The Keynote

In an educational leadership conference about 12 years ago, the keynote speaker took the podium and began, “You all will not remember my name, and you won’t remember my message years from now.  But you will always remember this:  when I get in the shower, the first thing I do is lather my washcloth, and using my right hand, I start washing myself beginning with my left shoulder.  I work my way down my arm and then wash the other shoulder and arm.  Then I go from there. How many of you also begin on the left shoulder?” 

Almost every hand in the room went up.  He pointed out that those without hands in the air were probably lefties who began with their right shoulder, opposite side of the body.

He was right.  How many times since that conference a dozen years ago have I thought of the showering process?  His message was about the process of doing things. I remember that, too.  But I have forgotten his name.  And, if I must be honest, I have (thankfully) finally forgotten the imagery he created letting loose first thing like that.  I’d made a note to myself:  never, ever, under any circumstances, conjure up the thought of nakedness in any public speaking engagement. 

I think it’s a lot like that “favorite stove top burner” revelation.  It has to do more with our handedness.  Starting with a shoulder has a lot to do with the way we would drizzle a cake with icing – gravity works well when we start at the top and let it seep its way down the sides of the cake, the same way suds making their way down our bodies in the shower give our legs a pre-wash.  It just makes perfect sense that the only place in life where we really start a thing at the bottom is a climb. 

I think organizationally a good bit of the time: that top-to-bottom, left-to-right approach works for me, just like the words on the page of a book. Always has. And I think the speaker knew that most of those in the room were leaders who have systems and processes in place that tend to use sweeping strategies so we don’t leave any dirt on the floor.  Choose a corner spot, begin there, move from one side to the other, and don’t miss any spots of dirt on the floor or words on the page. 

Wordle, too, has a logical process. Begin with the vowels in a word like adieu and keep track of the shading of the letters already used and their green correct positions.

As a testing coordinator, I often administer one-on-one testing, as I will today to begin the process of closing out the school year.  And I will begin at the top of the roster and work my way down, checking off each name as we complete this work.  I will not start at the bottom and work my way up, nor in the middle in a random hit-or-miss fashion.  I will start with the left shoulder, as I have learned works best.

1 Corinthians 14:40 

But all things should be done decently and in order.

Too-Early Ollie

Ollie barks at his brothers

spins, rests rump-risen, 

front legs flat-on-floor,

tail wagging, watching

for one whisker-twitch

,,,,,too early, Ollie

Ollie whimpers, whines to play, 

pesters his people, 

peppers us with ankle-nips

drops his pink ball

at our clean-showered feet

….it’s 5 a.m., Ollie

we throw the ball

down the hall

he runs

looking back like

an NFL receiver

….too early, Ollie

slams into the door

every.single.time

slides sideways

his ice hockey ways

full-force as he plays

helmetless

no mouth-guard

all boy, all heart

Ollie knows no clock

with all twelve 

padless pounds

seeking traction 

on the wood floor

to bring the ball back

for another replay


…..go, Ollie, go!

Zechariah 8:5 

And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.

Campfire Playlist

Our actual handwritten pass-it-back-and-forth campfire playlist game

We were driving along a short stretch of forested Highway 354 on the north side of Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia, where we were camping for the weekend on site 107.   We’d gone to The Corner Store to get a couple of longneck Blue Moons and an orange to enjoy by the campfire after dinner as we searched for stars through the smoky haze of evening. We know this place – we forget something every time we camp here, so we know where to buy essentials like water hoses, beer, aluminum foil, fruit, and matches. 

On a long and lonesome highway, east of Omaha

You can listen to the engine moanin’ out its one-note song

“See, I just never hear any music coming out today that’s really good like this,” my husband preached, shaking his finger at the dashboard screen revealing in large blue letters: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band Turn the Page before looking at me for agreement.

“You’ve got that right,” I confirmed from my AMEN passenger seat of his pickup truck. 

But your thoughts will soon be wandering, the way they always do

“This generation will never know the good stuff.  I know every generation says that.  My parents said that.  But it’s true,” he went on, as we crept campward along the drive.

Earlier in the afternoon, I’d proposed a game – knowing full well he does not like games.  But I thought he might play this one.  

Here I am, on a road again

There I am, on the stage

Here I go, playing star again

There I go, turn the page

I’d turned the page of my journal and explained the rules (there really weren’t any to speak of, but still…). “I’m going to start.  We’ll each add a song for a campfire playlist, and then pass it back and forth until we’re finished. And then I’ll load the songs.”   

He’d agreed to this one, this man of mine who comes home from work and unwinds by pulling up music videos on YouTube to songs of the ‘70s on his iPhone in his recliner, dogs flanking him on both sides and the back of his chair behind his shoulders – listening, too, immersing themselves in this afternoon routine of his. 

And so it went, until we had the playlist completed; we were listening to it on the way to town and back to our peaceful little haven on the backside of nowhere. 

Out there in the spotlight you’re a million miles away

Every ounce of energy you try to give away

Red sockeye salmon grilling, broccoli florets and wild rice simmering, and one single longneck into dinner, we rethought the evening campfire since we’d enjoyed one all morning. We decided instead to call it a day and finish watching another replay of Expedition Happiness on Netflix.  

Here I am, on a road again

There I am, on the stage, yeah

Here I go, playing star again

There I go, there I go

And I realized – – we have become our parents’ generation.  We’ve turned the page.

Morning campfire at FDR Site 107, May 7, 2022

1 Thessalonians 5:21 

But test everything; hold fast what is good.

Special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers space and voice!

Our Current Campfire Playlist (growing):

Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer – Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes

Rock Star – Nickelback

Love Can Build a Bridge – The Judds

Lowdown – Boz Skaggs

Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves – Cher

Smoke from a Distant Fire – Sanford Townsend Band

County Roads – John Denver

Calypso – John Denver

I Love – Tom T. Hall

Silly Love Songs – Paul McCartney & Wings

Could I Have this Dance – Anne Murray

Magnet & Steel – Walter Egan

Welcome Back by John Sebastian

Fooled Around and Fell in Love – Elvin Bishop

Shannon – Henry Gross

Kiss You All Over – Exile

Sooner or Later, Love is Gonna Get Ya – The Grass Roots

I Go Crazy – Paul Davis

Knock Three Times on the Ceiling

Turn the Page – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Joy to the World – Three Dog Night

Life’s Been Good – Joe Walsh

Southern Cross – Crosby, Stills & Nash

Hooked on a Feeling – BJ Thomas

Constant Craving – K.D. Lang

When You Say Nothing At All – Keith Whitley version and Allison Krauss version

Don’t Close Your Eyes- Keith Whitley

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys – Willie & Waylon

He Thinks He’ll Keep Her – Mary Chapin Carpenter

I Love the Way You Love Me – John Michael Montgomery

Into the Night – Benny Mardones

I Hope You Dance – LeeAnn Womack

MOMents


Mom and me, 1968, Port Royal, Kentucky

Is it surprising at all that the first three letters of moments – my monthly theme for May – spell Mom?  Motherhood ~ it presses tresses of hair to lock time, scrapbooks the stories, photographs the milestones, encapsulates moments that become memories.  Mothers teach us that our most valuable resource is neither money nor toys.  It’s time.  Mothers show us how we should spend it with each other, how we share space and emotions and experiences as we carve a life by whittling joys into ropes we can hang onto when life gets tough.  And I must share my humble opinion that not all mothers are the women who brought us into this world; for many, the mother figure may be a man – or more than one person. 

My own mother savored moments.  Her dreams of traveling with my father were short-lived, and she realized this when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  Although she had spent time as a flight attendant and had seen some of the world on her own, it wasn’t the same without Dad there to make memories with her.  That day of riding off into the sunset with the luggage in the trunk, going off to enjoy the world cannot wait until retirement, cannot wait on projects to be complete or all our ducks to be in a row (they rarely, if ever, are).  I learned many things from my mother, most of them just from watching her.  But in those final days leading to her last breath on December 29, 2015, when her energy waned and took her mind along with it the vast majority of the time, she taught me that waiting to do the dreamy things in the living of life? …..isn’t always the best plan. 

We have no guarantees of tomorrow, no guarantees that the retirement days will ever come or that if they do, we will be physically or financially able to go and see the world and do the things we love at a fraction of the energy and income that we have today. To live, we have to seize each moment and make the time to tie some knots in the rope, to carve some joy and memories to hold onto in our final days.

The day for living is today, in each moment.

Moments

Opportunities for

Memory-making

Everyday~

Not saving the dreams in a jar for

Tomorrow – but

Savoring the now ~ while it’s here

At my son’s wedding in Sevierville, Tennessee, May 25, 2013

Proverbs 31:25-30 

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” …

1 Corinthians 15:51-52
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

To Raise a Puppy

Feivel visiting the Johnson Funny Farm, Christmas 2021

My brother lost his dog recently – the dog that really was his child, as it was his only companion for most of the past 14 years. Feivel had been born on his front porch on his 18-acre farmland in rural Georgia. We all grew to love Feivel, but one morning it was clear that it was time to be merciful and let him go when the dog’s cancer had won.

Crossing Guard

to raise a puppy
walk him across Rainbow Bridge ~
love and grief at once

carry him gently

all dogs do go to Heaven

place him in God’s arms

1 Corinthians 16:14

Let all that you do be done in love.

Moments – Baby Birds!

Bluebird eggs, April 2022

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

In 2008, I applied to be part of a scientist-in-the-field study for teachers through a grant study that invited teachers to gather at the Jones Ecological Research Center in Newton, Georgia to engage in scientific research in the areas of aquatics, forestry, wildlife, and plants. This was a life-changing experience for me, helping me to understand the reasons for controlled burns, showing me how trees talk to share the history of drought conditions throughout time, and helping me to develop an even deeper love of environmental science.

Each teacher chose two areas for the week-long study; my first year was spent studying plants and wildlife. I reapplied the following summer and was blessed to be able to attend a second time and complete the studies of forestry and aquatics. From the readings over these summers, I became a fan of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac; it is highlighted, with notes in margins, and each time I reread it, I find another favorite part. When the nation was mesmerized with Where the Crawdads Sing, I smiled at Owens’ first line – it came straight from Leopold.

As a teacher-scientist participant, I received a gift certificate to Forestry Suppliers, and I had not one moment’s hesitation about what to order. Bluebird boxes.

My love of birds was born as a child, when my mother taught me all the different kinds of birds that came to our backyard feeders. She was your typical birdwatcher – she’d don a bucket hat and sit with binoculars, watching for hours on end with a glass of iced tea on the porch and shared her love of birds she’d gotten from her own mother with both my brother and me. So I ordered 20 bluebird houses – some to be placed on school campuses, and a few on the Johnson Funny Farm, where I live in middle Georgia.

Bluebird eggs and hatchlings in 2015

And here is my moment: today, I have baby bluebirds in the same surviving bluebird house that has been in its exact spot for 14 years – as there have been every year since 2009. The house is not in great shape – it is weathered and worn, but it has drawn the bluebirds to it year after year to raise their young.

If you’re wondering what to do to honor Mom on Mother’s Day, give her a bluebird box. If she’s no longer here, put up a bluebird box in her memory to honor the motherhood of bluebirds! And sit back and watch.

Bluebird hatchlings, April 30, 2022

Psalm 84:3 

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

May 5, 2015 baby bluebirds


May 5, 2022 baby bluebirds

May Moments – Mysteries

One of our rescue dogs, a Schnoodle named Boo Radley, was abandoned and left behind when a family moved out of a duplex in a neighboring county; he was left with food and water and was not discovered for over a week. He was matted and shaking when I first saw him within moments of when the landlord brought him to the rescue in the back of a van. I applied for him right then and there and brought home a shaved dog days later – one that still has so many issues, from flying insects to dings on cell phones to humans. I often wonder about the mysterious mosaic that is Boo.

Mysteries

scattered, torn pieces
tattered fragments, betrayal
mysteries unsolved

deep-wounded heart scars

strikes of a cruel master

who could not know love

we reassure you

we cater to your strange quirks

because we love you


Boo Radley, wondering things


Proverbs 12:10 

Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

Bloom!

As flowers open outdoors and the world awakens to the color of spring, here is a ghazal to celebrate the beauty of this day. The photo was taken in Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia the first week of April 2022.

Tulips at Gibbs Gardens

Bloom!

Rocky soil or boggy mire
Summer heat or winter frost, Bloom!

Sprout, reach, bud, grow, vine, creep
Petal, leaf, stretch, tilt, open, Bloom!

Purples, crimsons, yellows, ochres, pinks
Fuschias, oranges, peaches, blues, Bloom!

Wave, bend, sway, nod, shake, wiggle
Swirl, whirl, twirl, swing, jiggle, Bloom!

Lighten, brighten, cheer, uplift, grace
Encourage, embellish, beautify, Bloom!

Freshen, fragrance, scent, balm
Bouquet, perfume, blossom, Bloom!

Song of Solomon 2:13
‘The fig tree has ripened its figs,
And the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance.
Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along!’”

Dinner Spinner

Our ethicalela host in March inspired us to think about writing like a chef thinks about cooking and draw the comparisons. I married a 16-year bachelor after his divorce, three years after mine. The man still prefers to go out to eat meals, despite my best efforts in the kitchen……so here’s my Haiku take today:

Writing: much like lunch
out~ where to go, what to eat?
I need a spinner. 

Is there an app for this?? I need a dinner spinner.

The Warning

My May theme is moments.

In rural towns in the southeastern United States, it’s not uncommon to think twice before approaching a house way out in the country. Neighborhoods are different. People walk past on sidewalks all day in their comings and goings. But the country is another story altogether.

Theft is an increasing problem. Secluded driveways and barns offer privacy for stealing things. Our community discussion page almost daily features the camera footage of as-yet-unidentified people under suspicion of stealing the truck or trailer they are seen rummaging.

When thefts began occurring on our road, we put up cameras and discussed where to put the video surveillance sign. My husband thought it would go best up near the garage, but I thought it would be better to put it down at the foot of the long driveway, next to the No Trespassing sign. There, at least, the burglars would have an opportunity to rethink and turn around before fully committing to the consequences of their crime.

We studied the camera and became proficient at setting off the sirens – – just in case.

Was there any question that when I saw the white van with no company or business markings on it the very next day, pulling up to the driveway and a man entering our garage that my heart skipped a beat?

Really? This soon? We already have a burglar?

So I did what I had practiced and began setting off the alarm immediately, in 30-second increments. I wanted this man to know that everything he was about to take would be caught on camera.

And he did exactly as I’d hoped he would do. He ran out of the garage, looked directly at the camera and made a phone call.

Hmmm, I realized. Calling off his posse after checking the place out.

I started gathering my purse and sweater at work, heading right around the corner to the Sheriff’s Office on the town square to give a good description of the suspect and show them the footage.

And that’s when my phone rang.

It was my husband. Kim! Stop, stop, stop! Don’t set off the siren again. That’s our new pest control technician. Active was bought out by Allgood, and he’s there to spray.

Sheepishly, I simmered down and made my way back to my desk. I pulled up the side cameras, and sure enough – there he was, spraying for bugs all along the base of the house.

I asked my husband to call the technician back and explain – I was looking for a marked van. I’m thankful I wasn’t home. The other thing I really want is for our new bug man to make a PSA-type video testimonial that scrolls on a screen I can install on the tree next to the video surveillance sign, looking a lot like those bandits in Home Alone after Kevin McAllister gets finished with them – tattered clothes, tar-pitched faces, and hair everywhichaway.

“These folks are serious, y’all. You might want to turn around at this sign and not go up near this house if the Johnsons aren’t expecting you. It’s called the Funny Farm for a reason. These folks don’t play.”

2 Thessalonians 3:15 

Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for giving writers space, audience, and encouragement