Sunday, February 28, 2010


I went for a walk outside today after being cooped up so long this winter. Lately, I just dash to my Jeep, and go where I must, hunched over, fighting the biting cold. Today there is a softness to the air that says, "Spring" to me. I walked by the smooth, snowy area which will become Blaine's abundant garden and bales of hay wrapped up in the blazing heat of summer, but which now look like cupcakes slathered with white frosting. I even walked past the junk ditch and grew nostalgic thinking of the discarded dreams resting there; two faded, old trucks which had once been shiny and new, metal lawn chairs that had rested on a front porch, and remnants of a little shed I helped Blaine build from recycled materials. We were so proud of it at the time, but we have fancier, much larger sheds now. I thought about discarded dreams, as well as dreams that came true beyond our imagination as I looked at the snowy pastures surrounding me and the towering pine trees we planted from tiny seedlings. "Embrace the day," they whispered to me. I walked and I thought, and I thought and I walked. Then it occurred to me, 'I should write a blog'....and so here it is.

Friday, February 12, 2010

You Can't Beat That With Roses

Last night I stayed after school for my first Young Author's Club meeting, then tutored a young man for another hour, so I did not get home until 5:30. I smelled the smoky barbecue aroma as I pulled into the garage. As I walked to the house, I was surprised to see my husband sitting in the hot tub. "Are you getting in?" he asked.
"Sure!" was my reply. Grilled pork sirloin chops and vegetables were keeping warm on the wood stove. I dashed out of the house in my swim suit and terry cloth robe, and sank into the 101 degree hot tub with my hubby. Snow flakes drifted down around us.
Today is Valentine's Day. Some teachers received roses. I didn't, but do you think I care? No, I just smiled, and remembered the luxury of coming home to a hot meal, a hot tub, and yes, I'll say it, a hot man. You can't beat that with roses!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Outdoor Leadership Experience

“I’m not much of a risk taker.” This was the quote that my new friend, Craig, recorded me saying in his journal at the Outdoor Leadership Academy I participated in last October. He shared it with me at our recent reunion at Osage Beach. The Outdoor Leadership Experience will always be among the high points in my life. I knew that we would have the opportunity to rock climb, rappel, and hike through the woods for hours. I was just getting over some kind of nasty virus, and felt kind of weak. Numerous worries plagued me. What if I held my group back, because most of them were younger than me? I worried that I would need to use the bathroom, and there would not be a tree wide enough for me to hide behind. On our first night, we met to discuss the next few days. We were encouraged to ask questions. An extremely well-groomed woman from St. Louis asked, “Where are the bathrooms?”

“Behind a tree,” was the answer.

“No, I mean for the ladies,” she drawled.

“Behind a lady tree,” our leader answered.

We discovered we were to be one of the first groups to rock climb and rappel in the morning. We trudged through the rain to our unheated cabins, took showers in a bathroom with cement floors that made our feet dirtier than they were when we went in, and snuggled into sleeping bags and blankets for our first night’s sleep. We awoke early, ate a hearty breakfast, and loaded in the van to go to the rocks. There, a group of young men explained the equipment, procedures…and passed around the paper that we signed to say we would not sue, even in the case of death. I was strapped into a harness to rock climb first. When I was halfway up the rock, my legs began to shake, and I said I wanted to come down. I was encouraged by my teammates and the rock climbing expert to press ahead. “You are almost there,” they yelled up at me. So I gritted my teeth and climbed on. I made it to the top!

Next came the rappelling experience. My stomach flip-flopped as I looked down the ledge. “Lean back as far as you can, put your feet apart and hop,” said the expert, who held the other end of the rope in case I fell. The first hop was the hardest. Especially since I heard that another man on our team, Henry, an ex-Army man, who went all out, had straddled a tree on his way down! My main concern was that I had to rely on myself to hold the rope. I was afraid I was not strong enough to hold my own body strength. Taking a deep breath, I hopped. Hey! Maybe I can do this! I continued hopping down to the ground. “Belay off,” I called. I still do not know what that means, but it is at that point they let the rope go. Woo-hoo! I survived! We spent the afternoon day doing team building challenges, reflecting in our journals, and preparing our required skit for the evening. I volunteered to sing “I Will Survive” with my group members as backup singers. We laughed at the skits, then were moved to tears when members shared their private thoughts on “the stump” in front of the fire.

The next morning we set off for our orienteering experience. Various flags were hidden in the Ozark woods, and we were trained to read a compass and plot the direction of the flags. Our expert outdoorsman “Sparky” also addressed the bathroom issue by demonstrating how to dig a hole by a tree, lean against it, and…well, I will leave the rest to your imagination. (My new-found friend Craig was the designated shovel carrier, and delighted in asking us if we needed the shovel when we tried to head unobtrusively for a tree.) Our mission was to take turns leading our crew through the woods. We piled in a van and were dropped off at the designated area. We were fortunate to have a beautiful, mild fall day for our hike. I came to appreciate my group members. Craig and Dave, true gentlemen who gave us a hand across creeks, Jennifer and Andrea, who thrived on being leaders, Mary, always sweet and encouraging, Kim, my Macon friend who looked out after me, Shantel, our designated “Raccoon Circle” caller when we needed to regroup, Holly, who always had a smile and was quietly confident, Parisa, the down-to-earth principal who collected an armadillo shell in a bag and carried it miles to take back to show her students. We were led by our facilitators Carol and Mel, who repeatedly told us we were the best group they ever had!

We trekked up and down hills, through the woods, across creeks, and through pine trees. We stopped and built a fire to cook a meal, then pushed on to cross the lake before dark. When darkness fell, it was more difficult to go through the woods, but it was my favorite of all the experiences. Sparky told us the best way to navigate was to send someone ahead to go several feet, then turn and shine a flashlight back for the others. Whoever was reading the compass would shout out, “To the left,” or “A little more to the right.” When the scout was in the correct spot, they would come toward the light. David and I volunteered to go ahead in the dark and “blaze the trail.” I loved it. Sparky highly complimented me later when he asked me, “Where did that crazy pioneer woman come from?” I had one moment of uncertainty. I climbed a steep hill, crawling on my hands and knees. When I arrived at the top, I turned off my light for a while to conserve the battery. I quavered, “Sparky, are there mountain lions around here?” No response. My teammates climbed toward me, and we found the spot where we were to eat our evening meal. As my friends and I headed for a private spot in the trees together, Craig generously asked us if we needed the shovel. We politely declined by yelling at him to direct his flashlight in another direction! We made it back to camp, singing loudly in case anyone else dared to sleep, at about 11:30 p.m. We headed to the kitchen to wash our campfire dishes, stumbled back to our cabins for showers and sleep.
When we said goodbye on our last day, I could not help but cry. These people became my friends for life through this experience. I learned to value the strengths of others, as well as my own. I built self-confidence. If I can scale rocks, rappel down them, and trudge through the woods for 12 hours, I can do anything. More importantly, I learned the importance of building strength in others. It is amazing how a few words of honest, heartfelt encouragement can motivate someone to go farther, climb higher, or solve a problem by looking at it in a different way. I know it worked for me. I can only aspire to pass that gift on to others in my life.