bookmarks

I am thankful that books have always been such an important part of my life. I know my parents read to me often – grandparents, too. I still have a few of those old Little Golden Books from my childhood.

LittleGoldenBook1979

When I was in elementary school, the magic of getting lost in a story happened to me in third grade. I remember the first “chapter” book that became real to me – The Plow Penny Mystery. Someday I may purchase one to add to my collection.

plow penny mystery

For some reason I loved Freddy the Pig books. I do have three of those that are calling from the shelf for me to make time to reread them.

freddy the pig books

I have to admit that I suffered through some of the classics in high school. Many did speak to me, especially under the loving tutelage of some dear English teachers, but others I never could make sense of – even with Cliff Notes.

In college my favorite courses turned out to be the Children’s Literature classes. I read many familiar stories with new eyes and better understanding. Even in those days before comprehension strategy instruction I learned that visualizing and synthesizing made the book become my own. One of the projects we were assigned was to make a diorama of a fairy tale. Mine still remains intact 35+ years later. It was always the topic of discussion and questioning from my students when I had it in my classroom.

wild swans box

When our children were little we read to them each night. They had favorites as little ones: The Best Nest and Go Dog, Go! The Bible Storybook was well worn through those years, too. Such special times together. It was incredible to see the impact of a favorite story and a good read. On my life as well as theirs.

In my fourth grade classroom I always made time for read alouds. Almost Starring Skinnybones, The Matchlock Gun, and Where the Red Fern Grows came around every year. That was back in the days of using a basal reader, and we came to know the characters in those stories as well.

It was my great joy to become a literacy specialist and to work more specifically with reading for the last ten years of my teaching career. I learned to love books even more, and I shared that appreciation with the classroom teachers I worked with. As it came time for me to retire, I knew I couldn’t give up any of my personal books, but I worried that certain grade levels would miss the stories they had built units around.

So I decided to give each grade level some (new) books as my parting gift. I had such fun choosing the titles – some had been often borrowed from my personal collection, and some were books that I knew would blend in with their curriculum. And each one is “read aloud worthy” – meaning it could be read and reread as a touchstone or mentor text for both reading and writing instruction.

retirement books

It was even more pleasant to wrap each one with a reading quote that spoke specifically to that grade and its demands.

retirement book gifts 8

And my personal books are on a bookshelf at home awaiting the newest joy of my life, our future granddaughter, Madison Rosalie. Won’t we have fun adventures as we travel those many pages together! A new kind of book love will fill our lives for sure.

Family reading.

seeing into the past

Sometimes I will go back through my writing to be reminded of previous pieces – both the subject of the writing as well as the emotions those words bring forth. Yesterday I reread a post I had written about my grandfather’s workshop. I paused as a vivid mental picture came to mind, knowing that it is all I have left to look at. The building is no longer there, and to my knowledge we have no photos of it.

Also yesterday, I was talking with my daughter’s friend who is a wonderful photographer. She spoke of one of her favorite services, called Daily Sessions. “These are snapshots taken of the everyday activities and places we have fond memories of, but so rarely have photos to represent them. I love providing those pictures for my clients.” This conversation made me think again of my grandfather’s workshop, and once again I wished to see that place one more time.

Then last night we went with our daughter and son-in-law to view two newly constructed mantles that had been created for their home. The craftsman salvages old wood beams and boards and then designs unique pieces from those treasured resources. His work for them was just what they dreamed of and they were so pleased. As we were leaving he offered to show us some of his other wood pieces and projects in progress, and he took us to a building at the back of his property.

There were the shelves laden with wood and tools and jars of nails, the wood-scrap-covered floor, the single hanging light bulbs, the smell permeating the air: Sawdust smells like wood, of course, and heat, and hands, and sweat. If it is fresh it fills the air, and your nostrils, with its dust, and if it has been there a while, it smells like something settled and content.

Time stood still for me as I walked through that door and I was there again in my granddaddy’s workshop. The dim colors, the closed-in-ness, the shelves so packed you couldn’t see what possibilities were waiting in the back. The lighting, the tools: in particular a drill mounted to the front edge of a workbench. I was quiet and amazed, in awe. My mental picture was brought into focus: settled, and content

I still wish we had pictures of granddaddy’s workshop. And I am so glad my daughter’s friend has the foresight to know how valuable those daily session photos are – and will be. But I am thankful for the restoration and sharpening of my mental images by a chance encounter with a piece of my past.

sorted and sifted (part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about sorting and sifting and getting rid of the “fluff.” When I read back through it today, I realized the piece needed some sorting and sifting of its own. So here is the “filtered” version:

Inspired by a dear friend who was cleaning out belongings and ridding their family of unnecessary things, I began my own purging undertaking to rid our home of things we no longer needed. I made a plan – a room each month, with no drawer or cabinet left undone. Looking towards retirement at the end of the year, I knew I wanted it done before then.

Somehow each month a day appeared (or two or three) that offered me the time to pull out things, think through their value, and reorganize our lives. The completion of each room made me more ready to move on to the next one. One rainy day I managed to go through the entire room I dreaded most – the kitchen. I was exhausted at the end of the day, and none of my hard work showed on the surface. Yet having the knowledge buried in my own heart of what was (and wasn’t) inside all those hidden spaces became a solace for me.

And in the midst of this organization at home, retirement was looming. There was much at school to be taken care of as well. Sorting through computer files took the most amount of time, and was mind boggling and totally draining mentally. I started that in January, and I also came in during spring break and cleaned out my filing cabinets. I do believe I finally accomplished these tasks with good results, and it made me wish I had put those files in order long ago. My large collection of personal books that was there at school dwindled daily as I began taking them home just a few at a time.

Everything that I brought home is now in one filing cabinet in the garage and one box under the bed. It all needs to be sorted through one more time, and I believe I will eliminate a few more things. It has been an arduous but very gratifying journey. However, it was worth every effort and mental strain. On that last day of school, just as I had hoped, I walked out with my purse on my shoulder and a few bittersweet tears in my eyes.

This whole process of ordering my life has taught me so much. I can find things more easily now. I have gotten rid of “stuff” that had placed itself in the way of my treasuring those other, much more important gifts. Much of the activity in our lives of the last few months is now a blur because I was “in my head” for a good deal of that time – sorting and sifting to find the grain among the chaff, the true gold amidst the gravel. But now, there are exciting days ahead, and I won’t be weighed down with the burden of unnecessary things.

sorting and sifting

Last year a dear friend moved to another state when her husband followed a new job opportunity. There were many reasons I was sad to see her go, and although she herself had mixed feelings, there was an excitement in her voice, looking towards interesting adventures and new beginnings.

One of her most invigorating activities, and the one that inspired me even in my own permanently planted state, was her cleaning out of belongings and ridding their family of unnecessary things. “It feels so good!” she told me, and I listened and longed for that same attitude of freedom. And so I began on my own purging undertaking to rid our home of all the fluff.

My mother was quite a “collector,” and toward the end of her life that became a huge problem for her and my dad. Having lived through (and sorted through) all of that, I do have a sense of utilitarianism, keeping what is needed, and finding a better home for the rest. No one would call me a minimalist, and I do have several sentimental reminders of important life activities, but compared to many others, I have never been a packrat. Or so I thought.

During spring break a year ago I started going through drawers and closets in our bedroom, and along the way I found treasures I had forgotten about and other things that definitely needed to go. It took the better part of that week, but it left me feeling energized and ready to go through the whole house. I decided I would complete this activity during the summer to come.

But last summer our son had just graduated from college and the focus was on him and his finding a job. I was distracted to say the least, and the cleaning out didn’t get completed. So I made a plan for the school year. A room each month, with no drawer or cabinet left undone. Looking towards retirement at the end of the year, I knew I wanted it done before then.

Lo and behold, my plan started to come together! Somehow each month a day appeared (or two or three) that offered me the time to pull out things, think through their value, and reorganize our lives. The completion of each room made me more ready to move on to the next one. Even though I initially dreaded the kitchen, one rainy day in April I managed to get the filtering in that entire room finished. I was exhausted at the end of the day, and at one point my husband said, “Now what will you do when you retire?” Seriously?? Many, many other things, now that my home life was organized.

The funny thing is, none of this showed on the surface. Friends familiar with our home could come in and never notice anything different. That was a little discouraging, and the day after I completed the clean-out of the kitchen, I went back in there and opened all the cabinets at one time so I could survey the results and remind myself how much better it truly was. Having that knowledge buried in my own heart has become a solace for me.

And in the midst of this, retirement. I had taught for 34 years, and along the way I had accumulated many things. Last year we had two classroom teachers retire, and they spent the first half of summer going through things and getting their classrooms cleaned out. I wanted to walk out the school door on the last day and have everything finished. I wanted my retirement to begin on day one of summer, and so I began that task in January.

I started with things that wouldn’t be noticed. I worked long and hard on computer files, sorting and sifting through what to keep for me, what to set aside for the next literacy specialist, and what to delete. That took the most amount of time, and was mind boggling and totally draining mentally. I hadn’t been the most organized of file savers. Several things were placed in multiple places so I could find them – which actually made them harder to locate. I do believe I finally accomplished this task with good results, and it made me wish I had organized those files long ago.

(I really didn’t want others to know of my retirement plans. In addition to the principal, there were only two dear friends at my school that knew. They kept that secret for me, and I highly recommend that to others. When it was announced about three weeks before the end of school, another teacher told me, “I sure didn’t see this coming.” I took that as a sincere compliment, and was so pleased that no one seemed to think that I had “let up” in my work because I was on the way out.)

So I came in during spring break and cleaned out my filing cabinets. I also had a large collection of personal books there at school, and I began taking them home just a few at a time. It wasn’t until after others knew I was leaving that I asked my husband to come one weekend and get a few bookshelves, an office chair, and the lamps that kept my windowless room aglow. By then my walls and bulletin boards were cleared, and the one box of posters and displays to keep went home that weekend, too.

Everything I kept is in one filing cabinet in the garage and one box under the bed. It does need to be sorted through one more time, and I believe I will eliminate a few more things. It has been an arduous but very gratifying journey. However, it was worth every effort and mental strain. On that last day of school I walked out with my purse on my shoulder and a few bittersweet tears in my eyes.

This whole process of ordering my life has taught me so much. I can find things more easily now. When new items are purchased – after a thought process that relates to the true need and worth of said pieces – I know where they need to be set up or stored. I have discovered things that truly matter, some things that I had forgotten about. I have gotten rid of “stuff” that had placed itself in the way of my treasuring those other, much more important gifts.

Much of the activity in our lives of the last few months is now a blur. I was “in my head” for a good deal of that time, sorting and sifting to find the grain among the chaff, the true gold amidst the gravel. To carry on in the future means to continue this process daily, and I hope to do just that. There are exciting days ahead, and I don’t want to be weighed down with the burden of unnecessary things.

the blooms will come

I was privileged to teach for 34 years, in grades three through six, including serving for ten of those years as a reading specialist/literacy coach. My career consumed me, it delighted me, it frustrated me, and it fulfilled me.

I have always felt called to teach, even fifteen years in when I was experiencing a bad case of burnout. At that time, as an almost vocal answer to my prayers for what to do next, I could hear God saying, “I have called you to teach, and until I call you for something else, just carry on.” And so I did.

I still have a lot of teaching stories inside me, and they will still be told, but this year it was time to retire, and I repeatedly saw signs along the way. Most prevalently, the sign that spoke loudest to me was about assessment and data. I believe – I always will – that teaching is about individual relationships and personal growth. Education is about knowing students and becoming a part of each other’s lives. It is about working and celebrating together.

Teaching should not be about numbers. It is not about impersonal computer assessments, scores derived from one measure that determine futures, numbers that can be skewed to reinforce what someone is looking for, or decisions based on trends and predictability formulas. Obviously my beliefs and today’s educational practices are in conflict.

A friend assured me I would go through a grieving process, and I may, especially when school begins in the fall. After all, I have been in school, as a student or a teacher, for all but one of the last fifty-four years. But as for grieving, I believe most of that process has already taken place for me. I have been saddened by what I see as backwards steps in reading instruction in our district. I have been appalled at the political maneuvers used by education’s leadership at local, state and national levels. I have been discouraged by the lack of trust and belief in teachers. I have been hurt by acquaintances who have devalued and disrespected my colleagues and myself. And quite honestly, I am tired of the negativity this has brought to my life.

So I am truly energized about my retirement and the days ahead. There are opportunities to breathe deeply, to embrace new ideas, and to foster relationships with others. I can reconnect with neglected family and friends. I can be a better wife and mother, a better homemaker, a more engaging conversationalist. And there is time to listen more carefully to see what God is now calling me to do. there is anticipation – not anxiousness but enthusiasm – to see where this all leads.

My daughter went with me to purchase a hanging basket for our back yard the other day. I have waited almost too late in the season to have many choices among the remaining offerings at local nurseries. I knew I wanted a geranium, but there were very few healthy looking ones from which to pick. Thankfully, here’s what I ended up with:

geranium

My daughter asked me if it bothered me that there was only one bloom. “Not at all,” I replied truthfully. “Look closely. There are buds all over this plant. The blooms will come.”

geranium buds

And that is how I view my retirement. There was a time when I thought I could never retire from the professional love of my life without knowing what I would be doing next. “I have to have it all lined up before I can quit,” I told myself. But as it turns out, that is not the case. The feeling of freedom in this is incredible! Right now, I am very confident this was the right decision, extremely thankful for this opportunity, delighted in knowing it is absolutely the right thing.

No, I am not sure what my next professional steps will be. Yet I can assure you, there is a blessed peace in knowing that one day, when the time is right, the blooms will come.

time to tell

It has been a very busy time in our lives these past two months. We have been through periods like this before, where one day fades into the next and all of a sudden it is weeks later and you wonder where the time went.

In the past we had illnesses and other life changing situations to deal with. Circumstances that wore us out physically, but even more so mentally. Problems that we couldn’t solve, but also that we couldn’t stop thinking about. Draining, bone-tiring, cumbersome issues. Things we looked back on and wondered how we made it through. Opportunities to realize we were never alone, and reasons to thank God for leading, guiding, and comforting us inside very moment.

This time is different though. These days have been filled with exciting new possibilities. Good fortune and tremendous blessings. Occupying our thoughts and dreams, changing our lives for the better. And again, opportunities to realize we were never alone, and reasons to thank God for leading, guiding, and comforting us inside very moment.

As I try to take this all in, I know it will all be more real when I spend time processing it through my writing. Sometimes events – even blessed ones – have to process and age before the words are ready. I have been telling myself this, and I know it is true. So I have waited. But I believe it is time to start telling these stories.

Hopefully the writing will help me begin to absorb the magnitude of all these undeserved Godsends. All so much bigger than I can comprehend. But the writing brings together my thoughts, and adds its own benedictions. There’s been an absence, a hole, in the not-telling. I can’t wait any longer.