Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Over The River and Through The Woods - New Version

Brother and Sister
Together in Dhaka
Tonight I am praying for my oldest daughter who is flying somewhere between Dhaka and Abu Dhabi.  When she arrives in Abu Dhabi, she will board a plane to fly to Chicago.  Hopefully, she will be back on U.S. soil sometime tomorrow around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon.  She will then fly to Denver.  Since she lives in Utah, she will not really be home until Thursday morning. She plans on spending Wednesday night in the Denver area.

Her journey gives a whole new meaning to the song we used to sing in school, "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go."  When I first learned that song so many years ago, I never imagined that my children would be so spread out across the nation, and this year across the globe, when the holidays hit.  The new reality is that many of us have our families very far away.

Keicha has been in Dhaka visiting my youngest son and his family.  I am so grateful they have had a wonderful time together making new memories.  We have kept up on a bit of what has been going on through Facebook.  It seems it was a very sad farewell when Keicha, Jason, and Keicha's friend, Amy left Jon, Sam and Atticus today. Before the visitors left for home, they all got  dressed up and went out on the town.

Jason, Keicha, Amy, Samantha, Jonathan
Going out on the town

Thankfully, Jon and his family will be coming back to the USA for good around the middle of December.  Another long journey will be made to connect family for the Christmas holiday.

My husband and I had originally planned on going to Utah this week to spend Thanksgiving with my oldest son and his family.  When I decided to go back to work, we changed our minds and stayed home. That might have been a good decision.  A terrible storm is set to his Utah tonight.  My oldest son's wife who works for the Red Cross in Utah said they are already identifying possible shelters along I15 because a terrible blizzard is being forecast.

If this blizzard hits, my former husband, who has been in Colorado for the past few days with my daughter in the Boulder area, could be driving right into it.  Keicha will arrive in Denver from Bangladesh and could fly into the storm in Salt Lake.

I am praying that this storm does not hit as it has been predicted.  In the meantime, I think of those simple days when going home for the holidays meant that folks only went "over the river and through the woods."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ten Days of Emotional Roller Coaster Rides

During this time of grief for the loss of my daughter Julie, we have also been going through a time of grief over the break-up of a marriage and family in our immediate family.  Since I respect the privacy of family members, I will say little about the grief that we have been going through because of the loss that is associated with divorce.  I only will say that we have experienced great turmoil, pain and sorrow.  Sometimes it seems almost too much to bear.  And yet, in the midst of upheaval, good things continue to happen.

On the 11th of November, my husband and I traveled to the northern part of our state support my daughter Amy during the difficult time she is going through in the break-up of her marriage.  That evening, we had a bon voyage dinner.  My oldest daughter Keicha, Julie's former significant other Jason, and Keicha's good friend Amy were departing the next day for Bangladesh.

My youngest son, his wife, and my grandson have been in Bangladesh for the past year and a half.  It has been difficult to have them so far away from home, and yet it has also been exciting and our lives have all been enriched because of the experiences this young family has had on the other side of this planet.  During the time they have been gone, they have kept us up to date on their lives through their the wonderful blog: threeinsixmillion.blogspot.com .  We are able to keep in touch via the many forms of technology now at our fingertips.  For that I am thankful, but miss them, we do.

Thankfully, we were able to bring this family home for Julie's services in early June.  After a week of much family togetherness, a time when all four of my remaining children, all of my seven grandchildren, and Jason, Julie's former significant other, all seemed to move as one tight-knit pack, I wondered how all of us would survive another goodbye as we moved on to our separate lives.  Jonathan, Samantha and Atticus would journey back to the other side of the world.  Ryan and his family, Keicha and her daughter, my former husband and his wife would all return to Utah.  My husband and I would return to Southern Colorado, and Amy and her family would remain in the Boulder area, as would Jason.

It was then that I had the idea that Jason should plan a trip.  It would be something he could look forward to.  Bangladesh seemed to be a great destination.  Not only would Jason have an exciting trip to plan, but Jonathan and Samantha and Atticus could look forward to a visit from home.  Before long, Keicha also decided that a trip to Bangladesh would also be something wonderful to look forward to.  Her friend decided to join Jason and Keicha on the adventure.

And so, roughly five months after the first conversations about thinking about a journey to help with the healing from a terrible loss, the trip became a reality.  It seems the trip has been a great success.  That is what I read on Facebook.  I've seen the first photos.  I read a few status updates.  I've rejoiced that they have all been together and made happy memories.  

At the same time, our hearts have been breaking over the break up of a marriage that has been a major part of our family for a decade and half.  Life does not seem fair at times.  It seems much too painful.  And then, life seems exciting and hopeful and joyful.  It definitely has it peaks and valleys.  The most accurate description of my life over the past ten days would be to describe it as one big emotional roller coaster ride.  Thankfully, I have a husband who holds my hand through the entire ride.  For that I am extremely grateful.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's the little things that get you: shower caps, iceberg lettuce, and cottage cheese.

This morning, after leisurely reading the paper, making a nice breakfast for my husband, and quickly checking email, facebook and etc., I realized I was going to have to step on it to make it to church on time.  Glancing in the mirror before jumping in the shower, I decided I could get by without washing my hair.  Thinking that it might be a good idea to assure my hairdo would survive the shower, I remembered I had a shower cap somewhere.  Yes, indeed, I did have a shower cap.  I had a lot of shower caps as a matter of fact.  Then, the tears started.

Julie had very curly hair.  She hated washing her hair at my house because we use a water softener.  She maintained that the soft water made her hair impossible to work with.  She was right.  Soft water does not work well with curly hair.  The last time she was here, she searched for a shower cap so she wouldn't have to deal with frizzy hair if she showered without washing her hair.  Finally, after a search through drawers, and her sister's bags, a shower cap was produced.

A few weeks later, my husband and I went to Europe for a month.  It seemed that every hotel had a free shower cap next to the bathroom sink.  The river boat that we went on also provided shower caps.  I began to collect them all.  I thought it would be a fun souvenir from the trip.  I planned on surprising Julie with a new shower cap from somewhere in Europe every time she came home.

Of course, Julie never came home again.  Her last trip home was on Easter weekend of this year.  We left for Europe about two weeks later.  I had forgotten about the shower caps until today.  I had stowed them away in a bathroom drawer when we returned home, and there they remained.  Who knew a shower cap could make one cry?

Iceberg lettuce has the same effect.  When I encounter it in a salad, I either get teary eyed, or I have to smile to myself about how much Julie hated iceberg lettuce.  She called it white trash lettuce, or wt lettuce for short.  My girls and I can't eat it without thinking of Julie.  Who knew that lettuce could bring out these powerful emotions?

Today at church, I ran into a friend who lost her daughter 14 years ago.  She recalled how the little things can trigger a memory or a reminder.  She said for her it is cottage cheese.  Her daughter was the only one in the house to eat cottage cheese.  I understand how cottage cheese can make one be struck with the terrible reality of what has been lost.  I get that.  I know that something as simple as cottage cheese can make a mother cry like she just lost her baby because, you see, she did.  She lost her beautiful daughter to cancer, and now she no longer buys cottage cheese.   She and I belong to a club neither of us wanted to join.  We know how it hurts to lose a child.  She understands, really understands, why I cried over that shower cap before I went to church this morning.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back in the Saddle

One of my Facebook friends, a friend from high school days, commented on my return to work by saying, "While being back in the saddle might still be enjoyable, getting back into it is sometimes more difficult!"  That statement is very true.  

I began my new job of teaching English to international students at the CSU-Pueblo on Monday.  Thankfully, Monday morning's alarm did not totally jar me because awaking early and to an alarm occurred on only the second day of our return to standard time.  My body thought that it was 7:00 a.m. rather than 6:00 a.m.  I actually got out of bed as soon as the alarm rang.  I then immediately took a shower.  This act alone signaled a big change.  I had showered, dressed, put on make-up and done my hair by 6:45.  Normally, if I had even gotten up before 7:00 a.m.,  I would still be in my p.j.'s, and would be just sipping my coffee, reading the newspaper, and watching the news on the Today Show.  

Proud of myself for remembering the routine for getting myself out of the door no later than 7:30 a.m., I proudly left the house on time after having eaten breakfast and reading a newspaper.  The campus where I am working is literally a five minute drive from my house.  I found that I was actually one of the few on campus at my early arrival time.  Ah, yes, I remembered, college students and retirees have something in common: they both get a late start in the morning.

By 8:00 a.m., I had arranged my teaching area, written my name and contact information on a large tablet on an easel located at the front of the room, and was greeting my new students as they arrived in the classroom.  I could tell they were as nervous and anxious as I about seeing how this new situation would fit.  They had just told one teacher good-bye, and now they had to break in a new one at the end of the semester.  They wanted me to introduce myself first.  I guess they wanted to see if my credentials were up to snuff.

I have five students who are in the beginning stages of learning academic English.  I have not yet asked if I can photograph them or write about them on my blog, so I will just say that I have three students from Asia, one from Africa, and one from South America.  The class is a wonderful mix of ages, abilities and personalities.  All are warm and welcoming.  Some are confident, others rather tenuous about using a language that still seems difficult to speak.  They have formed a rather tight knit bond of support, encouragement, and friendship.  Their respect and love for each other was much evident.  Their respect and support for me was refreshing and uplifting.  I had forgotten what it feels like to have a student make a slight bow when they greet me or speak to me.  I again felt humbled and honored to be shown the respect that foreign students give to a teacher.  I could not stop smiling.  I was so happy.  

It has been a rough five months.  After losing my 34 year old daughter to suicide in late May, I have gone through a long, hard journey of grief that I hoped would lead to healing.  I lost a large part of myself with her death.  Returning to my profession is helping me rediscover another part of myself that I treasure.  

 I have learned that grief can a times be a solitary journey.  I have striven toward finding an equal balance between spending time in solitude and in fellowship.  I think I have been mostly successful in not isolating myself, but I worried that winter would present a challenge when it came to keeping myself busy.  At just the right time, I was called and offered this job.  The timing was perfect.  I needed something to do, something to get me dressed and out the door everyday without putting a lot of pressure or stress on me.

Being back in the saddle felt just right.  I have not forgotten how to ride.  I can still teach gerunds, and vocabulary, and I can still understand early, fearful attempts at using a language that seems very scary to use when it is not your native language.  I am excited about the enrichment that teaching people from other cultures, languages, religions and belief systems always brings into my life.  I am meeting new friends, experiencing new adventures, and using the gift of teaching that God gave me.  I am continuing to heal.  I am moving on into the future.  I know Julie would be very proud of me.  I can almost feel her arm around my shoulder.  I am smiling a lot again.

Julie and Sally - Walk for The Cure 2008

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Retired English teacher is going back to work.

Last Sunday, my husband confessed that he reads the "help wanted" ads every Sunday.  I asked, "Are you looking for a job?"  He answered with, "No, just an income."  We've both been retired for about three and half  years now if you don't count the times we've come out of retirement.  If you count those times, we've has been retired for about a year and a half.  He always says, "If they ask me to come back again, the answer is 'no'."  I, on the other hand, am always fantasizing about going back to work.  That is until I think about getting up every morning, getting myself fed, dressed, and out the door any sooner than 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning.  I also get real about my thinking of working again when I remember discipline at the high school level.  Then, there are all of those papers to grade.  That is enough to shock me into being very satisfied with retirement.

Substitute teaching has never been anything I really considered doing.  I did a lot of subbing when I was a stay at home mom.  I would take a sub job when someone at the neighborhood schools had an emergency. Now, after being out of the classroom for six or seven years, I just did not want to fill in on a temporary basis no matter how much I missed teaching, the kids, and the other teachers.

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call asking me if I would consider teaching ESL students in the international program at Colorado State University-Pueblo.  Since the job was quite temporary, just until the end of the semester, and since I would be helping out a friend who needed me to fill in after an unexpected vacancy, I said I would be glad to help out.  Two days later, I was again called and told that the teacher was not leaving after all.  I was ok with that.  Especially when I didn't have to get up early on Monday morning.

I was then asked by a former teacher friend to come and speak with one of her international students who was having some difficulties with his English class.  That was enough to hook me.  I went up on campus, visited with the student, and realized just how much I missed teaching ESL.

Me with some of my former students...
Yesterday, I decided to call the international program to see if they needed me to do anything for just a few days a week.  Before the director of the program could even call me back, the professor over the language institute called and asked me again if I could come and teach for them.  I jumped at the chance.

So, this retired English teacher is going back to work.  I will be teaching five students who, according to TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores, are at the intermediate level.  I will work half days, 8:00 to 12:00, Monday through Friday, starting next week.  The job ends at the end of the semester.  That is only three and a half weeks of school.  I can handle that.

Today, as I drove the few blocks to campus, parked the car, got out and walked to the offices of the international program, I found myself feeling very excited about and quite grateful for this new opportunity.  I love teaching ESL to students who are high school and college age.  I will be meeting some new students from different parts of the world.  I will be kept busy planning and teaching.  I will again be on the campus that I love for many reason.  And, I will get paid.  That seems like a bonus when I am really being able to resume my relationship with a passion that keeps me interested and inspired.