Monday, October 31, 2011

Old Gypsies Never Die...They Just Learn to Cackle

I have always loved Halloween. When I was a child I adored the decorations, especially the big ghost my parents and I arranged on a pulley to fly down the driveway one year, and the floating gauze ghosts I’ve made with my children to hang in the trees of our driveway now, complete with balloon faces that light up with the help of a glow stick. I also used to enjoy our hometown’s downtown tradition of painting scenes on store windows (oh how thrilled I was to be chosen to paint a winning scene one year). And of course each year I am amused by the creepy music and scary movies of the season. But I especially loved dressing up in costume. In fact I never truly outgrew this. It’s probably part of the reason why I continue being involved with theater to this day.

Although I wore an array of costumes over the years, being a gypsy was my favorite character to play. In fact, I remember dressing up as a gypsy a few times over the years, including one summer when our playground recreation group sponsored a “Gypsy costume contest”. (Apparently I was not the only child fascinated by the idea of gypsies! ). I remember my mother suggesting that my gypsy costume could include wearing lots of her fashion jewelry and bright blue eye shadow. Of course, I’m not sure these fashion accessories have any validity, but oh how I loved being donned in my mother’s things. I felt beautiful!

When my children were little, I enjoyed helping them each select their costumes each year. For their first Halloween, each of my babies were dressed as pumpkins and wore a simple orange sleeper. Over the years as they grew, the girls and I would plan the making of each costume and make trips to Goodwill to find clothing to transform. One year my mom sewed Sydney a “Nala” costume, a lioness fashioned after the character in Disney’s The Lion King. It was an adorable outfit! Sydney and I also enjoyed finding original costume ideas such as a few we borrowed from Family Fun magazine (Baby on the back of an old hag, was one of my favorites), but Emma always chose to be something scary (a ghost, a witch, a vampire). She would always play the part too, posing for many pictures with her scary teeth or green face paint. When Paul came along, I wondered what he’d select to do with each year’s costume. He chose to be a knight one year which was cute, but I think my favorite costumes of his came most recently in the last two years when he was first a sumo wrestler and then a taco. After a few years of watching him make safe costume decisions so as not to be seen as anything other than “cool” by his peer group, his costume choices these past two years show the Paul I know best--the one with a leader’s confidence and a fun sense of humor.

There is something wonderful about how a costume can transform us, embolden us, humor us, or reveal us. Whether we are dressed in one to play a stage character or simply heading to a Halloween party, playing make-believe for an hour or for an evening is great fun. It seems that lately I haven’t taken the time to make myself a costume to wear on Halloween. I suppose that’s a little sad. Yet I still don my favorite witch hat as the trick-or-treaters come by, and as is the usual tradition, my children ask me to do my now famous witch cackle so as to shock and surprise their newest friends. If only gypsies cackled! Then my costume for tonight would be perfect!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

OctSNOWber

It felt odd but exhilarating to see the snow coming down last night, in the midst of Emma’s Halloween party. It was forecasted that we’d receive 5-10 inches in this first storm of the season. By midnight the snow covered our still leafy burning bush shrubs, weighing them down and creating canopies for our puppy to hide under. A little apprehensive of the snow, experiencing it for the very first time, Ziva chose to walk along the edge of the house when her paws touched the wet snow. But before long, she had plunged in and enjoyed racing around the yard, burying her face and eating the snow. It was a joy to watch her.

Some of the teens at the party ran outside when the snow began piling up. Sitting inside at the time, we heard them running out back, laughing and screaming as they pummeled one another with snowballs. The snow was wet and heavy, perfect for snowball-making. I snuck outside several times during the evening, happy to see and feel the snow once again, even if it was a good month earlier than expected.

Unless I have to drive in the stuff, or unless it causes a long power outage, I love snow. I love winter. While so many speak of moving south to get away from weather they consider a nuisance, I find a good snowstorm to be beautiful and peaceful. I know it’s easy for me to say this, for being a teacher, a good snowstorm will often give me a day off when school is closed for the day, and I do well appreciate how difficult it can be for many, especially the elderly, to deal with in terms of shoveling or preventing accidents. But in those few hours when the snow falls from the sky and the world is quiet, I feel an inner peace that I rarely find anywhere else.

As I enjoyed the snow of last evening, I thought of all the ways I enjoy the outside each season. Cross-country skiing is one of my favorite winter activities. I never took a liking to the speed of downhill skiing. I’m too fearful. I get wimpy about going tobogganing or sliding now that I have lost that childhood flexibility. I’m always afraid I’ll break my leg. I have enjoyed the few times I’ve gone snowmobiling, but I don’t own a sled. I used to enjoy ice skating but I haven’t been lately. Maybe this year. And no, I won’t be going ice fishing. Of course my all-time favorite wintertime activity is snowshoeing. I am looking forward to taking Ziva out to the abandoned cabin where Charlie and I used to go each winter. It’s going to be bittersweet to hike out with a new furry friend.

And after returning from a jaunt out in the woods, I’ll be sitting next to a warm fire, enjoying hot cocoa under a fleece blanket with a good book, with a batch of homemade soup simmering on the stove. Oh sure, five full months of winter may seem to be too long for many, and I admit, I love the warmth of summer and the vibrancy of autumn, but hey, I live in Maine so as to enjoy all four seasons. I have enjoyed this first snowstorm of the season and I am ready for more.

Party Planners

For Saturday, October 29, 2011

When I was young, my Mom used to help me throw the best parties. As a child I had birthday parties and as I grew older there were Halloween parties, Summer sleepovers, and yes, even one Disco party. That particular party sticks in my mind for my friends were so impressed with how the Christmas lights glowed off the strips of tin foil that we’d taped to the walls and how the old color wheel light from my Nana’s aluminum Christmas tree recreated a strobe light effect. My home was always the place for my friends and I to gather, the house that would host a cast party, simply, a relaxing, fun, and parent-approved party house.

So when I had children of my own I knew I wanted to help them celebrate their birthdays and other occasions with fun, creative parties of their own. From the time they were preschoolers, my children and I planned each new theme for their next birthday party. We shopped for decorations, organized games and gift favor bags, and designed invitations. I always believed the party preparations were as much fun, if not more fun, than the party itself.

So, imagine my disappointment when due to her schedule of performing as Cinderella at a local theater, Emma did not have time to plan a Sweet Sixteenth Birthday party! We had said she could organize one later in the summer if she wanted to, but no party ever materialized. I felt awful. Was Emma outgrowing parties? Did she still feel comfortable having her friends over? With Sydney off at college and Paul telling me that he doesn’t want anything fancy for his upcoming 12th birthday party, “Just a sleepover, Mom”, I began to wonder what I was going to do...

Then one day, a few weeks ago, I spotted a little hot pink post it note on my family wall calendar in the kitchen. It said, “This would be a good day for Emma to have a Halloween party”. Written in Emma’s handwriting, the note brought an instant smile to my face. “YES!!” It was not time for this Mom to retire her party planning sideline after all!

Of course, the party date could not have come at a crazier time. With tons of work to catch up on, and a house that was looking as though housekeeping had been banned for the latter part of 2011, I knew something had to give. I gave Emma strict instructions that she had to help me clean the house the night before the party. But knowing she had play rehearsal on Saturday, I also knew that bulk of the cleaning would fall on my husband and I. Still, Emma and I marched forward. A Facebook invitation may have taken the fun out of our old homemade invites of yesteryear but before we knew it, a guest list of 22 teens had formed.

Emma chose to have pizza delivered and she got her friends to help with snacks and soda. She chose her costume and as she headed off to play rehearsal, Eric and I completed the housework and went grocery shopping. I came home and decorated the house in record speed and baked some peanut butter-chocolate chip bars. The dining room table was adorned in a black table cloth with wooden pumpkins and candles as the centerpiece. Spider confetti was sprinkled around too and Halloween themed plates and napkins were added. Outside we set up an old fashioned lantern to greet the guests. Orange lights were aglow inside as Emma returned home from practice. “Oh Mom. You are so nice. This looks cool. Seriously, thank you”. Those simple words from my daughter made my night.

The teens arrived and the party lasted until the bewitching hour of midnight. My husband and I stayed out of the way watching television in the family room while the teens had the rest of the first floor. But I snuck in every once in awhile to enjoy the fun of their games and laughter. “Emma, you are such a great hostess”, I heard one of her friends say. I smiled. For if there is one thing I most look forward to, it’s the watching of my children carry on with the tradition of planning and hosting great parties.

A Strange Day

For Friday, October 28, 2011

It was a strange day. From the moment I began my first period class I knew the day would be out of the ordinary. I could feel it. Although I had planned an activity, I could sense I was going to stray from my original plan for my classes.

This happens every so often. After teaching for 20 years I have learned to trust my instincts. I found myself telling my students of an activity called a “Silent Socratic Circle” and I guided them to form two groups at the front of the room. They were given a prompt of “Overwhelmed/Stressed” and invited to have a group conversation. However, they could not actually speak. They were to write down their conversation. Each student was given their own individual colored marker so group members would know who was saying what if the group should occasionally break into more than one thread of conversation at a time.

The students wrote furiously. There was some giggling as their conversations included humor but they took the task seriously. I added in my own comments in a black marker, guiding them to new angles of discussion or asking a question of clarification. They wrote and they wrote for over 20 minutes. If I had not stopped them, I have no doubt they would have continued.

I decided to do the same activity with my second period class. This group, much more diverse than the first period class, wrote even more passionately about the prompt. They vented about the stress of juggling school, work, and personal issues and when their 20 minutes were up the group and I talked for the rest of the period about the realities of stress and time management. Again, it was not how I had planned to spend the class period but Hamlet could wait another day. This discussion was needed by all today, including myself.

At the end of each class period I told my students how I too was feeling overwhelmed by all that is on my plate. I shared with them my own reactions to stress and what I try to do each day to lessen the anxiety. We shared strategies on how we could better manage our time and motivate ourselves to tackle our To Do lists when all we want to do is bury our heads in the sand.

After these two class periods I was half way done with my school day, yet I found myself continuing to stray from the usual routine. I took time at lunch to catch up with a new friend and colleague. It was nice to be reminded that the two of us look out and care for one another, even when it seems we have little time to talk in person. During my prep period I wrote an email to another teacher friend and shared that I had recently learned we have something rather personal in common. Andrew came by to see me before the day ended and thanked me for reaching out. We’ve made plans to talk further next week.

As I packed my school bag before leaving for the day I realized I still had all of the correcting folders that I’d had when I went to school that morning. My bag was just as heavy. There has been no progress made on my correcting. Yet today was far from being a failed day. It has been a day of taking risks, all very appropriate but challenging just the same. I am exhausted and I found myself sobbing on the way home from school. It didn't last long though. I had just needed to release the day’s energy. It was a strange day at work but I know good things happened today.

Friday, October 28, 2011

To Love a Child

For Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honor one's parents and nowhere of a commandment that calls for the respect of a child. - Alice Miller

After a full day at work I headed to my daughter’s school to pick her up from play practice. Not seeing her in the parking lot, I quickly called her asking her where she was, only to discover a text message sent two hours earlier that I hadn’t been alerted to before opening my cell phone. Practice would not be getting out for another 75 minutes.

I knew I was overtired when I felt tears come to my eyes. I had so wanted to pick her up at 4:15pm, head home, and prepare her supper before taking her to her dance class at 6:00pm. But it was really no big deal. I just needed to drive home then head out an hour later to get there at the right time. Emma, receiving my phone message, called me back and was apologetic but there was no reason for her to be. She had done the right thing in texting me the new dismissal time two hours earlier; technology had simply failed me.

Returning at 6:00pm she and her best bud Savannah jumped in the car. We dropped off Savannah and rushed home. I told Emma to grab her dance gear and said I’d wait in the car. I tilted my seat back and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and came very close to falling asleep, but before I knew it, my daughter was back in the car with her banana and her dance bag. Off we went to make it to her dance lesson 20 minutes away.

Arriving back at home I began to make us all a good meal for our dinner. Perhaps dinner hadn’t been prepared in time for Emma to eat before she was off to dance lessons, but I wanted her to return to a warm meal afterwards. So I found the ingredients for spinach ricotta stuffed shells and mixed up the filling adding extra garlic and parmesan cheese. I popped the shells into the oven and spying some ripe bananas on the cupboard I impulsively decided to make a double batch of banana bread too. Within the hour the house smelled delicious. Saving Emma plenty for her own dinner plate when she’d return home at 8:30pm, the rest of us filled our bowls.

When I was a teenager, I rarely gave any thought to the fact that my parents were constantly giving me rides to where I needed to be. I took for granted all the great lunches and dinners my Mom would fix. As a parent now, I sometimes grow weary of playing taxi and I sometimes question my stamina after working from 7:00am until 3:00pm. Most days all I want to do is come home and take a nap. But there is nothing more important to me in this life than being a good mom. Over the span of their lives there are hundreds of ways we show our children we love them, but being there for them when they need us to be, whether it’s now or 75 minutes from now, and making sure they are well nourished in mind, body, and soul...well, those are the most meaningful and sustaining displays of our love.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Friendly Face

For Wednesday, October 26, 2011

One moment. Just one moment.

As I sat down to write tonight I was not sure what to write about for the day’s blog post. I flashed back to different scenes from my day. Talking to my teenage students, introducing a new novel, laughing with a few of my work colleagues, organizing my “To Do List”, attending a meeting, driving home with my husband, going to a parent-teacher conference for my daughter, watching tv, taking time to write. I could write about any of these, but for some reason, the only image that is motivating me at the moment is her smile.

There have been many similar smiles. They are offered up on the first day of class and continue throughout the year. They are quiet nods of understanding and they appear the most needed moments. Sometimes it is offered from the back corner of the classroom, other days I find it in the hallway. It’s not showy and it is not after anything. It is given freely and with kindness. It belongs to one of the friendly faces.

We have all experienced the friendly faces, I am sure of it. These are the people in our lives, or even sometimes perfect strangers, who are supportive while there in the crowd when we’re talking. As we look out into the audience, whether it is in a meeting or in a large auditorium, the friendly faces meet our eyes and with a simple smile or nod they remind us that we are not alone, that we are being heard, that our efforts are appreciated. I always take note of these smiles, these faces. They always belong to people worth getting to know better.

Her smile greeted me in the classroom first thing this morning and later in the day as we passed one another in the hall. She’s more than a good kid. She is empathetic and kind. She is secure and yet humble. And she knows the secret of how a little smile or nod can make a difference in a person’s day.

As I sat down tonight I was not sure what to write about. So I tried to think of one moment, just one moment from my day when time seemed to take pause in just the right spot. I felt myself pulled from the reality of a busy life and brought to a place where we are reminded of what is always important. It is a beautiful gift to find a friendly face in a crowd, to feel the warmth of someone’s smile, to feel an authentic connection to another human being.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sisters of Serendipity

For Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On my second day of jury duty service we were dismissed around 1:00pm. I went back to the Jury Assembly room and picked up my lunch bag and other personal items. “See you next week” I quipped to a fellow juror named Theresa. As I made my way to the exit however, I stopped. “I want to say good bye to Janice”, I told Theresa. She and I both knew that we would see one another again the following week as we had been chosen to serve at the same trial. Janice, however, had been selected for two different trials which would be held on different days than our own. We would most likely not see Janice again, so a farewell, “Nice to have met you”, was certainly in order. Theresa and I waited for Janice to return to the Jury Assembly room. When she spotted us, Janice broke out into a smile, obviously pleased that we had waited for her before leaving.

The three of us had met only the day before. Having the luck of sitting next to one another at the first jury selection, it quickly became evident that we had the same sense of humor. Although we each expressed our understanding of the seriousness of our role as potential jurors, we took the instructions not to discuss the cases to heart and found other topics of conversation. During the few minutes of down time we’d received several times as the judge had called the attorneys aside, we’d each made the others laugh with silly observations or questions. How nice it’d been to find not only one, but two women like these to help pass the time. Each had been enjoyable and entertaining. We ended up sitting with one another at the remaining jury selections and gabbed during our lunch break too.

On my way home I got to thinking of how good it is for me to have these opportunities to meet new people. It’s not that I don’t meet hundreds of new teenage students and parents each year but meeting people aside from work usually takes a little extra effort. When I was younger, new friends were made easily and regularly at music festivals, theater competitions, and music camps. In college I met new people with every new course I took each semester. As an adult, the performing arts and educational courses continue to aid me socially. Opportunities with community theater and recertification requirements bring me together with like-minded people, those with the same passion for theater, music, reading, writing, or education in general. But the jury duty experience of the past few days was different. One hundred-eighty people, chosen from a pulling of drivers’ licenses, randomly came together to do their civic duty. And yet, within an hour’s time, Theresa, Janice, and I had met and began laughing with one another. Laughing led to the sharing of family stories and although we all knew our paths would most likely never cross again, the serendipity of our two day friendship is something that has enriched me.

The saying goes that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I am blessed with many lifetime friends and I am lucky to have others for seasons of time each year. I don’t know for sure what is the reason I was led to these two women this week, but I have a few ideas on the subject that I’ll keep to myself for now. What I know for sure is that I will long remember Janice’s wit and Theresa’s candor, and the way the two of them reminded me of how wonderful a feeling it is to meet new people, new friends. As I heard somewhere once before, love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant. I’ve learned a few things about myself in the past two days, or rather I have been reminded of some facts about myself that I had forgotten. I’m going to take these lessons and use them in reconnecting with a few dear friends, lifetime friends, who I miss dearly.

Although they will probably never read this, I want to offer up a simple thank you for Theresa and Janice. I expected to have my nose in a book at every available minute of time I found during jury duty service. As it turned out, I was reminded that opening up and simply living in the moment with people who surround me is the best way to make my way through life. As strange as it may be for the writer and teacher in me to say, the books can wait.

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...


Lyrics from the song “For Good” from the Broadway musical, WICKED

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jury Duty

For Monday, October 24, 2011

The drive to the courthouse would take an hour in morning traffic. After parking and going through security, I found my way to the Juror Assembly room on the second floor. The room was set up with rows upon rows of folding chairs. We were encouraged to hang up our coats and to put our lunches in the refrigerator. Coffee, tea, and hot cocoa were available in the back.

Attendance was taken and housekeeping details were reviewed. Parking was validated and instructions on turning off cell phones and when we could or could not have a book open to read were made clear. Soon we were ushered into a courtroom. It was beautiful. I took a few minutes to look around at what I had only previously seen represented before in movies.

We were given more instructions and a pamphlet to read. Then half of us were brought to another courtroom for the first round of jury selections for a civil case. The judge who presided over this first case was quite personable and he took time to explain the process of the day, including the manner of the questions we would be asked. The parties were introduced and the charges were read. The questions posed to the jury pool commenced. After each question we were asked to remain seated if our answer was “No”. We were to rise if our answer was “Yes”. “Yes” answers would often result in additional questions being posed to the juror and finally, “Would this influence your ability to be fair and impartial?” was asked.

In the selection process I answered “Yes” to two particular questions. Both times however, I answered the final question with “No”. There was nothing that would lead me to believe that I would find it difficult to be fair and impartial to the evidence presented. One woman next to me, after answering “Yes” to one of the questions was called to speak privately with the judge and the lawyers who asked her a few more questions. She returned to her seat and whispered, “It’s odd. I have never given much thought to these facts about myself before today”. Answering questions like we did today gave many of us reason to stop and reflect on who we are, what we are influenced by, and whether or not we are able to be objective when a stranger’s fate is in our hands.

The jury for the first civil case was chosen and as luck would have it, I was not selected. I had been surprised to see that juror cards (with our numbers) were placed in a box and that names were drawn to a pool from which they would select the jury. Lawyers had the opportunity to dismiss who they wished to as the judge spoke with them in sidebar conversations. My number did not come up in any of the cases brought before us that morning.

We were returned to the Juror Assembly room and then instructed to take an hour for lunch. A woman I’d had a chance to talk with earlier in the day joined me for a walk to a nearby sandwich shop. We returned to the room to eat and our afternoon was filled with more jury selection. The day ended at 4:30pm and I’d not been selected for any trials. I was instructed to return in the morning.

The day was interesting, humbling, exciting, and a little nerve-wracking. As I sat waiting to see whether or not I would be sitting on a jury to determine the verdict of either a civil or criminal case, I realized the responsibility before me. I gave thought to all those John Grisham and Jodi Picoult books and all those episodes of Law & Order I’d been exposed to over the years. Have they prepared me for the real thing? Jury selection is only the first part. Before the end of the second day, my number did come up, twice, and I was indeed selected to serve on one upcoming trial. Next week’s trial proceedings will be the true test.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Number 300

These days the number 300 may not easily impress us. I found myself wondering tonight if the number 300 has had any significance beyond being a nice round number. I thought I remembered that 300 is a perfect score in bowling so I did a quick Google search to confirm that fact. I then learned that the number 300 comes up repeatedly in the Holy Bible, such as in the story of Gideon. Unfamiliar with this bible story I took time to read of how Gideon began with 32,000 men in his army but how God said this was too many. Gideon with God’s help “cut the team” down to 300 by first determining who was fearful and thus not good to serve as they would influence others to be afraid. The next means of reducing the army was through a stream drinking test. To shorten the tale, the small group of 300 men were successful in defeating the Midianites. Gideon gave God the glory of the win.

Continuing my research I was reminded of the 2007 movie 300 about the Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae (another period of research time would be needed to provide the synopsis of THAT one), and I learned that Chrysler developed several models of cars with the number 300 listed in its title series. In baseball, the benchmark of hitting .300 in a season is revered. And apparently in paintball, 300 feet/s is the maximum legal velocity of a shot paintball (I’m honestly not sure whether that is significant or not but it was a colorful piece of information just the same). Oh, and humans are born with 300 bones, although we as adults interestingly have only 206 bones as some are fused together in the natural growth process. I finally learned of a belief in “Angel numbers” and how the number 300 when noticed by humans is said to bring attention to a matter of Divine purpose that warrants our following.

So it seems that the number 300 is quite significant. And I’m happy about that because I am amazed by how content and impressed I feel tonight as I craft my 300th blog post in 300 days’ time. But I am also thinking of how I did not do this alone. First of all, I have had an incredible support system. My children and my husband have allowed me time to write in the past 300 days. My family and friends have sent me notes of encouragement and have left comments on my blog or on my Facebook page, displaying to me that I do indeed have an audience most days that I post. Former students, colleagues, and others have started their own blogs too. It feels good.

Most importantly, whether I have an angel looking over me or not, I have believed myself to have a real purpose in continuing to write. Writing has not always been easy but it has felt “right”. I do not dare say that my purpose has Divine blessings, for that would be awfully presumptuous, however, I will say that I offer up any and all praise to God. He has strengthened my resolve to meet my 365 posts in 365 days’ goal. He deserves glory for any eventual “win” in my life, whether it is this blog or something more significant in the days, weeks, months, or years to come. Onward and upward!

There is always strength in numbers. The more individuals or organizations that you can rally to your cause, the better.
--Mark Shields

There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else. --James Thurber

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bike Rides with Andy

When I was in middle school I began hanging out with boys. Two in particular, Scott and Andrew, would come by my house at least once a week and ask if I wanted to go for a bike ride. We would pick up my friend Carolyn and spend the entire afternoon riding around town. We lived in a town that was quite bike-friendly. We were able to take lightly traveled roads and could reach various sections of town safely. Our hometown also had numerous Mom-and-Pop stores that allowed us to stop and buy soda and snacks along our routes.

One favorite pit stop was the playground in “Little Italy”. Buying Sunkist orange soda, the four of us would park our bikes and enjoy the swingsets. I remember laughing and blaming our silliness on the soda’s caffeine. Of course I realize now that our moods were more likely due to all those middle school hormones!

This innocent memory of my first experiences with dating inspired me several years ago. At the time I had recently returned from my 20th high school class reunion where my husband and I had enjoyed talking with my old friend Andrew for several hours. Between the reunion and memories of my hometown bike riding adventures with my friends, I began playing around with the idea of writing a novel that was titled Bike Rides with Andy. I mapped out an initial plot and crafted the first chapter. My writing group helped me workshop the piece. Over the summer I wrote the second chapter. Then Bike Rides with Andy went into hiding.

A few years later I read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. The novel included elements that sparked me to revisit my own book. I again worked on ideas for the outline and talked over my ideas with my Creative Writing class and my friend Jeanna. Everyone was excited and I felt motivated to try again. But then I put up a wall. I blamed it on a lack of time. However I know now that once again, I’d allowed fear to paralyze me.

A change has overcome me in the past year. This has been a year of staring my fears down. I have tackled a variety of them and although I find myself slipping every so often, I can honestly say that my outlook on my life’s goals has been altered for the better. I am ready to try again. It’s time to dig Bike Rides with Andy out once again.

I am going to follow through with a specific challenge suggested by one of my daughter’s friends to write a novel in a month. November is National Novel Writing Month and NaNoWriMo.org sponsors an online challenge for anyone. As the website states, “ The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30. Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved. Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output". The challenge is about “quantity, not quality”, and although what I produce may need serious editing, the goal is to write intensely and without self criticism to put the words to paper. This is always the first step after all.

It wasn’t a pointed challenge but Deanna put it at my doorstep and having thrown the challenge out to my own students in the past, I now want to try it myself. One of my Creative Writing students last year was successful with it last year and had his novel self-published for his graduation. I was pretty darn proud of having pushed him in this direction! Ben’s book sits on my window bookshelf. Now it’s my turn. Sure, I have a lot on my plate but if I were to wait for the perfect time to write, I’m afraid I would never get there. I am not going to consider myself a failure if I don’t make the deadline, but I will be disappointed in myself if I don’t at least TRY.

Just as my time with Andrew and Scott back in Middle School was my starting line when I began hanging out with the opposite sex, Bike Rides with Andy will be my starting line for my novel. I have no idea what my finished product will look like. I don’t know whether I’ll stick with my initial ideas or abandon them and take a detour, but I am getting familiar butterflies in my tummy once again. It’s almost as much fun as trekking around town on my ten speed all those years ago. Or perhaps it’s simply the caffeine.

Laugh (Don’t Cry) Uncle

For Friday, October 21, 2011

My children have their favorites. Although they love and enjoy all the members of their extended family very much, Uncle Joel on Eric’s side of the family and Uncle John on my side of the family each have cemented the role of being “favorite uncles”. It is easy to see why when they get together with us. Each is lovingly childish--playful, antagonistic, silly, bratty, and incredibly entertaining.

Growing up, I also had two favorite uncles, one on my Dad’s side of the family, and one on Mom’s side of the family. My Dad’s younger brother, Uncle Tom, used to drop in and share a meal with us during his travels. When I would come home from school and spot his car in the driveway I was very excited. Uncle Tom would always greet me with a big warm hug as he’d exclaim what a beautiful niece he had. Then he’d pull some surprises out of his briefcase--gifts of little toys, stationery, pens, and plastic desk ornaments were left for me. One of his presents, a little plaque picture of a girl clutching a blanket, hung in my childrens’ nursery for years. I thought of Uncle Tom each time I saw it. Over the years Uncle Tom and my beautiful Aunt Elaine have attended many of my theatrical performances and when I see them at family gatherings, the hugs from my Uncle Tom continue to make me feel as though I am the most beautiful girl on Earth.

On my Mom’s side of the family I had another favorite uncle, Uncle Don. Unlike Uncle Tom, my mother’s brother lived out of state, in Pennsylvania, so we saw him less frequently. And yet, visits with him were highly anticipated as well. Uncle Don, Aunt Glenice, and their four children Denise, James, Cathy, and David would come to our home nearly every summer. Our week with them was bigger than Christmas. Although our fun with cousins was the highlight perhaps, time spent talking to Uncle Don was always full of laughs. I loved hearing him talk about my Mom as a child. She was his big sister. It was just the two of them. She was protective of him and he of her, and the two siblings were very close. Uncle Don used to joke with us every time he got together with Mom and would say, "She's my older sister. She will always be older than me. Isn't that great?"

Uncle Don lost Aunt Glenice to cancer when I was just six years old. Being so young I only remember her faintly but I very much remember traveling to Pennsylvania to attend her funeral. Uncle Don was then left to raise four young children. A meteorologist for NASA, Uncle Don’s life became most challenging, but somehow he managed to continue coming to Maine for those summer vacations. And never did he stop making us laugh.

Whenever I try to explain my Uncle Don’s jokester personality I struggle to find the right comedian to compare him too. Don Knotts? No. Jerry Lewis? No. Red Skelton? No. But there was something about Uncle Don’s sense of humor and use of corny old jokes that likens him to an old time comedian of yesteryear. I sadly don’t remember specific jokes that he told me, but the playfulness in his eyes, the way his head and shoulders would shake as he’d laugh...I will never forget my joy at watching him tell his jokes.

Uncle Don passed away last night at the age of 81. He was two weeks shy of his 82nd birthday. When I heard the news my eyes filled with tears and yet I thought of how nice it was that he could finally reunite with Aunt Glenice. I am sure they have a lot to catch up on. Uncle Don raised four children and their devotion to him in his aging years is proof enough of what a good father he was. I’m going to miss my Uncle Don but I am going to hold on to some very beautiful memories of the man he was and the amazing way he lived his life. He faced the challenges of life with great courage and never without a few jokes to bring us to laughter.

I am so very blessed to have had these two favorite uncles in my life. I plan to send a note off to Uncle Tom to tell him how much he means to me and you can be sure I will get on my knees to say prayers for Uncle Don. I want also to take a moment to say thank you to Joel and John for giving my children the attention they do, for their playfulness and for the laughter and joy they bring to us all.

Digital Storytelling

For Thursday, October 20, 2011

My day began with a 7:00am meeting which left me little time to get to my first period class. With students waiting for me outside my classroom door, there wasn’t time to catch my breath as I immediately unlocked the door and went inside to reorganize the desks for the day’s showcase of digital stories. To prepare for an annual event in my AP classes each fall, the students had written a memoir piece and had added images and music using the imovie program on their laptop computers. This was the second day of watching their finished products.

The room, now set up, had desks facing the blank white wall along the right side of my classroom. The curtains were drawn, the lights were off, and one by one, students went to the projector to hook up their laptops. Within seconds, personal pictures projected onto the wall and the students recorded narratives began to fill the room.

One story spoke of a young man’s love of skiing. Two girls discussed the life impact that playing softball had made. One girl shared her experiences as a “military brat”, traveling from place to place in her young life, and another brought our attention to the powerful way a young man’s faith and friendships were strengthened through attendance at a Christian camp. One young woman spoke of being deeply touched by how her family had displayed their love for her by attending her sweet sixteenth birthday party. There were stories of football, soccer, stuffed animals, an inspiring celebrity meeting, friendships, and one young person’s undying and eventually successful attempt to convince her parents to get her a dog.

As the class came to an end, I decided to share my own digital story, a memoir piece I had crafted about my Mom. I had already shared one story with my students, a piece I had written that was personal but which had used only stock photographs. This memoir was different as it included personal pictures of my Mom and I that had been taken over the years. The students delighted in seeing pictures of me as a child and as a teen and they laughed when in my narrative I shared stories of the silly times I’d experienced with my Mom.

As I sat and listened to each memoir this week and watched the pictures flash onto the wall I took that time to catch my breath. I thought of how quickly paced our lives can be and how if we are not careful, days, weeks, months, even years can fly by without our taking time to stop and to reflect on the meaning and importance of our life experiences. Seeing this class of 16 or 17 year olds doing just that in the making of these projects makes me feel proud. It is a worthwhile assignment and one I hope to continue doing for years to come.

I hope my students will continue to be as insightful and thoughtful as these stories displayed them to be. I don’t think I need to worry. This group of young people respects the lives they have been given. They take to heart the people who have helped them achieve wondrous things in their brief time here. These teens are intelligent, caring, passionate, fun, inspired, and inspiring. I am lucky to have another eight months to work with them. I am humbled by the truth that they will surely teach me just as much as I may try to teach them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Need to Write

I should have been in bed an hour ago. At 9:00pm after watching one of our favorite shows as a family, everyone headed to bed...except for me. I thought I was going to turn in also, but after washing my face, I knew I had something to do. I grabbed my laptop, turned off all the lights so as not to disturb anyone, and went back downstairs to the living room couch. I needed to write.

For me, writing, as I know I have said repeatedly, is a form of therapy. When I began this blog back on December 28th, 2010, I did not know what was ahead of me in the year 2011. It has proven to be one of the most challenging years of my life. I do not think I am exaggerating. I have gone through a variety of stressful and sad situations in my 43 years but never have I ever had so many unique situations to juggle at once. It has been tough but turning to writing has prevented me from feeling completely overwhelmed by it all. I have worked hard and succeeded to a noble degree in managing my responsibilities but there have been many a night when I have grown weary. Writing has helped me focus on all that is important to me. It has helped me sort things out and it has helped me make sense of my emotions. It has helped me stay strong for my loved ones and it has helped me develop wisdom in my interactions with everyone I come into contact with in my daily life.

Writing has been a part of my life for a very long time. I was a child when I began keeping a diary. The diaries I kept in my preteen years are hilarious to read now but even then it was obvious to me that I did not hold back when I could put my feelings down on paper. My diaries evolved into books of poetry that I composed during my teenage years. I then began and continued with several journals in my 20s and 30s. Some were private, some were shared with my husband and children, such as my family’s “Hide-n-Seek journal”, and others were kept solely between Eric and I. Yes, even in my marriage I have needed to write at times to express myself clearly. In my classroom I had my Drama II students write journal entries which became two-way dialogues when I spent hours responding to their ideas and reflections. I also enjoyed asking questions to get them thinking more deeply. I joined the Southern Maine Writer’s Project a few summers ago and began keeping a journal again. And when I began teaching Creative Writing, I happily enticed student writers to begin their own writer’s notebooks. Last spring I developed blogs for two of my classes to use to regularly weigh in and chat with classmates on their interpretations of course material and I continue to use writing as a way to check in with my teenage students when it seems they need help juggling their own responsibilities.

Making time to write is often challenging but it is an essential part of who I am and what I need to be my best self. Writing itself is not an easy endeavor to begin with, and of course I must acknowledge how unrefined these blog posts are when they are posted. But I am writing...nearly everyday. I am devoted to the craft.

George Orwell, an author I am intrigued by, wrote of four motives a writer has, in varying degrees: Sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. He also noted in his essay Why I Write that writers are vain, selfish, and lazy. Well, I take offense to the lazy remark and I truly do not think I am selfish, but I think the other points Orwell made may deserve reflection. But that’s a task for another day. My therapy hour has come to an end. It’s time for this writer to get to bed.

For the Love of Dogs

For Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to care for my puppy after her surgery today. At six months, Ziva went to the vet’s for her scheduled “spaying” operation. By 3pm she was ready to be taken home. I’d been surprised by the fact that she was not staying overnight. I am almost sure that our previous dog Charlie had an extended stay after her surgery, but I obediently picked up Ziva after work.

Still loopy from her anesthesia, Ziva needed help getting into the van and then into the house. After learning how to carry her to avoid injury to her sutures, I lifted her from spot to spot until she was safely on the couch in the family room. Fitted with an “Elizabethan” dog cone collar, Ziva was miserable. I took off the collar and vowed to watch her to prevent her tearing at her wounds. For the next six hours the children and I took turns comforting our puppy.

Although I knew that she would be much improved come morning, it was so hard to see our normally happy and energetic pup looking and acting so out of sorts. I was immediately transported back to the start of the year when 16 year old Charlie needed strict supervision as she experienced “doggy dementia” in her final month of life. Pulling Charlie gently out of the confines of furniture and room corners was a daily affair. Now with Ziva appearing comatose and refusing to move when the “Cone of Shame” was placed on her whenever one of us could not watch her, memories of the days and weeks spent caring for Charlie came flooding back.

I felt helpless today. There was nothing I could have done differently to help Charlie last winter, and likewise, it seemed at first that there was nothing I could do to help Ziva today as she was recuperating. But with my family’s help I did my best to keep her safe from injury. I could not take away the discomfort and confusion and no matter how much I wish my words would soothe my furry babies, dogs do not understand why things happen. But I have to believe that both Charlie and Ziva have sensed my devotion and my love. Perhaps only fellow dog lovers will understand, but it is amazing how much I have learned from loving them both.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Because I Need to Say It

Dear You,

Oh how I miss you. God I wish you knew...somehow.

I wonder where you are. Despite how much I think, despite how much I worry, I never imagined this would happen. There is so much that I want to say to you but you left me and gave me no warning. Or did you? I remember how the “I love you”s on the phone seemed to increase. You ended every phone call with those three words as if they were to be the last words I was going to ever hear from you. I know I expressed my love for you in return, each and every time we spoke. I never held back, but I did not catch on that you were going to disappear. I knew things were not the same but I did not realize how quickly you’d go. I wish I’d had the chance to say goodbye before everything changed. I wish you had spoken to me and explained what was happening. But maybe you didn’t see it coming. Maybe you fought against the changes, were in denial of them, pushed them away until they took hold of you and forced you away...

It hurts. It pains me so much to know I cannot talk to you about this. I need you yet I’m trying to pretend that I don’t. I used to be a good actress or so I was told, but it seems I cannot play pretend anymore. Some say I can and that I should, but it is so hard to accept this. What they don't understand is that I never was anything but honest with you. That's why it is so hard to be an actress now.

I know that the sun has gone down and although I search in earnest, I can’t find you. I pray for another chance. I keep trying. In the meantime, I dream of you and in those dreams we talk this all out, just like we used to talk. But then I awake and I am without you again. I wonder if you ever dream of me?

This is a day of weakness. But I want the best for you. So be well. Be happy...wherever you are.

Until you find your way back to me or until I find a way to meet you where you are...

Please know how much I will forever love you.

Anne

Called to Serve...Differently

For Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nearly 12 years ago, my son was baptized the day after Christmas. A most dynamic priest, Father Bob Vaillancourt, conducted the Mass and made the service an incredibly beautiful ceremony. To this day, members of the congregation speak of the way in which Father Bob carried 4 week old Paul to the altar and around the church. For his part, Paul cooperated by remaining a precious angel.

As Paul grew, we continued to take him to weekly Mass where he learned to sit respectfully with the congregation. As he got a little older he would join others in a short childrens’ liturgy each week, happily running to join the parade of preschoolers who would march downstairs for a brief discussion catered to the little ones. Paul went to weekly religious education classes, made his sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation in the second grade, and the sacrament of Reconciliation too. In the third grade he was old enough to become an altar server. Following his two older sisters who also served, Paul assisted the priest at Sunday Mass when he was scheduled to do so, and sat with the rest of us in the choir on his off weeks.

I thought of all this today as I watched Paul serve on the altar for the last time. Now in the sixth grade, Paul has grown anxious and self conscious. He has begun feeling ill in anticipation of his scheduled Sundays and after much discussion we made the decision to allow Paul to end his service as an alter server. As parents we must choose our battles carefully. I knew that I could insist that he continue, for he is an obedient child, but after praying over this situation I know that it is more important that we help Paul continue to strengthen his faith without that weekly anxiety. We’ll encourage him to find a new way to serve at church. Maybe he can work at the food pantry or perhaps his participation with the middle school youth group will guide him to other charity work. He will find his way. "You are never in the wrong place to serve God. Even if no one acknowledges your efforts, God sees and knows. Bloom where you are planted."

Watching Paul serve on the altar for the past few years has been touching; not a single Sunday has passed without my imagining him as that infant on the altar at his baptism. But my baby is growing up. As I watched him carry the cross to the back of the church at the end of today’s Mass, I offered up a prayer to God, asking Him to continue watching over my baby boy, my precious angel. He may not be found on the altar anymore, but I hope he'll continue to be a faithful servant.

I Do Understand

For Saturday, October 15, 2011

In Dead Poet's Society, one of my favorite Robin Williams' movies, the character Mr. Keating has his students look closely at old photographs that are displayed in the hallway near his classroom. As the boys are studying the faces, Mr. Keating suggests that the boys in the photographs of long ago, boys who are now "dust", have a message to offer to the current students. Mr. Keating then whispers, "Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary". The exercise is just the beginning of Mr. Keating's teachings of the importance of looking inside oneself to live fully, richly, and passionately. The American classic play, Our Town by Thornton Wilder also speaks to the idea of “Carpe Diem”, the Latin phrase meaning “Seize the Day”. In Act Three of his play, the main character Emily comes to realize that the seemingly insignificant happenings of our daily lives are actually the most important ones. In Act Three, Emily, now dead and in a cemetery, is revisiting a day in her life when she turns to a fellow character who has also passed away and says about the living, “They don’t understand, do they?” It is a moving scene that speaks to how rare it is that we human beings stop to realize this truth of full awareness of life’s preciousness at the moment we are enmeshed in experiencing “the everyday”. Perhaps this rarity is why I am so often moved by poetry, literature, art, and films which remind me of this truth. It is vastly important to me that I take time to taste how wonderfully delicious life can be, even on a most ordinary day.

Today was a near perfect day in my book. It began with a much too early wake-up call when Ziva kissed my nose at 7:00am, but I will not complain as it extended the day. Within the next hour Emma, Paul, and the puppy had all jumped into our bed. My husband grumbled something about not having enough room but one of the children simply reminded him that today was Saturday. It’s a pretty regular routine to have a full bed on Saturday mornings. Snuggling and laughing with everyone in the house is a pretty great way to begin a weekend.

After everyone went off to grab breakfast, I took time to enjoy my solitude. I caught up on emails and Facebook status updates then jumped in the shower. I felt the warmth of the hot water and I took time to look outside into my backyard where my favorite adirondack chairs are perched near the woods. My husband ran Emma to play practice and I eventually made my way downstairs. The house was quiet. I puttered around the kitchen, made myself breakfast and caught up on a television show or two that had been taped during the previous week.

Around 1:30pm Eric, Paul, Ziva, and I jumped into the van to head to Paul’s soccer game. It was a beautiful day to be outside and the afternoon was made even more exciting when Paul scored two goals and did an awesome job as goalie for awhile. I took in Paul’s face as he played with his friends against the other team which was also made up of his close friends. How excited he’d been to play his friends. I smiled. He was in his element and that was thrilling to watch. Ziva and I were visited by Scout and his owner Mr. Clement and the two dogs happily played with one another while we proud parents stood and compared notes on puppyhood. It’s been so nice to have a puppy help me in my own relationships with people in my town. I find I come out of my shell more naturally when the focus can be on my puppy.

The game ended and Paul made his way over to ask for permission to head off to a friend’s house. Eric and I returned home, said hello to Emma who had arrived home from play practice then checked movie times. Within 30 minutes we were on our way to see a matinee. Sure, I’d have been happy to stay at home for the rest of the day but I knew it’d been awhile since Eric and I had gone out to see a movie together. We enjoyed the movie then went shopping next door. I found three dresses at a discount price and a sweater too. Oh how I love fashion. We found a few Halloween decorations as well and a jacket for Eric. It was a successful trip! I am sure that shopping isn’t one of Eric’s favorite escapades but it was so gracious of him to let me scour the aisles for a deal.

Before heading back home we stopped for dinner. We took time to catch up and enjoyed one another’s company before Emma called with a request to get picked up early from the football game. She and her best friend were cold. We finished dinner, drove back home and found Emma and her friend Savannah chilled at the field’s entrance. We got them inside, cranked up the heat, and headed home. Paul would arrive home too within the hour and soon we’d all be safe and sound and warm.

I headed to bed and thought back on my day with my family. It truly had been a great day, full of those small moments that make life so gratifying. I am grateful to this blog, to this daily writing and reflection I am making time to do. I am striving to fully understand and to appreciate the “seemingly insignificant happenings” of my daily life, how they all play a part in who I am, what I treasure, what I have left to do for others in this world. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late to appreciate all that I have. Mr. Williams, thank you for bringing the role of Mr. Keating to life. I will continue to share this movie with my students. Mr. Wilder, thank you for your poignant play. It moves me each time I see it. And Emily? I do understand...as much as I possibly can...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Fierce Competitor

For Friday, October 14, 2011

I zipped home to pick up Paul and off we went to bring Emma to her volleyball game at a school over an hour away. She had missed the team bus having arrived back at her school an hour or so late after having attended an All-State music audition so I had told her I’d bring her to her game. Upon our arrival at the school, Emma went to join her team and Paul grabbed a slice of pizza at the snack bar. The two of us sat down in the bleachers, watched the end of the JV game and awaited Emma’s Varsity Team to begin their game, their last game of the season.

New to playing as a full-fledged team as opposed to being at “club status” as they were last fall, the team has had its challenges but have done well in their matches. Emma was solid in her role as setter and aided her team well. It’s been good to have her enjoying the game and the team experience. She has taken a few young players under her wing and has demonstrated strong leadership qualities. She makes me proud every day, but to see her determination, competitive drive, and desire to improve reminds me of what a fierce young lady she is, and that makes me happy.

In the final minutes of the game, as she was setting the ball, she let the ball hit her left hand farther back than it should have. Her thumb was pushed backward and she sprained the ligaments there. She let the ball come back down on her injured hand before signaling to her coaches that she needed them to call a time-out. She went to the side and was in great pain. It may have been what the coaches called a “typical setter’s injury” but that did little to comfort her as she saw her hand swell up. After some confusion that put her back in the game so she could be formally taken out of the game, she settled on the bench with a bag of ice. It was only then that I realized the reason for the time-out. I mouthed, “Are you okay?” from across the gym and Emma nodded back to me. Luckily, the swelling did subside and a day or so later she would have only a dull ache.

Although I played one year of tennis in high school, I did not have much of a career in sports and I missed the experience of being on a team, working together to form a strategy or enjoying the thrill of a win. I think I would have enjoyed having joined a team sport for I know I have that same competitive spirit and that same level of determination and desire to improve. I had almost gone out for the softball team when I was a freshman in high school but I had been intimidated by upperclassmen who were so much stronger than I was at the time. I wish I’d known then what I know now, that I would have been supported and groomed by those girls. I would have had an Emma who would have taken me under her wing and who would have shown me the ropes. Ah well. I don’t have many regrets in my life but not trying out for a team sport is one of them.

Still, there is something most rewarding about watching my daughter accomplish something in her young life that I have never done. It is a reminder to me that I have raised a confident and strong young woman who is ready to take on the world. Sure, there may be an injury or two along the way, but the bruises will fade and any swelling will subside. She will forever stand on her two feet and embrace others around her as she fights for the win. I will forever be there to cheer her on from the sidelines. And who knows? Maybe she’ll even inspire me to finally join a team myself someday. After all, it’s never too late to go after the dreams of yesteryear.

Each Day's Opportunity

For Thursday, October 13, 2011

Last January as the new year began I made myself a promise. After debating whether or not to go snowshoeing with my 16 year old dog Charlie, I had looked at her and had said, “No expectations. No fear. Let’s just see what happens”. Our trek into the woods that day had been different than our previous jaunts. Charlie moved more slowly. But I am so glad that we took that trip together for it would be our last one. Charlie died a month later.

Charlie’s death was combined with the sad reality I faced this summer over the declining health of another loved one. This has placed me in a state of grief for much of 2011. To say it has been a difficult year is an understatement. Yet as the cool air of autumn returns and thoughts of another winter approach, I return to my mantra to face whatever is on the horizon without expectation and without fear. I cannot keep my promise without shedding regular tears it seems, but that’s okay. I have long been a woman who cries. I make no apologies for that. It’s who I am. It’s how I am built. Although I sometimes wish I could be a bit more stoic at times, such as when I can barely get through the singing of a song I am singing at mass, I do not wish to be any less sensitive than I am. I feel deeply. I live richly. I experience all of life fully, the lows and the highs.

Years ago, back in the spring of 1999, I began telling people that I was pregnant with my third child. However I knew it was actually my fourth child. I had miscarried “Joy” in October of 1998. A few people who knew this were a little surprised that I had conceived another baby so soon after the loss, but one friend of mine, a coworker named Sue, told me how much she admired me for being strong in taking a chance again so soon. I never forgot her words of support. I felt understood and accepted. My son Paul was born in November. I cannot say that the months before his birth were completely free from fear or expectation, however I felt inner peace as I awaited Paul’s arrival. The ten months I spent at home with him from November to September were some of the happiest of my entire life. I will never forget our first spring together. Putting Paul in the stroller, he and I went for daily walks. I observed the buds on the trees and the brook flowing with the water from the snow melting off the mountain. I came home and rocked my baby for hours in the recliner. I took it all in. As my maternity leave came to an end I began to panic. I was saddened to have my maternity leave end. I did not know what to expect as I returned to work and yes, I was filled with fear. I cried and wished for more time. I needn’t have worried. My nearly 12 years with my son have been filled with great happiness. What a precious boy he is.

We are given great gifts in our lives, yet we are quick to ask for more...more gifts or at least more time. But each day gives us the opportunity to take note of our world and to hold our loved ones. As I approach the end of 2011 I am again reminding myself to savor the miracle of each day and to savor the time I have within each hour I have in front of me. Although a part of me is anxious to put 2011 behind me, I will not deny myself of the 75 days that remain in the year. I will live those days richly and give thanks for the time I have with my loved ones.

Within Reach

For Wednesday, October 12, 2011

After five days away on a business trip, I was happy to pull into my driveway. I parked, got out to get my bags and heard, “Mom’s home!” My husband opened the door and out ran my puppy Ziva. I’d all but forgotten about the puppy when I was away. Seeing her wiggling with excitement to see me, I laughed. “How could I have forgotten you?” I asked her.

She escorted me into the house where I received a big hug from Eric. As I moved my suitcase into the next room I heard giggling and saw that Emma and Paul had hidden themselves behind the glass door. They broke out laughing as I walked by and Emma quickly grabbed the cowboy hat off my head. “Did you get me something?” Paul asked. “Yes, it’s in my bag. Just a second”, I replied.

It was late. Within minutes of receiving their little surprises upon my arrival home, the kids headed off to bed, each of them giving me a few “I’m glad you’re back” hugs. I headed upstairs to unpack and my husband followed me upstairs and listened to my stories of my trip as I put things away. “I’m so glad you’re home”, he must have said about five times before bed. I’d continue to hear this for the next several days.

It was nice to have an opportunity to be missed, but how good it is to be home with my loved ones again. How good it is to be within reach.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Butterfly’s Dance

For Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Although it might seem contrary to my introverted nature, as my husband is well aware, I have always been a flirt. The amusing thing is, so is he. So we understand one another. Back in high school, where we first met and began dating, he and I flitted from friend to friend with those subtle nuances that only those most familiar with flirting truly understand. Of course, in this day and age, I always find it necessary to add that flirting, if done right, is always innocent and is only practiced under careful and considerate circumstances. In fact, if you are NOT a flirt, you probably should stop reading this particular blog entry for it seems that non-flirts are quick to negatively judge. We flirts only seem to be understood fairly by fellow flirts. But if you are continuing to read this, let me tell you that it is also best to flirt only with other fellow flirts and only in appropriate settings. Flirting at work for example is certainly not recommended. (But of course, Steve B. and Peter S. were exceptions for me! Ha!) I tend to fall back to my flirting self when I least expect to do so. Sometimes it occurs when I am bored. Sometimes it’s an older man who flirts with me first. (Note: In the old days, flirting was often referred to as being charming with the opposite sex. Believe me, I know because I grew up with a very charming father!). And sometimes I fall into flirting when I am exploring a new setting.

Today I met two fellow flirts. We did not identify ourselves in this way of course, but let me assure you, I did some flirting today. One man and I found ourselves cracking jokes and laughing together at the back of our classroom where we attended our final day of classes at Rice University. It was obvious to the two of us that our last few hours of class were boring us; after nearly 20 hours of instruction in two and a half days’ time, we were ready for the class to end. He and I had been paired together by our instructor two days’ earlier to practice a poetry exercise. We discovered we were both new to the program we were being trained for and that truth had created a bond. As our time in class continued, we realized we also had the same sense of humor. What can I say? That similarity is always attractive. On that last day, we turned to flirting out of desperation to pass the time. Of this I am sure.

The second flirt was a worker at the Natural Science Museum. I’d gone up to him to ask a question about the Butterfly exhibit and had made a joke that he had laughed much too heartily in response to. He ended up following me around the exhibit at first until I gave him a few subtle clues that our flirting time had come to an end. Fellow flirts also realize this: flirting is not fun and is therefore to be ended when one flirt decides it is. To this man’s credit, he knew the rules of flirting; he left me to enjoy the butterflies.

Watching the butterflies, what was said to be a thousand of them in this beautiful solarium, I thought of how lovely it is that these beautiful creatures emerge from their safe little cocoons to graze amongst flowers of color and to fly so prettily, often chasing one another as if dancing. As if flirting.

I took a seat on one of the wooden benches inside the butterfly garden and after a few minutes, a lovely rice paper butterfly landed on my sneaker. I had been hoping one of the butterflies would land on me but I knew that if it were to happen, it would happen by the butterfly’s choice. It could not be a forced meeting. I sat and admired the butterfly and made the decision I would not move to leave until he had flown off my foot. When he did leave, I too took to flight to admire other beauties, staying clear of the museum worker of course!

The flittering and fluttering of a butterfly is a thing of beauty, as is the experience of flirting. In the act, we flirts leave our safe cocoons, spreading our wings, making our way for the fun of the dance, looking for colorful places to land. We will not stay long, but our meetings and our dances, if taken in the way they are intended, are moments of innocent and sweet affection. We wish only to make connections, to alight upon another for a short while we make our way through life.

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Operation Cowboy Boots

For Monday, October 10, 2011

Anticipating my business trip to Houston, Texas, a trip that would take me away from my family on a holiday weekend, I wasn’t happy. I would miss my daughter’s fall break and a three day weekend. Suffering the lingering effects of a cold and anxious over not having flown in 18 years, my mood wasn’t good. But I wasn’t sulking. Instead I felt this strange disappointment in my mood. My sour emotions were not me. I wanted to be excited. I was recognizing the fact that this rare trip to an educational conference at Rice University was an opportunity to travel, something beloved I had always enjoyed doing, and had not done in quite some time,

To improve my mood I was determined to find something exciting to look forward to on this trip. I would be in classes for most of my time, but I knew that I had a few evenings and a full afternoon of freedom before I’d catch a flight home. I gave thought to my two male coworkers who would join me on this trip. I would not be traveling with fellow female colleagues so a trip to a day spa or endless shopping adventures did not seem practical. What could I do? What could I look forward to? Sure, there were some nice museums but I needed something in particular that would get me completely charged up for this trip. Then, it came to me. Boots. Cowboy boots. I made a pledge to come back home with a great pair of cowboy boots.

That’s all it took. I grew positively giddy. I felt myself breathe deeply and a big smile spread across my face. I’d been to Houston 35 years earlier when my Mom and I joined my Dad on one of his business trips. Later when they went again without me, my Mom had returned home telling me how she had almost purchased a pair of green cowboy boots for me. “But I wasn’t sure if you’d like them”, she’d said. Oh, I’d been so very disappointed. But here was my chance to get myself a pair! Within minutes of sharing my new goal on Facebook I even had the name of a recommended store to find.

I scoured the store’s website and felt the adrenaline building. Forever a lover of fashion I went from page to page and made mental notes of styles I liked. I sent the link to my 16 year old daughter remembering that she had long wanted an authentic Texan cowboy hat. She sent back a few images of the hats she liked. Operation Cowboy Boots was now a reality. I would carve out the time and the means to find this store. I would be successful in my mission.

To my delight, coworkers Kevin and Matt joined me on my shopping adventure. Taking a taxi to Cavender’s, I happily went off to find Emma’s hat. Then I made my way over to the boots. I tried on several pairs but it was the first pair of boots that I fell in love with. They were not the green ones my Mom had almost come home with years earlier; they were even better. They were RED. Red has always been my power color. This pair was meant to be.

While I’d been shopping, Matt found me. I had my red boots on but had not quite settled on them at that moment. “You have the biggest smile on your face right now”, he said to me. “It’s really nice to see”. It was true. I was happy.

Operation Cowboy Boots was a true success. Mission Accomplished.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Research and Development

For Sunday, October 9, 2011

In my K-12 years I was always a good student, but more importantly than that, from an early age, I loved learning. Each year I looked forward to preparing for our annual science fair when I would select a topic and go all out to win one of the top three prizes. It was always a big deal, the annual science fair, or at least it was to me. One year, I won a prize for my study and the creation of a clay dolphin that I painstakingly crafted complete with teeth made from an Elmer’s Glue formula. Another year I designed a winning project centered around my study of the rocks and minerals I had “mined” from Ruggles’ Mine in New Hampshire. In 7th grade I studied my new fascination with solar architecture and, once again, won a prize for my elaborate visuals and thorough display of understanding of how homes could be designed so as to use the sun for heat. I finished my science fair career in 8th grade with a first place win for my project on contact lenses. I’d worn them myself for two years by that time. That year’s win convinced my mom that I should become an optometrist. I would not go on to study science, but I did transfer my enthusiasm from science fairs to academic study of music, theater, literature, and education.

In high school and later in college, crafting research papers was an endeavor I always thoroughly, if strangely, enjoyed. Long before the internet made research nearly instantaneous, spending time in a library with a pile of books or microfiche reels was a thrill for me.

I got my Bachelor of Arts degree in English and my Masters of Science in Education degree four years later while starting a family and teaching full time. Every so often, I get the opportunity to be a student in the traditional sense of the word and to learn something new. I return to college to take courses for re-certification and a few years back, I completed a summer institute associated with the National Writing Project. I did training for the teaching of Advanced Placement English Language & Composition too and now I am training to implement International Baccalaureate of Language A--English. My continuing education has taken me to various college campuses and each time I step onto the grounds I want more. I want more time in a college setting, even if with research at the push of a button, I can routinely immerse myself in information. But in truth, I am lucky to be employed at a career where research is a daily part of my job. The research I do is implemented routinely in the classroom when I teach.

There are many sides to me, the side that adores research, the side that loves to read, and yes, even the side of me that sometimes needs to force myself to put down the books and laptop computer. I push myself to go outside instead and to live and learn experientially, but after nearly 44 years in various classrooms, there is no denying that I am still “in school” for a reason. I am thrilled when I unearth the knowledge of others and when I am challenged to present it in creative ways. I want my enthusiasm and my love for learning to be contagious in my roles as a mother and as a teacher. For research is fine on its own, but is of more value, I believe, when it is developed to serve others.

Flying Solo

For Saturday, October 8, 2011

Nearly 18 years ago my husband and I took a flight to Denver, Colorado to attend my best friend’s wedding. As her matron of honor I was hustled here and there--to the salon, to the rehearsal dinner. My husband took this time and toured the city. I did not see much of it myself, but I did have a nice time with my friend and her family on her very special day.

I remember arriving back at the airport where my parents greeted both my husband and I with my two year old daughter in their arms. I had only been gone a few days but we had been across the country from her and it had actually been the very first time either my husband or I had left her. Our reunion was sweet. Little did I realize then, that in her next 16 years, I would not stray from her side again for more than a night or two, and never more than a couple of hours’ distance by car.

She, however, would come to leave us. At the age of 18, Sydney wanted to travel to California. I did NOT like the idea at all. However, I realized she was indeed 18 and I knew I had to let her go. After making sure that she would be met at the airport by her friend who would then not leave her side until she was safely back on the plane to return home, I gave my okay to the trip. Did you know however that you can track an airplane’s flight, minute by minute, online?! She, of course, had a grand time. It was her first independent adventure and I understood her excitement and could not help but smile.

Today, for the very first time in 18 years, I took another flight. Asked to attend a curriculum workshop in Houston, Texas, I made my own independent flight across the country. Luckily I had two work colleagues to help me find my way through airports as much has changed in 18 years in terms of security and computerized check-ins. I am in Houston for several days. My husband did not accompany me and with Sydney on her fall break from college, I again left her home, along with her two younger siblings. It felt very strange.

However, as I made those flights and checked into my hotel room with that big king sized bed that would be all mine for four nights, I was smiling. I am on my own independent adventure. I may be apart from my loved ones and anxious to return to them, but I have always enjoyed my own company. It has been rather nice to practice flying solo once again.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ripening Potential and Possibilities

For Friday, October 7, 2011

In the past few days, to a few different people, I have spoken of my mother and of my role as the youngest child of five. But today something dawned on me that I had never given thought to before. It’s not that I hadn’t realized that my Mom had me when she was 40 years old or that when I left for college she was 58, for surely I’d long ago done the math. But rather, during my teens and twenties, my mom had already been through the “teenships” and the “roaring twenties” with four other children before me and thusly, she seems to have been much wiser, mature, or at least more experienced than I am presently at age 43.

I am similar to Mom in many ways, but as is to be expected, in some aspects of who I am, I am quite different. Likewise, my children have some of me in them, and in other ways, they are unique unto themselves. It’s a healthy admission that we can share so much similarity and yet be so starkly foreign to one another. But I also got thinking today that I was not around when my mother was going through her 20s and 30s, and although I certainly have great memories that flash into my mind from the time I was a young child until the age of 10, I really did not pay close attention to her 40s in terms of how she handled the process of aging. Although I do well remember her use of Oil of Olay, but no, let’s face it. I’m not talking about staving off a few wrinkles.

My 40‘s have only just begun and although I have always been a very contemplative woman, I seem to be giving a lot of thought recently to the circle of life and to my own journey. There are aspects about myself that I feel I should have figured out by now and yet I struggle to know what it is I want for my next steps. I’ve always considered myself a mesh of contradictions and I suppose in recent years I have been trying to make sense of those seemingly opposite sides of myself. How can I be a confident actress and singer when I take to the stage yet be so introverted and painfully shy in many social situations? How can I be someone who wishes she could stay at home and dwell in domesticity yet wish to travel the world to see and to experience every corner of the world in creative ways? How can I want to be a daughter that wishes only to crawl into her mother’s lap again for comfort and security, yet want to be the mother who protectively nurtures and rocks her own children for hours on end? And how can I be both grieving and celebrating the love and the loss of growing older?

The memoir/travelogue Traveling with Pomegranates continues to speak to me. It is a perfect in its shape, its story, and its wisdom. With an aging mom and two daughters ages 16 and 19, I relate to Sue Monk Kidd and to her mother whom she speaks of, and to her daughter Ann, her co-author. I am completely wrapped in the thoughts and/or the lives of these three women, each generation.Not a page of the book is turned without my stopping to nod or to sigh or to even wipe away a tear. “This is my womanhood”, I think to myself. This is me. I am all three women rolled into one, and yet I am my own individual self. Kidd's pomegranate discussions link back to this theme of perpetual motherhood and the expanded metaphors are not lost on me. In some cultures the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility. In others the fruit represents paradise and abundance. Still, what the story and reflections are offering me is this: My journey as a mother and as a daughter is rich and beautiful.

In their book Sue says her daughter is “new potential in search of ripening” and that she is “ripening in search of new potential”. I look at my own daughters as they are in the midst of finding the women they will grow to become and I am excited for all of the choices and possibilities that await them. I look at my son and at almost 12 he too is growing and maturing. I am still needed on a daily basis in the lives of my younger children and I am more than content with that, but I know the next 7 years will pass more quickly than the last 7 did. Like Monk Kidd is as she crafts her book, I will then be turning 50 years old. I’ll be wiser, more experienced and more mature...or at least I hope so. But I am wondering whether I’ll continue to ponder my journey and to question the paths I am walking. Something tells me, it will not matter whether I am 43 or 50 or 150, I’ll still be full of contradictions yet still full of potential, choices, and possibilities.