Friday, July 23, 2010

Blogging - what is it all about?

In what seems a lifetime ago now, I taught high school English and ESL.  I loved teaching English.  I especially loved teaching English as a second language.  About six years ago, an opportunity came along that allowed me to expand my professional experience by going to the local University to create a program to train teachers to become ESL teachers.  While this meant that I would have to leave the secondary classroom, a place where I dearly loved being, I changed the course of my professional life and began writing curriculum that would lead to an endorsement in Linguistically Diverse Education.  I loved the diversity of my new position.  I researched. I wrote. I recruited students. I taught classes.  I became a part of the larger community of others across the state who worked in the LDE field.  It was all a wonderful experience.  Then, I retired.

I began this blog as a way to keep me writing as I began retirement.  I had no idea what direction the blog would go.  I even had a hard time naming my blog because at the time the only identity I could come up with was that of a retired English teacher.

I had visions of using the blog as a place to record my thoughts as I launched into a new phase of my life.  I established a consulting business and began to do a bit of professional development in the area of helping content area teachers teach English language learners.  That was my passion at the time.  Even in retirement, I did not think I would ever want to give up working with teachers who wanted to learn how to best serve their linguistically diverse students.  I hoped my blog would reflect my passion for my field of professional experience and expertise that I hoped to continue throughout my years of retirement.

A funny thing happened on my way to working after retirement.  After a few years of doing that, I didn't want to do it anymore.  I wanted to spend more time with family.  I didn't want commitments.  I wanted to read, to write, to garden, and I wanted to do all of that in my own way on my own time schedule.

My blog became a place where I wrote about random thoughts, memories, and experiences.  It had no focus.  That seemed to be just fine with me.

Now, because of the recent loss of my daughter, I am at a crossroads in my blogging experience.  I have thought of even renaming my blog.  I no longer relate well to the title of "retired English teacher."  Plus, that title puts a lot of pressure on me when I write in a more public format.  After all, now I really have to focus on my grammar, my punctuation, my sentence structure and all of that.  I guess I remain someone who can't read anything without editing it or "correcting it."  While this is true when I read the writing of others, I promise you it is not a judgmental thing, it is just ingrained in me.  When it comes to my own writing, I miss my mistakes because I seem to see only what I meant to say.

If you are a reader, I value your comments and support more than ever.  You all have been a strength to me.  I love reading the posts of my other blogging friends.  They keep me interested because they are all so  interesting.  Blogging opens up a new world that many of us never knew was out there.

Perhaps, blogging, as one form of writing, is important to me because of the reflective piece that goes with it.  As teachers, as learners, as writers, we find that we are most effective when we practice reflection.  I recently came across Peter Pappas' work on what he calls the Taxonomy of Reflection.
His model really speaks to me as I think about how this blog will proceed.  For now, most of my writing is taking place in my journal.  This blog will likely serve as a place where I can explore the public expression of my private writing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Buster Brown Jr. - What a wonderful dog you were!

The kitchen floor is less clean these days, and the carpet no longer yields a canister full of hair after a vacuuming.  Without Buster, we are learning that he kept the area around the kitchen completely free of little crumbs that we now find must be swept up.  Yes, Buster, our beautiful golden retriever is no longer with us.  Above is a photo of Buster in his favorite spot: near the table and next to Jim.  He is no doubt waiting for a crumb from the cereal bowl to fall on the floor.

On June 1, 2010, three days after the death of my beloved daughter, Julie, Jim and I had to make the unexpected decision to put down our dog.  It all seemed surreal.  At the time, we could hardly believe what we were going through.

We knew Buster had not been himself, and he had been taken in to the vet quite a few times in the past six months, but somehow, his condition was never diagnosed.  It turns out that Buster had cancer in his lungs and in his heart.  One of the tumors in his heart burst while he was staying with Jim's daughter, Thia, in Colorado Springs.  Thia called with the news and said she was taking him to the vet.  Thankfully, they were able to diagnose his condition and give us the information we needed to make the decision that the right thing to do would be to put him down since there was nothing that could be done for him.  The vet was able to keep him alive until Jim and I could drive from the Boulder area, where we were in the midst of planning Julie's memorial service, to Colorado Springs to be by his side for his final moments.  In many ways, it was healing for me to be able to be there with him as he passed from this life to the next.  Jim and I both held and petted our beloved dog as he took his final breath of life.

Technically, Buster was my dog.  Jim gave him to me for Christmas in 1999.  He was a scrappy little puppy who immediately went to work chewing everything he could find.  I think Jim expected Buster to automatically be as perfectly behaved and wonderfully trained as Buster's predecessor Red had been.  Buster would require much training, especially since he had to cope with two  very different "parenting tactics."  I was the one who expected a very tightly controlled, well trained dog, while Jim preferred to indulge our spoiled pet.

Somehow even though Buster was a handful and a challenge at first, it became very evident early on that Buster was really Jim's dog and would become his best buddy.  I'm not sure if this photo is prophetic or not, but please note that Jim is only wearing one sock.  Do you think he had taken his sock off and Buster had grabbed it and begun his life long habit of chewing up and eating socks?

No matter what his bad habits were, like eating socks, kleenex, and chewing up the back deck so badly when he was a pup that we had to have my son Jon and his wife Samantha rebuild the deck, Buster won over the hearts of our family right from the very beginning.

Buster was born in October of 1999.  My two grandchildren, Mason and Gillian, had been born the previous October.  Buster became the childhood companion to the grandchildren when they were at Grandma Sally's house.  That is one reason why we wanted a golden retriever.  They are awesome with children.  We never had to worry about him being anything but gentle and loving around the children.

I remember when one of the grandchildren at about age two or three looked into his eyes after petting him and said, "He has real eyes."  I guess he seemed like a big stuffed animal, except that this fluffy pet was alive.


He loved the grandkids and would be so excited whenever they came to visit.  The photo above was taken just a year ago.  He still looked healthy and young as he played with Atticus.

After Jim retired, Buster became his constant companion.  Buster sat at Jim feet as Jim read the morning newspaper and patiently waited for the daily walks at the river walk.  They had a routine.  Buster knew that Jim would be faithful in feeding him in the exact amounts twice a day at the same time.  Buster's weight was managed carefully even though ours was not!  Buster could count on being groomed once a week on Sunday afternoons by Jim.  He also loved his monthly visits to the professional groomer.  Believe me, this dog was treated very well.  Some might say that he was very spoiled.  Spoiled or not, Buster was the most loving dog ever, and he loved his good and kind master very much.
Julie's dog, Phoenix, was one of Buster's playmates from puppy days.  Phoenix, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix was a rambunctious alpha dog.  It was always a wild time when the two of them were in the yard or in the house.  Many happy times were spent by all of us with these two beautiful dogs.   This photo of Buster and Phoenix surrounded by Hannah, Julie, Keicha and Mason was taken a year ago.
Buster's days were spent just being our loving companion.  He spent time with us on walks and trips to the mountains when we had the opportunity to get out of town.  Or, he loved to sun himself on the porch or the patio.  The yard was his domain.  That is another thing that has changed.  We now find the squirrels and the neighborhood cat have been daring to hang out in our yard.  Our guard is no longer on duty.  They feel free to run from tree to tree without being chased from our premises by our watchdog who only barked if something or someone got into the backyard.

The last few months of Buster's life were most spent with Thia and her family.  He stayed with them as we went to Europe and then during the time we were out of town dealing with the aftermath of Julie's sudden and unexpected death.  We are grateful that he was with family and children in his last days.  He loved being with the kids.  Rachel and Nicole could not have been better caregivers.  They upstaged their grandpa by brushing Buster each day when they returned from school.  I love this photo of these two beautiful girls in a beautiful setting with a beautiful dog.  Thanks, Nicki and Rachel for taking such good care of Buster!

The last family gathering that included Julie, Buster, and Phoenix, who now lives with Julie's friend Jason, was held during the Easter holiday of this year.  Little did any of us know how much our lives would change in just a few short weeks.  I am so grateful that we gathered on the front lawn to take that last family snapshot together.  
Julie is trying to get Phoenix to pose for the portrait.  Buster is paying attention to Julie.  Jim is surrounded by our wonderful family and his dog, as always, is near his side.  We all had a wonderful time that day.

 Our sad good-byes would come later.  As Buster passed from this life into the next, I whispered in his ear, "Go be with Julie."  I wasn't sure of my doctrine on my last words to our beloved dog, but later, I found a quote in a book I've been reading about the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer said, "Look, God created human beings and also animals, and I'm sure he also loves animals.  And I believe that with God it is such that all who loved each other on earth - genuinely loved each other - will remain together with God..."

Jim and I are at an end of an era.  The grandchildren are no longer babies.  We have transitioned fully into retirement.  Our loved companion is gone.  We have lost a beautiful daughter.  We do have many wonderful memories of all of our times together.  For that we are grateful.

Our formal, family portrait of the three of us was taken when we were all a bit younger!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Morning Peace and Serenity

Early this morning, as I was reading the newspaper in the newspaper room I heard chirping coming from the nest of baby birds that is located over the front entry way of our porch.  Thinking that the babies must be getting ready to spread their wings and leave the nest, I ran and got my camera to try and get some pictures.  In the past, Momma Bird has not liked me coming to the front door to try to snap her photo as she feeds her babies. Last week I was able to get a quick photo.  I could not see the babies in the photo below, but once in a while, without my camera in hand, I would see a baby poke up a little beak.

Today was different.  Not only were the babies bigger and more clearly seen from my vantage point, but it seemed that Momma Bird was also willing to have me watch her without flying away.  I guess she must be getting ready to let go of her babies and let them leave the nest to fly out into the big wide world.  I will be sad to see them go.  They have been such a blessing to me during this time of mourning.  I have intently watched the mother care for her babies knowing that she too must let them fly someday.  While the day of watching these sweet babes fly away will be sad for me, I can plainly see that they are almost ready to go.  Not only that, they are getting a bit crowded in that small nest.

Since I already had the camera out, I decide to go out to the backyard to take some photos to send to my son since I had recently re-done a small walkway.  Before he left for Bangladesh, I had told him he could finish the walk the next time he was home.  I think he was surprised to hear I had actually fixed the walkway and wanted a picture to prove it.
So here it is:  the walkway between the lavender and the rose bed.  (The rose bed is not showing because there was not enough light to get a good photo.) I'm quite proud of that little walkway that Jim and I did all by ourselves without Jon's artistic eye and flexible back and knees!  I had harvested lavender from one of the plants last week and was thinking how I needed to get out and get the other one harvested, when I saw a bumblebee getting some sweet nectar from the unharvested plant.  I hope you can see the bee in the photo below.

Moving from the east side of the yard to the west, I realized that today was the perfect day to work in the perennial garden on the west side.  It had rained last evening, so the weeds could be pulled easily.  It was cooler this morning, and the house was still shading that part of the yard.  Before I went to get my  husband and put him to work, I snapped a few photos of the perennial garden.  The wind and the rain had bent the delphiniums over, but I thought they still looked quite lovely.

To the left of this photo, the part that I did not photograph, was the worst part of my yard.  It was actually a weed patch that was covered with all kinds of weeds and a load of dirt that I had dumped there last year because I didn't know where else to put it.  All of this mess of weeds and dirt sat on top of fabric weed guard that the landscapers had talked me into putting down a few years ago when I got rid of the rock in the backyard.  I never wanted the stuff, but let myself be talked into it by the landscapers and my husband.  Sure enough, just as I thought, weeds had just grown on top of it making it even harder to get rid of the weeds and expand my garden.  Since early spring, I have very slowly tried to pull up the weed guard.  Think about pulling up carpet that has dirt, mulch and weeds on top of it.  That is what my task was like.  

Today, I decided it was finally cool enough to really go to work on this ugly patch.  I am not totally stupid, so I enlisted the help of my main man who happens to be very strong and good at pulling up carpet, or as he did in the old days, pulling shingles off of roofs.  

We are nearly done with our job in this photo.  I don't know if you can see the look on his face, but he is pretty tuckered out.  He is holding some of the fabric guard in his hand.  The garbage can to his right was the second one we had filled with fabric weed guard and weeds.  We had to shovel dirt, pull weeds and then pull up the weed guard to get this done.  Finally, just as the shade was nearly gone, our task was done. We won't have to go to the Y today!

Jon wanted a photo of the daisy in bloom, so I have included that.

Just as I was ready to put the shovels away, take the camera inside, and rest, I saw one more photo op.

I'm not sure you can see this, but it is another photo of a nice big bumblebee getting some more nectar.

My mother sent me a card this week to lift my spirits.  Inside she had enclosed a quote about gardening.  "Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity."  ~ Lindsey Karstens ~

This year more than ever, my garden has been a place where I can work, grieve, and find much peace and serenity.  In the garden, I find the Giver of all comfort.

Lord, You made me laugh
even when I felt like crying
Lord, you made me sing
even when my heart was aching
Lord, You let me hide in You
when the sky is raging, raging,
I know the sun always shines after 
the rain

I'll find you there;
I'll find you there
I'll find your there, O Lord...