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Never Say Never

Almost two weeks ago, I reported my car stolen. Two days later I reported it had not been stolen and the explanation for what happened “was a long and complicated series of events.” I wasn’t trying to hide anything from anyone, in fact, several people have endured my sharing of the “long and complicated series of events”, but as the days have gone by, I have felt it more and more important for me to follow the post about the stolen car with a post about the car that was not stolen. If you are satisfied that I still have my car and I am thanking God that it wasn’t stolen after all, you can stop reading now. If you feel as though you want/need to know “the rest of the story” (another nod to Paul Harvey), read on at your own choosing . . .

That Friday my daughter, Alex, and myself had made a plan for a fun day together. She had some flex time from work, my husband, George, was out of town, and she had taken her dog, Sadie Mae, to doggie day care to play with her friends because she had been showing us she needed some socialization. We had been looking forward to this fun day together and were excited to get started! Alex picked me up at my house (when we’re together in Tallahassee she almost always drives because she has lived here for 10 years and she knows all the back streets, etc.) and drove to a new brunch place that recently opened in our neighborhood. We LOVE brunch and were excited to check out this new brunchspot. We were enjoying our meals (see picture) and Alex’s phone rang. It was her hairdresser. Now this needs an explanation (see, I told you it was long and complicated). Most of you know Alex has been working to grow her hair out after having had two brain surgeries. She found a great stylist who is young and hip and has worked closely with Alex on this journey. Alex hadn’t been to Haleigh for several months because she was in a place where she just wanted to see some length. Recently, however, she thought maybe she would get it colored to at least give it some pizazz. She had called and asked if they would put her on a cancellation list so she could get in quickly. You guessed it, this was that call. Alex told them she would be in as soon as we finished brunch (Hello! What’s important here?) and that’s when the plans for the day began to change. I told Alex I would rather her drop me at my house and go on to the salon so I could get some things done instead of sit at the salon for two hours.  She had already purchased movie tickets online, so we knew we had a tight time frame with the hair coloring and logistics of traveling from one place to another. I asked her to just keep me informed as to how the hair coloring was going.

Fast forward an hour or two . . . Alex texted and said she was running a bit later than she thought and didn’t think she could come back to get me and make it to the movie in time. I told her I would just meet her at the salon. I drove my car to the salon, we left it there and she drove just down the street to the theater. Her hair looked really pretty, as Haleigh had styled it, as well as colored it, but it was a wee bit brassy. We would later see Alex's orange hairit as orange, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We were excited to see “The Mountain Between Us” (excellent movie) and it did NOT disappoint! At brunch and on the way to the theater we had been discussing an event  that was approaching for which we both had a lot of responsibilities. We decided we had time to run by the florist and order the centerpieces and then could check that off our list of things to do. It took much longer at the florist than we anticipated and as we left we realized we had to drive across town to get Sadie before 6 p.m. Yikes! We headed in that direction and were happy to see Sadie, tuckered out from her play date. We headed to my house, as we had already talked about getting in our PJs and watching movies. It was a fun day and a fun night. Alex decided to stay over since we were up so late.

Saturday morning we woke up late and just chilled for most of the morning. We worked a little on the event, putting together lists, checking on RSVPs, etc. We played outside with Sadie, did a little baking and before we knew it, it was dark. We decided to watch some more movies and you guessed it, Alex ended up staying over again.

We got up the next morning and got moving. Alex and Sadie went home and I began to get dressed. While putting on my make-up I made note that George would be coming home that day. I wasn’t sure what time he would get back in town, so I thought I should move my car so he could get into the garage. I usually park to one side of the driveway, but because he was out of town, I had parked in the middle of the drive, knowing I would be in and out. I finished getting ready and walked out to the garage, opened the garage door and my heart sank when I faced an EMPTY driveway. I thought to myself, “Maybe Alex moved my car for some reason.” “Maybe I parked in the front and didn’t remember it.” So many thoughts rushed through my mind until I thought . . . “Someone stole my car!” I’ll pause here for a minute to say there had been some car break-ins in our neighborhood recently . . . not so much stolen cars as people checking car door handles and if they’re unlocked, they steal what’s inside . . . so I had that on my mind. I called Alex and said, “Someone stole my car!” She said she was on her way. While I waited I thought I should go ahead and call the police because sometimes when you call the non-emergency number, it takes hours for someone to come out, so I thought I’d get a jump on it. I called and reported my car had been stolen out of my driveway. The dispatcher said she would send someone out. I then called my son, Will, to see if his dad had left yet. He said George was already on the road, so I didn’t want to give him the news while he was driving. Will suggested I call the insurance company, so I hung up and did that. Alex had arrived by then and when we heard the door bell, she answered it because I was on the phone with the insurance company.

The policeman was very tall and we later learned was a former marine sharp-shooter. He was probably close to my age and was very kind. He asked several questions and even apologized for asking some of them. He said some people take offense when you ask things like, “Where are your car keys now?” “Did a family member borrow your car without you knowing, possibly?” “Could you have parked it somewhere and forgotten about it?” Do people actually do that, I wondered? I assured him I was not offended by any questions, I just wanted my car back. He asked if we could walk out to the driveway. We did. There was no glass on the driveway, which didn’t make any sense, although we had read about some thieves who can access the key fob in your house and somehow get into your car, so that made it seem possible. The policeman wrapped things up, gave me his card with the case number and his badge number on it and drove away. Alex and I went back in the house, sat down and just looked at one another. We couldn’t believe what was happening! We went over the night before and neither of us heard anything outside. Sadie didn’t bark. We called our neighbors whose house is at the end of our driveway. They said they heard a car door around midnight, but nothing else.

George arrived home and we did the same, sat and looked at each other in disbelief. The insurance guy had told me to begin making a list of everything that was in my car, so I did that. George mentioned a few things for me to add to the list. I just kept dwelling on the fact that my car is 10 years old and has 160,000 miles on it. Who would want it?? One of my neighbors even asked me that! I lamented that George had just changed the oil and put 4 new tires on the car and I had just filled it up with gas. The policeman did tell us that Mercury Grand Marquis are often stolen and converted into taxis but he said that happens in New York and in Miami, mostly. That was the weekend of the Miami-FSU game, so we became convinced someone from Miami stole my car. I cancelled my SunPass transponder, thinking maybe they would get caught going through the tolls in my car. Boy, the things we thought about that day.

Monday was Columbus Day and it was pretty much like Sunday. We were consumed with the loss of my car and its contents. Also, Alex began to really hate her new hair color. She called and asked about coming back in, but Haleigh couldn’t see her until Tuesday. She would just have to wait. This may seem totally unrelated to my car story, but actually, had she been happy with her hair color initially, there would have been a very different outcome to this story. I was so consumed with the events of the past two days, I sat down and wrote a post in my blog. It helped to put everything on paper and as I wrote I became more and more content with my situation.  Philippians 4:11

Alex's good hairTuesday Alex went to work and then back to see Haleigh to get her hair color changed. She drove into the parking lot of the salon and there was my car. What?? She called me and said, “Mom! Your car was NOT stolen!!” I said, “WHAT?????” She said, “It’s here at Tryst (the salon)!!” At that moment, the events of the past four days flooded my mind and I remembered parking my car in that parking lot on FRIDAY and never thinking about it again, until it wasn’t in my driveway on Sunday. My car was not stolen. Thank You, Jesus!

What I have learned from this experience:

  1. I have amazing friends and family. I can’t begin to list everyone who encouraged me, supported me, and prayed for me during this crazy time. What really prompted this blog post is that I received a package from my dear friends, Donna and Judy, from Orlando. They sent CDs to start my “new collection.” I thought, I have to sit down and tell them what happened! They won’t believe it! But how sweet to send me those CDs!!!
  2. Don’t be so quick to call the police. Had Alex and I sat down and gone over the events of the weekend, I’d like to think we would have remembered I had parked my car at Tryst.
  3. Don’t post on social media. If you have to write it down, write it down to get it out, but don’t be so quick to share it. I wouldn’t be writing this long, long post if I hadn’t shared about the car in the first place.
  4. Don’t be so bound up in plans. I’m a planner and I think when the plan changed, I was still so entrenched in the original plan, I didn’t adjust things in my mind and that was the beginning of my thinking my car was stolen, because I never planned to drive to Tryst in the first place.
  5. Things are just things. Pretty self-explanatory.
  6. Don’t beat yourself up. I really felt terrible for wasting the time of the policeman who came out to the house initially and the two officers who had to come out and verify the car was found. I really felt terrible for wasting the time of the insurance guy. They all told me I wouldn’t believe how much this happens to them. Somehow that didn’t help, but I appreciated their efforts to make me feel better. I felt badly that I hadn’t had my act together enough to figure out where my car was before I reported it stolen. I felt badly that some people might think this was the beginning of some mental deficiency in me and what that might mean for the future. But I finally settled into, it is what it is and I’m just grateful I have my car.
  7. Never say never. It can happen to you. It can happen to me. It DID happen to me.

I will say, this experience has been very, very real to me. . . more real than I imagined. Recently, when I saw a new CD advertised on TV I thought, “Wow, I don’t have any of my CDs anymore” and then I realized, no, my car was NOT stolen. I have my CDs. Another time when I was walking out of the back door that leads into the garage I thought, “I need to remember to lock this door because they have my garage door opener” and then I realized, no, my car was NOT stolen. They don’t have my garage door opener. It’s been two weeks and there are things that still come to mind and for an instant, I revert to that feeling of loss, until I remember my car was NOT stolen and I am so grateful.

 

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STOLEN

stolen2My car was stolen over the weekend. I was home. My car was parked in my driveway and it was locked, yet someone was able to sneak onto our property in the dead of night, get into my car, start it, and drive away without anyone seeing, hearing, or knowing anything about it. I’m still a bit numb from that realization.

My car is 10 years old, has nearly 170K miles on it and has no bells and whistles. It did have 4 new tires, a full tank of gas, and the oil had just been changed, but I doubt the thieves knew that before they made the decision to take something that wasn’t theirs.

I’m told the Mercury Grand Marquis is sometimes stolen and converted into a taxi, although I doubt the thieves have plans to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit and begin a taxi business.

I had just begun carrying in my trunk 20 of my children’s books, 10 of each, so when I came upon someone who asked me about them (which actually happens sometimes) I could just pull one out. I even went to Office Depot and bought a plastic bin to keep them in so they would remain flat and in great condition as the container slid around in my huge trunk. I doubt the thieves will appreciate my efforts to inform children and their parents about Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

There are somewhere between 80 and 100 CDs in my car. I love turning the music up on my trips to see my family or traveling for book signings, so I carried all of my CDs in my car. I have an eclectic taste in music. My CDs include opera, Broadway, pop, country, rock, Motown, children’s music, Christmas (yes, I listen to it year-round), gospel, hymns, jazz, blues, contemporary Christian, praise and worship, and I’m sure something I’ve left out. I doubt the thieves will enjoy any of my CDs.

A huge puppy cover is spread over my back seat so when I transport Sadie Mae, she is comfortable and doesn’t slide around on the leather seat. Somehow, I can’t imagine the thieves loving and caring for sweet puppies.

Years ago I heard someone speak about the importance of carrying a special device in your car to be prepared if you are ever trapped in your vehicle. I bought several of the devices that will cut the seatbelt and break the car window. I got one for every vehicle in our family. There is one in the glove box of my car. Somehow I think it will be used for something other than saving a life.

I haven’t shed one tear about my car, although it’s been a really good car. The trunk is massive and has been packed to the brim on many road trips. It’s carried 5 or 6 adults on many occasions so we could all be together and visit, rather than traveling in 2 smaller cars. It’s the car we bought when my first Grand Marquis was totaled in a multi-vehicle crash on I-4 in Orlando. A van driver decided he wanted to be in my lane instead of his and rammed my front, right quarter panel, sending me across the 3-lane interstate. We were hit a total of 5 times, 5 different vehicles, one was an 18-wheeler. Alex was with me and screamed each time a vehicle crashed into us. By the grace of God, and after an ambulance ride to the ER for some minor injuries, we stood up and sang with the praise team the next morning. So, we bought our 2nd Grand Marquis. It’s a mighty tough car, but, it’s a car. It has been and will continue to be a hassle for me to deal with the police, the insurance company, the car dealer, and the inconvenience of all of it, but it’s a car. No tears for a car. I haven’t even felt anger. Maybe in my younger years I would have been upset and allowed the anger to well up within me. I don’t know, but I haven’t felt anger. What I have felt is sadness . . . deep, almost debilitating sadness at times. I’m just so sad that there are people in this world with such disregard for their fellow human kind . . . people who are so egocentric that they make very bad decisions that impact the lives of others . . . people who are so lost, they feel they have no choice but to hurt others . . . it makes me very sad. Sad for them.

This moment in my life reminds me of a time when I was a teenager and was first introduced to a quote by Helen Keller, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” My stolen car is a first world problem and certainly something we will deal with and move past. Whoever stole my car will not steal my joy.  Romans 15:13

 

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Attention to Detail (or the lack thereof)

For quite some time I have been frustrated by what appears to be an ever-increasing disregard for paying attention to detail. I see it in my students’ assignments, store clerks, correspondence from companies, employers’ reviews, etc. At first I thought maybe it was just my OCD that made it so glaring for me, but the more it happens, the more I believe it is a trend . . . a very dangerous one. That may seem like a melodramatic statement, but consider the risk when prescription bottles are mislabeled.  It’s very telling when attorney practices set aside resources for pharmacy mislabeling mistakes alone. A simple typo can wreak havoc on a company’s finances. Don’t take my word for it; check out The High Cost of Small Mistakes: The Most Expensive Typos of All Time by Cameron Fennell.

When I mark spelling or grammatical mistakes on student assignments, oftentimes their response is, “This isn’t an English class! Why are you marking that wrong?” Most of them assignmentget it when I say, “You are studying to be a TEACHER. Everything you do in the classroom is modeling for your students. If you expect them to learn how to spell and to use proper grammar in writing, you must model it for them every day and in all that you do.” However, sadly, some of them continue to plead their case until I say, “This is not negotiable.”

Today I received some correspondence from a company regarding my retirement from the university system. Once again, the funds had been transferred to yet another company and they were notifying me of the transfer (i.e. You now have a zero balance with us because we put your money somewhere else). Look closely at this picture. ValicCheck out the date. Seriously??? It says the money was transferred (past tense) on August 8, 2107. Hmmmm . . . . This is an official document! I’m just at a loss, truly.

My take on this (for whatever it is worth and that’s probably not even 2 cents but it helps to get it off my chest) is that we, as a society . . . parents in particular . . . have stopped expecting excellence from our children. We went through a time when we were more concerned about their feelings than we were about their development of life skills that would sustain them (and their communities). I believe we went overboard not wanting our children to cry, to hurt, to know failure (everyone gets a trophy). It may have begun as a noble cause and honestly I believe feelings are important. We want our children to Mandelabe empathetic, loving, and caring, but the fallout from expecting less is damaging. It’s damaging to our children, personally, and to our society, collectively. We stopped setting expectations to which they could rise. We stopped demanding they repeat a task because they hadn’t completed it correctly the first time. Instead we gave them an “A for effort.” Instead of figuring out the cause for bad grades, we took them for ice cream to make them feel better. Scholarly research even shows great benefits toward academic success when parents expect excellence. This may seem harsh, especially from someone who has dedicated her career to the health, education, and welfare of young children, but I believe because I have seen it from all sides over the course of many years, I have a unique perspective. I am convinced society’s trend toward not paying attention to detail is directly connected to our lack of expectations for our children.

Allow me to share a personal story with you. When my daughter was about 10 years old, she was washing dishes. She was in a hurry and wasn’t rinsing the dishes thoroughly, putting them in the dish drainer with soap suds on them. I pointed that out to her and told her she needed to rinse all of the dishes again. She had a meltdown and began to cry, telling me it wasn’t a big deal and I was being too hard on her (Clearly, she just wanted to be done with it so she could go outside and play). I calmly explained to her that it was my job, as her mother, to teach her the correct way to do things. If I didn’t, I wasn’t doing my washing dishesjob and that was unacceptable to me. I explained that the soapy dishes would have a film on them and asked, “How would you like it if your milk tasted soapy?” I told her I wanted her to grow up with the skills she needed to take care of herself and proper dish washing was one of those skills. I guess it made sense to her, because she stopped crying, re-rinsed all the dishes and went about her day, unscathed. I had to stop what I was doing and seize what I like to call a “teachable moment”, but it was well worth it. Could it be we are just too busy and involved in so many other things, we don’t always take the time to clarify expectations for our children in order to help them grow and develop? I will say, the best result of these few moments together is that my daughter is now an adult, owns a home, supports herself, and is a vibrant and productive member of society. She is also very empathetic, loving, and caring.  Score 2 for the daughter, 0 for the trend.

The good news is, this trend is fixable! It isn’t a terminal disease that offers no hope. We can change the trend. We can begin expecting children (of all ages) to spell correctly, use proper grammar, check and double check assignments/tasks, repeat a task until the outcome is a success and work to do their best in everything they do. Children will rise to our level of expectations. I believe that and it is vital to the health and well being of our society because those children grow into adults who check your groceries at the store, cash you out at the bank, prepare your legal documents, deliver your babies, fill your prescriptions, teach your children, sign your paychecks, report the news, are elected to office, make the laws . . .

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THE PANTRY

I pulled the last sheet of paper towel off the roll this morning and stopped my breakfast-making to go to the pantry and get another roll. That one simple, mindless act conjured up a memory that stays with me to this day. . . I was visiting a family member several years ago and I sat and watched as she made coffee for us. After spilling a little water on the counter, she reached for the paper towel holder and saw the roll was empty. UGH. The expression on her face was one of frustration, but also a bit of sadness. I said, “I’ll get one out of the pantry” and started in that direction. She replied, “There aren’t any more.” At that moment she walked over to the table where I was sitting and fell into the chair beside me with a look of total defeat. Now, I knew this person well enough to know this wasn’t about running out of paper towels. And so the unveiling of her realization began . . .

She opened with, “I would just LOVE to have a spare ANYTHING so when I run out, I can just go get another. I don’t need a full pantry, just enough to tide me over to the next trip to the grocery. Most people have that, don’t they? You have that, don’t you?” She wasn’t complaining or feeling sorry for herself. She was simply sharing her state of being and trying to make sense of it. She went on to say she only had enough money each time she went to the grocery to buy what she needed. There was never enough money to buy two of anything, so she could have a spare. Still, she wasn’t complaining. She was opening up . . . more and more each moment we sat there. She was questioning her life, her choices, her mistakes. She was wondering how in the world did she end up where she was. She overflowed with gratitude as she counted the many blessings in her life, but she always came back to that empty pantry. She sat in complete confusion as to how she landed in that place.

I think about that day every time I refill my paper towel dispenser, toilet paper holder, salt shaker, cereal container, cookie jar . . . I think about it every time. Every time. I think about the choices that lead us and guide us and the mistakes that change us and detour us. I think about the many, many people who never saw the angst on her face or heard the longing in her voice when she opened up to me that day. The many people who figured her pantry was full, like theirs . . .  the pantry in her house and the pantry in her heart. Both empty. Who knew?

Dad at Good Samaritan bldgMy Dad was one who could see into other people’s pantries. After my Mom was killed by a drunk driver, my Dad began a ministry to stock the pantries of those who shared that same angst on their faces and that same longing in their voices. It was called The Good Samaritan House. He was particular about who was able to come in and get groceries . . . he picked out the scammers right away. He could see the empty pantries on the faces of those who needed food. He could hear the empty pantries as they longed to be filled. He saw both the empty house pantries and the empty heart pantries. He knew. Discernment. He had it. I only saw my Dad really angry twice in my life. Once when we were at a high school football game and the guy behind us shouted, “Break his leg when you tackle him! Get him out of the game!” My Dad came off the bleachers like a stone from a slingshot and verbally put that guy in his place. “You don’t EVER wish harm on another person in a ball game! It’s a game. It’s a sport. You don’t ever wish someone harm!” The other time was when one of those scammers came into The Good Samaritan House and he had found out this person was single, no family and made it a practice to go around to every other ministry in town, telling fabricated hard luck stories and then would turn around and SELL the food!! That guy couldn’t get out of the door fast enough when Dad refused him food and exposed his greed. Dad couldn’t kissingstand by and see someone hurting and he wouldn’t tolerate someone taking advantage of his efforts to help those in need. There were many times he gave, when he really didn’t have it to give and that’s when it became clear to me that my Mother saw the empty pantries, too, or she wouldn’t have been able to accept and encourage my Dad’s generosity and selfless actions.

That family member with the empty pantry? My Mom and Dad saw her empty pantry and worked to keep it well stocked. Now she’s living in her heavenly mansion, which I’m sure has a pantry that looks a lot like the one in the picture. My Dad is living in his heavenly mansion, as well, and no doubt he is one of the chief pantry stockers, in word and deed. My Mom, too, is living in her heavenly mansion and I imagine she’s Dad’s most valued assistant in pantry stocking. And I am grateful every day for my full pantry and for the memories that fill me up with gratitude for having known and loved them all.

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HIGH SCHOOL: FOREVER FRIENDSHIPS

This is an interesting year for me. It has been 45 years since I graduated high school. In and of itself, that isn’t so interesting. What continues to mesmerize me, however, is the fact that I sometimes feel as though I have TWO graduating classes with which to celebrate. Other times, I feel as though I don’t have a class at all. As Paul Harvey would have said, “And now, the rest of the story . . . ”

I was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. My parents were southerners, my Dad from Alabama and my Mom from Georgia, but they settled in Northwestern Indiana after having two children. They added three more children to the family while in Indiana. I followed my older brother and sister through elementary school, entering the 6th grade with Miss Toy as my teacher. The first day of school that year she said to me, “I taught both your brother and your sister. I’m expecting great things from you!” She was big, tough, and scary and I was intimidated. During that school year, after attending school with the same friends in the neighborhood since Kindergarten, we moved out to Osceola, IN, a small, rural town on the outskirts of South Bend . . . all new people . . . all new places. My brother had just graduated and my older sister was now in high school. My sister just younger than me was at a different school and my youngest sister was not in school yet. I truly felt alone. I remember recess was spent playing four-square. I thought it was fun and I was okay at it, so that’s what I did every day . . . until . . . one day I stepped up and some punk said, “Who’s that new girl? She’s so homely!” I don’t think I knew what “homely” meant at the time, but I knew it wasn’t good and I never played four-square again.

Penn Shield Logo50_1 New 2011 2Time went on and I made good friends throughout middle and beginning high school. I became involved in learning German (our German teacher also attended our church) and in “Daffy Dolls”, a cheer group for the wrestling team (only in IN), named after Coach Daffney (not sure of that spelling). I had a steady boyfriend from our church group, although he went to a different high school, things were good. I finally felt “at home” and then . . . in the middle of my sophomore year, my Dad told us we were moving to Alabama. Seriously???? I thought my world had ended!!!! I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Dad’s health was deteriorating and his doctor told him he needed to live in a warmer climate. My Dad never made the move about him. He tried to help us realize it was the best thing for our family and, after all, we visited south Alabama every year to see relatives and we loved it. He knew we would be okay. The decision was made for me to live with my German teacher and his wife and finish out my sophomore year. For that I will always be grateful. Herr Simmons and Frau Simmons were fun, energetic and wonderful role models. As an adult I look back at their generosity and willingness to bring a teenager into their home for several months and I marvel at such a giving and gracious spirit. The summer after my sophomore year my older sister flew to South Bend to accompany me on my flight (my first flight ever) to Alabama . . . leaving my friends, my boyfriend, my church family . . . heading to what seemed to be a strange, unknown, faraway place.

That is the first part of the story . . . leaving those with whom I would have graduated high school. Even they weren’t life-long friends since I moved there in the 6th grade, but they had become my school family and because of chorus, football, Daffy Dolls, German classes and daily interactions, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that we would not be finishing high school and graduating together.

Fast forward to my acclimation to south Alabama . . . my dreams of becoming something akin to a translator (I’m not even sure I knew any specifics about how Foley Lionsto make that happen, but I LOVED the German language and wanted to continue my studies) were trashed. German wasn’t even offered at the only high school in this small southern town. I spent my junior year in jeans that dragged the ground, t-shirts, and flip-flops, kept my head down and didn’t get involved in anything. That was my way of rebelling, I think. I was so unhappy, but conflicted because I knew, although he never made it an issue, this move was important for my Dad’s health, but I missed “home.”

I think it’s just my nature, but I couldn’t “rebel” any longer. I love people and I love “doing” and eventually I made many friends and began to get involved in school activities in my new town. My senior year I was one of the VPs of the Senior Class, was honored to be on the Homecoming Court, participated in the Junior Miss Pageant and was named “Most School Spirited” in senior superlatives. I became known as the Notre Dame-loving “Yankee” transplant and lovingly mocked for saying “you guys” instead of “y’all.” Wow. What a difference a year made. The reality was, however, many, if not most of the folks in my “new” graduating class went through school life together, at the very least they went through four years of high school together and I, once again, felt like an outsider.

Graduation . . . off to college . . . Class of ’72 reunions . . . What to do? I no longer felt I was a part of the Penn High School Class of ’72 because I didn’t go through graduation with them, but I also didn’t feel as though I was an integral part of the Foley High School Class of ’72 because I only spent two years with them. For decades I lost touch with both Indiana and Alabama friends. I wasn’t a PHS grad, so I didn’t receive reunion info from them. FHS classmates always included me in reunion info, but I never felt “worthy” of joining friends who would reminisce about elementary, middle, and high school fun. So, I stayed away . . .

Another fast forward: FHS classmates persevered and continued to reach out to me (along with many others who hadn’t participated in reunions) until, much like my senior year, I began to feel a pull to get involved. They have always embraced me as one of their own, it just took my acknowledging that to feel their warm embrace. I now am part of the reunion planning committee and have a ball whenever I’m able to get together with this group of fun friends. We have far more in common that we do differences and the length of time we’ve been together is certainly secondary to the love we share for one another.

Thanks to social media, I’m reconnected with PHS classmates and, although I didn’t graduate with them, they were gracious enough to allow me to join their FB page so I can stay informed about how they’re all doing and what great things are happening in their lives. Many of them have requested my friendship on FB and we have fun bantering back and forth. I haven’t made it to one of their reunions and I’m still not sure that’s my place, but I’m thrilled to be able to stay in touch with so many of those with whom I spent some very formative years. PHS classmates just gathered for their 45th high school reunion this past weekend. I have loved going through the posted pictures, watching the videos, and seeing somewhat familiar faces, conjuring up wonderful memories of long ago. FHS classmates are in the midst of planning an incredible reunion in October and I’m thrilled to be a part of the excitement and anticipation.

Rule-of-721So now, instead of NOT feeling a part of ANY graduating class, I am grateful for the blessing of TWO graduating classes. It all comes down to friendships, some longer than others, some stronger than others, but all built on a foundation of love, developed over years of growth, respected through maturity, and held dear through the eyes of aging . . . 1972, it was a very good year. I am grateful, Class of ’72.

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SMART Parts Book Series, Book 2

Well, it’s that time again! I have finished my second children’s book and sent it off to my fabulous illustrator, April Bensch. My SMART Parts series continues by focusing on each of the intelligences or “SMART Parts”, individually, through a character introduced in the first book. Book 2 spotlights Will and Word SMART. It shows how Will uses this dominant intelligence to work on developing some of his SMART Parts that aren’t as far along.  It’s important to remember we all are born with every SMART Part and we have the ability to develop them to their full potential. Isn’t that great news!?!? This is the original painting of Will’s page. I love page 19 Willthe way his friends are reacting to one of his riddles! You can see Emme and Jimmy are baffled, but it looks as though Maggie may have the answer! Will is modeled after my son, Will. He is definitely Word SMART and has a great time sharing jokes, puns, riddles, and funny stories. Will is also an accomplished presenter. He is an HR Specialist with Billy Casper Golf, Inc. and is called upon regularly to present information to staff and train new staff members. I’ve seen video of some of Will’s presentations and they are quite entertaining! His command of the English language gives him a wonderful advantage in communicating with others, whether it be official presentations or familiar conversation. pages 24 and 25.jpgThis illustration shows Will working on his Body SMART Part, or body/kinesthetic intelligence. Will loves to play basketball and he golfs, both of which are wonderful ways to strengthen his Body SMART Part! He also water skis and roller blades when he can.Will golfingAlex's photo shoot3

Another way Will works on his other intelligences is through music. He has become Music SMART through his own focus on learning to strengthen his musical skills. Will plays drums, guitar, saxophone, and electric bass. He also has an awesome bass voice.

Will playing guitar

The illustration of Will is taken from his “bowl cut” days, as a child. It is very accurate as a depiction of him. He chattered away as a baby and toddler, talking and singing throughout his day, every day. Yes, Will is truly Word SMART. Here he is enjoying his 2nd birthday.2nd birthday 2

Watch for the next book, Will, the Word SMART Wizard! It should be out shortly! I’m excited to share this second book in the SMART Parts series with you and introduce you to TWO NEW CHARACTERS! In the mean time, check out the first book, Ellie Rae Discovers Eight Ways to be SMART at www.createspace.com/6609237.

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BOOK TOUR

smart-parts-songI can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted here. Wow! My book was published in November 2016 and I hit the ground running, it seems! I’m so excited and extremely grateful that Ellie Rae Discovers Eight Ways to be SMART has been received so enthusiastically, not only by my friends and family, but by the multiple intelligences/education communities, as well. I have shared my passion for MI teaching/learning with my students, teachers, parents and future teachers for many years; but, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share Gardner’s theory with little children, on their level, in the form of this book. Understanding they are SMART, just SMART in their own special way, helps to lay a foundation of self-awareness and self-confidence at the beginning of their formal education. Knowing they havegetting-started the ability to nurture and grow their intelligence is a profound motivation and terrific encouragement as they grow and develop.cafeteria-photo MI also goes hand-in-hand with Growth Mindset, which is being incorporated into the curriculum in numerous schools.

It was so much fun to be working with my dear friend, Kelly Baloun, again. Kelly is now the Director at Tiny Tots of Apopka. We have known one another for over 17 years and we have worked together to spread the word about MI for many of those years. Her daughter, Ellie Rae, is the title character in my book. I spent an entire day at Ellie Rae’s school, speaking to the entire student body. It was invigorating! The students were very well behaved and they asked questions that really showed higher order thinking skills. Over the weekend Kelly and I presented at the Association of Christian Schools International conference. Those who attended our sessions were very receptive to my book and Gardner’s theory. We discussed practical application for their classrooms and daily lives. MI works! And more and more people are realizing the value of perceiving children through an MI lens or perspective. I had a great time in December, visiting my great-niece’s school and meeting Camden folks for a Book Signing at Camden Jewelry and Gifts. What a fun time! I will be traveling to south Alabama for several book signings and back to the Orlando area to participate in a couple of Literacy events insigning February and March. If you would like for me to stop in at your child’s school or, if you’re a teacher and would like to arrange for a visit, I’d love to schedule something with you! Happy reading, friends!emmes-school

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All Children Are “SMART”

For several years I have been involved in researching, teaching, learning and understanding Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI). My Masters thesis, Increasing Fourth Grade Mathematics Proficiency in an Intellectually-Diverse Classroom Using Multiple Intelligences, and doctoral dissertation, The Impact of Training Teachers in Multiple-Intelligences Instructional Strategies, both involved years of researching and practical application of the theory. As a career teacher for over 40 years, I have come to believe all effective teachers have an innate understanding of this theory and naturally perceive their students through an MI lens. They just may not have been introduced to Gardner, so they don’t make the connection.

In 1983, Howard Gardner conducted a study (Project Zero) and subsequently wrote a book about the findings (Frames of Mind). He identified seven “intelligences” that he believes love-and-needare present in everyone at birth: Visual/Spatial, Logical/Mathematical, Body/Kinesthetic, Musical/Rhythmic, Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal. He has since added an eighth intelligence to the list, Naturalist. Gardner’s contention is that we all have these intelligences and they develop through environmental influences and experiences, genetics and deliberate attention and stimulation. Basically, I see Gardner’s theory as stating that all children are smart, they’re just smart in different ways and it’s up to us (adults) to figure out their strengths and act accordingly.

The traditional western educational system focuses on Verbal/Linguistic and Mathematical/Logical intelligences, which is evident by the focus on standardized testing in our schools today. An MI perspective is to see each child as a unique individual and rather than teaching to a class, we teach to individual students, tapping into their dominant intelligence(s) and using that strength to help hone and strengthen the intelligences that aren’t as developed. An example would be, if a child is struggling with spelling, but has a real knack for music, you might encourage him to “sing-spell” his spelling words (spelling to a familiar or created melody). Perhaps you know a child who is very athletic, but struggling in math. You can make a grid of numbers on the floor (or chalk in the driveway) and show him how to hop from number to number, creating and solving addition/subtraction problems.

Designing activities that tap into all of the intelligences or are created to stimulate a specific intelligence is very important, but probably as important is simply the lens through which we view children. If we see them as one-of-a-kind learners, it will be very natural for us to view them through an MI lens in our observations, perceptions, activities and daily interactions.

I have written a children’s book, “Ellie Rae Discovers Eight Ways to be SMART,” which is in the process of being illustrated by the abundantly talented April Bensch and will, hopefully, be published and ready for distribution before Christmas. It’s a child-friendly story, written in verse, to help explain Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences on a child’s level, helping them understand they are all SMART, just SMART in different ways! So, rather than asking ourselves, “How smart are we?” maybe we all should be asking, “How are we SMART?” slide1

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HE PRAYED

blue shirtI titled my blog based on something my Dad always said to me (“Hug the Mountain”), so it is only fitting that my August post, HE PRAYED, honor him, as he would have been 91 years old on August 15th. He’s been living in his mansion over the hilltop for just over five years now and though I miss him terribly and I’m brought to tears frequently at the very thought of him, I’m so happy that his body is healthy and whole right now and he lives pain free, worshiping his creator.

 I was raised with four siblings, spending every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening in a church service. Additionally, my parents held “Visitation Meetings” in our home and the church sponsored “Singings”, potlucks, vacation bible school, youth activities, etc. That time together shaped us and directed many of our life decisions as ayoung family family. The church we belonged to conducted worship with a cappella singing only. I have vivid memories of my Dad standing next to me, singing the bass line from the shaped-notes hymnal. To this day, as a musician, I believe that’s why I hear the bass line more predominantly when I listen to music. As my Dad aged and after my Mother died, he began to sing the melody line of hymns. I don’t know why he chMom and Dadanged his preference and to this day, along with many other questions, I regret not asking him.

 I recall when our conversation would turn to my Dad’s preferences for his funeral, he always said, “Whatever you girls want. It won’t matter to me.” He did say one time, however, when asked what he wanted printed on his headstone, he stated simply, “HE PRAYED.” That was so appropriate. He was a praying man, a man after God’s own heart, and he believed greatly in the power of prayer. I’m sure his prayers carried him through many of the earthly trials with which he was faced . . . my older brother and sister’s drug addictions and subsequent deaths, my Mother’s sudden and tragic death at the hands of a 16-year-old drunk driver, his severe injuries from the crash that killed my Mother, living in constant pain . . . just to name a few. His model as a prayer warrior affected me profoundly and instilled in me a faith that, likewise, has carried me through many earthly trials. He lived what he believed. Nowadays we would say “He walked the talk.”

 Swindle SistersAs a side note and to offer a bit of comedy relief: When my Mother died, I was riding with my sisters to the cemetery after the funeral. We talked about what should go on her headstone. I mentioned that my Dad wanted “HE PRAYED” on his and one of my sisters said, “Well, Mother’s should read SHE SHOPPED!” We all cackled, as only four sisters can! It was this type of humor that helped get us through that particular valley and many more to follow.

 My Dad stood before Jesus on June 28, 2011. My son, Will, had the first date with Natalie, the girl he would marry, one year after Dad died, to the day. They would be married the next year, June 28, 2013, on that date. My parents grew daylilies, acres and acres of daylily-resizeddaylilies. People would drive by just to look at their stunning landscape. It would be just a few years after Dad died that I realized Matthew 6:28 is the scripture we frequently referred to, “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing.” God’s way of telling us He loves us so much, we shouldn’t worry because He will take care of us and Dad did not worry, he prayed. 6:28 . . . June 28 . . .Very fitting.

 So, happy birthday, Dad. You fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. Your crown of righteousness has been awarded and you are Home. Your legacy is deep and wide, strong and solid, precious and true and I am grateful.

on Camden swing

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Inspire the Woman, Impact the World

This alphagammadeltapast weekend I was privileged and honored to have been initiated into Alpha Gamma Delta, as an Alumnae Initiate. I never knew such a thing existed, but my daughter, Alex (who is the Chapter Advisor for Gamma Beta chapter at Florida State University), sponsored me at the 2016 International Convention in Orlando, FL. This convention was particularly special for my initiation because Alex was the Convention Soloist. We even sang a duet together!

As part of a group of nearly 800 women, five of us were initiated. We ranged in ages from 20s to 60s (I was the oldest by 2 years), three moms were sponsored by their daughters, one daughter was sponsored by her mother and another lady sponsored her friend. All of us were overwhelmed, enlightened, and deeply touched by this great honor.

initiates

I supported Alex all through college in her participation in Alpha Gamma Delta, as well as her continued post-grad role as Chapter Advisor. She was very active in the sorority and loved being a part of Greek life. I thought that must be in part because she doesn’t have any biological sisters and the sisterhood of Alpha Gam filled a void. After spending five days becoming a part of this group, I understand fully why this sisterhood struck a chord with Alex.

Alpha Gamma Delta is made up of a group of ladies who live with purpose. Their association with Alpha Gam is not limited to four years in college. Rather, their sisterhood in this group lasts a lifetime. They are committed to their Vision Statement, “Inspire the Woman, Impact the World”, in their daily interactions, attitudes, and goals. The Purpose includes “To welcome the opportunity of contributing to the world’s work in the community where I am placed because of the joy of service thereby bestowed and the talent of leadership multiplied”, as well as my favorite, “To honor my home, my country, my religious faith.” This is not the unfortunate stereotype of sorority life so often portrayed in the media. These women are leaders. They are role models. They are goal-oriented, purposeful in their living and they are making a positive difference in this world. They are my sisters and I am so grateful.

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Fundamentals of Education

I came across an article today that thrilled me . . . at least the content of the article thrilled me. This informative message is about a new law passed by Congress, The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It calls for making available to every student a “well-rounded” education. It will include the arts, social studies, science, foreign language and physical education, rather than focusing on language arts and math in order to teach to high-stakes tests. This concept is not new and many of us working in Education have harped on it for years: Teaching to the “whole child”, Arts-based curriculum, multiple intelligences, differential learning, etc. I’m thrilled to see the wheels of change beginning to move, albeit very slowly. The content of this article is exciting! My issue with this article is the mistakes I saw as I read it. Mistakes made by the author. How can we discuss the value of a quality education, yet settle for grammatical and spelling errors when writing about it? I’m not even comfortable posting this article on my Facebook page, because of the mistakes. Sure, there are only a few, BUT THEY ARE MISTAKES in spelling and grammar! It’s like I tell my college students when they say, “This isn’t an English course, why are you counting off for spelling?” My reply? “You are going to college to become a TEACHER. As a teacher, you will model for your students in everything you say and do. You need to be able to write correctly.” I’m disappointed we have reduced correct spelling and grammar to “grammar Nazi” comments. Why is it out of line to expect excellence? SU-AS-Liberal-Arts-Value-graphic

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LOOK FOR THE HELPERS

As I reflect upon the tragic events of the past weekend in the town our family called home for nearly 30 years, my mind goes to the children of that community. So often children are thrMister Rogers look for the helpersust into adult scenarios and faced with adult conversations that are simply not within the realm of their understanding. Children have an innate need to feel safe and secure that rests in the  reptilian brain, the oldest part of the brain, responsible for survival instincts. It they don’t feel secure, their development can be drastically stunted. It’s up to their caretakers, guardians, parents, loved ones and associates to help them feel safe. Here are a few suggestions to help you help the children in your life cope with tragedy.

  • Turn your TV off. It is very difficult to shut out the media when a tragedy rocks our community or our country; however, oftentimes children do not have the ability to distinguish what is the reality of many  news reports. What they do realize is something is wrong and their personal safety feels threatened. Get your news from a source that only you can hear/see (reading online, etc.). The same goes for adult conversations about tragedy. Have those conversations when your children are not likely to overhear you. Allow your child to hear about tragic events from YOU, not the media and not friends at school.
  • Keep a normal routine. Routine helps children in every day life. Being able to predict what happens next adds to their sense of security. As much as is possible, go about your normal routine. Pay close attention to your child and any unusual behavior you may notice. Sometimes a child will regress with potty training, thumb sucking, language, separation, etc. if s/he has been adversely affected by a tragic event. The sooner you address these behaviors, the better.
  • Give information as your child asks. Even though we may be consumed with a horrific event, wanting to find out everything we can, your child cannot process adult content or context. Use your child’s questions as a barometer for how much detail you provide. Certainly, if your child has heard about a tragedy through friends or overheard adult conversations, it is important to help him/her feel safe by clarifying in simple terms what they may know (“A man hurt some people we don’t know. It’s very sad when people do bad things. But, you are safe and so am I. We are going to be ok.”). Redirecting them at this point is important (“Let’s go read a book together!” “Do you want to put a puzzle together?”).
  • Show support/Be of service. If an opportunity presents itself, involve your child in supporting or being of service to victims. Firstly, and most importantly, you and your child can pray together for victims of a tragedy. Again, the words you use are important. They should be simple, loving, hopeful, and on a child’s level. If the event took place in your community, you may have an opportunity to deliver food, clothing, or other items to a collection center or to victims, themselves. Of course, you will want to be very careful of anything your child may see and may just want to involve him/her in preparing something and not the actual delivery, depending on the specific circumstances.
  • Be yourself. You may be drastically affected by a horrific event, so it’s ok to show emotion. If your child sees you crying, you can simply say, “I’m sad this happened and sometimes when I’m sad, I cry. It helps me with the sadness.” Your tears may open up a worthwhile conversation and a teachable moment.

Certainly, if your child is of the age/maturity s/he can understand tragedy in more depth, any conversation you have with him/her could become an opportunity to discuss “stranger danger”, becoming separated in public, a secret password, death, etc. Take your cues from your child and remember, your child will take his/her cues from you. However you deal with adversity, tragedy, and disappointment, you are modeling for your child. S/He is watching you and retaining in long-term memory your response to particular events and circumstances in your life. Use a calm, reassuring voice and be uplifting and positive in your tone and word choices.

In his simple, yet genius manner Mr. Fred Rogers gives brilliant advice about this very thing: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”