Start Your Engines!

This weekend, the kids and I joined Gene and his family on their long-standing tradition of attending the 4x4 National Jamboree in Bloomsburg.  Now, since that meant absolutely nothing to me a year ago, I'll explain what it is for my fellow naive readers out there.  People from all over the country register their trucks,  Jeeps, Broncos, Scouts -- you get the idea.  Anything that is a 4-wheel drive.  They park them -- washed, waxed, ready to be admired -- all over the Bloomsburg fairgrounds, while people walk or cruise around looking at them.  The owners talk about how they've rebuilt or modified their vehicles.  Of course, there are vendors and food and events like races and my personal favorite, monster trucks.  

Those of you who have read my blog for years now (aka my mom) know that Liam has loved monster trucks practically since birth.  We used to shake our heads in wonder at how the kid even heard about monster trucks from his English-teacher mother and music-teacher father.  But, somewhere along the line, Liam discovered a documentary about Bigfoot and its creator, Bob Chandler, on Netflix.  And we had to watch it ad nauseam.  When the Dodge Raminator came to Muncy, we took him there . . . twice.  His grandparents took him to watch the trucks.  His godmother bought him "Grave Digger" bedsheets.  

So, maybe it's clear that Liam was in heaven this weekend.  Actually, the kids all had a blast.  Gene and I were slightly worried that our future bug-scientist Aidan would be bored at the show, but it was completely the opposite.  Aside from fighting some sort of fever/stomach bug during the weekend, Aidan had a blast. He kept asking Gene questions about the trucks:  What year is that one?  What kind of engine is that? Why would they make it look like that?  He truly enjoyed himself.  So did Ellie.  She liked the camping aspect (we took the camper to the campground that Gene has been going to since he was a kid with his dad), and she loved playing with her cousins, who came to the show with their parents.  


We always have fun with this crazy crew, that's for sure.  



My favorite part of the show was the racing and freestyle of the monster trucks.  When you are a kid, you watch big trucks jumping and driving over other cars, and you think, "That's cool!"  When you are an adult with a driver's license, even if you know next-to-nothing about truck engines (aka me),  the driving is much more impressive.  These drivers are highly skilled -- the Broadway stars of driving, if you will.  ;)  Can you honestly imagine driving a vehicle with 66-inch tires, let alone driving that vehicle over jumps and other cars?  No freaking way.  



Maybe this is the last place you could imagine me being, let alone having a good time.  I admit I would not have attended a 3-day truck show if it weren't for the fact that it is something that Gene loves, and I love him.  It's the same reason I watched the Bigfoot documentary and even remember the name Bob Chandler -- because Liam loved it, and I love him.   What I also love is that if you remain open to different experiences that this world has to offer, you can continuously learn new things, and you might even find yourself telling a random guy who is admiring your truck that the engine is a Coyote 5.0 and sort of know what that means.  

Live life to the fullest, my friends, and try things you wouldn't normally do.  You might just surprise yourself by having a blast with people you love.  




Blink . . . and it's July!

As cliche as it sounds, I really do feel as though the school year ended just yesterday.  But here we are, a whirlwind of concerts, recitals, vacation and a college visit later and it's July!  Our summer dance card has been so full that we have been struggling to find time to visit the family farm and carve out a weekend to visit some dear friends a few hours away.  But, I think we have been striking a nice balance between activity (yay!  I have time to run again!) and relaxation (three beaches in one week!).  We are home for a few days before we leave for the annual truck show that Gene and his family have attended for the past 25 years (every day is an adventure!).  

Cue the seemingly endless piles of laundry from our beach trip and some remodeling of the utility room into an office space.  No, Gene and I do not sit still well.  It's one of the many things I love about him.  Instead of being criticized for being on the go, for doing a lot of things, I have a partner working by my side, creating or exploring with me.  And it's great.  

I suppose at some point, I will need to start thinking about next school year and about our family plans.  But, for now . . . it's July!  We were explicitly ordered by our superintendent to take July off at our end-of-the-year meeting, and I intend to follow those instructions to the letter.  She said to rediscover ourselves and what we love, to spend time with those we love, including ourselves.  

One of the things I love to do is write, and while I've been writing for the newspaper and in my personal journal, I haven't been too faithful to writing this blog over the past month.  So, in July, I plan to write at least 2 times a week.  And because I like to experience what my students do in my classroom from time to time, I think I will find some writing prompts and make myself answer them.  (That can't be considered "working," right?  If it's something I love to do?)  

So, here's to July!  Make the most of it, friends. 

Hello, Summer!

Despite it being the 21st of June, I have had very little time to write.  I hope to change that and make blogging a bit more of a priority the rest of the summer.  So far, we have installed a pool in the backyard, attended Vacation Bible School, took our camper on a weekend trip to Raystown Lake, in addition to having lots of end-of-the-school-year events like the Honor Society Banquet and a dance recital.  Today, we leave for South Carolina/Georgia for a week.  Kaylea wanted to visit Georgia State University as a potential college, so we are making a trip of it.  We found a campground in Hilton Head, SC, and we will be making the trip into Atlanta on Friday for the college visit and general touring.  The kids come back to me today, and I couldn't be more excited to have them with us on our first big family vacation!  






So, even though I wish I had written a bit more regularly this month, it is true that we all need a break.  We all need to unplug a bit, to unwind, to recenter, to remind ourselves who we are and why we do what we do.  This summer may bring some unexpected changes in the school I work in (already, there is a community outcry over moving a beloved teacher from one position to another), and I am not sure what is waiting for me when I return in August.  I was invited to an interview for the doctorate program I applied to, so perhaps some big changes are in my career future as well.  My goal is to simply take some time this summer to live life, to love Gene and my family, and to experience all that this beautiful world has to offer me right now.  And I would say, I am off to a fabulous start.  I highly recommend it.  Get out there -- and leave your phone behind.  

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Freedom is a Beautiful Thing

Yesterday, something unexpected happened, and it feels amazing.  I don't even care that the person responsible for this amazing thing is entirely self-deluded and believes a version of something that didn't even happen.  I understand the psychology behind it -- I have to be the one responsible, to be blamed.  Otherwise, this person would have to take a good look in the mirror and realize the truth that they are actually the one responsible, the one to be blamed.  So it doesn't matter how it came to be, the important part is that it did come to be, and freedom is a beautiful thing. 


Writing about One's Life

I am directing a show called "Other Desert Cities" at the Community Academy of Stage and Theatre in Williamsport, and we open this weekend.  There are many, many aspects of the script that appealed to me the first time I read it, and because the story is so compelling and well-written, different parts speak to me each time we run the show.  

One night, it was the line, "Everything in life is about being seen, or not seen," spoken by the daughter-writer, as she defends her decision to pen a memoir about the death of her Vietnam-War-protesting older brother.  Like most good writing, there is a universal application to this specific sentence.  Everything in life is about being seen or not seen, when you think about it. When we are striving for good, we want to be seen, to be noticed, to be appreciated, to be admired, to be valued, to be taken seriously.  When are not seen for who we are, it hurts.  Conversely, when we do wrong, we don't want it to be seen.  We don't want our flaws to tossed in our face, we don't want our selfishness to be exposed.  

Another night, it was a line describing the final moments of the actor-father's life, as he has a conversation with an imaginary director on his deathbed:  "He could do better.  He had another take in him."  Again, this refers to the "take" of a film set, but it applies to any life at its end.  We will regret our wrongs, we will regret the chances we didn't take, the words we didn't speak.  Many of us have the fear of Thoreau, to "come to the end of life and discover I had not lived."  But, spoiler alert:  we don't get "another take" when our time is up.  

Still another time, the line was, "Relationships are hard-earned things.  They have a reason and a logic to them."  The daughter goes on to tell her mother that their rocky position is "the relationship we have earned."  How true.  The relationships we find ourselves in are the ones we have earned, together.  No relationship is a one-sided endeavor.  

Last night, the line that hit me came again from the daughter-writer, when she asked, "Is there a blanket ban on writing about my life if it involves anyone else?"  I struggle with this all the time on this blog platform.  There are many things I would love to write about -- from the crazed woman who drives by my house on a regular basis to spy on me and my family to the complexities of co-parenting -- but I refrain from anything but wide-sweeping generalizations because that type of writing would "involve anyone else."  

Also, add the fact that I am a teacher and the situation is compounded.  I have been repeatedly personally attacked even this year, and I am unable to write about it or even defend myself because of my job.  In the "real world," I would actually have grounds to sue this person for slander.  

The mother in the show threatens to sue her daughter, actually.  But the idea is dismissed because it would add more of a splash to what they already fear will be a scandal when the book is published.  And, really, that is why I so often take the high road.  After all, as the mother also says, "The truth will out."  Everything is eventually seen, from hard-earned relationships to our final take.  

10 Signs of Toxic Behavior

Toxic behavior -- or emotional abuse -- can be difficult to prove because the perpetrator is often skilled enough to leave no visible marks, no tangible evidence.  To be true, even the person being affected by the toxic behavior isn't always able to recognize the signs or the impact on their own mind.  How can you tell when you are in a toxic relationship -- be it with a friend, a lover, a parent, a co-worker? I've given it some thought, and I offer my 10 signs of toxic behavior.

  1.  You often think, "This is will make so-and-so upset," and the "this" is something reasonable.  When you are constantly on alert to prevent another person from getting angry, you may be in a relationship with a toxic person.  When you are parenting with your spouse, and you find yourself telling the kids to stop acting like kids because they will get in trouble, or when you are hyper-aware of your words and actions so as not to "start a fight" with the other person -- then you are not in a reasonable and balanced situation.  Sure, it's not right to run around, doing whatever you want without caring if you offend anyone.  That's not what I am talking about here.  I am talking about normal, everyday actions or words that provoke an irrationally angry response.  
  2. You are consistently criticized and get the message that you are not good enough.  This is a common form of emotional abuse and control.  When you are ignored or criticized, you get the message that you are not enough -- not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, not funny enough, just plain not enough.  And because this message becomes engrained in your head, you end up prolonging the relationship because you erroneously believe you aren't enough to do any better or to break free.  
  3. You aren't "allowed" to spend time with other people.  The narcissist craves your full attention.  They don't want you to have other friends or to talk to anyone else, at times, even your family.  If you do have other friends, you are made to feel guilty for betraying them in some way.  Toxic parents do this especially in divorce scenarios:  "Why don't you text me the way you text your mom all the time?  Why do you have more fun there?" For the toxic person, you are a piece of property to be owned and controlled. 
  4. You aren't "allowed" to spend time alone, either.  Let's say you are overwhelmed by your day and you write out your thoughts in a journal.  The emotional abuser doesn't want a written record of wrongs.  They may read your private writings or even destroy your work as a way to further control your story and your experience.  If you want to be alone, your toxic friend may be offended that you don't want to go out, or if you want to go for a bike ride, your toxic spouse may say you are neglecting your responsibilities.  Again, this all comes down to control. 
  5. The things that matter to you, don't matter to them.  Your important events or values aren't shared.  Your birthday isn't nearly as important as theirs.  Your goals aren't a factor unless they benefit from you achieving them.  Your performances, concerts, races -- whatever projects you do or go to -- are not a priority to them.  They may make it if they don't have anything else to do, and when they do come, they are critical of the quality of the presentation or organization, etc. 
  6. Your efforts aren't noticed, and you do more than your fair share of the work.  Whether it is the work of the relationship or the work of the house or the work of the office, you find yourself busting your butt, and the toxic person never seems to notice, never seems to appreciate it.  You rarely hear the words "thank you," and all you get in return are defensive excuses when you point about the disparity.  You are simply expected to do more, every single time. 
  7. The toxic person lies on a regular basis.  And, when they are caught in a lie, they either deny it angrily or somehow make it out to be acceptable that they lied, because of something you have done wrong.  The lying is part of the toxic person's manipulative personality, part of the effort to control others.  
  8. You are never sure who you are going to get.  There is a nice version of this toxic person.  That's why you are in the relationship to begin with.  They have positive qualities that drew you to them.  But the toxic person can only maintain that facade, that false persona for so long.  The effort to sustain the nice version of themselves is exhausting, and their true colors eventually show.  They become unpredictable -- will your nice boss be at work today, or the angry one?  The lack of consistency adds to your stress and anxiety. 
  9. The toxic person takes no responsibility for their actions.  Everything is always someone else's fault.  The toxic person doesn't apologize, because they never do anything wrong.  And if they do something wrong, it's probably because you (or someone else) made them do it, directly or indirectly. 
  10. The general public admires the toxic person.  Most toxic people are "marvelous pretenders," to borrow a line from Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  This comes full circle to the difficulty of proving emotional abuse is happening.  In front of others, the toxic person says the right things, does the right things.  Behind closed doors -- away from clients, away from a crowd, away from the other parents -- there is a whole other person, a whole other experience.  Because the toxic person appears to be so convincing, you refrain from reaching out for help.  You stay where you are, mired in poison. 

Staying in a toxic relationship is the worst thing you can do for your soul.  No, it is not easy to break free; the toxic person won't simply let you go.  Even if you don't speak publicly about your situation, your leaving suggests failure on their part.  But, there must come a time when you stand up for yourself and demand more out of life.  

Why?  Because you are enough.  


The Freshest of Starts

Is there anything more miraculous than the birth of a baby?  The anxiety that comes along with what is a truly herculean physical process of labor and delivery; the excitement that builds as everyone waits to see the new child; the sheer joy that wraps itself in the words, "The baby is here!"; the immense gratitude that fills the heart when baby and mother are healthy and well.  

Every time I am around a pregnant woman or around mothers when birth stories come up, memories come flooding back -- the pain, the joy, the fear, the love.  What I think I love most about each of my own birth stories is the overpowering feeling of possibility that each child brings into the world. 

Emerson said that with each child is "the beginning of a revolution," the beginning of "the perpetual romance of new life, the invasion of God into the old dead world, when he sends into quiet houses a young soul with a thought which is not yet met."  Each child is born with an immeasurable amount of potential, with a blank book in his hands which awaits for the chapters to be written. 

And so, on May 11, at 8:38 PM, Lincoln Kyle Clark entered this world. 


Full of possibility and surrounded by love, little Lincoln began his beautiful journey on this planet, with all 6 lbs, 12 oz. of him rearing to go.  His parents adore him; his aunts and uncles are ready to spoil him; his grandparents are thankful for all that he symbolizes: hope, love, faith.  Kyle is a man devoted to his fiancee and his step-daughters -- and now their son.  The smile didn't come off his face the entire time they were at the hospital.  Lincoln seems to have inherited his easy-going temperament, and it seems certain that the two are destined to be thick as thieves, with a multitude of adventures in store.  Brittney bravely endured more labor than the three of my children combined, and she too is clearly in love with their little man.  



It's moments like these, when a baby is born, that I am reminded of all that is really right in the world.  Gene and I have a beautiful family, and with the addition of Lincoln, our tribe expanded in love.  On Mother's Day, Gene's younger son Kody gave me a card that said, "Families can be complicated," and boy, if that isn't the truth for us!  But, love isn't complicated, Kody continued as he thanked me for opening my doors and my heart to him and the rest of his family.  

Just last night, Gabrielle had her final chorus concert of her elementary school career, and we took a silly selfie together on the lawn (Kaylea was at her voice lesson; Kody was at work).  


Gene's sister paid me an incredible compliment on Facebook: "Denise, you make Gene whole again" -- and while I am honored, the truth is that we make each other -- and our diverse brood -- whole.  Each one of our kids -- and grandkids! -- are filled with potential, and I can't wait to see where life takes each of them.  

Welcome to the world -- and our family! -- Lincoln Kyle! 


Just a Glimpse

At our crazy lives!  We've been to NYC, met two Broadway stars, been on several bike rides, attended Aidan's Chorus concert (with two more concerts this month to come!), made progress on the house renovations, and probably 25 other things I am forgetting at the moment.  Here are some pictures, without any helpful captions whatsoever.  ha!









Friday Musings

Happy Rainy Friday, my friends!  It's "Senior Skip Day," and it's all supposed to be a grand secret kept by the senior class, but we teachers have been down this road before.  It's the Friday before prom.  We know students are going to skip.  Heck, my first class is all juniors and only 9 of them are here (to be fair, some are decorating for the dance).  Needless to say, this is going to be an easy day. 

That means I have some time during my lunch period to write, which I haven't had much of lately.  After this post, I'll share some pictures of what has been keeping me so busy, but for now, I offer some random musings.  Enjoy!

** Have you ever noticed how a liar gets nervous when two people he's lied to are in the same room, talking to each other?  The anxiety is palpable as he wonders how quickly they may compare notes.  When only one of those people know about his lies, and he's still in the process of hoodwinking the other, he nervously hovers, trying to control the informational flow.  I found myself in this position just yesterday, and I found it greatly amusing.  Oh, I should clarify -- I wasn't the liar, or the hoodwinked.  I can safely say amusement isn't for either of those two roles.  

** I have been avoiding a conflict for the sake of other people I care dearly about, and I realize I really should not do that any more.  By avoiding this conflict, I have also allowed someone to get social credit for being someone they are not.  I've allowed this person to shirk responsibility for far too long, especially since this person caused the strife to begin with.  I have decided that this needs to stop.  I realize I am being vague here, and I am sorry.  I am sharing this in case it speaks to anyone else reading this -- are you allowing someone to take advantage of you?  Then stop.  I have allowed it for far too long, and while what's to come is certainly going to be challenging, I know it's the right thing to do.  I am sick of being walked all over, simply because it is assumed that I won't do anything about it.  

** I've also decided to do something very big!  I have applied to begin my Doctorate in Educational Leadership.  A friend went through the same program and recommended it to me.  I went to an interest meeting, I talked it over with Gene, and based on his encouragement, I have decided to apply!  Obviously, I still have to be accepted, but I feel fairly confident about my chances.  My principals know (they wrote me reference letters, after all), and they are very supportive.   I have always wanted my doctorate, and I haven't pursued it because my children are little and I refuse to commute to Penn State several times a week right now.  So, this program is absolutely perfect for where I am in life right now, and I hope it works out.  

Last Musing for Now . . . 

** It's amazing the difference being in a positive and loving relationship can make on one's life.  The past few weeks have been insanely busy and slightly stressful for our family.  Between renovating the house, moving, my directing a play, his being swamped at work, not to mention the various activities of the kids' -- theatre classes, concerts, voice lessons, track, prom -- Gene and I have often found ourselves overwhelmed by it all.  BUT, here's the beautiful thing:  instead of taking it out on each other, instead of resenting each other, we just talk about how to divide and conquer the to-do list.  We just talk about which things we might want to cut back on so as to make our lives less frantic.  We just talk about how much we are going to miss our crazy busy life when the kids are grown and off on their own.  We both come from completely opposite relationships than the one we have now, and honestly, those bad experiences help us to appreciate what we have now.  

Not bad for a rainy Friday! 

Sing a New Song

Gabrielle was selected to attend the PMEA Elementary Chorus Fest this year, just as Aidan was selected in the past.  And, just like I did when it was Aidan's turn, I took a personal day to chaperone the trip.  This year, the festival was held at Loyalsock, so it wasn't far at all.  


Gabrielle did an amazing job and she is filled with so much joy whenever she sings.  I love how much my kids love music! 


And the music kids -- not surprisingly! -- are fun and creative and welcoming people.  I can only hope they stay that way!