important things

Yesterday was the first day of summer vacation for teachers in my district. And today – and tomorrow, and the day after that – I have to go to three days of inservice. I can’t even bring myself to call it professional development because it is all about – and only about – how to use the new basal reader our district just adopted.

Yesterday I did important things. Not so many or so impressive, but important nevertheless. I caught up on some correspondence, balanced the checkbook, had lunch with a dear friend whose life is going to be taking a different track, did some writing, finished a great book, changed the sheets on the bed, helped my son unload (for the last time) his college “stuff,” took a walk, cooked dinner, and various other “little” things.

But these are the important things. Just like the grandfather in Eve Bunting’s A Day’s Work, I know the important things, and I want to demonstrate that knowledge in the way I live my life.

It will not be easy to do that today – or tomorrow, or the day after that. Yesterday was just a teaser, I guess – but summer’s comin’!!

summer reading

I just finished reading The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I had read another of her books (The Forgotten Garden) and enjoyed it very much,  and so this one caught my eye. Here’s the review on

During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

So I figured that the mystery was all about the crime, and of course it was, but there was so much more. So much. I have to admit that there were tedious times when I had to make myself keep at it. And so many confusing parts – which added to the mystery of course! By the way, I figured out one of the mysteries early on – or thought that I did – and so I kept looking for confirmations (and found some seemingly discrepant information that made me doubt my thinking), but in the end I was right and felt so satisfied that the author felt the same way I did about these characters, and thankful that it turned out that way in the end. (Even knowing that her words gave all the clues and made me feel that way in the first place!)

As a reading teacher I extol the virtues of rereading for understanding. I often do this, but only in short snippets, usually of a recent part, or perhaps the last place I read before I finished reading the day before, or sometimes the first chapter that made little sense at the time I read it because I had no knowledge of the characters or any schema to connect it to.  I hear friends talk of rereading certain books every so often, but I don’t do that. I always want to read something different- so many books, so little time!

In this book, however, I went back to one chapter throughout the book and I reread it four different times. And now that I am finished, I do think it would be a great book to reread from start to finish. And I never say that! There was just so much there. So much character study, so much history, so many beautiful phrases that deserve to be read and reread, again and again. A true friend is a light in the dark, indeed.

I bought the actual hardcover book and I can’t wait to pass it on to just the right reader friend so that we can talk about it after she reads it. And I have decided that’s one of the drawbacks of Kindle books – you can’t pass them on. Not for free, as a gift, like handing someone a trip to another place or another time. I find some of my favorite reads that way, through the recommendations of friends.

So if you are looking for a good summer read I would recommend this book – and I would love to know the thoughts of other readers, too. And I will be a different kind of secret keeper – you can’t get the mystery out of me, no matter what. You’ll just have to read this great book yourself!

looking in all the wrong places

They found a cluttered desk with papers hanging out the sides and several tests with low grades wadded up and crammed in the back behind the books. There were broken pencils and crumbly remains of various snacks stuck in between notebooks and journals. But they didn’t find what we were looking for.

They read through mountains of papers describing his early life, the concerns of teachers in earlier grades, and a record of poor grades. There were notes from meetings describing parent concerns and suggestions from school personnel. Scores on assessments revealed average results, nothing that justified further evaluations. Progress monitoring records revealed a pattern of inconsistency but overall growth. And still they couldn’t find what they sought.

They saw a disinterested manner in class, a lack of engagement, wrong answers when called on, and a sullen expression. They saw frequent bathroom visits, lots of pencil sharpening, repeated funny faces directed to a student across the room. And still what they wanted to find was nowhere in sight.

Since the boy had begun to struggle in school, the child they once knew had been missing. They were looking for the child who used to giggle, and ask questions, and tell long stories about every step he was taking. They couldn’t find the boy who laughed when he made a mistake and asked for help when he needed a hand.

And no matter how hard they looked in the data, and the papers, and the classroom setting, they couldn’t find the true soul of the little boy they once knew.

And then along came that teacher, who looked in his eyes and said, “I know how smart you really are. Can I teach you that so you will know it too?” And at last, the young man sighed, and gave a hint of a hopeful smile.

saying goodbye

Saying goodbye is never easy. When you know it is a final goodbye it is especially hard.

Our tradition of funeral home visitations, funerals, and graveside services are sometimes incomprehensible to the young, tedious to teenagers, prolonged to some, exhausting to others. But the intent is to show respect, and to give comfort, and do what we can for those left behind. And so we do what we can, the best way we know how.

When I was young, I never liked going with my parents to a visitation. They seemed to know everyone there and had to spend what seemed like an enormous amount of time visiting. As I got older I asked if this was disrespectful to the grieving family – not really out of concern for their feelings, but just as a way of leaving sooner. It didn’t work.

The first family member I remember services for was my grandmother. We were very close, but at the funeral home all the visitors were friends of my mother, or my aunt, and some older ones were friends of my grandmother herself. The personal loss I felt didn’t really hit me until one of my friends came to visit – just for me. Somehow that made it all real. And while it hurt, I appreciated it so very much and remember it still, through all these many years.

When our daughter was very young, we became friends with an elderly lady in our church. When we would visit and take her food we walked through her front yard that she had filled with flowers, and we all delighted in our brief times together. When she passed away, we tried to explain to our daughter what had happened and that even though her body was there she was really in heaven. We thought she understood, until, at the visitation, our daughter went to one of the chairs that surrounded the room and sat down alone. We asked her what she was doing. “Waiting for Mrs. Jacobs to wake up,” she replied.

I have a friend that has had way beyond her share of tragedies in her life. One of her daughters was killed in an accident when her car was hit by a sheriff’s vehicle. That car lost control while chasing a speeder down the curvy country road they lived on. Video from the funeral was on TV repeatedly because of the controversy surrounding the necessity of the high speed chase. This was my first loss that literally took my breath away, and hurt so deeply that I had to remind myself to breathe. I remember that after the burial in the family cemetery just down the road from their house, what seemed like hundreds of friends and family gathered at their home and food seemed to be everywhere. I remember there didn’t seem to be anything I could do for her but just to be there with her and for her, and so that’s what I did.

I remember when this same friend’s mother died after years of Alzheimer’s had taken away the strong and loving soul from her body. The funeral was in a small country church that had floor-to-ceiling windows and relatively few seats. The vocalist was a friend with the voice of an angel, and during the quiet service the snow fell outside and wrapped us with a sense of calm and peace. The simple beauty of it remains in my memory. It was the perfect reflection of my friend’s mother’s life.

Although my mother had cancer, she died sooner than we expected and we were all in a state of surprise and concern for my father. We decided to have only graveside services. I remember when my aunt, my mother’s sister, viewed her body for the first time – she cried and said it just didn’t look like her. So we asked them to put her glasses on and it seemed to make things better. My mother was very active in the church’s music ministry, and the former song leader was surprised that we didn’t have a service at the church for her. So he went to the funeral home that morning before the service and sang “Because He Lives” just to her, just because. And at the cemetery, my son cried and cried because he could see how distraught his grandfather was at losing the love of his life and his wife of over 60 years.

Because my mother took care of my dad I wondered what I would do with him after she was gone. He only lived six months, but that time was a gift for me and my husband and my children to really get to know this quiet man who had lived in my outgoing mother’s shadow. The times I visited with him brought peace to my hectic life and I felt such a loss when he passed away. When I wrote some words for the minister to share I said, “I wondered what I would do with him, and now I can’t imagine what I will do without him.”

People have been known to say, “She looks so good,” or “He looks so natural,” and I have cringed every time I heard those words. But when my husband’s mother passed away, I worried about how she would look. She spent four years in a nursing home bed, her fragile skin scarred by bruises and sores, although still through it all, the complexion on her cheeks was always so beautiful. And she did look so “good” and so “natural,” and I will ever be thankful to the funeral home for that gift to our family.

And so with these and many other sad times in my memory I went again to the funeral home today because a long-time friend lost her twenty-five year old son on his birthday. And I heard her say how she just couldn’t believe it and woke up in the mornings and had to remember it was true all over again. And I saw his dad pat his son’s chest with tears in his eyes and say, “He was a good boy.” And I remembered all over again that saying goodbye is never easy. When you know it is a final goodbye it is especially hard.