To Whom it may concern, (and anyone it doesn’t concern and is just looking for a Christmas letter to read in the era of social media – the demise of all personal mail)
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and may your Martin Luther King Jr day be joyous! I hope your home was bursting with holiday cheer these past weeks and that the journey that 2014 has taken you on was a tremendous one. I know it has been for the Oharah family. Which is indicating Tanner and myself, a fact that I still am amazed at, even after a year-and-a-half since its establishment.
The year began on the Costa Rican beach. A good location for the start of a year. A good location period. I had the pleasure of taking Tanner along with my entire extended family, a bi-annual tradition begun ten years ago. I had watched my older cousins and siblings take their significant others on this trip these past years and eagerly hoped for my chance – wondering if I would get to before the tradition became a thing of the past. Well my chance came, and no one enjoyed the trip more than Tanner. Between the exploration of a foreign country and steak every night at dinner he loved every minute.
It was on that trip that we decided it was time to expand our family beyond the two of us. We were ready for the commitment and the responsibility, we thought, and we were excited for new lives to join our family unit. So we went to rocky parts of the beach at sunrise and picked out a dozen or so miniature hermit crabs and put them in a water bottle to be packed in our checked luggage. I won’t say that we lied about our stowaways while going through customs, but the part about the shells we were bringing home having live crabs in them was somehow glanced over. They lived happily in a well-crafted habitat on our kitchen counter until their demise during a hot summer in July when Tanner was out of town for a week and I neglected to take over his crab care responsibility. I am still requiring therapy to get over the shame and guilt I have felt from this forgetfulness, not to mention my disappointment I have in not getting to take them back to their home next Costa Rica trip. I’m told that my irresponsibility in this instance indicates the type of parent I will be, but I’m just convinced that I will have a little more awareness for a screaming child that I birthed than for a silent group (flock, herd? gaggle?) of hermit crabs that bury themselves in sand three-quarters of the day. Regardless, we aren’t sure more pets are in our future.
We arrived back to our home in Lakewood just in time for Tanner to begin his student teaching assignment. (I’m still trying to convince the public schools that they need to follow the college schedule and provide at least three weeks of break at Christmas. I’m sure I’ll feel differently when I have children.) After four-and-a-half years of classroom courses student teaching gave Tanner the opportunity to begin working in the schools on a daily basis. The first eight weeks of the semester were with a traveling band teacher, leading 5th and 6th grade band at 5 different schools. Though the musical experience was akin to that of the closing scene in the Music Man, the break from rigorous college courses and busy extra-curricular commitments was a very pleasant way to begin the year. His switch to high school choir student teaching at the beginning of March was closer to what he wanted to do with his career, but between an overwhelmed supervising teacher, regular competitions and concerts, and an intense final project the second half of the semester was filled to the brim.
I had the privilege of getting us through the year financially completely on a music based income. The income I made on 25 private students, 2 preschool music classes, accompanying five choirs at Dakota Ridge High School, and accompanying a class at CCU was enough to live on, and certainly enough to keep me busy from morning to night.
Though we had enough money to eat well (Taco Bell is fine dining, right?) and fill up our cars with gas (every few days it seemed like) and pay rent (fairly easy to do in a 600 square foot apartment in Lakewood), we continued to drive my dying Audi all over town. If a car can have a problem this one has had it, from the windshield wiper fluid failing to an overheating radiator. We (and by we I mean Tanner and his dad) have spent countless hours underneath that car in attempts to fix the problems it continues to present. They logged a solid 30 hours on repairs one particularly cold February weekend. Driving from store to store, backing it in and out of the garage that could only fit the hood, and pouring through the manual in the frigid winter weather. Just at the frustration and unexpected complications seemed to peak the window decided it was tired of rolling up and down and came to a halt. Needless to say no amount of coffee and words of thanks could make up for the misery of my tireless repair men. The good news is that, once we got it over the passes, my car is enjoying the mountain life. Mostly because it means only being driven in a five mile radius, as opposed to the hundreds of miles logged at the beginning of the year driving all through Denver to my various work commitments and piano students’ homes. I still keep a hammer in my car at all times to give the failing fans a little boost.
To my surprise teaching became less something I did because I needed the money and more something I did because of the life it gave me and the delight I had in helping others make and experience music. That isn’t to say there weren’t aspects of my work week that were a test to my patience. Like the one time I asked one student what his favorite part of the week was. Refusing to answer he asked if he could instead tell me his least favorite. I agreed, hoping to at least get him to talk to me. “Right now.” He replied, leaving me slightly discouraged and rethinking my chosen career path. There were only a few lessons though that I drew tears, and my ratio of happy to sad students usually was heavy on the happy side. Probably because I ended each lesson with a piece of candy.
Accompanying also became something I enjoyed. Looking back at my first accompanying experience at the age of sixteen when I messed the entire choir up at a performance by turning too many pages at a time and left swearing I would never attempt to accompany again, I am amazed that I reached the point where I not only felt comfortable but actually looked forward to accompanying. It became a delightful experience to work through the entire process with the choirs and aid to their music making. It also helped to have a gracious and forgiving director to collaborate with and enthusiastic and loving high schoolers to play for.
My drive to accomplish and excel and challenge myself had grown rather stale since aiming for larger things in my college years. Desiring to take on a new skill and get into better shape I took up running the beginning of the year. One night on the way home from the gym I told Tanner I felt like I could conquer the world when I made it to one mile on the tread mill. A little encouragement from my dad and a little self-inspiration and May 10th found me crossing the finish line of my very first 5k. Though it is a minor accomplishment to some, for someone who saw it as an impossible goal I found great victory and triumph in that moment. I have since been running and have made it up to 7 miles. The Disneyland 10k is next on my list. What could be more motivating than being cheered on by Goofy in the happiest place on earth?
Tanner and I celebrated our first anniversary on May 20th. Though in some ways the first year sped by us, we found that there bond between us that seemed too impenetrable to have only been a year in the making. It seems like we’ve been together forever. The day was celebrated simply, with some frozen cake eaten and some bubbles blown from the wedding. And then we returned to ARP writing (the massive project that Tanner compiled to finish his degree) and student recital planning. And though we celebrated more fully later in the week, it seemed appropriate that the dailiness and the ordinary was what we shared that day – as that is the greatest gift of marriage.
My sweet 103-year-old great-grandmother slipped away peacefully in the middle of a quiet May night. It seemed natural, her path had been traveled and she reached the end of her earthly assignment with beauty and grace. Her funeral was a bittersweet celebration of her life with the large extended family in Garden City, Kansas. We look forward to the reunion with her that the Lord’s coming will bring, but still miss her scrabble playing, her jovial spirit, and the life she brought into the family, even when her life was nearly spent.
Before even walking across the stage at graduation Tanner was offered a job teaching choir and drama in the small mountain town of Buena Vista at the high school and middle school. Apparently the combination of gushing references, widespread experience, and a continuous smile resulted in the principals calling him before he even returned home after the interview, telling him to be sure to call them before accepting another offer. We went up together to see the spring musical at the high school, and accepted their offer on the spot. Maybe it was the appeal of the job and the fittingness it seemed to offer Tanner’s many talents and interests. But it was the deer wandering through the courtyard of the school that really sealed the deal.
The rest of our summer was spent in Lakewood, maintaining our private lessons and picking up odd jobs as the schedules allowed. Tanner worked construction and landscaping both in Denver and in Goodland as opportunities came up, as I sat at the pool with a book and traversed across the country to Disneyland with a couple of my girlfriends. I am continually thankful for the hard-working and self-giving nature of my husband.
There were several tasks to accomplish in organizing Tanner’s future office and classroom before beginning officially in August, so we made an effort to go to Buena Vista several times to get a head start. Being in between full-time employment however made our funds rather tight so we decided to save what we could by cutting our gas budget down and taking the motorcycle. The two hour drive up 285 was a fairly easy drive and very beautiful, so we thought it would be a fun adventure. We thought camping would be a great way to cut back expenses even more, so we strapped a tent and sleeping bags to my back and set off. It was fine for about fifteen minutes until I tried to adjust my head. I then discovered that I was wedged between my large pack towering over my head, and my bulky helmet being pushed into Tanner’s back and moving was impossible. We arrived safely and my neck and back cramps were minor inconveniences to the money we saved. (I say that now but my tears as we took a break in Jefferson made it rather unbelievable.)
We made the move in Buena Vista in August, after returning from a three day kayak trip down Morrow Point with some friends. The effort of moving is always larger than I remember, especially as we accumulate more things with each stage in life. But we finally made it to our new three bedroom rental home a few miles out of Buena Vista on August first and began accustoming ourselves to a new life.
Tanner jumped into his new position head first, quickly acclimating himself to the school environment, making friends with the janitors because of his late hours in the office and winning the “weinter olympic” trophy at the first day of teacher orientation by catching the most hot dogs in a coffee can strapped to his waist. Though slightly nervous he approached his first days as a teacher with the vibrant whole-hearted effort that he demonstrates in all places, and I quickly began hearing praise around town for the wonderful new choir and drama teacher, dubbed “Mr. Hottie” by some.
The transition for me was harder, as I let go of the busy lifestyle I’d been ardently leading the past six years and looked across glaringly blank calendar spaces in the days to come. Though I feel silly complaining about my new found free time, it was an adjustment learning to live a quieter lifestyle and finding my worth and identity outside of my work, school, and busyness. I read many books the first few weeks of being here, began acclimating my lungs to the elevation gain as I ran and hiked, and thoroughly enjoyed making a home in our new house.
After a month of complete unemployment and Tanner’s increasingly large work-duties I was quick to jump on a part-time nanny position that came my way, and have been incredibly blessed to care for two precious kiddos several days a week. Five-year-old William and three-year-old Georgia Grace immediately became my best friends in town and very dear to my heart. I also come home with the best quotes to tell Taner. Like the one time I got hiccups, and William – always looking for a way to negotiate himself out of nap time said “my mommy told me that if the babysitter got the hiccups I don’t have to have a quiet time.” We have a lot of fun and I consistently look forward to spending the day with them. I also have had the privilege of teaching private piano lessons to several students, and accompanying for Tanner’s three choirs at the school, and have enjoyed finding a balance between work and rest.
The largest feat of the school year for Tanner was certainly pulling together a fall play within the first few months of teaching and being involved in the community. After reading through dozens of scripts he decided on The Curious Savage. Between finding blue hair dye in a town that barely sells any dye, scouring the town for props and costumes, and getting a dozen kids together for 6:30 a.m. rehearsals he had his work cut out, but as production week rolled closer we could tell it was going to be something special. As I stood backstage during the final scene of closing night I was brought to tears by the beauty of it all. Tanner certainly has the giftings of a visionary, with the grit and determination to follow through with his grand ideas. The town continues to talk about the production.
The other large task for the semester was to prepare his choirs for the end of semester concert. The previous teacher had done a less than excellent job with their past concerts, and the hopes of the school and the town were high for a decent musical experience. Small things seem to be big things in small towns. Though it was an effort to get those middle schoolers on stage (and somehow some of the boys got on with basketball shorts and sunglasses) the concert was a success. We could tell because of the crying grandmother who told Tanner she now believes in miracles.
Without any injuries or too many disasters we made it to Christmas break. As I headed over to the school to help Tanner clean up his classroom I stopped at the grocery store. I ran into several familiar faces, had a pleasant chat with the cashier, and was aware of the fact that – though we still are breaking grounds in a new community and a new life – we have a place in this little mountain town called Buena Vista. And for that I am thankful.
Our holidays were full with visits to family members, catching up with friends, and several weddings. We were thankful for the quiet evening that concluded 2014, watching Lord of the Rings and eating cheese and crackers as the fireplace glowed and the snow blew. Another year in the books, and a new one ahead. And if the first few days are any indication, it’ll be one to remember. May yours also be blessed and graced with the lavish faithfulness of our heavenly father. Further up and further in.