Friday, August 31, 2007

One down, 35 to go

The first week is complete. I'm home, feet up, a/c on, bouquet of flowers on the bookcase, safely out of reach of the cats who love tipping vases over =)

I'm happy with the way the week went. Each day was looooooong (I had school board meeting Monday night, church board meeting Tuesday night, book shopping (for classes) Wednesday night, Corn Roast/Open House on Thursday night.), but rewarding in its own way. I had fun with all my classes. One of the senior girls noticed and said "You're so happy." I told her that I love being in the classroom, and I do. I really miss being there full-time.

There's something different about the atmosphere at school this year. It's calmer, more peaceful. Kids and teachers have noticed it. We all had a really good week. Now, there is time to rest and recover. I more than need it!

Photos: The flower pots outside my classroom; the bulletin boards inside. Mine is the one on the left; the American lit teacher's is on the right.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Moon

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.

But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.

~Robert Louis Stevenson, from A Child's Garden of Verses

The moon is just past full tonight. Last night it was a perfect, round orb that shone brilliantly. I was still at school in a board meeting well after sunset when through the open windows came a chorus of howls. Dogs? No. Wandering coyotes? No. Wolves singing at the moon! Keep in mind that this is just 7 miles north of Boston in a fairly busy just-off-the main-highway town. Wolves? How could there be wolves, queried some of the board members, apparently forgetting that we have a small zoo for a neighbor =)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

On the eve of a day long awaited...

That's what I wrote in my journal the night before my first ever day of teaching... some 29 years ago. Yikes! I don't know if I ever wrote that number down like that before! Makes me look old! But the truth is I don't really feel old as I've spent those last 29 years with kids...

And even though I'm tired tonight, having spent much of the day at school putting the finishing touches on the classroom and planning our assembly (Flag-raising and Hand-shake), I am content that I am as ready as I can be. And it's not even 9 p.m. yet! All of a sudden I don't know what to do with myself. Going to bed early would be useless, as I'll just lie there and think of things I need to do, or should have done...although I can't think of them now...

It's been horribly hot and muggy the past three days. I'm hoping it will be comfortable tomorrow. It's hard enough being cooped up after a summer of freedom, but being in a classroom and miserably hot only adds insult to injury!

All the same, I'm eager to get going. We've prepared long enough. It's time to get busy. I love the Alexander Pope quote: As the twig is bent, so the tree is inclined. It's time to bend some twigs!

Photos: First two are pictures of our staff dedication Friday morning. We had a breakfast and then a special dedication in our lobby.

The last picture is of a tree with a crooked trunk. I'm hoping our little trees turn out straighter than this one, although it is interesting to look at!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Taking leave of each other

I went over to my sister's early this morning to say good bye to her and my niece. They are driving down to Tennessee to get my niece back to college. My sister says she "hates" the drive. It's long, and leads to leaving her dear daughter. But they have a beautiful day for the drive. They will actually do it in two days, I think. The night eyes aren't what they used to be...

We like to start our journeys with prayer, but everyone was too choked up to do it. Finally, I managed to say a few words, but they were tear-filled ones. My brother-in-law seemed particularly melancholy, perhaps because he was not going, too. He stood and watched them disappear around the corner and then went into the house without a word.

I went from there to one of my favorite local meditation spots: the lake in the next town over. I watched a sail boat careen capriciously over a ruffled surface and marveled at the trees and weeds along the shoreline. Tired as I was last night, I gave myself over to spiritual and physical rest today. Tonight and tomorrow will be busy, but for now, I am at peace.

Photos: Julie saying good bye to her old cat, Mittens, while her father looks on; Jerry watching the car disappear; sailboat on Lake Quanapowitt.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Principal Thing

The principal thing is perhaps the hardest thing I've done, professionally. There are many days I question my sanity, wonder at the wisdom of my judgment, doubt my decision-making ability when I think about having chosen to become a principal after 26 years of being "just" a high school English teacher. I've not given up all the English classes. I still teach four classes (senior English, Honors English, journalism, and freshman study skills), but the majority of my time is taken up in problem solving instead of lesson planning, penny pinching instead of essay grading, and phone conversations with parents instead of face-to-face conversations with students.

I miss full-time teaching! Even though I am looking forward to the school year, and I have a feeling (intuition if you will) that this will be a good year, there is a hollowness inside when I think about the things I have to do as opposed to the things I want to do. We have a good team. We like each other. We respect each other. We get along. This makes it easier to work together. But right now, I just want to go to my room, make a few bulletin boards, line up the desks, and not have to worry about the gym, the storage shed, the playground, the finances.

Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe I don't have the energy right now to step back and look at things objectively. Maybe it's the fact that I haven't had a day off to speak of since the middle of July. I don't regret my decision. It was right for the time. But the little voice in my head, the wisdom of self-preservation and to-the-bone satisfaction, tells me that I need to find a way not to internalize things I have no control over. That I need to trust. That I need to keep full in my consciousness the fact that God can still the storms inside and out.

Wisdom is the principal thing. Ironic, isn't it, that I find this quote at Snapshots of Joy just when I'm wondering the wisdom of the principal thing?!!!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

He Who is in Control

A Source of Joy is a new place I've discovered that has all kinds of beautiful graphics with inspirational texts that compliment the pictures. They are free and designed for such things as blogs and e-cards.

I love this picture...and the sentiment inscribed on it seems perfect for me right now. I love school. I love what I do...but sometimes it seems as if I'm walking into a raging storm. Not because of attitudes on anyone's part. Just because it is so big, so complicated, so...well, sometimes so frightening.

What helps enormously, and what calms my fears, is that I know Who walks beside me. He does, in fact, control the storm.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Busy Week, Nice Surprise

It's been a busy week, as is always the case in the days leading up to the beginning of a school year. We had district (conference) meetings Wednesday and Thursday that were filled with quite a bit of anxiety, as our superintendent decided that we all needed to have refresher courses in math and grammar. Now, being an English teacher, the grammar wasn't such a big deal to me, although we had to diagram sentences (which I have never had to do, believe it or not). But the math...oh, boy, did that cause me a LOT of stress! It was "only" 8th grade math, but...when you've not had math since 10th grade, and that was more than a few decades ago, well, let's just say that I was on edge for hours leading up to the "test" given at the end of the two sessions.

Happily, I can report that I did not fail the test. But there were a couple of questions I was blanker than blank on. The fun thing is that our teacher, a college professor, was a former student of mine (I won't say how long ago...). I am pleased to say he is an excellent teacher, and I enjoyed learning from him. Except it was math... And wouldn't you know, we spent hours on diagramming sentences, but ran out of time for that I wouldn't have had to hang my head about...

We also had a session about blood-borne pathogens with a test at the end, which I aced =) So, school has started for me. I'm just glad I don't have to take any more tests!

Today, we had our first full staff meeting. We watched an excellent video, Good Morning, Miss Tolliver, about a middle grades math teacher from East Harlem. Quite inspiring. But...math again!!! No, really. If you're a teacher of any age and on any level, it's worth finding and watching. It got our staff all fired up for the new school year.

I'm encouraged by the interest in our school this year. Enrollment is up, our spirits are high, our courage is strong. I am optimistic about the days and weeks and months ahead. That's a good place to be.

I've been putting in looooong hours, though, so it was a nice surprise to come home, turn on my computer, and discover that my long-time friend Patty had awarded me with the "Nice Matters" Award. It truly is nice to know so many interesting and creative people out there in blog land. Patty and I go back long before blogging was invented, but I do enjoy connecting with her on a daily basis...something that our geographic distance would not allow without the magic of the internet.

In tracking back to other blogs giving and receiving this award, I read that you are supposed to recognize 7 blogs that you consider to be "nice," but I would have to say that all my blogging friends have nice and interesting blogs, so check them out! You will be inspired by beautiful pictures and meaningful words at each stop.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Three Beautiful Things

I saw this on Patty's blog at Morning Ramble this morning. I already had in my mind to share some beautiful pictures, and seeing her list of Three Beautiful Things gave me the incentive to actually go ahead and take the time to do my own even though I have only a few moments before I need to go off to work. I thought doing it now might give me something good to think about throughout the day.

1) My nieces and nephews are continuous sources of beauty and joy to me. They are 19, 18, 15, and 3 days away from 13. Ages many consider to be troubled or difficult. Not these four. They are good kids. Smart, funny, talented, loving, gentle, athletic, spiritual. And they're my friends on top of all that. We like to hang out, talk, do things together. The girls and I enjoy reading and writing together. We like the same books and movies. Just last night, the oldest and I went to see Becoming Jane about one of our favorite authors, Jane Austen. I sat there thinking how lucky I was that this lovely girl chose to go out with me instead of her friends.

2) My mother's and sister's flower gardens take my breath away whenever I see them. I've shared my mother's in recent posts, but my sister's is equally beautiful. This is the same sister who gives TLC to the flower beds at school. In the past two weeks she has spent a good dozen hours weeding and replenishing the beds, getting them ready for school. What a blessing that has been to me!

3) The sunsets at the family cabin in northwestern Maine continue to be a visual delight to us. Not every sunset is spectacular, but at least once a visit there's one worth remembering.

4) I need to add one more thing: my parents. Their relationship is a beautiful thing. They've been married 55 years this month. I love being with them, seeing and hearing how in-tune they are to each other. They have set a wonderful example for their children and grandchildren of what a truly loving Christian relationship is all about.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Long days journey frequently into night...

It's been an exhausting weekend. I worked until 5 on Friday, putting in a few hours after the basketball camp ended (normally, in the summer, we close up at noon). I had a 15 minute worship talk to give at church, so had to write that when I got home.

Since it was on my mind, I talked about commitment, and about the importance of doing "whatever thy hand findeth to do" and of doing it "with all thy might." I used the basketball camp and coach as examples of how this can work. It seemed to go over well.

Saturday afternoon, my sister and her family and I went up to my parents to meet with them and my other sister and her family for the August birthdays (nephew, mother, and brother-in-law). My parents live about 15 miles inland from Kennebunk and we pass the Sanford Airport on our way to their house. As we were passing the airport, I noticed a big jet parked in front of the presidential hangar (built back when George 41 was president for when he flew in to spend time at the family home on Walker Point in Kennebunk). No one believed me when I said that was Air Force One, but we were able to drive up surprisingly close and sure enough, it was the President's plane! They were in town for a family wedding, and a luncheon with the President of France who is vacationing in NH.

Our own family gathering was leisurely and pleasant. My parents' gardens are lush and beautiful, and the bees, butterflies, and birds were quite friendly. The cake was a lovely vision. Our time together not long enough, as usual.

I went to school when we got back from Maine and spent some time talking with the three other teachers who were working there late on a Saturday night as well. Left there after 11, went to bed after 1, got up at 6 this morning, was a school by 7:30 and didn't leave until after 9 p.m. I met with the staff at 10 and had registration from 1-5, although people started coming at noon and didn't leave until 8:30 p.m. I talked with dozens of parents and even more kids.

Everyone is excited about the coming school year. Even this exhausted principal/ teacher who isn't even remotely ready for school to start, but letting go of the stress knowing that there are still two more weeks that will fly by, but find me ready at the end. I hope!

Friday, August 10, 2007

First Annual...

Our first annual Basketball Camp is done. It was an amazing week. We started with about 12 kids and ended up with 29! Boys, girls, kids with low self-esteem, kids who thought they were "all that." Coach "AB" was a master at working with all ages, both genders, and every emotion that they showed up with. This was not only a master class in basketball, but it was a living breathing role model of how to handle a disparate group of young people...bring them together, motivate, and inspire them. I can't say enough about what I learned just by watching things unfold during the week. He had firm discipline, taking no guff from anyone. And yet he was so kind with the ultra-sensitive girl who wore her heart on her sleeve. Wow.

His buddy, our VP, asked me to take him to his hotel yesterday after camp. I'll be honest. I was a little intimidated. What would we talk about? How could I calmly drive this big, tall, ex-pro basketball player?!!! I had no choice, so I took a deep breath, told myself he's just a regular human being, just like I am, put the key in the ignition, and took him to his hotel. Our conversation ranged from the kids in the camp to his own kids to his life philosophy: No sense to worry. Do your best, and put the rest in God's hands. Simple, to the point, it has served him well, helped him keep his head on straight in a profession where many do not have the same success.

My sister and I talked further with him this morning. He told us about the opportunities he had when he was first drafted, about all the money he was making as a young kid, about the way some of his teammates spent their time and money. He said he never wanted to lose himself that way. That he wanted to have no regrets when he looked back on his life. And he says he has none.

It's all about the kids, he said. It's all about teaching them to make their lives count...all about making a difference, doing something good for others. At the end of the day if you can say you helped someone out, made a difference in their life, that's enough...that's all you can ask for.

He came for them...but he gave me something I'll not soon forget: a tangible, visible illustration of the difference you can make in a child's life in an hour, a day, a week. A perfect reminder as I get ready to start the new school year.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Star Struck

So. There's an NBA player walking our hallways and hanging out in our gym this week. I have to admit I'm a little star struck, and not a little impressed. He's a friend of our new VP and 7/8th grade teacher and, as a favor to him, has come to do a basketball camp for us this week. It's our first-ever camp, and so far so good.

I keep getting distracted from my work watching the kids (including my nephew and three girls) and this guy working together. He's very good with them, and they are so focused on him and what he has to say. As a teacher, I'm envious! If a kid doesn't do what he says immediately, they have to do 10 push-ups. If they whine or complain or question, it's 10 push-ups. Rest assured, by the end of the first day, he had totally compliant, listening kids.

No longer an active player, this is what he does for a living. He runs day camps in Orlando all summer long, and runs afternoon camps during the school year. He also sponsors a men's league. At our camp, we start and end each day with prayer and pray before lunch as well. He gets the kids in a circle at center court and they touch fists/knuckles (that doesn't sound good, but it's actually very meaningful) while they pray.

The first day he told the kids his story, about how he was drafted by the Houston Rockets just after they'd lost the championship to the Boston Celtics and knew he wouldn't get immediately playing time, so requested to finish college first. They liked him enough to let him do that, which impressed me. He played for a number of NBA and European teams before retiring. Now he's making a difference in the lives of the hundreds of kids he coaches each year. "That's what it's all about," he told me this afternoon. "Making a difference."

Yup. I'm star-struck!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Weekend in New England

(I've written this post three times, now. My internet connection keeps dropping it somehow... I go again...)

My family (parents, sisters, kids, and one of two husbands) and I spent the weekend at one of our favorite gathering places: my gardening sister's cabin on a lake in northwest Maine. We've been going there for well over 20 years, now, although it's evolved quite a bit from when we first went there.

I didn't arrive until it was near sundown on Friday, but we were in the midst of a rain storm, so it was fairly dark, and there was no sunset. Instead, there was an amazing lightening show that saw everything from blinding blocks of light racing along the mountain top across the lake to brilliant jagged streaks somewhere very near to us. Couple that with huge thunder crashes, and you have the makings of a spectacular evening at the cabin.

We started supper, but were soon interrupted by darkness, as the power went out. This happened two or three times throughout the evening, which made it inconvenient for cooking, but spectacular for sitting on the deck and watching the natural fireworks.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Gardening in the Rain

I'm lucky in that all my family lives within an hour an a half from me. My parents are about 80 minutes away, my youngest sister about 50 minutes away, and my other sister lives about 5 minutes away...and she is one of the major volunteers at my school. She's a loving, generous person who spends a lot of time and energy (not to mention money) on our little school trying to make it a better, more beautiful place.

Even in the summer, she's over there spending hours on the flower beds, weeding, watering, planting, nurturing the bright spots that lift my spirits whenever I drive onto the grounds. Two days ago, she was out there working in 90 degree heat and near-100% humidity that all of a sudden turned to 100% rain. Instead of picking up her equipment and going in out of the rain, she went to her car, got an umbrella, and continued working. Now that's dedication!!!

(If you look closely behind the tree trunk, you can see the steam created by the hot pavement and the cool pounding rain.)

House by the Side of the Road

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from a lady who was a long-time friend of my Kellogg grandparents (my mother's folks). She said she had a framed poem that had once belonged to my grandfather and wondered if I'd be interested in having it. Would I? But of course! I e-mailed her immediately and said please, send it along.

When I arrived home from my trip to Michigan last week, there in my mailbox was a small package from this lady that contained a precious poem that had been a gift to my grandfather from two of his daughters (my aunts) on Father's Day 1940. It cost them all of $1.25 (the price is penciled on the back, along with the information, written in his hand), but no doubt it was a great treasure to him, as the poem is one that I know he loved dearly.

I know he loved it because he had another framed work of art (needlepoint this time) containing the last two lines of the poem that I remember seeing often. This particular picture I don't recall having seen, but I'm sure it hung in a favored place for many years. Now, it hangs opposite my front door so all who enter can see it. The poem is an old one, but one that describes my Godly people-loving grandfather to a "T." It reads,

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls like stars,that dwell apart
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by--
The men who are good, and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as i;
I would not sit in the scorner's seat
Or hurl the cynic's ban;--
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
~Sam Walter Foss