New Year’s Change and Resolutions

Maintain health, friendships, and enjoyment of life to the best of one’s ability . . . goals for 2015.

** On New Year’s Day the Y will have an open house.  I’ll do a short tai chi class at 11, open to all who would like to come by.  Early arrivals have been known to receive free t-shirts and there will probably be snacks.

(but not probably as fancy as these cakes  ❤


Change?  A rambling remembrance of change and decisions . . .

I don’t leap into change, tending to hold onto the known and comfortable until nudged toward the brink of a new decision.  Generally, after the leap I find myself in a place I like . . . and settle into a new, comfortable routine.

A story once made the rounds about a man praying vociferously, “Please, Lord, just let me win the lottery.  It would really make a difference in my life.  Please, just let me win once.”  From above, a booming voice, “Meet me halfway.  Buy a ticket.”

I bought one lottery ticket when I heard that story, just in case there was a Plan and I needed to do my half.  I didn’t win, I hadn’t really expected to, and there went my dreams of travel and hiring a chauffeur . . . I couldn’t think of much else I’d like to change.

I bought another lottery ticket when I was trying to decide whether or not to retire.  Winning would be a sure sign.  Instead, I received a much more clear sign; sarcoidosis, probably from the mold in our school, impeded my breathing and made it clear that I needed to leave.

I had also expressed a desire that year to “meet some nice men in the coming year.”  Mom used to warn us to be careful what we wished for.  I hadn’t specified “men to whom I won’t owe co-pays.”  To be fair, all the “ologists” were very nice men, and they did get my health back on track after I left that building.  I did also give myself a trip to Hawaii as a retirement present . . . no chauffeur yet, though.


Retirement was foreshadowed if I’d paid attention.  A couple of years earlier, my doctor made me stay home for the whole month of November (pneumonia). Much as I loved my students, and teaching, I found it surprisingly easy to stay home reading and resting (and lesson planning and grading), and my students appreciated me when I decided to “come back and save (us) from this horrible sub.”  As a preview of retirement, I discovered it was rather pleasant and relaxing to have fewer responsibilities.  I’m feeling the same way now about retirement . . . once I got over the guilt of not “reinventing myself” with a new work load . . .

Lessons in dreams . . .  while still teaching, I had a recurring dream that I couldn’t find my classroom and it was time to teach a class.  I’d end up in an office building and then a park . . . as I neared retirement, my dreaming self decided to stay in the park, “They’ll be okay.”  Thanks to lovely new teachers, they really are.

A student who expressed dismay at my plans to leave was just fine once I reminded her that she would be graduating at the same time as I retired . . . graduating forever.

I recently came across my official Certificate of Credibility, issued after a student, denied some concession, told me that was “why you have no credibility with your students.” Colleagues signed it, and then most of that class asked to also sign.  Take that, ornery student!



One more memory:  I taught one of my high school students to knit during lunch.  I had brought in my knitting as a visual for our reading of “House Taken Over.” Afterward, she had wistfully shared that she hadn’t wanted to learn to knit when her grandmother offered, too young to be interested, “and now I want to learn and my grandma is gone.”  I said I could fill in for her grandma, and she learned quickly!


May your new year be filled with love and laughter, health and happiness, the familiar and some new, all in pleasing proportions.  Hugs!

Christmas Letter 2014

Happy Boxing Day (2nd Day of Christmas) and may all be well with you and yours!


I’m learning to live as a Human Be-ing and not so much a Human Do-ing . . . enjoying a “broad margin to my life” as stated by Thoreau. I’ve taken to calling the little pond near my house Walden Pond. I can see it well in winter because the leaves are gone, one of nature’s little trade-offs. Today it’s sparkling in the sunshine. A Y friend and I agreed that our doing less now is partly because home is so very comfortable. I cook more, using the veggies from my Terripin Farms CSA. I had a great Christmas Eve with storytelling friends. enjoying raclette while telling stories and laughing and generally having fun . . . and reading Green Eggs and Ham in Latin — who knew?

My comfortable little eco-home is a bit less quiet, as builders work to “complete the subdivision.” We knew it had to come, and it has brought some very nice new neighbors, but the wildlife will miss the empty lots. There is still common ground, what a friend called “decorative woods” (I hope it’s enough), and the process of building homes is quite fascinating to watch . . . our own Bob the Builder!  Their piles of left-over wood remind me of the scrap wood blocks my dad made and this story


A dozen or so favorite authors keep me happy by writing books I love. Students used to ask, “Is every author your favorite?” Here are just a few recent loves: Elaine Viets, Susan McBride, Louise Penney, Laurie King, *Hank Phillippi Ryan, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Margaret Maron, Nancy Martin, Brandon Mull . . . Edith Maxwell writes mysteries set on an organic farm much like this one

My wonderful library keeps me supplied with books and DVDs (all sorts of favorite shows from PBS, plus old favorites like Twilight Zone and Quantum Leap). Readers and Stitchers, book groups, and our monthly Second Monday Story Swap are all fun. I still knit apple baby hats for friends, and am currently making socks for myself with yarn from a shop called Hanks. I have to take more breaks to massage my “angry” thumbs, but it’s not a race.IMG_0114

Gateway Storytellers meets every other month, and I am in the process of handing over the newsletter responsibility to new officers in January. I’ve been doing it forever, and there should be more than one person able to carry on a task. Our Riverwinds friends meet in Illinois, and the Festival will continue, first weekend in May as it has for 30+ years.

The body requires maintenance to stay mobile. I teach tai chi twice a week, because Charlotte couldn’t keep doing it, and was very good about teaching me enough to be able to step up. I’ll be giving a short class at the New Year’s Day open house (free t-shirts and snacks for attendees). I don’t teach aqua aerobics anymore (a new rule about having to retrieve a ring from the bottom of the 5’ water which I couldn’t do), but I attend. Going over in a bit to do the old routine, which I’ve missed, with whoever shows up (no one, so I did it by myself; maybe more will be there Monday). There are no classes right now . . . doing our own thing is a good break in routine.

I used to mail holiday letters (closer to New Year’s because teaching was so all-consuming), then switched to mostly email, with only two friends needing paper copies. I’ve been neglecting email lately and do most of my (over?)sharing on “social media,”
sporadically on this blog
and daily on Facebook plus a few videos
My videos on YouTube   one more video here

Lovely surprises: warm enough weather for a sunset walk. Then when I went out to open/close the mailbox so the paint wouldn’t stick it shut, I saw a beautiful moon! Also, in addition to finding the little auto-parts bird in the “Room of Requirement,” I also found my official Certificate of Credibility, issued after a student, denied some concession, told me that was “why you have no credibility with your students.” Colleagues, including Cindy Menkhus, Sherri Pogue, Donna Wallace, signed it, and then most of that class asked to also sign — take that, ornery student! Fun times remembered . .


Wishing you all the best in the coming year!


On the Third Day of Christmas, I just read in Deborah Crombie’s _A Share in Death_ “. . . your life isn’t trivial or inconsequential. If the things that matter to us every day weren’t important, no one’s death . . . would be much loss.” Good reminder to savor the ordinary!

Back from the library, having put the rest of my planned errands on the mañana list AKA “not today.” Rainy and a bit dreary I could handle, but the tires slipped a bit on the road and as Dad always said, “Watch out for those other drivers.” When Stephen Michael Hahn was small, the Parents as First Teachers visitor asked what one does on rainy days, with expected answer being wearing raincoats, boots, etc. He said, “Stay home.” She wasn’t allowed to give credit for that answer; I’m saying now he should have gotten extra credit (I’ve been called the Queen of Extra Credit), and that answer should have been added as the best possible answer. Think of how many problems would be prevented if people stayed home in treacherous weather . . . . Y’all stay safe! ❤
Post Office was on my list . . . postponed by rain. I mailed Christmas letters with Harry Potter stamps. Still don’t know what happened to the stamp order I posted two weeks ago.

P.P.S. (part of my response to a friend’s email)


I’ll put in a photo of the little bird.  It was a gift from a worker when I went to a junkyard in search of a window handle for my Pinto, rather clever work.  I had lost it in the move, half-thought I might have given it away, but I went through a bag of things in the spare bedroom (Room of Requirement is a Harry Potter reference), the same bag in which I found lost photos.

Angry thumbs might be arthritis, possibly related to the sarcoidosis, or just years of use.  My chiro says a majority of post-menopausal women have thumb issues.  As with all such problems, the key is to keep using them, but respecting the limits.  My aunt’s doctor told her to keep doing crochet so her hands wouldn’t stiffen — she made doll clothes, easier to hold and quicker to complete.  I’m making baby hats and socks for myself, though there is one sweater I should finish.

I can relate to the fear of getting lost, no sense of direction at all.  Perhaps walking a short route or taking a friend . . . Dr. Paul Lam’s tai chi DVDs are pretty easy to do.   One can also work short stretch/movement breaks into the activities of the day, and it does warm one up, too.  Hardest for me is to try to remember to do occasional stair climbing . . . the second floor condo made that automatic, but now if I want to be able to climb when I need to, I have to consciously do some stairs sometimes, down to the basement, or at the Y.  Stairs also help me relieve some of the lower back stiffness.

Wisdom of the Young


My co-stars on the storytelling CDs . . .  Brianna, Hannah, and Josh. ❤

In The King and I, Anna sings, “by your pupils you’ll be taught.”  There is so much to learn from their young, fresh outlook on life.

Jillian once, when she was very small and I complimented her on a great hint for some kitchen chore, “I don’t know it all, but I know some things.”  These days, she’s my go-to person on technology questions.

My alderman’s daughter, at a neighborhood picnic, laughed at the adults’ discussion of exercise.  “I don’t exercise,” she explained.  “I PLAY” . . . and she ran over to the swings.  Healthy attitudes . . .

 Joy once encouraged me, “Run, Aunt Mary.  It’s FUN!”

photo of my mom with Joy . . .  >Mom and Joy (3)033

They have so much to teach us, even as they are learning new things every day.

 There comes the day when spelling won’t work as secret code . . . “Shall we stop for i-c-e-” ICE CREAM!!!!!   “Want to go to the z-o-o?” YES!! ZOO!!!

The lessons of childhood continue to mold the adult.  I loved when my high school students would pick up on the Reading Rainbow song and join in, “Take a look, it’s in a book . . .”

I used to give students extra credit for finding errors in published sources and then correcting them, and they found plenty.

I also gave credit when they showed me a new perspective on something, even sometimes on things I had read fifty times.

After a really serious vandalism incident at our high school, a student made me feel a little ashamed of my own punitive thoughts when she said, “If they had parents as good as mine, they’d never have done anything like this. — Empathy, understanding . . .

 . . . and then there was a student I didn’t even know, who when he heard me complaining that a mandatory inservice would take up half the weekend, “Half a weekend is better than none.”  Perspective.

While I do have the bumper sticker “Don’t Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story,” I believe in using the teachable moments in fiction and sharing good values in my stories.

Mr. Fox is a story full of important lessons on courage and caution, and it helped my sophomores understand Pushkin’s “The Bridegroom.”  I first told the story when my Dan Keding CD stopped playing right in the middle and my students insisted I finish it.  Then, darling scholars, when I got a new CD and a new player and played it again for them, they sweetly told me they liked mine better . . .

My ESOL students ably critiqued my telling of La Llorona one year.

Dan’s “Two Warriors” story ends with “You can’t hate a man once you know his story.”  Often when we know what’s going on in a person’s life, we are much more able to help.  I often said of difficult students, once I knew their background, that I might have acted out even more if it had been I.

A teaching colleague whose wife got a raise was a bit surprised when I remarked on how well he was dealing with her earning much more than he was.  I was glad to see that vestige of the ’70s mentality gone, and perhaps it was never an issue for intelligent and reasonable men.  He then polled his students, who all agreed that more money in a family is good, no matter who brings it in.

It’s amazing that the things former students remember are not always the lessons we plan, but are more often the moments of kindness, the lessons in grace . . . and it goes both ways.  When my mother was very ill, my students shared cards, prayers, Chicken Soup books, and kept me going through it all, and when I thanked on student, she said, “Remember last year when I needed help?  Well, now it’s your turn.”

On a lighter note, one day I reached high to write something on the board and felt the underarm seam of my blouse RIIIPPPP.  A student immediately defused my embarrassment by asking, “If you are going to throw that away, could I have it for my mother’s fabric art?”  Silver linings everywhere . . .

Like my friend’s daughter, I think perhaps we should just play.




Terripin Farms CSA -- half share! ;-)

I didn’t cook much when I was still teaching — not much time left after teaching, grading, planning, and the cafeteria lunches were sort of a balanced meal.  I kept up the eating-out habit until forced to economize while waiting for the condo to sell.  Then I discovered that simple meals at home were way cheaper, way healthier, and a bit less time-consuming than going somewhere and waiting for service.


Subscribing to Terripin Farms CSA* tipped the balance, to working a bit harder on meals (and on putting away the extra in the freezer part of the fridge — still eating from last summer’s bounty) but really seeing the benefits in a very healthy result and much better taste.  I still eat out sometimes, when friends want to go, but bring half the meal home to have the next day with many extra veggies.


Exercise was similarly a discovery of necessity.  When I got hurt in a fall at the police station (filing an identity fraud report), the P.T. sent me to aqua-aerobics and I added tai chi later.  My lazy self never actually “feels like” exercising, but I always feel better about five minutes in.  Y friends today were encouraging each other to keep going, “Use it or lose it.”  I remembered an interview with Katherine Hepburn who, when asked about her hip injury, summed it up with, “It hurts, but it works.”

If it’s worthwhile to maintain car and home, why not myself?  Proof of effectiveness, I had a very similar fall in the driveway this winter, and instead of weeks of agony, I had a bit of soreness easily ignored.  I even made a snow angel while I was down there . . .