Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Chaos and control


The frenetic thoughts ignited by the buzzing alarm
Tiptoeing around a cluttered home
      and the pillows knocked to the floor by the couch-sleeper
Adding to the ever-growing pile of college dorm supplies overtaking the living room
Baking pans and mixing bowls left in the sink
Papers on the dining room carpet displaced by the air conditioner
Papers on my desk threatening to avalanche
Papers at work calling out to be filed
The library arranged for adults not children
Tables everywhere 
Cables in dangling tangles
Chairs stacked at odd angles
My attitude at odd angles


Getting up in the dark with time to spare
Dressing in workout clothes
Morning coffee in a favorite mug
The familiar routine of writing
Lists written and items crossed off at home and school
Emails written and answered
Appointments made and kept
My work clothes laid out the night before
Healthy food cut up and packaged for the week
Reaching for the water instead of the wine
Turning off screens and going to bed before the evening news
The grateful thoughts penned in my journal as I set my alarm.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tuesday Slice: After the rain

The rain started around 4am on Monday, thwarting my plans for a walk in the predawn gloom.  I did a quick workout indoors after gently awakening my son for his morning dose of antibiotics and extricating him from the couch, his preferred sleep locale when his tiny bedroom gets too hot or cold.

My husband found a nail in one of my tires over the weekend, so I was forced to drive our ancient Durango in the pouring rain to my first day of work for the school year--an all-day meeting for district librarians. The rain even affected my planned wardrobe; I put aside the cute dress and lacy shoes, opting instead for jeans and rubber boots, not knowing how far away I'd have to park.

The precipitation lasted as long as our meeting.  We were rained on as we walked between portable buildings to meet with vendors, and as we stood in line at the food truck for lunch, a row of umbrellas gently poking at one another as we chatted about the details of our summer break.

The sun broke through as we left for the day, the rising temperature and humidity making for a sticky walk back to our cars.  Overwhelmed by a growing to-do list, coming home to a teenager rightfully frustrated by recent medical woes that I could not fix, I decided to go for a walk on our hike and bike trail.

Lush greens, purple martins swooping to catch the buzzing insects, and happy dogs straining their owners' leashes soothed my soul at the end of a long day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Ninety-four

In May, when folks asked about my summer plans, I replied that my focus was going to be on getting my son through jaw surgery and helping with his preparation for college.

As my summer is winding down, I'm reflecting on where the days have gone.  I now realize the focus has been on food.  Too much for me, too little for him; every day, walking the tightrope between concern and nagging, service and encouraging independence.  Avoiding eating his favorite foods in front of him out of sympathy, but then crunching away at handfuls of chips when he's out of sight, swallowing my own worries and frustration with each salty mouthful.

I'm slowly regaining control of my eating habits, forcing myself to acknowledge what I'm feeling as I'm standing in front of the refrigerator or pantry, deciding if it's really hunger or avoidance of tasks and worrisome thinking.

But for our son, now dealing with having wired-shut jaws for two weeks after a second round of surgery, it feels like a loss of control.  He was just back to eating small bits of "real" food (he isn't allowed to chew for months) when his oral surgeon decided that the jaw placement needed adjustment, and that wiring was necessary for proper healing.  Our son was angry, but signed the papers and submitted to the procedure.  Nothing but liquids for two weeks.  The most calorie dense concoction I can come up with is a mixture of frozen custard, protein shake, and protein powder whirred together in my mini-blender.  He likes it, but his shrunken stomach can only take so much at a time, in a day.  A diet of chocolate shakes sounds wonderful until it is all you are eating.

We saw ninety-four on the scale yesterday.  I pray it doesn't get any lower.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Forgot it was Tuesday

It didn't occur to me until three hours post-wakeup that it was Tuesday, my personal Slice blogging day.

I'm not exactly sure why I forgot.  It can't be summer mode, as I never really got to enter into that zone this year; too many obligations and appointments have kept us busy.  I was at a professional development session yesterday morning, for crying out loud; should have remembered that it was Tuesday today.  

Things I do remember:

  • the appointment we have with our son's oral surgeon this afternoon
  • the looming deadline for the professional development I'm co-presenting, and the amount of work left undone
  • our houseplants need watering today
  • I'm a day behind in washing bath towels (that alone should have reminded me of Tuesday, as Monday is towel washing day)
  • it's my weights workout day
  • I'm cooking pork chops tonight, since they've been defrosting in the fridge
  • the books I'm meaning to read today
  • the planning I need to do today
  • the cleaning I need to do today
Maybe today's mental file cabinet was just a bit too full to remember the day of the week.  That's what I am going to tell myself, at least.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday Slice: This is not a paid vacation

Last year, I wrote about my work-filled summer.  In that piece, I planned to really look at this summer's activities, and make them less work-related.

I didn't succeed.  I ended up working almost a week beyond my calendar, trying to catch up on tasks that didn't get done before my official last day.  Of course, those extra days pale in comparison to the number of weekends my colleagues spend working in their classrooms, a practice I successfully avoid.

I did make a point of signing up for library activities that came with a paycheck.  The five sessions of summer library afternoons, one evening of pop-up library time, and presenting a professional development are compensated hours. 

But....each one of those activities eats into my summertime.

Why do we educators do this to ourselves?  Do doctors and lawyers take their case files with them on vacations?  At the end of the school year, our administrators send us off with messages of "Relax!" and "Enjoy your break, come back refreshed!" How does self-care fit with the parallel, unspoken expectation to continue working?  Are they mutually exclusive?

I began thinking of this post when a blog about a summer bingo game for teachers popped up in my Twitter feed.  I get it; it's supposed to make work fun. But we aren't at work. We are on summer break.  You know, those days we don't get paid for. Viewing it from the lens of self-care, imagine my disappointment when every square was work-related.  If I were to make a summer bingo card for educators, this is what I would include:
  • Get a pedicure in a bright summer shade.
  • Turn off your alarm clock, and see how many hours of sleep you really should be getting.  Try to work that into your school year schedule.
  • Attend an adults-only event (or two, or three).
  • Read a fiction novel for grown-ups.
  • Read a nonfiction book that ISN'T about education.
  • Revive an old hobby.
  • Listen to new-to-you music; purchase whatever lifts your spirit.
  • Learn a new craft or skill.
  • Go off the grid for three full days.
  • Connect with friends/ meet new people who aren't educators.
  • Travel; visit a new-to-you place.
  • Get a massage, or two, or three.  Schedule them at regular intervals for the next year.
  • Find physical activities that bring you joy and health.
  • Get a physical checkup with your doctor.
  • Make a self-care kit with snacks, mints, gum, scents, deodorant, chocolate, cough drops, bandaids--whatever you might need to get through a long school day. (Yes, I know this is work-related, but the self-care aspect is what's important here.)

I know that great teachers are lifelong learners, and are always striving to improve their teaching skills.  It's an admirable trait, but I often wonder if we are truly compensated for our time and effort.  Yes, the intrinsic value is worth more than the paycheck.  I also worry that we become myopic in our definition of learning. We don't have to be all about education, all of the time.  

Especially during our summer break.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Packing for college

"We need a what?" my husband calls from the kitchen.

"A pillow and a blanket. And towels; they are only providing the linens," I answer.

We are packing for our son's college orientation--but not packing for our son.  Frugality won over convenience when my husband learned that we could stay in the dorms for a fraction of what the local hotel would charge.  Not the same dorm as the incoming freshmen, of course.  We will be in the Honors Hall, in separate rooms with single twin beds, sharing a bathroom.

This is a much different experience than our firstborn's college entrance.  At her tiny, private liberal arts college, orientation happened during the last two days of summer.  We attended a few parent sessions and helped her move into her dorm over the course of a weekend, with time to spare.  Our son's orientation starts today with an afternoon check-in; we have events through the evening, and lasts until late Thursday afternoon.  His move-in will happen in August, when we get eight hours to get him settled before being scooted away for his weeklong freshman transition.

I am more excited about this than our son, who is understandably upset about starting off college in a compromised physical state.  Unable to chew for two to three more months, and barely able to open his jaws three weeks into recovery, he worries about the social and academic implications of thick speech and dietary restrictions.  I try to acknowledge his fears and provide solutions, but my efforts have done little to elevate his mood. My hope is that the busy-ness of these three days will alleviate some of those worries, and that the staff will be compassionate and accommodating, as posted reviews have stated.

So off we go to college today, pillows and blankets and towels in hand.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Two days

It's Sunday, June 18th, and my stomach is sour.

Several reasons for my discomfort come to mind--the pizza from the new-to-us restaurant yesterday, the overabundance of fast food I've been consuming lately, the overindulgence in sweets and carbs....the stress of my teenage son's surgery.  We leave before dawn for the hospital tomorrow.

I've gained the ten pounds that should be on my son's frame.  What will happen when he can't chew for the next 120 days?

Seeing a movie together is but a momentary distraction; the surgery is already on my mind before we leave the theater.

It's Monday, 330am, and I am praying.

Prayers of gratitude for medical expense loans, to cover the large check I must present this morning.  Prayers for compassionate nurses, competent doctors, effective pain management.  

We arrive at the surgery center at 530a, as directed.  The doors are still locked in the predawn gloom, with only a receptionist visible in the office across the foyer.  Someone else finally comes out and opens the door for us.  At 630a, we are taken back to the pre-op area.  Preparations are made, and he is wheeled to the OR just before 700am.

Still Monday, 900am, and we are anxiously awaiting an update.  Crocheting keeps my hands busy, the nonstop barrage of TV chatter only mildly distracting.  The update comes a few minutes later.  The surgery is going well.  Then it's 1030a, and we get word that they are a little over halfway through.  Surgery was supposed to take four hours; the math in my head doesn't add up.

Noon, and we are finally ushered into a small consultation room without enough chairs, to hear from the surgeons.  They are happy with the outcome.  

We are called back to recovery a half hour later.  Our son is still drifting in and out of sleep.  He looks pale.  When he wakes up, he coughs up blood, bright red splatters on the blanket and paper towels.  There is a man shouting from across the room, hidden by his curtain.  At first his rants just seem like a bad reaction to coming out of anesthesia, but then he yells "INCOMING!", and we realize he suffers from PTSD.  In the midst of my worry for my own child, I feel for this soldier and his family.

It takes our son forever to wake up long enough to raise his oxygen levels without a mask on.  We remark to his nurse that we haven't watched a monitor this closely since his sister's stay in the NICU.  He is the second-to-the-last patient to leave; the shouting soldier is long gone. It's now 515pm.

We get him home, thankful we had prepared the couch the night before with sheets and a blanket--but the blanket is white, and soon ends up in the washing machine, spattered by another bloody coughing spell.  Old towels are quickly piled up and put to use, as he drifts in and out of sleep again, only to wake and cough some more.  At some point, he is alert enough to change into comfortable clothes, and then falls asleep on the couch for the night.  I listen to his breathing, see his chest rise and fall in the dim light from the kitchen.  

I fall into a fitful sleep in the chair next to him, only to awaken minutes later and often through the night, not unlike his first night at home, nineteen years ago.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Fear and hope

I went to bed last night wondering what to write this morning, and awoke without inspiration. I decided to read first while waiting for my coffee to brew, and this quote grabbed me, forcing me to reread it several times.

"We do not become hopeful by talking about hope.  We become hopeful by entering darkness and waiting for the light.  We become hopeful by being honest with one another about our pain and then waiting, together, for God to show us a way toward healing."
--Mark Yaconelli, The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places

Optimistic realism is my status quo.  I firmly believe in Stephen Covey's principle of only concerning myself with that which lies within my sphere of influence--a message that's been repeated to me in related readings and by nurses in a NICU while my daughter lived there for 65 days.  The principle that got me through deaths of loved ones, children's illnesses, lay-offs and job changes.

That's what moms do, right?  We face fear--our own and that of our loved ones--and then roll up our sleeves and get to work, doing what we can to alleviate the anxiety, doling out the hugs and the bandaids, making the phone calls, dealing with the paperwork.  And if that doesn't work, we clean the toilets.  Or bake a great cake. Or fill in the calendar, plan the menus, talk about work. 

Anything to move forward through the fear, the grief, the unknowing.

I don't know if we ever allow ourselves to really enter the darkness.  

As I get older, I find it harder and harder to cry.  Crying means stopping, giving in, wallowing.    

Then why did this passage bring tears to my eyes?  Because I realized that I am afraid.  In less than a week, my son will have surgery.  His orthodontist and oral surgeon believe that by moving his jaws forward and reconstructing his nasal cavity, his airways will open to allow him to breathe fully, possibly for the first time in his life.  

Breathing is good.  So what am I afraid of?  The surgery, of course--he will be under anesthesia for four hours.  The pain he will most undoubtedly suffer, even with medication.  The changes to the face I love, that I look at more closely these days, knowing it will be different afterward.  The four months of recovery, in which he won't be allowed to chew food.  The difficulties and details this adds to beginning his freshman year of college in two and a half months.  The insurance company, taking its time to re-examine our doctor's findings after denying coverage.

I will allow myself to cry.  And hope.  And make the phone calls, deal with the paperwork, plan activities that will get us through the pain and fear.

That's what moms do.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Lessons that stick

This past week has been stressful in good and bad ways.

A lesson on "eustress" is one I haven't forgotten from my high school psychology class. Good stress is still stressful, my teacher said.  It can tax your body and wear you out.

The last ten days have been focused on end-of-school-year celebrations and goodbyes, the major transition of high school graduation for our youngest child, the celebration of his accomplishments, and the preparation for his upcoming major jaw surgery.

The heightened social activity at work and home has exhausted my introverted limits for interaction.  I am yearning for a solo retreat that can't happen because of the surgery preparations...Which will lead to the surgery recovery...Which leads to college orientation and preparation...Which puts us right back to the beginning of next school year.

Yes, most of this is eustress.  I've wrapped up a successful fourth year as a librarian. It's a good thing that our child has grown, will be healthier as a result of this surgery, will go off to college to pursue his dreams.  But stress is stress, and it is wearing me out.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday Slice: My personal dig site

My desk is covered in a twelve-inch high avalanche of paper.  It's really that high; I just took out my measuring tape and assessed the situation.  The first thought that came to mind as I surveyed this paper mountainscape is that an anthropologist could figure out my entire living situation using my desk as a dig site.  Just scanning the bits that are sticking out, here's what I spy in the dim light of my study:

  • a printed Slice that I meant to put in my yearly planner
  • receipts I meant to put in my check register
  • notes from an online webinar, written on a sticky pad
  • coupons, and online codes written on scraps of paper
  • medical paperwork (it's important, so it's on top!)
  • pretty stationery
  • bills that have been paid, and bills waiting to be paid
  • a catalog for high school class rings
  • recipes
  • a punch card for a painting workshop
  • a postcard from my car dealer
  • an owl diecut notepad
  • a high school football game ticket
  • Christmas cards
  • books
  • card reminders for appointments already kept
  • my checkbook and register
  • a current PTA membership card
That's just the paper bits.  There are non-paper paraphernalia adding to the peaks and valleys:
  • my phone, charging
  • various pens
  • a bag of goodies from my recent 5K
  • three owl candleholders (without burning candles, for obvious reasons)
  • our digital camera, waiting for a download of photos
  • a cute keyring bracelet of ceramic beads from my neighbor
  • small boxes containing owl figurines 
  • an empty Japanese beer bottle--with an owl on it
  • phone cables and earbuds
  • reading glasses
  • patches that need to be sewn onto my son's letter jacket
Some of this mess needs to be filed; some clearly needs to be tossed or shredded; and there are bits I'd like to hold on to for memory's sake. I clearly need either intervention, or an entire uninterrupted weekend to sort this out.  Since neither is happening soon, I'll have to settle for an hour of tossing and re-piling this evening.  Guests are coming, and I don't need the avalanche sliding into the front hallway.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Lasting times

High school

Summer practice.
Parent meeting.
Halftime show.
Line of hugs.
Report card.
Band trip.
Classes and exams.

High school 

have become

high school

in a bittersweet 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Constant state of gratitude

"Grateful living is important in the world because in our constant pursuit of more and better we can easily lose sight of the riches that lay right in front of us and within us." --Guri Mehta 

"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." -- Meister Eckhart

At ten thirty last night, I struggled with my gratitude journal entries.  I had worked an eleven hour day, had sensory overload from the afterschool care kids filling the library (the choir was rehearsing in the cafeteria), and left my work to-do list mostly undone.  Exhausted, my home to-do list went undone, too, though I managed to iron my shirt and water the outdoor plants--small victories.

It's May, otherwise known as educator hell month.  Throw in an upcoming high school graduation and dealing with a major health insurance snafu, and you set the scene for my nightly carb overloading these days.

There is gratitude to be found in the midst of the chaos, however.

Coffee in a favorite mug.  Access to technology.  Support and helpful advice from friends.  The willpower to exercise when I'm feeling sluggish.  A body that works well enough to exercise.  The chance to start over again with healthier eating today.  Access to nourishing food.  Access to healthcare (no matter how frustrating the process to pay for it).  Hot showers and clean running water.  Indoor plumbing and a roof that doesn't leak.  My family's relatively good health.  

Steady jobs for the three working adults in our family.  Good college prospect for the last fledgling in our nest.  A career I love.  Colleagues who are out-of-this-world supportive.  Volunteers who show up--with a smile-- when we need them the most.  Chocolate at hand for a pick-me-up.  Unexpected gifts from students and teachers.

The list in neverending.  Yes, I could start writing out my problems, but something tells me I'd be in a sour mood doing so.  The to-do list is beckoning; time to start my day in a state of gratitude.    

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Chocolate cake

I must bake a cake today--

Like the eyes that declare he is mine
The tan he gets from his father
The freckles from his Irish forebears.

I must bake a cake today

With whipped frosting,
Like the curls he sometimes curses
Blames me for their presence
Yet he bows to let me kiss them in passing.

I must bake a cake today

Sweet, with extra chips
Like his heart, empathetic to a fault
A sharp contrast to his practical mind
Still struggling with life's inconsistencies.

I must bake a cake today

With nineteen candles
One for each year of growing
And learning, and teaching us
How to live and love even more.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tuesday Slice: In the not-so-merry month of May

May strikes both elation and fear in the hearts of educators and parents of students everywhere.

The countdown to the last day of school has begun.  Parties and field trips are being planned.  Marking the milestones of learning progress--look how far they've come since August!  The ultimate celebration of graduating from high schools and colleges.

These are big moments to celebrate, but before we get there, we encounter hurdles: standardized testing, advanced placement exams, portfolio completions.  Grades to enter, transcripts to finalize, deadline after deadline to meet.  As a librarian, I have summer reading and internet safety lessons, inventory and annual reports to complete, my self-evaluation, weeding, and the last minute hunt for missing books before students and staff leave.  While teachers are busy marching toward summer, parents are busy planning out summers to maximize family time and facilitate major transitions.  The fear of failure and missed deadlines looms large this month.

And let's not forget the fears of the students.  In my former life as a special education teacher, I had to prepare my students for a summer without structure.  For some, school was the safest place they knew; the break from campus was also a break from regular meals, caring touch, positive reinforcement and appropriate consequences for behavioral mistakes. 

Soon-to-be graduates of all levels harbor fears for their futures:  transitioning to new schools (oh, that leap to middle school!), the quasi-independence of college, the post-grad job hunt.  For high school seniors in particular, there's the push-pull of the need for independence battling with the realization of just how much support they've gotten from parents.  I see this in my own son on a daily basis; one minute it's "I can't wait to be gone", the next it's "College is scary."

I'm not sure what weighs more this month, the celebration or the anxiety.  My goal is to focus on the joy as much as possible...and pay close attention to the calendar. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Earliest post ever

1:12 am
on a school night
up for the last three hours
waiting on a flight
that brings home my son

he will be exhausted
has texted
"Can I stay home today?"
how can I say no
sleep is important

except for this mom
who needs to go to work today
who napped 
on the couch after work
for three hours

hoping for two more
after the airport
after the "Glad you're home"
after we all collapse
under one roof again

before my day begins at 5:00 am


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Love the learning

It's mid-April, which means one thing for Texas librarians:  Annual Conference.

The Texas Library Association puts on a massive conference each April.  Thousands of librarians from all over the state and all kinds of settings--school, public, and academic libraries--converge on one major city for days of meetings, workshops, breakfasts and lunches with authors, and shopping with vendors.

I am lucky that our district supports librarians, and supports our attendance of the TLA Annual Conference.  Last year, I spoke with a librarian who had been at her job for ten years and was attending for the very first time.  I'm only four years into this career, and this is my fifth TLA--I attended as a library science student, too, when it was held in Austin.  

I go the the annual conference for the learning.  Tomorrow is Tech Camp, where I'm hoping to pick up some new Google tricks and ways to use technology in the library.  Then I'm off to meet some Bluebonnet Nominee authors; I'll be sharing my notes from that session with my students.  Thursday brings workshops on information literacy, library programming, and time to peruse the immense vendor floor.  On Friday, I get to have breakfast with a teacher from my school who's attending for TLA Teacher Day, and we get to meet Mac Barnett!  More workshops follow, as well as the Bluebonnet Award luncheon and a 5K to top off the day.  Saturday opens with a breakfast with Kevin Henkes (!) and closes with a keynote by Chelsea Clinton.

My bags and snacks are packed, my sub plans almost ready to go. TLA, here I come!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday Slice: The good ol' days? No, thank you

Last week, a friend and colleague shared some medical news regarding her child.  An MRI had provided much needed--and extremely helpful--information regarding her child's struggles in learning to walk.  As a result, they now have options for treatment, and reasonable hope for improvement.

This news reminded me of the medical struggles of my firstborn.  When she arrived at twenty-six weeks gestation, surfactant was "shot" into her lungs to allow them to expand, and she was breathing without a ventilator within twenty-four hours.  I was told that had she been born three years earlier, that medicine would not have been available, and she probably wouldn't have survived.

MRIs, surfactant...medicine has come so far in the past sixty years.  Had my friend's child been born back then, she might have been institutionalized.  My child certainly would not have survived the day.

There's more than just medical advances to ponder, though.

Back in the "good ol' days", I wouldn't have had friends of many colors at school. My academic abilities might not have been nurtured, nor would I have been encouraged to go to college.  I certainly wouldn't have had roommates of different ethnicities, who introduced me to their cultures and taught me tolerance and opened my eyes to prejudice.  I wouldn't be working in schools that are microcosms of the diversity of our country.  My original teaching position wouldn't have existed, as students with special needs were not included and served in public education.  

I wouldn't have been able to sign my own lease on an apartment, or have a credit card in my own name.  When I married, I wouldn't have had access to the family planning options available now, especially the ones that have kept me alive, since I ran the risk of dying in childbirth.  I wouldn't get to openly acknowledge and support the same-sex relationships of friends and family.

Advances in pollution control, environmental safety, technology and communication affect my life in positive ways on a daily basis.  Even something as simple as smoking bans in public places make life better for us all.  The growing acceptance of our differences, in ways that increase love and diminish hate, make us better people.

I'll take the present over the good ol' days, thank you very much.  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tuesday Slice: I think I can, I know I can...help others

We had an author visit at our campus yesterday.  Carmen Oliver treated our kindergarteners and first graders to stories of her reading life as a child and the story she's published, Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies

The teachers and myself in the over-forty-demographic sighed as she spoke about her favorite childhood books--Dr Seuss, The Tawny Scrawny Lion, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, and The Little Engine That Could.

I hadn't thought about Watty Piper's classic train tale in quite awhile.  Listening to Carmen summarize the story and its message for the students, I was filled once again with that little engine's determination and optimism.  

Another thought occurred to me this morning.  That little engine had a clear purpose, an envisioned goal that served others in a worthy cause.  When we reference Piper's book, we often focus on the perseverance aspect, which I can certainly relate to after finishing the March Slice of Life Challenge and blogging everyday.  I thought I could, and now know that I can.  But maybe we need to focus on the act of service the engine performed.  It worked hard, not just for itself, but for the good of those in need. In the end, the engine celebrated not just its own accomplishment, but the completion of a task that brought happiness to a whole town.

I think that act of service might be the most important lesson in The Little Engine That Could. It would certainly make a better filibuster than Green Eggs and Ham--no offense meant to Dr Seuss, of course.

Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 31: Tending the field

"Whatever we set our days to might be the least of what we do, if we do not also understand that something is waiting for us to make ground for it, something that lingers near us, something that loves, something that waits for the right ground to be made so it can make its full presence known."
--Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Faithful Gardener

We've made it to the last day of the annual Slice of Life Challenge!  For thirty-one days, almost two hundred and fifty participants have been showing up and writing, supporting each other in the process.

I finished reading Estes' book, The Faithful Gardener, this morning.  Her final thoughts are on the lessons learned from her foster family:

"Through the lives we lived, I Iearned the harshest gift-lesson to accept, and the most powerful I know--that is, knowledge, an absolute certainty that life repeats itself, renews itself, no matter how many times it is stabbed, stripped to the bone, hurled to the ground, hurt, ridiculed, ignored, scorned, looked down upon, tortured, or made helpless."

There have been some hard stories shared in my fellow Slicers' posts, and joyous tales, too.  A lot can happen in thirty-one days.  Just by showing up each day, we've made space for what Estes calls "this faithful force", "that which can never die".  That force has shown through our words and our stories, even on the days when we had nothing to write, but wrote anyway.  

Thank you, fellow Slicers, for holding this space with me this March.  May our fields of words continue to grow into forests of stories, producing seeds to inspire our learning communities to do the same.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 30: I got nothin'

Source: CC0 Public Domain

Day thirty of this March blogging challenge, and I've hit the writing wall.  Every idea that flits through my mind gets summarily dismissed as mundane and deflated:
  • an ode to my morning coffee (seems silly to me this morning, don't feel like being silly)
  • the clutter I face at my desk (already written/ moaned about)
  • recent, important child event (not my story to tell)
  • the pain in my neck (blah, humbug, un-expandable)
  • my love of nail polish (beauty-blog-ish, not feeling it)
  • my personal quirks (just how much personal info do I want out in cyberspace?)
  • "Just the Way You Are", the Bruno Mars earworm that won't stop playing in my head this morning (already wrote about earworms in a previous SOLC)
  • library happenings (We had state testing this week, and my library schedule has been caddywhompus.  Testing is, frankly, boring, not to mention that we all signed oaths not to talk about the details.)
  • seasonal allergies (not exciting, would be a whiny post)
  • the ghost supposedly haunting our school (great topic, not a whole lot of details to write about)
So there you have it--a post about basically nothing. I'm hoping the writing Muse lands on my shoulder before tomorrow and whispers a fabulous topic in my ear, so that I can wrap up this challenge with a flourish! 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 29: New moon days

The clouds have been obscuring much of the sky since yesterday; the hours just before my alarm were punctuated with thunderclaps and lightning flashes.  My lunar phase stickers in my planner tell me there's no moon viewing to be had, anyway.  It's the week of the new moon.

New moon days are for taking stock of what is and planning for what we'd like to be.  I find myself taking a harder look at my home (cluttered), my finances (stretched), and my health (diet and exercise routine derailed).  I feel the urge to make changes; the challenge lies in making attainable goals with specific deadlines.  Both are hard for this Piscean dreamer, as I tend to overplan activities and underestimate the time it takes to get things done.

Paying attention to the lunar cycle seems to help, when I remember to look at those moon stickers.  There's something comforting in tapping into the monthly rhythm of planning (new moon), doing (waxing moon), celebrating completion (full moon), and resting (waning moon). My planner has space for doing end-of-month reviews and next-month planning, but tying that in with the new moon near the end of each month makes the process seem more holistic.

I believe women, in general, are drawn to cyclical patterns by virtue of our biology. Now that I am in my crone years, I can let the moon be my guide.
Image from Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 28: Time well spent

I knock on the door.  My white-mustachioed neighbor answers.  "Come on in!" 

"Actually, I was wondering if Becky would like to join me on my porch," I reply.

"She's working right now, but--" He gets interrupted by his wife.  "I'll be done soon.  Be there in a few minutes," Becky calls from her seat, momentarily pinned down by her laptop.

I head back to my house, catalogs and magazine in one hand, libation in the other.  The afternoon sun is beginning to strengthen, reaching farther into the recesses under the eaves.  Tiny flying insects of varying shapes flit about, and I'm thankful that for now, mosquitoes aren't among them. 

I'm a few pages into the first catalog when Becky joins me, her own beverage in hand.  She takes the other seat, and we proceed to get caught up on each other's day.  Talk of students, testing, the political climate--sticking mostly to climate, not politics--and future plans of travel and learning.  That's one of the many things I love about Becky--she is always learning, always reaching for that next new experience to broaden her horizons and her knowledge.  She glows when she talks about learning something new; that radiance doesn't just come from the knowledge itself, but from her appreciation for those who teach her.  A bit of that glow rubs off on me, after hearing her stories.

Porch time with Becky is always relaxing and refreshing. It is time well spent.  It is the stuff of memories.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." --Maya Angelou 

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 27: Different can be frustrating

Change in our routines can be jarring.  When we moved into Army barracks in Germany, I remember almost coming to tears one night when I wandered into my parents' bedroom in search of the bathroom.  In our old house, it was down the hall to the right of my bedroom; in the barracks, it was on the left. This morning, a change in routine might have rudely awakened my husband.

On Saturday night I was frustrated, my fingers crawling up and down the dial with the tiniest of movements on the wheel, attempting to find a radio station to awaken me in the morning.  No such luck; the receiver had given out.

Luckily, my husband had given me a new alarm clock several years ago when I thought the old one was dying.  Just when it seemed completely gone, a station would appear loud and strong, as if the machine was taunting me.  So the new clock had stayed in the box on the floor near my bed, until Saturday.  I plugged it in, read the instructions, and set the alarms.

I awoke unusually early on Sunday, and turned off the alarms so as not to wake my still-slumbering husband.  Turning the alarms completely off is easy; there are sliding buttons on the far left and right, and I know they are off when the lighted dots go out.

This morning I awoke to the alarms for the first time, and had a moment of panic when I realized the reset button is a bit harder to find in the dark.  It's tiny and located in the middle of the clock's top, so there were a few second of fumbling and feeling around before I figured it out.  I can only imagine what my husband was thinking, knowing his alarm goes off an hour and a half later than mine.  I will have to study the buttons tonight and imprint locations in my memory, or risk having a crabby spouse later!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 26: Root bound

The Meyer ferns on the back porch were in a sad state.  The fern in the eighteen inch container had never recovered from the frost; there was nothing left but the stubs of dead branches I had cut back a few weeks ago.  The other plant in a twenty-four inch pot had a half-dozen new green branches, but the dead stubs of several years' growth threatened to crowd out any newer shoots.

I decided to work on extricating the smaller, dead plant first.  I didn't want to just dump out the pot because I wanted to save some of the soil.  So I dug in with pruning shears and a trowel, cutting into the roots and pulling them out.

An hour and a half later, I was able to remove the heart of the plant.  It took me another hour to cut and pull the rest of the roots and their large nodules. The fern had been rootbound twice over; last summer, this container had replaced one which cracked open from the forceful underground growth.

I couldn't help but find a life lesson as I hacked away on this project for hours.  As important as it is to have roots, we cannot afford to become rootbound.  Old ways of thinking and doing can become as restrictive as old pots. Every once in awhile, it's good to examine our long-held beliefs and habits, see what fits and what's holding us back.  We need to give ourselves room to expand and change and grow.  

It may take some pruning, as I did with the other fern, cutting away the dead woody bits and half the root system and separating it into two new plants, with plenty of room for each to grow and spread with fresh new soil and fertilizer to feed them.  I left plenty of roots alone, of course, to continue feeding the new growth. We need to feel grounded enough to have the courage to reach for those new ideas and habits. 

Are you feeling rootbound?  If so, what can you do to change those feelings?  What things, beliefs, relationships, situations need to go, and what needs to stay?  I'll be thinking about those questions today.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 25: Light chatter

"Bioluminescence is the most widely used form of communication on the planet."--W.H. Beck, Glow: Animals with Their Own Night-Lights

I've read this sentence ten times this week, as part of my Book Nook time with our kindergarten classes. There are some weird and wonderful facts presented in this great nonfiction book, but the quote above is my favorite pause-and-comment point during the read-aloud.

Think about what this sentence means, I tell the students as I repeat the words.  

It means that that are more living creatures who use light to talk with each other than there are

people who use words
lions that roar
dogs that bark
cats that meow
crickets who chirp
birds who tweet

all the sounds that creatures make to communicate with each other.  

Light wins over sound, mostly because at least half of the living creatures on earth exist underwater.  I find these facts fascinating, leading to thoughts of the dark, silent depths of our oceans and the amazing creatures scientists are finding there.  I'm also looking forward to the return of the fireflies in our yard and park beyond.  

Bioluminescence--light chatter-- is the word of the week.

Friday, March 24, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 24: A dab here, a swoop there

My grandfather was an artist.  I remember seeing india-ink sketches of dogs on his wall; I can picture a stub of drawing charcoal in his hands.  He hadn't painted in years when I asked him for a picture for my college graduation; he obliged his only granddaughter with a pastel-yellow floral still life, one that I display every spring over the mantel. It was his last painting.

I have my mother's first and last paintings, too, the first a landscape, the last a still life in autumnal shades.  She didn't get to finish the latter herself; ALS weakened her limbs before the background was done.  A kind friend who attended the same painting classes finished it for her, only signing the back in case we wondered about the discrepancy in style.

High school art classes were challenging for me.  I gave my one and only oil painting, an abstract of a blown-up clock, to my brother.  Since then, my only forays into creative expression on canvas have been sessions at sip-and-paint franchises, following step-by-step exercises in the hopes of duplicating the instructor's picture.

I set a goal for myself this year to paint an original piece.  The universe must have heard my intentions, because within weeks I opened a Seton Cove flyer to find a class entitled "Painting for Well-Being".  My last two Thursday evenings have been spent in the Cove's beautiful cottage downtown, paintbrush in hand.  Our small group was led by Christiane, who gave us seemingly simple tasks to stoke our creativity and focus, and then allowed ample time to create, building on or even covering that which we painted first.

The two-hour sessions flew by quickly.  My usual end-of-workday tiredness slipped away as I focused on color and placement, texture and emotion.  I felt so much more relaxed on my drive home.  I think my grandfather's easel will be dusted off this summer, and I'll be visiting the art store for some fresh acrylic paints.