Sunday, May 22, 2011

TSS: 5.22.11

It has been a long time since I have participated in a Sunday Salon - but it feels good to slowly add blogging back into my life.  I have missed it and hope that this is the start of a new routine.

I have spent the past two weeks or so acquainting myself with the poetry of Mary Oliver.  As I have mentioned before, poetry has always intimidated me:  I never seem to "get" the poetry studied in school, and long ago I decided to discount the genre altogether.  However, as an English teacher, I have reluctantly consented to introduce (not teach) poetry in the classroom.  The poem that I choose to analyze for students is Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth.

But I have decided to give poetry another try.  I realized that it was quite judgmental of me to banish an entire genre from my reading repertoire based on a young teen experience.  I have also tried to practice self-compassion - so that if I don't "get it" - which is still often the case - I don't beat myself up.  I have learned that sometimes I may not understand the meaning of the poem, but I can still appreciate the beauty of a line or two.

After reading several Mary Oliver collections, I have decided that I really appreciate the poems included in Red Bird and Thirst.  So when I received two coupons in my email this week - one from Barnes and Noble and one from Borders - and when I realized that I had Borders Bucks available to use and a gift card to BN - I decided to treat myself to an end-of-the-year gift.  I don't know if I am more excited about these two purchases, or the fact that I spent a whopping $1.96 for both books!  In either case, I look forward to quieting myself this summer by reading a couple of these poems each day.

I am so excited to report that I have participated in Julia Cameron's Morning Pages via the 750words website for 31 straight days!  This is the venue for me.  I average 750 words in 15 minutes - which allows me to spill my thoughts and worries on a page without taking up too much time or cramping my hand.

I tend to use these pages as a journal - documenting my day, my anxieties, and occasionally some ideas to overcome the problem du jour.  This is NOT creative writing - but I do think it is allowing me to free my mind to begin working on the serious writing that I desire to pursue this summer.

To that end, I still plan to walk to Starbucks several mornings each week - grab a latte - and practice honing my writing skills.  Most notably, I want to practice travel writing so that I can try to capture the emotion of the trip to Paris rather than just the events.  I have purchased two books on this subject, Globejotting by Dave Fox and Travel Writing by L. Peat O'Neil.  While I read numerous books on this subject, these two books provided the best instruction coupled with terrific writing prompts that suit my needs and purposes.

I also want to try to cultivate some skill at writing about food so that I can bring home the experience of eating du pain et fromage avec un verre de vin - in a way that others can savor the meal as well.  To help me with this endeavor, I hope to read Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan.  In this book the author instructs the reader how to incorporate all the senses  in order to fully describe an event or experience.

Finals were completed on Wednesday, grades were posted on Thursday, graduation was Friday.  I have now officially completed the 2010/2011 academic year.  While the classes were not difficult and I enjoyed each of them, the personal issues of second semester drained me and the emotional roller coaster really took its toll this past month.  I am glad to have a full three months to rest, relax, and recuperate.

I also spent Friday morning packing up my classroom. It looks as though we will not be able to meet in the same location next year - although it is not yet certain where we will be.  While this can be a bit disconcerting, it is the fourth move in the seven years that I have taught.  I have grown accustomed to the transient nature of private schools and I have faith that the right building will become available in time.

As most of you know, today my youngest graduates high school - and I have spent most of the weekend working on her scrapbook for the Open House.  Fortunately, we have scheduled this celebration for Thursday evening, which means that I have a few more days to finish the task.

In scrapbook years Mandy is now in high school - this is a good thing!  I hope to complete her sophomore and junior years this afternoon before going to the ceremony - and then I can complete her senior year on Monday and Tuesday.

I scrapbook what is fondly called a Toddler to Teen album.  I do not try to incorporate every picture of every year of her life.  Rather, I select only key photos and create a two-page spread for each year.  When I am done there will be one very full album that documents all 17.5 years and it is a gift that she can take with her when she leaves home to pursue her own adventures.

So while I am officially on summer vacation - I do have one more busy week before I can truly relax.  But it will be a fun, exciting week!

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Whimsical is not an adjective that I - or anyone who knows me well - would use to describe me.  Dependable - yes.  Responsible - yes.  Serious - yes.  But whimsical?  Never.

But as I got dressed today that is the word that popped into my head.

See, I have not exactly embraced the turning-50-and-becoming-a-grandmother phase of life.  While I may only feel 35, the calendar - and my aching joints - keep reminding me that is not the case.

So I decided this spring to embrace the poem, When I Grow Old, I Shall Wear Purple.  Not embrace it as in become a member of the garish red-hat society, but rather, I really like the last lines as they are paired with the first

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple. 

In other words - stop caring so much about what others think and start living for me.  So I have decided to begin embracing this new-found attitude by adding the color purple to my wardrobe.  I needed some new t-shirts anyway (I think after five seasons I can safely say that I got my money's worth) - and so I focused on purple Ts rather than my traditional black and brown palate.

Yesterday I decided to treat myself to a trip to Charming Charlies in celebration of another completed school year.  By adding all these purple shirts to my wardrobe, I decided that I wanted a purple watch to match.  I found one (and a ring and a bracelet).  So today when I got dressed I put on my purple T - my purple watch - my purple ring - and my purple bracelet.

Now this will sound silly, I know, but I have always admired painted toenails - somehow it signifies a lady of leisure to me -- which is probably why I never take the time to provide myself with that luxury.  I mean there is the time it takes to actually paint - and because I am so inexperienced, the inevitable clean up around each toe - and then the added time to sit and wait until the paint dries so it doesn't smudge.  It was just not worth the effort.  But I decided to treat myself and I took the time to paint my toenails --- PURPLE!

And when I finished I felt like a teenage girl again.  So free, frivolous, and well....whimsical.

Yes, I am not yet old, but I shall wear purple and embrace this new phase of life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Glimpse into my World....

So this is finals week; the week that I have dreamed about since February.  Today I completed two finals and have all grades calculated and ready to post.  Only four more classes to go.

Tomorrow is the final class for my college level English Composition class.  Teaching a college level class has been a dream come true - and I truly could not have asked for a better group of students to serve as my guinea pig class.  There have been a few bumps in the road - most notably our second semester is about 3 weeks longer than that of the college with which we are affiliated - and I have misjudged a few units of study.  Irregardless, these have been valuable lessons learned for yours truly (I have many ways in which I plan to tweak the syllabus next year) and the students have been quite supportive the entire time.

These final four weeks have been spent filming narrative stories that the students wrote at the beginning of the semester.  They quickly learned that filming takes much longer than planned - and so we have culled twelve stories down to three - down to just one.  We finished filming last Tuesday - worked on edits in class on Thursday - and plan to show the final version tomorrow after the final.

In my own corny way .... I want to let the students know how much I love them, how much joy they brought into my life, and  how I wish only the best for their future.  So...I have decided to have an Academy Award presentation in class tomorrow.  I found these lovely chocolate "oscar" lollipops online that I ordered in advance, and today I wrote award certificates to commemorate a job well done.  I had asked students to brainstorm different award categories last week - and today I compiled the top three for each student (which they will read on the front of the envelope) and then I selected the one idea that I thought best epitomized that particular student.

I hope to stop by Walmart tomorrow and purchase a couple of red towels to serve as the red carpet (I have no budget - so I must try to make do and this way I can use the towels this summer).  I can't decide whether to download Academy Award winning songs to play throughout the presentation - or if generic music would suit the mood well enough.  I have time to decide - the final is not until noon.

Anyway, this is just a bit of insight into my wacky mind - and my ability to create more work for myself.  I hope the students enjoy my insanity --- as it is truly from the heart.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The End of an Era

This evening I attended my last high school choir concert. This is really the last activity except for the graduation ceremony next Sunday evening - and then my youngest child will be out of high school and ready to venture out into the world on her own.

And with that pivotal moment in her life --- my career as "mom" will come to an end.  Oh, I realize that I will always be a mother, but the job description will definitely change.  I will no longer be responsible for my children's well-being and teaching them to become independent; they have already grown up and become fine upstanding citizens who can make it just fine on their own.  I will be trading in my role as disciplinarian  for that of friend.  And while I am very much looking forward to this new relationship, it is rather sad that my lifelong dream of becoming a "mommy" is now over.

I look back over these past twenty-five years and truly wonder where the time went.  I remember when my oldest was three months old and I as I looked out our bay window in New York City and I saw a young toddler riding a tricycle I wondered aloud, Will she ever get that old?  Will she ever be able to walk on her own and express her feelings in some other way than crying in the middle of the night? And here Megan is today waking up in the middle of the night with her own little girl.  As I was raising my children, the days often seemed to drag, but somehow the years have passed much too quickly.

From the time they were infants, I tried to instill a love of music in each of my children.  While I never excelled in vocal performance, being a part of the band was my saving grace in high school.  It gave me a sense of belonging at a time when I often felt out of place - and I wanted my own children to experience that kind of acceptance.  And each one of them have --- although none of them through instrumental music, but all of them through voice.  My eldest toured with the Continental Singers the summer before her senior year, and she attended Belmont University for music business.  My son enjoyed several leads in school musicals, and is currently living in Nashville and pursuing his career in audio engineering.  And while Mandy does not plan to continue to study music in the future, she has definitely developed her singing talent over these past three years.

Tonight Mandy sang a solo - which she dedicated to her Gram, my mother, in front of a packed auditorium of over 500 people.  My hands shake when I have to speak in front of more than three people, but Mandy was so well-poised and sang beautifully.  I tried to videotape the performance, but due to my amateur status, the picture and sound did not mesh.  Suffice it to say, she did great and has made both her parents quite proud.

So tonight signals the end of an era.  The end to a great run as parents to three amazing children.  And now as we close the chapter on this particular book of life, I look forward to seeing what other adventure stories lie ahead.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Photography Class

I completed the last of the regular semester grading last night and I am giddy with excitement!  I have classes this week, finals next week, and then summer is officially here.

I celebrated the advent of freedom by taking a photography class last night at our local library.  It was a two hour class taught by a local photographer and it met all my expectations!  He lectured for about 45 minutes, not really telling me anything I had not already read, but saying it in a slightly different way that made me take notice.  He had plenty of examples - which is great for a visual learner like myself.

After the lecture we then went outside for about a half hour to practice what we had learned.  The evening was beautiful for early May:  clear skies, warm sun, and a temperature of about 80 degrees.  We wandered around the perimeter of the library, trying to train our eye to see the beauty in every day life. While I have a long way to go.... I did enjoy trying to take an "emotional" shot of this park bench.  I know that I want to capture the Parisian lifestyle this summer and anticipate taking several photos of local cafes; I thought this bench provided the perfect practice opportunity.  (as a side surfing the web today I discovered an amazing site:  City Daily Photo. I plan to use the Paris listings to help me develop a list of photo opportunities for my summer trip)

As I walked around the building and through the parking lot, I noticed the flag - its bright red stripes flying in contrast to the clear blue sky; I noticed the vertical lines of the garbage can, although I did not seem to get quite close enough to make art out of trash; I noticed the city worker cutting the green grass atop his yellow lawn mower; I noticed the beauty in the rock formations that section off the parking lot.  It was nice to slow down and appreciate the little things in life.

When then returned to the classroom for the final twenty minutes and some brave students shared their pictures.  I was astounded at the differing perspectives we all brought to our photographs.  Some showcased talent in framing a subject using an available tree branch, bike rack, or hole in a picket fence.  Others zoomed in on an everyday bicycle and focused on the gears, or the handle bars, or the bicycle seat.  At times I was intimated by their creativity - but I  was also greatly inspired.

I know that photography is like anything else in life:  it requires practice - practice - practice.  Now that I am armed with some practical advice, I am ready to put in the work.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

TSS: Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to those of you who are celebrating!  It is a beautiful day here in the Midwest:  sunny with a high in the 80s.  The perfect day to celebrate life.

I have been in hibernation these past three weeks.  Quite honestly, I am just trying to survive the next few days until school ends on May 20, Mandy graduates on the 22nd, and her Open House concludes on the 26th.  At that point I plan to begin to focus on me.  I am on automatic pilot at school - and I am comatose when I return home.  I have not even had the energy to read blogs - one of my favorite past times - but I am hopeful that routine will recommence in June.

I have found a new website, however, that has allowed to me voice my concerns, frustrations, etc. without boring my blog readers with all those details.  I have learned over these past two years that I need to write - that I need to get all the thoughts down on paper in order to make sense of life.  Otherwise, I just ruminate on the same issues over and over again - treating my thoughts like a worry stone and wearing my mental state thin.  In her book, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron talks about the value of "morning pages" for the creative artist in all of us.  Cameron teaches that dumping our thoughts on the page first thing in the morning - 3 pages worth of dumping - will eventually clear the mind and make room for creative inspiration to take a foothold, rather than being strangled by the concerns of life.

I have tried this method of journaling several times over the past couple of years, but I never last more than two or three days.  Writing in long hand takes time, and in order to try to do it before the day begins, I either must get up far earlier than I desire (to the tune of 4:30AM) or I write so fast that the words are indecipherable and my fingers have cramped.  But two weeks ago I discovered a site, 750 Words, that is an online community for morning pages.  The average number of words on a double spaced, type written page is 250 words -- and the rational is that if you wish to write 3 pages each morning, you will need to write approximately 750 words.  Clever, huh?

I have been faithful to write every day for the past fifteen days.  The site will send a reminder email, if I so desire, and there is an automatic word counter that lets  me know how many words I have left to type - and when I have achieved the goal.  There are even badges that reward consistent behavior - perfect for the goal oriented writer such as myself.  Like most people, I type much faster than I can write by hand - so my writing tends to stay on track with my thoughts - and I find that I finish these morning pages in an average of 15 minutes.  A very doable routine that does not require me to set my alarm earlier than usual.

Anyway, that is how I have maintained my writing practice - even though it has not been visible here.

I have lots of plans this summer - which include developing new daily routines that help me to experience ALL of life rather than focusing on just one aspect which causes tunnel vision and resentment.  I want to maintain a more balanced lifestyle and I anticipate my blog will reflect this.  I will definitely begin to read fiction again - and write book reviews. But I also plan to cultivate my creativity with quilting, scrapbooking, photography, and writing -- and will blog about that as well.  Teaching will continue to be a focus September through May, and I will occasionally update with antics from the classroom.  I hope to reconnect with many of you, online friends, in the very near future.

In the meantime, I must now prepare for Brynn's dedication service at church this morning - and then the three generations will go out for a celebratory brunch.  I hope that this day is as special for you!

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