Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A True Home

Mt. Hood on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
Looking to the Washington side of the
 Columbia on our trip home from the coast.
This is where I live, the Pacific Northwest;  marked by the Cascade mountain range, sliced by the Columbia River.  I didn't grow up here. No, I'm an L.A. girl, and Alli is, too.  I think we consider where we went to high school to be "home" but she lived with me in the San Gabriel Valley longer than she lived in Chicago. After college and a short mission trip to Russia, I came up to visit a friend and put the final touches on her impending wedding.  During my visit the engagement broke and I decided to come live with my college roommate in Washington State.  I thought I would live here for 2 years and then head north to Seattle, a city more befitting my style.  Boy was I wrong!  My first teaching job, finding the keeper of my heart and soul, two beautiful boys, and 18 years later I am still right here in Southwest Washington. I love the cool, crisp air.  I love that the temperatures are so mild the majority of the time that I can walk out my front door and go for a run.  I complain about the rain every February only to reap it's benefits in a beautiful, green spring and summer.  When people ask me how I ended up here I am always a bit befuddled.  It's a convoluted story of looking for the wide open spaces of geography but also to stretch the wide open spaces of my youthful heart.  I will be independent!  Tom says the real reason I came here was to find him. It's sweet every time he says it when he thinks I'm not listening.  How else do you explain finding your soulmate at Yacolt Primary School?  The trip from Southern California, my first home, to Washington State, my true home is much longer than the 1,100 miles would make it seem.

This is the view from the balcony off our room. The darker
 blue between the trees is the Pacific Ocean.
The chairs we would have sat in to enjoy the rare sunshine
 on the coast of Oregon if it hadn't been below freezing!

Monday, November 21, 2011


I, like many other women across the world, have two full time jobs.  I am, as you know, Mrs. Ortner - first grade teacher.  But what you might not know, and what I often forget myself, is that I have another full time job, Deb - wife, mother and friend. During the school year so much of my time, thoughts, and efforts go into running my classroom.  As my boys have gotten older, they need my time and devotion in different ways, more consuming ways. Like to drive them 10 miles to their basketball practice, spend an entire weekend at a baseball tournament 30 miles from our house that awaits upkeep and repair, or working endless hours in a concession stand selling food to people that I would sooner die than put in my own body to raise money for the team.  All this needs to be done while I'm cooking dinner (mostly done in a crock pot before I leave for work in the morning), chasing the dog off of the couch, reviewing student work, completing knitting projects, attempting home decorating projects, and hopefully having a conversation with my husband.  My evenings and weekends are just a different kind of work and I love this job just as much as I love being a teacher, even more so. I would not change one thing about my life.  I love shuttling my kids around and watching them grow. But I think my most important job falls to the wayside more often than it should; being Tom's wife. Our relationship is the foundation our family rests upon. It needs my full time attention as do all the rest of the things mentioned above.  How do I find the balance I need to do all of my jobs well?  It doesn't always go smoothly nor as planned but I think I'm getting the important parts right. I married the most amazing man.  This weekend, on a stolen get-away, he recited the words to a song being played in the background at dinner "you're my pride and joy" as he looked at me.  I was done. My heart melted as did all thoughts of assessments, dinner, and practice.  I found my balance. Upon my rock.
Tom, keeper of my heart and soul

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dear Me

"Dear Me, Alexa  Rumimbr to bring your Snak owase at school. bekos they..."

Ok, I'll translate:

"Dear Me, Alexa

Remember to bring your snack always at school. Because they..."

Alexa was upset about not having any snack this afternoon.  When I couldn't seem to get her past it I suggested she write a note to help remind her mom to pack her a snack. There's really only one part of this note that Alexa wrote to herself today that matters; Dear Me, Alexa.  Alexa is a 7 year girl with an amazing sense of self that is not typical in someone her age.  Most of my little charges expect perfection of themselves and have no room for errors. I tell them, "The only thing you're perfect at is being you!" and they look at me like a little puppy with their heads tilted to the side. I tell them, "Don't worry, you're not supposed to know that yet." and they slowly nod their heads thinking ya, right. I tell them, "That is what first grade is for; to learn to read." and they pout because they can't sound out the word 'are' (who can?). There is so much pressure to achieve but none more than the pressure they put upon themselves.  Alexa has these same unrealistic expectations, even higher at times. But she has a quality about her that will serve her well beyond the first grade.  She knows how to like herself.  Even though she is hard on herself at times she also recognizes the infinite amount of good she possesses. Alexa is a wonderful little girl with a creative mind and artistic flair.  She answers every question I ask, loudly.  She sings every song, loudly and off key. She pouts when it's time to clean up.  And she writes, "I like me sooooo much." in her writers workshop journal.  She came to me this way. I pray she leaves the same way or maybe even with a little bit more.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sweet Grace

A late addition to my classroom this year came in a pint size package. Gracelyn joined our class about 2 weeks into the school year. She already had several friends from kindergarten and a soccer team she plays on. She fit right in. She was an immediate attraction for all the kids; someone new to sit by, someone new to work next to, someone new to chase at recess. She sits in the back row in the carpet area where I do all of my instruction.  I have a bird's eye view of sweet Gracelyn and the bundle of energy she brings to our group. She's probably the smallest first grader in the school but she is never looked over, she makes sure of that! Gracie is excited about life and she shows it.  When I tell the kids to get ready for the simplest of activities, say lunch, she tenses all of her muscles, puts her fists high in the air and squeezes.  The best part is when she brings her arms down and she throws in a few snaps: snap, snap, snap snap! Because this little girl loves life, I get to see the squeezes and snaps several times a day. Lucky me!  I smile every time.  I've started to watch for it; to watch for Gracelyn's snap of approval.  At an all school assembly recently she got caught up in the music and joined in.  Of course, she added a few of her signature moves.  I chuckle every time I think about it, still.  Sometimes I need to borrow Gracie's excitement for the little things that happen in our classroom.  I'm so glad she came with enough to share.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Veteran's Day

Every year our school (mostly the work of our music teacher) puts together a Veteran's Day assembly that cannot be surpassed.  It's not that there are grand speeches or ornate musical performances that make it so wonderful, it's the close feeling of community that permeates the room that makes it so special. It starts at the door as the community members, school children, and invited guests file into the cafeteria with hand-made cards thanking our veterans for their service taped to the walls. The whole school dresses in red, white, and blue for the day. There's not a dry
eye in the house when our principal invites any Veterans in the audience to come up and receive a gift from the children of our school.  There were 28 this year including a teacher and a teacher's aide from our school.  Korean War veterans, Vietnam veterans, Gulf War veterans and some currently serving.  My heart swells with appreciation and respect every year as they walk past my class knowing the horrors they've seen so I didn't have to, the families that waited behind while they served in countries far away, and the slight grin that creeps upon their lips as they hear the thunderous applause of 500 school children, their parents and other community members. I don't know any of what they have experienced and yet my heart still breaks thinking of what they've done for me.  Each Veteran is handed a flower by a student and gets a firm hand shake from our principal.  They pass the microphone and tell where and how they served. And then the crowd erupts again as they walk back into the audience to assume their seats while 5, 6, and 7 year olds try to figure out how to give a standing ovation (surprisingly difficult for my little charges). The music is the sweetest sound of children's voices singing familiar tunes that you may have grown up with in school: You're A Grand Old Flag, My Country Tis' of Thee, and others. We all join in. This year the 3rd grade classes sang a collection of patriotic songs including 3 anthems from the branches of our military. While they sang the anthem for the Marines I saw a white-haired gentleman standing, mostly stooped over from age, leaning on a walking stick but out of his seat none the less to honor his branch of service.  I wanted to stand with him, so he wasn't alone, but knew only he had earned the right to stand during that song. I don't think you have to be an American to be proud of those who put themselves in harm's way on our behalf. Selflessness is a trait we should recognize more often than every November 11th.