Summer Vacation

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Summer vacations…ahh!  Bill and I decided early on that we wanted to travel and we wanted to take our children with us.  So we did, and wow…it’s been an adventure!  I honestly wouldn’t change any trip we’ve ever taken, not one.  Wonderful memories, loads of fun.  My favorite vacation is a tie between Mackinac Island and a Boston-Martha’s Vineyard-Maine trip we took. My least favorite, a haunted hotel in Missouri (I did not sleep well there, to say the least).

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Two pictures taken literally seconds apart. The first – the perfect photo opp. The second – real life!!

Notice Bill’s white shirt. It has probably been on every vacation we’ve ever taken. He’s taking it with us this summer, too. The kids made him give up the white socks a few summers ago though!

Top picture – brother/sisterly love!  I have at least a dozen just like this taken over the years. The faces in the bottom picture are of two freaked out kids. We had just gotten into New York City, loaded our things into a cab, and they were in the back of the van (a van probably going at least 80 mph). They looked in the cup holders and both were full of questionable liquids, very nasty questionable liquids.  That began Trey’s 48 hour spell of essentially losing it once every few hours.  In one spell he screamed, “Why did you bring me here?!”  Believe it or not, he ended up having fun.

Deep sea fishing - the Hollywood sign.

Top – deep sea fishing. Bottom – the Hollywood sign.

I’m thankful for each moment I get to spend with my family, and as my children get older, I realize these special times may become fewer and farther between.  They are growing up, working, so while I can, I plan to keep traveling and keep taking them anywhere they’ll go with me (us).

(Our vacation is coming up soon, and we are driving 12 hours each way.  I may have to retract those words once we get back!)

So what’s your favorite vacation memory?  Your favorite place to go to?  Where is the one place you’d go back to today if you could?

The Best

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This past Sunday, I was very fortunate to witness my nephew being baptized.  He’s ten, inquisitive (we call him the question man), sometimes naïve but other times, very deep and intuitive.  He takes things at face value and simply believes in the truth.  He decided he wanted to be baptized (for all the right reasons), and he was lucky enough to have his dad do the honors.  We all thought it would be a simple process until his father gave a little speech just before dunking him in the water.  I don’t remember all of his words but I do remember this:  He quoted, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  This auntie cried like a baby.

It was a beautiful moment…one of those moments that touch you deeply, that don’t come along often.  An incredible moment between father and son…and the big father, too.

It made me ponder the people who come into our lives.  The fathers, the mothers, the siblings and friends.  The world is a web of people, seemingly so far away from each other but then so close.  My nephew (and niece) were adopted from China, from a world far away.  I try to imagine what life would be like without them.  I can’t.  I try to imagine my sister and brother-in-law not being their parents.  I can’t.  Those four were put together by something so much bigger than you and me.

Taylor and Rachel in the front - with their dad, Trey, and mom in the back.

Taylor and Rachel in the front – with their dad, Cousin Trey and mom in the back.

They may say one day, “I have the best mom and dad in the world.”  To them, it’s true.  My children may think it.  Lots of people feel the same way about their own parents.  You hear it over and over.  My dad’s the best.  My mother is the best mother ever.  But what does that mean, and why do so many of us have the best?

I believe that many of us are blessed to have the best parent (husband, child) for us in our particular situation.  Have you ever noticed how families have their own personalities?  The way I parent my children may not be the best for another child or family.  Each family is different, each is unique.  So many of us are blessed to have the best – the best for us, for what we need, for who we are.

So there’s no reason to dismay – yes, there are many, many best daddy’s in the world.  There are many, many best momma’s in the world.  If we only look, we may find that for us, for our needs, for our personalities and desires, we have the best.  The best friends, the best spouse, the best family.  Some families may only have one parent, and that only amplifies the blessing you are to a child. (To those single parents, I think you should get a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day gift every year – you deserve it.)

The catch is to acknowledge what you have, to appreciate it for what it is.  I truly believe people are put into our lives for a reason.  We may never understand all the reasons, but there’s a plan much bigger than I’ll ever be able to grasp working all around us.

Aren’t we lucky the world isn’t made up of only one best?  Instead, we all get to experience that emotion, that feeling.  When we’re truly blessed, we find ourselves with what is the best for us.

And I have.

My babies with their 'best' daddy!

My babies with their best daddy!

Please Cover the Booties!

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With summer, I’ve had time to channel surf some.  And for better or worse, I’ve become much too interested in the show ‘Naked and Afraid’.  It’s on the Discovery Channel and based on the title alone, the premise of the show is pretty self-explanatory.  One man and one woman are left naked in a remote wilderness and they quickly become afraid. 

The show begins with each contestant saying their name, age and then reciting their survival skills.  Goodness – if it were me, I’d say, “Hi – my name is Traci.  I’m 45.  I can bake a mean pork chop, and I love indoor plumbing and air conditioning.”

(Honestly – I doubt I have any survival skills at all. Can’t build a fire, can’t fish with my bare hands, can’t make a shelter out of bamboo. But if you need to learn how to read, I’m your woman!)

I really think the contestants are about half nuts.  There is no way I’d go into the wilderness with a complete stranger for 21 days – With No Clothes On!   Modesty is part of my DNA, and covering up all important parts is not a want, it’s a must.  Cleavage is even off-limits. The show blurs all the important parts but still the booties are a major distraction.  They aren’t sightly.  They actually make you think about beginning an exercise regimen.

What draws me back to the show are the people – how they act, what the say and do when things quickly fall apart. When these participants are stripped of everything, the person they thought they were may or may not disappear.  So often, they believe they’re perfectly suited for the worst until it actually happens.  They believe they’re the ultimate survivalist until day ten comes with very little food, if any at all.  I can’t help but enjoy watching what happens to people when they’re put in dire straits.  I believe that’s when true colors emerge.  It’s easy to spout off what you believe you are…it’s not so simple to be that person, especially when things are not comfortable. (Doesn’t that sum us up in every day life as well? It’s easy to say but so much harder to do. It’s easy to say I’m nice, kind, patient, but do my actions really portray those words?)

I just hope and pray I’m never forced into a live or die situation in a South American jungle!  Without a few of the basic necessities of life, I’m afraid I’d be the most pathetic person on the planet. :)))

My idea of roughing it!

My idea of roughing it!

Summer, Week 1

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I have a list of projects I want to do this summer.  It’s not a long list, and after today the list may have dwindled down considerably!  My first project was to re-do the deck.  Well, I re-did it.  Lord have mercy, what was I thinking?

The process started over the weekend, including the removal of nine, rotted boards.  My guys replaced the planks, and then we proceeded to strip and deep-clean the other planks.  The toxic stripper began to strip the pealing stain while also removing my toenail polish and burning a hole into my leg! (I am not kidding.)

 

Deck with rotten boards gone and just a little stain left.

Deck with rotten boards gone and just a little stain left.

After the deep-clean, we had to wait for at least 24 hours of rain free weather.  That brought us to today – a Thursday, by myself, with no one to help.  I started at 7:30, finished up around 4:30, and I may never be able to move again.

Note to all teachers and any other person who usually works indoors:  manual labor is freaking hard!

Deck Over aka chocolate pudding!

Deck Over aka chocolate pudding!

I used a product called Deck Over and it worked well.  The only problem was that it had the consistency of chunky cake batter.  It went on slowly and thickly but the end result was really pretty.

The finished project!

The finished project!

Now it's time to sit and read!

Now it’s time to sit and read.

I did manage to read a little and write a little this week – along with the daily grind of living in a house with three other humans and two dogs.  Time off is truly treasured for me, and once I’m recovered from my deck ordeal, I plan to work on an old bathroom.  It needs gutting but it may only get a gentle scrape.  I’m not ashamed to say I’ll be paying for help on this next job, but still – pray for us all.  We may need it to survive!

 

 

Saturday on Repeat

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So summer’s here…as in school’s out.  And honestly, I can’t believe it.  It doesn’t feel like it to me at all!  Not sure why but regardless, it hasn’t been Saturday for the past two days – it’s actually a Thursday and I’m not at work.  I’m sure it won’t take me long to acclimate to being at home…it never does!

I had to leave you with one more funny from perhaps the funniest group of students I’ve ever had.  Actually two.

How to protect whales.  Public Service Announcement - please read and adhere to number three!

“How to Protect Whales.”  Public Service Announcement – please read and adhere to number three!  And if you see a whale in a lake, please tell the authorities ASAP!

And secondly (and my last, I promise):  What does the mother buffalo say to her son going off to college?  Bi-son!   Like I said, funniest class ever.  I will truly miss them.

Here’s my wish list for the best summer ever:

Go to Mackinac Island (check – going in July)

Write every day

Read every day

Soak up some sun

Sleep late on occasion

Be thankful every day that I have nine weeks to recharge my depleted battery

That’s not an unreasonable check-list and I plan to make sure each one is accomplished!  To all my teacher peeps, Happy Summer!  And yes, it’s really a Thursday, not Saturday set on repeat.

No Longer Little

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I was doing well…honestly, I was.  Then it happened.  Across the way, as I sat on the playground watching a group of four-year olds march in line, I saw him.  They’d almost made it to the equipment when a little fellow fell over his own feet.  Crashing hard, he bounced on his knees across the gravel.  Time stopped just for a second before he slowly stood up, brushing at his banged up knees and then hobbled on.  It hit me then, hard and fast.  My easiness with my son’s graduation was suddenly over.  In that moment, I lost it.  I couldn’t see the boy’s face, only his tiny body, and suddenly he was my little boy.  It’s what would have happened to my child…busted knees, dirty from head to toe, always needing a band-aid.  And just like that, it hit me that my boy was no longer little.  I couldn’t scoop him up and put him in my lap anymore, and that’s all I wanted to do in that moment.

I cried that afternoon.  Hard.  I cried again when my hubby got home and I told him about it.  I’ve cried a few more times since.  And no matter what I try, that child is still in my mind.

Kindergarten Graduation

Kindergarten Graduation

So, my youngest is graduating from high school, hence the hysteria over the unknown little fellow.  After thirteen years (12 years plus kindergarten), he’s done.  One part of me is ecstatic, relieved, thrilled, thankful.  The other part of me is losing it a little – maybe a lot.

Honestly, school has never been easy for my boy.  His happiest year of school was kindergarten when he was still allowed to be himself.  He had a teacher who let him be wild and free, let him still be a horse-loving, laughing little boy.  Then the real world set in, and he had to learn to read and sit and be a student.  (I train children to be students every year so I know how important it is.)  After that, some of the joy in his care-free, little boy eyes began to vanish.  School became work, even though he loved his teachers and friends.  School became something that was hard for him.

Outside of school, he was still funny and wild.  He loved easily and was honest to a fault.  He was loud and always needing to change out of filthy clothes into something clean (he still does that today).  With each year he became more and more dependable and steady.  The wildness slipped away to be replaced by a type of bravery I didn’t know existed.  He faced horrible circumstances along the way, and when a lot of children would have begged to never go back to school, he never asked to stay at home…not once.

As a teacher, God sent me a very important lesson.  He sent me a child that struggles so I would understand the struggling student.  He sent me a child that didn’t make straight A’s so I would appreciate each child for who they are and where they are. We are not all designed to be the smartest in the class, and truthfully, most of us are average…perfectly, wonderfully made just as we are.  The world is run by many, many average people who work hard to make up for perhaps a less than top-notch IQ.  (Sidebar to all the seniors – never let anyone rank you by a number on a paper.  Live by your heart.  Live what you love.  The box society puts you in only works if you allow it to hold you.  If you are strong enough to be yourself and love others, I’m convinced you can do anything in life.)  As for me, I’ll take kindness, strength and a giving heart any day of the week.

So why am I sad?  I guess because it’s another step on the journey of raising people.  Another step away from the best years of my life.  Part of me feels like I should be graduating too.  Part of me just knows that change is hard.

But why should I be happy?  Because so many prayers have been answered.  Because I’m proud of both my children just as they are.  Because I know with one ending there’s always another beginning.

Senior Year

Senior Year

Seniors...some here, some watching over us.

Seniors…some here, some watching over us.

Mother’s Day in Reverse

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Since I no longer have an earth-bound mother, Mother’s Day has become a (sometimes) forced holiday.  It isn’t easy losing a parent, and everyone who has lost one knows that.  Losing my mother at 35 forced me to, very suddenly, grow up.  Not that I hadn’t been doing that very thing, but I still had a momma that was there if I needed support or a hug or just her presence.  All at once, that very concrete tie to the earth was shattered.  All at once, it was just over and done.  And ever since, Mother’s Day has left me a little weepy and disconnected.

(Still, I wouldn’t wish for my mother to come back.  I haven’t wished it one time.  Sure, I sometimes long for her hugs and her smile, but would I truly ask her to give up her heavenly home for this world again?  Absolutely not.  She lives where I plan to be one day.  I’ll get her back then.)

So, this year I’m reversing things.  Instead of thinking about what is lost, I’m choosing to think about what is here. This year, I’m thinking of my children.  To my kids, this moment is to say thank you for being my children. No matter what, I’m your biggest cheerleader, your strongest advocate, and your toughest life-coach.  I truly would not change one hair on your head.  Your difficulties have made me a stronger person and a better teacher, and your glories have filled me with a giddy joy.

The only thing I would change if I could would be to take some of the pain you’ve had to bear and make it my own, and truly I’ve carried your pain with me every step of the way. As a momma, it’s hard to watch you kids suffer, but I know hard times are part of living, of growing. It takes the good with the bad to become a polished soul.

To my not-so-little babies, thank you for your laughter and silliness, your kindness and strength.  Keep striving for the good and the right in life.  I love you, Hunny and Little Buddy!

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You are Kind…You are Short…

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Nineteen days and counting…this school year is quickly coming to a close.  Unbelievable.  We were talking about the end of our time together today, the kids and I, and one little girl said, “You’re gonna make me cry.”  I quickly responded, “Don’t you dare. If you cry, I’ll cry!”  Another child chimed in, “I like to see grown-ups cry.  I think it’s funny.”  I laughed hard…not sure why…I think it was a stress-filled, give me a bag of chocolate, laugh.

(I stayed away from the chocolate somehow…until I got home.)

So what keeps me going besides chocolate?  Some days nothing but divine intervention, but other times reading a letter like this one:

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What a wonderful letter to her ‘grandma’ – read to the end! (Breto = burrito!)

Or this one from a little boy who hasn’t written anything on his own all year.  I told him he could write two sentences and that would be enough.  He didn’t stop until the end.  So, so proud of this child.

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His words warmed my tired heart.  Bless him.

We start tests next week…the lovely achievement tests.  Sigh.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years – it is what it is at this point.  I found a little something I wrote last year and it sums up my feelings about testing better than I could ever restate:

“Instead of having a nice, normal Monday of learning and fun with these kids (tomorrow),  we’re instead entering the torture chamber.  Achievement tests begin (tomorrow).  Government mandated, cluelessly approved, so not appropriate for six and seven-year old children, tests.  On my honor, I will strive to take as much of the stress from them as I can but no matter what I do…bribe them with mints, stand on my head, feed them cookies afterwards, they still have to do the work.  I can’t do it for them.  My kiddos will have to sit for two hours a day and fill in bubbles to questions that may or may not be on their level.  As a teacher and a parent, I despise these tests.  Have you ever seen a child cry over a test when the teacher isn’t allowed to tell them a word?  I have.  Have you ever seen the panic in a student’s eyes when they realize the powers that be are trying to trick them with the answer choices?  I see it every year.  It makes me wonder if the creators of tests for children have ever had their souls healed by a child before?  If they have, I can’t help but believe they would never succumb such small children to such inappropriate measures.

To all the children, teachers, parents and principals readying for the week ahead, my heart and head are with you.  We’re all in this together just in different rooms, in different counties, in different states.  I pray these children rise above the stress and blossom, and I pray for the leadership of our county, state and country.  I pray for awareness for what small children really are.  They are not robots or machines and they will not respond like one.  I pray that each unique child will be loved and appreciated for who they are…not for a number.  We are all different.  Not everyone will make a high score on their ACT.  Not everyone can be Valedictorian.  But I know this, everyone is here for a reason.  Everyone has a job to do somewhere on this earth.

For every child that has healed my soul, thank you.  Thank you for being you…just you.”

Riddle Time

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It started out innocently enough.  Riddles in our reading series…working with a partner to figure out the answer.  My class loves them and it has turned into riddles and jokes all the time.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  You just have to go with it and let the silliness take over.

Blondie, age 6 – “What do you call a test you can eat?”  (I shrug because I have no clue.)  “A piece of cake!”

Little fellow who barely spoke the first semester but has now ‘blossomed’, age 6 – “You wanna hear a ‘your momma’ joke?”  I naively said yes because like I said, he didn’t talk for months.  “Your mother is so stupid (he whispered this word), she tried to climb Mountain Dew!”

The same boy asked me a different day, “Wanna hear another one?”  “Sure,” I said.  “Your momma is so….” (I have to stop right here because this joke was a little bit dirty and definitely not appropriate for first grade!  I blushed!  His jokes now scare me.)

Hubby got in on the riddles yesterday.  “What is the first thing you know?”  This one stumped me all day long and he refused to tell me the answer until he got home.  You ready for this??  “The first thing you know ole Jed’s a millionaire!”

Just go with it people!

I took this joke to school and of course none of the kids knew Jed. I got very blank stares so I explained that it was an old show.  Sweetie pipes in, “I don’t watch those shows.  The only adult shows I watch are Dancing With the Stars, America’s Funniest Home Videos, and The Golden Girls.  That show’s a hoot!”

And so are these kids of mine.

Worry…

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Thank goodness I don’t have to be in charge.  Thank goodness I am not the boss and never, ever do I want to be the boss.  I learned the hard way that no matter how much I preach, nag, hover, worry, or beg, I can’t force things to be a certain way.  I can’t force things to be my way. It was hard letting go of the control, believe me.  As a teacher and a mom, I didn’t like it one bit.  But once I fully let go, it was a huge relief.

Still, I find myself worrying.  I ‘hand’ over my issues to God every day…and I mean every single day.  He probably gets tired of hearing it, honestly.  But still, the worry nags at times.  Still, I have to forcibly turn over my problems to someone who can handle them when I can’t.

Right now…I’m worried about my community.  I live in a small, rural town in the south.  There are approximately 7,500 city residents and 28,000 county residents.  We have a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot; we don’t have a Target or a Starbucks (and I would love to have both of these).  Our newspaper comes out once a week, Swap-n-Shop is on the radio every day for people to buy and sell their goods, and we have eight schools in the county.  People know each other.  People know you and your granny and your best friend from high school.

My community is struggling.  We battle with addiction and abuse and crime just like every other city.  We love sports and we support fund-raisers and little league teams.  We watch homecoming parades passing through the city square and fill churches on Sunday.  We gather to eat and share and love.

Still, my community is in trouble.  We are divided when it comes to leadership.  We let the past blur the future.  We forget others needs and focus only on our own.  We forget daily to love each other as God would do.  Daily, we forget to be kind.

I wish I had the answers for the pain.  I wish I had magic words to fix problems beyond my control.  But I don’t…and I have to remind myself that deep down, I truly don’t want to be in charge of fixing the woes of my town.  Just as I do every day, I’ll turn these issues over to God.  On this Easter Sunday, I pray for my divided community, for the leaders, for the workers, for the people.  I hope for resolution and fairness.  I pray for peace.