Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Summer of Unexpected Surprises

So, I hear that the official First Day of Summer has come... and past. (I didn't actually hear it, but rather surmised it from Friday's Google cover page... oh how many obscure holidays and forgettable birthdays would be lost without Google's homage.)

Well, I can't say that it feels much like Summer because I am, indeed, teaching Summer School. I know it sounds redundant to say teaching "Summer" School doesn't feel like "Summer" but my obvious point is that I am not yet frolicking in those "Three Reasons I Teach" that most teachers herald (June, July, August). Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised that I am teaching summer classes considering I submitted the request to do so. However, for the past two years, the class I was assigned to teach did not have enough students enrolled and wasn't offered. This year, I mainly made "the cut" because some of the shifting around of teachers due to those leaving.  It actually worked out that I am only teaching one class, 8:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. So it is only monopolizing a few hours of my day (because let's face it, I'd be in bed until 10 otherwise), and still giving me a little "bank" for the summer months.

Last year, I made the "Summer Bucket List." I checked in on its progress a few times over the summer. Some goals I accomplished, others I did not. I did not feel particularly upset about the unmet goals- some of which I made the conscious choice to veto, yet I did feel a need to justify them here on the blog. So, I am feeling a little torn about whether or not I want to go the "Bucket List" route this year.

Rather than checking items off a list, I have had a few unexpected surprises so far, only a couple of days into the "Official" Summer season. In sitting at the kitchen table working one night, I noticed the abundance of lightning bugs outside the window. So, I decided that I wanted to make sure that I took Benjamin out one night this summer to catch fireflies. Except... my vision of this involved a whole day's worth of activities including going to the library to check out a book with fireflies... and even making firefly cookies. (What firefly cookies look like and how they were actually going to be made, I couldn't tell you... and no, I share neither genetic chromosomes nor a zip code with Martha Stewart.)

Unexpectedly though, when Jason and I returned from a Wal-Mart run Friday night, Benjamin came outside to "help" carry in the groceries, which was really an excuse to get out and explore the yard more. Without any prompting from me, he discovered on his own the bed of fireflies that nest beneath our Magnolia tree.

It was still light outside and the amount of lightning bugs was uncountable. I wish I could have captured it better on camera. Cameron came out with a Mason jar and they entrapped a bunch to watch throughout the night. If you look past the boys, you can see the small streaks of white, which are the lighted bugs.

Unfortunately, the reality of fireflies in a jar wasn't as exciting as we had imagined it would be... even after vigorously shaking the jar and blowing in the punctured holes. (I know, I know... poor bugs.)
I donned Benjamin the "Bug Whisperer" because the fireflies would just fly to him and land on his outreached hand. Jason had commented before on how he could spot a ladybug from across the yard. He is definitely "typical boy" when it comes to liking bugs... thankfully, the cuter ones. Today, his affinity for nature showed again as a butterfly landed on his finger while outside playing. Jason commented that I may be raising a Tree Hugger. That, of course, would make me very happy.
On a similar note to Tree Hugging, Jason has decided that he wants to use more in-season local produce in our menu-planning. This too, of course, is something that would make me very happy (both using fresh produce and the menu-planning... and, of course, Jason doing the cooking). Considering that we live in such a rural area, you would think this would not be a challenge... you would be wrong. Jason made a Facebook post on a local on-line yard sale kind of site asking where he could buy fresh produce since the very publicized Farmer's Market we have downtown is a total flop... unless perhaps Avon perfumes fit your Saturday morning produce shopping needs. Sadly, and rather ironically, your options for buying produce fresh from the farm are greater the further you get from the country and the closer you get to the more city-like area around here.
He did, however, get many recommendations for the Farmer's Market in Smithfield, which is about 30-40 minutes away. Saturday morning, Jason and I decided to drive out of town and check it out. I remember having driven through Smithfield once before on my daily commutes to college when we first moved here. I remember thinking then that I would really like to take the time to stroll through the town and get to know it better. That would have been over eight years ago, and I never did follow through on that idea.
I really missed out! During recent trips to Staunton for the Shakespeare class and to Harrisonburg for the Capstone English class, I raved how much I loved the towns and wanted to go back. Well, Smithfield had all that I loved about them... and more. It reminded me of St. Augustine, where we honeymooned... except without the ghost tours... and they really need a ghost tour. The downtown area has stone streets and historic buildings that are just crying for a ghost tour. Being the "Ham Capital" of Virginia (the world?) it also had a lot more PORK than the other three towns.
We stopped for lunch before hitting the Farmer's Market. I thought I had found the perfect place. It was a converted house (or maybe public building) with a funky paint job and displayed art; the menu was very fru-fru and they had an attached bakery with fresh loaves of bread for sale. However... the customer service was deplorable. From waiting forever in being acknowledged, to being told repeatedly (and rather snidely) that they were no longer serving breakfast (perhaps if we hadn't waited so long I could have gotten my crab omelet?), to sitting with nary a waitress to ever come by.
So, I called on my good friend Siri who told us that we were 0.0 miles from the next restaurant, and we looked out the window to see the Taste of Smithfield, so we ditched the pretentious café and crossed the street, which proved to be a very favorable decision.

Jason got the Pork Loin sandwich, which the chef kept the top bun off because he was so tickled the batter made it look like the shape of a pig. I got the Spinach & Bacon Quiche. We both got a side of mac & cheese... with crumbled bacon. We decided to forgo the dessert, among the offerings brownie... with bacon bits. Yeah, Smithfield? They love their pork.

The Farmer's Market was a bit smaller than I had hoped, and did not have as many produce vendors as I would have wished. However, we did finally arrive there about 30 minutes before the scheduled closing time, so I think we may have missed out on some of the offerings. The overall vibe was nice though. It was very "Street Market." There were some artisans mixed in with their crafty wear, other type food vendors, and even live music. I was much less enthralled by the meat farmers than Jason was. As  general rule, I prefer not to see pictures of my dinner grazing in green pastures before it makes it to my plate.

Overall though, Smithfield was another Unexpected Surprise for the Summer. I want to make definite plans to go back there soon and spend a leisurely day visiting all the antique stores and thrift shops and art galleries... pork consumption optional.

Thus currently, I believe my stance is not to schedule the season off a Bucket List and be open to the Unexpected Surprises this Summer has to offer.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Countdown is Over

Photo courtesy of Gwen Wilson Photography

The year has absolutely flown by. Perhaps it is not until I sit here, just tonight, on a Sunday, not feeling the normal anxiety that this time of the week usually provokes as I build the mental list of all that I did not accomplish over the weekend and all that lies in the week ahead, that it really feels like the school year has ended.

Seriously... on Sunday nights?... I'm usually a mess.

Not tonight though, because there is no school tomorrow. The "official" start of my summer is still in limbo until I know whether enough students enroll in Summer School for me to have a class, and I am still going back up to the school one day this week, to clean the Key Club room and maybe serve on a Handbook Revisions committee. However, the Class of 2013 has tossed their caps in the air and thus school has ended and summer break has begun.

Truly though, it has absolutely flown by! This is not something that I say every year. Usually early to mid-May, something will click and I am just ready for it to be over. Usually it is accompanied by some lapse in sanity... such as standing in front of my room hitting the "unlock" button on my key chain (as in, with the car's keyless entry button), wondering why the classroom door won't open. (True Story.) But that time never really came this year.

Maybe it's because of my declaration before school to started not to "Countdown" this time around. Not to start the week off asking, "Is it Friday yet?" Not to know how many days until Christmas Break, Spring Break, Summer. The truth is I very rarely ever did have a "countdown" mentality to the school year. However, I faked it pretty well. It's the fallback social banter of teachers. My common quip at the end of the first day of school was always, "Only 179 more days to go!"

The truth is I love my job. Langston Hughes asked what happens to "A Dream Deferred" and I could write my own, equally prolific poem in response, because after many... many jobs... I am living my dream deferred. There are days, of course, this isn't so easy to remember. And there have been entire school years in the past that would make this hard to believe. Most days, most years though, I am so thankful for the new life I have found in teaching.

So going into this school year, I made the conscious decision to not engage in the negativity. It's inevitable, especially in light of so many changes, in leadership, in school and even state & federal policy. I pledged to offer positive responses to gripes and complaints, and remove myself from the situation when the effort seemed fruitless. There were surely times I failed, but there were many more times in which I succeeded. Just as assuredly, I probably really ticked some people off... by not being ticked off... and how funny is that? More importantly, I think I came across to most as someone who loves my job, and that is all I care about.

So maybe that's why this year flew by faster than ever before. Next year, I need to prioritize documenting the memories better- whether through photographs, or journaling, or this blog, or even my (newly required) teacher notebook. I don't want another year to end in which I have to struggle to remember all that happened. Another year like this.

My year began and ended with very stressful meetings. I found myself forgetting being a part of the school leadership team, the Key Club earning the rank of Distinguished Club- Diamond Level, raising over $13,000 again for Relay for Life and being a part of bringing it to the high school and overnight, having one mother fight to get her son moved into my Honors class, and other mothers thank me for how much I have taught and prepared their children, and receiving a score much higher than I had anticipated on the new teacher evaluation system. Instead, I just found myself asking why did my year have to end like this- with such a stressful meeting, that I should have stayed on the periphery of anyway, and not have dealt with.

After only ruminating on this a few days though came graduation, and it gave me a new memory to frame my year with- Kristen's speech. While she mentioned the influence of her elementary years and noted the memory of gasping for air from the classroom window while dissecting a frog, she definitely highlighted the influence Key Club- and I- have on the school, and her life. This was a footnote to the speech and presentation she had already made to me at the year-end awards ceremony.

This. This was an amazing way to end this school year. It's not because I got another plaque for the "I love me" wall (or chalkboard ledge in this case). (Although, I do love plaques, as Kristen so lovingly noted in her presentation.) It's not that I had "McHenry is awesome" sentiments proclaimed at two big year-end ceremonies. I don't know that I can really explain what "it" is.

I have thought lately about that big philosophical question, "What is the meaning of life?" What is the purpose of our time spent here? I don't know exactly what the answer to that is... unsurprisingly. But, when I ponder it, I think about the idea of legacies. I want the influence that I have on the life of others to extended beyond our face-to-face moments. I want to know that I have impacted lives in  ways that will influence others to do the same. That I have affected lives in a way that will make them remember our time together and what they learned- not just about improving writing through proper pronoun agreement, but about life, and the greater world.

I think my Key Clubbers and everything they do is beyond words... although I try to find those words... and although they are often drowned in tears when I do. Occasionally though, I will find myself pause, and I will wonder if THEY get "it." Is my image of this legacy distorted? Do I think all that we do is so amazing and they just think it's another bullet on their college application... of course, there are certainly those for who it is just that.

But then there are moments like "this." Moments when I see they get "it." And these moments provided by Kristen this year were the pinnacle of seeing that legacy grow, seeing that influence, seeing "it."

Ironically, or perhaps not since we seem to have many coincidences like this, the message of Kristen's graduation speech was "The Countdown is Over." It kind of brings everything full circle, doesn't it? Even though I began my year with the mindset of not counting down, it didn't matter. Face it, or not, we start each school year with only 180 days. That time- like life itself- is going to fly by. As teachers, as mentors, we have to keep a dedicated focus to making those days, every day, memorable- inside the classroom and out.