Monday, May 28, 2007

The Bluebirds and their Neighbors

When my sisters and I were very young, we, along with one of our cousins, used to visit our Kellogg grandparents in their NH homes (there were three over the years) for a couple of weeks each summer. We had the best times playing together, whether it was in the little cottage in the woods, the city apartment, or the home with the pond in the back field. Each place offered a plethera of opportunities to use our imaginations at play and we made the most of them.

One constant at each place, though, was books. Every day, sometimes for hours, our grandmother would read to us--all kinds of wonderful books: Sam Campbell books, Little House books, histories, biographies and more. One set I well was Neil Wayne Northey's Old Homestead series about animals and birds, somewhat similar to Thornton Burgess' Mother West Wind series, which she also read to us.

The Bluebirds and their Neighbors was the first book in the series, and it is this book that came to mind this weekend as I spent two days with my parents. The weather was lovely, and we spent a lot of time in the backyard watching the birds.

My parents have worked hard to make her backyard a haven for birds. They've lived in this house for three years, now. The first summer they were there, no birds came at all. It all but broke my mother's heart. The place they had moved from in MA had scores of bird varieties visiting on a daily basis, so to have none was a shock. Each season, though, more and more birds have come to the yard until now, the place is all but jumping with feathered friends of all sizes, shapes, and colors.

I'm still learning how to capture birds on film, but it is quite thrilling to see all these beautiful little things up close. And yesterday morning, I didn't even mind being sung awake at 5 in the morning by cardinals, house finches, and other songsters.

Photos: The bluebirds; male ruby throated hummingbird; illustration from The Bluebirds and their Neighbors; goldfinch at seed feeder; female Baltimore oriole enjoying summer suet; male goldfinch.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bed, Breakfast, and Beyond

I've been away from home for the past three days and nights, working on an evaluation team of a school I used to teach in some 16 years ago. It's been an interesting learning experience as I will be going through this at my own school next year.

I've been staying at a charming bed and breakfast in this college town. Always before, when I've been in town for meetings, I've stayed with my sister (or my parents until they moved to Maine three years ago). But since I was evaluating my sister's school, we thought it might be better if I didn't stay with her. That's been weird, but the B and B is lovely.

The owners are people I've known for years, too. My sister worked for them when she was in college, before they ran the B and B, and I taught their youngest son out in Michigan, also years ago. It's been fun to catch up with them. They make a delicious breakfast...I felt really pampered, which was a nice treat during the week. I never get this kind of thing unless I spend the weekend with my parents!

Today, the fourth day of the evaluation, was really emotional. I didn't know how hard it would be until it was over. I spent four enormously happy years teaching at that school and four difficult ones (the first two and the last two) so the memories are stacked high in every corner of the building. It was a challenging but interesting experience, to be sure.

The emotional part came during our presen- tation to the administration and later the faculty and board. We had some strong things to say, although they were true and fair. I kept putting myself in their place and thinking how I would handle what we were saying. After the report to the faculty and board, I was talking with my sister and brother-in-law about something totally unrelated and got all choked up. Tears spilled out uncontrollably...and I felt a need to just sob (which I didn't as there were many people all around us).

I didn't under- stand it at first, but on thinking it over later, I thought about how all-consuming this job we have is. How, if you care at all about what you're doing and who you're doing it for, you give everything you have to make it work. Working in Christian Education is rewarding but exhausting. You are like a well that is expected to give endlessly, but that's only possible if there is a fountain somewhere periodically if not continuously refilling the well. Truth is, you cannot survive it on your own, and certainly not without a strong relationship with Christ.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Beauty and the Enchiladas

I went over to my sister's for lunch today. It was rainy, but not dreary. A bright kind of rain that brings all the colors out of the grass, trees, and flowers. I enjoyed the short drive from my house to hers through neighborhoods wet with the spring rain.

When I walked in the door, I found my niece putting the finishing touches on the lunch she had made for us: chicken (vegetarian) enchiladas and cilantro rice. Oh my! It was delicious. She's become quite the cook since she went away to college in August. She and her friends cook just about every weekend. These enchiladas were her own creation with beans, corn, cheese, and the "chicken." We enjoyed the treat, to be sure.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rained Out one day, inspired the next

Last week, my family celebrated Mother's Day and my birthday together (a day early for my mom and two weeks early for me). One of my presents was two tickets to Wednesday's Red Sox game for my nephew and me. We are both avid Sox fans, so you can imagine what a treat this was going to be. The fact that he was going to a game with his sister and her friends the night before did not dampen his enthusiasm for this game. But the pouring rain Wednesday afternoon did cause us some worry. Rightly so, as it turns out.

We're fans enough so we were going to go to the game as long as it was being played. I picked him up at 5:30. We armed ourselves with plastic bags, umbrellas and warm clothes and headed off to Boston. Traffic inbound was pretty smooth. We got to the park and found a parking lot nearby. The skies had lightened up quite a bit during our drive in, and the pouring rain was quite a bit less as we made our way through the streets to Fenway. We were hopeful.

By 6:45 we were settled in our fantastic seats about 20 rows behind the Red Sox dugout along the first base line. They were the best seats I've had in dozens of years and scores of games. We had fixed my umbrella in front of us to protect our legs and laps, and I used my plastic bag as a hood and cape to keep the rest of me dry. We were all set.

Some 10 minutes later, though, a voice came over the PA system saying the game had been canceled. We were so sad! Even worse, they announced that the make-up game would be the next day at 12:30 p.m.!!! My poor nephew was so disappointed, because we both knew we'd be sitting at school on Thursday instead of cozy in our fantastic seats. Instead, his sister and a friend went and saw a great, winning game.

The Red Sox pitcher who won the game has an amazing life-story. I heard him tell it today. He was born in the Dominican Republic the year I graduated from academy (sigh) to a terribly poor family. He basically grew up without parents. He lived in a dirt-floor hut with no electricity, no running water, no bathroom. He had no clothes to wear, literally, until he was in his teens, and then only had two ragged pairs of jeans and one pair of sneakers that he made last for several years. He never went to school, and still hasn't. He would run errands for people in exchange for food. A big meal for him would be a cup of rice. The only thing that saved him was baseball. He loved to play baseball. Somewhere along the line, some major league scouts saw him and offered him $800 to sign with a team in the US. Long story short, he broke into the majors in 1992 when he was 21 as a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. It was there that some of his teammates took him under their wing and helped him learn English. He also took classes twice a week. That's still the only formal schooling he's ever had.

But he has a Friend in Jesus who has been his Savior since he was a boy. He said that it was having Jesus in his life that gave him hope, that got him through the difficult times of his youth. What was so impressive to me is that he gave this testimony on a sports radio show where many (though obviously not all, as I was listening...) of the listeners are hard core male sports fanatics, and probably not likely to choose to hear about God and salvation. This pitcher was so compelling. His enthusiasm so genuine. I was impressed and inspired.

(Red Sox AP photo)

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Country 'Tis of Thee...

It's late and I don't have a lot of time to write, but I wanted to at least post a few pictures of the sight that greeted me in our cafegymatorium this morning. I know it was in the works, and was excited about the project, but had no idea what the effect would be until I saw it. I have to say, it quite took my breath away.

45 flags from many (and not even all) of the countries represented in the direct heritage of our students and staff!!! And consider this: we have a staff of about 12 and a student population of about 100. Imagine all that culture!!!

The best part of the day was around 11:15 when the kids started coming down for lunch. It started with the PreK/K kids who just started calling out "there's my flag!" and running under it and pointing up. So cute!

We will celebrate the wide variety of ethnicities in our school this coming Sunday with an International Food Festival. No doubt it will be a delicious experience =)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bleeding Hearets

I discovered this beautiful bleeding hearts plant tucked away in the corner of our school property. It's near where I've been parking lately and my sister says it's been there for years, but I've never noticed before. I think it's quite lovely.

By coincidence, I'm reading a book called Bleeding Hearts right now by a favorite Texan writer, Susan Wittig Albert. She's written three series that I enjoy reading. One, about a husband/wife amateur sleuth team in Victorian England, she co-wrote with her husband. I discovered it several years ago when I was looking for a book to take to jury selection. Turns out it was about #7 in the series, but I was glad to go back and read from the beginning. Susan and her husband have recently decided not to write any more in this series, which makes me sad, even though I still have two other series to keep up with.

The second series is set in the Texas Hill Country and is about China Bayles who keeps an Herb shop. I am well into this series and enjoy it thoroughly. Bleeding Hearts comes from this series. The other one is a new series, using real-life children's author Beatrix Potter as the main character. I've read three of the four books and look forward to the rest.

Susan keeps a fascinating blog called Lifescapes about writing, the Texas Hill Country (where she lives), herbs, gardening, and knitting among other things. I enjoy reading about her book tours and writing struggles, especially when I can then read the fruits of her labors. She also is a memoir coach and I would like nothing better than go on one of her writing retreats. Perhaps one day I will.

Meanwhile, I'll go on reading and learning. Oh, and writing =)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Visit to JFK Library

To celebrate Teacher Appre- ciation Week, our super- intendent treated us to a visit to the JFK Library just south of Boston. There were some three dozen of us, I'd say (not everyone was able to go), and we spent a couple of hours browsing through the exhibits. At the end, we had a little ceremony honoring several teachers for their service. One of ours got her 25-year pin and another got her 35-year pin. She's retiring at the end of this year. I will miss her dearly.

But not yet! There is still a month to go. And today was all about enjoying each other outside the confines of the school building. The three of us drove down together, appreciating the pleasant spring day. The library is built on a point on the campus of UMass Boston. The prospect view is spectacular, looking across the bay to the Boston skyline.

Japanese architect I.M. Pei designed the library with a gathering room that embraces this view. We were told that the room is used to swear in new citizens of the U.S. under the giant flag hanging from the ceiling.

I've been to the Library a few times before, the most memorable one with a friend one summer day when there weren't too many people there. We watched the introductory film and moved on to the first exhibit, only to be met by a woman who asked if we minded joining another party. We didn't. Turns out it was the Director of the Library and Lady Bird Johnson!!! My friend is a serious democrat from Texas, so she was nearly speechless with delight. I was not a little impressed and amazed myself. As you can imagine, we had a fascinating tour augmented by countless asides from Lady Bird about her thoughts and experiences.

When we finished at the Library, we went to a nearby Panera Bread to use the gift card our superintendent gave us for an early supper. In all, it was a good day.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Glorious Day!

Today was a glorious day with temperatures close to 80 at their peak. Imagine this, though: some of the children stayed inside because it was "too hot" for them! Rest assured I sent them back out in a hurry =) We have some beautiful flowering trees on campus that popped out over the weekend. I like to stand in the doorway and drink them in...

As this is Teacher Appreciation Week, parents are dropping little treats off for us. Yesterday, it was brownies from a parent. This morning it was breakfast and a poem that one of the fourth graders wrote (I left it at school. I'll share it tomorrow if I think of it). Thursday, our superintendent is treat us to a visit to the Kennedy Library and then supper at Panera Bread. I can't wait. That library is a fascinating place, I think. And I'm always happy to go to Panera.

The drive home was beautiful, too. Daffodils are all but gone, so now it's the tulips' turn to brighten up the roadways.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Musical Memories

It's been a beautiful spring week here in New England. One day there were buds, the next day there were blooms. The trees are leafing out. The grass is greening up nicely. The sun is warming up and thawing out the ground. I've had my windows open every night and I wake to bird song, a glorious sound. I surely love this time of year. I feel so much more alive.

Tonight I went to a concert of the youth orchestra my nephew plays in, the New England Youth Chamber Ensemble. Many of its members are the children of the "kids" my sisters and I played with in the older version of this group, the New England Youth Ensemble. My brother-in-law is a charter member of the older group, as is his sister, who now directs this second generation group. It was a wonderful concert. My nephew even played a solo. And yes, I was a very proud aunt.

Sitting there for an hour and a half or so, listening to oh so familiar pieces, brought back a myriad of memories of my days with the Ensemble. Truth to tell, I was on the far side of "young adult" when I played with this group (about 15 years ago) (unlike my sisters, who were in their teens and early 20s when they played). I was between teaching jobs, going to graduate school at the time, and I happened to be available when the director was looking for a clarinet player at the last minute before a major tour to China. You can bet I didn't hesitate one second when she asked if I'd like to play with the orchestra. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Those three weeks turned into three years of sheer joy traveling and playing all over the world.

Luckily for me, there were several older "youths" in the group at the time, so I didn't feel out of place. Much of the time we traveled with a college choir which had several former students of mine in it. They had a bit of adjustment, initially, seeing their teacher as just another musician instead of someone in charge of them. We got over it pretty quickly, though. I am friends with them to this day, having formed a stronger bond with our common experience as world travelers.

Anyway, I had many flashbacks to other times and places as I enjoyed the evening's offerings. Put a perfect cap on a beautiful day. I came home to find my cats enjoying the bouquet I'd brought home earlier. I love that they appreciate beauty, too.