Saturday, January 31, 2009

Holiday On Ice

Today was a beautiful day, nearly seventy degrees. It was a vast contrast to the bitter cold days earlier this week that brought with them an ice storm and a day off from school. This past Monday evening, all of the weather forecasters warned us that Tuesday would be a miserably cold day with storms moving in and making travel more and more treacherous as the day progressed. This poor prognosis for the day’s weather caused our local school district to cancel school so Erin went back to sleep, but the rest of us had to get up and brave the weather.

We left the house early expecting the worst only to find this to be one of the easiest commutes in weeks – no ice and no traffic. We even had time to stop for coffee and still get to campus on time. Believing that things would worsen throughout the day, we did take an overnight bag just in case travel home after school was not possible. For me, classes after 3 pm were cancelled. We set out for home about 4, again expecting the worse and meeting no problematic driving conditions. I prepared for my classes on Wednesday and packed lunches assuming that we would all get up and go to school the following day.

At 5:15 am the call came – no school fro any of us. We all crawled back in bed for a few more hours of sleep. The day off was nice – wandering around in PJ’s all day, lots of coffee, and catching up on household chores. Come the day after Easter when the bad weather day has to be made up, we all may have a different attitude about this week’s day off, but for now, we enjoyed it.

Here is a glimpse of the Texas ice.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Integrated Rhyme or Rhymed Integration?

Back in March of 2007 I posted a list of things that suggest that your child might be a nerd. Two years later, there is no question that I have raised not one but two nerds.

Below is confirmation that Offspring No. 2 is definitely a nerd.

Nerdy Friend at 8:20pm January 10
Hahaha...I miss being a nerd.

Offspring No. 2 at 8:21pm January 10
Have you STOPPED being a nerd in the past two hours?

Nerdy Friend at 8:22pm January 10
Yes! I watched TV for the first time in, like, four months.

Offspring No. 2 at 8:23pm January 10
Hon, I don't think that detracts ANY from your nerdiness.

Nerdy Friend at 8:27pm January 10
You know what? Just because I'm watching a video on YouTube called U Can't Graph This doesn't mean I'm a nerd.

Offspring No. 2 at 8:29pm January 10
Right. And just 'cause you spent your entire Saturday giddy about Authors and Literary Terms doesn't mean anything either. You're just an average American teenager.

Nerdy Friend at 8:33pm January 10
Hey. At least I don't do math in my head for fun.

Offspring No. 2 at 8:36pm January 10
At least my math knowledge is useful. How many times do you actually think to yourself, "Wow. I'm really glad I know that Robert Penn Warren won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947"?

Nerdy Friend at 8:38pm January 10
You totally looked that up.
And how many times a day do you integrate?

Offspring No. 2 at 8:56pm January 10
I did. And I am proud to say I didn't know if off the top of my head.
I use integrals every time I'm trying to find area under a curve...or velocity from an acceleration equation. you mean, you don't?

Nerdy Friend at 8:58pm January 10
No. I don't. But, like Kathryn, I order things with masculine rhyme titles.

Offspring No. 2 at 9:00pm January 10
Umm, "Bacon Cheeseburger"? I may not be in lit-crit, but I'm pretty sure that's not masculine rhyme...

Nerdy Friend at 9:01pm January 10
Yeah. You know what? Maybe I wasn't talking about Chili's.

Offspring No. 2 at 9:07pm January 10
Maybe, Miss English girl, you should have phrased your ideas differently, so as to relay the proper message; perhaps, "I notice when I order things with masculine rhyme titles?"

BTW, is it a masculine rhyme title or a masculinely rhythmic title?

Innocent Bystander No. 1 at 10:05pm January 10
that is the best status conversation i have ever read. ever.

Innocent Bystander No. 2at 1:15am January 11
Wow. All this math talk is getting me all hot and... sleepy. ;)

Nerdy Friend at 3:41pm January 11
I think masculinely rhymed title.

Offspring No. 2 at 6:09pm January 12
That, to me, suggests that it was purposefully "rhymed" that way.

Nerdy Friend at 9:54pm January 13
I'm sure someone in Chili's upper management was an English major.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Week of Firsts

For seventeen years, every morning of the academic year has involved taking children to school. This time would have been cut short if Brooke had chosen to get her driver’s license when she turned sixteen. She didn’t – and at age nineteen still hasn’t. Fortunately, she lives in Chicago where mass transit negates the need for a car, a license, insurance, snow tires . . .Erin, on the other hand, has been ready to drive since . . .well, Brooke turned sixteen (she was thirteen). Or maybe it was when Erin turned sixteen in dog years. . . somewhere around two and a half. That may be a little more accurate. Though she has been ready to learn to drive for a long time, the adults in her life were slow on the uptake and she did not get her learner’s permit until late in the fall. Texas law requires that you drive with your permit for at least six months before being awarded your license. So, even though Erin turned sixteen in December, she did not get her driver’s license.

During all these years of raising kids, I have chosen to only teach part time. This provided a good balance and allowed me to feel like I was fulfilling my obligations at both home and at school. For the first time, this semester I was offered the opportunity to teach a full-time load. As is often the case with unexpected opportunity, I am faced with both blessings and challenges. From a teaching perspective, the challenge comes in teaching a course that I have not taught before, Music Appreciation. I have spent this first week of school familiarizing myself with the course materials and trying to figure out how to approach the rest of the semester. Having done that, I am excited about teaching the course. The rest of my course load is what it has been in the past - three music theory classes and composition. Perhaps the biggest change for me is having to be at school every day all day, with the exception of Friday. The transportation logistics have taken so creativity, but have all worked out in a pleasantly positive way. This is where another of those “firsts” of the week has come into play.

As the schedule stood, we had to drop Erin at school at 7 in order for those of us who are making the hour or so commute to Dallas to get to school by 8. Since Erin does not start class until 8:50, to her this was a bad plan. After some thought, we decided that she should apply for a hardship license. This is a restricted license that allows her to drive alone, in her case, to and from school. So this week as I started a new semester, Erin began driving to and from school by herself. This is a new-found freedom that she is much enjoying, one that affords her early morning trips to Starbucks and Target on the way (more or less) to school. Now I leave for school as she is getting up. We have a deal that she calls me and lets me know that she has gotten to school safely. I know that won’t last long, but for now it calms my maternal worries.

My days also now start much earlier than in semesters past. Surprisingly, this has turned out to be a good thing. I love the early morning. The problem here is that I also love the late night and I don’t do well on three or four hours of sleep. So, I now have to go to bed a little earlier than I am used to.

I am happy to greet each new day. A couple cups of coffee before the sun comes up and a hot breakfast with the one I love is a wonderful way to start the day. (I just need to remember that those cups of coffee are not compatible with the bumper to bumper traffic that we sometimes encounter on the way to school.) Rising and leaving home earlier also mean that I get to school with a great deal of time to prepare myself for class – make copies, review my notes, and drink a couple more cups of coffee.

All of these “firsts” are indicative of change and change often brings with it feelings of negativity and ill will. That is not the case here at all. Things are changing, but for the better. Sure. Some adjustment is necessary, but it is all worth the effort. And if things get tough, I’ll have another cup of coffee!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

God Talk

Earlier today I was reading a post by another blogger whose work, both writing and photography, I admire. She writes honestly and openly about the joys of raising a family as well as the accompanying trials and tribulations. In this particular post, she says that there are some topics that she chooses not to address on her blog because as she says, “Well, they are mine.” In particular, she mentions her faith and religion in this category of taboo subjects.

We have all probably heard the old adage that you should never discuss politics or religion. In my opinion, omitting these areas from possible discussion almost guarantees that a boring conversation will follow. We also know that the reason that they are to be avoided is because politics and religion are volatile topics, ones that many people approach with a great deal of passion. Such passion is the backdrop for heated discourse, disagreement, and dis-ease. When we are forced to face our personal views on either politics or religion, we are diving deep within ourselves, swimming through those convictions that, in theory, form the very core of our being. They are the moral compass that guides our thoughts and actions surrounding ourselves, others, and the whole world. How we speak about our faith is a glance at who we really are. How we live that faith in the midst of life is a picture that hangs in the gallery of the hearts and minds of all those with whom we interact both intimately and casually.

Those who read my posts regularly know that I do not shy away from matters of faith and religion (or politics for that matter). My faith is such an integral part of who I am that to avoid speaking of it here would be to give an incomplete and untrue picture of myself. In speaking openly about the events of my life and my faith, I set myself up to be judged by others. I allow those who read my posts to align my words and my actions and to then pass judgment as to whether or not the two are contradictory. In short, I have made myself vulnerable to the slings and arrows of anyone who disagrees with or questions me. Fortunately, for me questions and disagreement are a positive thing. When I am forced to answer tough questions or defend my stance in a disagreement, I am also forced to revisit and rethink my own convictions. This is a good thing. This is how spiritual growth is accomplished.

I am confident that I am not always right, that I make wrong choices and decisions, that I am a sinner, that I hope not in vain, that good will prevail, and that God’s love will always strengthen and sustain me.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Some Thoughts on Anger

Often in the parting of two people, whether it be through divorce, a need for friends to go their separate ways, or even death, there is the potential for the separation to be surrounded, or even engulfed, in anger. Several of those who know the circumstances of my divorce have asked if I am angry at Mike. I can say with absolute certainty that the answer is “No.” First of all, I see no real reason to be angry. And secondly, anger only hurts the person who harbors it. I don’t need or want that kind of hurt.

For the last eight months or so I have been learning the practice of Zen meditation. Though I still consider myself an absolute beginner, both the practice itself and the readings concerning the practice have been critical in my ability to cope with the events of the past few months. In reality, my interactions with Mike have been based in true compassion and love, but as is often the case with life, when one aspect is shattered, it affects other places as well. I have to admit that through all that has gone on, I have been most surprised by some who have a great deal of misplaced anger.

In trying to understand both misplaced anger and incredibly deep levels of anger, I have turned to the writings of Tich Nhat Hanh. Following is a brief statement that he makes with regard to the nature of anger.

"Anger is rooted in our lack of understanding of ourselves and of the causes, deep-seated as well as immediate, that brought about this unpleasant state of affairs. Anger is also rooted in desire, pride, agitation, and suspicion. The primary roots of our anger are in ourselves. Our environment and other people are only secondary. It is not difficult for us to accept the enormous damage brought about by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a flood. But when damage is caused by another person, we don't have much patience. We know that earthquakes and floods have causes, and we should see that the person who has precipitated our anger also has reasons, deep-seated and immediate, for what he has done.

When we see and understand these kinds of causes, we can begin to be free from our anger. . . . What is most important is that we first take care of the seeds of negativity in ourselves. Then if someone needs to be helped or disciplined, we will do so out of compassion, not anger and retribution. If we genuinely try to understand the suffering of another person, we are more likely to act in a way that will help him overcome his suffering and confusion, and that will help all of us. "

Like most humans, I am imminently capable of anger. In fact, at times anger is easier to muster than joy. I hate that in myself. That is the thing that I have most tried to change. I have now come to a place where being angry hurts me more than having others angry at me (and there are many who fall into this category.) In both cases, I have control over how I am impacted by such anger. When I am angry I become almost paralyzed, incapable of meaningful thoughts or actions. That is a terrible disability and creates for me a life that I don’t want to live, a life I no longer can live. Having others direct their anger towards me is still painful, but it does not affect me in the same way. It reminds me that we are all connected and I have a responsibility to approach all others with sincere compassion and love. I am trying to see the roots of their anger, acknowledge my part in it, and do my best to see all others through the eyes of compassion.

In closing, I offer “10 Verses to Tame Anger” by Tich Nhat Hanh.

When you say something unkind, when you
do something in retaliation, your anger increases.
You make the other person suffer, and they try hard
to say or do something back to make you suffer,
and get relief from their suffering. That is
how conflict escalates.”

“Just like our organs, our anger is part of us.
When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves
and take good care of our anger. We cannot say,
‘Go away, anger, I don’t want you.’ When you have
a stomachache, you don’t say, ‘I don’t want you
stomach, go away.’ No, you take care of it.
In the same way, we have to embrace and
take good care of our anger.”

“Just because anger or hate is present does not
mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”

“When you are angry, and you suffer, please go
back and inspect very deeply the content, the nature
of your perceptions. If you are capable of removing
the wrong perception, peace and happiness will
be restored in you, and you will be able to
love the other person again.”

“When you get angry with someone, please don’t
pretend that you are not angry. Don’t pretend that
you don’t suffer. If the other person is dear to you,
then you have to confess that you are angry, and that
you suffer. Tell him or her in a calm, loving way.”

“In the beginning you may not understand the
nature of your anger, or why it has come to be.
But if you know how to embrace it with the
energy of mindfulness, it will begin
to become clear to you.”

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.
Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother
to embrace him. You are the mother.
Embrace your baby.”

“Anger has roots in non anger elements. It
has roots in the way we live our daily life. If we
take good care of everything in us, without
discrimination, we prevent our negative energies
from dominating. We reduce the strength
of our negative seeds so that they
won’t overwhelm us.”

“In a time of anger or despair, even if we feel
overwhelmed, our love is still there. Our capacity to
communicate, to forgive, to be compassionate is
still there. You have to believe this. We are more
than our anger, we are more than our suffering.
We must recognize that we do have within
us the capacity to love, to understand,
to be compassionate, always.”

“When we embrace anger and take good care of
our anger, we obtain relief. We can look deeply into
it and gain many insights. One of the first insights
may be that the seed of anger in us has grown too
big, and is the main cause of our misery. As we
begin to see this reality, we realize that the other
person, whom our anger is directed at, is only
a secondary cause. The other person is
not the real cause of our anger.”

Monday, January 5, 2009

Leap of Faith

The bookstores are filled with stories of those who in times of personal strife suffer a crisis of faith. I must admit that I have never been fond of such stories. My idealistic self has always thought that in our darkest hours faith was the only thread that would hold things together, that when humanity fails us, God’s love will prevail. My suspicions and hopes have been proven true in the last few months. Life has been on the chaotic side. And though I did not lose my faith (actually it is stronger than ever), I did lose my ability and my confidence in writing. Even when I journaled more regularly with pencil and paper, great voids existed in my writing during difficult times. I think this is because I don’t like whining, though I suppose it could be construed as some kind of denial. I’m not sure. Whatever the root cause of my lack of oneness with words, this accounts for the deep silence that has fallen over this space since October.

Much has happened. Though all of the details are not necessary here, I do wish to share how faith can sustain when nothing else seems to have that ability.

The most significant thing that has happened is that I filed for divorce. That in itself was a leap of faith. When I made this decision, it was not as much a selfish act as it was an act of love and compassion. Though I freely admit that neither Mike or I was truly happy, I believe that he bore a much heavier burden because of that than I did. The act of faith that I took by being the one to actually file for divorce comes my heartfelt belief that that truly was the best thing for both of us emotionally and spiritually and further faith that though I do not have a full time job, I will be OK in terms of the necessities in life. In terms of the comforts of life, I have been blessed. We have a wonderful home and I have wanted for very little in the material world. By going forward with the divorce, I ran the risk of “cutting off my nose to spite my face.” After much prayer, I believed that filing for divorce was indeed what I needed to do. I was not wrong.

The process has been painless and, in many ways, life-giving. The level of honest communication that Mike and I have had with one another has been better in the last few months than it has been in years. We are still happily cohabiting and on the surface, life has not changed much. Internally, however, much is different . . .in a good way.
We have both reached a point where we are ready to move forward . . .independently and in whatever form our new relationship will take. I fully support him in his journey forward and he has given me that same support.

I have also been blessed by a new relationship. Allowing myself to become close to another person at this point in my life was also a leap of faith. I was unsure of my ability to love and be loved. And, for both of us, the timing of us falling in love was, to quote a professional friend of ours, “sucky.” Again to pursue this relationship was truly a leap of faith. There have been moments where it has felt like a leap of stupidity, but these times are brief. God’s hand always reaches down and holds us up when we are discouraged or have fallen.

Many things have happened, some good and some very painful, over the last few months. All of them have been necessary elements to this journey called life. I would be lying if I said that I have enjoyed or been happy with all that has happened. I have not. In fact, I’m sure there have been more tears of despair shed than those of joy. However, even when I have felt like I am drowning in those tears of sorrow, I have never doubted God’s presence. That unconditional love that we all long for has not escaped me. This is the greatest gift that I can imagine.

So we are five days into this new year. Though I know that some tough times are still before me, I feel that I am ready and able to move forward. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I know that whatever I meet on my path I can handle with God’s help.

My prayer for all of us is a life of peace, joy, and happiness in 2009.