Saturday, September 8, 2012

Goodbye, Too Soon

The world became a lot less funny this week.

My cousin John lost his hard-fought battle against cancer and died in a Hospice facility in Charleston, WV.

He was one of the most hilarious people I knew and could turn a simple story into one that would make you do one of those laughs where you accidentally honk like a goose or snort like an old mule.

We always joked he was a ghostwriter for Larry the Cable Guy.

Most of them I wouldn’t tell in a church….like the Old-Naked-Guy story or the Stole-A-Beer-And-Buried-It-To-Drink-Later one or the Before-He-Married-Robin-Diarrhea story. That one was my favorite. It didn’t end well and the joke would usually be on John, but he’d tell it anyway, without much prompting.

He’d pull you in with his good ol’ boy drawl, those piercing blue eyes, and the lip he could curl like Elvis. Before you knew it, you’d be begging him to stop – just so you could catch your breath, or wipe the tears from your eyes, or run real fast to the bathroom (for those cousins who have a weak bladder, which thankfully doesn’t include me, but they will remain nameless, but their initials are Trisha.)

He was a gentle soul, a good dad, and a loving husband. He coached his kids’ team, did maintenance on his mom’s house, and would lend a hand when needed to friend and family alike. I don’t think I was ever mad at him, not even once. Not even the time when he mooned us or the time he locked us in the cubby closet.

John was the one who took me to a mountaintop top party one rainy night and we hung out in the back of an abandoned tractor-trailer, listening to the strains of a country song and the rhythm of a clogger dancing up on the roof. A soft rain was falling and we dangled our legs off the back end of the trailer and talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up.

And here we are, all grown up…and he left us too soon.

But tomorrow, after the funeral, when we are all standing around in our pretty black outfits sipping punch, I’ll be thinking of the times he made me laugh until I cried. And I’ll smile and cry at the same time, in honor of John.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

New Kid in Town

With my father in the Air Force when I was growing up, I attended many different schools. Two kindergartens, two second grades, two thirds….you get the idea. So I know a little about trying to fit in, figuring out “the rules”, and finding friends.

Tomorrow I have another first. After twelve years at Stafford Middle School in Plattsburgh, NY, I accepted a teaching position in North Carolina. Soon I will teach 7th grade students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District at Culbreth Middle School.

Last Thursday, the other new teachers and I started school early and received such a warm welcome. From the opening gathering with the superintendent to lunch with the principal; from the custodians helping us prepare our rooms to the organized binder filled with information; from the box of supplies prepared for each of us to the gathering with our mentors at the principal’s home, we have been made to feel valued and welcomed.

In the morning, I’ll drive to my new school and meet the entire faculty and staff. Once again I’ll put into practice my “new kid” survival techniques. If you know a new kid or are going to be one yourself this fall, here’s how I do it.

1)  Smile – I keep a smile on my face even when I feel nervous, scared, or lonely. It is much easier for others to talk to me if I look approachable.

2)  Learn Names – I borrow a yearbook from the previous year, write down names when I’m in meetings, and study the nametags on doors. Then when I talk to people I try to use their name in conversation, as well as use little pneumonic devices to help me.

3)  Be Kind – Is there someone who needs help? Appreciate what others do for you.
Give honest compliments. Positive energy is the best kind.

4)  Be Open - Let others get to know you. Go outside your comfort zone. Volunteer. Raise your hand. Participate in conversations. Talk.

5)  Listen – Pay attention to what other people say. Learn what you can about their lives and hobbies. Take an honest interest in them.

For those of you who are in the same situation as me: Have a great time with your new beginning! I love to explore new places, make new friends, and learn about new ideas. 

Throw your arms wide open ~ live your life with joy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Brazil ~ Society

One of the most amazing parts of the trip to Brazil is how Kwame Alexander arranged for us to tour historical sites of different Bahian cities through the Ministry of Culture.

I am particularly grateful for Paula Riberio (pronounced Pawl-lah), the student intern who accompanies us around on our travels. She is easy-going, helps us navigate the ordering of food, and participates in good-natured haggling in the market.

Whenever I travel, I like to visit with students and get their take on their country’s issues. Paula brought her friend Matheus along one day and I was glad to sit near him and have lunch. He is a business major at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, which is a highly ranking business university in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. I asked him what he thought the top five problems were facing Brazil.

“Education,” he replied quickly. He indicated it is the number one issue in his mind and talked about the disparity between those with wealth and children living in poverty. We also discussed the economy, hydropower, healthcare, taking care of the elderly, and homelessness. He was knowledgeable about his country and sincere about the concerns we discussed.
The poverty here is saddening and pervasive. In Cachoeira we went into the favela with João (he is a teacher) and walked through the section of the city where Afro-Brazilians who are poor live. Although they are living in substandard housing, their sense of community is strong. On the way home, driving through the countryside, I saw families gathered around outdoor fires, cooking dinner and listening to music under awnings.
Favela of Cachoeira

Favela of Cachoeira

One evening we went to Itapuã and walked around through the barrio, a neighborhood marketplace. (Think: a food court, outdoors, with samba music!) It has the feel of a festival or fair each evening. People sitting at outdoor tables having a coffee (which is incredible here), greeting friends with a double kiss, and laughing into the evening hours. We befriended the family that owns an açai stand. The açai berry is from a type of palm tree and is very rich in vitamins. They make a sort of slushy sorbet from the berries and top it with chopped bananas and granola. It is amazing – eating açai is like tasting frozen sunshine. I could eat it every day.

Learning about the culture, history, and daily lives of the people of Brazil has been such a blessing…I feel so fortunate to be here!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Five Top Experiences in Brasil/Brazil (so far)

With thanks to Kwame Alexander and his Fellowship, I am in Brasil/Brazil working my book and meeting Brazilian writers. We also take time periodically to devour the sights, sounds, and FOOD of Brazil!

Here are some favorite experiences so far:

ONE: Exploring
The Secretary of Culture has been so gracious to us and arranged for us to tour various historical sites.
We were so fortunate to have the lovely Paula (pronounced: pah-ooh-lah) help us navigate the streets and the language.

She spent more hours with us than you can imagine. And her smile never dimmed.

TWO: Exchanging

Words, ideas, and our hopes for the future. Poets came to the villa with dinner and read their work to us. It was an evening filled with heartfelt poems and beautiful songs.

Another evening we went to a gathering of poets at a club, where an open mike beckoned participants to find community through words.

THREE: Eating
The food in Brazil is so delicious. My favorite? The mangoes, dripping with sunshine. No, wait, the Brazilian beef, cooked over a wood fire. No...the beans and rice. Ooh! I also like the fresh seafood. And the coffee.
Did I mention the plantains?

FOUR: Learning
We are so grateful to have people like João De Moraes Filho and others escort us during our visits to various cities. 
We have visited many locations of the UNESCO World Heritage sites and heard about heroes from
 the past, as well as the impact of history on the present.
Our walking tours have taken us six to nine miles some days and have ranged from the streets where a revolution began to museums filled with art and photography.

FIVE: Appreciating 

From bits of sea glass and pastel shells, to thundering surf and distant lighthouses, Brazil has wonders to find in many places.

UP NEXT: People, Architecture,
                                                      and Daily Life of Brazil

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On My Mind

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill

I agree, Mr. Churchill. Here are five things I've learned:


Sometimes life throws things in our way for which we are not prepared. Other times we create our own hurdles. What matters is how you navigate these problems. There is no fault with taking time to consider your is fine if you need time to nurse yourself back to health: spiritual, mental, or physical. Just don't wait too long... Tackle those mountains before you, whether they are ones created by nature or you. Keep climbing upward and marching forward.

Be Safe - no I don't mean "play it safe" but I mean find a retreat. Locate that place that calms your soul - a special chair with a nice reading lamp, the park bench near a fountain, a corner table in a coffee shop with great java and muffin tops, a table in your public library, the front row of your zumba class...we all have spots that make us feel cocooned or alive. Find your haven while you heal; nurture yourself.

Money isn't everything, but it helps. If you have it, share it. Donate to worthy charities, surprise someone deserving, and help a child in need.  When you are bereft, take a closer look at your choices. Trim your life, seek new opportunities, volunteer, and take a chance.

Real friends stick with you, no matter what. They may offer encouragement from afar via email and texts. Real friends ask you to dinner, stop by at work to say hi, invite you for coffee when they know you are down. Trust me, there are plenty of people out there with big enough hearts to add a new friend or two. Keep your heart and your eyes open, there are real friends all around you.


Peace can be yours, learn to be still. Find your center...what is important to you? Use healing time to find your, drawing, dancing, yoga? For me, it was my writing. Let the world around you go on with its noisy self, you learn to love yourself, your talents, your potential. Honor your past, yes, but then let it go..then move forward.....see number one! :-)

Climb, nurture, share, cherish, can do it. I know you can.

Thanks to @DanSoto for sharing this picture on G+