Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My High Techness

My screen saver has inexplicably begun doing something creepy: it changes images at will. The first time I noticed it was when I was surprised by a large photograph of a seagull I took in Maine. You think everything is big in Texas? You should see Maine gulls. They are the size of small dogs. Think how large they are on a computer screen. Spooky. But, I digress.

When ever I get my laptop out, I find it has played roulette with my photo files and selected a new image for display. It reminds me of HAL, the computer from the movie "2001, a Space Odyssey". My MacBook seems to be playing fast and loose with my controls. 

I know I must "accidentally" have pushed some button to cause this to happen. Probably 95% of what I do on the computer could be labeled the same way. That "accidentally" part. But somehow I manage to socially network without blowing the machine to smithereens. Not bragging--just the facts.

 I also know that I could grab the nearest six year olds and they would know exactly how to remedy this technical glitch. Mainly because their frontal lobes have not developed. They do not know, for example,  that calling up a school district banned website (like that dangerous YouTube) will result in an immediate call from the central office, with sirens and squealing tires soon to follow.  

I kid about the squealing tires. They'd never send out a warning like that; they'd just clip my ethernet.

At least my story is not as bad as the teacher next door. She used her school-issued computer at a hotel on vacation. Somehow she  came home with a file of pics that included several vacations of an Asian family she had never seen before. She can't seem to erase them, but maybe she can photoshop them for her Christmas card. 

Guess I'll just get a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show until tech support calls me back. Looks like a run of Field Day pics are coming up.  

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Other Right

In first grade, six year-olds can be somewhat directionally challenged. For example, the words, "Put your right hand over your heart for the Pledge," do not guarantee that right hands are over the hearts of those sweet students. I try to give hints like, "It is the hand you write with," except this year I have a large crowd of lefties. Or, "Your left thumb and forefinger make an L for left."

I am full of the tricks of the trade. But, alas, even after 129 days of school (we count them in first grade), I still have to  make corrections with some students daily.

 I was not aware of how ingrained my words were until Friday morning's assembly. This is the way my students closest to me said the Pledge of Allegiance:

"Right hand over your heart. No, your other hand. I pledge allegiance to the flag..."

Hoping that can be unlearned before second grade.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I apologize if I did not speak to you at the mall...

I was given new evidence of The Fog Machine O' Grief at church Sunday morning. I had taken a lone seat on a back row pew, and was soon approached by a smiling, elderly woman. She called me by name and asked me to come sit with her and her husband so I wouldn't have to sit alone. My daughter, in her recent move to a new state, has convinced me of the value of saying "YES!" to all invitations when you are trying to meet new people.

I followed this sweet lady back to her pew, shook hands with her husband, and then settled back to try and figure out who in the world she was. She kept carrying on a friendly conversation, asking me very specific questions about my life and my children. I glanced at the name printed on her Bible and willed myself to remember it. The conversation got around to my GriefShare class right as the service began and talking stopped. I thanked her after the service for her kindness, and hightailed it home to check out my GriefShare class directories. I didn't see her name on the spring roster, but found out on the fall list that she had been a leader of my class. For 4 months. And I did not recognize her.

That makes me feel last fall must have been like an out of body experience: getting through, marking the days, willing the calendar pages to turn, and waiting for my brains to begin generating memory and thoughts again. I think I have a little better grasp on the reason that I was the only one who was "invited" (read that: strongly suggested) to return for a second session of the class.

And this time? I know everyone's names and faces. We only have two more classes, but I think I may graduate this time.

Maybe spring does make all things new.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lessons Learned

One of my favorite blogs is called "Fiddledeedee", by a homeschooling mother of three who lives in an area of the country she lovingly refers to as "armpit Florida". She's honest and open, and I consider her writing a ministry. She touches my heart often, but especially in a post found here . It describes the difficult relationship she had with her late mother, and her desire to heal the wounds and do better in relationships with her own children. The comments that followed her post were precious affirmations of encouragement, and also confessions from fellow bloggy friends. Proof that social networking does not have to be impersonal.

As always, her post caused me to apply her reflections and insights onto my own life. And my relationship with my mother. I cannot think of one friend  who has ever met my mother. And I have friendships that have spanned four decades. My mother, quite simply, made the decision to not be part of my life, or the lives of my three siblings. 

My upbringing was so dysfunctional, that my way of rebelling was to go off to a Baptist university as soon as I graduated high school. It had a curfew, rules that allowed no males in female dorm rooms, and nightly room checks. I went from a family that only attended church annually on Easter Sundays (because my grandparents were treating to lunch at the local Luby's cafeteria after the service), to a school with required chapel services three times a week. Where they took roll and issued demerits for absences. And those unusually strict rules? They were a haven for me. It was the first time in my life that I had boundaries that made me feel safe and secure and loved.

Somewhere in there, I developed a passion to ensure that my own children, and the students in my classrooms, would feel that same unconditional love and safety. Many good things can rise out of the ashes of this life. "Extracting the precious from the worthless", the Bible calls it in Jeremiah 15:19. And in the squeezing tight places? That is where the diamonds are formed under extreme heat and pressure.

We trade our ashes for beauty. And the results of those hard earned lessons? They are the reason we can have joy in this often treacherous  journey of life. Amen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mundane Musings

I have two cherished friends from high school, and the three of us regularly email each other with the subject title "News of the Mundane". Nothing seems too small to share or comment on, and I love keeping up with the  details of their day-to-day lives from their homes in too-far-away Oklahoma. I've decided to adapt that format for this post, because it will be a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and not a whole lot in the end.
  • Today, one of my six-year-old best friends asked me what time my "bedtime" was. (We are learning to tell time in my first grade classroom.) "Well," I replied, "I usually head to bed around 9:oo pm." His eyes got wide and he said, "Wow. That is amazing that you can go to bed so late and still come to school and be such a good teacher." And here MeMaw thought she was retiring with the chickens.
  • In other school news, the day before Spring Break, my class dwindled to 8 students. (Grades were turned in on Wednesday, Sports Day was Thursday, and Friday was...how do we say it? A good day to start the break early.) I pulled out some centers that only see the light of day once a year; usually the day after Sports Day. Legos, Playmobiles, Happy Meal toys, and Lincoln Logs were among the favorites spread out all over the floor. The Lone 8 students wasted no time sharing this good fortune with the other students upon our return today. Cries of "No Fair!" rang through the room from children who apparently would have traded Disney in California, skiing in Denver or shopping at the Mall of America for a day with toys on the classroom floor. Parents: my toys are now for rent and I know how to save you a chunk of change next time you are planning a vacation.
  • I ran into old friends at the grocery store today, and seeing them brought back so many happy memories. They are the parents of 6  children, and when my son was tiny, he referred to them as the "Lotsa Browns". (This was so as to not  confuse them with another church family of the same last name who only had two children.) Well, 5 of their 6 now-grown children were married within the last two years. I'm thinking if the last son will just take it for the team and marry quickly, they could be offered their own reality series on TLC.
  • I have finally located the phone number for the lawn service Dave used last year. They will be just in time to harvest our weeds before they are mistaken for a Christmas tree farm. I will apologize to my new neighbors who border the jungle side of my lawn when they make eye contact with me again.
  • My married daughter has begun a blog, and a recent post of hers was picked up by the Texas Baptist Children's Home here. Those precious people turned one of the most devastating events of our lives into some of our happiest memories.
Did you notice multiple instances of The Happy here? The fog must be lifting. Maybe Spring is bringing in some new life.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tour of Homes

Perhaps you wonder how my home remodeling is coming. I'm having the entire house "freshened up" as a realtor friend likes to call it. All walls, ceilings and trim painted. All unfinished projects finished. And all prayer going toward the decision of do I stay in a four bedroom home alone or move on to something more manageable for just little old me?

Well, here is the bedroom that was formerly Katy's. It is holding the contents of Chris' former room while it is being painted. Katy is now married and living in Pennsylvania, so I'm feeling like she won't need this room anymore.
Here is the room that was Heather and Emily's. Heather is now a graduate student at Brite Divinity in Fort Worth and Emily is in Washington State studying to be a veterinarian's assistant. The room now holds the contents of the living room as it is being repainted. 
Last but not least, Chris' former room. Where he dumped everything last year before he left for his summer studies in Costa Rica. And where it all still remains in a big pile under a painting tarp. Chris will graduate from Texas State University in May. The piles will be greatly reduced when he has to decide what to keep and what to take with him for his new life. I'm thinking the bank carved from a coconut to look like a monkey (a souvenir of Hawaii) will probably not make the cut to his own future home.
And amidst the remodeling chaos, I am at peace. 

Believing that changes and rearrangements are also being made in my heart. 

And that everything will end up where it belongs.

Including me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hersheys and Home

The Young Couple's moves around the country have allowed me to fulfill some of my Bucket List travels. Their years in Missouri included a visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder home and a viewing of Pa's fiddle.

Their most recent move rewarded me a pilgrimage to the Happiest Place on Earth. (And it's not Disney...)

Hershey, Pennsylvania: the home of all things chocolate.
What is not to love about a town with streetlights shaped like Hershey kisses?
 And this intersection? It is the corner of Chocolate Street and Cocoa Avenue. Unparalleled bliss.
We took a tour of the town, where the conductor kept handing out chocolate. This is a very happy population. For many reasons.

Did you know that the proceeds of the all things Hershey go toward maintaining the 100-year old Milton Hershey School, which supplies a residential home and school for orphans and children whose parents are no longer able to care for them? Every student who works hard is taught a trade or given a full scholarship to the college of their choice, and with an endowment in the billions, the good work will continue. You can read about it here. 

So, you can feel even better about eating Hershey products. Taking it for the team by supporting these kids with your chocolate intake.
Here we are at the Hershey factory: a real-life "I Love Lucy"-like production of candy-kiss production.
A chocolate store the size of a small mall.

And a reason to return to Pennsylvania this summer:
Personalized chocolate bars.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pa's fiddle in Missouri. Check!
Hershey, Pennsylvania and all things chocolate. Check!

Now if we can just get Young Son In Law to consider a move to Texas when grandchildren begin arriving.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

Now I'm returned to Texas, where the bus drivers do not pass out chocolate bars to passengers.

 But there's no place like home.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Memory Lanes

Still enjoying the Spring Break beauty of Pennsylvania with Married Daughter and Loyal Son-in-law. And, to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, being surprised by joy in a state that is far from my Texas. You see, their new home is only a short distance from Dave's hometown; an area where his brother and sister still live.

I had never visited Hanover, Pennsylvania before yesterday. Dave had spoken lovingly of it in great detail over the years, but somehow we had never made the journey together. We drove there yesterday, passing right through the middle of Gettysburg's battlefield. This is a state steeped in history. We met Dave's brother, sister, and niece. And we were soon joined by Dave's oldest daughter who happened to be a short distance away in D.C. for Spring Break. Our first stop was a local restaurant serving my new favorite food: Maryland Crabcakes. And then the tour began.

Dave's brother drove us past the home they used to live in, the schools and churches they attended, and the restaurants they used to frequent. He was also able to show me what wasn't there anymore: the location of Dave's first job at an A&W rootbeer that has been replaced by the Golden Arches, where town used to end when Dave had a bicycle-driven paper route, and where Dave used to embarrass his younger siblings in the high school parking lot with his noisy pieced-together MG sports car. We learned the history of the town and its industries (Hanover shoes (now Clarks), Utz's and Snyders--makers of snack foods that we all probably have in our pantries. We visited Dave's mom's final resting place, and admired her courage at raising three children as a single mother in the 1960s who never drove a car, but launched three great kids into the world who went on to be a nurse, teacher and engineer.

I'm sure this trip down  Memory Lane felt more like the "Three Hour Tour" of Gilligan's Island fame to the three 25 year old cousins in the back of the van. But they were patient with us as we shared special memories of a wonderful man. Dave's birthday is Friday, and I was so thankful for this glimpse into his past as a way of celebrating this first one without him. 

Thanks, Kevin and April. It was the best gift you could have given to me. And to him. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Got Baggage?

Ahhh. Spring Break in Pennsylvania with Married Daughter and Loyal Son in Law. 

Every story has a beginning and end, and mine began with my flight out of Austin. Loyal Sister took me to the airport and knew the baggage carrier. "Come to my line", he called out to her. Foreshadowing of Big Mistake.

We got  behind a family of 5 with distinctive matching Mossy Oak camouflage duffel bags headed for Denver. When I stepped up with my bag, he was deep in conversation with my sister. He tagged my bag and threw it onto the conveyor belt that quickly carried it out of sight. He saw one more Mossy Oak duffel, grabbed the computer printed routing label my boarding pass had generated, and added it to the busy conveyor belt. Then he turned to me and said, "Now, where is your bag?" I pointed toward the conveyor belt that had already carried it far, far away. In the immortal words of Scooby Do, "Rut ro".

In my gut? I knew there may be a wee problem when I landed in Baltimore. We both knew the luggage was tagged incorrectly. I wasn't convinced he'd really be able to chase my bag down among the thousands of other similar ones as he promised. It looked like the mis-tagged Mossy Oak was heading for my destination, and my luggage would be visiting Denver without me. Drat.

Following a three hour flight with surprisingly good coffee, I found myself at the empty Baltimore luggage carousel hearing my name being paged by my airline. Yes, they knew my luggage was in Denver. They could have it Fed-Exed to my daughter's home. It would arrive on Tuesday. This was Saturday. I was going home on Wednesday. Following me? Big problem.

My initial solution was to lurk around the luggage carousels and see if there was someone who looked like they were my size and used a Chi. And maybe quickly borrow their luggage until Tuesday.

The airline's plan B was that we could stay around Baltimore for 7 more hours and they'd have my luggage rerouted from Denver. I could pick it up along with a travel voucher that would allow me another trip for my trouble. Hmmmmm. The question really was: did I want clothes and straight hair for the next 5 days? Baltimore, welcome your three new and unexpected guests.

We decided to kill time at a recommended local Maryland restaurant that served amazing crabcakes, and a near-by Mills Mall. Everyone had a good attitude, and in the end I had  a great meal, a suitcase and a travel voucher. Which was much more then the crowd behind me had when their luggage went to Long Island. And their connecting flight was canceled until the next day. 

 I thought about giving them directions to the crabcake restaurant and Mills Mall, but they seemed to be lighting torches and heading for the airline counter.

Me? I'm just glad to be here. Relaxing. Seeing the new life the young couple has created for themselves after just six weeks in their new home. 

And wondering if that sweet little family vacationing in Denver  ever got their duffel.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Shape is Your Puzzle Piece?

I've mentioned a time or twenty that I have a problem going back to my church of 14 years. I just feel so overwhelmed being there that I either leave in tears or cry through the entire service. Or both.

I brought this up (again) in my Grief Class on Thursday night. Several people had great suggestions about how to find a church to visit. As they talked, I had an aha! moment: finding the church is not the problem. I think you can find God where ever you are looking for Him. Finding a sense of community is the issue here. I can sit on back rows of various churches forever, but I find that my fog is lifting enough that I really miss relationships at church. But here is the deal: I cannot figure out whether to go to a women's class, a single's class or a couple's class. I don't seem to "fit" anymore.

 "Well," one of my wise and kind new friends in Grief Class said, "why don't you try to find a Sunday School first?" (Or Adult Bible Fellowship, Life Group or whatever-your-church-calls-it.) And the heavens opened and angels sang with an answer that should have been so obvious.

Being an A-type, I started researching online for Sunday School times in the area. I found a church that actually has THREE different sessions of SS: 8:40, 9:40 and 11:00 am to dovetail with their church services. I briefly considered trying one at each of the times today; kind of like Speed Dating my way through classes. My sanity was restored to me as I reminded myself that life is a marathon, not a sprint. I need to pace myself because grief still comes calling at the most unexpected times. I don't need the reality overload regardless of how it looks on paper.

So, heading off to try a class this morning. Fingers crossed, eyes to God.

Friday, March 5, 2010

...and a pineapple under the sea...

I have been a teacher long enough to know why there is an obesity problem among our children in America. It began with Lunchables and lunchbox-sized soft drinks, and reached its apex with Pringles that had riddles printed on them with red dye. The Fruit by the Foot with tattoos was also a horrid reminder of what passes for food in school cafeterias. There were times I wanted to stand on a lunch table like Norma Ray, with a sign that said, "Red dye causes seizures in young children." Like anyone would notice as they stuffed their faces will all manner of artificially dyed, high fructose corn syrup sweetened pseudo-food.

Upon my return to public school four years ago, I was delighted to realize that the parents of my students were serious about providing their children with organic, natural food. I've seen kids pull out fresh sushi, edamame and grilled salmon at lunch. Tofu and Tiger Milk were not far behind. These parents "get" nutrition.

And, surprisingly, so does our cafeteria.

Every day, fresh fruit and vegetables are offered, along with whole wheat breads and low fat entrees. The oven fried chicken is among the best I've ever eaten, and I applaud the efforts of the district's mandate to serve nutritious and healthy meals.

Today, I trolled the cafeteria line to see if something looked better than the lunch I had hurriedly packed early that morning. I was craning my neck to see what was available down the line, not wanting to use my teacher-card to "cut". (Or hear, "You cut-ed", as every student I've ever had would proclaim.)

"Hey," I asked the six-year-old food connoisseur in front of me, "what kind of meat is that?" (My adult mind figured the square, breaded offering must be fish because it was a Friday during Lent, but chicken or beef was also a possibility.)

"It's Square Meat," my little friend informed me.  I told him I knew that, but asked again what kind of square meat was it?

He looked at me like I had a problem, and carefully enunciated his answer: 
"It's s-q-u-a-r-e meat, Mrs. O'Brien," he answered patiently.

I think they must be  serving Sponge Bob for lunch.

Side of Ranch dressing and no one will notice.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Finding the way through

Years ago, I had a kindergarten student who would wake her mom up in the middle of the night to discuss the concept of eternity. That sweet little girl would have both hands on either side of her head in agony, trying to come to terms with something that was never ending. I'm proud to update you that she is a recent college graduate who wrestled with this concept and won. Eternity is no longer overwhelming.

I've thought of her a lot lately as I find myself thinking, "OK, D, you can come home now." After 7 months, my heart and spirit are still jolted by the realization that he will not be  back. How long will it take for the finality of death to become totally real? 

I have realized that the single thing I miss the most is companionship. Just having someone there  to hear your story when you come home makes it matter oh-so-much more. Even when the cancer left D sleeping the majority of hours in a day, I still knew that he was in the house. And that was comforting.

Something I realize anew is that  a spouse gives  boundaries. Living as a couple meant there was an expected schedule  to be kept for sleeping, eating, cleaning and certain obligations. Alone? No one knows when or if you even choose to fulfill those obligations.

I'm sure we've all had those times when we moan about not being able to do something because of the kids, or the husband, or the hundreds of other things we put before our own needs. Lately, I feel like I am standing naked in a field: I have no obligations now, and those things are still not getting done. The weight is not falling off; the gym does not have my shadow crossing its threshold. I now have no one to pin my lack of progress on in certain areas except... myself.

I know an elderly gentleman who recently lost his spouse of 62 years. He said that he had no idea of many of the things she used to do for him...until he had to do them himself. He had never been in charge of the mail: his wife had handed him what little mail he needed to see. The sheer volume of "junk" mail has come as a total shock to him, and he has no idea how to handle it. He leaves it to pile up on his kitchen table, and only has a small area left cleared for his meals. 

We all just have to find the new normal. Looking ahead; moving on.

"You will make known to me the path of life.
In Your presence is fullness of joy.
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever." (Psalm 16:11)