Monday, January 24, 2011

Cooperation and Appreciation

Christmas break is now officially over and everyone is back to school. I had five weeks off, which seems like an eternity until you cram an eighteenth birthday, a twenty-first birthday, Christmas, another birthday, New Years, house guests, sort of moving, and then the recovery from all of the above into that time frame; then it feels more like two days, sixteen hours and thirty-six minutes to be exact. Well, not really exact. The point is that the break seemed to fly by at a record speed. All of the sudden I am back at school trying to juggle what at first seemed to be an impossible schedule.

Though we have a printed schedule of classes with instructor assignments, this document and what I end up teaching usually bear little resemblance to one another once the semester shake down has occurred. I’m OK with the mystery and intrigue that each new semester brings; it just makes for a hectic first week of classes.

This semester is no different. The complications came with several classes that were listed in the catalogue as TBA. These courses were scheduled this way because they are “off-semester” courses in a four-semester sequence. i.e. they should not have attracted many students; but, they did. And this created a scheduling nightmare. Not only did I have to coordinate seven or eight students’ schedules with my own, we also had limited physical space possibilities with which to contend. This time last week I was panicked about how I was going to make it all work. After many emails, phone calls, and quick conversations in the hall with students, today I am pleased to say that it is all pleasantly under control.

In a state that really can only be described as utter amazement, I find myself looking back trying to figure out how and why things fell into place relatively painlessly. As I review all that has taken place in the past seven days, I realize that what made a seemingly impossible situation accomplishable is my students’ willingness to be flexible and their consideration for their classmates.

I have students who are willing to endure what seem like interminable commute times on Dallas’ fledgling mass transit system to be in class at certain times; others have changed work schedules to accommodate another student’s already scheduled classes; I have even have one class that is willingly meeting at 8 am. I have been amazed by the concessions that each and every student has been willing to make to help one another and to help me. It speaks volumes to the character of our students.

I can’t help but wonder what things might be like in this world if everyone was so adaptable, flexible, and considerate of his or her co-workers, family, or even strangers. How would things be different if we were all willing to place the good of the whole rather than the good of ourselves at the top of our priority list? If this kind of cooperation were to be adopted on a societal level, how would we feel about each other? How would we feel about ourselves? Would we care more about each other? Would we build a closely-knit community?

I don’t know how all of these students will feel about one another at the end of this sixteen week semester, but I can say based on the number of “thank-yous” that they have shared with one another already this semester that they are aware and appreciative of the sacrifices that others have made for them What a refreshing atmosphere in which to work! For this privilege, I am grateful.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hat's Off!

It has been five days since snow blanketed our area . . .and much of the ground and steps and deck here are still covered. In the 27 years that I have lived in North Texas, the snow has never lingered this long. Usually, ice and snow cover the roadways early in the morning when decisions about school closures need to be made; by lunchtime there is no evidence that the snow and ice had been there only hours before. This time, the temperatures have barely climbed above freezing all week long.
I am happy that it has been cold all week. Why? Number 1 - because I like cold weather. Number 2, and most importantly, I finished Weber's "Christmas" hat the day before the cold weather moved in. His bald head has been warm all week long!
You may remember that I confessed a few posts back that I tend to finish his "Christmas" socks in June when he is wearing Birkenstocks and no socks let alone wool socks! This year I licked my own bad habit. I opted to make him a hat instead of socks. There is more than one way to win at this game! Hats, however, have not always been my saving grace.
Almost two years ago when we went to Italy, I decided that I would make Weber a hat on the flight to Rome. Nine hours in atmospheric captivity was plenty of time to get a simple hat made. No problem. Until, I realized a couple inches in that this hat was going to be way too big. My only option was to pull it out and begin again, which I did after a nap, a meal, and a few chapters of my book. What I am saying is that again I did not meet a self-imposed knitting deadline. As we arrived in Rome, the hat resembled a headband. Again I thought, no problem; I can get this done in the next day even with the agenda we have planned.

As we spent our first day in Assisi, it became apparent that all of my effort to finish the hat before we arrived was unnecessary. The temperatures were in the 60's and 70's during the day and only in the 40's at night; we weren't outside much at night so I abandoned the notion of finishing the hat at that point.

And then I learned a lesson. It either had to do with procrastination or God's sense of humor.
After a week of beautiful springlike weather in the Italian countryside, we awoke on our last morning to this.

"Boy, a nice warm hat sure would be nice!"

It's probably not much consolation at this point, but I hear that it's not snowing in Rome. We'll be there in a few hours.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Peace and Vulnerability

This is what North Texas looked like today.
Today was a great day for snow because it is Sunday. No one had to get up early and watch those mile long crawls on the news to see if school was cancelled. Inevitably, we always tune in to the news when the alphabetical listing of school closures is in the E's. We need to see the C's and D's so there we sit impatiently waiting for the loop of closures to begin again. None of that today. With the sound of sleet and freezing rain hitting the deck early this morning, we rolled over and went back to sleep until . . .ah, until . . .until . . .let's just say until much later than usual.

When we finally got up, it was absolutely beautiful outside. The few inches of snow on the ground lay perfectly undisturbed. The dogs had not been out yet so there were no little paw print trails; no cars had yet been down the road; or if they had, it was long before we got up and the tracks had already been filled in by the furiously falling snow. This morning's sights and sounds were to me what peace looks and sounds like.

We put on a pot of coffee and went to get the paper. Rarely do we have the luxury of leisurely reading the morning paper actually in the morning. As we sat down together with warm mugs of coffee and the newspaper, suddenly that sense of peace that overcame me only moments before was shaken by the cold reality of the paper's front page article recounting the horrifying details of yesterday's shooting in Arizona. Word by word, second by second, detail by detail, those feelings of peace were chiseled away. I forgot what peace felt like. I forgot what peace looked like. Peace became an imaginary land veiled by the curtain of harsh reality.

The trees in whom I had seen only beauty and serenity only moments earlier to me instantly became a picture of vulnerability.
They reminded me of all the people who were standing innocently at that grocery store yesterday. In that moment the trees didn't look peaceful; but rather cold and burdened. Literally frozen in place by what was going on around them.

In a few days, the temperatures here will rise; the sun will shine and the snow that blanketed the trees today will be gone. That cold and burdensome appearance that is reflected in the trees will disappear. For those whose lives were directly touched by the bullets that were fired in Arizona yesterday the chill will last far beyond winter's days and the burdens may last a lifetime.

I pray for a time, a place, and a people for which coldness of heart is overpowered by a warmth of spirit and an understanding of true peace.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One for the Baby Book

When your kid is twenty-one, you usually aren’t still thinking of firsts that warrant recording in one’s baby book. Many of the firsts that happen at this point in life are best left undocumented

  • first week subsisting entirely on rice and beans
  • first all-nighter
  • first bounced check
  • first time filing your own taxes
  • first hangover
  • first time buying beer legally
  • first . . .

Then there is the first cable.

No, not cable as in TV, knitted cable.

My freshly twenty-one year old came home for Christmas break with the desire to knit her boyfriend a scarf. That, in and of itself, made me happy. I remember a time when I was talking to the girls about needing to write my will. One of them said that it was not important for me to do so because all I had were books and yarn; nobody would want that stuff. I now am comforted to know that I can leave my yarn stash to Offspring No. 1. I also know that she appreciates my healthy collection of poetry since I often have to reclaim volumes from her “nest.” Whew! One less thing to worry about.

In an effort to nurture this interest in knitting, Brooke and I sat down and looked at scarf patterns together. She already knew how to knit and purl; she wanted a pattern that would be challenging yet accomplishable and that was appropriate for a twenty-one year old man. That left out lace – challenging, but not appropriate. She decided that learning to make cables would be fun. We found a reversible cabled scarf, Here and There Cables in Interweave Knit’s ScarfSTYLE, that is a perfect first cable project and looks manly enough.

The next day, which happened to be my birthday, we took a field trip to the yarn shop to find yarn. (I probably had something in my stash that would have worked but we all know that going to the yarn shop and selecting just the right yarn for this particular project from all of the wonderful choices is a big part of the fun. I was happy to indulge her and it was a fun birthday adventure for me.) She chose a very striking deep burgundy yarn.

As soon as we got home, Brooke cast on to begin her scarf. She knit until time for the first cable row. At that point, she handed her work to me so that I could show her how to make the cables. I did the first few on the row and then handed the fledgling scarf back to her telling her that it was now her turn. I have not touched the scarf since. She had eight inches or so done before she left to return to school.

"Baby's First Cables"

It makes me happy that she both values and enjoys knitting, something that is important to me. Those of us who knit often make things for babies and children who have no context from which to appreciate the time and effort that went into whatever was made for them. After all of those booties, hats, mittens, doll clothes and sweaters, it is rewarding to see that appreciation emerge, especially in such a way as she wants to learn and develop the skill so that she too can create something for someone she cares about.

I hope that Brooke will finish her scarf before the Chicago winter has past. We discovered while she was home that Weber and her boyfriend share the same birthday. Many of the knitting projects that I have started for Weber over past Christmas holidays have not been completed until his birthday in June. Hopefully Brooke will not follow my example on this point!

As I was writing this post, I got a text message from Brooke that said, “I just joined my next ball of yarn all by myself!”

The following text message conservation ensued:

ME: Awesome! Are you enjoying knitting?
BROOKE: Yeah. I might make another scarf like this for me. A grey one.
ME: Big surprise. (Grey is her favorite color.)
Do you want me to send you yarn to match your hat? )I still have her “Christmas hat” to make. If I don’t finish it until her birthday next December, at least she will be able to wear it immediately. Just kidding; it will be done this weekend.)
ME: I will get it in the mail early next week. I have not mailed the stuff you left yet. I will try to get some of it in the mail tomorrow.
BROOKE: Can you make sure that my magenta bra is in the first batch you send? It’s important.
ME: I’m not even going to ask why, but yes.
BROOKE: Proper undergarments are the fundamentals of a good outfit.
ME: I want to make sure that your fundamentals are in good array.

The end.

Whatever is going on with the magenta bra is probably one of those things that should not be included in one’s baby book or any other permanent record.

So, I will just smile and be thankful that my baby (in the magenta bra and . . .) has discovered the joy of knitting.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A (Sappy) Romp Through the Past Year

So here we are beginning a new year. A few days ago, on my birthday, I said that I was not in the mood for a sappy romp through the past. Today I have changed my mind. I am a woman; changing my mind is a woman's prerogative, isn't it? Prerogative or not, I am about to take a look back at the highlights of 2010 in my world.

The early part of the year was calm for us though Erin was in the midst of applying to colleges. It wasn't until spring break that things really got rolling. Fortunately by this time Erin had already been accepted to Sewanee so we didn't have the college worries. Though Weber and I were engaged in September of 2009, it was not until March that we got serious about making wedding plans. Due to poor planning on our part, we also began the house remodel at about the same time. Spring became a time where we learned the real benefits of effective time management as we juggled making significant decisions about house plans, muddled our way through wedding plans, and finished out the school year.

June marked the first real milestone of the year. Erin graduated from high school as valedictorian of her class. .
Brooke came home to be part of the celebration despite the fact that she could only stay the weekend because she had to return to school to take her spring quarter exams. My dad also came from Delaware to be with us.

We tried very hard not to let the wedding plans overshadow Erin's graduation. So, by the middle of June, we had one month and a lot to get done. With the help of our family and many wonderful friends, we made it.

On July 10th, Weber and I were married. The wedding was perfect.

Shortly after we returned from our honeymoon in Vermont, we added the newest member of our family, Frankie. Despite the picture below, she did not arrive in Brooke's backpack. Frankie was a stray that our vet thought we needed.

She is an entertaining addition to our lives. It is hilarious to watch her chase the dogs and once caught gnaw on their legs like one does turkey legs at the State Fair. Frankie also loves to climb into anything that resembles a container - boxes, bags, backpacks, the dryer. She is also fascinated with water - water in the sink, water in your glass, water in the shower, water in the toilet. I suspect that if she could figure out how to manipulate the handle on the commode, she would spend the day watching the swirl of water in the bowl.

In August we took Erin to Sewanee to begin her freshman year of college. Though this was the first time in nearly twenty one years that we have not had children at home, I didn't suffer too much with empty nest syndrome. Rather, I was stricken with Less Laundry Syndrome and Wow!, the Kitchen Looks Just Like It Did When I Went To Bed Syndrome.

The last major event of our year occurred on the 22nd and 23rd of December; Offspring No. 1 turned 21 and Offspring No. 2 turned 18. That is hard to believe. It seems like only yesterday that they were both sitting in my lap - at the same time. (Now they have to take turns.)

Offspring No. 1 doesn't look like this anymore though with enough beer she may act like it.

Offspring No. 2 doesn't look like this either. If only she would still let me dress her.

They graduated from lower school and middle school in the same year.

Here is what a clown looks like at 21..

And, this is Offspring No. 2 when allowed to dress herself. OK, I admit it; she is much better at hair and makeup than I am. Once you get beyond pigtails, my "cosmeticological" skills are maxed out.

I was glad to have both girls stand with me when Weber and I were married.
Our family was blessed with many joyous occasions in 2010. For that we are all incredibly grateful. We all know too many people whose lives were touched by grief and tragedy in 2010. For all that we were given and all that we were spared, our family is ever grateful.
We wish you blessings and peace in 2011.

Happy New Year!