Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hooked on Phonics

Today, I heard those most familiar words in my first grade classroom:

"Ommmmm! I'm telling! You said the "e" word!"

Well. I'm familiar with the dreaded "s" word. (Shut up.) But the bad "e" word? I was intrigued and tuned into this little conversation.

"I heard you! You said the "e" word!"

"I did NOT!"

"Yes, you did! You said "idiot" and I'm telling."

And with that, she stomped her little feet over to my table.

We'll be reviewing the short "i" sound on Monday.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Way or the Highway

I opened the paper today and saw a picture of my fellow teacher's son having a snowball fight on a local golf course. During school hours. Nothing like getting busted for skipping school by having a color picture on the front page of a large metropolitan newspaper. There is just no spin control for that.

And speaking of snow stories (weren't we?), I think I'm sufficiently recovered from the ice storm of 2007 to tell a little story on myself. The ice was bad enough that year that we actually had a late start to school. I live about 15 miles from my campus, and most of the journey is on elevated toll roads. As I carefully turned on to the entrance, I noticed scattered car parts all over the road. In my rearview mirror, I  spied orange traffic cones laying sideways all over the side of the road. Definition of a nanosecond? The time it took me to realize that the cones had been knocked over by a car sliding on the ice. The cones  that were originally meant to keep drivers from entering the tollroad. That would be drivers like me.

It was too late to stop, and there was no way to back up in all the ice and slush, so I continued up the entrance to the elevated tollroad. I soon  discovered I was now the only car driving on the road. I think the traffic helicopters may have thought I was like O.J. Simpson on the highway. Except  I was driving a purple Ford Escort at that time. I continued alone for another 10 miles of the most terrifying drive of my life. I could see lines of cars on the service roads below. Lines that stretched out for miles. Filled with passengers pointing at me; the lone car on the highway. Even inching along  I was beating them from my elevated position, and I think there may have been some fists shaken at me. I kept my hands at the ten and two positions on the steering wheel and concentrated on staying alive. When I was finally able to exit the highway (10 miles and almost an hour later), I could have kissed the frozen ground. Except I was too stiff from the abject terror of my little journey. I scooted off into the line on the service road, and tried to blend in with other cars who had not just completed the auto version of the Bataan Death March in high elevations. Blending in with a purple car is not easy.

 At least the color photographers for the newspaper are always too busy snapping truant snowball-throwing school children.  (Sorry Jacob. Next time, don't spell your difficult last name for the reporter  It's a sure tip off for Mom.)

I probably would have done the same thing. But  I'd have pulled my hat lower. And totally given my sister's name.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Semi-Snow Day

This was the view of our playground yesterday... ...and from the porch of my portable classroom. 
If you are not from central Texas, you cannot even imagine the joy this sight brings! It snowed ALL DAY yesterday, and we were all just a little giddy from excitement. (When it began, Young Son texted me "Are the natives getting a little restless in your classroom?!" Yes, he has watched me be a teacher, lo these many years, and enjoyed my classroom stories around the dinner table.)
When it first started snowing some of the biggest flakes I have ever seen, the entire school poured out onto the playground. I took my class out about four different times, with warm-ups in the room in-between. You have never seen such unbridled happiness in all your life! (There was even a woman who subs often for me who came to the school just to be part of the fun.)
All the districts around us had early release yesterday. Except the district I teach in. (We have a new superintendent from Minnesota who probably thought we were all stark raving mad, but we do not have road crews ready for ice in central Texas because there is do you say it?...ICE around here.) 
All the districts around us had late start today. Except the district I teach in. But the district I live in was icy. Even 20 miles north can make a huge difference on elevated tollways. So, I called a half day sub, and had a few more cups of coffee this morning. And lingered a little longer over my newspaper and quiet time.
I had worried about what I'd do on an ice day now that D is gone. It wasn't like he could do anything when he was here, but it was comforting to know that there was a back up plan. I think my new plan is to avoid icy roads using personal time off. That may sound obvious to you, but it brought a huge weight off of my shoulders.
And now, back to school this morning. It won't be the magical place of falling snow today, but it will contain the magical students with the bright-eyed wonder of the world. Can't wait to hear their stories.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Of New Beginnings

Sometimes we are just living our ordinary little lives and Great Things  come blowing unexpectedly through them.

Last weekend I went to see old friends who have walked with me through thick and thin for over 20 years. We drove around through the countryside surrounding their rural home and just enjoyed looking at creeks that were overflowing and ancient churches that dotted the countryside. I went to bed in their guestroom filled with peace and realizing I had not been sad for an entire day. Giant step.

The next morning I got up early to drive to Fort Worth to see D's oldest daughter. She is in seminary and interning at an Episcopal church there.  The metroplex had been slammed with ten inches of snow. To my delight, the roads were clear but the yards were still full of that white stuff we don't see very often in my part of Texas. The liturgical service was unfamiliar to me with my Baptist background, but so full of the Spirit that it was beautiful and rich. And I heard God speak to my heart, just a few words: "Stop being so hard on yourself." Words I pondered the entire drive home, following a wonderful birthday lunch with H.

On the three hour drive home, I think I shed many layers of my grief. I realized that I continue to think and over think the road cancer took us down for seven years. And I realized that I blame myself for a lot of things that don't really belong to me. I remembered the verse, "This then is how we know that we belong to the Truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: whenever our hearts condemn us, for God is GREATER than our hearts." (I John 3:19-20) Time to just stop that endless looping of mental condemnation. But, Lord, what do I replace it with? The words of Philippians 1:3 "I thank God everytime I remember you." And those nagging, condemning thoughts? They've become joyfully happy ones this week. Freedom.

Monday was President's Day; a school holiday. I've gotten in the habit of making an early morning list of 3 things to do that day. This serves two purposes: I don't feel overwhelmed, and I can actually see progress by the end of the day. A great accomplishment for one who has had mashed potatoes for brains over the past 7 months. Monday's list: Pay bills. Pick up kitchen. HAVE FUN. Fun? You mean the thing that never makes the list because there are too many things ahead of it? You betcha. Went shopping, saw a movie, ate out and thoroughly enjoyed my own company and newly sweet memories of D.

Heard from Married Daughter in Pennsylvania: the snow continues, but she loves her new home. I'm going there for Spring Break and can't wait. She lives only minutes from D's brother and sister, and in a wonderful turn of events H will be there at the same time. We'll all have a little reunion in D's hometown; a place I've never been before.

Heard from Young Son: he and his girlfriend met me at a coffeehouse (they don't do Starbucks and The Man) so I could give her a birthday gift. Just love listening to those two dream about their futures. So brave and so open to where life will take them.

Met with two precious girlfriends afterschool on Wednesday (we do Starbucks and The Man) to celebrate M's birthday and 35 years of friendship. We're talking about a trip to the coast together this summer...

A great week, right? But wait, there's more. After D died, I found an envelope of money that with a note that told me to use it for a trip to Italy. I've saved it and pondered it, and decided I want to go to Ireland. One of the ladies I teach with lived in Ireland for years, and  Thursday we bought our tickets for a 9 day trip to the Emerald Isle the week after school is out!

I got an email from my Quality Friend Connie that our last installment for our New York City trip in April is now due. What? I haven't mentioned that? We are going to be chaperones for a choir trip taken by a school I used to teach at. The high schoolers going were formerly in my kindergarten class. I love watching children grow up well in the Lord and cannot wait to spend time with the older versions. In New York City, no less.

Facebook reconnected me with several members of my college sorority; three who live very near. The four of us are meeting in the bustling metropolis of McGregor (down the road from Crawford) for lunch at a local cafe. I've dug out all the pictures of our younger selves, and cannot wait to find where the road of life has led them all.

But, before I leave this morning? I am getting J and his crew set up to repaint the den, dining room and kitchen, and to finish staining the newly built bookcases and finished trim work.

Sometimes, we just let the waters of life flow past us. In reflecting on this week, I feel like refreshing waters have rolled over me in a cleansing way. Here's to new beginnings.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Desires of our Hearts

Looking back over our lives often allows us connect the dots. You see how one thing led to another and another...and another.  Those connections always give me a joyful reminder that God is in control, and that very little happens by accident. (And I won't give the credit over to coincidence.) 

Today is my 200th post and Valentine's weekend. My first without D. I've decided to give it up for the Happy Memories. 

D was a mechanical engineer who worked for Westinghouse for about 25 years. He moved to Texas to be part of the supercollider project that was shut down by the government. He took his engineering skills to the semiconductor industry, and you can guess where that little turn in the road led in 2001: D's first layoff. 

We played the "What would you love to do for a living?" game. I was already many years into my dream job of teaching elementary school. He said that he had always wanted to build custom furniture or be an architect. My grandmother had left us a small inheritance, so we used the money to allow him to buy tools and large equipment for a furniture business. He loved working with wood, and for about 18 months was as happy (and as busy) as could be. And that's when cancer came to live in our home and D's body. 

Surgery followed surgery, and it became apparent that he could no longer work on large pieces, but did so many beautiful custom woodworking projects to our home. Time for the "What would you love to do..." game again, and this time he turned to a less strenuous choice: architecture. He went back to school to learn how to do design work on his computer, and was immediately given a job by a friend of a friend. His specialty was designing custom kitchens. On more than one occasion I got to see the completed work from his designs, and was blown away by his creative ideas and attention to detail. His boss was a saint who let him work whenever he could around surgeries, procedures  and long recoveries as cancer continued to call.

I love reflecting on this over my shoulder. Unbeknownst to us, D only had about 7 years to live after the initial diagnosis. But God knew, and He allowed D two of his heart's desires even during the hardest path of life: building custom furniture and architectural design work. I am forever grateful for those blessings.

About a year ago, D decided to sell some of his large and specialized tools. Loyal Brother-in-Law  knew a man who did custom cabinet work, and asked this man if he'd be interested in the tools. J came over and was amazed at all D had available, and was very grateful for the good deal D gave him.

Fast forward to now. There were many home projects left unfinished when D left this world in July. I decided the best thing to do is to fix the house up in case I decide to sell it. I asked Loyal Brother-in-Law for help in locating someone to finish the work around my house. His suggestion? How about: J.

J came to look the house over and agreed that the repairs and detail work would be relatively easy. He also had many suggestions that I had not even thought of. Loyal Brother-in-Law threw out another suggestion: would J be willing to trade the work for D's tools?

We took J into the garage and D's workroom and I think he was stunned by the number of custom tools that D had owned. J agreed that he could finish out all the projects in my entire house, and even owe me money, in exchange for the tools.

This was wonderful for me on so many levels: I don't have to contract out all the little jobs like scraping popcorn ceilings, painting walls, replacing doors and baseboards,  finishing trimwork  and a multitude of other small repairs. J and his crew can do it all. And I do not have to go through the harrowing job of the archeological dig through D's tools, while trying to parcel them out one at a time to people who may not even appreciate them. I know that J and his people will use them purposefully for years to come.

J and his crew began work last week on my home, and on cleaning out D's garage. I had not been able to go out among D's tools since losing him in July. That day, I asked Loyal Sister and Brother-in-Law to also take all the medical equipment that was stored among the tools. I returned home to an empty, clean garage and felt surprisingly light in my heart. I'm determined that not everything has to feel like loss. This mercy miracle from the hand of God fulfilled many of the desires of my heart: finishing D's projects, getting the house ready to sell if I feel that's what I am to do when my year's decision-making moratorium ends, having the tools go to someone who will be blessed by them, and a turn-key job that will not require me to handle multiple contractors. God is faithful.

My Valentine's weekend plans? I'm going out of town to visit one of my best friends, and then heading to Fort Worth to celebrate D's oldest daughter's 25th birthday with her.  I'm using the road time to think, pray and listen for God's heart and plans for me in the coming days.

And I'm reflecting on precious memories. It's been 7 months today since I lost D. I find that most memories bring smiles and joy, instead of the tears that seemed to continually mark the brittle-as-glass early days of loss. D and I got engaged on Valentine's day. I remember questioning him when he popped the question and pulled out the ring, "What are you asking God for?" And his reply? "Your heart."

Well, D, you got it. And you still have it. You were a desire of my heart. And I was blessed to have you for the time that I did. Happy Valentine's Day, baby.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Close Encounters

Young Son forwarded me an email from his college advisor this week. It is official: he will be graduating from Texas State University on May 14 at 10 am. My first grade classroom will have to run without me on that auspicious day. 

One of the things I  am most proud of is that he has put himself through financially. He has had all manner of jobs; often more then one at a time. 

His senior year has brought his most interesting positions yet. He works at one of Sandra Bullock's restaurants, and got to meet her at the Christmas party.

Last week he told me he was adding another job: pedicabbing in downtown Austin. For the uninformed, this is basically a carriage attached to a bicycle. It is hard work, and often dangerous in our crazy traffic. He worked his first solo shift last night. Here was one of his first customers:

My son is the one on the right.

If you need a lift in downtown Austin, look for Chris. Maybe he'll let you sit in the same seat as Matthew. Just be sure to tip him well; he still has 3 months of schooling to go.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Telling on Myself

Sometimes I reread a post, and cannot even imagine why people would want to read such pitiful drivel. Yet I continue to see the counter climb. I want to assure you that, in spite of some soul wrenching sharing that seems to work like therapy for me, I do have some good moments (yea, even hours) each day.

I'm also able to laugh at myself, which keeps the journey a little lighter as well. For example, I just figured out I have been one week ahead in my GriefShare home work this entire semester. And this is a repeat of the same class I took last semester. Somehow, it took me six days to piece together that the work I did all week did not mesh with the discussions we had in class. Loyal sister told me not to worry: there were probably people in the class who regularly showed up a day early and wondered where everyone was. (I'm not laughing too hard at that since I was a week early to jury duty last fall, even though I'd scheduled my sub on the right day. Ahem.)

Another interesting event happened last Sunday after church. There was a grocery store near the church I was visiting, so I decided to just get my shopping done for the week. (I continue to repent of my hunter/gatherer ways in eating, and am actually trying to purchase food for the cabinets and refrigerator on a semi-regular basis.) The first chance meeting at this store came on the cereal aisle. An elderly man without a basket struck up a conversation about cereal bars and the varying degrees of additives they contained. I laughed and pointed out that drizzling chocolate on the bars didn't make them healthier, either. And then I moved on to the cheese aisle. Where a basket-free senior citizen male began asking me my opinion on cheese sticks and shredded cheese. I'm sure I had some pithy comment, and moved on to the produce section. Over the avocados and tomatoes, yet another male customer (but I'm playing fast and loose with that term since he, too, did not have a basket) commented on how nice my jacket was. Hmmm. I may be slow, but I am not stupid. After two more such encounters I realized this store was only miles away from a retirement community called Sun City, and these men were spending a rainy, Sunday afternoon trolling the grocery store for conversation.  (If you are local and interested in the over 70 bunch, give me a call and I'll supply the location.)

To add insult to injury, after the funeral last night I went to Barnes and Noble to just get out a little bit. Coincidentally, I had on the same jacket I was wearing on Sunday during the inadvertent grocery store mixer. I asked an elderly man if the seat next to him in the magazine section was taken. "Nope", he replied, "but that sure is a nice jacket you are wearing." I pulled my Southern Living in front of my face and vowed silently to never wear the jacket again. EVER. (And lest you think it is a revealing little number, it is a long sleeved tapestry jacket with a black turtleneck underneath. Because winter has forgotten that central Texas is not supposed to be so cold.) Apparently my jacket is a Babe Magnet for the over 70 crowd.  I need someone to take Memaw shopping  to find some clothing that announces LOUDLY I am still a few decades from retirement.

So, I do laugh and have good moments. And I'm not thinking about changing  the blog to a less joyful name. But I am sticking with my own grocery store from now on.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Hundredth Day of School

Today is the 100th day of school. It is like the ultimate destination on the pilgrimage of first grade. (Well, except for the last day of school...) Each morning we add another day to our 100 chart. We analyze numbers and make strategies: can we count by 1, 2,5  and/or 10 to get to today's number? Is it odd or even? If it is even, what is one half of the number? Can we count by 3 to the number? (The trick is to add the digits of the number: if that total is divisible by 3, the entire number is divisible by 3 also.) I could go on and on with the amazing things we do with the numbers on the march toward 100, but I'll stop there. Because I'm not in school today. On the 100th day. It is a little like missing Christmas in my world.

My uncle died and the funeral is this morning. Oh, the family tales I could spin about his life. He married my great aunt in the 30s, smack dab in the middle of the Depression. Her father had immigrated from Sweden, and she grew up in a tight-knit Swedish community. It was in a rural area that is now the Austin airport. She moved into town to work at the School for the Deaf, and met her future husband. She was older by several years (a fact I did not learn until her death a few years ago.) He worked for the state, and over the years rose up the ranks to the top of his department. I never realized just how high his rank was until I met someone who worked for the same state agency. I mentioned my uncle's name and was met by stunned silence. Apparently, Uncle Bob was untold levels above this individual, and well-known through out the agency. One of the greatest things he did for me was to secure jobs for me in a state agency during my summer breaks from college. Those positions paid my tuition and living expenses, and allowed me to graduate with the teaching degree that has filled my life with so much meaning and happiness.

There are so many twists and turns in family histories. When my aunt died a few years ago, he married the woman who had been her at-home nurse. She was much younger, but obviously loved him. Shortly after their marriage, he began having a series of strokes, and eventually bone cancer. She has given him wonderful care throughout their few years of marriage, and we are very thankful for her. His only daughter, my cousin, is in end stage ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and will not be able to attend the funeral, but her son is driving in.

And there you go. Everyone has their "stuff". Not happy about that fact, but it helps makes me feel more normal to know I'm not the only one struggling through a difficult patch in life. 

Including the substitute who is now in charge of my 19 students  all hyped-up for the hundredth day. (And did I mention it has rained all week and there has been no recess?) I expect my day will be much quieter than hers will be. 

Dear First Grade: See you on Day 101, ready to hear about all your amazing adventures today. Be nice to the sub and there may be some extra recess in it for you. If it's not still raining for the 1,000th day in a row.