Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We've Got This

It is the beginning of a new school year.

This time of year has always been one of my favorites. It signals the time to hit Target and load up on 3 ring binders, college-ruled paper, mechanical pencils, colorful folders, and the promise of jobs well-done. 

It signals the time to purchase that first day of school outfit, brand new tennis, and a few other clothing essentials that one needs to begin a new school year.

The new school year means a brand new slate, new goals, fresh beginnings.

I get excited just thinking about it.

That’s what I miss the most from teaching — that first day excitement. 

Roy, Jace and I spent this past weekend loading up on first day “essentials.” We hit Sam’s Club and Academy Sports and Kohl’s. Jace is well-prepared in the area of clothing; we kind of skipped over the supplies, however. I’ll get those tomorrow as his first day is Thursday.

We registered Jace last week and the school sent him home with a brand new MacBook. It is still sitting on his dresser in anticipation.

Well, I’m “anticipating…” Jace? Not so much. He claims he will miss these lazy days of freedom — sleeping in, hanging out, long hours with nothing to do…

But I think that secretly he’s excited. And if he isn’t….well, I’m excited enough for the both of us.

Jace chose to join sports this year. He intends to play basketball but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him throw a couple more sports in the arena once he starts. But joining the sports program is a big decision. It entails arriving at the school gym by 6:00 every morning for calisthenics and practice. 

I do believe that will teach some kids a few things about discipline — my kid being one of them.

I’m happy for him. And I’m happy for his teachers.

And I am especially happy about cheering for Jace at his games — even if he’s just sitting on the bench. Tami (my sister) and I talked about how we are going to get special shirts made that have Jace’s name on them so that whenever we are at the games, the crowd will know we are there to REPRESENT.

Jace was super excited about that idea. When we told him, he just shook his head and walked away. I’m sure he was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Students will be coming back to Southwestern this next week as well. It’s rather quiet in our office during the summer, so we are all ready for some energy in our hallways and on our campus. 

As this new year begins, I have many things to anticipate:

   *Tami and Chas will be moving into their brand new home which is almost completed. I can see their garage door from my porch and we are eager for them to be our neighbors. Frankly, I can’t wait. In fact, most evenings Tami and I meander through their house to see the progress. Change is subtle now as it’s just the details: light fixtures, electricity — that sort of thing. We are all anticipating our side-by-side future together.

   *A cruise. Roy and I have booked a cruise for the end of January in celebration of our 30 year anniversary which we just hit on August 2. We are both counting the days.

   *Fall. It’s my favorite time of year. Of course, I say that about just about every season right before it rolls around. But that’s okay. It keeps me looking forward.

   *Holidays. As I get older, the holidays get sweeter. I still have my parents; Sav and G will head home for a few days; Darian will be here as well. What’s not to love?

And so, even though I’m not in the classroom, I’m still excited about all the promise that a brand new school year brings. Bring on the sharpened pencils, creative projects, red ink and furrowed brows.


We’ve got this.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Photos to Prove It

It’s 6:00 in the morning and Darian just pulled away, headed for Southern — a 13 hour drive by herself.

I’m not sure when this happened, when she grew up, when she became so independent and fierce and capable.

It seems like yesterday we listened carefully to understand her because of her speech impediment. I can remember my dad saying, exasperated, every time we visited for a few years: what did she say?? And Savana would translate.

One time a friend of mine rode in the car with six year old Darian for two hours, and Darian chattered away for the entire ride while I drove separately. When we arrived at our destination, my friend said, “She talked the entire ride and I didn’t understand a single word!”

But after a year of intensive speech therapy when Darian was a little first grader, she learned to say her r’s and her sh’s and now she can talk with the best of them.

When Jace was two years old, our computer crashed, taking a ridiculous amount of photos with it from his first two years of life. It was a hard lesson — that a computer isn’t dependable and backup is always needed in order to preserve photos. 

And so we bought a hard drive and began to transfer photos to it from then on. However, I have been embarrassingly irresponsible with those photos. I haven’t uploaded them to a cloud or printed them off for photo albums. I haven’t scrapbooked them. They have just patiently waited on the hard drive for “someday.”

Yesterday, Darian bought a brand new computer and she began the process of transferring photos from a spare hard drive to the new computer. I was inspired.

And so Roy and I together hunted through boxes and shelves, searching for the hard drive. We finally found it, tucked away underneath Darian’s bed in a blue storage container. I pulled it out of the box, hooked it up to the laptop, and began going through old photos and videos that I haven’t seen in years.

Jace dragging his high chair over to the counter so that he could climb up and get crackers at 18 months

Savana’s surprise 13th birthday party when we first moved to Keene eleven years ago

Jace dressed up like a firefighter for his kindergarten end of the year party

Darian holding Jace and grinning up at the camera with those braces that she wore for probably five years

Feeding the goats at the Wisconsin zoo

And it continues. So many memories, so many good times encapsulated in a hard drive.

Roy and I are going to get another hard drive to back up these years of photos before it’s too late. And I am going to figure out a way to organize these photos so that I can actually see time passed in action rather than wondering what happened to all of the years.

It’s funny how our minds work, how time begins to fly the older we get. Now, when I look ahead and think, in twenty years, I’ll be 70…that seems like nothing at all. And yet…70? That number sounds scary. That’s when people start edging towards old age, towards health issues, and slowing down.

Recently I was thinking about how, when my girls turn 40, that will seem kind of crazy. And I realized that when Savana is 40, I’ll be 65. That doesn’t sound so bad. That sounds youthful actually — like I’ll be in the prime of my life.

65 sounds better than 70. I have learned that “old” gets older the older we get. 

When I was Houston, I ran into James — one of my students from Wisconsin who, of course, is now all grown up, a dad and in his late 30’s. I haven’t seen him since he was just a kid, and now he has some gray hair shining through and it’s evident he’s not a teen anymore. But we talked about how we all feel the same on the inside really, at our core. It’s our bodies — our hands, our hair, our outward physique — that change. Our age doesn’t count nearly so much when it comes to the inside.

Darian is probably hitting Alvarado right about now. She’s listening to Pandora because we still have unlimited data so she can listen to her heart’s content. She’ll arrive at Southern this evening around 8:00 and she’ll gather with her boy and with friends and together they will eat out and laugh and tell stories and catch up. She’ll have a delightful time.

She’ll probably call me at some point, to say that she’s okay, and to give me an update.

She’s all grown up now. 

And I have the photos to prove it.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

No Place Like Home

We are home.

It has been an amazing week of soaking in the sun, laughing at Sea World, eating out way too much, and splashing in the ocean. 

Our week began last Saturday. We loaded up the car and headed out bright and early for South Padre Island — Roy’s old stomping grounds. As it was Day One, everyone was chipper and chatty and filled with anticipation for the ensuing days which promised all kinds of adventure. We even bought a month’s worth of unlimited data so that Jace could watch Netflix to his heart’s content in the car. (Darian spent her time reading…) The only thing that dampened the eight hour trip was a ticket in a small town from a small town policeman who had nothing better to do than sit behind a grove of trees and watch for unsuspecting travelers. Behind his back, Roy called him Barney Fife with his wobbly gun and single bullet. 

Gotta love small town policemen. Keene is full of them.

We spent a couple of days in South Texas, loading up on family (Roy’s brother and “second parents” live there), beach and ocean, and seafood. (Ew.)

And then we headed for San Antonio and experienced the riverwalk (a river that flows underneath the city that has been turned into 15 miles of shopping and dining along the riverway). Jared, my adorable nephew who just started med school, joined us for dinner and then headed off to study. We also visited Sea World and swam in the pool at our motel. This pool was an amazing creation—spanning both indoor and outdoor with two hot tubs. It proved a perfect ending to our days.

Finally, we headed over to Houston as I had to work at a convention and host an alumni event at a local Houston restaurant. The kids and Roy visited NASA, played in the pool, and enjoyed some cousin time (as Tami, Lori and Mom were there). By the time we headed for home on Friday afternoon, we were all eager to  get back into our regular.

Vacationing is splendid - no doubt about it. But the truth of it is…


…there is no place like home.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Family of Wrens

A few weeks ago, I noticed a little wren hopping around one of my hanging flower pots on my back porch. That evening, I went outside to water my flowers, as I do every evening, and just as I raised the watering can up to the pot, the little wren frantically flew out, barely missing my face. I peered inside the plant and sure enough…there lay a perfectly constructed nest, nestled in between the plants’ branches.

A few days later, three little eggs were deep inside the nest. By this time, however, I learned to let the wren know I was approaching her home in order to avoid dodging her frantic exit. 

Though watering my plant proved a bit cumbersome in terms of not disturbing the nest, I have enjoyed watching this little wren over the past few weeks. She and her partner were dutiful parents, feeding their babies constantly and chirping frantically when anyone was on the back porch…which happened quite a lot, I might add.

A couple of evenings ago, Tami was hanging out on the porch while I watered my plants. I did my usual routine as I approached the plant with the little family of birds. However, the mama bird no longer resided with her babies. She stopped by regularly to feed them, and definitely kept a close eye…but she was rarely in the plant as her babies fully inhabited the nest by themselves. But this time as I approached and started to water the flowers, a bird frantically flew out, barely missing my face.

“It’s one of the babies!” Tami exclaimed. 

And sure enough. The baby flew out, landed on the porch, hopped underneath the grill, and began to wildly chirp in its distress.

Both of my cats were hanging out on the porch as well, as they typically do, and, their interest perked, they both made a mad dash towards the grill, their eyes wide with delight:

Dinner.

Tami and I flew into action — scooping up the cats, throwing them in the house, and launched a mission to save the baby and get it back in its nest where it belonged.

But that baby bird? She just wasn’t having it.

She hopped and flew and chirped her way around the yard. Her little wings weren’t quite ready to launch so she couldn’t go far, and it was clear that she was tiring of this game as we were in hot pursuit. I finally got a lightweight kitchen towel and Tami threw it on her, quickly grabbed her and wrapped her up so there was no escape.

We gently placed her back in the nest, swaddling the plant with the towel so that she couldn’t escape, and waited.

Once it was quiet, I removed the towel and peered inside. There she was — huddled deep inside the nest with her siblings, comfy and cozy and safe.

Ah - success.

The next day, the parents were going crazy with all of their hopping around the plant and frantic chirping. It was clear that they were doing their best to entice their babies out of the nest. And so, once again, we locked the cats inside and waited.

By noon, the nest was deserted. I spied some wrens in the large tree in our yard, chirping away and flying from branch to branch. But by that evening? Perfectly quiet. No wrens in sight.

I will miss the little family the dwelled within my flowers. But I must say, my face feels much safer now.

And I’m grateful for that.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

My Every Day

Lately, my days are lazy and long. By the time I get home from work, the evening stretches before me like a gift. Darian is home from camp and I have her for a whole two weeks before she flies off for another adventure with the boy. 

Once home, I make supper for the kids and then join them at the table while they eat, laughing and chatting away about nothing and everything. About the time the dishes are done, Tami bops in from checking out her house. 

“Doesn’t anyone want to see the paint? The walls are done,” she’ll say. Or, “Hey, our cabinets are in! I want to know what you think…” …or a litany of other things.

Her house is in the final stages now and it won’t be long before they are truly our next door neighbors.

I can’t wait.

Most evenings, Tami and I walk over together to inspect the progress on the house and talk about various aspects. It’s beautiful. It will be a fun place to visit.

Every day.

Afterwards, we change clothes and head out on our walk down Pecan Street. Most evenings, Craig is out working on his cars and he will holler something obnoxious at us. Tami is quick to holler back and I just grin and wave. Tami has been friends with Craig and Missy since time began, I think, so she knows them well. Once in awhile, Carlos will be out working on his house and we will wave as we walk by. “Hey, Carlos!” He waves back enthusiastically and I always feel a bit badly for him because I know he doesn’t remember our names. It’s all good. The only reason I remember his is because I purposefully wrote it down after I met him so that it would be engrained in my head.

Carlos and his wife Joleen (like the song) recently moved here from Illinois and they are busily remodeling their home.  We met them recently when they rode their bikes down to check out the new house being built at the end of the street. They are cute neighbors.

We walk down to where the street deadends, do a loop around the block, and then head back down the street towards home. 

Repeat.

Piper joins us for the first loop, but when we head off for the second, he pulls toward home. He’s had enough of that Texas heat, thank you very much, he says.

When the sun is just beginning to sink over the horizon and dusk has settled in for the evening, Tami and I head out to my back porch to water my plants. She hangs in one of the rocking chairs with her tall glass of ice water and talks to Piper, occasionally throwing his ball, while I fill up my watering can and soak my flowers for a bit. A little bird has built a nest in one of hanging pots and has five little babies that have hatched in there. I always rattle the pot a bit before I water it as otherwise she flies out frantically when she spies my presence and has almost hit my face a few times.

That’s fun.

After a bit, Tami and I head back in and settle down for a game or two…or three…of Rumikub. It’s my favorite game and if you haven’t played, you should. If anyone is around that enjoys games, they’ll join us. We laugh and accuse each other of cheating and play until we’ve had enough or until it’s after 10:00 — whichever comes first. And then Tami grabs her keys and heads out the door for the night.

And I head to bed.

I don’t seem to accomplish much during these lazy days. Sometimes I work on my photo albums as I literally have 15 years of photos that need to be organized.

Yeah.

15 years.

Since Jace was born.

And sometimes I may watching an episode of something, or read a couple of chapters in my latest book.

I’ve been known to throw in a load of laundry or two…or do a few other housekeeping chores.


But mainly I am just relishing my days, and giving thanks for the bounty of goodness that has become my every day.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A New Day

Harvest happens every year towards the end of May or early June when the fields of wheat are golden, waving lazily in the breeze. Some of my earliest memories center around harvest time. I remember long days at my grandparents’ homes while Dad and Grandpa Nick were out in the fields from early morning until way past sunset, the purr of the combine engines rolling over the hills. 

I remember loading up the car with plates laden high with mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and cucumber salad and quart jars filled to the brim with iced tea and driving down country roads to the fields to feed Dad and Grandpa who would perch themselves on pickup truck gates and talk about how much wheat the harvest would yield while the san glared down and red dirt squished between my toes.

I remember wading out into the fields of waving wheat with Grandpa and Dad. They would pluck a kernel of wheat from the field and bite into it, determining whether it was ready to harvest or not. I tried that one time. But only once.

I remember the old truck with the deep bed that Grandpa had and when the combines were bulging with wheat, I would sit on the seat beside Grandpa while he drove over to the combine and together we watched kernels of wheat spill into the bed of the truck until the truck was filled to the brim. And then I would ride with him to Thomas, bouncing along on that old vinyl seat, sitting up tall so that I could see over the dash to the country road beyond us. When we got to the grainery, they unloaded the wheat and then Grandpa and I bounced back in that old truck, parked along the side of the wheat field, and waited for the next load. That grainery still sits in Thomas, its silver silos reaching to the sky, and every time I see it, I remember with a smile.

As the years went by, Grandpa retired that old truck and companies were hired to come in and complete the job while Grandpa and Dad watched from the sidelines. Many times during my teen and early adult years, I visited Grandma during harvest. And several times a day we would get in the pickup and head down to the fields, parking on the outskirts. Together we hung out there in the pickup, windows down, dust blowing, and watched the combines lazily driving in circles. Golden waves of wheat were cut down, leaving short stubby stalks that Grandpa and Dad would later till up from the ground, leaving rows of fresh red dirt, smooth and soft from the plowing. 

Sometimes, late at night, Grandma would say, “I wonder if they are still in the fields. Let’s go check.” And so we would go, and then watch the headlights of the combines circling in the darkness.

When harvest was over, conversation buzzed about the yield — whether there was enough rain, or too much rain. Of course, when we asked Dad about harvest in recent years, it was always a bust. “I’m not sure why you still go to the trouble, Dad, as clearly it never makes you any money,” I’ve said more times than I can count.

“I don’t know either,” Dad always replies.

But he knows. Deep down inside? He knows. It’s the land. Farming runs through his veins. Throughout my growing up years, Dad worked as a superintendent of public schools and then later as the State Director of Regional Educational Service Centers. However, every weekend he loaded up and headed to the farm where he plowed fields and counted cattle and talked wheat. I often went with him, hanging out with Grandma Nick while Dad wrangled barbed wire and drove the tractor. When Dad retired, he and Jo built their home on the very land where he was born, bulldozing his childhood home and building on top of it. And through the years, Dad has continued to  farm. 

I love going home. I love that Dad still lives on the land of my childhood. I love freshly plowed  red dirt, grazing cattle, and lazily waving wheat fields. 

I love harvest time, even when I’m not there to gaze in wonder.

For the past few years, Dad has threatened to give it all up. “I’m gettin’ old,” he claims, “and Jo has to do too much of the work by herself.” But we never believed his threats. It’s who Dad is. He is a farmer, a man of the land.

But this year Dad made good on his threats. He brought in the harvesters for the very last time. He has rented out his land and sold his equipment. Harvest time for the Nicholas family has officially met its end.

I’m not sure what to make of that actually. In fact, I’ve known this for a few weeks and yet I haven’t been able to quite put in words what it signifies for all of us — for my sisters, for our children. It’s the end of a legacy really.

I call Dad every Sunday evening and chat with him for awhile. The Sunday after harvest was over and after the last of the equipment had been driven off of Dad’s land, I was talking to Dad. “How does that make you feel?” I asked.

And pretty much Dad summed it up best when, without missing a beat, he replied…

Like hell.

When life brings change, sometimes sudden, sometimes subtle, we can balk, fight against the inevitable. Or we can look back with a smile while looking forward with a grateful heart-- at a beckoning future that forges a new way.

I am so grateful for my roots that are deeply planted in Oklahoma land -- in land that has been in our family since well before my birth. I am grateful for its heritage. 

I am grateful for memories of wheat and and cattle and red dirt.

I am grateful for harvest time.

But like Dad says...sometimes the reality of change, of a new day...

Sometimes it's just hell.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Remember Who You Are

We all have chains:

Religion
Family ties
Traditions
Beliefs

The list continues.

For many of us, we are born into certain chains. It could be that our family expects us to continue the religious practices that have been part of the family heritage. Or it could be that we are expected to marry within our culture, or our race…

And then there are the chains of relationships. We may be emotionally chained to people who don’t challenge us to be our best selves, or who keep us crippled and small.

We may be chained by fundamentalism…by our political affiliations…by our views on sexuality.

We may be chained in ways we don’t even recognize.

I discovered this concept of chains about six years ago. Now I will say, just because I discovered this concept does not mean I wasn’t bound. Quite the opposite actually. Six years ago I began a quest to rip off the chains and I have never looked back.

As a result of this, my parenting of Jace has been radically different from what the girls experienced. And it shows…sometimes in beautiful ways…sometimes in ways that make me shake my head a bit.

But that’s okay. Jace has a kind heart and in my opinion, that’s what matters most.

On Sunday, Roy and I drove Jace to the Dallas Love Field Airport where he flew to summer camp at Nosoca Pines Ranch – a small camp nestled in the woods of South Carolina. He was filled with nervous anticipation at the reality of flying alone: Tell me again how I find my luggage? Who is meeting me there? How do I know he’ll be there?

When Jace is anxious, the questions fly like bullets, repetitively. But I patiently answered over and over: Just follow the signs for Baggage Claim; if you’re confused, ask someone! DJ will meet you there…you’re going to be just fine, Jace.

Jace has attended this camp since he was 8 years old and it’s one of the highlights of his year. He eagerly looks forward to the next summer with anticipation from the first day back home once his fun-filled week is over. But this will most likely be his last summer to enjoy camp as a camper. So, in order to make the most of it, and get the most out of his plane ticket, he is there for two weeks of specialty camps: water sports and basketball.

As I hugged Jace goodbye one final time, just before he entered that long hallway that leads to the entrance of the plane, I whispered in his ear: Remember who you are.

Because Jace is 15 (as of next Sunday).

Because 15 year olds often forget who they are as their brains quit working quite a lot.

I know. I taught them for over 20 years.

But I also know that when you dive in deep, when you unmask the silliness and the off the cuff comments, kind hearts and deep thoughts emerge. And that, my friends, is what kept me in the classroom for many years – the unveiling of kids’ true selves: selves that are kind and compassionate with budding dreams just on the horizon.

Sometimes, we work hard to keep our teenagers in chains. We are anxious for them to adopt our ways, to be molded in our traditions. But teens don’t like chains. They, by nature, fight against them and question their logic. As a result, teens develop quite a reputation for their headstrong, ruthless ways.

But now that I’m a tad bit older, and hopefully a hair bit wiser, I embrace these questions. My philosophy is, please ask. Research and study and figure it out for yourself. Get to know yourself and learn what you believe in, where your passions lie, who you want to be.

Because in the end? That’s all that matters.

Yesterday I talked to Jacque for a bit. She is a teacher so she’s a bit freer these days as she’s on summer break. Our conversation drifted a million directions, as it always does. And somewhere in there, she shared this quote, penned by the late Psalm Isadora:

“The people making you feel guilty for going your own way and choosing your own life are simply saying, ‘Look at me. I’m better than you because my chains are bigger.’ It takes courage to break those chains and define your own life.”

I know that I am still bound by chains. We all are. It’s part of being human. But I am wise enough now to embrace the questions, to recognize that sometimes we don’t have answers, that being kind and living with compassion creates our best lives.

Sometimes, like everyone else in this world, I need the gentle reminder:

Just remember who you are.