Monday, March 29, 2010

My First Grade Teacher

My first grade teacher, and I say this with all due respect, was rather insane. She was a widowed Lutheran woman who was so incredibly old when I was 5 years old that I feel reasonably certain there's no way she could still be alive...browsing through Blogger. Thus I'm pretty sure she won't be reading my posting.

But I'm still not going to tell you what her name was. Because she was that freakin' scary and you never know...she could still be around.

I attended a private school for first grade because I was too young for the public ones and I was begging my mom to let me go to school. (Can you say "miniature nerd?") So....each morning began with a significant amount of Bible reading as she stood at the front of the classroom. I distinctly remember that she liked the classic Proverb about how the rod of discipline will drive badness from kids. Good times.

Oh - and she's the only teacher who ever inflicted corporal (corporeal??) punishment on me. My c's were too sloppy so she slapped my hands with a ruler in front of the class. I kid you not. Crazy woman. 

When she wasn't hitting kids at the front of the class or reading monotonously from the Bible, she was talking about war. And I mean she talked about it ALL THE TIME. (No telling how many she'd lived through.) She talked about how when the war started, we would all run to the ocean to escape. (So I always felt much safer when I visited my grandparents in Corpus Christi.) Needless to say, I became obsessively frightened of war, violence, and barns - since apparently the bad invading people had a tendency to force innocent victims into barns. Don't ask me....she seemed quite certain of that fact.

The point of this posting, however, is actually to give Mrs. M credit for being right about something. During one of her many war/Bible tirades, she pointed out that the reason it was important to memorize scripture was that when the bad people came and took away our Bibles, we'd still be comforted by the Bible verses we'd memorized. I know that sounds just a bit Glen Beck-ish or maybe even Pat Robertson-ish....and I also don't think anyone is out to steal my New American Standard. However....she was right that if we let ourselves remember spiritual things during our most trying times...that can be the best gift in the world.

Sunday evening we went to a family service at our church and the speaker talked about how all of our spirits are in alignment with God - that we have access to all of God's wisdom and strength if we choose to access it. Today was most assuredly a day from Hell, but when I reminded myself of those statements I felt about a million times stronger and more confident. I just said the words over and over to myself. Once I believed it, it became true. And I rocked. I fought back. I walked out with my head held high.

I still wish she'd kept that evil ruler to herself and left my poor little hands alone, but she had a point about the power of remembering holy words when push came to shove.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Whatever happened to Christine?

Last night, I took my husband and both kids to see Phantom of the Opera because I had a chance to get very inexpensive tickets with a group (granted they were nosebleed tickets, but it's still Phantom). I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that both kids seemed to like it. My daughter cried at the end so this morning she pondered whether she really liked it or not. (Maybe the sad ending ruined it for her. She hasn't decided yet.) She has that sympathy for the Phantom gene which I must have passed on to her.

I loved it, as I always do - but seeing it with my daughter really made me wonder how Christine turned out in the end. (Side note - I read A.L.W.'s follow-up novel with his theory of what happened and it doesn't really fit so there's no need to tell me about that book. I prefer to wonder.)

Did Christine become a mom? Did she learn how to stand up for herself and rely less often on those around her to save her from bad things? (Because, really - you know - they can't. Even if they want to do so.)

I hope she did. I like to imagine that she had a daughter herself and that she was able to help her daughter face mean girls fearlessly (I suspect they had mean girls even back then) and encouraged her to sing in her school choir. Maybe her daughter even became the first female scientist in Paris. (I'd like to but can't imagine her to be Marie Curie because Marie was, in fact, Polish - and her true name wasn't even Marie. History has a tendency to ruin fantasies which would otherwise be perfectly lovely.)

I've come a long way. I never used to focus upon Christine - it was all about the Phantom. I guess I figured she just faded into nothingness.

My current image of her is what I prefer - hurt but whole, strong, and ready to build a new life for herself.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Texas is more than worth it...

Take a look at these pictures. I haven't had a chance to really explore the wildflowers in the country yet (because our weekends are packed with kid activities) but at least I'm enjoying them during my interminable commute every afternoon. Both I-35 and MoPac are sprinkled with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes.

Especially on a beautiful spring day like this - a day that was simply MADE for my red convertible - the drive home is greatly improved by the Good Lord's creation, as nurtured by Lady Bird.

I've always lived in Texas, other than those first few months of life when I was hanging out in Louisville, Kentucky. Sometimes I hear about other states and imagine what it would be like to live there. But I just can't bring myself to seriously consider moving - partly because my parents live here but mostly because it's home.

Don't get me wrong. I know Texas isn't perfect. The attention our State Board of Education calls upon itself is particularly galling to my sensibilities. (Note: that is NOT a political statement - my blog is still politically pure - people of all political persuasions across the country are also appalled by the shenanigans.) It also gets just a wee bit hot in the summer. maybe we are a little obnoxious about how special and great our state is.

But tell the truth. If you had flowers like this, wouldn't you be a little cocky too?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Processing Life Lessons

I'm choosing to write about some new realizations because I really need to process them. I must warn you, however, that my "realizations" are blindingly obvious. Most of you (ok...all of you...) will be shocked, if not dumbfounded, that I am just now coming to terms with these truths.

Well. All I can say is that at least I'm still learning.

A few days ago I had a rough day. That's putting it mildly, to be perfectly honest. Let's just say that it involved work and tears. Copious tears. Luckily, they didn't fall at work so there's always a silver lining. As I worked through all my feelings from that day, I finally understood and accepted that there are people in this world who will be mean to me for no reason I can see. I even began to realize that people I consider my friends might sometimes hurt me or at least put their own interests ahead of mine in such a way that they don't seem to care whether they are creating major problems for me.

I warned you that my realization was painfully obvious to most people who've already lived through Junior High. For me, however, this is big news. Of course I knew that there were evil people in the world. Heck, I've even blogged about it and my philosophy that we shouldn't shield children from the fact that such people exist. Here's the deal, though. I was accepting the idea of "evil" people (or people who do really, really bad things) but I wasn't accepting the fact that every single day I'm going to run into some mean or selfish or completely uncaring people. And, sometimes, those people are going to have control over aspects of my life.'s the kicker for my's not because of something I did wrong and I can't change them. There's no way for me to be good enough or perfect enough or hard-working enough to fix it. They might change, or they might not. But I've got no control over how they decide to act.

This truly stunning new piece of information (I'm not being facetious or sarcastic, in case you're wondering) caused me to decide that I was going to be much MORE self-protective and much LESS vulnerable. (Yup. To one reader in particular, I'm fully aware that most women make this choice sometime between 15 and 23 years of age but I think we all know I'm a late bloomer.) In other words, I was going to toughen up. I've taken that idea under consideration before but it's never really felt like the right decision until now.

So, I've been processing this rather huge new piece of information for the last few days and I noticed tonight that I'm (perhaps) reacting with much more internal anger to things I'm hearing than I've ever had before. That's totally new. And not entirely convenient. But my theory is that I'm just working through a new concept and when I hear things from people, I'm immediately taking an overly-defensive stance. It's almost as if I'm overcompensating and I don't have my "anger rhythm" in sync with where I need to be.

Unfortunately - there have been a few times when someone who really does care about me and really does take into account my best interests says something to me which is not a big deal, but my heart starts racing and I get very defensive. I mean - REALLY defensive. Luckily, my brain still works and I tell that person that I know my feelings make absolutely no sense. It's almost like I'm looking at myself through a two-way mirror. I'm watching my reactions, thinking: "What in heaven's name is going on with me? Why can't I calm down about this? Why can't I just breathe and shrug it off?"

I'm open to suggestions from my personal peanut gallery, but my working theory at this point is that I just need to give myself a little bit of time to learn how to be a more self-protective grown-up and, in the meantime, try not to have any significantly serious overreactions.

May I just say, however, that as weird and strange as this new concept is - it's surprisingly liberating to accept the fact that the person I really need to depend upon is myself. I've let go (or started to let go) of the idea that my friends, or family, or co-workers will always protect me and defend me. They might, or they might not. But it won't really matter if I protect and defend myself.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Recipe for a good evening....

Take one Groupon which lets you eat a $30 family dinner for just $15 (note: make sure you order yourself a sangria as part of that dinner), add frozen yogurt with toppings of your choosing, and finish it off with playing around in the jumping fountains at The Triangle (even though it's starting to get chilly).

 Now that's one good evening!

If you want it to be a GREAT one, make sure you drop by Half Price Books on the way home so your daughter can get some Animorph books and your son can get a new Where's Waldo. If you're really lucky, your husband will come across a book exploring the literary style of Phillip Pullman on the discount table and buy it for you. 

Life is good. And all for a grand total of about $25.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Non-Blogging Vacation

We've been in Fort Davis, Texas since Saturday afternoon and - although I've thought about plenty of things I'd like to write about - I just haven't felt up to blogging. It's been a very slow and unplanned (compared to my normal level of planning) vacation for our family.

I think it's just what we needed.

Sunday was really the only pretty and semi-warm day of the trip. Luckily, we went into the state park that day because the kids were dying to go on a hike. After a pretty short period of time, my left ankle (the one only recently removed from a cast) started hollering at me so I sat on the trail and waited for my family. It was a moderately significant moment for me because my body was not doing what I thought it should and my normal reaction to those moments is pretty negative. Granted, I've never been the most athletic person around, but I can keep up on most hikes. I tried to take a different approach (a more positive one), however, and made an effort to enjoy the view and consider the fact that I will be able to build my body up to where I want it to be.

My daughter came back after a bit - her lungs were screaming at her (she seems to be pretty sensitive to altitude - she gets that from me). So we hung around and waited for the guys. They were gone for quite a while and I was ABOUT to get worried but then I saw them coming back down the trail. My son felt like he'd conquered a mountain.

Here's a little list of some of my favorite vacation moments:
- Monday evening's sunset: there were storm clouds above the mountains, so the piece of sun peeking through was just brilliant.
- Playing solitaire and taking naps: I thought I'd take time to write on my novel or accomplish some other chores during this trip but I finally realized I wanted to do nothing. I just kept falling asleep or staring into space. I needed that.
- Watching my kids act like hooligans: I corrected them too often, but the truth is that they are so silly because they love spending time together. They've played countless games of monopoly, plus whatever games my daughter has on her iTouch, and drawn pictures to illustrate a story that their grandad is writing. They were up talking in their bedroom until 10:30 last night.
- Driving out to see the Marfa lights: Well, I didn't see them (of course) because we could only tolerate staying out there for about a half an hour but it was still great - I'd always wanted to try. So that was the piece of the vacation that was "mine." I appreciated my family going along for the ride.
- Being told by someone that I "looked Irish": That's probably about the best compliment I've ever received. His wife and I were excited that we both had relatives on the Trail of Tears (that would be my Cherokee great-great grandmother) and he made that observation when I mentioned that the rest of me was Irish.

It feels as if these four days have been very full for me - but they haven"t been full of activities. Instead, I think these days helped refill my emotional tank. My husband and I are already planning a return trip for just the two of us this fall - he'll have more time with his telescope (the cold front that came in halfway through our trip brought a lot of clouds - crummy for an astronomer) and I'll have more time at the art galleries in Marfa. Maybe I'm supposed to come back out to West Texas every now and again to replenish myself. Who would have thought that would be the case?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Dad

About a week ago, I heard someone talking about the movie To Kill A Mockingbird, and I was immediately transported to my childhood and the day I saw it for the first time. I'm sure that everyone's reaction to the movie is strong - after all, it's a powerful story. In my opinion, it's the Great American Story.

However, I'd venture to say that my reaction is not typical. Although I treasure the messages about race and injustice, that's not the defining element of the film in my memory. You see, one of the primary reasons that the movie meant SO MUCH to me is that I was watching my dad on screen. Some of you have met my dad, but most of you haven't. If you want a visual, moral, and philosophical image of my dad, all you have to do is remember Atticus Finch.

I grew up subconsciously assuming that every child (or at least every daughter) associated her father with Atticus, but of course I now know that isn't the case. I realize NOW how amazingly fortunate I was to have a dad who was gentle and strong, brilliant and humble, but more than anything - fearless. Truthfully...I grew up thinking that "dads" were wonderful. It makes no logical sense but I thought that other males (who bore other relationship titles) were the bad ones, but you could always depend on your dad.

How could I have missed the fact that those other males were, in certain cases, dads - even if they weren't mine? I suppose it's because children have this strange ability to be completely self-absorbed. My own definition of who deserved the title "daddy" extended no further than my front porch. Other girls might have a father but the only "real" dad was my own.

I might have missed the obvious fact that my dad was one of many in the world, but I didn't miss the truth about his character. Even at 38 years of age, I'm able to look at him and - although I know he's not perfect - I still believe that the best way to describe him to someone who's never met him is to simply say: "Picture Atticus Finch."

I've been wanting to write this post for at least a week. In my ADHD world, that is an eternity. Each day, in my mind, I've been slowly building the story I've wanted to tell. That alone should be an indication of my sincerity! How often have you seen me exercise patience, prudence, and restraint when I write? ('s not necessary to answer that question because I'm more self-aware than one might preliminarily assume.)

So....Dad, if you do read this...thank you. To my readers who haven't met my Daddy... you simply must trust me - Atticus lives and he's still Scout's inspiration, even after all these years.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I've been trying to cut back on multi-tasking. It's not too Buddhist ya' know. (Not that I am but I associate 'being present' with Buddhist theology. I know - other religions have the same concept. Bear with me.)

Anyway...I'm experimenting with a new multi-task now and it's b/c I'm doing the stationary bike and it sort of bores me. So I'm also iPod'ing and blogging on my Bberry. Swimming would be more fun but it screw up my hair and I still don't have the hang of fixing my new hairstyle. It takes, like, WAY too much time.

So I bike and try to ignore CNN b/c Larry King's face makes me cringe. I do have a significant (for me) post I've been writing in my head for about a week now. But it would be quite unsuccessful if I tried to blog-berry it. (Cute word, right? I totally just made that up although I doubt I'm the first to think of it.)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sharing Space

I snapped a blurry picture of my two whirling dervishes this evening because it kind of summed up everything I love about my kids and their relationship. It's not the highest quality - but this is how my kids co-exist. They share their space pretty well. My eldest was in the chair first, but when her kid brother crawled up and gave her a hug, she just made some room so he could help her watch for her ride to choir practice.

They do, of course, have their sibling issues. And I am aware that we haven't entered the teenage years at this point in time. Things can change.

But in general, I enjoy watching them together and, as I've told my daughter ever since she was about 3 or 4 years old - I want to be just like her when I "grow up." I could say the same thing about my son.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You're So Vain probably think this blog is about you.

Carly Simon has been spinning in my head all evening, ever since I heard an NPR story about how she recently re-released her song with a hint about the vain guy's identity whispered over the track. The NPR reporter claimed that she whispered "David" and I'll take her word for it because I couldn't tell. Of course, I've never been good at hearing secret lyrics in music - regardless of whether they are played backwards or forwards.

I am so impressed with her ability to not only write and sing a popular song, but also to keep the mystery interesting for nigh on 40 years. Talk about keeping a personal brand alive.

Lots of professional publications and coaches encourage you to figure out and develop a "personal brand." And I've even recently had lunch with someone who is FABULOUS at developing her brand. She's very aware of who she is, what she represents, and seeks out opportunities to publicize herself.'s very impressive.

I have never had a clue where to begin in that regard. I used to think that it was because I wasn't...well....vain. But now I'm pretty sure that it's because I'm still figuring Jenn out. In theory, once I've got myself figured out, I might actually join the whole "personal brand" bandwagon.

In the meantime, I'll admire other personal brands from afar as I sing along with Carly Simon during my drive home.