Thursday, June 30, 2011

Learning to Sit

It's been a gorgeous summer day. With only a late afternoon vet appointment on the calendar and a weekend getaway planned, it was safe to say we'd be staying home today to catch up on some laundry and to do a little light cleaning so as not to come home to a messy house. At the start of the day, however, it was taking a little time for me to give myself permission to have an unplanned day here at home. After making several day trips this week, I suppose it seemed a little odd to have nothing pressing to do.

By late morning, after wandering around the house in search of what I might have motivation to do, I was driving my kids crazy. "Mom! Why are you so weird? Mom! Seriously! You're being annoying. What's wrong with you today? Just go relax Mom. You don't have to do anything today. You can just sit and read too, you know!" (Okay. They are usually very sweet children but apparently I was invading their space as they each attempted to relax). After forcing each of them to cuddle with me for a few minutes, I gave them their freedom and went to play with our new puppy. Of course, she's always happy to hang out with me.

SO my little pup and I went outside to run around together, playing fetch, and then I helped her practice learning to sit. "Sit, Ziva. Good girl". She's mastering this trick rather well already. And no, the irony was not lost on me. At 12 weeks she has just about mastered something that at 43, I still need reminders to do myself.

It's a funny thing to be reminded by your children that "It's okay to take a day off and do nothing", especially when you know that you have raised them to appreciate the slower pace of life, days of unscheduled time off to read, to daydream, or (gasp) to enjoy a little boredom. I found myself giggling with Emma when she gave back to me my own advice. I took a deep breath and smiled to myself, It's vacation. Enjoy these do-nothing days. Sit, Anne, sit.

Before I took a seat this afternoon, I picked up my camera and took a few pictures of a few of my favorite places to sit or rest around the house and yard. My adirondack chairs, my hammock, my canvas chaise chairs. My flower filled deck. I would have taken a picture of my old family room sofa but that spot was already taken. It seems my puppy has already mastered another trick. She's joined in her family's appreciation of these do-nothing days of summer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Novel Idea

Several years ago, I began writing a novel. I only wrote one chapter but I was hooked on the premise. I'd never attempted to write a novel before, although I do remember a particular short story I wrote back in college as having potential to become a longer piece. Even before declaring myself an English major, I'd taken a creative writing course and then a fiction writing class and had written poetry, memoirs, character sketches, and even a play, but the idea of what it would be like to write a novel had never been explored.

So, a few years ago when I joined a summer writing project internship, I got serious. I developed a second chapter and then outlined a third chapter, and each day as I drove home along the beautiful landscape of my old college town, I thought of my characters and of the different directions my plot could go. It was fun, creating the narrator and deciding what her fate might be. However, the summer course ended and my novel's chapters went into the dark for awhile.

Then last year, while taking time to write with my own creative writing class, I began having new ideas for my book. I had read a novel that inspired me to think of my characters' interactions in a whole new way. I talked over some of my ideas with my teenage students who sounded genuinely intrigued. Still, although I took time to write down my developing ideas, I did not take time to write another chapter.

Back in December, I challenged my first semester creative writing students to take on a project, a practice, or a plan which would push them to achieve something they could be proud of as the course came to an end. I gave them a few ideas such as writing a page of writing every day or to create a photoessay. I even told them about a web site's challenge to write a novel in 30 days. What I never imagined however was that one of my students would take the challenge so seriously that he'd indeed write a novel in a month's time. He presented me with the 120 page book during finals' week back in January. But then, after graduating in early June, Ben brought to me a gift. He had self-published his novel and had several copies printed to give out to his close friends and family at his graduation party. His mother and his girlfriend had helped him with the book's editing process and he'd kept this a secret from me until it was time for him to leave our school. Receiving that book, written and published by Ben touched me deeply.

It may not seem like a huge goal, but this summer I am determined to write two more chapters in my novel. If I could do more than that, fabulous, but I am not going to pressure myself. The ideas presented in my novel's first chapter took root five years ago yet this summer, my novel's characters are again running around in my head. I am once more creating possible scenarios for each of them and it is exciting to be directing their futures.

At my summer writing project, I heard the phrase, "You ARE a writer", several times. It was the first time in my life that I ever truly felt my writing voice was worth listening to, worth sharing. I've since repeated that phrase to my creative writing students, for I have come to believe that we all have a voice that is worth listening to, that we all can be writers if we dare to work at our craft and if we write from an authentic place.

As wonderful as it is to be directing the futures of my novel's characters, I am in no hurry to finish my book. I know that I feel this way because it is simply thrilling to be on the journey I am, exploring writing something new. And if the writing of my novel helps me better teach the joy of writing to my teens, well, that is more important than the final destination of completing my own novel's final chapter.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Small Talk

Anxious. That's probably the best word to describe how I am feeling about the upcoming weekend. I am returning "home" to spend a few days at camp with my family and will attend both a family day and a dinner-dance event for my 25th high school class reunion. I had a nice time at my 20th reunion and I am cautiously optimistic about going to this one and yes, I'm a little nervous too. I am looking forward to seeing and talking with folks I spent my childhood and teen years with, yet I am also quite aware of the fact that I've never found small talk to be easy. There's always a lot of small talk at these types of gatherings. I'm not good at it. I wish I were different.

This afternoon I ran into my friend Jo while having lunch with my husband. I was genuinely surprised and happy to see her but I stood there awkwardly, with my salad balancing on my lunch tray and with a smoothie in my hand, and found myself stammering foolishly. She told me I had something on my face too so I can just imagine what I looked like as I tried to brush it away while trying not to dump my lunch in her lap. I told my friend I was out shopping for a dress to wear to my reunion and that I'd just found one. She introduced me to her husband and I did the same introducing her to Eric, but after I walked away I thought, "Whoa. I should have told her how cool it was to hear of her recent road trip. I should have told her how I talked about her to my older sister a few days ago". Luckily I did get another brief chance to connect with her as she passed me in leaving the cafe, and I did bring up her road trip, but well, I was awkward. That's all there is to it.

I see so many people greeting one another, sometimes for the first time even, and seamlessly chatting for hours. I tell my husband that I am not sure how I come off to people at times. I just don't know. I know it sounds rather foolish to say but I honestly think I'm shy. Or maybe there's another word that would fit me better. Reserved? Introverted perhaps? Quiet? I don't know. I teach 10 months out of the year which has me "on" for 8 hours a day, talking to teachers and teens, guidance counselors, parents, and administrators. I even love to act and sing on stage, so I can't be shy, right?! I do like talking with people. I like people (most of the time). It takes me a little while to warm up. Maybe I just don't like bullshit. I suppose I want conversations to be genuine and sincere. I sometimes wish I could launch into those types of discussions at the drop of a hat. Instant heart-to-heart talks, that's what I would like.

I've never tolerated anything but honesty from those I spend time with on a daily basis. I can't stomach anything else. When someone gives me an excuse that isn't honest, I want to distance myself from them as quickly as possible. I tell my students this very early on in the year. My own children have grown up in a very honest household, for better or for worse. I tell them I am patient when it comes to most human faults, but someone not being straight with me causes me great frustration, not to mention it really ticks me off. Too much charm makes me suspicious too.

Trying to figure this out tonight I found myself asking some friends, "Do you think I'm shy or is there a similar word that would describe me?" Judi, an old high school classmate of mine, replied with the word "classic". "Classic"? I asked her. She replied saying, "Yes, like Streisand, Hepburn....you have amazing talent! I don't think of you as shy at all". (Wow. That was nice to hear. But my first thought was, "Boy. I've got HER fooled, don't I?!") Another friend, Kim, from my hometown said, "I don't think you're shy". Hmmm...was this trend going to continue? Tiffany, a former student of mine, made me smile with satisfaction when she said simply, "composed". Then arrived Binaca's comment. A new coworker and friend who has probably seen me at my worst added, "I think you're a delightful combination of reserved and warm. And classy. Very classy". (Yes, I plan to keep HER around for the ol' self esteem!)

It'll surely take me a bit longer than this discussion to figure out my own neurosis, and I suppose that's okay. The most important thing I've got going for me though besides that honesty thing is a sense of humor. When my friend Jo heard me speak tonight of all this, she said, "What piece of something on your face? I was the one with the big wad of sandwich in her cheek that made it hard to talk.... did you think I meant you? Funny. As for "awkwardly stammering," I missed that too! Now that I know you like Panera (who doesn't) we should plan to meet up there sometime this summer!" Ah, small talk mixed with plans to meet to talk again with greater substance! I love it.

So I need not have worried after all. I didn't even have something on my face! And maybe if I set my tray down next time, I'll be able to focus on something intelligent to say! I'll have to remember this trick this coming weekend when I'm at my class reunion. Wish me luck.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Peeling Paint

I love books discussing writing, the kind of books that encourage creativity and offer lessons on the writing process. This afternoon I pulled out one I'd picked up at a used book store last week. Written by Natalie Goldberg, it was published in 1986, twenty-five years ago. I liked the title of the book, Writing Down the Bones--Freeing the Writer Within, although I did find its first chapter rather funny with its mention of choosing writing tools carefully, and the author's admission that she had "not worked very much with a computer, but can imagine using a Macintosh, where the keyboard can be put on the lap. The computer automatically returns the carriage. The device is called 'wraparound'. You can rap nonstop. You don't have to worry about the typewriter ringing a little bell at the end of a line".

It was a discussion of the author's writing notebooks however which caused me to pause. She described having a pile of them five feet high, all spiral notebooks filled with her writing practice, on stairs leading up to her apartment. Her friend routinely plunks herself down into a pink chair in her bedroom and reads her notebooks. Natalie recalls her friend saying, "They are so intimate; so scared, insecure for pages, then suddenly they are not you--just raw energy and wild mind. And now here you are--Natalie--in the flesh, just a person. It feels so funny". Natalie explains that she feels good because she doesn't care that her friend sees how she really is. She wants someone to know her. "We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us".

I've often heard people say that those who write memoir, the way I do, are narcissistic or self indulgent at the very least. I certainly can understand this perception. However, I think that taking time to reflect on who I am or what I surround myself with keeps me from dismissing what is important in life; writing helps me from running from anything. My writing centers me. It's what Natalie refers to as "a verification of being human". When I look back at six months of posting daily blogs, I don't know if I see good or bad writing, I simply see honesty. I have been all over the map in terms of topics on which I have written and emotions I have felt. I share myself--for better or for worse--only to acknowledge who I am and to perhaps feel more secure with my place in this world. As Natalie writes of this awareness, "Then, out of this knowledge, we are better equipped to make a choice for beauty, kind consideration, and clear truth".

Am I sharing too much in my writing? Maybe, but I'm not afraid of being hurt. I will, however, write carefully enough when I am blogging so as not to hurt another, for that concerns me, but as for my own self, I am only fearful of being misunderstood or misjudged by what I don't say. There isn't anything on this blog that I would not share on the front page of any newspaper. Be comforted; Be happy for me; I have found my voice through this blog. I am learning to trust it now. It won't be silenced or censored. Natalie writes, "When we walk around Paris, my friend is afraid of being lost and she is very panicky. I don't fear being lost. If I am lost, I am lost. That is all". When I get lost, I write. When I am trying to figure something out, I write. When I want to show my appreciation or when I feel gratitude, I write. This is why I like books on writing. They are manuals not only for getting words down on paper (or on a laptop computer today in the year 2011), they are filled with reminders of what it means to get life out of one's head so it can be lived passionately, sweetly, peacefully, reflectively...richly...fully.

I return to the quote in Natalie Goldberg's book which inspired me to start writing today: "We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us". Let's dispel the myths when they are recognized. Let's instead look at each other for who we are, be thankful we have one another, and walk forward together. Let's go further than we think we can. "We can touch the things around us we once thought ugly and see their special detail, the peeling paint and gray of shadows as they are--simply what they are; not bad, just part of the life around us--and love this life because it is ours and in the moment there is nothing better".

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rest Between Two Deep Breaths

From the time I woke up this morning I did not feel well. I rallied, however, as I had company and was also scheduled to cantor at church. Oh how I just wanted to crawl back into bed for a little while, but no, I had to get up and get moving. Upon arriving home, I fixed a quick breakfast for myself and small lunches for my folks who were leaving to return home after their weekend with us. I had about a half hour of downtime before heading back to the theater to watch my daughter's matinee, but I did not dare relax or sit down for long, in fear that I'd find it tough to leave the house.

Her performance went well. Afterward I met up with a former student and met her children which was lovely. It was a nice drive home too as my husband, son, and I shared some laughs, but I was again feeling under the weather. Upon arriving home I crashed. With company gone and my husband back at the theater to help the cast strike the set, the house was peacefully quiet. I relaxed on my bed and listened to the birds singing outside the window. Even the puppy seemed to know I needed a little rest for she settled down and napped under my bed.

Despite how I was feeling however, I began thinking of what needed to be done. Had the laundry been switched over? Should I cook up that hamburg in the fridge? Then it dawned on me. Today is Sunday. It's meant to be a day of rest. It's also a Sunday evening and I am not correcting papers or prepping for lessons tomorrow. I love that.

The school year is over and although I must take my son to the orthodontist in the morning, there is nothing else that is pressing and needs to be done. After taking him to his appointment we could go out for breakfast or lunch. We could sneak off and catch a movie or we could make a few pit stops, take a walk on the beach or play a game of miniature golf. Or we could just drive back home, take the puppy for a walk, cook up something special for dinner, or even play foosball. I could even come home and crawl into bed if I need to. But hopefully, I won't need to.

Activities and scheduled events and company are all wonderful, don't get me wrong. But I do have to admit how nice it's been this afternoon as I enjoyed my comfortable bed with the sound of the birds chirping outside, and as I realized I can sleep in tomorrow morning and go to bed as early or as late as I wish to tonight.

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. ~Etty Hillesum

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cinderemma

Do I love her because she's wonderful? Or is she wonderful because I love her?

Tonight I watched my sweet sixteen year old daughter grace the stage as Cinderella for the fifth of six performances this month. At this local community theater production, my husband and I have been in attendance at each show, attending with various family members and friends for the past two weekends. We'll attend the final matinee tomorrow afternoon. I come by this quite naturally, for my own Mom attended 98% of my own theater performances over the years herself.

Loving the stage myself, it's a rare occasion when I am in the audience, but I have thoroughly enjoyed taking a seat this year. I've smiled at my daughter's excitement playing the leading role and have proudly listened to the reactions of those in the audience. "She has a lovely voice". "I heard she's only 16 years old!" "Oh, she's very pretty". "She's doing a marvelous job".

And she is, you know. She's doing a beautiful job. I know that I'm probably biased but it's an amazing feeling to watch your offspring excel at a passion she's so well suited to do so naturally. She works hard at her craft however also. She practices her lines, her singing, her dancing, and gives careful thought to delivering an authentic performance.

Of course, the sweetest part is watching all the little girls with wide eyes, taking in my daughter's performance. At tonight's show, a little girl in front of me saw the Prince kiss Cinderella and said dreamily, "That's true love!" This was followed by the little girl's plea to her mother, "Take a picture!"

We've raised our children to strive to do their best at all they do, and to be humble and thankful when an opportunity comes their way. I've been very proud to see my daughter take center stage and to see her talent as an actress, dancer, and singer recognized, but it has made me even more proud to hear her fellow cast mates and the crew say that she is a gracious and sweet young woman.

Do I love her because she's wonderful? Or is she wonderful because I love her?

Yes. And Yes.

Bravo Cinderemma. I'm very proud of you sweet girl.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Home From Camp

Being away from my eleven year old son for a week when he heads off to his favorite summer boys' camp each June, takes a little getting used to. First, there are the daily hugs I go without. Secondly, there's one less lunch I prepare each day. I can't say that I miss reminding my son about the dirty socks he's forgotten to pick up off the floor, nor do I miss telling him, "That's enough time on the computer. That's enough time on the Wii". But yes, the absence of the hugs makes for the toughest adjustment each June.

But today was camper pick up day. We drove to the campground and parked our car. "Where do we go to find him?" my sister asked. Before I could answer, Paul was at my carside window, and as usual, being the clown he can be, he was making a silly weird face at me through the glass. "There's my boy!"

We quickly gathered his things and brought them to the van. Knowing there was a dinner to celebrate the end of the campers' week, we headed to the dining hall where we met up with Paul's friend True and his Dad. Munching on hot dogs, chips, and watermelon, the boys goofed around and talked about some of the week's highlights. When it was time to leave, they each pretended they'd never see each other again, although in actuality, they live less than 10 minutes away from one another here in town.

I had to snicker at the two of them. Each had gone to this camp for the past three years now, and the faces of the 8 year old boys who first went away for a week at the camp flashed in my memory. The boys, now headed off to Middle School in just two months' time, are growing taller and more self assured. Yet there they were, sitting at the table, making silly faces, giggling, and rough housing a little, just enough to push True's Dad to tell them to "Settle down".

I'm well aware of the adjustments we'll make as Paul continues to grow older. But as he headed upstairs tonight to go to bed, he did not hesitate to come over to me to give me a hug goodnight. It's exactly that sweetness in him that will give me the patience to continue reminding him to pick up those stinky dirty socks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guy Time

Two of my closest friends when I was a little girl were Peter and Dougie. Boys from the neighborhood, we played outside together, alternating between my yard and Peter's. I was not allowed to go to Dougie's house because it was around the corner, out of view from my Mom's watchful eye, and at a curve where the speed of cars frightened her. It was natural for me to hang out with the boys; we'd ride our bikes or play hide-n-seek. I once got grounded for daring to bike over to Dougie's house even; the thrill of being one of the boys and taking the risk cost me two weeks without my bike.

As I got older, I continued to have several friends who were boys (as opposed to boyfriends, although yes, I had my share of those too). In fact, by the time I entered Middle School, most of my best buddies were guys. Scott, Andrew, David, Bruce, Paul, another Bruce, and another David, made up my circle of close friends in those awkward preteen years. It's not that I did not have friends who were girls, I did, but well, I always seemed to find it a truly natural and fun time when I was with the guys. High School complicated matters a little. I tended to be quite fickle, a word I used to HATE hearing in description of myself. Still, although I would develop crushes on many of those boy friends, I continued to truly appreciate the boys' humor and our platonic talks.

When I became an adult, those friendships with males continued. First, I hung out with my boyfriend (now husband of 22 years) and his college guy friends. Times with Scott W and Dave M were hilarious. Later, spending lunches and enduring boring staff meetings with my husband and our fellow male coworkers, especially Pete S, Steve B, Rob M, Dave J, Lowell, Doug K was always fun. Being one of the few women who perhaps dared to "give it back to them", I found the times with the guys were sure to challenge and entertain me.

I've often contemplated what it is about guys that I like so much?! Women are wonderful creatures; I know this to be true yet, like their Mom, my daughters each have several good friends of the opposite sex also, and we've talked about the enjoyment of having a strong network of male friends. We sometimes wonder if it's simply that innate feeling of protection we like, or is it that we're all harmless flirts by nature? Is it that we like the straightforwardness of our male friends, the lack of drama? Or maybe it's that we've always enjoyed our own brothers--their silliness and foolish behavior--and we want more of them? Although to this day we are all often up for a game of ball or games of hide-n-seek played outside in the woods, none of us were ever true tomboys, although we were never exactly feeble girls either; we just like hanging with boys. They're an awful lot of fun.

I am grateful to all the boys who accepted me as a friend in my childhood, teen years, and into adulthood. I'm especially grateful to a guy named Eric who made me his best friend for life.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Old Port

In the index of my high school yearbook, where it lists each graduate's "favorite things", there's a mention of the Old Port listed under my name. It has long been a place I have loved. When Eric first took me there years ago, I told him it reminded me of Old Stockholm, the beautiful Scandinavian city I'd been lucky to travel to with my parents back in the 80's. I remember walking the streets of Stockholm with my Mom and saying to her, "Someday I want to bring my family here". Our family travel has been quite limited however, yet to have the treasure of the Old Port so close by is wonderful. The cobblestone streets, the quaint shops, the waterfront, the musicians playing on corners, and the assorted restaurants all make for a fun day trip. So knowing it was my daughter's day off from work today, my husband and I made an afternoon jaunt there with both of our daughters. With our eldest girl now in college, these family day trips are more rare, so I treasure them as they come.

The girls quickly found a shop where they filled their arms with summer dresses to try on in the dressing room. Both looked very sweet in their selected sundresses so I treated them each to one dress. They each came home with two however, after deciding to spend their own money on the second ones. Together we browsed a few more clothing boutiques. The weather was pleasant for a day of walking along the waterfront, although we could have used a light sweater as the breeze picked up.

We then visited one of Syd's favorite spots, an old bookstore near the art museum. Filled to the brim with books, the girls happily browsed the shelves, each finding a book they wanted. I found one too as did Eric, so we each came home with a new read.

We spent only a few hours at the Old Port, but it was long enough to give us a chance to hang out together as a family, although we did miss Paul who is away at summer camp for the week. Now if only I can make good on my teenage vow to take my family to Old Stockholm someday!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Rather Uneventful Day

It was planned to be a rather uneventful day. Just the way I wanted my first day of summer vacation to be. After sleeping in, although not as late as I had expected to, I answered a quick phone call from a colleague at school to clarify a grade issue then I pulled on my sneakers and went for a walk in our neighborhood. The sun was warm but not too warm. I returned home, and after cooling down a bit, I made myself breakfast, a real breakfast of two eggs over easy, orange juice, a scoop of cottage cheese, and a peanut butter topped English muffin. This I ate outside as I watched my puppy Ziva enjoying her morning pouncing on ants and daisies.

There would be many trips outside throughout the day. Ziva, taking advantage of the fact that she did not have to spend the day in her crate, made frequent trips to the door, barking so as to secure the fact that we'd be taking her outside often. There's no arguing with a puppy you wish to house-train after all.

I managed to clean the kitchen however and wanting to clear out my school bag, I spent some time scanning some old photographs I'd found in my classroom the day before. Posting the photos on Facebook brought about many comments from students I'd recently reconnected with and it also brought to my cyber door some other former students I'd lost touch with years ago. I found myself yelling their names outloud as I'd receive messages. "Bridget!! Andrea!! Caitlin!! Jamie!! Tiffany!! Megan!! Raelynn!! Jody!!" It's pretty amazing to find the years melting away with every little note from one of those special people from the past.

I took some time to sit in the sun, watching my puppy play close by, forever running over to me to make sure I would not leave her. I thought about bringing my book outside but then got awfully sleepy. Remembering I was now on vacation without a single thing planned for the day, I found my way back to my bedroom and I took a nap. Knowing I could indulge in an afternoon nap, falling asleep with a slight breeze coming in through my window, was heavenly.

Waking up a few hours later, my husband and I threw together some supper which we all enjoyed while watching a movie in the family room. Ziva managed to crawl up onto the couch and into my lap where she fell asleep and snored in my arms.

My uneventful day may have had no agenda, may have lacked any grand happening, but it was the day I'd needed, the day I had wanted, the day I dream of having all school year long. It was my first day of summer vacation, my first day of total freedom and relaxation, a day of peaceful appreciation for work that allows me this time in the sun, this time spent with loved ones, this time to breathe deeply. It appears it was, by no means, uneventful. For a day like today is quite consequential; it is as significant as the biggest of holidays; it is remarkable in its simplicity; it is everything I could have wanted it to be.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Date with Jodi...and Suzanne

For several years now, on the last day of the school year, I have had a steady date with Jodi. I prepare for the traditional annual date a few months earlier, often as early as March, and I'm reminded of the date for the last three months of school. I'm often tempted to go on the date earlier but I remind myself that all good things must wait. And Jodi is, more often than not, worth the wait.

But this year, before I go on my date with Jodi, I need to finish my relationship with Suzanne. She and I have dated off and on since last summer. She's been quite entertaining. My kids like her very much, my husband too! After some Hunger Games and some time Catching Fire, she's brought me a Mockingjay. So Jodi will have to wait a few days. Then she can Sing Me Home.

But Jodi has long been a favorite first date of the summer and I will remain true to her for years to come hopefully. She's delivered me Plain Truth, my favorite, and we've been through it all together. House Rules, Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, The Tenth Circle, Vanishing Acts, My Sister's Keeper, Second Glance, Perfect Match, Salem Falls (another favorite), Keeping Faith, The Pact (another favorite), Mercy (yet another favorite), Picture Perfect (the most aggravating, due to its topic of domestic abuse), Harvesting the Heart, and Songs of the Humpback Whale.

There will be many other summer dates, for sure. I wonder what Dan Brown is up to this summer? What about James Patterson? Elizabeth Berg? Oh, I'll call on some old favorites to see if they have anything new, and I'll undoubtedly go on a few blind dates. Those are always fun! I meet the coolest people that way! I rarely repeat a date with one from my past but there are some suitors who have been sitting on my shelf patiently for months or even years. I see them there each day and it just might be time to call them over to spend a little time with me. Of course, I always take suggestions from friends too. So feel free to leave me a name!

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book” --Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Oh Summer

It's almost here. SUMMER. One more day to go.

The feeling of relief has already begun to crash upon me. After completing my correcting and the entering in of grades onto the computer last Friday, I took time to clean my classroom and to load certain materials and books into boxes to be taken home. One more day of turning in grade verification sheets and purchase orders awaits me tomorrow yet I've already begun to fill my lungs with the beautiful summer air that arrived today.

I've never experienced a summer where I did not finish school in one way or another, either as a student or as a teacher, and although I have worked at other jobs in the summer months, I do not know anything beyond counting the number of weeks before another school year will begin.

There will be days of sleeping in and days of morning walks. Breakfasts of eggs, waffles, pancakes, and cinnamon rolls will be served now that there's more time to cook in the mornings and there will be a few trips to local restaurants that serve breakfast, my favorite meal to enjoy when eating out. There will be coolers packed for picnics at the beach and impromptu trips to the movies and to the mall. Wiffle ball games and basketball scrimmages will pop up as routinely as thunderstorms and we'll load the van for trips to my hometown. Time on the dock and time spent with friends and family will be savored.

There will be many kayak rides, hikes up mountains, board games, and movies watched while snuggling on the couch. I'll say, "Of course!" when the kids ask to have friends over for the night and "Who would you like to call to bring to the beach?" Evening trips for ice cream and barb-b-ques on the deck will be enjoyed and more likely than not, I'll tackle a home decorating project or two. Stacks of books will be devoured either in the hammock or in one of the adirondack chairs, and we'll play tourist in our local community, take in theater or music concerts, and take day trips to the coast.

It's time to breathe easy again. Oh summer! How I have missed you!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Keeping Faith

You call upon God.

Where is your God?

Prove you're right.


It wasn't until I moved away from my hometown that I heard of atheism as being anything other than a condition that the most troubled people suffered from. I knew that being seen as being "too religious" could be tricky with people, and as a new public school teacher, I was well aware of the separation of church and state as it might play out in a classroom, but it's pretty safe to say that I did not give a whole lot of serious thought to how my own beliefs compared to others' until further into my adult life.

I then became good friends with an atheist. He challenged me and I challenged him. He was a good six or seven years older than me so I could not quickly pass off his ideas as immature, and unlike what I'd naively thought of atheists in my early years, my friend was intelligent, generous, understanding, and an all around "good guy". For awhile I considered it a goal of mine to make him rethink his beliefs (or non beliefs). I asked him lots of questions. He returned my questions with his own. I tried to let that difference between us fade to the back burner but it was tough for me to do that. Despite my tenacity, he was patient with me.

However, long after he and I parted, a result of a job change, I became acutely aware of others like him, young people, old people, all good people who did not believe in a higher power. I found myself giving the matter a lot of thought. Correction. I still give the matter a lot of thought. I think about atheism so often in fact, being exposed what seems to be a higher and higher percentage of non-believers in my life, that I sometimes question my own beliefs. And then that scares me greatly.

However, when I frighten myself, I think of reports on Mother Teresa of Calcutta who was said to have revealed in personal letters the fact that she was tormented by doubts about her faith. One of her dying wishes was to have the letters destroyed. However I consider it a blessing (and yes, even perhaps an act of divine intervention) that they were revealed to the world. Her own crisis of faith serves as a ministry to anyone who might experience the same. To know that there can be darkness or doubt that brings any mortal to question their faith, even one as revered as Mother Teresa, shows us that no one is immune to doubts and fears, and I believe that is simply part of being human. Perhaps we doubters become strengthened in our faith after such trials of wavering commitment. I have to believe that those atheists have their occasional doubts too.

This discussion comes to no quaint conclusion. I can only stop for now saying that I hope God is happy with the strides I've made in my faith over my lifetime. I have a long way to go I know, but I'd like to think that, apart from what I may do publicly--going to church, singing in the choir, occasionally speaking out on matters of faith--He is aware of my quiet prayers and of the subtle ways I work to serve Him. I pray that others, those with faith and those without, will strengthen my own in the years to follow.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Applying the Prompt

On this last day of the school year with students, I had the good luck of finishing the year with my AP English Language and Composition students, a small group of twelve juniors, five of whom I'd had in Honors English 9 two years earlier. It had been my wish to have the students from that class again, but possibly to give the students a more varied experience, I'd only been given a small percentage of returning students. The other seven students in my AP class however did not waste any time in winning my heart as well. I knew early on in the school year that I'd been blessed with a very sweet group of young people.

The year was full of scholarly work but I'd tried hard to weave in as many creative assignments as well to break up the routine of reading, writing, and rhetorical analysis. Students crafted personal memoir digital stories, performed reader's theater, did skits, practiced role play, made films, and performed spoken word poetry. By June, it was apparent to me that they had not only worked steadily throughout the year, but that they truly understood my motives in having designed the course the way I did. In their final portfolios, their insight and reflection was far beyond their years. However, I wanted to give my students a chance to share their growth and maturity with their peers, so I assigned them a second part to their final; they were to craft and then to deliver a 3-5 minute commencement speech. It was the time of the year when they heard their senior friends delivering their own graduation speeches, yet these twelve juniors were a little apprehensive about crafting and reciting their own, but I knew, I KNEW, they were going to do a beautiful job.

They did not disappoint me. Jake, a lover of science, started the speeches off nicely when he invited his peers to "think of the sheer size and magnitude of what's before you when you lay down on a cool summer's night...a star..left its legacy in the air you breathe, and the lives of you and the ones you love. It's a legacy that connects us all...we're all made of stardust". Ian reminded the class that "one thousand and sixteen days ago", each of them had taken their first steps into high school. He spoke of the importance of friends, collaboration, and teamwork. JoAnna's wisdom to stay positive in the face of failure was supported with examples of Michael Jordan's basketball career, Sven Eriksson's soccer field successes, and Edison's early attempts to invent the lightbulb. Jasmine encouraged youthfulness mixed with the acceptance of responsibility and said, "Go ahead, work hard and succeed in life...as long as you enjoy it. Accept responsibility..and be an adult...so long as you never forget how to be a kid". Elizabeth spoke of the disappointment that can come when we put people on pedestals and coupled that idea with the very reality that as seniors next year, she and her classmates could very well become role models for the underclassmen.

Joselle would stress the importance of balance, while Hannah spoke of fortitude and self-confidence in the face of obstacles. Kim begged her peers to recognize the lessons they had learned up to this point, and Haley's message of remembering the importance of keeping bad days in proper perspective was told through an endearing story of her false claim of a lost tooth back in kindergarten. Ethan reminded us to remember that "every human life is important and holds meaning" and that "life is such a sweet thing"; we should not "underestimate (our) own world". Likewise, Julie stressed that "one can easily waste their life searching for how to live", and implored us to live with less worry. "Let life come to you", she wisely concluded.

Meghan's speech was centered around the goodbyes in life that we all face. She spoke of saying farewell to this year's seniors and of her own struggle to hold back tears at her boyfriend's graduation. Her challenge for us was to "live in the moment. Don't get too caught up in worrying about what is coming in the next months...Don't worry about the goodbyes that have to come in the future; spend happy times with the people that you will say goodbye to before it's too late. Make memories with them now, live life with them now. And above all, enjoy every second of it".

The speeches would conclude and my teens happily pulled out fruit, donuts, and juice for the breakfast celebration we had planned. I walked over to my desk and found the personalized bookmarks I'd made for each of them, a tradition I began years ago for those classes of mine I considered to be very special. The bookmarks, typed and laminated, list "one nice thing" each classmate and I have to say about each individual in the room. The students immediately sat down to read them and Meghan's words came back to me as I found myself getting a little teary-eyed, "Don't worry about the goodbyes...live life with them now...enjoy every second of it".

I'll return to school on Monday to clean my classroom before summer vacation and soon enough, my twelve AP juniors will return in the fall as seniors and another group of young people will come through my classroom doors for the first time. It's always a bit daunting to say goodbye to one group and to anticipate the next. But playing a role in these teens' lives, whether for one school year or two (or even longer when luck gives me that gift), is an incredible blessing; therefore I will remember the wisdom offered up by my students and I'll let life come to me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Steve

Although I'm usually content to enjoy a cup of yogurt and a little fruit for my weekday breakfasts during my first period prep, today I made my way down to the cafeteria to snag an egg and cheese biscuit. At one of the tables I spotted Steve, a teaching colleague of mine, sitting at his laptop, talking with a student. It dawned on me that tomorrow will be Steve's last day at our high school. After years of service to the young people of the district, Steve is retiring. It is bittersweet to think about, for perhaps no one else more deserves the freedom and new adventures in life than this dedicated teacher, but I cannot help but get teary eyed over the idea of not seeing him around next year. And I won't even think about all that the current and future students (and staff) will have lost in his absence. He has served the young people well over the years.

Although I never took one of Steve's science courses and although I never had him as a theater director (a role he is said to have excelled at years back), I was certainly one of those young people Steve served well. The story of my first real introduction to the man is one I tell repeatedly in my classroom each year when the subject of humility and personal growth is raised for discussion. Steve taught me a series of lessons over the years and it all began at Rockcraft Lodge.

In the early 90s, when I'd been teaching for only a few years, our principal announced that we would be starting Freshman Teams, designed to allow for a strong and supportive start to the freshmen students' high school years. Several teachers, including myself and Steve, were invited to go to Rockcraft Lodge, a lakeside retreat center on Sebago Lake. A series of discussions and team-building activities took place there to allow the teachers a chance to get to know one another better and to begin forming the two teams. It was during one of these activities that I experienced a moment of great embarrassment.

Steve and I had been paired to interview one another for several minutes. At the end of the interviews we were to return to the large group and introduce our partner. I went first. I remember being nervous and trying to do my best to speak clearly and confidently. I wanted to be seen as equal to my peers. At the end of my discussion on Steve I sat down and Steve stood up. The first words out of his mouth were, "What do you do when your partner thinks they have listened to you but they really haven't?"

Wow. I am sure I turned five shades of red. I wanted out of there, out of that room, out of that lodge, out of our high school. My heart started to race and I worried that tears were beginning to fill up my eyes. I laughed with the rest of the room, made a face, and tried very hard to save face. I don't remember hearing Steve's following report on me, and that, of course, plays into what his point had been. I was not a good listener. I pretended to listen and remembered enough to speak on what I'd heard, but I was more worried about myself, my performance. I had not truly stopped to listen to Steve. He had spoken the truth and had hit upon a quality of mine of which I had long been sensitive. I was a bad listener. Should someone even be a teacher with this fault?! That was the start of a change in me. In truth, it would take the years of becoming a parent to three children, to make me a better listener. Thankfully, in becoming a parent, I also became a more attentive and patient teacher who took time to listen to her students with an open heart and mind. In maturing, however, I still struggle with listening and with memory. I hold onto ideas and concepts much longer if I take notes or see things presented in a visual way. But I have also learned that when I seize a moment, look someone straight in the eyes, and see them, I do better.

Steve and I got to know one another better after that day at Rockcraft. Although we served on different freshmen teams, he was a regular visitor to our team meetings as he stopped by to see Peter, another science teacher and coworker of mine who greatly influenced the teacher and person I would grow to become as I matured. We began teasing one another and he was often quite relentless in pointing out my other flaws, but we also began to flirt playfully, and after catching me in tears several times, Steve gave me the nickname, "Princess", a play on the sensitivity of the Princess from the fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea. How I loved seeing the reactions of new staff who would be shocked to hear him call me that, no doubt thinking he was calling me a spoiled brat, but wait, that would probably fit me too.

Steve always put his students first. With every new change in our school or with every administrative initiative, Steve kept his focus on what was most important, what was most deserving of his time, his students. Steve went through his own hardships and challenges, however, and at one point he made an exit from teaching that I now see as being most courageous. It's a journey I've been tempted to make several times myself, but even if I don't take the step out the door to see what's on the other side, Steve's few years away again taught me something: despite our passion for our kids, our natural tendency to sacrifice ourselves for their sake, we can be no good to those we love if we do not take care of our own health and well being.

In the 20 years I worked with Steve, it's safe to say he evolved too. The year he returned to teaching it was apparent to those of us who knew the "old Steve" that he had mellowed and had grown too, no doubt affected by the way life meanders. I watched him, albeit often from a distance, and paid note to his face, his eyes, his smile, and his fabulous laugh. I took every hug I could get. The "new Steve" was the same guy only better.

In the years before my own retirement, before it's time to take my own exit from teaching, I'll remember Steve's ways and hear his words when I'm with my students, friends, and other loved ones. I'll think to myself, "I think I'm listening but am I really?"

I love you Steve. Have the best retirement. Have a good life. Thanks for everything.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Puppy Class

After having her for just 10 days, my son, daughter, and I brought our 9 week old puppy Ziva to a free puppy class sponsored by our vet's office. We had not participated in any training with our previous dog who proved to be a loving but nervous dog who might have benefited from early socialization. Despite being a good family dog, (Charlie, our 16 year old dog died just four months ago), we figured it might be good for our new pup to learn to befriend other dogs and to become more relaxed in other people's company.

At puppy class, there were just four dogs. One was attending her second round of puppy classes, having "flunked" her first four classes. She remained nervous, preferring her owner's lap. Another puppy hid under the bench near her master's feet and shivered every time another pup came by. But then there was Diesel, a 13 week old dalmation, the new town fire dog. Appearing to be straight from a Puppy Chow commercial, handsome and solidly built, the dalmation was a bundle of energy. He immediately started to pounce, inviting our Ziva to play, however Diesel was rough and tough and much larger than our little girl. Ziva began to cower and ran away. "Stand your ground Ziva", the vet encouraged, but Ziva tried instead to make friends with the two smaller shy dogs, who unfortunately were scared and wanted nothing to do with her.

After a few pushes and a tackle from Diesel, Ziva decided she was not going to take any more grief from that zany dalmation. She began to growl and then began to bark and bite back. She went after the toys the dalmation went for too, and started to pounce herself. That's when the two became friends.

After a little butt sniffing and a shared drink at the water bowl, Diesel and Ziva began playing tug of war with toys and barking playfully at one another. She had proven herself to be a formidable opponent and went to the head of the class. "Yay Ziva! You're getting the hang of this now", the vet praised her. Like proud parents, we couldn't stop smiling. Diesel, seeing how Ziva was now sticking up for herself, began to tone down his behavior. He learned that in order to have her as a friend, he'd need to be a bit more gentle with her. Ziva learned that she had to learn to trust her own instincts so she could have a little fun and meet a new friend.

By the end of the hour, Ziva was exhausted. So were we. We'd spent almost an entire hour laughing and smiling. Ziva came home, ate her dinner, and immediately went to sleep.

Reflecting on what was a most enjoyable outing, I am thinking of how much Ziva and I have in common. Like Ziva, I am cautious and not overly thrilled with those "big dogs" who come on too strong. But like Ziva, I quickly learn the importance of putting such people in their place. I don't always need to bite; a simple growl or standing my ground will do. And in doing so, those dogs learn to tone it down; they learn that if we're going to be friends, they'll need to respect who I am and then we can get to know one another better. (Of course, I'm also sure that in the presence of those more shy than myself, I appear to be the threat. It's important for me to respect those folks too). Finally, being cautious is smart, however much can be lost if one does not take chances with other people. Sure, there's always the likelihood that taking those chances may lead to getting hurt at times, but without taking a few risks, life is safer but awfully dull. Despite the risk of being pushed, bit, or even tackled, it's important to pounce at those chances for greater happiness and joy.

After just four months of losing our Charlie, I suppose that's why we got Ziva in the first place. We took another chance at happiness. I'm looking forward to next week's puppy class and to the joys and life lessons my precious pup will share with us all in the years to come.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Resolutions of 1989

From the time I was 10 years old I kept some sort of journal. First it was a one year diary, a small 4" by 6" book complete with lock and key. Next was a three year diary which allowed me to write and to see what I'd written the previous two years on that same page. Between the years of 1985 and 1990 I wrote in a paperback journal. My writings were innocent in my preteen years; descriptions of my time spent with family and friends and silly confessions were recorded. Later, when I was in high school and college, my writings grew more passionate. The entries were a way for me to focus my mind, to sort out my emotions, and to make resolutions.

I came across a list of New Year Resolutions tonight, written in 1989 when I was a few months shy of my 21st birthday. I'd not seen this list for many years but I was a bit taken aback by its extensive documentation of my goals.

1. Pray more. Visit Church more.
2. Write at least 1/2 hour each day.
3. Work in journal.
4. Practice piano for 1 hour a week at least.
5. Practice voice more often.
6. Exercise more.
7. Lighten up! Don't be so hard on self.
8. Eat healthy. Cut down on junk.
9. Drink water everyday.
10. Cut down on salt!
11. Experience more. Don't cop out (Acting).
12. Be good to others. Plan more get togethers!
13. Find a fun job.
14. Work hard on courses.
15. Find time to relax alone.
16. Relax with Eric & keep romance alive.
17. Keep finances straight.
18. Don't worry if I break these resolutions!

The list of resolutions says a lot about the young woman I was becoming. My health, my hobbies, my faith, my education, and my new life as a recently married woman were items more important to me. Additionally I challenged myself not to make excuses for experiences I wanted to have. I noted the desire to get back on stage (something that would take eight more years to do as I finished college in 1990, began a teaching career in 1991, and started a family in 1992). I remind myself tonight that this list was written 22 years ago, yet there isn't a single resolution on there that I would not list again today, although I certainly can say that I am making good on many of these items.

Over the years since 1990 however, I have kept many journals. In addition to this blog, there's a cloth covered book that shows my reflections to the book, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (and it's all small stuff), a text that truly helped me gain perspective when my life got awfully busy juggling 100 teens and three of my own children. I also began a family Hide-N-Seek journal with my children and husband which is still waiting to be found by the next family member. There are other books--baby books, my portable writer's journal, and the like which can be found in various locations around my home too. In each journal there is evidence of self-reflection and goal setting. Whatever the reason, I continue to write.

The saying, the more we change, the more we stay the same comes to mind. And rather than find that truth to be sad, I find it comforting. I have matured and grown wiser in the last 22 years, and I have certainly aged on the outside, but I am the same girl I've always been on the inside. I still ponder my place in this world. I am still sentimental and sensitive. I'm still a passionate artist and dreamer. And yes, I still need to write.

Monday, June 13, 2011

That House

Growing up in a small town where I could easily walk or ride my bike to every friend's house, it was quite common for me to drop in to visit a friend and likewise, my friends did the same. No invites were needed; it was simply understood that when you were in someone's neighborhood, you could knock on their door (or even play the guitar underneath a friend's window as the case may be--thanks Rob and Andrew for that beautiful memory of mine), and you'd be invited inside. Supper tables easily squeezed in one more place setting and multiple phone calls were made home to parents, "Mom? I'm at Sue's house. I'll have dinner here".

My parents were quick to invite my friends to stay for a snack or for dinner when they'd come by. I had many friends who would drop over to shoot some pool or to hang out. I loved having a home where there were always cookies to offer and a Mom and Dad who never minded extra company. Were were "that house" that had a sincere welcome mat at its front door. Thus, I grew up knowing that when I was a Mom, I wanted my own children to know their friends were always welcome at our home too.

However, in the town we settled in, a few busy roads prevent my kids' friends from dropping by on their bikes. A few of their friends drive now but between work and activity schedules, it seems time is limited for random visits nowadays. Still, every so often, my children will call from school to ask if it's okay for a friend of theirs to come over to hang out a few hours before practice or if it's alright for a friend to get dropped off at our house for a ride to a school event. The questions are just a formality for my children know my answer will always be, "Yes, of course".

Today I received one of those calls. I swung by the high school to pick up Emma and Mason who would come home for a few hours before play practice. Having just arrived home from work I went upstairs to change my clothes and within no time I could smell the batch of brownies they were making, a traditional snack for the two of them to bake. I went downstairs to tackle the dish washer and the two of them worked on homework in the study. Later, I'd fix tacos for dinner and my husband would cart them over to play practice, picking up Savannah on the way.

Other days it's Shannon who is over for a few hours. Or Paul will give Sean or Hunter a call. Sydney will have roommate Kaitlin down for a night too. When the kids were little, neighbors Danielle, Jacqui or Jeremy would be by almost daily. For years I was known for always having freezer ice pops ready for eating! And I'll never forget the way Willie used to show up our deck almost daily, making faces through the window at baby Paul who was sitting in his high chair and waiting for the girls to come outside to play.

I am happy that although this isn't quite the hometown I grew up in, my childrens' friends feel welcome, safe, and well fed in our home. They can pull up a chair and share a meal or drop by unannounced when they are in the neighborhood. I'm glad that I have been able to give my children that gift of knowing that their parents truly like their friends and enjoy having them visit.

Now, if only I could get my own friends (and family) to drop by more often !

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Laughing Til Us Part

As my husband and I fell into another laughing fit together in the car today, our children rolled their eyes. Later, when my husband made the comment that we'd been married for over 22 years and together since 1983, 28 years, I added that since I'd been a month shy of my 15th birthday, he'd been my boyfriend. "That's so weird", my daughter said. "I know but I could not get rid of him", I teased. "She could not get rid of me?! Ha! She'd be lost without me", my husband said. I didn't reply to that comment. It's a rare day when I don't repeatedly match my husband's comments with a sarcastic retort. I admit, I give the guy a hard time. I've got a tendency to be an antagonist, truth be told. But the truth is, it IS weird that I met the love of my life when I was so very young. And yes, as independent as I can be at times, and as much as I taunt him asking just how long I'll have to wait after his death before I find a new guy, he knows the truth. He'll be the only love of my life. I would be lost without him. I'd be more than lost.

What would I do if I suddenly lost the love of my life? I would like to think that I would be okay, that I would honor our life and our happiness and be resilient. I'd like to think that I would be strong. But as little as I think on this subject, I fear that my life would be over. I simply do not think I would be strong without him. He is everything to me. There is no one, NO ONE, who knows me like this man does. There is no one, NO ONE, who could ever love me as this man does. I am sure of that.

A day this past December my father talked about life and love. He said, "You know, a man marries a woman and they build a family together. And for many years that family is an important focus. But one by one, the children leave, as they should, to build families of their own". He continued to talk of how it's the marriage however that remains. The couple that built that family will still have one another after the children leave. Dad's point was that it's important to remember to nurture the marriage, that relationship that secures and binds the family unit together.

I believe it is important not to waste time worrying about the future. With that said, not fretting about tomorrow does not come easily to me. But I work to live in the moment and to savor each day, each hug, each laugh. When I look at Eric, I look deep into his eyes and I try hard to record all that I see there. I must remember. I must save this for the future.

Having watched so many movies, having read so many books where a lifelong couple is finally separated by death, I know that in all likelihood, one of us will be left behind without the other. Still, I'd like to hope that someday, far in the distant future, we'll go together, preferably in our sleep as we're holding one another, happy, madly in love, and thoroughly exhausted from yet another laughing fit.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Anything But Ordinary

The waves of reminiscing began to hit me early in the day this morning, when I went on a walk in the neighborhood. Listening to my ipod filled with an eclectic array of music, a Kenny Loggins song came on, one from a cd of lullabies I'd bought when my girls were little. The song "The Last Unicorn" began to play and I was immediately transported back to the days when the House at Pooh Corner songs were often heard in my home and my babies and I would waltz cheek to cheek. One phrase from the song, "I'm alive", suddenly made me turn my eyes to the sky and I spotted this little tiny bird on the electrical wires above my head. That suddenly made another memory return, the spring of 2009 when I was being tested repeatedly for breast cancer.

There is nothing like a serious concern you have breast cancer to bring your life into complete focus. After a few tests it was confirmed that I did NOT have cancer, but by that time I had already sorted through years worth of reflections. I took stock of my relationships and my dreams and goals. I thought through all the possible scenarios. Was I going to lose a breast? Two? Was I going to lose my hair? How about my life? My years with my children? My husband? I'd begun bargaining with God. I felt a little guilt doing that for I knew that I had a good life. So many lose their lives before reaching my age. I'd been healthy for over 40 years. I knew I should not be pushing my luck...

When I'd first heard the news of my doctor's concern, I'd gone walking. That day a song on my ipod came on and it became my song of empowerment that spring. "Is it enough? Is it enough to die? Somebody save my life. I'd rather be anything but ordinary please" Avril Lavigne, like Kenny Loggins, is not my usual music of choice but I do like a variety of songs and what can I say? That song made me strong. It filled me with stubborn willpower and I was determined that if I did indeed have cancer, regardless of whether or not God made a deal with me, I was not leaving this world without a fight.

After a year of more frequent examinations, I went back into the pattern of being tested at the regular schedule. However, even though I have always been a girl who thinks too much, the cancer scare made me even more aware of events, people, moments in my life. This morning, looking up at the sky and hearing "I'm alive. I'm alive", seeing a small bird perched on the wires, and feeling the cool morning air entering my lungs, I suddenly became very aware again of how precious life is and how lucky I am to have another day to walk, another day to return home to my three children, another day to watch my new puppy scampering with joy across the lawn, another day to hold my husband as we fall asleep in one another's arms...another day to feel anything but ordinary.

To walk within the lines
Would make my life so boring
I want to know that I
Have been to the extreme
So knock me off my feet
Come on now give it to me
Anything to make me feel alive

Is it enough to love?
Is it enough to breathe?
Somebody rip my heart out
And leave me here to bleed
Is it enough to die?
Somebody save my life
I'd rather be anything but ordinary please
I'd rather be anything but ordinary please

Friday, June 10, 2011

Killing Time with Swine...and Angry Birds

Have you heard of Angry Birds? The computer video game, made popular for its comical challenge of shooting birds from a slingshot at annoying pigs protected by various barriers has been taking the world by storm. I first heard of the game when my son suggested I purchase it for my new laptop computer. Priced rather inexpensively, I bought the game.

I have never been one to get hooked on video games. I do remember enjoying a game of Tetris once in awhile when we first bought a Nintendo and then there were some Hoyle casino games that I found fun to play on our first IMac computer. For while there was also a tile matching game that had me competing for higher scores. I enjoy playing the Wii every once in awhile but I become bored quite easily and would much rather browse though a magazine or read a book. still, playing Angry Birds once in while has had its appeal.

I tend to turn to the game when I have a few minutes of time to kill before going to pick up one of my children. I attempt to progress through a few levels before I have to leave. Often however I reach a point (usually only a few minutes into playing the game) when I think, "What the heck am I doing?! This is pretty stupid. Am I seriously wasting time on this?!" However at other times, playing the game is a nice distraction when I am struggling a bit with Writers Block. It does not happen too often but every once in awhile I cannot think of what I want to say in the middle of a story or when I'm brainstorming ideas for a blog post.

Tonight as I looked at the clock and saw that I did not have much time before midnight to post my daily discussion, I saw the little Angry Birds icon at the dock on my laptop. I did not click it to begin playing but I did think of the game and of the challenge of blowing up the little green pigs who sneer and chuckle at you when you fail to crush them in a level. I've got to say that there is something strangely satisfying about aiming wingless birds at wood, stone, or ice beams in an attempt to crush all the chuckling pigs. I am not sure I understand why I continue to play it, but what can I say? I do. Heck, tonight it even inspired me to write.

I still do not know why the game is as intensely popular as it is but hey, who am I to judge? I suppose if flinging wingless birds at little green pigs makes people happy or allows them time to be distracted from their concerns, then more power to the silly game!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Holding on

Today's best moments were those spent with Paul. I picked him up at 10am from school to bring him to his doctor's appointment where he'd have his physical required of him to attend summer camp this month. We chatted on the 20 minute trip and weighed our options for where we'd get lunch afterward.

At the doctor's office Paul was given a short questionnaire which reviewed his lifestyle at home. He answered that he ate between 5-7 servings of vegetables a day, drank nothing but skim milk and water (and a little apple juice), played actively and had a limit on his computer/screen time with no television in his bedroom and no computer either. He said he wanted to increase the amount of time he spends outside and the two of us smirked at one another as we answered the question about the number of times we sit and eat at the table together as a family, knowing that we had not been good about that lately due to conflicting schedules, but that we'd be back into the regular pattern of doing so in another week or so (with summer coming).

When he was weighed and measured by the nurse, I looked at my growing boy and smiled at the memory of how tiny he was those first few months when my girlfriend worried if he was getting enough to eat. I chuckled when Paul asked his doctor if being in the 50-70 percentile for his height and weight was "good" and I found his honesty of being "a little nervous" about heading to the middle school next year most refreshing. His giggling when his doctor tested his reflexes was sweet and his banter matching his doctor's sense of humor made me proud.

He's definitely growing up and maturing. However when it came time for him to have three shots, he again expressed his anxiety and yet he listened attentively to the explanation as to why these vaccines were important to have done. He anticipated the worst as the needles were used and then looked at me in surprise when he realized it wasn't as bad as he thought it'd be. Yet, he had a reaction to the shots. He grew pale and light headed and the nurse had him recline with a cool compress on his forehead for several minutes. As I watched him nearly fall asleep on the examination chaise, I flashed back to his toddler years when he'd nap on the couch. There was my boy now, just an inch and a half away from being 5 feet tall and just 8 pounds away from being 100 pounds, and yet in him I still see that little baby boy.

As we went out to lunch after his appointment, Paul was still a bit "woozy", telling me that his head seemed "cloudy". But we followed the nurse's instructions and got him some protein. Paul opted for Chinese food so we ordered our meal and went to sit down, waiting for it to be ready. That's when Paul began telling me that someday he wants to go to China. I asked him if he wanted to go as a teenager on exchange, but he was quick to tell me, "No, I want to be with my friends in high school. I'll go later". I suggested that he consider going when he's in college.

As we continued talking, Paul then told me that he wants to work for the organization Unicef someday or somewhere else like that because he wants "to help people". Usually joking around, Paul said this in the most sincere, serious manner. He was still feeling a little "cloudy" and as I watched his eyes, it was almost as though he was talking in his sleep. He was awake but he was not fully alert. He seemed to be under the effects of a truth serum. It was quite endearing. "I want to adopt an Asian baby too someday", he continued. "How come?" I asked. "Because they are so cute. And I want to help people. I just want to help people". My heart was melting there in that Chinese Food restaurant. Completely melting.

I stopped to buy him some ibuprofen on the way home and as we drove back to our hometown, truth-serum-induced Paul told me he'd like to give his son the middle name "Eric" someday, to name his son after his own father the way I had done in giving him as his own middle name, my own Dad's name. A few minutes later, Paul touched my shoulder. He said just two words before drifting off, falling into a short nap. "Thank you". I was not sure what he was thanking me for, for being with him at the doctors? For our talk? For his lunch? For getting him ibuprofen? Oh, it did not matter. I grabbed his hand and we rode home in the car like that, holding onto one another, holding onto everything we have in one another, holding on for dear life...and love.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Inspiring Women Writers

A blog at Forbes.com posted an article Monday on the 10 Most Powerful Women Authors as decided upon by writer AVRIL DAVID. She wrote, "The women selected for this list are powerful because of their ability to influence us through their words and ideas. Collectively, these women hold readers captivated with stories of fantastical worlds, suspense and drama, insights into the complexities of minority experiences and cultures, and fresh takes on societal issues and expectations…not to mention, book sales of up to 800M copies sold and a wealth of prestigious awards and recognition including Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. In other words, these 10 women can tell (and sell) a good story". To see the list which I believe is full of excellent choices, go to http://blogs.forbes.com/avrildavid/2011/06/06/the-10-most-powerful-women-authors/

Reading the list however made me think of women who may not be published, yet who I still consider as being excellent story tellers. For the sake of space and time tonight, I'll share just a few of my personal favorites. Each of these women continue to influence me with their words and ideas.

1. My Mom. Hands down, she's my favorite storyteller. Mom has always been the family's historian. I grew up learning of her childhood and teenage years, of her early married life, her experiences as a new mother, and her time with friends in both her childhood hometown and my own. Additionally, Mom shared stories with me about my Dad, my siblings, my aunts and uncles, grandparents, and countless others. To this day I still imagine her jaunts going cross country skiing in the moonlight and of the humorous times one grandmother of mine picked on the other. Mom's stories are the best. My Dad has tried for years to get my Mom to write in a journal of some kind. She tends to write on little scraps of paper that are tucked here and there. I sure hope my memory of the stories she's told me will remain strong until I've had enough time to write everything down myself.

2. My best friend of 35 years, Cheryl. From the time I was a child, listening to Cheryl's stories of her times with her siblings and her cousins, aunts and uncles always entertained me. I had four older siblings but had not grown up sharing childhood with them and I was fascinated by the fights and the fun she'd tell me about each time we got together. When we get together nowadays Cheryl's stories primarily center around her children, all six of them. However she also speaks passionately about homeschooling, health topics, and of her faith. Something tells me she'll never run out of material for a good story. Cheryl writes in several blogs, proving she's a writer too.

3.The women I met through the Southern Maine Writing Project especially Jo, Nancy, Shari, Dawn, Kate, Kelly, Barbara, Lori, and Sarah. Never before had I been embraced by such a supportive network of teachers and writers than the summer I went to this institute. I continue to be inspired by the ideas and the writing of these women. I've lost touch with some of them but most are still within reach. Their work, their beings gave me greater confidence in myself as both a teacher and as a writer. They worked together to give me an incredible gift, the gift of courage.

4. Student writers--past and present. It's an amazing gift to reconnect with a former student. To be a witness to a former student's writing is remarkable. I've recently been following the blog of a former student named Kyla. Her writing greatly moves me. It makes me laugh, it's made me cry. It's made me think, to savor, and to celebrate. I'm in awe of her and I cannot wait to see where her writing will take her as she journeys onward. Other students, whether from years past or in the present day also inspire me. Their creativity, risk-taking, and determination serve to sustain me.

5. The final female storyteller who serves as a powerful influence on me is someone whose writing I am not often allowed to see; that would be my daughter Emma. An avid reader, her vocabulary and command of language is developing at an impressive rate. She's emerging as a beautiful writer. She's quite private with her work but I respect that. She's almost sixteen years old and spends a great amount of time working on stories at her laptop. She doesn't often share her stories but she discusses her craft with me every once in awhile. When I'm allowed to read a piece, I am always blown away. She is mature beyond her years and she continues to inspire me...as a writer and as a human being.

There are many more women (and men) who influence me with their storytelling talents. I've been a storyteller myself, most often when I'm in the classroom, and of course this can be seen in my writing on this blog; it's apparent that I enjoy sharing my personal experiences with others. But I have never really thought of my own stories as being inspirational until recently. Since beginning this blog I have heard or have seen others start their own. I've heard from people who have read one of my stories and who have been touched in some way by my descriptions, my sharing of emotions, or my candid admissions. That always warms my heart. And if I have played even a small part in inspiring others to find their own voices as writers or storytellers, I am proud, very proud indeed. It'd be wonderful to be published someday but if it doesn't happen, that'll be okay. Truly, I do not need Forbes magazine to tell me I'm a powerful woman, author or otherwise.