my world turned up side down . . .

My world turned upside down since the last time I posted.

Last July, I was waiting for approval to move on with my research on my dissertation, and I was helping tend to my ailing parents. When I posted last year, I thought that things were going to get back to normal very soon. But they didn’t. They didn’t at all.

My dad was battling a nasty infection in his foot, especially dangerous because he was diabetic. At the end of July, I got a call from my doctor who informed me that my blood work indicated I, too, was diabetic. I immediately began eating differently. Out of fear, but also out of a sort of respect for my dad. I knew that he could have managed his diabetes years ago had he eaten the way he was supposed to.

In September, we took him to the doctor, and they told him that he had to have his foot amputated. He decided not to go through with the surgery, so he and my mother talked to Hospice. He was at peace for the first time in two years after numerous falls and becoming incapacitated.

Dad in the Navy

Dad in the Navy

A week later I received notification that my dissertation was approved and started working on research. On Monday, September 15th, I conducted my first focus group, and on Wednesday, my dad passed away.

My mother was wheel-chair bound, suffering from COPD, and she would not let anyone driver her anywhere except me. Everyone else, she said, made her feel rushed and frantic. On the day of Dad’s funeral, she and I drove together to the cemetery. Everyone else drove separately, so we had time alone to talk about things. I remember reaching over, taking her hand, and saying, “Well, Nanny, if we have to take the ride, it is a privilege for me to take it with you.”

The next week, I did my second focus group and got busy writing my fourth and fifth chapters. I talked to my chair and told her that I had an opportunity that would require me to have my doctorate by December, so she agreed to help me reach that goal. I spent countless nights staying up until two or three in the morning writing, coding, rewriting, wash . . . rinse . . . repeat.

In the meantime, Mom’s health was failing. And I was teaching seven college classes with a full-time administrative job. Looking back, I am not sure how I held things together, but somehow I did, and on December 3, I defended my dissertation. My husband went with me, so the first person I called when I was done was Mom. Her birthday was the next day, and she was so excited for me. She never said anything to me, but I found out later that she called my sister and cried because my dad wasn’t there to know that I was now Dr. Shannon.

The college gave me a reception, and my sister took lots of pictures to show Mom, who couldn’t travel the hour drive to the college, and Mom was so happy to see the pictures. A couple of weeks later, I took her to the eye doctor, and we ordered her new glasses.

Our kids come home for Christmas, so we didn’t go to Mom’s like we usually did, but the day after Christmas, we went to see her. She was not doing well. Her legs were swollen, and she just felt miserable. My brother and I talked her into letting us call an ambulance so that she wouldn’t have to sit in the emergency room waiting.

At the hospital, they determined she had suffered a heart attack at some point during the day, and while there she had another one. They took her in for a heart cath and assured us that she would move into ICU for one day and then go to a regular room. She passed away during surgery. Exactly one hundred days after we lost Dad.

Mom and Starlite

Mom and my oldest sister shortly after she lost her own mother. She was such a tiny woman and so, so beautiful.

I have learned in the last six months to be grateful that she did not suffer through the last stages of COPD. I have learned that she had more faith than anyone I’ve ever known. But I also learned that she was lonely after she lost Dad. And I’ve dealt with guilt. A. Lot. Of. Guilt. That I didn’t do more, didn’t spend more time with her, didn’t put off things that turned out not to matter so that I could spend time with her.

But I’ve also realized that she wanted me to finish my degree. She told everyone, everywhere we went, that I was “her doctor.” I’m eternally grateful that she got to know that I finished. That she was alive when I defended.

I graduated in May, walking with several of the members of my cohort, and it was a wonderful day. My whole family came, and my sisters cried, and we drove three hours in pouring rain, the beginning of the end of the drought we had suffered in Texas for ten years. And in that rain, I realized that, no matter how bittersweet it was not to have Mom and Dad there, the rain was cleansing. It was a new beginning, a new stage in my life. And it would have made Mom and Dad very happy.

My childhood home

This is Mom and Dad’s house. Mom had the most beautiful mums in her flower bed.

My sisters, brother, and I have spent months clearing out their home, dividing their things, and wrestling over decisions we don’t want to make. We have not yet sold their home, and I know that locking the door for the very last time will be one of the worst days of my life.

I grew up in that house. Had my first kiss there, practiced ballet using my dresser as the barre, learned to drive a stick shift, got proposed to in the drive way, slept in “my” room for the last time the night before our wedding, watched my mom and daughter make mud pies in the sandbox, celebrated fifty Thanksgivings, watched a gazillion football games, and loaded up my mom in her wheelchair on the day of my dad’s funeral. I don’t know how to let that house go. How to detach myself from a place that symbolizes my childhood. Every good thing in my life happened while my parents lived in that house.

So I did something that I thought would be a horrible mistake and turned out to be a blessing.

I loaded up their living room furniture and my mom’s bedroom set that had been in my old room, and I took it home. And I sat on the couch and felt calm. Connected. Close to them. And I told my sisters and brothers to take things from the house so that they could feel the same peace I felt. And they took things. And they all have said they feel better having this piece of Mom and Dad with them. And we all plan to send these pieces down to our children, who loved Nanny and Poppy and know, without a doubt, that they had the very best grandparents of any kids they know.

So my blog is going to take a different direction. I started it with some misplaced, ill-conceived idea that it had to be perfect. It had to be themed. It had to appeal to people I don’t even know. And I realized that the blogs I love belong to women who have no full-time job outside of their home and who have a skill I don’t have. I don’t have a design degree. I don’t have an eye for things, and I don’t have “the knack.” And I don’t have any followers. LOL

But I do have things I want to talk about. Things I love. Things I know, and things I want to share. I am an expert at a few things. Mostly grammar and Anne Tyler, and now that my dissertation is done, the perceptions of community-college students in terms of the spaces in which they learn. I’m not an expert at films, but I love watching them, and my background in English gives me a fair amount of insight. I’m not thin or beautiful or rich, but I love dressing cute, and I have days where I want to share what I’m wearing.

My decree is to change the fabric of my blog so that it is a place where I speak from my heart, share some things that a few people might find interesting, and chronicle the life I live. It is a good life. No, it is a great life. It is full of laughter and learning and doing good things for people. It is also full of sadness and regret and hope for the future. It is what I have been given, and I will be honest about it. And I’ll jump, jump off the edge and believe that my family and friends will look kindly at this blog and this little corner farmhouse and find it interesting and insightful.

Wish me luck. Because the one promise that is hardest to keep is to be true to who I really am and believe that I am good enough.

I just had the best blogday ever!

I got an email a little bit ago. It was from Joanne of Joanne Inspired (isn’t that an  adorable name?), and she just told me that she had given me the Liebster Award! It is an award given to blogs with fewer than 500 followers and is designed to help recognize and promote lesser-known blogs.

What the wha!

She chose me?!

I’m not sure I didn’t faint for a couple of seconds when I read that. I mean, I have been so busy and neglected my blog for almost three months while work and family obligations, not to mention that pesky dissertation I have to write, have consumed me. This is a shot in the blog arm if there ever was one! Thank you, thank you, Joanne!

b4765-liebsterawardThe rules for accepting the award say that I should post five random facts about myself and answer the questions Joanne proposed and then share the award with other bloggers.

Here are random facts about myself:

1. My first professional job was coordinating developmental education. I took it because it seemed like a good “foot in the door” to securing a job teaching English at a community college. Seventeen years later, I am the vice president of the college and have never had a full-time job teaching English. I do, however, get to teach part-time.

2. I love french fries. I should marry them. If there was only one food on the planet and it was french fries, I would be perfectly fine with that.

3. I have been in school for all but seven years of my life. I don’t know how not to be a student.

4. I have never cooked a whole meal in my life. I once fried an egg, put it on a styrofoam plate, and watched it melt the plate and fall to the floor. And that was probably my best cooking day ever.

5. I wrote my master’s thesis on Anne Tyler’s body of work and never, ever tire of re-reading her books.

So here are Joanne’s questions . . .

1. Why did you start your blog?

My husband is incredibly generous and has done an amazing job of renovating our home. I wanted a way to share his work and have a chance to talk about the spaces he has created for me. I found that blogging about our home also allows me a chance to talk about life in general.

2. Who has been the biggest influence in your life in terms of creativity?

My whole family. My husband is an incredible woodworker, and he taught me the value of taking my time and doing things right. He never takes short cuts or does anything half way, and as a result, his work is solid and lovely.

My mother is the best storyteller I’ve ever known, and she made me love stories, which turned into a passion for reading and writing.

My daughter made me fearless. She just finds something she likes and recreates it with her own s128ignature style. Her ability to love her own creations gave me courage to try and tenacity when I fail. Her passion for creating is incredible. She’s a science teacher, not an artist, by vocation, but you should see her classroom! (She made this adorable pin cushion for me.)

My son is a musician. He taught himself to play the guitar and ukelele, and I’ve never known anyone with as much raw talent for music as he has. He saved money and took a year and a half off from work to work on his craft, and SMEnow he plays in a band in Dallas/Fort Worth. He turned me on to the value of YouTube as a teaching tool.

3. What was your favorite DIY home improvement?

Oooh, this is really tough. I think my closet and my craft room are dead even. I mean, the two things I love, shopping and sewing, are all tied up in those two spaces. Plus, they were created by my husband just for me, so they both have a sentimental value to me.

closet 147new craft room 2 011

4. What is your favorite post you have written?

My favorite post is the one about taking our honors students to see To Kill a Mockingbird. It doesn’t fit in with the home dec theme of my blog, but it is probably the most reflective post of who I really am.

I can’t believe I get paid to go to college and hang out with these kids every day. No matter what else is going on in my life, when I step into the classroom, I get an hour and fifteen minutes off the beaten path where life is always good.

5. What is your favorite color to incorporate in home decor/design and why?

My favorite color has always been pink. But . . . I don’t decorate with pink because it is too feminine and can be too cloying at times. Blue is my favorite color for decorating and is part of my home in almost every room. It can feel rich and leathery or light and airy, but it always makes me feel cozy and calm.

6. What’s the one place in the world you would love to visit or return to?

Florence. I want to see The David. I want to stand at the feet of the statue and feel the vibrations of its power.

7. What is a favorite childhood memory?

I had a wonderful childhood with a great family, so it’s really hard to choose, but I think one of my things was in high school.

I was the feature editor for our high-school paper, and I did a layout on what it mean to be a Rebel (our mascot) that talked about how you could tell the sophomores, who walked in clusters, and the juniors, who walked in pairs, apart from the seniors, who had the confidence to walk the halls alone, but at the end of the day, we were all the same. We were all Rebels.

The principal read that piece to the entire school one day during announcements! It was so thrilling. Except that I was sick that day and had to hear about it second hand. LOL

8. What is one thing you’d put on your bucket list?

I want to publish a novel. I have one in progress that is about people who live on the same street on the weekend that JFK was killed. I have six of the stories finished, but it had to be put on hold when I started my doc program.

9. If money were no object, what renovation/design project would you tackle immediately?

I would love to open up our kitchen. We have a separate dining room, and the wall between the two is load bearing, so it is going to take some planning. However, everyone wants to hang out in the kitchen when they visit, and there isn’t enough room.

I have chosen the following blogs to recognize with the Liebster Award:

Teach Your Ass Off

D.D.’s Cottage and Design

Designing Dee

Start @ Home

A Little Lagniappe

If you’d like to accept the award, here are my questions for you:

1. How would you describe your style as it is reflected in your blog?

2. What is your favorite thing about your blog that you hope others can appreciate?

3. Who would you be most thrilled to have following your blog and why?

4. What is your profession (and I include anyone who works at raising a family!), and how is it related to your blog?

5. If you could take any class you wanted for free, what would you learn how to do or how to do better?

6.  What is your signature piece of clothing? Why is it your signature?

7.  Who (band, artist, lecturer, etc.) would you most like to see on stage?

8. If you had to choose one character from a book that you feel is most like you, who would it be and why?

9. What is the most creative thing you’ve ever done?

10. If you were to start another blog in addition to this blog, what would it be called? What would be the focus?

I’ve copied the rules from Joanne Inspired to make sure I get them just right.

“Official” Liebster Award Rules:  Once a blogger is nominated, and they choose to ACCEPT the award, they should:

1. Thank and link back to the blogger who nominated you

2. Upload the Liebster award badge to your blog

3. Post 5 facts about yourself and answer the 5-10 questions from the person who nominated you

4. Nominate and add a link to 5-10 blogs with fewer than 500 followers

5. Notify the nominees by email or leave a comment on their blog, include 5-10 questions

here’s the thing about Breaking Bad…

As an English teacher, I have taught that film is a form of literature for a long time. From the beginning, but especially after movies like Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, film has been artistic with depth and beauty that is the hallmark of great literature.

Move over, film. You have a new partner. Television. That’s what Breaking Bad did. It elevated television to an art form. Yes, The Sopranos was good story telling, and even in all its weirdness, Twin Peaks explored the arts in a way similar to Picasso’s eye.

But Breaking Bad brought a hero to life who was as much an anti-hero as he was a hero. Who made us feel, feel deeply, feel to the absolute depths of our bones, and it will be over too soon. I’m sitting here an hour before the season finale with butterflies. I have rarely been so excited to see what happens next and never been filled with such dread to see it end.

It has touched me like Harper Lee did with Scout when she said, “and thus began our longest journey.” This journey with Walt and Jesse, watching their deep love and respect turn to hate and revenge, has been one of my favorite journeys in all of literature. The characters are complex and the conflicts are heart wrenching.

And the string of coincidences is Dickensian to say the least. I think Vince Gilligan saw the entire story from the beginning and placed the foreshadowing in front of our very eyes, but like Dickens did in Great Expectations, he unfolds the answers a little at a time. But they are never cheap. Or lazy. Or contrived. They were there all along, so they feel like the natural evolution of real life.

I hope that Jesse lives. I hope that Walt goes out in a way that is noble. In a way that saves Jesse.

I hope that some day another show will come along like Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Game of Thrones. That will capture me and pull at me all over again. Because that’s what Breaking Bad did. It elevated television to literature.

So  now when I teach my college freshmen, I have something new to add to the study of genres. Something they can understand. Something they know.

But here’s the thing about Breaking Bad . . . I wish I had never watched it. Just so I could see it again for the very first time.

Breaking Bad for blog post

Back to School

apple

When I was little, I used to get an itch to go back to school. I would practice putting on my new outfit. Pack and unpack my school supplies, carefully labeled with my name in progressively improved penmanship. Sharpen my pencils, and clean out my desk in preparation for all the homework I imagined I would complete there but, inevitably, sat on my bed completing.

When I was older, I would polish my nails, practice my makeup and hair, and clean out my closet, arranging my clothes into outfits. I would spend just one more day in the sun, bleaching my curly hair with lemons then rubbing them across my cheeks to get rid of the freckles.

So I found a job where, every year, there is a first day of school. I can rearrange my closet, get a mani-pedi, and pack my bookbag. The fall semester starts next week, and I can’t wait.