Starting Again.

Oh, gang.  It is hard to sit down and get back into this.  I don't know how many times over the last couple months I've told people that "tonight, tonight I'm going to write for the blog," and then I just don't.  I think its a combination of having had a hard year, and not being in the habit that held me back.  There are some things that I still don't know how to talk about, nor do I want to, and so where do we go from there?

I'm going to start posting again, because its good for me, and because I've been taking photos and I want to tell the stories that go with them.  My own story looks different because of the people I've met, and I'm excited to share.  

I hope this finds you well and happy in the new year.  I'm looking forward to sharing and growing again.

As always, its been too long.  In the last post, I promised to reflect life as it really is.  So, let's begin.

I've been away, not because I've been too busy, though things have been, but because my computer and phone were stolen.  I was in Guatemala City and got robbed at gunpoint while driving.  It was scary and awful, and it left me out of communication for a couple weeks, which was inconvenient, but a good time to re-evaluate how I spend my time.  Several weeks without being perma-connected was really good for me.  After a couple days, the inconvenience wore off and I found myself wondering less and less what I was missing on instagram, or if I had a new email.

I bought myself a watch when we were in the states for a week, and its been a great addition to my life.  When I was phoneless, I found that I wondered the time a lot, and realized that most of the time when I get sucked into staring at a screen, its because I need to know the time, and then get wrapped up in notifications.  And we all know that reading a comment on instagram is a rabbit hole that leads to hours of nonsense.  That being said, I am so thankful to have a computer and a phone and the connection that provides.  However, I am still trying to keep the phone away and just check my watch when necessary.

So, here I am, thankful to be unhurt, though still shaken up.  I can safely say I am more thankful for my family- in Guatemala, in Minneapolis, in Chicago- than ever before.  It was timely that I got to spend time with them this month.  It feels good to be grounded by love.  I know its cliche to say that hard situations offer us new perspective, but it is true, and I am grateful.

Reconnecting

Remember that one time when I thought that I was ready to be back with the living?  It wasn't true.  It turns out that pneumonia knocks you on your butt for weeks, and the minute you get up, you need a nap.  My boss made a comment the other day about how strange it is to know someone that's had a disease you could die from on Oregon Trail.  Funny, but not funny.

I talked to Cassandra this week.  We used to work together during college- the magical time when you think you want to be a full member adult, but don't realize what that actually means.   We worked the early shift at a coffee shop and spent our mornings having dance parties while making drinks for our regulars.  Cass and I were reminiscing recently and talked about how nice it would be to have a vacation where we could work those mornings again.

As the seasons change and we lose touch, I was happy to reconnect with her this week.  She commented that she didn't know what my life looks like.  She reads my blog.  I'm on instagram.  Its amazing how fragmented my life feels when I look back just using these two sources.  I see dogs and a studio and the word "busy" too often.   This is not life.

My commitment is that my blog will begin to reflect what life looks like on a daily basis.  There are a lot of big things going on right now that I am ecstatic about, but I know that I tend to lean towards the vague to protect them because they are so dear.  I will share what I can, when I can.  I'll try to be more consistent and more transparent.  Life over here isn't always a party, but I am thankful for what we have, so get ready.

 

Back in action.

This week my mom framed up the Norway Pine on yupo you see above.  She also framed a similar large Pine on watercolor paper.  It wasn't my typical subject to paint, but I had a blast this summer painting trees upon trees, upon trees, until these guys emerged.

The studio is ready and functional, but not in use at the moment.  I'm still recovering from a bout of pneumonia, so the last several days have been spent in bed.  I finally got to go back to work today, which was fun.  The kids were running around dressed in white and pink and red, passing out Valentines and roses.  I taught kindergarten for awhile, which is always a joy, and caught up on emails and projects.  Its amazing how many things can pile up in just a few days.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend.  I'll still be laying low, though taking a day trip to the coast for some warmer temps and relaxing by the pool.  By next week I should be back in action, ready to paint and carve and write, rather than sleep.

Sick Day

I stayed home from work today with a serious cold/cough combo.  The kind of cold where your whole face hurts, and enough coughing to give you a headache. 

The mug was a gift from a friend last year, who connected the hearts from Minneapolis to Xela.  Drinking tea this afternoon, I wished that the distance from here to there was less that it feels.  It seems greatest during times that are especially joyous, and then, of course, when you are sick and all you want is to hang out with your mom and watch the Hallmark Channel all day.  Someday, I tell myself.  Someday we'll be that close again.

Like a weed

The studio is nearly finished- the walls have been painted white, and we've power washed the space, which means it'll probably stay dust-free for ten minutes.  The work benches are nearly complete, just waiting on a table vice installation and there should be wood curls on the floor from carving by the end of the week.

In the meantime, here's an updated photo of Luca.  He is growing like a weed with no end in sight.  He's still a teeny puppy at heart though, not realizing that his body has changed sizes, and is constantly underfoot.  I think I trip over him at least 3 times every morning while I'm trying to get ready for work.  Dagny is still steady as ever, under the covers until its time for me to leave.

Steve took this shot on our way up Chicabal.  We brought both of the dogs and they had a blast.  Though it was an hour and a half up the volcano, Dags trucked along just fine until she pooped out on the way home and rode in my backpack the rest of the way.  Part of me wants Luca to grow, and keep growing.  The other part of me wants him to keep his baby face and smaller stature.  But, with the way things are going, the next photo you see will be of me riding him like a pony.

In the studio: Kitting it out

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The excitement over finally finding a studio led to a momentary lapse, where we thought all we'd have to do is paint the walls white and we'd be in business.  And then I realized that my easel is tucked away in storage, along with everything else from my studio- and its in the states.  The pessimist in me whines about having to buy things I already own and start from scratch.  The optimist reminds me that this is a time to create, and build something new, and that starting from scratch is great news.  The possibilities feel endless.

I've spent time combing Pinterest for good ideas, but ultimately returned to a basic work bench for carving spoons and woodworking, and a high table for making art.  My easel will be less conventional, but simple still.  It strikes me as strange, that with creativity and a plethora of ideas that I'd end up back at the start, with the familiar.  Its probably more commentary on the human condition.

The last few afternoons have been spent running around to various wood shops and hardware stores, filling the back of the pick-up with supplies.  Initially planning for smooth plywood, we came across the rough cut wood you see above and reconsidered.  Some will be sanded here and there, but the majority will remain as is, pieces of bark and blemishes still intact.  I had a vision for the studio, but it seems that its become a character itself, absorbing rugged materials and fruit crates, and woven mats.  I'm equal parts puzzled and thrilled of what it might become.

In the studio: Starting fresh

Yesterday we received the keys for our new studio.  We've had access for a week or so, to begin cleaning and painting the walls.  The space hadn't been used in several years, explaining the inch of dust we found on the floor and walls.  What you see in the photo is the front of the studio.  The doorway in the middle leads to the bathroom, and then opens up into another larger room with a stainless sink. 

We hypothesize that at one point it was a tiny cafe- the front for tables, the back room as a kitchen.  It was also once a microbrewery, to which it may return, if I have my say.  The only glaringly obvious issue is the lack of windows, a necessity.  What you don't see, is that our entire front wall is a garage door.  Its hard to maneuver, but possible, and we'll take the open air.

I know its not much to look at now, but this studio does feel like a fresh start.  Its as if the last piece of the puzzle is falling into place.  Do I need a studio?  No.  Is carving spoons on the kitchen table getting old?  Yes.  Does this feel like an unwarranted gift?  Absolutely.  I'm at a place in my life where I couldn't be more thankful.  I have my family, my love, the dogs, and a place to create.  I'm not sure what else I'd ask for- it's all here.

 

Room for more

I managed to snap this shot with my pups about a  month ago while we were playing at school.  That's right, plural- pups.  We are not found lacking in the personality or spunk department with Dagny around, but when presented with an opportunity that has an adorable masked face, its hard to say no- so I didn't. 

The not-so-little dog on the right is the newest member of our family, and he's the best.  Luca is the sweet to Dagny's spicy, and has been the perfect addition around here.  The photo above was taken at 8 weeks, and now at nearly 14 weeks he is exponentially larger- to the point that people stop me in the street and say, "Wow, that dog is going to be huge!"  Right.  I know.

His mother is a lab who got a little frisky, ran into the street, and found herself in a situation.  Of the seven puppies, Luca is one of two that appear to have some husky.  The others are solid black, or black, white, and brown.  All but one of the puppies went to homes that I know, and its been fun watching them grow and develop their own personalities.  As far as the ones in my house, safety is Dagny's first priority, barking at everything from cats to fireworks to any minor disturbance too quiet for human ears.  Luca supports her by sleeping at my feet, snoring.  Dagny is independent.  Luca sees life as a team sport and is underfoot constantly.  The sweet thing, is that while Dags doesn't like other dogs, she seems to have adopted this one.  They play together, choose to share a food and water bowl, and snuggle up in the same dog house.

I'll do my best to refrain from posting incessantly about their antics, but no promises.  I hope this finds everyone happy and well as you prepare for Christmas.  The tree is up and decorated (eh,only half the lights work), and we are counting down the days until we get to go home and see family.  I can't wait.

Update: The Darkroom Project

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While it’s not complete, The Darkroom Project website is finally updated.  I still have to add our most recent project with the Roma in Slovakia, as well as the Guatemala project from last year, but we’ll take progress where we can get it.

A few weeks ago, I asked Matthew if he still wanted me as part of the project.  It feels like he is in the trenches, working with Clubhouse in Indiana, and traveling to Slovakia while I’m grounded in Guatemala, spinning my wheels, losing focus.  I love my job.  I love my students.  I love my staff.  I know it is a luxury to want to go to work in the morning, but some days it is still hard.  I want to be the one teaching photography.  I want to be the one traveling and part of giving those without, a voice.

He was gracious- I’m still on the team.  When we started Darkroom, it was for the sake of maintaining purpose and following passion.  Getting a doctorate is something I’d do all over again, but at the time, buried under forums and presentations and papers, I struggled with why I wanted it in the first place- why it was necessary.  Matthew and I discussed our individual reasons for being in the program, and it boiled down to being able help marginalized populations, and being a voice- an advocate for those who had none.  And thus, we began this journey of storytelling as empowerment and instilling the idea of intrinsic value in those who felt forgotten.

I apologize.  At this point, I’m rambling.  This evening finds me considering purpose, and at what point I got lost in the process.  Guatemala has been an amazing learning experience and opportunity for growth, and adventure, but some days, discontent still finds its way in.  The grass looks greener elsewhere.  It looks greener where passion can be applied, and where I can hear the voices and see the faces of those in the project rather than getting to know them through portraits and artist statements after the fact.  Updating our Pinterest account and writing curriculum just can’t compete with human connection.

The good news, is that I’m back.  The creative spark that fled for a time has returned, and I’m excited about updating the site and engaging in the journey.  I’ve reawakened to the idea that though I’m not in Slovakia or Indiana, these are still my people, and this is still my story- our story.  I’ve canned the pity party and am thankful for the ongoing relationship I have with the boys we worked with here.

Take a look at the site and offer feedback if you’d like.  The Roma should be up by the end of the week, with our Guatemalan boys following shortly after.    

Sumpango: Flying the Kites

The raising of the kites was amazing.  I've never seen anything like it, and am so thankful we went.  But, it didn't end there.  The giant kite in the last post wasn't flown, nor were 13 other giant kites, ranging from 8-20 meters.  It just isn't possible, which I knew logically, but was still disappointed.  However, they do fly kites that have up to a 7 meter diameter, and they fly them in the middle of a crowd of people, which seems a little unsafe until you see it, and realize its the Guatemalan version of Russian Roulette.  These kites generally don't stay up long before violently plummeting back into the crowd, causing people to scatter.  Casualties are not unheard of.  We were actually pretty close to a crash- Steve says in harms way, I say we were fine, though my camera aimed upward, so who's to say.  I'm also not sure, that had I spent a year painstakingly placing tissue paper to create a masterpiece, would I be willing to fly it when its likely to be destroyed in the process.  I like the idea of the ritual that is creating a new kite each year.  The variety in themes was amazing- some were representing cities, and traditions, while other spoke of the war and justice.  It was absolutely beautiful.

Sumpango: Raising the Kites

I'd heard of the kites in Sumpango, but never been.  When someone describes large kites to you, its hard to get excited, because it doesn't sound that spectacular.  But, it is.  In my mind, large kites meant a 2 meters, not 20 meters.  And, I imagine basic geometric shaped kites with blocks of primary colors.  As usual, my perceptions were a far cry from reality.  I have more photos of Sumpango that will come later, but I felt like the raising of the largest kite (20 meters) deserved a post of its own. 

As you can see in the first photo, there are support beams stuck into the ground on which the kite can rest once it has been erected.  Previous to watching this kite, we learned the hard way that the best place to stand is not behind those beams while the kite is going up.  Like fools, we mused, "Gosh, this could be really bad if one of these breaks," and sure enough, within ten seconds we were running because the pole across snapped in half like a twig, and the bird kite crashed, swinging the wing around to where we were standing.  Naturally, we fled.

The Things I Overlooked.

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I’m relearning, and it is happening slowly, but it is happening.  The hours spent writing and revising are now free and finding their way to the people around me.  I didn’t realize how much I was missing when my nose was stuck in my laptop.  I mean, I did.  It is no fun watching people play and feeling like the one sitting on the fence at recess, but you get what I’m saying.

Surprisingly, my camera has surfaced very little in the past few weeks.  With all of this time on my hands, I’ve been practicing harmonica and reading and staying up past my bedtime for late night discussions.  (A side note about the harmonica: you should know before you begin playing that with all of the inhaling and exhaling that you’ll get unbelievably lightheaded and maybe pass out.  I haven’t exactly figured out how to get around this, and I’m generally terrible at this instrument, but time is my friend, right?)

I took the photos above in San Andreas Xecul, a little city not too far from Xela a couple months ago.  We spent an afternoon walking the streets, chatting with little kids who squealed at having their photos taken and demanded to see them immediately after.  The spontaneous giggles and snorts that the kids couldn’t hold in reminded me that there are things I’ve missed in the last year.  Oh, the things I overlooked while being so singly focused on school.  It is embarrassing to admit, and I hate to imagine all the times I kept walking or internally sighed when a child wanted my attention- or a friend.  I never ignored anyone intentionally, but I wonder, who did I not see?  Where was I blind?  What opportunities to love did I miss?  It feels like a failing of sorts, not being present enough to embrace those around me.  There’s nothing to be done, except move forward with resolution.

And so, I begin again- committed to seeing and searching and loving.

Welcome Back!

I flew in on a Sunday night, and left Guatemala City before the crack of dawn to arrive at work on time for Monday morning.  Then, this.  What you see above is probably hour two into a nine hour wait on the highway due to protests.  Add that to the three hours it generally takes to get home, and there you have it- 12 hours between Guatemala City and Xela.  Was it fun, especially with the lack of foliage to use the bathroom?  Not exactly, but the sun was shining, and that's good enough for me.

I would rather have been at work, preparing for the new staff and workshops, but in some ways, this was the perfect "Welcome Back," along with the earthquake later on in the evening.  There was no pretending that I was still in the states, just at a different office.  Oh, no.  When you're stuck for nine hours, you have plenty of time to process that this is nothing like where you were and the transition band-aid has been ripped off in one fell swoop.

I'm back.  Its easier than I thought in most ways, and I'm thankful for the grace that exists in the rest.  I've made my rounds, looking for the kids in the park.  Dagny is back home, a couple pounds heavier, but nothing that a little boot camp can't fix.  And I have found a rhythm again.  We went to our annual "welcome" service at the Episcopal church this morning, where I caught up with the usual suspects.  I spent the afternoon in Terminal, digging through clothes piles with Kylie and enjoying an afternoon off.  I've also been practicing harmonica (more on that later, and why), but Dagny either loves it or hates it and keeps howling along, which isn't ideal.  I knew I was bad, but it can't be that awful, right?  I feel like the punchline of a joke.

I say it, and have had a hard time following through, but I will be back.  I have several projects I'm excited to share- both in photography and life in general.  I also have a handful of embarrassing stories- like the time I almost unintentionally kidnapped a woman at the airport.  So, stay tuned.

I hope you had a great weekend.

Like everything came back to me.

It would seem that I am in a constant state of packing and unpacking.  I am thankful because it means that I went home for graduation, and spent time with my family.  It means I went back and watched my students graduate as well.  And it means that I've been bouncing between Washington, DC, New York, and that I've finally landed in Minneapolis.

My dad took the photo above at the cabin, while we were fishing on Sunday night.  The fish were biting all weekend long, which is a godsend for people like me, with the attention span of a toddler (and for those who have to deal with us).  I can't remember laughing more while at the lake.  My mom, casting in the opposite direction of my chair, yet somehow her line ending up draped over me.  Me, casting over my mom, then dropping everything when I see her bobber go down, pulling up her fish hand over hand, dividing my focus between bringing it in and not peeing my pants from laughing.

We had unexpected visits from old friends, saw family, and spent time reading.  My mom and I weaved vines through her fairy house and I relearned how to fillet like a pro.  I caught up with my childhood by retelling stories with one of my dearest friends whose memory is the steel trap to my pathetic leaking sieve that can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

"...what does love look like"
to which I replied,
"like everything I've ever lost came back to me."

I've always loved this quote by Nayyirah Waheed, but felt like I finally touched it this weekend.

If it gets better than this, I'm not sure how.

Relief.

In this moment, I feel like my whole body is one giant sigh of relief.  Dramatic, I know, but its real to me, okay?  I finally graduated.  Finally.  My seniors graduated last night, taking one more thing off my plate, and the school year is officially closed.  Finally.

While I was away from the blog, rainy season began with an early vengence.  We had more rain in the first eight days of May, than in all of May in years prior.  The reality of this looks like torrential downpour and flooding in zones 2 and 3.  Thankfully, damage was minimal and everything is back to a lush green.  Little known fact: I prefer rainy season to dry.  In Guatemala, I will always take vibrant green to dusty brown.  I also enjoy rainy afternoons, provided I don't have too many pressing errands.  Dagny, on the other hand, despises the rain.  She spends what feels like an eternity sitting on the front stoop, waiting for a break in the weather to run out, use the bathroom, and then dive back under the blanket from whence she came.

I'll be back to blogging on a more regular basis now that some of the busyness has calmed.  I'm looking forward to starting my length "to do" list now that all the fires have been put out.  Today, we are heading to the coast for a nice, relaxing barbecue by the pool.  Dags will likely take a little swim, and rest will be had by all.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. To the gentlemen asking for advice on your upcoming road trip (RV, etc.), please email me again and I'd be happy to help.  Somehow, I lost your original email between switching phones/computers.

 

 

Taking five.

I've been absent, dealing with the hack and life.  Again, to those who offered encouragement, thank you, thank you, thank you.  It is violating and frustrating and incites an explosion of profanity in my brain when I think about someone invading my life in that way. 

In light of everything- trying to graduate on time, and finishing out the school year well, and deciding where this blog is going, I am going to take a break.  Its not forever, just a month or so, until I graduate and have a minute to catch my breath.  In the last few weeks, I've loved taking photos in little villages, hosting Easter dinner, and actually feeling like I took a Spring break- focusing on things just for me, and its exactly what I've needed.   

Until I return, feel free to continue to ask questions about Guatemala, I'm always happy to help. 

Take care of yourselves, I'll see you soon.

Hacked.

Hey gang, we've been hacked.  It'll take me a day or two to work this out, so if you receive any strange emails from the account associated with the blog, or from someone strange, accept my apologies and disregard them completely.

Thank you for your patience.

Update

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To those who have emailed, asking if I am okay, thank you.  I honestly forget sometimes that someone other than my mother reads my blog.  Saying that I've been busy feels like a cop out, and to a point, it is.  I've been trying to keep my priorities in line, succeeding when it comes to the students, and inevitably failing in other areas.  Its been fun playing with the kids and feeling engaged in their excitement for learning and life.  I have still been playing catch up with grad work, and am looking forward to the moment when I no longer feel like I am drowning.  It has been a roller coaster of "Yes, you can graduate in May," and "No, you don't have enough time," which is exhausting.  Some of the delays are my own doing, and some rest on others.  I am learning to take deep breaths and mentally preparing myself for receiving an answer I don't like.    

I currently have three extra bodies in my apartment, as Olivia, Laura, and JaNahn arrived last weekend.  I feel like we have been running non-stop, in the best, most tiring way possible.  They are currently on a tour and likely in the hot springs as I type.  We leave for the lake tomorrow, and then its back to Guatemala, and off they go.  I  found myself shaking my head at how tired I am today while sitting in my office.  Olivia and I have the tendency to stay up talking far past my normal bedtime, and while I wouldn't trade it for anything, it makes me wonder how we did this as kids, staying up at slumber parties until two and three in the morning.  I think this means that I might be getting old.

The next few weeks are going to be hectic.  I am trying to finish the last two chapters of my dissertation in short order, leaving little time for anything else, but I'll try to hop on and say hello.  Until we speak again, know that this blog is still alive, just a little quiet for the time being.

Priorities

This week made me feel like I was running on a hamster wheel, willing my feet to fly, but getting nowhere.  The accreditation process has been a marathon, a valuable one at that, but time consuming doesn't even begin to describe the odyssey it has become.  Belly-aching aside, I appreciate the commitment to academic rigor and the changes that are surfacing that will ultimately better our students and community.

Today was busy with discipline and revising documents for our internal review, meeting with student council about spirit week, and taking one last look over the literacy week schedule to make sure we're ready for all things reading and Dr. Seuss on Monday.  The icing on the cake was a surprise meeting with the local Rotarians about our microfinance non-profit, making the entire day  feel cramped and rushed.  Yesterday, the little girls in third grade came into my office, proudly carrying a large water can.  They planted little trees for science, and are faithfully maintaining them.  Last week, I trekked out with them to check progress, and though it is dry season, their trees are faring well.  Back to yesterday, I told them to be sure and let me know when they plan on watering, and I'd go with them, as it is at the far end of campus, too far for the recess supervisor to see.  Wouldn't you know that they chose today, ten minutes before I needed to leave for my meeting.

Impulsively, I wanted to tell them that they could wait, that what I was working on was more important than what are essentially twigs, strapped to sticks so they don't fall over.  Thankfully, my brain and my mouth didn't connect, and what came out was, "Perfect.  I need a break, let's go."  We talked about the surprising things they've learned, like the fact that trees need nutrients, and that cow poop makes all the difference.  One of the little girls ran off and started rolling down the slope, shortly after covered in dry grass and dust, and I was reminded that she was me, not long ago. 

I made it to my meeting, and we spoke of more pressing issues than trees.  We talked data and evaluation and bureaucracy, and while it was important, I wished I had stayed to goofing around with my kids.  Balance has been tough to come by lately.  Documents and artifacts are important to this school improvement process and so are schedules and curriculum mapping, but they drag us away from the kids that inspire us to come back every morning.  My priorities weren't on track this week, so I'm writing this and confessing, with the intention that next week will be different, and that you'll check in with me to make sure my head is on straight, and that I'm covered in dry grass, playing.