Monday, October 29, 2012


     For everyone who lives on the East Coast, you've probably already been living this theme. Hurricane Sandy is now about two hours away from landfall on the Jersey Shore and because it's such a huge storm, many of us are keeping an eye on her wild ways! I think I heard I heard one of the many weather persons chiming in state that Sandy is 1000 miles wide and 1500 miles long!! That's ALOT of storm!!

    So while we've been following the sound advice of stocking up in case of power outages, you know, having all the needed candles and flashlights and non perishable food (which includes chocolate chip cookies and Pop Tarts of course!!) I couldn't help but remember storm stories from the past. Hopefully a little story telling will take everyone's mind off of Sandy, even just for a bit. : )

    When I was a CIT at Camp Sandy Cove in North East MD, Hurricane Agnes decided to visit camp. Fortunately, it was still Training Week so the campers hadn't arrived yet. And a storm at camp just feels like an adventure. Plus when you're fifteen years old and don't have to worry about your home and your family, and you're at camp so you're not plastered in front of the weather channel 24/7, it's just not quite as ominous. Maybe ignorance IS bliss. Anyway, our little band of counselor wanna be's returned to our cabin after waiting out part of the storm in the Dining Hall (again, if I remember correctly) and found a huge tree had fallen right across the front steps of our cabin! Our empty cabin. Pshew!! Had it been the tree just a few feet to the right of it, that one would have fallen directly across my bunk. Again, it was empty but still. Pshew!! These storms have a way of reminding us that it's not a coincidence that the words Almighty and God go hand in hand. We relocated to Ichthus, the cabin full of bunks for counselors on their day off and had a grand old time. Seems there was something about a racoon while we were there, but that's part of the story I've forgotten somehow. Hey, c'mon, it was a long time ago! : )

    Then there was the Hurricane that struck the Harrisburg area while I was in college. Our class had braved the winds and rain to settle in for one of everyone's not so favorite Gen Ed classes - and then when we were dismissed, we were told classes were cancelled for the rest of the day because of flooding concerns. We gleefully skipped on down to the campus branch of the "Minnemingo" and were amazed at how much it had already overflown its banks. Of course, once again, life was still an adventure so I started pretending we were on a field trip and was announcing "OK, boys and girls, stay with your buddy and don't lose your bag lunch!" Suddenly I saw a large black umbrella turn around toward me and who was beneath it but my brand new professor/boss who I was just beginning to work for as his secretary. The look on his face was a cross between "who in the world is treating this like a field trip for children  and  oh my, look at this, it's my new student secreatary!!" He did get just the beginning of a slight grin so I knew all was well, but I'm sure he was also wondering what in the world he was getting into having the likes of someone like me handling his tests and papers and book he was writing!! Fortunately, Dr. Wittlinger was a kind and gracious man to work for - even on days when I lost my buddy or my bag lunch . . . 

     The other adventure that pops into my mind when storm flooding comes up is the time my dear roommate (when we were both teaching at Faith Academy in the Philippines), Beth, was leaving to return home to the States. We'd been up most of the night getting her packed, sorting what she would take home, what she would bequeath to me, what we'd pass on to others and the always nagging pile of justwhatintheworldshouldwedowiththisstuff? It had been raining for days, as it is apt to do during the beginning of the rainy season in June and we woke up the next morning to water lapping at our door. By the time we were to head to the airport, it was thigh high in the street and we were truly wondering how in the world we'd ever get to the airport! But our chauffeur, good friend Steve, drove in as far as he could, waded in the rest of the way and we waded back out with Beth's suitcases perched atop our heads! Yes, another adventure although as I recall our tearful goodbyes added to the wetness of the day!

    And now we wait for Sandy to bring her winds and wrath and wetness. Ugh! Fortunately we've all had lots of lead time to prepare but it just seems like there's going to be a ton of damage and loss when she's done passing through. I have to admit, as many storms as I've weathered, and adventures I've experienced, this one has me a bit concerned. We're home, we're hunkered down, we're as prepared as we can be - but there's definitely a need to trust that we will be taken care of, that Almighty God does indeed both command the winds and care for every detail of concern in my heart. I've turned to Psalm 91 once again. It was the Psalm we memorized when out on the Trail with the next generation of counselor wanna be's and I recently rememorized it with one of those wanna be's I've been delighted to reconnect with. It's just one of those go to Psalms that is quite fitting to claim at such a time as this.

            Psalm 91
 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of my Lord, He is my refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.
 Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His feathers, under His wings you will find refuge, His faithfulness will be your
      shield and your rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night nor the arrow that flies by day
       nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
    You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling, even the Lord who is my refuge,
     no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways
    They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot upon a stone.
          (there's another story there, but I'll save that for another time!!)
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra, your will trample the great lion and the serpent.
   Because he loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue him
I will protect him for he ackowledges My Name
   He will call upon Me and I will answer him
I will deliver him and honor him
   With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation.

     And as the power surges even as I type, may Almighty God keep disaster far from all our tents during this storm as we trust Him to be our refuge and our fortress!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Even though this is just my second time trying the Hodge Podge, Joyce has been doing this for quite a while . . . this is number 99! Let's see what questions she has concocted this week!!

1. So, do you like beer?
          No, just not fond of the smell of it so haven't had the desire to give it a go.

2.  What's your least favorite repetitive task?
          Anything in the tidying or cleaning realm. It surely seems that as soon as I manage to get things straightened up really well or cleaned really well, it hardly lasts long enough to enjoy it!!

3.  When was the last time you rode a bus?  Where was it headed?
          I was going to say last year when we took our drama kids to a Theatre Festival/Competition . . . but I managed to finagle driving my own vehicle, you know, just in case we needed a car for an emergency. : ) I guess it might have been the last time we were in Colonial Williamsburg and rode the bus that takes you all around the Loop so you can see every corner of that wonderful step back in time world.

4.  What song from your childhood or from your own children's childhood could make a parent's nerves stand on end?
     Anyone remember "The Song That Never Ends" from Lambchop and Friends back in the early 90's? It's the gift that keeps on giving . . . and giving . . . and . . . For too long it was our son's favorite song and we had to sing it to get him to smile for an extended family portrait when he was an adorable, curly headed 18 month old with absolutely no interest in smiling or sitting still. Thank the Lord for brothers and sisters in law willing to sing along!

5.  The US Presidential election cycle is drawing to a close (can I get an AMEN??), and the third and final debate was held last night...what was the last thing you 'debated about'?
     My daughter is our choreographer for the middle school musical I direct and we debated quite strongly about a few casting decisions. And amen to the election escapades coming to a close as soon as possible!!

6.  Can a person make too much money?  How much is too much?
     Hmmm . . . good question Joyce! I guess it's only too much if you have no interest in sharing with others who have a need.

7.  Pop-soda-coke-something else...what's it called where you live?
     Oh definitely soda. Brought home in a bag, not a sack. And poured into a glass filled with lots of ice that was made from "water" (pronouced wood - er) that came out of the spigot!! : )
8.  Insert your own random thought here.
      I remember having the time of my life in 5th grade singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall coming home on the bus from the Safety Picnic at Lenape Park . . . . all the way home and all the way to 1 and my parents were quite surprised that I'd learned such a song!! : ) Their answer to question #1 would be a very emphatic no.

      Looking forward to Hodge Podge Number 100 next week Joyce!

Monday, October 22, 2012


     My last two weekends have just been chock full of wonderfulness and it's about time I catch up on writing about them, don't you think? : )

     Last weekend was Fall Break for my son and I wanted to be sure we were well stocked with some of his favorites. Plenty of cereal and milk plus Kraft Mac and Cheese are the usual fare but some apple cider, a frosted donut with jimmies (sprinkles) from Landis Supermarket, some Herr's BBQ potato chips and at least one stop at Wawa fill out the local staples nicely.

    We hadn't seen Logan since Labor Day weekend and I love having him home to visit so we can catch up on how his classes are going, what's up on campus, how the jazz band is sounding this year, how his intramural sports team are playing and so on. He even shocked me by only bringing a small basket of laundry instead of the usual I'vebeensavingthis?loadstashforweeksnowMom mountain!What a nice surprise - and just so great to have Logan with us for the weekend.

    And because it was Homecoming week at the high school, he was soon giving his sister a little friendly advice before her Powder Puff Football game.

       Unfortunately, even after a hard and well fought game, the juniors lost . . . but I finally got a smile from behind the purple palmed face. Yes, my daughter is competitive and no, Nana, she did not get hurt playing football. : )
      Friday night brought another win for Pennridge at their Homecoming game and we continue to love the excellence and joy coming from the Marching Rams Band.

      Then it was on to Saturday night's Homecoming Dance. 
     OH my, oh my, oh my. . . when did my baby girl grow up??  Yes, Don is keeping the shotgun handy!!

     One of the things I miss when Logan is away at school is serving together in our family service at church, Family Fusion. So it was great that he was back up that Sunday, in his cast character of Marshall. I was producing so got to enjoy it all ringside and am so thankful that my boy has found joy in using his gifts to serve Jesus. : )

It was great to have one of his best friends home that weekend too. These guys have grown up together and I love seeing their friendship continue to be important to both of them.

      And then he was off to school and when we walked back into the house . . . yeah, it was just a little too quiet again . . .

     So how do you create another weekend that's not quiet? Get together with some of your favorite old friends from camp!!

A small group of us gathered this past weekend at our friend Sheila's house near Bethany Beach in Delaware and may I just say, it was not quiet. And that was a good thing - as we laughed and talked and laughed and talked and laughed and . . . oh yeah, we ate too.

 Sandy Cove Stew - OK, I know you're thinking it looks completely unappetizing, but you haven't lived until you've eaten some of this. Best made over a campfire of course, but this concoction of ground beef, bacon, onion, tomato sauce, potatoes, cheese and carrots is oh so yummy. We usually have it with dough boys wrapped around a stick and cooked over that same fire, but these yummy cheese biscuits were mighty fine too.

It didn't take us long at all to be catching up over games and puzzles, finding out how each other's families are doing, what's happening in each others' classrooms, and seeing who can still stay up past 11 p.m. on a Friday night!! : )

   A little shopping, lunch with a gorgeous view and some beach time makes for a fantastic Saturday.

 OK, it wasn't all about the food, but we certainly did enjoy some good meals together! And it was my first time eating lobster in the right out of the shell version. Lots of work, but pretty fun once I got the hang of it!

  Thank you Sheila, for sharing your beautiful beach house with us!

 Thank You Lord, for two wonderful weekends, and for wonderful family and friends to share them with.      

Monday, October 8, 2012


     The other day I noticed a young facebook friend posting about an upcoming field experience for an education class. Instantly I was transported back to the elementary school where I had both field experience and student teaching experience with a really wonderful cooperating teacher who let me try out any and all ideas I had. Some were actually successful and some weren't . . . and when those unsuccessful lesson plans would result in chaos or crash and burn scenarios, she would calmly say, "And sometimes these things just don't come out like we expect them to." She opened the door for me to not be afraid to try, to understand that we learn from our mistakes and from our failures. She wasn't afraid that I would ruin her class or set her back in her scope and sequence for the year but gave me plenty of room to spread my wings and fly - believing that there was plenty of good I would bring to her, well for ten weeks our, students, and that both teacher and pupil can benefit from believing that "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again". I loved having her as my mentor. I knew early on that I would love her when she gestured toward her desk which resembled my own - comfortably cluttered - and shared a mantra that I continue to live out to this day:

               "Creative minds are rarely tidy."

     I knew I'd found a kindred spirit in Marcia Pearl, at Shepherdstown Elementary School. : )

    The first time she walked down the hall and left me alone with our 25 5th graders for just a few minutes, they were returning from lunch recess. And another famous quote exploded before my eyes:

                "Boys will be boys."

     Ah, yes, the two Michaels. Rather than the primary solution of adding the first initial of your last name (Susan P., Jenny M., etc.) these two took their last names as their monikers at least from their classmates. From my earliest observations it was obvious there was no love lost between these two ten-year-olds. And all it took on this day was an off hand comment or look to continue whatever altercations had happened on the playground minutes earlier.

     Before I knew it they were circling each other, seeing who would take the first swing. Oh, please boys, not on the first time I'm alone in the classroom with you all! I remember moving toward them, calling out their shared name, "Michael." No response other than continued circling and boy glares. My heart starts beating faster, wondering if it would be better for my co-op to come and relieve me of dealing with this, or for me to be able to successfully break it up before she returned. I come closer and call out more firmly, "Michael!" Obviously, this tactic isn't working. Thankfully, neither had pounced on the other one . . . yet.

     Now I'm just about to them and the smaller has raised his little arm to take a swing at the larger one and eventhoughIwascommittedtonevercallingstudentsbytheirlastname I yell smaller boy's last name and reach in to grab his arm before it connects with the nose of said larger student.

     Both calm down, larger Michael retreats to his desk and I look down at smaller Michael and release his arm, saying, "You can't hit another student. And I'm sorry that I called you by your last name" (Yes, I hear you asking why I felt the need to apologize to the little troublemaker? And I'm hoping I also said something to him about how crazy it was to go after a kid bigger than him!) He looks up at me with a Dennis the Mennis grin and replies, "Oh, it's OK Miss Kaiser, everyone else calls me that."

    I have no memory of the consequences but that impish grin that endeared him to me from that moment on has never been forgotten. And I'm happy to report that there was never any need to break up any attempt of a fist fight in that classroom again. I suspect it was because of whatever Marcia said to them upon her return, not because of my unintentionally gained 'cool' factor earned from calling them by their last names. : )

    One of my early assignments the first week or two in the classroom was to help individual students edit their Science reports. Students had chosen an animal to research and were learning to take that info and put it into their own words for a three paragraph report. They would bring their work to me to help them check for spelling, grammar or other mistakes to fix before going on to their good, handwritten copy - a challenging task for some of the students who found school to be difficult. One such boy crept over with his report on snakes and I gave him a warm smile and started reading.

      By the second paragraph it was obvious he'd given up on his own words and had done the good-old-copy-it-right-out-of-the-encyclopedia-trick. I could feel his eyes on mine as I read over his smudged paper, hoping against hope that I didn't do much free reading about snakes. When I got to his final paragraph which he began with the phrase, "Hence, snakes are . . . " I had to cover my mouth to hide my smile. At first when gently questioned he denied the 5th grade plagarism. He knew he was busted though when he answered my query about the meaning of the word "Hence" with one last glimmer of hope in his brown eyes replying, "Ummmm, it's a kind of a snake?"

     You will be rewriting this report, dear. Let's see if I can help you remember how you do this again.

     I'm thankful today for one of many teachers who modeled master teaching for me, who knew the value of taking a risk and learning from whatever the outcome would be,who wasn't afraid of a little clutter, a little chaos, a little commotion if learning for both students and teachers was the end result. 

     In a world of rage and stress and fear, let's try and be gentle yet firm when we need to correct, patient when we need to explain . . . again . . . and discerning about unmet expectations with whoever God has placed in our hands to teach, to lead and to guide.

      Hence, we can be the hands and feet of the Master Teacher of all Master Teachers, who I also think isn't afraid of a little clutter, a little chaos or a little commotion along the way.







Monday, October 1, 2012


     It's audition time. It's exciting and nerve wracking and wonderful and terrible all rolled together in one adrenalin pumping package. I love this time and I hate this time. I love it because as a director I get a glimpse into the potential that will grace our middle school stage this year. I hate it because it's just so stressful and scary and I know that every decision, every list, every evaluation is going to make someone cry, fill someone's heart with such grave disappointment, convince someone that it's not worth the effort to try out, to take a risk, to put your best on the line only to have it not be good enough - at least not good enough to secure the part, the role, the coveted spot.

     I hate doing that to kids. We do everything we can to make auditions as encouraging and positive and calm as possible. I remind them that I think the fact that they walked into the auditorium and are willing to get up in front of us and some of their peers is half the battle and they show great character just by taking that risk. I assure them we will not yell, "Next!" when they are done but that every audition performance will receive applause because we all know how hard it is to do what they are doing. We smile and remind them that every single person in that room matters and that we truly do care about each one of them and that we know just how hard this whole process is.

   And all of that is true. But the hard fact remains that there's a big group of kids and a small number of lead roles. We gulped and swallowed and decided to take everyone who auditioned this year into the full cast - currently a group of over 70 kids. Are we crazy? Yes - but it's middle school and middle school should be about trying new activities and stretching your wings and having the opportunity to experience music and sports and drama without all the pressure and selectivity that high school will bring. We want to take all these kids and give them a safe place to do that with a group that can become a family, where they know they can walk in every day and belong. We laugh and learn and love on them big time. We teach them about the commitment and discipline and teamwork and respect and yes, even humility that drama requires.  But we still have to decide who will play the lead roles and who will be the dancers and who will be in the featured vocal group and have to create a call back list for those who are being considered for those coveted spots  . . . sigh. It's times like these when I'm tempted to just put all their names in a hat and toss the slips of paper down the stairs and the ones who make it to the bottom step win.

     So as we forge on through call backs in our middle school auditions, I can't help but think how many times in a day I can feel like I'm facing auditions of my own and not measuring up to making it. The state of my house is never anywhere near the beauty on the magazine cover that's on my coffee table - that is when I can see the magazine on the coffee table and it's not covered with mail or school papers or the empty Wawa cup from last night's smoothie treat on the way home from dance. The fitness level of my body is just not what it used to be - and once again today my good intentions of getting out to walk are thwarted, but today at least it's because it's raining and not because I listened to the call of other busy timetakers. I have friends who work full time, keep an immaculate house, walk the dog at o'darkthirty, have an organized weekly meal plan with an organized refrigerator, freezer and pantry with freshly ironed clothes hanging in the closets. They.are.amazing. And I'm in awe of their ability to juggle it all and juggle it so well. It's just something I have to keep working on, even though I'll never be amazing at it all. And when I compare myself to them, I know my name will not be on that particular call back list. Sigh. And it's so easy to compare ourselves to the ones we just know will make the list we'll never be on.

       This past week I learned of a girl who had been at a summer camp directed by a friend from college. She was 15 years old  and just a few days ago she decided to take her own life by jumping off a bridge. I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about her. Just a bit younger than my own daughter. The same age as the girls we would take out on the Trail at camp. And for whatever reason, she didn't think she could go on living. My heart is breaking for her parents, her family, her friends, everyone who knew her and had some kind of connection to her, and the surreal haze they are forcing their feet to stagger through one step at a time. I keep praying for all of them. I keep wondering what call back list she didn't think she would make.

     Ridiculously trivial or earth shattering, heart wrenchingly larger than life - we all have a call back list we long to find our name listed on. The one that tells us we matter. We belong. We have arrived and achieved. We are significant, successful, strong. That when the curtain rises, we will be on the stage, we will be in the spotlight, we will receive recognition and applause for how well we played the role we auditioned our way into.

    And yet I also know, and also tell my drama kids, that there is much to learn from this process itself, from getting out there and trying, from building on what you learned last year, from simply being part of the cast and the team and learning as much as you can - even if you didn't get the lead role you longed for. From discovering how much joy can be found in bringing your own unique God-given qualities and abilities and personality and linking them with the unique features of your fellow cast members, working together to bring a production to the audience that will entertain them, make them laugh, make them cry, make them think, make them wonder, make them so very glad they came. And making you glad you didn't quit just because you didn't get the part you wanted.

    Let's encourage one another to not quit, to not miss opportunities to learn and grow, to not let the inevitable evaluating call back lists of life rob us of our joy. For Jesus paid the price so I could be on His list, His Lamb's Book of Life. I am precious in His eyes. I am His own.

    I can't think of a better call back to get.