Pieces

How do you say goodbye to the person who shapes so much of who are? That is what I have to do.

In many ways it has been a long goodbye, drawn out by time and forgotten memories. My nanna had changed so much in the last ten years–years marked with unspeakable losses and seismic shifts. She lost a grandson, a son, her husband, and a loving son-in-law. She sold and moved from the home she made with Grandaddy. And as all of this happened, little pieces of her drifted away. Her memories lost in a cloud of mini strokes (her spells she called them) until a major one finally claimed her.

Max keeps praying to Nanna every day. “Nanna, I hope you have a good life in heaven. I hope you are happy.” His father chuckles at his innocence while I tell Max that he can talk to Nanna whenever he wants.

This is the truth I tell him. The ones we lose are with us in pieces. For me, Nanna is with me in gestures and actions pieced in my everyday life.

Every time I open a book, Nanna is with me. After all she is the one who made me love them. Not because she herself was a great lover of reading (though she read her Bible every day), she would drive my brother and me to Kemp Public Library every week in the summer to check out books. It was there that I checked out and read some of my favorite books–The Velveteen Rabbit, Little Women, The Hobbit.

Last night I wound the hanks of alpaca yarn to knit a sweater for Madeleine. As I wound the yarn into lilac balls, I could see Nanna, yarn piled in her lap, with her crochet hook an fast fingers working on an afghan, hat, or scarf for someone she loved. While I never enjoyed crocheting even after she taught me, her love of yarn led me to learn to knit. Like her, I almost never knit something for myself.

My nanna was the consummate hostess. Every Sunday she made a large dinner spread. She set the table with a lovely white cotton tablecloth trimmed with flowers. These dinners were not necessarily a special occasion, but she made them that way. They were not just for our family. Each week new faces would join the table–sometimes the pastor and his family, sometimes aunts, uncles, cousins, and later my friends–they loved her lasagna. Her home was a gathering place for all. When I went to college, I took that with me. I knew food brought people together, so I used it to connect with those around me. When I was lonely or wanted to know people better, I invited them over for dinner. My closest friendships forged with bread and wine.

Before she passed, I asked her, “Nanna, do you remember how we used to make candy together?” She taught me how to watch the temperature by plopping the sugary mixture into cool water. She would stir, and I would add ingredients. Later, I would do the vigorous stirring while she added the ingredients until finally I would have to make it on my own. When I asked her, she couldn’t respond. Her speech already lost to the blockage in her brain. She squeezed my hand.

All these pieces–parts of me–remain even after a goodbye like the sweet lingering of fragrance of lilies from fresh cut flowers. Fudge, Sunday dinner, lasagna, rainbow sherbet, “Brookies”, crochet, hymns, singing, cards, libraries, poems, crosswords, doodles. These are the pieces left even after someone is gone.

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I Choose Joy: A Week of Joy

In early December, my children and I were driving home from a late night rehearsal in Littleton. When I say Littleton, I mean as-far-away-as-one-can-get-from-Parker-Littleton. We were all in horrid moods. Madeleine and Max were fighting, and I was tired of listening to whiny children after a day of teaching.
“Stop!” I yelled. Their voices quieted immediately. “Guys, we’re being ridiculous. We all need to stop. Let’s choose joy instead.”
Max, who was particularly tired from late night tech week rehearsals, continued to whine, so I asked Madeleine, “What did you do to choose joy today?”
She talked of playing her cello in orchestra and dancing in musical theatre. Immediately her stern face gave way to a bright, beaming smile.
“What about you, Max?” He paused. “Well, today…”
Frankly, I don’t remember what he said, but that’s not what is important. Every day since then, I have asked my children, “How did you choose joy today?”  The love telling me about what makes them truly happy, and it brings me so much pleasure to hear them share their joy.
This is a challenge for myself too. I tend to get wrapped up in what needs to be done and what hangs looming over my head. Instead, I need to stop and choose to do or focus on what gives me joy.  I’m tired of not living the joy-filled life that I want.
 
This is a really long introduction to say that every day this week, I will be posting what I have done to choose joy.
 
Joy Choice #1: Today I finished the first sock of a pretty pair.  Knitting brings me happiness.  I love the feel of fine sock yarn between my fingers.  I like the way the loops join row-by-row interlocking around each other like mini fingers. I love a finished project–when all those minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. of work finally come together into something that I hope will bring someone else happiness.  The same kind of happiness is brought me to make it.
 
How did you choose joy today?

Confession: The Source of My Ambition

I’ve heard a few times this month, “I don’t know how you do it all.”  Admittedly I do a lot. I work hard to balance the demands of my numerous roles–mother, teacher, department leader, grad student, web designer (I didn’t actually ask for that one), mentor, friend…Lots of women do these things, and lots of women do it better than I.  I wasn’t always this driven.  In fact, until about sixteen years ago, ambition was a foreign concept.

Throughout middle and high school, I heard that I wasn’t living up to my potential.  If I would only stop being to apathetic toward, well, everything, then I would absolutely be successful.  When I went off to school, it didn’t change all that much.  It mildly helped that I was paying for class, but I didn’t work  hard.  I wasn’t a diligent student or a devoted worker.  I just plain didn’t care.

Then it all changed.

Sixteen years ago, I met ambition.  He was tall, dark, and incredibly handsome. He was a hard worker and oh-so-smart.   At first, he was soft spoken and shy.  He was awkward, and frankly, I was thankful that he didn’t sound like a girl. He knew music, literature, and jazz. He was good at math.  I wasn’t, but I knew that I wanted to solve x when the equation was him + me.  If I wanted to impress this gentleman, I was going to have to turn it up. What did I do?

“Dear Reader, I married him.”

The truth is that I don’t do it all on my own.  Not at all. Not even a bit. I wouldn’t be able to juggle all that life throws at me without him. He’s calm and rational while I’m utterly emotional and a raging storm. He’s funny so I don’t take myself too seriously, and he reminds me that I can be rather selfish.  Above all, he pushes me to be my best self because all I really want in the world…my only true ambition is to make this man proud of me.

Happy birthday, H.B.

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This is likely my husband’s face every day when he hangs up the phone with me. It’s my favorite picture.

 

Warning: Spontaneous Emotions May Overflow

 

Today my dad would have been 75.  I didn’t realize it right away.  As every morning, I became caught up in my routine.  I woke, showered, ate, drove to school–the same as every weekday morning.

It wasn’t until a student came to me for a pass to work on Shakespeare scenes during homeroom when it hit me.

“Today is April…” I hesitated trying to remember what yesterday had been.

“The 25th,” she said.

I paused and jotted the number down as the realization came and my eyes burned with the holding back of preliminary tears.

“Here ya go,” I said quickly and handed her the small green paper.

I held my breath as she left and then released it slowly.

My morning went on as usual.  During my planning time, I checked my phone including a quick review of Facebook.  There it was again.  The reminder.  It’s his birthday.  I quickly tucked my phone away.  I wasn’t ready to deal with the full range of emotions such a realization brings.

And I went on with my day.  I talked about totalitarian governments.  A student brought up her father’s own involvement with air force intelligence during a brief discussion on spies.  There it was again.  I remembered you had done that too.  I answered her questions and moved on.

I taught Shakespeare.  Miranda proposed to Ferdinand, and Prospero expressed his happiness.  Students eagerly asked me about my proposal, and I told the story of how Jedidiah asked my father’s permission.  Jedidiah had asked, and he said, “Are you sure?”  It’s one of my favorite stories to tell.  And there it was again.

Once my day was over, I came home and looked at the calendar.  There it was.  Your picture and no longer just a birthdate and year…there was the death year.  There was such a finality to it.  Then I finally cried.  All of it, out like a flood.  I sobbed.  My throat burned and felt tight.  It hurt to swallow.  There it was again…finally.

And even though it’s your birthday, Dad, it’s there every day.  That reminder that you were, and then suddenly you were not.

I think of you every day.  Some days are just harder than others.  Today is always one of those days.

On Billy Collins, Thanksgiving, and Perspective

It’s beginning to overwhelm me–that time of the year when life becomes messier. Busier.  Events begin to pile up-events, dress rehearsals, parties, life.  And it’s the time of the year when we stop and pause to think about what we are grateful for because sometime during the year among all this messiness and busyness, we’ve forgotten.  Friends begin to stream November Thankfulness lists that are now lost between posts of hatred and political upset.  Right now, more negative than good seems to surround this month–this time of thankfulness.

Yesterday, sitting in a stuffy car, I caught a glimpse on YouTube of A Prairie Home Companion.  I stopped because one of my favorite poets read three of his poems on the program.  Nothing beats a good poet reading his own works.  You can view the reading here.

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Thanksgiving by Billy Collins

The thing about the huge platter
of sliced celery, broccoli florets,
and baby tomatoes you had  arranged
to look like a turkey with its tail fanned out
was that all our guests were so intimidated
by the perfection of the design
no one dared disturb the symmetry
by removing so much as the nub of a carrot.

And the other thing about all that
was that it took only a few minutes
for the outline of the turkey to disappear
once the guests were encouraged to dig in,
so that no one else would have guessed
that this platter of scattered vegetables ever bore
the slightest resemblance to a turkey
or any other two- or four-legged animal.

It reminded me of the sand mandalas
so carefully designed by Tibetan monks
and then just as carefully destroyed
by lines scored across the diameter of the circle,
the variously colored sand then swept
into a pile and carried in a vessel
to the  nearest moving water and poured in–
a reminder of the impermanence of art and life.

Only, in the case of the vegetable turkey
such a reminder was never intended.
Or if it was, I was too busy slicing up
even more vivid lessons in impermanence
to notice. I mean the real turkey minus its head
and colorful feathers, and the ham
minus the pig minus its corkscrew tail
and minus the snout once happily slathered in mud.

I like Billy Collins a lot.  I love his subtle humor and his observations.  His innocuous message disguised in the everyday.

This week I’ve gotten caught up in the arrangement of my turkey.  I’ve been painstakingly creating a menu and Thanksgiving experience for my family that will soon become over run with concerns like “Will the mashed potatoes get cold while the turkey rests?”  We often make bigger deals of the table settings and menu than the actual experience of Thanksgiving. Our perfectly impermanent turkey laid out in front of us for our own demolishment.

This Thanksgiving, don’t think too deeply.  Enjoy.

Collins, Billy. “Thanksgiving.” The Rain in Portugal. New York: Random House, 2016. E-
book.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  It simultaneously  makes me smile, laugh, and cry.

 

My Favorite Singer

I come from a very musical family.  I grew up singing in church. My family would often arrive at church early in the afternoon on Sunday evenings to practice.  My grandmother, uncle, and parents would work on gospel quartet tunes.  For me, “Daddy Sang Bass, Mama Sang Tenor” was a reality. I myself began soloing in church at eight years old and participated in competitions every spring.  I spent most of my adulthood studying music or performing, and I knew when I had children I wanted them to sing too. I fantasized about us all playing an instrument and forming a family band, not too unlike The Partridge Family–only better.  I knew when I had a son, I wanted him to sound like Thomas Hampson, growing up to sing all these amazing baritone opera roles.  He’ll have the most beautiful voice, and all the ladies will swoon, I thought. Continue reading

10 Things I Love about Being a Geek Girl Married to a Geek Boy

geek girl and boy(He’s going to punish me for that boy comment, but “Geek Girl” sounded better than “Geek Woman.”  I’m all for parallelism.)

Looks like this is a week for lists!  Yay!  I LOVE lists!

Denver Comic Con is this week.  It begins tomorrow, and I’m very excited.  I’ve already booked my photo op with John Barrowman.  Can’t wait for that one!  I also have my eyes on an LOTR ocarina.  Since The Hobbit is on my book list for middle school next year, I just really feel like I need this to bring the experience to life for my students.  Right?!? Continue reading

Black-eyed Pea Picking

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I recently finished teaching Seamus Heaney’s poem “Blackberry Picking” to my AP English class.  It’s one of my favorite poems. It touches so strongly on some of my own childhood memories.   When I was five years old, we moved to Azle, Texas.  Azle was very different from the flat, empty north Texas environment where I had spent the beginning of my life.  Even though a child, I could still appreciate the aesthetic difference. It was greener.  It spread out with bushes and trees and life.   We lived in a small housing development of the just-budding suburb of Forth Worth.  In our small backyard, we had trees to climb, places to hide, and a natural sandbox to dig.  The dirt would turn red, and my brother and I dreamed up scenarios of digging to Hell to kill the devil and rid the world of evil for once and for all.  We spent a lot of time in the backyard, but occasionally my mother would take us to the woods behind our privacy fence.  It was on those trails where my brother learned to ride a bike, and we would pick wild blackberries.

This is my favorite memory of that time.  A blackberry cobbler is a sweet reminder of that innocence gone by.  If I could travel in time, I would certainly go back there. But memories are all that remain, not the physical pleasure of eating blackberries.  It can only be recalled not recaptured.

Picking fruits and vegetables seem a common theme in my most precious memories.  Maybe it’s because my family spent so much time in the kitchen when I was growing up.  We picked together, canned together, cooked together, ate together.  This is what I remember and hold on to.

Shelling black-eyed peas is one of the last quality moments where I got to be with my dad–before he got sick, before the cancer ate him away.   We had visited the farmer’s market just outside of town where we purchased two bushels of black-eyed peas.  We sat on the back porch.  All his grandchildren were with him, seated at his feet in a circle with their own portions of peas and small bowls.  We shelled peas, listened to classic country, and filled our own “milk cans, pea tins, and jam pots.”  He recounted for me much of my family history, what he had uncovered in his years of genealogical research.  For what I remember, despite the acute summer heat, it was perfect.

The next day we pulled out the pressure cooker and canned them.  I brought cases of jars back to Colorado to eat during the school year when snow would cover the ground and I would want a meal that tasted like home.  Even before we know how sick he was, I would ration out these jars.  They were special.  I  had to make them last until next year when we would gather on my parent’s porch and work on another bushel or two.

I had one jar left when he passed. “Each year I [hope] they’d keep, knew that they would not.”

Blackberry-Picking

BY SEAMUS HEANEY

for Philip Hobsbaum

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

 

 

The Year in Review & Goals

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2015 is over.  I’m mostly glad. It’s not that 2015 was terrible;  I’m just ready to move on.  There are a lot of changes already on the horizon for 2016, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes me.

As a family, we had some exciting moments.  I attended the Douglas County Apple Awards as my school’s representative.  We took our 2nd trip to Disneyland over Spring Break. My sister-in-law had her first baby. Jedidiah competed on Jeopardy!  Disney released Episode VII.  The Royals won the World Series.   We had a lot of excitement, but I’m ready for some changes.

People keep asking:  “What’s your resolution for 2016?”  I hate that word.  It’s become synonymous with  broken promises and unachieved dreams.  Instead of thinking in terms of resolutions, I’ve begun thinking in terms of goals instead of resolutions for 2016.

I’ve also learned for goals to really work, they have to be SMART goals.  I first learned this term in the business world, but after two years of teaching, I started seeing this infiltrate education as well.  SMART goals are goals that are SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, REALISTIC, and TIME-BOUND.  Sounds boring, right? But I’ve based my SMART goals on Neil Gaiman’s often-shared New Year’s wish from 2001:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

– See more at: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2007/12/as-i-was-saying.html#sthash.KON3f9M6.dpuf.

If you don’t read his New Year’s wishes, you should.

So I’ve devised my goals into these categories:

  1. Magic and Dreams: It is a dream of mine to lose weight.  Sounds silly or predictable…but I haven’t lost all the weight I gained with Max five years ago!  I often start diets, but peter out once my spring semester takes over my life.  I have lost a few pounds here or there, but I find that I haven’t really set a goal around this.  So here it is:  I will lose 25 pounds by Memorial Day.  I will track this through the Weight Watchers app each week.  I will track my food daily.   I know I will feel better and be happier.
  2. Good madness:  I’ve taught the same material in my freshman class for the past few years. Like other teachers, I can fall into a rut of doing the same activities especially if time is becoming my enemy. This year, I will take one risk in the classroom–try something new–once per month.  I will track this through my blog as well as my Bloomboard app.
  3. Books:  Reading goals.  My husband sets them.  My friends set them.  I never had.  It’s all I do, really.  Read.  However, I am usually reading for school, not for myself.  This year, I will read 6 personal selections.  These are books I choose for myself.  I will track this through my blog.
  4. Kisses:  This might be TMI, but I do neglect to spend time with my husband especially during the school year.  This year, one night/ week, I will not plan, grade, or answer emails after I leave school.  Instead, I will come home, eat dinner,  put the children to bed, and spend one-on-one time with my husband. I will track this in my planning calendar.
  5. Art:  I have wanted to make something of this blog, and although what that “something” is has not fully formed in my mind, I have neglected to follow through with posting as often as I would like.  For me, writing a blog takes inspiration and time.  Even with those, my posts don’t always take the shape I wish they would.  However, I am done with these excuses.  I will post at least once per week whether it is long, deep, and inspired or just a  blurb about the day.  I will track this through my WordPress dashboard and the blogging calendar I bought months ago, but never opened.

So here’s to a New Year.  To magic, dreams, and good madness.  To books, kisses, and art.  How will you live out this New Year’s wish?