Four-Legged Friends

This last year our family lost 2 of our four-legged friends. Sydney Bear and Prince Shilo. Both of them lived long, happy, healthy, and well loved lives. They will be missed dearly. Sydney (16.5 years) and Shilo (17 years) both helped raise our kids.

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For you Megan, Calvin, and Katie

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrHKAx9FutA

Love, Mama

Music by:

“I will be your friend” – Amy Grant

“Embrace me” – Frank Sinatra

Joy

Joy is Universal

Attending a Google Summit all weekend you would think that it would be a geek fest. Well for some I am sure it was. I love learning new things that Google has to offer so attending this conference I was open to the classes that were offered and ready to absorb all the good nuggets that were applicable to my job. Little did I know that the keynote speaker would strike a chord in me during his opening talk. Joy. He spoke of joy in the classroom, teaching, workplace, and life. His title “Is joy even a thing anymore?” resonated with me. I found it interesting that this topic of Joy has been moving through my being for quite some time.  He also stated that “The average 4 yr old laughs 300 times a day and the average 40 yr old laughs 4 times a day.” Very interesting. As we age, we take things way more seriously. We need to remember to embrace joy. It is universal. It is contagious. It is genuine. Laughter is the explosive expression of joy.

I find myself in a state of joy staleness. The places we have traveled to and lived in have tapped into my senses and drawn out parts of my being that I never thought possible. Mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotional. I am going out on a limb here so just bare with me as I bare my soul.

Marty and I have made 3 big moves during our time across the world over the last nearly 5 years. It is romantic, adventurous, scary, lonely, beautiful, new, and unknown. As I write this I am listening to the album I listened to over and over before heading across the world to Nepal with my love. February Birds. Every one of the songs touch my soul. It is an album that gives me peace in times of uncertainty and also joy. I have several favorites, “Live differently”, “Mercy Walks”, “You say” and the one that has been touching my heart as of late is “Quiet my heart.”

This 3rd move has been different than before. Why? You may ask. I am still trying to figure that out. I was so thankful to read this article from our HS psychologist just recently.  The topic is  “Transitioning to life abroad – The stages.”  I define my current space as stage 4. I think this “transitions” article can apply to anyone who has moved or is moving away from family and friends, or entering a new job and surroundings. It can be so disorienting and you can’t define the process in words. It takes time and patience.

Each year during the Fall I seem to come up with a word to be my focus for the year. In the past it has been words like Peace, Hope, Patience, Wisdom, Forgiveness, New Beginnings, Grace, Health, Explore, Change…a few examples. I would share these topics that were on my heart with my husband and kids. Kind of for accountability and also for discussion around the dinner table. What does that particular word mean and how can I incorporate it in my daily life? The words have taken me on great journeys. Some of them have been joyful and some have been painful.

How does this all tie into this writing? Well after hearing the opening talk from the keynote speaker this weekend it was confirmation to me that my word this year is Joy. The word Joy has been on my heart and mind for the last two years. My joy has been muffled. It may surprise some because I humbly find joy as one of my strengths. I love joy. It is imbedded in my soul and being. Right now I am getting reacquainted with joy. I have missed her. She is my best friend.

The last two years I have been unable to write. Fear has gripped me. Mostly because my emotions have been in a state of pause. I have been on autopilot. However, with my emotions on pause, joy met me when I needed her the most. I love people. Relationship is vital in life. When I am with people, joy is there to greet me and she gives me strength. She helps me extend myself to others. She gets me out of my comfort zone and pulls me to those who need to experience her. She digs deep in me to find laughter to pour out and share with others. She is my friend. Now, in this new place of living I am learning to push play on my emotions again and joy is encouraging me to open up.

Joy and fear are not meant to live together. I choose joy. Joy is genuine. It’s light illuminates like a spark ignites a fire. Joy is vital to life. Joy is a gift.

As I roll into a new year with the complexities of a new location, home, climate, culture, friendships, rhythm, and experiences I choose to invite joy to come along for the ride. She will remind me to look into the eyes of the people and see their souls. She will remind me to smile when I hear a child giggle. She will remind me to see the moon again with a full heart of thankfulness. She will help me stop and breathe in the fragrances of life. She will help me to learn new steps as I figure out this new dance in job, location, and culture.

When I think of one word to define each location we have lived, this is what comes to mind…Nepal – awakening, Tunis – fear (unsettled)…that was a hard one to type, Singapore – overwhelmingly efficient and clean.

Nepal – Awakening. I find myself talking about our time in Nepal, as hard as it was at times,  with a smile on my face. When I see photos of us and friends in that location, I see joy. Joy was present in this most interesting place on the planet. I saw joy in the people. I felt joy in the learning. Life was hard and simple at the same time. We found joy in this woven tapestry of color and culture. I have written so much about our experience previously on my blog. Feel free to read about that special time. Joy is diverse and intricate.

Tunis – Fear (unsettled).  I know the more I explore in my mind the time that we had there, the pleasant times will surface like cream floats to the top of a still cup of coffee. The dark times will swirl around and be enveloped in the fullness of the pleasant memories. Right now, I must set that experience aside and step away but be sensitive to the triggers that may cause me to hide. I am still defining those triggers. They come up at the most interesting times. It will be a journey. The close friends we met along the way in this location will forever have a special place in our hearts. We experienced a shaken time of uncertainty and protectedness.

So in the mean time, I invite joy. Joy in the overwhelming new rhythm of the high energy, efficient, fast pace of this new place.

Here’s to a new journey discovering joy.

Joy

Giving Thanks…

I opened my blog this morning and scrolled to a few posts that have not made it out of my draft box. Thoughts that have not quite moved out of that area because there is so much there. Like I shared previously I need to remind myself that not everything needs to be written in one post. There is time to process, breathe and enjoy the experience of seeing the words flow from mind to paper. Taking time to reflect has caused me to see, feel, and take in the experience as if I was an observing person. Kind of like being a fly on the wall in the room. Seeing things in a different perspective or remembering things I had forgotten during the experience.

Giving Thanks. There is truly much to be thankful for this year. My eyes well up every time I begin to write about my dad. His determination to push through every obstacle that came his way before, during and after his 2 major surgeries last year, makes me admire and cherish him even more. “I’ve got a good father, and his strength is what makes me cry…” Jann Arden (Good Mother).

Always lending a hand
Always lending a hand
No words can express the joy in my heart
No words can express the joy in my heart

A lot has taken place since September 2012. I hold on to the sweet moments. My mind can reel back to the pain, sorrow and anxieties of things out of my control. But I hold tight to the cherished moments that outweigh the challenges and struggles. The future ahead. Life ahead. New beginnings and new steps forward.

Those cherished moments I hold dear are the laughter, sweet chats, walks in the cool fall weather, crisp mornings drinking coffee as I watched my dad remaster his crossword puzzle, counting medications, making meals for my parents and family out of love and adoration, sleeping on the couch listening to my dad breath in the hospital bed not too far out of reach,  moments alone to catch up with my husband across the huge ocean, smelling the cool ocean water that the winds would dance on up to my brothers house and swirl around my parents windows and watching my dad gain more and more of his strength and independence.

Family. I am thankful for my family. The beautiful one that I grew up in…

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the one that I was blessed to be married into…

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and the one that was created with my husband.

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The bonds of family are priceless and profound. There is such a deep love that no words can express.

Friendship. Those who step in your life just at the right time. They may be there for a season or a lifetime but the tie is strong and deep.  The ones you gain perspective from, a sound board, who love you with your imperfections and still want to hang out. I like to call them Soul-Friends. Good friends…where you can pick up right where you left off. I hold them dear to my heart. I am thankful for the laughter, tears, hardships, struggles, chats and just doing life with them.

Family and friendship. Whether in the same town, in a different state or across the sea, cultivating those relationships is priceless.  They are gems. They are prized gifts. They are beautiful.

As our own family has expanded this year by adding a son-in-law, I imagined but never considered what that would feel like. But as I remember being pregnant with the twins when Meg was just a baby, I wondered how I could expand my love from 1 child even further to 2 more. As soon as I saw the 3 of my children together it was like putting a puzzle together. Every piece fit just in the right place. It is possible and it is magical how much your love can spread and envelope those who capture your heart in the most profound way. Now with our new son in the family, the love expands even further.

Giving thanks. So much to be thankful for. My heart is grateful and it is full.

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Yes, they are ours!

Happy Thanksgiving family and friends. We Love you all!

Ok, so it’s been awhile!

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Yes, it has been awhile. Ummmm over a year since my last post. We will just say I was on hiatus! It was an interesting year to say the least. Looking back I have much to fill you in on. We will just do that “baby-steps.”

Marty and I have returned for our second year in Tunisia. The weather is of course amazing and the sea is outstanding. Our summer back in the States was priceless. Graduation, marriage, celebrating life and sending our adult children off on their new journey’s. Life is good!

I have truly missed writing. So many things to share as Marty and I ponder our nearly 4 years overseas. My creative outlet has moved me from writing to cooking. Nepal was such a deep place to live and creative words just poured out. Here in Tunisia creative cooking has inspired me. Maybe our next location I will be able to combine the two!

I look forward to getting back to blogging. We have much to catch up on. Here are a few photos of life in WA this summer. More to come!

Bridged

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Shooting Stars…

I have much to blog about these past couple of months of being in Tunis and then home in Washington State, but for right now, this music has inspired me.

After my parents went to bed tonight, I was ready for bed myself. Before heading to bed though I wrapped up in my cozy robe, slipped on my red flip-flops and stepped outside to enjoy the still night. It is October and normally this time of year in Washington State it is usually raining by now and flip-flops are in the closet till late spring!

I stood outside and listened to the quiet. It was so peaceful. I remembered where my itouch was and stepped back inside to retrieve it out of my bag. Back outside I heard the night creatures stirring in the big field. I scrolled through my play list and found what I was looking for. I listened to this song while laying on my parents outdoor couch under the sea of stars. The air was crisp and clean. It was an honor to enjoy the stars dance this October evening.

This music selection is my reset button and reminds me to slow down and breathe. I absolutely love the cello in this piece. I played it at least 3 times. The treat that went along with the music tonight was seeing shooting stars in the October sky.

With a thankful heart, B-

I hope you enjoy it too.

Thank you Enya for this moving piece.

First-hand perspective…a day we will never forget

This letter was sent to newspapers in the hometowns of our ACST teachers. Here is the full copy that was sent to the Bellingham Herald.

On Friday, September 14 our school, the American Cooperative School of Tunis, was looted and burned by extremists when they turned from attacking the nearby US embassy and headed to our doors.

As Bellingham and Whatcom County natives, we thought your readers, many of them parents and teachers like me, might be interested in a first-hand perspective of those horrific events and how we are responding.

That morning, school started as usual, but word quickly came from the American embassy that massive demonstrations in response to a video insulting Prophet Muhammad were expected that afternoon. The school evacuated students and staff by 12:45pm. By 2:30pm, demonstrators flooded the streets, and less than two hours later, extremists had broken into our school, followed quickly by looters.

Our security staff, unarmed and outnumbered, was forced to retreat to the back of the campus. Calls to the police went unanswered. When the number of looters dwindled, the security team along with the school director drove the rest out of the buildings.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. But the damage was extensive. Our elementary library was in ashes, and 12 elementary classrooms were gutted. The middle and high schools were looted and ransacked. Everything of value was stolen, including more than 300 computers and all our science equipment and musical instruments.

But more important than the violence of that day is the story of hope and resilience that follows. Teachers, parents, and students are working day and night to salvage what we can and rearrange our remaining spaces to get our students back in class quickly and safely. Members of the local community have pitched in, providing information on the criminals, returning stolen materials, and expressing their sorrow.

Our school mission is to open doors, hearts and minds. We are committed to reopening our school, and giving our students the education they deserve. But it will not be easy. The Tunisian government has promised to help us rebuild the elementary school. However, because it was a riot, insurance covers only 20% of the remaining $4 million in other losses.

Some might ask what we are doing in North Africa. Tunisia is a wonderful place; it is simply struggling in the early days of democracy, as our own country did many years ago. The violence was not the work of the Tunisian people or of any religious faith. It was the work of a small criminal minority, interested only in their own destructive goals.

When we open the school again in the coming weeks, we will be sending a message that respect, learning, and hope are stronger than hate.

Should your readers be interested in helping, donations can be made through the school website at http://www.acst.net. The school is a registered U.S. not-for-profit organization.

Thank you for your consideration sharing this story.

Sincerely,

Martin Atkins

Additional background:
Allan and Julie Bredy worked for Bellingham Schools for several years before Allan became a Principal in Spokane, Port Angeles, Singapore, then Director at the Lincoln School in Kathmandu. He is currently the Director of ACST and Julie is a Middle School humanities teacher who has worked at Columbia Elementary, Carl Cozier Elementary and Sehome High School.

Kaylee Vaughn Panek is a 2nd grade teacher who lost her entire classroom to fire. She is a graduate of Bellingham High School and has been teaching and living in Tunisia for over a year with her husband Simon Panek.

Marty and Bridged Atkins have lived in Tunisia for 6 weeks. Marty taught mathematics at Bellingham and Sehome High Schools for 17 years. Bridged was the office manager for Murry Chiropractic & Assoc.

Lori Riggleman taught at Mt. Baker Junior High and Horizon Middle School in Ferndale. Mark Riggleman taught at Blaine High School.

Andy and Shelly have been living and teaching overseas for 10 years with the latest one being in Tunisia. Andy was a math teacher at Bellingham and Squalicum High Schools for 11 years. Shelly worked for St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Jenny Purpura is also a new teacher at American Cooperative School of Tunis. Her father, Dr. Richard Vawter is a Professor Emeritus of Physic from WWU.

The American Cooperative School of Tunis serves students from preschool through twelfth grade. It has 632 students who hail from more than 70 countries and speak 60 languages. The school was founded in 1959 by US embassy parents who wanted to ensure their children had an American-style education.

Tunisia is a small Mediterranean country in the center of the North African coast. It is the birthplace of the Arab Spring, a wave of democratic movements across the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011.

Links:
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/15/world/middleeast/anti-american-protests-over-film-enter-4th-day.html

Tunisia Live: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/09/17/director-of-american-school-in-tunis-recounts-day-of-looting-and-vandalism/

And here is the shortened article that made it into the Bellingham Herald so far:
http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2012/09/25/2705412/american-school-in-tunisia-seeking.html

Not sure what to title this…

This has been a very interesting beginning to a new year, that is for sure.
Two weeks after getting to Tunis and settling in, I flew back to the States to be with my dad after 2 major surgeries. Thankfully he is doing well and recovering more and more each day! My dad is a fighter and a trooper! He has been a true inspiration on not giving up.

While I was back in the states and Marty was in Tunis, our world suddenly changed within minutes. Our US Embassy and the American school (ACST) across the street were under attack. In fact, they were on fire.

The day before this there were peaceful demonstrations going on. On Sept 14th, school was excused early due to more demonstrations. I had been on Facebook chatting with Marty after he returned home for the day. I also was chatting with another friend from her house in a different party of the city. She said, “Oh my gosh, school is on fire!” It went from a demonstration to hell in seconds. Marty ran up to our patio roof, which has a view of the whole city, and his heart sank. It was true, black smoke billowed in the air. The Embassy and school were indeed on fire. This information did not hit the news yet in the States, so I was getting the live feed directly through the amazing technology we have today on my own computer.

Marty reported to me the play by play of the happenings during next few hours and through the weekend. Our school was devastated. It is utterly heartbreaking. The elementary wing is wiped out from PS-grade 2. What gets me choked up is that the 10,000 books in the elementary library are all ashes now. Nothing is left. The rest of the school was turned upside down. All electronics, gone. Anything of value, gone. Phone system, ripped out. Amazingly, the health office was left untouched.

I receive updates from Marty on the status of the country, government, city and school on a daily basis. He is doing well, misses me, but is doing well. It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions and uncertainly. He is just taking one day at a time as I am doing here back in the States caring for my dad.

I look forward to returning back to Tunis to be with Marty and help the school get back on it’s feet again. The plan is to have the HS back in session this Tuesday. The ES and MS will begin the following week.

Please feel free to pass on the links I have in this blog post to help “begin again” at ACST in Tunis, Tunisia. What a joy it is to work with kids from 70 different nations ages 3-18 and a dedicated loving staff and Administration. We can do this together…one step at a time.

This link from youtube is a video that was made by one of our fellow teachers in the elementary. It is what ACST used to look like, after the attack and all the hard work the staff is doing to get it up and running again. It takes a TEAM.

If you would like to help, please go to http://www.acst.net

Thank you all for your love, support and encouragement.
Please continue to pray for peace and protection as we move forward into the future.

Hugs and Love,
Bridged and Marty

YouTube – Videos from this email