Monday, February 20, 2017

Raising Roy

 Jace has decided that he wants a Golden Retriever.

Here is the thing with Jace. He is just a tad obsessive. So when he wants something? He wants something. He dreams it, breathes it, talks it, researches it, lives it, thinks it, talks it...

You get the idea.

It is a hair-bit exhausting.

And so, he has comprised all kinds of promises in order to "earn" this Golden Retriever: he will take 100% care of the pets for one year; he will get all A's and B's; I will never receive another negative remark about his behavior in school; he will take Piper on a 30 minute daily walk...

And the list continues.

Now let me say, I am just as much a sap about puppies as the next person. Who doesn't love a puppy? And really...who doesn't love a Golden Retriever puppy?

But I happen to have owned a few dogs in my lifetime and, frankly, they are a lot of work. And I also happen to know that even if Jace were to hold true on all of these lofty promises, he is outta here in less than five years. So who gets stuck with the Golden at that time?

You're lookin' at it.

And so, I just continually sigh heavily when Jace broaches the subject. He is undaunted. He shows me pictures and researches breeders and available puppies in the area, giving me a constant update.

He even friended my friend Tammy on Facebook because she is a proud owner of a Golden. He is hoping to see some pictures roll around on her "wall."

Jace doesn't have school today, so I am sure he will fill the hours with scheming and researching. Meanwhile, I will be preparing for our Groundbreaking ceremony for our new nursing building as I am in charge of the refreshments: bottled water and cookies shaped like shovels.

While I am working, he will plaster me with texts that divulge his new ideas, new promises, new discoveries.

And I will patiently respond minus the heavy sighs because he won't be able to hear them.

I was an easy child to raise. Roy? Not so much.

I don't understand why I have to pay for his raising. Somehow it just doesn't seem fair.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Filled to the Brim

When Savana was a mere 8 months old, we moved to Albuquerque. Previously, we lived in Loma Linda, CA near my sister Lori and her husband (at the time) Gary, which was all kinds of fabulous. However, we worked in the public school system and, as our first three years were spent at Campion--an SDA boarding school--we longed for the idealism a boarding school offers. We had good friends, Debbie and Carlos, who worked at Sandia View in ABQ and they told us of an opening for a pe teacher. Roy and I mulled over the idea of applying for that job but we were so torn: we loved living near Lori and Gary. But we missed the perks of boarding academy. We missed the lifestyle, the mission, the living and loving and working all rolled into one.

And so, we applied for the job and stopped by for an interview on our way to visit my parents in Oklahoma. They called us on our way back to say -- We Want You! and so, we loaded up and moved on a hot July day. Hugging my sister goodbye in her Loma Linda driveway will forever be etched in my mind.

But our heads were filled with idealism and hope and excitement and starry-eyed dreams as we headed off for red skies and desert mountains. We moved into a cozy home there on campus and immediately met Estee and Ruth--two incoming freshmen who had been best friends since the early days of elementary.

And we fell in love with those girls.

Estee was one of four kids raised by totally deaf parents. Her story was fascinating and she had a wisdom beyond her years. She also had ringlet curly hair and one time for a banquet, I ironed it straight. With an iron and an ironing board.

Ruth came from a close-knit family with strict parents who adored her. Ruth was a loyal, sweet girl who wormed her way into our hearts effortlessly.

They both babysat Savana and she adored them. Estee spent time teaching Savana how to speak in sign language before that was even a "thing" that parents did with their babies. Savana knew cat, dog, mama, daddy...I can't remember them all now but Estee used to patiently work with her and I can still see Savana's chubby little hands creating those words while her big blue eyes looked up at Estee's.

Estee and Ruth spent evenings and weekends at our home and we stayed up for hours giggling and talking and dreaming together. I was practically a child myself -- only 25 years old -- and I loved those girls. They were with us through my pregnancy with Darian and her first few months of life, helping me navigate motherhood with two as they willingly changed diapers, soothed fussing babies, and helped me juggle. Those girls lit up my world.

And then, two years later, the powers-that-be closed the school. Roy and I were devastated. We loved Sandia View, loved the terrain, the weather, the mountains. Our faculty and student body were close knit as we were a small bunch -- less than 50 kids (thus the reason they closed). We worked hard and played hard and loved loved loved. Those two years will forever be engrained as two of our best as we made lifelong friends and memories and so much goodness from our time there.

But hands down the best thing that came out of ABQ?

Estee and Ruth.

Ruth helped us pack up our home, even slept on our floor our last couple of days there when the beds were undone so that she could spend every last moment with us before we headed to Wisconsin. We begged Estee to move with us as we feared for her future a bit. Ruth was headed to boarding school in another state, but Estee's future was a bit more precarious. She had fallen in love and she saw stars while we saw struggle. But of course, she was only 16 at the time and we were like overprotective parents, stepping in when we should have stepped back.

Thanks for being our guinea pig, Estee Marie. I was a better mom to my teens because of you.

In those early days of Wisconsin, Ruth came to visit a couple of times. She did our heart good as she was one of our kids. And then she grew up and married and now has four kids of her own.

But Estee? We lost contact.

And then one day out of the blue she came to visit us when we lived in Missouri. My girls were teenagers and of course Jace was just a little guy running the hallways when she stepped into our home for the first time in over 10 years.

And it was like no time had gone by. The connection was instant with all of us. My girls fell in love with her immediately. It was Estee all grown up -- but still Estee Marie. That same girl we loved at 14 with that silly little giggle and that wisdom beyond her years and those ringlet curls.

When Savana got married, Estee flew out and coordinated the wedding for her.

She was a life saver.

And she is now a regular part of our life--stuck with us. We will never let her go.

I host alumni events around the country, flying out monthly to a new location. Today I am flying to Albuquerque and staying with Estee Marie. I am joining her family in celebrating her birthday and meeting her two adult children that I already love because I know who they are. I am throwing my arms around Ruth's babies and I am going to be 25 again, surrounded by these two girls that will forever have my heart.

Life is filled with blue jeans and beetles and sunsets and candles and laundry and packing lunches and Netflix.

And then there's the people--the people in our lives that bring it all home, that make us laugh, that fill it up to the brim.

Today? Well, today my heart will be overflowing with life's goodness.

And I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Making the World a Better Place

I met Dr. Durrant a couple of weeks ago when I visited her home to pick up some papers that she had for me. For Alumni Weekend, we award several of our alums and this year, Dr. Durrant is one of our honorees. As we do write-ups for the honorees, Dr. Durrant called to see if I could come by and pick up her paperwork for the write-up.

Why, of course I can!

And so I headed over to her house late in the morning for what I assumed would be a quick, five minute visit. I mean, how long does it take to get a few papers, right?

"Come in, Dear," she said as I walked through the door that day. "Please, sit down. What can I get for you. Are you hungry? Would you like a muffin? A candy bar? How about some juice. Orange or grape. It's organic."

She wouldn't take no for an answer and so, I accepted the orange juice and had a seat at her table. She wanted to explain the paperwork to me to make sure I understood everything she had written. And so, I sat there, stunned, as she walked me through her life. Born in Egypt and raised in a Catholic home, Dr. Durrant kept me fascinated with her stories of how she eventually ended up in Texas back in the '70's after receiving her doctorate in Nursing Education. Southwestern asked her to build a nursing program from the ground up, and so, Dr. Durrant applied for a private grant of $790,000. Her application was accepted and she began the laborious process of creating a nursing program, presented it to the state and proceeded to teach and oversee the program that she herself built. During many of her years here, 100% of the nursing students passed their boards. She told me of how her husband teased her one evening when she returned home late from work: "Do I know you?" He asked.

"You must take a candy bar," Dr. Durrant insisted as I left well over an hour later. She picked up an Almond Joy. "Here, Honey, take this," she said, tucking it into my purse. "It has almonds and chocolate. You'll like it."

Yesterday I headed back over to Dr. Durrant's home because she wanted a copy of the paperwork she gave me. It reflected hours of her time as she tediously wrote the title of articles she published, positions she held, charitable work she participated in.

"Come in, Dear," she said as I knocked on the door. "I am cooking muffins. I am so sorry that my house is a mess. Please excuse my house. I wish I had time to make it look neater for you."

(Let me just say, her house was spotless.)

"Please, sit down. What can I get for you? Are you hungry? Would you like a muffin? A candy bar? How about some juice..."

And so, once again she poured me a glass of orange juice while she busily made her muffins and talked a mile a minute. She told me how she is making the muffins for the shut-ins that she visits weekly. This particular day she was also taking two friends to lunch in Cleburne. And every Tuesday she hosts Game Day at her home with a circle of friends who get together to play Rumikub or Golf.

Now let me just say, Dr. Durrant is 89 years old.

Please, God...please let me be like Dr. Durrant when I am 89 years old.

While her muffins were baking in the oven, we sat together in her living room and chatted. She asked about me, what my life is like, about my children, do I like my job...she listened with soft eyes while I explained what brought me to Texas and what my husband does now for a career.

"Oh Honey, God brought you here. God is leading in your life. I am so glad that when God says go, you follow. That's the way to live, Dear," she said.

The timer went off and Dr. Durrant got up to pull her muffins from the oven. I sat on her couch and looked out her back window at the barren yard, the tree arching up to the sky. It reminded me of time, as it always does -- how leaves come and go, how the wind blows and yet those trees bend towards the sky, their limbs ever upward.

When Dr. Durrant came back, she told me how she recently lost her best friend of over 40 years: Eva Sicher. She told me the story of how she learned of Eva's death, at how she threw down the phone and screamed when she heard the news, at how still her heart hurts from missing her friend.

When I was young, I mistakenly thought that older people accepted the death of their spouses or their close friends with complacency. It's the circle of life, for pete's sake.

I know better now. As time creeps up on me, death becomes more commonplace. And yet... I now realize that one is never prepared for the loss of a loved one. Not really.

"Take a muffin, Dear," Dr. Durrant said as I finally got up to leave.

"Dr. Durrant," I laughed. "You are going to make me fatter!"

"Oh, look at you -- going here, going there, going here, going there. You need energy for all of that going! Now here--take a muffin," she insisted, tucking one into my purse.

When I got back to the office, an email from Dr. Durrant was in my Inbox. She had a program from Union College that she wanted to share with me. And at the end of her email, she wrote, "Love you."

Sometimes people come into our lives that make us stop for a minute. If I had to write a list of all of my accomplishments, it would be a short one. (Sometimes I think I enjoy playing cards and watching sunsets from my porch far more than I should.)

But Dr. Durrant? She is that tall tree, arching upwards. The winds may blow but she keeps standing, keeps reaching.

Love you too, Dr. Durrant.

You make this world a better place.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When I Forgot

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Jace's school to inform them that he is going on a ski trip and to learn the proper protocol for informing his teachers, getting his make-up work, etc. And so, I walked up to the desk and smiled at Lydia, the school secretary.

"Hey, Lydia!" I said. "I am taking Jace out of school for a week-long ski trip to New Mexico in a couple of weeks. I just want to make sure I handle this properly so that he can everything made up in time. Can you help me with that?"

She looked at me in utter horror.

Now, just a quick FYI: Lydia is a very warm, gracious woman who treats everyone with genuine kindness. And that is why her unflinching response took me back a bit.

"You're taking him out for a ski trip?" she asked, confused. "We don't look kindly on that here. The vice principal won't be happy. You'll have to talk to her before you decide to do that," she said. "She's out today but she will be here tomorrow."

Her response was similar to what I imagined it would be if I told her I was going to die a long slow death...

Um...nevermind...I thought. I'll just take the easy way out...Jace will suddenly be struck with a devastating illness that lasts exactly five days. I thanked Lydia and headed out the door with zero intention of re-entering it within the next two weeks.

And so, I told Jace the plan so that he wouldn't own too many bragging rights about missing a week of school for a ski trip. "Sure, Mom...whatever," he said.

I could have told him that I was shipping him to Zimbabwe and I would have received the same response.

Fast forward to yesterday: Monday.

As planned, I dutifully called the school to inform them that Jace was sick. I expected a quick, simple phone call. 1-2-3-done. Lydia answered the phone in her cheerful manner and immediately knew who I was when I introduced myself. "Hey, Lydia. It's Vonda. I am just calling to let you know that Jace is sick!"

"Jace is sick?" she asked, surprised. And then she hesitated. "Wait. Isn't he on a ski trip this week?"

She remembered.

But? Gotta stick to the plan. I definitely had no intention of meeting with that Vice Principal.

"Well, he was going to go, but Roy got a virus, and then I got the virus, and now Jace has it. So yeah...he's sick."

"Is he running a fever?" she asked.

Oh wow...this lie is getting deeper...

"Yep. Sure is," I said, without a hitch.

"Are you going to take him to the doctor?" she asked.

I sighed. "Well, it's just a virus..." I explained.

"So you think he'll be here tomorrow?"

Ok, so now? I'm feeling a bit lost. This quick little lie has turned into a preposterous story that is never-ending. know...I've dived in. I'm swimming ten feet below and sinking fast.

"I dunno," I quipped. "I mean, he's sick."

"Well," she said, "hopefully we will see him tomorrow with a doctor's note!"

And that was that.

Only it wasn't...

Suddenly I felt like a 12 year old that just got caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Because, you know...Lydia knew. 

I knew she knew.

I. Am. A. Liar.

All day the story ran circles in my head. And then that evening? It continued to run circles in my head. I FaceTimed with Jacque and she laughed at my predicament, telling me to just go come clean already. Face the bullets. Be real.

Last night I tossed and turned. It was the longest night of my life. I simply couldn't sleep, the words I am such a liar rolling from one side of my head to the other and back again...over and over and over again.

Today we had our weekly team meeting and I just couldn't get my head in the game. I wasn't sure it if was because I am tired from lack of sleep or if it's because, know...I am a liar.

And so the day progressed... I looked up the Keene attendance policy and realized that I could be taken to court for truancy. They could send a truancy officer to my house, fine me up to $500!

What have I done??!

Finally, at 3:17 p.m., I simply couldn't take it anymore. I grabbed my purse, ran out to the car, drove to Keene Junior High, and walked straight into Lydia's office. She immediately looked up at me with that genuine smile on her face. "How's Jace?" she asked brightly.

"Ugh. Lydia, I have a confession. I am a liar."

She nodded, laughing. "Is Jace on the ski trip?"

"He is."

"No worries," she said. "That's just fine! Don't you worry about a thing!"

And then? In her gracious way, she told me to email all of Jace's teachers to make sure that he gets his work made up as quickly as possible. "Have a great day, Vonda!" she said as I headed back out the door, weighing about 3072 pounds lighter in my head.

And I didn't even have to face the Vice Principal!

Here's the thing. I am really not a liar. I have a difficult time being anything but authentic. I prefer living my life with integrity...

I just forgot for a minute.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Painting the Town Red

My house is quiet. Jace left on Saturday night for a ski trip in Taos, New Mexico. I keep expecting him to, at any minute, pop out of his bedroom and say, "Hey, Mom. I'm hungry." I spoke with him briefly yesterday as they arrived late morning and he was busily meeting kids and figuring out what this week will look like. Here's hoping he can let go of his inner Eoyore and find a little Tigger in that head of his.

I heard recently -- I can't remember where -- that the author of the Winnie the Pooh series based the characters off of people in his own life. Clarissa, who has the office next to me, recently asked me about my kids' personalities. "That's easy," I quipped. "Savana is Rabbit, Darian is Winnie the Pooh, and Jace is Eoyore."

And there you go.

Roy and I decided that Sunday would be "our" day. We were going to live it up, paint the town red, experience what life has to offer. First of all, we intended to eat at a new restaurant -- somewhere brand new.

And so, Roy began to research online while I texted nearby friends to learn their favorites. Pretty much? We came to the realization that everyone has their own taste in restaurants and others' tastes don't match ours. Furthermore, anything new and intriguing sounded far beyond our budget. When it came to new and different...I would have enjoyed a fondue restaurant; that's a little too out there in Roy's opinion. French? Definitely not. Indian? No. Mexican? Let's try something new...we ALWAYS eat Mexican.

We settled for Red Lobster as Roy was craving seafood.

Red. Lobster.

Tried and true. Been there, done that more times than I can count.

Afterwards, we talked about going to a movie, or walking around downtown, seeing the sites...

Roy suggested swinging by HEB and picking up a few groceries that we needed for the week to get us by.

And so we did.

Afterwards? I remembered that I needed a few items from Walmart as I was running low on hair product and such.

We went to Walmart.

By now, it was around 2:30. "Do you want to go see a movie?" Roy asked.

I scrunched my nose.

"Me neither," he laughed and we headed for home. We unloaded our groceries, put them away, and then Roy headed out to his shop to work on who knows what project while I sat on the porch and threw the ball for Piper.

That, my friends, was our Big Day Out On The Town Painting It Red.

Last night as we were getting ready for bed, Roy said, "When we are all settled and all of our projects are done, we will go experience what life has to offer in this area."

I shook my head. "No. We won't. We will still be us. We will still be eating at Red Lobster or the local Mexican restaurant and then coming home to work in the shop and sit on the porch. Because that's who we are and that's what we do."

"No," Roy argued. "It will be different when we don't have projects to finish around here."

Let me introduce you to Roy. Roy is the man of the endless project. He has never ever in the course of his life NOT had a project. He could be named Project.

But that's ok.

And so, I let him dream. I let him believe that someday we will, in fact, get out of our box and do something different, unexpected -- something on the crazy side.

But until then...well, I'll just hang on my porch and throw the ball for Piper. For Piper? He is living the dream.

And frankly, it's not such a bad life for me, either.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

All There

I am home from a whirlwind trip to California. It was fabulous. Here's why:

  -I spent time with Jacque. We had some great conversations, ate some amazing Thai food, laughed a lot, and just enjoyed every minute together.

-I saw my adorable nephews, Nick and Trevs. Oh my word. Those boys...I love them.

-I had a very successful alumni event with 47 attendees, a great venue, excellent food, and exceptional service. #ForTheWin

-Friday was all about torrential rain from the moment I got up until I went to bed. For the record? I love a good storm. It was perfect. As a result? Jacque and I caught up on Nashville and This Is Us -- two of my all-time favorite shows.

I got home yesterday around 1:30. Roy picked me up and took me to dinner-- our very favorite thing. And then we came home, I unpacked, and we chilled for a bit. And then that evening, we joined Tami and Chas and saw Hidden Figures at the theater. Let me just say, that is an amazing movie. Everyone should see it.

This week? I've worked on being "all there." I read a quote recently in the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and she talks about finding joys in daily living. Sometimes it's easy to go on autopilot, to forget to be present. I know I am good at that -- the autopilot gig.

I happen to love screen time.

Too much.

I am a typical American who can spend more time with a phone than living my life, at times. But recently I have become more aware of this epidemic in my own life. I don't want to be on my deathbed and, when asked the infamous question: What did you accomplish in your life? ... have my answer be:

I watched all seasons of 72 different shows and defeated 972 levels of Angry Birds Pop!

I remember as a child laying on the bed in the east bedroom of my Grandma Crowder's home on a hot summer day, the window open and the curtains rustling as the breeze whistled in. I was at peace with just my thoughts to entertain me.

I have forgotten the art of boredom.

And so, I have put down my phone and opted for a better way. As a result?

-I hung on the porch with Jace and talked about nothing for quite some time.
-I played ball with Piper and watched him bound effortlessly across the yard, tail wagging, fully immersed in the joys of the moment.
-I read one book and started a second.
-I blogged.
-I listened, really listened, to the wind chimes on my porch, and watched the sun wink its last good night.

This week I set my screen aside. This week I chose to be "all there."

And that made all the difference.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Lately I've been contemplating how our head space creates our reality. I can look at someone and think, so much possibility for that life. But after a conversation with this person that reflects a world of possibility, I realize they are miserable.

Sometimes life is filled with bounty and yet we see only bleak skies and wastelands.

I remember back in the days of teaching that I would have a class of 25 students that were charming, delightful. But then there would be that one student in the midst-- the one that needled me, that tested every class management strategy in the books, that made me sigh in relief when they weren't present. I would spend hours thinking about how to deal with that one troublesome student while hardly giving the rest of them a sideward glance.

And then one day it hit me how unfair that was and how it robbed me from the joys of teaching. And that day was a game changer in my classroom and in who I was as a teacher. It didn't change my troublesome students: they were still obnoxious and difficult. But it changed my vision.

And that changed everything.

Our head space can rob us of our best life. I've been watching these videos every morning that talk about how we choose our focus in life and these videos have given me a lot of room for thought. Recently I've been in a quandary about a certain situation in my world and what to do about it. I found myself living in stress, unable to sleep at night, and sliding back into some of those old habits that grip me when my world is rocked.

And then one day I thought...enough. I can't do anything right now; I can't solve this dilemma today--or even tomorrow. It will take time, and thought, and strategy. And so, I tucked it away and chose to move forward in my now, to not let my thoughts steer that direction until the dust has settled.

And once I made that decision, I realized that I felt whole again. The sun is shining again. And I know in my heart that my dilemma will find a resolution in its time. But its time is not today.

Recently, Savana said to me -- We will never really know what we look like.

I found that funny. And it's true. Sometimes I will see pictures of myself and think -- oh my word. Is that really what I look like? We simply don't know. And furthermore, we don't know how our thoughts in our heads portray themselves on our faces, in our mannerisms.

And to take that one step further? Our thoughts interpret details and tell stories that may not be so factual. For instance, I have heard people tell their side to a story that I witnessed and been shocked at their version that is so very different from mine.

And yet, I am the same. My headspace creates stories that others find ludicrous as well.

That is why, I suppose, there is your side, my side, and the truth.

Our heads create a lot of drama, tell a lot of stories, and bind us in a reality we have envisioned. And sometimes our vision is simply not 20/20.
Headspace is everything. It is our happiness, our misery, our hopes, our dreams, our frustrations, our loves, our hindrances. Headspace makes and breaks our worlds.

And sometimes, we just have to find the time to be grateful, to search for meaning in the darkness, to find the beams of sunlight through the swarming clouds--no matter how dim.

And maybe, if we look hard enough and long enough...well, maybe that little ray of sunlight will grow stronger and brighter until our headspace is filled with to the brim with light.