Friday, October 15, 2010

My Life in Seven Stories

Life is like a patchwork quilt, with experiences being stitched together to create the quilt as a whole. Here is a small part of my life’s quilt.

The Green Sheet
The Green Sheet was the 4-page comic strip section of the Milwaukee Journals when I was a child. Before I could read, I would be able to find the Green Sheet in the stack of news and pull it out before my parents would read the events of the day. Lying in the sunshine on the floor of the living room, I would follow the panels and try to figure out the story. But, I couldn't read the words. I would ask my older brother, but he wouldn't be interested in reading to me. When my dad was home on Saturdays, he would sit in the arm chair and read to me. Although I loved the comfort of being on my dad's lap, I couldn't wait to be able to read the comics to myself. To this day, Dad and I continue to discuss Prince Valiant, even when hundreds of miles apart.

Being a farm girl, I would sometime invite my friends to a sleepover in the hay mow of the barn. It was filled with the scent of fresh cut alfalfa and the chirp of crickets. Yet, one night, it was punctured by the bleat of a lost kitten. In the light of day, my brother and I searched the loft until we found a very small, very lost kitten – all white except for his gray tail and one gray ear. Fitting in one hand, we carried him home and pleaded with our parents to allow us to keep him – in the house. After several days of bottle feeding and mid-night comforting, it seemed the poor creature would live. Like many other rescued animals before him, he became Lucky and part of our household for 18 years. Furry critters remain an important part of my life with my shetland sheepdog, Rasa, and as a Feline Friend at the humane society.

Where the Buffalo Roam
One of the stereo-typical family trips for Mid-westerners is a car trip out to the Blackhills of South Dakota, with a stops at Wall Drugs, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Custer State Park. After years of hearing about the massive herds of the majestic American bison, I was determined to be in the midst of the herd. My family drove around the park for three hours, but couldn't find a single buffalo – nor did we see any for the entire 7-day trip. Once home, my mother wrote to the tourism board and requested a small buffalo stuffed animal to fulfill my desire for a Dakotan buffalo. Hence, my obsession with the American bison – the symbol of abundance – and I have been abundantly blessed.

My First Classroom
My first team meeting was frightening. One teacher told me he was just hoping to survive the two years before retirement. Another told me I was hired because I was in the army and therefore would bring discipline to my classroom. The third one told me she was very happy with what she was doing and didn't want to change anything – all the new technology seemed a waste of time. Like many first year teachers, I had dreams of changing the world and making a difference in the lives of the children - this wasn't the way it was supposed to go. I faced a very traditional school and curriculum and choose to make small changes, such as purchasing a class set of novels and approaching my team about doing some interdisciplinary work. I exchanged classes with the science teacher and taught his least favorite unit – rocks and minerals. He taught his favorite story to my English classes – “Rip Van Winkle”. The other team saw some of the unique lessons we were doing and decided to try some new things too. I learned that leadership and change didn't need to come from mandates, but rather from strong relationships with colleagues and a focus on student learning.

I'm a Medic. I can help.
A passenger airplane crashed in a corn field in Wisconsin and I was part of the team called to triage the injured. The scene was chaotic and scary – even knowing it was a training exercise. People cried out in pain and their moulage makeup wept bright red blood and certainly looked real. The fast pace of making potentially life altering decisions was both exhilarating and sobering and I liked it. As a medic in the Army National Guard, I not only learned medical skills but confidence and resilience.

Road Trip in Brazil
Part of the thrill of being an international teacher is the chance to live in a different country and see the things only locals tend to see. The Itiquira Waterfall was just a few hours north of Brasilia, Brazil, yet few non-Brazilian have the opportunity to see it. My husband and I had been teaching at the American school for just over a year when a group of friends decided to take a road-trip to the Falls. We packed a cooler full of sandwiches and homemade brownies (as ready made foods were not available) and made the trek to the largest free falling waterfall in Brazil. The roar of the falls could be heard before the entrance of the park. The rainbows generated by the spray was not damped by the chilliness of the water. Although there were many challenges living overseas, both personally and professionally, experiences like this highlight the reason I choose the adventure.

Connection to the Past
“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it." - Winston Churchill

When other kids spent their summer vacations swimming or going to the park, I spent it at museums, historic sites or reading about the Ancient Egyptians or inspirational historic women such as Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Elizabeth Blackwell and Sacagawea. Growing up in my family meant growing up immersed in stories of the past – family, local, state, nation and the world's stories. Oral histories gave flesh to the written histories I read. I've walked the school aisle where Clara Barton first taught. I've crept through the dark corridors of the Giza Pyramids to the sarcophagus of the kings. I've knelt in the battlefield of Gettysburg which ran red with the blood of the soldiers. These tangible remnants of the past inspire me to remember the lessons of the past, treasure my present moments and think deeply about the future.

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