Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reaping and Laughing

Remember being trapped by someone else's home movies? Well-spoiler alert/warning--you choose: this post is going to be a virtual scrapbook of our holiday happenings.

Married Daughter flew in solo from Pennsylvania to spend Easter with her very excited Mama. What did we do with almost 7 days?
We attended a wedding where Young Son (left) was a groomsman for a "friends-since-childhood" wedding.
These two practically grew up before my eyes at a school where I used to teach. I've kept up with them over the years, and it was my joyful pleasure to see them emerge as two of the happiest people on earth at their wedding.
I was surrounded by my two (adult) children for days. Life is good.
But it can get better! Loyal Sister and her husband took us out for gingerbread pancakes...
...and lots of pictures that the kids patiently endured. (Probably because they know most of them end up on Facebook now, and they want to look good.) Breakfast followed by shopping and the movie "Water For Elephants". (Well worth seeing.)
Saturday involved more shopping and an evening with sweet friends C and C to attend a James Taylor concert.

Easter found me in church with my children worshipping on either side of me. My heart was full. It takes so little to make a Mama happy.
Easter lunch out with Aunt W--the last extended relative I have. She's almost 90, but still going strong. (A few things to say there: I'm glad I have her staying-young Swedish genes. I'm even more glad she doesn't peruse the internet and see I've listed her age. Egad.)
A beautiful Monday spent strolling through downtown Austin (pictured at the Whole Foods "mothership" store.) Married daughter left sleet to come home to 90+ degree days in Texas.

Ahhh, family time. It just fills me up. I love spending time talking and laughing with them.

It is our season for joy.


And there is more good news coming...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Living and Loving Well

I had a second friend die in as many months. I know that since losing D, funerals are a potential emotional minefield. I also know they are times when God has the complete attention of my spirit and my soul. When He is able to whisper of His mysteries and wonders to me. All I know is I am glad that I attended a service Saturday that spotlighted a life worth celebrating.

M had been my friend since high school when we worked at a theater together selling tickets and popcorn, and having more fun than we should have. She was the most genuinely loving and positive peer I have ever met, and that attitude served her well through a 12-year battle with cancer. During those years of chemotherapy and treatments she remarried, led a high school drill team, directed children's choir, taught Bible school, sang in adult choir, played handbells, developed a line of greeting cards for cancer patients, helped pass a law in honor of her mother to provide stiffer penalties for owners of violent dogs in Texas after her mother was killed by a pack of dogs while gardening in her front yard, and loved everyone around her well. Whew.

I've always loved in the Old Testament when one of the Patriarchs died, it is said they "died full of years." I have to believe if they died full of years, they also lived "full of years". M's years, though far too few, were full ones. At her service, the pastor read a list M purposefully left behind for her family, listing lessons she had learned as a result of her journey with cancer. She believed that each cancer challenge was part of God's purpose for her here on earth. She was passionate that God wanted her to share her experiences to help others. The program stated that "All who knew Marilyn feel so blessed to have had her beautiful spirit touch their lives." We should all touch so many lives in such a profound way.

Good-bye, sweet friend. You've left your handprint on our hearts, and you will be missed dearly.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Checking It Off the List...

Is there someone you have always wanted to meet? I am going to totally reveal my inner nerd by telling you mine would be the author of my favorite children's book, "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse". When I learned that Kevin Henkes was going to be at the small Barnes and Nobles in my suburb (and not the "mothership" store in Austin) I was beyond excited. The only problem? I found out about it the same day he was arriving, and I needed a ticket to attend. Tickets that were handed out during the hours that I was in the classroom. Probably reading Lilly out loud to rapt second graders. To the rescue: Loyal Sister who went to the Barnes and got me an "A" ticket. First in line position. Score!
I am Christmas-morning-with-a-new-bike-under-the-tree thrilled here. He gave a small talk, answered questions, autographed books and filled everyone there with The Happy.
But, wait! There's more! Today a fellow teacher and I took the afternoon off to visit the Texas Librarian's Association convention. We took the new train downtown and stepped into a wonderland of books, books, books.
And fringe personalities.
This is Mike Thaler, author of the Black Lagoon series. (Perfect second-grade friendly books.) Our students are going to be sooooooooo jealous in the morning. But they'll love the personalized autographs.

There you have it: my secret life with children's books. Life is good in the second grade.

(Thanks to librarian extraordinaire, Ms. G, for the tickets!)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Much Misc.

On Tax Day Coming: Every year at tax time, D would have me sit by him at the computer as he did our taxes. I approached the 1040 with no fear on Saturday, and was done in under three hours. TurboTax Online: you are my friend. (Except for that sneaky thing you do at the end where you try to charge an extra $39.95 for direct deposit. Shame on you. I will have it mailed for free, please.) Thanks, D. Those lessons are still with me and I approached it with no fear or trembling. And got a nice refund to boot!

On Bulk Trash Pickup Day (aka "Put Big Things at the Curb" Day): Thank you, trash collectors, for taking the antique fencing D said I'd never use (he was right), the pots that filled the potting shed and the cracked trash cans that have been replaced by the humongous city-sponsored container. (A family of four could camp in there. Seriously.) A curious thing: all that I put out at the curb was mysteriously gone before the refuse people came. Recycling at its best?

On a New! Shorter! Haircut: I've tried this same bob since college. It's always the easiest to maintain with my hair's tendency to frizz. It looks neater, but short. I always seem to let my hair grow back out thinking it will be more obedient the next time. (Definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting different results...) My only hesitation with permanently adopting this haircut is the memory of one line from the movie "Steel Magnolias" when M'Lynn said, "Oh, my gosh. Shelby was right. My hair does look like a brown football helmet." Except that mine is L'Oreal #8 Medium Blonde.

On Parent-made Costumes for the Second Grade Musical: I bow to your superior knowledge in costumes. In 22 years of teaching, parents have never failed to amaze me with their ability and willingness to do anything for their children. The spider's legs made out of pipe insulation? Genius.

37 more days in the Wonderful World of Second Grade. I hope they go by slowly and leisurely so we can really enjoy them.

(Except the insanity that is the last week of school. I hope those three days (one added for that missed ice day: drat!) fly by on greased skates.)

The end.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Queen Has Spoken

In my second grade classroom, we read a book called "Ready Freddy, the King of Show-and-Tell". The students had to write a persuasive letter telling why they should be chosen to be the first King/Queen of Show-and-Tell in my classroom. We wrote charts on what makes a good listener and speaker. My 18 eight-year-old best friends have been bringing in amazing items for two weeks : a 6 1/2 pound moose antler, antique sea glass, a catalogued sea shell collection, "my dad's very expensive not real gold" pocket watch, and a WWE action figure dressed up to look like an Argentinian gaucho complete with miniature boleadoras (to catch ostrich, you know). Does life get more interesting than sharing the details of the one thing a second grader loves above all else in this world?

Today, it was my turn to be the Queen of Show-and-Tell. I post pictures daily of my classroom on a blog I write for the parents found here. One of my students asked if he could take a picture of my presentation for the blog. The results were not too bad: most of my face shows, it is in focus, and I'm actually centered in the shot. You rock, little future Ansel Adams!
What am I showing? Well, when Young Son was 8, he was invited to the Governor's Mansion in Austin to trick-or-treat. The governor at that time was George W. Bush. For some reason I cannot remember, another mother offered to take Young Son to get his costume at home before driving him on to the party. This is where the story took a tragic turn: Young Son decided he didn't like the pre-selected Halloween costume and decided to wear army pants and a white t-shirt that he covered with artificial blood. The rest of the fake red stuff was applied to his face, and he skipped off to the party to meet the future President of the United States. To my horror, this picture appeared in the newspaper the next day.

At least it was run in black in white so the blood was not so brightly noticeable.

Young Son often uses this as his Facebook profile picture, with friends high five-ing him through congratulatory comments. Makes a mother proud, no?

To the parents of my second graders: hold those precious children of yours close. I promise this picture of my son was taken about 10 minutes ago. Now, he will soon be taking his college degree to teach in South Korea. And maybe sending me a show-and-tell picture for next year's crop of second graders.

38 more days of school. 18 eight year olds. Two years spent with them? Priceless.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Happy Bee Day

On the eve of my Bee day, I accomplished something I am very proud of. I have a personal rule that I will attempt the hard projects before I ask for help. And......I assembled four of these cabinets for my Children's Church room all by myself! Thank you Rubbermaid, for easy instructions and for making me feel like I am strong, I am invincible, I am....but that's another post.
For now? Let's talk about Bee Day in second grade. My classroom is known as "O'Brien's Bumblebees", and it is decorated throughout with darling bees given to me over the years. For my birthday, we celebrate "Bee Day" with a day chocked full of fun activities involving that buzzing insect. I have books, worksheets, costumes, centers and anything bee-themed you could imagine. I love it, the kids love it, and a good time is had by all each April 2.

I keep a blog of my classroom (found here, if you'd like to visit) and post pictures each day. On Bee Day, the students asked if they could take a picture of me for the blog. Sure, I told them. I'll post the best one. And here is the winner:
My lack of facial features was more than made up by all the adorable cards they brought in this morning. (Except for the one that listed my age as somewhat older than dirt.)
Right before school was out, the student's parents showed up like a flash mob. They handed out snacks and treats and gave me a Kindle. A KINDLE!!! Please remember, I've had these same students and parents for two years--I looped up from first grade to second grade with them. They feel more like family than school friends. But: a KINDLE! The perfect gift for one who was an avid reader along with D, and who lost that spark for reading on July 13, 2009. I think this new innovation and the love behind the gift may just rekindle (get it?) (Sorry! I am just so giddy about this!) my love for reading all over again.

I have two options for these parents:
1. Let me retain all your children in second grade next year so we can stay together, or
2. Invite me to your family reunions, because I already know most of the aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins in your families.

After school, my Ireland Traveling Buddy, Mrs. O'Reilly, and I went out to eat. (Side note: we are together so often that students confuse our names. Somehow "O'Brien" and "O'Reilly" have morphed into Mrs. O'Brielly for both of us.) Good food; good times.

Bright and early Loyal Sister showed up with her birthday explosion. She tends to dress me up for my birthday. Here is her classic Camero waiting to whisk me away.
You may notice she gets to look glamorous in her photos...
We went to some perfect little central Texas towns to shop, talk and eat great food. (If you're local, you already know the wonderfulness of Gruene and New Braunfels...)
Every year she also has a button for me to wear to announce to everyone why we are out and about. I kind of like this three year old version of me on this year's button. (The all time low was the year when she passed out the third grade version of me with cat-eye glasses to everyone in my school. But I'm over it. Mostly.)
Here's this year's version of me at our last stop at a cupcake shop. Thanks for a great day, Loyal Sister. Please remember that you have a Very Big Birthday in July. And I'm sure you wore cat-eye glasses at some juncture in your life.
On Sunday, Young Son took me to a very special brunch. D and I always went here for my birthdays or Christmases, and I've missed it so much. It is a lovely older home that has become surrounded by a funky south Austin neighborhood, but it still retains its genteel charm. Young Son had flowers and gifts, and requested the pianist play my favorite song, "Unchained Melody". My eyes leaked profusely, but we had a great time as we lingered to talk and talk.

After dinner, we went for a walk around the grounds where several peacocks roam on the lawn...
...and Young Son attempted to catch up with one. You can dress 'em up, but they are still that little boy at heart.

My former college roommate gave me a cobalt blue purse to encourage my new resolve to live a more colorful life. Married Daughter is bringing my gift when she comes home for Easter. Friends have called and written all weekend.

In this life, I am blessed with more good friends and wonderful family members than I can possibly deserve. Thanks to each one of you. You certainly are wonderful companions on this road of life.