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hello kitty lylaDear Lyla,

Tomorrow Dr. Seuss would be celebrating his 109th birthday. I imagine that on this Friday kindergarten classrooms like yours all over the country will be reading his beloved books. Since a young age his writing has been inextricably linked with your bedtime rituals. Because of Dr. Seuss you have learned that “Unless”; we may lose our precious trees and wildlife. You understand that one should not be afraid of green pants, that leaders must not crack the shells of others for their own gain and that not everyone has stars upon thars, and that’s OK.  I am sure that this will be a special day for you and your friends; that you will delight in hearing your teacher’s melodious voice recite your favorite Seuss stories. Today is special for another reason; it is the first day of March which is Women’s History Month. As you get older you will begin to understand the importance of this month; suffice it to say that men and women have not always been treated equally. I know this may be hard for you to understand because you have been taught to be fair, share with others and treat everyone with kindness. That is how it should be Little One and my hope is that your generation will do its best to ensure that very thing. But history must not be ignored or we are doomed to repeat it. So this month we celebrate the accomplishments of women, the struggles that were fought in the name of fairness and recognize the work that we still have ahead of us. I imagine that the good Doctor (Seuss) might have a few words for your generation on the subject; perhaps he would inspire you with the immortal refrain of “Oh the places you’ll go.” And so you will Little One, so you will.

Spring Break

me and lylaDear Lyla,

Spring break starts at the end of this week and my students can hardly contain their excitement; it has been a long winter and we both need a break from each other. Many of my students are going on service trips or vacationing somewhere warm. When I was an undergraduate spring break meant one thing, an opportunity to get in a 40 hour work week!  To me breaks were a time to replenish my savings account so that I could make my car payment and have spending money. I never regretted not taking a spring break because I didn’t know what I was missing and having a car was motivation enough for me to not mourn the opportunity. It wasn’t until I was almost at the end of my PhD that I was invited to go on spring break. Daddy and I were living in Columbia, MO while I went to Mizzou; a year or two before I graduated Bumpa realized just how close that was to a variety of civil war battlefields and Eureka Springs. Bumpa proposed that we spend my spring break together touring the Ozarks. I did not get to spend a lot of quality time by myself with Bumpa while growing up since he worked a great deal and most of our time together focused on work. While possessing wonderful qualities; patience with his children was not one that Bumpa could claim. It was not until I reached adulthood that he and I began to understand each other and so I was grateful for some quality time with my dad. We had a wonderful week as we were not rushed as our only constraint was how tired our bodies got before we called it a day. We spent hours at civil war battlefields and Bumpa was lucky enough to stumble upon a group of men reenacting a battle; I knew that we would not depart anytime soon.  After the reenactment Bumpa spent hours talking to the gentlemen, inspecting their weapons and discussing the authenticity of their clothing. While I have a healthy respect for history, this is not the period that intrigues me the most; however, dutifully I sat through these musings as it brought joy to my dad. We also spent time in Eureka Springs where we marveled at the statue of Christ, wondered at a tree decorated with running shoes and had the most delicious barbecue at the seediest joint I have ever been in to date. Bumpa and I stayed up late playing cards and talking politics. I learned more about my dad in that one week that I had my entire life prior to that trip. I discovered that he and I had similar passions and personality traits and that we were capable of communicating with love and respect. It has been fifteen years since Bumpa and I went on that trip together and the sights, sounds and smells that we encountered are as fresh as if we had traveled just yesterday. I treasure that time I had with my dad as our relationship had not always been as solid as I would have liked and in my younger days we often tread on rocky ground. Those days that I spent with Bumpa are even more precious as less than a year later he would go to heaven.  The lesson for both of us Little One is that sometimes you just need to take a break and hang out with the ones you love, work will always be waiting but we never know how long we will have each other. I look forward to all of the possibilities that lie ahead for you, Daddy and me; spring break here we come!

I Want My Mommy

lyla grandmaDear Lyla,

Today’s letter will be very short as I am feeling, as Bumpa would say, sicker than a dog that has eaten a chocolate bar. All I want to do today is sleep on the couch curled up in a blanket, dog behind my knees with the TV making noise in the background; today I want my Mommy. If Grandma were here she would make me some soup and bring me liquids to drink and I wouldn’t have a care in the world because mom’s make it all feel better if you are sick. But Grandma Jo isn’t here and I have to work because the thought of canceling class makes me feel worse. My hope for you Little One is that when you are older you will feel the same say about me that I feel about my mom. I guess you are never too old to want the familiar comfort of your parents; life lesson learned!

Today we celebrate Josh’ life…and in his memory it will be a two thumbs up day. Rest in Peace Josh.

Letters To Lyla

lyla josh and bearDear Lyla,

You are unique, one of a kind; my proudest accomplishment to date. I think you are perfect just the way you are. Many parents share my sentiments with regard to their own children, which is the natural order of things. You are easy to love; you are precocious, cute, lively, witty and have the vocabulary of a college sophomore. The attention that is showered on you by my college students makes you one lucky duck; you are loved Little One. I am grateful every day that I have been called to a profession that allows me to meet so many different families; one that allows me to become a part of my students’ extended family. How fortunate we both are to meet a variety of people, to share in their accomplishment, their joys and sometimes their sorrows. In the fall of 2005 I met a very special family…

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Snow Day

lyla snowDear Lyla,

Last night as we were watching the weather and waiting to see if the “snowpocalypse”  would find its way to our neighborhood I was surprised to hear you hope for school to be cancelled. You love school and miss your friends terribly over the weekend. Then it dawned on me; you have been hanging around Daddy too much. I find it amusing that high school teachers are just as thrilled to have a snow day as their students. Perhaps you were excited at the prospect of Daddy staying home with you so you could spend some time together. Maybe you will convince Daddy to bundle you up so you can make snow angels and then come in for some well-deserved cocoa and a viewing of one of your many animated films. Whatever mischief you two decide to get into on your snow day I am sure that by the time you are my age you will look back with nostalgia. As you know I grew up in north central Minnesota; we had lots of snow and cold weather but snow days weren’t as common as you might imagine. Minnesotans are well equipped for snow and it is a rare occasion that the fluffy white stuff stops them in their tracks. When I think back to the snow days I spent at home when I was your age I remember two things; hot cocoa and the fireplace. Bumpa worked regardless of the weather; he had things to check on and he wasn’t going to let a little snow get in his way. That left us home with poor Grandma who was used to spending her mornings in relative peace. She would indulge us on snow days by letting us stay in our jammies until mid-morning. Then we were instructed to put on our winter gear and head outside. I know that my sister and I would haul in wood on those days, as the fireplace was our central form of heat in the main house, but it is but a fleeting memory. What I do remember is rolling down the big hill to the lake and trudging back up again. I remember making snowmen, snow-angels and forts and getting my hat and mittens so caked with snow that you could not make out the original color of the fabric. Grandma would call us back in before we turned to little blocks of ice ourselves. As soon as we stepped inside the heat from the fireplace immediately started to melt the snow. It wasn’t until we felt the warm air on our skin did we realize how cold we had been and just how wet we were.  The feeling of my socks and pant legs wet and sticky after being outside in the elements is still one of the most unpleasant sensations to date. Grandma would instruct us to shed our wet clothes as she made hot cocoa on the stove for us from scratch. My sister and I would head to the living room and sit either on the hearth right next to the fire or curl up close by in a chair with a blanket and the dog. Back then we didn’t have 24/7 cable or satellite and reception was spotty at best during snow storms so we would settle in for the day with a good book. My sister preferred Nancy Drew books while I was drawn to Little House on the Prairie and the Anne of Green Gables series; Grandma read romance novels. Those days seemed so perfect in retrospect. As if somehow for a day time stopped and all rules were suspended. It was as if Mother Nature was making sure we took a mental health day. While I am at work today I hope that you and Daddy break some rules. Have some fun and go play in the snow and when you are utterly exhausted I am sure that Gigi would love to snuggle up with her human on the couch. Ask Daddy to read your new book aloud to you, string some beads, play in some cardboard boxes or create some art. However you choose to spend your time, enjoy your snow day Little One.

A Girl’s Best Friend

gigi lylaDear Lyla,

We are dog people. We appreciate the stealthy mannerisms and general “guardian of the underworld” vibe that cats give off; but we are dog people. Specifically, we are lovers of Boston Terriers. If I had a quarter for every time I heard “hey your dog looks like he was chasing parked cars,” I would be comfortable; if I had a dollar for every time my dogs with the smashed in faces elicited squeals of delight from total strangers we could buy our own island. At your age you have already been owned by several Boston Terriers and by the time you are grown you will most likely be unable to look at any other breed with as much love and trust as you do the black and whites. What you already know is that dogs are fun to play with, they warm cold toes, they try to hog the blankets on the couch, they eat stray crayons and they are considered members of the family. What you will learn is that they become much more important as you grow older. In a few years, after you have gotten over the need to dress your dog up and she has gotten over the trauma, the two of you will become inseparable playmates. Your entrance into a room will inspire eagerness in her rather than an assessment of the fastest escape route. You will look forward to naps because she will be your snuggle buddy; she already loves to nap she is just waiting for you to get with the program. When you hit double digits it will more than likely be time to say goodbye to your beloved Gigi as she is already nine and starting to go white around her eyes and muzzle. You will miss her terribly but be consoled by the fact that Bumpa will have a playmate in heaven and all of her toys will no longer be missing their squeakers. At that time we will both plead with Daddy to let us get another Boston as no home should be without one, he will eventually acquiesce and we will again be owned by a short snouted pup with bat shaped ears and tuxedo like markings. When you are a teen you will tell all of your secrets to your furry confidant, you will shed tears and your best friend will lick your face like mad trying to make it stop. You will be comforted by your dog; she will give you a sense of belonging and purpose. Once you have left home and you embrace the world beyond Waverly you will measure others by their penchant for the canine. You will learn that while you can be friends with someone who doesn’t like dogs, something will always be just a bit off. You will decide that if your significant other cannot abide dogs in the house, you cannot abide your significant other. It is possible that you will make significant decisions in your life based on the ability to be owned by a dog; makes sense to me. We are dog people Little One; it is your destiny to be owned and loved by a dog and it is the one of the best gifts that Daddy and I could ever give to you beyond our own love and affection.

lyla josh and bearDear Lyla,

You are unique, one of a kind; my proudest accomplishment to date. I think you are perfect just the way you are. Many parents share my sentiments with regard to their own children, which is the natural order of things. You are easy to love; you are precocious, cute, lively, witty and have the vocabulary of a college sophomore. The attention that is showered on you by my college students makes you one lucky duck; you are loved Little One. I am grateful every day that I have been called to a profession that allows me to meet so many different families; one that allows me to become a part of my students’ extended family. How fortunate we both are to meet a variety of people, to share in their accomplishment, their joys and sometimes their sorrows. In the fall of 2005 I met a very special family; one that would become an extended part of ours. A beautiful and intelligent young lady came to college in Waverly and joined the speech team; this was before you were born and I traveled every weekend with a bunch of rowdy college kids all over the Midwest. Young Meaghan joined our team and those of us who knew her, and her family, would never be the same again. Megs was unique; energetic, goofy, loud, poised, talented and loyal. We were a close family on the speech team; each with his or her own special niche that contributed to the overall dynamic of our little merry band. When Meaghan first joined the team she was a bit reserved, we didn’t know much about her or her family. As time went on Megs began to feel more comfortable around us, began to trust us I think, and opened up about her family. There was one subject about which Meaghan was very guarded; her little brother Josh. It wasn’t until we first met Josh that we understood her reticence to open up. Josh was born with a disease at birth that altered his growth patterns and limited his intellectual capacity. Walking was hard for him, he was mostly confined to a wheel chair,  and it was difficult at times to understand what Josh was trying to communicate. I am not sure what Meaghan thought our reaction would be to Josh but we thought he was the greatest. Josh had an awesome sense of humor and loved to tease the ladies, especially Tiffany. Josh adored Megs and she adored him right back. Well all loved Josh and he became a fixture at speech tournaments; his dad “Bear” would drive him to tournaments and he would hang out with the team. After Meaghan graduated Bear and Josh still came to tournaments to cheer on our team. Not only did Josh have fans on our team, he was quite the favorite with others as well. You see Little One, Josh was truly one of a kind; his enthusiasm for life was infectious. Although unable to walk unassisted, communicate without translation from those who knew him best or construct higher order thought patterns; Josh was a teacher.  Josh taught those who knew him to focus on the present, to love with abandon and to appreciate those around us for who they are and not what we would wish them to be.  One of the dangers of the disease that Josh lived with is a weakened immune system; today he lost his battle with the body he was born with. While I wish that Josh could still be here with Megs and Bear and my heart aches for the loss they feel tonight; he was perfect just the way he was born. We all have our parts in the play of life Little One and while some acts may be shorter than others they are no less impactful. At bedtime as we say our prayers we will pray that Josh’s family will find peace in the knowledge that tonight he dances with angels.

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