Small Treasures

As I search for a tablecloth to place on the table, I came across the small treasure of a handwoven cloth I sometimes drape at an angle across the kitchen table.  Carefully folded and placed at the bottom of the drawer, this cloth seldom is used for everyday use.  Needing to be carefully laundered so that the vibrant colors of blue, yellow, red, and orange remain as true as they were on the day I bought the cloth, it remains tucked away so that it won’t be ruined.  Don’t we all have items such as these?

Today, I need a touch of vibrancy in the kitchen.  I need something that makes me think of cultures that are not my own. I need something that reminds me of days gone by.  This tablecloth fits that need perfectly, besides, I decide, beautiful cloths are to used, not just tucked away in a drawer.

While the tablecloth is a treasure to me, it holds no true value to anyone else.  If a neighbor were to stop by, or a family member, the visitor might note the cloth and might even wonder why I had selected it for my table covering.  They might even ask where I got it, or maybe not.  They might think I picked it up one day when I was shopping at Pier One, or World Market.  

I doubt they would ever suspect that I bought this tablecloth in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the Spring of 2005, when I traveled to Oaxaca to earn University credit from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  The name of the course was Oaxaca, A Mexican Cultural Experience.  

It seems nearly impossible that it has been thirteen years since I had the amazing experience of traveling to Oaxaca with a wonderful group of teachers from throughout Colorado to learn the wealth of cultural aspects found in Oaxaca.  The class was taught by a Spanish teacher from Colorado Springs whom had spent time in Oaxaca and was familiar with the area and the people.  All of whom took the class were either Spanish teachers or teachers of linguistically diverse students.

As memories of that time came back to me when I spread the tablecloth on my table, soon I found myself revisiting the memories I made by looking at all the photos I took while I was there.  

Photos and mementos.  Those are the small treasures of life.  

I found I even still had the itinerary for the trip!  It is a good thing I have the itinerary  because otherwise, I probably would have already forgotten many of the details of where we went and what we saw.  The first day we were there, we visited the magnificent Montezuma cypress tree known as the El Arbol de Tule , the largest tree in the world.  I didn’t take a photo that captured the size of this tree because I didn’t have a camera that would do it justice.  Instead, I studied parts of the tree and photographed those parts.





We then toured the church nearby called, Santa Maria del Tule, 


Later, we went to an archeological site called Mitla.  When we were near this archeological site, we saw women draping weavings for sale over the fences made of cactus.


Before I went to Oaxaca, a dear friend had told me to make sure I purchased some of the hand woven cloths that I would find.  These cloths draped on a fence were the first I saw.  I did purchase a cloth here, but not the blue one I use as a table cloth.  I purchased that cloth when we did a guided tour of the city of Oaxaca.  In one the parks that we toured, there were many people demonstrating their weaving techniques.  Weaving is a major industry in Oaxaca.

I’ve always loved Mexico, but Oaxaca has a very special part in my heart when I think of Mexico.

This is a photo of Retired English Teacher before she retired!

 Memories flood back of the beautiful colors of the flowers, 


of the beautiful clothing the women wore,



of the colorfully painted buildings where I spent time in the plaza and on the roof top of the casa where we lived for our time in Oaxaca.


I remember the colorful kitchens where the food we ate was prepared, 


by woman grinding the corn used for our tortillas in ancient ways.


The yellows of lemons, the greens of limes added flavor and color to the blue corn tortilla chips that were graciously served to us in a restaurant that offered us a cool respite from the summer sun on the day when I bought this tablecloth.

All of these memories come flooding back to me when I spread this tablecloth across my kitchen table.  

This is not just any ordinary cloth.  It is one of my treasures.  

When I am gone and my children go through my things, will they place any value on this handwoven piece of cloth?  Will one of them think, “I’d like that because I could use it when I have friends over for margaritas and Mexican food.”  

Will they have any idea of the memories this cloth holds for me?  No.  I don’t think they will.  Why would they?  That is just how it is when others look at the small treasures of other people.  They don’t know the meaning that the owner of that small trinket, vase, necklace, ring, piece of cloth, or photograph attached to each sentimental item found throughout the house.  

Photographs, trinkets, pieces of cloth have value because the owner of that item attaches meaning and value to them.  

I treasure this cloth not simply because it is a beautiful colorful cloth.  I treasure it because it reminds me of another time in my life when I traveled to Mexico to be exposed to rich cultural experiences in a place rich with culture.  

I treasure this cloth because it reminds me of a time when I was learning more about how to teach children from  linguistic and cultural backgrounds that were different from mine.  


I had a chance to visit a village school.  As I observed the children participate in opening exercises for the day, I reflected upon how one of those same children would respond to entering my classroom for the first time in the United States.



This tablecloth is just a material item.  On its own merit, it has little value except to add a bit of color to my table. It provides a vibrant background for me to study as I eat my breakfast.


This cloth was handwoven by a woman I never knew whom had incredible skill, great artistic ability, and was able to take colorful yarns and weave them into patterns and symbols that had meaning in her culture.   

Now, that weaving graces the table of  a woman from a completely different culture whom values the cloth as a treasure not just because of its beauty, but it represents honoring the culture and skill of the one whom created this household item.  

I treasure this cloth because it reminds me of one of the classes that I took to earn University credit after I had earned my Master of Arts Degree in Second Language Learning.  This course, Oaxaca, A Mexican Cultural Experience,  taught me so much because I was able to gain new insight into just one the cultures that were represented in my classroom.

I treasure this cloth because it reminds me of the beauty I saw everyday in place I would never have visited if I had not earned an advanced degree and was not in a profession that required me to keep taking courses in my area of study during the years I was teaching.   

I treasure this cloth because it reminds me just how many wonderful experiences I have had the good fortune to have in my life.

Objects found within a home are seldom just objects.  
Usually such objects hold great meaning for the one to whom the object belongs.  

What special treasures do you have in your home that remind you of a special time in your life?



Twenty Years Ago Today ~ A Tale of Teaching and Toxic Exposure

Fifty years of age may seem to be an advanced age to begin teaching.  It seemed reasonable to me when I took on my new teaching career at the half century mark of my life.  Teaching had been a lifelong dream of mine.  I began college right after high school with the goal of becoming an elementary teacher.  I quit college before I achieved my goal.  Soon I was married.  Then, I was a stay-at-home mother to five children.  After a divorce which left me unprepared for the work world, I took a secretarial job and in time began to work on finishing that college degree.   By the age of forty-five, I had nearly raised five children, and I had completed a bachelor of science degree in  business administration.

The dream to teach had not died as I worked as a secretary and as a bookkeeper.  So, at age forty-eight, I finally went to work on getting the education I needed to teach.  By the time my fiftieth birthday rolled around, I had nearly completed my B.A. In English and was doing my student teaching.  I would soon be endorsed to teach secondary Language Arts.  After graduating Summa Cum Laude in May, 1995, the next hurdle I faced was finding a job.

Feeling quite fit and very healthy, I began my first year of teaching in August, 1995.  I’d been hired to teach seventh grade language arts at Risley Middle School in Pueblo, Colorado.  Risley was in a rough neighborhood.  I was advised by veteran teachers not to smile until after Thanksgiving.  Smiling would label me as a softie.  I was also told never to cry in front of those tough kids.  Many of them were already involved in gangs or in gang behavior.

My classroom was a interior room.  It had no windows.  It had been abandoned for a few years as one of those rooms that was only used when there was a larger enrollment.  In other words, it was a typical room for a newbie teacher.  I hadn’t earned the room with a view yet.  It was stripped bare of teaching supplies.  I couldn’t find a paper clip or a piece of chalk in the place.  I set about setting up as my classroom.  Soon school started, and my students arrived.

In November of 1995, the weather had turned cool.  This meant that the heating and cooling system came on in the building.  I immediately began to develop symptoms of sinus congestion, fatigue, ear pain, and headaches.  I attributed the symptoms to exposure to all those new germs that a first year teacher gets to meet.

Over the Winter Break in December, my symptoms all went away.  They reappeared with a vengeance in January when school stared up again.  I had a terrible burning in my nasal passages, a raspy voice, and a dry, irritating, non-productive cough.  My symptoms always improved over the weekend.

I also had flat red rashes wherever skin was exposed: my arms, my face, my neck, my scalp.  At first, I thought it was a reaction to a new skin cream I was using.  I quit the cream, and my symptoms only got worse.  I applied cortisone cream.  The rash stayed.  It never went away until after I was no longer teaching in that building.  My students also seemed to be sick often and were out of school in droves.  They had bronchitis and pneumonia.

Interestingly, I would notice that every Monday morning when I came into the classroom, there would be yellow dust on the desks at the front of the room, the chalkboard, and on my desk and podium.  I would dust it off and wonder how the chalk dust was getting all over the place.  Then, it dawned on me that I didn't use yellow chalk.  The concentration of dust was greatest under a very large heating duct in the ceiling that was located just over where I would stand to teach.  I was becoming suspicious of the vent.

I was continually so fatigued that I could barely function.  I taught my classes each day, did as much planning and grading as I could, and then would leave the classroom about an hour after school because I could not tolerate the respiratory, and neurological symptoms I would feel as the day progressed.  I would go home, make my way to my bed where I would read until my husband or my daughter Julie would return home for the day.  Julie was in college.  She and Jim did all of the grocery shopping.  Julie did a lot of the cooking, or Jim would bring in dinner many nights because I didn’t have the energy to go out.

On February 12, 1996, I smelled a terrible sewer like smell.  I had actually been smelling this odor off and on since late fall of 1995, but on this day, it was worse.  I also thought the odor sometimes smelt like burnt hair.  The odors seemed to be coming from the heating duct at the front of the room.  On this particular day, my classroom was not fit for instruction, so I took my students from the room and went to the library.  When I returned to the room, a sulfur smell that reminded me of rotten eggs permeated the room.  I thought the air also seemed quite moist.  In fact, I noted that a fog like appearance was on the window of my classroom door when I returned to the room.

When I returned to the room, I felt very light in my head.  I thought I would vomit from the smell and began gagging.  I asked to leave work for the rest of the day.  I called my husband to tell him what had happened.  He told me to go directly to the workman compensation doctor and to file an accident report stating that I had become ill from the air quality in my room.  I did as he suggested.  The doctor noted in his notes, “Exposure to noxious fumes.”  He also stated in the report, “Have air quality checked at work.”

The room was investigated by school district safety staff officials.  No problem was identified

On February 15, 1996, three days after my room was declared safe, I was back teaching in the same classroom.   It was the day after Valentine’s Day.  I still remember the beautiful bouquet of a dozen red roses from my husband that greeted me when I returned to my classroom that Thursday morning.  My room was cheerfully decorated with red hearts, and other decorative touches.  A student had given me a paper rose that she had fashioned for me the day before.  It was attached to my podium.  I sat at my desk to prepare for the day.  On my desk was a photo of all five of my children that was framed in cloth and cardboard picture frame that had been a gift from a parent.

I had been in the first class period of the day for about twenty minutes when I became violently ill.  I rushed to the restroom which was located near the nurse’s office, a short distance from my room.  I hesitated to leave my class unattended, but I had no choice.  I had to get to the restroom - fast!  As I ran past the nurse, I told her I was so ill that I had left my classroom unattended.  I had barely made my way into the restroom when the electrical power to the building went down.  I rushed back to the classroom, pulled my students out into the hall where we had air and some light.  We were in the hall for a very long time.  More than an hour.  My students were complaining of being sick, of having headaches, of being intolerant of the light.

As we sat in the hallway, I began to make notes in my DayTimer.  I was already keeping notes on the fluctuations in the heat of the building.  At times, it was intolerably hot.  I had been noting my symptoms at work for several months.  As I sat on that hallway floor, still sick and dizzy, I was recording the day’s event when a man walked by.  He appeared to be a maintenance worker.  I’d never seen him before.  He was dressed in overalls and a work shirt.  He was carrying a beaker like container that had some murky looking liquid in it.  He had a towel-like rag draped over his arm. He said to me as he passed by, “The electrical power should be back on soon.”  I describe the man in my DayTimer, and wrote, “Who is that guy?  Why is he in the building?  What is that awful looking liquid in his beaker?”

When the power went back on, an announcement went over the P.A. saying, “Students we will now go to second period.”  My first class period students departed. I entered my classroom, and soon, my second period students arrived.  I noticed with shock that the dozen red roses on my desk were now all drooping and dying.  They had been beautiful a few hours before.  They had plenty of water.  The paper rose was also wilted looking and no longer standing upright.  The picture frame separated where the frame was glued to the backing.

I picked up my grade book and proceeded to my podium so I could take roll.  I couldn’t read the page.  Not only that, I couldn’t form words.  My tongue felt swollen and I had “cotton mouth.”  I was slurring my speech badly, was confused, and I thought I was going black out.  A student asked with alarm in her voice, “Mrs. Wessely, what is wrong with you?”

I answered with a question, “Are you students ok?  How do you feel?”  This same student answered with, “I have a headache.  I got it when I walked in your room.  My mouth feels funny.  I think I’m going to be sick.”  I responded with, “Do you have a metallic taste in your mouth?  Do you feel like you have cotton in your mouth.”  A resounding “yes” from the students came back to me.

I walked over to the phone on the wall and called the school nurse.  “Come and get me.  I’m going down.  I’m very sick and about to black out.  My students are also sick.”  She was there in just a few minutes.  She led us out of the room and took us to the gymnasium with instructions to “call the health department.”

Most in the school personnel  thought I was crazy, but other teachers were also having significant problems.  The custodian would make a show of telling me the room was just fine and not too hot.  I heard through the grapevine that I was a menopausal hysteric.

On February 15th, just three days after my room had been declared “fine” the health department official came out to the school and entered my classroom.  She promptly got sick.  My room was closed down with a sign that said, “DO NOT ENTER.”  She and I would meet over the next months at the work comp office.  I still remember the union president saying to me in a somewhat mocking voice, “Sally, you have been vindicated.  The health department employee got sick in your classroom.” I never taught in that classroom again.

Another specialist from the health department was called in.  He interviewed me and noted I was confused and slurring my speech.  He asked a fellow teacher friend if I often drank on the job. 
One month later, the entire school was closed down.  We were not allowed to take our textbooks, our grade books, or any other item from our classrooms.  We completed the year in three different locations.  The school was gutted and the heating and cooling system was revamped.  I think it would be conservative to say that millions of dollars in law suits, doctor bills, and reconstruction cost to the school would be spent over years to follow.  I guess I wasn’t crazy after all.

As a teacher in the State of Colorado, I could not sue my employer no matter negligent their actions might have been.  There were lawsuits in this matter where I was a plaintiff and where I was a witness.  Many called me the “whistle blower.”  That title was bestowed upon me when I first went to the work comp doctor.  He told me he wouldn’t go back in the classroom without a canary on his shoulder.

What was I exposed to?  The doctor’s report reads:  

Documented exposures in the building include high level biocide and fungicide
exporters.  These include: Diamet, 2-mercapatobenzothiazole, (2-MBT), both of
which are known sensitizers, as well as polyacrylic acid copolymer, polyethylene
dichloride, and irritants potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, and phosphoric
acid.  The other concern in this building is potential bioaerosol exposures related to
the use of evaporative cooling, and duct board duct work.  


My Medical Records
from the Chemical Exposure

My workman comp medical file is nearly six and one half inches thick.  I have another equally thick file from attorneys.  In the next fifteen years before my file was closed out, I would see nineteen different doctors that were related to the injury in one way or the other.  I went through three workman comp attorneys because they kept retiring.

  A handful of doctors, three to be exact, believed me when I first started linking symptoms with my environment.  They were my first work comp doctor whom I saw on February 12, 1996.  He told me to put a canary on my shoulder when I returned to my classroom.  He was serious.  The other was my internist.  He told me to get out of town to get a good evaluation.  He was right. I insisted and was finally able to be sent to my wonderful doctor at National Jewish Health.  She is still my doctor. 

**********
At the end of the school year, my contract was not renewed by the school district.  My passion to teach was not dampened by my first year of teaching when I suffered a terrible chemical exposure.  I finished the year as a very sick woman, but I was determined to find another teaching job. 

I am proud to note that I never cried.  The kids knew I was tough and that I would stand up for them and look out for their best interests.

The next school year, I was hired to teach English and English as a Second Language at the high school level.  I went on to earn a M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language.  Eight years later, I left the classroom and ended my career by writing curriculum and developing a program where teachers could earn an endorsement in Teaching the Linguistically Different (ESL) at Colorado State University-Pueblo.  I also taught future teachers of ESL and Secondary English at CSU-P.  I learned a lot my first year of teaching.  Mostly, I learned that I love to teach and nothing would stop me from pursuing my chosen career.  

***********

I’ve needed to write this account for a very long time.*  Many of the details of the initial exposure are fresh in my mind.  It took me years to get over the emotional effects of learning I was teaching in a very unsafe environment.  I believe I carry the physical effects of the chemical exposure in my body today.  I’ve never again been healthy like I was twenty years ago.  The doctor’s notes, the legal papers, tell the tale.  If they weren’t in my possession, sometime I wonder if even I would believe this story of my first year of teaching.  

* I wrote about my journey to becoming a teacher here:  Time in the classroom: Becoming a teacher. I promised I would write about my memorable first year of teaching.  I finally did.

Are We Done With This Yet?


Downsizing


We need to downsize.  The task of going through a lifetime of things stored in our basement seems a bit daunting at the moment.  We decided that the only way we can possibly accomplish the task of moving and downsizing is to do it in stages.

Stage One


Sort through professional papers, books, notebooks, teaching materials and memorabilia from the classroom and our professions.  

Most folks don't have to close down two complete offices during a lifetime.  Many just retire and walk away from the job they may have performed for many years.  My husband and I were educators.  We have a lot of teaching materials that we either could not give away when we retired because we weren't sure if we would need it for consulting and such, or we didn't have time to sort through as we went through the process of working right up until the last day on the job.  Hence, we brought it all home with us with the best intentions of going through it all later.  You know how that goes.

Well, later is now.  We must make those hard decisions.  What shall we keep?  What shall we toss?

Thankfully, there are those who understand.  There are those who have been there and done that.  My dear friend Dixie has been a teacher, and she has moved a lot of times.  She has the skill set I needed for the task that I face.  I didn't even have to ask her for help.  She just picked up the phone, called, and said, "I will come and help you pack.  When do you need my help?"  She came for three hours one day, and she came back the next day to finish up with what we had started.  


Dixie holds two books.
Are we done with these yet?
Yes, for sure toss No Child Left Behind!
We are happy to get rid of that for sure.
Some of my best friends are ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers.  We share a special bond.  We love our profession where we were blessed to teach immigrant children who were learning English while they tried to adjust to life and school in a new country.  As Dixie and I were going through endless books, papers, and professional notebooks I had acquired during my career, I found the training notebook I had put together for a professional development course I taught to teachers in the local school district while I was working at the Colorado State University-Pueblo as a program coordinator and professor.  When I opened the notebook to see if I should keep it, there was Dixie's name and phone number on the first page.  I had taken the number down so I could come to visit her at the school where she taught.  She was actually teaching in the same high school and had the same job I had held before I left to go to the University.

Back in January of 2004, I had been hired to write the curriculum and develop the program that would allow teachers and pre-teachers to add an endorsement to teach the Linguistically Diverse (ELL - English Language Learners) Education Endorsement to an existing teacher license.   I left the public classroom at that time.  After I retired, I met Dixie again.  We taught together when I took a semester position to teach reading at an elementary school where Dixie was teaching ESL.  We became fast friends and have remained so ever since.  I recommended she be hired after she retired to help teach the same course I was teaching to foreign students learning English at CSU-Pueblo during the second semester of 2011.

I love Dixie's approach to most things in life.  She is very practical and level-headed.  She is great sounding board for me.  She also is a faithful friend.  She has long time friends all over the country.  Once you are her friend, she is there for you forever.  I don't think I could have accomplished much of this move, been able to survive the death of my daughter, or been able to cope with my health issues without friends such as Dixie.  Thanks, Dixie!

The emotional side of downsizing

I think I could write a book on this topic.  Our basement, the mess that it was, had been culled over and over by my husband and myself over the past seventeen years, and yet it still remained the repository for our lives.  When we married 20 years ago, we combined two families that were well established with a lot a stuff.  We thinned out many possessions then.  The scrapbooks and mementos from the past were relegated to the basement.  The textbook we saved from college were still there.  The books we read in the 60's, 70's, 80's and beyond were there.  We are readers.  We have books.  Our professional books and papers were there.  Our children's games, books, and even many toys were there.  The grandkids played with the Lite Bright, played UNO, played all those other games from the 70's.  There were Fisher Price people and animals, Barbie dolls, and G I Joe toys in the basement.  There coloring books, crayons, legos, small toy trucks, and puzzles.   I'm a mom who has a hard time getting rid of those things.  I got a bit emotional about donating the small children size  table chairs where my children sat to eat and play games when they small.  I almost gave it away, and then rescued it in the end.  

We tried to be objective.  Dixie was most helpful with assisting me in objectivity when it came to professional items.  She guided me to ask the good questions.  "Is this outdated?"  "Will you use this to teach again?"  "Do you plan on doing any more consulting?"  "Are there duplicates?"  "Was this book one you bought for a course you took, or was it for one you taught?"  I was able to get rid of many things based on answering these questions.  We made our piles of things as we sorted:  to storage, to the new house, to donation, to shred, to throw away.  We got it done! 

Some professional files etc.
To some, all of these boxes, files, and notebooks are just a bunch of junk.  To me they are my body of work that represents my professional life.  Many of my files of lessons taught, curriculum developed, and presentations given are saved on thumb drives.  Despite this, I felt the need to keep some hard copies because they give me a more clear picture of what I developed.  I may yet decide to consult again.  I was not ready to throw it all away.

Going through the remnants of my professional life gave me renewed confidence.  I was reminded that I have accomplished a lot.  I was a stay-at-home mom until my divorce in 1982.  I had five children between the ages of five and fifteen.  I had not finished college.  I went back to school and earned my first BS in Business Administration in 1987 while I worked full-time and went to school full-time.  I finished my second degree, a BA in English with an added teaching certificate to teach secondary Language Arts (grades 9 -12) in 1995.  I was 50 years old when I began teaching,  and I finally reached a lifelong goal by doing so.  From there, I earned the long sought for MA in Teaching Linguistically Diverse Education in 2002.  

Cultural responsiveness, assessment, lesson plan guide, second language learning strategies, content instruction to English language learners, L1 and L2, Lau vs. Nichols 1974, and other such terms no longer seem relevant to my everyday life.  I no longer look forward to monthly meetings with my great friends and colleagues at the Colorado Department of Education - English Language Acquisition Unit where other colleagues from universities around the state and I met while we worked on projects funded by a Teacher Quality Enhancement Grant we had received.  In fact,  the ELAU no longer exits in the same form.  I remember meetings at BOCES and the CDE Talking Book Library.  After fondly going through my meeting notes, I  finally throw out all the agendas and notes from those days.  

I look at Socratic Seminar Grading Criteria forms I created while teaching World Literature at the high school level.  I ponder the EQ's (essential questions) for lessons on Beowulf, The Inferno, Oedipus, the King, and other pieces of literature we studied.  I read the list of Habits of Mind to use while responding to literature:  give evidence, state connections to other topics, state the significance of what you are arguing, etc.  I look at the handout for a unit a work by Shakespeare where students were to write a personal commentary on one of three topics:  Power relationships, Courtship/dating, Sisters.  Most of all of these final bits of teaching materials that remained after other times of getting rid of things, I finally tossed, but I remembered those days of teaching with such fondness and a bit of longing.

Books

I take with me fewer concrete reminders of my teaching days.  We have lightened our load considerably when it comes to books.  Some books, mostly or personal reading books,  were like dear friends that I had to send away.  This quote says it best:


Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot



Despite these feeling and emotions surrounding our beloved books, we just could not move them all.  It is too expensive, we can't carry the loads up and down the stairs, and we have no place to put them in our new place.  So, we donated many to a local bookstore that takes donated books, re-sells them, and the proceeds go to the local library.  We donated 35 boxes of books filled with about 20 books to each box.  That means we got rid of over 700 books.  That was just with this latest book culling project.  About five or six months ago, we probably go rid of at least 300 more.  Believe me, we kept plenty.  We still have our most beloved books to take with us.  Plus, I have many, many of Julie's books.  She had great books!  I treasure her reading choices and selections.  Those books are not going anywhere except with me in my lifetime.

Stage One Completed!

Stage Two 

Move the things we have left from the basement to a storage unit.

Yesterday, after receiving much help from wonderful friends and family members, we finished stages one and two of our move.  The basement is nearly empty.  The box after box of canning jars are gone.  Childhood toys, games, and books are mostly gone.  Jim and I made the run to Colorado Springs with the U-Haul truck last night and loaded a much lighter load than we thought it would be into the storage unit.  We promise ourselves that this is a temporary fix for stuff we will revisit once we are completely moved.  

We are tired, yet we are also most relieved to have this part of our move done.  Now, we await the final closing and hope it all comes off according to plan.  Then, the professional movers will come in and pack up the house and we will make the move to a new home and in a new town.  I will be going home, but for Jim this is a very big change.  He is very excited, and so I am I.  I am finally over a lot of the nostalgia and sadness over leaving this home.  I am ready to move on.  We are tired.  We are stressed!!!  We are happy.

State Two Completed!

Wrapping Up A Successful Semester

I've been back to retirement mode for about two weeks now.  Retirement has a way of luring one into thinking that there is always tomorrow that can be used for all the things that don't get done today.  With that being said, perhaps you will understand why I am just now posting some of the final activities that I had with my students from the international program at our local University.The semester literally seemed to fly by.  Here are some highlights for our time together since Spring Break:

  • We said good-bye to my dear friend Dixie who substituted for the regular instructor for Level Two students with a party and a presentation of the life maps we made in class.
Colorful Life Maps

Dixie surrounded by her students
  • We never pass up an opportunity for a photo op

Some of the girls

A couple of the guys
  • I gave an end of the semester brunch at my house
Our faithful volunteer tutors
Walter and Alda


We are so grateful for this couple who graciously have given so much time to the program for years.  We really appreciate them, their help, and their great personalities.


A fine young man 
Part of the joy of working in the program is getting to know youth from many countries.  I keenly feel a great responsibility toward these students whose parents give them the opportunity to study in another country when they are so young.  This student proved himself to be worthy of that trust by working very hard and making incredible progress.

Another fine student
I can't imagine what it must have been like for our Japanese student when he learned of the earthquake in his country this semester.  He was the picture of great perseverance as he continued to work hard while knowing that his country was in a time of great distress.  It was rewarding to see how the class came together with concern and support during the time of crisis in Japan.

Eating together



The light is not great in these photos, but you get to see the great time of friendship that we all enjoyed.


My guests brought flowers and other gifts
to grace the table
 I love the faces on these beautiful cats that were graciously given as a gift to the hostess.  Thank you so much for the gifts that you brought!
Two darling cats

  • We gathered one last time as a class the day before the final.  Everyone was nervous about taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) the next day.  We all were also very sad as some of us tearfully said good-bye to each other.  Those of us there, gathered for one last photo together.  Sadly, one important class member was not there that day.
My students and I
Spring Semester 2011
I don't know that I will ever be able to properly express how much I have appreciated the students I worked with this past semester.  They, all five of them, were some of the finest people I have ever met.  Working with them helped me to heal from the greatest loss of my life.  Two of the students were born the same year as my daughter.  For some reason, I found this especially healing to see them progress in the life goals they have set for themselves.  



Someone gave me this card a number of years ago.  I have kept it on my desk all these years.  Someone else gave me memento that says, "A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart."  At the center of teaching is heart.  As a teacher, I have learned it is the teacher's heart that is most moved, most touched, and most enlarged.  I have always loved being a teacher.  It is a profession that have given more than I have ever given it.  This year teaching truly helped to heal my broken heart.  


Some of our wonderful international students
Students gather in the International Office
to celebrate graduation

I've taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to high school students, middle school students, and elementary students.  Each group brings its own special joys and challenges.  Now, I am hooked on teaching college age international students.  It is special to go to the office and see so many nationalities speaking so many languages everyday.  The experience has broadened my heart, my world, and my circle of friends.  





Life With A Retired Principal On The Day Before School Begins

Treasured Memories of Autumn Days as An Educator


Stepping out on the back porch yesterday morning, I felt autumn in the air.  As always, the sense of fall approaching has been met by me with both nostalgia and ambivalence.  Autumn is my favorite time of year.  The colors, the smells, and the events of autumn always fill me with anticipation and excitement concerning what the new year will bring.  I have lived the school calendar schedule for most of my adult life.  I am now very programed to respond to autumn with plans for the upcoming year.


This mindset becomes a bit of a problem when one retires and is no longer going off to school at the end of August.  So, how are the Wessely's handling the end of summer and the beginning of the school year?  Well, last night, I watched my husband get down to business and get ready for the really big, important events of any school year:  he downloaded the football game schedule for the upcoming season from his former high school's website onto his electronic calendar.  Phew, now we at least know for sure when the team will be playing.  We haven't given up that tradition.  We will be at Dutch Clark Stadium wearing the black and white and sitting in row 17 whenever the black and white are playing a home game,  just like we always have since 1997 when Jim first became principal of South High School.  The only thing that has changed over the last few years is that my dear husband no longer is "on duty" during the game.  That doesn't mean he sits at my side through the entire game.  He still has to go through the crowd "meeting and greeting" just as he always has.


School starts tomorrow for the teachers.  Jim is going to the opening of the school year luncheon at his old school.  He is going as a representative of the alumni board this year.  He jokingly told the principal, his former AP, that if it weren't for his hair cut, he would attend the faculty meeting in the morning since he misses those so much.  It turns out that principals don't like faculty meetings any better than teachers do.

Today, the day before teachers go back to school, would have been a stressful day for my husband when he was working.  There would be so much to do.  He would no doubt be working very late.  Instead, because he is now retired, he mowed the lawn today.  That is a new activity at our house.  For all the years that he was principal, we hired our lawn mowing duties out.  He even used his new, handy-dandy lawn edger to trim around all the edges of the yard and flower beds.

I had to smile when I heard the garbage truck pull up around noon.  I knew that Jim would be right out there on the curb ready to help the garbage collectors lift and empty our garbage cans.  That is another retirement activity that he always does when he is home on garbage day.  Today, he seemed to take a bit longer on helping the garbage collectors.  When he finally came in the house, I asked what had taken so long.  I half expected that he was inviting the guys in for lunch.  He said he had been visiting with our mail carrier.  Yes, we've developed quite a relationship with her also since we've retired.

My husband keeps quite involved with his former assistant principals.  Every high school principal in this town, where we have four high schools, served as an AP with my husband.  One of the middle school principals is also a former AP.  They call him with funny stories, or to bounce ideas off of him, quite often.  He goes to lunch with them.  He stops by to visit them at school.  He is happily removed from his daily duties, but he also is able to to stay involved in his friendships that have developed from his years of mentoring new leadership while working side by side with those who are now serving high school principalships.

Many wondered how my husband would ever retire.  He worked for 42 years in education.  He was a high school principal for over a decade.  He worked 10 hours a day as a minimum.  It seemed he went to every game, concert, or play that took place during a school year.  One of his former AP's, who is now a principal, recently asked, "Boss, when did you ever sleep?"  His response, "Didn't you ever see the cot in my office?" I used to ask why he didn't just get a cot for his office.  There were times when I picked up dinner, brought it to him between meetings and night activities, and we ate together at the small conference table in that second home of his.

Moving Day - Last Day in Office at SHS

Do you think he parked his car on the street for so many years that they named it after him when he retired?

An amazing thing happened when he retired.  He actually did retire.  He loves retirement.  He loves not having the pressures.  He happily mows the lawn and chit chats with the garbage collectors.  He has been just as successful at retirement as he was at working.  Maybe that is because he could look back on a career filled with many good things and say, "I worked hard and loved my profession.  I have no regrets.  I accomplished more than I set out to do.  I've earned my rest and relaxation.  Now, I'm going to hang it all up, say good-bye, and enjoy the days I have left."  I'm at his side trying to learn from him about being successful with this stage of my life, just as I tried to learn how to be a good educator from him when I was still working.

Many good times were spent wearing this jacket with pride.

Here's to another year of retirement and to another year of not starting out a new school year.