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December 2016 entries

"Make it Count" -- Life Lessons from "Titanic"

Yep.  I did the total girl thing last night when Gene and I were trying to figure out something to watch on Netflix.  "Oh my gosh!  Titanic!  I haven't seen that in ages!"

And here's the thing -- I know how it ends, yet I picked it anyway.  Fast forward 2 hours, and I'm bawling like a baby as the icy water envelopes the ship and its unsuspecting passengers. 

But, me being me, I can't help but pause and consider that again:  I knew how it ended, but I chose it anyway.  Why?  Honestly, because when I think of Titanic, I think of the beautiful story of a young, intelligent, free-willed woman escaping the social pressure of marrying the wrong man.  I think of the young, handsome artist who is finally seen by someone -- I mean, truly seen and acknowledged as a human being -- for the first time in his life.  I think of the beauty and potential in their love story, even if it is cut tragically short by fate.  

Last night, however, I was struck by something new -- I related to different characters this time.  Ok, ok, I know that sounds like an English teacher, but hey, that's what I am . . .so just go with me for a minute.  When I was young, I related to Rose and Jack, especially young red-headed Rose.  That makes sense: she's the protagonist, we are supposed to relate to her.  But, this time, I felt more connected to old Rose.  (Yes, I am aware that 36 isn't near 100, but still . . . )

I loved everything about her.   The way she packed an entire bedroom so she wouldn't be without her cherished possessions when she traveled ("I can't be without my pictures.".  The confident way she stopped the scientist when he was doing more talking than listening ("Do you want to hear this story or not, young man?".  The knowing way she told the other scientist that his digital depiction of the shipwreck didn't quite do it justice ("I can assure you, the experience was quite different").  The way she unflinchingly looked at a drawing of herself naked and simply said, "Wasn't I a dish?"  Even the sneaky way she slipped the Heart of the Ocean back into the sea in the middle of the night.  

When I was younger, I would forget about the older Rose, because I was so enthralled by the story of younger Rose.  But, last night, it seemed like the wisdom of the older Rose (and dare I say the wisdom of the older Denise?) was present throughout.  

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Jack slips the note to Rose that says, "Make it count.  Meet me at the clock."  And she does.  She meets him.  She makes it count.  Not only that one night, but the rest of her life as she promised him she would.  Even though she never spoke of Jack, even to her future husband (because "a woman's heart holds many secrets" -- ah!  so true, Rose, so true!), she still made it count.  Every last minute of her 100+ years.

On this eve of the new year, I can't help but look back over 2016 with wonder.  When I stop and truly think about the past year, I can't believe it is all real.  Did I really have the courage to leave a toxic situation and create my own life for me and my kids?  Did I really buy a house?  Did I really create and restore meaningful relationships with my friends and family?  Did I really fall in love with a man who has redefined everything I ever thought about relationships and love?  Did I really make it count?

Why, yes. Yes, I did.  

And of course I didn't do it alone.  My parents, my family, my friends, my children -- they are my reason and my support, and I haven't done a single thing without their love.  

In addition to this blog, I keep volumes of journals.  The non-publishable stuff, the poetry I pretend to write, the feelings I have to vent.  Two days ago, I read a few entries from last year, and I hardly recognized the woman who wrote them.  She was afraid, she was trying to please everyone else.  She wasn't making anything count.  She was making do, she was making it "work," or so she thought.  She was wrong, of course, but she had to figure that out on her own.  

I don't mean to suggest that my path has been heroically smooth.  Hell no.  It's been messy and heartbreaking and nerve-wracking.  And worth every blessed second.  

So, Dear Reader, I encourage you to make 2017 count.  Meet yourself at the clock tonight and see what is waiting for you.  Because if you don't make it count, when you reach the end of this journey -- when YOU are the old Rose -- you will be met by Regret.  I don't know about you, but I want to have the wisdom and confidence to take the superficial riches and false accomplishments that men seek and toss them into the ocean and never look back. 

Happy New Year! 


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I have truly had one of the best Christmases in my adult life this year.  In the past -- without getting into much detail -- Christmas was such a stressful time.  There always seemed to be so much pressure and demands placed on me, and what should have been a fun, relaxing time to celebrate the birth of Christ and the love of family and friends quickly became a source of frustration.  I don't mean to suggest that I never had any fun at Christmas ever, but as I have alluded to before, behind every happy blog post about how great and wonderful everything was . . . the reality was much different. 

"It is always necessary to know when a stage of one's life has ended.  If you stubbornly cling to it after the need has passed, you will lose the joy and meaning of the rest." -- Paulo Coehlo "The Fifth Mountain" 

Now that I have moved beyond that stage of my life,  I am keenly aware of the joy and meaning of the rest.  I can honestly, openly say I had a wonderful Christmas and mean it!  The kids and I went to midnight mass (complete with Liam warning the priest as we entered, "I am just going to fall asleep."  He did.)

We spent the day with all of our kids, and my parents came to visit as well.  It's also my dad's birthday, so we had a cake for him.  Ellie, my mini chef, helped me plan and cook the entire meal, and it was delicious!  We had a spiral ham, garlic parmesan potatoes, creamed corn, green beans with bacon and garlic, and rolls.  The weather was amazing, and the boys were able to log a few miles on the new bikes Santa brought them. 

[Santa Update:  Aidan says he's still not 100% sure what he believes about Santa, but he is working on a theory that Santa only comes to houses where people truly believe in Santa.  He also knows that there is NO WAY I could have snuck bikes under the tree all by myself while the kids were sleeping.  I agreed!]


The kids woke me up at 4:30 AM to start presents.  (Apparently, this won't get any better since Kody, Gene's 19-year-old son woke up at 3 AM!)

We discovered that Santa had eaten the cookies and he left a note for the kids:





After his kids opened their presents, Gene came over to what we've been calling the "town house" (as opposed to his "country home" which is really only about 2 miles out of town).  He and the kids spoiled me with a beautiful coat and snow boots and sweater wraps to keep me warm in my classroom.  

Gene later told me that he had fun teaching the kids about gift buying -- they were confused as to what to get me because I rarely buy things for myself.  Gene explained that the point of a gift is to get something the person wouldn't buy themselves.  

And, Gene went on to surprise me with another gift.  Remember those Garth Brooks tickets?  Yeah, I thought that was my Christmas present, and I was more than happy with the thought of going away for a weekend with Gene and two of our friends to see one of my favorite artists.  Gene had other ideas . . . 


He gave me this gorgeous promise ring, with a beautiful note, promising to love and care for me for the rest of our lives.  When I opened it, he said to the kids, "This is a promise to love you all, too."  They hugged him and told him they loved him, too.  

We spent the rest of the day surrounded by people we love! 




"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family." -- Mother Teresa 


One of the Family

In the six months that I have been dating Gene, I have been abundantly welcomed by his family.  His sisters constantly tell me that they have never seen Gene this happy, and that they are glad that we found each other.  My children and I have been considered part of the family at two different holiday parties in the past week.  Gene's family is tight-knit and loving, and I am blessed to have them in my life!

And of course, no family parties would be the same without me taking silly selfies, right?








A Serious Talk about the Magic in This World

I knew this day was coming, but knowing that didn't make it any easier.  

Aidan came home from his dad's today and asked if he could talk to me "in private, so no one else can hear."

I had a sneaking suspicion what our topic of conversation might be.  This is the first Christmas since the divorce, and there were a lot of questions about how Santa would know where to find the kids.  The plan this year is for the kids to be with me on Christmas morning, so their dad came up with the idea that he would send Santa an email, requesting some early presents so that they could open gifts at his house, too.  Gabrielle informed me, "Santa is busy this week, but he said he could send some elves with presents to Dad's."  Perfect!

I closed the door to my bedroom, and asked Aidan, "What's up?"

"I don't think Santa is real."

I simply asked him why he thought that, and he said, "There have been a few things.  Like all the gifts at Dad's had tags on them that looked like Dad's handwriting.  And when Dad sent me up to get something out of his room a couple of weeks ago, I saw the presents Liam opened that were supposedly from Santa.  Even some of my friends at school have said that their parents told them that there is no Santa."

At this point, my mind was flooded with responses:  1.  I am glad I have my students at school write out the gift tags for me.  2.'s called HIDE the PRESENTS, and 3.  What were those parents thinking?  

I once asked a friend whose children are a little older than mine how she handled Santa, and she told me that the words "There is no Santa" never came out of her mouth.  Ever.  Instead, as her children got older, she simply told them that there is a lot of magic in this world and there are many ways to be part of it.  I loved that concept, and I have had it in my back pocket for just a time as this. 

"Mom, what do you think?  Do you believe in Santa?"

"Yes, I do, Aidan.  I believe that there are many things in this world that we can't explain.  Miracles.  Magic.  Faith.  Love.  And I also believe that there is a lot more to the spirit of Christmas than presents. There are many ways to become part of the magic of this world."

Aidan hugged me.  "I love you, Mom.  I am not sure what I believe about Santa, but I won't spoil it for Ellie or Liam.  I would never do that.  And I think you are right about the magic."

So, this may be the last year for Aidan, who turns 12 in two months.  While I know that becoming part of the magic will be another beautiful step in Aidan's journey, I can't help but feel hopelessly sad at the passage of time and fleeting innocence of youth.


I Choose Joy

Gabrielle has wanted an Elf on the Shelf for the longest time, and we've never had one.  I am not entirely sure why not -- maybe just the hectic schedule of the holidays prevented me from wanting to add one more thing to the "to do" list, or maybe since I never had one as a kid, it just wasn't on my radar.  But, this year, I decided, why not?  It could be fun.  I ordered a girl elf from Amazon and the squeals from the kids when we opened the box made it totally worth it.  We decided that her name is "Joy," because of a gift tag that "happened" to be nearby at the time, and I have come to believe that that name was no accident.  Joy's nightly antics have ranged from writing on the sink in toothpaste ("Be Good!") to hanging upside down from a plant hook in the ceiling.  


Each morning, the kids rush around the house, looking for Joy.  Isn't that great?  I mean, isn't that the way we should all wake up --  seeking Joy where she may be found? 

I have found myself thinking, "I choose to be happy" throughout the course of this school year: when I feel overwhelmed by grading, when students act in less-than-desirable ways, when people in my personal life act in less-than-desirable ways.  I repeat to myself, "I choose to be happy."  But, the word "happy" didn't really quite fit my DIY mantra. 

I didn't mean "happy" in the sense that I have not a care in the world, or that I am somehow blissfully ignorant of circumstances. So, when Joy entered our lives this month, I finally found the right word to capture that I meant to say.  "Joy" means, to me, that despite circumstances, I am thankful and filled with a content peace.  

Does this mean my life is suddenly perfect?  Not a chance!  I still dropped an entire cake that I bought for Ellie's birthday, spilling it all over my van, making a mess.  And I laughed.  What else is there to do, but to laugh?  I mean, after I said a few choice words, of course!  But, instead of staying in the storm cloud, I chose Joy.  I chose to be thankful that I had enough time and money to go get another cake before dinner.  I chose to laugh at the comedy of life. 

Certainly, I have larger challenges than spilled cake in my life.  One scenario comes to mind but I won't share details for the sake of privacy.  Let's put it this way: someone who is obsessed with power and control wants to continue to control something that is no longer under their control.  I think this person believes that they are making life difficult for me.  They aren't.  Why?  Because I choose Joy.  Even if it is years before a resolution comes to that situation, I will still choose Joy.  

Choosing Joy doesn't mean I condone a selfish person's self-serving behavior.  Choosing Joy means I won't accept responsibility for it.  Choosing Joy means I refuse to be poisoned by toxic people.  And it feels amazing.  When you choose Joy, you also choose peace, serenity, and love.  

Feel free to adopt my mantra or my Elf.  Either way, you really oughtta Choose Joy! 



The title of this blog is basically the gibberish that came out of my mouth when Gene handed me an early Christmas card that said WE ARE GOING TO SEE GARTH BROOKS NEXT MONTH!!!! He also handed me a boxed set of Garth's entire collection of albums, which I promptly began loading onto my computer and then onto my phone.  

I.  Can't.  Wait.

I.  Am.  Going.  To.  Cry. 

Like.  A.  Baby.  

Cincinnati, here we come! 


What a Great Kid!

I have the bonus of teaching in the same school district that my children and I live in.  Some days, I am not sure THEY think it's a bonus, but for the most part, we really like it.  Not only do our schedule line up beautifully, but I also get to hear stories about my children from various sources.  The other day, a senior I once had in English class told me that she travels to the elementary school for observation for psychology class, and she gets to work with Gabrielle on occasion.  That morning, the student watched Ellie play a card game with another student.  The other student started to lose and became upset.  Ellie felt bad and offered some of her cards to the student, telling him, "This way, we can both win."

[Heart melt!]

Last night was her fourth grade chorus concert, and she shone like a light on stage.  While I can't believe she is heading to the middle school next year, I couldn't be more proud of the young woman she is becoming!  


May Your Days Be Merry and Bright . . .

This past week, MAHS presented the last musical to be produced on our current stage!  Not many schools attempt winter musicals, and believe me, I understand why!  Since many of our students are in chorus and band, the fall is a very busy time for them all.  The marching band, in addition to the usual Friday night games, even went to Disney over Thanksgiving.  I truly cannot believe that we managed to pull off a Christmas show, and the kids did so much more than just "pull off" this show.  It was absolutely spectacular!  I could not be more proud of their hard work and dedication!


"White Christmas" is the kind of show that inspires nostalgia in many people -- from the folks who remember the movie to the folks who remember the time period in which the show takes place.  The music is fantastic -- "Blue Skies," "I Love a Piano," "Happy Holidays," "White Christmas," "Sisters," "Love and the Weather" -- ah!  I honestly love every song!  Our choreographers are superb, and they really challenged our kids with tap and other dance routines.   The audience jumped up and cheered before the show was even over -- the curtain opened after a chorus of "White Christmas," revealing the cast in gorgeous red costumes, as snow fell on the stage.  


I've been directing plays for 9 years now, and I started to do musicals 5 years ago.  I have been very pleased with the way the program at our school has grown so that the students are able to take leadership and ownership of the show.  By the time we open, the entire show is run by students -- from the lights and sounds to the stage crew behind the scenes.  I am a headset away, should they need me, but most of the time, the kids figure out solutions to problems, all while encouraging each other and helping each other out.  I am always preaching to the kids, especially during our tech week, to "be nicer than you want to be," and to "make each other look good."

The second rule, "Make each other look good," is a rule of improv theatre.  It's pretty simple.  If I'm in a scene with someone and I am thinking about how I can make him look good, and he is thinking about how he can make me look good, the result is that we both make each other look good.  The same applies to scripted work.  One night in rehearsal, a character was supposed to have a hat in her hand, (because her scene partner's line is "Where did you get that funny hat?") and she didn't have the time to grab the hat.  The scene partner came out and delivered the line as written.  The result?  Everyone knew she was missing the hat.  The solution?  To adapt the line so that it's not obvious that your partner forgot/didn't get to her prop.  Bang!  Everyone looks good.  

I apply this rule to off-stage members of the team as well.  The sound crew makes the actors look good.  The actors make the light crew look good.  The stage crew makes the actors and each other look good.  And, before you know it, everyone looks amazing!

Kaylea, who has been part of the stage crew for two years now, trained to be a stage manager for this show, and I could not be more proud of her! Every day, she grows more confident and assertive.  For far too long, she tried to make herself invisible to escape criticism, and now that she feels accepted for who she is, she is just blossoming.  


I love the vibrantly enthusiastic atmosphere that surrounded the musical this year.  My friend Marisa was my music director, and I had an assistant director from a local college to help me tackle this very large project.  Gene was my set builder, and this was the first time we worked together as a couple, and I loved it.  I had always gotten along well with Gene in the past 5 years that he has been working on shows, but I never really spent that much time with him.  I would unlock the stage doors for him to work and then go home.  We would collaborate on ideas, but this year, we managed to juggle the show and our families and relationship -- and it was a blast!  This was the least stressful tech week I have ever been through, largely because of Gene's support and encouragement.  


Switching the musical to the winter felt weird (usually, saying goodbye to the seniors is much more sad, but hey!  It's only December), but  I am so glad that we chose "White Christmas" to close out the season of our auditorium.  The students made history and made a difference in the lives of the people who came to the show.  What more could we ask for?

The fact that it snowed outside at the end of each show was a nice touch, too!