Saturday, August 29, 2009

Living Proof Live

This weekend I attended the Living Proof Live Simulcast at a local church with a long time friend. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, Beth Moore's ministry put on a Friday night/Saturday morning conference (held in Green Bay, Wisconsin this year), and it was beamed to churches all over the world. There were 90,000 women (and a few brave men) attending these conferences and sharing in some truly amazing worship and teaching of the Word.

It was no surprise to me that her emphasis was on the same verses that God had been speaking to my heart (found here). Sometimes I feel like God is continually broadcasting His Word; the question is are we tuning into the same frequency?

Beth taught mainly on the verse "Trust in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart" from Psalm 37. I realized during these two days of intense teaching, that I no longer have desires of my heart. I think I've just hunkered down for the past seven years of fighting cancer with D into a safe No Desire Zone. Because no desires=no disappointments. I had just told some friends recently that I wondered if I'd ever feel happy again. Not the "I am content in all circumstances" happy, but the Really, Truly Ecstatic kind of happy. It's pretty easy to dial the thermostat back to lukewarm to live a safe and hidden kind of life.

My life is challenged by the words in a song called "The Motions" by Matthew West, which in part say:

"I don't want to go through the motions,
I don't want to go one more day,
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me.

I don't want to spend my whole life asking, 
'What if I had given everything; 
Instead of going through the motions?' "

I know that in my classroom I give 110% every day. This year, especially, my 19 first graders will be the recipients of all the excellence I have to give after 21 years of teaching. I have a lot of extra time on my hands!

But at home and in my personal life? There are no "desires of my heart" to give me boundaries or vision. Are you familiar with the verse in Proverbs 29:18 that says, "The people without a vision perish"? Some translations state, "Without a vision, the people wander around." I have entered the Nomadic stage of my life.

I know, I know: it's too early to have a clear road map for my life. There is still a significant amount of grief to work through. D made me promise to not make any Big Changes in my life for a year. That was wise on his part, because if it was totally up to me? I'd have sold everything by now and relocated to an island in a cooler location without a backward glance. And I'm sure regret would have come knocking very soon afterwords.

But desires of my heart on a personal level? Where will those be rediscovered on this journey of life? Well, I look to the promise of the verse again: "Trust in the Lord, and HE will give you the desires of your heart."

They will come from Him. When? I'm not sure, but I'm sure they will come again. And there will be joy in the journey to discovering them. Pressing in. Pressing on.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Let's talk about the weather...

Today's paper joyfully announced that we just hit our 66th day in a row of triple digit temperatures. (Add another 6 to that number and you will discover where I think that little nugget of news comes from.) Seriously: every day the weathermen announces the new total like it is a cause for celebration. "If we can make it to 70 days in a row of triple digit temperatures, we will beat the record set in 1929" or some former year when I'm not even sure thermometers were even reliable.  Where is the fun in that record?

The first day of school, I had recess scheduled for 1:00 p.m. My little first grade charges leaned against trees and wilted before my eyes. I rescheduled for recess right after lunch. (And did I mention that I have drawn the first lunch of the day at my school? We eat promptly at 10:30 a.m. By the time I am driving home in the afternoon, grouchy from the heat, I could eat the leather off of my shoes. But I digress.)

The weatherman announced today that there is a chance we may have mid-90 degree temperatures over the weekend. Do you know what he called that? A coldfront. (Cue laughter from my reader in Alberta, Canada, where a coldfront is really cold.)

And then there was this little surprise storm that blew through last night with rain. (Prompting most of us in this drought-stricken part of Texas to question what the wet stuff falling from the sky was.) Guess the weatherman missed the prediction for precipitation while he was wringing his hands with glee over triple digit after triple digit. 

That quick storm did a lot of damage in my neighborhood. Many trees were snapped in half throughout the neighborhood. I lost my internet connection when the electricity surged, so I spent a lot of time of the phone today with a cable tech with limited understandable English. He also used words like "modem" and "router" as he talked me through a self-repair. D had always taken care of those kinds of repairs, and I kept feeling tears starting to surge as I tried to follow tricky instructions in tricky English. Thankfully, I kept the tears at bay, and was able to follow directions to restore my internet. Just as I hung up with the tech, I glanced in the backyard and saw D's pine tree laying sideways, caught in another tree.

Pine trees are not native to our area, but D was on a mission to keep this tree thriving. He bought fertilizer stakes and special mulch, and valiantly tried to keep the pine alive. When he was no longer able to work in the yard, I would water the tree and pray for both it and D. I think I was engaging in some wishful thinking: if I could keep this tree thriving, D would be just fine. Silly, I know. And now his tree became a victim to the weather in one short burst of a storm. I know I will have to find someone to cut it and haul it away, and I feel the tears try to surge again. Why would such a small chore make me feel so overwhelmed? I think I am just tired of loss in this season of my life. That tree took years and years to grow, and will not be easily replaced. In fact, I don't think it can or will be replaced. Not by me, anyway.

I am so ready for autumn. And for a cool breeze to blow across my soul.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Good Luck, Mom

Today was a fabulous first day in first grade, made even sweeter by a special gift that was delivered to my room: the beautiful flowers shown above.

They were accompanied by a card from my daughter, son, son-in-law and the family dog. It said:
Hope you have a great first day of school...We all love you very much and are praying that you have a wonderful year with your nineteen new little best friends. Dave would be so proud of how strong you have been!
Take advantage of the wonderful friends you have all around you. Make dinner dates. Heck, you could even go crazy and go to Happy Hour with the teachers!" :)
Miss you. Love, Katy, Chris, Joe (and Tex, too)

With a family like this, I know I'm going to do just fine.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sowing in Tender Hearts

I should be at the school on this Saturday morning, getting ready for the first day on Monday. I know, I know: I've already been working on my room for a week, you think, what can there possibly be left to do? Pictures below show that the room is ready for action...except for that pesky part called "Lesson Plans made from Instructional Planning Guides". Plans that don't make the list until after the room is ready for "Meet the Teacher".

The doors opened at 11:00 am yesterday to welcome my 19 new six-year-old best friends, their parents and assorted siblings. I love this day because of the excitement of the children, the trust the parents show in handing their most prized possession over to me, and the fact that I have the weekend to sort out the mountain of school supplies that they drop off. (In former schools, the students brought their supplies on the first day. You can imagine the chaos that followed.)

Another one of my favorite parts of this day is when former students and their parents drop by to say hello. E showed up with the cutest little wedge haircut and told me all about her soccer, swimming and running. (And, as a big fourth grader, she was almost looking me eye-to-eye!) Sisters M and E sailed through to let me know that little sister G will be in my class in a few years. (I love repeat family members: feels like I should be invited to their reunions on holidays.) M came by to let me know his little sister, R, was starting kindergarten. (She wasn't even talking the first time I met her.) K dropped in to let me know she and her best buddy E would be in the same room for the 4th year in a row. (Score!)

But the visit that brought tears to my eyes and extreme joy to my heart? R and his twin brother D dropped by with a chocolate gift (do these boys know me or what?), and a special announcement: Their birthday was this past weekend, and instead of asking for gifts, they asked guest to bring donations to the Texas Baptist Children's Home Family Cottage Program in honor of my husband, D. (Take a deep breath and grab a Kleenex.) Then, they took the money ("Over $200!" they told me excitedly) to the Children's Home to bless that ministry. With hearts like that at age 7, I can hardly imagine the wonderful adults they will grow to be. Thank you R and D: the future is safe in the hands of those as precious as you two.

And, hopefully, in all the precious hearts I've been entrusted with tending this school year.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pass the Syrup and the Sharpies

Look what greeted us on day 3 of Inservice:

Our principal had a local restaurant, known for its wonderful pancakes (Hello: Gingerbread!) come grill and flip some in our library. We  briefly thought about just pulling our chairs up to the buffet table to eliminate walks  for numerous refills. Third grade teacher extraordinaire, J, cutting it up with the Pancake Man. 
The only bad thing about the breakfast buffet was the carb-induced cloud that followed. Soon, reality came knocking in the form of new Instructional Planning Guides. We were given some amazing curriculum resources for this school year, and the syrupy fingerprints all over them will only make the work sweeter, right?

Unless you have set up a classroom for a new school year, you cannot even imagine the detailed work necessary to be ready for the first day. I find myself staying at the school until about 6:00 p.m. or later. I still cannot figure out what to do with my evenings yet. I work hard all day, come home and think, "Now what?" I've only had the TV on for a few shows since I got home from Maine two weeks ago. Maybe the new season will hold some more interest for me. Maybe not. I don't mind being alone; I mind being lonely. A friend pointed out that maybe it would get better when my students arrived. One flaw in that logic: they won't be coming home with me.

Thankful for the flurry of activity that are our days building up to the First Day of School. Looking for  activities to fill the nights that follow them. And seeking that future and hope that is promised to us all. Pressing on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And Now For Something Completely...Normal

We started our week of teacher inservice yesterday. You know: the week where what you really need to do is set up your room and lesson plans, but what you end up doing is participating in continually scheduled  meetings. While you plan your room setup and lesson plans in your head.

It was a lot easier to return to school then I imagined. All my colleagues have been sweet and encouraging since hearing my version of "What I did over summer vacation." I can already tell that the routine and schedule will be a big help. And when the six-year-olds roll into my room next week? Well, what could possibly be more healing then all that enthusiasm and life!

Today's schedule of meetings was completely different from anything we had ever experienced before. I teach in a large central Texas school district, and our superintendent of ten years retired last spring. Our new superintendent scheduled a convocation to introduce herself and to get some input from the district's employees.   Our district has over 84,000 students and over 12,000 employees. There were two sessions of the convocation because of the sheer size of the audience. My campus drew the afternoon time slot. 

I am a product of the district that I teach in: I attended grades one through 12 (before there was mandatory kindergarten). Let's just say my relationship with the district has spanned several decades, but nothing has ever been as informative or inspirational as our gathering today. 

The point was made through a powerful powerpoint presentation that we are now preparing children for jobs and technology that have not even been invented yet. We were reminded that most technology is now obsolete after two years. I looked around the crowded arena, and saw dedicated teachers from all walks of life.I knew that this was a crowd that would rise to the occasion of training the next generation to embrace the rigors of learning and preparation for the future. 

The superintendent told us she wanted our input, and then had us text answers to her questions American Idol style. The answer totals were shown in real-time so that we, and she, could immediately know what the opinion of the audience was on five key questions.

With a district budget shortfall, would teachers be willing to contribute to health care costs? The answer was an overwhelming yes. Would teachers be willing to consolidate under-enrolled schools? Again, yes.  Would teachers be willing to give up specialized general education classes in high school that had less than 15 students? Yes. Would high school teachers be willing to change to block classes and enlarge class sizes to help with the budget? Yes.

These four question were answered in a way that proved teachers are willing to help the district out through giving of their already low salaries, and to take on additional responsibilities and students to make programs and campuses more viable.

The final question appeared on the screen, and a collective moan rose from the audience: would we be willing to see music, PE and art programs cut or eliminated from our campuses? A high 90% said "NO".  As teachers, we know the value of the arts and physical education for our students. The new superintendent noted our strong response to that question and seemed interested in preserving these programs. 

We left to the beat of one of our high school's Drumlines, a little extra spring in our steps. So often, dealing with administration is like going to see the Wizard. The great and powerful Oz has spoken, and input is not considered or valued. It seemed today things were different. Fingers crossed for a new era of exemplary education.

And for time to set up our rooms and finish lesson plans before Monday.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

To Everything, There is a Season...

I always become very reflective right before a Big Change. Tomorrow, I will begin my 21st year in the classroom. I'm thankful for the weeks I've had since losing D to begin a path of healing. I'm just as thankful for a blog I read just days before D's passing that gave me a plan for this road.

The  post here, was put up by one of my favorite bloggers known as "Lots of Scotts", a mother of five-year-old triplets. It shows a video of a young mother who knows she only has a few weeks to live, and is using part of that precious time to speak to an audience about What is Important in Life. I watched it and took notes, not knowing at that point that D only had 4 days to live. I remember sharing the high points of this talk with D: Know God, Know Yourself, Know the Gospel and Know Your Purpose. 

The item on this list that has grasped my heart is "Know the Gospel"; gospel means "good news", and the gospel is found in  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I decided to focus on these precious books that can become overly familiar and easy to flip past. Right before he died, D had Married Daughter get me a new Parallel Bible that lines up the New American Standard Bible (the version I've always read) with The Message (a version that makes the Word easy to understand and apply to every day life.) I know, I know: there are many who think The Message is a version with too many manmade fingerprints on it. All I know is, it has made the gospel come alive to me as I'm following it through the first four books of the New Testament.

Being from Texas, I'll quote Waylon and Willie and the boys, "It's time to get back to the basics of life."  Such a simple set of marching orders, these four points of wisdom. I'd say I know God and myself pretty well. I am rediscovering the life found in the simple/profound teaching of the gospel. But I am looking for new details that will become part of my new purpose in life.

That said, every year I ask God for some life verses when August rolls around. Some wisdom and purpose sought in the calm before the storm that is known as the New School Year. These are the verses I'm claiming for 2009-2010 for my classroom and my campus:

Trust in the Lord and do good,
Dwell (be still) in the land and
Cultivate (feed securely on) His faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
(Psalm 37:3-5)

The verbs are mine to complete (with twice the trusting); the results are His.

And this school year? I think it will be full of the Good News.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On Closets

Teacher Inservice begins on Monday, and I'm attempting to organize my life (just a little) in preparation.  The area that has me stumped is where to put my clothes. I long ago abandoned the closet in our master bedroom to let D have complete control and domain of it. You see, I get up at the crack of dawn, and he kept the schedule of a normal person. I would always awaken him  as I foraged through the closet for my daily clothing needs. When I apologized later in the day for waking him multiple times, he'd say, "It's not the noise that bothers me: it's the light." Well. I needed that closet light to, I don't know, see what I was looking for, so I abandoned that closet for one in the guest room. Where I could make my clothing selections with the light on to be sure what I had chosen would match. It was so much easier when clothes came in coordinates, like Granimals for children, but I digress.

The real problem is his clothes still fill the master closet. How do I really know when The Time Has Come to clean out his clothes closet? I've decided that it is much harder for wives who face this problem: men's clothes seem to never go out of style. There are shirts he wore while we were dating that are probably still available in department stores. Try that with women's trendy/seasonal styles that look dated in months. 

So, his clothes are like the results of an archaeological dig of our entire marriage. T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with Hawaii, the Cayman Islands, San Francisco, Chicago, Orlando and Key West logos. The dress business clothes from his days in management and engineering. The casual business clothes from the time in architectural design. The work clothes that he spent many hours in building furniture in the garage. Church clothes, cowboy clothes (ye haw! we live in Texas and have the occasional rodeo), biking clothes, running many things held onto when they were no longer useful to him.

On this journey, I'm often frustrated because there is really no one I can ask for advice about these issues. Only two readers of this blog have volunteered the information that they, too, are widows. My close friends have been my panel of advice for questions like how to get a baby to sleep through the night, how to deal with colicky babies, how not to kill your teen aged son when he gets a tattoo or two speeding tickets in a week. (These may or may not be real examples.) But no one seems to have the knowledge to help me deal with the issues of dealing with the Left Behind Clothes.

A local charity sent me a card for clothing donations: they will even come and pick the clothes up from my home if I contact them. When I think of boxing the clothes, the words to the old Michael W. Smith song, "Friends", always begins playing through my mind:

"Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you..."

The clothes are obviously not the problem. It's the memories associated with them. I have a friend who has offered to take all the t-shirts for running events D participated in over the years, and make them into a quilt. I may take her up on that offer.

While I was in Maine I read a book I bought months ago but hadn't had the energy to read yet. In it, a young widow donated her husband's clothes to a shelter and was surprised and delighted to be riding around and seeing his shirts appearing on others all over town. To be honest, that seems a little too sad for me. The clothes are not D, but the memories of good times we had while he wore them are almost tangible.

And I take comfort in the last line of the "Friends" song:

"I'll keep you close as always
It won't even seem you are gone
Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong."

Those clothes? I'll know when and how to take care of them.

Same thing for the memories attached to them.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Joy of Cooking

Yesterday, I decided to repent of my hunter/gatherer ways with food. On the way home from the gym (read "Curves", but "gym" sounds so much more athletically serious), I stopped at our grocery store with a list. This is honestly the first time this summer I have purchased more then a few things here and a few things there. During D's illness and after his funeral, people have brought by enough cumulative food to supply a dinner-on-the-grounds picnic for my entire street. Make that subdivision.

List in hand, I headed to the produce section, and promptly burst into tears. Not because the price of fruit is outrageous (in fact strawberries, blueberries, grapes and cantaloupes were under a dollar). It just seems so overwhelming. My idea of cooking lately has been to rinse the fruits before I eat them. Sometimes.

During the last school year, D took it on himself to do all the grocery shopping and cooking. And ladies, assuming most of this invisible readership is female, we are talking COOKING. The engineer in him turned grocery shopping/food preparation into an art form. He began by reading books like "The Science of Cooking". I am sure that would be my second choice of reading after this week's "People" magazine.

He moved to Healthy Cookbooks (I found a note in the ever-present notebook he kept in his walker pouch regarding cookbook selections declaring "Nothing by Sandra Lee!") He actually had an Excel spread sheet of every recipe he tried, when he prepared it, what he rated it and if it would return to the rotation. We ate some good groceries at my house.  

He said that it took him about 2 hours to buy groceries. He'd load up his scooter in his specially equipped van, and trade the walker for it at the store. With one leg I know it was a challenge to reach things on the higher shelves, but he was a man on a mission to meet the highest culinary standards. With meals made from his rated recipes like "Mediterranean Cod--A+", "Salmon With Tomatoes and Rosemary--A+" and "Seared Scallops With Warm Tuscan Beans--A-", he definitely achieved that goal. The recipes are enclosed in plastic sleeves and filed in alphabetical order in a three-inch binder. On the few occasions that I cooked (after a day with my first graders), he always reminded me to , "Put the recipe back in the right place." Small price to pay for a man who knows his way around an orderly kitchen.

And the equipment he bought! It is a good thing that Young Son is dating a graduate of the Culinary Academy or I could not even identify many of the objects in my kitchen drawers and cabinets. 

I should do a Bloggy Give-Away to the person who can "Name These Tools."

And ingredients! Does your cabinet include many/any of these spices? Organic Sage, Saffron Threads, Whole Nutmeg, Cumin Seed, Ground Turmeric or Organic Black Sesame Seed? 

Here is a glance at just a few of the items on his oil and vinegar shelf in the pantry.
As you can imagine, the thought of cooking for one among all the gourmet fru-fru is an impossibility at this point in my journey. But I have found an excellent alternative.

It is called: Eating Out With Friends. Food cooked for me; delightful fellowship: a splendid combination! It turns out to be the perfect way to end a day of setting up my classroom, which will soon become The Kingdom of First Grade. Where food is served on trays or comes prepared in lunch boxes. 

D asked me to pass the recipe book on to Married Daughter, who shares his passion for Seriously Wonderful Food Preparation. I need to keep them near me just a little longer. And I'm definitely making colored copies before I mail them on. 

This moving on while surrounded by so many memories is a precarious path. While the grocery store brought tears, writing during this post brought me laughter. Sometimes I am amazed how close the emotions of tears and laughter can be to one another. The only way to finish the journey is to go through it. And today's section of the journey brought me  to laughter.

I'd like to bring laughter to you today. This is one of the funniest posts I've ever read by one of my favorite bloggers, Big Mama. You can read it here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Three Guesses

Guess where I went today?
If you have not seen this movie, run--do not walk--to go see it.

There was the most unusual sound coming out of my mouth throughout the entire movie. I had forgotten what it sounded like lately. It is called "laughter". Loud, long and lengthy laughter.
Guess who I went with? Loyal Sister and I went to a theater that serves food because (hello!) this is a movie about food. (Hear that unusual sound? That is Loyal Sister screaming when she discovers how I photoshopped our picture. Little sisters can be so picky.)
Guess what this is? Loyal Sister and I have passed this cat back and forth for over a decade, always decorated for the occasion. Cat served as the centerpiece at our theater celebration. Cat has been photographed with many famous celebrities, but today it just served to remind us this was our "NOT 30" celebration. (If you think this has to do with our age, God bless you.) 

If you are a very close, lifelong friend you know what we were making Big Whoop over. If not, please join me in celebrating a day that included a lot of laughter. I am so glad to know that I am still capable of it. And hoping for more in the future.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Welcome Back to Reality

Today, I decided to return to my classroom and face the future. I think the thing I have dreaded the most about going back to work is not knowing who knows about D and who does not know. I actually woke up last night praying about it at 1 am. I felt like God was saying, "Why don't you just assume that everyone DOES know?" Deal. Because that means I don't have to tell the story over and over and over. And then pat and comfort people who are learning the first time right before my own eyes. 

So, I went up to my campus and ran into at least 10 teachers who were wonderful and encouraging. (And one Dad who asked, "HEY! How is D doing?" Drat. So, I told him and patted his arm and felt badly that he'd asked the question and was finding out by the pencil dispenser in the hallway outside the office. Not that there is any good place to find out.)

I think if I just kind of keep going up to set up my room this week I'll be acclimated by the time Inservice begins next Monday. We'll do meetings for a week, I'll meet the parents and the students next Friday. And on Monday the 24th, I'll close the door to the room containing my 19 new six-year-old best friends, and life will seem familiar again. This will be my 21st year in a classroom and I've honestly never had a bad year yet: teaching is  an amazing profession. I'm at a great campus with hardworking and dedicated colleagues. I'll have a routine and schedule again. This is a very good thing.

One of the hardest things I faced this summer was the timing of D's illness. I just kept throwing prayers to heaven, telling God I trusted Him for the timing. After losing D, I still had almost five weeks before school started to begin the process of healing. I am forever grateful for the buffer of that timing. 

I'll post the after pictures when the room starts to shape up. And I think my life is going to start shaping up soon, as well.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Unexpected Blessings

Home to the oven that is central Texas this summer. In spite of the heat, today was a really good day.
At church, the children put on a musical performance that reminded me why I love teaching little ones. All that sweetness on stage has me ready to return to the classroom in another week. 
Spent the afternoon catching up on all the mail and newspapers that piled up while I was in Maine. 
Dinner with a wonderful friend sharing chips and salsa.
And the best surprise of all? Look who showed up at my front door this afternoon!

Meet Bo2, the newest member of my Loyal Sister's family!

So thankful for the unexpected blessings of today...and of every day.

"No one's ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it--What God has arranged for those who love him."         
I Corinthians 2:9 (The Message)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Home to Texas

Good-bye daily walk to the beach!

Good-bye view of the ocean from my beach chair!

Good-bye elderly tourist fashionistas!

On my way home to Texas today, and I have to confess it is rough leaving and knowing I'm going back to face more Reality. I think I've cried more tears this week then in all my other years combined. Hoping that the worst is behind me in the privacy of this vacation. 

I found a quote by actress Helen Hayes. Looking back on the period following her husband's death, she said, "I was just as crazy as you can be and still be at large."  That is exactly how I feel at times.

Back to teaching inservice on August 17; students August 24. Wishing to be ready.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Well, what vacation would be complete without a visit to the Outlet Malls? I've tried to take the scenic backroads everywhere I went while I was in Maine, but the Outlet trip was taken on the toll road for speed and efficiency. I found new school shoes, and some amazing information: summer clothes are discounted 90% here because it is almost time for the Mainers (I promise that is what they call themselves...) will start pulling out their fall clothes soon. The summer blouses I just bought? I can probably comfortably wear them through Thanksgiving in Texas.
This is  a real business in the area I'm staying near. Multi-tasking at its best.
These signs just go up in random driveways after a day's catch. 13 lobsters for less than $4 each. This is the time of year for soft shell lobsters, because they are shedding their shells as they grow. The locals tell me the meat is sweeter and more tender during soft shell season. Kind of makes you want to choke at Red Lobster's prices, doesn't it?
My own sign, written on the beach this morning during low tide. Taking this with me and holding onto it for the return trip to Texas tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Yesterday morning began (as always) with a cup of coffee and (not 'as always') a walk on the beach.  (Only because my hometown is landlocked, unlike this magical Maine locale.) Loving the low tide and feeling like I'm getting to discover a new place while the rest of the world sleeps.

Today, I decided to to into Portland and take a guided tour. My favorite stop was this lighthouse, where Longfellow reportedly wrote his appropriately titled poem "The Lighthouse" with the familiar words  "Sail on! Sail on!" Still good advice.
Our tour guide was a retired fellow with personality plus. He went by the name "Bampy" because his grandsons can't say their "g" sounds yet. Ahhhh! Sweet story.  Big tip for Bampy at the end of the tour. Where I ask him how far the Portland Public Market is. "Five blocks up the hill." This is walkable? "Oh, yes, no problem," promises Bampy. And I won't have any trouble finding it? "Oh, you'll go right to it!" gushes Bampy.

After I hiked up the mountain that is downtown Portland,  Maine, I discovered a few more questions I should have asked Bampy like, "Is it in a safe part of town?"  I found I passed blocks  of Salvation Army shelters that had not yet opened for the night. Those waiting for a place to sleep just crashed all over the route to the Public Market with their grocery carts blocking the sidewalk. It was the first time on this vacation that I felt a little leery of being alone.

When I finally reached the Public Market, I discovered one more key question I neglected to run by Bampy: "IS IT OPEN ANYMORE?" My printed literature showed a thriving Public Market that rivaled Seattle's fish throwing market. (I imagined here they would throw lobsters and I'd have some fresh "chowdah"...IF IT HAD BEEN OPEN.) Closed, shuttered, neglected and boarded up, Portland's Public Market is no more. And somewhere Bampy is laughing all the way to the bank with his tips. My cynical mind wondered if he even had grandsons...

But, the walk back had a few delights of its own. You think Austin has some different ideas? Check this out: "Soakology: a foot sanctuary and teahouse". You soak, you drink, you are happy as a moose. (Notice I did not say "happy as a clam": the Public Market that sells them is closed. But I'm not bitter.)

I also discovered this delightful row of chairs. Perfect for sitting and thinking. I find on this trip that I am doing many of the same things that I did when D and I made this trip two summers ago. It makes this traveling alone much easier because everything seems familiar somehow.

 When I taught in private schools and prospective students would visit, we would pair them up with a trusted student (shout out to Syd Smith!) to show them around. We called this method "shadowing". I feel like I've been shadowing D during this vacation, trying the familiar alone first. Then I can ease into the solo trips.

During D's last weeks, I'd ask him what he was thinking. "You", he'd reply, "I'm thinking about how you will do later." He spent as much energy as he could giving me advice about how to manage money and practical things when he was gone. One night he seemed much lighter of spirit and made an announcement. "I've decided you will do just fine. You have great friends and family who will take good care of you." Shadowing. Making sure I had someone to show me around.

Well, kill the fatted calf: the prodigal pictures have resurfaced! I was able to finally upload these to the blog from my Kennebunkport travels.

This is the Bush compound.
This is the Colony hotel, home to generations of Maine vacationers.  Photoshopped to look like it was taken 'back in the day'.
This is the home where I am staying. My friend, K, keeps this house 2,000 miles away from her home in Texas, as a retreat sanctuary for friends and family. And we are all so blessed and refreshed by her generosity and kindness.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wait and See

I took my coffee to the beach this morning. I was alone except for a dad strolling his baby in the low tide, probably letting the mom sleep in. The sands of Maine contain such different treasures then the gulf shores of Texas. Where Texas has all manner of shells, Maine beaches offer colored rocks, tumbled smooth by the waves. There are also tiny bits of sea glass, probably the result of ancient ships' bottles. There are entire stores in this area that sell jewelry fashioned from sea glass. Enough so that I'm thinking more than a little of it is what the French refer to as "faux", or in Texan-ese,  "fake".

But, it is the perfectly tumbled rocks that hold my attention this morning. On our last trip to Maine, I brought home bags of them, and made my suitcase exceed the weight limit. We had to pay extra for my weighty souvenirs. "What do you have in there, rocks?" my husband kidded. Well, yes. I did. And I  learned my lesson. 

This trip I'll totally put my beach rocks in my carry-on bag.

It has taken years upon years of waves tumbling these rocks to knock of all their sharp edges and polish them into things of beauty. Picking them up this morning reminds me of the song we used to sing in toddler Bible school, " I'm just an old chunk of coal, but I'm going to be a diamond some day..." Formed by pressure, polished by tumbling. Good things can come out of these squeezing tight times.

"There is hope for me yet
Because God won't forget
All the plans he's made for me
I have to wait and see
He's not finished with me yet."
(from "Wait and See" by Brandon Heath)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Songs That Make the Whole World Sing

 I took some great pictures today and loaded them on my MacBook, photoshopped them in new! and innovative! and great! ways. Went to upload them to Blogger...and find they are trapped in some kind of bloggy purgatory. I see them on iPhoto; I do not see them at Blogger uploads. So: you will not see the house I'm staying in, the house the Bush family stays at in Kennebunkport or the hotel that generations of Mainers (yes, that is how they refer to themselves) have stayed in called "The Colony". (A return to gentler times before there was a need for pictures that hovered somewhere out there in the blog-isphere.)

So, let's just cut to the chase: One of the thoughts I came to Maine with was from my friend K. She said that during a difficult time in her life (and trust me: it was difficult) she felt like God "took over" her mind and showed her truth in areas in which she needed healing. I came with that prayer on my lips: "Take over my mind, Lord..."  as I've struggled with some regrets and some things I wish that I could "do over" concerning D. And I've seen truth come and replace regret and failings in my mind. There is nothing more that I could have done. God ordained the time and the circumstances. I could not have changed  them. Because I am not God. Revelation.

Some other things I have wrestled with were the questions 'What do I do now? Will I ever feel joy again? Why do I feel guilty about going on alone?" Even as I asked the questions, a precious friend, C, texted me  Psalm 16:11 "You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fulness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forever." I'd say that verse laid out all the answers.

I don't want you to think that I spend all my time with my hands on either side of my head writhing in agony while I'm in Maine. After all, large lobsters are going for about $5 right now and the cool weather keeps me outside with eyes to the ocean and face to the sun.  

But I did discover something else wonderful. I have D's Ipod, and as I was scrolling through his playlists I  came across this list:

"For R" (That's me.) 
And these are the songs he uploaded during June and left for me to listen to:

Keeper of the Stars
Take My Breath Away
Wind Beneath My WIngs
You Light Up My Life
You're My World
The First Time Ever I saw Your Face
When A Man Loves  a Woman
You'll Never Walk Alone
I Will Always Love You
When You Say Nothing At All
The Very Thought of You
Our Love is Here to Stay
Can't Take My Eyes Off of You
Didn't We Almost Have It All
The Impossible Dream

(What? No Barry? As in Manilow? Further inspection shows a Manilow playlist...)

I may not have technology all figured out, but I know a perfect gift when I see one. Or hear one. These are the songs he felt represented us. And that is a whole lot of love and blessing that is adding to my healing.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Guess Where I Am?

The rugged coast of Maine!  I arrived here after midnight last night, and awoke to a new world. Sitting on the front porch this morning with coffee, it felt like the perfect fall morning with a continual breeze blowing through the high tree tops. Except it is August!  (I'm not in Kansas...I mean, Texas, anymore.)

My first stop was a Lobster Roll for lunch from a little take-out "joint" that has been serving big hunks of lobster meat on a toasted hot dog bun for 75 years. I decided to eat on the beach and guess what? I HAD TO GET A JACKET FROM THE CAR IT WAS SO COLD! 
This little guy was my constant companion during lunch, ever hopeful I'd drop a scrap for him. The gulls here are the size of small dogs. Makes the seagulls from back home seem lightweight. Maybe everything is not bigger in Texas!

I had to include these beautiful flowers so you can how green and vivid everything is. These were taken in alleyways like the seeds were just scattered as an afterthought. After being in record heat in Texas, in the epicenter of the drought, the cool and green are balm to my eyes and soul. (And for the winters these brave people have to endure in the northeast, they deserve all this beauty.)

As I was walking the coast, I kept thinking about the book "Sarah, Plain and Tall" by Patricia MacLachlan that I read to my class each year. (Yes, the teacher in me is ever present.) In this delightful book, Sarah is a mail order bride at the turn of the (last) century who leaves the cool, green coast of Maine for the hot, drought-stricken prairie of Kansas.  Love kept her there, far from what was comfortable and familiar. She not only adjusted, she eventually thrived.

I'm sure you have beat me to the parallel I'm making in my own life. D and I made this same trip to Maine two summers ago when we knew he was about to have his leg amputated due to complications of cancer. It was kind of our "swan song" at active vacations: a bittersweet but very precious time. We adjusted, and hopefully thrived with the physical adjustments and limitations that followed that surgery. 

I know that former time paved the way for my present journey.  I have been in the school of what the Apostle Paul calls "learning to be content in all circumstances" for many years. I know that my healing will continue in God's timing. Baby steps, big steps, steps backwards, steps forward. But there will be an end to this journey at some point. (Big accountability huddle: if I am still crying and moaning years down the road, I demand a group intervention.)

Surely  the beauty of this place will cause some healing to begin in earnest.

 That and the pound and a half lobster I had for dinner tonight in my warm jacket.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Time Keeps on Slipping into the Future

Most days, I wake up without an alarm around 6 am. I make coffee, read the paper, have my quiet time and go to the gym. I usually stop by the grocery store on the way home for my few hunter/gatherer needs ( I am still in denial that I need food in this house), and I go home. When I walk back in the door, it is usually about 8 am. My  first thought is always, "Now what?"

There is a looooong distance to the horizon of bedtime at night. Thankfully, this week many friends have called to ask me to do something with them. After a lunch out, they usually have a tentative question like, "I have to go pick out some paint colors, would you want to come?" Well, YES. Or someone will call and say, "I'm stopping by Barnes and Nobles before I come by..." and before their sentence is finished I'm inviting myself along for the ride to my favorite bookstore. Filling time.

To my delight (or  regret) I have found that social networking can fill many o'  the hours. Yahoo mail, Facebook and Blogging (both writing and reading them) are good for an unplanned evening. 

TV is just not working for me. My husband was always in charge of The Box, as our remote control was lovingly named. I used to give him a hard time about all the programs he watched that I labeled "autopsy shows". You know, all the CSIs (and Horatio with his bent head), Law and Order and anything that popped up graphic depictions of severed body parts during dinner time. Now that The Box is all mine, I can't think of a thing I want to watch.  I want Melissa to win "The Next Food Network Star" (a fellow Texan!), but I can't really remember when the show is on. I loved the kids on "Jon and Kate", but that is the exact reason I will no longer watch them: I don't want to watch their family and lives fall apart before my eyes. Trust me, as a child of divorce and a mother who went through an unwanted divorce, there is no such thing as "kids are resilient and they will do fine." That is like dropping a bomb in the house and saying no one will be affected by it.  Soapbox safely put away now.

My next mindless diversion is that I'm going to Maine today for  a week. My plan is to take as little as possible with me (no curlers, makeup, jewelry and as few clothes as possible.) Hey: Young Son did six weeks in Costa Rica with one backpack. I was inspired beyond belief  about how little you really have to take to travel and still have a great time. Married Daughter is kind of aghast at my minimal suitcase contents. I think she fears I'll become one of those women who push all their belongings in a grocery cart down the street. I'm not there. Yet.

My goal in Maine is to rest and reflect enough to be ready to re-enter the classroom on August 24. My 18 brand new six-year-old best friends will show up for first grade that day. I want to give them my best effort. I have found in the past years of handing D's cancer that being in the classroom with my students was the best medicine for me. I'm hoping that is going to be the case again.  I am also reminding myself that I always feel restless toward the end of a teaching-less summer: I just do better with more structure.

So, bloggy friends, I'm not sure if I will be posting during the next week or not. I'm taking my laptop, but don't know if the small town I'll be in offers wireless connections. I do want you to know I've appreciated the comments you've left over the past several weeks. The kindness of friends and complete strangers has been a balm to my soul. I no longer believe that social networking is "impersonal".  You've left your handprints on my heart by reaching through your computer screen to where I am. And I will be forever grateful for that.