Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 28: A Mission to Remember

I had no intentions of writing about this subject. After all, it's been 27 years. Even tragic events get forgotten, or worse; they get buried in the layers of more heartbreaking moments. But we have to own the events that shape our lives even if the molding of such is unforgettable. January 28, 1986 is a date etched on this writer's timeline, for that is the date that the space shuttle, Challenger, exploded.

Many folks know where they were on four significant events: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the day the astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, the day that Challenger exploded, and of course, the terrorist attack on September 11th. To appreciate my devastation of the Challenger "malfunction" I need to retrace my steps. Let me begin by saying I never paid attention to my fourth grade teacher when she taught about planets. I cared nothing about space and besides, I would never need to know that stuff anyway. How limited a ten year old's vision can be.

Fast-forward a bunch of years. I was now a teacher answering the kids' questions of: "Why do we have to learn this anyway? I'll never use it." Go figure. But NASA had been flying a fleet of space shuttles into low-earth orbit. Our imaginations had been captured and the interest in such had waned. Wanting to excite American learners to study more math and science, the idea was to place a school teacher on board an upcoming mission. A public educator could be their best ambassador for the space program, and soon the applications were available. I need to interject that this was early eighties; we were still using typewriters. Yep. The application booklet was twelve pages long, with specific spaces for text. It was rugged. I was the only individual in Perry Township that applied. I had to get permission from my superintendent to proceed, as it would necessitate two years out of the classroom: one to train for the mission and another year to travel, speak, write, interview, etc., about such mission. I persevered. I created my project. I waited. I became a sponge on the space shuttle, learning every morsel of information I could on this unique bird.

I wasn't selected. I was heartbroken and would soon learn that the teacher from New Hampshire, Christa McAuliffe, had a project that paralleled mine. I am still humbled and proud of such revelation. I have copies of her lesson plans she would have taught from space. But O rings had never connected portions of solid rocket boosters, which were going to be launched in freezing weather. They failed. A disaster occurred. We lost a crew of seven. Look closer at that crew. Five men, two women; one African American, one Pacific Islander, and the  major faiths were represented: Protestant, Catholic, Buddhism, and Jewish. It was an eclectic mix of folks. How I wished I was among them.

But that was not to be. My entire second grade classroom was replete with a space shuttle mockup, lessons, artwork, etc. I did not have my television on, as I had called a radio station and they said the launch was scrubbed. A dear co-worker came down to see how I was doing; the school secretary delivered the message from my sisters in Florida: they said they loved me and were so thankful I was not on board. I turned on my t.v.and the classroom became electric with excitement. "Did it launch, Mrs. Coffing? Is the teacher up in space?" I stared at the horrific image on the screen. The telemetry from launch was being given, then the silence. And the words, "We have an obvious major malfunction." It couldn't be! In my heart, I knew there would be no survivors. My dream of this mission was not damaged; it was obliterated. All I could think of was Christa's son and family who witnessed the launch. I would later learn that my sisters' yards would be littered for days, with debris raining down on their Orlando homes. I grieved, unable to teach for days. Other educators would step in and take my students until I regained my composure. I was loved beyond measure by a staff at Southport Elementary who had lived that venture of applying for 'Teacher in Space' with me. It became a common bond for us. January 28th was a benchmark in our history of education and friendship.

But the story of Challenger gave birth to living memorials in the form of 'Challenger Learning Centers' all over the United States. I am proud that for years, my fifth graders 'ran missions' at the Challenger Center in Brownsburg. We would 'Return to the Moon' or travel to Mars. Or 'Rendevous with Comet Halley'. Upon my retirement, my staff at Southport Elementary had a brick with my name etched in it and placed on the 'Memorial Wall' with the likes of David Wolf, and others. I went to NASA for two weeks (at what is now the John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland) to learn more about space education. One of the engineers came off project and told us educators this: "Tell your students to dream without boundaries." Unforgettable advice. And because of the Challenger disaster there are still folks ,employed by NASA, who cannot, to this day, watch a launch.

 I spent a week at Space Camp (for educators) in Huntsville, Alabama. I met one of the German rocket scientists who worked with Wernher von Braun which was amazing! And yes, I got to be the commander of the shuttle simulation. It was such an adventure! I learned a cool fact: Do you know what happened with Space Camp applications after the Challenger accident? Most folks guess they dwindled. Nope. They received so many they could not accommodate all of the campers! But you know, that is how it is with youth. They are the pioneers with courage, curiosity, and unflappable spirits. I heard myself say to my second graders in the moments following the disaster, "What happens when you are learning to ride a bike? You fall. You have a decision to make. Park the bike and never risk falling again...or climb back on and keep going. Kids, we are going to keep going." I tell you, those words of wisdom came from a higher power. But oh, so true.

It has been said that the Teacher in Space and crew taught more in their death than in a successful mission. I can't speak to that. I do know that there are two things that excite young learners. Learning about dinosaurs and space: two things they will never see, but take on faith. I would go on to receive my Aerospace Endorsement to my teaching license, and continue to teach about space exploration, Lunar Science, and yes, the workings of the space shuttle. I can tell you now, that while I have won many awards for teaching about flight, rocketry, space exploration, I would trade it all to stand on the moon and gaze back at Earth.

And if you ask me about January 28, 1986, I will tell you all I can. But don't be surprised if I do so through my tears. The crew was the soul of the shuttle, and I do believe they have been at my side during many a lesson.

I end this very long blog with the rationale for writing: two of my former students sent a message on Facebook remembering this event and the part I played in it. How honored I was to know that they remembered their teacher, who almost, went into space.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Truth Is: I Just So Lip-Synched This Blog!

I am about as excited following pop culture as I am trying to lose twenty-five pounds...but I am hearing a lot of yammering about Beyonce lip-synching the National Anthem. I watched the inauguration and I thought she did fine; it never occurred to me that her lips were moving to pre-recorded music. I am so easily fooled. With that being said, let me share my observations on this matter.

My first thought when this hit the media spotlight was: So what. And my last thought? So what. Here's the deal. A presidential inauguration is a big event. BIG! A celebrity wants to deliver his/her best performance on this momentous occasion, and if this can be delivered with the help of technology, I say go for it. And good for them for wanting to do their absolute best. How many times has the singing of our national anthem been painful to listen to? I have one such memory: Roseanne. I digress. There were three other musicians performing at our nation's capitol; if Kelly, James and the Boston Tabernacle Choir didn't mind if Beyonce was bouncing along to a pre-recorded track, then what does it matter? Are they being tight-lipped about the whole affair? Barack, Michelle, and the girls didn't seem to mind. And I know this is a minor point...and while that poem by Richard Blanco was  awesome, I actually wanted to hear the what the president had to say. Silly me.

Here's the other side of this pressing issue. We want the real deal. Authenticity still matters. It's like this: when I would bring a coin, fossil, autograph, document, lunar soil sample, etc., into my classroom, the question I was asked over and over again was: "Is it real?" Nobody wants to be fooled. If we are going to 'ooh and aah' we don't want to hear, "Nanny nanny boo boo" or "Sucka!" It interferes with our entire system of trust and sense of wonder. When we are led to believe that it will be, well, believable, we scorn the artificial. For me it comes down to choosing my battles. I don't want a faulty or fake medical diagnosis or home inspection; however, if a singer uses her/his own voice on 'live coverage' via a pre-recording I don't much care. It wasn't like Beyonce was claiming to be Stevie Wonder. Hey....wonder if Stevie would ever consider singing at the next inauguration!

I will sleep quite well tonight not knowing if Beyonce sang or synched. Had someone held up a sock puppet with Beyonce's voice, I still would have said it was a good job.

But now...that Boston Tabernacle Choir? I am pretty sure they were faking all that spirituality; yeah, they were just swaying 'cause they were cold. Oh...and James Taylor? I don't think those were really his hands playing that guitar. Naw. And Kelly Clarkson? I heard she stomped off when she found out Simon Scowl wasn't there. But what do I know. I just tuned in to the whole affair because of some historical event having to do with my country's future.

Oh...say can you see? This blog was lip-synched by me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Story has a Soul and the Soul has a Story...

Sometimes this keyboard is not my friend. Not because I create some technological anomaly, which I do, from time to time....but because I sit here and realize that I owe you all a story. Why? Because you are spending your precious minutes "looking over  my shoulder while I ponder life." It is such an honor to read your comments, see the stats on 'page views' in a day, or see how you post my blog on your FB page. Wow. In a writer's world, this is huge!

My objective in this blog is to look at life and record the journey. Sometimes I do so through the perspective of a mother, teacher, pet owner, woman, citizen, car owner, fashion flunky, grandmother, on and on it goes. You know how many hats you wear in a day: I try to unravel the moments under these various hats in words to make you smile, wonder, or escape.

Often times, I feel like my life's microscope is all rickety and the lens is steamed up and fuzzy. Or, that how I translate it is like a nine year old learning pig latin. Or a nine year old pig learning latin. Yet you bear with me and encourage me to face the keyboard and jump on each letter until some kind of drivel arrives on the screen. I have to admit...some days it is hard. Not because my life is so complicated and dark, but the balance between being entertaining and authentic is kind of like driving on the shoulder. You know it is not a real lane, but getting from point A to point B is just too hard in the fast lane. There are days I want to park the car and just start walking in any direction the feet can take me....leave all the responsibilities behind. Sounds exotic, rebellious, freeing. And then you see roadkill. That little ole' opossum who tried to waddle across the road one too many times. BAM! It becomes lunch for the crows. Now...isn't that imagery just lovely?

My point is this. I live and write down what happens. You live and read what I wrote down and then we connect. Perhaps you laugh, sigh, or grimace at the string of sentences I throw down here. But you affirm that somehow logging on to this tattle-tale blog is worth your precious minutes. What an honor.

Thank you for reading the "Ongoing Stories of My Soul." Without you there would be no reason to ever sit in front of this laptop and stack my words. My students often ask me how I get the ideas for stories. I have to stop and ponder that question-- as the answer changes. For today, writing is like a door. The door opens and closes and divides rooms. There is no real story in such an event.

The story occurs when anger slams the door and the emotion must be translated. Or when the finger gets smashed in the door and the pain is offloaded in paragraphs. Or when the door opens....and a world of opportunity lay at your feet. Sometimes, the door must be shut and locked forever....and in explaining this to your heart, the narrative unfolds. Today, writing is like a door. Tomorrow, who knows.

But a story has a soul. And a soul has a story; where one leaves off and the other begins is unknown. But suffice it to say, that your meeting me here at this spot gladdens this soul in ways you will never know. My niece gave me a silver box with a quote from Ernest Hemingway which says:
        "The writer must write what he has to say. Not speak it."

Which means nothing until you, the reader, comes along and breathes life into it. My, what a gift. This writer is honored.

Thank you.

Friday, January 18, 2013

You Might Want to Pass on this Blog....

Hey! Have you ever had a certain word walk across your neurons and take a seat on the park bench of your brain? Oh...you haven't, huh? I will repeat what I have shared before: words are my best friends...numbers not so much. So every now and then a word will get stuck in the crevices of my gray matter for reasons I can't explain. It might be that I am highly intelligent or suffering early onset dementia. Or that I am just odd.

The word that has been haunting me the last few days is: pass. Now it all began with a family member trying to pass a kidney stone. Hmmm. Why is it that kidney stone has to be 'passed'? Why couldn't the medical community dress that phrase up a bit and said that stone must be: eliminated, excreted, exited, transported to the bladder via the excretory system. But, pass?  Is that like passing a note in class? Going around a slow moving vehicle, receiving a thrown football, trying to flirt or steal a kiss, a note from a teacher granting permission to go to another class, or give up making trump in euchre. Or what about in the wild west, when the cowboy would take the mountain pass, or today, as we take the overpass to work. What student does not pray in school for the grade he/she covets when the test is --yep you guessed it--passed back! And who doesn't like those 'E-Passes' at Disney, which allows you to move to the front of the line quickly. Or the delight of everyone in the male gender: passing gas. See how many ways we use the word 'pass'? Heck, there was even a game show entitled, 'Password'. And if you're Jewish, I know you are thankful for Passover.

Are you still awake? Or have you 'passed out' by now? HAHAHA! Umm...sorry. I couldn't pass up a great pun like that. I know--you want me to pass the salt just like I want you to pass the test. And it is flu season so don't pass your germs to your family, friends, or co-workers, otherwise you will miss your concert and forfeit your backstage passes! I am just too funny.

Sigh. I have played with that word, looking at the word: pass and its many meanings and connotations. I am sure that my silly neurons are missing some cool expressions using this short word. But time is passing by and I am getting pretty sleepy. So guess I will just pass on furthering the blog.

Oh wait! I just thought of a joke I can't pass up:
        Q. What do you call a negative person when he is passing
              another car in traffic?
        A. A 'passimest'!

And to think this all started with passing a kidney stone.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Well, I have been summoned for jury duty. And you know, I really don't mind. However, this is for Federal Court which presides in Indiana in Indianapolis, Evansville, Terre Haute, and New Albany. Sure hope I don't get sent to Evansville...not too sure the favorite ex-husband will want to hear: "I'm baaack!" But enough on that.

I really don't mind doing jury duty. In Indianapolis, I have done the jury pool thing a few times. When I received the first form, and I saw the words, 'jury pool' I simply responded, "Thanks, but I don't swim." Um....that is not a wise response. Just saying.

When I did make it as a juror, I was so excited! I made it clear to the jury box, until I was singled out by both defense attorney and judge. Seems being married to a lieutenant in the police department (at that time) might make me a bit impartial to putting a drug dealer/murderer behind bars. The lady next to me did not want to be chosen...she was intimidated by his stare and the mean looking folks in the gallery there to support him. I was like, "Bring it on. I'm a teacher....you can't scare me."

But I digress. I do want to serve my country in being a juror. This might be my big chance. I mean....I am very qualified. After all, I used to have my classroom present a play based on the workings of a courtroom: 'Goldilocks on Trial' taught kids the various roles of our country's legal system by trying Goldilocks for the crime of trespass. It was very cool, and one of the students' favorite activities. And I have raised and taught teenagers, so I know all about drama. And I have been married to, and have a son in law enforcement, so I have a pretty good understanding of breaking the law. Plus, I am just plain nosey so being "up in your business" is a like a hobby to me.

I think I have something to offer the Federal Courts of Indiana. When the witness is lying through his/her teeth, I'll just save everyone some time and in my best teacher voice, I'll stand up and say, "Really??? That's the best you can do? You seriously want us to buy that story? You must have the imagination of a worm, if that is the best you can do. I've heard better testimony from a second grader. Wait! Didn't I have you in second grade?" Just trying to save the taxpayers' money.

And when the defense and prosecution rests, I will be prepared with my pillow and blanket. I can take a nap and rest any place. And I do not mind sharing my opinion with the judge, letting him or her know that they really do look good in black...and suggesting they audition for one of those judge t.v. shows. Anyone that has to sit on a bench all day needs some props, if you know what I mean.

Do you think anyone would mind if I had a few words for the defendant? Like-- stuff my mom said to me when I messed up. First of all, I would use their first and middle name, because that is the hallmark of knowing you are in trouble. Then I would throw down such phrases as this:

                "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
                " I am NOT telling you again..."
                 "What were you thinking?
                 "Well I never!"
                 "Don't talk back to me if you know what's good for
                 "And I mean it!"
                 "I told you so!"
                 "Don't give me that look."
                 "You expect me to believe that? You think I was born
                 "Go to your room (cell) and don't come out until you
                          are ready to apologize."
                  "Go get the belt/paddle/switch. And don't think those
                           crocodile tears are going to work with me."
                  "If you think I'm going to bail you out every time you
                           get in hot water, you're crazy."
                  "Close the door! Were you born in a barn?"

Objection! That last statement has no bearing on this case! Overruled. See....I could do this. When the judge hollers out, "Order in the court!" I will just tell him I want fries with my order. But I do anticipate a little problem. When the bailiff hollers out, "All rise" I am afraid my little voice might be heard saying, "But your honor...I AM standing." But really,with settling all of the debates, issues, crimes, statements, I have had with thirty-two years in the classroom and raising four kids, I think I am ready for federal court! And if I can't come to a verdict, I will just use my best critical thinking skills and reach a conclusion:
   "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo" or "Bubble gum bubble gum in a
    dish..." or my personal favorite: "One potato, two potato..."

See you in court.



Friday, January 4, 2013

Does Your Christmas Tree Need Viagra? Post Christmas Ponderings....

"Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum
How droopy are thy branches;
They may be green and still hold balls
But touch a limb and needles fall...
Oh Tannenbaum Oh Tannenbaum
How you so need Viagra."

Like that? Apologies to the songwriter. I am visiting my daughter's family in Alabama and one of my requests was that she leave their cute house decorated for Christmas. So, she complied. However, their authentic scotch pine has a bad case of scoliosis and the star is parallel to the ceiling. Or peeking out the front window seeking its galaxy. And the tree is painfully straining to hold the lights onto branches that become more naked with each puff from the furnace.

But we just opened our gifts and so Christmas is now officially one step closer to being over for me. I am, as soon as this blog is posted, finishing my AT.C.L.=Annual Tacky Christmas Letter which always finds its way to the homes of my victims in January. Standard operating procedure for me. I leisurely lay-away early, power shop late, wrap hurriedly which means horribly, and decorate in between a busy agenda.

I may leave my tree up until mid-January or later. Now...when people slow down in front of my house and shake their heads in disgust at my outside decorations, and birds start building nests in Santa's beard...yeah, I might need to rotate the inventory to Easter.

The point of this blog? I won't hurry Christmas. Not in coming and not in going. No doubt about it: had I been invited to the manger in Bethlehem, I would have been the first to come, the last to leave, and the one who never stopped talking. Or writing. And loving on all those animals! Sheer heaven for this lady--a newborn and cows. Throw in a miniature donkey and I would have harked like the herald angels: "It's all good in the 'hood!" By the way. You do know the two purposes of angels, don't you? (I'll just insert the tune from 'Jepardy' while you think....). Times up! What is: to guard and to deliver messages. Wow! Like Twitter with a seat belt. Okay... maybe not.

Back to the droopy Christmas tree. It needs a dose of meds or laid to rest in a compost pile. It has served ths family holding treasured homemade ornaments of yarn and glitter, bearing lights that remind us to prepare our hearts for the Light of the World. The evergreen branches remind us that the love that Mary cradled is forever. But too soon it is all over. Time to pack the holiday away.

Or not.

This year, in our post-Christmas rush to return our homes back to ordinary, "oh come let us really adore him" and make "joy to the world" our mission. Tarry at the manger; God did not create 'hurry' and the dimension of time doesn't exist with the Guy in the Sky.

Advent prepares us for the adventure. Calendars mandate we punch our Christmas time cards and hurry into New Year's.
Maybe we just need to change our hearts to hold the babe a bit longer.

After all... that wee King is in no hurry to leave. Easter can wait.

****And this is my post-Christmas post. Merry After Christmas and New Year Happiness to you and yours. Thanks for reading.