddenly, I was wide awake. I started to worry and then heard my friend Tommy’s voice, “Check and see if Romans 8:28 is still in the Bible.” I reminded myself that the Lord knew when I would be arriving home; I was just hoping He would let me in on the details. Heidi got up because of the dogs, and we discussed a plan. I called the airline about my connecting flight and after being on hold for an hour, the new flight was booked. This new flight meant that I would have a 7 hour layover. Good thing I like airports.

Although I hate to leave, I also need a job and that starts back up tomorrow. I was in the airport for awhile waiting to board and then sat in the plane as the pilot kept us abreast of when we might actually take off, always ending with, “in about 5 minutes.” I’m currently sitting on the airplane waiting for drink service and to begin my airport adventure, which I’m hoping includes some Chicago style pizza. All this waiting has given me time to reflect on yesterday as far as my high, low, and wow.

High: Heidi and I again started the day sort of slow, sitting on the porch drinking coffee, writing blog posts, and laughing at videos. Chris asked if we had made a plan for the day since it was nearing noon, but we hadn’t. We had plans to attend an Ojibwa Pow Wow later that evening, but nothing until then. I suggested we go to Biggby Coffee for a Butter Bear- a delicious iced coffee with butterscotch and caramel- before the Pow Wow.

Drinking the Butter Bear was a high for the day, and totally worth the $6 and daily calorie content. It was delicious.

After the coffee shop we stopped at a small grocery where Heidi bought gummy bears. We were snacking in the car on the way to the Pow Wow when Chris started reading Sugar-Free Gummy bear reviews on Amazon. Apparently ingesting several sugar-free Gummy bears leads to major digestive issues. The reviews were so funny that we laughed our way down the highway. A good belly laugh qualifies for a high any day.

High #2: We drove to Baraga, MI and attended an Ojibwa Pow Wow. We walked along the dusty crowded path and passed vendors selling everything from turquoise jewelry, t-shirts, animal pelts, and fry bread.

We found seats on the bleachers with a nice view and waited for the event to begin. None of us had ever been to a Pow Wow, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Again, thanks to Google, we were able to research traditional regalia, a recipe for fry bread, and the symbolism of the event.

The Pow Wow began with probably 10 or 15 drum circles performing songs of Red Bull (a man, not the energy drink) and proceeded with the entrance of over 400 dancers. It was quite the sight to see people of all ages, dressed in feathered headdresses, ornate jingle dresses, and brightly beaded moccasins dancing and chanting. One man wore a wolf skin and stood out to me, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a photo.

The rowdiness of the event was a stark contrast to the quiet orderliness of the monastery the previous day.

Low: Grumpy porch toad ran away a few nights ago after laying her fertilized eggs- or molting her skin, we aren’t sure which- in the dog dish. Heidi and I conducted some research via Google to discover they were fertilized, but further research showed it could just be a layer of her skin. We aren’t sure why she left Chris and Heidi responsible for raising her toadlets. Maybe she just wasn’t ready for motherhood. If it’s skin, maybe she just wanted them to have something to remember her by. At any rate she’s gone and left something behind, a cozy corner, and a nice dish complete with a diving board. We thought she had returned last night, but it turned out to be a male toad who had no interest in taking over Grumpy’s place on the porch.

Toad eggs or skin

Wow: The beauty and uniqueness of the Upper Peninsula wowed me daily. We woke yesterday to rain, which turned into sunshine and 85% humidity, which turned in a pleasant day and ended with us needing to turn the heat on in the car after watching the gorgeous sunset.

Last night’s time lapsed sunset over Lake Superior.

I love the wildness of the U.P. The dusty roads, the thick forests, the Great lake, the abundant wildlife, and the slower pace of living have made for a glorious vacation right before the crazy of the beginning of school begins tomorrow.

When I feel stressed next week- and that’s pretty much a given- I’ll have loads of memories and pictures to reflect on and revisit. I already feel my blood pressure decreasing.

High, Low, and Wow: Cabin Edition #3

Yesterday morning we sat on the porch and drank our coffee. The best thing about being here is that there isn’t a rush to do anything. It’s nice to be able to ease into a day.

After some discussion, several cups of coffee in my new U.P. mug, and a Finnish korvapuusti from the farmer’s market for breakfast, a plan for the day was formed.

High #1: Around lunchtime we drove into Houghton and stopped at Roy’s for a traditional pasty. I had never had a pasty before so I was looking forward to trying the local fare. We ordered, got the dogs out of the car, and chose a picnic table overlooking the Portage Canal. The chicken and broccoli pasty was delicious. While eating our pasties we were able to see the lift bridge in action as a sailboat glided beneath. We then walked off our lunch by strolling along the canal and allowing the dogs to swim for a bit in the water to cool off.

High #2: After lunch and our walk we dropped the dogs at the cabin and drove to the northern most point of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Copper Harbor. We stopped along the way to see two waterfalls, take some senior year and dead-on-the-rocks photos, and a giant snowmometer. The natural beauty of this area of the world is abundant and reminds me of my time in Alaska and Northern Wisconsin.

High #3: We sat down to dinner at The Fitzgerald in Eagle River, MI. The Fitz is a cozy restaurant that provides a front row seat to Lake Superior. Heidi had told me about restaurant before, so I was excited to experience it for myself. We devoured an appetizer of poutine- french fries smothered in beer gravy, cheese curds, pearl onions, and tender brisket. I tried Nashville Hot Chicken for the first time and discovered that they aren’t joking when they say hot. We finished off the meal with a scrumptious piece of chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Afterwards we drove home, and I crawled into my bed with a full heart and belly.

Low: I haven’t had a true low since I’ve been here, but the torrential downpour yesterday did put a damper on things. We decided to just look at the lighthouse on Eagle Harbor from the car. Even the rain wasn’t able to mask the beauty of the area as we drove along the forested highway.

Wow: My friends back home and I have discussed one day living in a monastic community. I don’t think head shavings and vows of silence are on the agenda, but I wouldn’t be opposed to the cool capes worn by the monks we encountered yesterday at the Society of Saint John in Eagle Harbor.

We drove along a winding two lane road and came to the Society of Saint John. It was a place that had I been on my own, I probably would have driven right past. The Society owns and operates a bakery called The Jampot. We had hoped to make it in time to enjoy some of their baked goods, but it was closed. We parked in front of the monastery with the hopes of just having a peek inside. Chris pulled on the door and we entered the darkened entryway. He looked into the sanctuary and was waved inside by a young boy who handed him several books that would be used throughout the service. We entered quietly and for the next 1 and 1/2 hours we worshiped with the monks. Words cannot describe the experience, which may sound like a cop out, but I’m still digesting the experience. Afterwards we were able to chat with the Hegumen. It was a surreal experience.

High, Low, and Wow: Cabin Edition #2

Yesterday morning Heidi, Chris, and I took our time getting started for the day. We drank our coffee on the porch looking out into the forest while being serenaded by chipmunks and humming birds. the dogs sniffed around and then settled into their napping areas.

After breakfast we went for a three mile walk that loops their property. On our walk we talked to their neighbors and they finally met the UPS man. While walking back to the cabin we stopped by their neighbors so I could take a look at their garden. They had a lovely piece of property.

After lunch Heidi and I walked around the small town of Calumet on the Keweenaw Peninsula, ate delicious Italian food, drove to the beach and watched the sunset on Lake Superior, then we came back to the cabin and the three of us sat on the porch watching the campfire, ate the s’mores cookies I had purchased from the farmers’ market, and sang songs from our college days until way up in the morning.

It is difficult to just pick on “High” for the day.

High: While driving home from watching the sunset, I screeched and told Heidi to stop. Sitting by an abandoned building was a fox. He inquisitively watched us as we sat in the car and talked to him. Heidi suggested it could be a momma fox and maybe she had kits she was protecting. I told Heidi that if I saw a baby fox I would be bringing it home, especially since I’m up to date on my rabies shots.

Low: I didn’t really have a low, unless you count the dilemma of having to choose only one dish to order.

Wow: In Calumet, Heidi and I parked in front of St. Paul the Apostle Church. We walked up the steps and tried the door, only to find that it was locked. We peeked into the windows at the ornate sanctuary. I silently prayed, “Lord, maybe somebody could let us in…” We turned and started back to the car parked on the deserted street. A guy wearing a baseball hat and black rimmed glasses appeared on the sidewalk from seemingly nowhere and said, “Would you guys like to go in?” We of course said yes and he proceeded to unlock the door. As we looked around inside, we found that Mark was a Flannery O’Connor loving seminary student from Detroit.

I’m always blown away when the Lord provides little surprises along the way.

High, Low, and Wow: Cabin Edition #1

Yesterday I flew to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. I’m staying at a cabin in the woods with my friends Heidi, Chris, and their dogs Agnes and Helga. For the last few years, Heidi and Chris have been spending time in the summer at the cabin which is about a mile from Lake Superior. Since we are spending time together and have limited internet, I am going to post the highlights here.

High: I have been hearing about the cabin from Heidi for several years. She has sent pictures and told me about all the DYI projects she and Chris have undertaken. Everything from the drive, the yard, to the cabin, has been impressive. Last night we sat on the front porch and talked, ate a delicious steak dinner, and then went to see the sunset on Lake Superior. I woke up today and enjoyed my coffee on the front porch surrounded by the quiet forest.

Low: My encounter with the grumpy airport man.

Wow: I had several “wows” yesterday, but the beauty of Lake Superior and the family of deer that we saw on our way blew me away.

Airports and Hair Gel

I think I’m in the minority in that I really enjoy airports. This morning my friends graciously awoke at dark thirty and drove me to the airport. I always struggle to sleep the night before a big trip. I hovered just above sleep as thoughts of airplane crashes and unruly passengers visited and stuck around for awhile.

I exited the van with my suitcase and the snack bag packed by my friend, Pat. I put on a face mask and made a conscious effort to not use foul language at having to wear it, and I scanned my boarding pass. I couldn’t believe how quick and easy the whole process was.

As I made my way to security check in, the familiar excitement of being in an airport swept me up. I equate airports with awaiting travel and unknown adventures. A certain giddiness rises in my chest.

The first agent was very pleasant and we chatted as much as one cares to do at 5:30 am. I quickly moved to the second agent, marveling at how quickly everything was going. I was breezing through this process and couldn’t decide if I would read or write my blog post or peruse the internet for a bit.

Things took a dark turn when I approached the next agent. Clearly not a morning person, he gruffly asked if I had any food or liquids in my bag. I had purchased a water the day before and made sure not to open it- he told me to throw it away in the trash can by my feet. When I didn’t remove my shoes- because I passed a sign that read, “No need to remove….” And shoes were listed, he pointed to a sign and told me to read it. I was taken aback by his rudeness and put my shoes on the belt.

As I waited for my things, my suitcase was detained, and I was called to the side. I watched as my suitcase was opened and I was told my new bottle of hair gel, the 1/4 full bottle of the lotion, and just enough shower gel for the week was all over the limit. I had two options- throw it away or put it in the check bag that I didn’t have. I tried to not sound frustrated as I told her to throw it away; especially because I had been online a few days ago reading the rules of allowed liquid quantities. I considered handing her a twenty to toss in the trash as well since that seemed to be the task of the day.

I was a little huffy as I sulked away sans water and ablution tools. I couldn’t help but wonder how the shaving razor in my carry-on bag was okay, but my hair gel, lotion, and body wash were in danger of taking down the aircraft. Just how sturdy is this plane? Never mind that one look at the size of my hair should be a clue to anyone with eyes how necessary gel is in the daily wrangling.

I felt pretty justified in my irritation. After all it was early, I was slowly suffocating in my mask, I hadn’t slept well, and money had been wasted. I was at a crossroad in my mind. I could dwell on the frustrations- which in the grand scheme of life, what’s the big deal, or I could focus on the fact that I’m in an airport and headed to see friends in a few short hours. So, I adjusted my sails, and went back to enjoying the experience of air travel.

Now the real fun begins as I prepare to board. Hopefully I’m not robbed of anything else along the way.

Parking Lot Friends

I arrived a week lake to college in Alaska in September 1997. I had been a bridesmaid in a wedding in Minnesota and caught a flight to the land of the Midnight Sun on a Sunday afternoon. The previous year I had taken a year off from college to work and was returning to my junior year. I was nervous because the college was very small, and I knew only a few people who still attended.

I landed in Anchorage and was greeted by Connie, the Admissions Counselor who had served as a mentor to me during my sophomore year. We had kept up with each other over the previous year and we chatted cheerfully as we traveled four hours along the winding highway through jagged mountains and the autumn tundra. September in Alaska was the beginning of cooler weather and changing leaves.

Once we arrived at the school, Connie helped unload my belongings and introduced me to my roommate, Rachel. College, like camp, doesn’t follow the rules of time that govern the rest of the world. A week in college can easily feel like two months and it’s difficult to remember life before meeting college friends. I was worried that having missed the first week would mean friendships would be established, and I would be left out in a place that was already shrouded in darkness and isolation. The year that I had spent there before had been a lonely one.

I settled in and attempted to unpack and get caught up on the work I had missed from the first week of classes. It was a school tradition that early in the year, before the snow began to fall, the girls would go on a camping trip to Tangle Lakes which was about a 2 1/2 hours drive from campus. We would pitch our tents and spend the days canoeing, picking blueberries, eating, and talking around a campfire. As we waited in the parking lot to board the van, I remember standing outside in the low autumn sun talking to a redhead from Minnesota named Heidi. I don’t remember our conversation, but I remember laughing and thinking she was really funny and like I had known her my whole life. In that moment I didn’t realize that I was meeting someone who would become a significant person in my life.

From that moment in the parking lot, we’ve been friends.

When we weren’t in class, we sat in the lounge and looked through J. Crew catalogues and talked about how we should try to dress preppy, we stayed up late and ate meals we could make in a hot pot, played dress up with make-up and clothes, and one night I put my hair up in a pony tail and allowed Heidi to cut it off so I could have one of the cool stacked bobs that were popular at that time. It was one of the best haircuts I’ve ever received.

After college we both ended up working at group homes for teenage girls. She was in Michigan, and I was in Southern California. It was nice to be able to commiserate with someone in a similar situation. She came to visit me twice in California, once just to hang out and another time to keep me company while I drove back home. She continued at the group home and returned to college to get her teaching degree, and I moved to Hungary to teach high school. Heidi came to visit me in Hungary, and I joyfully showed her the sights of Budapest, took her to school with me, on a class field trip to the Opera, and to the home of a student where the family attempted to murder us through overfeeding.

I don’t remember how Heidi and I communicated while I was in Hungary. We must have called occasionally, but phone calls were expensive in those days, so I’m guessing we used email and letters. Somehow she knew to bring two thick, white rolls of toilet paper, Listerine mouthwash, and a bag of Doritos. On that trip she told me about a boy she had met. His name was Chris and she thought he was pretty cool, and I was excited for her. A few years later I got to meet Chris, and I was excited for me because he and Heidi got married and I get to call him friend too.

After I moved back to the states, Heidi and I became middle school teachers. We never really talked about it, and we didn’t make a pact, but here we are. It’s nice to talk to my oldest friend- and by oldest I mean person I’ve been friends with the longest- and be able to share about my students and my day and the joys and frustrations and know that she understands because it’s her daily life too.

Over the last several years we have visited each other almost yearly. I’m behind in my visits, but tomorrow I’ll be getting on a plane to visit she and Chris and their dogs, Agnes and Helga, at a cabin in the woods on the shore of Lake Superior and we’ll make some new memories to file away with the old.

The Pool

Sometimes I’ll read a passage or watch a movie and will be struck by something that I find fascinating. I’ll share my excitement with others and often be met with blank, confused stares or the kind smile of a friend trying to understand what the big deal is. It’s always nice to run into someone who gets as excited as I do about whatever it is.

Several years ago I sat in a Bible study with fifteen other women in a crowded church attic space that was always too hot or too cold with low, sloping ceilings. Every week we pulled our chairs in a circle and would discuss what we had read and studied the previous week. This particular Tuesday night, we had read John 5. I was struck by verses 3 and 4 and couldn’t wait to hear what everyone else had to say. John 5:3-4 reads, “In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]

We read over those verses and moved right on along. During discussion I even said, “Does anyone else wonder about this magic healing pool stirred up by an angel’s wing? The mad dash of the sick to be healed? That this was apparently a pretty normal thing?” I was surprised by the head nods and how quickly we went on to the next set of verses.

I wonder if the pool was stirred every few weeks, every month, once a year? Did people know when it was coming or did you just have to lie around and wait? I imagine the scene wasn’t a very happy one- people in pain, hoping to have a friend or relative who will assist in getting in the pool once it’s stirred. Hoping it didn’t occur while using the bathroom, taking or a nap, or while the companion took a leave of absence. Was this something really of the Lord or was it a tradition of a false religion? A person could literally spend years of their life waiting and never receiving healing. I imagine one would be filled with competitiveness and despair.

The whole scene of these verses brings up so many questions for me, but lately I’ve been struck more by Jesus’ actions than by the angel stirring up the healing waters. According to the passage, Jesus was at the pool and saw a man who had been crippled for 38 years. It’s not clear if this was a condition he had from birth or if there had been an accident of some sort, but Jesus approached him and said, “Do you wish to get well?” Jesus approached him. The guy was so focused on an arbitrary stirring of the waters that he didn’t seem to notice the presence of the True Healer.

Jesus asking this question to someone who is lying near a healing pool for who knows how long, seems silly. I imagine if I were in that situation I would respond, “Of course I want to be healed! Why else would I lie around day after day hoping to be the first?” The man’s response doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus then tells the man to do the one thing he is incapable of doing, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Miraculously, he does.

“Do you wish to get well?” That question has lingered in my mind for some time. I suppose for the man, there was some comfort in lying by the pool- albeit probably not preferred. It was predictable, surrounded by a community of others like him, and I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot expected of you. Being made well would mean a whole new way of life. He would no longer identify as being sick or a part of that community. His day to day life would change in every way. He would probably need to get a job or at the very least figure out what to do with his time now that he wasn’t waiting for the waters to stir. His identity would no longer be that of an unwell person.

The answer seems like a no brainer, but I think the reality would be/ is very difficult. Change is hard. Even little changes like giving up drinking soda or choosing to try a new exercise routine. Anything that is outside of the norm throws everything else off.

As a believer, it seems that Jesus is asking this question of His followers, “Do you want to be made well?” He tells us to do exactly what we can’t do on our own: Stop sinning because you are dead to sin (Romans 6:11), change what you think about (Colossians 3:2), don’t worry about anything (Philippians 4:6), and so many other impossible things. Well, impossible if I seek to do this on my own, but completely possible if I depend on Him to provide the power and ability.

Do you want to made well?

Ballad Sunday #1: Rounder

While washing dishes at camp last week I was subjected to listening to what I consider some really terrible music. I don’t consider myself a music snob; I can appreciate songs from different genres- except for most rap music- and sometimes I can’t even verbalize why I do or do not like a certain song.

While cleaning up we listened to a lot of Disney, which I enjoyed. There was even a little bit of praise and worship that I was okay listening to. “My Best Friend’s Brother” or BFB as the song repeated over and over and over again in the chorus was not a favorite. After the 12th time hearing it, I finally said out loud, “This song is the literal worst!” The teenagers in the room, which was everyone except me, gave me the look that adults receive when they make a particularly adulty comment.

Every night, after clean-up chores were complete, we had a time of worship together. I really have a difficult time with most new praise and worship songs. One night I did stop in the middle of singing a worship song I had never heard before and thought, “Man, this song stinks. I hate this.” This was after we repeated the same meaningless phrase 40,000 times. For the remainder of the song I questioned if it was appropriate to use the word, “hate” when expressing my feelings about the song and to dwell on how vapid the lyrics of the song are when you are supposed to be worshipping. I decided it was okay since the song didn’t inspire any worship of the Creator and merely repeated a phrase that appeared to be intended to only get the worshipper excited about themselves. This is a constant internal conversation I have with myself and most modern worship songs.

One afternoon, as I washed the 90th pan of the day, I thought about my favorite songs and genres of music. I really like ballads, which I think comes from my appreciation for stories. Merriam-Webster defines a ballad as, “a narrative composition in rhythmic verse suitable for singing.” I like music and I like stories so a ballad is the perfect marriage of mediums. While washing those pans I had the idea to share some of my favorite ballads here. So, for the next few weeks, or however long it takes for me to run out of my favorite ballads, I’m going to share one every Sunday.

This week, the ballad is called, “Rounder” by the band formally know as Mandolin Orange (they recently changed their name to Watchhouse). You can listen to it here: Rounder

I'm just a lonesome old rounder
Never meant to hurt no one
But some flames are hard to simmer
I wore my pride on my bad side
And on the other get my hand close by the trigger
Some folks are guided by the weight of their tongues
But we all fall silent at the end of a gun
And now I'm just a lonesome old rounder
With a number for my name and a rope to haunt my dreams
They're going to hang me boys from a tall, tall tree
Those demons they'll be the death of me
Some folks are guided by some light of the Lord
But me, I was blinded, and I'll never afford
My salvation
I'm just a lonesome old rounder
Darkness grows and then it's gone
And at the end of this lonely road
Those deeds you've done, say you'll never go home
Some folks are guided by the love they share
But darkness called and left me unaware
And now I'm just a lonesome old rounder
But the few last words and one last meal
They're going to hang me boys come the morning light
When darkness smiles and all is still
All is still

-Rounder by Mandolin Orange

I’ve listened to this song a lot and each time it brings with it a certain sadness. I am always reminded of the rounders I know who have succumbed to evil and now must live with the consequences of their choices. Although none are facing a literal noose, many are trapped in darkness and no longer see hope for the future, but only disappointment, death and decay. I think of the rounder in this song, and I want to somehow enter in and tell him that even with the looming noose, there is hope and forgiveness and redemption in the person of Jesus Christ; that all hope is not lost and there is no need to afford your own salvation because it’s a free gift. I want to do that for all the real rounders that I know, too.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 6

This past week I’ve been writing a reflection of the previous day using, “High, Low, and Wow”. This will be the final day of those reflections since camp ended yesterday. Although the week is over, I have come to believe that it is a good practice to think through a day’s highs, lows, and wows. It fits nicely with my normal life as a teacher because we are instructed to daily reflect on lessons to see what needs to be changed, kept the same, or thrown out entirely and that has proven helpful over the years.

High: This whole week I have ended up at what is called, ‘Three Sink’ in the camp kitchen. The name is not too difficult to decipher- it’s three sinks, the first sink is filled with hot water and detergent, the second is plain water for rinsing, and the third is filled with water and bleach for sanitizing. The campers hated working three sink, but I didn’t mind doing it. That’s how I ended up doing it three times a day for four days. My hands are destroyed and look a shade lighter than the rest of me. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost a few layers of hand skin.

Since all the campers were waiting in the gym for their parents and the kitchen was officially closed for the week, we did a deep clean in the kitchen. This meant that I needed to wash about 50 large baking pans, 12 hood vents, and various bowls, measuring cups, and utensils. The only thing that I didn’t like washing were the hood vents because they were caked with gunky built-up black grease. I used about half a bottle of dish detergent and 12 sponges in an attempt to remove the grease. I’m not sure what type of grease it was, but once it got on my hands they became water resistant and nearly impossible to get clean. Why is this my high for the day? Mostly because I don’t have to be at three sink ever again. Well, unless I decide to work at camp again next year, but surely by that point I’ll have gotten the layer of grease off my hands and have regrown my skin.

Low: It is always difficult for me to say goodbye and yesterday was no exception. I really enjoyed getting to spend time with former students and meeting new teenagers. As a teacher I come in contact with students who are struggling in many ways and the future seems bleak; however, this week I met teenagers who are truly amazing people and if they continue to follow Jesus they will make a difference in our world. Saying goodbye and knowing that it is difficult to keep up with people once everyone gets back to real life is never a happy time.

Wow: Once I was home, had unpacked, thrown clothes in the wash, taken a nap, and had settled on the couch, I picked up my Bible to read a bit. As I was reading, I had nagging thoughts about checking on my airline ticket for my upcoming trip this week. I finally pulled up the website where I had purchased my ticket last February. I discovered that instead of coming in on Sunday like I had thought, I was scheduled to come home on Monday. This wouldn’t be an issue except that I have friends picking me up on Sunday, and I have to be at work on Monday at 2:00 pm.

My flight was scheduled to arrive at 1:15 pm on Monday afternoon and the airport is 2 hours from my school. I don’t mind missing work, especially because I think it’s ridiculous to start school in July, but I have an assigned position and didn’t want to have to explain to my principal that I would be missing the first day of the work year. It also wouldn’t hurt my feelings to stay an extra day with Heidi and Chris, but I also didn’t know if I would wreck the schedule of my friends who are picking me up. I had a little bit of a mess on my hands.

As panic started rising up in my chest, I noticed a message at the top of the page that stated, “You are permitted one free flight change. Click here.” I clicked and was easily able to change my flight to the correct day and same arrival time at no additional cost. Huzzah! This is a wow because I was thankful to the Lord for the the mental prompting to check on my ticket and for a quick, easy solution to my mess up.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 5

High: I’ve always liked having jobs that kept me busy. I’ve worked in restaurants, a daycare, as a hotel maid, and in a lot of other positions. The jobs I have liked most were fast paced, provided some time to talk with and get to know coworkers, and allowed me to work with my hands. I did not enjoy working at a boys’ lockdown facility because for 8 hours I monitored camera and opened doors for people from a control panel. Even when working with the boys we pretty much sat around and waited for their bedtime. Those 8 hours always felt like an eternity. I felt the same when working in a call center. I wore a headset and waited for the phone to ring, then I would pull up the customer information on the computer, answer a few questions, and then wait for another call. It was mind numbing and I discovered there is a limit to how often you can clean and organize a desk in one shift.

This is why I love camp. No matter the time of day, there are always a myriad of jobs that need completing. In all my years of camp I’ve found people with which I enjoy working. We are always able to either discuss the hard things about life or laugh about the silly things. Songs are spontaneously created and sung, new dances are danced, and puns fly around haphazardly all while scrubbing baked egg from a pan or sweeping the floor.

So, my high yesterday was just simply enjoying the camp environment.

Low: I frequently struggle to believe that I’m 45 years old because I feel like I’m in my twenties. That is until I’m around people in their teens and early twenties- then I realize that I’m most definitely NOT that age anymore.

So many things have made me feel old this week: I have kept my morning routine of getting up at 6, drinking coffee, and reading even after the late nights. Most of them get up about 3 minutes before we have to be somewhere. I need time to transition into the next activity- that wasn’t a thing when I was 20. I could also run on 2 hours of sleep and that’s most definitely not a thing now.

I am constantly asking, “Were you speaking a foreign language? What does that even mean?” as they use their teenage speak. I knew middle school children had their own language, but didn’t realize that they learn a new language when they go to high school and college.

My energy level is way lower than theirs. From the moment their eyes pop open they are running full speed, talking, fooling around, playing practical jokes, and plotting the next activity. As I finally catch up from lagging behind, they are moving on to the next thing. At this age all I need for entertainment is a comfy chair, strong coffee, and good conversation. But I’ve made an attempt to be involved as much as an old person can when stepping into a teenagers’ world.

Wow: Because of our early morning today, we had an indoor campfire last night. We crowded around a mock fire which was created by placing a hard plastic reusable water bottle over a light source. Last night we had a blue water bottle on a flashlight. The room was washed in a soft blue light and One of the counselors said, “Oh, this is so pretty. I feel like I’m in one of those museums of fish.” To which someone quipped, “you mean an aquarium?”

High, Low, and Wow: Day 4

Wednesdays at camp are always the most difficult. The jobs and projects remain the same, but I typically find all the late nights and early mornings catch up with me on Wednesday, and I struggle to function. Yesterday was no exception.

High: Last night we went to the pool and played the game, ‘Spoons’. Someone had brought waterproof cards and the spoons were thrown into the pool. The first person to get a four of a kind jumped in the pool- then everyone else followed- in the hopes of finding one of the spoons that had been thrown in the water. The kids had so much fun that it made my day just to watch them. They have really bonded as a group and that has been fun to watch.

Low: I woke up tired, and for a good portion of the day I wanted to sneak away to my bed and have a nap. I didn’t because I didn’t want to be labeled the slacker, so I pushed through and drank a little more coffee. In the afternoon we went to the park and ate ice cream and that helped revive me. Thank goodness for salted caramel ice cream.

Wow: I have had such a good time with my former students. I’ve told them repeatedly that they can call me, “Audrey,” but they say that’s impossible and still call me, Ms. K. Now the other campers call me that as well.

Lydia was in my class three years ago. We have spent a lot of time working together this week. I had forgotten how funny she is. As we were headed to dinner yesterday she reminded me of a day a few years ago that she invited some male students to our girls’ after-school Bible study. You must understand that Lydia is a petite, blond hair blue-eyed girl with a very sweet voice. During the Bible study the topic of lobsters came up (I don’t think lobsters are mentioned in the Bible, but it was middle school, so…). In the middle of the conversation, Lydia misspoke and said, “I kissed a lobster once at Wyldlife Club. I kissed his little testicles.” I quickly said, “I think you meant tentacles.” She looked at me quizzically, suddenly understood what she had said, and her face turned bright red. She was mortified. Her best friend and I helped the situation by laughing uncontrollably. The boys never came back to Bible study. Until yesterday, I had forgotten that story so I spent a good portion of the evening laughing again.

Today is our last full day. I can’t believe how quickly the week has passed.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 3

Working at summer camp is no joke. Since Sunday I have swept more floors, scrubbed more pots, pulled more weeds, and broken down more boxes than I have in the last three years combined. According to my watch, I typically have about 11,000 steps by lunch. In my real life, I’m lucky to get 10,000 steps in an entire day. At the end of the working day we all walk to the cabin and melt into the furniture. Teenagers recover a little more quickly than I do, but after a small rest we fear of for worship, a message, and a group activity. We are in bed by 11:30 with no protests.

Yesterday’s high: Last night we played a game called, “Moose, Moose.” It would be difficult to explain here, but anytime you are in a room full of people cry laughing it is a good time. The thing I enjoyed most about this game was witnessing a boy who appeared to be shy and a little backward at the first of the week, really come out of his shell and engage fully with everyone else. My face hurts a little from laughing so much.

Low: We have a about an hour free time time in the afternoon. Beforehand we had been raking leaves, moving rocks, and pulling weeds in the hot sun for a couple of hours. I’m in the middle of a rather long board game with a couple of campers and a staff member, and I decided I would get an ice cream at the pool before starting the game back up. I stood in line and ordered a Big Alaska, which is very much a Klondike Bar. As I was waiting a 10-year-old male camper said, “You are going to have to eat that fast because it melts almost instantly. If you want to eat your ice cream slowly, you should have ordered an ice cream sandwich.” I enjoyed this bit of wisdom, but didn’t put a lot of stock in it since I’m older and have a lot of experience with ice cream eating. Seconds later as I had ice cream running down my arm and struggled to eat quickly and yet avoid an ice cream headache, I realized I should have listened to the sage advice of the young ice cream wizard. Next time I’ll go for the ice cream sandwich.

Wow: As I walked to the Cabana to get my ice cream, I was struck by what a wonderful place summer camp is. We are surrounded by beautiful mountains and as I walked from my cabin to the pool I heard the sounds of kids squealing with delight as they played pool volleyball, laughter permeated the atmosphere from the sandpit water balloon volleyball game, and conversations floated through the air all around. I would describe the whole scene as joyful. And that’s just the kind of place that so many kids need these days.

High, Low, and Wow: Day 2

The camp I’m working at has a discipleship week for high school students. In addition to campfires, morning devotions, and camp games, we are responsible for setting out and cleaning up meals, cleaning dorms, and general camp projects. Yesterday we worked hard. I love the feeling of sitting down at night after a day’s work. It’s very satisfying.

High: As I worked alongside the campers washing dishes, setting tables, raking, and rebuilding the rock barrier of a flower bed I was able to get to know many of them. I’m a bit of a dreamer and often find myself thinking of what other careers I might like to try. I have about 70 things on my list. Students who are either on the cusp of graduating high school or college have a certain air of excitement and anticipation of the future that is contagious. I remember around the time I was graduating college I had the thought, “Wow- life is really wide-open- I could do anything and end up anywhere.” I haven’t really lost that feeling because with the Lord, I could end up anywhere doing anything. I loved spending yesterday hearing their dreams and varied interests.

Low: I did not enjoying digging huge rocks out of the ground and finding a nest of frenzied ants and their eggs. I’m not a fan of large quantities of things- especially if they are crawling all over each other. Disgusting.

Wow: At breakfast I looked up and made eye contact with two more students who are here serving as junior counselors for the other camp that is here. It was fun to chat with them and find out how they are doing. They were super surprised to see me here. I offered to do a few English lessons during free time, but they graciously turned down the offer.