Saturday, July 28, 2007

Learning on Location in Michigan and Illinois

I've been in Michigan for the past week taking a Principals' Workshop as I embark on a certification program for administration and leadership. My brother-in-law and my new vice principal were there as well, along with about 40 others. The workshop was held at my alma mater for my Masters degree, Andrews University. I was only on campus for two summers, though. The rest of my classwork I did off campus in a Literature-on-Location program (but that's another story for another day. Let's just say that I highly recommend learning such things as history, literature, art, and music in "on location" programs.).

Michigan is not my favorite place to spend the summer, but it has always served me well academically, and this week was no exception. We were in classes from 8 to 5 each day with an hour off for lunch. We learned about everything from Recruiting and Marketing to Team Building and Instructional Supervision. Some of the session leaders were good friends of mine from other workshops and classes, so it was fun to renew friendships.

Tuesday and Thursday we took field trips after our workshops were done, so we had long, full days, with or without the trips. Tuesday we went to Battle Creek, MI to see the Historic Adventist Village, a collection of homes and meetings houses brought from around the state that commemorate the beginnings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the work of John Harvey Kellogg in the field of health and medical reform.

Guides dressed in 19th century costume and acting in character regaled our group with the inspirational stories of the young men and women who introduced health and dress reform to the nation. I was amazed, for example, to see in the Kellogg museum exercise contraptions that strongly resemble the kind of machinery you find in 21st century fitness clubs such as Curves and the like. And yes, John Harvey is that Kellogg of Rice Krispies fame...and a shirt-tale relative of yours truly! It was an interesting evening at the very least.

Thursday, found us in Chicago spending 3 hours in the Museum of Science and Industry and another 3 hours at the Navy Pier. I'd been to the museum as a child and later as a first and second year teacher,'s been awhile. I enjoyed the exhibits, among them the story of the U-505, the first German submarine ever captured, and the only one on American soil. You can read about it here if things like that interest you. It's an incredible story.

The Navy Pier has a charm all its own with lots to do from shopping to cruising Lake Michigan to strolling along drinking in the sights and sounds of people (and birds) enjoying themselves. We saw a beautiful tall ship embark on a journey across the lake, unfurling its sails while we watched. As we were coming back, the sun was setting behind the Chicago skyline bringing the day to a peaceful close.

Getting to and from Andrews was a challenge, though. The flights I chose via Expedia were supposed to get me there with a minimum of time and frustration (4 hours max, door-to-door). Unlike my plans, the reality was that it took 12 hours to get there (with canceled flights, stand-by flights and hours of waiting) and 9 hours to get home (flight delays due to severe thunderstorms). I shouldn't complain about at least getting home, though, as my brother-in-law is still in Chicago and won't get home for another 5 hours or so (we has different flights...mine through Detroit, his through Chicago). I can laugh at it now, but it was a challenge to keep positive and pleasant. My saving grace was two books that I really wanted to read and therefore had the opportunity to do so.

The workshops themselves were useful, and it was nice to have the new VP there, too. We spent a lot of time talking about what we want to do with the coming year. Administration is not my first love, but I have to say that this got me excited about it for the first time, and helped me see what I can do to better nurture the teachers on our staff and help them be better as well. Now, to put it all into practice!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Red Clover, a Goldfinch, and a nomination

To make a prairie, it takes a clover and one bee.
One clover, and a bee.
And reverie.
The reverie alone will do
If bees are few.
~ Emily Dickinson

This little ED poem came to mind last week when I saw a fairly big patch of red clover growing along the path by the ocean. Years ago I learned it when I was doing a portion of William Luce's The Belle of Amherst for my students. In this Tony Award-winning one-woman play, Luce has Emily recount how she used to stay up nights writing poetry, much to her father's displeasure. One night he caught her up late and asked her what she was doing. When she told him the truth, he wanted to hear what she was writing. She reads him this poem, half fearfully, half shyly proud. If you like Emily Dickinson, you might enjoy reading or watching this play. Julie Harris did it live for many years, and I actually had the privilege of seeing her in Boston. You can get it on video now. I think it's quite charming and funny. Makes her seem like a real person, not the quack some people make her out to be.

Wednesday morning, I had to go to the bank to do some school business. As I pulled into a parking spot, I noticed a male and female goldfinch in the flowers at the head of the space. I thought for sure they'd fly away, but they were so busy eating that they paid me no mind and stayed long enough for me to pull right up, get my camera out and take a couple of shots of them!

Earlier today (very early), my good friend Patty at Morning Ramble nominated my blog for a Positive Global Change Award. That was a humbling thing to read. It sounds me, and I live in a very small world and often don't think I do enough. Truth is, I want to make a difference, and I do try to live my life that way. Working with young people the way I do, especially with teenagers, is daunting. And you don't always feel like you're getting through. I have to remind myself that change and growth sometimes takes years to reveal, so prayer and patience are key. I do a lot of praying in my day! A lot. Which is where the positive global change comes in. Only it's not my work, but God's. I am thankful for the blessing of a partnership with Him!

So, as with other awards, you are supposed to pass the recognition on. I looked at the origin of this one, and they originally meant to point out blogs that focus on the physical environment, but the blogs I'd like to recognize have everything to do with the emotional and spiritual environment. Actually, all the blogs that I go back to on a regular basis affect the blogosphere in an interesting and positive way. Some brighten my day by sharing beautiful pictures of flowers and birds and other scenic views. Others stimulate my thinking by forcing me to go deep inside spiritually. Some delight me in a kindred-spirit kind of way, making me smile or laugh out loud when I recognize some of my own interests or frustrations. Any way you look at it, these people (because of course the blogs don't appear out of thin air) have had a positive affect on my personal atmosphere =) Here are a few of them:

1) La Tea Dah at Gracious Hospitality takes every opportunity to bring peace and beauty to her blog. Whenever I read it, I feel soothed and inspired.
2) Mulberry Patch is a young professional in a hectic job that directly affects thousands of people. She struggles to find her way through the stress, and invariably finds strength in God.
3) Sandy at Garden Path is a fantastic photographer. I've learned so much about nature from her--from flowers to birds to dragon flies.
4) Inland Empire Girl is a teacher like I am. I enjoy her insights into our shared profession, but I also enjoy her love for the beautiful. The bouquets she posts of flowers from her garden brighten my living room even as they do hers.

Here's what the "rules" are for this meme:

1. When you get tagged, write a post with links to up to 5 blogs that you think are trying to change the world in a positive way.
2. In your post, make sure you link back to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Leave a comment or message for the bloggers you’re tagging, so they know they’re now part of the meme.
4. Optional: Proudly display the “Bloggers For Positive Global Change” award badge with a link to the post that you write up.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sarah Orne Jewett's Berwick House

My mother and I spent part of Friday afternoon visiting the home of Sarah Orne Jewett (one of the predominant female writers of the 19th century) located in South Berwick, about 16 miles from where my parents live. This town is on the border between New Hampshire and Maine, built along the Piscatoqua River, and was one of the biggest inland ports in its prime.

The house was built in 1774, and was redesigned and rede- corated during the years Sarah's grandparents and parents lived there. Later, when they were gone, Sarah and her sister Mary moved back (from the house next door that her father had built), and lived there until they died.

I wish I could show you what the house looked like inside, but I wasn't allowed to take pictures. The wallpaper and carpets are all original and in fragile condition. The furniture is original, not reproduction or "similar to" what they might have had. Sarah's room is virtually the way it was the day Sarah died in 1909 (her window is the third from the left on the second floor). All this combines to make for a fascinating tour, but one that's difficult to share via personal photos.

My mother and I were the only two on the tour, the last of the day, so the guide was especially talkative and went out of her way to share as much as she could with us. We learned quite a bit about the architecture and decorative aspects of the house as well as the social norms of the day. The inhabitants of the house were wealthy, so the house reflects that, down to the wallpaper in the best bedroom that is flocked with flecks of mica that would sparkle with reflected candlelight at night (it was fascinating...but ugly...).

Jewett is not always an easy read, but I've enjoyed teaching her, and have had some success in getting students to appreciate her work all the same. Country of the Pointed Firs is possibly her best-known book and "A White Heron" is her oft-anthologized short story. All her works give testament to what she knew: small-town life in Maine and the value of friendship.

“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.”

Wildflowers for Lady Bird

All the news programs today are reporting on the funeral service for Lady Bird Johnson. I feel sad and nostalgic myself as this is one First Lady I actually met and spent a memorable couple of hours with. I wrote about it back in May when the teachers in our district (conference) spent an afternoon at the JFK Library. Little did I realize then that she would not be long for this world. I've seen other First Ladies (Mamie Eisenhower, Pat Nixon, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush) but never in such a personal, intimate way as going through the JFK Library with Lady Bird and hearing first hand some of her reflections about one of the sad days in our history.

Besides that memor- able visit, what stands out to me about Mrs. Johnson was her love for natural beauty. Her project to beautify the highways across America by planting wildflowers along the roadsides and flowers at toll booths, etc. may be something we take for granted now, but I appreciate it, when I think about it.

If you've ever driven down route 95 on the East Coast in the spring and summer, for example, you will see whole stretches of highway median thick with cosmos and brown-eyed susans and daisies...beautiful in their bright simplicity. That's part of her legacy that has affected millions of people over the years.

Some might think it's not as big a deal as, say anti-drug programs and literacy programs. And, perhaps, in a way it isn't. But I think there's a healing place for wildflowers in everyone's life. Lady Bird Johnson knew that, and saw to it that something was done about it.

I've often wondered what cause I would take up if I were in a position to affect millions of lives in a public way. How do you choose? How do you determine what will be your signature concern? In our private lives, I'm sure we have pet projects. Maybe what you do for your vacation, or avocation, is it. But is that something you could/would take to the nation? For all my wondering, I still haven't figured out what I'd do. Not that I need to, as I don't foresee needing to make that decision. Perhaps it's enough to know that as a teacher I'm affecting hundreds of young people, some of who might someday grow up to have the opportunity I only sometimes think about.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A beautiful day (or two) in Maine

Maine in the summer can be absolutely beautiful. It's one of my favorite places to see (literally) in the summer. Last week was full of beauty and peace. I found many things that interested me as I walked through gardens and along rivers and harbors with my parents.

The flowers here are from my mother's garden. The rest of the pictures are from Boothbay Harbor.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens had its official grand opening last month, but the gardens have been in the works for more than 10 years. Apparently the property had originally been destined for a housing development. The land had even been sectioned off with some of them purchased. But the citizens of Boothbay Harbor got together and decided that it was too good for housing and came up with the Botanical Gardens plan. They pooled their money and bought the land, some even taking out second mortgages on their homes to do so. Then they set about planning the gardens.

They took their time, hired good people, and have made something amazingly beautiful out of their investment. They determined they would not have anything on the grounds that wasn't indigenous to the area and have made as much use of what was already there as possible. We were too late to see, for example, the enormous naturally occurring Lady Slipper beds in the woods, as they had bloomed already, but we saw dozens of varieties of ferns and other plants as we meandered through the woods from the Visitor's Center to the Sheepscot River and back again.

One interesting thing they did was encourage local artists to create sculptures with or about natural substances and shapes. There were about a dozen of them along our walk. There was also a Fairy Village for kids to play in (which wasn't all that impressive to me, although the concept was interesting).

Once out of the woods and river area, we emerged into a beautiful formal garden with roses, lavender, clematis, and other brightly colored blooms that delighted the senses. We had a great time wandering around looking and sniffing before moving on to the kitchen gardens before taking our leave. I know we will be back in other seasons to see what's growing in these gardens.

Boothbay Harbor Trip

Tuesday and Wednesday of this week my parents and I enjoyed a visit to Boothbay Harbor, about 2 hours northeast of their home. Every single minute of the trip was a delight. The drive itself is beautiful, even on the highway, but especially after getting off and meandering through the beautiful coastal towns to Boothbay.

This is a place they knew well, having explored it many times in their 55 years of marriage, so a trip like this was also an inside look at their relationship, too. I did this last year as well, spending a few days with them in places they have enjoyed on their own. I consider it a privilege to get such a glimpse.

Anyway, we had reservations at Topside, the Inn on the Hill, a charming Bed & Breakfast with a lovely view of the town and harbor as well as some beautiful perennial flower gardens. We took our time getting there, got settled, then drove out to a secluded cove where we enjoyed our lunch. Later, we wandered through the town, walking a couple of miles all told.

Wednesday morning, after a fantastic breakfast (with the best granola I've ever eaten), we went to the Botanical Gardens that had just opened last month. We took a 90-minute tour of the grounds focusing on the river area. The guide was knowledgeable, interesting, funny. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was very foggy, and damp early on as well, but that only added to the beauty of the place, making the woods and river mystical and magical in a way.

We took our time coming back home, appreciating another beautiful day in Maine.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Old House and Tall Ships

On my way north to my parents' home, I took a slight detour east into Kittery to see if I could find the oldest house in Maine, the John Bray House. I'd tried to find it before, but had the mistaken idea that it would be a ways off the road, so did not realize I had driven right past it. Today, I found it easily, having double checked the house number with the historic registry.

The oldest part of the house was built 345 years ago and has been added onto over the years. Back in March, Daryl Hall (of Hall and Oates) bought the place in an auction and is in the early stages of restoring it. Anyway, I've been wanting to see it ever since I read about it, and today I had the time to look for it.

I didn't want to stop and take a gawking picture of the house, though. I feel funny doing that. Instead, snuck a few pictures out my window as I was driving by and then went down to the public docks next door to see what I could see from there. It was quite a lovely view, even though it was somewhat foggy after a morning rain.

A lady saw me with my camera and call over to me: "Are you looking for the ships?" "The ships?" Turns out there were four tall ships racing from Portsmouth to Nova Scotia and they had just passed by that very spot perhaps 20 minutes before I got there. One of them is the Prince William from Portsmouth, England. The others are US training ships. They were in full sail and quite beautiful, albeit somewhat lost in the fog.

I happily snapped some shots of them and other things within sight. Lighthouses, rowboats, an old fort, and scores of sail boats, all part of the vista of the John Bray House.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Family Fun on the Fourth

4th of July has lately been spent at my sister's, about 10 minutes from my house. She has a beautiful backyard with a pool, so it's an ideal place for the family to gather. This year was no exception. We arrived around 1 and spent the majority of the day hanging out and talking. Our parents were there from Maine and our other sister and her family were there as well.

As the day turned into evening, it started to rain, so the party moved inside. The girls had thought about going into Boston to the Pops Concert & Fireworks, but the rain put a damper on those plans. Eventually some of us went to the lake down the hill to the fireworks there. For a small town, they weren't too bad (unlike my photo-taking).

At home, May was keeping company with the patriotic bears =)

Fourth of July Night
The little boat at anchor in black water sat murmuring to the tall black sky
A white sky bomb fizzed on a black line.
A rocket hissed it's red signature into the west.
Now a shower of Chinese fire alphabets,
A cry of flower pots broken in flames,
A long curve to a purple spray, three violet balloons---
Drips of seaweed tangled in gold, shimmering symbols of mixed numbers,
Tremulous arrangements of cream gold folds of a bride's wedding gown---
A few sky bombs spoke their pieces, then velvet dark.
The little boat at anchor in black water sat murmuring to the tall black sky.
~ Carl Sandburg

Friday, July 06, 2007


What is this mysterious
thing inside me that rails
Against the mountains in my way,
that rebels against the mundane
And yet hesitates to fly free?

What if I need the monotony
to motivate me
to cultivate wings
to discover le monde
without fear, within my means?