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“I want to take a closer look at the mural,” I tell my coworkers, as the last student leaves the building.

The library buzzes with preparations for my farewell party, due to start in thirty minutes. Fruit, veg, cupcakes, napkins are laid out in rainbow order. A Yellow Brick Road made of butcher paper is unfurled across the top of the bookshelves, for attendees to sign.

I walk on down the hallway, and enter the teachers’ lounge.

The boldness of the mural always takes me by surprise. Should it have more distance–like Veronese’s “Wedding at Cana” at one end of a huge gallery in the Louvre—for viewers to get a proper perspective on the Italian landscape? But we don’t have that kind of space at College Street Elementary.

Cuisine, literature, movies, home décor, everything is Tuscan in 2010, it seems. The faculty had grown tired of the previous mural, a fishing scene in muted tones, after a decade of lunching beside it. Our principal had conspired with Susan and decided we needed Tuscany.

So, how did it fall to yours truly to create the new mural? Because I am the Art Specialist. But what made me think I had time for this, my biggest undertaking yet, six foot by twelve? Flattery, mostly, plus the challenge and the fun of it.

I love paint! After watching the kids produce art for five years, it was my turn—with help from an overhead projector and a team of volunteers. They slapped primer over the old mural, and we searched online for soothing images of cypress trees and whitewashed villas.

While a clatter of utensils and voices echoes from the library, I take a closer look at the mural.

I touch the sunburnt tiles of the foreground building marked ALBERGO, an inn or restaurant. It is smooth, buttery, just the right tint of vermilion—a blend of students’ tempera, household latex, and acrylic flow medium. The shadows under the eaves are Patty’s work, applying what she’d learned in a watercolor class.

Angela, Wendy, and Debbie, less experienced but most enthusiastic, had filled the penciled fields with various greens and browns, using a nice dry-brush texture. We had twirled our brush-tips Van Gogh-style around the foliage, and debated the colors of the sailboats on the distant lake.

Are those purple splotches under the row of poplars unrealistic? That’s all right, if our aim is a place of escape, an oasis from the day-to-day stress of teaching.

Now I scan the boxy roofs, windows, chimneys of Tuscany, and see that all is well. I pull a black Sharpie marker from the pocket of my paint-spattered apron, to sign and date the bottom right corner--giving credit to Tan Chun, whose work inspired us.

My eyes follow the earth’s overlapping curves toward the farthest hills. The mural needs one final touch. In the cloud-blown sky, I place a bird, a simple V, the kind children like to draw. I add a second, then a third, each smaller than the previous one.

They represent three retirees: Patty, Debbie, and me, winging our way to new lives beyond the classroom—or in my case, beyond Texas to Kansas.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” drifts down the hall from a CD player.

It is time to go greet my guests and join the party. Read More 

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There's a word for it?

Just days after giving up Facebook for Lent, bowing out of the Easter cantata, and going AWOL from two meetings, I chanced upon this snippet in Reader's Digest: "CANCELLELATION: The joy felt by someone who frees up his schedule by canceling an appointment or reneging on a social plan" (from WORDBIRDS, Simon & Schuster).

Yes! I've downed a quadruple dose of that feeling, and hope to do it again. After all, we are retired now, or semi-retired at least. How could my calendar fill up so fast? Have I become my own worst enemy? What happened to all those days that stretched ahead of me when I first moved to the country - time to paint, relax, dream, think, write, nap, read, or do nothing?

No one was depending on me to take a leadership role at the events I missed. Friends missed me, and a part of me missed them too, but, on balance, I knew I'd made the right choice. I owed it to myself. Much as I love people, I still crave periods of solitude. You might call them mental health retreats.

I still show up for (and enjoy) my part-time job, plus church activities and meals with family, but I look forward to less rushing from one meeting to another, and a lot more cancellelation. Read More 
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A Poem a Day Keeps Detractors at Bay

When I retired from teaching and moved to rural Kansas, I needed a routine in order to pursue my second vocation, freelance writing. Over the years I had saved enough pretty letterheads from rejections to decoupage two trashcans, but also published magazine pieces, two poetry chapbooks, and two middle-grade mysteries. In theory, with so much extra time at my disposal, it should be possible to submit even more manuscripts and widen my audience.

On the other hand, it was tempting to sleep late, take craft classes, read all the books on my bucket list, and make new friends in the community. If I wasn't careful, writing and writing-related activities would be squeezed out of my schedule. So, I bought a colorful, user-friendly planner and wrote the acronym POEMS down the left margin of each day for the coming week.

P = Promotion:
Whatever puts my name and book titles out there in the public eye. Update my web site. Post news and evites on Facebook. Contact a store or school. Print bookmarks.

O = Overarching:
Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, add new words to the current work-in-progress. Do background research. Plot. Create character bios. Ask "What If?"

E = Exercises:
Clustering. Word Association. Writers' group homework. Prompts from poetry. Pages in Write-Brain Workbook. Nature walks with pocket notebook.

M = Markets:
Read Writers Digest. Send for magazine samples and guidelines. Look at online
catalogs online. Browse children's shelves at the library. Mail mss and queries.

S = Scripture:
Meditate on Daily Bread devotional. Prepare Sunday school lesson. Jot ideas for themes to write on. Pray my writing will reflect God's truth and enrich readers' lives.

Whenever I complete a task, large or small, in any order, I check the appopriate category in my planner. An overview of the past week shows me which areas need more attention. Often these activities overlap with other areas of life. Over lunch with friends I pass out brochures for my next book signing (P). Reading for pleasure counts if related to my work-in-progress (O). Catnaps can be productive if I write down my dreams (E). In the doctor's waiting room I study Highlights magazine (M). God's Word informs my words and nourishes my soul (S).

This simple acronym silences the voices in my head that tell me I'm not a real writer!  Read More 
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