Thursday, September 21, 2017

I'm out of snappy titles...so this will have to do...

There are so many things that I see on a weekly basis that make me want to write a quick blog, but then life gets away from me and busy days happen and suddenly another month has gone by and you've heard nothing from me.  It's amazing to me how many wonderful and beautiful things I see that I don't share, but give me a whopper of a bad day and the words just flow.  Apparently I use this blog as a sort of therapy.  Great.  Sorry world!

Today, I'm not writing from that place of frustration or processing, though. I'm just writing.

The school year is officially in full swing, with mid-quarter reports emailed home and parent meetings sprinkled throughout my schedule.  It's the season of figuring out if we started well and actually having time to write (and maybe even check off a few items on) a to-do list.  It's the season of going deep with students and tackling issues that seem to be on a theme and variations loop. And it's the season of people beginning to think about next year and change and options.

Don't worry, I'm not thinking about change.  I'm actually really thinking about consistency.

That's a word that I've been marinating on quite a bit lately.

Consistent
  • unchanging in nature, standard, or effect over time.
  • compatible or in agreement with something.
  • (Thank you Google!)

What does it mean for me, Bekah, to be consistent?  How does that look? Is it possible?  For the past five years, I've been a consistent resident of Chengdu.  Compatible.  Unchanging over time. I've consistently gotten up each morning and gone to work (save a few sick days sprinkled here and there). I've consistently chatted with students and gotten to know their families.  My life here somehow shifted from an experiment of sorts in consistency to an actual constant in my life.  The variable is no longer if this is home. It's home (well, one of them). I've had a consistent view from my living room window for more than three years.  I've had consistent places that I go to think or enjoy the world around me. Chengdu and I are compatible, in agreement, and [relatively] unchanging over time.

How on earth did that happen?!?!?

Okay, this so wasn't where I thought my thoughts would take me.  Go figure...

...squirrel...

Anywhosiers, another word I've been marinating on quite a bit lately is 'why.' When a students is acting out at school, I want to know why. When a friend is seeming more distant (or more engaged) than usual, I want to know why. When things aren't going quite right, I want to know why. When I'm in a funk, I want to know why.

We don't always get to know the answer to that, though.

But still I want to know.

I like knowing.  It feels somehow...safer? ...more comfortable?

Consistency and why don't always go hand in hand, but today I'm going to leave you with that and call it a night.

Besides, my pizza just got here. :)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Busyness vs. Pondering

I'm finding that while being busy can sometimes be overwhelming, that's not where my biggest issues shine through. I tend to thrive on busy. Chaos drives me crazy and yet invigorates me. Let's face it, I like to be needed. (My friends who try to work themselves out of a job are operating so far from my comfort zone...if that was my plan I would have to have a new job lined up to eventually work myself out of before even considering working myself out of a current job.) This is a flaw and a shortcoming that I am very aware of. Jesus and I are having some talks...all will be well...I guess...

My problem (apart from all of the above...) is that when I'm not busy I think. And thinking makes me remember. And remembering makes me break. I can spend an evening surrounded by friends and so thankful for the people that I do have, and as soon as they are gone I crumble into a puddle of tears because of who is missing.

A favorite children's book of mine has always been "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster. If you haven't read it and have an upper elementary kid that you love, read it together and get lost in the land that Juster created. I used to want to move there...but I digress.  Today, I was chatting with one of my 7th graders about how you can tell a lot about a book by the first page, and then I proceeded to read her the first page of The Phantom Tollbooth. (Bear with me...I swear I have a point.) As I finished reading, she asked if she could go to the library to check it out.  I love hooking kids on books that I've been hooked on...sharing worlds with them that I love.  Let me share that first page with you here:

Chapter 1. Milo
There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.
When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested him — least of all the things that should have.
"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," he remarked one day as he walked dejectedly home from school. "I can't see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February." And, since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all.

As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty.
"And worst of all," he continued sadly, "there's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing." He punctuated this last thought with such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family.
Until today, I've never read the book thinking that I could at all relate to Milo. I've always thought that I am more like Tock or the Mathemagician or the Which Witch...someone who was a part of the story to help him learn because they already had been through it. I always thought of myself as somewhat who is guiding others through to the other side of the doldrums, making like exciting and helping them see the hope.

But right now, I feel more like Milo.

"As he and his unhappy thoughts hurried along (for while he was never anxious to be where he was going, he liked to get there as quickly as possible) it seemed a great wonder that the world, which was so large, could sometimes feel so small and empty."

Thankfully I'm not in a 24/7 Milo state, but there are days (or really more like moments) where I get lost in the emptiness and frustration. Times where I don't care to know where somewhere is or why it is the way it is.

And maybe this is why I've allowed myself to get back so comfortably into the rut of busyness. When I'm busy I forget that I'm in the doldrums...I work myself up to a speed where I can plaster back on my happy face and go about business as expected.  And there are benefits to this, for sure.

But maybe it's time to slow down. To let some of the sorrow out. To mourn. To cry. To let some new ideas form and new joys materialize.

That said, I also don't want to be someone who is known to let out "such a deep sigh that a house sparrow singing nearby stopped and rushed home to be with his family." May that never be said of me...

For now, I'm going to reread an old favorite...I'll let my brain process tomorrow...maybe...

Friday, July 28, 2017

When the city's away...

We've been talking a lot in the last few days about TV streaming.  I know, it's strange...bear with me for a minute while I take you down the progression that is internet in China.

This is the land of technology.  I use my cell phone to pay for everything.  The doctor, the pizza delivery, the eggs and flour at the corner store for cookies, Starbucks, fruit from the fruit cart outside the gate....everything.  When I went on a walk the other day, I almost forgot my keys because I knew I had my cell phone with me and that was everything I needed. (WRONG! I do need keys. Important life lesson, friends.)

Buses have wifi, cell signals work in the metro...life here is all about technology.

But the internet, it is slow.  Sooooo slow. Not dial-up-connections-from-2005-in-Ethiopia slow, but certainly not as fast as we've become accustomed to in 2017.

This week, however, it has been fast.

And I have been making the MOST of it.

Now that basically means I've been watching a lot of TV, but come on...it's summer.  Give a girl a break.

Tonight a few friends came over for pizza from our favorite delivery place and games. Goodness gracious it was a good time.  We laughed, oh how we laughed...we talked...we played...and we laughed some more.

And somehow we got on the topic of how fast the internet has been.  It's been so fast that we've been able to watch TV shows without much buffering.  So fast that you can watch said TV shows at any time, day or night.

And that just doesn't usually happen.

But everyone is on vacation...at least the people with kids seem to be since school is out for July and August.  Our theory is that each building/neighborhood gets a certain amount of bandwidth for the interweb (Corner Gas, anyone?), and if everyone is using it, it is s-l-o-w.  So slow.  But right now, with people gone, there's more for my streaming pleasure...and it's quick as lightening.  When they all come back for school to start, I have a feeling we won't be so lucky...

I know, I know...I'm rambling.  And what's worse, I'm rambling about nothing of consequence.

Just wanted to justify still being up at midnight.  There, I did it.  Now I shall sleep...or watch another episode...or sleep. The internet will still be fast tomorrow.  Hopefully...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer Travels, 2017 Style

Sometimes I feel like traveling across oceans is a bit like traveling between worlds.  Last week at this time, I was with my parents back in Auburn, probably watching the Tour de France and drinking our mandatory morning coffee.  Today, I'm sitting on my bed in Chengdu, feeling utterly exhausted after a day of sorting through the bins that have been hiding and collecting dust under my bed.

Several hours (and several garbage bags full of junk) later the floor is vacuumed, bins are cleaned and organized, and I'm feeling rather accomplished.  It's amazing to think that I've been here long enough to accumulate this much stuff.  Some of the treasures that I found today included notes from my students from my first birthday in China, my gym membership card from that first year, dozens of receipts for a plethora of things (they said to save receipts...they never said when I could throw them away...), and oh so many memories. I saved a few notes and all of the necessary supplies that I seem to hoard from trips to the US, but otherwise it's now in bags ready to go far far away.

Back to the between worlds idea...

My summer travels this year were once again a whirlwind.  I started the break with a week in Kansas City with my #roommateatadistance, Sarah, and her husband.  We talked the week away, reminiscing and thinking out loud, as we so often have in the past.  Being with them was a respite for me after a year of challenges and unknowns.  It was a great way to start the summer journeys.

From there, I went to New York for New Staff Orientation, an opportunity to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones.  It's been 5 years since I was at NSO, and it was such a sweet time of thinking back to how much I've grown and changed, while being excited for the journey ahead of our new teammates and friends.  This was another quick trip, and after 3 days I was off, once again.

The next two weeks were spent at Liberty University in intensives classes for the Ed.S. program that I am in.  It may seem obvious to some, but intensives classes are...wait for it...intense.  I was in class from 8:30 to 5:30 each day (with a lunch break...don't worry!) and had projects and homework to hone in on each night.  I lived in the dorms and had a different roommate every week as well.  It was quite the experience.  My professors were incredible, though, and I connected with some classmates that I'm sure I will see again some day.  The weekend between classes, I was also able to spend some time with two friends from high school days.  It was a jam-packed, wonderful two weeks.

I flew back to Seattle that Friday night and my parents were at the airport to greet me.  It's been a while since we were back in the same state at the same time during a summer holiday, and I was so thankful for time with them without too much unnecessary craziness.  We shared at our home fellowship, drove across to see my Aunt and Uncle, and of course stopped at our favorite bakery along the way.  I wish we were in the same place more often, but I will take what I can get and am so grateful for it!

And now, it's back to business as usual, with days spent at school and evening spent watching the traffic go by from my 27th floor apartment.

My usual is so unusual, but I love it...although sometimes I forget just where I am or how long I'll be there.

I'm thankful to be home in the Du, where I can put my feet up and stay a while.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

One last hold out...

I've always had a problem with stuff.  I like it.  I accumulate it.  I hold onto it in the off chance that it might some day be useful.

One summer when we came back to the States for a few months.  I think it was 2002. We had been in Ethiopia for a few years, and in those years I had lost a considerable amount of weight. Everything was baggy, and while it may have been cool at some point in the 90s it wasn't quite so great in 2002.  Nevertheless, I felt the need to buy a belt for some of my older clothes, just in case (new clothes were also bought, don't worry).

I remember the hunt for the perfect belt.  Not too thick, not too thin..couldn't be colorful...had to go with everything.

And then I saw it.



Sure, it was in the men's section at Walmart, but it was simple and sturdy and just what I wanted.

I loved that it had all of these fancy little holes, so it would always be adjustable.


I'm pretty sure it was the most practical purchase I have ever made.

And I wore it, almost every day for a while there.

I would try out other belts, but they were not quite right.  Too colorful...too flashy...too thin. There was always something wrong with them.

And so, I stuck with old faithful.

In fact, I've worn it at least once a week since 2002. That's 15 years with the same belt.

Now at this point in the post, I'm sure you are completely and totally confused as to why the heck I would write such a long post about something so simple.

Well...

Today, old faithful has failed me. All the years of wear and tear and life on 3 continents finally did it in.


And I'm honestly a bit (maybe a bit more than a bit, but not too much more) sad.

I know, I know...it's just a belt.  But it's officially the last piece of clothing/accessory that I've had since I was in Ethiopia or Kenya.

The last hold out of little old high school me.

And you know that I'm someone that likes to grieve and hold on to memories.

I guess I need to add a belt to my summer shopping list.  That new belt has no idea what it's up against...

Monday, June 12, 2017

Slow down - Part 2 (Because I didn't actually listen to myself from Part 1...)

I had big plans for today. In fact, I even considered writing down my to-do list for the day so that I could have the satisfaction of checking off everything on it as I accomplished all that I needed to before flying out in the morning.

And then I was silly and decided to take out the trash on my way out the door to work...and my back did something and then decided it didn't like movement anymore.

I was sure that it would be fine in thirty minutes...then positive that in an hour all would be well.  Well, it's been 2 and all is not well.  Moving hurts. Staying still hurts.  Life hurts.

But I had a to-do list!  I have things to accomplish and people to see and places to go.

And yet here I sit/lay (depending on the 20 minute interval), annoyed and stuck and motionless.

All of you that know me well, you probably are shaking your head and saying "I told you you needed to take a break, Bek.  Here it is.  Enjoy it!"  Thank you for your sentiment, but I refuse (or at least I want to refuse)!

I'm not a sit still kind of person. I'm not a get hurt and don't move kind of person.  I have a list.  I have a place. I have things that need to be done.

And yet, here I sit/lay. Stuck.

Nothing deep or profound to add to that now (the meds are finally kicking in), but those of you that wanted me to get some rest, be happy...I'm getting it.  Now to try to be in one piece for my flights tomorrow...eek...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Staying

It's not as easy as it seems
To not pack
To not fly
To not leave

There is comfort in the familiar
Ease in the neighborhood
Beauty in the traffic
And even in the chaos

Yet there is emptiness
In the fullness of the suitcases
The rooms echo
And the treasures have new homes

And you live to see it
Because you stayed
It's not your time
The seasons haven't changed for you

The world keeps spinning
The coffee keeps dripping 
The students keep coming
But the new normal has yet to set in

And suddenly, it seems like it's been years
Like they've been gone for centuries
And people have forgotten their names
But you haven't

Staying. 
Not a permanent act
But for now its reality
And tears are accepted

Goodbyes seem easier when you get on a plane
When you escape to an alternate universe
Where no one knows their names
Only you

The streets sound different today
The clouds seem grayer
The mountains further away
And yet, you stayed

Friday, June 9, 2017

Last Day of School

Today marks the end of my 8th year in education.

8 years of first days of school and last days of school. Of lesson plans and grading and teaching and energizing.

8 years of crying on the last day as students leave...I'm just a wee bit sentimental and think about the goodbyes and the hellos and the paths in front of them.

Today also marks the end of a first year for me.  My first year as a principal. First year in administration. First year not having a classroom to call my own.

And the closing of the chapter that today marks feels unlike any closing before.

In teaching, the finals get marked, the yearbooks get signed, the students leave, and there's a massive sigh of relief.  You did it. You made it. It's over.  Bring on summer!

In admin, I'm still waiting for that sigh.

Sure, the year is over.  We made it, physically and emotionally, through what has been a year of high highs and oh so low lows. 2016-2017 is finished...

...and on Monday I have a meeting to start getting 2017-2018 ready to go.

I love that we are ready to get going with it, don't get me wrong. But my brain is already aware that it needs to get in gear for August 15th when new students will be on campus.

That's life in the principal's chair...check one year off the to-do list and get the new sticky-note out for the next.



The last two days have been filled with sweet times and celebrations of people that I love dearly, so bear with me as I celebrate some of them here...

Denise. She was there at the airport when I first landed in Chengdu five years ago and has been a friend and source of joy ever since. Her family is one of the coolest I've ever known and I'm so excited to see what lies around the next bend for them. They will be oh so missed.

Stephanie and her family lived in Chengdu for a good portion of my first two years here in Chengdu and I had the honor of teaching her oldest during that season. They've lived in the Chinese equivalent of Hawaii for the last few years and I had the privilege of spending Thanksgiving there with them a few years ago. So neat having some time to catch up while they were in town for graduation.

These two.  Alison and Tammi. They are kind of the best. Alison and I will spend more time together than ever next year. Tammi and her family will be moving on to new adventures.  Oh how I will miss her unshakable love for the people around her...and her incredible family. They have the gift of grafting people in to their circle without batting an eyelash....they are amazing!

This girl, the one and only Chairwoman, Hannah. She is a lover of life and China and learning.  She's been an inspiration to me and I'm so thankful that I have been able to be a part of her educational journey. She is going to change the world...just you wait!

This team has been a rock for me this year. They are the place to bounce around crazy new ideas, to get perspective on tough situations, and to let loose every now and then when we are feeling the pressure of the positions. They have all taught me so much this year...I survived and thrived because of them!

And then there's Brian. High school principal extraordinaire. My brother and my friend. He used to be the one playing jokes on the world...this year his office has been a steady location of fake cockroaches, random items hidden in random places, and this scene (whatever it is...). It has also been the place where many a conversation has occurred, about life, thinking, endurance, and faith. He is someone who can snap me out of overthinking the tasks at hand and remind me that having fun is okay, too. We moved to China at the same time and stepped into leadership at the same time...it's been a great journey and he and his family will be missed deeply.


I'm grateful for the community that I am blessed to be a part of in Chengdu....they are kind of the best! Sure, we're not perfect, but somehow in all of our imperfection it all turns out alright. He is good!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

June: Another Side of It

It's the last week of school, and I just threw out my March to-do list.

All year, we've been saying how quickly June would be here, and now it is.  And man oh man it's not a moment too soon, but oh how I wish it could be a few months away.

I've shared a few times how June (really May and June, I guess) is the worst month in the expat world...so many goodbyes and so many tears.

But let me share a few little fun realities that are also a part of my Junes in Chengdu...

1 - Gorgeous Weather
I love this time of year.  There's a bit of rain, a bit of smog, but oh so many more blue-sky days than normal.  On Monday morning, you could actually see the mountains!  (Which of course made my heart sing.

2 - Lots and lots and lots of goodbye/birthday/end-of-year parties


The weekend was filled with end of year parties, KTV nights, goodbye parties, and birthday parties. My friend Christine and I were at four parties together...on the same weekend!  We had to take a picture...of course it was at the very end of the fourth one on Sunday night, but we documented it!

3 - Amazing amounts of coffee


My favorite cold coffees have new packaging.  That means I'm drinking even more coffee than usual.  My favorite corner store also has new frozen coffee drinks.  I'm very quickly becoming addicted.  It's going to be a good summer.

4 - Intentional time with friends
Whether people are staying or going, June is about quality time.  I spend far more time out with friends in the last few weeks of school then I do contemplating the meaning of life on my couch.  I'm so thankful for amazing friends that build me up, make me think, and bring the laughter with them!

5 - My doorway looking like I'm having a party...
I get really indecisive in June when I'm on my way to school.  This is 2 days worth of shoe decisions.  Mornings have been rough, okay?

6 - Not being so organized...
I got the most organized award at our end of year banquet.  I found it comical that the award was placed on top of my wreck of a desk today.  *sigh* June is not the month where my organizational skills are very visible, but many a schedule is made :)


Only 2.5 days left before the year is over and summer begins.  We can do this...hopefully! :)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Silver Linings Do Exist


Today was a good day, and when a good day comes along I think I need to start writing something down, because Lord knows I need to be able to look back and be reminded of the good when the bad starts invading again. 

Unlike friends in the US, we had school today but won't tomorrow. (Memorial Day isn't a holiday here, but Dragon Boat Festival is and so we have that day off in a slightly different spot than our North American friends.) That meant modified schedules and a few unusual meetings for a Monday. It worked out okay...a normal, busy day in the office. 

Tonight, though, was that silver lining.

Some friends had a thank you fire with s'mores up on their rooftop. They invited all of their children's teachers and made an evening of it, with more sugar and conversation than I've had in a while. 

 

Of course dinner was necessary beforehand, and rather than go do my homework while eating noodles (my original plan) I wound up checking out a new restaurant with two friends before s'more time. (We also are addicted to frozen coffees at our corner store.  I've know about them for 4 days and so far have stayed steady at one a day.  No regrets there...)

 

It was such a beautiful evening, with random conversations and laughter and cuddles with  amazing kiddos.

 

Sure, things can be rough, but when you get to spend a half hour with a little one using you for a pillow, it's hard to get caught up in the negatives. 

 

It's going to be a hard few weeks of goodbyes and see you laters, but tonight was a perfect time of simply being. 

I'm thankful for my Chengdu tribe. These are good people to do life with.