Sunday, September 28, 2008

Our High Techness

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.

Can't wait!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Children are a gift of the Lord...

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.
(See her pictures at

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.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Oh, Look, Look...Look and See

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.

Friday, September 12, 2008


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.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


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.