Saturday, May 31, 2008

No Need, For Speed

It is with great trepidation that I write this post. Basically, because I know that by doing so I have somehow become accountable and well, it would be much easier not to be. One week ago, I began running. Well, more truthfully---I began walk/running. If you see me run it you might ask yourself, “What’s the point? Her run is not that much faster than her walk.” But I call it “running” just the same. Kent is a runner, my friend Ginny is a runner and I wanted to share this activity with them, so I started to run myself.

Anyway, true to the Marsha approach to everything in life—I READ it to death. Perhaps I thought that by reading about running I would automatically become---well---a runner, and that actually pounding the pavement wouldn’t be necessary. Guess what? It doesn’t work that way.

Ginny recommended “No Need for Speed” by John Bingham and it arrived on my doorstep with in 48 hours just as Amazon promised. Funny thing is, I can’t put it down. Over the past few years, I have read at least 30 books about widowdom, I have read more than 30 books about being a good parent or wife, and many more about dieting; yet, this book on the subject of running has created more challenge in my life than any of the previous reads.

Bingham’s approach to running couldn’t be a more perfect metaphor to how we should approach widowhood and life in general. Let me explain.

With all due respect to Mr. Bingham I am going to analogize some of his writing. I am going to replace “running” (for the most part) with the word “widowhood”; the word “life” would work as well:

Widowhood is really just one giant game of Chutes and Ladders, though in widowhood there are more chutes than ladders. You make decent progress in your widowhood and then suddenly an “injury” sends you back to where you were 6 months before. So you roll the dice and start again.”

In addition, Bingham writes of the problem many beginning runners face: that of setting unrealistic expectations. He explains that he receives a multitude of emails from folks who feel they “should” be running faster, but are caught in the expectation trap. He clarifies how runners have stopped being happy about the progress they have already made and are trying to live up to some preconceived “standards”. I find this a problem with many folks. They read about another’s journey and expect that they must have the same one and if, for some reason they do not, they feel less or more because they have a different experience.

I like Bingham’s response (once again I am executing literary license in bold print):

“A timetable may be vague, ill defined or a schedule they’ve read or heard about. Whichever it is, they’re certain that they’re falling further and further behind everyday.

Your widowhood won’t confirm to a timetable. It won’t adhere to a schedule that you put on the wall, write down in a journal or read in a grief book. Improvement comes over time. You’ll get stronger and grow further when YOU can---and not a day before.”

I don’t think I have ever read a self-help book that holds such perfect truths for the widowed (or life for that matter), yet it comes in the form of a book about running. I stand amazed at how God reveals truths to us when/if we are open. Following Memorial Day, I have been more mindful of my widow journey. I am not defined by it, but I most certainly am who I am today BECAUSE of it and it continues…

Thursday, May 29, 2008


It is only the first week of summer vacation and I have already read three books—not ONE of any literary value whatsoever. I just finished “Twenty Wishes” by Debbie Macomber. I wouldn’t normally have chosen this book—mostly because of its nauseatingly “cutsie” cover; but it is a story about four widow friends, so of course I had to read it. Each of the characters is at a different place on their widow-journey. All are different ages and have different stories. The author seems to grasp the essence of widowhood without making it such a downer that no one would want to read the book. At one of the widow’s gatherings while talking about the fact that they want more out of life, each widow is challenged to create a list of 20 wishes. The novel then follows these four women as they begin to realize their life wishes.

The book didn’t make me want to run out, buy a scrapbook and begin my own 20 wishes journal, but it did make me think about why people get “stuck” in their lives. I wish getting “un-stuck” was as simple as writing down wishes, but it is not. Something else has to happen. You have to want to be “un-stuck”. You have to have a plan to become “un-stuck”. You have to create a life where being stuck simply isn’t an option.

I never thought about this much until now, but Kent and I both knew we didn’t want to remain “stuck” in our lives. I would like to be able to admit that I could have created a fulfilled life without the love of another; I simply can’t. I understand myself well enough to recognize that a large part of who I am requires that aspect of my life to be fulfilled. I know not everyone is like me regarding this aspect of "singleness"(and some would never admit it anyway), but I have great respect for people who find contentment being alone and who have found fulfillment and strength in being single.

I know that being “stuck” wasn’t an acceptable option for my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a plan to become “un-stuck”, though perhaps unconsciously. I knew I didn’t want to live my life stagnated by tragedy. My good friend often tells me that I seemed to always be “open” to a new relationship and that was accurate. I was honest with myself as to what I could give and what I needed for the second part of my life. I needed someone intelligent; someone to share my religious beliefs; someone who loved music; someone who would accept and love my family; someone unafraid to attempt new adventures; someone just like – Kent. So, I shouldn’t be surprised that I have been blessed again, nor should I be apologetic to those still searching because I DO understand how difficult this journey can be. I will remain forever grateful that I have been fortunate, as well as encourage and cheer on others as they take the steps to become "un-stuck".

I don’t need 20 wishes. I just have one big one and that is to have a life filled with love, happiness and the chance to share it with someone honorable.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Making an IMPACT

When I was growing up in Missouri, our church denomination organized a group of selected teenagers from around the state to travel, sing and minister in the summer. My dad was instrumental in the organization of the group, so I was always "under foot" during rehearsals. The group was called the “IMPACT Singers” and I anticipated the time I would turn 16 and have the opportunity to travel with the group. It seemed so glamorous. I was only 10 or 11 at the time and wanted to emulate every girl singer in the group and fell in love with every teenage boy. Unfortunately, we moved to Nebraska before I had the chance.

I can’t imagine a group similar to this one would be feasible today. Middle class teenagers are far too overbooked to be able to donate an entire summer to travel. I hadn’t thought of the IMPACT Singers in years, until I was watching television late last night.

Nightline ran a story about the Impact Repertory Theater in Harlem. This group was first introduced to the public through the movie “August Rush” (perhaps my favorites of the year) and then again at the Oscars. Jamal Joseph, the founder of the group had more in mind than simply creating singers, dancers and actors when he envisioned IMPACT. Each member of of this group must audition; survive a strenuous “boot camp”; pledge service to family, friends and community; AND commit to college. WOW—talk about making an IMPACT.

Joseph “gets” that teenagers need to be connected, plugged in and given opportunities to find fulfillment through hard work and education. These kids are from the inner city; many have been in jail or led troubled lives, yet will travel two hours by train to be a part of IMPACT and to have the opportunity to turn their lives around.

It is difficult to get middle-class children to grasp the discipline it takes to create a fulfilled life. I am not talking about financial success. I am speaking of a rewarding life that makes a difference. For my own children, I long for them to value service to others, education and commitment. My wish for them is to aspire to create an IMPACT.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I hope the blog change doesn't affect those of you who view my blog on a daily basis...if so ... let me know..

After much deliberation, I decided on this new title for my blog. I know it is a bit sappy for my taste, but I do think it captures the essence of my words.


Honorary What???

This morning I hear Paul McCartney received an honorary doctorate from Yale—of all places. Normally, this would not affect me in any substantial way, but today—it just burns me. I lack the discipline and fortitude to complete a doctorate. I do hold two master’s degrees, which I tease should add up to ONE doctorate, but they do not.

My principal, on the other hand, is in the final stages of receiving her doctorate. She has sacrificed, studied, and surrendered her will to completing this process. It has been arduous. She has given up so much…yet some guy (albeit a "Beetle") who simply wrote a few good songs gets one—without effort at all. Call me cynical (though few do), but PLLLLEEEAASSSEE!!! It is simply W R O N G.

I don’t want to be an “honorary” ANYTHING…don’t want to be an honorary wife, mother, or teacher and I don’t want an honorary doctorate. If (and when) I decided to push myself in this direction, I want to know I EARNED it…I wonder if Sir McCartney feels the same?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Out With the Old--In With the New

I need to re-title my blog. It isn’t that I don’t like the one I have; it’s that I am irritated with Oprah right now and find it necessary to distance myself (like we’re best buddies). So fellow bloggers, readers, posters and lurkers---any ideas? Here are a few I am kicking around, but would love to hear your ideas:

The Open Vein
There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Breathings of the Heart
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

Inner Music
To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the inner music the words make. ~Truman Capote, McCall's, November 1967

Rain and Battle
For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain and the noise of battle. ~John Cheever

My Struggles Against Silence
Writing is a struggle against silence. ~Carlos Fuentes

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Free-Range Parenting; Free-Range Kids

Ever heard of it? Me either, until my blogging pal Annie wrote about it today. So I did what any self-respecting parent would do---I googled it. Here is what I found: Free-range parenting is a concept whereas parents live responsibly (seat belts, helmets, airbags, etc.), but do not restrict their child's actions out of fear.

I agree with Annie that most of us (40-50 somethings) were raised with the “free range” mentality—there simply wasn’t a label yet. My parents loved me. I don’t doubt it a bit, but they NEVER had a chart on the refrigerator to “track” my grades nor did I EVER receive a sticker for completing my chores. They made it to “most” of my softball games when it was convenient and fit their schedule and yes; I rode my bicycle to many practices, play dates and extra curricular activities (without a helmet, no less). Their lives included me, but didn’t “revolve” around me. I ran in the woods with the neighborhood boys, I played “king of the mountain” with a rusty knife and I smoked a cigarette with the naughty girl across the street. Consequently, I not only have lived to tell the tales, but I have NO sense of entitlement. I don’t expect my boss to overlook when I am late, I don’t expect someone else to make sure I have my lunch, I tend to take chances that have brought great joy to my life, and I don’t tend to blame anyone, but myself, when I screw up.

I remember when our (now 19 year old) son was asked to play on a travel baseball team. My husband and I sat him down and with all the love we could muster announced (in our best Dr. Spock voice) that sometimes the “good of the family outweighed the good of one member” and that traveling all summer long would be both arduous and financially rigorous for our family. We lived with the disagreeing stares from his friend's parents. Weren't we AFRAID that Chad would NEVER get playing time in high school if he didn't play on the travel team? After much discussion, our son reluctantly agreed and, alas, did not play on the “travel team”. At the time, it was a difficult decision; but now that I look back it was providential; as that was the summer we all went on a Caribbean cruise---it ended up being the last vacation before Don’s death. If Chad had played travel ball, that vacation would have been impossible.

As an educator, I come into contact with all types of parents: helicopter parents, consultant parents, drill sergeant parents; but seldom free range parents. Rarely do parents look realistically at their children and furnish the parameters in which they can grow. It is easier to accentuate the positive aspects in our children, than to address those not so attractive dimensions of their character. We want to “save” them from making the mistakes that we made, only to inadvertently set them up to do so anyway. We are AFRAID to allow them the freedom to learn, perhaps fail and then relearn. We are quick to "save" and slow to "guide". It seems easier some how---or is it?

I have not looked at my youngest sons grades since first quarter this year. I was frustrated that he was not achieving as I thought he should. He is disorganized and somewhat scatterbrained, but is extremely contented—definitely a “glass half full” child. He has made honor roll all four quarters, albeit with a couple of C’s. Could he do better? You bet. Do I need to encourage him? You bet. Does he need a cheerleader? Yes, when he does something worth cheering. Does he need someone to take him to task? Yes, when he lacks confidence or drive. Does he need time to figure things out on his own? A HUNDRED TIMES—yes. Is it difficult to sit back and watch? Sometimes, but other times it is exciting to see those synapses taking place in his adolescent brain as he works through each hurdle. Am I this pragmatic all the time? Heck no—wish I could say that I was.

Children need freedom—and limits. They need to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. They need to be treasured enough to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that the difference they make in the world comes from hard work and heart. They need the autonomy to take chances and the discipline that goes with limitations. They need to know that you will always be their cheerleader, but not always their savior. They need to know you will have the integrity to call them out when they are wrong and support them when they are right. They need to be allowed to run through the woods, play “king of the mountain” with a rusty knife and break the rules without you knowing it—why? Because we can talk to them until we are blue in the face, but until they experience the consequences of their actions, they can’t own them. They can’t learn from them and they certainly can’t grow.

This I know for sure…

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gotta Love My Job!

Do you remember what it was like to be 12 and counting down those last days of school? There was the anticipation of freedom that summer brought, along with the fatigue of concluding a school year. Do you remember planning just what you would do when school was out?
...stayed up late,
...played outside until exhaustion set in or mom called you to dinner,
...had friends sleepover during the week,,
...watched mindless television,
...aspired to only involve yourself in activities that made you happy…
Those were the days!!!
I am a teacher---those ARE the days!!!!

Here's to the last week of school!

This I know for ABSOLUTELY sure...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Appreciating Those Who "Get It"

This past week was “Teacher Appreciation Week”. We have been fortunate that, for the most part, our children have had effective, dedicated teachers. My students wrote letters of appreciation to teachers who have impacted their lives this week. Teaching is most definitely a calling and for me, a legacy.

My mother “gets” kids. She has been a teacher for as long as I can remember and now, at 68, is still teaching kindergarten in an inner-city school, making a difference every day. I value the fact that she “gets” kids because I have never been more aware of how important this quality is for a teacher. Mom understands that children are not merely miniature adults, but are unique individuals with matchless potential. She “gets” that kids forget stuff and that they have lapse in judgment, yet she permits them, coupled with accountability, to make mistakes. She “gets” that it is because of missteps that children can “grow”. She does not tout her “standards”, but is aware of the fact that standards are only validated when she connects (in a real way) with the students in her classroom – and she does.

Of the countless attributes I could have inherited from my mother, this is one of the most fundamental. I want to “get’ my students. I want to be more a part of their lives than a part of some established rule of “standard”. What excites me, as a teacher is when I hear students say that they “get to go to English” or “Mrs. C. can we do this again tomorrow?” NOTHING beats that validation.

I am aware that there are educators who never get to experience this aspect of teaching—how sad that is! They never have understood, what mom always has, that education is a partnership between the educator, the child, the parent and the school. They have a totalitarian classroom environment where kids are stifled and devalued. They expect far more from their students than they expect from themselves and they have truly missed what it means to be effective.

I used to tell my Millikin students that teaching is two faceted—one is the love of the material and the other---is magic. I assured them that I could teach them one, but the other (the magic part) they either already possessed or never would and that “faking it” would never work---kids are too smart not to notice. I actually had pre-teaching students come up to me after my class and say, “I’m not sure I have the magic” to which I would, in the most supportive manner, lead them to some other interest as a vocation.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not talking about teaching styles or teacher “popularity”. There are countless teachers, who “get kids” and have a teaching style converse to mine. There are teachers who are stricter, more lenient, more hands-on, less hands-on…yet have a relationship with their students. They not only know, but also care which students have a dance recital on the weekend (and are usually invited), or which one plays traveling basketball, or which one is dealing with family tragedies. They know these things because they have chosen to connect with the kids. Within their classrooms students feel valued and therefore enjoy learning more. They make a difference every day…there are many teachers like this and to them I say “YOU are appreciated”

This I know for sure…

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Star Struck in Central Illinois

Matt Damon is in town filming THE INFORMANT. This has caused quite a stir in our small community of BIG industry (ADM, Tate and Lyle, Caterpillar). There have been star sightings all over town. When out with friends, I have heard "Did you know Matt Damon is staying with the _________'s?" to which I chuckle and say, "I heard he was staying with the _________'s, then someone else said he was staying at the Mark Whitacre house in Moweaqua or at the Decatur Conference Center."

Personally, I have a hard time believing that Matt Damon is staying at a former Holiday Inn (even if this is the best Decatur has to offer). Gossip and misinformation about him abounds. Our local newspaper has a site especially for those of us who are “star struck” and wish to trace Mr. Damon’s every move.

I have not read the book about ADM executive Mark Whitacre who turned FBI informant uncovering the biggest antitrust case ever, but I ordered it yesterday along with a analogous book called Rats in the Grain. I remember when the news story unfolded in 1995 and ADM's dirty laundry exposed. It was one of the biggest news stories in town—for a few weeks. I hate to say that I paid little attention. The initial story had little or no effect on my life. Conversely, the movie being filmed in town has had greater impact than the original story---so sad to admit.

Nevertheless, it has been a wee bit of excitement for our otherwise mundane existence. I anxiously await the movie premier if for nothing more than to acknowledge the familiar local landmarks and who knows…perhaps I will have a brush with greatness before the set shuts down.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Lost Passion

For years, gardening was my summer passion. Our home in Maroa, built on farmland, was blessed with rich soil that made the task rather effortless. My love of gardening had a simple inauguration. I started out with a few flowerbeds to landscape the back of our home which over time grew into our backyard refuge. I knew the name of every flower, plant, bush and bird that found its home in our yard. When Don died, so did the passion to garden and for the life of me I don't know why. It is but one of the oddities on my journey that I simply can't figure out.

This weekend I caught the bug again. The passion was activated when I scrubbed the dirt from the pole system and hung my bird feeders making it easy to survey the birds finding sanctuary there. Gradually, I began to recall the names and recognizable sounds of common backyard birds. Taking in the familiar sparked an exhilaration that I can't explain. Subsequently, the soil simply began to call.

After examining the yard and its myriad of opportunities, I chose to begin with a small plot by our deck. I purchased some bulbs, perennials and a lovely pink rhododendron to place into my new flowerbed. I bought annuals for the planters on the front porch and hanging baskets of flowers to share with the birds. Finally, Kent and I purchased our first piece of furniture as a married couple - a beautiful granite topped outdoor table and chairs.

There is something therapeutic about getting your hands dirty—of sifting through dirt and planting new life. There is also something soothing about sitting in nature and taking in its beauty and solace. The exhaustion of planning, planting and working the soil is outweighed by the pride of accomplishment when you are finished. Perhaps our life moves in cycles of passion—or perhaps our passion is more connected to our life experiences than we think.

The soil in our new home is nowhere near the quality of the house in Maroa. It needs to be worked and enriched and worked some more to become ideal for new growth. It is much more difficult to prepare the soil, but more rewarding when completed. Cultivating the soil reminded me that sometimes our life is like clay—we are undernourished, and rather inadequate for growth. We didn't get to this point on purpose - life circumstances brought us here. Just like the soil, it is only when our lives become enriched through relationships, renewed passions and productive living that we become equipped for growth once more. It isn't easy - we must choose to fill our lives with nourishment. Just as I had to consciously make the decision to get in my car, drive to Menards and purchased enrichment for my garden soil, so must I make a conscious effort to enrich my own life.

This I know for sure...