Thursday, November 16, 2017

Deep Inside

I was in the classroom for about twenty years. 

I loved it.

I built relationships with students that today I call my friends. Teaching consumed pretty much every aspect of my life in those days: planning lessons that I hoped would be inspiring; grading on evenings and weekends; worrying about troubled kids; scheming about classroom management…the whole gamut.

When I got out of teaching in 2015, a piece of me was torn: will I be happy? Education is all I have ever known - my entire life. 

But surprise…I was actually happy! I loved my job at Buncombe County. 

And yet…

A piece of me longed for the classroom. I missed relationships with students, first day jitters, planning fun activities. I missed the long days of summer.

When we first moved to Texas, I determined to get my teacher certification up to date so that I could have the option of getting back into the classroom if I ever chose that route again. And so, I gathered all of my preliminary certificates together (from California and Oklahoma), wrote out a check for $175, and sent it in to the Texas teacher certification agency in February 2016.

And then I received an email stating that I had not included a standard teaching certificate from any state and that, in order for certification to be granted, I needed to send one in or else my only option would be to take my transcripts to a university and have them evaluated in order for the university to clear me for teaching.

And so, when I received that email, I basically slammed the book firmly shut on the idea of ever teaching again.

Here is why:

When I graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, we immediately moved to California and I applied for California state certification. I don’t remember ever receiving a Colorado state certificate. Maybe I did? I have no idea…I have never found it in my files. And I only taught in California for one year so I never went beyond a preliminary certificate. Once I started teaching in the Adventist system, I never bothered to get a state certificate as that isn’t required for the Adventist system.

Secondly, having my transcripts re-evaluated sounded overwhelming. Who even knows what classes I would have to take in order to be cleared for teaching.

So I just shelved the idea.

I had one year from February to submit my standard certificate. 

Last week, I decided that I need to give it one more try. Now I really like my job - I am not making any proclamations that I have any intention of leaving. My job is a good one and I love the team. Good hearted peeps. But, you know…I still have that wandering eye for the classroom…

And so I contacted the Education department chair, Donna, and asked her to drop by my office so I could talk about what I need to do to get my state certification in Texas.

After I told her my story, she said, “Vonda, if you graduated with teaching certification in Colorado, you can find your information online that will show you had a standard certificate.”

What?? Are you kidding me??

And sure enough. She told me the website, I logged in, and there I was — my full name, my certificate ID information, the beginning date, the expiration date…the works.

And so, I took a screen shot and submitted it to the Texas certification agency.

I am still shaking my head that it was that simple. 

Now I am just waiting for clearance and then I will take a test and be ready to hit that classroom if I so choose.

I love my current job: zero stress, flying around the country and hosting events and seeing good friends, co-workers that fill me up, great benefits…the list continues.

But there is a little piece of me deep inside…




Thursday, November 9, 2017

I Couldn't Agree More

This past Friday, the sisters, my adorable mom, and I headed to Oklahoma for the weekend. As I was hosting an alumni event in Oklahoma City on Sunday evening, we used it as a platform for a weekend getaway to my favorite place on the planet.

Nothing spells home to me like roads made out of red dirt, wide open blue sky, grazing cattle, and the signature wave of friendly Oklahomans while driving through the country. As soon as I cross the state line, peace washes over me.

Home.

It's my favorite place to be.

As a kid, I never appreciated Oklahoma. It's all I knew, of course, so I didn't realize that small town living was a privilege. I thought everybody went to church in a small town church where the pianist was your mom and the choir was made up of 12 mediocre singers. I had no idea that attending a chili supper with all the fixings at the high school gymnasium and it was attended by pretty much every person who lived in town was peculiar. Splashing in mud puddles on the street corner, counting cattle grazing out in the fields and rounding them up with the four-wheeler, cheering for our football team that was comprised of pretty much every guy in high school, and hanging out on the swing on a lazy afternoon and waving as the neighbors passed by was common fare.

Isn't that what it means to be an American?

That, at least, is what I thought. I thought our lifestyle was American living - not small town Oklahoma living.

When I was in high school I visited my Aunt Lena for a couple of weeks. Aunt Lena lived in Niles, Michigan -- a quaint little town on the outskirts of Lake Michigan that boasted of beautiful tree-lined streets and pristine shops nestled downtown. One day we were walking along the road and several cars passed us along the way. I raised my hand and waved at each one because...well, you know...that's what you do. At least, that's what we Oklahomans do.

After I waved at a few cars, Aunt Lena chuckled and said, "Why are you waving at everyone?"

I looked at her, puzzled. "What do you mean? Doesn't everyone do that?" I asked, baffled.

"Not in Michigan," she laughed. "People would perceive that as being nosy - getting in their business. We don't wave in Michigan."

That was the first I'd heard of such nonsense.

I married at the ripe old age of 20 and headed off for the majestic Rocky Mountains in Colorado. And as our journey continued, we lived in some of the most amazing states in the land: Wisconsin, New Mexico, North Carolina...

But as the years have rolled by, I've come to realize what a little gem Oklahoma truly is. In my humble opinion, it's the best kept secret out there. Oklahomans? They are just good peeps. Genuine, big-hearted, down-to-earth people.

When I'm home on a Sunday, I usually attend church with my dad and Jo. Now their church is akin to a little country church that has around 50-60 people in the pews on any given Sunday. As the service is about to begin, a gawky teenager walks down the aisle and lights the candles at the front of the church, and then we all sing together from an aged hymnal, our voices combining in a way that I imagine sounds like Scout's church choir sounded in To Kill a Mockingbird.

That, at least, is what I always think when I listen for a minute.

It never ceases to make me smile.

Not too long ago a friend of mine lost her father who lived in Oklahoma. She wrote a eulogy for him, posting his photo on social media, and properly honoring him with such kind words. The one thing that struck me was when she talked about how her dad would travel to beautiful countryside. When he returned home, she would ask him about the sites he saw. He would say, "Oh, those mountains were stunning to behold. But nothing is as beautiful as Oklahoma."

When we loaded into the car on Friday to head for Oklahoma, I noticed that Lori was wearing a shirt with words on it. "Wait," I said, as she was busily running from the house to the car and back, loading up suitcases and such. "What does your shirt say?"

She proudly turned towards me so that I could read it, stretching it out a bit so that the letters were clear.

"I've never been to heaven, but I've been to Oklahoma," the shirt proudly proclaimed.

Plowed red dirt and mile after mile of country roads and barbed wire fence and kids on bicycles in the grocery store parking lot and cheers resonating from the stadium at the Friday night football game...

I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Just What I Needed

This past week I traveled to Washington DC to host an alumni event. I flew in on Wednesday evening, hosted the event on Thursday evening, and flew out around noon on Friday.

And I only left my motel room once – to actually host the event. Well, technically I guess I left it twice because I went through drive-through for lunch…

Yep.

I roll like that.

But can I just say, it was heavenly?

It was heavenly.

I had my laptop along so I spent some time with Hulu, caught up on This is Us (if you’re not watching this series, you should be), and journaled a bit. I skyped with a friend of mine, talked to the Husband, read quite a lot from my latest piece of fiction that I downloaded from our local library onto my e-reader, and took a long hot bath.

When I drove back to the airport on Friday morning, I did manage to look up at all the changing colors on the trees. I breathed in fall weather – crisp air, tall firs. And I took a moment to really be in the moment…as I missed most of these DC moments cuddled up in my motel room with my devices.

Once settled on the plane, this adorable girl named Lauren sat beside me. Lauren is from Dallas, newly married, and working on her Master’s in Business Administration. Now normally when I am on a plane, I set very strong boundaries that clearly state not up for discussion. But Lauren eased her way in between the pages of my book by quietly asking, “So why are you flying to Dallas?” And it went from there. She asked questions in a way that made it appear as if she were truly interested in what I had to say, and of course – it’s always fun to talk to someone who actually listens with interest.

Who doesn’t like to talk about oneself?

When the plane landed and we headed towards Baggage Claim, she hugged me quickly. “It was so nice to meet you, Vonda. I hope I see you again one day.” And then she was off, finding her husband and heading off to her in-law’s ranch located five hours south of Dallas.

My suitcase finally rolled around and I grabbed it, headed out the door, and flagged down Roy who was waiting nearby in his white pickup, flashers flashing so that I would see him. He jumped out and threw my suitcase in the back and then we headed for Hard Eight which heralds the best BBQ in Texas.

Normally when I travel, it takes a day or two to get back in the groove, to recoup from all of the goings-on. But this time? I came back refreshed and happy and eager to join the ranks of the living:


Great tv shows and heart to hearts with strangers and friendly alumni at a divine restaurant and hot baths in a motel nestled in the mix of concrete and falling leaves...

It was exactly what I needed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Fall in Texas

It is cold outside this morning.

Of course, “cold” is relative. I have discovered that recently. Now that I live in Texas, my body thermostat has adjusted because, of course, Texas tends to be warmer than most states we’ve lived in. 

A couple of weeks ago, we had a “cold spell” for a couple of days that interrupted our 90 degree weather. One of those evenings, Roy and I were out on the back acre of our land where we have wood piled high from all of the trees we’ve cut down. (I say “we’ve” as though I’ve had a big part of that….) Anyway, the crisp air made me shiver and I said to Roy, “I think we should build a fire!” 

Roy looked at me and smirked. “Vonda. It’s 72 degrees.”

I hope I don’t freeze to death this winter when it gets down to the 50’s.

Anyway, my point is - we have officially hit fall weather, I do believe. Mornings are consistently cooler now and even the high of the day can withstand long sleeves made of a lighter material. People have pumpkins decoratively placed in their yards, and once in awhile I spy trees with golden leaves. (Not a common sight in Texas…)

It’s time to bring out the flickering candles, simmering soups, and cozy sweatshirts. My favorite season has finally arrived.

Yesterday, Roy and I were walking around and checking out the trees on our land. A few of them need a lot of work as they have been neglected for years. One of the trees out behind our storage shed is enveloped with dead vines that need to be cut off of it. It looks like a permanent Halloween fixture - its bare branches arching up to the sky, trying desperately to escape the suffocating dead vines that have turned dark and stiff. A few weeks ago, Roy cut the vines at their roots, but a wasps’ nest was hidden in the midst of the branches, and they found Roy an unwelcome visitor. So he never finished the job of removing the vine from the top of the tree — which will definitely require a tall ladder to reach.

Anyway, as we were looking around, we heard the Lewis family drive up with their last load. (As of last night, they are officially moved in next door.) And so, we strolled over to help them unload their pickup and their van, both piled high with boxes and such.

Yeah. We’re nice like that. 

(I’m pretty sure that’s about the extent of our help with their moving adventure…but we won’t talk about that right now.)

When we finally got home from our evening adventure, our house reeked from fish that Roy cooked himself for dinner. Can I just say, I hate that disgusting fish smell? And so, we both went to work spraying air freshener and lighting candles while I begged Roy to please not ever do that again. Ew.

And then we settled down in our rocking chairs that now sit side by side in the living room. We recently acquired an old La-Z Boy rocking chair that my father bought back in the day. I seriously have no idea how old this chair is. But once we redo the back and add some stuffing to it, it’ll be as good as new. This chair has made the rounds. Dad passed it on to Tami who passed it on to Lori who has now passed it on to me.

And I love it.

When we first brought it in, Jace walked by, wrinkled his nose, and said, “Please tell me you’re not keeping that chair.”

“Oh, but I am,” I proudly proclaimed.

And I am. I love this new addition to my living room. It’s comfortable and homey and it reminds me of my sweet father who warms my heart.

Fall in Texas may pale in comparison to fall in the Smoky Mountains when it comes to beauty. But for me? 

Well, there’s no other place I’d rather be.




Thursday, October 19, 2017

The New Roy

We have dead trees in our yard.

Well, I should say we had dead trees in our yard.

When we first moved into our home, Roy was concerned about this very large tree that was just on the outskirts of the driveway as it was mainly dead. If it fell on the house, it would do considerable damage. And so, he asked a guy who cut down trees to give us an estimate on how much it would cost to bring it down.

$1500.

Thanks but no thanks. We shall do it ourselves.

And so, a couple of weeks ago, Sean Swayze was visiting and Roy decided it was time to get the job done.

Sean has been with us since he was a freshman in academy in Missouri.  Of course, he's far beyond academy days as he graduated in 2010, but he was always a big supporter of Roy, and our family in general, so pretty much he's just family. He lives in Colorado but as he has a lot of friends here in Keene, and he's especially fond of his dentist in Burleson, we see him on occasion. Anyway, Sean is wiry and youthful and can do things that Roy just doesn't do these days, and course, this boy knows how to work. He's kind of a beast actually.

Roy and Sean started on the trees in our yard (we had a fully dead tree in the back yard that had to come down) early on a Sunday morning. By that night, they were only partially done with the tree in the driveway. But by the end of Tuesday evening, it was as down as it was going to get. All that is left is an 8 foot "stump" that will, most likely, come down in due time. But for now? Well, the lumberjack in all of us has pretty much skipped town.

Every day I take Jace to school at 7:30 a.m. I back out of the garage, carefully eyeing the "tree stump" in my backup camera, and then pull out of our driveway and head off into the sunset (or, as in this case, the sunrise...)

Well, this morning Jace was running late. And so I partially backed out of the garage and hung there for a minute, getting a tad more impatient with each passing second. When he finally walked out the door and got in the car, I began my mini-lecture:

"Jace, you're not the only one in the world here. After I take you to school, I have to come back home, eat breakfast, and get myself out the door so that I can be there by 8:00! That's difficult to do when..."

BONK.

Yeah. That happened.

I hit the tree.

I sighed, threw the car in gear, and jumped out to survey the damage. And there, at the top of the car trunk, was a definite dent that most definitely had not been there before.

Jace was just happy that I was off my soapbox. "Is there a dent?" he asked, just a little too happily.

"No, it's just fine," I lied.

After I dropped Jace at school and drove back home, I parked the car in the garage, took a picture of the damage, and called Roy. As he was in a meeting, his voice was quiet when he answered the phone.

"Roy? Um...I backed out of the garage and I hit the tree. Don't kill me. There's a dent in the trunk where there wasn't a dent before."

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine."

"Does the trunk open?"

"Yeah - it's not that big of a dent. But there's definitely a dent now."

"Oh well. Those things happen. Don't worry about it. I gotta go - I'm in a meeting."

And then he hung up.

He didn't even sound irritated.

Okay, wait. This is Roy. Do you know Roy? Roy is a perfectionist. He likes everything spotless and perfect. That means we don't drive cars with dents in them.

But this Roy?

Wow.

I don't know what he did with my husband, but I think I'll keep this new guy around for awhile.

Meanwhile, I bet that tree stump isn't long for the world. I could be wrong...but I'm thinking Roy won't want to take any more chances. At least the old Roy wouldn't.

We'll wait and see what this new Roy chooses to do.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Moving Day

Moving Day is happening everywhere in my life.

First of all, Savana and Guerin bought their first house and they have been in the process of moving in. They bought an older home so they are also doing some fixing up projects in the midst of it all. They have stripped the “popcorn” off the ceilings, repainted most of their new home, and totally renovated the kitchen. It. Is. Adorable. These kids. They are some talented cookies.

As we are quite a distance from Fort Lauderdale, we are cheering them on from afar as Savana sends photos of box-laden vehicles and selfies that demonstrate the moving life.

Then there’s the Lewis fam. Their house is almost completed so they should be moving in at the end of this next week. Ah - I seriously can’t wait. But of course…it also means that, since their home isn’t quite a distance away, we have to help. 

Doggone it.

So far I have done an amazing job of avoidance. In my defense, our evenings are filled with our own agendas that include yard work and homework and housework and such, so by the time 9:00 rolls around and we head for bed, we look back and realize we haven’t had much time for extra-curricular.

But it’s a good life. I’m not complaining.

I am just saying — my good intentions haven’t made their way over to the Lewis home quite yet to help with the packing. But I am sure my day is coming because once they start the actual moving process, it will be all hands on deck.

Next? Roy’s sister Gina and family are moving out of their home that they just sold and, ultimately, to Burleson — a stone’s throw away. This family? They are flippers. Eric, Gina’s husband, is a master builder, and Gina is a designer. So between the two of them, they create a masterpiece that is stunning to behold. I am sad to see this home go to another family as it’s one of my favorite places to visit (not just because of the home — I happen to adore the peeps that live inside it as well…) — but I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. As they have to be out in a little over a week, Roy and I spent yesterday helping them pack. Roy climbed up in the attic and hauled down boxes while I gingerly wrapped fine china and carefully stowed it away for safe keeping in sturdy brown boxes.

And then? My sister Lori. As she and Tami run a business together and it is growing by leaps and bounds, Lori made the decision to move here to Keene a few months ago. However, the housing market is hot right now. Nice homes that come up for sale are like hot potatoes — once it goes online, it says “pending” before you have time to call the real estate agent about it. About a month ago or so, Roy and I were driving around a charming neighborhood just outside of Keene, just looking things over, when I saw this gorgeous home with a “For Sale” sign on it.

“Wait — back up!” I told Roy as I hadn’t seen this home listed online. I quickly FaceTimed Lori, showed her the home, and she in turn called the real estate agent who confirmed that the house was actually for sale but wasn’t online yet — it was headed there the next day. And so Tami and I looked at the house with the real estate agent and did a video tour with Lori who made an offer and within 24 hours of discovering this gem on the outskirts of Keene, Lori was a proud home owner.

So in two weeks, Roy and I will be heading to Oklahoma to load up a U-Haul, wipe down some countertops for the very last time, and move Lori to Keene.

Does life get any better? I don’t think so. I never dreamed that my sisters (and that includes you, Gina…) — my very best friends in this world — would be my neighbors. And so, though Moving Day isn’t normally a day we would relish…(One year ago, we were in the process of getting settled into this home where we currently reside. Boxes stacked to the ceiling, questions of…Wait. Where is that???…and pizza delivery on speed-dial are all-too familiar yet)…

In this scenario? Well, Moving Day isn’t so bad after all. 


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Remembering

When Roy and I first got married, we headed off into the sunsets of the Colorado Rockies. We adored our time there. On Friday evenings after I was done with a week of school and Roy checked off a week of teaching, we stopped by a gas station and grabbed a couple of sodas on our way out the door for an evening ride in the mountains. I remember gazing in awe as the sun dipped below the mountains, setting the sky ablaze in wonder. 

On weekends, we often headed to Estes Park, a tiny town nestled up in the mountains near a lake. A brook winds its way through the town, its icy waters bubbling over rocks scattered randomly on the path. Roy rode his bicycle up the mountain while I trailed behind. Usually a picnic was packed in the trunk and we met at a picnic table by the lake where we dined on sandwiches and potato salad — the very same recipe I still make today. (Thanks, Aunt Lois.)

Afterwards, we meandered the little shops along the road — homemade fudge, t-shirts, and those old-time photos proved some of our favorites. In fact, we have several of those photos that used to line the walls of our home and commemorated monumental moments of our first few years of married life: our one year anniversary, when Savana was 18 months old and I had just found out I was pregnant with Darian, etc…Since moving to Texas, however, they’ve not made it back up to their long-held spots on the walls.

Estes Park is, undoubtedly, one of our very favorite spots in the world. 

This past weekend, I flew to Denver to host an alumni event. Tami Condon and I flew out together, rented a car, and hung out before the event on Sunday evening. “Let’s see some sites,” Tami said while we were on the plane headed to Denver. “I love Colorado Springs or Boulder…”

“How about Estes Park?” I ventured.

“Yes!” She quickly agreed.

And so, on Sunday morning after a motel breakfast, we found ourselves in the car and winding our way up the mountain towards Estes Park. As I rented the car, I was the designated driver, while Tami oohed and aahed the entire way, pointing and exclaiming over various wondrous sites. Her phone was in constant motion as she clicked photo after photo thats finishing product paled in comparison to being there in person.

As we rounded the corner and entered the Estes Park city limits, a sign there to welcome us, the lake rose up before us and I immediately saw “our picnic table.” I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot and Tami and I got out to gaze in wonder.

It was like going back in time thirty years — absolutely nothing had changed about that view. The same sparkling white motel jutted up near a mountain ledge; the same concrete picnic tables still dotted the park; the mountains still rose around us in grandeur and majesty.

After awhile, we continued on into town, parked our car, and meandered the stores along the street. This part of Estes Park had greatly changed. It still had the same charm; the crisp mountain air still felt energizing; the babbling brook still weaved its way through the town. But more shops lined the streets than before and crowds of people filled the sidewalks. 

Quaint little Estes Park isn’t so little anymore.

But Tami and I had an amazing adventure up there in the mountains, and when we headed back towards Denver, the backseat was filled with bags stuffed with t-shirts and other mementos gathered from the day, and my mind was packed full with nostalgia.


I will be heading back to Denver next year around this time. I am hoping that Roy and Jace can go with me. I know that Jace will decide that he’s going to move there as soon as he reaches adulthood, as if it involves winter and mountains, Jace is in love. Chances are, Roy won’t be riding his bicycle up the mountain as I trail behind since life has a way of slowing us down in a few areas…but that’s okay. Maybe we’ll pack a picnic, toss it in the trunk, and as we wind our way up the mountain, oohing and aahing over jutted rocks and babbling streams, we can find ourselves aglow, remembering.





Deep Inside

I was in the classroom for about twenty years.  I loved it. I built relationships with students that today I call my friends. Teach...