Saturday, April 30, 2011

Remembering April Born Loved Ones

On this the last day of April, I am remembering my dearly loved departed ones who were born in April.

Song Of A Second April

April this year, not otherwise 
Than April of a year ago, 
Is full of whispers, full of sighs, 
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow; 
Hepaticas that pleased you so 
Are here again, and butterflies. 

There rings a hammering all day, 
And shingles lie about the doors; 
In orchards near and far away 
The grey wood-pecker taps and bores; 
The men are merry at their chores, 
And children earnest at their play. 

The larger streams run still and deep, 
Noisy and swift the small brooks run 
Among the mullein stalks the sheep 
Go up the hillside in the sun, 
Pensively,—only you are gone, 
You that alone I cared to keep.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

My Father:  William French
11 April 1916
25 March 2002
My parents
My brother and I

My dear Aunt Phyllis
15 April 1927
30 April 1988
Aunt Phyllis and Sally

My daughter, Julie Ann Christiansen
8 April 1976
29 May 2010


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The End Is Near

I have not become a prophet who is predicting the end of the world.  I am just a very tired retired teacher who decided to come out of retirement and teach for a semester.  I am barely hanging in there until the end.  Thankfully, the end (of the semester) is near.

 I made the decision to go back to work because:
  • The job was part time. In truth, I taught four straight hours a day.  With preparation time and etc., I worked five or six hours a day.  
  • I missed working with students.  This is true I did.  I have loved working with students.
  • I missed working with colleagues.  This is also true.  I have loved working with my colleagues.
  • I wanted to stay busy during the winter.  I've kept busy and that is a good thing.
  • I wanted to make some extra money.  Adjunct professors are paid ridiculously low salaries.  It really was not financially worth my time to work for what I was paid.  (I had to hire a housekeeper to keep up with the house while I was working.  Her hourly rate of pay is higher than mine!)
I've had a great semester.  One I would not have wanted to miss out on.  I have had the most wonderful students from three different countries that you can ever imagine.  We have worked hard together.  We have learned much from each other.  We have laughed often and had a lot of learning adventures.  Now, we are coming to the end of our days together.  That is always a very bittersweet thing.  I love the students.  I love the work.  I am also extremely tired.  My energy levels are not what they once were.

My husband also came out of retirement and has been working full-time this semester.  He is also exhausted.  We seem to be going to bed earlier and earlier every night.  Since Spring Break, we've just been barely hanging on.  

Last week, on facebook,  I posted this photo of the two of us that was taken one year ago while we were in Vienna, Austria.  I heard my husband, who never swears, say something about 'hell' after he saw the photo.  From my study, I called out, "What did you just say?"  He answered with, "We look like hell compared to how we looked a year ago."  

Sadly, he is right.  I know I have aged considerably since then.  I lost a child. I have spent most of the last year trying to grieve and heal from that shock.  My husband has been right there by my side throughout it all.

Then, we went back to work.  That was a good thing.  We both needed to get out among kids, educators, and do what we do best.  We are so grateful that we were able to use our skills to help others and to help ourselves heal.  

We are now really ready to go back to retirement.  Thankfully, we are seeing the light at the end of tunnel.  Tomorrow is my last official class.  We have a party on Friday at my home.  Next week we will have the final.  Then, I am finished with teaching.  Jim has to work until the end of May. 

We hope to resume the lives we had in retirement.  We need to get back to the gym.  The yard needs a lot of work.  We want to go fishing.  We want to take a few small trips.  We want to stay up late if we want to.  We want to get up without hearing the alarm go off.  We are ready to be retired again.  The end of our working days is near.  The beginning of enjoying retirement is finally returning.  

This time I really think we won't go back to work again.  We agree with the governor who decided not to run for president.  We just don't have the "fire in the belly" to keep working in education like we once did.  Thankfully, we have options.  After working for a season, we now choose to return to retirement.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Reflections

My oldest daughter wrote this reflective piece and posted it on her facebook page.  With her permission, I am sharing it with you here.

Easter Reflections
by Keicha Christiansen

If I had to pick my favorite holiday it would be Easter.  I delight in the activity surrounding it--candy, coloring eggs,  egg hunts, family gatherings, an excuse to buy a new dress and get dressed up, sightings of new lambs in green pastures, mom's potato salad at Easter dinner, and the fact that it takes place in Spring, my favorite season. This year, I've been reflecting on Easter just one short year ago and all that's changed since.
   Last year, as I frequently do, I spent Easter in Colorado.  My two sisters and I hit the road with our traveling circus of three kids, one large yellow Lab, and assorted luggage and headed to mom's house in Pueblo for the weekend.  That Saturday brought a house full of people, as my three stepsisters, their spouses and all of their children came down for a party.  We had an egg hunt for the kids and a cookout.  A picture taken of me that day with my sisters captured my happiness and contentment.  At that moment I was surrounded by things that make me happy.  The sun was shining, family was all around me, our kids were laughing and playing,  my sisters were by my side.  Life was good.

Keicha, Julie, Amy
April 2010
That evening was spent like most evening's when we gathered at mom's-- in the family room in front of the fireplace with the dogs, Phoenix and Buster at our feet.  Julie and I shared a bedroom that trip, sleeping in twin beds just a few feet apart from each other.  I remember that night, drifting off to sleep in mid-conversation with my sister, loving that  feeling of returning to childhood with my mom down the hall and my sister sleeping across from me barely an arm's length away.  It was that familiar, cozy feeling of being home, which was funny because I didn't grow up in that house, none of us did.  But home is all about the feeling of a place, not the actual location. 

   On Easter morning, the entire household was up and gathered in the living room, in our pajamas drinking coffee and reading the newspaper, the kids eating chocolate eggs from their Easter baskets.  Julie and I eventually roused ourselves and went for a run, 7 miles if I recall.  It would be the last time we ran together, but of course I didn't know it at the time.  We ran through the streets of Pueblo, her old stomping grounds.  As we ran, she talked about her time there during high school.  I asked her a lot of questions about what it felt like to move to a new town as a high school student.  Was she scared?  Did she miss her friends?  How hard was it to make new friends?  She told me things about that period of her life that she'd never shared with me before.  I learned so much about her during that run.  Our route took us past many places that had meaning to her.  She explained all the happy memories she had of running on the cross-country team, and of the really good friends she made at East High.  She talked about her gratitude to our stepdad Jim, and how he made the transition so much easier for her. 
   Later, after Easter dinner we all headed back towards Boulder.  Julie and I ended up driving together, while Amy took all the kids in her car.  Our good chat continued.  We talked about so many things we'd never talked about before.  At Castle Rock, we pulled off for a pit stop and got ice cream cones and fries at McDonalds.  We giggled at our unhealthy snack and the silly satisfaction we gained from giving in to such a ridiculous craving.  When we got home to Julie's apartment, I once again drug my suitcase up three long flights of stairs.  We both lamented the fact that despite being runners, the climb to her apartment was always hard on our quads!  Almost immediately, we changed into warm jackets and took her dog Phoenix to a nearby park to chase a tennis ball.  Looking back on that evening, I'm again struck at how such a seemingly inconsequential moment in life made me so happy.  There I was swinging on a swing set, talking to Julie in between her laps around the park with Phoenix.  The wind was blowing, but we were laughing and happy.  Inside, I felt light-hearted, free from worry.  Being in Colorado with my sisters always had that effect on me. 
   The next day, Julie went off to work and I headed back to Utah.  Our goodbyes were always matter-of-fact.  "Goodbye.  Thanks for coming out. I love you. See you soon."  Of course we would.  We just took it for granted.  At least I did.  Little did I know the next time I'd be back in her apartment, it would be to empty it of her belongings after her funeral.  That time the climb up those stairs didn't hurt just my quads.  It broke my heart. 
   So, this Easter is different for me. Instead of joy, I'm reminded of all that I've lost.  Going home to mom's for Easter is a thought I can't even bear.  I'm afraid of how different everything will be.  Julie is gone, Phoenix will no longer be a part of our road trips, even my mom's dog Buster is gone. He died four days after Julie.  So much has changed.  Having a sister missing from our comfortable group of three leaves an unfathomable void.  Her absence is always there, just under the surface.  Amy and I carry on, but now when we're together things seem just a little off-kilter.  We haven't adjusted to our new dynamic of only two sisters. 
   Eventually I'll go home again.  Just not this year.  We'll all make new happy memories of Easter at mom's.  For now, I try to focus on the memories and the good feelings they bring.  I've realized that happiness in life is made up of so many simple moments.  Times that aren't planned.  Conversations that just happen.  Cravings that are indulged.  Laughter that comes for almost no reason at all.  Those are the moments we carry in our hearts. 

*I wrote about this past year's Easter Weekend on my blog.  If you are interested, you may read about it here:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Meeting a Favorite Poet

I must make a confession.  I like to read poetry, but it is not my genre of choice for reading for pleasure.  I guess I have to be in the mood for poetry.  Some poems have really spoken to me over the years, and I treasure them.  Poetry can touch the soul when prose can't.  As a teacher, I never liked to teach poetry.  I could almost hear the students moan before we started a unit on poetry.  And yet, I also have learned much about life and about my students after we have read poetry together.  Poetry brings people together.  It speaks to soul and to the heart.  It helps us share our deepest feelings with each other.

Having said all that about not loving poetry, and yet loving how it has touched my life, I wish I could have expressed my feelings by writing this poem with this title:  "The Trouble With Poetry."   This link will take you to an informal reading by the former Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins.

Now, I must also confess I don't just love the poem, I have a huge crush on the poet.  Oh, ok, I fancied myself in love with Billy Collins at one time.

I heard Billy (I am taking the liberty of using his first name here) speak at a conference for English teachers about ten years ago.  I was enthralled with him and his writing as I listened to him read his poetry in his dry delivery style.  I went out and bought a bunch of his books.  I taught him when I had the chance.

Then, in 2007, my oldest daughter excitedly called me one day to announce that the school foundation board on which she served was bringing Billy Collins to town as their guest speaker for the annual author event fundraiser.  "Do you want to come over for it?" she asked.

The night of the big event, I was thrilled see that my daughter had a table for us right at the front of the room.  After the dinner, Billy read his poetry to his adoring fans.  It was then announced that he would sign books for those of us who had purchased his books.  Unfortunately, the book signing table was set up clear across the room from our table.  By the time I got in line with all my books and a flyer from the event for him to sign, there was already a big line.  My feet were killing me, but I stood dutifully waiting my chance to meet my favorite poet.

My daughter gave me her books to me to have them signed because she was stationed near Billy with her camera in hand so she could photograph the moment I would finally have with Billy.  Did I mention that I was at the very end of a very long line?  I think that by the time I got to Billy, my patience was worn thin, my feet were really killing me, my lipstick was long gone, and I probably really had to go to the bathroom.  Billy probably was also more than ready to be done with signing book after book long before my turn in line came.  Still, I was not deterred.  I would speak with Billy.  Maybe we could connect on some literary level.

I felt like a shy girl in high school when he took my books.  He didn't even look up when he asked what I wanted him to say.  He spoke so quietly, I had to lean over to hear him.  I thought perhaps I could chat him up.  I said, "I heard you speak in Colorado at an English teachers' conference a few years back."  He said, "I don't remember being there.  They all seem to run together."  He did look up as he spoke.  I had leaned over because I couldn't hear him.  My daughter snapped the picture.  She captured my moment on film.  I thanked him and walked away from the table a bit deflated.

My daughter came up to me and said, "Mom, I don't think you will want the photo.  Your cleavage really spilled out of your dress when you leaned over, you looked confused, and he looked bored."  I was mortified by my wardrobe malfunction, but at least I don't have to worry.  I am sure he will never remember.

I still adore Billy Collins and his poetry.  I have some books that he signed.  I kept the flyer he autographed.  I asked my daughter to destroy the photo.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Retired English Teacher: Self care

Retired English Teacher: Self care: "Love After Love The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mir..."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Self care

Love After Love
The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving
 at your own door, in your own mirror
 and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self. 
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, 
to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life. 
 ––Derek Walcott

The Photographs 
Spanning Many Years
Many Roles
~ The Sweet Fragrance of Childhood ~

Student on Trip to England with Professor
Teacher in Classroom

Wife of
High School Principal
Mother of Five Children
Grandmother of Seven

April is National Poetry Month

Grandmother at Journey into Elderhood (click on either word to find her blog) posted the poem above on her blog today.  I was reminded that I had posted this same poem in December of 2009.  I have added a few photos to that original blog entry and am reposting it today.  "Love After Love" is one of my favorite poems.  Just as it did in 2009, it speaks to me again of the importance of self care.  I continue on that journey of finding "that stranger who was yourself."

Repost of thoughts about this poem from blog entry posted in December of 2009:

We play many roles in this life.  As mothers, as sisters, as wives, as teachers, I think we don't always take good enough care of ourselves. Not only do we neglect ourselves, but we sometimes find that we have become "the stranger who was your self."

At the end of 2009, I am working on becoming reacquainted with my self. What do I really want to do with the remaining years that I have left? What is really important? What remains in my life, and what do I discard?

I hope to start taking down those "love letters from the bookshelf" and explore who I was, who I have become, and what it all means. The demands of motherhood, career, and professional responsibilities are now behind me. It will be interesting to see what choices I make in 2010.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April ~ The Cruelest Month?


To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

May 2010


I've long since quit trying to analyze poetry for a paper that must be written for a college course.  Now, I try to enjoy poetry for its own sake without digging too deeply.  Yet, I must ponder why this poem speaks to me as it does.  Is it the whole of the poem, or just parts that reach the deepest parts of the sadness I have experienced this month?

I think the beginning two lines speak the loudest to me.  Spring with its evidence of new life, re-birth, the cyclic nature of life has always been comforting to me.  The first sight of my beloved favorite flower, the daffodil, has always filled me with joy.  

Did I lose my innocence about life last spring?  Do those happy, sunny jonquils now mock me rather than lift my spirits?  Or, must I dig deeper in my soul to find comfort that no longer finds joy just by seeing the early blooming of those bulbs planted with such hope last fall?  

The poet is right.  Beauty is not enough.  April, for what purpose have you returned again?  

Julie In Ireland
Your coming has brought new grief to a heart that was healing.  It reminds me of how much I have lost.  It reminds me of that sunny little girl who was born on a beautiful day in April.  It reminds me that the last time I saw her was as year ago in April.  I associate her with daffodils.  They were blooming when she was born.  I had them carved into her headstone.  

Life brings its disappointments, its failures.  Life brings grief, and for some, it brings unspeakable heartbreak.  

The poet makes a statement, and then she asks a question:

It is apparent that there is no death.
What does that signify?

For me, the answer is: in this life, beauty is not enough.  Faith is.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

After A While

April is National Poetry Month.  I am dedicating this poem to my beautiful daughters who have had suffered so much loss this past year.  They are strong women who are dealing with much besides the loss of their dearly beloved sister.  This poem speaks to me about them and all they are learning.

Keicha, Julie, Amy
April, 2010
After A While You Learn
By Veronica A. Shoffstall

After a while you learn
The subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t always mean security.
And you begin to learn
That kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes ahead
With the grace of a woman
Not the grief of a child
And you learn
To build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is
Too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way
Of falling down in mid- flight
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much
So you plant your own garden
And decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers
And you learn
That you really can endure
That you are really strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
With every good bye you learn.

Julie's Tree

Planted Summer 2010
First bloomed 
April 8, 2011
On what would have been Julie's 35th Birthday

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Golden Girls - More Precious Than Gold

We're not the girls from the Ya Ya Sisterhood, but we are a bunch of chicks who became friends when were East High Eagles.  Our school colors were gold and white.  Our school was brand new when we first entered its doors as freshmen back in 1959.  Some of us came from the East side of Pueblo, Colorado, a steel town. The East side in those days was mostly made up of middle-class working families.  The rest of us came from Belmont, a new development that had sprung up on the Northeast side of Pueblo in the late 50's and early 60's.  We began social networking by passing notes in class, talking to each other in class, and eating together at lunch.  We bonded in pep club meetings or after school at the football and basketball games.  We went to sock hops, proms, and slumber parties together.

Then, we graduated from high school and went our separate ways.  We married.  We had kids, or not.  Some got divorced, some didn't.  Some married classmates the first-time around, while others, like myself married high school sweethearts the second-time around.  We are children of the '60's so we have all traveled very divergent paths.  

At least 30 years ago, two of the girls got together and decided to invite others from the class of '63 to join them for a get together.  They had so much fun, they decided to make it a regular event.  Thus, this special group of women started a tradition that becomes more precious as each year goes by.  Pam S and Shirley Boyce were the original two who began the group.  Shirley sadly passed away a number of years ago, but we all continue to meet three times a year.  We always lift a glass to remember Shirley, but sadly we are now naming others who have left us through death.

Yesterday, was our first meeting for this year.  Since Kathy M. missed the Christmas get together, we decided to have our spring meeting at her house.  That's what happens if you miss.  Your house gets selected for the next gathering.  Kathy was gracious enough to go along with our plans to have a party at her house.  This meant that she even sent her Abby Lynn to her neighbor's house to play with Molly while we had our party.

Kathy & Abby Lynn
with Molly and Molly's mom

I love the hugs my high school buddies give.  When I am greeted by them, I know I've been hugged.  I love laughing with my high school buddies because when I laugh with them, I know I have laughed.  We laugh often and loudly.  As soon as one of us walks through the door, there are hugs all around, and there is laughter and joy in the air.

As is tradition, we gather for our group shot before we do anything else.  We want to get that done while we still have our lipstick on and our hair is properly arranged.  Plus, we don't want to forget to take the group photo.  We have to have some way of remembering where we were last and who was there.

Speaking of remembering, it seems that Eileen couldn't remember where we had our Christmas party.  She said, she remembered we'd had a Christmas party but couldn't recall where.  "Eileen," I said, "we had it at your house!"  I told her I had pictures to prove it.  So, here are the photos from Christmas.

Eileen, your new kitchen is just wonderful.  You look great in it.

The table you set was just beautiful and very festive.  And we all loved the lamp that you brought back from Mexico.

Here's the group that gathered for Christmas.  We all don't make it to every get together.  We miss the ones that don't make it.  

In September, we had a school reunion for the first four classes of our high school.  Our group of girls got together for brunch and had a wonderful time because we had so many there that had traveled from out of state.

As is our tradition, we mix up margaritas so we can toast Shirley Boyce, one of the founders of the get together.  This time as we gathered, we also sadly remembered Judy who passed away late this fall after a hard fought battle with cancer.  Judy is sitting in the front row in both of these photos.  She is dressed in turquoise in both photos.  

The margarita glasses are all lined up and ready to be filled by our excellent drink mixer.

Val lends a hand and adds some humor to occasion.

Three of us are still virgins.  Well, anyway, we drank virgin margaritas.  I pointed out that the virgins are still fluffy while the rest of them are flat.

Three fluffy virgins

I guess you could say that Kathy M was our guest of honor.  She attended the get together for the first time.  She came all the way from Kansas to be with us.  I was so excited to see Kathy.  I'd not seen her for since high school.
Kathy X 2

Kathy X 3
A Kathy Sandwich

We always have lots of good food to go with our drinks and laughter.

Before we eat our meal, and after our group photo and toast, we gather in a circle and catch each other up on what we have been doing since our last gathering.

This group of women are the most caring and compassionate friends you could ever meet.  Some are now widows.  Some are in remission from cancer.  Others are caring for older parents.  Some are dealing with other heavy burdens that call for support and love.  We laugh and cry as we share our stories.  We are there for each other.  Pam reminded us that we can call a special meeting whenever we need the love and support of the others.  

When Judy was nearing the end of her life, many of the group drove to Pueblo to be with her in the hospital.  While they were at her bedside, it was determined that it was time to move her to hospice.  The girls traveled to hospice to be with her in her final hours.  We have promised each other that we will do this for each other.  These girls are good for their word.

We met at 10:30 in the morning.  We ate hor d'orevres, took photos, shared our latest news, and then we ate dinner.  Kathy, as hostess, prepared the main dish.  It was delicious pulled pork and beef brisket.  We had wonderful salads and side dishes to go with it.  We also had three different luscious desserts.  As I looked around at my dear high school friends as we gathered around the table to share some food, my mind went back to high school.  I remembered sitting in the school cafeteria with these same girls.  I remember that they would remember each other on birthdays when we were in high school by bringing a cake to school to be shared at lunch.  I'm sure none of us ever imagined that we would continue to gather all these years later to share some food, laughter, and friendship.  But here we are, nearly 50 years after we graduated from high school still enjoying each other.  

We are all the same girls.  We haven't changed.  That is what I love.  I look in each girl's eyes, and I see my high school girl friend.  She is still there.  She is still young at heart.  We still laugh at our silly jokes.  We still get out of control with our girlhood sense of fun.  We also cry with each other because we love each other.  We treasure the time we have together.  These friendships have stood the test of time.

Conversation over dessert

Finally, at 5:00, after setting the place and date for our next meeting, we reluctantly begin to gather our things to go home.  It is hugs all around again.  We say our good-byes.  Our hearts are all a little lighter because we have laughed, we have cried, and we have again been blessed by the gift of friendship.

My East High School Girls of '63 are the best!  
They are the golden girls.
They are more precious than gold.