Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Brief Reprieve

I feel almost guilty to report that we've had the most marvelous two days in Southern Colorado.  Yes, it was nearly 80 degrees on my back deck today.  The digital thermometer read 78.6.

I took a short walk yesterday and wished I brought my camera to capture  some snapshots of all the people I saw out walking dressed in summer attire of shorts and sandals.  I even ran into a couple of my neighbors enjoying a picnic at the Riverwalk of Pueblo.  Dressed in sleeveless tops, they were soaking up the sun while they took a break from winter.

I know this summer like weather won't last long.  Cold weather is on its way into our area again tonight.  The forecast says that we will again have snow soon.  Next week temperatures in the 20's and below are being forecasted.

Atticus in Boston Snow
 January 2011
In the meantime, I think of my kids who are suffering in the snow and wish I could bottle up some sunshine and send it to them.  Just this past week the family in Boston was nearly buried in snow.  Atticus and his mom and dad spent two hours digging the car out.  I bet he was wishing he was back in Bangladesh being taken by rickshaw to school.  Maybe not, I guess school were closed in Boston.

My daughter in Utah reported that they are suffering from a terrible inversion.  (Click the word for the definition.)  January inversions are no fun in Utah.  The air is heavy, thick, foggy and cold.  She suffered from a bad asthma attack today and had to make a trip to a medical clinic in order to get treatment.  I worry so much about her when the weather is bad in January.  I remember so many winters when she was child when it seemed that she suffered endless bouts with croup, asthma and pneumonia.  January, her birthday month, also brings such terrible weather where she lives.  I reminded her that there are only two more days left in the month.  February is coming.  Spring is not too far off.

I'm very aware of our special blessings here:  sunny blue skies and warm weather.  I watered the trees,  walked in the sun, sat a bit on the porch, and soaked up enough sunshine and vitamin D to keep my spirits up for the next onslaught that I know is coming.  Winter isn't done with us yet, but this short reprieve that we've enjoyed has been so appreciated.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Teaching/Learning Social Norms

The English as a second language (ESL) teacher, or the foreign language teacher, has the task of teaching culture as well as language.  Language and culture are intrinsically linked.  In order to understand the language of a new country, one must also begin to learn the culture.

 Many different languages, religions, cultural beliefs and cultural practices all come together in the English as a second language classroom.  The teacher sometimes feels as if she is working at the United Nations because these beliefs and practices can clash and cause problems if one is not vigilant and knowledgeable about cultural differences.  This keeps the ESL classroom teacher on her toes.  The day is never boring.

Yesterday, I was teaching a lesson about just a few cultural practices that may be different in the United States.  Early in the semester, we try to talk about being sensitive to differences.  We discussed some things that the students have seen or experienced in the United States that they might not experience in their home countries.

I taught the concept of social norms.  I talked about the fact that even in the United States, some people don't always understand our own social norms.  I told the students that sometimes teachers must establish social norms for the classroom.  They also must sometimes teach social norms for settings other than the classroom.  In other words, it seems that many students, even those born in the United States, don't know acceptable social norms.

Ok.  At least I explained to my students that Americans don't always get social norms.   We see people everywhere who just don't seem to know what acceptable social norms are.

#1 Nana at Benchmark60 sometimes has a special topic on Wednesdays where she recounts things she has observed that make her go "What the f###?"  She always makes me laugh when she posts her observations that make her ask this question, "What the f###?"

I thought of her and also about my lesson on social norms when I was at lunch today.  When I left work, I decided to go to Dillards for lunch.  Our Dillards has a wonderful cafe where my husband and I love to go for lunch.  They have delicious soups.  We usually see many of our friends there.  We go so often that the friendly and efficient wait staff know us.  It is always an enjoyable place to go for a quick and tasty lunch.

Today, I sat down ready to relax and enjoy a late lunch.  Soon, I heard a very loud male voice coming from behind me.  It sounded like it was coming from a television, or a radio.  Dillards does not have a television, nor do they play radio broadcasts.  The male voice was quite loud, but not loud enough for me to understand exactly what was being said.  I would hear the male voice talking, then I would hear a soft female voice.  I thought to myself, "Does someone actually have a cell phone on the speaker option while they are eating in a public place?"

Finally, I was sure that was what was happening.  I couldn't believe it.  Really, who would think that it was ok to put a cell phone on speaker in a restaurant?  Finally, I could stand it no longer.  It wasn't my classroom.  I wasn't responsible for teaching social norms at the restaurant at Dillards, but I am a teacher.  I have a hard time not acting like one sometimes.  I turned around and gave my best teacher look to the woman behind me who had her phone on speaker.  Then I turned back to my sandwich.  Immediately the place was quiet except for the quiet female voice.  I guess she got the message.  Maybe she even knew that social norms do not allow for one talking on a cell phone using the speaker phone option while one is in a restaurant.  Maybe all she needed was for a teacher to remind her.
Image by

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Can't Say No

Last week, I taught the modal of ability.  Ok, I know you all aren't English majors.  Most of you wish to forget those long, boring grammar lessons anyway.  A modal was called a helping verb when I was in school.  Later, I think I learned they were called auxiliary verbs.  The grammar book we are using to teach English to international students call these helping, auxiliary verbs modals.  That works.  Teaching usage is more important than teaching terminology.  The concept that I taught was that when one wishes to use the correct word to express ability to do something, the person uses can, could, seems, or is able to along with the verb.  I can dance.  I could ride a bike when I was younger.  I can't say no.

Yes, it seems, I can't say no when it comes to accepting a job.  Guess what, neither can my husband.  Just days after I wrote in this blog how my husband said that he does not miss working, just days after he adamantly said he would say no if he were ever asked to work again, just days after I publicly stated how my husband said he felt, he was offered a job.  Guess what he said?  It wasn't no, nor was it hell no as he was fond of saying his answer would be.  His answer was, " I have to talk to Sally."

Sally came home from shopping not long after he got the call.  He was all smiles, very upbeat, and quite proud of himself.  He said he had to talk to me.  A lot had changed while I was gone.  He'd gotten a phone call.  He'd been asked to go back to work.  The smile would not leave his face.  I noticed a new bounce in his step.  He was thrilled and excited.  Yes, it seemed much had changed.  He wanted to go back to work.  He wanted a new challenge.  He wanted to be involved.  He wanted to see how a different district operated.  I saw the change in his demeanor.  I saw how energized the idea of working again made him appear.

My first question was, "Can you really do this again?"  (Note the use of the modal to express ability.)  He assured me he was.  His health was not a problem.  His blood pressure would be fine.  He would not over do.  He would not work too many hours.  He would eat right.  He would exercise.  He really did want to work again.  Forget what he had said before.

So, he said, yes to a return to work.  I supported it with just a bit of reservation.  He would have to drive, during the winter, to Fountain, Colorado which is about 30 minutes north of us.  He would be working as an assistant principal, a job he never had done before, so I knew that he would have the heavy load of being a principal.  I agreed that in many ways it would be good for him.

We talked about the possibility of me being asked to return to work.  I said, "I think I won't go back.  Since you are working, I need to stay home and keep things in order here.  I need to cook decent meals.  I need to be here to support you."

Then, I got the call.  "Will you come back to work?  We really need you.  Situations that have occurred here that have caused us to really need you.  We are shorthanded.  Will you consider helping us out?"  My answer, "I'll have to talk to Jim."  He asked what I wanted to do.  I didn't want to get up in the morning, I wanted to get projects done at home, I wanted to keep to an exercise plan, but I also really did want to go back to work.

We've both just finished our first week of work.  We were exhausted every night.  We fell asleep in our chairs in front of the warmly burning fireplace with an open book in our laps nearly every evening.  We woke up to an alarm.  I hired a house keeper.  Now, I really wish I could also hire a cook.

Last night, Friday night, we went out for Mexican food just like we always do.  Last night, at dinner, we debriefed.  Jim is meeting new people.  He is using his wisdom and expertise in new ways with new people.  He is learning new things.  I am energized and uplifted by the new students in my class.  I am using my knowledge and skills to help others learn English so that they can reach their lifetime goals.  I am surrounded by youth.  That keeps me young.  I have a reason to get up and pick out clothes to wear, fix my hair, and put on make-up.  I see my friends and colleagues at the University.  I am part of things at that wonderful institution again.

We are adjusting to working again.  We are happy with our decisions.  We have the ability to work.  We have the ability to say no.  We could have said no.  I shouldn't say, "We can't say no."  We could have.  We chose to say yes.  We are happy we did so.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Another One for The Books

I decided I'd be keeping Christmas this year.  A little over a year ago, a friend related to me how after the death of her sister when the girl was in high school, her mother never put up another Christmas tree.  She said that her mother's refusal to really celebrate Christmas after the tragic death of her daughter just before the holidays had impacted those who remain.  She continued to tell of how she wished her mother could let go of whatever was not allowing her to move forward because those who were left were not able to fully enjoy either the holiday or the mom they once knew.

Her story came back to me right after Julie's death.  I promised myself that I would try to be fully there for the children I had left.  I wanted to make sure I didn't miss out on making new holiday memories with my children and grandchildren.  I resolved that I would keep Christmas.  And, so I did.  It was harder than I ever thought possible to put the pain and loss behind me, and I know it was hard for my children also.  We did the best we could to enjoy each other, and to be honest with you, that is easy.  My children are a lot of fun.  I love being with them.

On Christmas morning, my husband and I got up at 5:30 so we could be at daughter Amy's house by 7:00. The house looked dark when we drove up.  "Really now, are they all still sleeping?" I asked my husband.  Yes, they were!  We had to bang on the door to get Amy to answer.  Even the kids were all still asleep; I guess those new jammies must have been really warm.  Soon Jon, wearing his lungi, emerged, ready to greet the day and wake the children.

One by one, wrapped up in warm blankets,  the grandchildren gathered around the tree.  It proved more difficult to rouse the adults.
Ryan checking out his new Kindle
while the kids dig into the pile of presents
Christmas morning chaos

Chaos almost seemed to take over at some point. Let's just say it was a typical Christmas morning around the tree.  There was a lot of paper, boxes, toys, and new treasures to be found.

The gifts that seemed to get the greatest approval, were those that Jon and Samantha brought with them from Bangladesh.  Each of the boys got at lungi! Soon, they were learning how to tie their new loungewear around the waist.

Mom and Ryan with new Kindles
Ryan and I gave each other Kindles.  That was a funny story.  I guess we were both on the same wave length this year.  I love my Kindle.  Thanks Ryan!

Mason and Bridger

There were many wonderful gifts under the tree, but the hits of the year were:  the lungi, the ukuleles, the brightly painted recorders from Bangladesh, and a harmonica.  Soon the house was filled with much music as all the kids tried to learn to play the new instruments.
D and Parker 
 D, Jon's friend from high school years and beyond, took a break from his job as an attorney, traveled from another state, and joined our family celebration this year.  He was pretty good on the ukulele.   As he serenaded us with "Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain," Parker sat at D's side trying to pick up some pointers.  Hey D, did they teach you those fancy ukulele playing skills at NYU?
Parker entertains the troops
Fruit basket from Aunt Suz
Thanks, again, Aunt Suzanne

As is our family tradition, we had brunch after opening the gifts.   Our wonderful breakfast feast included fresh pineapple from a gift basket from Aunt Suzanne, other fresh fruit, ham and a choice from several wonderful quiches prepared by son Ryan.  He traditionally serves up a great Christmas morning brunch each year in Utah.  We were happy that RyHop was in operation in Colorado this year.

Ryan prepares deviled eggs
Tasty and attractive dish

After brunch, he went to work on his Asian deviled eggs.  I can't tell you how he made them, but they were delicious.  He's a banker by day, but he also does a pretty awesome job of cooking up some pretty fancy dishes.  (Note how the eggs look so nice in dish that Amy hand painted.)

Amy's jello creation
It seemed we ate all day.  I can't even tell you what all was on the menu since I didn't have to do the cooking this year.  I know we had some yummy dishes.  One made by daughter-in-law Stephanie was a sweet potato and hot green chili dish that was really good.  Amy was quite proud of her green jello and insisted that I take a picture of her creation.

Hannah with new favorite blanket
with Stephanie in the background
The day was filled with laughter, eating, much music, and game playing.  Hannah snuggled in her new blanket.

Bridger practices on his ukulele

Stylish Regan
Regan modeled her new clothes.  When asked how she got such style, she said it has taken her a while, but now she is learning how to put together her look.  At nearly 13, she is already a beauty.

At some point, Grandma and Grandpa went back to the hotel to shower and get dressed for the day.  When we got back to the house, it was time for a Christmas afternoon walk to the pond so Parker, my outdoor enthusiast, could try out his new duck call whistle.

Sister and Brother
Amy and Ryan

Parker calling the ducks
Bridger and Atticus
Taking a break from skimming rocks across the water
Jason and Bridger
Christmas evening, there was more game playing.  Monopoly was played until someone suggested poker.  It turned out that the kids didn't know how to play and I, who had learned to play poker as child when my father taught me and cousins how to play using pennies, decided to join the fun. By then, Jason, Julie's boyfriend, had joined the family frivolity.  Soon, he was winning at poker.  I was losing from the very beginning.  Jason's poker skills were no match for the novice player Bridger.
In the end, Bridger wiped all of us out.

  We missed Keicha and Gillian and wish they could have joined us.  It was hard to even think of celebrating Christmas without Julie.  We knew we wanted to be together, and I'm grateful that Santa answered Regan's letter and made sure that this happened.

The letter reads:
Dear Santa,
     I have never written one of these but I just wanted to say thank you!  Every year you have gotten me what I asked for.  It is so nice.  I am writing you this year because it is a very hard year for my whole family.  It is hard because my Aunt Julie is gone.  It will be the first year without her.  We are going to Colorado because my Aunt Amy is having a hard time too, but you know what goes on in everyone's life in the world.  Thank you again, and I don't mind if you can't get the aqua lap top.  No matter what, you are still the best man in the world.   Regan

As the family reflects on Christmas 2010, I hope we treasure the time we had together as a family.  I hope we've learned to hold on to each other tightly and not take any one of us for granted.  I hope that we remember that time spent together as a family cannot ever be wasted time.  I hope we remember how important relationships are, and that we continue to value the ones we have.  I hope each individual will continue to heal, and that all fractured relationships will also be healed.  In the end, we are family.  We are resilient.  We try to accept each other as imperfect human beings with frailties.  We try to be there for each other.  We love each other deeply.
Ryan and two of his children
Parker and Regan

We included friends of Julie's and Jon's throughout the extended time of holiday celebration.   These friends have enriched our lives greatly and helped us shoulder the pain we have suffered over these past seven months.  Our celebrations were not the same without Julie.  We missed her laughter, her dancing to the music, and her unique personality.  We missed her competitive spirit in games.  We missed her caring nature.  She wasn't there to put her arm around my shoulder.  She wasn't there helping out in the kitchen.  She wasn't there cleaning up the Christmas mess and restoring order to our surroundings and lives.  She wasn't there playing games with the kids or building things with logos.  She wasn't there thriving in the middle of the family chaos.  She was there in our hearts, and there she will remain.  Christmas will always remind us of our loss, but it will also reminded us that she was a gift to us for 34 years.  We will continue to treasure her and each other as move forward into 2011 and the future.

Julie's First Christmas

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Happy Moments of The Holidays 2010

Forgive me for just now posting some Christmas photos.  My daughter was asking that I share a few, so here are some of the memories from Christmas 2010 that I was able to capture.  As a side note, my husband just got a new camera, so he was in charge of photos this year.  Most of these are his, not mine.  Maybe by next year, I have a new camera that I will be practicing with.

Pre-Christmas Celebration at Our House

Jonathan and Samantha and Atticus were the only family visitors who actually made it to our house this year.  They came down from Colorado Springs where they were staying with Samantha's mother for a visit with Jim and me around the 21st of December.  I put Samantha to work making cookies while I made split pea soup.  Samantha loved making pizzelles, so guess what I went out and got her for Christmas?  A pizzelle maker found its way under the Christmas tree for her.
 My husband had to capture a picture of me cooking.  I do cook once in a while, but it seems I am learning how to cook all over again.  To everyone's disappointment, the split pea soup was not very good.  Jon wanted to know why since I used to make such good split pea soup.  Two reasons:  I am relearning to cook, and I didn't let it cook long enough because I knew everyone was hungry.

While we were cooking, Atticus made himself at home in the family room by watching t.v. and playing with a toy he had brought with him.  It was good to have Atticus in the house again after having him gone for a year and a half.  It was good to have all three of them back in the United States!

Jon and Sam decided they needed to a little advance planning for the upcoming holidays.  With a calendar, napkin, cell phone and pen in hand, they got busy planning the days they had in Colorado before they were to head back to Boston.  Bangladesh to Colorado to Boston:  that is a long trip to make.      The last part of the journey from Colorado to Boston was to made by car.

Sam is diligently planning and writing out her plans on a napkin.  As she said, "All great plans started out being developed on a napkin."

While they planned away, my husband caught me checking my ever present Blackberry.

Christmas Eve

Daughter Amy opened up her home for the Christmas holidays.  Her home in the northern part of the state was located closer to Utah and the airport at DIA, so it seemed to be a better choice for the family gathering.  She had a very full house of siblings, nieces and nephews and friends.  Grandma and Grandpa stayed at a nearby hotel.

Christmas Eve dinner of green chili and tamales was delicious.  Amy set a beautiful table for us.  Joni, Julie's and Amy's friend joined us in the celebration of Christmas Eve and Joni's birthday.  She even brought her own cake for us to have dessert.

After dinner, the children played a few games, and then it was time for them to open one gift each.  Each grandchild had a package under the tree from Grandma Sally.  Inside of the look alike boxes were new Christmas pajamas.  This little project, thought of just before Christmas turned out to be one that took some doing.  Have you ever tried to find four pairs of matching boys pajama bottoms in sizes 16 to 10?  Then, trying to find tops to match the bottoms was even more of a challenge.  

Mason with gift
The surprise of it all was worth the challenge.  I thought it would be so much fun to have all the grandkids in matching p.j.'s.  Who knows when they will all be together for Christmas again.  (Only six of seven grandchildren were there.  One daughter and her daughter were not able to come over from Utah.)

I found the boys' pajamas, matching fleece bottoms at Penney's.  I was afraid I'd never find matching tops, so I bought each boy new white t-shirts to wear just in case I could find tops.  They ended up liking the t-shirt best anyway.  I found the pajama's for the girls at The Children's Place.
Opening the gifts

Grandma cleaning up the boxes
Regan and Hannah in their new p.j.s

My beautiful girls
Amy, Hannah and Regan
The good-looking boys
Bridger, Parker, Atticus and Mason

Aunt Amy, Parker, Atticus, Hannah, Regan

An attempt to get a group shot of the grandchildren in their new Christmas pajamas proved to be unsuccessful.  There were just too many moving parts!

Checking Santa's whereabouts 
After everyone under the age of 14 was ready for bed, it was time to remind them that the sooner they got to bed, the sooner Santa could come.  After a check on the computer to see where Santa was in his trip to Colorado, it was decided he was getting close.  After all, Atticus had just flown from the North Pole just about ten days before.  If Santa was in Nebraska, he was getting close.

The kids and the adults all agreed that Christmas morning gift opening would begin at 7:00 a.m.  Then, the kids were all off to bed.  The adults got out Trivia Pursuit, and Grandma Sally and Grandpa Jim went back to the hotel.

I will write more about Christmas in another post.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Retirement Dreams, Fantasies and Realities

Late last week, after my massage, my husband picked me up and took me with him on a ride across town to pick up something from the school where he had served as principal.  School was just letting out for the day as we drove down Wessely Drive and parked the car in front of the school in the visitor spot located just to the left of the spot designated "Principal Only."  I looked up at the sign, then over at my husband and asked, "Do you miss it?"

My mind went back to the day, one of the last of his 40+ years in education, when the senior class surprised him by successfully naming the street directly in front of the high school where he had served as beloved principal for 11 years named after him.  He was overwhelmed by the honor.

Now, as then, he was ready for retirement.  He had served well and had earned a sterling reputation for being a much loved, respected, and admired educator.  No one thought he could ever really give it up.  He worked too hard and loved it too much.

His adamant answer, "Not at all."   As we walked in the school, headed to the office to the athletic director, by habit, I started toward the principal's office in the opposite direction.  "This way, dear," he said.  Ah, yes, we aren't going where our lives had centered for so long.   I was headed to his old office without even thinking.

On his last day in a place where he spent most of his waking hours, I took a few photos to record the event.   He was excited and ready to move on to a new venture in his life.  He'd been in school since he was four years old, and now at age 63, he was ready to close the door.

That didn't mean that it wasn't sad to leave so much of his life behind, it was.  I was actually taking a photo of the bullet hole in the blinds in this photo below.  Yes, someone had shot a gun into his office.  Thankfully, it was after hours and no one was there.  His ever present mottos  of "Do Right, Be Kind" and "Something Extra for South" are seen in the photos.  In taking the photo, I caught him in a reflective moment.

Last week, after our visit to the school, where everyone still comes up to him to get one of his famous handshakes, we went to the basketball game.  We may be retired, but we still are almost always found at the sporting events.  We value the connections, the friendships, the traditions that we made at South High School.  Without those connections and others, retirement would be very lonely.

Many of the dreams of retirement have been fulfilled.  He reads constantly.  This is a treat that he never had time for when he was working.  He works in the yard with me.  He does all the heavy lifting, digging and moving.  We used to walk the dog everyday together.  We've traveled.  We've tried to spend more time with family.  He treasures his weekly lunches, breakfasts and dinners with colleagues.  He bought a new camera which he is learning.  He has a key board that he intends to get back to so he can learn to play the piano.   He spends a lot of time researching his interests on the computer.  He is a crazy man on the elliptical at the "Y."  He is faithful at working out and walking.  These are the dreams of retirement that have been fulfilled.

The realities have been that after the two knee replacements that he had while he was working, he had to have his hip replaced during the summer of 2009.  The other reality is that he is my mainstay as I work through grief.  We did not expect to have this experience in our retirement years.

We'd only been home from our month long trip to Europe for two weeks when Julie died.  Since that time, I don't know what I would have done without him.  His kindness, his support, his empathy, his constant presence, his ability to take over all of the paperwork associated with a death, his humor, his desire to meet my every whim and desire, and his words of wisdom are typical of this man that I married.

Last week, at the basketball game, his one simple act showed me again how he is ever present and ever ready to meet my needs before I even ask.  He had gone off into the crowd to shake hands and spend time with his "boys."  He mentored every high school principal in this town.  All four of them worked with him as assistant principal at one time or another.  We were playing the school of the across the town rival.  Their principal had been Jim's AP before retirement, and he had gone to the other side of gym to visit with him.  About 20 minutes after he left my side, I took out my phone to give my dear husband a call to see if he would bring me a bottle of water on his way back to our seat.  Just then, before I could even dial his number,  I saw my husband walking up the steps toward me with a bottle of water in his hand.  Yes, it was for me.  He knew I would want one.  Before I even asked, there he was again with just what I needed.

Retirement is not always like we planned, but I  am blessed with a mate that is with me in retirement, in life, and in grief.  My girlfriends used to say I am spoiled by him.  Yes, I guess I am.  I like to think I am just very blessed.  Even if our dreams are not all of what we expected, we are together, and that is what matters most.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Relapse of Sorts

My father told me more than once that no one really want to hear about all of our aches and pains.  In so many ways, he was absolutely right.  On the other hand, those words and the idea that we must always put our best face forward can be a trap that can ensnare us and keep us from being authentic.  Authenticity is important if one is to be a writer and if one is to be true to one's self.

I've had a relapse that has shocked me and caused me to take stock all over again about how devastating the loss of my daughter has been to me.  My therapist, yes, I've been seeing one for help with my loss, said she was not surprised at my new feelings of loss and sorrow.  I was doing too well she said not for her to expect it.

And so, Christmas set me back, way back.  Along with the waves of sorrow, I've also suffered physical pain.  Since about December 21, I have had excruciating pain in my upper left quadrant of my back.  I've been under the care of my doctor, a chiropractor, a physical therapist, and a massage therapist.  I am going for my fifth massage in the past three weeks in just a few minutes.  Massage and heat help me the most.  Hopefully, we will soon find out what is causing this terrible pain.  Fibromyalgia has been suggested, but there is no diagnosis.  I am schedule to have MRI tests next week.

I hesitate to post this because of those old voices in the head about keeping our pain to ourselves, but if I am to record this journey that I am on honestly, I need to write about what trials I am going through.  Sympathy is not what one in my situation needs.  Support is what is needed.  I know that I have that, and for that I am grateful.