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2017, man. What a ride so far, eh? I think it’s safe to say that in the last two months we have seen both the ugliest and most beautiful parts of humanity. I never knew I could be so skeptical and yet so optimistic at the same time. I think I’ve been doing the same thing as many others; sifting through the ugly, looking for silver linings in an ocean of differing opinions. And deciphering the sentiments of a nation divided is a lot like Alice jumping through rabbit holes, unsure of what she’s looking for or what even comes next.

For those of you who don’t already know, I’m a public school teacher. Furthermore, I’m a teacher in a school with a diverse multicultural population. I get the joy of guiding our littlest scholars from the very beginning towards academic enthusiasm. Or rather, I try to. So yes, I was part of that collective sigh when it was recently announced who would be appointed at the top of the educational food chain in D.C. I worry like many others because I’m actually down here, in the trenches. Let me tell you, teachers are amazing human beings. All things considered – our lack of funding for things as paramount as technology and as simple as enough toilet paper distribution to manage the school – all of the educators I know are still marching on. It’s what we do. Because it’s not about us. I’ve got 25 kindergarteners, from all different backgrounds, who depend on me daily. So even though things have gotten ugly, I’m not peacing out. Because that changes nothing.

Each and every one of us in this country today is playing a subtle role in what feels like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. And I think many angry people could learn a lot from the public educators who have dedicated their careers to children. We’ve handled numerous blows in recent years with an articulate grace. Please, ask me my thoughts on the voucher system. Or the pay scale for the professional career I have devoted my life to for the last decade. I will tell you what I know without bias or slant to the truth. I will share with you my “war” stories and the triumphs and tragedies of plowing through a whole mess of ridiculousness for the greater good of education that matters. Switching lenses to an even bigger political picture, I think we’ve certainly lost sight of some of the most beautiful threads in the fabric of our nation.

I’m not a hard core liberal or a die-hard conservative. I’m just an American, trying to carve out my existence somewhere in the middle. I’m a person who sees compromise as the only answer to a whole lot of messy questions right now. It’s what I use in my classroom daily. That and a whole lot of empathy. Because I haven’t been in every little person’s shoes who comes up for hugs in the mornings. I’m just there to love them and encourage them to the best of my ability.

Every year I teach a unit about simple machines. If you exist somewhere in the kingdom of academia you’ve probably heard the acronym STEM. It stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. There has been a huge push in this direction with good reason. We want kids these days on the cutting edge. It totally makes sense. The irony lies in the lack of funds to do so. Anyway, I digress.

So, in simplest terms, the “fulcrum” is the part of simple machine where movement happens. It is the pivot point. Without the fulcrum you are dead in the water, so to speak. The load has nowhere to go and “force” becomes moot. I think 2017 is definitely a fulcrum year. We are at a pivotal state of being and could shift in any given direction at this point. The weight of this country is heavy and the force being utilized for change feels unstable and inconsistent. That last statement points fingers at no one particularly. It’s going to take all of us to move the load. Go ahead, re-read that last sentence.

Reality is this: Life is not about highlight reel. We’ve all got one of those. It’s also not about who gets the best snarky jab in out here on the interwebs. And it’s not about shaking our angriest fists. I mean, we could all do that. The pharmaceutical industry would love it. High blood pressure and anti-depression medication usage is probably soaring at the moment. But the beauty of real change relies on the slow steady heartbeat that incessantly plows through all the hardship. That may be a tough pill to swallow, but it is what it is. And without the ups and downs of the proverbial rollercoaster, there would be no ride. We must go through turmoil if we are ever going to make change. It’s true. Turn around and look back in history. All major shifts in the direction of this country come after certain disorder. We can do this. We’ve done it many times before.

Don’t forget once in a while to turn around and look back at the chaos from which you personally have overcome. Furthermore, look at all the chaos this country has overcome. You might just see the ashes from which we rose.

 

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And also, Feng Fu

I’m a fixer. How’s that for an opening line? I tend to want to fix things and people and situations. I like to see the triumphs over the tragedies and the silver linings to the rain clouds. I can apply this to most external situations. Personal ones, however, are always harder to do. You see, I think that’s because we always put ourselves last, right? At least I’m fairly certain I do. Children first, always. The nurturing caretaker role of mother, teacher, friend. We lose identities in this way, yet, we all succumb to it here and there.
I’ve been trying real hard lately to work on “fixing” myself. Not that I’m necessarily broken. I consider myself a productive contributor to society. I have great friends and a pretty sturdy set of ideals. But, the journey for improving self-worth is there. Fixing. I’m trying to really focus in on these grand plans that I have for life. But, somehow along the way, the path tends to crumble from time to time. I find myself just going through the motions. And this, my friends, is not the way I plan on living the rest of my life. If you can step outside of yourself and say that out loud…. Well, that’s a first step.

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Good morning!!!  It’s a beautiful day to be on Thanksgiving vacation!  I have so many zings to share with you, now that I have a little bit of time freed up to do things not considered part of survival mode.   Gosh, where to even start? (Insert favorite thinking face emoji here.) Can you tell I’m winging this?  How about them Cubbies?!?! Oh… and holy tacos, the election is big news.

It’s Saturday morning.  My kids are already up and running wild.  I should probably be doing something motherly like fixing them breakfast.  I’ll get to that.  But Imma take a little selfish ‘me time’ first, with my coffee and my laptop.  This is the first day of an extended holiday break from school. Citizens, do not be fooled.  Teachers get just as excited as the students at the thought of many consecutive days off in a row.

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Downtown Brazil in the 40s

When I was little, I remember sitting at the dinner table many an evening with my grandparents.  Yes, here she goes again talking about her grandparents.  No apologies here.  It’s the nature of storytelling, isn’t it?  To go back to what grounds us.

 

Anyway, dinner time always had a rhythm.  Grandma cooked, we ate and watched the evening news, Grandpa and Julie washed and dried the dishes.  This was routine.  Steady.  The norm. My scope, however, narrows today to just the middle part of that: the timing of what we did and when the news was on those many moons ago.  My grandparents, like most folks, watched it every evening at the same time.  And there’s something calming about steady consistency.  You could always count on the television being on for the evening news and an extra long morning in the recliner reading that thick Sunday paper.

 

I’m here to publicly mourn the loss of this rhythm.  We now have news media details shoved down our throats faster than we can suck air into our lungs.  It’s everywhere.  And we have somehow allowed ourselves to become the new-age version of Pavlov’s Dog.  DING!!! A notification! Automatically our brain gets its rewards and we essentially have shouted “SQUIRREL!!”   I am as guilty as the next guy.

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I took my first ever trip to Las Vegas this weekend.  If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you got the up close and personal version of the adventure. Sorry not sorry.  I had finally decided that YOLO was actually a thing that deserves conscious measure. So, Viva Las Vegas was my mantra for a couple of days. Initially, I was in awe of all the shiny things.  And believe me, Vegas has a lot of them. But, I took the whole trip in stride.  The night life, the shows, the fashion, the homeless.

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Have you ever felt like, in some way, you were desperate to renew some motivation?  Like that cup that was so full and overflowing whenever you started some quaint little project is now… empty?  Running on fumes is truly no way to live.  I sound so self-righteous, don’t I?  The thing is, I let myself get this way.  Every darn year.  By about April, I’m out of gas.  Done.  Exhausted.  My stress level is through the roof and my patience takes a hike with all of the end of year school things. If you read “Teacher Tired” a while back, you probably already know this about me.  And, judging by the amount of  traffic on that one, you probably can also relate.

 

It seems like no amount of preplanning saves my sanity, either.  I can see it coming.  I know what’s down the road.  Yet, I stand there on the train tracks and allow myself to be hit by the locomotive anyway. Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” So, why do we do it?  I suppose my “why” is because I have accepted the routine for what it is.  Or my life, rather. I choose these things.  Ultimately, we all choose these things.  We can stand there and argue with each other about a means to pay the bills and the livelihood of our families versus our own personal joy.  But at the end of the day, it’s still a choice.  I’m not here to tell you you’re doing it wrong.   Believe you me, I get myself into the same sinking boat that you do every year.  I’m just over here, thinking out loud today.

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**This story has been previously published for Elite Daily magazine under the title “What Millennials Need to Know About the Greatest Generation on Memorial Day” This is the same story, but with original photos.**

 

“I received a letter from the Clay County Draft Board in September of 1941, explaining that my friends and neighbors had decided it was my time to be drafted.”

These are the opening lines to my grandfather’s memoirs. I’ve looked for this document for over a decade, and I have had those first few lines memorized and rolling around in my head since I was 16. He gave me his accounts of World War II to rewrite at much too young of an age. My sentiments then are much the same as they are now: I am unworthy of such a task. Just like a teenager, I lost them years ago, but I found them about a month ago.

The totality of the above statement is heavy. My grandfather was barely 22 years old at the time. I remember being 22. That’s not adulthood. That was like the peak of my glory days. Having fun is at the top of most of our lists at age 22, not war.

Can you imagine? “Here’s your paperwork, son. You don’t have a choice. Go to war and try to stay alive.”

I am on the fence about a lot current issues, mainly because I see a million shades of gray to every current political issue. However, this is not one of them. As a whole, young people of that era possessed a grit that we have somehow lost.

Memorial Day will soon be upon us. Due to the stories I grew up hearing about brotherhood, and the homage my soul owes to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this great country, this article is for them.

Before my grandfather, there was another. My grandmother was engaged to marry a young man named Earl. Earl was from her hometown and a well-versed English teacher. They had grand plans to be married and start a life together once he returned home from the war. His penmanship was beautiful, his grammar was perfect,and his wit was amazing. I can surmise all of this by the letters left behind in my possession. He was the love of my grandmother’s life, and I’ve heard about him my entire life.

 

 

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Last photo of Earl Krampe. Age 28.

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My grandmother and Earl

Earl worked his way to the rank of Lieutenant and served in the opposite theater as my grandfather, the European side. He wrote many letters, but the last one is somewhat haunting.

Here is an excerpt of honest thoughts from March 8, 1945 in Paris:

I had an interesting conversation with a Frenchman on a train this morning. I’ve heard rumors that the French people resented the fact that we weren’t supplying them with enough things. Then when you hear of all the provisions, supplies, etc. stolen from the Army and sold over the black market, you wonder what the hell we liberated them for, especially when you’ve seen men die in doing it. But that’s enough of that. If I were sure I would get through it all safely I wouldn’t take anything for being in combat, but it’s the uncertainty about it all that gets one.

Lt. Earl Krampe was killed 17 days later in Germany. He had taken 45 of his men to a basement bunker for safety during a combat mission. A single bomb killed them all. This is one of his two Purple Hearts, which is little solace for my grandmother’s broken one.

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Graduation photo from Indiana State University. Age 22.

 

Here’s something else we currently seem to be losing: resilience. The Greatest Generation was resilient. Even 50 years after his death, I remember the tears when she talked about him when I was a child. And I remember how considerate my grandfather was of her feelings.

They met several years after the war had ended. She never got over Earl’s death, but she was able to get past it. My grandpa honored his memory by inviting his family to all of their holidays and family events. You see, Earl was an only child. His parents were lost and heartbroken.

My own mother has memories of Earl’s family’s presence at most all of their family gatherings. This is resilience and love in its purest form. This is my grandfather not forgetting his fellow fallen, even the one who had his wife’s heart first.

 

As an American, I want our heavily split country to not only go back to that era of grit and resilience, but to the kindness and compassion we once had. One of the biggest things I can’t seem to grasp is how quick we are to cast judgement, sling mud and shout demands in today’s society. Where on earth is the compromise that made this country great?

A major lack of communication and willingness to listen to each other causing this great divide in our nation, which is fueled by anger and hurt feelings. We cannot fix the present by putting Band-Aids on issues and yelling curses toward something or someone we don’t agree with. This crazy train is going to derail if we’re all not careful.

We can’t change history. We can only learn from it, accept our imperfections and take action from there. Aristotle said,

It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.

I think I’m so passionate about the Greatest Generation because of all that I’ve learned from it.

From The Great Depression to a war many boys never wanted to be a part of, they never gave up. They rebuilt America, and they learned to accept everything life had to give with a deep understanding of the important things.

People need to know this. This was the message of my upbringing. It may not be the original roots of this great country, but if you ask me, it’s definitely our backbone.

Memorial Day is one Americans should be proud of. The men and women who have fought so hard to preserve our freedoms deserve so much more than just a day. They deserve to be remembered with utmost respect. They deserve our promise that we haven’t forgotten the triumphs and tragedies of this great nation. It is within those highs and lows in life that we become who we are.

My grandfather clipped this poem in 1996 from the Brazil Times. At age 77, he was still proud of his service to the Army and all the men and women who serve. It’s only appropriate to end with this:

 

Perhaps you don’t agree with all I have to say, but my hope is that you can, at very least, entertain the thought.
Happy Memorial Day.

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My grandfather on the right at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. His story has been a long time in the making and will have to wait for another day.

 

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You know that old cliché, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”?  I think in some creative avenues that is probably true.  To understand joy in a thorough sense it must be seen.  I think the same is true for most emotions and major life events.   My grandfather understood this very well.  I like to think that he was somewhat ahead of his time in many ways.  Upon being drafted for the war back in the 1940s, he only asked for one small thing from his parents:  a collapsible camera.  He knew he was about to embark on something big and he wanted to remember it.  He was the only one he ever remembered seeing with a camera, aside from the press like when Bob Hope came to boost morale.  (I have pictures of that, by the way.)  Fast forward 70 years later and here I am.  A girl blessed with 3 full scrapbooks of life in the South Pacific during World War II.   He would send film back every month to his dad.  And his dad, in return, would send him new film.  Of course, many pictures were censored and discarded by the government before they made it to Brazil, Indiana.  They were deemed inappropriate.  Grumble grumble.  I suppose as a military policeman of the time he saw and had to do things that the government didn’t think his parents or the world needed to see.  But, many made it home.   So this was the start of many blessings.  My sister and I grew up with his stories, his pictures, and his memorabilia.  Don’t worry.  I plan on sharing these someday.   I just haven’t quite put all those ducks in a row yet.

 

And then you had my grandmother.  Small town girl with big dreams and artsy flair.  She was tiny.  About my height.  Heh.  But she never allowed that, or the idea that most women of those times should be homemakers, stop her.  She also understood that pictures were worth a thousand words.  But, when she met my grandfather (post war time, long interesting story – don’t worry, will tell it too someday) and saw his photos, she decided that pictures will someday need words.  Everything needs words.  Because no one lives forever.  She had the foresight to know that without written stories, pictures lose meaning over the years.

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As a little girl I used to spend a lot of time standing on my head.  I don’t know what sparked this peculiar habit.  I suppose in part it was because I was good at it.  I could balance for what seemed like hours to my 4 and 5 year old self.  The world looked different upside down.  It was a childhood delight. My parents would catch me reading that way sometimes.  Now, please don’t dare my 32 year old self to perform such nonsense.  I’m not much for turning down dares these days.  And my valiant attempt would probably slip a disc.

 

It only feels right as we think on the Thanksgiving holiday to consider our blessings.  After all, that’s the core of the celebration, right?  Had the Pilgrims never met the Indians, this would be the holiday that never was.  With a thankful heart, they celebrated their gratitude. I could sit here and prattle off about 300 reasons that I am joyful.  But, what about those other moments?  You know.  The ones we try to bury.  Or maybe it’s a person, or a relationship, or an ending. It’s funny how the mind works.  Apparently there is a disconnect between the brain and the innards of our souls.  Figures.  Because these recollections are often the most vivid.  Those times that turned our world upside down, we look back on them through a broken lens.  We wish they would vanish in thin air.  Take a hot minute to reflect on those.  The times when you felt sadness or regret.  Let’s stand on our heads for a minute, shall we?  At least metaphorically.

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