Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lesson 17: Almost a Victim

I am reading this book right now.  It gets a big WOW!  It's not a book for everyone and the beginning is very tough unless you are up to date on your Swedish history.  Steig Larsson was a Swedish author who climbed to posthumous fame.  I wrote in the past tense there specifically because he died before his three manuscripts made it through publishing (that would be just my luck).  The book has sold over 21 million copies to date.  When 21 million people had read the book, I felt like I was missing out on the party.  One run down the book aisle at Sam's Club and that baby was mine!

I am a sucker for a well written mystery, and this one keeps you guessing.  As a caution to my readers, there are parts that are quite grotesque.   I passed on the book a couple of times due to readers' comments about "graphic sexual violence against women."  I finally decided to be a big girl and try to read it with the full lights on at night, not just my book lamp.  It has a "Kiss the Girls" feel to it.  Not Freddie Krugger frightening, but scary more so because this #@%! happens.  Women vanish every day in this world and some may suffer similar fates at the hands of sick and twisted individuals. 

If you too, are a chicken but still want to read the book, send me an e-mail and I'll warn you about some rough parts and reword them in such a way that will allow you to sleep at night.  I am the queen of softening the blow.  I'll tell you the pages you can pick back up on without losing the gist of the story.  And if you do read the book you most certainly will think to yourself, "What the heck were these girls thinking?  How dumb can a person be?" 

Guess what?  I was that dumb and lived to tell about it.  This is the scariest story I can tell you during Halloween week.  It happened several years ago, but it is a story worth sharing and serves as reminder for us all to be careful--even in little Mayberry where I live.   My story appears in colored print below.

It was the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend in a year I can't quite pinpoint.  It seems I can't remember certain years anymore, but I can recall dates on my BS/AS time schedule--that is Before Sam and After Sam.  Everything else just blends together.  So it is definitely a BS year, as the girls were small and I was working in North East.  So let's just say it was around 2004. 

We realized that we didn't have school the next day and the girls wanted to stay up late and watch a movie.  I volunteered to drive into Video USA to grab a movie.  I snatched the keys and five bucks out of the cookie jar, stuffed it in the waistband of my gym shorts, threw on a pair of flip flops, and jumped in the van.   I'm not much for purses or cell phones, so I left my bag sit on the kitchen counter. It was dark outside, maybe about 9:00, but not quite pitch black. 

I was zipping up Clark Road, probably a bit too fast, because the kids weren't with me.  I know the road like the back of my hand because I've been driving on it my entire life, as I now reside next door to where I was born.  I can tell right way when something is out of the ordinary, even in the dark.

As I crossed the bridge for 6-Mile Creek,  and was rounding the uphill bend by my old hot spot, The Fireside.  To my left, on the west side of the bridge, I saw something out of the ordinary sitting in the parking lot.  Remember, I was speeding, so I thought I saw a baby in a car seat carrier.  I hit the brakes for a second, but it was hard to control a speeding car up that hill if you are familiar with the area.   I got up to Route 20 and I couldn't get the image out of my head.  I had to go back and see for myself.  I spun the car around and headed back for another look-see. 

I crept back down Clark Road much more slowly this time, aiming my headlights to where I thought I saw the carrier.  For a second, I thought I had imagined it, because the carrier was not in the middle of the parking lot where I thought I saw it.  A second or so later I spotted it.  It was up on a grassy knoll a bit, right along the edge of the creek.  There is a tree lined area at the south end of the parking lot, along about a twenty foot cliff to Six Mile.   I berated myself for going too fast, as I had misjudged where this object was in my mind.  Still, there it was, albeit a bit off from where I had thought, but it definitely looked like some sort of baby carrier with something in it.  I had to go check it out.

Being that I am an imaginative person,  I wondered if someone had actually left a baby there for someone to find--you know, like the little orphan Annie thing.  Maybe a distraught teen who felt she had no other alternatives.  Or, more rationally, I thought that maybe it was a toy that a child left behind mistakenly.  I had two little girls at the time who were insanely attached to their dolls.  I felt bad for the child who left the toy at the restaurant.  I aimed the car's headlights at that spot, but still could not tell if it was a real baby in the carrier or a doll. 

I left the keys in the ignition and kept the car running, opened the driver's side door, and began calling to it, clapping my hands, and honking the horn, but I heard no sounds.  I was so lost in thoughts of "dead baby" that I could barely breathe.  Nothing in the seat moved, and I felt a strong urge to rescue this thing--whatever I happened to find.

I walked around the front of the car and out about 20 feet, into the path of the headlights and bent over the carrier with my heart pounding.  I pulled back the knitted afghan that the thing was wrapped in, and was startled to find an odd looking plastic doll in a black leather biker outfit.  I still remember the matted hair and the smudgy face.  I stood there for a second relieved to find that it was just a doll.  I didn't even have to think twice about scarfing it up and bringing it home to the girls for a "look what Mommy found" surprise.  It was gross.  I stood there chuckling to myself about being such a sucker when I got a very funny feeling--a sensation, rather.  Then a stick snapped.

You've heard the phrase "blood runs cold."  I know now what that means.  It was the only time I felt that kind of fear and it is something I never want to experience again.  It was as if my mind was spinning in a spiral when I realized what I had just done.  I had fallen into a trap.  More than that, I had been lured. That baby carrier was out further along the road in plain sight, then was deliberately moved closer to the tree line.   I was literally paralyzed with fear, a doe frozen in the headlights.

Then I saw the movement along the tree line.  A charcoal gray shirt perhaps.  My fight or flight instincts told me to fly, and I ran like I have never have before.  I don't  remember screaming.  I don't remember breathing.  All I can remember is trying to jump in that car from that awkward angle and throw it in drive with the door still open.  Thankfully the car was running and I think that made the difference for me to this day.  The car slid in the gravel and the nose ended up pointing north, back towards Route 20.   I gunned it and sped onto Clark.  I got to the intersection of Route 20 and drove right through it.  Had there been a car coming, I would have t-boned them at a high rate of speed while not wearing a seat belt.  I only knew I wanted to get as far away from that place as I could, as quickly as I could. 

The thing that happened to me next was very unexpected.  This still seems strange to me when I think back about it, and even stranger to write it, but the next thing I remember is walking into Video USA barefoot.  How or why I kept driving that way, I haven't a clue.  I had lost one of my flip flops, and must have left the other in a car.  I walked blindly to the kids' shelf, grabbed a video without looking at the title, and when I was checking it out I realized that I had peed my pants.  The clerk must have noticed something and I remembered the long haired teen say "Hey, lady--are you OK?"  I guess that is what shock must look like.

When I got in the car, all I wanted to do is get home, but I had to drive back past that spot.  It was then that the gravity of the situation set in.  I was furious at the person who was behind it and mad as hell at myself for falling for it.  I never once thought about heading directly to the police station either.  I now realize I must have been in shock, and that is what people in shock do--an auto pilot just takes over.  Something to block out fear and pain so you can survive. 

I just wanted to go see if that carrier was still there or perhaps catch sight of someone running.  Within three minutes or less, I was back at the same spot, speeding again.  No sign of anyone AND THE BABY CARRIER WAS GONE!  Upon my return home, I spewed the story as quickly as I could to my family and called the State Police.  They said they would send someone out to investigate.  I never got a call back that night. 

Annoyed that I had to call THEM the next day, I was somewhat impatient with the police officer handling the investigation.  I guess its the same with cops as it is with nurses--they've seen and heard it all, so nothing is really that big of a deal.  Besides, there really was no "crime" to report.  The officer told me that upon investigation they had found two things in that area, but no sign of the baby carrier.  One was my flip flop, the other was a rope.   They had taken both into the station.  Given that I live less than a mile from that spot, I was irritated that someone didn't even call to tell me what they found that night.  I locked everything up nice and tight for sure, but had I known that, I'd have put someone on watch with a shot gun, too.  I have a couple of farmer neighbors who would have gladly volunteered for that job.

The policeman dismissed the incident as a juvenile prank.  There was one other report of something similar the week before that on Hannon Road and two in July in Girard.  They were unsure if the cases were connected.  I was surprised when the officer began to turn the tables a bit, which I guess, is what officers are trained to do.  He began having me repeat my story over and over again, almost as if he were trying to confuse me.  He then asked why I didn't return directly home to my husband and why after all of that I would continue on to purchase a video.

Looking back, I can see how that must have looked.  The policeman didn't know me.  And more importantly, I couldn't believe my reaction either.  You think you know what you would do in any given situation.  Me, being slightly opinionated so I am told, always had a plan for everything.  "If this happened to me I would blah, blah, blah..." I would always say.   I learned a harsh lesson there.  Face the fact folks, you just don't know what you'd do until you were in the situation.  Withhold judgment if you can.

Being that I am a teacher, we are constantly reminded about safety.  We have fire drills, bomb drills, and armed intruder drills.  McGruff the Crime Dog still visits and we all know to be on alert for Stranger Danger.  I teach that stuff for cripes sake!   And look what I did. 

Here are some of Eloise's words of wisdom:  women, be wise.  Don't leave home without your cell phone and your purse, even if it is just a quick trip to the store.  Be cautious of your surroundings.  Don't ever think that you are immune from being outsmarted.

Will I ever know if it was some twisted person looking to tie me up and drag me away, or if it was a little jerk that I went on to teach?  Probably not.  I hold on to the hope that it was the same little jerk who stole my birdhouse out of my front yard and all the beer out of my dad's garage refrigerator (but they did leave him one, so the thief must have some heart). 

It did change me forever though.  I am a little more careful now.  I also own a big, black dog, which I decided upon after much careful research.  I found out more people fear black dogs than any other color, which led me to that purchase six years ago.  Funny to think of if you know my Josie given her gentle eyes and docile nature.  But to a stranger passing by my house that sees me or the kids playing in the yard, she's a big, black dog, nonetheless. 

If this story sounds familiar to you, it may have been passed to you several years ago through an e-mail.  Circulating e-mails--the predecessor to blogs.   

I was telling my story in the teachers' room in North East the following Tuesday.  It so happened that the Superintendent was in there at the time and also was female.  She insisted that I go back, type the story into an e-mail, and click "send to district." Every teacher, aide, custodian, bus driver, cafeteria worker, and maintenance man received it and read it.  I heard from people far and wide for a good part of that month.  In fact, one of my teacher friends sent me an e-mail a year and a half later, stating "Look what I found in my in-box!"  There it was again, coming from a friend of hers in Ohio.  What do you know?  I am an urban legend.

I sometimes get those Internet stories too, and I've shared a few on this blog.  You just never are 100% sure if those things are real.  But when it comes time for me to decide the authenticity of a piece, I do what I do with just about everything in my life, pray about it and trust the feeling I get after that.  I can now tell when it's a "no" and when it's a "go."  I guess that is what you get with a little life experience and lots of trust in the Lord.  40 is looking better by the minute.

Be safe,

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lesson 16: Find your lifesong

What is it that makes you tick?  What is it that defines you as a person?  If you have ever given even a moment of thought to these questions you are searching for the lyrics to your lifesong.  The above video is from one of my favorite Christian bands, Casting Crowns.  Undoubtedly you will enjoy the tune, but also soak in the beautiful photography of some remarkable faces and places on this planet. 

My favorite lyrics to this song are:  So may the words I say, and the things I do, make my lifesong sing, bring a smile to you.   Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a lover of music, but it is often in the lyrics that I find an even greater melody.  The just right words, put to music, can be moving and life-changing.  They remind me of my blog and the response that I have gotten in just a few short months from readers of Lessons from the Lamp Post. 

Someone told me recently, "You made me think this weekend."  That is a compliment above all compliments when you are a teacher.  We are all so busy, that often we don't take the time to think,  or at least think about what makes our hearts sing, then make time to actually do it.  I hope by reading this blog, you will find that simplicity, humor, and humility will always be my main themes. 

I encourage all of you to think about what makes your heart sing, then write the words to your lifesong.  Whether it is being kind to someone in need, shooting the breeze over a (warm) beer with a friend, or finding something sparkly then someone fun to share it with; just do it!  Write you lifesong and don't be afraid to sing it to others.  Even if you sing like Natalie---it's never stopped her and look how far she's come!

Thank you for reading my blog and for all of your kind compliments.  May the words I say bring a smile to you. 

PS--I enjoy reading your comments from the few of you who know how to do that.  You may need to sign up for a google account first.  A window should pop up if that is the case.  Just follow the directions for registering with google--it's free.  If you are interested in leaving a comment, just scroll to the bottom of the blog post you want to comment on.  You will see  0 comments, or 1 comment.  Click on the words--not the envelope next to them.  By clicking on the words, this should pop up a little window to leave a message.  Remember that your message will be seen by everyone.  Also remember that Eloise does have the power to control things, so if I don't like what you say, you can be gone in a keystroke.  Ahhhh, the power. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lesson 15: I've only got 100 years to live

I've got 100 years to achieve my ultimate goal.  Live my life, that is.  I will be 40 in March, so that leaves me approximately 60 and a half years to fit in everything I want to do between now and 3-3-2071. 

The above video is a great song I was reminded of this week.  It is called 100 Years by the band Five for Fighting.  Generally, I can't stand writing or interpreting poetry, but I love song lyrics.  If I was a high school teacher, I would let the musically talented kids write their own music and put the tunes to those dreadful poems they make everyone read and analyze.  Now how cool would that be if you told your class of 10th graders they could bring in their guitars, complete with amps, and write a melody to go with a Robert Frost poem?  Poetry would be instantly hip.  Too bad I am not high school certified, or have any musical training.  But I can play Amazing Grace with two hands on the piano in case you haven't read Lesson 13 yet.  And that is all you really need in life.

My favorite lines are the chorus:  15 there's still time for you, Time to buy and time to lose, 15 there's never a wish better than this, When you only got 100 years to live.  And how awesome is that I was ready to write Lesson 15 when I found this song again!  It must be a sign from above.... or just my obsession with numbers since I'm a LOST fan.  When I look back at myself at 15 I remember it being a great experience.  It is fun to think back to that time and remember what it felt like to be of that age.  Being fifteen is a strange mix:  the need to laugh, cry, smile, vomit, hide, squeal, and punch something--all within the same day.  I hang out with high school kids once a week and watch it happen before my eyes.  Spend some time with a fifteen year old and you'll see what I mean.

This also reminds me of a neat story I came across years ago and always saved.  It is about living your life and is titled, "Stones, Pebbles, or Sand--What do you have in the Jar of Your Life?"  The copy I have is a print out from the Internet and I have little information about its origin.  I've read similar stories over the years, but will type this one in verbatim from what I have in front of me.  I've found the little details often change, but the basic message remains the same.  Read below in blue if you haven't heard this one yet.  My comments are in black.  Hey, it's my blog, so I can interject whenever I want.  If you find it annoying, just click the red X on the top right hand corner of your screen.  It is the beauty of the computer window.  I plan on using this story with my Quest students this year, as our theme for the year is LIFE. 

One day an old professor was invited to lecture on the topic of "Efficient Time Management" (guess I missed that lecture)  in front of a group of 15 (see, there's that number again--I have a thing with numbers since I am a LOST fan) executive managers representing the largest, most successful companies in America (betcha one was GE).  The lecture was one in a series of 5 lectures conducted in one day, and the old professor was given one hour to lecture.

Standing in front of this group of elite managers, who were willing to write down every word that would come out of the famous professor's mouth, the professor slowly met eyes with each manager, one by one, and finally said, "We are going to conduct an experiment."

From under the table that stood between the professor and the listeners, the professor pulled out a big glass jar and gently placed it in front of him.  Next, he pulled out from under the table a bag of stones, each the size of a tennis ball, and placed the stones one by one in the jar.  He did so until there was no room to add another stone in the jar.  Lifting his gaze to the managers, the professor asked, "Is the jar full?"  The managers replied, "Yes."

The professor paused for a moment, and replied, "Really?"  (Hint: when a teacher says this, it is usually the first clue that you missed the boat).

Once again, he reached under the table and pulled out a bag full of pebbles.  Carefully, the professor poured the pebbles in and slightly rattled the jar, allowing the pebbles to slip through the larger stones, until they settled at the bottom.  Again, the professor lifted his gaze to his audience and asked, "Is the jar full?"

At this point, the managers began to understand his intentions.  One replied, "Apparently not!" (Must have been Steve Groshek). 

"Correct," replied the old professor, now pulling out a bag of sand from under the table.  Cautiously, the professor poured the sand into the jar.  The sand filled up the spaces between the stones and the pebbles. 

Yet again, the professor asked, "Is the jar full?"  Without hesitation, the entire group of students replied in unison, "No!"

"Correct," replied the professor.  And as was expected by the students, the professor reached for the pitcher of water that was on the table, and poured water in the jar until it was absolutely full.  The professor now lifted his gaze once again and asked, "What great truth can we surmise from this experiment?"

With his thoughts on the lecture topic, one manager quickly replied, "We learn that as full as our schedules may appear, if we only increase our effort, it is always possible to add more meetings and tasks." (Steve is really smart, isn't he?).

"No", replied the professor (guess not).  The great truth we can conclude from this experiment is (now pay attention Steve, this is deep):

If we don't put all the larger stones in the jar first, we will never be able to fit all of them later.

The auditorium fell silent, as every manager processed the significance of the professor's words in their entirety (if they were all men, this should have taken a considerable amount of time)

The old professor continued, "What are the large stones in your life?  Health?  Family?  Friends?  Your goals?  Doing what you love?  Fighting for a Cause (hmm--reminds me of Five for Fighting)?  Taking time for yourself?

What we must remember is that it is most important to include the larger stones in our lives, because if we don't do so, we are likely to miss out on life altogether.  If we give priority to the smaller things in life (pebbles & sand), our lives will be filled up with less important things, leaving little or no time for the things in our lives that are most important to us.  Because of this, never forget to ask yourself, What are the Large Stones in your life?  And once you identify them, be sure to put them first in your "Jar of Life."

With a warm wave of his hand, the professor bid farewell to the managers, and slowly walked out of the room.

Take care of the large stones first--the things that REALLY matter.  Set your priorities.  The rest are just pebbles and sand.  If you put the sand or the pebbles in the jar first, there will be no room left for the stones.

The same goes for your life.  If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for things that are truly most important.

Pay attention to the things that are critical in your life.  Take time to play with your children (and read to them).  Take your partner out to dinner (or at least to the new movie Eloise likes--The Social Network).  Take time to chat with your loved ones (and visit with old friends from when you were 15).  There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, and give a dinner party (who does that, June Cleaver?).

Sometimes the less important things in life can distract us, filling up our time and keeping us away from what really matters.  Eloise encourages you to take a moment (like the moment from the song above) and ask yourself, is your jar of life filled with sand and pebbles or with large stones?  I'm about to dump my jar and reorganize--anyone care to join me?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lesson 14: Dixie Chicks at heart

This story is one for the ages.  I have told it hundreds of times.  In case you missed hearing about our brush with fame during the summer of 2006, it is written in red below. 

I was reminded of the Dixie Chicks concert in Pittsburgh several summers ago, because my sister, my girls, and I are heading out to see Carrie Underwood in Cleveland on November 1st.  Karen is dressing us for the occasion.  I have already been warned--no T-shirts (read blog post 12)---this is a "blingy event."  The last time she dressed us, we reaped the benefits (read below).  Maybe the same will hold true this time.

If this ends up being my last blog, know that I gave up this whole mother-wife-teacher thing and joined the band with Carrie Underwood.  The thought of being a roadie sounds quite nice right now.

The story is a long one, so I broke it into chapters for you.  You may need a couple of nights to read it, or a couple of cups of coffee and some snacks if you like to nibble and sip while at your computer.  It's worth the time investment, though.  Enjoy your story:

Chapter 1:  Misunderstood
It was the summer of 2006.  I was starting to get a handle on my life, and we began to be able to go more places.  During what I like to refer as "the dark years" we really didn't venture out much.  It was just too tough with Natalie.  She was anxious and miserable out of her home environment and basically tortured everyone around her until we brought her back to the nest.  With countless hours of therapy, she began to desensitize a bit, and we began taking short jaunts out of the house to go to the cottage or to visit family. 

Every time we got into the truck to leave the driveway she began throwing one of her classic tantrums.  Behavior Modification 101 teaches you to IGNORE THE BEHAVIOR.  We just kept going about our business and wouldn't change our plans.  She would scream and cry something that sounded like "potato chips" over and over.  Natalie's speech came very slowly, and at that time it wasn't clear.  She still does not have anchor-person diction, but we are used to her and can understand her just fine. 

These hell-raising tantrums literally went on for weeks.  It seemed like we were moving backwards instead of forwards in her progress.  I was frustrated, sad, and the thoughts of taking up smoking to calm my nerves kept toying with me. 

In Behavior Modification 101 you also learn never to give a kid what he or she wants when they are acting inappropriately.  However, there was a time when we finally gave in, spun the truck around, pulled back in the driveway, and ran into the house to get her some potato chips.  I handed her the bag, hoping to shut Natalie up, and she threw the bag at me.  If there was ever a day that I was going to lose it, it was this day.  I was like that cartoon character you see whose face gets red, eyes bulge, steam spouts from the ears, then their head pops off.  That was me.

But this tiny voice from the back seat says, "Mommy, I think I know what Nata-wee is saying."  It was precious little Ellen--just 5 years old at the time.  "Nata-wee isn't saying potato chips.  She's saying Dixie Chicks." 

At that moment, Natalie reached over, placed both hands on Ellen's cheeks, and sobbed Dipsy Chips, Dipsy Chips!  She was looking directly at Ellen with the most passionate look in her eyes that I have ever seen to date.  It was one of the most joyful and miserable moments of my life.  I was relieved that we finally knew what she wanted.  Then I wept for Natalie, thinking of how awful it must be to want something so desperately and not be able to communicate it. 

We went inside, grabbed the Dixie Chicks CD, and popped it in the player.  We were absolutely amazed that she knew every word to every song.  We estimated that she only listened to that CD once, most likely while riding in the truck.  She must have associated a ride in the truck with that music.  Autistic people are very routine and particular.  Any disruption of the slightest sort makes them go completely haywire.  This explained everything.  We drove around for hours listening to that CD, hearing the sound of Natalie's flat, monotone voice belt out those lyrics.  It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. Needless to say, the CD never left the player all that summer.  Out of guilt we promised Natalie that if the Dixie Chicks ever came to the north, we'd be there to see them.

Chapter 2:  Misgivings
For those of you who know me well, I always make good on my promises.  As luck would have it, the Dixie Chicks were just embarking on their new tour Taking The Long Way Around.  They started in July in Detroit and their second tour stop was Pittsburgh.  They chose a northern route as they were making their first comeback since speaking out against the Gulf War and President Bush.  Bush publicly denounced the Dixie Chicks and before you knew it, army tanks were rolling over copies of their Cd's from Baton Rouge to Baghdad.  They lost tons of support from their native Texans and gun toting NRA members, and consequently took some time off for awhile.  The songs on their new album were written in response to that event.  Not Ready to Make Nice was written about President Bush.  I didn't post that one, but it is worth a listen.  You can find it on youtube--it is one of their most artistic videos. 

The tickets were in high demand in the north and were selling quickly.  By the time I snagged us four seats we were in the nosebleed section of the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.  We didn't care.  We were just so happy to be going.

Karen, my fashionista sister, insisted that the girls have the perfect outfits.  She scoured the city for the perfect cowgirl garb, complete with hats and little, pink cowboy boots.  I balked at first and protested that it was not necessary, but my sister guilted me into allowing it.  I had to admit, they sure did look cute.

I was completely nervous about taking Natalie to a concert.  We couldn't leave the house most days, so the realization of what I had just committed to hit me hard.  I didn't know how she would handle the crowd or the noise.  After one night of pacing the floor, wondering if I had made the right decision, I did what I always know to do.  I prayed to God.  I sent Him up this simple prayer--"Lord, have I made the right decision?"  Shortly afterward I felt at peace and was able to sleep, so I knew that it would be OK. 

Chapter 3:  Missus Maines 
We left VERY early the day of the concert.  I wanted to be sure we were there early, before all the cars and the people.  Natalie does much better watching a place slowly fill with people than walking into a huge crowd.  If this statement reminds you of yourself, I always maintain that there is a little autism in all of us.

We were the very first car in the parking lot.  I brought a picnic and we found a nearby tree and settled in to watch the people arrive for the concert.  There were only two other people walking around the parking lot, two women, one with a large camera hanging around her neck. 

The women spotted the girls and started walking towards us.  I thought to myself, "Pittsburgh Press for sure."  But when the woman with the camera spoke--I detected a heavy, southern drawl.  She appeared to be about the age of my mother.  She was with a girl who resembled her, but a younger version, maybe in her 20's or 30's.  Photographer lady said in her twangy voice, "Y'all look so cute I just had to come over and take your picture!" 

While I was posing the girls for the photo, I noticed they were wearing ID tags that appeared to show the cover of the Dixie Chicks album.  My husband kept mouthing to me "They are with the band!" looking like a complete lunatic while he was doing so.  Finally I inquired if they were from the newspaper.  The lady with the dancing eyes and huge camera lens stated, "No child, we're with the band.  I'm Natalie Maines's mother (the lead singer), and this is her sister."  I gushed about how cool it was to meet them, shook their hands, and gave props to her daughter for having the balls to speak her mind.  They took the photograph and went along their merry way.

Now those of you who know me well know that I tend to get overly excited from time to time.  I put about 100 long distance charges on the cell phone calling everyone I knew until I killed the battery.  I still had more game in me, so as each person came into the parking lot, I told them the story, too.  While we were waiting in line, I was telling a rather animated version of the tale to a large group of people, I saw Mrs. Maines and Sister Maines walk through the crowd waiting to enter the arena.  They appeared to be looking for something.

I exclaimed, maybe a touch too loud, "That's her!  That's Natalie Maines's mother!"  No one looked too impressed, especially the big, square-headed, thug standing in front of us.  He obviously got bored of the tale the first six times he heard it and was clearly ready to get away from me. 

Just then, Mrs. Maines spotted me.  She smiled and waived and came rushing over and said, "Oh, there y'all are.  We've been looking for you!  We went backstage and showed Natalie, Marty, and Emily your girls' picture.  They thought they were so cute that they want you to sit up front!"  I flashed big-guy-square-head my most charming smile, then listened to what Mrs. Maines had to say.

Chapter 4:  Misty
Mrs. Maines wrote down our seat numbers which were nearly as high up as Mount Everest.  Honestly, I think they were the second row from the top.  She said someone from the band would be up to see us.  Of course Ellen had to pee and we promised Natalie nachos.  I told Ellen to pee her pants and told Natalie that she could starve, because "This could be big."  Sure enough, the roadie band manager named Mindy came and found us.  She escorted us through the backstage where the band was warming up, into our new seats.  We were seated in the soft, wide seats, with armrests, to the right of the stage about 3 rows up.  

Growing up in a working class family, I had not really had the opportunity to experience the "good seats."  This was always completely fine with me, as I'm a simple girl at heart.  I never felt the expensive seating was worth the money.  After all, you were there to hear the music, right?   They had the big screens, so it really didn't matter how far away you were.  W-R-O-N-G!  I want to be rich.  I want to be able to afford the best seats in the house for every single thing I go to.  And I am just one winning lottery ticket away from that dream.

We were seated with the husbands of the Dixie Chicks and their nannies.  The Dixie Chicks were in their child bearing years and took 7 children under the age of 4 on tour with them.  The children all were wearing these huge ear muff style headphones to protect their tiny eardrums.  I noticed that the nannies who hung out with their husbands were all kind of chubby and not too cute---smart move, Chicks.  The band manager even brought us out autographed photos of the Dixie Chicks right before the concert began. 

The concert lasted for 3 hours.  They played from 9:00-11:00, then came back out for an hour encore.  The place was rocking as everyone missed their Chicks.  The performed with the kind of energy you see from a team who comes fighting back from a losing season.  There was even a couple of George Bush Sucks banners flapping around the place which I found quite humorous.

What got me misty though, was sitting next to Natalie, who was completely oblivious to all that happened that evening.  She just sat and smiled at me, swaying to the music and singing every word to every song.  When the concert was over, Ellen said, "Wow.  I want to go to a concert again."  We just laughed thinking that the next one may not quite measure up to her first.  The night was unforgettable just the same.

Since then the girls have gone to a few more concerts and have loved every one.  We are really looking forward to seeing Carrie Underwood.  I confess, I've grown a fondness for this new type of country music--the more modern style of Carrie, The Dixie Chicks, and Taylor Swift.  Even though we live in Harborcreek, maybe we are just Dixie chicks at heart.  Maybe there is a little bit of southern in all of us, too.  I'll fluff the girls up, get there early, and prance them around the parking lot for a bit.  Hey--if you read blog post, Lesson 7 about the lightning, it really can strike the same place twice.  So, you never know.......

And if the mood so strikes me, and I really am tired of this mother-teacher-wife gig,  I'll ship the girls home with my sister.  I'll even give her the keys to my van--to keep.  If I never write another blog post again, know that I'm just fine.  I'm with the band. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lesson 13: Amazing Grace

Amazing grace.  Two beautiful words that well deserve some recognition on this blog.  I love the words for several reasons.  Read below:

I purchased a piano from a family friend several years ago.  A large and heavy piece of furniture to push around the living room for sure, especially when no one in the family had any musical training.  Ellen, my middle daughter, always expressed interest in playing, but given that she was 3 at the time, we held on the lessons for awhile.  She has since started formal instruction and is entering her fourth year. 

During the time that the piano just sat lonely, as a holder for an eclectic array of framed photos, I began to dabble with the instrument myself.  I thought, "Elaine, you have a brain, can read, and have a sense of rhythm--you can certainly teach yourself how to play this thing."  And I did just that.  I took out several music theory books from the library and purchased a $10 book from Amazon.  In no time I was whizzing through She'll be Comin' Around the Mountain and 3 Blind Mice.  Really though, the only song I really ever wanted to be able to play before I died was Amazing Grace.  It has always been my favorite song. 

The song clip above is my favorite rendition of the tune, performed by Christian artist, Chris Tomlin.  I can listen to it over and over again and never tire of it.  Mr. Wikipedia states that Amazing Grace is the most widely recognized English speaking song in the world.  The clips shown on the video are from the 2006 film of the same title.  I am stealing the words from the movie trailer:  "The true story of the song that inspired the world and the man who changed history."  I've never seen the film, and usually avoid movies where men wear puffy, white shirts and buckle shoes.  However, this may be worth a shot if I can tough my way through those English accents I find annoying.  The story is about the man who became a Christian, then worked to abolish the African slave trade in England in the 1770's.  It also tells the story of John Newton, the writer of the hymn, and his influence at this time. 

The direct quotation of amazing grace appears in John, Chapter 9, verse 25.  The Pharisees were investigating the healing of a blind man.  They called the man to them and were debating as to whether Jesus was a sinner or a prophet.  When the question was asked to the healed blind man, he replied, "One thing I do know.  I was blind but now I see."  Ask yourself today how you would answer that question if it was asked of you.

The words amazing grace saved me once again a few weeks ago.  I was working at the high school and had a very early start (7:15 is early for an elementary teacher).  In my rush to get out of the house in time to make my meetings, I must have forgotten to apply my deodorant.  Two meetings into my day I discovered the dreadful mistake.  I dashed across the hall to the school nurse, who is nothing less than Florence Nightingale herself.  I was rummaging through her closet looking for little deodorant samples they give out to the clueless kids.  Nursie said, "Here, use my new body spray.   It's heavenly."  Two squirts later I stopped dead in my tracks.  The scent was absolutely enchanting.  I loved it immediately.  If you read my T-shirt girl, lesson 12, you'll know that I'm not over the top on fancy clothes, flashy jewelry, or expensive perfumes.  I'm simple at heart and prefer the nice clean smell of soap.  But this scent was really different.  When I inquired about the name of it, the nurse replied, "Amazing Grace." 

6 hours later and in a few clicks of the keyboard, Amazing Grace from Philosophy was on it's way to Firman Road.  When I walk by you and you seem to think I look particularly angelic, it's probably not that--it's the scent that is getting you.

And yes, if you are wondering, I did learn to play Amazing Grace.  Even with two hands.  Sometimes when I play it, I shut my eyes and don't look at the keys.  You know the line, "...was blind, but now I see."  Yes, that line has a way deeper meaning than what I am illustrating here, but I kept thinking in case I ever did lose my eyesight someday, at least I could play this on the piano to pass the time. 

Now, if I could just find those 3 Blind Mice without any tails.  I could play this for them and they may find some inspiration in their miserable existance.  I doubt I'll locate them any time soon though, as I still have old Amtrak who will turns 20 this year.  Don't blame the farmer's wife with the carving knife.  I think he had something to do with their sorry state.