Saturday, September 30, 2006

There's a boy in the house!

My nephew is staying with me this weekend. We are having such a good time! We've been good pals for his entire life, but each age has its special experiences. For years I babysat him and his sister (until she was old enough to do it) when their parents were at orchestra rehearsals once a week. We'd have a routine that we always did. I'd come in time for supper, then Julie would go do her homework and David and I would play games until it was time for him to go to bed. I'd get him ready, read him a story, pray with him, put on some music or a story on tape and then go hang out with Julie for awhile until she went to bed.

Now that I don't babysit as much, I have to find ways to spend time with him differently. We like to go to Papa Gino's and to see cool kids' movies. Tonight we went to Papa Gino's and had a great time just talking. "We always have good luck together," he said to me. That's because the last time we went to this Papa Gino's I locked my keys in the car and there just "happened" to be a AAA guy eating in there (we saw his truck in the parking lot), so we asked if he could help us and, easy as pie, he did! Another time we went to see The Polar Express but it was sold out. He was so disappointed! I was buying him some consolation candy when I thought to ask the lady if there were any cancellations. She checked and just at that moment, someone called to release two tickets! We grabbed them and ran, literally, as we were a bit late. Yes, we have good luck together!

The cats have been very curious about him being here. They keep sniffing his shoes and his bag and licking him while he's sleeping!

He sings in the school choir and today was their first performance...for Alumni Weekend. They sang very well, and he was quite excited about performing like that for the first time. I loved that he enjoyed it so much!

"If you could have just two wishes, what would they be?" he asked me. After I told him mine, he said that he wished "God would come right now." Put me and my wishes to shame...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

We love books!

Whenever I go to someone else's house, I like to look on their book- shelves to see what they had been reading. I especially love it when I find familiar "friends" on the shelves that are also on mine, or that I have read and enjoyed. Same goes when I visit in offices...or even book stores. I just love looking at book titles with remembrance, if I've read them, and longing, if I haven't.

Even in my own home, or my parents' home, I sometimes just go through the bookcases looking for these old friends. I don't necessarily have to read them again, although sometimes I'll find one I just have to grab and reread. But it's often enough just to look at them and recall how much I learned, how much I enjoyed what I'd read.

There are books that I reread with regularity. Louisa May Alcott books (especially Rose in Bloom and An Old Fashioned Girl) are among them. So is a trilogy written by Marjorie Holmes about the birth, life, and death of Jesus (Two from Galilee, Three from Galilee, The Messiah).

Last week, I reread the second in a delightful series (The Amazing Mrs. Polifax) about an older woman (in her 60s) who inadvertently got herself involved as a CIA currier. There must be a dozen or more in the series and I've read every one of them. But it's been awhile since there was a new one, so I went back to an early one. I was surprised that I did not remember it, although to be fair, it's been at least a dozen years since I read it. What I like especially about this series is that it takes Mrs. Polifax all over the world, thus transporting me with her. A cheap way to travel, wouldn't you say?!

Books have always mattered in my life. I can't remember a time when I wasn't reading, or wanting to. My sisters, our mother and I are always sharing books with each other, always talking about the books we've read. I have a librarian friend who always has several books going at once. She gave me one of my all-time favorite gifts one Christmas by sending me a beautiful cloth bag that had seven books in it--all firsts in some of her favorite series! That started me on a journey I'm still on with each of those seven authors.

I have a great quilting series that has become a traditional Mother's Day gift I give my mom. There are seven or eight, now...and we have read and reread them all. This one is about several women who eventually come together to run a quilting retreat. You don't know how many times I've wished I could pack up and go to Elm Creek after reading one of those books!

I love reading about places I've been, countries I've visited. I like reading books set in a country while I am in that country. I've done that in China (The Joy Luck Club), in the South Africa (Cry, the Beloved Country), in the Caribbean (Breath, Eyes, Memory), and in Egypt (any Amelia Peabody book). It's great to get inside a country that way! I will admit, though, when I'm traveling, it's hard for me to read much because I'm so interested in looking at the countryside. Still, before bed, it's the coolest thing to be in the country you're reading about.

Photo #1--General fiction in my parents' basement
Photo #2--Books on writing in my study/library
Photo #3--General fiction and biography in my library
Photo #4--Religious, spiritual and children's books in my living room
Photo #5--Yearbooks, art books, travel books in my living room
Photo #6--Music and composer biographies in my parents' loft
Photo #7--Miscellaneous books and The Colonel in my parents' hallway
Photo #7--Religious, genealogical, historical and biographical books in my parents' library

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Walking and Talking

A student once said to me "You can make something spiritual out of anything!" I took that as a compliment, the way I think it was meant. I'm not saying it's entirely true, but I will say that I do find spiritual meaning in a lot of things around me. Whether it's in what I see, what I hear, what I read, there's always a deeper meaning, always something more beyond the surface. Even in human beings. Especially in human beings.

Years ago, I used to teach the story of Jesse sophomores, if I remember right. Seems as if we had a story about him in our literature anthology. One year, during the Olympics, they ran a made-for-TV mini-series about Jesse Owens and I taped it and showed it in conjunction with that story for a few years. To this day, one of the phrases repeated several times over throughout the story resonates with me...perhaps more so now that I am principal. It starts with a PE teacher seeing something special in Jesse (J.C. then). He goes to his house one afternoon and asks him to take a walk. "If we walk long enough and talk long enough, we might come to understand one another," he said to Jesse. That phrase stuck with Jesse and he uses it later in his life when he finds himself in a jam, or when he sees a kid he thinks he could work with.

I've been thinking of that phrase this past week. In fact, I worked that phrase into the devotional I gave to the academy staff at the beginning of the week, and practiced the phrase not once but at least a dozen times during the week, with both kids and staff. Talking so we came to understand each other made a difference for the six students I had to suspend, and for the staff who wrestled with the situation. And it made a difference when I had to calm down some 20 girls who were riled up over the dress code. Walking and talking changed everything.

Same thing happens if we walk and talk with God. When all seems lost or distorted, taking a walk or having a talk changes everything. When people don't make sense and the world seems as if it's falling apart, taking a walk or having a talk brings it all back into focus. Priorities change, peace floods in, calm takes over.

True, it's not quite as easy as that...which is where the walking and talking come in. If we do it long enough, "we might just come to understand one another." It worked this week. Well enough to do it again next time...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Found Photos

I was searching for friends' pictures of Aix-en- Provence earlier this evening and I stumbled on a photo site I don't use any more. There, I found the Aix pictures I was looking for, but also several other on-line photo albums, including pictures taken at my aunt's memorial service and then her burial in May 2004. Took me back to what was a lovely celebration of a life of someone who had a profound impact on my own life.

I remember how beautifully Julie played "Danny Boy" and how it was the first time I realized what a passionate and emotional cellist she is. I remember laughing and crying all at once at the tender, funny memories different people shared about their friend, their mother, their sister-in-law (my dad), their aunt (me). Afterwards, at the reception, clusters of friends conversed, brought together because of loss, reconnecting in a new context.

My mother took most of these pictures, capturing the emotions of reunion and letting go. The first is of three sisters, a cousin, and a sister-in-law; the second is of the same group plus Lauren's husband and a long-time friend
of ours. The third is of my mother and two of her remaining three sisters and fourth is the children of the cousins. The last photo is my cousin and her husband by the Baker River, a place where we spent hundreds of happy hours when we were kids. I was baptized in this river, too.

Touching base with the past

You know how it is when you meet someone-- maybe it's a brief connection, maybe it's a bit longer--and you are somehow never the same? Maybe you don't ever see them again, yet they influence and inform your life ever afterwards. A meeting like that is rare, I think. But oh, such a blessing should it occur!

Such a meeting, such a blessing, happened to me two summers ago. I wrote about the place back at the very beginning of this blog. But I didn't write much about the people. The place was Aix-en-Provence, a tiny walking town about 15 miles north of Marseilles which is on the south central coast of France. The occasion was a 10-day Creativity Workshop that involved writing, drawing and meditating for about 3 hours a day. There were 15 women in the class, with two phenomenal artists as our teachers.

All that, by itself, would have been a great experience. But what made it just about the best non-family experience of my life was the way the people in the class jelled outside of the class, the way we opened up to each other, connected on a deeply personal and spiritual level. I probably am the most removed from the others because I didn't go out drinking at night with them, but still there is a bond that continues to strengthen long after our last face-to-face good byes were said.

Two and three times a year we send off a round of e-mails catching each other up on our thoughts and news. Usually it's Helene(at left with the long wavy hair) the high school Spanish teacher from Virginia who starts us off. This week was no different. She sent off a missive that I followed up on, which has resulted in a flurry of e-mails from several others from the class.

We even got one from Shelley, our writing coach, and I got two additional personal ones from Shelley (above, in green) as well, including a recent essay she wrote about creativity. She has just finished writing a libretto for the Chicago Symphony and Alejandro (the only man in the group, pictured above), her artist husband, is writing a book.

I feel so blessed to have met these women. Each of them so different, and yet all of us with at least one common goal of finding inner peace through creativity. One woman had just lost her husband of many years. A friend had sent her on this adventure, hoping it would help her deal with her grief better. There were days when she was nearly paralyzed with loss, but others when she was exuberent in the release she found through writing and drawing. Another woman (cross-legged at left) was between chemo treatments, fighting her third recurrence of cancer. She worked with deaf children, using music (yes!) to bring them out of themselves. I am worried about her, as the e-mail I sent out this week bounced back from her mailbox. I hope she's just busy, not gone. Another (at the head of the paper) is a professional artist from Winchester, MA (town next to mine) and one of the producers of a 2005 Oscar-winning documentary (Born into Brothels).

I have used many of the things I learned in that class for my own academy classes. One of my favorite assignments (that I just gave the seniors on Friday) is for them to create an illustrated book of days. I will never forget the days I spent creating mine. It was one of the most satisfying artistic experience I've had letting my thoughts pour out of me like that. Even more so when I shared what I'd done with these women, my friends-for-life. The affirmation, the encouragement, the was something I hadn't expected. Even Shelley wrote me just this week saying how different this group was from the hundreds of others she and Alejandro have worked with. None have been so close, she said. I thought at first that this trip was serendipitous for me. The more I think about it, the more fortuitous it seems instead.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The smell of rain

Early this evening, my parents and I were sitting out on their patio, enjoying the cool breeze and listening to the happy birds singing all over the yard. Goldfinch were flitting around, a humming bird buzzed in for a drink. It was lovely and peaceful.

All of a sudden, my dad said "I smell rain." I thought that was an interesting thing for him to say, but within seconds, the sky got dark, the wind started tossing birds and leaves around in the air, and we knew the rain would soon be upon us.

We gathered our things and went inside, just as it started to pour down rain. It didn't last long, just long enough to put an end to our outdoor lounging...

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Second Week

Thanks to Labor Day, we had one less day of school this week. You'd think that would make a difference. Well, in a sense it did. I had time over the weekend to do a lot of things at home that have been piling up. That felt good. But I didn't feel any less exhausted today than I did last week. The academy students were even gone Thursday and Friday to Camp Winnekeag, so I didn't have classes to teach, and still...I'm tired.

It's a good tired, though. I love my job...or at least a good share of it. I don't really see
it as a job, but a way of life. There is purpose in all I do, and the ultimate goal is not to put in my time and cash my check, but to present Jesus to our students in every way possible. We have chosen for our theme this year "Character Counts," so we are really focusing on all the things that make up a quality Christian. It's nice working in a place where everyone is receptive to growing spiritually....

The staff has been praying a lot, as we have experienced over and over the power of p
rayer. This week, we had specific things we were praying for each day. And each day, those prayers were answered! I love sharing things like that with the students. It supports and builds their faith as much as it does ours.

Now, today, in a couple of hours, I will drive up to my oasis in Maine where I will spend the afternoon and evening-into-morn
ing with my folks. It is always a peaceful experience to be with them. Their home is so beautiful and restful to me, and we love just hanging out together. We talk and read and walk and talk some more...all things I rarely do on my own during the school year.

Photos: Lake Winnekeag; bulletin board in my classroom with "off limits" desks; the classroom sans students.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The First Week

Whew! We got through our first week of school fairly unscathed! That's always a relief. I have slept little and worked long hours, but things mostly went smoothly. Most people wouldn't know what wasn't working. The kids seem calmer this year, for some reason. I'm not sure why. They certainly are quieter. Again, I'm not sure why. And they sing! In harmony! That hasn't happened in awhile. It's pretty cool.

It rained much of the morning on Monday, so we had to have our Flag Raising Ceremony inside instead of outside around the flag pole. We had to meet in the gym and saluted the flag rather than actually raise it. Our 7/8th grade teacher played the trumpet before the Pledge, which the kids thought was cool. Then we had a huge prayer circle followed by a handshake. I especially loved seeing the big kids with the tiny little pre-k kids. All in all, it was a nice first day.

Thursday night we had a Corn Roast/Open House for the parents. This went well, too, with quite a number of families coming out to enjoy getting acquainted with our new teachers. During the course of the evening, we signed up a new pre-k students and hope to get another student by the time Tuesday rolls around. That would help ease the money stress that is always hanging around us.

The new staff is easing into things. We have four contract teachers this year, which has made scheduling a nightmare. But they are good, nice teachers and the kids like and respect them it seems. Our staff is quite multi-cultural with all of the major ethnic groups represented in a well-balanced way. This wasn't planned, it just happened. But it's interesting and healthy, I think.

Today, I spent a lot of time laughing--partly because I was so tired I couldn't do anything else, it seemed, but also because I was just plain enjoying the people I was working/talking with. That's a good feeling. Especially when you spend so many hours with them!!!

Zinneas on my desk first day of school Astrid (my 2nd cousin and the new contract English teacher) brought them to me.

Dwight plays for the Salute to the Flag ceremony

7/8th graders along with some of our staff (including Lauren) waiting for the handshake

The 2006-2007 EW/GBA staff (all but two of them)

Sunflower for the front office that Astrid brought in