Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fortunate faux pas

The mother of one of our teachers passed away yesterday afternoon. I was sending out information to some friends when I saw on the "sent" list that I had inadvertently sent it to someone who has no connection to the teacher whatsoever. In fact, I sent it to a student who was a sophomore my first year teaching and who I am occasionally in touch with. Somehow his address jumped into the "to" line and he got the message, too.

I immediately wrote to him and explained what had happened (not that I really know). This afternoon I heard back from him in a very long message detailing how something I had written on a speech evaluation sheet made such a difference in his life, and how he often thinks about it and feel empowered in the same way he did all those years ago. I guess I had critiqued the speech, but wrote at the end "I am proud of you." All these years later he says that gave him the inspiration to go on and become a writer and speaker. He said that my mistake was a fortunate one, that my apology came at just the right time for him.

After he graduated, he went to college as a journalism major and was hired at the 8th largest newspaper in the country! He still writes, although he's not with that paper any more. So nice to know the little things you do, without thinking about the consequences, can--and do--make a difference, even years later! Makes the tough days go a little easier because you know that things often turn out better in the long run.

The picture is of my former office at that school. I got it off the website, so I don't know who the girls are, but the office is very familiar to me. I've not seen it for 23 years! Wow! Just looking at it takes me back!!!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pottery Memories

I was just reading Morning Ramble's post about the Homestead Heritage Craft Fair. She shared several pictures of some of the pottery made there and it reminded me of the pottery I used to make years ago, back at my first teaching job (in a boarding school). Several of the wives and one other female teacher and I used to get together on Monday evenings tomake pottery. I had never done anything like that, but was thrilled with my first efforts. I made a set a dishes, complete with glasses and mugs, salad plates and dinner plates. I made a soup toureen, some bookends, several vases, tree ornaments,and a bunch of other things that I don't remember now.

I gave most of it away for Christmas presents that first year when I had NO money... One of them resurfaced just this week at my sister's house filled with beautiful roses. She had put it in a niche in her newly redesigned kitchen. I was pleased that it had a new place to shine.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Every year for Thanksgiving, a large group of family/friends gathers together either at my sister's house, her mother-in-law's house, or her sister-in-law's house. Today we were at my sister's house. There were 18 of us. Thankfully, my sister's place is large enough for us to be comfortable without tripping over each other.

The older generation have known each other since college. My father is great friends with Virginia, who is a legend in classical music. Whenever they are together, the stories flow. And they are amazing. The middle generation (mine) all went to college together as well.

The younger generation are all cousins, and the best of friends. It's always an interesting and congenial gathering.

We have the usual Thanksgiving foods--(veggie) turkey, mashed potatoes, squash, cranberries--as well as peas, rutabega, homemade rolls, pecan rolls, salads, and cider. There are always pumpkin and apple pies for dessert. The table always looks beautiful before we all sit down to eat with the golden cider glowing in the candlelight.

After we eat, we gather in various nitches to talk and listen to others talk. Today, the kids went out to see a movie while the rest of us sat around and talked. The party started to break about about 7:30, although I didn't leavve until 9. It was a pleasant and relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

I'm happy to report that I did not stuff myself, although it would have been easy enough to do so. I have a bit of a cold, so that may account for my lack of interest in eating something of everything. I felt good about the restraint =)

Meanwhile, back on the internet, I have begun hearing from the "kids" I wrote to over the weekend. It's been lots of fun catching up with them. All of them are out of college, most of them married, several of them have kids, most of them happy and successful. A couple have gone through hard times but are back on track. A couple are still in school...med school or graduate school. It's very satisfying knowing that I've had something to do with shaping their lives. And it's nice to know we still have a connection.

Those were good years for me (which isn't to say they're not good now). Things were much easier than they are now, that's for sure. We had no idea then what we'd go through very shortly after this group graduated.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Reconnecting yet again

I spent more than a few hours tonight writing to former students. I must have sent out at least 20 e-mails to students from both SLA and GBA. I found most of their addresses on MySpace, believe it or not. These are "kids" between the ages of 24 and 35, grown ups I was quite close with during their high school years. Most I have been in and out of touch, sometimes seeing at Alumni weekends, sometimes running into each other on the internet.

It's been on my mind to reconnect for some time, now, and today, I just took the time to do it. I've already heard back from two. I expect a response from all, to be honest. It would surprise me if it went otherwise.

That's one of the great things about teaching in a small school the way I do. You have the opportunity to connect in ways you never do in a big school. Making a difference is paramount among the reasons why I stay. Today it felt like it was worth it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Legendary force passes on

Ottilie Stafford passed away yesterday afternoon. She was in her late 80s and had suffered from esophageal cancer for the past several months, so it was probably a blessing that she finally is at rest. But it's sad to me all the same. She was a legend in her own lifetime in Adventist English and education circles. And she certainly was a force in my life, dramatically changing the whole direction of my life.

I took my first class from her as a freshman and my last as a master's student in the American Literature on Location program. I clearly remember whole days of both classes. I even remember the first paper I wrote for her and her bloody red comments. "The ocean is my abyss" was one of my lines. I thought the paper rather beautiful. She thought it rather sappy. I came out of that experience feeling like Anne of Green Gables having to purge all her favorite lines from a story she wanted to get published. But I also came away as a better writer. It was in that class that I first read and watched A Man for All Seasons, a play that I just started teaching my seniors on Monday, ironically. I will never forget all we discussed about the play, and to this day, I call those things up when I teach it. Friday, when I am back in the classroom, I will tell my seniors about Ottilie, and I will mourn yet again her loss.

I not only took several classes from her during college, but also acted under her direction a number of times, both in college and later when I was teaching at nearby SLA. I remember once how flattered I was that she said I was a true "O'Neillian" actress after I had played the part of an overwrought mother in a play that a classmate had written and directed. I remember the extreme pleasure I felt when she asked me to call her Ottilie instead of Dr. Stafford when, as an academy teacher, I produced several of the plays she directed. I never felt quite comfortable doing it, though, I had such high respect for her. I can still hear her saying it to me, though, as we tooled around town in her pickup (!) picking up props for the upcoming performance of Robert Frost's Death of the Hired Man.

Frost. That was the last class I took from her. And she asked us the question at the beginning if we thought Robert Frost was a great poet. That was the thrust of the three-week intensive. I was dying to know what she thought, but she never told us...until the last day...that she did, indeed, think he was great.

I always knew when she was ready to end class when she would say "Well, alright." I have found myself
doing that many times. It was a private joke to me when I'd hear myself say that. My students, of course, had no idea that yet again a great teacher was informing my own teaching.

She sometimes terrified me...or rather intimidated me. You never wanted to be caught saying something stupid. But that made me work all the harder. And yes, it was absolutely nearly impossible to get an A out of her. But that, of course, made you work all the harder. The thrill of victory when an A appeared on a paper was incomparable to that of any other A...

This morning, as I was driving into So. Lancaster, I didn't know yet that she had passed away. But I thought of her even as I was taking these pictures of an apple orchard and pine wood separated by a stone wall. Robert Frost's poem came to mind...and with any thought of Frost comes hard on its heels a memory of Dr. Stafford. In her honor, then:

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

~Robert Frost

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Making plans while the sun sets

I went back to Maine this afternoon for a few hours. Both sisters and their sons were there as well. The purpose of today's visit was to work out our holiday plans. Every time we thought we had things settled, someone would have a conflict. last weekend, my mother and I thought we had the solution, but found out the next day that it wasn't even close. So, we decided a face-to-face with calendars in hand would serve us best...which it did.

The other benefit was a good meal together--baked potatoes, corn, green beans (from the garden), baked beans, salad, and apple pie. Oh, so delicious!

After a late lunch (our choir sang for the Korean Church today, so we didn't arrive until 2), we went for a walk just as the sun was setting through the trees. It was so beautiful!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Second Sabbath

Every second Sabbath of the month, I am responsible for the "program" part for the adults of my church. It's not as big a deal to me now as it was at first, some four years ago. It started with one of the leaders asking me to do a series on spiritual lessons through multiple intelligences. Before I was done, she and her actor husband had moved 1/2 across the country but by then, I guess you could say I had an audience. The nominating committee asked me to continue as one of the program presenters for the next year, and I've been doing it ever since.

The hard part initially was getting used to sharing with people almost twice my age and 3-4 times that of the ones I usually teach. If I was going to do something like this, I wanted it to be as original as possible and yet I really didn't know what I could say that would "speak" to these older folk who most certainly could be teaching me more than a thing or two. Couple that with a limited amount of time to prepare and maybe you can see my dilemma. Eventually I decided to just use what I was working on at school. Happily, the literature I choose to teach always has some kind of spiritual overtones, so my material is essentially endless. Plus I have a whole file drawer of worship talks I've given over the years and could adapt.

Tomorrow, it's second Sabbath again. I was planning to share something about what I'm getting ready to study with the seniors next week: Sir Thomas More's story in Robert Bolt's movie A Man for All Seasons. I love that story of conviction. And I love to teach it. It's a great inspiration to me each time I read/see/teach it so it would be an easy thing to convert into a 10-12 minute talk. But now, I'm thinking I might do something about Veterans Day, as tomorrow is the actual day.

Last weekend when I was at my folks' my mother was telling me about my uncle's involvement on Iwa Jima. I had always known he was there, and that the experience was so horrible that he never talked about it, but now there are two books out giving graphic detail to the story he would not share. James Bradley wanted to interview him for his book Flags of our Fathers, but he still didn't want to talk about his experience. It wasn't until George W. Toyn called that he broke his silence. In this new book, The Quiet Hero, there are pictures of my uncle as he finally reveals his part in this bloody battle now being called"quite possibly the last, great, untold story of World War II."

So, I just may talk about that instead. It doersn't really matter in the long run. The dozen or so "seniors" who are in church at 9:30 always appreciate what I say. Often they find me afterwards and tell me of their connection to the poem or story I've shared, or add a tidbit about an author or composer that I hadn't mentioned, or didn't know. It's been nice having a new group of people to relate to, particularly as I spend most of my time with teenagers!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Full-moon, rainy-day blues

What a strange day! I had boys streaming through my office all day long! Nothing major really. But weird silly boy stuff, I guess. Keep in mind that it was a full moon two days ago and it was raining all day long. Which may not excuse what happened, but may explain it...somewhat.

To start, three PreK/K boys were screaming at the top of their lungs because another boy called a girl his piece of paper. They thought it was something bad so they screamed. And screamed. The teacher sent them to me and told me to ask one of them what happened. I have to admit I was completely baffled when he told me the paper bit (he left out, at first, the screaming part). I just sat there and stared at him madly scrambling (in my mind) for what in the world to say to that and wondering if the teacher hadn't been affected by the moon as well. When the screaming part came out, I at at least understood the teacher's frustration. I also understood the teacher's delight and joy when the instigator of this terrorizing team of three hugged me on the way back to his classroom.

A sixth grader asked his teacher (who he admires and respects, usually) "Why are you talking?" in response to the teachers same question of him.

Two seventh graders were tussling with each other so loudly and wildly over a notebook that their teacher sent them down to me to settle what he didn't have time to deal with at the moment.

An eighth grader twice took himself out of his classroom when he felt frustrated with his teacher and came down to work in my office where it was quiet and he could concentrate. this is the same boy who spent four days working in my office last week and another day the week before and two days at the beginning of October. He says he doesn't want to be in the office with me, but he always gets work done and he's more at peace because I play music and talk with him about his future...and I think he secretly likes it there. I don't mind, but I don't get as much work done when he's there. Oh wait. That is my work, isn't it?

A second grader was sent down to work in the office where it is quiet (ha!) because he was getting distracted in his classroom. I had to put him in the teacher's workroom because it was quite crowded in my office and the front office.

This went on just about all day long. I couldn't get over it. Then, when I thought I'd try to go home earlier than usual, I looked at my calendar and saw I was supposed to have elementary faculty meeting. Well, I knew they would relish an early release, so I went upstairs and talked individually with each of them instead, letting them leave at least 1 1/2 hours earlier than if we had had a meeting. By the time I got back downstairs, I had spent well over an hour talking with three of the four teachers. That was time well spent, though, and something I am tryhing to do more of anyway. My dad used to do that all the time and I remember thinking to myself what a great way to maintain healthy staff relationships. I do that with some of the staff (the women) easily enough, but the men are another story. I'm working on things there...

So, I walked into my office to find a beautiful bouquet of flowers on my desk filling the office (that an hour earlier had been overpowering with the smell of boys) with a strong-but-sweet aroma. I asked Diane where they had come from and she said that when Sandy had driven a group of students to the "T" (train station), a mother had been waiting for the van (and her son) with the flowers to send back to me! Well, if you could see this mother and her son, you would understand my wonder and amazement. A few years ago, the two were in a car accident that resulted in the mother going into a coma for two years and the son becoming almost catatonic. Within the past several months, the woman's husband died as well as her husband. The boy, actually man, as he's 20 now, does not speak more than a word in a day. He rarely makes eye contact, and there is almost never even a spark of recognition in those eyes. He often won't go to class, but just sits in the lobby staring straight ahead. I have tried over and over to convince the mother that he does not belong here, that we can't do anything for him. But she refuses to listen. She wants him in a Christian school where he feels safe and loved (and the students are truly lovely to him, all on their own). The last conversation we had, I was trying to tell her that he should go somewhere else, that he would never finish high school with us. She was very upset with me and I felt awful about upsetting her, even though I felt I should tell her the truth.

And now she sends me flowers. Amazing end to a very strange day.

Pictures are not of any students mentioned above!

Monday, November 06, 2006

No place like Home

I spent part of the weekend with my parents. Next to traveling, that's my favorite thing to do. I'm so grateful that they live near enough so I can go virtually whenever I want with little effort. Within 90 minutes I can be home. And that, in fact, is what I did Saturday morning.

I took the back roads to get there, driving through some lovely farmland and the quaint town of South Berwick, home to Sarah Orne Jewett, the great quirky spinster local color writer chronicalling life in Maine. She wrote such things as...

"It does seem so pleasant to talk with an old acquaintance who knows what you know. I see so many new folks nowadays who seem to have neither past nor future. Conversation has got to have some root in the past, or else you have got to explain every remark you make, and it wears a person out."

"Tact is after all a kind of mind reading."

"The thing that teases
the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper - whether little or great, it belongs to Literature."

"When I was as you are now, towering in the confidence of twenty-one, little did I suspect that I should be at forty-nine, what I now am.

"Yes'm, old friends is always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an old one out of.

Well, I had some lovely conversation with my oldest and dearest friends. It was well worth the trip. We walked and talked and sat and talked and watched Loma Linda Church and vespers and generally had a peaceful, restful time together.

Best of all, I got to have breakfast with them in the morning. This is one of my favorite things about staying over night...lingering over a good breakfast together.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Blue Door Primitives

My parents live in a small village in southern Maine. One of the places I love in this quaint little village is an antiques/primitives place called The Blue Door. It is run by a husband/wife team and they actually make all the primitives themselves. They spend much of the time crafting their inventory and are only open a couple of days a week. I can actually never stop by to browse except for the weeks between Halloween and Christmas when they are open on Sundays.

So, this morning my mother and I went over to see what we could find. What we found was overwhelming...and delightful. I love going into places like this, mostly to look, as I don't have a big enough home to use most of what I see. All the same, I do have several small things (pillows, sachets, etc.) that I've picked up over the few years I've been stopping by. For example, I have one of the big dolls similar to what you see in the last photo sitting in an antique rocker in my living room. She keeps me good company =) No back talk!!!

They are gearing up for their Christmas open house next week right now so it's particularly beautiful... and delicious smelling as well. Every nook has some kind of potpourri or candle or centerpiece thing that has something to do with Christmas spice. Oooh! it was nice!

Every time we go there, we find something odd and/or interesting. Today, we saw a number of items with the words "Simplify" or "Simplicity" embroidered or painted on them. We thought it might be fun to get one and give it to my youngest sister who is having a difficult time right now simplifying her life.

Well, truth be told, so am I. There's no such thing as a simple life when you are involved with kids. There are too many layers. And the harder you try to understand them, the more frustrating...but many times rewarding...it becomes. Both my sister and I are neck-deep in kids, and therefore over our heads with responsibilities connected to the thing we love doing: teaching.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Or more to the point, Thank God it's Sabbath! It's been a long, hard week. It always is after a Week of Prayer and Youth Church. If you teach in Christian schools, you know this is one of the rules. The week after an intensely Jesus-focused week is always the most difficult. The devil goes out of his way to try and tempt.

This week was no exception. Every day was an exhasuting challenge. I had students in my office every single day, all day long--except today, when I was dealing with teachers instead. At one point, I just closed my door and cried. That's the first time since I took this job that I've done that. And I couldn't even enjoy it as, within minutes, I had to go put out another fire with a hysterical girl upset over geometry. (How many times has that happened over the years? More than I can count, most likely.)

The only thing that kept me sane today, well, I guess the two things, was the beautiful view out the front window of school (we had a hard frost last night and it changed up the colors of the leaves one more time...it took my breath away every time I looked outside!) and knowing that Sabbath was coming and I could put it all aside with a clear conscience and just revel in the peace that always comes at sundown, the weight of the week rolling off my shoulders and falling with a thud at my feet there to stay, at least until Sunday.

So, now, the Sabbath has come. I made a grand effort to resolve all the conflict around me before leaving school and determined to make my escape in the morning to Maine. Meanwhile, though, the lights are low, the music is on (Beethoven piano sonata at the moment), and I am in pure relief and release mode that always comes when I let myself fully appreciate and experience the Sabbath. I don't know that I could survive without my Sabbath respit!