Fall into more summer

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Pumpkin spice lattes are back. Halloween decorations dominate the craft stores. And in Southern California, it’s extended summer. Especially for teachers like me who jumped ship at the end of last school year. This is the first year I didn’t spend days setting up my classroom, organizing classroom supplies, and suffering through hours of staff meetings.

Next week, instead of sweating through triple-digit days sequestered inside with kids, my husband and I will be camping at the beach. We’ll walk our dogs, grill steaks, and watch the sunsets. I’m going to work on my latest book project until I run out of power on my laptop.

After 17 years of teaching (which in teacher years is 170), I’m writing a new chapter in my life. In my first years at college, I poured all my energy into being a visual artist. Then at graduation I was cast adrift in a world where creatives had few ways of earning a living. I went to work in retail buying, using my creativity to select season colors and magazine layouts.

After 9/11, I lost my job and became a substitute teacher. Then my husband died, and suddenly I was a single parent of three school age children. That led me back to college where I earned my teaching credential.

Writing children’s books was my new creative outlet. Seven years later, I found a husband that nourished my dreams. I joined writing groups and took classes. My obsession grew until I was up every morning at 5:00 am to squeeze in a few hours of writing before the day began.

Many years passed. My kids grew up and set out on their own journeys. Teaching kids taught me a lot. About hope for the future, and a passion for doing what you love. I gathered characters and stories like shells on a beach. Saving them for when I had time to write.

So here I am in my first year of retirement. Living life as a full time creative, writing instead of making art. My life is no longer fractured with conflicting responsibilities. I still get up early. Ideas flow in the quiet time before the day opens its eyes.

As I fall into more summer, more summer flows into me.

The Space In-Between

Background, Bay, Beach, Beautiful, Blue, Calm

 

September in Southern California is the space in-between. It’s past summer, not yet fall. We still endure triple digit heat while the rest of the country cools down. No special holidays except Labor Day, and that’s just another excuse to have a BBQ by the pool. Teachers and students sweat through the inclement weather schedule, patiently waiting for relief. Even though I have a pool, this month I rarely dip in, cooler nights dropping pool temperature into the cold range.

In-between. Not yet Halloween or Thanksgiving. Already yearning for Christmas break.

When I lay down at night, I dream of sweaters and boots, grey stormy skies, and hot cocoa. I usually love summer, but when September comes, I am eager to pack away my swimsuit and sunscreen. My jeans whisper “Pick me,” in my closet, my umbrella calls my name. But not yet. Not when I have recess duty under a blazing sun.

Patiently we wait. Sweating through September days. Going to school and work, teased into wearing a jacket early in the morning, only to tear it off before 10:00 a.m.

Other places, the leaves turn colors and fall. But not here in the desert. We outlast the scorching heat while waiting for cooler days.

Sunny, pleasant days that make us forget that many other places will suffer the pangs of winter that will pass us by. Rainy days that wash away dust and smog.

But for now, we are in-between. Waiting.

Back to School in the Fiery Furnace

 

Desert, Sand, Sand Dunes, Sahara, Gobi

A million years ago, when I was in elementary school, we didn’t start school until after Labor Day. My hot, muggy Iowa summer days were spent at the community pool, riding bikes, watching “Dark Shadows” and staying out until the streetlights came on.

Fast forward to the present. Now I’m teacher instead of student, and we go back to work the second week in August. What? I have to put real clothes on instead of my swimwear and go to work when it’s over 100 degrees outside?

Whine, whine, whine. You have air-conditioning, what’s the big deal?

True, but this isn’t Iowa anymore. Back there, we had closed hallways between classrooms and a gymnasium due to inclement weather. In California, we have to cross the frying-pan-hot playground several times a day to get to the cafeteria, teachers’ lounge, library, and bathroom. Not to mention the air-conditioning unit in my portable sounded like a Harley when it started up this year. (Gratefully, it has been fixed. Thank you again to that kind M&O guy in the white truck- you’re my hero!)

Summer isn’t over. You can still jump into your pool when you get home from school.

True, except for the part where you don’t get to go home when your contract hours are over at 4. It’s the beginning of the year, and there are so many BOY things that are due at the same time. You’re lucky if you lock up and go home by 5:30.

But teachers are so lucky. They get summers off.

Seriously, if we didn’t have summers off, we couldn’t do this job and keep smiling. You had your kids all summer. Are you still smiling?

Anyway, there’s nothing to be done for it. High schools want early summer starts so they can finish finals before Christmas break. You notice they don’t have recess duty in August the way elementary teachers do.

And I guess it’s nice to be out of school for the summer right after Memorial Day. June in Southern California is a much kinder month than August. And I guess it’s not that bad to have your makeup melt down your face as you lead your students up to the front gate after school.

So here we are, back to school, and made it through August. By Halloween we’ll get down to two digit high temperatures before it starts raining.

Rain. Something to look forward to.

When it’s the end of the school year, and you’re tired

IMG_7792

End of the school year deadlines binged on my phone, and I felt like it would be impossible to walk out in two weeks on May 30. I still had piles everywhere in my third grade classroom. This year had been the busiest yet, with grade level rotations, science fair, ballet, Living History Museum, two field trips, and after school chorus.

After coming in early, staying at school late, gallons of coffee and pounds of chocolate, I was done. Done with report cards. Done with educational cum files. Done with taking every staple off my walls.

When the last bell rang, I walked my students up to the front gate, watched them match up with their parents, and took a breath. My smile got bigger. I took a leisurely lunch with a co-worker. Then I grabbed my purse and my laptop, turned in my keys to the secretary, and I was free.

Ten weeks of no alarm clocks. Especially since my husband had recently retired. We had loads of house projects in progress, and out-of-town company coming in a month, but I needed something first.

Instead of cleaning the Room of Requirement (exercise, storage, guest room), we packed up the trailer, loaded up the dogs, and headed for the beach. For five straight days, we slept in, walked on the beach and around the camp, played card games with friends, and took naps. We savored the cool ocean breeze, knowing it would be up in the 100s when we got home.

It took a few days, but I started to feel normal again. When we finally packed it all up and headed for home, I was ready to start my summer.

Another perspective on “Blue Horses”

I’m taking a short story course at UCLA Extension with author/instructor Michael Buckley. One of our assignments was to write in the style of Franklin’s “Blue Horses.” I decided to write from Evelyn’s point of view and add some plot twists:

coffee

His coffee cup was still dripping water on its hook when Evelyn stumbled into the kitchen. She sighed and poured herself a cup, as black as a moonless night, and twice as bitter. Looking out the window, she knew that Earl’s truck would already be gone. Two fools on a fool’s errand.

Evelyn gently sat on the cracked vinyl chair and forced herself to down the entire lukewarm coffee in an effort to clear her fog. Something crackled in her pocket, and she pulled out a folded up, yellowed paper. A truck rumbled by, and she stuffed it back into its hiding place. Looking around at the overflowing piles of dishes in the sink and faded green metal cabinets, she wondered how she managed to stay married to that loser for fifteen years. How did she end up back at Earl’s place when she had sworn to never return? She replayed the previous night’s conversation in her mind.

“Why, Evelyn! Don’t you look purdy tonight? Sumthin special going on at the church?” Earl wobbled at the screen door when she arrived, already a few beers into the evening.

“Don’t have to be anythin special for me to stop by my old place,” she purred. She looked past her ex-husband, into the dark room lit only by the blue T.V. light. It had to be here. She knew him as well as she knew her face in the mirror, and a paper that important he would hide in the house.

“Well, come on in,” Earl said with a sweeping gesture that nearly toppled him over. “I got some of that elderberry wine you used to like. Member, you left it here, last time.”

“That sounds good, hunny,” she said as she swept past him into the house. He followed her like a faithful hound, picking up the newspapers and empty bottles to reveal a relatively clean spot on the couch. Evelyn sat down primly, and crossed her legs, showing her new stockings. Since she had left a year ago, she had found work at the new mill office, and had money for silk stockings. If she’d still been with him, it would have all gone for his beer.

After the clunking and slamming went on for some time back in the kitchen, Earl returned with a cut crystal glass filled with a blood-red liquid which he managed to deliver to her without spilling more than a few drops on the carpet. Evelyn took a sip, hoping it would give her the courage she needed to pull this off.

They chit chatted for a while about nothing, all the while he moved closer to her on the couch. Finally he planted one on her, which wasn’t so bad even after all that time, and they ended up in the bedroom like old times. She knew it would be short ride, and then she’d be able to search for that letter. Sure enough, he soon was fast asleep, and she pulled on his shredded bathrobe and escaped to the living room.

As she searched every drawer, and sifted every pile, she discovered scattered remnants of their life together. Movie tickets, photographs, Valentine cards, and stacks of past due bill statements. She didn’t give up, because she hadn’t come all this way and let him sweep her off her feet just to go home empty-handed. Maybe it was in the kitchen.

Opening the junk drawer by the phone, she found it. A folded paper tucked in the back of the drawer, behind the duct tape, batteries, rubber bands, and assorted screws. She opened it with shaking hands, the words on the page dancing in her head. “Deed and Title to property at Rural Route 2, Blue Mountain Lake.” It was in her name, a wedding present from Great Uncle Tommy. Its faded yellow pages promised freedom from the run-down carnival ride she’d been on all her life.

 

Changes Fall

Autumn

 

Today when the piano alarm on my phone crescendoed until I obediently rolled out of bed, something felt different. Through my slitted eyes, dawn’s light through our open windows remained black. Birds chirping outside startled me, and I realized my husband had turned off our room air conditioner sometime during the night. A strange impulse coursed through my body, traveling through me like a crowd doing the wave at a baseball stadium. My throat scratched when I asked my husband if he wanted a banana packed in his lunch, so I took a drink from the water bottle on my night stand. The water was still cold!

Then I realized the source of strangeness—the air inside my room was cool. For the first time in three months, I wanted to put on a sweater. Usually I would wake up soaked with sweat, barely rested due to constant demand for cold water during the night. My body had no idea how to adjust to more moderate temperatures. In dim light, I searched through my closet, digging deep before feeling the zipper of my hoodie. Gratefully, I pulled it on and zipped it up to my neck. My shaking ceased.

The aroma of coffee dripping into the pot in the kitchen combined with crisp coolness and whispered promises. The summer sluggishness I had strained beneath disappeared, and my steps became light. Ambition kindled in the cool morning. Suddenly hope swelled in my chest, and I began to believe again that my life would change. That my fourth graders this year would love to write. That my book might be picked up by an agent. That I would find the perfect writing critique group. That I would lose those last five pounds.

Officially fall begins on September 22nd, but in my bedroom, on this day, the changes of fall began.

Changes and Why I Hate Them

calendar

You’ve heard people say, “I don’t like surprises” and that’s not what I mean when I say I hate changes. If you want to secretly invite all my friends and throw me a surprise birthday party, I would love it, just not held at my house when I am out having dinner (really happened to me).

In a world filled with anxiety and chaos, I cling vigorously to my structured plan. Each day as a teacher I follow my lesson plan grid, minute by minute. Every ding on my iPhone is a gentle reminder that all is going according to my schedule. Even on my busiest day, I can keep up with meetings and errands, as long as I enter them into my phone. On Sunday nights, I like to preview my week so I can plan which days I can cook and which days will be heated up leftovers.

But trusting in my own agenda doesn’t leave room for divine guidance. Slowly I become confident in my own abilities to manage my life, a house built on sand. In the back of my mind I think “Wow, if this is going to work out, everything’s got to happen as I planned it.” Then the storm blows in.

It could be a literal storm. When it rains during the school week, my schedule is shifted by the infamous “Inclement Weather Schedule.” On these days, students come to my class ten minutes earlier in the morning, and they’re in the room with me all day except for 30 minutes at lunch. Those of you who are not crazy enough to be teachers will say at this point, “So what?” Maybe you should spend all day cooped up with thirty kids who need to play outside and are distracted by the wet stuff coming out of the sky.

Or it could be a minor car accident that creates all kinds of phone calls, coordination with my husband to drop off and pick up the car, and reports to fill out. Sick family pets, rained out Harley rides, and non-functional ovens at Thanksgiving all crash my well thought out schedule. Of course, I must face these challenges as they come, but sometimes I have to swash my grumbling.

And then there are the opportunities I don’t even realize I’ve missed. Times that I should have called that friend who posted a melancholy Facebook paragraph. Times that my grown children needed to hear a word of encouragement. Times I didn’t even notice that my husband was having a bad day. I wish I could have looked up from my carefully planned day to see what really needed to be done.

So I sigh, and enter a new event on my calendar—Make time to see what’s really going on, Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Not exactly opening up my schedule, but it’s a place to start. Even for a person who hates changes, this is one change I need to make.

 

 

 

A Teacher’s Lament to Change

tired-teacher

 

 

Seasons change, our classes change, our priorities change, our attitudes change.

Change has been both a friend and enemy to me. The same elements of my teaching career that energize me—new classes, new curriculum, new teaching strategies, new focuses—are also major stressors in my life.

Sometimes I hate change. Routines bring me peace, as I can add the finesse to my teaching art when I’m familiar with the reading passages. I can plan ahead with a clear image of what my lessons will look like, and what the pitfalls could be. Each year I create bulging files stuffed with organizers I’ve created or borrowed from someone else. Every year, I believe that I’ve made my job easier.

But familiarity also creates boredom and discontent. There were some stories in the reading book that I wanted to skip because I really hated them. Many of the passages were so out of date, students couldn’t relate to them at all. Priorities about physical education and fine arts needed to be balanced with reading and math.

When my district announced they had finally chosen a new language arts program, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Now two weeks into the new school year, I’m too busy reading all the components of the lessons to get excited about anything.

Change means I must throw away all my old files away and start new. My flip flops stay in the closet as I wear my Vans for stair climbing. New faces and names wait for me to call on them. This year I am teaching 4th and 5th grade in a combination class, so I will have two sets of lesson plans. Besides the language arts program, we have a new math program, a new science program, and did I mention a new principal and vice principal?

Seasons change, our classes change, our jobs change, my attitude must change.

Instead of feeling rushed, I’m going to take time to listen and look my students in the eye. My pacing guide will adapt to the needs of my class. This year, my students will do more, and I will talk less. My new routines will include wonder, laughter, forgiveness, and collaboration.

I will make Change my best friend. I will invite her to sit down and have coffee with me. She will accept that I won’t do everything perfectly and together we will change the lives of our students.

 

 

 

Looking Back at 2015

working

Part of being a good teacher is the ability to reflect and respond. After the kids leave, and you’re sitting in a mess of broken crayons, glue-crusted desks, and overflowing trash cans, it’s time to go over all the lessons that day. “I’ll never do that again!” and “Wow! I can’t believe that worked!” are the thoughts that guide me for future instruction.

But I can’t help being that lifelong learner when I go home. And now it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to clean up the mess and plan for next year.

My husband and I have been going on a planning weekend in January for the past seven years we’ve been married. Besides spending quality alone time together, we have a notebook that we use every year. We go over the goals from the past few years and evaluate our progress toward them. Some ideas make us laugh as they aren’t even concerns anymore. Others make us groan as we realize we didn’t do anything about them.

At the end of December, I have enough free time to start thinking about what I will add to our notebook this year. And to prepare my defense for those goals I didn’t reach.

Financial goals always make me cringe, but this year I want to save more money. I really bombed on this one last year, but my attitude toward spending has evolved. It’s amazing how much stuff you don’t need as you get older. Well, maybe except my phone and computer. And wifi.

In the category of personal goals, 2015 was going to be the year I reached out with my writing. A writing friend suggested joining The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When I finally did, I had the opportunity to meet with an agent and have professional editing at a writing conference. In addition, I met some great creatives and listened to their stories of being published in the traditional way. But this group doesn’t meet often, so I found The California Writers Club online. The Inland Empire Branch meets monthly in Ontario so I could quench my thirst for literary conversation and learn more about self-publishing and promotion. Both groups helped me communicate my stories in a more confident and professional manner.

Still questing for additional critique of my almost completed book The College of the Crones, I decided to go back to college—University of California Riverside Extension Program. In September I started working on my Fiction Writing Certificate, a 20 unit program to shore up the structure of my writing. Writing definitely stays on the list for 2016.

In the category of shared goals, my husband and I joined the Harley Owners Group in November, after agonizing about it for over a year. Originally we had wanted to start our own motorcycle riding group, but after wise counsel, we decided to see how it was done first. It has been a great adventure, riding the back roads and starting new friendships. We also started riding with The Black Sheep, a Christian motorcycle ministry. Much to our surprise, the HOGs were much tamer than the Black Sheep. But that’s another blog. It will be interesting to see how the miles will add up this year.

As the hours tick down to 2016, I find myself at peace. There were some events I regret, but mostly it has been a year of growth. Each day is a learning experience, and as long as I remain teachable, the coming year will provide many opportunities to shape my life.

 

 

 

Swimming

dive

The beginning of the school year is time for swimming. By the end of 10 weeks of summer vacation, I’ve finally wound down enough to smile naturally, and then, it’s Back to School.

That wouldn’t be so bad, except all Hell breaks loose. My home starts to fall apart- air conditioner fails, hot water heater breaks, although still under warranty, and showers back up. The cat scratches eight holes into my husband’s $300 Harley seat. My daughter rips her oil pan open under her car, and needs assistance.

And then there’s school. Again air conditioning fails- seems to be a theme. Perhaps we should start school after the 120 degree weather is over, maybe October. No recess due to high heat so no time for a break or to copy off that math homework you forgot. New students, new parents- don’t they read the letter I sent home about signing their child’s homework planner? Back to School Night, because I love to stay an extra 3 hours past my entire day without recess and a slammed lunch break.

It’s as if I’ve been thrown off a high cliff and land breathless in the raging river below. Paddling fiercely, I work to keep my head above water. But in the distance, I can see the bank of Thanksgiving break, and I swim toward it.