Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Biography Tea - Ten Years Later

Ten years ago I published a chapter book called Being Teddy Roosevelt.
In the book, Riley summons the can-do spirit of Teddy Roosevelt to pursue his own dreams when he is assigned the 26th president of the United States as his subject for his classroom's "biography tea." As Riley writes his report on Teddy and impersonates him at a fancy tea party (along with classmates taking on the roles of Helen Keller, Queen Elizabeth I, and Mahatma Gandhi), he figures out how to get a saxophone and convince his mother to allow him to sign up for instrumental music.

The biography tea in the book was modeled on the wonderful program created by my older son's award-winning teacher at Mesa Elementary in Boulder: Devira Chartrand. And, yes, he chose to dress up that year as Teddy Roosevelt. I dedicated the book to her, with my deepest gratitude.

Now, ten years later, I am writing this from Fredericksburg, Virginia, where I am here to attend the tenth-anniversary biography tea at Tree of Life Christian Preparatory School. Their award-winning teacher, Rebecca Durichek, was inspired by my book to create an even more extensive biography tea with every child from kindergarten to eighth grade participating each year.

When I walked into the school, I was greeted by a display representing my early morning writing ritual:
A poster of my book flanked a bulletin board of all the famous people, past and present, who would be "attending" this year's tea - with my own photo there at the very bottom.
Tonight is the gala event of the tea itself. The students, in their costumes, will parade in on a red carpet laid down for the occasion, in the order of the historical timeline, with me in the slot for 1954. I hope I can hold back the tears. Oh, Mrs. Chartrand, what a gift you gave me as a parent and as an author, and now this gift is making magic in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a decade later. And Mrs. Durichek, what an amazing event you have made of what was begun ten years ago so far away.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Story of Two Best Friends

I'm back from my "Grand European Tour," a fourteen-day Viking River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, with a two-day extension in Amsterdam first. I traveled with my best friend Rachel, who has been the dearest of friends since we worked together at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland in the early 1980s. We then went our separate ways: Rachel moved to Roanoke, Virginia, with her husband, to become an award-winning high school theater teacher; I finished my Ph.D. in philosophy and moved to Boulder to become a professor in the philosophy department at the University of  Colorado. But through it all, we stayed best friends, first writing long handwritten or typed letters to each other, then emails, and phone calls for those times we needed each other most. When I got married to my husband, our wedding was very small, with just parents, siblings, and one friend each. Rachel was my "one friend."

She had planned to go on this Viking River Cruise with her husband to celebrate her retirement after 30 years in the classroom, but he died, unexpectedly, two years ago. I offered to go with her instead. Hey, it's not too painful a duty of friendship to embark on a tour along the world's most scenic rivers past the world's most picturesque towns.

Here we are, on board the Viking Lif together.
We turned out to be ridiculously compatible, both of us loving to go to bed early (so forgoing the ship's late-night festivities) and to get up early, chatting and reading companionably in our two little beds.
I took too many pictures to share, but for a few glimpses. . .

One of the dozens of castles we passed while cruising on the Middle Rhine:
One of the dozens of churches we passed while cruising on the Danube:
And one of the dozens of charming byways we wandered together on shore:
Our final day was spent in Budapest, where we arrived at sunrise:
We had a walking tour in the morning, Rachel and I choosing (for both Vienna and Budapest) the option of the "Up Close" walking tour where we walked in a smaller group, led by a local guide, taking public transportation instead of being herded on a tour bus. We chose to spend our free afternoon in one of Budapest's famed thermal baths. 

At the very start of our friendship, we knew we would be friends forever and that we would grow old together. And sadly, we knew that our husbands might not be in the picture, because of age (mine was ten years older) or disability (hers had health challenges, and now mine does, too). But we had a prophetic vision of us being side by side in a pool, standing in the shallow end, two older ladies cheerfully splashing water up onto our veiny thighs.

We just didn't know it would be at the Gellert baths in Budapest. . . 
But it was!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Off on "The Grand European Tour"

I leave in a few hours to get the bus to the airport, to fly to Minneapolis, and then on to Amsterdam, for my first-ever Viking River Cruise with my beloved friend Rachel: fourteen days on the Rhine and the Danube, from Amsterdam to Budapest, passing some of the most scenic castles and cathedrals on this earth.

It should be fun! 

But it all feels a bit strange, too. Rachel and I planned this trip a year ago, as a celebration for her upcoming retirement from thirty years of being a high school drama teacher. We wanted to have a whole twelve months to look forward to these two glorious weeks together, which would also be a celebration of our thirty-five years of friendship; we met when we worked together at the University of Maryland in the early 1980s. 

Between then and now, though, a lot of painful family changes have taken place, so that it's hard for me to think of abandoning those who need me, following on the heels of my six weeks teaching at Hollins University in Roanoke this past summer, and an upcoming teaching stint in January for DePauw University: a reprise of the study-abroad class my friend Tiffany and I taught two years ago, "Enchanted Spaces: Children's Literature Sites in London and Paris." 

I'm still going to go, and not berate myself for going - but after these travel commitments, I've pledged to my family not to sign up for any jaunts, paid or unpaid, that will take me away from home for longer than a week - at least for now, when I'm so needed here.

My challenge for myself: If I'm going to go on this trip - TODAY! - which I am, I should try to relinquish guilt and go with my whole heart, with radical openness to the beauty that awaits me, to savor as fully as I can every moment shared with Rachel - every stunning vista that unfolds before me - every tasty morsel I can swallow. I'm not going to try to get work done on the trip - just to write a poem or two - or ten - and scribble faithfully in my trip journal - and welcome joy.

My mantra will be this line from E. B. White: "All that I hope to say in books, all that I can hope to say, is that I love the world."

Off to love this new-to-me stretch of the world as hard as I can.