Yesterday I was listening to a report on the radio about a study on the effects of having happy friends. It found that happy people cluster together. (And, to the opposite effect, unhappy people cluster together. No surprise.) It also found that having one happy friend can increase your happiness by 7-9%. Not sure how they gauge that, but I figured I had at least 15 happy friends, so that makes me at least 100% happier in life. Thanks for increasing my Happiness Factor.
Now it is time for a report of the mundane activities of my happy life.
Several things I discovered this week:
First off: It is December. I have a classroom full of six year olds who know (cue music) "Santa's on his way, he's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh. And every mother's child will try to spy, to see if reindeer really know how to fly...." Which does not leave enough spare brain activity to write sentences that start with capitals and end with periods, or to complete a 100s chart in math with all the 3s and 5s facing in the correct direction. Not that it matters right now. We had assemblies 4 mornings this week (and I was in charge of one of them) and Holiday Musical practices three afternoons. Let's continue to hide from the parents that not a lot of learning goes on during December. I'm just reporting the facts. Because I am a happy friend.
I was told "If X does not stop throwing things at the audience, he will not be allowed to participate in the Christmas Musical". This would make a wonderful title for a short story. (These kids just keep handing me free material.)
Faculty Christmas Parties of elementary teachers involve alcohol. I am in my 50s. I do not know why this fact still surprises me. I think it is because of the time in 1968 at Robert E. Lee Elementary in Austin, Texas when I pushed open the teacher's lounge door without knocking and found my beloved fifth grade teacher Miss Sanders SMOKING. It was a dark day for me. I found out teachers were not perfect. The upside to Faculty Parties is there are always a lot of great dishes involving too much butter and cream cheese. (And of course, let's give a shout out to our Social Chairman J! At last year's party we wore our worst Christmas sweater.Mine was weighted down by approximately 20 pounds of sequins in the shape of a poinsettia. It was a gift from the student of ANOTHER teacher who passed it off to me. I passed it off to Goodwill on the way home from the party. This year, J suggested we all wear our favorite Christmas earrings. We are teachers. We have a lot of "special occasion" earrings. I think J said she laid hers out and had 14 pair. The only challenge here is taking them off to let your earlobes have a breather so you don't look like a Zulu by the end of December.)
There is a tipping point to Holiday Goodwill. A music teacher who tells teachers, "You only have to watch your students for 15 minutes" before the evening version of the Holiday Program...and then sends out a memo to parents that the children should be "dropped off in their classroom 30 minutes early" and then picked up "from the classroom after the other grade is finished an hour later" needs to know that her days at Holiday Staff Parties may be limited. Our compromise may be using the gym as the Holding Tank before the program, and then putting the parents in charge when their children exit the stage. Because I will be home in my jammies by that time.
Christmas in an Empty Nest takes on a whole new timeline. If the kids are not going to be home until December 24, then the tree and decorations do not have to be up until December 24! That just freed up my entire month. My sister R helped me get all the Christmas Stuff out of the attic this week. (Several things I learned there: next year R wants to be the one handing the stuff DOWN from the attic...apparently, I have a slippery grip when things are aimed at her pretty little head. I may just keep the holiday stuff in a closet in the house from now on to avoid the yearly pilgrimage up to the attic. And (how sad is this?) last year I gave a LOT of Christmas Stuff to Goodwill that the flown-the-nest children did not want. I actually wrote myself a note in big letters and packed it away in the boxes so I would remember "THE ANGELS WERE DONATED TO GOODWILL IN 2007." In my defense, I'm sure it saved me a lot of fruitless searching this year.)
What is not to love about Gift Cards as Christmas gifts? I can do all my shopping in one place at one time for the out of town friends and relatives. And these gifts can be mailed with one stamp. So I do not have to stand in That Line at the Post Office. (I still had to stand in That Line for ONE HOUR yesterday because I got a registered letter that turned out to be NOTHING THAT MATTERED and I may bill the sender for My Time. But I'm not bitter. I'm the Happy Friend. Hohoho.)
Last year's Josh Groban "Noel" tape is still as wonderful as it was last Christmas. (Thanks, K!)
If you are offered the choice of the December Church Ladies' Friday Night Dinner or Saturday Morning Brunch, choose the morning brunch. What was I thinking by going to a dinner at 7:00 pm after a December week in first grade? On a real night that is 2 hours past dinner time, 2 hours before bedtime and 2 hours I would have already spent in my favorite flannel pjs. When I could have been oh so fresh as a daisy at the Saturday Brunch.
My husband and I want to do the Christmas Stuff we used to do with the kids. We had a great lineup for years when they were home: The Georgetown Christmas Stroll, The Salado Christmas Stroll, the Austin Trail of Lights, 37th Street in Austin...You catch my drift. We really want to do those things! But the reality of navigating though crowds with D's walker is causing us to rethink some of them. Let's just say our date to see Jordan Sparks light the Christmas Tree at the Domain Shopping Center in Austin (followed by fireworks) will not be a repeat next year. (Unless it is Josh Groban lighting the tree. Or Barry. As in Manilow. We would shamelessly use the walker as a front row pass in that case... But I digress.)
So. There you have it. So much wisdom gained against the backdrop of the Christmas Season. Hope I saved you the journey to learn some of these things. (You're welcome.)
But the most important lesson of all this time of year comes from a former first grade student, C, who burst out after studying all the holidays around the world and found the one he knew the best:"Oh, the baby Jesus I KNOW the baby Jesus!"
My son is a senior at Texas State University in San Marcos. Even though he is only an hour away, we don't see him as often as we would like to.
I was thrilled to have him home for Thanksgiving last week. A great big hug. Let me look at you, son!
"Well, it was no shave November," he told me.
I'm good with that. (If I really wanted to embarrass my kids, I would say, "I'm jiggy wid it". I'm never sure exactly what that means, but it sets them into near seizure each time the words leave my mouth. So I say it in their presence. Often.)
Anyhoo. After the hug, young son backs off and looks at me. And waits. And waits a beat longer. I am not very tall and I am about eye level to his neck.
See the neck? Oh, look, look. See the neck.
My immediate reaction? Back away. Say nothing.
(Inside my head? I am thinking, "You will NEVER be able to conceal that during any interview, son." Always the sensible Mom.)
He looks disappointed. "Don't you want to see it, Mom?"
Nope. Not now. Not never. Not no how.
That body was born of my body with no ink on it. I'm not interested in seeing the ink. (And a snake wrapping around a medicine box? Inside my head? I am thinking, "Maybe it is because I would not let him wear clothes with skulls, dragons and snakes when I was purchasing his clothes.")
He cracks first. It is a fake, pressed on the night before to see what how I would react.
Well. I did NOT react.
Twenty plus several years of motherhood have taught me a few things. Not the least of which is to take a deep breath, smile and continue on. It drives the young crazy.
Today, I made my pre-Thanksgiving pilgrimage to the grocery store before dawn. I got the last box of brown sugar and the last loaf of white bread. There were empty spaces on the shelves that you could curl up and take a nap in. I don't complain: I'm just glad to be in and out before the crowds. I was one of only a handful of customers lost in a sea of stockers. Who were already clearly loosing the battle to keep the shelves full. So, I was quite surprised with my first verbal exchange with the checker. "Good Morning!" I chirped. I am very much an early morning person. "Well, I guess all I can say is it IS morning, " she did not chirp. Oh, my. I helped her bag my groceries and then she took me to task for not scanning my debit card quickly enough. "At least there is no one behind you yet." Note to those who shop at my H.E.B.: Avoid checkout #3 at all cost today. Thanksgiving does not bring out the best in everyone.
My sister and I split the cooking duties on holidays. She does the turkey on Thanksgiving; I cook it on Christmas. The side dishes are also clearly defined. On Thanksgiving six years ago my husband and I were in separate hospitals having serious surgeries. My sister was caring for my children and running between hospitals to take care of everyone. She suggested that the unhospitalized family members should all just eat out that year. Nothing doing, said the non-cooking members of the family. She bravely cooked the turkey and sat down to a table missing two relatives. After the blessing, the first words spoken were, "Where are the mashed potatoes?" A job I was not able to complete from my hospital recovery bed. I think that is when she cried. The first time. I also think the speakers were lucky to not be wearing the gravy.
So, now we find ourselves at Thanksgiving 2008. Two out of our four children will be here. A 50% return on children scattered across the nation is something to be thankful for. I love Thanksgiving. There is not the pressure or expectations of Christmas. You get to visit and hug and eat. My husband got a good report from his MRIs and doctors today. Yes, we've come a long way from Thanksgiving 2002. Thankful for the grace and mercy God has shown us through His healing and provision. Thankful for the mashed potatoes. And thankful for all who will be at the table blessing them this year. And for those who will join us on other holidays.
I have known E since before she was born. (The one on the right.)She has always had my heart for many reasons. Not the least of which was that she has always wanted to be a teacher. You may know that teachers have a special place in my world.
E graduated last spring and took her first teaching position this fall. She spent the summer preparing her first grade room. Making plans and creating a workspace. Painting over a huge (and ugly) tree left on the wall by the teacher before her. Such dreams and visions she had for her first classroom!
This lasted for the first four weeks of school, when E was told that she was being relocated. There were not enough students to support the number of first grade teachers. E was last hired. So she was first to go. Her students would be divided up between the other classes. And E would be at a new campus. Teaching a new grade. Second grade this time.
It was suggested by more than one of us that E should repaint that ugly tree on the classroom wall before she left.
She did not, to her credit.
She did, however, pack her room up and relocate to a new school with new students now 6 weeks into the school year. Students "handpicked" by the other teachers for her, if you know what I mean. I'm sure they were all the calmest and most polite students the teachers had. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.
The initial weeks were difficult. The students were not happy about relocating at first. And E also found out her new classroom location was temporary: she'd be moving into a portable room in a few weeks. If you are doing the math, the school year is almost half over. Both E and her students have been moved around a lot.
Last week, E did what any sane teacher would do: she took a personal day. Or, what is commonly referred to in the teaching profession as a "mental health" day. She needed to regroup, refresh and refocus. She and her friend, A, took a road trip to Austin and made a pit stop in my classroom.
She returned to her classroom after a long weekend. She held a Grand Opening in her newest classroom location complete with a ribbon cutting and balloons.
I don't know that they prepare us in our college education classes for the kind of first year that E has had.
But this I know for sure: If she can make it through this year and still love teaching (and I feel certain she will), she has a blessed career in front of her. And a great story to tell years from now.
I have been teaching for 20 years, but for some reason this is the first time I've ever had a student teacher. Why did I wait so long?
Having Miss M was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my teaching career.
Every day I got to watch her gift for working with children grow and grow. The children who get her as their teacher will be blessed. She will make their classroom a great place to spend a year.
This picture was taken on her last day in my classroom. She is posing with her precious mother who drove to Austin to share this very special day. I have a daughter the same age as Miss M, so I think I can imagine the joy they were both feeling as one era ended and another one began. Miss M stepped onto the threshold of her future.
Godspeed, Miss M. You'll never know how much I appreciated your professionalism, hard work and joy in teaching! You filled our room to the brim with your enthusiasm.
Recently, one of my former students invited me to see HSM3 with her.
That weekend it had set all kinds of records for tickets sold. We went on a Monday evening and we were the only 4 customers in the theater. Obviously, the HSM3 crowd is a bit younger than the usual audience: this was a school night and that limits attendance. Good for us: we had the place to ourselves to sing, laugh clap and cheer!
I'm new to the phenomenon that is HSM. I wondered if I'd understand it since I'd missed 1 and 2. Not to worry. Troy and Gabrielle apparently picked up where they left off, and I was swept into the party like I'd been invited all along.
To be honest? If M had not invited me, I probably would not have attended the movie. I found it funny that there were adults a teeny bit jealous that they did not have someone like M to invite them. They felt like they had no legitimate reason to go alone. Need some reasons?
Well, Troy and the boys can sing. They can dance. They can look intense at all the right moments.They can warble lyrics like this and make you believe:
"This is the last time to get it right, This is the last chance to make it or not. We got to show what we're all about: Work together! This is the last chance to make your mark: History will know who we are. This is the last game so make it count: It's now or never!"
So, thanks M, Troy and Gabrielle for an evening of pure magic.
My husband is a master at pulling people's chains. He can totally pull off a joke without cracking a smile. I'm always laughing so hard in the background I tend to tip off the others to his little ruses.
The first year he was in the family, we were getting ready to go to my sister and brother-in-law's house for Christmas. When I came out dressed and ready, D was hidden behind the newspaper "reading". When he lowered the paper, I shrieked when I saw he had on a black turtleneck dickey under a thin white stretch sweater. He was a perfect imitation of cousin Eddie from our favorite Griswald movie, "Christmas Vacation." I couldn't wait to see the relatives tentative (and scared) smiles as they sized up this situation to see if he was serious or kidding with this newest fashion trend. We let them sweat for quite a while.
The summer we went on our first blended-family vacation, all the children were in elementary school. They had wanted to go to Six Flags, and we were staying at a nearby hotel so we could be there early. Dave was the first dressed. He had chosen his outfit weeks ago. He was wearing a 1980s running outfit that quit fitting in 1990. And this was 1997. The three girls were horrified that he would even think of wearing the outfit in public in the same hemisphere. C, the only boy, was so anxious to go he actually let me photograph him next to D in all his seam-busting glory. The girls declared they would never go to Six Flags if D was going to wear THAT. C was overjoyed to seemingly be the only one getting to go to Six Flags (more money for souvenirs!). The irony was that no one "got it" until we explained it was a visual joke. Preteens can be so huffy about some things.
I thought he had reformed until recently. I was speaking at a dinner and needed to look nice. What should I wear, I asked him, the red or the blue top? His enthusiasm for insisting on the red should have tipped me off. When I came out dressed and ready for this semi-dressy evening, this is what D was wearing:
We matched long enough to laugh loud and hard, take a "Facebook-type" picture to post and embarrass our now-adult children, and appreciate the sweetness of laughter.
Recently, my husband went out of town for a few days and I decided to have a dinner party for five friends collected from different corners of my life: sister, college roommate, high school friend and former teaching colleagues. They didn't really know each other well: they'd bumped at weddings and showers, but this was the First Official Meeting. And we all had a blast. (Helped immensely by foods that contained way too much butter and cheese.)
We had appetizers first. What is not to love about hot artichoke cheese dip? There is a reason that it keeps Friday's Restaurant in business.
Next we moved to the dining room. Table pulled out with extensions just like it was Christmas or Thanksgiving. (The only two times a year all the leaves are added.) As M said, "We work so hard to make our homes nice. And then we meet friends at restaurants!"Obviously, time to do this more often.
And time to pull out all the stops. Field green salad with sugared pecans, cranraisins, orange slices and feta cheese and a Raspberry Vinaigrette, served with a recipe for Green Pasture's famous cheese crackers. Chicken breasts stuffed with crab meat covered with a wine and mushroom sauce. Wild rice pilaf and fresh vegetables.Desert of warm iced sheet cake and homemade vanilla ice cream.
Coffee outside on the first cool autumn evening in the Austin area. Decaf coffee and afghans for all by the firepit. A firepit I've owned for 6 years and never used before. A good time was had by all. Actually, a GREAT time was had by all.
Why don't we do these things more often? We could order pizza with the same great fellowship. Heck, I'd even serve it on the good china.
I remember when my grandmother passed away and we were cleaning out her home. She had been given some fine goblets for wedding gifts in 1935. When she moved into town in 1961, she carefully wrapped the unused goblets in newspaper, and stored them for a "special occasion". The glasses were still in the brittle 1961 newspaper when we unwrapped them in 2001.
I don't want to be guilty again of saving things for a "special occasion". What could be more special than today?
Several friends told me they had not seen The Wedding pictures yet. After a year? Are you kidding me? Well, if you know our family, you know a few things have been going on this past year...So I'd be delighted to share a few more pictures of wedding bliss!
(And thanks again to Allison at www.fpphoto.com for such wonderful photographic memories!)
Happy First Anniversary! It seems impossible that a year has already passed. I want to share with you something I wrote the week after your wedding last year:
"It's been a week today since The Wedding, and I will have to admit that I'm surprised to see dates on the calendar that go past November 3. Somehow, time stopped for me with that date. The accompanying jolt has been that it has taken me a while to get used to the fact that there is not always one more detail to take care of or one more list to make. My mind stays on high alert and I'm constantly reminding myself that we are done with wedding planning. It reminds me of when a newborn stretches its arms looking for the safe boundaries of the womb. No containing walls. What to do with all this free time? My nephew has suggested Frisbee golf. I look more to the newly empty bedrooms that no longer look like a Hobby Lobby wedding outlet. Perhaps there WILL finally be a scrapbooking room, or sewing room...the possibilities are endless.
"The journey to The Wedding was a faith building one. Dave's operation was two months before the wedding date. I am here to tell you, that if you can have peace in planning a wedding through this surgery (literally addressing invitations from a hospital), then this peace is definitely "surpassing all comprehension"!
"Friday was a day to decorate the church and reception hall. Crowds of helpers arrived and got to work like a well-trained army. We had so many people helping out with little pieces that I did not even know how it would look until it all came together. It was elegant. And autumn-y. And perfect. Let the celebration begin!
"The rehearsal and dinner that night were about fun and family . The first tears as we watched a preview of the slide show that would be shown at the wedding. Slides beginning with K and J's baby pictures and chronicling the journey to each other and this day. And the two of them among us: so happy it almost made your eyes hurt to look at them. The way J kept looking at my K like he had just won the lottery stole my heart. May he always see her that way.
"And the clock continued to tick and it is The Day and we are meeting in a salon in Georgetown for hair appointments. My sister has laid out a spread of food that is truly amazing. That is a picture of the day: beautiful surprises each and every way we turn. And now it is time to go to the chapel.
"There is a sharp focus that the important things in life are faith, family and friends. Family has traveled from all over the country to be here and we are so honored. A friend of mine from college has driven from west Texas to surprise me: the gift of her presence is the best one of all. The gift of everyone's presence as they come to witness this covenant of marriage to these two young people we love so fiercely.
"My son, who is now a man, walks me down the aisle. My husband, D, is waiting on the front row. And finally the moment that the door opens and K is walking down the aisle to become J's bride. J still has that awed look that is now accompanied by tears in his eyes. K is glowing. My brother-in-law, M, walks K down the aisle and then lets D give her away. A family prayer circle follows at the front. D is almost too overcome to speak. But we all know and we all understand that that in itself is a prayer of thanksgiving. They are pronounced man and wife.
"We had a reception where the bride and groom graciously included everyone in the room with love and laughter. They left to bubbles with huge smiles on their faces.
"I'm sure there were parts in between, but I will have to wait for the wedding pictures to completely remember them. My mind is a blur of blessed images. The pictures will help us remember this day over and over and over.
"For me, this day will always be a faith builder. An example of how God will provide for all our needs according to His riches in glory. Not just the physical needs like the flowers, cakes and buffet foods. But the spiritual needs for faith, family and friends. Because, in the end, that is what is eternal and lasting. The flowers have already faded, but the spirit of the hand of God on that day will be forever. And we are forever grateful." ........................................... And now, J and K, it has been a year. Each time I talk to K on the phone I ask her, "Are you still madly in love?" And she always sighs and says, "YES". Once I forgot to ask and I soon got a text that said, "YES: we are still madly in love." May it ever be for you both.
The happiest of anniversaries to our favorite newlyweds.
The virtual world of blogging is fairly new to me. I am wading in the shallow end, but I'm thoroughly enjoying it. There are several "mommy" blogs I read daily that leave me laughing and reflecting.
One of my favorite daily reads is by a mother of preschool-aged triplets. No, I've never met her (and probably never will), but her thoughtful posts always challenge me to slow down and feed my soul in quieter green pastures then I usually seek out on my own.
I encourage you to read one of her most recent posts:
The class of '76. We plan a trip together at least once a year to the Dallas area. The Oklahomians come south; the Texans come north. This trip fell on OU weekend, so we veered left to Grapevine. Home of great clothes shopping (Grapevine Mills Mall), boutique shopping (Main Street) and food (Main Street Bread Company. Two words: Brie Panini. Two More Words: Chocolate Croissant.) First off, I think Heaven must have rooms like these little shops: soft music, great smells, fun purchases and coffee samples. Does it get any better on a perfect autumn afternoon? Why, yes! We ate an evening meal at a restaurant that seated us outside by an open fire with food so good I wanted to say, "Stop talking for a second!" while I was eating it. Like we ever stopped talking for three full days. So, now our lives are sorted out and packed neatly away for our normal daily routines. And what do I know for sure? That old friendships (before we knew our husbands or had our children) are the best friendships. We don't have to tell our background stories. We don't have to explain things. We just pick up where we left off last year. And plan next year before we leave. We're hoping to have a weekend that includes our 11 daughters next time. Because we want them to get in on the blessing of long term friendships.
Last night, I was instant messaging a friend on my laptop. I kept hearing noises as we communicated by IMing. There were scratchy sounds and muffled sounds. Then, implausibly, I thought I heard a dog. Coming from my computer. "Pat", I typed, "Say something." And I hear, clear as a bell, "Testing 1, 2, 3" come from my computer. Somehow, she had inadvertently called my computer and was not aware of it. I teased her that there was no telling what people had heard over their computers when she was online.
My computer has the microphone icon, but nothing to plug into it (yet! but I bet Radio Shack does...) so our IMing continued with Pat talking and me typing my answers and questions. We are nothing if not versatile. And high tech. In our own minds.
I mentioned that our children don't communicate like this. Then I remembered that our children have a life and probably don't IM on Saturday nights while watching "Trading Spaces" (a show which is waaaaayyyyyy past its prime and needs to be put out of its misery. I digress.)
Anyhoo, I think we made some big steps for parentkind that night. New options of communication all over the place. As my sister would joke, "Now ain't you something?"
But is this progress in communication? I have three teacher friends that I try to get with for coffee weekly after school. We try to set the time online and have not been successful in three weeks. Interestingly, no one picks up the phone. We just keep bumping around online.
I also have four high school friends I meet in the Dallas area each year. (Go, class of '76!) We have also tried to plan this year's reunion online through IMing and email. It is taking a long, long, long time. Only one of us, frustrated by the out-of-sync messaging picked up the phone and actually called. What an innovation!
Today, a friend in church mentioned that she likes reading the blog, but misses the emailing.
I'm perfecting my theory of the Communication Taxonomy now: Blog, IM, Email, Snail Mail, Calling, Weekends in Dallas in person, Coffee in person. Face to face in person.
And then, someone mentioned webcams.
Drat. Need to tweak the continuum again.
Innovation is not always progress.
Because friends are best seen. Not accidentally heard. Not as words flashing up on a screen. But actually seen. Face to face. Like in Dallas. The second weekend of October.
Welcome to the world, Baby Morgan! I know that big sister, Abbie, is going to take good care of you. (Look at her practicing reading books she will soon be sharing with you!)
I think it is appointed for some people to come into our lives. The mother of these two precious little girls is one of those people in my life.
Years ago, I taught Allison's cousin in kindergarten. (He is now married. Do the math. It's been a while!) His mother, Allison's aunt, became a good friend of mine.
Years later during a time of crisis, my young children and I ended up living in the Texas Baptist Children's Home for a year and a half. Who was the director of the Home? Allison's mother. I had never met her, but she became a good friend as well.
I joined a local church. Who was the precious older man who handed out bulletins at the door every Sunday with a hug and a smile? Allison's grandfather! And friendship with her grandmother was not far behind.
I got to know every nook and cranny of Allison's family. Several years ago, she asked me if I'd like to work for her in her photography business. Besides studio work, she shot one or two weddings each weekend. Who doesn't love going to weddings? And getting paid to attend weddings? Well, that was an offer too good to refuse. We had a great time. I came to admire her work and her professionalism.
Of course, our connections did not stop there. She did a photo shot of my family when our last child was about to move off to college. I consider photographs such a gift. They were the last shots taken of my family. Priceless.
She also shot my daughter's wedding last fall as a favor. Beautiful, beautiful memories forever captured by my friend.
But the most generous gift she's given me? Last spring my husband was facing a life and death surgery. I walked out the morning before our hospital trip and found a package on the porch. Allison had left a CD for each of us containing the family shot she had done last May. Precious memories to hold close. And we were all so very grateful for her ministry of love and photographs.
And now Allison is a mother to two beautiful girls. My hope and my prayer is that she will reap a bountiful harvest of blessings for all the joy she has sown into my life, the life of my family and anyone else she has graced with her loving spirit and breathtaking photographs.
And I'm looking for more connections to this wonderful family in the future. Because I know that the grace of God will fall on these precious daughters as they continue to grow and become more like their mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and aunt. Godspeed, Abbie and Morgan. Godspeed.
When I tell people that I am a first grade teacher, their comment is invariably, "I don't know HOW you do that. I could NEVER be closed in a room with 20 six-year olds."
Welcome to my world!
Before I go any further, let me tell you that I love my job with all that is in me. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in the first grade learning that when Dick and Jane said "L-o-o-k" it meant "look". I absolutely remember everything about that magical moment (even though it was more decades ago than I'd be willing to type out here). My teacher, Mrs. Wilson, smelled like "Youth Dew" perfume and she was standing there with her pointer and the charts for reading. Leaning forward in my little chair knowing something Big was happening: I was reading. Heady stuff for a six year old.
Cut to the reality of being on the teacher's side of the pointer and charts. Entering my 20th year in the classroom has taught me many things about being a teacher.
Number One is you must begin the day totally prepared. There is no dress rehearsal. It is like being shot out of a cannon when the 7:35 a.m. bell rings. And you work without nets until the 2:45 p.m. dismissal bell. Everything had better be copied, stapled, laid out, planned, laminated and counted. (Last year I made the error of being one copy short of a worksheet. I left my room for the approximately 1 1/2 minutes it would take me to make that one copy. In that time, my classroom phone rang. A student answered my phone and told the caller she had "no idea where the teacher was or when she was coming back." I'm sure there is a note in my permanent file somewhere.)
Number Two is that approximately two minutes after you write Monday's date on the board, you will be writing Friday's date. Seriously: some weeks it feels like those scenes in a movie you can see the calendar pages tear off in rapid succession. The days just fly by. Except the month of May. It lasts for about six months. Summer fever sets in. Teachers move on a different time continuum from the rest of the world.
Number Three is there cannot possibly be a more joyous and rewarding job than working with children. Even after 20 years, there is not a day that I am not excited about going to work. I never forget the magical moments. W standing up one day in reading group when the light turned on and he said, "I can READ! I can READ!" And he could. I'm touched by all the sweet notes and pictures that often make it home to my refrigerator door. What other job includes handmade gifts on a daily basis?
But, lately, I've been having the desire to head back to school. I just want to "sharpen the saw" as Stephen Covey suggests. I want to be sure that I'm using the most proven and effective methods of teaching. In education, the new buzzword is "best practices." I applied and was accepted to finish my Masters. But somehow, that wasn't feeling right. And then another opportunity presented itself.
On Saturday morning, I began training for pre-candidacy for the National Board For Professional Teaching Standards certification. It will last until March, when I apply for Candidacy (which takes another year, followed by testing). Lots of homework, reading and writing, but it is an opportunity to ensure that my classroom and methods are the most effective that they can possibly be. I need to keep evaluating my teaching and looking closely to see what I can improve. The NBPTS will assist me in doing just that.
Maybe it is no concidence that "look" was the first word that our friends Dick, Jane and Sally taught us. I hope to never stop "looking" and "seeing" all that is wonderful about teaching.
My grandmother would have been 98 years old today. She left us a little over 7 years ago, a few months before the "real" 9/11 in 2001. I remember thinking I was glad that she was not there to see the towers fall and witness the devistation that followed. Not that she was ever a stranger to hardship.
Her father immigrated to Texas from Sweden at the turn of the century. Swedes were recruited to central Texas because they were "loyal and hardworking". My great-grandfather came "over" with his two brothers and his widowed mother. Someone in immigration decided that their last name, Swenson, was too difficult. Their surname was changed to Young, and they settled in a Swedish community near Del Valle named Elroy. Tiny Anna caught my great-grandfather Adolph's heart, and they were married soon after meeting in Texas. They quickly had three daughters. My grandmother was the second oldest. Several years passed and two more daughters were born. Five girls raised on a working cotton farm, and they were expected to help. They attended a small one room school in Elroy and worshipped at the Luthern church.
One by one the girls moved into town and married. My great-grandparents kept the farm, but also bought a home "in town." They all moved within blocks of each other, but attended different churches. The Luthern church had relocated to town and was now an Evangelical Free church. Some of the daughters opted for the Methodist church. Sunday services were about the only time they were not all together.
My grandmother married her lifelong friend, Harold (and her best friend married his brother.) His parents had 9 children, two who had died in childhood. Both of his parents died within months of each other at age 40 when the "Bird Flu" swept the country. The seven remaining children were raised by each other and a loving Swedish community, something CPS would not allow today. My grandfather was fond of saying he lived "pillar to post" as a child, and got around with a cart pulled by a mule. My grandparents married in 1935 and bought a farm in Elroy. I remember asking my grandmother why in the world they would marry in the middle of the Depression. We didn't know there was a Depression, she replied, we had always worked hard and had little.
They moved into town in 1961 and bought the little bungalow that was mentioned in the first post I wrote on this blog. Pride of ownership, and it showed. My grandfather lived there for 23 more years; my grandmother for 40.
Last Sunday I heard a sermon about how, in a spiritual sense, our relatives build a home for us. All that we have has come down through their struggles and sacrifices. My grandmother truly gave her life for us. She helped raise us by sewing for others until the month before she left us. She just lived such a simple life. She loved the music of Lawrence Welk and Marie Osmond. She enjoyed her ladies "Circle" meetings at her church, and always took a Swedish dish called oostakaka or prune whip to potluck dinners. She loved going for drives in the country by the old farm. And she still called Austin's main street "The Avenue".
Time just seemed to stop around her, and things remained the same in her life. I remember trying to explain what the internet and email were to her. She smiled politely, but had no use for the information. She liked life the way it was. She had a paperman who would put the newspaper squarely on her welcome mat and garbage collectors who would walk up the drive to get her cans. She always left them a Pepsi with a dollar bill under it. Wonder if that would work today?
So, at 90, she could still drive to church and do just about everything she had ever been able to do. It was just that her heart got tired. And a few days before she passed away, she told us she had been dancing with Harold. We knew her time was near.
And I still miss her. I'm so grateful for her life and all that she sowed into my life and the lives of my children.
So, Happy Birthday, Gaga. You were the best gift of all.
My sister, R, and I went to Trade Days in Wimberly this weekend. She always insists that we leave at the crack of dawn. We beat most of the vendors there. And we have an hour's drive.
R has these trips down to a fine science. She knows where to park, where to shop and how to make a killer deal. She owns her own red basket to haul her treasures home.
I am her loyal sidekick. I don't ever buy very much. My total cost yesterday was 66 cents. (Three books for a dollar; I only wanted two.) But I love the adventure.
Yesterday , there was a shelf she wanted but she felt like the cost was too high. I stood by and wiggled it to show its unsturdiness. She closed the deal for half off. High fives all around.
We couldn't resist taking a picture by this sign. Because it really does take so little for us to have a great time together. After a lifetime of being sisters, we've never run out of things to talk about. Or laugh about. And I don't think we ever will.
We joke that when we are old, we will share a duplex. I will get the right side; she'll get the left. She will be the driver on all trips. We've appointed my daughter, K, to make sure we never dress in gaudy clothes, gold shoes or rhinestone sunglasses. (I'm sure K will add to that list as the years go on.)
So, here's to sisters. We can turn the most mundane activities into a day filled with laughter. Even before the sun is up.
A year ago today, my sister and I woke up on an ICU waiting room floor.
You may know the rules of ICU: a 10 minute visit every two hours. Since I lived 30 miles from the hospital, it was easier to set up camp there. My husband had his right leg and hip amputated due to complications of cancer and infection. We'd fought the good fight for six years, but knew the surgery was imminent that fall. We had hoped to delay it until after our daughter was married on November 3. And until after we had seen Barry Manilow in concert. (That fact always embarrasses our adult children.)
Last Labor Day weekend was to be the time that my daughter's finance was coming in to be fitted for his tux, and then would fill a UHaul with her furniture to drive back to their future home in Missouri. They would also buy his ring. And attend to oh-so-many wedding details, because the special date was two months away.
Life comes at you fast sometimes, doesn't it?
I had taught my first grade class only three days. Circumstances forced the date of the surgery to be immediately. Not later. And we found ourselves living in the waiting room. Planning a wedding. And trying to grasp this new wrinkle in life.
But now we are a year down the road. And God has been faithful in more ways than we could ever express.
My husband went back to work part time this week: Wednesdays/Thursdays from 9-2. His wonderful boss kept his job for him, so he is back to architectural design work on his computer.
My daughter has been happily married for 10 months in Missouri. (Which is much too far from here!)
I have a new batch of first graders. The rhythm of life continues.
Here's to a year of progress. With grateful hearts.
When my husband had to have a brain tumor removed in April, my son Chris searched for a way to encourage him. He told Dave when this surgery was over, he was going to train and ride in the "Hotter Than Hell 100" race in Wichita Falls in Dave's honor. Dave used to bike and had competed in this particular race years ago. The race got its name from the temperature in Texas during this time of year. Racers have literally died from the heat. While I was excited about Chris' goal, the reality of the race left me a little leary.
Chris had decided that he would do the 50 mile version of the race, and headed for Wichita Falls this weekend.
The first call came at 8:05 a.m. "Mom, I'm already at the 20 mile marker and I feel great! I may do the entire 100 miles."
9:48 a.m. "Mom, I'm definitely doing the 100 mile race now. There's free barbeque at the end. I feel good."
11:36 a.m. "60 miles! Can you believe it? It's not so bad. I'm drafting behind some other riders."
2:15 p.m. "85 miles! I am definitely going to do this again."
3:15 p.m. "100 miles! I feel like I could ride another 100 or 50 miles! I'm going to go take a shower and I'll call again later."
A 100 mile ride. By any standard, that is an amazing distance. For someone who has never competed in a ride before (and only trained with two or three long distance rides) this is the stuff that gold medals are going for in Beijing right now.
I drove him and his bike back to San Marcos today. He had to be at work at 1:00 p.m. (Wouldn't you be ready to work a full shift after a 100 mile bike ride?) I asked him what did he think of while he was riding. "Well, when it got rough, I thought of Dave and what he went through. And I kept riding." And riding. And riding.
Wednesday Chris begins his senior year in college. With his determination and work ethic, I think it will be an easy ride.
Happy 1st birthday, M! How could a year have passed so quickly? Now you are walking and running and babbling beautiful noises that will soon become words. You have been the best of all gifts for your family. And I'm sure they cannot imagine what they did without you!
Among some of my most precious possessions are friends I made in high school. Some 30 odd years later, we still get together as often as we can. Email and IMing have made contact easier, as three of us still live in central Texas. Two have moved too far north to Oklahoma.
We've all either been, or presently are, teachers. Some of us have even taught together at the same school. A few have recently started new careers as home stagers and realtors.
Between us, we have 17 children: 13 girls and 4 boys. All of them have gone to college except the 2 still in high school. (And they are headed that way.) 6 have already graduated from college and 4 did graduate school, too. We have great kids and are rightfully very proud of them. Empty nesting has gotten easier as our children have begun to find their own places in the world.
The picture above? A's son married my daughter last fall. The first wedding among our quintet. (M said that she'd like to get in on some of this co-mother-in-lawing among friends. Now, my son DID kiss one of her daughters when the were in kindergarten together. But that was 16 years ago and apparently the spark did not light up. Yet.)
We were told that if you want to look younger in pictures, you should (A) have the picture taken from above or (B) lift your chin up. We chose the latter in the above shot from the wedding reception of K and J.
My daughter K said it makes us look like Bobbleheads. Drat.
So, here's the more "natural version" of my beautiful friends. And here's to 30 more years of trips, laughter, memories and good neck shots.
Jenny was a "rescue dog" that my son's best friend, J, got from the pound. J had seen Jenny's picture online and knew that she was His Dog. He went to get her and the powers that be at the pound said that she was...ah...no longer there. J determinedly continued to search for Jenny. He found her, adopted her and got out of Dodge quickly before there was another pound error.
Well, J's life got a little more complicated and he asked my son, C, to take Jenny. I met Jenny the night that J was helping C move into his first college apartment. As they excitedly told me Jenny's story, she looked at me the entire time. Smiling like she understood every word. She had my heart.
Jenny entered a new life that we like to call her Animal House stage. She was surrounded by no shortage of students who would walk her, feed her anything they were eating and throw sticks and balls without end. The only problem in this existence had to do with that pesky word "student". The humans in her life had to go to class. Often. And she found an untold number of creative things to do when left to herself in the apartment. One entertaining trick was to make large piles of objects she was not supposed to touch. Once when I was at C's apartment I saw Jenny hiding behind a couch. Experienced mother that I am, I observed, "I think she has done something she was not supposed to do." Nah, said C. Until he went into his bedroom and saw the piles of forbidden items deposited neatly on the middle of his bed. Hmmmmm. Maybe there is a reason she lurks behind the couch, C noted. Forgiven, she trotted out and presented her backside to be scratched. I'm a soft touch.
Another thing about students is they like to travel during their breaks. On forms of transportation that don't allow the Jennys of the world to participate. C left Jenny with his aunt, R, during his Kerouac-ian train trip to Chicago. Where Jenny spent most of the Christmas break pilling decorations in the path of the front door. Never messing anything up. Just showing who was boss. And presenting her backside to be scratched whenever anyone came to call.
Well, this spring, C relunctantly asked his sister K and her new husband to take Jenny. C was moving and looking into a semester abroad. The only problem: K's new home in Missouri is a ways up the road from Texas. Ever the laid back dog, Jenny fit right into the newlywed's home. She has a large yard, dogs in houses on two sides and has play dates with a puppy down the street.
I wondered when I visited last month if Jenny would remember me in a different state. She ran right to me and presented her backside to be scratched. Yep: recognized. I brought Jenny a long pink stuffed dog like the one on the PetSmart commercial. When K's husband tried to play catch with Jenny's new toy, Jenny politely went and hid it in one of her famous piles and brought him a ball that she deemed playworthy for him. Jenny clearly has her boundaries.
So, here's to Jenny. She is truly a family dog. And I'm waiting for my turn.
My oldest daughter was married on November 3, and I'm amazed to realize that 9 months have already passed in newlyweded bliss. (They are several states away in Missouri. We've already gotten together about 5 times. That helps. Some.)
K married one of my best friends from high school's son, J. That made this entire thing much easier than I ever thought it could be. During the time they were dating, and then talking marriage, my friend and I would not even discuss them. We wanted it to be their decision alone. When the engagement ring was on K's finger, the first thing I did was call my friend and scream. Loudly. She probably would have heard me without the phone. Even in Oklahoma.
One of the things I admire the most about K and J is their decision to get out of debt in preparation for their future. They both brought student loans into the marriage, and are determined to get them paid off as soon as possible. They purchased a nice older home, but are postponing the remodeling and redecorating until the student loans are gone. K was an interior design major who has a very artistic flair for fixing things up. But not the house...yet.
I look at the Pottery Barn and Crate&Barrel catalogs that are made to lure newlyweds into believing that they must decorate every square foot of a new home. NOW. I'm sure there are many young couples who fall deeply into debt because they buy the dream that they must have it all . NOW. And are probably still paying for the debt long after some of the furniture is gone.
I admire their discipline and dedication. They've found a simpler life that doesn't involve "stuff". They've found they have extra time on weekends because they don't have to maintain that "stuff".
And I don't think they know it yet, but they've discovered one of the most important secrets in life: The things that make us the happiest are not "things" at all.
Well, today Santa (in the disguise of Wayne from the Medical Supply Store) delivered D's new sporty scooter to our home. A bright fire engine red, it would have glowed nicely under the lights of a Christmas tree. But we'll take it in August!
You may remember that D got the adaptations to his van last week so that he can drive with hand controls. He can drive. And now he can scoot. Does life get any better than this?
It's been a long year since D's surgery. During that time, wonderful members of our church showed up one Saturday morning and called out, "Good Morning, O'Brien family!" And Extreme Floor Makeover was underway. In one day they leveled the floor of our 70s sunken family room so that Dave and his walker could have a level path. Now Dave and his scooter have a level path.
Wayne showed us the finer points of D's new "Go-Go" scooter. It has a basket, a fast and slow speed (shown by a rabbit and a turtle icon) and a place for attachments. (Details to follow.) But wait: there's more. The "Go-Go" comes with additional replacement parts so that D can "Pimp His Ride": the red bumpers and side panels can be changed to blue or (wait for it:) silver, if the mood hits.
Dave scooted around the house. It is a tight ride with a 34 inch turning radius. It breaks into 4 pieces that can easily be put in his van. It boggles the mind to imagine the field trips we can now embark upon.
Dave has been online to check out the options available for his model. There are cupholders (he said he may get two: one for him and one for me when he takes me for a walk), walker and crutch holders, saddlebags and a trunklike basket for the back. (There are also warnings: Do not drink while driving the scooter. Do not walk your dog with a leash while scooting. Please let me know if he asks to borrow your dog.)
So, in two weeks I head back to school and Dave heads back to an active life. Toward the plans that He still has for us. To give us a future and a hope. And we are so very grateful.
My little sister, R, has always had a passion for all things cowboy. We were born and raised in Texas and this seemed like a natural progression. It began as a little hobby that has turned into a desire to have a business selling vintage cowboy merchandise. But, along the way, R has been busy for the past 7 years helping take care of family members: our grandmother, uncle, my husband and my aunt. This summer, things began settling down a little in the natural and stirring up in the spiritual. R decided to step out and begin her business in a local antique mall. Today her husband, M, took a day off to build the booth she designed. My husband, D, brought a congratulatory plant and moral support. And I helped R set up the store within a store. Don't you love it when you've anticipated something for years and you get to see it come about (quickly!) with your own eyes? So, here's to R: Congratulations and may God shower favor on your dreams. If you're in Georgetown, Texas stop by Collector's Mart. It will be easy to find her area: it's the part where the heavens are opened above and shining on vintage cowboy dreams. Because God's in the business of giving us the desires of our heart.
Surely you have seen the great girlfriend movie of summer, "Momma Mia!" At least once.
I saw it first with my husband. It was a sold out theater with a only a handful of men in the audience. The crowd went wild. The second time was for my sister's birthday. Again, full of women who were friends totally loving the show.
The third time was today with teacher friends. Women just "get" this movie . Because it really is about who we are: mothers, daughter and friends.
We couldn't resist posing outside. I'm taking the picture of M, S and B taking a Facebook-type shot for posterity. (Note to our embarrassed college aged children viewing this: we can still be taught new things.)
July 30: I was so glad to see that the Americana/ Fourth of July merchandise was being clearanced today so that Cracker Barrel has room to put out all of its CHRISTMAS MERCHANDISE. Clearly, I am already behind in my holiday shopping. Maybe it is because three weeks of consecutive 100 degree days in central Texas (with the added bonus prediction of at least another month of this heat) have caused my brain to slow down. Silly me! I thought it was still summer.
Apparently, even the good people at Michael's got the memo before I did. I stopped there next to get a summery arrangement for my guest bedroom. Lucky me: summer merchandise is 70-90% off so they have room to frantically unpack and shelve Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas products all at once. Just watching the frenzy made me not merry.
No wonder so many people lead such frantic lives. Are we really expected to begin planning for holidays that are respectively 3, 4 and 5 months down the road? To quote my sister, R, "This is making my heart beat too fast!"
Couldn't we just enjoy the sweet smell of new crayons on the back-to-school aisles without having to pass Christmas stockings? How about being able to select a new pink camoflauged lunchbox without backing into Halloween candy that is sure to be especially fresh in 3 months?
Presidental canidates: are you listening? Maybe we need some promises to keep Pilgrims and Turkeys in their places until new backpacks are showing a little wear.
Happy Back-to-School. And that's all I'm going to say until a few more pages on the calendar turn.
Today, we had the adaptions done to the van so that D will be able to drive with controls on the steering wheel. New license in pocket, he slipped behind the wheel. I snapped this picture as he started the engine and got ready to drive for the first time in almost a year. I can only imagine the freedom and joy he was feeling in this moment. His world is about to crack wide open. Feeling a little heady, I imagine. God's plans continue to be for you to have a future and a hope, D. And we are all so very grateful. Go, speed racer, go.
To make a very long story very short, my husband has battled cancer for six years. During that time all four of our children have graduated from high school. One has even graduated college, and is now in grad school. One is married. And they have scattered across the country. But this I believe for sure: we have not missed one blessing that God had for us during this time. But this past year has been especially hard. Last August, D had to have his right leg and hip amputated. And just when we thought it was safe to continue on in life's path, a brain tumor was discovered a few months ago. A very large brain tumor. We all held our breath in April because we thought that surgery would be the Bad One. We are not without faith, but the sheer number of procedures and surgeries were stacking the odds against us. So, we geared up, endured the 13 hour surgery, and were surprised by joy. Where we had expected a marathon recovery; it was more like crossing the street. D was talking as soon as he woke up, was released out of ICU as soon as a regular room opened and was home in 4 days. He was clearly the rockstar of recovery. And we were all so very grateful. So, cut to this summer. D is taking classes to learn to drive with controls on the steering wheel. Today...ta da!...he, of course, passed the test and got his new license to drive. For the first time in a year. But, wait! There's more! The insurance has also approved a scooter. He can drive and he can scoot. The freedom of movement is a little heady for him. His bravery has inspired us all. I hope the good things continue to come his way. May this seventh year be one of only recovery. And good times.
In 1961, my grandparents moved in from "The Farm" and bought a little bungalow in Austin. I think one of their criteria was that it be close to the other family members who had also relocated to town. My great-grandparents and all four great-aunts, along with their families, lived within a 4 mile circumference. (Great-grandpa Young had immigrated to this country from Sweden. His people were recruited because they were considered "loyal and hardworking". That would definitely describe this branch of the family.)
My grandparents paid about $10,000 for this home all those years ago. It was two bedroom, one bath with no central heat or air. It had one of those great floor furnaces in the hallway that you could stradle in your nightgown on a cold winter evening, causing the gown to billow around you. There was also an attic fan that pulled air from all over the neighborhood, and blew it through the rooms. I do not remember missing air-conditioning as a young girl.
My grandparents later decided that they needed a den, and had one added to the back of the house. This also put the bathroom into the dead center of the house. The bathroom window that used to open into the back yard now opened into the den. Why didn't they close it over? Well, the man that they hired to build the den (we didn't call them "family rooms" back then) was a fellow Swede from the country. As a child, his hand had been bitten by a rattlesnake. He was only able to use one arm. While the addition was impressive, the removal of the window was too much for him. So it stayed.
We loved this little white house and watched the two pecan trees continue to grow and tower over it for the 40 years that my grandparents owned it.
When we lost my grandmother 7 years ago, we had to put the house on the market. It sold very quickly for $160,000 in 2001. An investor, we later learned. Not someone that loved the hardwood floors, arched doorways and attic fan. Central heat and air were added and a second story to the back of the house. It was an industrial looking nightmare to our eyes and the community at large dubbed these awful remodels in old Austin "McMansions". But someone eventually bought the redesigned house last year for $250,000. Clearly, the central Austin housing market is out of control.
My sister and I went and peeked through the windows when it was on the market, and could hardly recognize where things used to be. The downstairs was basically just one large, hollow open area. We could see little or none of the charm of the original bungalow.
We walked into the backyard and saw that my grandmother's garage, shed and greenhouse were gone and replaced by perfect sod. Every quirky and charming addition of my grandparent's had been obliterated. One of my favorite parts of the backyard had been an old truck toolbed grandmother had turned into a container garden for her yearly vegetable garden. Gone. The shed that held every outdoor toy we'd ever owned? Disappeared. The garage with the secret room for storing clothes that were out of season? (The house only had 3 small closets.) Removed. We felt so sad to see this sterile and lifeless backyard replacing the memories of a vibrant childhood. But then, I looked over in the corner and saw something popping out of the sod.
My grandmother's prized "wandering jew" plant was pushing its way through the newly laid grass. As if it knew it formerly belonged in this place. Forgive my temporary insanity, but there was a part of me that felt this nightmarish redesign did not deserve its beauty. I plucked up the plant and took it to my home. Where it still grows today. Actually, it flourishes. As do my memories of what was the wonderful house that my grandparents picked cotton to buy.