Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fresh Starts and Cautious Optimism

One of the things I love about being a teacher is the fall (in most years the late summer). Each fall we get to start fresh. Last year's old, scuffed layers of wax and grime get stripped away, scrubbed clean, and replaced with a brand new, shinny, ding-free coat. It smells great. It looks great, and it feels protected and inviting. Every year I look forward to the moment I make my first entrance into the school--usually a week or two before I am required to be there (despite popular myths about us teacher-types). The halls are cool, dark, and quiet. The floors are shinny and new. The smell of optimistic anticipation floats happily in the air. Everything feels fresh and new. It's a great moment-- one of my favorites each year.

As it is with a lot of school districts around our nation, last year's coat of wax wasn't so great. It seemed to go from bad to worse, and then to non-existent in a very short amount of time. It left many of us feeling scuffed, dinged, and way too exposed to the heavy foot traffic from above. We watched as some were scratched to the core despite our gallant efforts to prevent it. It was bad. I'd rather not repeat it again.

When we flooded the district auditorium for our annual first day teachers' meeting yesterday, things felt better. They felt fresh and new again. The floors were scrubbed, buffed, and re-waxed. Most of last year's dings and scuffs had been fixed in the summer cleaning; however, there are still some deep scratches that didn't quite buff out. Yesterday the deep scratches were not so noticeable. Today they were much more apparent. It was hard to look, but impossible not to. It wasn't pleasant to be reminded of how and why those scratches got there in the first place. Yesterday it was easy to forget; today it was not.

And so I'm faced with a choice. We all are. How much do we remember? How much do we forget?

Every school year our floors get scuffed and dinged, and every summer our custodians do their best to restore them back to shinny new with the cautious hope that a new strategy and fresh wax will protect the floors better than the year before. It's a process. It's predictable. It's comforting. This year I choose to hope like our custodians. Despite last year's damage, I will enter this year with new hope and fresh wisdom. It's a cautious hope, but an optimistic one. (What's the point if it weren't?) It's fresh wisdom, but wisdom nonetheless. Until the trust is restored, it would be foolish to have anything less or anything more.

How much will I forget? This will depend on how much I can forget and still meet the goal.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reflections on a smokey sunset stroll...

(semi- smokey moonrise I took a three summers ago from our campsite on Lake Mac Donnald in Glacier National Park)

I had to get out and go for an after dinner stroll tonight. And no, I am not having second thoughts about the charming Mr. N! :) Tonight I was lured by sunset. See, the smoke from the fires in Canada has finally reached us-- a common occurrence this time of year. Because we are surrounded by four mountain ranges, the smoke has a tendency to soc us in and make it hard to see much of the usual scenery. It can be a nuisance, but it does lend itself nicely to some really cool sunsets and sunrises.

The smoke does some remarkable things when mixed with the warm tones of the rising and setting sunlight. The combination paints our valley in all shades of blue, gray, purple, red, gold, and orange. The smoke and light also play funny tricks on the mountain silhouettes. The usually hard and clearly defined ridge lines soften and become mystical shadows and whimsical clouds in the distance. Just the right mix of smoke and light lends itself nicely to Montana moments and Montana reflections...

I plugged into my mp3 player and selected a mix I put together when I was in the thick of mustering through my first few years as a new teacher, new adult, and new Montanan. I'm not sure what drove me to pick that mix, maybe it was the smoke, but it took me back in time.

In some lights, I wouldn't want to go back to that time to save my life. Those first two years had their fair share of hard, dark, and smokey moments, but they taught me a lot. Mostly, they taught me how to pick myself up and keep going after life's unexpected sucker punches to the gut and how to successfully navigate the emptiness of truly being alone-- two golden lessons that definitely came at a premium.

But in tonight's sunset, I wouldn't trade those two years for anything. As a friend once wrote, although there were more than a fair share of dark smokey days in those first years, there were also some of the most beautiful "salmon colored" days too. Those are the days and moments that will be forever captured by my memory. None of which would have happened had I not had those dark and smokey days too. The people I met, the friends I made, and the family I found were all wonderful adventures who held the keys to many golden life lessons too-- lessons of a gentler sort.

Those first two years in Montana were the perfect mix of smoke and light. They were a series of breath-taking smokey sunsets that will forever anchor my story-- sunsets just like tonight's.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pre-Wedding Adventures...

It's safe to say I'm still coming off of the wedding buzz... We had one heck of a day but an even more eventful pre-wedding week. Given that we decided to have our wedding in Montana, it meant that for more than half of our guests it became a destination wedding. I quickly learned that a destination wedding equals much entertaining! And boy did we ever cram a whole lot of Montana in just one week! It was great to share our "Treasure State" with our Midwest friends and family, though. I think it helped them begin to understand why we live here instead of there.

One of my favorite days of the pre-wedding week, however, was the bachelor/bachelorette days. My hubby took his friends on a full day/night float, fish, 'n camp on the Madison river. Apparently they schooled the local fishermen, which is really no surprise as many of his friends are professional fishermen or semi-pros in the Midwest. They even took my dad along, which made me a little nervous but ended up being a fantastic idea! I always knew Mr. N and my dad had a lot in common, but I didn't realize just how well they got along until hubby and friends came back boasting about how fun it was to have my dad along. After seeing the pictures and hearing the tall tales, it was safe to say they had a wee of a time on the river that day.

I can safely say that the ladies trumped the boys' day on the Madison with a zip & dip over and on the Gallatin river (the river on which much of A River Runs Through It was filmed). I had never gone zip lining before but am always up for a good challenge/scare. I was also excited to show my mom, sister-in-law, and best friend our Montana playground from a completely different angle. The zip lining ended up being far more serene than scary, despite my initial aversion of climbing a wobbly rope bridge hundreds of feet off the forest floor. The zip lining itself was actually very relaxing. It was nice to let go and let myself be taken by the momentum of the line. Not to mention that the English teacher in me loved the metaphorical life parallels between jumping off suspended stations hundreds of feet off the ground and the events that week! ;) My mom decided to be a camera man as the three of us zipped through the Gallatin National Forest and across the Gallatin river, but she was definitely ready to raft once the afternoon rolled around!

I've been on a few raft trips in Colorado and in Glacier National Park, most of which were okay but mostly anticlimactic. The raft trip we took two weeks ago, however, was fantastic! It was the perfect mix of slow & fast water, saftey & danger. I won't lie, when the guide told us that if we fell out of the boat during the last stretch and tried to stand up that we would die, I did feel my stomach do a little flip. At the same rate, there's nothing like a little fear to make a person stronger, and in our case, laugh and scream a little louder! :)

To top things off, my mom was wearing the most fantastic shoes. See, she had forgotten her aqua sox at our cabin in the Midwest and had to buy some inexpensive river shoes. So off to Walmart she went. She came back with a pair of navy and white tiger striped canvas shoes which she called her "tiger toes." The only thing they were missing was the handywork of a bedazzler. On the raft, every time the bottom of the boat scraped over a rock, she'd giggle and say, "ooh... that one tickled the tigers!" Trust me, between her cute little tiger toes and her curls curling out the sides of her seemingly too small helmet, it was a rather amusing ride! It was one that made me love my mom just a little more and proved yet again how good of a sport and adventure buddy she can be.

After our raft we raced back to my house to get ready for the bachelorette party downtown... It was fairly tame given that three of us were totaly wiped out from a day over and on the river, but we cowgirled up, put on our pink pearl snap shirts, laced up our boots, and headed down town. My friends had arranged a sort of scavenger hunt/challenge course that involved several very Montana tasks... and to protect their identities (they too are teachers with reputations to keep) they wore bandanas... My reputation, however, was only given the protection of the cowboy hat they had made me for the special night on the town. It's good things didn't get too out of hand!

At the end of the night, I slipped into my bed (still safely snapped in my adventure shirt) with a grin from ear to ear. It was such a fantastic day. I was surrounded by my best friends and family, plenty of Montana adventure, and lots and lots of laughter. What more could a girl ask for? Little did I know that it was only an omen to how great the week would end...




Sunday, August 1, 2010

Oh Happy Day...

I know I've been out of the blogging world for far too long, but here is my attempt to jump back in with both feet.

I've actually been doing a lot of jumping lately, the most notable jump being my jump into matrimony with "The New Chapter" on the 24th of July. It was a happy day for sure, and was complete with a morning champagne hike with my best girl friends, amazing wildflower blooms, a lovely ceremony, and a fantastic evening of "music, and dancing, and feasting" (quote from our ceremony's benediction) with our closest family and friends.

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day, a more perfect husband, a more fantastic family, or amazing friends. Most of it is a pleasant blur of happy events that came as quickly as they went; it was truly perfect. I still can't quite believe it happened. It felt more like a dream than reality...

Needless to say one of my wishes from my wishing basket came true this past Saturday. And don't you dare worry; I was quick to thank God for granting me my wish! :)

(looking down the path with the bouquet)

(a moment with my dad and nieces before my entrance)

(Our first steps together as Mr. & Mrs. N)

(dancing under a heart shaped moon)