ready…set…

I have a jasmine vine in my back yard. It has beautiful yellow flowers in the early spring, and then it spends the rest of the growing season growing. And growing … and growing!

We have it “trained” around a tower, although I use that term loosely.  It loves to spread its tendrils and branch out toward anything nearby – the gutter, a flower pot, the hydrangeas. And it is always reaching towards the sky. Sometimes it looks like Medusa with snakelike vines growing up and out and covering the top of the tower. I am glad it is healthy, but I have to keep a watchful eye on it.

Recently I decided to give it a good clipping.  It was just getting out of hand!  It took quite some time but I cut enough off to uncover the top of the tower stand and reel in the outstretched wandering fingers throughout. Oops I missed one – can you see it in the picture below?
jasmine tower

Now I am anxious to see how quickly it grows back. I went out the other day to take a close look and found this sight:

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Well it seems it is just SO excited to get back to its job of becoming all that it can be. Look at all those new shoots! They are doing their best to push themselves to reach and grow!

All this reminds me of the new school year that is upon us and the students that will be a part of our lives for the next nine – ten months.  When we think about our last year’s class, we remember the growth, and the accomplishments, and the fun we had learning together.

But then sometimes, we also remember that our students got tangled up, got off course, got in each other’s way, and perhaps didn’t always do their best, especially at the end of the year.

Now the summer and the break from school has cleaned them up and straightened them out, and they are ready for a new start. The students are ready to push themselves to reach, and grow, and learn! I am anxious to see how quickly they grow!

Ready….Set….

GROW!

 

 

living out our days

I have a dear friend who is dying.

Well, to be honest, we are all dying, sooner or later. But my friend just happens to know that she is ill with a disease that will eventually cause her death. We both know this, but we choose not to talk about it or think about it.

Well, again to be honest, we both think about it all the time. I know I do. I wonder how she feels each day when she gets up. I hope she doesn’t feel sick that day, and I pray for her to miraculously be healed. I don’t think she dwells on this – she certainly doesn’t act like she does – but I wonder what thoughts turn around and around in her head each day. Each moment.

And I feel so sad to know that she won’t always be around.  I wonder what it will be like when she is gone. And when I get to that thought I do try not to think about it anymore because I don’t want to imagine this world without her in it.

She has always been a part of my heart. She has been there for me through my growing up, and through the birth of my children, and through the deaths of my parents. She has supported me in big events, during celebrations, through trials, with problems, and most importantly throughout the day-to-day smallness and wonder that constitute what is really important in life.

She understands my thinking. More precisely, she thinks like I do. We see eye to eye on so very many things it is almost scary. And so I know she is deeply pondering what her life has been about and what might be left to come because that’s what I would be thinking of if I were her.

I know there are some things she wants to do while she is still able to. The problem is, there are already some things she can’t do now. This illness has progressed along far enough that it keeps her from doing some of her normal activities, as well as some of the “one time” things she has dreamed of doing during her life.

So I am learning from this that we shouldn’t wait until it is too late to do those “important things.” Because if we do wait, then we might not be able to do them at all. Like the movie “The Bucket List,” and the song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” we all think about what we would do if we knew our days were numbered – how we can best live out our days. Or we should think about that. Because whatever it is on that list, we really should start doing those things right now.

The thing is, as I said before, we ARE all dying, sooner or later. And knowing this makes me ponder, “What should I be doing right now, when I am able, that I won’t regret NOT doing later on?” As well as, “Why am I wasting my time and energy on doing something unimportant and nonproductive?” And so I wonder what should be on my list.

I know one thing. What I want most of all now is to spend time with my dear friend. Now, while we are both able to do so. And I try to find ways to help her cross off some of the things on her list as well.

If this were you (and it is you, and me, sooner or later), how would you invest your time?

home away from home

home away from home

Throughout the last eleven years both of our children attended and graduated from the University of Mississippi. They chose different paths – a graphic design/art major and a civil engineering degree – but each had wonderful experiences there.

We were unfamiliar with Ole Miss when we took our daughter for her first semester and left her on her eighteenth birthday to face this stage of her life alone. We had been charmed by the city of Oxford on our college visits, and the day we left her there, the owner of the card shop on the square that we had just met gave us her phone number and encouraged us to contact her if our daughter ever needed anything. We have always been thankful for the friendly people that helped our children along the way.

Throughout the years we spent time tailgating in the Grove, and experience like no other:

grove tailgate

And there was lots of time moving in and moving out, shopping on the square, and discovering the amazing culinary scene – trying out new restaurants and returning over and over again to old favorites. Many people compare Oxford to our hometown of Franklin, Tennessee, and we enjoyed the similarities and relished the differences, too.

We often seemed to go there at busy times, but the visits we enjoyed most were when Oxford was moving at a slower pace. Last spring we went one last time for a visit such as this. Our son was on the brink of graduation (which would be another “busy time” we would return for) and we wanted to some spend time with him in this place that had become another home for our children, a weekend with him in this stage of his life before real life took control of his time and of his thinking.

Oxford is definitely a literary town. Home to William Faulkner, it is well known for its signature Square Books, a wonderful independent bookshop that grabs my attention each time we go.

Square Books

(Off Square Books is an “annex” just down the street, a bit more spacious with more variety in its selections and home to the Thacker Mountain Radio show each Thursday night.  And Square Books, Jr., just around the corner, is a children’s bookstore dream.) We spent a good deal of time at Square Books on our visit, and our son even asked us to buy him a book (which we gladly did!)

As an aside, this book caught my eye and made me laugh out loud.

y'all twins

(Seriously, what would make you think they were twins?) The stories within are humorous tales of these girls who have grown up and remain in Oxford.

And when I grow up and retire, I am definitely going to Camp Square Books – how could anyone resist this description:                          Join us for four leisurely days of book camp. Enjoy literary tours of Oxford and Lafayette County, special talks, lunches and two dinners, with a signed copy of each author’s book and reserved seating at events. The visiting authors for 2013 were Bill Cheng (Southern Cross the Dog), Gail Godwin (Flora), Clyde Edgerton (Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers), and Jeff Shaara (A Chain of Thunder). I wonder who will be there when I get to go? I can’t wait!

Square Books Camp

On this visit we finally went to Rowan Oak, home of William Faulkner. It is now owned by the University, and we had often “driven by” (or tried to – it is not as easy task as it is hidden at the end of a narrow street in a busy neighborhood). We took some time to linger among the trees, walk on the porches and in the courtyard, and consider what it was like when one of the South’s (America’s?) greatest writers lived and worked there. Even our math-minded engineering son enjoyed his visit there, too.

Rowan Oak

Back on the Square, we saw this sight:

Oxford Rooftop

How many towns (not cities) have rooftop venues? We learned that this was a law school alumni gathering – but I doubt there were any seersucker suits there since it was before Memorial Day. In my mind I could hear their Southern drawls and elongated vowels, and even from a distance we could hear the buzz of their conversations.

We stayed at the Downtown Inn, the hotel where we had stayed so long ago when we first brought our daughter to school. It is so convenient to walk anywhere downtown, right in the middle of things. This was one of the last weekends it would be open, though, as it was doomed to soon meet the wrecking ball, only to be replaced by a much nicer (and more expensive) boutique hotel, Hotel Indigo Oxford:

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And it is time for some improvements to be made. But our staying there one last time brought things around full circle.

We remembered our first stay there, during freshman orientation in 2002, when we brought our daughter so long ago. While there we thought we would be smart and decided to go ahead and book a room for a football weekend. When we asked, the clerk told us the price, which was triple what we were paying for our stay at that time. “Why? How can you do that?” we asked. His reply, with a smile, “Because we can.” Then he told us there wasn’t anything available anyway, that the rooms were booked years ahead of time, and the same people return over and over again. “How do you ever get a room here then?” we marveled. “Basically someone has to quit coming – or die,” he replied. “But there is a long line ahead of you even then.”

We wished we had longer to stay so we could eat at more places. Our family can’t visit Oxford without eating (or trying to get in) Ajax, the spicy meat-and-three diner on the Square.

Ajax Oxford

But there are so many other tempting establishments, new and old, that we never have time or hunger enough to visit all the restaurants at which we would like to eat.

Of all the charms this town has to offer, the best thing about this particular visit (and every one we have made) was spending time with our son (and at other times our daughter and son-in-law). They have all grown up so much in this little home-away-from-home. They have found lifelong friends (and our daughter met her husband) while living in this special place.

We could see that now our son has an understanding of and appreciation for life and luxuries and little things that he didn’t have when he came here. Of all the things I love about Oxford, I will always cherish the memories of the times our children spent here and the way this little town helped them grow.

good advice

Recently I was a guest at a baby shower, and before the mother-to-be opened her gifts the hostesses asked each guest to share some good mothering advice. There were many memorable suggestions and some funny stories – what a great idea for a party!

I was towards the end of the circle and many things I was thinking of had already been said by the time is was my turn. So even though this wasn’t my first thought, my advice was this, given in two parts:

First, the teacher in me says don’t raise your child to think he (or she) is the only, or the most important, person in the world. Unselfishness doesn’t often come naturally, so we as parents need to nurture that character trait in our children. As a teacher, I see students who have been raised to think they are the only person that matters, and consequently they never think of others first. Honestly, these types are sometimes almost unbearable when they act that way!

And second, as a mother I would say DO raise your son to know and believe that he is the only “Tanner” (or “John”, or “Evan”…) that there is or ever will be, so he needs to work towards being the best at being himself that he can be.

Not the most important person there is, but the only one who can do the work that God has designed specially and specifically for him to do.

of thee i sing

Recently we spent a few days in Jackson, WY. It was a new destination for us, and fresh and different sights filled our days and nights.

Above all the landscape was a powerful reminder of the bigness of our world and the smallness of me as an individual. I was awe inspired by the beauty of nature and the gifts of God evident in each corner and in every vast expanse. It was impossible to take it all in – but we did our best at looking and gawking and staring and being so thankful to be present – there, at that time, in that spot.

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One morning we took a float trip down the Snake River. Such peace and delight. There was so much to see at every turn, so much to consider, so many differences to note.

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The rivers there spread out and meander along as if they are anxious to see for themselves what is around the next bend. Then suddenly they squeeze together and rush between hills and ridges that appear out of nowhere, or they reach the edge and plunge powerfully into the next stage of their life.

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And the water in those rivers and streams is cool, clear, and pure. The rocks below and the fish within are in plain sight. How different from the green coves of our lake at home.

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One day we hiked to Hidden Falls near Jenny Lake. As we stood there taking in the sight we felt a powerful, unending air conditioner blowing directly on us, a combination of the mountain air and water bringing us refreshment, energy, and encouragement for the rest of our hike.

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We looked – and saw – moose, elk, buffalo, white pelicans, bald eagles, ospreys, and cutthroat trout. How peaceful to share these spaces with such mighty animals. They went about their business without being very concerned about our presence. We were thankful they would share their world with us.

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The times we went to the top of the mountains we were overwhelmed again by the vastness of the spaces and the vistas that spread out before us.  Putting everything into perspective from such a vantage point seemed unreal.

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The powerful winds atop the mountains and the steep drop off made me wonder how anyone snow skis. And can you ever take it all in, the reality of moving down those spaces so quickly, from one world into the next? Even on a slow tram I was amazed by making that transition.

When we visited Yellowstone National Park, our first time there, it was everything we had seen and read about, and so much more at the same time. Old Faithful lived up to its name.

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As we walked into the Inn there behind a young boy, I heard him say, “It looks like something from Harry Potter,” and I had to agree.

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The glowing colorful pools, the grand canyon, Yellowstone Lake – so many things to see, experience, and remember. Such powerful examples of the power and beauty in our planet earth.

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I wonder if people who live there take such things for granted. Or is it fresh and new to them each day? And I wonder about what it is like there in the brutal cold of winter. And how do you learn to live with such contrasts? And I wonder if I will ever go back, and will it all be just as amazing to me then if I do return?

I left thankful to have seen this part of our great country, so different from where I live, so vast and beautiful, so inspiring. And I am so thankful we are all in this together, those folks in Wyoming, and us folks here in Tennessee. All part of our great America.

Of thee I sing!

 

the pattern of my life

Recently I made a combined timeline of our family’s activities. I included jobs, houses, children’s schooling, etc. Because we have moved and changed jobs a few times it all seemed to run together.

It was then that I noticed a pattern in our lives. We seemed to be living our lives in sets of 11 years at a time.

I spent 11 years in my first two teaching positions. Then I spent the next 11 years as a teacher where my own children attended elementary school. This was where I felt like I did my best teaching. The grade (4th) was perfect for me, and I loved every minute of it. I am blessed that some of those students still contact me from time to time, remembering the “good ol’ days.”

My next school (and the beginning of my next set of 11 years) was a middle school – eeek! That is just not what I am meant to teach – more power to those that minister in this age range! After those l-o-n-g three years, my last two positions have been as the literacy specialist in elementary schools. I love what I do, even though I do miss being a classroom teacher.

This year will be my 34th year to teach. That’s right, I am extending past this current set of 11 years. But I am not planning on this year being the first of my next set of 11 years. In fact, there won’t be another set of 11. Not 11 more years of teaching. So I guess I am breaking that pattern.

It isn’t just me though. My husband’s positions and responsibilities in his jobs have shifted around the 11 year mark. In addition, our children attended a local private school for middle and high school. And between them, they were there for a total of – you guessed it – 11 years. Not only that, from the time our first child began college to the time our second child finished there, you can imagine how many years elapsed. Yes indeed, it was 11.

So what does all this mean? I suppose it is just a coincidence.

Yet the joy I see in it is that we have all been blessed with various opportunities that change from time to time to keep our learning, our growth, and our encounters fresh and new. And we have also been given sufficient time in each phase to linger long enough to gain worthwhile familiarity and make these places and these opportunities part of who we are today.

What an interesting pattern of events, jobs, houses, experiences, people, and life.

Now I wonder – what will the next set of 11 years hold?

the bridge

After our daughter and son-in-law married seven years ago, my husband and I planned a short weekend getaway to the beach. We had just had a fun summer of planning and partying and hosting events for their big celebration, and we looked forward to this weekend away. Our daughter had moved with her husband to a new town and was looking there for a job.

As my husband and I were near the completion of our journey, crossing the long bridge across the bay and almost to the beach, our daughter called us and announced that she had found a job. As we drove across that expanse of water she gave us details about this work that would be her first experience using the knowledge she had gained in graphic design while obtaining her college degree. We were thrilled to hear the good news!

Recently our son also graduated from college. For his first job using the knowledge gained with his civil engineering degree, he had been to several interviews, including a second one with a company he really wanted to join. He had hoped to know something definite before our family vacation, yet he knew nothing the morning we left on our drive to the beach.

“I am sure they will call you before we get to Birmingham,” I reassured him, but there was no word there, or in Montgomery, or as we left the Interstate to travel the smaller roads. Later, as we began to cross the bridge across the bay and almost to the beach, he received an email from the man he had interviewed with, telling him to enjoy his trip. He asked our son to call them when he returned home, because they were ready to make him a job offer. Once again, we were thrilled to hear this news!

How ironic that these experiences were so similar for both of our children. And how fitting that they were “crossing a bridge” to a new time in their lives – from college to the work world, from childhood to adulthood.

Yes, how thankful we all are for the ways God works in our lives – as we go from one stage to another, He is bridging the gap, ever leading us on.