June 22, 2003 & 2016

June, Goddog Tawpic of the day. Discuss

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I am pretty proud, and amazed and dumbfounded by what this human body has gone through. And I look around and see folks whose bodies have withstood so much more and they look good too. The resiliency of the human form is awesome. And everyday, I learn new ways to help this body bounce back, mend and heal.

When I read my medical records from the three years following my stroke, it is a surreal experience. “30-year-old woman with left vertebral artery dissection and left PICA stroke. No acute distress. Biggest effort continues to be dysphagia…I would expect it to slowly improve and would certainly hope that her swallowing will recover to the point where she will no longer need to feeding tube.” There are thousands of details describing procedures, disabilities and diagnosis of me that don’t seem real. Until I let myself remember. Then I cry over the pages of notes. My chest aches and my throat fills with a ball of pain as I relive the broken bits and bobs that were me, following the stroke. I went through a lot. I really did. I give comfort to the me that I was then. I couldn’t handle feelings then. But I can now. And in my mind, with all my heart, I comfort, thank and hug the me of those years. The complete betrayal of my body against me, was horrible. The sounds and sights of my illness were disturbing. Whole body systems shut down. The deathly silence of my body was torture for my mind. Parts didn’t work and some still don’t.

For example, breathing works, but not with any ease that I used to have. This body struggles for air, often and in many different circumstances. However, I totally appreciate each and every breathe as I never did before. I am grateful for the struggle. I am grateful for the reminder of where I was following my stroke. I am grateful for how far I have come and psyched for the chance I get each day. So many stroke survivors can not do what I do.

There are things I can do to make it easier on myself. Sometimes my mind cooperates with my body and I breathe better, practicing what I have learned. Pavarotti is a great inspiration for me in this area. Every Saturday as a child, my Dad and I would make bread and listen to the opera, loud, a perfect pairing. We made rye bread, bagels-boiled-then-baked-of course, honey wheat bread, challah and oatmeal bread. I showed Jason a clip of Pavarotti on Valentine’s Day this year and he said that “Grandad looks like Pavarotti.” Another perfect pairing.

Have you ever watched him sing? He can get more air in and let out more music than anyone. His mastery of his body to get that exquisite music out is incredible. As a kid I would watch him sing and count the seconds in between breaths, long long times in between breaths. I never got a true count because I got distracted by his voice. I got carried away and caught up in the moment, forgetting about my mission to count.

Luciano Pavarotti spent his entire career recording with one label, Decca. Their relationship endured for 50 years. His mind and body gave us music for over half a century. I listen to public radio in my kitchen for 10 months of the year. (November – January 6, it is Christmas music 24/7, baby!) WCRB, my Boston radio station, told me about Pavarotti and Decca and how this year they released a 2 CD set: The 50 Greatest Tracks. Impulsive me, I bought it on advance order. It is incredible, in the car, sunroof open, blasting Pavarotti at the lights when neighboring cars offend with blaring garbage, I have the real goodies.

If I want to breathe better, I just pop in that album and do what he did. No, I don’t try to make sounds. That would be a noise ordinance violation. Ick and Ugh. (Actually, before my stroke I had a good singing voice. In high school I sang every day of the week, and loved it. I had the most incredible chorus teacher. A true Italian who taught us the classics. I loved her and her class. And I got pretty good at using my voice well. But not now.) Anyways, I listen to his song. I get caught up in the moment that he and Puccini or Mozart or whoever create. I breathe slow and deep through my nose. I am healed. Both body AND mind are healed. I challenge you with this recording to not be moved and healed and inspired by what the human body can do. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=luciano+pavarotti+50&&view=detail&mid=A617D9C4C36A23593919A617D9C4C36A23593919&rvsmid=B46507E6DEF91DCE9C77B46507E6DEF91DCE9C77&fsscr=0&FORM=VDFSRV

 

If that didn’t work, try it with the words. I double-dog-dare ya to not be moved by this story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ovcNw8xr64 I just found this very young Pavarotti recording and tried to count the breaths. I failed, but who cares. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dxWA2vqv7U The translation of this aria is as follows.

What a frozen little hand, let me warm it for you. What’s the use of looking? We won’t find it in the dark. But luckily it’s a moonlit night, and the moon is near us here. Wait, mademoiselle, I will tell you in two words, who I am, what I do, and how I live. May I? Who am I? I am a poet. What do I do? I write. And how do I live? I live. In my carefree poverty I squander rhymes and love songs like a lord. When it comes to dreams and visions and castles in the air, I’ve the soul of a millionaire. From time to time two thieves steal all the jewels out of my safe, two pretty eyes. They came in with you just now, and my customary dreams my lovely dreams, melted at once into thin air! But the theft doesn’t anger me, for their place has been taken by hope! Now that you know all about me, you tell me who you are. Please do!

Opening your mouth and heart in the dark, brings hope and light. That is what I hear. And I am healed, body and soul.

With Pavarotti and practice, I can focus my mind on breathing through my nose, if I slow down long enough. I can slowly, and with great abundance of tissues (I should have bought stock in Kleenex 13 years ago), clear out my head. I can shut my big mouth and focus my mind on the simple, but essential work of breathing easily. And it works. I work better when I practice integrating my body and mind. I don’t practice often enough, to be honest. Every time I do, I am humbled by the response from my body. The response is immediate and significant to the care and attention I put into myself. I am grateful and full of respect for this body and what we endure. It has been through a lot of trauma. And I don’t always make things easy on it. It keeps on going and getting better, I believe.

Consider the story of our Jason… My beloved PCP saved me when I had a stroke in her office over 13 years ago. Almost exactly eight years ago, during a routine physical, she remarked on how strong I was, how healthy I had become. We laughed about how I only saw her once a year now, we kind of missed each other. We have lost count of how often we saw each other after my stroke, too often. My Doctor knew I was healthy now and I believed it too. What a miraculous place to be in, for a stroke survivor like me. What a different patient she has than the one she saw on April 4th 2003. I told her about this new man that I was seeing. I told her how wonderful he was and how happy I was. I told her that Lola, my Goddog, had picked a winner for me. I told her that I had told him what she had told me at my physical the year before. My Doctor had told me how extraordinary it was that I was healthy enough, my body had recovered so far, that I could teach full time. She said that the thousands of students I could teach were to be my children. She didn’t believe I’d be able to have my own children, there had been too much damage. (I had accepted this, truly. Acceptance is not something I did much of before my stroke. I fought reality. I denied what was. But I had learned the hard way, the futility of that way of life. Acceptance brought peace. By being present and understanding where I was at, I was free to move forward in new directions. I had space for the future.)

I would be able to teach my children for years to come. What a gift to make such a difference and contribution in the world. I told this to Tim. Actually, I summed it up concisely. “I can’t have children.” But that was not exactly, 100% accurate apparently. Right after that visit 8 years ago, my doctor called with some extraordinary news.

I was pregnant. Me. That’s right, this body had healed and was pregnant. I was floored. Tim was shocked. The impossible was possible. I endured a stroke. I survived illness from my stroke. My body survived even when I didn’t want to. And it was healthy enough, with tons of help from family, Docs, and our Goddog, to bring Jason into this world. Proof enough to me of what bodies can do. I did not die. This body survived. This body was repaired. This body is still recovering, everyday.

I have to say that my mind, on the other hand, plays tricks on me. Big Time. Huge with a capital Ginormous. The default setting of my mind is a very negative place. It talks to me like this, “you can’t. You shouldn’t. You’re not worth it. Not good enough. Don’t try again. It won’t be any better. Why bother? There must be an easier way.” And my favorite, “ya screwed it up, again.” My mind loves to argue, with itself. Getting a consensus and acting with confidence is a skill I practice every day.

You see, I definitely have a committee upstairs in my head. I think they might be a committee of rabid squirrels running fast on those hamster exercise wheels. Most of the time, the squirrels toss out crazy ideas to each other and argue over which one is the best. And their thoughts like to stay in my head so they can torture me exclusively. They know that if they were to come out my mouth, people in my life would encourage work be done on the good ideas and the bad ideas would be shut down super quick. But inside my head, the ideas go round and round. It is exhausting. My mind exhausts me.

My Buddhist Reiki Nancy called them “old tapes,” that play on a loop in our minds. We learn them when we are young and so often believe we are incapable of changing the tapes. We believe, Nancy taught me, that we are that old, unchanging, static story. We hate this reality. We suffer, but don’t know that we can or how to change the tape. The stories are familiar and therefore we take comfort in them, at least I do. But they are not healthy for me. I have to press STOP on that machine. I have to practice the habits of mind that helped me get and keep a healthy body. I have to listen to the trusted experts, loved ones and Goddog in my life. I have to do what they say. I have to open my mouth and let the squirrel lies come out. And I have to do this every single day. I have to practice. I have proven to myself time and again the power within my body. I am a survivor. I am here for some purpose, and each day I am given is an opportunity. I know how to help my body and how to hurt it. I have also proven to myself, ad nauseam, the power of my mind. I have battled mercilessly with myself, and can still do it today. I have been my own worst nightmare and then my own best friend, tender and true. I have proven what works for my body and my mind. I do seem to survive in almost all conditions, but today I choose to thrive.

 

June 22nd 2003

It has been a long week. Coumadin dose is alternating for the week between 12.5 and 10mg. Those are both pretty high doses. I guess they are worried that my blood will run slow and get stuck in the narrowed bits and then what will happen. We know what will happen. I know what will happen. It’s just a question of when. I am exhausted all the time worrying and checking. Everyday I take a nap in the afternoon. I fall asleep fast and it is weird right now. I sleep really good during the nap. I can’t do it at night so well. But during the day, I sleep and my mind shuts off a bit. I actually stop thinking of the next stroke for a while. But then I wake up.

I started the week feeling a bit off. I had been good over the weekend and not bothered anyone with my cuckoo thoughts. My pupils look ok, but I can’t stop checking them in the mirror. Early Monday I went over to my doctor, didn’t call first, just to make sure everything was ok. They said I was fine. I have to believe them. And I do believe, until I leave the office.

My doctors want a fasting bloodwork done at my hospital to check various things. It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that on the 20th of June, I was 11 weeks out from the stroke. I had survived 77 days without another stroke, recovered my swallow, and bore absolutely no resemblance to the Rachel before April 3rd. It’s like two totally different people share the same body. And no matter how many Doctors tell me that that this is all happening to me, and that I am getting better, I don’t believe. I watch this strokey freak and am confident it is not me. I don’t want it to be me. I will wake up soon from this nightmare and everything will be just like it was.

But I do what I am told by my doctors. It is my job right now to do what they say. What else could I do right now? It seems all I can do. And I don’t mind fasting for the blood test, because I am not really into eating anymore. The nurses who draw my blood are impressed. I present them with both arms and they easily find a good vein. I don’t squirm or blink or whimper. The needle is big, but not the biggest I’ve seen. They need about ten vials of blood, so it takes a while to change between vials. But I don’t flinch. They take out the needle and put pressure on my arm with a cotton pad while the blood clots. They have to change the pad twice. My blood is running fast. I don’t make a sound. They are out of the paper tape and have to use the harsh plastic tape to secure the final cotton pad. I know it will hurt to pull it off later. My skin is pretty thin and old. It will rip off a bit, like Gramma Harriet’s used to do after her appointments. I remember. They know it will hurt me and say they are sorry. They are drawing from my right arm where I barely feel the needle, and I joke about it. But when I take that tape off later, I will not be joking. The skin will rip. It will hurt. But I will not cry. Lola will be there. I am a pro at the blood work. I know it.

I took care of that test at my hospital and headed to Mom’s. I go there two times a day this week. She is on vacation at Star Island. It is a wonderful place in the Isle of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She took me there as my present for graduating from Clark University nine years ago. I jumped off the dock and swam in the deep, salty cold harbor. I remember the rocks and the waves. I think there is only one tree on the whole island. You would think it would be bleak and just grey all over, but somehow the ocean and sun and rocks take on countless colors and textures. I remember that. She goes to the Art’s Conference. I can remember vividly what a special place and time it is on the island. I did the dance and movement workshop which was being led by my aunt. What a gift. I actually felt graceful that week. So I encouraged my mom to go this year. She needed to get away. I know that the stroke stressed her out. I know she worries about me a lot. I told her to keep going and take care of herself. I am right here in Worcester, near my hospital. That is where I need to be. She went to where she needed to be. But her cat needs to be taken care of, fed and loved. The plants need to be watered, and the little garden with herbs and marigolds too. The mail needs to be collected and sorted. I can do that.

I go over in the morning and in the afternoons. It is always so quiet there and I don’t do well with quiet anymore. My body is silent enough with the dead and broken parts. Silence in me is one thing and I can’t fix that. But silence around me is terrifying. I like to hear people, like at my hospital bustling around, or on the radio or the TV, that are always on at my home. It makes me feel less alone and scared. It drowns out the quiet inside, if that makes sense. So I don’t stay long at her place, but I show up and do my job. Some days I bring Lola for the afternoon visit. Her company in the car is really comforting.

Everyone seems to be on vacation this week. School is out now. The roads in Worcester have little summer traffic. Everyone goes away on vacation. I only see Carole once this week. But my swallow is getting better. We are both committed to getting my swallow back 100%. Carole says that is our goal and we will succeed together. I have PT twice this week. We are working on loosening the jaw still. I think the tightness in my jaw and pain is discouraging me from eating much. The TMJ is loosening a bit on one side. It is so great that it is a bit better. However, it does make me realize how bad the other side is when one side stops aching so much. Oh well. I don’t really care about that. But I want to be able to work on my swallow with Carole, so I have to work on the jaw.

We also do some work on my lower body strength and balance. I do standing balance activities. She has me get on the teeter board and I am doing better on that. It has a rounded, half ball type bottom and then the flat board on top. I can rock back and forth on it pretty good. I kind of like it. She is adding a ball to my hands while I rock. I am supposed to pass the ball around my body over and over, while I rock. I have to work on that one. But I am stronger. I can feel it during the PT. (But when I get home, I lose that strength. I feel weak. I think the hospital is a source of strength and the farther away I get, the weaker I get. I need to stick close.) Whenever I get in a zone of exercise at my hospital, I tip my head back without thinking and then I forget to breath. I forget everything except the artery in the back of my neck that I just hurt in that stupid motion I just made.   I put my head back right and wait for any sign of dizziness or pupils messed up. I totally focus on telling the artery to be okay. It takes a few minutes, and I miss out on some of my work out time. They tell me that I am fine. They tell me it wouldn’t cause any harm. But I have to make sure I am ok before I go home. I shouldn’t leave my hospital if I hurt myself and this is where I need to be.

My college sister/friend and her daughter come to visit one afternoon. It is very nice of them to come to see me. We take Lola for a short walk and have some iced coffee. They went on a vacation to Colorado last month and she shows me pictures. The mountains look incredible. I think my weird face scares her daughter. It looks pretty distorted on the left side now. I drool a bit when I get talking too much and I slur too. Gross. My friend is so dear, so totally ignores my grossness. She just averts her head and takes care of her daughter. I feel self conscious in front of her, but worse when they leave and I am alone and quiet again. They stay for an hour and then have to get going back to their home and their busy life. And I have to head over to Mom’s to take care of her place anyway. It gives my house a chance to stop missing people in it. It has to clear out so I can be alone again without it hurting so much. Gramma Harriet taught me this trick. And it works, sort of. Whenever we visited her, on the last day when we would leave, she would leave the house with us. She would go to the bank or CVS or the Post OFFICE. I always found that a curious time to leave the house. After several years of wondering, I asked Gramma Harriet why she did this. She told me that she was not lonely living alone. She had a full live and a warm home. But when we left, the house felt sad and she did feel lonely. Leaving the house for an hour or so, letting it air out and coming back home after a bit, made the house feel happy to see her again. Things were back to normal again and she felt better. Great idea.

My uncle’s birthday was this week. I had it written into my daily planner. (Every year, on New Year’s Eve, I switch over the calendars with all the important dates. Birthdays are always the first thing to write in.) When I checked my calendar to see when I was at my hospital this week, there his birthday was. And I was tempted to go out to Wessyfoo, for a second. I haven’t seen my family in a while. They have been busy with work and the house and all the cats (I think they are up to 13 right now) and my grandmother has been sick. And it is so far to come just to sit in my apartment. I am not sure how long since I have seen them. And it is so beautiful in Wessyfoo in June. The field of buttercups and forget-me-knots give way to peonies, day lilies, and roses near the gazebo. And the pool must be starting to warm up a bit, now that it is really summer. There is sure to be yummy foods to eat. There always are.

But the thought was fleeting. It was a foolish thought, not practical or real for me. I can’t go to Wessyfoo. I can’t drive that far. I can’t be that far away from my hospital. I shouldn’t leave Worcester County. It is not safe. I should have sent a card early in the week, but I didn’t. I called and wished my uncle a happy birthday on the day. That was ok, I guess.

I keep getting letters and bills in the mail, everyday from the insurance company. And I keep writing checks and checking on my grievance. I did get one good letter. It said I was approved for more physical therapy. That is a good thing. The time I spend at my hospital is the safest. Another good letter, I guess, was the approval for another MRI. It is good that my neurologist from heaven keeps a close eye on me. But I am terrified. The letter says that the MRI will NOT be done at my hospital, like before. It is at a clinic across the city, near where mom lives. I have never been there before. No one from my hospital works there. They don’t know me at this new clinic. I don’t like this. But I have to go. My Doctors told me to go. The appointment is for 10 am, but I have to be there 15 minutes early to check in. I find the place ok. I park with no trouble. Inside the clinic, the doors are very heavy and none of them are automated or go around in a circle, like the doors at my hospital. It’s a little thing I guess. I wonder what somebody with less strength than me does. I bet others that have strokes have to come here with somebody when they need MRI’s.   They can’t drive and might be in a wheelchair. Somebody has to bring them and open the door for them. Maybe they come in an ambulance from a “home.” I know most of the people at the “home,” I was at would have to come like that. I know I am lucky. I should feel happy.

In the waiting room, I head for the desk. The face at the window smiles, but doesn’t know me. I know I don’t look good these days. My hair is just brushed and maybe in a pony tail. I am too tired and nervous about putting much make up on. Oh well. I sign in and I see her staring at how slowly I am writing down my information on the 3 forms. My writing is so slow and my hand gets so tired. I stop after every line and stretch my hand a bit. I hope they can read what I wrote, but I really don’t care. Don’t they have all this information somewhere? I have told it and written it a thousand times in the past 12 weeks. I mean, they have my file. They know why I am here. Why do I have to write this stuff down again? It’s humiliating. Now she is not smiling at me. I bet she feels sorry for me.

In a few minutes she takes me down a long dark hallway. It doesn’t smell clean like my hospital. The hall is not brightly lit like my hospital. And I don’t smell Dunkin Donuts coffee. She tells me to put my things in a locker, checks that I don’t have jewelry on and waits for me outside. I brought a CD of Aretha Franklin with me. At my hospital they pipe in the music right into the tube. It helps, a bit. She tells me that the machine is broken. There is no music. I better leave the CD in the locker. What do I do now? The MRI’s are brutal. My head has to be in the tube. I am lying absolutely flat which I never do because of my swallow. I might aspirate. It might happen. And even though I can swallow now, I don’t like to like that flat. Why push it? It could be bad. I never have to lie flat anywhere else. Why do I have to now? But I do. I hate it. It is harder to swallow and breath when I am that flat. The machine is loud, very loud. It sounds like someone shooting a machine gun, round after round. I know it is not that, but that is the image in my mind. It is not very calming. The test is long. I am in that tube for about 40 minutes. I cant see much. There are mirrors inside the tube angled so I can see outside into the room a bit and into the cubicle where the technician is behind thick glass. But I can’t see very well and sometimes seeing a person so far away makes me more nervous than I can stand. The technician is so far away. I am breathing so fast right now and it is so hard to slow it down. If something went wrong with me and I needed help, she might not even notice. IF she did, I am not sure she could get to me in time. So I just shut my eyes and try to breathe and try not to move. That is bad enough. But now I can have no music!!!!!!!! There is nothing to distract my mind, when I do close my eyes. There is no comfort. I will not be able to slow my breathing down as I get more and more uncomfortable. I will move around too much. What will the machine do if I move? Will I have to redo the test? All this runs through my head as we get ready for the MRI. My body is walking and then sitting down and then lying down. My body is letting the tube go over my head and circle all around me. My head nods at the technician. But inside, I am screaming.

I have to do something to calm myself down or I am sure I will have to retake the freaking test. The teacher light bulb goes off at that moment. I don’t know where the thought is coming from. But out of desperation I am going to go with it.  Make a game. Use the alphabet. Make it easy. Make it hard. Make it all-engrossing so the body is still while the mind is tortured.

A to Z in the MRI

Rules of the game

  1. Pick a category. (BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG)
  2. Start simple, something you know a lot about so you don’t get frustrated. (gotta stay still) (BANG BANG BANG BANG)
  3. FRUITS is the category (BANG BANG BANG BANG slow down your breathing Rachel.)
  4. Now, start with A and name a fruit for every letter til Z. (BANG BANG BANG BANG)
  5. A is for apple, B is for Banana, C is for cantaloupe, D is for…D is for damn it. No, Skip it. Move on. E is for, skip it, F is for Fig, G is for Grapes, H is for honeydew melon (BANG BANG BANG)
  6. When you are at all frustrated, move on. Pick a new category and start from A. (BANG BANG BANG)
  7. FOOD is the category. A is for avocado, B is for beef wellington, C is for cake, D is for donut, E is for eggplant parmesan, F is for food, that counts, move on, G is for gum, that counts, move on, (BANG BANG) H is for honey, I is for icecream, J is for juicy fruit gum, that counts, move on, K is for kumquats. Bored
  8. When Bored, pick a new category.
  9. CITIES is the category.
  10. A is for Auburn, B is for Boston, C is for Cincinnati, D is for Denver, E is for East Boston, it counts, F is for….wait a minute. (BANG)
  11. When inspired, pick a new category.
  12. CUSS Words is the new category. A is for A***ole, B is for B**ch, ooh this is good. And I know some swears in other languages, thanks to a few kids I once knew. I don’t even hear the machine anymore. My breathing is calmer.            The test is over now. The machine is open. I am up. I can leave. I can go to MY car, drive MYSELF home and collapse with MY babies. Holy Crap, I am exhausted. And my jaw is locked almost totally shut. Sh**.
  13.      This is good. I am not squirming. My head is full of happy thoughts, like expletives. I can handle this.

 

June 22nd 2016

The school year is over. I know it is. I was at the last day of school, June 14th. I coordinated the sixth grade promotion ceremony. Mercifully, the weather was cool the last week so the building did not heat up like a sauna. I got the room packed up and cleaned up with the help of G2 and the students. They have been so edgy. They were writing their reflections and we would be picking some to be read at the ceremony. I tell the kids that this is their chance to reflect on this portion of their school career as it comes to a close. I give the same directions for writing that I was given by my mentor teacher the first year I taught sixth grade.

Reflection

  1. You can write a chronological reflection covering each year from Preschool to grade 6. Or you can write about just 6th grade. Your choice. Remember that two of you will be asked to read your reflection out loud at the ceremony. This is a great opportunity for you. Remember that you are speaking to an audience and write with that in mind.
  2. You need to explain who your teacher was, who your friends were, funny things about those friend or teacher, field trips you went on, awards you got, ACADEMIC things you LEARNED ********, challenges that you faced, special teachers that you worked with, your classroom itself, tests that you took, books that you read, big things that happened at the school. And most important: YOU HAVE TO BE POSITIVE. You cannot write down anything, at all negative about yourself or anyone else. You either find something good to say, or move on. And I will be checking.
  3. If you are a “sandboxer” or “veteran,” meaning your entire school career has happened here, you might want to focus on that legacy.
  4. If you moved around a lot, you might want to share about that.
  5. It is good to write about your successes so far. You have them.
  6. It is good to write about your fears of the future. You have them.
  7. It is necessary that you write about goals that you have for your future. You need them.

This kind of writing gives them a productive way to channel their anxiety at this huge transition time. That is the goal anyway. I was so impressed, if I am honest. So many of my students wrote with such honesty and insight about their lives. They used humor at times, shared grief and struggle, praised teachers and appreciated friends. I, as usual, was self-centered and focused on what I had to Give the students so they could do well on tests and succeed. , I underestimated what they had Taken or what they had to Give to me. As soon as we read them, G2 and I knew that they were the speakers for their ceremony. This year we would not invite a formal adult speaker into the program. The students themselves would share their experiences, struggles and hopes with each other and their families. The students had said it all, and beautifully. So 7 students between the two classes, practiced reading their reflections out loud for the ceremony. I knew they were terrified to do it, on a stage, in front of a crowd. But we just pushed through and practiced with each other, over and over, cheering each other on.

As their teacher, they did include comments about me in their reflections. And they were positive comments. But I was fascinated by their take on me, but what a got from me, how they saw me, what they learned from me. My take-away this year, in their own words:

“I had a baker/stroke survivor teacher named Mrs. Henry and the teacher who knows everything because she’s greek, G2. They always make us good stuff to eat like cake, monkey balls, crack, and brown E’s, literally brown E’s.”

“Every teacher had taught me something either academically or taught me something that affected me emotionally. For example, Mrs. Henry who had a stroke earlier in her life, but survived. And her life threatening experience had encouraged her and her students to help raise awareness about strokes by raising money at school every year with the sixth graders…these stories (that we learn about and hear about at school) were life lessons that you won’t forget which leaves an impact greater than anything you’ve learned in school.”

“These lovely teachers help me focus and helped me think about the future because I thought there was no point! But they showed me that there was and I want to say thanks for always counting on and believing in me…OMG YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW THANKFUL I AM.”

“Last but not least, I want to say thank you to Mrs. Henry, because she taught me the values of sixth grade. She is very driven, with passion and determined. She believes ‘children are the cure for everything.’ I couldn’t agree more. You realize after a big change happens to you, you look at the world in a positive way….this year may not have been the best year, but as Mrs. Henry says, ‘Fake it til you make it.’ “

The first student is a creative, funny bright young man who can be his own worst enemy, and certainly drive this teacher cuckoo when he wanted to.

The second student was easily our valedictorian, but also a phenomenal artist and foodie too. She didn’t want to read this out loud, at all. But she did.

The third student is a spectacular sweet and beautiful and graceful and spirited soul. But that is not what she sees. My wish for her is to for her to know her gifts. That reminds me of the song we always sang for graduation at my old school. It is a tough song to sing, but even I got into it. I couldn’t help it. I had to. I had to be a part of this singing with my students. I love it and them. But I have a hard time letting go of them at the end of the year. And the song sort of helps me say goodbye to them and the school year. I can try to make room for my summer; a trick I learned from Gramma Harriet works again. https://www.bing.com/search?q=my+wish+by+rascal+flatts&form=EDGHPC&qs=LS&cvid=a013bd208efb48e79a449c112978b6ab&pq=my%20wish%20by My wish is this, for her.

The last student…is a force. She reminds me a lot of me. And because of that and the trials she had to face in her life, the year was never dull with her. Such a bright young lady who always had great thoughts behind dark eyes. (although she certainly gave us a piece of her mind, most days.) The twinkle in the eyes betrayed mischievous thoughts you were glad she never said and pain you wished you could take away for her.

Food for thought for my summer.

And so I know it is summer. I don’t set my alarm. I don’t pack lunches. I can stay up late. I get to putter. But my head is still with my kids. It has been a week and I am not yet in a summer groove.

The day after school got out, we went to Wessyfoo and played. The mens went and played a few holes of golf to celebrate my uncle’s birthday. Jason and I made a Frozen S’mores Pie: graham crackers and butter mashed up and pounded into a crust. (Jason loved pounding them to pulp.) Then the filling of condensed milk, cream cheese, cocoa and whipped cream. Frozen in the pie crust. We transported the pie in a cooler packed with ice, still in the springform pan. Then at Wessyfoo, after burgers for lunch, my aunt and I excavated the pie from the pan and put it on a platter. We piled marshmallows on top and broiled, yes broiled, the frozen delicacy to toast the marshmallows. Then we devoured said pie. Image-2-for-6.22

In various states of sugar shock we continued to celebrate. My uncle, who works at a golf club, loved the golf balls Jason gave him. They had his shortened name, “Dick” printed on them. We laughed at his thanks for now having a set of two good balls. Boy that sugar makes us say silly things. We went in the pool. Jason quite perfected his cannonball. Image-3-for-6.22

Boy, sugar makes him better at aquatics.                                                        My aunt showed me the foxgloves, grown freakishly tall in that yard. The sugar makes things grow so tall. A sweet day was had by all.

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The city came and gave us the best present. 5 years ago, they had torn up our road for months laying new pipes. It was a loud dusty nuisance for adults, but 2 year old Jason thought it was God’s gift to him. Every day the street bustled with huge diggers and trucks and dust and dirt and backhoes. He loved it. Anyways, some trees were cut down. Ugh and Ick and Weep. The following year many homes in the ‘hood got new trees, but not us. We hadn’t lost any trees out front and we have 14 mature maples and oaks and such around our small property. But I wanted more. I always want more. We had planted our Moonglow Pear tree to give shade and fruit in the front yard. But the city hadn’t given us a tree to help line the street and I was getting a resentment over being snubbed, until this week. Tim came home from a job and announced that the “mens from the nursery” were dropping off a cherry tree for out front. NO WAY! He said they would come right back and plant said tree. NO WAY!

I went to the front porch, looked down, and WAY….there was our tree. And no more than 10 minutes later, the mens were back with big digger. In three scoops, the greedy machine tore up a big hole along our sidewalk verge to plant the tree. I ran down to the mens and began cheering. They said I was the first to cheer about getting a tree. Most folks were not positive or not saying. “People suck,” was my response. I mean we like to breathe, right? So we love trees, right? The mens agreed but said they had to be professional in their work. I told them I was on summer vacation and had no such requirements. Our tree is a Yoshino Cherry Tree. It is not a Japanese cherry as I had thought they all were. It is actually from an island off South Korea. Jason is thrilled because Tae Kwon Do is Korean too.

Over the weekend he tested for his new belt. The testing is the most beautiful display of skill and passion and control and dedication. All families gather and our blue belt with the white stripe is amazing. So he loves that our tree is Korean. I got right to watering “Miss Jordan,” as I named her after one of Jason’s Tae Kwon Do instructors. The mens said that the city would be back, but probably not until next week to put the rubber bag around the trunk that they would fill with water on a regular basis. But our tree doesn’t need that bag. I will make sure she has all she needs to survive and thrive.

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Jason and I went and picked strawberries at Tougas Farms Thursday. http://www.tougasfamilyfarm.com/ It’s a nice ride out north east of Worcester. We try to go every year, but recently we have missed the season because we were in school so late. This year, we were out for prime picking.   We got up early to be the first on the fields. I didn’t want to pick too much, just enough for a strawberry shortcake,

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some strawberry bread and a big bag to freeze. We picked, or rather I picked and Jason held the bucket, about 5 pounds of glorious berries. Then we headed to check out the playground. Jason gets bigger each year and can climb higher on the ropes and rocks.

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They have goats to visit and this year added an alpaca. But that is not all. We head into the snack shop. Jason gets a strawberry smoothie, off the hook with fresh berries and strawberry ice cream and I get a bag of strawberry donuts. They make fresh donuts with whatever fruit they have, as it is in season. We will come back in a month for the blueberry donuts, and to pick the fruit…of course. Right. We brought the strawberry donuts back to the house and shared with Baba and Tim. Gus wanted one, but I resisted his imploring eyes because it is not good for him to have all that sugar. I made him a hot dog, cooked in butter, instead.

As the weekend came, Mom got ready to head to Star Island. http://starisland.org/ I got ready to go downstairs twice a day to feed and play with her kitty, Amelia. We were all rushing around “doin’ doin’” with our summer preparations. Someone left the gate open. So someone, GUS our Goddog wandering beagle, got out. I had let him out on the deck and gone inside to Baba’s (Jason’s name for his grandmother) to check on Jason’s visit with Mom and her friend who would go to Star Island with her. I sat for a few minutes and then went to get Gus from the yard. He was nowhere to be seen. I walked off the deck and saw the open gate. I felt my heart leap into my throat and my heart start to pound in my chest.

A beagle on the loose, I should have been terrified and in a panic. Beagles follow their noses. He could be anywhere. He could follow his nose into the road and get hit by a car. He is a purebred. Someone could dognap him. All these thoughts I could run with and freak out. And once upon a time, with our Gus, I did. But not anymore. You see, our beagle is a single minded chap. He is a foodie, like his Momma. On our family walks, he is shackled by harness and leash, we pass West Side Barbecue. http://www.allmenus.com/ma/worcester/141585-westside-steak–bbq/menu/ Remember, our beagle is a Southern beagle. He loves ribs n beer n such. But such things do not abound at our house. Every time we pass by the folks eating at tables outside the barbecue place, he stops and refuses to budge. He begs and pleads for a sample. I think he even dreams of the menu. When the wind is just right in the backyard, as we are right behind the restaurant, you can smell barbecue for hours. Gus will lie in the backyard, eyes closed, and tongue lolling with the smells making pictures of ribs dance in his dreams. And so every single time, “someone” leaves the gate open, we haven’t a doubt where our beloved beagle is or hasn’t gotten to yet, but is en route. West Side Barbecue is his destination.

I run inside the house, tell Tim the news and grab the leash for the Goddog. I also grab a couple of tissues for my nose that will clog and run amuck as I walk the beat to find him. I do not focus on or practice good breathing when I am out for my Goddog. I have enough healthy fear to focus only on him. So I clog up fast, can’t breathe much at all and drool a bit too. Lovely. I could pay attention and take care of myself on this mission that I know too well. But I am not that evolved yet. I prefer to suffer a bit and look hideous in the process. But at least I know enough to grab the tissues. I head left down our road on foot. Tim takes the Ford and heads right up the hill to the main road. There he turns right and goes towards the destination. He spies Gus, just approaching a table. Gus almost made it to heaven. Tim gets out and drags him into the car. Gus hates riding in the car so he drools profusely on whatever seat he is on. Today it is my seat. They head for home, stopping by me to let me view the unabashed escapee. They drive the rest of the way and I walk, relaxing a bit and giggling a lot as I go.

Sometimes, we haven’t even realized he was out. I have gotten several phone calls from staff and customers at West Side Barbecue. Gus has sidled up and sat down with them. They read his tag and call me to see if I want to come get him, and to check if he can have a taste of their ribs. These are the adventures of our Gus. And we are so grateful that we can predict where his passion leads him and have such a happy ending, for us anyway, to the tail. And these are the happenings of early summer for our family. Happy and Yummy adventures and traditions that I get to be a part of today.

 

 

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