Saturday, December 17, 2011

Draft: Why you Should Travel with Your Kids

Seeing Mickey Mouse at Disney World can be an enchanting experience for your little one(s).  Beyond the vacation there is much more to experience with your family.  I see a difference between a vacation and travel.  With traveling there is a global awareness that begins to occur.  You no longer go somewhere because you want to relax, but because you want to absorb. 

Draft: Making the Most of your Travel Journal

Clothes, check.  Shoes, check.  Journal, check.  Travel journals are a staple in many travelers' suitcases. 

Draft: Common Mistakes to Avoid with Travel Photos

You shot 1,218 pictures, but you only found a few that justify what you saw or how you felt at that moment.  We spend so much time taking pictures on our trips, yet they tend to disappoint when we get home and review.  By following a few easy steps, you can create images that capture the essence of the subject.

People Pictures

Landscape Pictures

Night Pictures

Draft: 10 Items You Wish You Packed

Sure you've packed enough underwear to last twice your stay and your liquids are all stored appropriately, but what should you pack beyond the basics?  There are many items we could do without, but here are some items you should consider for your next trip.

Travel Alarm Clock
Poster Tube
Audio Recorder
Swiss Army Knife (Checked Luggage Only!)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Forward, Together Forward

I became most connected to my hometown the day that tragedy united us.  It was Valentine's Day and I was at work. It didn't seem to be so bad; at least I was around people.

I was bonded with the eighth graders, but there was a shortage with the sixth grade students, so I moved to that room for the day.  I did not know the kids or the supervising teacher.  While the teacher was sitting at her desk working on her computer, I was wandering from student to student to help during homework time.  Math seemed to be the challenge of the day.

Another sixth grade teacher walked in and whispered to us, "turn on the radio, something bad is happening."

We turned on the radio just loud enough that we could hear it, but the students could not.  There was news that there was gunfire heard at the NIU campus.  We checked the website to see if there was more information.  The alert confirmed our fears. "3:20 p.m. There has been a report of a possible gunman on campus.  Get to a safe area and take precautions until given the all clear."

I had friends on campus so I tried to text them to see if they were okay, but nothing would go through.  DeKalb had never experienced this volume of cell phone network usage.

With uneasy staff, the teachers decided to let the assistants go.  As I left, I tried calling anyone that I could think of, but the calls would not make it through.  I became dependent on the radio to find out more. 

"The shooter is dead from self-inflicted gunshot."

"Students, call your parents when you have reached your residence halls." 

The helicopters flying overhead competed with the sound of the radio.  Some were media, and some were transporting the victims to the hospital. 

When I got home I found my parents in a trance, glaring at the TV.  As time passed, more details were shared, but the news never got any better. Five students were murdered.  Each individual with their own story.

I did everything I could to reach closure.  This kid came into my hometown, at my school, and killed people that had no affiliation with him.  My community came together for candlelight vigils, services, and ribbon making.  I don't think anyone had been so proud to be a Huskie.

A week later, it was time to return to school, and the feeling of safety did not return.  I trekked across campus, passing the building where the lives were taken.  I saw footprints in the snow and I remembered the images on the news of blood in the snow a week earlier.  When I reached my building I was greeted with a man and woman.  The man shook my hand.  The warmth of his hand welcomed my cold bare hands. They offered me a bottle of water and asked how I was doing.  All that week counselors came into our classes asking if we wanted to talk about what happened, but we never wanted to talk.

"Forward, Together Forward " were the words expressed so many times.  Each Valentine's day I wear my ribbon.  February 14th has no other meaning to me anymore.  It should be a time to celebrate love, but how can one do that on such a date?

Going Back

Winter in Northern Illinois can lead to hibernation.  The 16 hours of darkness and rare sunny day even when it is light invites lethargy.  Nonetheless, we must all venture out for entertainment to sustain us through the cold months, so that is what I had planned.

It was a Mike and Joe night at Starbusters.  This would probably be the 14th time I've seen this cover band, but it made for some solid entertainment. 

I left for the drive to my hometown around 6:30 pm and it was dark.  Luckily I had some music prepared to help me stay awake and get pumped for the night. 

We would begin with dinner.  We were supposed to go to Fatty's to get their tangy, spicy cajun fried potato salad, but an under-aged guest would prevent us from that plan.  Instead we headed to a local standby, O'Leary's.

"I've never seen this place so busy," said my friend's boyfriend.

It was unusual, this was generally a pretty vacant place.  "Have they changed something here?"  I asked.

Nothing was different, but for some reason the cold weather had others escaping the cave.  Once we finally got a table, the eight of us ordered our food and drinks. Everyone around the table worked together, so I was just along for the company.

"They gave us $2 bills as a bonus to spend at local businesses," my friend told me.  "Why not spend it on food and drinks!"

We prepared for the night ahead by filling our stomachs.  No success could be had unless we were well fed.

Finally it was time to get ready, so we ditched the guys and headed to a friend's apartment.  The prepartions entailed a hair curling session and pre-show drink.  I was ready, so I mostly sipped on my libation.  Since the girls were a little slow moving, I volunteered to go start the car and get it ready.  As I walked out a bunch of college kids were partying it up.  Apparently they had plenty of alcohol in them because the cold did not seem to phase their bare skin.

The girls came out, ready to go.  The two minute drive to the bar was scored by a little "Grease" music.  Before the song was over, we were parked and ready to go in.  We took our coats off and dashed for the door to reach the warmth. 

The initial smell when you walk in is a signature of this bar.  It is a combination of stale vomit and beer.  Once you are in there for awhile, your senses seem to forget all the unpleasentries.

The band started shortly after our arrival.  The crowd continued to push their way to the front.  When I looked around I saw kids.  It wasn't that long ago that I was in my early twenties, but I don't remember acting like that.  Drinks were being spilled, people were bumping into me, and some couples needed to find a more private setting to show their affection. 

2 am finally came and I was ready to go.  I took the crew home and then began my own journey back to my apartment.  The 45 minute drive made me think about how I have changed.  When I go to my hometown I am so thankful that I have moved on.  But as I drive to my current residence, I wonder where home is. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Draft: The Forgotten Ward: New Orleans Today

I am a passenger as I ride in an air conditioned car with the window down, viewing the devastation that still remains.  I see houses so exhausted that it is surprising the moisture in the air is not enough to bring them to the ground.  Each house bares a spray painted X with information about the date of entry, identification of the rescue team, possible hazards, and number of deaths.  Almost six years later, the signature stains the deteriorating home.  I was hoping to see these symbols, but the amount left on the homes leaves me uncomfortable.

Earlier that trip I was drinking my hand grenade on Bourbon Street as I watched the shoppers and drinkers around me.  I bought a hand-crafted flower headband at the French Market from a quiet young woman with her book in hand.  I even sucked head as I ate crayfish for the first time.  This is New Orleans, right?

New Orleans relies on tourism to survive, and engaging in these activities is a major part of the fun, but travel should impress more than a good time.  Traveling creates awareness and a better understanding of our world. When I return home I have a sense of fullness from the knowledge I have gained, and I feel thankful.

I was disturbed.  Almost six years after hurricane Katrina, and devastation still hangs in the humid air off the well tread path.  Efforts are being made to rebuild, but why is the process so slow?  The "Make it Right Foundation" is one group trying to do just as the name implies.  Sponsored by Brad Pitt, this group is working to build new homes that are green and ready for the next storm that comes up the gulf.

I get out of my car to take pictures of the old and the new.  As we drive up and down the empty streets, I find a home that is not empty.  Beyond the unkempt, weed-infested grass I see a door-less, windowless house filled with piles of debris.  Most of the items are unrecognizable; primarily wood that may be suitable for kindling.

As I shamefully take pictures, I try to imagine this being my home.  Truthfully, I can't imagine this because I have never come close to losing everything and having to abandon all that is familiar.  Someone lived here.  I wonder where the owners are and why there house was left this way.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Journeys Within

My alarm goes off at 5:03 am, and the snooze seems the only option.  With my current timing, I only get two snoozes, and then I face reality: it is time to get up.

I drink my glass of water because it is what the French do, and it is supposed to help with my complexion.  I check my e-mails, but nothing exciting catches my interest.  The rest of the routine goes according to schedule, but a thought remains cemented in my mind.

It is the anniversary.  Four years ago today, my granddad passed away.  The remembrance causes me to see my mother collapsing to the ground in our hallway.  She was incapable of communicating other than the sounds that escaped as she had to breathe between the releasing of her heartache.  I remember not knowing how to console her and also deal with the loss of someone I loved too.

As I take my pug for her walk, I lose control of my thoughts.  The darkness of the early morning reminds me of the late night drive to my grandparents' house, or rather, my grandmother's house now.
The ride was quiet as the news began to settle in.  It is after 10:00 pm and one hour passes.  Traveling lost its appeal.  The destination was not promising.  Another hour had been donated to the road.  The silence led to thoughts that seemed to be unable to be uttered.  Finally the third hour passed as we began to approach my mom's hometown.  On the way to the house, we passed the hospital.  I thought of my granddad and wondered where his spirit was; it was in that hospital a few hours ago.  Death always reminded me of the incomprehensible thoughts of what happens next.  Thoughts that I repressed because I didn't know how to take on the weight of the answers.

We reached the house, and my dad and I dropped off my mom.  The hour was late, and my grandmother was sleeping, though I don't know how.  The car headlights shined on the garage as we backed out of the driveway, and began the return journey home.

As I sat in the passenger seat, we covered the tracks that were just made on the trip down.  The fact that the rest of our lives didn't stop amazed me.  I would be back at work in a few hours and I must teach as though nothing has happened.  Somehow student teaching seemed to be the only logical thing to do.  I felt like everything in my world should have stopped because my granddad's life did.

My brain became worn down as the adrenaline wore off from the emotional toil.  The drive home became more treacherous than we expected.  Both of us were falling victim to drowsiness and staying on the road seemed impossible.  We switched drivers several times, but the road ahead seemed long and ruthless.  Beyond our understanding, we made it home and went to bed around 3:00 am.  Two hours of sleep would not be enough, but the rest of the process would have to wait until we were awake.

Just as I went to work then, I must go to work now.  For some reason, facing this day seems more challenging than the previous year.  I miss my granddad.  As I continue to try to figure out who I am, I realize how much we had in common.  The very subject that I teach was a close passion of his.
I go through work and nobody notices my internal battle of the day.  I drudge through the day, trying to avoid interactions.  Working with 137 students makes this task challenging.  The time comes where I can pack up.  As I grab my coat and purse, the phases of the moon poster I have hanging up comes into view.  Rather than finding strength in the memories, I feel an overwhelming sense of loss and wonder what influence he could have made on me with more time.  I close my door in my classroom as I leave.  Although I wish I could close the door on my worries and fears, I don't know that I should.