March 10, 2014

Some people are unlucky in love; I’m unlucky with dogs.  Back in the days before leash laws, dogs were free to run in the neighborhoods where children were out playing.  We played during daylight hours during the school year, and often much longer during the summer time.  

There was Sojo, the Australian Sheepdog, who herded our car down the street every time we went out.  He barked and barked, getting so close to the car, my mother was terrified of hitting him.  “Go home, Sojo!” we yelled.

Then there was Jericho, the Dalmatian, who loved to tip over our trashcan and dig in the trash.  “JERICHO!” I yelled as I chased him off so I could clean up the trash.  Sometimes I would hide on the front porch hoping to scare him off before he could make trouble.

Laddie, was the ancient Collie in the neighborhood who lived on what was left of the farm next to our house.  How was I supposed to know that he had arthritis?  I was only 7.  When I tried to pet him, he let me know of his pain with a quick nip to my left wrist which drew blood.  I kept a safe distance from Laddie after that.

One summer afternoon when I was about 5 years old, I was allowed to go to the stop sign at the top of the cul-de-sac where we lived.  My mom could still see me from the front window if I didn’t go too far.  I don’t remember why I went up to the stop sign, but the next thing I knew my five-year-old legs were running as fast as they could go down the hill.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw there was a bulldog chasing me.  I didn’t know his name, but I looked back again and saw his bottom teeth jutting forward. Slobber dripped from his jowls.  I screamed and ran faster, yelling, “Mama!”

The house seemed so far away.  Could I get home before he bit me?  He nipped at my legs. “Maaaaamaa!”  The front door opened and Mama shooed me in and shut the door.   My heart pounded and my eyes filled with tears.  Not knowing the ways of dogs, I couldn’t understand why that dog didn’t like me.  

The fear has remained even though I’ve tried to be a dog owner twice.  Those are also sad stories. I guess I’m just unlucky with dogs.

 

March 9, 2014

Here’s a little list about going to church.  It’s a meaningful habit – sometimes driven mostly by meaning and desire; sometimes sustained by habit.

  • A practice of my entire life
  • Enriched by music
  • Choir practice and hymns
  • Challenge to be more than I think I can be
  • Families together
  • Babies and toddlers with Cheerios and quiet books
  • Questions and answers
  • Sharing celebration and adversity
  • Faith and prayer
  • Community and friends 
  • Giving strength to others
  • Taking strength from others
  • Replenished
  • Renewed
  • Grateful 
  • Belonging

Perhaps writing is another activity that can be a meaningful habit.  When the meaning part is tired or weak, the habit part can pick up the slack and help you continue.  I’m finding that this little writing time each day is helping me feel more whole.

 

March 8, 2014

In times of difficulty when you would think that music would help, I find it difficult to go to the piano. It’s something I don’t quite understand, but perhaps the fear of getting to emotions that are too deep keeps me from playing the music I love.  I studied piano for many years and even tried to major in it my first year of college (but that’s another story) and gained a measure of proficiency that has allowed me to play for choirs, singers, and instrumentalists, as well as just for myself.

So why can’t I play when life is hard?  Why won’t I allow myself that bit of beauty and tactile pleasure of pressing the black and white keys?

Last week, I found myself home alone and felt drawn to the piano.  I decided that I would try to play again.  I pulled out the first Prelude by J.S. Bach, a simple piece that Gounod used to accompany his “Ave Maria.”  I love the way the harmonic tension builds in this piece and then releases into what feels like peaceful acceptance.

I sat at the piano and just looked at the music for a moment. It’s the language I love to read most. My hands lifted to the keyboard and my fingers found their places on the keys.  I started to play and let the broken chords wash over me like gentle waves of ocean water.  Then as the emotion and harmonic progression grew, I felt something change in me.  I let my guard down a little and opened a window inside.  I knew that in a few measures would come my favorite part, the part where there is the assurance that you are on the road home–a homecoming to the key of C.

What I didn’t know was that when I got there, tears would be streaming down my face.

March 7, 2014

It’s 8:00 on Friday night.  It’s been a challenging week on many fronts.  I have no interest in making dinner and no interest in going out.   I open the fridge, stare a while, then close the door. I eat a few Baked Lay’s Potato Chips and open the fridge again.  

Soon bacon is sizzling in the pan and the intoxicating smell ignites a bit of appetite. I flip the bacon over, happy that I have not burned it.  While the bacon cooks, I get a fork and scramble a few eggs with a bit of milk, salt, and pepper.  On other nights, I might have added a rainbow of fresh peppers, but not tonight.  Hoping the grease won’t pop and burn my hand, I lift the bacon and place it on the paper towel to absorb the fat.

I love the sound of eggs poured into a hot pan.  It’s a unique sound that reminds me of breakfasts that my mom or my dad made for me all the years I lived at home.  I love how the eggs gradually thicken, puff up, and become light, fluffy, yellow clouds.  

As I sit down to eat my simple meal, I am grateful for the comfort 2 strips of bacon and a couple of eggs can bring.  

 

 

March 6, 2014

Words fail when trying to describe my father, but he was truly the best man I have ever known.  He provided for our family in all the important ways–we were loved immensely, we had opportunities, we were comfortable, and we were happy (mostly).  He provided wisdom, humor, support, strength, and spirit in ways I find it hard to name.  Professionally, he worked as an FBI agent and later as an investigator for several government agencies.  In his work, he witnessed the acts of criminals and the darker side of life, but he never brought that home.  If anything, he worked even harder to shield us from pain and evil.  

So many small moments could be written about my dad, each one a glimpse of his rare character.  This small moment is a defining memory for me.  It reminds me that small actions can have lasting power.

Daddy was fastidious in keeping up with the news, mail, and household bills.  He frequently wrote personal letters to family and friends. Once a check was made out to pay a bill, or a letter written to my older brother or sister, he HAD to get it in the mail.  Whether it was impatience to receive a reply, or just his dislike of leaving “loose ends,” I’m not sure, but I know that trips to the post office were frequent and important to him.

One cold night in February my father, still in his suit and tie, put on his long, black wool overcoat, and wool fedora.  He always wore a hat in the winter.  He asked if anyone was up for a walk to the mailbox.  “I’ll come!” I exclaimed.  I bundled up and we headed out into the bitter cold night.  I could see my breath as we walked to the blue mailbox about a half mile around the block.  We looked up at the stars. “Look! There’s the Big Dipper, and there’s the Little Dipper!”  Stars seemed to awaken his philosophical nature.

I can’t recall our conversation exactly, but I remember the feeling.  My dad loved to ask questions of his children, such as, “Is is better to go fishing on Sunday and think about church? Or, is it better to go to church and think about fishing?”  He liked to make us struggle with an idea and he always listened to what we had to say.  I knew I had his full attention as we walked and talked.   

Walking with my Dad that night, I think he asked me about what I wanted to become in my life.  I felt he trusted me to have hopes and dreams and he wanted to be part of making them happen.  Walking with my Dad, I felt valued.

We were about half-way there when my dad reached for my small hand with his big, warm hand.  He had large hands with thick fingers. He always said his hands were clumsy, but I thought they were the most beautiful hands I’d ever seen or felt.  The veins on his hands stood up as if proud of their work.  His pinky was crooked, and his pointer finger bore the scar of an unfortunate encounter with a lawnmower blade.  His hands were always warm.  We walked briskly together in the cold, hand-in-hand.  His big hand said, “You’re safe with me.”

“Here we are.  Pull it open.”  I reached up, and he let me put the letter in.  I listened for it to hit the pile of mail already in the box. “Now, be sure it went down.” I opened the chute and looked to see.  

I still do that.  

 

 

 

March 5, 2014

I’m struggling with topic today.  So many stories come to mind, but then my inner censor says, “That’s too depressing, or that’s too personal, or that’s boring.”  I know stories will come, but perhaps not today.  Perhaps today is a day for reflecting.  I’m happy to be part of this SOL challenge.  It is my first time blogging, and the first time I’ve kept a commitment to write that’s lasted more than 3 days.  So that is something to celebrate.

I’m struggling on this 5th day in a good way – I know the struggle is worth it.  It doesn’t scare me to struggle, I have struggled with much harder things than my writing and am grateful for the lessons learned from those experiences.  I know that all writers go through this process.  I’m just newer at navigating it, but I have faith in the process and know that I will be surprised at how much I learn.

As I think now of my students, I know they often struggle.  I don’t want to steal that from them, no matter how many signals they give that it’s hard.  I have one student that enters my room every day with a “pouty” face.  She wants me to know loud and clear that she doesn’t want to be there, but I notice that gradually she enters the group, sits up a little taller, takes a risk to make a comment, and grows in her confidence.  That’s why I don’t mind her pouty face.  I know the struggle will pay off.

One of the great aspects of this SOL challenge is the opportunity to do as Stephen King said, “If you want to write, Read, Read, Read.”  Reading the posts of others teaches me so much.  

March 4, 2014

Mom, Did You Know?

Mom, did you know I would like to. . .

dress up in our lacey ballet dresses?

build blocks in my underwear?

not get stinky feet in my jelly shoes?

Mom, did you know that I like to. . .

scream your name at the pool to watch me go off the high dive?

to wear tennis skirts and feel like I am really good at tennis?

fall asleep with the lights on, not because I’m afraid of the dark,

but because light allows a more relaxed meeting with sleep?

Mom, did you know that. . . 

I’m in pursuit of the perfect pen

and the perfect pair of tennis shoes?

Mom, did you know I know the truth of you?

Yes, Jane, I know.

 

March 3, 2014

Today, I’m remembering earlier days in my teaching career when I was the sole ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher at a small elementary school.  Our instructional model at the time allowed me to work with upper grade students for their entire language arts period.  We had our own reading workshop and writing workshop.  

One particular year, I had an amazing group of new English speakers.  One boy was from Japan, one boy from Malaysia, one girl from Croatia, several students from Saudi Arabia, and a brother and sister from South Korea.  This diverse group of 5th and 6th graders became a learning community that seemed almost like family to me.  I confess I became very attached to them and still wonder about their progress as they are now young adults.  

This group of students worked hard and each of them progressed so much.  I remember the first writing we did together when one girl simply wrote the word “orange” on her paper.  Tears streamed down her cheeks as she lacked language to express more.  I felt her frustration and encouraged her with words she couldn’t understand, but hopefully felt.  By the end of the year, she was writing stories.

It was a classroom with much laughter.  English is such a quirky language that there were often opportunities for the “mis-use” of language that made us laugh.  One day, the phone rang in my classroom.  I was busy with a student, so I allowed Faisal to answer the phone.  It turned out he needed some prompting to know how to handle a call.  

Faisal:  “Hello? This is Mrs. Miner’s room.” (so far so good)

Caller:   “Is Mrs. Miner there?”

Faisal:  “Yes”  (ok, now what?)

Then Faisal looked at me, unsure how to proceed.  I whispered to him, “Say, ‘I’ll get her.'”

Faisal:  “She’ll get you.”

The students cracked up and laughter filled the room as an image of Mrs. Miner, monster, came to their view.  I quickly stepped across the room and spoke with the school secretary who good-naturedly delivered her message.  I’m not sure Faisal ever quite understood why his pronoun switch was so funny, but it still makes me laugh.

 

 

 

March 2, 2014

The year Jane was 4 was one of the best years of my life simply because Jane announced nearly every day, “This is the BEST day of my life!”  It didn’t take much to make it the best day–a trip to the pool, a slurpee from 7-11, or a new set of markers.  One of her favorite activities that year was drawing and coloring princesses, complete with tiaras, long eyelashes, and high heels.  She loved to color while I made dinner.  

One particular afternoon, I wrestled an oven-stuffer chicken in the sink.  I washed it and reached inside to remove the neck, gizzard, heart, and whatever a giblet is.  I held it by the legs under the running water, filling up the cavity with water and dumping it out. Over and over, filling it up and dumping it out.  The water ran cold as I removed the last of the innards. 

The chicken was almost ready to stuff.  Jane was kneeling on the kitchen chair at the table working hard on a princess.  After several minutes of working on our separate tasks, Jane said matter-of-factly, “I don’t know about you mom, but I sure do feel bad for that chicken.”  She never looked up or stopped coloring but her four-year old compassion touched me.  I have not made a chicken since without remembering that day.  It was one of the BEST days of my life. 

March 1, 2014

Growing up in Virginia, I have watched deer with reverence ever since I can remember.  To see a deer made the day special whether we had just gone for a walk at Great Falls or driven to the Shenandoah Mountains for a hike near Big Meadow.  Now I feel sad when people only refer to deer as a nuisance to their gardens.  It can still take my breath away to see their gentle eyes, graceful legs, and sweetly-spotted babies.

The deer come when I need them.

Three deer came forth from the woods near our house the day that Stephen was diagnosed with cancer.  One looked up and our eyes locked.  It’s message seemed to be acknowledging how fragile life can be.

My first job as a reading teacher began with a five-deer sighting along the highway.  That affirmed, for me, an important shift in my life.  A new job, a new school, a new me.  Blessed by deer.

Once at twilight, years ago soon after my father died, I saw deer in the snow near the Little League fields.  I pulled into the parking lot to get a closer look.  I rolled down my window and was just watching and listening to the quiet when a police car pulled up behind me.  Apparently, I shouldn’t have been in the parking lot when it wasn’t baseball season.  I told the officer that I saw the deer and just wanted to enjoy the sight.  He said I had to move along.

Three deer grazed outside the hospital last Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m.  I had just spent seven hours with my daughter in the Emergency Room.  She was gravely ill from Dengue Fever contracted in Honduras.  The deer brought a bit a of beauty, a bit of calm, a bit of surprising joy.  Such a comfort.

The deer come when I need them.

 

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