Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A New School Year

Its time for a new school year again.  And though I have been retired for three years, I still get the back to school dreams.  The one last night was about a copy machine that ate my carefully created list for student portfolios.  Ah well...  For those of you who are still teaching, I read this in my breviary on August 25th, the Feast Day of Saints Bartholomew and Joseph Calasanz.    The reading below was written by St. Calasanz:

"All who undertake to teach must be endowed with deep love, the greatest patience, and, most of all, profound humility.  They must perform their work with earnest zeal.  Then, through their humble prayers, the Lord will find them worthy to become fellow workers with him in the cause of truth.  He will console them in the fulfillment of this most noble duty, and, finally, will enrich them with the gift of heaven.

"As Scripture says: Those who instruct many injustice will shine as stars for all eternity.  They will attain this more easily if they make a covenant of perpetual obedience and strive to cling to Christ and please him alone, because, in his words: What you did to one of the least of my brethren, you did to me."

May Blessed St. Joseph Calasanz and all the Saints bless you and give you strength as you journey again to help the young reach their fullest potential!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Central Alternative High School

Central Alternative High School  was my home school as a teacher for over 18 years.  I did some of my best and most creative teaching there.  Now the building, and all the gardens we created are up for sale, the students and staff moved to the Forum (The Central Administration Building for the Dubuque Community School District).    A week ago Central held an open  house, and many past staff and students arrived for hugs, to brag of their accomplishments to their favorite teachers, and to say good bye.
 I loved the teaching of writing.  I believe that writing has a way of healing the mind and soul, and many of our students were in need of healing.  Let me start from the beginning.  The students who attended Central were called "at risk."  Many of them had personal problems, others had medical problems, and not a few had mental or socialization problems.  These students were often "school phobic" or over-whelmed by the size of the other high school in town.  Our goal at Central was to "instill responsibility for learning by offering quality alternatives which promote social, emotional, and academic development." 
  Writing is a way to learn, a way to express what you know, a way to ask questions.  So, each of my students was given a journal.  As I explained to students, a journal is not a diary.  A journal is a place to capture experiences, and for students who have few productive experiences, it was necessary to provide them.  We would often walk to the river, only a couple of blocks away.  Or we would car pool to the local arboretum.  Sometimes we would walk the several blocks to the nearest park.  But often, we would just find a place to be in our own  student created gardens.

To create a focus for all this writing, one of the experiences was to create the Central Gardens.  We worked with the art teacher to consider what art was needed, and a pathway was created.  We worked with the special education students and a gazebo was built.  We worked with the technology teacher and developed web pages for each of the flower beds.  We worked with the science teacher to understand plants, soil, and weather.  We worked with a mathematics teacher to decide which plants to plant where using the inclination of the sun.

The gardens will belong to someone else now, and there is no room at the new location for perennial gardens.  The hope is that the new location will somehow be able to give the students love and security, a sense of family and home, and quality alternatives leading to social, emotional, and academic growth.

To check out Central's web site go to:
Below, left to right:  Student built stairwell to Outdoor Classroom, Student sculpture and student built gazebo, stepping stones for garden path.

Right, student designed cement chess table.
Left cement forms to support chess table.

Dusting By Stars

I recently published a collection of poetry.  I designed the cover, but Xlibris designed the rest of the book.  I am very pleased with the results.  If you would like to read a selection of the poetry, please go to and type in Dusting By Stars in the Search box, and follow the directions.  My book is available at,, also in Michigan at Brush Creek Mill in Hillman, or at the bookstore in Gaylord.  I also have it at craft fairs.  Anyone interested in my doing a poetry reading, or my presenting a poetry workshop can contact me by e-mail at:


It is difficult to think of the graduation from high school of my oldest grandchild.  What lies ahead?  College, Career, Marriage, and all the troubles and joys she will experience.  What kind of choices will she make?  What hard lessons will she have to learn?

As her grandmother I want to save her from all the evils of this world, but know that if I could do so, she would remain  a dependent child, not that responsible, independent adult I see her becoming.

Graduation is another death, another birth.  She isn't the child sitting on my lap anymore, but she gives better, more meaningful hugs now.  Hugs filled with the love she feels for me.  She is the Honor student, but looks up to me, though I don't really know why.   Maybe its the grandmother mystique.  I certainly felt my grandmothers were both special, magical people.  We lived with my father's parents until I was in high school.  My grandmother told wonderful stories.  My grandfather could do no wrong and I worshiped him.

My granddaughter has only me.  Both grandfathers are deceased.  The other grandmother is in a nursing home and doesn't always recognize family when they come to visit.  So I become the one.  I used to know my role in her life, but now I have to redefine myself as my darling girl will need to redefine herself, as we all are constantly redefining who we are.  As she will grow and change, we all must continue to grow and change.  As grandchildren look up to us, learn from us, so we are role models for all who meet us.  It is a position we fill, whether we choose to or not.  It is a burden, a responsibility we all carry, knowing others look to us for answers. 

I wish you all well.  I wish a wonderful future for my granddaughter.  I wish us all love.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Michigan May

Mother's Day Weekend:
Friday - 80 Degrees, Sun.
Saturday - Hard Frost, Heavy Wet Snow,
                 Over Night 29 Degrees.
Sunday - Sun, 75 Degrees.

We were warned about the cold.  But none of us really believed it could be true.  It had been the warmest Spring my mother could remember.  She kept tellng me it was too early to plant, but I kept purchasing all the color and beauty I could.

We kept the tender plants in the garage, raised the garage doors to let in the sun by day, and closed at night against the evening chills.  I planted the shrubs, and the new White Cedar Trees, the Dutch Iris bulbs.  And then this:  a snow so heavy bushes hugged the ground. 

We lost no tender plants.  The Iris bulbs have yet to come up, and its June.  The Cedar Trees had been doing well, but were frost burned.  Only one of the ten Vibernum was killed.  A person couldn't tell we had such a May Snow, looking at the flowers in bloom, or the shrubs back to their normal upright stance.  But I learned a valuable lesson about A Michigan May.  Don't plant until after June 1st.  (Though I have to admit, I put everything in by about the 20th of May.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

My mother is special.  I know what you're thinking, all mothers are special, how is yours so much better?  I guess I should have said, my mother is special, wonderful, and saintlike. 

In the mornings, after breakfast and the news, we read our morning office together.  I have seldom seen her angry. She exudes love, and forgiveness.  She is patient, loving, humble.  She is a great cook, not  fancy or gourmand, but every thing she makes tastes comforting, filled with the joy of family.

What else?  She is 88, looks twenty years younger, and is game to try anything.  In the last five years she has been on an all terrain vehicle, played baseball, worked in the garden, scrubbed down walls, climbed ladders, and complained of tiredness never.  She will sit down to rest, but if its a holiday, or a picnic, she makes 90% of the food, and will accept no help.

So why am I here?  While she organizes the wash, I lift the baskets and unload the dryer.  When she climbs the ladder, I hold it.  I spread the mulch, and do the planting, much to her regret.  She can hardly watch me as she regrets not doing it all herself.  She will drive to church, but I drive 90% of the time.  She is 88 but worries about my doing so much, though I am 20 years younger.                                                  She is my mom, and she is very special!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Missing You

I am missing my brother today.  He was the middle child, I the oldest, Bud the youngest.  He loved the outdoors, camping, fishing, hunting.  He loved the woods, and its presence, as much as the creatures in "Avatar." 

I saw the film for the first time today.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  The hype was so overwhelming, I expected something more than a "war" movie.  Are marines only the good guys as long as the serve the military, and aren't corporate militia?  Do real scientists need to die when they become personally involved in the objects they study?  Are the only ways to survive in a future without green - greed, and the search for more, or to become something else, like a tall blue humanoid?  The joy of riding dragon, or broom, or winged creatures is apealing, but it all seems to deny the simplicity that is ours if we choose it.

Like my brother chose.  He could have climbed the corporate ladder.  He could have told the lies/half truths, or made the promises to sell the equipment, but he didn't.  It wasn't in him.  He told the truth about the product, and then, when the companies chose someone else, they hired him to correct the faults of the other product, and wished they had listened to him.

I wonder if being the middle child created the wholeness he embodied?  He was kind, loving, patient.  All the virtues I wish I could demonstrate.  He was seldom angry, and usually only angry when those he loved were threatened.  He taught humility by his very being.  And I loved him.  I miss him today.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Past is Prologue

Since I wrote last, I have moved to Michigan to live with my mother. She is 88 years old, and while in pretty good health, needs someone to around on a permanent basis. As I am retired and a widow, I am the perfect child to come home.

I love our time together. We have always been good company for each other, except for those teen years and early widowhood when I railed against the unjustness of life. Life is not just, not for me, not for anyone, but it isn't supposed to be. We serve, we carry our crosses. Hemingway said it best, and I paraphrase, we can't do anything about the cards we are dealt, we can only play the hand well. I would go so far to say, we are who we are by the way we play our hands.

I love living in the woods. This morining it is almost 42 degrees, the sun is shining on the leaves beneath the trees, and this afternoon I will set out the tuilips and caladiums I have started in pots, so they can catch some sun.  They will need to come in at night until almost June.  I also hope to put the arbor together-I don't know why everything must come in pieces requiring mechanical skills for assembly. I have the skills, but dread the piece work. Yet the result will be worthwhile as it frames a "garden room" which will be a field of wildflowers.

Gardening in the woods of north eastern Michigan is new for me. The soil is sand, and any ammendments call forth the roots of trees yards away. The sandy soil drains well, and the leaf mold incorporated by nature makes it rich for planting, but the lack of sun, and the presence of evergreens creates a semi acidic soil which inhibits the growth of some plants. It is the lack of sun that my mother misses most, for she loves roses. We have planted a few roses, despite the lack of hours of sun, and they try their best to grow. We always get a few blooms, but not the riches of my Iowa yard.

I've had some luck with growing smaller versions of the hydrangea seen above.  Momma loves the large flowered ones, so I have some ordered as a surprize.  The dafodils are blooming now as are the hyacinths.  I feared the squirrels would dig them up, but so far only loveliness and sweet scents.

Gardening in the woods calls for balance. The easy choice is to remove trees and have a yard of sun, but then we wouldn't be in the woods. The other temptation is to create lots of beds and a variety of plants, but then the ambience of forest would be tempered/destroyed. The balance is to work with nature, not try to control nature. Like life, we balance age and respect with self and need. When we were children our parents cared for us. We developed love and respect for them that comes full circle when they need our care for them. It seems a right balance.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Imagination and Love

Have you read The First Gift of Christmas? It centers on the love a parent has for a child, and the love of friendship. So often we search for the perfect gift for our friends, when it is already in our hearts, our love for them.

Like all years this has been one of joy and saddness. I remember all those who have gone before me to that happier place of rest. And while at times I long for their peace, I also feel strongly called to service here. And in so many ways, those who have gone before me, like Elisha Darlin, Ruth and Russ Nash, and Steve Broderick, are still here in the love they shared. I am a better person because they lived, and need to earn my way to their peace. Ruth and Steve made decisions I would not make because they lacked the imagination for life. They couldn’t see that even suffering brings love into the world. They couldn’t see that what we wished was not their pain, but the ability to serve them in ways they served us.

I look at others who have chosen the “better” way, and the gifts they give the world. Joan, who serves lunches and love to students and staff, wearing her chemo hat proudly, fighting for life as she gives us love.

And Merry’s husband, Dave, who gives all of us much more than he can imagine, as he accepts the debilitation of Lyme Disease, sharing The Lord with all those he meets. The gifts he gives my daughter and grandchildren, Zachary and Anna, are priceless, as is his presence when I go to visit. His hugs remind me that life is all about love. Merry continues to write, and the depth of her work grows, as she grows in love. Check out her web site at Hope is My Anchor.

It is love that knits together my son, John, and his family. Karen has left work to spend time with my grandson Jack who is progressing well in his fight with autism. His sisters Ellie and Audrey are precious gifts in their own right, growing in beauty and love year by year. I treasure my short visits with them twice a year, and marvel at the energy and joy that fills their home.

I’ve had a great year. Recognized as District Teacher of the Year, and in the final five for Iowa Teacher of the Year. But more importantly, I am beginning to write again. After a period of drought and busy work, words are starting to flow.

Love is the center of my life as I commit to the AIC (Association of Iowa Cistercians). In a short ceremony at Vespers I will agree to live my life in love, as part of this school of love. I will struggle and fall, get angry at students, at politics (no, I’m not going to go there), at war, at poverty, at alcohol and drug abuse, at all the crimes of society, but I will pick my self up again, and remember the One who loved us, and try again to live as He did.

For some, there is danger in the world of imagination. For me, it is like the Book of Wisdom. We have to imagine for it to be possible, to have faith. We know reality, and it fails us, so the Truth must be elsewhere. We have to imagine where it could be, and imagine our way to faith by belief. So if I say I believe in Santa Claus, or leprechauns, or fairies, or Hogwarts, it is a way of saying there are dragons, there is truth beyond this world in which we live. There is beauty in flowers, magic in dragonflies.

Love can be found all around us in the most unlikely of spots, in pain, in suffering, in war, in peace, in poverty, and in riches, in cancer, or autism, or lyme disease. Imagination lets us see beyond the actual into the heart. And in the heart is found love.

The First Love, created a woman willing to bear a fatherless child and suffer all that meant in the ancient Hebrew world; created a man, willing to marry such a woman, and raise such a child; created angels, and wise men, and shepherds, and us who believe in an event that happened over two thousand years ago. Believers who don’t care if it was in a cave or stable, winter or summer, but only that the Baby came to us.

At Christmas, we focus on the gentleness of that gift of love, but in our heart of hearts we know the price that gift would pay through His outpouring of love and blood and suffering. So if in our world, there is pain and suffering, there is also love. And it is the love we must remember.

Love was the first gift. Love is the only gift worth receiving. All the trinkets we share are only a poor attempt to tell others that we love them.