Monday, August 29, 2016

Freshman Names

Sometime around 2002, there were a whole bunch of mommies and daddies who dreamed up some really interesting names for their adorable little newborns. And a whole bunch of those little ones are now freshmen in my English classes!

I've been in education for 37 years now, and I can't remember ever being faced with a roster of names like those that greeted me at the start of this new school year. Many of them I wasn't even sure how to pronounce.

Biblical names are always popular, but this year there were some I'd never seen outside the pages of the Bible. I now know, for sure, how to pronounce Esau and Nehemiah. And then there are those British names you read in Agatha Christie novels but never actually hear in real life, like Cyril. I always thought it was SEER-uhl. Turns out it's SIR-uhl, at least at my student's house. And then there's Cipriano. Thank goodness he told me he likes to be called C.J.

In one class, both Zonte and Jonte were enrolled. No, not twins, not brothers, not even related. Other boys' names include Khijhel and Taliesin. Taliesin likes to be called "T." He said he was named after Frank Lloyd Wright's famous school of architecture, Taliesin West, here in Scottsdale, Arizona, but his parents chose an original pronunciation: tuh-LEE-she-uhn.

The girls' names, of course, are usually the most creative, and this year is no exception. We have Deiah, Noelia, Kwamie, Exianne, Chantea, and Exxianne. My spell-check does not recognize any of these names, and neither did I at the start of the year.

Once I retire and become a full-time writer, I just might be looking for some original names to give my characters. I think the ones I noted in this post might just have some possibilities!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dinner with Debbie

Lovely early birthday presents from my friend!
August 26, 2016

Toward the end of every summer, my sweet friend Debbie insists on taking me out to a birthday lunch before she returns to her home in the Valley for the winter. And she never fails to bring me a thoughtful gift, often made with her own two hands.

Last night we met at Native Grill for dinner--fish and chips for me and a burger for her, all yummy--and I was able to convince her to let me turn the tables for once, allowing me to pay for her dinner since I'm not nearly as good a friend as Debbie is! Her birthday is just four weeks after mine, but by the end of September I'm so caught up in the stress of work and planning for our annual first-week-of-October family vacation that I usually miss her birthday altogether or just send a card, since she's already returned to the Valley by then.

So, this year, she brought me a big bag of beautiful gifts and I treated her to dinner as a very-early birthday gift! I hope she knows how precious she is and how much her friendship means to me!

One of the handmade table runners Debbie gave me for my birthday last year
adorns the top of the tall dresser in my bedroom, a perfect match for my bear quilt!

Debbie is a master quilter, a hobby to which she gives much love and time. One of her gifts was a quilted throw-pillow in our high school's colors, purple and gold. It just so happens that Debbie and I met at Blue Ridge High when I came here as a first-year teacher in 1990 and she was an established instructional aide; a few years later she had earned her own teaching degree and moved with her husband, George, to the Valley where she taught at Mesa High until she retired a few years ago.

I love the pillow! It will be a bright spot in a dark living room filled with the very brown furniture picked out by my second husband (which was delivered just three days after we split up, leaving me stuck paying for the stuff he just had to have...but I'm not bitter...ha!). Debbie also gave me a rose candle that actually smells like real roses! And the glittery card (I love glitter) is adorable.

Thank you, Debbie! (I know you're reading this!) You are an amazing woman, a wonderful friend, and a talented seamstress. I look forward to many more years of long heartfelt talks, tasty meals shared, and meaningful friendship. Love you!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Apples Are Blushing

Our little apples are starting to take on a red blush!
August 21, 2016

The other day I glanced out the front window, curious about how our tiny green apples were doing, and I noticed there were pale red patches peeking out from among the green leaves. I wanted to go have a closer look but, as usual, the busy activities of life intruded on my immediate plans. Thus, it wasn't until this morning that I went out to have a closer look. Sure enough, our little apples are taking on a fine blush here and there.

A nice, healthy cluster of apples!

The apples our tree first produced, unexpectedly, five years ago mostly ended up rotting in the grass because I hadn't known it was an apple tree. Nonetheless, we were able to rescue a few and give them a try. As I remember them, they were quite sweet and tasty despite their small size. This year, I expect to harvest and enjoy many more of these little gems!

Blue Ridge High School as seen from the air around 6:00 a.m.
August 10, 2016

And here's a bonus photo, captured from the sky by Chris Paxman. Chris is a photographer with his own studio, as well as the photography teacher at our high school, who inspired Dylan in his quest to ultimately become a professional photographer himself. (And Chris is also my doctor's son. That's small-town life for you.) 

It's a great shot of our whole, widespread campus, including the soccer, football, and baseball fields. My classroom is located in the East Campus, the big building at the front on the right side, where the English and social studies classes are located, along with art and two science classrooms. This picture also captures a great slice of our mountain beyond the campus, the beautiful evergreen-carpeted place we call home!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Empty Nest Perks

The big entertainment center in my tiny living room after July's deep-cleaning.
(Yes, the Christmas lights Dylan put up in December are still there. I decided
to leave them until next Christmas, then give them to him for his own home.)

By 8:00 this morning, I had cleaned out and reorganized my kitchen cupboards, pantry, and refrigerator. I'd also washed up last night's dishes, planned my meals for the coming week, and made a shopping list for today's shopping trip. I love when my day starts out productively!

I have way too much furniture crammed into my small home!
I actually take tons of these pictures after deep-cleaning each year so I can
update my home inventory for insurance purposes. But handy for blogging!

There are still a few items on my to-do list, of course. A couple of bills to pay, a letter to write, the previously mentioned shopping, two loads of laundry to wash/dry/put away, my bangs to trim, a decision to be made regarding for whom I will cast my vote in the upcoming primary election. The thing that amazes me is that the reorganizing of my kitchen was not on my to-do list, yet I had plenty of time to do it.

New items on my shelves: My son Jacob gave me the lovely figurine
for Mothers Day. Her banner is printed with the word "Teacher." 
Also on Mother's Day, my new son-in-law Jake gave me the sweet plaque.
It proclaims, "Children are born with wings, teachers help them to fly."

I'm discovering there are some very nice perks to having an empty nest. In July, after my long 6-week respiratory illness and the stress of being under threat of evacuation for the Cedar Fire, I was finally able to finish deep-cleaning my house. And guess what? It's still clean! It's very freeing to know that for the remainder of this year the only mundane cleaning tasks needing to be done will be occasional dusting and vacuuming. Everything else is optional.

More graceful Willow Tree figures adorn the shelves.
All but two were gifts from my sweet Sarah.

Other tasks are likewise simplified. Mark washes his own work clothes (his Denny's shirts are so saturated with airborne cooking grease that the smell of them makes me queasy), but I add his regular clothes to mine just so I'll have full loads to wash, and it still only makes two loads per week. That's if I'm not also washing bedding, of course. 

The bottom shelf holds part of my Japanese art collection, collected
during the two years I worked in a Japanese factory in Anaheim.
Above that, I rearranged my castle shelf, which made more room and...

With just two people to feed, both of whom are working and away from home a lot, there are far fewer dishes to be washed. Except, of course, after our weekly family dinner on Sundays, which usually generates a lot of dishes. (Keep in mind, I still don't have a dishwasher, so it's all done by hand.) Mark helps out with dishes on his days off. He also cleans the bathrooms, takes care of car stuff, and keeps his own room tidy. He even makes his bed before he leaves for work every morning.

...allowed me to fill an empty shelf in Mark's room, mentioned in an earlier post.

Shopping no longer means hauling in and putting away twenty or more bags of supplies. Nowadays, we usually have less than ten bags of goods when we get home from Walmart, which we can bring inside in a single trip. I admit, I do most of the putting away, although Mark helps when asked. I have a system that no one else seems to understand!

Everything in my house has a memory attached to it.
Jacob sent me the wooden bear hanging while he was serving his mission
in northern California. My former stepson Ryan and his wife Shera 
gave me the Family Rules for Christmas the year they stayed with us.

As I've said before, I would never trade a moment of the years I spent raising my children. In fact, I wish I'd worried less about keeping a clean house and focused more on simply enjoying my little ones, because those years disappear much too quickly.

In first grade, my kids each did a little booklet about their families. One page featured a fill-in: "My dad likes to ____. My mom likes to _____." Over the years, without fail, all three of my children wrote, "My dad likes to go fishing. My mom likes to clean house." I didn't love cleaning house! It just seemed so necessary. I think I was a little afraid someone would come and take away my greatest treasures--my children--if my house weren't spotless enough.

I love family pictures so much that there's no more wall space!
The photo and bronzed baby shoes on the desk are mine. I was two.

In the end, I think everything turned out okay. We still managed to build enough precious memories that our family is very close. We all have our own lives now, but we still love being together as often as we can manage it.

Family photos line every inch of my short hall, on both sides!

However, now is my season for a quiet, clean home and more time to tackle long-postponed tasks, as well as to savor getting back to the projects and hobbies I abandoned long ago in favor of building a family. It was the best decision I ever made, but now is the time for Sarah, Jacob, and Dylan to build their own families while I reinvent myself. And I'm going to love watching it all unfold!

Saturday, August 6, 2016


The aisles of Walmart last month.

One day last month I was walking through Walmart when I noticed the annual back-to-school displays hovering above aisle upon aisle of school supplies. It hit me like an electric shock that, for the first time since 1994, I wouldn't be buying pencils, notebooks, calculators, or backpacks for anyone this year. Twenty-two years of providing for my children's education was now a thing of the past. In some ways it was a nice "You did it, Mom!" moment. In other ways, it made me a little sad.

My final beginning-of-the-year district-wide assembly for all faculty.
(Dr. D's Blue Ridge High Drumline performing for the teachers.)
Thursday, July 28, 2016

When we are young, we measure life by all the "Firsts" that mark the milestones of our accomplishments. I'm starting to realize that I've entered the season of my life where many of those markers will be "Lasts." Some will be planned, like this, my final school year before retirement. Some will be unexpected. Some may not even be recognized. Some will be highly anticipated. Others may be dreaded or, worse yet, mourned.

My last Blue Ridge student planner/handbook.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not rolling over and calling life quits. I have lots of "Firsts" still planned. I think often of all the places I want to travel after retirement, places I've never seen but always wanted to visit. I look forward with longing to the day I finally get to cuddle my first grandchild. I fully intend to complete my first novel and have it published. Life still holds the promise of new adventures, and I hope to be around for another twenty years or so to enjoy them.

The last time my name will be included in the faculty listing of the student planner.
(I served on the committee that developed our Mission Statement about 20 years ago.)

Perhaps knowing that something is, or could be, the last time you'll ever do it or experience it is a good thing. Perhaps that's the key to making sure you find a way to enjoy rather than endure the difficult times, as well as a reminder to savor the uplifting, interesting, and joyful moments.

The last time my name will be included in the Master Schedule.

I've already been asked by both the principal and the assistant principal if I would consider postponing retirement to return for another year. Or two. When I mentioned on the first day of school that this will be my last year at Blue Ridge, upperclassmen in my two non-freshman classes pleaded with me to "Just stay until I graduate, then you can leave!" I've had several students stop me in the hall or come by my classroom to tell me they wished I were going to be their English teacher again this year. All of these things warm my heart, but it's time to start a new chapter in my life. Some new Firsts to mingle with the Lasts.

My last time to set up family photos and mementos on the shelf behind my desk
to remind me that I also have an amazing life outside the classroom.

My last time to prepare my classroom for a new bunch of students,
mostly brand-new freshmen, to arrive on the first day of school.

My last time to leave start-of-the-year notes and copy orders, for things
like my class syllabus and permission slips, on the desk of my aide, Joe.

The last year I'll watch students' Lexile reading scores make huge gains
as we work together on the Read 180 program (this is the Reading Station).

The last first-day-of-school assembly I'll attend with the whole student body.
(So funny not to see Dylan's face in the crowd for the first time in five years.)
Wednesday, August 3, 2016

And so begins my twenty-seventh year at Blue Ridge High School, my thirty-seventh year as an educator, and my last chance to experience all the ups and downs of doing my part to make a positive difference in the lives of the hundred-thirty-plus students entrusted to my care for an hour of each school day. It will definitely be the last...and it's all good.

And the last "Freshman Friday Transition Games" I'll ever attend.
Freshmen only, participating in activities to familiarize them with our campus,
and culminating in a barbecue lunch served to them by their teachers.