Saturday, August 19, 2006

Playing "Catch Up" in Nashville

I just realized that I didn't write a thing about my trip to Nashville two weeks ago for the North American Division Teachers' Convention (August 6-9). I've hard had time to catch my breath since I came back, so it's no surprise it's slipped my mind. It was a good experience, though. One I don't want to forget about.

The purpose of doing something like that is to help Adventist teachers know they don't teach in a vacuum, that they are not alone, and that they are appreciated. Given how isolated many of us are in our all-consuming career, I think it's a great idea to do this every now and again (every 6 years, actually) so we can literally see the great company of teachers we belong to. The numbers vary some, depnding on who is reporting them, but at one point, there were as many as 7,000 Adventist educators in one room praising God and gaining inspiration and encouragement for the year ahead. Unless you were there, you can't imagine what that feels look around you and see all those colleagues who have the same values, the same intentions as you do.

That's the first thing that was great about the convention. The sheer numbers. But then there were the individuals, the old friends, the former classmates, students, and colleagues that I saw. I kept a list, but after awhile I couldn't keep up. I think the students made the most impact on me, although I had more to say to colleagues since I've kept in better touch with many of them. But to have a "kid" now all grown up and teaching somewhere because he/she wanted to be a teacher like me discover that was overwhelming.

One "kid" said I was on their list to look up and thank for teaching the most practical class he ever took: Advance Composition (the first time I ever taught that!). Another just gave me a hug and said it was so good to see me (after 24 years). Another wanted his picture taken with me (it's here). And another was totally blown away because I could still tell her her name (although I don't remember where I taught her) without any hints from her! I saw some I wouldn't have recognized if I hadn't seen their name tags. And then there was my 10th grade English teacher who looks exactly the same, down to the clothes, hair style and glasses!!!

I had a room to myself, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It had a balcony that I liked to go out on watch the people go by below. The Gaylord Opryland Resort was huge and beautiful...with everything under a glass dome, kind of like a biosphere. I was staying in the "Cascades" section that had a 40 foot waterfall flowing into a tropical garden. It was all really beautiful.

I had the luxury of attending a number of the general sessions with one of my dearest friends (we started teaching together in Michigan). We also went out to eat one night and wandered an enormous shopping mall just talking and staying cool (it was 100+ outside). It is always good to walk and talk with her. I met another friend and her husband (we taught together at both SLA and GBA) for dinner another night. They had driven up from Collegedale just to see me...and his daughter.

The last day I attended the Shop Talk for English teachers and had the privilege of sharing a story about how John Donne's Meditation #17 served as a major comfort this past January to my seniors who had learned the "No man is an island" meditation just days before three of their friends from SLA were killed in a car accident. The fascillitator of the session was another dear friend of mine and he purposely saved me for last because he was so touched by the story. What was amazing to me was after I shared, the woman sitting next to me (I don't even know where she teaches) leaned over and said "We heard about your loss. We prayed for you." That was almost the best moment among all the other best moments. To know strangers have prayed for you...that's empowering.

One of the speakers on Monday was Ron Clark, the Disney Teacher of the Year for 2000. He's written a couple of books--The Essential 55 and The Excellent 11--and was the subject of a TNT movie just last Sunday starring Matthew Perry as Ron. His is an amazing and inspiring story of a young man who got in his car and drove from Atlanta to Harlem and begged for the worst class in one of the worst schools there and how he brought them from pure failures to pure successes in just one school year. Go here to read more about him.

If you want to see more pictures than I've put here, go to my other blog and check out the photos there. Even so, they don't capture the feel of being there. The feel of singing hymns with thousands of people. The feel of purpose and passion and power that comes with knowing you are doing the right thing with your life...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Long Week's Journey into Weekend

Whew! It's been a long week! It started when I decided to spend the weekend at my parents', so I got up early Sabbath morning and drove the 1 1/2 hours north to Alfred, ME. There, I spent a relaxing couple of hours sitting in the backyard with my parents watching all the birds enjoying the feeders and fountains that are there for them.

Later in the afternoon we decided to take a drive to Kennebunkport where we happened to be driving by the Bush (#41) summer home at Walker Point when George (senior) decided to go out fishing on his boat. We watched has he and the secret service got things ready and then zoomed out to sea. Unfortunately, my camera batteries had chosen to "die" just minutes before he appeared, so I don't have anything of him, just the house...

Sunday morning, I left earlier than usual, after a good breakfast, and drove down to school to meet with our new math teacher and his wife to show them an apartment the school owns. They liked it and are going to move in next weekend. I spent the next several hours working in my classroom and office before finally going home at 4 so I could wrap presents and get ready to go to Lauren's at 5.

There, we had a family celebration of three birthdays --my mom, my nephew David, and my brother-in-law Jerry--and a good bye for Julie, who was leaving for college in a couple of days. We had a good time until people started leaving. Then there were a lot of hugs and tears. Julie is the first of 6 grandchildren to leave and it's pretty traumatic to everyone, including her...

Monday morning I was at school bright and early to get ready for our first formal pre-session meeting. I had bought "door prizes" for all those who arrived on time. Dare I say "naturally" it was the women who arrived early, and the men who arrived late. And the new English teacher, my second cousin Astrid, was the very first to arrive! She got a pack of pretty pens, which pleased her. The meeting went well. And then the rest of the day was spent meeting new students, organizing registration for the next day, and sundry other details. I wenrt over to Lauren's togo out to eat with the family. We went to Julie's favorite restaurant, The Duck Walk, a Thai place in Wakefield. The food was pretty good, but everyone was so sad! Lauren, Julie, and I were in tears much of the time and Jerry couldn't speak. David didn't like any of the food, so we all had a fairly awful time. I hate good byes!

Tuesday, I woke at 3 and simply could not go back to sleep, so I finally gave
up and got up and worked around the house until about 6:30 when I went to school. We had registration from noon to 7, only as usual, people actually arrived at 7, so I didn't finish until 9:30. I was exhausted by the time I got home. One of my friends brought me something for supper, but I didnj't get to eat it until I got home. It was delicous all the same, though. I talked with Lauren and Julie several times throughout the day as they made their way south to Southern.

Wednesday and Thursday I was in South Lancaster for a conference inservice on the Fred Jones Classroom Management system I had learned when I was in Colorado Springs last month. I can't wait to put it all into practice. I sat at a table between Martha and Astrid. Our superintendent labeled us a "the troublemakers table," but we paid attention when we needed to =)

Today I worked at school for 6 hours then went shoppi
ng before coming home. One thing I had to get was a new wireless router. My other one went out a week ago, which has put a crimp in my blogging as I usually do it while I am watching TV or relaxing in front of the air conditioner in my reccliner. I've not been able to do that all this week...but now I'm back on-line and much happier =)

Tomorrow I will spend the day relaxing in my sister's beautiful backyard by her pool. No one is home, so it will be peaceful and quiet. It will be the last hurrah before school starts and I will need all the fortification I can get for the upcoming year.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Derek's Dreadful Day

I was working on my laptop last night until nearly midnight, mostly writing e-mails that I hadn't had time to do at school all day long. Gone are the quiet days when I am the only one in the building (or with maybe just one other). The faculty is back, parents and new students are coming in for's all good, but it isn't quiet and I can't do what I want/need to do, so I resort to the quiet hours at home to finish up that kind of work. Anyway, I finally stopped just before 12 last night, shut down the computer and went to bed.

This morning, when I went to check e-mail, I couldn't get on the server. I had a signal, but kept getting bumped off the internet. I had no time to deal with it, so went to school, only to come back at 3 and find the internet still down. I had the Comcast guy coming to switch my phone service, though, and I thought he might be able to help me...which he tried to do...but after an hour of frustration he had to give up.

Poor guy. Derek was/is his name. Nice guy. Big, tall, red-headed Finnish/English guy...not married...has two cats (mine really liked him!)...and a fiance who was waiting for him at home. And try as he might, and he did try everything, he couldn't resolve the situation. The nice thing is that he's not a network guy, just a phone tech. But he did his best to help me out. And he's had frustrations earlier, too. Two people didn't show up for their appointments and he had another internet puzzle as well. He didn't like to leave with the situation unresolved, but at least he got me on my PC.

We shook hands and wished each other well after a crazy hour in which he hit his head on my printer, knocked a bunch of papers off my desk, kicked a stack (one of several) of books over...and just generally felt stymied. We tried to laugh through it, but I'm sure he was wanting to do/say much more than laugh. He kept his cool, though. I'm sure it was difficult.

I'll try to write something more interesting/exciting tomorrow. Right now, I'm tired. You have to wonder what my life has come to when I find myself writing about my visit from Derek the Comcast cable guy!!! Actually other interesting things happened, and I will write about them when I feel more lucid and coherent.

Meanwhile, the picture is of one of several billboards in the Reykjavik airport. I wish I had thought to take pictures of all of them, but this is the only one I took. I plan to use it, along with the "name" poem exercise for worship with the faculty on Monday...wanting to talk about our names, who we are, who/what we represent by our names...and our character. It's just a kernel of thought right now. I'll keep you posted on how it develops.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Cat's Meow

So. I finally ate my first meal "French" style. Got my table cleaned, cleared, and set nicely. Made my griller sandwich all pretty and put it on my nice little plate. Poured a glass of milk into a new glass and was all ready to sit down. Turned around for a few seconds to do something, turned back to find a surprised cat on my newly set table peering curiously at the glass of milk!

Now, I have to say that it's not his fault that the table was such a surprise. Normally, I'm sad to say, it is stacked with books and mail and other things. But finally, this week, I got it totally cleared off, ready for the new French way of eating. I am going to do my best to stay more focused at home. It's a challenge, because I am often so tired...mentally more than physically...when I get home that I don't want to do anything. But I have begun to take charge of my life at home. Hopefully, this will get easier!

Pictures: The dining room; Teddy checking my food out; my phone center with Kaitie's painting above it all.

Not enough on my plate?!

Sometimes I think I have too much on my plate. It is rare that there's not enough. And the times when it should be filled sparely are not when I'm eating, although I am trying to change that. This week, the plate was too full on the work side, but doing much better on the food side. To reward myself, I bought this new plate! Morning Ramble has gotten me thinking about eating the French way. Pretty settings for pretty food. The idea of eating whatever you like, just on smaller plates, could work, I'm thinking. At least it's as good as any other idea I've tried. We'll see how it works.

The too full part of the work plate this week involved staffing. Our math teacher announced his retirement in March after 32 years here. We had known this might happen, but couldn't do anything until it was official. We had someone in mind, though, and went after him as soon as we could. He said yes, but after three months of thinking things would work out, they fell through thanks to a visa issue. After sifting through dozens of new applicants, we landed another one we thought was great, this time a woman. She, too, accepted our offer and was even packing to come when, you guessed it, immigration reared its ugly head again and her move was blocked. So, we had to go back to a couple of runner-ups and go through the interview process yet again. That's what consumed this week. Meeting with, eating with, and interviewing new prospects. Finally, we chose one of them and he accepted and actually signed a contract! That wasn't until Thursday afternoon. I told my superintendent that next time, we'd "better buy American!" Truth to tell, though, I think this is the best fit of the three. When you leave things in God's hands, He always comes through...

Meanwhile, I've been struggling with lazy and incompetent student workers and finally had to fire them...after they ruined the newly laid floor in our elementary hallway with their carelessness not two days after it was completed. I'm not a little upset about that, you can be sure!

In between all this, I met with the new associate pastor of the church who is going to teach our service learning classes this year and who has an ambitious program he wanted to lay out for me. It's interesting and exciting, and includes a major street ministry component. Reminds me of our service work senior year in academy. We didn't realize it then, at least I didn't, but our class was the first in the nation to do community service as part of the curriculum. Now, service is a staple everywhere, Christian and public, high schol and college.

I also had several meetings with new students and their parents. They all seemed nice enough. One kid was coming from an all boys boarding school that had a "farm dorm" where the boys in that dorm had to work on the farm, although other boys could "visit" and "do stuff like shovel out stalls and feed cows if they wanted." I can't imagine too many young boys choosing to do that, at least not any that I know! This kid also plays the flute and acts. I'm wondering how he'll fit in with the rougher more athletic-minded city boys that mostly populate our school.

Today, I go out to my sister's to spend the night because we are flying out to Nashville (with a bunch of teachers from her school) from Manchester at 7:30 a.m. Sunday. The shuttle leaves at 4 a.m., so I thought it made more sense to spend the night than get up before 3 to drive in the a.m. We are going to our national teachers' convention Sunday-Wednesday. She has a couple of presentations to make. I chose to just sit back, relax, and enjoy...although it's a little hard to do considering all that's left to do here. But, since I have to go, I might as well have fun, right?! I will see lots and lots of old friends there--college classmates who are teachers other places, former students who are now teachers, former colleagues, former teachers and bosses...yes, it should be good. When we return, though, we'll have to hit the road running. Summer's just about over...and yes, I have too much on my plate. Better go on a diet!!!!

Pictures: The new plate I got yesterday; hydrangeas by my classroom; flower bed by my classroom; our hotel, Nashville; Garden entrance to hotel; Nashville; hotel lobby (by far the most extravagant place I've stayed, I think.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Symbolic gesture

This little essay is the result of a 20 minute writing about a picture of Jerusalem. I wrote it at the Writing Retreat a week ago in Rockport. The leader put out a dozen pictures out on a table and we chose one to write about. A picture similar to the one here spoke to me, reminded me of an experience I had about 13 years ago last month. When I started writing, I had thought the experience took place in Jerusalem when I was there with the Youth Ensemble. Half-way through, I realized that it took place in Cairo. By then, I was already deep into the I kept on. Truth is, it could have happened in Jerusalem as well as Cairo, so I think it still works. I had to laugh at myself, though. At this age, my once oh-so-sharp memory is playing tricks on me...

What is that noise? I roll over and look at my watch. 5 a.m. Still a couple of hours before I need to get up. I close my eyes and begin to drift back to sleep when I hear the noise again. What is it? It's long, loud, agaonized. I push up out of the fog of sleep and stagger to the window which was open in hopes of letting a passing breeze in to relieve the sultry air that fills my small hotel room.

There it is again. I rub the sleep from my eyes and let my gaze sweep the rooftopos of the houses that surround my hotel. Nothing. I wait for the noise to come again so I can locate its origin. At last, there it is. My eyes are pulled, like a magnet, to a rooftop where I see two men and a cow. I see, now, what the noise is: the cow is bellowing, its throat slit--a demand of some ancient festival ritual--the death cry of a beast innocent of all but a symbolic act, repeated over and over for centuries.

I watch. Sickened, but mesmerized. And as I watch, I replay in my mind the previous day's adventure, wandering the streets of Jerusalem (with Alex and Donny), walking where JEsus walked, wondering if it felt modern to Him the way it felt primitive to me. Wondering what it must have felt like to be God trapped in human form, seeing pain and suffering all around, able only occasionally, and then at last, to take the weight of the world on His shoulders.

That cow, those men, alone in the pre-dawn calm, come slowly back into focus from past to present as the life-blood flows from the helpless throat. Makes me long for a day when there is no need for symbolic gestures and figurative language. Makes me long for a day when there is no need for anything but face-to-face conversation with my Saviour...

There! It is done. Quiet again. The men, done with their ritual, have disappeared. All that is left are spatters of blood and a memory. I go back to bed, but not to sleep. That cry still rings in my ears.