Monday, May 29, 2006

Collections = company or clutter?

My dad has often said that when he comes to my house he feels like he's in some kind of gift shop. In truth, my living room does resemble a combination bookstore, music store, rag doll/teddy bear shop with a sprinkling of photographs and small mementos picked up from my world travels.

A few years ago I sat in my rocker and made a list of all the things in the rooms, where they came from, and the memories associated with them. It was a Friday evening, as I recall. I had music on, candles lit, and plenty of lovely memories to keep me company. I think I wrote for a couple of hours straight, there is so much here! Some would call it clutter. I prefer to think of it as company =)

Here are a few pictures to illustrate what I'm talking about. The first picture has photos of my Grandfather's 99th birthday, my mother's 75th birthday, and my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. The table shawl comes from Florence...a gift from Kaitie. The two figurines are presents from Sandy Bent, the music box is from my parents, and the little books from various friends.

The second picture is of three rag dolls (from a much larger collection. The center doll I bought in a boutique in Winchester because she reminded me of my Grandmother Aastrup...I guess it was the material of the apron most of all that makes me think of her. I named the doll Thora after her.

The third picture has a collection of small animals that I've found on various trips. The llama I got this past December when I was in Peru, the two lions I bought in South Aftrica's Kruger National Park, the mouse I got in D.C. at the National Cathedral, the brass bear comes from my mother (I think), the loon I got in Maine, and the turtle (that you can't see very well at the far right) I got on Grand Cayman Island at the turtle ranch. The elephant is a found object that fit in with the collection.

Almost all the furniture in the room is antique (handed down from grandparents like this dry sink) or hand made (my dad) so there is no particular theme or style to the room. To me, it's just homey. This last picture has a collection of old books surrounded by pictures of (l to r) my grandfather and my dad as a boy, my parents a year ago Christmas, and my father's parents many years ago. The items (l to r) are a box from Switzerland, and round box from Russia, a small plate from Peru, a pill box containing a piece of wallpaper from Louisa May Alcott's home in Concord (a gift), a square tile painting from Playa del Carmen, Mexico, an incense holder from Lake Titicaca in Peru, a round box from Norway, two spoons from Russia and presiding over all a fan from China.

The last photo shows a collection of family photos--some from Christmas cards, some from graduations (Julie's 8th grade, Kaitie's 8th grade), some from weddings (my Kellogg grandparents at Lauren's wedding and my Astrup grandparents at their own, I think) and one of me with David and Julie. They sit on the first piece of furniture I bought as a working woman in Michigan, covered by a shawl that I bought in Russia the first time I was there.

All these things/photos have glorious memories associated with them. I've been lucky to have traveled extensively in the past 30 years (my first trip to Europe was 30 years ago in June), visiting nearly 30 countries and five continents. I adore traveling. If I go for very long without going somewhere, I get restless. This year was extraordinary in that I had two great trips within six months of each other. That is rare...usually I am lucky to get one in a year.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Academy Awards and a bouquet of roses

Fridays are always busy for me. Before I was principal, I loved Fridays. They were my easiest teaching days and we got out at noon. Gotta love that. But now that I'm principal, they are the most hectic day of the week, and there is almost no time to catch my breath. I run from office to class to office to class all morning long, with all kinds of loose end to tie up before I can escape.

Today was as hectic as usual in pace, but for some reason it felt more peaceful. Hard to understand considering there was the added pressure of our Awards Assembly at mid-morning. Crazy as that assembly always is, I always enjoy it because we get to honor our best and brightest students. This morning, I got to honor three students who have led the way their entire 13-year run in our school: my niece Julie, Ritchie Lawrence's son Brian, and their classmate Richardson. (They are the same three who are getting the Honors diploma this year.) Over and over they were called up to get the award for best in English, math, science, Spanish, etc., etc. It was nice for Lauren to be there to see her one last time.

Lauren gave out her own awards for her girls' fitness class, but she started by giving me a huge bouquet of roses to celebrate my birthday. The kids all sang to me, and later I got hand-made cards from the 1-3rd graders. They detoured into my office on their way to lunch, mobbing me with hugs as they piled on their their cards. Their teacher asked me if I felt loved. Yes, I did.

When I brought the roses home, the cats immediately wanted to smell them...and then wanted to chew the ferns. Soon, they would have pulled the vase over and that would have been the end of that. So I had to put them up on an unreachable shelf instead of letting them enjoy their own space on the dining room table. Such is life with my teenage cat-children...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Proud Aunt

Today my niece Julie presented the first part of her Honors Projects to her schoolmates at our morning assembly. A cellist almost as long as she has been alive, Julie decided to do a recital for her 60-hour Honors Project. The actual recital is going to be next Tuesday evening, but she presented one of her pieces this morning as a kind of teaser. She was fabulous. No, really!

Only three other students in our school have even a passing acquaintance with string instruments. What classical music they know, for the most part they have heard in my English classes, so Julie's challenge this morning was to make Bach's Unaccompanied Suite #5 for cello interesting and exciting to an audience that had little or no experience with such music. She decided to use the opportunity to do a little teaching, providing the students with a copy of the piece so they could follow along. To their credit, they listened well, both to her explanation and her performance. Lauren (her mom)and I were beyond proud =)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Momentary Escapes (revised)

Because my life is so packed, so busy, so full of people and noise 12-15 hours each day, I have to find ways to escape the cacaphony that surrounds me, if only for a moment or two. Until this school year, music was my primary way of escape. Tucked away in my classroom, isolated from the rest of the school, I did have quiet every hour and a half or so (we teach on a block schedule, so I had at least one 80-minute block to myself each day). I was able to study, grade papers, plan for the next class or the following day in peace and quiet...spurred on by the music of my mood. Mostly classical, some contemporary. But always soothing, always empowering.

But this year, as principal/teacher, the only time I am in my classroom is when I'm teaching. Otherwise, I'm in my office, the hub of the EW/GBA universe. It is almost never quiet and I am almost never alone. Music is not always a possibility, as people are constantly in and out, needing to talk, needed to be talked to, needing anything but quiet. So I have visual escapes instead. Pictures fill the walls, and plants line the window sill. Visuals that literally take me away as each has a personal connection, specific experience connected to it.

My computer's wallpaper is a picture of Grieg's composing hut at his home in Bergen, Norway. Not only is it a beautiful picture, but it reminds me of the amazing family vacation we took last summer. Opposite my desk is a bulletin board with a calendar and some pictures of Provence, France that remind s me of the equally amazing solitary vacation I took two summers ago. Next to this is a painting I bought in Norway.

On the wall behind me are three paintings and a framed needlepoint quote by Emerson that my sister Lauren made for me several years ago. I bought one of the paintings in France at an outdoor art show. There is a still life of music, books and antique recorder. The large painting is a copy of a Winslow Homer painting set in Maine that has soothing colors. On the wall opposite my desk is another needlepoint quote from my favorit hymn "Be Still, my Soul." To the left of my desk is a picture window that looks out mostly on woods. Right now, this time of year, they are filled with birds: blue jays, orioles, robins, cardinals, and many more. The woods are alive with the sound of bird music!!! And there are a couple of rabbits and a woodchuck that live out there as well.

The great escape for me takes seconds. A momentary glance in any direction, and I get a lift either from the beautiful view or the special memories associated with it. I am learning, in the midst of stress, to find release and relief in those brief partial moments. A student may be frustrating me or a parent yelling at me. I may feel physically trapped by the unpleasantness of the situation. But all I have to do is look up, or left or right, and I am flooded with renewed strength and energy. Those momentary escapes enable me to survive the sometimes-madness of the life that tends to lead me...

Still, there comes a time when a person needs more than a picture. That's what summers are for, I guess. Three more weeks!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Still raining

I'm looking out my living room window as I write this. All I can see are trees whipping wildly about in wind and rain. The sky is gray and the trees stand out starkly against this bleak backdrop. I'm glad this is the only day this week that is supposed to be rainy. We had much too much rain last week. Fortunately the school didn't get any rain and most people I know with basements survived fairly easily. Our office administrator had a lot of water, though, and she figures she and her family pumped/hauled nearly 5,000 gallons of water out of their basement! That's a lot of water! Last Sunday I went out with my camera and found a few interesting sites two of which are posted here.

I am struggling to keep calm about the next three weeks. If you teach in a high school or academy, or have any school connection, you know that May is a terribly full month. There are all the year-end activities and programs and graduations. When you are in a small school, everyone is involved in everything...which means that you are constantly exhausted, and feel like the tree above, in a swirl of activity that threatens to overwhelm. At the end of the year, the teachers always vow that "next year won't be like this," but every year it's the same. Somne things can't be helped, I guess. And the only way to deal is just to live one day at a time.

I find it hard to just let things go like that without making a list so I am sure to do all I need to. So today, my list included finalizing the graduation program after going to the church and working through the processional and recessional options with our organist, creating a practice/ performance schedule for the seniors and sending it out to them and their parents, doing lesson plans, going grocery shopping, writing letters, catching up on the e-mail that has piled up in cyber space...doing laundry, vacuuming and dusting...

A long list. But doable... The only thing I have left after 12 hours of work is the laundry, which I kind of forgot until just this minute. Sigh... It does look as though I might actually get to bed at a reasonable hour, though, and that is good news indeed!

Monday, May 15, 2006

And then there were four...

Four of the six Creative Writing students have their blogs up and operating. They are listed in my links section: The life of a musician (my niece), God is my Strength, Ms. Classy, and Noemy's Blog. Two more to go.

I received word this afternoon that the man who gave me my first teaching job passed away Friday night. I immediately felt a sadness that continued to haunt me the rest of the day. Wes Shultz was an amazing man. He was strong and disciplined and tough...but fair. He empowered me to take charge of my classroom and do what I love to do: teach...and have fun doing it.

My interview took place in Logan Airport one afternoon after I had finished work at New England Memorial Hospital. My mother, sister Martha and I drove to Logan after work one day in August. To this day, I can remember what I was and all!!! Wes was on a 2-hour layover between Detroit and Atlanta...he was going to Georgia to buy carpet for classrooms...and I remember him coming off the plane (I remember what he was wearing too!) and striding over to Martha, who was perched on a railing in the waiting area, and putting out his hand to her saying "I'm Wes Shultz, are you Rondi?" We laughed about it later, wondering why he thought someone waiting for an interview would be so casual, but at the moment, I was too nervous to think. He and I walked around the airport talking teaching philosophy and by the time we returned to my mother, he had hired me. Within weeks, I was in Michigan, getting ready for an experience that changed my life, turned it inside out and upside down, and helped make me who I am today. I will miss knowing he is somewhere in this world, challenging someone else to take charge of their life.

The pictures here are of the flowering trees around school that were so beautiful a week ago and are now beaten to the ground by all this rain =(

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Maine Retreat

I've retreated to Maine. My two sisters, their two children and I all came up to Alfred, ME to spend last night and today with our parents. We enjoy congregating here whenever we can, but rarely have the entire group (notice the two husbands are not here). I like best spending Saturday night as well because Sunday morning breakfasts are just the best! I sadly don't treat myself to a well-laid table when it's just myself at home. I've been thinking about doing that lately, though, especially after I saw a blurb about some kind of diet that does just that: a person sets a beautiful table and cooks exotic food, only in very small portions. Then sits down to savor every bite, taking time for each bite, thus creating the illusion of eating more food. Sounds a little tricky to me!!!

When we come here with all four children, the house is full of conversation and laughter. The girls are close friends and have much to talk about whenever they are together. The boys are also great friends and enjoy playing games or running around outside when possible. And of course the three sisters and parents talk constantly. It's generally a happy sound, of a family that enjoys each other's company.

Computers are always in the picture, much to our amusement. Often pictures taken feature laptops. Last night Kaitie was designing a MySpace page for me, as some of my students have wanted me to be their friend on-line (and you have to have a page to do that). I don't expect to do much with that page except use it as a way to communicate with them, since I already have this space and my original blog at Multiply. There are only so many places I can write in any given day!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Blog Excitement

So today, the girls from Creative Writing class who are also in Journalism class were all excited about their new blogs. In fact one girl actually named hers "igotmyownblog" and was thrilled to show it to me (I've been trying to link to it but have not been successful so far). I love when my students are excited about writing. It's so satisfying!

Honors English class was fun today, too. We're finishing our work on Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. It's the first time since student teaching that I've taught that book/play and we had a good time reading and discussing it together. Today we were editing rough drafts of their papers. Each of them had interesting points to make.

This year the six students read books from the various cultures represented in the class. Amazingly, there are six different countries represented by the six kids. So far we've studied books from Haiti (Breath, Eyes, Memory), South Africa (Cry, the Beloved Country), Cuba (The Old Man and the Sea), the Dominican Republic (In the Time of the Butterflies), and now Norway.

Our last book will be from the United States: Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie, a phenomenal book that I read in one afternoon, and cried through much of it. I can't wait to read it with these kids. They are deep, insightful readers some of whom I've known since they were 5 years old...and my niece since her very first day. I will miss them enormously next year...

Monday, May 08, 2006

New Bloggers

Yay! I hit on what I hope will be a fun thing for my Creative Writing class to do: start their own blog! It's going to be their final project of a class that we enjoy but keep missing (it meets only on Monday and we seem to miss a lot of Mondays...). I showed them several blogs from friends (including several of former students) and then showed them how easily they could create their own. They seem to be excited about working on this project. I will be interested to see what they do with this new way of sharing their work.

Meanwhile, I've enjoyed discovering new, or should I say, rediscovering old friends...some from as long ago as high school!!! When I was telling my students about this, they were quite amazed.

I am sending the academy students off to Salem tomorrow. Any other year, I'd be going with them, but I will stay back with the elementary students this time. One "duty" I am looking forward to carrying out is giving my nephew David his Barnes and Noble gift certificate for winning the elementary poetry writing contest. When his teacher read it out loud to the whole school in our assembly on Friday, he thought the students were laughing at him. In reality, they were thoroughly enjoying his poem, and several told him so afterwards. Two budding writers in the same family (his sister is in the creative writing class)! (These are Lauren's children.) Martha's daughter, Kaitie, loves to write as well...and has already started her own blog. She is an expert web page designer, too. Her brother, Christopher is more into sports, but I don't doubt that he can spin a good story if he has to.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Norwegian Holiday

This past summer, my family and I spent two weeks in Norway visiting my father's home country. I had never been there before and was stunned at its beauty. Everywhere I looked, it seems, I saw something even more amazingly beautiful. Over and over, the views took my breath away. That, and the treacherous roads! There were ten of us: my parents, my two sisters, their children (a daughter and son each...two teenage girls, two pre-teen boys), a brother-in-law (the other was pet-sitting at home) and myself. This was the first time that many of us had been together for that length of time in such close quarters. Ever. It was challenging sometimes, but in retrospect, it was a fantastic experience.

We spent our first and last weekends in a friend's condo high above Oslo. The view from the 8th floor balcony was spectacular. I could have simply sat out there the whole time basking in the sun and beauty...but there was plenty else that was interesting and worth seeing in Oslo itself. The only trouble was getting down the mountain and finding our way to the desired sites. We struggled the first two days on our own, in spite of my father's fluid Norwegian. Trying to navigate a large van (stick shift) on narrow, winding, unfamiliar mountain roads was both treacherous and hilarious at the same time. Even now, I pity my poor father trying to drive amidst our screams and helpless laughter when that frustrating van stalled on a hill yet one more time...

Finally, Sunday, one of his cousins rescued us and gave us the grand tour of museums. I thoroughly enjoyed that day, although it was a little long for the kids. We went to the Folk Museum (a Norwegian version of Sturbridge Village), the Kon Tiki Museum, the Fram Museum, the Viking Ships Museum and the Vigeland Sculpture Park. All in one day! They are actually located fairly close together so it wasn't as crazy a day as it might have been if we had added driving to the equation...

During the week, we toured the southern tip of Norway between Oslo and Bergen. Much of that time we were with family. One evening, about 60 on my grandmother's side threw a dinner for us in their church hall. It was such fun! The food was good and the conversation was, well, limited on our part, but so vivacious and friendly on theirs. Even though we had never met most of them, it was as if we had always known each other. Amazing. This picture shows many, but not all, of the group. The short lady to my immediate right is also named Rondi
In fact, there were three of us present with that same name!

It was here that my father re-connected with his favorite cousin. They are very close, especially theologically (although not of the same religion). They love talking with each other. He and his wife took us all over the countryside showing us places linked to my grandparents' life before they emigrated to the US in their late teens. We saw birth places, churches, cemeteries, homes...all picturesque, all beautiful or charming or any number of other words that are really rather inadequate.

We enjoyed a long fjiord-cruise in Stavangar on a somewhat less than luxurious barge-like boat with a captain who loved to tell stories. The sights were veiled in mist and fog on the way in, but the sun burned it off for our return. We saw the famous Pulpit Rock from the bottom instead of the top and countless waterfalls. In fact, I was surprised that Norway had so many waterfalls. I don't know why I didn't think of it before, but of course most of them are from melting snow running off the tops of the mountains and down the sides of the fjiords. This was the first of two fjiord cruises we took (the other was in Bergen).

Of all the cities we visited, I liked Bergen the best. It is a lovely harbor town that is easily navigable by foot, but big enough to be able to enjoy a bus tour. We took a tram ride to the top of the mountain that towers over the city and were seranaded on piano by a Grieg look-alike (Bergen is Grieg's home). The guy was good, and the music was lovely. One afternoon we took a bus to where we thought Grieg's home was. Turns out it let us off about a mile away and we had to walk every step of it. In the rain. I did not enjoy that part, but the house and his composing studio were magnificent. I just wish we had had more time there.

We spent a couple of days with my grandfather's niece and her family. They took us to sites relating to the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. They also took us on a leisurely cruise up the Telemark Canal. This canal has a number of hand-operated locks the operation of which was interesting to watch. Again, the countryside we traveled through was breath-taking. This family was every bit as personable as the other side. There were twin girls (grown women, actually) who were a lot of fun I thought. They were the Ibsen authorities. One of them has written to both Martha and me since our return, apologizing all the while for her English, which is very good...far better than my Norwegian!

Coming and going we had stops in Iceland. Its barren, flat, brown land stood in stark contrast to the mountainous beauty we had lived in for the days in between. The only color we saw there was small fields of purple lupine...but even they could not compete with the myriads of multi-colored lupine in Norway.

I would go back in a heart beat, although it was horrendously expensive (a regular 8-piece plain cheese pizza cost $30!). I don't expect my parents will ever travel like that again, more's the pity. I don't mind traveling alone. In fact I love it. But it was a great pleasure to experience part of my heritage in the company of the people I love most in the world. It was wonderful spending two weeks straight with my family, being able to talk face to face with any one of them whenever I felt like it. I get snatches of that now and again in my "real" life but not 24/7. This, perhaps, was a foretaste of what heaven could be like...beautiful scenery, travel, family....what could be better?