a new breath

Posted: October 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

Okay, I’m changing on you once again. I’m feeling over-productive this morning (I guess it’s 2:38 p.m., but I’m still in ‘morning’ mode), and the cool fall breeze and sunshine drifting in through my windows are sending me clear signals that I must act! I must do! Something! Anything!

… so I will adopt a new blog. How’s that for earth-shattering? (and lame?)

You know, even keeping a fancy-schmantsy blog… this in itself makes me feel thrown in the herd of all those people in my generation now being snidely labeled as ‘hip.’ Do I want to be ‘hip’? No, actually, not really. One of the things that pushes my buttons most is being labeled, put in a box and categorized as “figured out and understood” with other people of my nationality, my religion, my sex, my generation… but, to be honest, one of the tell-tale signs of ‘hipsters’ is that you want to fight against the system, isn’t it? Ha.

In fact, my whole life has been fairly cliche so far: I went to a private Christian university. I thought I was breaking out of the norm of my small farm town upbringing, but it turns out I was entering a whole new world of cliche–to the umpteenth degree, as I quickly found out. (Thank you very much, cool young hip Christian communities.) Then, I rebelled and said NO! I will not conform to the things that this university tells me I should be! So I decided to study art, because I thought being an artist would be a really easy way to become an individual. Turns out that the art community thing (especially the Christian one) had its own cliche going on. It sickened me to the point where I said NO! I will not conform to the identity of a starving-artist-who’s-really-mooching-off-their-parents-but-swear-I-live-only-on-philosophical-ideas-that-you-don’t-understand! So I decided to become an English major. Turns out that I was following my mother’s footsteps. But I figured I’d much rather do that and have completely no idea where life was going to take me, rather than live the empty shell life of an “artist” in New York (which is where you go if you’re a young artist in order to burn your flame bright for about two years and then be snuffed out). And then came the end of college, and I decided I didn’t want to go with the flow and go to grad school like “everyone” else, so I started traveling and teaching English. But guess what? Yep, apparently the “thing” to do now–unbeknownst to me at the time–is to go vagabond for a couple years right after college. To get life experience. To get travel savvy. To learn a language. To immerse yourself in another culture.

But, whatever. Fine. I’m not cool enough to be a hipster anyway, so I’m not too worried about being labeled as one. Maybe the reason I keep doing this blog thing is that I want to show evidence of just one example of a life that’s just simply lived–not one that keeps up with trends, or even sets the trends, or (consciously) conforms to the norms of societal bounds.

Or maybe I’m just still in that ‘lost youth’ phase, and I’m trying to show you that I’m going to fight against The Man, The System, or whatever else it is that’s telling me what to do. Immature? Probably. But whatever it is, it’s a record of this particular moment, and because it’s a part of who I am, regardless of who I was or who I’m going to be, and I think that’s worth looking at. Because the reality is that there is not one single person who can be put neatly into a box. There’s always some weird deformity or quirk that sticks out and keeps us from fitting in perfectly. And thank God for that, right?

So, there you go. The new blog is going to be one that shows the quirks of life, and one that revels in those quirks. And if the quirks become ‘boxy’? Okay, cool. They’ll work their way in and out of what society deems “normal” or “cool” or “hip,” because that’s the way life goes, generally speaking: in and out, up and down, forwards and backwards.

This was a really long post. If you made it to the end, you deserve some pie.

I’m gonna go bake some pie now.

Enjoy the new Getting a feel for the place! (http://karinastarr.tumblr.com)

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can you do that?

Posted: September 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

Raise your hand if you or someone you know was put through dance lessons in your youth. I myself learned those abominable ballet positions at a tender age of five(ish). Seriously, who else can attest that Fifth Position was enough to make the most limber of the class wilt into tears of pain and failure? To be fair, my very first dance teacher couldn’t have held a higher position of love and respect in my 5-year-old world. I brought her a homemade gift–each created with love from the very bottom of my little heart–each Tuesday evening for our classes: yellow construction paper crowns, bead necklaces and drawings of rainbows were among my specialties. But soon, those dance lessons faded into memories on VHS tapes, and I moved on to bigger and more glorious things (ball sports).

Here in the Czech Republic, dance lessons are actually a thing. It’s a cool tradition that, when you turn 15, you (with the rest of your schoolmates) take ballroom dance lessons. You learn the waltz, the polka, the foxtrot, the cha-cha… and when you do it with the rest of your awkward-age-teenage-friends, the awkwardness of what this could be turns into something pretty dang cool.

And you know what’s the coolest? When you actually take this dancing stuff seriously, and you get flipping good at it.

These kids are 16 years old. They are both regulars at English Club, and clearly they’re both awesome.

Why isn’t this a thing in America? Why can’t we be as cool as this?

I teach this guy. In real life he’s one of the most awkward human beings I’ve ever met, but he tears it up on the dance floor like it’s nobody’s business.

Yep.

And they start them off at a young age, too. But while I was learning positions 1-4 (forget 5th), these munchkins were learning 4 different ballroom dances. No big deal.

Boy: "The passion! The rhythm! My moment of glory!" Girl: "I see my juice box over there."

This kid is my hero. He rocks his mullet like there's no tomorrow. Look at those curls!

So go look in a mirror right now. If you don’t have the same face you make when you see a basket of baby _______ (insert your choice of cute animal), there’s probably something wrong with you.

I just got done teaching my youngest students–class 1.A, ages 11-12. Normally, this age group is a challenge for me. They don’t understand me, I don’t understand them, and it’s awkward, uncomfortable and boring–a personification of that age in general. But somehow, my prima students have gotten progressively more manageable with each year I’m here… and this year takes the cake. Platter and all.

We were talking about “introduction questions” today. We brainstormed the different things you should ask people upon first meeting them. I laughed so hard at what they came up with that I copied every single one of them down so I can now present you with a glimpse at how awesomely creative these cheekers are.

What’s your name?
How are you?
Do you speak English?
How old are you?
Are you a boy or a girl?
Can you dance?
Can I go to the restroom?
Can you go to the restroom?
Are you dead?
Have you got a shower?
Do you kill people?
Do you want to kill me?
How is your wife?
Have you got a snorkeling orangutan? (please notice the very British grammar here)

(Also, when I asked the kid to translate ‘snorkeling’ into Czech so the other students could understand, he said, “But I can’t, Mrs. Teacher–I’m not allowed to speak Czech in this class.”)

I’m not lying about any of this. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

You want to know why I’m here, why I do this teaching thing in a country where I can understand maybe only 10% of what goes on around me? This is your answer. Thank you, 1.A, for redeeming my opinion about prima classes everywhere around the world. Kudos.

that’s a wrap

Posted: August 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

And all of a sudden, the end has come.

It happens every time I go to the Minnesota home. I’ve drifted along blithely, taking things for what they are and living in the moment of it all, and then all quick-like, I’m spending my last morning on our front porch and I don’t even know how it happened.

I mean, I do know. It happened with fresh corn on the cob and that raspberry pie I will rave about to you whenever I get the chance. It happened with way too many hot cups of fresh coffee every morning. It happened with road trips up and down the state and plane trips back and forth across the country. It happened with memories recalled and those newly-made. It happened with misty eyes at meeting old friends, and misty eyes leaving the new ones. It happened with lessons learned and understanding gained.

For my last weekend in Minnesota, I was in the Twin Cities. Please, if you have never been to Minneapolis, cancel all other plans and get yourself there this instant. I’ve been to many cities all over the world, but this one in my own home state separates itself from all others like cream from the milk. This post isn’t going to be a travel blog that tells you where to go and what to do in such and such a city, so go do the research for yourself. But the thing I want to tell you won’t be found in a travel blog.

It’s the feel of the place, you know? That IS, apparently, what this blog is about. 🙂 The peacefulness and fullness of life in this place pervades the atmosphere. And don’t get me wrong, you gotta be with the people you love while you’re here, but I felt so good and so whole there–like I wasn’t short-changing myself on the goodness that life has to offer. And I wonder: how did I let four years of my life go by in college without getting in on the spirit of what was right outside my Arden Hills door? How could I let myself become so wrapped up in everything else that I could not catch the beat of this fresh city? I’m not a city-girl by any stretch of the imagination, but yet there’s something about the place that draws you to it–much like Cheb, actually.

One thing that took me by surprise is how green the city is. All along the bridge and through the parks, I saw dozens of people riding on rented bikes. Rented bikes! I tell you, they were everywhere. When did this become a thing? The friends I was with told me how this practice had really caught on recently. Is this a fad, or could there really be hope for a change? Could we really tack on a few more years to this tired old earth? And the farmers market and all its green-ness there… and recycling bins, and compost collections… the whole place just had such a simply clean feeling to it.

We made dinner with the fresh basil that was bought from the market, complete with an organic (and cheap!) bottle of sauvignon blanc, and my life could not have been more complete. (I feel so uppity and high-class as I write this. It feels weird. But it sure tasted good.)

So–this is goodbye, Minnesota. As I write these final words from the chaise lounge in the corner of my front porch surrounded by ripening tomatoes and green peppers, goodbye. See you around.

baseball through ancient eyes

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

The following is an excerpt from Methuselah’s diary, which Mark Twain, the great Father of History, dug up from the bowels of ancient Adamic history and translated for us to read today. Here we have infallible evidence that the sport of baseball is indeed the father of all ball sports, and shall remain, always and forevermore, the Game which Sets Men Apart. Praise be to God, who doeth all things well… and bring back the Bludgeons! Amen.

Tenth Day–It taketh but short space to craze men of indifferent understanding with a new thing. Behold, ’tis now but two years gone that a certain ancient game, played with a ball, hath come up again, yet already are all mouths filled with the phrases that describe its parts and movement; insomuch, indeed, that the ears of the sober and such as would busy themselves with weightier matters are racked with the clack of the same till they do ache with anguish. If a man deceive his neighbor with a shrewd trick that doth advantage himself to his neighbor’s hurt, the vulgar say of the sufferer that he was Caught out on a Foul. If one accomplisheth a great and sudden triumph of any sort soever, ’tis said of him that he hath Made a Three-Base Hit. If one fail utterly in an enterprise of pith and moment, you shall hear this said concerning him: “Hashbat-kakolath.”* Thus hath this vile deformity of speech entered with familiar insolence into the very warp and woof of the language, and made ugly that which before was shapely and beautiful.

Today, by command of my father, was this game contested in the great court of his palace after the manner of the playing of it three centuries gone by. Nine men that had their calves clothed in red did strive against other nine that had blue hose upon their calves. Certain of those in blue stood at distances, one from another, stooping, each with his palms upon his knees, watching; these called they Basemen and Fielders–wherefore, God knoweth. It concerneth me not to know, neither to care. One with red legs stood wagging a club about his head, which from time to time he struck upon the ground, then wagged he it again. Behind him bent one with blue legs that did spit much upon his hands, and was called a Catcher. Beside him bent one called Umpire, clothed in the common fashion of the time, who marked upon the ground with a stick, yet accomplished nothing by it that I could make out. Saith this one, “Low Ball.” Whereat one with blue legs did deliver a ball with vicious force straight at him that bore the club, but failed to bring him down, through some blemish of his aim. At once did all that are called Basemen and Fielders spit upon their hands and stoop and watch again. He that bore the club did suffer the ball to be flung at him divers times, but did always bend in his body or bend it out and so save himself, whilst the others spat upon their hands, he at the same instant endeavoring to destroy the Umpire with his bludgeon, yet not succeeding, through grievous awkwardness.

But in the fullness of time was he more fortunate, and did lay the Umpire dead, which mightily pleased me, yet fell himself, he failing to avoid the ball, which this time cracked his skull, to my deep gratitude and satisfaction. Conceiving this to be the end, I did crave my father’s leave to go, and got it, though all beside me did remain, to see the rest disabled. Yet had I seen a sufficiency, and shall visit this sport no more, forasmuch as the successful hits come too laggingly, wherefore the game doth lack excitement. Moreover was Jebel there, windy with scorn of these modern players, and boastful of certain mighty Nines he knew three hundred years gone by–dead, now, and rotten, praise God, who doeth all things well.”

*This is not translatable into English, but it is about equivalent to “Lo, he is whitewashed.”–The Editor [M.T.]

one year in 10 minutes

Posted: June 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

This is life on a pretty typical basis here in Cheb, Czech Republic. School, English Club, traveling, music… this 10-minute video sums it up pretty well. Enjoy!

musical credits:
“Sing Alleluia”– Jennifer Knapp and Mac Powell
“Here I Am”– Elizabeth Hunnicutt
“Pocity”– Tomáš Klus
“Erin”– Sister Hazel

I’m ready for Minnesota. I’m ready for breakfast on the porch. I’m ready for my sisters. I’m ready for those leather couches in our living room with a pot–yes pot–of fresh, beautiful coffee by my side every single morning. I’m ready for days at the lake. I’m ready for Minnesota humidity and air conditioning. I’m ready for thunderstorms. Hell, I’m even ready for the mosquitoes. I’m ready for childhood friends and college roommates. I’m ready for Jitters. I’m ready to see you.

I’m. so. ready.

But I’m far from there. I still have 19 days left here in Cheb. I have to appreciate every moment I have here, because there will come a day when I’m not, and I will desperately want to be.

It will always be like this, though–we will come, we will go, and we’ll yearn for the places where we’re not. That’s the trick of life, you know? To be in the place you are.

A public school teacher was arrested at JFK Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare, a slide rule, and a calculator. Authorities believe the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math destruction, is a member if the notorious Al-gebra movement.

A source tells us Al-gebra is a problem for the United States. “They desire solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute values. They use secret code names like ‘x’ and ‘y’ and refer to themselves as ‘unknowns,’ but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, ‘There are three sides to every triangle.'”

When asked to comment on the arrest, former president George W. Bush said, “If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes.”
–www.theonion.com

Why I Now Love Mondays

Posted: May 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

If I could tape a kid’s mouth shut at the beginning and end of every school day, I’d be convinced I had the best job in the world. I mean, I’m pretty sure I do already, but if this stipulation were included in the job description, there would be no contest for any other occupation.

He had it coming—he knew he did. I stopped another kid in the middle of reading aloud, went to my office, brought out the tape—and there he sat, ready and waiting, shoulders hunched and defeat in his eyes.

I grew up on stories that my mother would tell about a terror named “Ronald” in her elementary school class who would get intermittently tied to his chair, most likely because he didn’t live in the 2000s and hadn’t yet been diagnosed with ADD. (I suppose today he would be allowed to run freely about the classroom, his doctor’s note in one hand and legal papers threatening the teacher for any of the slightest offenses in the other.) Mom would tell my sisters and me this story at the dinner table in order to make us finish our vegetables, and when we would escape from our chairs she would call out “Ronald! Ronald!” in her best Annoying Teacher voice. I think Dad even acted on the chair-tying threat once, to our great delight (barring the unfortunate victim).

I think it may have been this story alone that inspired me at that young age to aspire to become a teacher. As I grew older those aspirations waned, but the story has (obviously) stuck with me. Along with caking somebody (see https://karinastarr.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/a-story-of-cake/), tying a kid to his chair has been one of my lifelong dreams.

Today, I got to revel in that dream. My very own Ronald.

I had forgotten my trusty roll of twine at home though, so I had to settle for my roll of mailing tape. And I tell you what—there are few greater feelings than taping a deserving student’s mouth shut. The snip of the scissors… the smooth creasing of the sealed tape… the sigh of defeat… yes. This is what it’s all about.

We had a good laugh, I made him mumble his reading passage through his tape, repentance was uttered and all left the class in jovial spirits, albeit warned for the possibility of future tapings. I doubt this will be the last taping of my victim today.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten my camera—which only means that future tapings are indeed inevitable—and so I attempted to Google image-search for a taped kid to attach to this post. To my horror, instead I found article after article of teachers getting reprimanded, fired and sued for such incidences in the States.

Sigh. Life isn’t what it used to be, is it? I’m not going to turn this post into a rant against American educational systems and over-zealous/power-hungry/lawsuit-loving parents. That’s not what this is supposed to be about. I’m merely trying to indulge myself in the simple pleasures that life has to offer to a penniless, overworked teacher. My findings did, however, assure me that if I am to return to the States permanently someday, I guess it won’t be in the teaching field—not if I can’t do tapings and tyings. What happened to the good old days, America?!

Oh, well. Long Live Ronald, wherever he is.

to do or to be

Posted: April 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

My good friend here in Cheb has willingly given up technology for her Lent practices. While this is bold, daring and a pretty fantastic decision in general, I can’t say I would ever do the same (for multiple reasons). However, Someone decided I should do it anyways.

This past week, I was lucky if I could get electricity–let alone internet connection–for more than five minutes at a time. Don’t ask why, please. The food in my fridge has long since gone bad. There have been mornings I have gone to school with wet hair since I couldn’t use my blow dryer. Frankly, there’s not much I can do here: no work on my computer, no vacuuming (like that’s actually an issue.. ha), no reading at night, no baking or cooking (again, ha)…

And at once, the above paragraph sounds both concerning and utterly ridiculous. It is a fact well-known that our society is far too dependent on technology, and really electricity in general. When we have conversations about our “electric world gone wrong,” we shake our heads and our fists at the person/people/machines/situation responsible for this our era of bygone innocence and simplicity. How horrible. But it isn’t until we lose energy ourselves that we feel the sting of our own words. What have we become? Who among us knows what it is to live simply–to live by pure necessity–to simply be?

At the moment I’m writing this in my journal, I am completely without electricity. No lights, no appliances, no sounds except for that of my little battery-operated clock in my bathroom. Every time I stop to weigh the situation, it jars me a bit. I am not connected. I’m in a box of concrete. A lone entity. I may as well be out on Walden Pond with Thoreau. I’d like to be.

Or, at least I think I’d like to be.

Before, I said that there wasn’t much I could do without electricity. But the truth is just the opposite: there’s not much I can’t do. What’s to hamper me from doing all those “important” things I always “never have time” to do? What is it that’s keeping me from writing those letters, from going on a walk under the morning sky whose blue I have never noticed the richness in so poignantly before, from spending time doing those things that should be second nature (first nature?) to us as believers–those ever-elusive “Prayer” and “Meditation” practices?

What stops me? My freedom. I have been so well-conditioned to adhere to a strict, constant schedule which tells me exactly what I should be doing and when and where I should be, that when it comes to being I have forgotten how, and I am frightened by the vastness of my possibilities. I have no excuses wired up in front of me, giving me the easy way out: “Oh, these lessons need to be planned. I need to e-mail these people. I needto research this information.” The “need” is henceforth thrown out the window. And what am I left with? The nakedness of the choice to do, or to be.

My “doing” has become my “being.” And so now I am free–that terrifying word–to turn my “being” into my “doing.” The act of choosing in itself is what’s frightening, I think. It is cold, steely and challenging. But the option I can choose–should choose, must choose–stands ahead, gleaming outside my window–in the color of that rich, poignant blue I guess I’ve never seen before ’til now.

The truth is, we’re always free to realize this. It’s just that usually our powers of realization are too clouded and murked-up by all this technology, all this electrical “live-giving” power in order for us to see clearly. So we need to be forced into a bit of light (or, lack-thereof…) in order to be enabled to even see that there is a choice: that of making our doing our being, or making our being our doing.