Saturday, December 31, 2011

Take It Easy

As a teacher, I celebrate the new year each September. That beginning (meeting new students, introducing new curriculum, and sliding away from summer and back into the routine of school days) is often much more significant to me than this one approaching tonight at midnight. But whether it’s August or December 31st, I recognize that the happy anticipation of a new year signifies renewed promise. As the ball drops, we hold onto the hope that this year, we’ll seize opportunities to make our lives better. We’ll eat healthier, exercise more often, spend less, and get organized. We’ll reconnect with friends and family or we’ll tackle some new hobby. That is all well and good, as long as we do not dwell too long on our faults, berating what we believe we’ve done wrong in the previous year. So tormented we are, at times, by our high expectations of ourselves (and perhaps others) that too often, we look at new year’s as our way to escape, to refashion our very identities. So, although I still appreciate the chance to make a few resolutions to remind myself of certain goals I have, I do believe I have done better to put the new year in perspective.

Last year I held onto a particular mantra that guided me throughout 2011. “No fear. No expectations. Let’s just see what happens”. These words served me well. I am not letting those go simply because it will soon be 2012, but over the past few days I have been contemplating the adoption of another phrase. I’ve thought of it from different perspectives and I am pretty sure I am going to use it this next year. It consists of three words: Take It Easy.

I immediately hear the song by The Eagles. It’s a song I grew up with, hearing it often on the radio, but although not all of its lyrics apply, the phrase reminds me that I need to “lighten up while I still can” and that I cannot “let the sound of (my) own wheels make (me) crazy”. I’ve long been a worrier and I know that I cannot change overnight for my personality is what it is, but I do think I can work towards putting those concerns away on a shelf more often.

Last year’s mantra helped me look at situations and loved ones in a healthier light. I eased up on expectations I had of others and I began doing the same within myself. But I need to continue with that. And rather than berate myself for what I am or how I think, it’s time for me to give myself a break. It’s time to “take it easy”. I’ll keep working on those goals of mine but the best thing I can do for myself is to give myself a pat on the back for all that I have achieved already. I’ll continue to strive to better myself but I will stop and appreciate who and what I am today. It’s time to turn the corner, to focus less on my faults and to focus more on what I have inside of me that is there so I can better serve others. In the words of Leo C. Rosten, “The purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter and to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all”.

I want 2012 to give me opportunities to make a difference for others. And it’s only by easing up on myself that I will be able to do that more effectively. 2011 was a challenging year but it made me a stronger and wiser woman. I grew in my appreciation and satisfaction of the present time. Now I believe it is time to “loosen my load” so I can carry others’ burdens more effectively in the future.

“We may lose and we may win, though we will never be here open up, I'm climbin' in, so take it easy”.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Pancakes, Frosted Cakes, and I Love Yous

I woke up to the sound of the puppy whimpering at my bedroom door. She’d spent the night in Paul’s room but she’s well aware that I’m Mom, the one who will hear her when she’s ready to go outside come morning. I rolled out of bed, opened my door to her wagging tail and we both went downstairs. Opening the door, she ran outside. I promptly went back to bed. I didn’t stay long. I got the feeling I ought to make pancakes or waffles for breakfast. Finding my son awake in his room, I asked him what he’d prefer.


“Chocolate chip?”

“Yes. Thanks, Mom”.

Everyone was awake by the time I had them on the griddle.

“What kind do you want, Syd?”

“Blueberry please”.

“I somehow knew you were going to make pancakes this morning”,
Emma said. “I always know when you’re going to make us pancakes”.

I’m not sure what gives it away. I wasn’t even humming this morning. But those pancakes brought me many warm hugs and several impromptu, “I love you”s, so whether or not there’s some sort of signal I send out when I’m about to treat my family to a warm breakfast in the morning, I was happy to do it.

After breakfast, we all settled in to our day. After taking a little time to do a few chores, my husband and I took off to go see a movie together. We went out shopping afterward and arrived home late afternoon. When I came into the kitchen there was Emma. She’d made a double layer cake and was about to make frosting. Hearing that Paul was hungry, I took a quick look in the fridge and spotting some leftover cooked chicken, I decided I’d make two dishes in hopes there would be leftovers for Sydney when she got home from her day with friends. Within a half hour, a chicken tetrazzini casserole and chicken-pepper-spanish rice wraps were prepared and heating up in the oven.

There came a moment however, when Emma and I were working side by side in the kitchen that I stopped and smiled. There was my daughter singing happily, sitting on a kitchen stool, and frosting her two layer cake. The song she was singing along to was one I hadn’t heard, but it spoke of love, of building a life together, and of sharing moments with a future family.

These are the moments I once dreamed of when I was younger...of waking up to a household full of love, full of song, full of warmth. Tails wagging, pancakes on the griddle, impromptu movie dates, frosted cakes, songs being sung, dinners being prepared, being the Mom...and lots of hugs and “I love you”s.

It’s true what they say. Dreams do come true.

A Pathetic Countdown

For Thursday, December 29, 2011

I have an incredibly nasty habit. No, I don’t smoke. And before you begin guessing at other things, let me quickly tell you what I’m talking about. As embarrassing as this is, let me confess to you here that when I am on vacation...I count the number of days I have left before it’s over.

Please don’t think less of me. I told you it’s a nasty habit. I promise myself I am not going to do it any more, time after time, but I can’t help myself. Sometimes it happens as I pass by a calendar in the house (I have too many of those by the way). Other times it happens when I am waking up in the morning. I think, “How many more days can I wake up without my alarm clock?” and then I begin to count. Thursday to Friday, one. Friday to Saturday, two. Saturday to Sunday, three. Sunday to Monday, four. Oh, the horror!! I need to stop this!

In the summertime I find myself doing the same thing, only it’s weeks that I count. When I reach the midway mark I resist feeling sad. I play mind games with myself and think, “Well, imagine if you didn’t have the month of August off. You’d have fewer than this!” But no matter how many scenarios I create, the truth remains...I’ve begun the nasty habit once again.

So, although I wish I did not know this, I am fully aware that I have four days of vacation left before it’s over. And with that knowledge I am now trying to figure out what I want to do with those four final days. My son asked me what we were doing tomorrow and I told him, “I don’t have any plans. Is there something YOU want to do tomorrow?” “I don’t know”, he replied. Is that a good thing? Or is he looking for me to suggest something? Is he content to stay at home tomorrow, hanging out? Or is he hoping I’ll suggest we go bowling with a couple of friends of his? What about my daughters? Do they have plans? Will they let me have a day at home doing whatever or will they hint that they’d like to go to the mall with me? What about Eric? Will he suggest we go to the movies? Do I want to go to the movies? Or would I rather stay home and putter around?

As pathetic as I can be when I begin obsessing over how many days I have left before vacation week ends, I sincerely hope that no matter WHAT I do tomorrow, I won’t count the hours left before the end of the day. Four o’clock to five o’clock, one hour. Five o’clock to six o’clock, two hours...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Gripped by Grisham

For Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It was a near perfect evening. After going to the movies with my husband and son, I returned home and fixed one of our family’s favorite meals, a chicken pot pie. It was done in no time and after eating, I took time to enjoy the fire my husband had started in the living room. Grabbing a John Grisham book that had been on my nightstand waiting patiently for me to get back to it, I settled in on the couch and returned to chapter one to refresh my memory.

Before long I was gone, far from the world I’m in and smack dab in the world of a clergyman named Keith and a criminal named Travis. An innocent man was about to be executed for a crime he did not commit, and only a guilty man suffering from an inoperable brain tumor can save him.

Reading for fun, even if fun is packed with nail biting tension as with this novel, is a luxury I seem to sacrifice far too often during the school year. My magazines from the autumn months have piled up and the stack of books in my bedroom always seem resigned to wait for the next vacation. But I had one wish for myself this Christmas vacation and that was to relax on the living room couch to read in front of the fireplace. I wanted a lazy vacation and I wanted to be able to say I’d read that Grisham novel that had been staring at me all season long.

When my vacation started there were Christmas cookies to bake and needhams candies to dip. There were presents to wrap and stocking stuffers to buy. There were decorations to finish hanging, foods to bake, and a guest room to clean for company. The day after Christmas I fell into the family room sofa and watched a movie with my family. The next day I took off for the afternoon to enjoy a hair appointment with my daughters in tow. Each night I went to bed I saw my book. I promised myself I’d be sure to open it the next day.

After settling in on the couch tonight I opened my book. I am only 200 pages in and only a third of the way through it now I think, but I already know it was worth the wait. But I am already vowing not to let too much more time pass before I crawl back into its pages. After a good night’s sleep, I’ll be back for more.

It doesn’t take much to make a perfect evening for me. A fire in the fireplace, a comfy couch, my fleece blanket, and a little encouragement to relax with a good book is all I needed tonight. As for tomorrow, I’m going to need Travis to come clean and save that innocent man on Death Row.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes...

According to the experts, this is the incorrect number of minutes in a year, made famous by the musical Rent. "The logic to this phrase is done with the equation: 60 (minutes) X 24 (hours) = 1440 (hours in a day). 1440 (hours in a day) X 365 (days in a year) = 525,600 (minutes in a year). HOWEVER, this is using the incorrect idea that there are exactly 365 days in a year. The actual number of days in a year is 365.2422, or about 364 and a fourth days. SO, if we redo the equation, we come out with 1440 X 365.2422 = 525948.768. Therefore, the actual number of minutes in a year is 525948.768" (

Either way, that’s one heck of a way to measure a year.

One year ago I began this blog. With my husband I had discussed the idea of starting a blog, and later, I received some basic information on how to begin one while talking with a new teacher at work who over the past year became a supportive friend. After receiving a laptop for Christmas, I decided I had everything I needed to begin, except for a name for my blog. I made lists of possible titles but none were strong in meaning to me until I thought of this one, Views From The Dock.

Away for a few days on a Bed & Breakfast Inn getaway with Eric, I logged in with my new laptop and set up this blog’s design. I wrote of its name and of my intentions. But I had no idea where exactly I would go with it after that first post.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

For four days, the final four days of 2010, I wrote and posted to my new blog. The new year began and I continued to write and to post. I held onto my new year’s mantra, “No fear. No expectations. Let’s just see what happens”, in reference to my blog writing and to my aging dog Charlie, and also a few other parts of my life. The new year began with great hope but I knew times were going to be challenging. Charlie began to fail. A month or so later, on February 9th, Charlie died.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.

But in truth, I had nearly 17 years with my sweet pup. That's a wealth of minutes. You do the math.

The new year continued to be challenging. By springtime, due to numerous factors that found their way to my door, I was exhausted. I longed for summer to wash away the pain and the stress of the first six months.

How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

The summer provided me with some much needed rest and time for renewing grace. A puppy named Ziva and attention to diet and exercise helped restore my energy and my passion for life. August, however, brought me some more rough days and this fall proved to be an uphill battle as sickness, work stress, and back pain threatened to knock me down again.

How about love? How about love? How about love? Measure in love...
Seasons of love. Seasons of love

But with this blog, I never strayed from stopping to measure. I measured my days, good days and bad days, laughter and tears, celebrations and frustrations, love growing and spreading. I took time to preserve lessons learned and the simple pleasures and beauty of my days. Painful or joyful, I appreciated all the moments I could.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes!
Five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes ago, or maybe 525948.768 minutes ago, I began a journey. I did not know quite where I was going but I took a few bold steps into the unknown. No fear. No expectations. I simply took a chance to see what would happen. That was 365 days ago, 365 blog posts ago.

It's time now to sing out, tho' the story never ends
Let's celebrate. Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love! Remember the love! Seasons of love!

I don’t know what this all means. I have harbored a few guesses at why this blog has been so important to me and why I have continued to press on, why I have pushed myself to write 365 posts in 365 days. But as I look back tonight at what I have accomplished here, it is surely significant to me. I have honored the writer I am, the wife, mother, teacher, and woman that I am. I have spoken to learn, to share, to express, to reflect, and to record. And I have spoken to praise and to honor those five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes I was given this year. Life is a most precious gift. I’ve done my best to live the past year as well as I could. Where do I go from here? Stay tuned. Stay with me and sit by my side. The views from the dock never cease to amaze me.

You know that love is a gift from up above
Share love, give love spread love
Measure measure your life in love.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The "PJ Day" After Christmas

The day after Christmas is always a great day in our house. Feeling absolutely no motivation to join others in a rush to hit sales at the mall or to beat others to those displays of wrapping paper and bows, all 50% off, we sleep in, enjoy a late breakfast, and pile onto the couch to watch a movie or two. This year was no exception. After packing up goodies for my parents who headed back home, Eric, the kids, and I had a true “PJ Day”. We were relaxed and happy, until we realized that someone had to go pull on pants to take Paul to his friend’s house for a sleepover and to the store to pick up another gallon of milk. (Luckily, we were able to convince newly licensed Sydney that she ought to practice her driving).

Even the puppy, who had just celebrated her first Christmas, joined in the ritual. Making herself comfortable on our laps, Ziva made only a few trips outside and hunkered down for the laziest of days. If not for the fact that the refrigerator is in the kitchen, we might not have left the family room all day long, and even then we begged and bartered with one another to get ourselves glasses of milk or a couple of cookies.

I did pick up some presents and insisted that Paul make his bed before leaving, and I think I heard Eric sneaking upstairs to take a shower. But it is safe to say that none of us burned off any real calories today. I even heard someone remark that “It’s the day after Christmas. I don’t have to eat healthy!”

So as I type away on my computer which is resting on Ziva’s shoulders (Guess whose lap she is draped on now!) and as I look back on the hours of this day, I know for sure that it has been a typical December 26th in our home. I’m sure everyone who went to redeem gift cards came home with some lovely items found at the mall, but I for one would never desire to be anywhere but here at home with my fellow couch potatoes on this day after Christmas. Tomorrow, however, we’ve already made plans. We’ll each take showers and get dressed. We girls will put on a little make-up and blow dry our hair. We’re even planning to leave the house.

A Christmas Memories Book

For Sunday, December 25, 2011

One month after I was married in 1988, I began a Christmas Memories Book. Purchased at a Christmas store, the red leather covered book sat on the table and was the center of conversation when friends and family stopped by. After Christmas I would take time to fill in the spaces describing our visits with family, special presents, food enjoyed, and special celebrations we’d had. The book had room for twenty years’ worth of entries and I remember wondering what I’d do when the twenty years were over. I vowed to get a new book but I’m afraid that did not happen and so, for the past few years I have not kept the memory book going.

Our first four years of Christmas celebrations as a married couple were spent in our hometown where our parents lived. In 1988 I wrote of sneaking out of the house at 4:30am, rolling the car down the driveway so as not to wake my little nephew and niece who were sleeping downstairs. We went to Eric's parents' house and found his brother sleeping under the Christmas tree. We woke up his family, opened presents there, and returned to my parents' house two hours later to do the same with my family. By 2:00pm we were on our way to Boston to catch a flight to the Bahamas for a belated honeymoon!

In 1991 with my first baby due in one month, we visited friends who called my baby “8/9ths” and joked of our need to get back home quickly before the baby arrived. With little money and a long list of people to buy presents for, it was the year I made numerous food baskets which I delivered to family members.

Beginning in 1992, Eric and I stayed home for Christmas. Having purchased our first home in January, a home we moved into when Sydney was just one week old, we were delighted to decorate and to host the festivities. My parents came as did my brother and sister-in-law. My Mom helped me prepare the annual Christmas Eve buffet and the holiday would have been perfect if not for my Mom coming down with the flu. Fearing she would expose the baby, she insisted on staying upstairs in her guest bedroom. She was miserably ill for several days.

The next fifteen years are also chronicled inside my red leather book. There are notes on favorite gifts and descriptions of various things the children said or did, such as when Sydney panicked at the age of four after her Uncle Kevin came in from outside claiming he’d seen a red light up in the sky. She ran upstairs crying until we insisted that she had plenty of time to get on her pajamas and to go to sleep before Santa flew to our rooftop. Times with Eric’s grandparents, various members of my family, and friends who stopped by are forever penned inside my red leather book. Letters from Santa, wish lists, and even a reworked Christmas carol are tucked inside the pages.

If my Christmas Memories Book had a few more pages, enough for this year's entry, I'd be sure to discuss my excitement when Dad called from the rest area outside of our hometown to tell me he and Mom were on their way once more to spend another holiday with us. (In twenty years since they first came to our house in 1992 they have missed only one year). I'd write of my daughters and I singing at Christmas Eve Mass after a day of preparing the foods for our annual buffet and hosting Eric's parents and brother that evening and my brother and his family the next. I'd write of Dad waiting in the stairwell with the three kids while my Mom got ready to come downstairs, and of the funny "Cinderella" book that Sydney and Paul doctored up for Emma's present. I'd write of Paul's excitement over getting his IPod Touch and of making Mom's coffee for her each morning and my retrieving my green fleece robe from the drier so I could wrap it around Dad Christmas morning. I'd share too how Mom and I talked for hours. I'd write of Dad and Joel enjoying the Patriot's game with Eric. I'd write of the bittersweet feelings of knowing I no longer had a child in the house who believed in Santa.

The pages of my red Christmas Memories Book may have run out, but I now realize that, as with everything else, I have evolved with my memory keeping. Photographs and this blog perhaps will help me continue to record memories of the everyday as well as Christmas celebrations. It is my hope however that the first twenty years of Christmas as a married woman will continue to delight and entertain all those who open the cover of my Christmas Memories Book.

A Phone Call From Santa

For Saturday, December 24, 2011

Although one might think they are too old to receive phone calls from Santa on Christmas Eve, my kids made it known to me that they hoped Santa would not forget them this year. I left a hint on Facebook tagging St. Nick’s favorite local elf and luckily he saw it. When the phone rang in the afternoon and I answered it, I was the first to hear Santa’s “Ho Ho Ho”.

“I hear you have a present arriving soon from the North?” Santa asked me. He had heard that Mom and Dad were on their way to my house for the holiday. “Yes, Santa, I do. I am very happy about that. Let me get the children now”.

Emma quickly got on the line. “Hello Santa”, she said. Then I went to find Paul, but he had jumped into the shower.

“Paul?! Santa is on the phone. Come talk to him!”

“Mom! I’m taking a shower. No”.

Never one to take no for an answer, I became a pest, knocking at the door of the bathroom, threatening to take a Q-tip to pop the lock, until he finally agreed to come out. He got on the line in the bedroom and rolled his eyes, but he was smiling as he listened in to the conversation between Santa and his sister.

There was giggling and the annual discussion of whether or not Santa sounded an awful lot like Uncle Kevin. There were debates on where Santa was at the moment. Santa said he was at the North Pole but Emma and NORAD had him tracked in Afghanistan. That led to questions about terrorism that only Santa himself could answer.

Oh sure, the conversations with Santa over the years have grown more complicated perhaps, but each Christmas Eve the children anticipate his annual phone call, almost as much as I do. I’m sure glad Santa did not assume the children had outgrown him. I am also happy that despite his busy schedule, he did not forget to call our home again this year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Family's Christmas Traditions

Growing up, my family traditions were numerous. Christmastime was incredibly special with so many rituals I am afraid I’ll miss mentioning several here tonight. There were the blue candles my Mom would place in our windows, giving each room a beautiful calm glow, and then there were the car rides around town in December to see the community’s Christmas lights. We'd spend the time picking out our favorite house displays. There were Christmas cards hung first on the stair railing and later on the front door when we moved to a new home. There were special ornaments and a little creche that to this day I refuse to give up even if the simple cardboard manger is worn out and some of the plastic animals are broken in parts.

There was the tradition of not going down the steps on Christmas morning to see the tree until Dad had gone down first to turn on the Christmas tree lights. Before he did this, everyone, including my two visiting grandmothers, had to be awake. We would then be allowed to open our stockings (In our stockings we always found gold chocolate coins at the very bottom), and just one present each before we all sat down to eat our breakfast. Opening presents would resume with an orderly "one-at-a-time, youngest-to-oldest" pattern which was a fabulous way to draw out the opening of gifts for several hours.

Going to Mass was sometimes different for each family member. With five of us children and later my older siblings' spouses all at home, I often went to an early Christmas Eve Mass with my parents or else I would opt to go with my brother and nephew around 10:00am on Christmas morning. Many of my siblings would attend the special Midnight Mass and they would not get home until the wee hours of the morning. I always longed to do that too, but by the time I was old enough to attend, the "Midnight Mass" was being held at 9:00pm.

Now that Eric and I have our own Christmas with our family, we have begun some new traditions such as with our Christmas village and snow globe decorations, our garland and bulbs hung in the windows, and our little white kitchen tree in addition to our big family tree. On a table sits a Christmas puzzle where you can often find Sydney and Emma taking turns to finish it before starting a new one and letters to Santa are answered each year with soot fingerprints left behind. We now attend a 4:00pm children’s Mass and sing in the choir, and we long ago trained our children to sing the phrase “Christmas lights!” every time we spot some in our nightly travels.

But I have certainly upheld many of my childhood traditions too. The children wait for Eric to turn on the tree lights on Christmas morning and we stop for a breakfast break after some time has been spent opening presents one at a time. My favorite tradition however is our annual Christmas Eve buffet. Years ago, in an attempt to make the night before Christmas even more special (and to take the focus off the gifts under the tree perhaps), my Mom prepared several appetizer-style dishes and put on a huge spread for family and dear friends. The dining room table was decorated and the food took over every inch. When Eric and I moved into our home I knew I wanted to continue the tradition, so each year I prepare the buffet. We invite my parents, in-laws, and often a few dear friends of my children. Before they passed, Eric’s grandmothers and Papa always came too.

I have spent much of today finishing my Christmas baking of cookies to fill a tiered tree of sweet desserts, a staple of the buffet. And I’ve begun preparing items for the menu. It is a labor of love. I’ll be up early in the morning and my daughters and I will start in on the list so as to have everything just about ready for our return after Mass. Eric will light a fire in the fireplace and the girls and I will get the food warmed up and placed upon the decorated table.

We’ll gather around the Christmas Eve buffet, say grace, and enjoy the food and one another’s company. As the food is put away, the children will begin writing a letter to Santa and will set aside a few cookies for him. It matters not that they have passed the magical time of childhood when Santa was real. They know the real magic is within the special beauty of family traditions.

Our Christmas Eve Menu:
  • crabmeat roll-ups
  • stuffed celery
  • meatballs & spaghetti sauce
  • meatballs & gravy (for Dad)
  • phyllo taco cups
  • phyllo cheeseburger cups (for Dad)
  • creton
  • cheese, pepperoni and crackers
  • chicken crepes (with apples)
  • chicken crepes (without apples for Dad)
  • steak teriyaki roll-ups with water chestnuts
  • shrimp cocktail
  • onion dip and chips
  • cheese fondue with french bread
  • deviled eggs
  • pumpkin bread
  • banana bread
  • chicken broccoli braid
  • chicken spinach braid
  • peanut butter cookies
  • peanut butter blossom cookies
  • sugar cookies
  • muddy buddies
  • peanut butter balls
  • needhams
  • frosted oatmeal log cookies
  • pretzel-kiss-m&m candies

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hanging on

I think of you often in my day
and in my dreams it’s always you I see.
Despite a greater distance between us now
I hope I can guide you back to me.

I have much to learn
yet in your heart, in your mind I wish to stay.
But I will travel, follow wherever you wander.
Going anywhere, anytime, any day.

We did it all. We had fun.
And you were everything to me.
The most generous, the most loving one.
You taught me how to be.

I know you haven’t left by choice.
And sometimes I see you there
as you always were, as you were to me.
I hang on because I care.

I know I’ll drop a tear or two
but I will not be scared away.
I will find the road to walk.
I will find some words to say.

And I will sit with you and hold your hand
if the words won’t come to me.
I’ll sit and I’ll think on everything.
The past, the present, and years to be.

Keep Yourselves Safe

For Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As Christmas vacation approaches it has been a challenge to continue teaching. Students need this break as do we educators, but we all manage to get ourselves to school each day and to do our best to be alert and attentive in the lessons prior to the holidays. There are projects and papers due, exams to give or take, and last minute tasks to check. It has been a flurry of emails to parents and teens, and students staying after school to get one more assignment done before academic grade checks threaten to keep them on the bench at the next game.

The final week before vacation is hectic for teens and adults. So I consider myself lucky when as students are leaving my classroom for vacation that last day, I am thrown a “Thank you” or a “Merry Christmas” or a “Have a Nice Vacation”. I try to offer these sentiments to them as they file out, with an added, “Be safe and come back in one piece!” They sometimes look at me funny at this remark but unfortunately there have been more than a couple of tragic happenings over a school vacation. I know I will sound morbid but I say a prayer that they will all come back and sit in their desks once again come January. A teacher who is a mother always worries, whether or not the children are biologically her own.

As we all pack our backpacks and grab our coats to leave for vacation, I remind them to take care of themselves, to drive carefully on these wintry roads, and to get their rest. Oh and after a few days of rest, to get their homework done too. They smirk at me, nod, and promise they will.

Happy Birthday Eric

For Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Today is my husband’s birthday. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I did not say “Happy Birthday” to him until we were at the children’s bus stop a good hour after he woke up. But I do think he ended up having a special day, even if we were at work for most of it. We did have a chance to have lunch together at school since our schedules allow us to do so every other day. I not-so-subtly told everyone at our lunch table that it was Eric’s birthday and he was serenaded in Spanish by the Spanish teacher and given many other well wishes by others. I took a little time during the day to put together a picture collage of him using photos I had on my computer and I posted a birthday announcement to him on Facebook. After work we drove to our old stomping ground, the town we went to college in and where we lived when we were first married. (That might sound more romantic an event if I left out that we were actually driving to his 4pm dentist appointment, but that’s the truth of that situation).

Still, despite having to work and having to go to the dentist, afterward we managed to carve out some special time to mark the day. First, he and I went to dinner. He enjoyed his choice of meal and I relayed to him the obnoxious conversation I overheard at the bar stools next to us, one he somehow didn’t pick up on himself. It doesn’t take much to make the two of us laugh and the bar stool guys had been pretty entertaining even if they were quite sexist.

We arrived home and I had him open his present. It wasn’t much, just a small little plaque I’d picked up a few hours earlier, but its perfect sentiment made us both laugh again. We waited for our son to arrive home from basketball practice before diving into his cake (marble, his favorite) and he then opened a present from Sydney. The rest of the evening was easy-going and relaxing. We knew we had to head back to school for another few more days before vacation.

At one point during lunch at school my husband told our coworkers, “Birthdays were never a big deal in my family when we were growing up. My wife’s family was another story”. I suppose that’s true. Growing up, I awoke to hand drawn signs crafted by my Dad. Mom would bake my favorite cake (I had two favorites so she’d ask me which one I wanted that time around). My locker was often decorated at school. I had two birthday parties every year, one with family and one with my friends. And when our children were younger, I threw myself into each child’s birthday party planning and thoroughly enjoyed preparing all the details from the invitations, decorations, food, games, and favors. I am pretty sure that my children have fond memories of their birthday parties and that makes me happy.

For whether you are seven or forty-seven I believe birthdays should be celebrated with love. My husband may not have needed a big party with friends or even a homemade cake, but I did my best to give him that special recognition he deserves. For if he hadn’t a birthday to celebrate, my life as I know it would be completely erased. So Happy Birthday to you Eric. And So Happy Your Birthday to Me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Okay. What's Next?

For Monday, December 19, 2011

As I was working with one of my students today I noticed my hearing suddenly was affected. There was a brief sound of static, the sound of wind...I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s not the first time this has happened to me this fall. It never lasts for very long, just a moment or so as if my ears are adjusting to a climb in altitude, only I haven’t ascended to any new height when it happens.

I’ll get it checked. I will. I promise. (Just as soon as I get around to finding a primary care doctor). But the occurrence serves to stop me, in whatever I am doing, to think, “Huh. I wonder what else will soon go on the blink?”

Noticing the signs of aging has occurred more in the past two years. The facial wrinkles here and there, the back pain, the increased minding of cold weather, the reminders from my dentist that I must think of getting a few crowns.... I don’t particular like the reminders that I am getting older. I don’t embrace the way our bodies begin to deteriorate just when our wisdom has increased. It’s a cruel joke.

Yet in the past year and a half I have worked to rebel against Father Time. I dropped ten pounds and began strengthening and toning my muscles. I began getting more physical, going hiking, kayaking, and snowshoeing. I began wearing my glasses more often to stop the tugging at my eyes when my contact lenses fail to give me clear vision due to astigmatism and have grown to love my new scholarly and modern appearance. I don’t obsess over a new wrinkle for I find crows’ feet quite charming. I have done what I can to throw back the signs of aging, to counter them with a “Oh yeah?! Take THAT!” kind of attitude.

I used to be mistaken for being much younger than my years when I was in my 20s. And ever since then, I have hoped I still look at least 10 years younger than I am. One of the meanest things a peer ever said to me was when a fellow teacher said to my 25 year old self, "I wonder if you'll still have as good a rapport with your students when you are no longer young and pretty". I admit, the thought, however mean-spirited as I recognized it to be, has crossed my mind in the past twenty years. Will aging affect my relationships with people in a negative way? Will I be judged "old" and not given a fair shake? I'd hate to think so but sure, the world, or at least the media, does favor the young. But I would rather embrace the age I am. At the age of 43 I think I’m looking good, even if I don’t appear to look 33. Seeing my own daughter just a few weeks away from her 20th birthday has reminded me that I no longer WANT to hang onto my younger self. It’s her time now to be 20. I’m going to live the best decade I can and show her and my other children that we only get better as we age. I truly believe that. And I have proof of that when I view my friends and my family as they move into their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s. I think of the beautiful older women I know and I admire them for their accomplishments, their talents, their intelligence and wisdom, and yes, their inner and outer beauty. If I stay active and healthy, my body won’t fail me. So I refuse to fail my body by being sad that it isn’t quite what it used to be. Instead, it’s time to LIVE and to be grateful it’s still functioning as well as it is.

When I do begin experiencing old age, I am going to look back on the last 40 years and know that I made the very most of them. And then I’ll look into the mirror at the beautiful wrinkled face staring back at me and I’ll say, “Okay. What’s next?”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Vowing to Unplug

For Sunday, December 18, 2011

I was scolded by my husband last night. He looked over to my laptop’s computer screen at one point as I sat on the sofa, supposedly relaxing, and spotted that I was checking my school email. He had confronted me earlier in the weekend about doing the same thing. He knows that I regularly check in with my students, allowing them to submit late work or to ask a question as they are preparing the next assignment. I honestly try not to check my school email more than a few times a day on weekends, usually once in the morning and once at night, but I understood his concern and his scolding. Why was I checking it on a Saturday night?

The lines between work and home have become blurred with the ease of email. Gone are the days when we are truly separated from work between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Even vacations can be interrupted if we allow ourselves to check emails. There is often a satisfying feeling of checking it and seeing nothing needing a response, but often that isn’t the case. Yet rarely is there truly any dire need to respond to an inquiry, not often is there a situation that cannot wait.

It’s difficult yet most important to “unplug”. When the lines become blurred and work threatens true well being at home, it’s necessary to have boundaries established again. To this end I am vowing to check my school email only twice during my next vacation. I’ll check it once the night I return home on my last day of work this week and once the day before I return to work. Work needs not consume me. I need a true break from the workplace. If I don’t set appropriate boundaries to protect myself, no one will. Well, except for that sweet if grumpy husband of mine...

The Ease of Time Together

For Saturday, December 17, 2011

It was the day of our annual Christmas party with Eric’s side of the family today. Gatherings at my in-law’s are always very enjoyable. There is an ease to our time together that can be counted on, no matter the season.

This year we arrived around noontime and after a few minutes spent playing with the newest addition to the family, little Jack, who turned a year old a month ago, we all settled into the living room and began exchanging presents. This was made all the more fun with the traditional tags, a bit of an inside joke within the family that doesn’t need sharing to those who might not appreciate the humor of the silliness, and the final presentation of money envelopes, “Just like Papa and Mana used to do”, said Eric's Dad. After the usual oohing and aahhing over pretty hand-made gifts and/or other thoughtful items, we set our presents aside and dove into my mother-in-law’s traditional lasagna dinner, salad, rolls, and pumpkin bars.

Harry the dog enjoyed some attention from the children and Eric and his sister and father headed downstairs and ended up looking through old photo albums together. Joel and Chad unpacked Paul’s remote control helicopter and showed him its features as the two of them flew the copter around the room above our heads. Emma lounged on the couch and Barbara and I found ourselves drifting off and sneaking in a short snooze during the temporary quiet. When everyone returned to the living room, we took pictures of each little family within the larger group and laughed when Paul’s helicopter made it into a few of the shots.

Before long it was time for Marissa’s family to head home. We all lamented the early setting of the sun and how we all hate to drive home in the dark. We packed up our presents and said our goodbye’s shortly after. Another Christmas had come and gone quickly but it had been such a pleasant and happy afternoon with everyone.

Each time I gather with family these days I count my blessings. Eric’s parents are so very lucky to have their three children make every effort to gather together a few times each year. Their simple gatherings have grown in size to accommodate spouses and children but the relaxed and laugh-filled celebrations of family is never compromised. The comforting ease to our time together is a true credit to Eric’s parents and to the three children, Eric, Lisa, and Joel. As I looked into the backseat where our own three children sat on the ride home I said a silent prayer that as they grow older, they’ll continue to find their way back to our home with their spouses and children...and that our time together will be as easy-going and as joyous as are the times at my in-law’s.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Muddling Through

For Friday, December 16, 2011

There is a beauty to Christmas songs that cannot be denied. Although many are uplifting and joyous, there are others that bring a certain melancholy, songs such as Blue Christmas, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and the one that brings a tear to my eyes, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

That song was sung by Judy Garland in the movie, Meet Me in St Louis. In the film, Garland’s character sings to a five year old girl who is upset over an impending move. The lyrics of the song were altered by Garland and later again by Frank Sinatra, but in each version there is an encouragement that we let our "heart be light" and a reminder that our present troubles will soon "be out of sight". There is a reminder that "faithful friends who were dear to us will be near to us once more" and that "someday soon we will all be together if the fates allow". Although Sinatra sang asking that we “hang a shining star upon the highest bough”, Garland suggested that “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow”. I admit, I prefer Garland’s honest lyric there.

Christmas is a celebratory time, but indeed there are moments of melancholy when we think of the past and we recognize the fact that we’ve lost friends and family who will no longer celebrate with us in the way we fondly remember. Sometimes we must "muddle through" after reminders that we are to acknowledge the passing of time. I see nothing wrong with allowing those moments of sadness reach us, as long as we don’t get lost within them. It is good to remind ourselves to have a merry little Christmas and to let our hearts be light.

To hear Ms. Garland's song from Meet Me In St. Louis, click here:

If you prefer Frank Sinatra, here is his version: 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Music, Lasagna, and Funny Faces

For Thursday, December 15, 2011

After a rough few days at work I hurried home on Wednesday to make a lasagna dinner for my daughter Sydney who would be coming home from college for Christmas break. She was bringing her friend Ryan home with her for a couple of days. I wanted them both to enjoy a home cooked meal upon their arrival.

Sydney’s siblings were excited too. Emma, Paul, and I hung out in the kitchen listening to music together and getting the kitchen picked up. Soon we were belting out the lyrics to songs and laughing as we tend to do when we anticipate company. When Sydney and Ryan appeared, I was more than grateful they hadn’t caught us screeching lyrics. That might have given Ryan a startling introduction to our family.

The lasagna came out of the oven but we were nearing the time we had to leave to go to Paul’s middle school music concert. Paul, Emma and Eric ate quickly and left to head to the concert while Sydney, Ryan, and I said we’d meet up with them there. We finished our dinner then drove to the middle school. When we arrived the concert had just begun and so as not to interrupt or distract, we took seats near the side of the bleachers.

After a few numbers by the band, I looked up at the side of the bleachers and spotted a little four year old girl who had made herself comfortable, lying down on the floor of the bleachers with her coat underneath her. With the railing right there, she made a game of sticking her little face underneath one part of the railing. I smiled at her and made eyes at her, getting her to smile back at me. Then, when she slowly stuck out her tongue, I chuckled and did the same. She was delighted. Sydney, who was seated next to me, began playing the same game, much to the little girl’s enjoyment. Then Ryan joined in. The four of us sat chuckling and smiling and making faces back and forth as the band and the chorus groups played on.

At one point the music stopped and the little girl began giggling at Ryan. The giggling grew louder and faster and before we knew it, the girl’s mother, and several people seated near us, caught on to our game. Everyone began laughing. The little girl’s giggle was incredibly contagious. Luckily we all settled down prior to the next song. The little girl sat upright and watched her sister sing a few numbers. We sighed in relief that we had not caused trouble.

Music, lasagna, and the game of making faces with a four year old girl, my daughter, and Ryan made my night, my day, and possibly my entire week. For me at least, it was a nice way to spend the first evening with my college girl and her new friend.

Over A Barrel

For Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As weeks go, this one hadn’t been a good one, or so I thought. I dreaded the week’s meetings as it began but gave myself a pep talk telling myself to be calm and to go with the flow. I now realize that when I set myself up like that, the universe sees it as a challenge to rise against me. And if I thought Monday’s meetings had been rough, today surely had me over a barrel.

I talked with a friend this afternoon and told him that I have long been too much of a thinker. I over-analyze situations and my interaction with others. I strive to “act appropriately” but in doing that, I put undue stress on myself to filter my words or to at least chastise myself when I think I have said too much. My friend told me that I don’t need a filter, for my words and my approach in conversations are usually spot on, however I may be overly aware of how others are affected by my words and anticipate their reactions, or else I care a little too much for how they will handle my words. It’s not my responsibility to do that, at least not constantly.

Today I confronted a few people on some important matters. I did not hold back, although I did choose some words carefully so as not to burn bridges or make the situation worse. That’s simple wisdom. It felt good not to hold it in or to stuff my feelings. When I was asked to “take a walk” to continue a conversation in a more private setting, it became my time to do the challenging, my time to demand appropriate answers. Yet, as passionate as my words were, I remained in control.

I rode home at the end of the day and knew I had been right to tell myself to be calm and to go with the flow at the start of the week, despite the rocky weather that had come to be over the last few days. But at the end of the day today it became clear to me that when I am held over a barrel, that’s when my courage chooses to surface.

As weeks go, this may not be one I call a favorite, but maybe it wasn't as bad as I anticipated. Speaking the truth and saying what needs to be said is tough, but it's hard to live life with integrity if one hides in a corner.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Extra Credit

I was in a list making mode tonight, desiring to credit the teachers I had in my life, wanting to send notes of appreciation to as many as I could remember. Maybe it's not a perfect list. Maybe it should say more, or say less, or be presented differently but that's okay. I think it's the thought that counts here. So without further are the names of some of the people who influenced me from the age of 5 to my early twenties when I entered my own classroom and became a teacher myself.

Miss Thames...Thank you for giving me a wonderful start to school, for encouraging my reading skills and for coming to my rescue when I needed help pulling up my tights.

Miss Coombs...Thank you for wearing that amazing blue eyeshadow and for living next door to my best friend. You were like a celebrity to us both.

Miss Cummings...Thank you for having the same first name as me. I thought that was pretty cool. But I don’t think you spelled your name correctly with the “E” on the end.

Mr. Burnell...Thank you for making me and Cheryl your teacher pets. I’ll never forget the hilarity of being tied to my desk chair with a yardstick at my back. That will sound horrible to people who weren’t there but it was all in fun and a lesson in having good posture.

Mrs. Blood...Thank you for your kindness when I was traumatized for having to go to a new school, even if it was just one mile from my old school.

Mr. Burton...Thank you for making a box to house discussion topics suggested by students and for getting the entire class on board to support me when I was too afraid to wear my glasses to school in fear that I’d be made fun of.

Mr. Megno...Thank you for being an honest and caring CCD teacher, for answering the tough questions, and for everything you did for us kids.

Mrs. Angotti...Thank you for all the talks we had during piano lessons. Thank you for recognizing what I truly needed in order to stick with piano for the 10 years I took lessons with you.

Mr. Gonya, Mr. Thorpe, and Mr. Ordway...Thank you for not embarrassing me too much when I slipped in my first pair of wedged heels and landed in front of the three of you with my skirt flying up.

Mr. Huff...Thank you for being so supportive of my efforts to earn a place in the high school stage band even though we all knew I’d never win a spot over Sara-Sue and Jennifer. Thank you for coming to my house with a set of vibes the summer before my freshman year and suggesting I learn to play them. I am honored to share our birthday and I smile brightly each year when I receive your card.

Mr. Martin...Thank you for your guidance and for giving me the greatest piece of advice when you heard I was going to become a teacher.

Miss Ouellette...Thank you for enjoying us teenagers and letting us play flag football in gym class so often.

Mr. Deane...Thank you for allowing me the funniest of stories about taking Driver’s Ed with you. My students love hearing them.

Mrs. Martin...Thank you for suggesting Theater, Communication, and English to me as possible college majors. I wish I could thank you for talking me into doing that scholarship beauty pageant but despite winning as 2nd runner up, that is one of my most embarrassing stories of my past.

Mrs. Lacasse...Thank you for taking time to read my teenage books of poetry. The notes you tucked inside my books were so special. You were the most supportive teacher and you helped me develop my confidence as a writer.

Mr. St. Peter...Thank you for giving me my one and only “D+” in high school. I so deserved it. I learned my lesson and stopped flirting so much in math class. And I got a B+ the next quarter. Thank you also for being such a good father to my soul brother Paul.

Mr. DiFederico, Mr. Held, Mr. McDonald...Thank you for teaching me. I always found your classes interesting, challenging, and relevant.

Mr. Logan...Thank you for teaching me about poetry and for helping me improve my writing skills. I’ll never forget the day you put your ear to the cement wall and said you could hear the cement mixer.

To my science teachers--Mr. Porter, Mr. Trainor, and Mr. Pottle...Thanks for bearing with me and for letting Cheryl and I use the electric scale, Mr. Pottle.

Mr. Walker...Thank you for making time for me during 6th period study halls and for developing my love of theater.

Ms. Buzzini... Thank you for challenging my vocal range and for the time you devoted to private lessons. Thank you also for your sense of humor and for the energy you brought to our choral groups.

Professor Freeman...Thank you for working with me for four years as a music/voice minor and for the beautiful evening of song the night you invited my husband and I to your home to cut down a Christmas tree.

Professor Jacques...Thank you for insisting that your students turn in papers in their original handwriting. I learned so much from you over the course of the semester.

Professor Cole...Thank you for being the most challenging teacher I ever had in college.

Professor Benedict...Thank you for encouraging me as a writer.

Professor Steele...Thank you for the guidance in the three theater college courses I took from you.

Professor Street...Thanks for being one very cool cat. I loved your jazz course.

Professor Broyles...Thank you for making an exception and for taking a chance on me, a young 22 year old applying to a graduate program designed for older students, not those of us fresh out of college. I worked hard to make you proud of me. Thank you for awarding me a scholarship that allowed me to finish graduate school.

Professor Silvernail...Thank you for opening my mind to understanding the nuances of research.

Mrs. Davis...Thank you for being the best cooperating teacher and for trusting your students to learn from me.

And to Michelle, Kim, Peter, Peter, Susan, Sue, Gail, Steve, Roger, Jan, Mary...Thank you for the guidance and support you provided me when I entered my own classroom as a new teacher.

I Know You're Not

For Monday, December 12, 2011

Sometimes when I say I’m okay, I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight and say, “I know you’re not”.

Yesterday while on the internet, I came across this quote attached to a tender black and white picture of two toddlers hugging. I immediately stopped and whispered, “Exactly”.

We do so much pretending in our daily lives. It is exhausting. It is necessary however, for the world would operate much differently if we did not have the filters we have or the common sense to put a person or a situation into perspective when we are angry and frustrated. But lately I have been troubled by the lack of honesty that I see around me. I’ve said this before, but that is why I like teens. Many of them don’t see any reason to lie to me. That remark can be taken one of two ways of course. Some surely do not care whether or not I have a certain opinion of them or not; others trust me. And before I continue, let me assure you that I know that people (teens and adults) aren’t always truthful. We are dishonest for a variety of reasons, most of them self-preserving. I know that some of my teens try to lie to me as either a defense mechanism or in hopes of winning my favor with their deception. What they don’t realize however is how attuned I am to untruths. I don’t often confront the lies when I work with teens. I tend to simply smirk when I hear them. Some lies aren’t any ”big deal” in our daily functioning. But others can quickly erode the strongest of foundations. The lies or the hypocrisy I experience with certain adults is a whole other matter, one in which I have little tolerance or patience. I hold adults to a much higher standard. I expect too much at times. I know that. I push myself to these high expectations too and then grow disappointed in myself. It's something I am working on... Yes, Virginia, I do have this ugly side...

It’s the lie of “I’m okay” however that I wish most we could bust wide open. As individuals or as a society we have such a hard time admitting that we feel vulnerable, hurt, troubled, frustrated, sad, angry, or otherwise pained. We respond “I’m okay” to another’s “How are you?” for a few reasons. First of all, we know that the other person is expecting us to assure them that we are fine, that we do not need any additional attention given to us. Some of us don’t want that extra attention, preferring to be private in our feelings and/or seen as anything but vulnerable with certain individuals. The last thing we want or need is to reveal ourselves to a manipulator, backstabber, or otherwise hurtful person. Sometimes we lie and say we are okay because we don’t have time to get into a discussion of why we’re not. Or we aren’t in the right frame of mind to discuss the situation at hand. Sometimes we’re afraid of making a situation worse. And some of us, like me, seem to do better with honesty when we write. I suppose some may believe I've ingested a truth serum when I write. But let me be honest about my writing. There are some things I will NOT write about. Not now anyway. I have to keep some truths under wraps because I don't want to be hurtful. And in a few matters, I have yet to be honest with myself enough to put down words of permanence on paper. Oh, I have no startling skeletons in my closet. No, I just don't have everything figured out yet. I suppose no one ever truly does...

Some of us have had experiences where being honest proved to hurt us. I’ve been there. Many times. But this brings me back to my comment about the exhaustion of pretending. We all do it. We all respond with “I’m okay”, and we try to move on with our day. But sometimes when I say that, I want to be halted in my tracks. I want someone to look me in the eyes then hug me tight saying, “I know you’re not. Talk to me”. And I want that person to tell me it is time to stop pretending, that it’s okay to put down the wall of being strong and sensible and selfless. I want to be confronted and have every lie exposed. And then, I want to sleep...the best sleep I have ever had, so I can wake up and do the same for another.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Humble Gift of Song

For Sunday, December 11, 2011

I’d practiced the song and knew it well. It was a beloved solo of mine that accompanied by our church choir had been sung at Mass last year too. As with any piece of music that challenges me, I was intense in my focus and I controlled my breathing, my articulation and enunciation of words, and my tone. I was ready to perform. The piano began. I had four measures before my first note...

Et Misericordia. To hear this beautiful song by John Rutter, click the link below.

Despite my preparation and having calmly sung the first several pages of the song, halfway through, my legs began shaking. I didn’t feel nervous but, as I continued to sing, I realized just how intensely I was working to have proper breath control, clear pitch, effective dynamics, and proper enunciation. My legs shook but luckily my voice did not. I was aware of my singing yet also acutely aware of how my body was betraying me. I told my legs to “settle”. They did not. Still, I continued to sing. Passionately yet in control. I began to soar.

Music is the purest way I pray.

Finishing the song today, I glanced at Sandy and she gave me that “Thumbs up smile and nod”. I instinctively sat down. That’s when Emma nudged me in reminder that I was to start the choir’s line to receive communion. I stood up, walked to receive the blessed host then returned to my pew. Emma knelt down and whispered, “Way to forget about Communion, Mom”. I smirked. I’d lost myself for a moment there...

For the duration of the song I had been lifted away from my pew. I felt my legs shake but another part of me felt as if I were floating. The music took me up into the heaven of high notes, only to lower me gently into a cradle at the song’s end. I believe singing is the highest form of praise I can offer to God. That’s why my legs shake. I sing with such intent, with great focus of my mind that my body is left to tremble at the thought of what I am offering up, at what I am most humbled by, at the hope that my praise is received and understood.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

For Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dashing out of the house at 8:00am, Eric left with Paul to drive to an out-of-town basketball game. Forgiven from attending, since Emma had an early afternoon dance recital, I was tempted to be lazy, but the news that Sydney would be coming home in just a few days’ time had me up and in the shower a few minutes later to prepare the house for her homecoming.

I began cleaning in anticipation of getting the house decorated. I blasted some music and for the first time in weeks, took to dancing in my kitchen again. With the sore back almost only a memory, I took my chances and felt the pleasure of seeing my puppy jumping around with me, thinking I had gone mad.

I cleaned up the dining room table, the kitchen island, the cupboards, and the dishes. I baked cinnamon rolls and paid bills. When the boys returned home around noontime I got them to bring up a few boxes of Christmas decorations and I began transforming our house for the holidays.

Still, as positive and happy as I was, I wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit. Not really. I hoped that watching my daughter’s dance recital in the afternoon would help. As the story of The Nutcracker was told, and as dancers, young and old, swayed to the familiar songs, I still felt a bit numb. I just wasn’t feeling it.

I went home and saw my husband off as he went to catch Emma’s second show. With just Paul in the house I had him help me set up the Christmas village, a set of collectible ceramic buildings that we’ve added to since buying our first piece when Sydney was a month shy of her first birthday. We carefully unwrapped each piece and I set up each neighborhood on designated spots in the living room. Paul went off to watch television as I plugged in each cord. The final result was very pretty but once again, it felt like I was just going through the motions.

Then I heard the sirens. In our town the local fire department joins Santa in a parade down each street in the community. For years Eric and I have raced down the driveway with our three children to wave to Santa and his team of firefighters as they drive by our house with music blaring and several firetrucks letting their sirens scream. Once, when Emma was just a toddler she had been taking a bath when the sirens were heard. Panicking, she was afraid she'd miss seeing Santa. I threw a blanket around her and we raced down the driveway getting to the end just in time! Another year we watched as the girls and a group of foreign exchange students excitedly ran down to the cul de sac. But tonight, I knew that without the girls here, I would be hard pressed to get Paul to run down the driveway with me. Newly 12 years old, he would be too self-conscious. I anticipated that. Yet I tried anyway. “Please Paul?! We could take Ziva! Go with me, please?!”

No luck.

I heard the sirens growing louder. They were getting closer to our neighborhood. As sad as it was to know no one was home to go down the driveway with me, I felt it would be sadder to stay inside. So impulsively, I grabbed my camera and went down the driveway, alone. Our neighbors came out of their houses and we all waved to one another. I could not help but wonder if in another ten years if we’d all be doing the same thing, walking down our driveways without our children perhaps, but in support of our local firefighters who brought out their shiny firetrucks in celebration of Christmas. I smiled. For I knew then that for me, it would never matter whether I had a child next to me or not, I would be continuing to greet them and Santa at the end of my driveway for as long as they continued this tradition. Maybe the child in me has never truly grown up.

“You did what? Alone? Mom, that’s really sad”. Upon hearing what I’d done, one daughter seemed embarrassed for me. The other felt sad that I’d had to go alone. She scolded her brother and was disgusted that she had missed it herself. But I was neither embarrassed or sad about making the trek to the end of the driveway. For the magic of Santa, or rather the magic of a community--in this aging neighborhood of mine and in my sweet town--had done it. The Christmas spirit had been renewed in me once again.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Time Well Spent

A few days ago as I drove into school I thought about how pressed for time I am and how unpleasant it is to feel this way during the Christmas season. My house isn’t decorated beyond two items I bought last week which I set in a temporary spot upon the windowsill, my shopping isn’t close to being finished, no cards have been sent, and no baking has been done. I blame back pain, school work demands, and the children’s activities. Fatigue and the stress of work have put a damper on my enjoyment of this season. Luckily, my passion for writing these blog posts allows me a chance to stop and reflect in a way I need to.

Thinking along these lines, I came into the classroom today and looked at the tired weary faces of my AP students. I wondered about these teens who take on the most challenging of courses, who get very little sleep on school nights, and who race through their To-Do lists. Do they stop long enough to reflect? Do they stop long enough to simply BE ? When we as adults push our teens in their academics and in various other responsibilities, do we also take time to help them see the need to be balanced? Do we help them value the human need for rest and relaxation?

I told my students that in the summertime we have more of a tendency to drop everything and to make time for the things we love. We take time to float on the lake, to rest in a hammock, to sit outside at night listening to the crickets. But in the throes of a hectic school year, we race from place to place and often lose our footing. So I told them I wanted to do something small this morning to stop the craziness. I gave them 15 minutes to simply BE. “If you feel like writing, write. If you can jump into a book for enjoyment, do that. If you want to chill and listen to music, do that. Doodle, daydream, fight the urge to finish homework that you need to do and do something restful. This may feel awkward and I know it’s only for a short time but drop everything else and give yourself 15 minutes”.

They looked at me with quizzical expressions and I had to laugh to myself as I associated this with the way I used to put my children down for their daily naps. (Okay, so maybe my toddlers hadn't needed to nap on a particular day but I needed them to?!) But being the good sports that they are, my 13 AP teens took me seriously. Some listened to music. One girl drew a picture. I saw others writing and reading and yes, as expected, surfing the web. I had considered having them not turn to the computer but I did not want to put limitations on what they chose to do in those fifteen minutes. If some chose to play an online game, who was I to say they needed to spend their 15 minute gift of time differently? It wasn’t the time to preach about unplugging, nor have I made up my mind on the debate on whether technology helps or hinders our attempts to slow down the pace of our lives.

After the 15 minutes, after my students told me that those fifteen minutes had proven to be “not awkward” but “really nice”, we dove into the lesson of the day. We tackled Shakespeare’s Macbeth, reading the play aloud and stopping at various times to discuss the language, the play’s motifs, and characterization. Students also selected soliloquies to study, interpret, and memorize by January. It’s easy to say the fifty minutes after our initial 15 minutes of rest were spent in strong academic study. We worked diligently but at the same time, there was laughter and smiles. We were indeed a community of learners, a community of people who could balance work with play, seriousness and scholarship with silly banter and giggles (I suppose taking the role of First Witch as we’re reading Macbeth Act I and reciting the lines in my best “witch voice” always helps entertain too).

I may have much to do to prepare for Christmas but I feel I have a done a few things “right” this year. I have stopped and have dropped everything to be there for the young people in my life--my teens at school and my kids at home. There have been times of quiet study and loads of laughter too. Christmas is so much more than tinsel and trees. The gift of time is one gift these young people deserve, whether it is time we give them to simply relax on their own, or time spent with us adults (talking, doesn’t matter). Teens need “time well spent” in their journey toward adulthood. As with ourselves as we make our own way through life, this time is worth so much. On a daily basis, we’re all worth those fifteen minutes at the VERY least.

I Love You

For Thursday, December 8, 2011

It wasn’t easy to make it to tonight’s Holy Day of Obligation church service. Gone are the days when schools and employers dismissed churchgoers in time to attend an afternoon Mass. Nowadays concerts, basketball games, and other such events are held without consideration of Holy Days. It is, simply, a different world.

In the Catholic faith, going to Sunday Mass is not something we are to choose to do; we are to attend. Holy Days of Obligation, such as this week’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception, are to be considered equal to a Sunday Mass. Therefore, missing Sunday Mass or a Holy Day is a sin. Now, with that said, let me say very clearly, I am a sinner. I occasionally miss Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation as do my children. I struggle with this. I know what is the right thing to do. But it’s not easy.

Last Sunday, Father Paul, our parish priest, gave us a stern reminder of our obligation. I did not need him to do this, or so I thought, because I carry this part of my faith with me. I regularly think of my obligation and of my responsibility and desire to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days. I think of this when I am tired and long to sleep in past 7:30am on Sunday mornings. I think of this when my children ask to sleep over at a friend’s house. I think of this when we travel, when my back is sore, when the weather is poor, or when I long to hang out on the couch in my pajamas and read. But despite all this, when Father Paul reminded us of his desire to have us attend faithfully, I got the message.

Last Sunday I announced to everyone in the car on the way home that we were going to the anticipation of The Feast of The Immaculate Conception service on Wednesday evening. On Monday Emma told me her band and chorus Christmas concert was on Wednesday evening. I was immediately frustrated. Knowing we had school on Thursday morning, the other time a service would be held at St. Joe’s, I knew that going to another church’s service on Thursday evening would be our only option. That Mass would require an extra half hour drive on the night when my daughter’s dance class was to meet to prepare for the weekend’s Christmas recital. How ironic was it that two different celebrations of Christmas were interfering with my need to go to church on a Holy Day?!?!

I weighed my options. I decided to do what I felt was the right choice. But then I arrived home with just an hour to prepare supper and eat. I made pancakes. I was so proud of both of my children when they asked without any hint of complaint, "What time are we leaving for Mass?" We finished supper and then left to make it to the church that is an extra half hour away.

Father Paul, who also says Mass at that church, was there. He began Mass. The service was beautiful. His discussion of Mary hit home with me as both a daughter and as a mother as it does every year. I have thought of Mary an awful lot in recent years and I’ll most likely write about that at another time.

Early on in the Mass, Father Paul thanked us for coming to tonight’s service. He explained where he was coming from when he had given us the stern reminder to attend the Holy Day. He then said, very plainly, “I love you”.

I was caught completely off guard by this profession of his love. This was an unusual utterance. We Catholics are pretty formal in our Mass. Oh sure, priests take time in their homilies to share with us their personality through stories of their past experiences at times but this utterance in this particular way was unique. He had come forward, had looked out at us and had said, "I love you". My eyes began to water and my lip began to tremble. Father Paul may have uttered the words but I knew he was speaking for Him. It was as if He knew every obstacle I had overcome to get us all there at that Mass, as if He knew how torn I had been, how I had mulled it all over, how I had cried and prayed and had almost thrown in the towel, opting to stay home that night. It was as if He saw all my human frailties, all my guilt, all my hopes, desires, and aspirations. It was as if He was speaking to only me in that moment.

"That was nice" my husband said as we drove home. We both mentioned the idea of having Father Paul over for our family's annual Christmas Eve Buffet. My children wanted to know if we were serious. "Wouldn't that be awkward?" my son asked me. I laughed. "Only the first time" was my reply. My husband and children mentioned saying goodbye to Father Paul before having left the church on our way out. Eric was thanked for coming and said Father had greeted Emma by name. I felt a little sad that I had shyly left without making eye contact with Father myself. I suppose I was a little afraid of getting teary eyed again. But I thought also of how I hope my own son will be persuaded by Father as he continues to grow. I hope my own Paul can inspire others in his own faith the way Father Paul does. So many thoughts. I was glad to have the extra time to think as we made the commute home.

Father Paul, thank you for the push to attend Mass tonight. Thank you for your profession of your love for the flock you lead. Thank you for regularly making my eyes water and my lip tremble. I love you too. More than you know.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

LOST...and Found

It was another challenging day at school, one full of disappointing situations. By the time I packed my bag mid-afternoon, I was exhausted--physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I probably should have kept my mouth shut as I rode home with my husband. Instead I vented and shared my frustration with this poor guy who of course had just ended his own full day of work. He listened patiently, however. Still, by the time we arrived home I was quite tense. As we came into the house I set my bag down and took off my coat. My husband sweetly took it from me to hang it up. I stopped him and we hugged. That was nice but the stress of my day was still there.

My first thought was of preparing dinner for I knew that we had a concert to attend in a few hours’ time. I went to the fridge to see what was there and then went to the pantry. It was there that I heard the tv in the other room. My son was watching the final episode of the series LOST, our favorite show prior to it going off the air last year.

I stopped in front of the pantry shelves. My mind told me to look for a possible dinner to prepare. But my heart needed something else. Another 30 seconds passed as I stood staring and listening to the television in the other room. Then I closed the pantry doors and went to the family room. Without asking his permission to do so, I impulsively curled up to Paul on the sofa and although he chuckled, “What are you doing?”, he let me cozy up to him. We watched the last five minutes of the show together. If you’ve never watched it, let me simply say that the final few minutes of the LOST finale features an emotional scene where the characters of the entire series meet up in a church, a setting of their own design where they’ve arranged to find one another in the afterlife. Having affectionately followed the series for years, we had grown attached to the characters as if they were friends of ours. My children and I had followed the show for years together, talking, laughing, and guessing at the meaning of it all. We were die-hard fans of LOST. Watching the final scene again, it wasn’t difficult to suddenly relate to the character’s emotional reunion and to imaginine that of my own family and friends in Heaven someday. That’s when my tears began to fall.

There I was, lying next to my 12 year old son, crying softly. Paul sweetly allowed his mother to cry, never teasing me or getting up from the couch to get away from my nuttiness. Cradled on the couch together watching those five minutes of LOST, I realized the sweet irony of the situation. Suddenly, after several failed attempts to dismiss the day’s stress through other means, I had followed my heart and had cried it out in the arms of my son. I finally felt less “lost”.

I hope tomorrow is a better day. But how blessed I am to have the family I have. To have a husband so selflessly listen to me rant, to have a sweet boy like Paul put up with a teary-eyed, emotional Mom. Yes, I'd be completely lost without this family of mine. Pun intended.

Kitchen Magic

For Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Irritable. That’s what I was today. Thankfully I am not this way very often. It may have been any number of things that triggered it, but by the time I got home I was ugly. Driving home alone in my car I ranted to myself. I tried to shake the annoyance I felt over several issues that were bothering me. I took deep breaths and tried to relax.

Coming into the house I knew I had only a couple of hours before I’d have to leave again to take my son to basketball practice. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do. Having received a sweet note from my best friend earlier in the day, one in which she reminded me of my Mom’s cookie baking, I went straight to my recipe box. I pulled out Mom’s recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and started throwing the ingredients together in the mixer’s bowl.

As I prepared the cookie dough I focused only on the recipe. I threw a batch of cookies in the oven and fed the puppy. I unloaded the dishwasher too. Before the timer went off I had cleaned the kitchen. The cookies came off the cookie sheet as another batch went into the oven. I found myself breathing calmly and then noticed I was humming.

My Mom always hummed as she baked and cleaned house. Here I was doing the same thing now and feeling less stressed and less agitated. Domesticity is not only in my blood, it is what relaxes me most. Eating four cookies straight from the oven probably helped too.

There’s a magic that exists in my kitchen. I feel it often on Sunday afternoons as I prepare a batch of soup. I feel it anytime I make dinner for my family. And the magic returned on a Tuesday afternoon when it seemed nothing was working right. Five dozen cookies were packaged up, all perfectly baked and sought after by my husband and kids once they discovered what I’d been doing after my arrival home. My irritability subsided. There came a true feeling of accomplishment for whipping up a batch of delicious cookies, supplying my family with dessert for the next several days. If only the rest of life were that easy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bringing Lit to Life

For Monday, December 5, 2011

I am not at all surprised that my daughter is pursuing a double major in theater and psychology. It appears the apple has not fallen far from the tree. It is true that I changed my own college major from theater to communication to English and earned my Master’s Degree in education, but my interest in teaching English at the high school level has always been founded in my love and study of people. Bringing texts to life with dramatic readings and having students stop and attempt to psycho-analyze literary characters’ words and actions has always been my teaching style. Yes, I am that crazy English teacher who acts as though the characters and the situations in books are REAL.

Teaching an array of brand new courses, I have enjoyed selecting new texts and delving into those previously taught in a whole new way. After richly discussing Hamlet, my Horrific Tales class is now studying selected “Monster texts”, reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They are looking also at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Birthmark”. I’ve introduced them to Sigmund Freud’s ideas on identity and the id, ego, and superego, and last night they went home to read Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents”. Tomorrow we’ll discuss its ideas on destructive behavior and how individuals and society deal with destructive impulses. We’ll also examine some artwork from Nineteenth century Romantic artists such as Henry Fuseli, Francisco Goya, and Theodore Gericault and examine their choice of subjects and use of fantasy, imagination, dreams, nightmares, the infernal, and the macabre. All explored what happens when the human mind goes into the darker side of consciousness.

It saddens me when people tell me they do not read. I think of how limited my own repetoire would be if I had never been exposed to the classic texts I have read over the years. In truth, I have become more varied in my reading since becoming a teacher. I was never given a list of the classics to read when I was in high school. It wasn’t until college and later in my student teaching that I became familiar with the texts I am sharing now. I tell my students this. I emphasize how important it is to read for enjoyment but that exposing ourselves to different books and more challenging texts is what widens our scope, our perspective.

In my career I introduce texts of varying subjects and themes to groups of teenagers. I share with students my fascination with each piece of literature I teach. Students may sometimes balk at the language of difficult texts but by the unit’s end, all seem to understand why I selected the books I did. They see it’s not all about the writing, but rather about the ways in which various texts offer a way of examining ourselves and our society, the way they give us an opportunity to reflect on how we live our lives, how we conduct ourselves, how we interact with other human beings. Some are stories of great warning. Others present an ideal way to be. All are building blocks to being able to make sense of our own identities and our place in this world.

The day’s discussion of Freud and his ideas had a group of teens captivated. As the information I had on his work began to infiltrate their own minds, I started fielding questions from my students as if I was Freud himself. The hour passed quickly and discussions lingered into my next period study hall as students began sharing their own insight on the human mind, identity, and our attempts to balance human impulses.

I may not have majored in theater or psychology and I admit, I am certainly no expert in either field, (the idea of knowing enough to be dangerous suddenly comes to my mind...), however I will say, I think I am a pretty crafty teacher of teenagers. I’ve got them hooked. And I cannot wait for tomorrow’s discussions!