Friday, September 16, 2011

Give Me A Break

A few years ago, when we finally retired, or should I say when we officially retired,
my husband and I took a cruise to Alaska to celebrate.
We were so excited.
I look like I'm on drugs in the photo above, but really, I wasn't.
My husband looks as if he can barely contain his excitement just as we boarded our cruise ship.
We had a great time on our wonderful trip.

We aren't going on a cruise, 
but we are taking a break for a few weeks.
 I've never really taken a blog break before.  
I will really miss keeping up with all my blogging friends, 
but for the next few weeks, access to the computer and time to write will be limited. 
 I'll catch up with you all when I get back from our break.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just Do The Next Thing

Oldest son on his 206 mile journey
Ryan and his support team
He took it one mile at a time.
Those words, "Just do the next thing." have been given to me as advice twice this week.  When I hear something new, something I have not heard before, I always sit up and take note.  Sometimes, I don't even know that I need to hear something until I hear it, then the soundness of the tidbit of wisdom being imparted in just a simple phrase will resonate with me for days.

I love plain, uncomplicated, straightforward advice.  I love phrases that stick in my head, guiding my way through a jungle of mixed up emotions, reactions, thoughts and concerns.  I tend to use these simple instructions, such as "Just do the next thing." as my go to guides when I am navigating unknown territories of life.  They become a mantra in my head.  They guide me forward when I don't know what to do and want to crumble into a heap on the floor.

When I was working and faced with bins full of journals to read, stacks of essays, research papers and book reports to be graded, and a blank lesson plan book that need to filled with lessons for the next week, and long range goals and objectives to meet, I would get through it all by listening to my father's words that lived in my head, "Just get through it one paper at a time."

Recently, nearly fifteen months into my journey through grief, I asked myself how I would ever keep on this road of recovery.  It seemed the journey had gone on way too long.  I looked down the road that spanned through the rest of my lifetime and asked myself how I would ever go on feeling this hole in my heart that seemed would never be filled.  The road before me suddenly seemed way too long.  It seemed like a much longer journey than I had anticipated.

The answer to how I would travel that long road came to me this past Sunday when I attended a grief recovery support group.  It came, almost as an afterthought, the last item on a list of seven suggestions for living with grief.  A brief phrase was given: "Just do the next thing."  That certainly doesn't seem like some powerful, life changing adage, but it was for me in that moment.  At that moment, that statement did become a simple expression of a general truth on how to successfully complete my journey through grief.  I came away from the meeting feeling renewed and inspired.

The next day, I had an appointment with a spine specialist.  The news was not good.  My problems with my lumbar region and my cervical area on the spine are worse than I thought.  Injections are the only answer for my pain and mobility.  I have tried everything else; there is nothing else to try.  There is nerve damage.  That can't continue.  If the injections don't work, I will most likely be looking at surgery.  I just could not take this news in.  I was overwhelmed with the thought of what was ahead when it comes to living with this literal pain in my backside and in my neck.

The next day, my wise counselor said, "Sally, when you are looking at such medical issues as you are, you can't look too far down the road.  You must just ask yourself, "What is the next thing?  Then do it."  I must have looked a bit shocked because I remember just staring at her.  She went on to say that MRIs and X-rays always look worse than symptoms might be.  She encouraged me to just do the next thing.  Have the injections, then see what happens from there.  Take it one day at a time.  Just do the next thing. Finally, I told her that this was the second time in three days that I had heard that advice.

I am listening.  I am incorporating that phrase into my response to the issues of life.  She reminded me that in my professional life, I was a planner, one who got things done, one who looked down the road and anticipated what must be done and did it.  Life in general cannot always be lived that way.  Life happens.  We suffer loss.  We deal with health issues.  We get hit with things we never dreamed would cross our path in this life.

Today, I go in for another health related test.  I will have my second GI procedure in a week.  I am just taking it moment by moment.  I must rush off now because I must do the next thing: take a shower.  Then I will take the drive with my husband to the medical center.  When I get there, I will do the next thing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11/01 - Teaching During Tragedy

There are two events in history that are forever linked in my mind to Room 509, the room where I taught high school English.  Those two events are Columbine and 9/11. I was in the classroom teaching when both these events burst upon the national scene and changed our lives forever.

When such terrible tragedy occurs while one is teaching, the role of being a teacher takes over.  I found that I could not allow myself the luxury of fully experiencing my own shock and grief during either event because I had a responsibility to help my students process and understand what was happening without causing them to become even more confused and afraid because of the way I presented myself.  I had to be strong for them.  I had to reassure them that we were safe.  I had to make sure that they knew that I would be in charge of our little corner of the world while I tried to help them make sense of what was happening.  I could not give in to panic.  I could not cry uncontrollably.  I could not go into some sort of stunned shutdown.  I had to manage my classroom and look after my students.

I will never forget the morning of 9/11.  I was at the front of my classroom standing at my podium taking roll for my first period class when I notice a colleague  who did not teach first period standing outside my row of classroom windows that looked out into the library.  She seemed terribly upset, shaken.  She was the drama teacher afterall, but her distress seemed extreme and quite real.  I walked to the door at the back of the room and quietly asked if something was wrong.  "Some SOBs have just flown air planes into the Twin Towers in New York City," she said.  "Does your television work?  Turn it on.  We're under attack."

"I can't just go back in there and turn on my t.v. and watch New York being attacked by air," I said.  "Find out if this is true and what is really happening.  Surely, we will hear from administration if this is true.  Surely, they will come and tell us what is happening."  "Don't be too sure," she said.  "You know how teachers are the last to know."

True.  We were the last to find out what was really going on.  Within no time at all, parents were showing up at the school and taking their kids home.  I had turned the television on by then to try and get some news.  I had decided that it was better that the students heard what was going on from a news source in an environment where I had some control.  I would be able to help them make sense of what was happening.  I asked the students to get out their journals to write about their emotions.  I told them to write down their questions that still lingered as to what was really happening.  I said it was important to record what they were seeing happen.  I encouraged them to write their emotions out.  I offered to read and discuss privately what they had written.   It seemed to be the only thing I could do that would help the students make sense of a world that had suddenly exploded before their eyes.  Perhaps, my approach was wrong.  I tried to keep communication open.  I tried to reassure.  I tried to comfort.  I was not ever told how to hand such a thing in any of my teacher ed classes.

I had not taken into account that our principal would finally come on the P.A. with the following announcement:  "Teachers, you are to turn off your televisions.  You are to follow the lesson plans you have for today.  Any news that needs to be relayed to you and your students will come from the office.  Do not excuse any student from your classroom unless they are sent for by the office.  Do not allow your students to leave your classroom."

He was a former social studies teacher.  Somehow, he didn't think it was appropriate that we watch history being made during class time.  Somehow, he didn't think the delivery of the curriculum should be adjusted to use the current event topic as a writing prompt.  We were to stay on task.  There would be no television watching in his school.

Ironically, in my tenth grade English classes we were to read, Contents of a Dead Man's Pockets that day. (Click on the story title to read the story yourself.)  The story is about a man who goes after a piece of paper that flies out of a window in a skyscraper.  He actually goes out on the ledge of the building to go after the paper.

So, while New York City was under attack, and while the people of New York were facing untold horror, we read about a guy stuck on a ledge of a skyscraper.  I don't know when a story seemed more real than the one we read that day.  I don't know when a story generated more discussion that seemed to really fit what was going on around us.

It is ironic to me that I now see much on the internet on how teach today's students about 9/11.  I am not sure that even now after all these ten years I know that how I handled what I taught my students about what was happening before our very eyes was appropriate.  I don't know that I am able to make sense of what happened that day any better today than I could then.  I only know that I wanted my students to know that when it appears the world is falling down around you, it is important to pull together, talk to each other, support each other, and to help each other feel less afraid.

We all lost a measure of innocence that day.  Life as we knew it changed.  The unthinkable had happened.  I remembered the bomb drills that we had practiced when I was a child in elementary school during the early 50's when we hid under our desks, or lined up in the hallway with our head tucked between our knees.  Those fears of being bombed had been left behind in the 50's.  Now, in the first year of the new millennium, I found myself teaching in a classroom while watching air planes attack the center of New York City.  I still am not sure any of us can ever teach others what that meant to us personally or to our nation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Retirement Options?

We didn't have plans for Labor Day, so I suggested to my husband that we wash windows.  Finally, at about 11:30 in the morning, we got started on the project.  After all, we had our morning routine to follow: drink coffee, read the paper, check e-mail, etc.  I had hoped we might not take all morning doing "our morning thing."  I didn't say anything to my hubby about needing to step on it so we could get the windows done.  After all, I am a smart woman.  I wanted his help.  

When he finally presented himself to where I had assembled all the window washing equipment, he said, "I was taking this morning as an end of vacation day.  Tomorrow I figure I'll go back to retirement."  

That's what is so great about retirement; now we have options.  Sometimes, I get confused on the difference between a vacation day, and a retirement day, but my husband seems to have figured out that there is a difference.

I felt a little bad asking him to help me work on a vacation day, Labor Day at that.  At least he has retirement to look forward during the rest of this week and next before we actually go on vacation. 

Cleaning windows is not an easy job.  We had to move furniture, vacuum, clean screens, dust out and wash window sills.  My helper was no slacker when he got down to business.

By the way, we only got half the windows done.  We had to stop because we were so tired, and our backs, hips, shoulders, and wrists were killing us.  Hopefully, the bottom half of the house will get clean windows soon.

P.S.  Dove, if you read this, we do windows.  If you really need us to help you with windows while we are visiting you on vacation, we will.  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Snippets of Summer

Summer Snippets 
Fragments of Time Spent Together
Small Treasures Stored 
As Precious Memories 

Time spent in Colorado with Grandma and Grandpa wouldn't be complete without

sliding down the big rock in Manitou,
trying some Manitou water,
and eating ice cream in Old Colorado City.
These times become very special memories to treasure.

Once everyone gets to Grandma's and Grandpa's house, there is only one thing on our minds:
"Let's go jump!"

Trampoline time with the cousins is always so much fun.
The trampoline is a place to share special conversations, a place where cousins can catch up on things.
A place to perfect new tricks.

The trampoline is where the kids go as soon as they crawl out of bed in the morning.

Bed is a blow-up mattress in the living room.
Three cousins can fit on it sideways.
Hannah opts for the couch.

It is almost a ritual.
Get up.
Walk out to the trampoline.
Once everyone is in place,
grab hands,
and jump.

Good morning, world!

Now let's go make some pancakes.
Mason, master chef, is teaching Gillian how to make pancakes from scratch.
Mason was born just 36 hours before Gillian.

This summer only two siblings were able to be together
at Mom's house.
They spent a few days at their sister Amy's before coming down to Mom's.
Amy had to work, so she missed all the fun, 
or maybe she just had some great peace and quiet.

The patio, built by Jon, in Julie's Garden
is designed to be a nice place to rest between jumping times on the trampoline.

This year, the nest on Grandma's front porch is a huge attraction.

The babies hatched just in time so Mama Bird could show them off to the grandchildren.

The two youngest grandchildren,
born a month apart,
received matching bears on their first Christmas.
Guess which one has been half way around the world twice.

Way too soon, the few days we had together were over.
Jonathan, Samantha, and Atticus posed for a family photo before heading back to Boston.

Soon after they left,
Keicha packed up the car so she could drive back to Utah.
Cousin time wasn't quite over yet.
She took Hannah and Mason to Utah with her so they could spend the week with their other cousins in Utah.  This year Grandma didn't come along.

My husband has a saying when it comes to visits from the grandchildren.
"The headlights are always wonderful,
but the taillights are even better."

Teary eyed, after hugs all around,  with my head full of wonderful memories, I head back to the house towards mountains of laundry!  That keeps me busy for a few days. 
 I then remember something my father always said, 
"I'm not wired for kids anymore."  
He was right.
The visits are grand.
It is also good to know that my children are now adults with lives of their own to live.
I have snippets of  summer caught in wonderful snapshots 
to remind me of those precious times we have together.

I'm amazed at how much the grandchildren have grown and grateful that we've all come so far since last year's Bittersweet Summer.

*Many of these beautiful photos were taken by my daughter Keicha.  Others were taken by my husband.  Thanks for capturing the memories.