Thursday, December 31, 2015

More AND Less

This year I was brave and fierce! Yay me!
It’s New Year’s Eve! And once again, I have felt the pull of the keyboard and the empty page. I have scribbled lists of goals, set up new calendars with motivational mantras, pledged changes, and vowed to start anew on old challenges. There’s the cliche goal I set several times a year to get more fit. (I’ve experienced both success and setbacks with this goal). I pledge to save more money and to get better organized. I promise to read more, to write more, and to go to bed earlier. I vow to try new things--a new sport, another hobby, another creative pursuit. I speak both of taking more time for solitude while pushing myself to get out and socialize more. Now, I do see the logic of those who will note my habitual goal setting and who will think, “This is evidence that resolutions don’t work. Why isn’t she succeeding with these goals she keeps setting time after time?” But that’s the thing. My resolutions each season--yes, I make resolutions each January, June, and September--are the evidence of my unfailing attempt to better myself. It’s not always a focus upon the end result. It’s about the journey and the renewal of hope and optimism. It’s about acknowledging my humanity and my stumbles and applauding my tenacity and determination to always try again.

As 2015 comes to a close I have taken time to reflect on the lessons of the past year and I will share with you a few of my conclusions; I am proud of my continued strength and grace in the face of adversity, of my childlike glee and gratitude for the many blessings of this world, of my work to understand and to forgive myself and others, of my courage to try new things (I joined a color run this year and got a pixie cut!) and of my unflinching determination to pull myself back on track with the many goals I have for this life of mine. I have no desire, no need to slam the door on the old year for it taught me to recognize how I’ve grown wiser, happier, and more at peace. Therefore, I want 2016 to be an extension of the strides I made in 2015--to do more--giving, singing, adventuring, listening, relaxing, laughing, sleeping, creating, experimenting, and to do less--worrying, self-critiquing, procrastinating--to BE more--generous, positive, authentic, inspired, patient, and to BE less--achy, tired, overwhelmed, and to HAVE more--dinners at the table, energy, time outside, water, prayer, and to HAVE less--wastefulness, clutter, doubt, sugar, diet soda, anxiety. 

The phrase “More or Less” has been rattling around in my brain over the past several days. It’s funny how each new year a word or phrase comes to me to give direction to my desire to start anew. So, I’m trusting the phrase and over the next several weeks or perhaps months, I’m going to ask myself, “More? or Less?” This can and will be applied to each of the goals I work towards and at the end of the day or even at the end of a particular project, I’ll ask myself the questions. 

I wish you all MORE joy, health, comfort, and security in the year ahead! I wish you LESS turmoil, frustration, and heartbreak. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

P.S. I keep thinking there is MORE I should add to this. But I’m going to trust that perhaps this is enough, that LESS is MORE. :) 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Dear Bob

Dear Bob, 

Today I sang for you and for your beautiful family and a large congregation of friends and fellow parishioners. They orchestrated a lovely service and I wanted to do you proud, to give you the sweetest send-off my voice could offer. Thank you, Neault family for giving me this honor of cantoring Bob’s funeral mass. Bob, thank you for two decades of generous support of me as not only a fellow parent, but as an artist and writer. I’m remembering today how you introduced me to a job writing blog posts for a local realtor--a venture I’d never even considered, and in doing so, you earned me this bright yellow chair I’m sitting in right now as I type this. Thank you for the display of faith that you’ve always had in me. 

You and I brought our families to Naples at the same time. Saying this is my way of acknowledging the fact that we are transplants in this southwestern Maine community. I’ve always been incredibly proud of my hometown of Millinocket and although you are originally from Massachusetts, we share that quality of “hometown pride”. We weren’t born and raised here, yet we both have made this beautiful town our home. You may have arrived here a little sooner, in 1991, whereas we arrived in January 1992. We didn’t meet right away. That’s probably my fault for I had our family attending mass in Windham until it was brought to my attention that the little brown church up on High Street in Bridgton was our town’s parish. We made the switch and I’m so glad to have done so, for especially on a day like today, I cannot imagine the past twenty + years without my St. Joseph’s family. I’m going to miss seeing you there each week. I’ll miss listening to you lectoring and I’ll miss your smile, your wink, your sense of humor, your wisdom, and your steadfastness--amongst so many of your other good qualities. 

Our children grew up together, were involved in the theater together, and each of them participated in various events and celebrations of mass. In the early years our kids stood side by side near the altar as altar boys and girls or donning robes and costumes, singing in the annual Christmas pageant. Today I listened to Danny’s words about you and I thought, “Wow. What a good man you and Anne raised. I know you’re incredibly proud of him right now, and always”. I listened as Liam and Katie sang that touching song in tribute to you and I thought, “There it is. Right here--the strength, all-encompassing love that a father like you deserves to have”. I felt very blessed and honored to stand by your children at the piano, to hug them each and to have had the chance to say how sorry I am that they lost you but also emphasizing to each how beautiful a family they are. And thank you, Bob, you and your family have been so kind and good to my own three children and to Eric and I too, of course. Even today as Anne greeted me at the reception following the service, she spoke to acknowledge Sydney, Emma, Paul, and Eric. I’m so touched by this.

I didn’t expect to say goodbye to you so soon. I said my prayers and kept you and your family in my thoughts from the moment I heard of your stroke. I heard of your decline a few days before your death and I still held onto hope that you would pull through. I suppose it was tough for me to accept that a man so full of life, so strong and dedicated to his family and his community and to his church was being called to serve God so soon in new ways, in a new home. 

Before I headed back to Naples after your service today, I stopped at the local bookstore. Books have always been a comfort to me but in truth, what I was looking for were the interactions between our fellow townspeople. I listened to the salesclerk helping a man find a new book about coins, heard her ask a young girl if she was in the store’s book club, and I smiled as the clerk gave me a ten dollar credit I’d earned for frequenting this local business. When I arrived home, I was greeted by a letter from a dear friend of mine, a former Millinocket neighbor. His letter’s words could not have been better timed. Responding to a note I’d penned him as I anticipated another recent death in my life he wrote, “We can fear death, hate death, run from death, shout at death...death is at the doorstep but the fruit that is born out of death can make life fuller and richer. Maybe not in the moment, maybe not for awhile, but the harvest will come”. 

As we head towards another Christmas at St. Joseph’s, as I travel daily over the bridge you worked tirelessly for to aid our community, as I see our hometown of Naples ablaze in the glory of twinkling Christmas lights, as I hear God’s words each Sunday, and as I sing with the choir in the weeks, months, and years ahead, I will give thanks to you, Bob. For you, dear man, have borne much fruit here in our beloved community and we shall all reap the rewards for decades to come. 

Go forth, Bob. I’ll meet you there in our new hometown someday. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the place. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Remembering July

Inspired by an article Josh sent to me this morning, about the importance and need to make the "clackety noise" on the keyboard, I’m sharing another TBT post and these other favorite Christmas pictures. 

Christmas 2011
There are such special memories I have of the many Christmas visits with my parents over the years. Welcoming Mom and Dad as they drove in our driveway, running out to greet them with the children, and feeling as though their car doors weren’t opening quickly enough...grabbing the red and white cooler and hearing Mom say that the big cool whip container of creton was mine and that there was one inside for Kevin too, and how she made zucchini bread and pumpkin bread, and those shortbread sandwich cookies that I love. “I used pink and green frosting too!” 

“Oh you girls make such delicious food!” Dad would exclaim as the children guided him into our home. “Take our room”, I’d tell him as he asked as to where he should put the suitcases. “Oh! We get the Walker Inn Suite!?” he’d ask. “Ooooh! Such nice accomodations at this Bed and Breakfast” and we’d all laugh. 
Christmas Eve 2010

When it was time to leave for the childrens’ Mass on Christmas Eve, I’d hear Dad whistle when he saw Mom all dressed up and he’d ask the children, “Isn’t your grandmother the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?!” and when I came down the stairs, he’s whistle again and say, “Oh Anne, you look just like your mother!” 

At Mass Mom and Dad would take their seats across from the choir where Eric, the children and I would sit to sing. They would beam with pride. Returning home Mom and I prepared the annual buffet meal together with the girls’ help while the boys helped us set the table. We’d welcome Eric’s parents, brother, and grandparents too and I’d listen to Dad and Papa Paul discuss the “good ol’ days”

“You’ll have us up bright and early, I’m sure”, Dad would exclaim as he and Mom headed upstairs for the night. But before he retired, Dad would sneak into the living room to fill our stockings with pens, soaps, and chocolates. He’d wrap a few presents too and place them in the branches of our tree. 

“Oh my God! What time is it?!” he’d exclaim loudly as giggling children pushed his arm, attempting to get him up so we could send Eric downstairs to turn on the Christmas tree lights. Mom would giggle and head to grab her robe and Dad would groan and laugh as the kids begged him to rise. 

Dad was cold one Christmas morning and came out of the bathroom wearing my green fleece robe. It made me laugh when he said, “Oh! This is a good one! This will keep me nice and warm!” It became a tradition after that for him to wear one of my robes. Dad would also grab his Santa hat (he packed it in his suitcase each year) and one year I found my own. We posed for a picture. I’m grateful for that. 

Another picture I am grateful to have snapped is this one of Dad and the children waiting on the stairs for the Christmas tree lights to be turned on, the traditional “permission signal” for them to see the stockings and their presents. Forever playful, Dad took his seat on the stairs with the children. 
Christmas morning 2011

It was a beautiful last Christmas with Mom and Dad, but truth be told, every Christmas with them was special. I am so incredibly lucky to say that I missed only two with them in the 45 years I had with Dad during my lifetime, one in 2009 and one in 2012. In 2009 I cried like a child hearing that they would not be able to make it down to our home. But my daughter and I, in our sadness, began crafting a silly song to raise our spirits. As we sang the song and continued adding verses, a sense of peace came over me. I realized that as sad as I was, the love and the memories and the traditions Mom and Dad had helped my family build over the years would never fade. Our family enjoyed a very special Christmas in 2009 and again in 2012 when we again could not celebrate with Mom and Dad, we knew we’d indeed continue to have a very Merry Christmas for years and years to come. 

In January 2013 my parents called me. They had just received the shoebox of Christmas cookies I had mailed to them. There were several varieties in the box---some with chocolate, my Mom’s favorite, and some without, so Dad could enjoy them too. Hearing both of them exclaim over how wonderful it was to receive this gift of cookies made me smile. In the two Christmases since Dad’s passing, I’ve continued baking several varieties of cookies and now I take Mom’s favorites over to her at her new home and we eat a few together. 

My Dad was always so loving and affectionate, but he was also very honest. He was clear to remind me that someday he would not be around, and although I always tried hard to brush off what Mom and I called, “Dad’s morbid talk”, Dad did savor the present moment, of that there is no doubt, and taking my Christmas memories book, which he so loved reading and rereading each year, he would say, “Write it down, Anne. Write it down, so you’ll always remember”. 

Christmas morning 2011

I love you, all. <3

Christmas Eve 2014

Thursday, July 23, 2015

My Journey with Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman

I was out on my back deck having my lunch as I read the last twenty pages. After finishing Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, I cried. It cannot be a coincidence that I ended the book just as it began to rain. My nose got tingly and my eyes filled with tears. “Well done, Miss Harper Lee”, I whispered into the air. “Thank you”. 

I was teaching Freshman English when I first met Scout, Atticus, Tom Robinson, and Boo Radley. My own high school years had been devoid of reading many classic novels, much to the chagrin of my mother who never failed to remind me that she was disappointed that a certain teacher, a proponent of classic literature, had retired just short of my entering high school. So it was after I became a teacher that I was introduced to many novels that had passed me by as a student. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird quickly became a favorite and as is the case whenever I teach literature year after year, I grew to love and to fully know the characters. I even named my cat, Boo. 

Years later I came upon Charles J. Shields’ Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (2007) and I devoured it. I remember sharing my discoveries about the author with my students and with my husband. My admiration for Nelle Harper Lee grew as I read about her life, her work, her writing of TKAM, and her circle of family and friends, including the colorful Truman Capote who had inspired the funny little boy, Dill, in her famous novel. Then, last year, another book about Harper Lee was published, Marja Mills’ The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee (2014). I was halfway through the reading of this book when allegations of the book being unauthorized came to my attention. As covered in USA Today, in July 14, 2014, Harper Lee wrote: “Normally, I would not respond to questions about books written on my life. Miss Mills befriended my elderly sister, Alice. It did not take long to discover Marja’s true mission; another book about Harper Lee. I was hurt, angry, and saddened, but not surprised. I immediately cut off all contact with Miss Mills, leaving town whenver she headed this way”. I read Harper Lee’s disclaimer that she had given the author her blessing, that journalist Mills had forged this friendship with both Nelle Harper Lee and her older sister, Alice, and I began to fill ill at the thought that perhaps both sisters had been duped by someone who had used them to make a buck. I hesitated but then finished Mills’ book, cringing the whole time, and feeling unsettled in what now felt like an invasive, voyeuristic experience. 

So when I first heard of the publication of Go Set a Watchman, my first thoughts went to Miss Lee. I felt a fierce protectiveness. The recluse author who had never published any other novel was now elderly. Had she signed off on this? Were people again taking advantage of her? Was she of sound mind? Why now, Miss Lee? I felt sad at the thought that a writer who had refused to publish a second novel for decades may have been the victim of someone taking advantage of her. I wanted to say, “No. I won’t read this”, as if refusing to purchase the book would make me a better person or would do right by Harper Lee. But in early June, I preordered a copy. And a few weeks’ later, somehow having forgotten that I’d done so already, I ordered it again. That’s right. On July 14th, 2015, two copies of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee arrived on my doorstep. As I lifted the books from their packing box, I started to cry. “Are you crying?” my husband asked me. “WHY?!”  I didn’t answer him, but it was because I knew what I was holding in my hands, something I’d longed to have for decades, another chance to read the writing of Harper Lee. 

When the news first broke out about this novel’s publication, it didn’t take long before folks weighed in on the book. Confusion abounded and people corrected one another. “It’s not a sequel!” they said. “It’s actually a prequel”. “No, it’s the first draft of the novel that eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird!”  I read enough to learn that it was the novel that Harper Lee had first submitted to her editors in the 1950‘s and that with their suggestions on how the book could be reworked, Harper Lee had completed serious revisions to craft the now famous classic. 

I told myself I was going to read the book so I could further learn from the author from a writer’s point of view. Perhaps that is how I was justifying my desire to read more from Harper Lee. But thankfully, I first came across the PBS American Masters’ broadcast on July 10, 2015. This documentary of Nelle Harper Lee was full of information I already knew having read Fields’ and Mills’ biographies, but it gave me the peace of mind that Miss Lee was indeed fully cognizant of the publication of Go Set a Watchman. Her response to it? “It is what it is”. I got what I considered enough of a blessing to go at it. 

Now, before I actually started reading the book, I came across more discussion from those who read the book before me. I heard Atticus being called a racist and I saw headlines to other articles that said the novel was a “disgrace”. It had done wrong to the noble American icon,  Atticus Finch. Others say Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman should never have been published, that Atticus has been grossly tarnished. Or that To Kill a Mockingbird should have remained pure!  One reviewer on Goodreads, “Khanh”, said, “Sometimes, I want simplicity, and I want bliss in ignorance”. 

Well, there it is. If you want things simple, if you want to remain blissfully ignorant, by all means, skip this book. 

But I, for one, have no regrets having read Go Set a Watchman. From the King James Bible: For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth” (Isaiah 21:6), the verse speaks of being set on the right path and of listening to one’s conscience. Once set as the original title for To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s actually a very fitting title for this “new” book. Lee’s book, for those who are ready for it, imparts a fuller understanding of what it means to form a conscience and to be human. I have learned from Harper Lee once again. I, like Scout, believe in honesty, even when it hurts. And I, like Atticus Finch, believe in giving everyone their say, even when their beliefs go against mine. I am not afraid of the truth that all people can help me in one way or another. 

Near the end of the book, Scout’s Uncle Jack tells her, “You’ve no doubt heard some pretty offensive talk since you’ve been home, but instead of getting on your charger and blindly striking it down, you turned and ran. You said, in effect, ‘I don’t like the way these people do, so I have no time for them.’ You’d better take time for ‘em, honey, otherwise you’ll never grow...”
I can’t but help to snicker when I read of people running from this book. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone who isn’t secure in their understanding of how a writer writes or who cannot separate TKAM from its early draft force themselves to read this, but still, the irony of Uncle Jack’s words isn’t lost on me. 

Atticus Finch gives Scout another valuable lesson when he patiently allows his daughter to rail against him and his expressed beliefs. Although it was difficult to read at times, their confrontation displayed the honor of hearing one another out, of confronting difficult conversations that would otherwise eat at you from the inside. Scout more than challenges Atticus, she throws everything she has at him. And Atticus never displays hurt that would stop Scout from saying what she needs to say. He remains a gentleman. When Scout comes to the realization that she must leave Maycomb, never to return again, it is Uncle Jack who again speaks truth to her, “You’ve had a busy day. It’s bearable, Jean Louise, because you are your own person, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings--I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ‘em like all of us...We wondered, sometimes, when your conscience and his would part company, and over what....well, we know now. 

Jack explains to Scout aka Jean Louise, why he had to be the one to say all this to her, and why it could not be her father, “You wouldn’t have listened to him. You couldn’t have listened. Our gods are remote from us, Jean Louise. They must never descend to human level...(Atticus) was letting you break your icons one by one. He was letting you reduce him to the status of a human being”. 

Atticus is a literary character, beloved by all who read To Kill a Mockingbird. I will continue to love him in that book, but I can also understand the Atticus that appears in Go Set a Watchman, and although this Atticus isn’t the beloved saint of a man some wanted or needed him to continue to be, I admire the transition and the growth that the flawed Atticus allows Jean Louise. 

Miss Lee, I thank you. I thank you for showing me more of the childhood experiences of Jem, Dill, and Scout. I laughed at their “Revival” play and when Jean Louise nearly killed herself on September 30th. I thank you for the tears I shed--they were cathartic. I thank you for trusting me to see this book as a companion text to TKAM. I thank you for letting the writer within me confirm that a classic novel’s writing doesn’t happen in the first draft. I thank you for explaining that Go Set a Watchman “is what it is”, a writer’s initial exploration of characters and conscience. I thank you for embracing the suggestions made by your editors decades ago and for the work you put into this book to create from it, To Kill a Mockingbird, and I thank you for allowing me the pleasure of seeing the future journey of  many of these beloved characters, especially Scout. I like her. I like her so very much. Most of all, thank you for reminding me that “every man’s watchman is his conscience”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Commencement Speech Final

As is a tradition for my juniors, my 23 IB English students were assigned to write a commencement speech for their final "exam". I aided them as they worked on their drafts and then they asked if I would participate too. So here is my commencement speech that I'll present to them on their last day of class with me. I hope they like it.

Well, here we are! Right where we began--I’m at the front of the room and you’re almost out the door for another summer. Just like last year. I remember a pile of you pouring into my room last June to pick up the summer work. I remember the looks on your faces and my feeling that the only way for me to keep you in this course was to reassure you that you could do it. That day I tried the strategy of pointing to the few of you I’d had as freshmen, reminding you of the work and of my support of you that year. I hoped you’d remember the fun we’d had that year as well. But I wasn’t sure. There were so many of you that had never met me. I gave you my sincere smile and what I hoped would be a convincing speech about pushing yourselves to excel and knowing that you’d have a net beneath you. You did excel... and you also did falter--several times in fact. But that’s often how we learn the most important lessons. Through the ups and the downs of the year I continued to smile...sincerely. I continued to reassure you. I continued to help you up each time you stumbled and to teach you how to improve. And you did. Man oh man oh man oh man oh man....and 18 kicked ASS this year. You’ve heard me speak of great affection towards “my 10”--the first group of IBers I worked with and saw graduate in 2014. Well now I’m so very proud of my 23. Graduation next year will KILL me. 

Next year is a year leading me to my Silver anniversary. It’s going to be my 25th year of teaching. It’s a rarity these days to have teachers reach this milestone. So many leave the profession after only a few years. I’ll be honest with you. There have been some times when I’ve questioned whether I could continue. It’s never been about the work I do in my classroom--that I have always loved. It’s about the many other challenges that come with this career choice. I suppose every career professional must stop and question their path from time to time. I personally think my recommitment to this profession--the conscious decision I make each spring whether or not to sign my teacher agreement that I’ll be back for the next year, reminds me of why I choose to work through the challenges of this profession. And in my reflection on that, I realize how important it is to me to have the courage to follow my HEART and to maintain my integrity as a human being.

Atticus Finch had these characteristics in To Kill a Mockingbird. I hope you’ve read that book. He’s one of my all time favorite literary characters. The lawyer whose daughter Scout watched his every move never flinched. He knew what was right and even though his path was difficult, he never questioned what his role was or what was right. He couldn’t live with himself any other way and he couldn’t be the parent he wanted to be otherwise. 

We saw these characteristics of heart and integrity in other characters from this year’s readings. We saw August Boatwright do right by her sisters and Lily. We saw Katniss protect her sister and later Rue. Even Anna--in the midst of the black plague-- only had one night with the poppies that would give her a night’s rest for her weariness. Banquo and MacDuff suffered for choosing paths of integrity. Orwell used his deathbed to finish typing out a warning to the world, and Whitman stayed true to his heart and soul and spread his messages of acceptance, peace, and communion, even when his ideas were controversial to others. Dolores died to honor a man she was at odds with for most of the time she knew him because she was standing by her faith and she gave her life to be God’s witness and to save the life of her daughter, Mathilda. As a Mom, I completely understand that one. 

Challenges will follow us throughout our lives. And unfortunately some of them will make you realize that the challenges of high school pale in comparison. But it’s not what is thrown at us that matters, it’s how we choose to catch the challenges, to work through them, to allow them to be the building blocks for our own character. 

 I’ve had my share of challenges in my life but perhaps none as difficult in retrospect as those I have faced in these past few years. First my Mom faded away into her world with Alzheimer’s. She was best friend. My most loyal, my fiercest advocate and cheerleader. She got me. And what a beautiful thing it is to be loved unconditionally and to be accepted most wholly for the person you are. I could have used her when I then faced my own mortality and was told I needed a breast biopsy. Everything worked out okay but there were a few weeks where I did not know how my path was going to turn. My husband’s mother then died at age 67 from the spread of the breast cancer she’d fought off and on for 30 years. And then, just seven months later? My Dad died. He died two years ago on June 15th--I was five days away from the end of the school year, helping my juniors with their commencement speeches, finishing senior grades, and attending rehearsals as I was just days away from performing the lead in the musical Gypsy which held its opening night the day after my Dad’s funeral. And yes, I fulfilled my Dad’s wish of singing at his funeral and I went on stage the next night. It was the first play that my parents hadn’t been in the audience for. 

 I’ve learned that whatever rug we’re standing on can be pulled right out from underneath us with absolutely no warning, that there are no guarantees in life and that living a life with integrity and following my heart as I navigate through life is the only way I wish to live. I am so very proud of the way I have embraced the lessons that can only come from the experience of momentous challenges. I have become stronger, wiser, more loving, more patient, more grateful and appreciative. Colors are now sharper, people are more beautiful, and the little worries of life are more quickly put into perspective. But even the fiercest of warriors need to hide from the world for a few hours from time to time. Monday  I went to bed at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I cried for myself and I cried for my Dad and I cried because learning life lessons and being faced with endless challenges can be exhausting. Hey. I’m only human. Sometimes I excel and sometimes I falter. But luckily for me, I have a safety net too. It’s made up of my husband, my three beautiful children, an abundance of dear friends, and an amazing group of teenagers. 

This week I have witnessed each individual in this room walk to talk to his/her peers with great courage. Everyone spoke from the heart. Everyone spoke with integrity. I could not have received a better source of inspiration to do the same with the challenges of my days ahead. I will continue to do my best for you because not only is it the right thing to do, but you’re so dear to me now. Your reflection papers and your speeches have given me that motivation and that determination to make your senior year spectacular. Thanks for being like my Mom who “gets me”. Thanks for working to develop a work ethic like my Dad always had. Thanks for reminding me that no matter what path I go down, if I’m true to my heart and do what is right, I’ll always have an audience of well-wishers. 

Finally, when the week is over, the pace of the school schedule will subside and we’ll all have some weeks to get much needed rest. Make the most of this summer. Work hard when you need to. Get your summer reading work done too. Soak in the literature. Let it make you think. Do that work with integrity, but also take time to rest and recharge--away from anything academic. Don’t forget your summer bucket lists. Have some fun. Do what’s most meaningful for you. And please remember, we have each other. We’ve all grown stronger this year. We’ve all grown wiser. We’ve developed more courage and more heart. We can do and overcome anything that comes our way if we stick together and fight a good fight for whatever is right, for whatever is needed. If we live our days with integrity and go after whatever we believe is worth fighting for, how can next year--how can LIFE-- be anything less than spectacular?! 

And now, with your permission, let me share with you a poem. 


Ceara Shakira makes posters beyond compare
Emilie Sanborn’s got the big laugh and yes, the most stylish hair
Miss Melody has her pure and lovely voice
Why is it that you three always make the right choice?
Your work compels us, puts us to the test...
to always be creative and to inspire the rest. 
With Emily Dawkins’ consistently positive light
And with Rachael and her stain stick setting everything right
With Seth’s “Morgan Freeman-like” velvety speech
How is it not possible to have the best within reach?
The three of you never ever fail to disappoint me....
You work with that word I mentioned, INTEGRITY. 
BGar may be quiet but he’s a good guy through and through
And when I mess up, who’ll scold me? Megan--that’s always you. 
I can count on Clara for speaking the truth of what she sees
And on Amanda, Miss Amanda for now presenting with ease.
Austin has promised he’s got heart and has made a vow
And if we ever forget to laugh, Stephanie will show us how
And Jennifer will sneak into my room throughout the day
To build a better lock on my door. There has to be a way!
Next year brings me promise and some unknowns too
But thankfully next year brings back all of you. 

FOR MY 4B Class....

I’ll never forget the fun that we’ve had
or Keeley’s strong presentations whenever she thought she’d do bad. 
And I’ll never forget despite the nerves I always see
of how amazing a job Haley & Chloe did on the IOC!
Olivia’s strength? She’s got determination and style!
And Tram’s quirkiness? It never fails to make me smile
Kaelyn with her amazing ability to keep it real--
And honest adoration for Faithe is all that I feel--
There’s Max with a vocabulary he puts to good use,
And Garrett who handles all of English class’ abuse
And finally Samantha who isn’t as innocent as you might think!
You all make me proud. And I’m truly tickled pink
to have you all back for IB Literature--Year Two.
My 25th year of teaching wouldn’t be the same without you. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Winding the Clock

“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness...Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”    -E.B. White

A teacher friend of mine posted these words last night with reference to the turmoil occurring presently in Baltimore. Earlier in the evening, after I’d made a call on social media requesting prayers for loved ones in the affected area, a conversation about the unrest struck up between a former high school classmate and a former high school student of mine. Inviting deliberation on the turbulence had not been my intention and when it began, I felt a responsibility to moderate the conversation, or, at least, to acknowledge the words under my wall post. This morning, I hesitated but, as I had stated I’d do, I deleted the entire post. I wanted to avoid the hurt some of my other friends or former students might have felt in reading the remarks. I didn’t believe they were words that could help the situation in Baltimore. Although I believe that the verbal expression of conflicting ideas is often healthy, I didn’t want these words on my wall today. I had allowed them to remain overnight, had acknowledged them, given time for discussion, but now I was putting away the post and commentary. 

Still, something continued to nag at me. I’ve been reading, reflecting, absorbing, weighing the news reports, videos, and editorial commentaries. Yet, although I am a teacher who daily moderates and facilitates classroom discussions on a wide variety of topics, until now I wasn’t feeling ready to speak on the latest venue of outrage over the killing of black men by the police. Do I have any responsibility to speak to this? What should I say if my students look to me for guidance? I pondered these questions awaiting the subject to come up in the classroom. Often my teenage students pull me into discussions on our world, something I feel is a natural extension of their learning, but this didn’t happen yesterday or today.

But I’m ready now. Reading the E.B. White quote above, I’m finally nodding. White’s words remind me of what I most need to continue to do. THIS is what I believe is my role. THIS is my responsibility. THIS is what I am. Although I sometimes stumble at the task, at the very heart of my core, I’m a clock winder-upper. 

I do have remarks to make which hopefully can soar far above this week’s news of the violence in Baltimore, the earthquake devastation in Nepal, or the unfathomable power of avalanche conditions at Mount Everest. And here they are: I wind the clock not only on Sunday mornings but every morning when I push aside the bed covers that keep me warm overnight, as I place my feet on the carpet of my bedroom floor. I wind the clock whenever I hold back tears that sting--over the difficulty of being part of lives, young and old, that struggle to understand our world--its pain and confusion, its intolerance, injustice, and ignorance. I wind the clock when apathy or diversion sets in to replace despondence and defeat. Each morning’s step out of bed is a pledge I make to hold onto hope. It doesn’t matter whether I am preparing for a school day with my teens in Gray, Maine or whether I am making my way downstairs to greet my 15 year old son who is on the sofa watching another series on Netflix, or whether I am preparing another post on Facebook. I wind the clock to contribute to order, to remain steadfast, to offer opportunities for lessons, to encourage perspective, to welcome conversation, to encourage understanding, to share the good, to strengthen, to fortify. 

My words, whether written or spoken, aren’t perfect. They are perfectly imperfect but tomorrow is another day. I wind the clock of hope. May this contagion spread.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Charting a Course

Original painting by artist Laurie Justus Pace |
Although I have continued to write in other venues, I haven’t posted to this personal blog for awhile. I suppose I’ve been staying safely on the dock, choosing not to venture into the water of what has always been a place where I’ve bared my soul. With the start of a new school semester beginning on Monday, I recently began prepping for the first day of my second Advanced Creative Writing class. Looking over some of my discussion points, my first day “pep talk” if you will, I realize it has been awhile since I’ve taken stock of my own relationship with writing authentically. I haven’t taken much time to write from the heart on personal matters lately. Of that I’ve been negligent. Today I’ve decided to end the hiatus. 

It’s not that I’ve been lazy. That’s for sure. As 2015 began I renewed my fitness goals and I am feeling more confident than ever that I can reach them. I go to the gym (an average of three times a week for 60-90 minutes) and have begun an event page on Facebook (10000 steps a day/100 miles a month) where several friends and I participate in posting daily fitness achievements. I do weekday and weekend challenges with friends using our Fitbits, AND I have joined a challenge to lose 4% of my weight in 30 days. I am just 2.3 pounds away from winning my $30 back (if I can make my goal by next week...we'll see). I've been doing well to motivate myself and others and holding myself accountable to a daily calorie intake goal using myfitnesspal. This goal of weight loss and increased fitness helps strengthen my back, my overall body confidence level, and my emotional well being too. 

Emotional well being. Yes. How am I doing there? Well, I still miss my Dad (of course) and my Mom's life with Alzheimer's continues, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fill the hole of my parents being gone. Our relationship was incredibly beautiful, honest, loving, real. They were not only the best parents I could ever have hoped for, but they were also wonderful grandparents, so attentive and selflessly generous. I miss our talks. I miss their stories. I miss their wisdom. I miss how they rooted for me. I miss the fun and the laughter of our time together. But I honor both of them by accepting that life goes on. My siblings and I are tending to my Mom, and I know I've grown stronger and wiser and thus happier since the aftermath of June of 2013 when we lost Dad. I use all that my parents taught me by their example to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good person. I continue to use writing, reading, exercise, cooking/baking, music, my faith, and teaching to enrich my life and to provide me with purpose. My husband and our three kiddos continue to be very close and I'm secure in our love for one another. My time with them and my solo time working around the house, enjoying nature, and playing and cuddling with my sweet pets contributes to my overall well being. I have good friends and family members who are not only loving and supportive, but who are fun and make me laugh daily. I’m relaxed. I’m excited for the future. And I’m most grateful for my life.

Continuing with my fitness goals is very important to me. When I get to my goal weight and desired fitness level, if you’ll excuse the pun, I’m going to STEP in new directions. I’m going to learn how I can do better to support the efforts of others who want and need to lose weight for their physical and emotional well being. I'm going to try new sports and new fitness adventures. But I’ve also been thinking of other aspirations I have and how and when I want to work to achieve them. So, all in all, I think I now know how I can return to writing as this second semester begins with my new students. I’ll take time to write with my teens and to explore those non-fitness goals of mine. There are many.

I’m in such a good place right now. And yes, I have proof of that. I feel the proof each night as my head hits the pillow. Life is good. No days are perfect, of course, but I can now take in stride whatever unexpected wind blows in my direction. I adjust my sails accordingly. I no longer grapple the sides of the boat in fear. I no longer mourn the previously charted course. For me, it’s all about having the confidence in knowing who I am, what I am made of, and where I am going from here. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Page 1

I love New Year’s Day. I love the idea of a fresh start. A new beginning. A blank page. Over the past several days I have enjoyed hearing everyone’s goals for the future and reflections on the past. I’ve had some nice conversations with my kids and my husband. I have read folks’ writings online and heard them talk on television. I even smile at the cynicism when some share that. I understand the tendency for all the reflection and resolution making to sound cliche. But for the most part, there’s such hopefulness as people look forward, and wisdom as people look back. I love being a part of all that.

I’ve been thinking of the past twelve months and looking ahead too. On January 1, 2014 I began a “One Line A Day” memory book. Set up like a five year diary that I once had when I was a child, the book invites me to pen a condensed recording of events each day. The small space to write reduces the pressure to write and after 365 days, I now have completed year one. Today I’ll begin at the start of the book again, for year two and I’ll be able to see what I was doing, thinking, or feeling the previous year on that date. For example, looking at the journal now I see that at the start of 2014 I had a bad cold, began reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, and due to snow we had three additional days of vacation, delaying school until January 7th. 

At the start of 2014, after hearing Father Sam talk at Mass, I adopted three words of inspiration: Courage. Faith. Perseverance. I thought of those words often throughout the year and as December came to a close, I’ve pawed through the pages of this journal book and I must acknowledge that those words served me well. I was definitely courageous this year. First and foremost, my biggest challenge was in pushing forward in a new year that for the first time in my life began without my Dad. I got my feet steady underneath me and held onto faith that all the changes in my life were making me stronger. I’ve persevered and have come to trust God’s timing like I never have done before. After struggling to settle my brain in the second half of 2013, I was able to relax and read more books than ever before in 2014, finishing 36 in twelve months’ time. I accepted a writing gig and was paid for sharing my thoughts! I listened to my instincts and quit the job a few months later, but not until I had earned enough to treat myself to a pretty yellow chair that now sits in my bedroom, serving as a reminder to myself that I will always find wondrous new opportunities when I seek them. 

2014 brought me to my firstborn’s graduation from college and her move to a new state.  It brought me back to the beach, at both the ocean and at a lake just 10 minutes from home. It brought me back to the dock at camp where again I learned that life goes on and that my parents’ absence is only physical. They are forever a part of me. 2014 brought my son to his first year of high school. It brought me a new puppy and another couple of “firsts” as I’ve never owned two dogs at the same time before and have never owned a small dog. The year brought me opportunities to do random acts of kindness which were so much fun. 2014 was the year I undertook documenting 100 days of happiness, 30 days of gratitude, and 10000 steps a day/100 miles a month. It brought me back to the gym, to counting steps with a Fitbit, and it led me to organize a supportive online fitness group too! The year brought me a new pixie cut, a new professional teaching blog, and the pride of seeing my first group of International Baccalaureate students successfully pass their English program. 

The year brought me continued unconditional love as my husband and I celebrated 26 years of marriage. It brought me many beautiful moments with my elderly Mom. It brought me more adventures with my three children and lots and lots of warm embraces. And more puppy snuggles too.

Over the past few days I have gone on several walks in my neighborhood. Some of those walks have taken place in the morning when the sky is bright. Others have been taken in the glow of the moon and the stars. With the children home for the holidays, in the midst of a full house, the walks have allowed me reflection time. And they have reminded me of the one thing that 2014 most brought to me. Peace.

I don’t know what 2015 will bring. I haven’t set any resolutions per se, and I haven’t selected any new guiding words of inspiration, but I do plan to continue in the direction I’m going. I’m feeling good. I’m happy. I’m excited for the future. I’ve got some things to work on but I’ve got confidence and patience to continue to trust in God’s timing. Whether you've taken time to reflect, set goals, or snicker at those of us who do, I wish you all the happiest of new years.  Happy page 1.