Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Random Acts

I've been in another one of my lulls.  I've missed writing, but I hate the few entries I have that seem like just blather.

But today, today, as early as it is, something magical happened.  I experienced a connection with a person that I didn't even get to meet.  And once again, Starbucks brought us together.

I can't remember if I ever wrote about the sweet angel who sent Brian and me the unsigned card with the Starbucks giftcard in it several months ago.  The card just read that the person was praying for us.  I still have it on my nightstand, though the Starbucks card has already helped me get ready for several school mornings that might have otherwise been much slower starts.

This morning, I nearly didn't stop at Starbucks.  It's a little expensive and I really don't need it--especially as I will be strutting my stuff in a bathing suit on a beach in a few months.  (I'll pause to allow that comical image to sink in.  Imagine the prescription strength sunglasses the rest of the beach goers will have to be wearing in order not to go blind when I reveal my skin to the sun. Prolonged shiver.)

Anyway, a smaller car pulled in the drive thru just ahead of me.  My headlights always shine in the mirrors of smaller cars in a most annoying fashion, so I turned them off while we were in line.  I ordered when my turn came.  I was listening to KISS FM and they were arguing about something terribly inane this morning, so I was about to look for some music when the barrista comes to the window to confirm my order. 

I already had my card out ready to pay; it seems I carry cash less and less these days.  He confirmed my order and he said in an offhand way, as if it happens all the time, "The lady in front of you paid for yours, too."  I was stunned.  This had never happened to me before!  "What?"  I asked him.  "Yeah, guess she was feeling nice today," he smiled and turned back to get my coffee and bread. 

I was still a little shocked as I bent down to put away my card so I could accept my coffee.  My lovely free coffee and cake.  And I was already plotting how I could, on this Tuesday morning pay the favor forward.  I don't know how yet, but I have at least one idea.  And I have to be honest, I hope more than one opportunity presents itself. 

This act of kindness not only made this woman feel good (I have to assume), it made me feel good. And I know she had no way of knowing it would have the intended effect, but I hope wherever she is this morning enjoying her warm fuzzy feeling along with her Starbucks, that she knows I am appreciative not only of the coffee but of the gift she has given me today of the chance to make someone else feel this way.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

This Corner of the World

Last night of Spring Break.  Sigh.  It's been a great week.  Spent quality time with girlfriends.  Shopped till I dropped.  We bought new furniture.  It's looking like a grown up house, I have to say.  Brian is really and truly well, apart from his maintenance treatments.

But as I lay (lie? lay?  I'm the English teacher. I should know this.  Oh well.  I'm on vacation.) as I lie here on the couch on this last night of freedom for 50 days according to my friend Deanna, I am restless and even a little out of sorts. 

There is a beautiful sunset about to occur out the window in front of me.  I love my back yard. The trees and the creek (ok, drainage ditch, but the expert landscaping makes it so much more sophisticated) are lovely. 

Brian is more responsible than I am; he likes to watch the news, reads about it.  It just depresses the heck out of me.  I know, I know.  Especially as an educator and illuminator of young minds (I hope that beverage you were drinking didn't choke you when you read that one.  I was sort of kidding.) I should be keeping up with current events.  But local, national or international, it doesn't seem to matter.  Things are just awful. 

My tiny corner of the world is lovely, but not very far outside of it, it seems.  So tonight on this last night of vacation instead of watching the news like I should to see the devastation in Japan, the new war in Libya in which we probably shouldn't be taking part, the latest murder in Dallas, what the latest mess the legislators made this week in Austin of education, I'm watching The Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner Movie

I'll make an effort tomorrow perhaps to see a bit of the news.  Nah.  Bugs might not be on tomorrow, but there will be another beautiful sunset playing in my backyard.  I suppose for now, it's a little like giving in...getting all my information second hand.  I do realize that if everyone starts to give up, then we really will be in a mess.  But everyone needs a vacation sometimes.  I do realize too that when I finally decide to rejoin the informed world in person that people won't be behaving any better, natural disasters won't have ceased their havoc. 

But maybe the peaceful sunsets will be a little easier to channel when I read about them.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Luck o' the Irish

March 17th, 7 am.  I wake Brian up for work.  I've been doing that all week as I am on Spring Break.  He's been saving a lucky green shirt to wear, but he's always wearing his bright green lymphoma bracelet to remind himself and others about his fight.

March 17th, 8:20 am.  Nervous as a cat, I decide to bake a sour cream pound cake for lack of better things to do for a few hours.  I am catching up on my Castle episodes on the DVR as I mix.

March 17, 8:45 am.  Splattered with the batter that Badger could not go behind me and lick up (I'm a creative cook.  It's best to stay out of the way and just the let the magic happen...), I decided I better get in the shower.  I didn't want to be late.

March 17, 10 am.  I pull out my perfect pound cake from the oven.  Aw yeah. 

March 17, 10:25 am.  I decide that I had better leave for Brian's appointment. You never know what traffic will be like and I will be venturing over toward ....the zoo during Spring Break!!!!

As I'm driving I feel as though I am in a trance.  He looks amazing.  He feels good.  How could he not be well, right?  I tear up and then I look over and see a billboard.  It has a picture of a soldier and it says BE BRAVE really big.  Uh, ok. 

Y'all I don' know how you feel about signs (from the universe--not unsightly billboards dotting the landscape), but if you've been reading my stuff for any length of time, you know I do.  Especially since my precious Nonnie is up in heaven now. 

So I straighten up a little in my seat, take a deep breath, and step on the gas. 

March 17, 10:45 am.  I pull into the Texas Oncology parking lot.  Brian is right behind me.  I take his hand and we go in, just like all those times before.  (Excecpt we don't look like we are moving in.  No laptop, backpack, etc.)

March 17, 11:30 am.  After his blood draw and a little bit of waiting, it's our turn to see Dr. Redrow. I don't know how Brian feels--except that he just wants to hear the magic words.  I am overwhelmed by being back there again. 

The quiet bravery on the faces of the patients, the sullen determination in the faces of the families.  So many patients smile and say hello.  I don't know if it's because they think Brian is at the beginning of his journey or I just look like a friendly person.  But I want to hug the stuffing out of each one of them. 

Sitting in the exam room, Brian is cool as a cucumber on the outside.  The water drips from the faucet when the nurse last washed her hands and it's driving me crazy.  It's like it's counting out the minutes more we have to wait.  I fidget, tapping my fingers on my purse.  I expect Brian to still them, but he doesn't. 

At last the door swings wide, and in walks THE MAN.  He's a tall, handsome man, good-natured.  He remembers little things about his patients so he can make pleasant conversation.  I really like this man, and not just because he's saving my Prince Charming and because he has saved a friend of mine.  He's just a nice guy.

In just the same way he told us that with treatment Brian would live, he tells us that Brian is in complete remission.  I think I'll repeat it...complete remission.  I am a big girl.  I don't cry right then.  Brian beams for the rest of his visit, of course. 

He must have a maintenance drug once a every 2 months for awhile.  And it has to go in through the port.  I am proud of Brian.  As much as he wants the port out, he doesn't even blink when Dr. Redrow tells him that.  He is, after all, in remission.  Complete remission. 

March 17, 12:15 pm.  Brian heads back to work.  It's just a regular day, after all--right?  We will go out with his parents for dinner to his favorite restaurant to celebrate. 

I head back toward our side of town.  I go to Barnes and Noble and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  I found a book I can't put down---The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I am touched by the way that she may have influenced Brian's treatment with the cells from her body.  I can't recommend it highly enough. 

March 17, 5:15 pm.  Brian returns from work.  He has the new wifi with him.  Praise the Lord!  An added bonus!  I can blog again!

Well, it's fitting really, that Brian got this news on the luckiest day of the year, right?  What a miracle is all I keep thinking.  He did take today off so we could hang out.  So far, we have no real plans, but I'm sure we can dig up some kind of trouble to get into.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Incredible Kids

Today at my school we celebrate Absolutely Incredible Kid Day. 

About 6 or so years ago, I was teaching 6th grade.  About this time of year, you find the kids are just flat tired...and so are you.  State assessments are breathing down your neck.  You are trying every trick in the book to get them to turn in work and stay interested in school until the end of May. And both you and the students get frustrated a little more easily when you don't see eye to eye. 

My colleagues and I had the luxury at the time of meeting each day to discuss strategies, etc. and we were looking for a morale booster.  I happened to find it one day on the Internet.  CampFire USA celebrates kids one day each spring with a letter writing campaign.  The idea is to tell kids why they are incredible. 

How cool is that?

So, we got to work.  We wrote our own letter asking parents to help us surprise their kids on this day with a letter from them.  It was daunting.  Not all of our parents speak English.  Not all of my colleagues thought we could get it accomplished. 

But we set the goal.  We called. We emailed.  Eventually, we decided we better start writing our own letters for some of the kids, just in case.  But in the end, it wouldn't really matter.  Every sixth grader was going to get a letter from someone who cared about them at the same time on the same day.

The next year, the project grew school-wide.  Talk about daunting.  We went from needing 200 letters to 700.  But we set the goal, sent the letters home and started calling.  Eventually we started writing our own letters when necessary. 

On the morning we designated to deliver the letters to the kids, we still had letters pouring in from parents writing at the last minute. Hey, a last minute letter is as meaningful as one written weeks before. 

I don't know who ultimately loves this project more.  The teachers who get to organize the surprise, the parents who get the chance to take a minute and say "I love you" or the kids who are reminded that they are loved. 

It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of coordination.  It has taken much trial and error to get it running smoothly.  We have it down almost to a science now, and if a child spends 6th through 8th grade with us, they will get three Absolutely Incredible Kid Days.

Nationally, it is the 15th Annual Absolutely Incredible Kid Day with CampFire USA on March 17th.  We celebrate a little early each year due to our Spring Break.

I'd like to thank my fellow teachers and my principals for believing in the project and thinking it worthy each year to keep going with it.  My dear friend, Elizabeth spearheads it now each year.  The office staff including my own sweet mother intercept the letters with smiles each year, patiently explain to new parents our crazy scheme. 

So, if you know any incredible kids, it's not too late.  Tell them today just what they mean to you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Courage Beyond Measure

I thought I seen all kinds of courage.  Being married to a police detective, I try to appreciate it in as many forms as possible. 

This weekend I was privileged to see it in one more form.  My family caring for my grandfather. 

He's home again after two months.  We are all very excited, of course.  He's worked very hard.  My aunts and uncles have worked tirelessly as well.  Hoping against hope that his tired old body would rally against this wretched infection.  Hoping against hope that his spirit would rally against the idea that he would really rather just go be with my grandmother in heaven.

My uncles are small town gruff.  They possess a realism that city boys never do, never want to.  But give them a family member to care for and there is no one gentler, more loving.  And every one of their friends is the same.  And they do the same for friends' family.  Another thing city boys don't do. 

Watching them with my grandfather, I was witnessing great courage.  What courage it takes to nurse your hero back to health.  The person who was larger than life not just to you, but to an entire town is right now like a helpless kitten.  And you cannot be the helpless kitten you once were.  You must be the one with the answers.  You must make the decisions.  One of you must take the family mantle of responsibility.  Which will it be?  The oldest because it seems fitting?  The more outspoken because you always seem to know what to say?  The daughters are willing to help but don't live in town, so they can only be here a few days a week. 

It is up to the sons and their wives.  Who will it be? 

And what of the daughters?  Who cannot be there all the time and would be if they had not settled a little further away.  What of their courage?  The daddy who danced with them and taught them to drive.  Now they are driving him through the halls of his home with his walker and at particularly weak times, in his wheelchair. 

And what of the grandchildren?  Always in awe of this man who told them they were "good for nothing" and understood what he meant was they meant the world to him.  Afraid for him to stay and afraid for him to go.

And what of the great-grandchildren?  Will he be able to hang in there with us so they can continue to form their memories of him?  They will never remember him the way we do.  Chances are very good my children (if I have that privilege) will never remember him at all. 

And what of my grandmother?  I think she would want him to stay here and keep fighting.  She would want him with us.  She's happy and well-taken care of. But he's very lonely in that house without her.

The courage it takes each family member every day astounds me.  I've known for a very long time how lucky I am to be a part of this family, but this weekend, I was blown away by the love. 

Be grateful for the ones who love you and who you love.  It's a courage like nothing else.  That's all I can say.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras 2010
I missed my parade this year.  I guess from all reports I may not have missed much...or missed a lot, depending on your sense of adventure.

For the last 5 years, I have been a member of the Krewe of Iris in New Orleans.  We have the first Saturday parade the weekend before Mardi Gras Day.  It is a venerable organization, almost 100 years old now, exclusively for women.  It has never rained on an Iris parade...until this year.  And evidently, Mother Nature thought she had some catching up to do.

Brian and I decided awhile back that due to the year we were having that even though on the one hand, letting loose at Mardi Gras might be just what we would need, financially and even health-wise we just didn't know where we would be.  And it takes a lot of advance planning to be in the Krewe...especially long distance. 

In fact, though they just had the parade on Saturday, in April, they will be sending a little envelope asking for my deposit and vital stats once again.  The Krewe never sleeps. 

But once you are on that float, all masked and costumed up with thousands of people screaming at you to "Throw me something, Miss!" it's all worth it...even if you might feel a little worse for the wear from the party at the parades the night before.  Ahem. 

Mardi Gras isn't quite what I was always led to believe.  You can find what you are currently imagining down in The Quarter any time, day or night.  It doesn't have to be Mardi Gras.  And the parades don't go there.  

Mardi Gras is families lining St. Charles St for miles and  miles with ladders with specially built seats at the top for children to get closer to the floats.  It's about old and young taking some time from their busy schedules and relaxing, enjoying themselves for a few days.  It's bright colors, happy music, and wonderful food.

A few people get unnecessarily crazy.  And sometimes you stop and ask yourself why you have taken leave of your senses and have decided it's your mission in life to collect as many plastic-made-in-China-sparkly-necklaces to fill as many big sacks as you possibly can.  After all, what are you gonna do with them after the parades?  They take up a lot of space in your garage, I can tell you. 

So have a piece of King Cake today, listen to some Zydeco on Pandora and Happy Mardi Gras!  Laissez les bon temps rouler, mes amis!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


My kids and I made it through TAKS Writing today. 

As I sat looking out at them (my colleagues will recognize this as part of "active monitoring"), they were working so hard to do their very best on this dreaded assessment and I realized how much I love them.  Once again how lucky I am to be here witnessing these moments, as nerve-wrecking as they are for everyone.  Not just any old Thomasina gets to be here, on this of all days.

After school, I stopped by the store to buy the fixings for gumbo.  I figured that if my darlings could do something difficult today, I could try something difficult, too.  I have never made gumbo in my life.  But Mardi Gras is next week, and I am missing it this year.  I didn't realize how much until my friend I usually go with starting counting down the days in single digits until her departure.  But you will hear more about that next week...

When I pulled in to the store, I parked next to a truck that had a gorgeous, humongous, fluffy dog inside.  He looked so pleased to be there, just waiting, windows rolled partly down waiting for his people.  I smiled at him as I got out to go in the store and he barked at me. Just once, as if to say, "Hey, nice day!"

On my way home, I drove behind a man in a red truck who selected his music carefully.  Then I watched him perform the drum solos with one hand while he drove with the other.  The truck had a back seat and in that back seat there was a car seat and a little hand waved along with him every now and then.  That dad was really enjoying his ride home. 

As I hit the off ramp, I looked to my right and saw a man walking along carrying a Sonic drink and something else.  As I looked closer, I saw that it was a little Dachsund.  I guess a walk sounded good at first to the little one.  But at least Dad was a good sport and was giving the little one a ride home. 

It seemed everywhere I looked today--all was right with the world.  Doesn't happen often,does it?  And it was definitely the little things today that made me smile. 

Oh and the gumbo?  Awesomeness.