She Was My Hero

The heavens opened up to welcome my friend Sally, who passed away from her earthly journey last night about six o'clock. So today I'm sad for us but celebrating the beautiful life of a sweet, sweet soul. 
She was my mentor, my confidant, my role model, my compass.

Here we are celebrating her retirement; Sally is in the middle back.

 Here's a tribute I wrote for her six years back 
when she first got sick. 
I will always miss you, dearest friend.

Lost and ----- by Barbara Gruener

Found. It's supposed to be Lost and Found, right? But how will I ever get to the Found if it's my Compass that's Lost? Even though I've only had this Compass for a little over five years now, I've grown so attached to and dependent upon her that I'm not sure how to manage life without her. Thing is, she’s not just my Compass. She’s my road map, my tour guide, my co-pilot.  She’s the one I call when I’m not sure where to go or how best to get there. When I left secondary education, for example, to become a counselor in an elementary school, it was she who helped me go about making that transition.  She willingly shared her experiential wisdom before setting me on my current course with just two words:  character education. When I first met with her, I had no idea what she even meant by that. But now, some five years down the road, I’m a character coach and have spoken publicly on the topic several dozen times. She truly was the inspiration for my current career path.
She always helps me maneuver through the tight spots and over rocky terrain. She refuels me when I’m running on empty. Just last month, like numerous other times over the years, I left school early because I was exhausted and had nothing more to give. I heard her voice inside my head telling me to take care of myself, to give myself a break, to get quiet and just be. After three glorious hours of solitude at home and a quick nap, I called her to ask her to check on my son, a student at her school. Explaining that I’d been short with, even mean to, him lately, I needed to know that he was okay. Just hearing the kindness and compassion in her voice reduced me to tears. I was a nervous wreck on what seemed like a collision course and she understood. She waited so patiently for the tears to subside and my words to come out that the silence on the other end of the line wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable. When I could finally speak, her soothing calm enveloped me so thoroughly that my blanket of dense fog began to lift and the blinding glare of my inadequacies as a mom began to dim. We weren’t even on the phone for fifteen minutes. She truly is the air in my tires when I feel deflated.
She’s also the seatbelt that hugs me to keep me safe.  She’s the soft background music that relaxes me when the stress of the journey overwhelms. “Take care of your inner child,” she would tell me. “Everyone has a story; tell me yours,” she’d add. Or “everything happens for a reason; let go and let God.” It sounded so profound and wise every time she said it. God, I just want to hear that voice again, her voice, one more time, even if it’s just to say, “I told you so!” (though she wouldn’t ever say that to me). She’d ask, “where’s the gift in all of this?” She’s the voice of reason that constantly reminds me to put the brakes on when my mind is rushing full speed ahead, to make precious stops along the way and to enjoy the journey instead of just focusing on my destination. She personifies stress management and rejuvenation.
Found. What a relief it’ll be when someone says they’ve found my Compass. I’m so Lost without her. I don’t think I realized until I lost her how much I rely on and appreciate the direction she brings to my life. I’m so scared, so lonely, so small without her guidance, without her joy, without her. I’m not ready, of course, but something tells me that maybe it’s time to use those skills she taught me along the way. Is that what this is all about? Is her leaving part of the big plan? Am I supposed to do this alone?  I’m not ready yet. Will I ever be ready? I’m struggling to catch my breath now. My heart is racing and my head is pounding. How will I ever get to the Found when it’s my Compass that’s Lost? Found. There’s incredible power in that one syllable. It’s always Lost and Found, right?
My missing Compass came along when I was making a major career change. I had met her first as the mother of one of my high school students, a creatively entertaining kid. I couldn’t help but appreciate her son’s work ethic and drive. It was ten years since her son’s graduation from high school when I phoned Sally on that day to ask what the heck an intermediate-school counselor does. With no course credits to count and no college applications to process, I had accepted a job that I had no idea how to do. Without hesitation, she offered to meet with me and help get me started down the path into my new journey. After just one year down the road at Jamison Middle School, I was offered a position at the school next door to her, allowing me even greater access to my new Compass. How I loved spending time with Sally. She encouraged me, affirmed me, comforted me, and guided me. I always felt Found when I was with her. As I spent time with her and watched her gentle manner with my former students as well as with my own son, I wanted more and more to be like her. She was my hero.
As the time neared for her to retire, I had visions of losing my Compass. Bringing me counseling books and other resources that she no longer needed, Sally was systematically saying ‘goodbye’ and trying to prepare me for the loss as she prepared herself for that next step in her journey. With so much to look forward to, she wasn’t looking back. But the darkness in a tunnel just prior to the light can sometimes be blinding, and that’s where Sally lost herself for a spell. I guess I took her for granted. Maybe I needed to take better care of my Compass. Did I get too selfish with her? Is it possible that she got Lost because of people who needed her, like me? Was her job as my Compass too demanding, too taxing, too immense? Did her exterior strength mask her internal vulnerability? I continued to hope and pray that she’d make her way out of that dark place, that she’d be Found. I wanted to be given another chance with her so that I could tell her how much she means to me, so that I could thank her for her support over the years, so that I could say “I love you.” I never gave up hope, but I wasn’t certain she’d ever be Found and I think I felt as Lost as she must have been.

It was a sunny summer day, months after I’d lost my Compass, when the phone rang. Busily grating zucchini for my latest kitchen creation, I stopped momentarily to answer the call. After I said “hello” and heard her voice, I knew instantly that God had answered my prayers and that my Compass had been Found. I hung on her every word as I marveled at what a miracle she is. Found. There’s incredible power in that little word. Found. Life was very dark and confusing without her. Found. Thank goodness it’s always Lost and Found.

Rest in peace and joy, Sally. 
Thank you for being my Compass.


A Funny Thing Happened

I like this quote because of the dancing part ...

... and I pretty much think that as it turns out, 
common sense isn't very common anymore.

Anyway, as many of you know, it's been a trying time of recovery from a trauma for me lately. At times like these, it's important to look for the humor in your seemingly insignificant, everyday stuff. 
Humor is actually one of our resiliences! 
So as I convalesce (I like that word!), 
I'm intentionally seeking reasons to laugh.

Here's what happened recently that had 
my common sense doing the Tango.

Awkward, but amusing.

I showed up for my 9 am counseling appointment, a little early, and someone was sitting in the waiting room ... in my chair. Since this never happens, we were both understandably puzzled and it was she who spoke first. "Do you have an appointment?" seemed the obvious question, but, really, 
why else would each of us be there? 

"Yes, I do!" was all I could say as I desperately dug for my appointment card to prove it. I found it as she was explaining that she didn't have a card cause she'd called in for her appointment. Have I mentioned how awkward this was? She asked if I worked, and I started to explain that I was on medical leave and why, probably offering her too much information. 
She was just asking to see how flexible my schedule was. 
Heck, we could have probably had our own little counseling session right there in the waiting room! She said something about my problem putting her problem into perspective, and I said the same about the people who are suffering in Oklahoma, but we both know that trauma is trauma 
and we didn't need to compare stories for ours to be real. To us. 

I knew that arm wrestling was out. I considered paper, rock, scissors to see who would stay and who would go, but in the end, I decided that what she was thinking was right, that my schedule was flexible, and I could easily come back for the 10:00 slot, which our counselor thought he'd given me 
in the first place. 

I left feeling good about sharing the coveted spot on that counselor's couch and chuckling about what a great scene in a sitcom this would be. 
Penny (knock, knock, knock),
Penny (knock, knock, knock),
Penny (knock, knock, knock).


When I Grow Up

Our last lesson together at school this year for all grades, preK-3, found us talking about their future. Using Tanya's box template
I wrote student answers to the question - 
What do you want to be when you grow up?
- as they told me all about their dreams and aspirations. 
It made for a cute class collection on display.

It was interesting to hear them talk about careers. Some kids want to do exactly what their parents do. Others want to become teachers because they love their teachers, many want to do jobs that match what they're connected to, like a vet cause they like animals, a paleontologist cause they like dinosaurs, an artist because they like to draw, a musician because they like to play piano, drums or recorder. 
One third-grade girl said she wanted to be me {sniff, sniff}. 
It also intrigued me to see the trends between age groups. 
Here now, some of the answers that tickled my funny bone:

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
PreK student: A princess.
Me: Do you have another choice in case that doesn't work out?
PreK student: Another princess.
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
K student: A vegetarian.
Me: And what will you do in that job?
K student: Help animals.
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
First grade student: Can I ask a question first?
Me: Sure.
First grader: Do teachers make money?
Me: Uh, yeah.
First grader: Okay, then I want to be a teacher.
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Second grader: A football player.
Me: And do you have a backup plan?
Second grader: A baseball player.
Me: And what if you don't make the team?
His friends: Oh, he will, Mrs. Gruener. He's really good!
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Third grader: Did someone really say Princess, Mrs. Gruener?
Me: Don't you think that's a realistic dream?
Third grade boy #1: No way.
Third grade boy #2: Probably not.
Third grade girl: Well, she could always marry a Prince.

Do I have a great job or what?


Motivational Maxims

This is Jacob's last week at FHS and today is the last Tuesday of his
 high school career. While working on his graduation book, 
we asked him to pick a few of his favorite quotes,
 those words of wisdom that motivate and guide him. 

These are our 18-year-old son's picks:

How would you use these in your classrooms? I think they'd make such interesting discussions for your morning meetings or sensitivity circles. 
Or thought-provoking writing prompts. 
What do you think that the author of this quote means? 
Give an example of this from a story you've read. 
How might these words apply to your own life?

Look out world; here he comes.
I have a feeling he'll do just fine!


So That We Never Forget

If I get really quiet and still, I can hear my friend Martha's brother,
 James McKenzie, who currently serves in the United States Army,
 playing TAPS at Arlington National Cemetery today. Here he is at the funeral of Captain Russell Rippetoe, the first soldier killed in the Iraqi conflict in 2003.

Memorial Day.

My Daddy by Deborah Hutchinson

A time set aside to remember.
And to reflect. 
A time set aside to honor.
And to be humbled.
A time set aside to express gratitude.
And to grieve.

Hutch by Deborah Hutchinson
I think about Ray Joseph a lot, but especially on days like today. We know that he's in a better place and we hold on to the hope that one day we'll see him again. But every day from now until then holds grief and loss for his parents, his brother, his friends. It also holds pride and joy because he was a fine young man and an incredibly courageous soldier
willing to make the supreme sacrifice, 
for our freedom, 
for our future.

This Memorial Day, we remember.
Every day, may we never forget.


Let Hope Shine Through

Our daughter Kaitlyn Marie turns 20 today. 
Here she is around the time of her first birthday.

I am so proud and happy to be her mom!

Birthday blessings, Kit.

You may remember my friend and photographer Caroline Clarke from the beautiful montage she did for us at our 
event last September. Her family moved to the US from Singapore a few years back and our sons became friends on the soccer field when they were both put on John's team.

Anyway, Alex is a talented young musician who's using his skills to fundraise for a friend. His beautiful ballad, Turning Grey Skies To Blue, is now available on iTunes; all of the proceeds will go toward lymphoma research.

 Here's their story:

When people help one another, hope shines through 
in the most brilliant way.



If you have not seen The Love-Filled Last Days of Zach Sobiech, you will want to carve out some time to do that ... when you can be alone ... or with a loved one ... and with some tissues. 
Prepare to be InSpIrEd. And sad. 
Click {here} to watch it on Karma Tube ... when you're ready.

Here's his inspirational song, simply called Clouds.

The world is a better place with kids like Zach, Grace and Amy
 leading the way. 
Please join me in praying for his loved ones at their loss.

"You don't have to find out you're dying to start living." ~Zach


Real Talk

Do you have a Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL) program at your school? We're blessed with these specially-trained teens from FHS and they truly make a difference in the lives of our school family. Every year I get to watch as their relationships with our little friends unfold and bloom 
right before my eyes

Here's a first-grade boy's priceless poetic tribute to his PAL: 

I have a pal, her name is Kristin
and when she talks I like to listen.

This year, however, was different because I wasn't around as much this spring and I had to miss their last day on our campus. Instead of just disappearing from their lives and letting them disappear from mine, 
I decided to send them this real talk thank-you note.

Dear 2013 PALs:

You are all very special to me and to our school family. Thank you for your service on our campus this year. You have positively impacted the growth and development of some children whose lives are often times chaotic and grim. You have shown them that there are, indeed, caring and trustworthy people in this world. You have given them compassion, friendship and hope, all beautiful and long-lasting virtues.

I want to share with you why I am unable to come and say goodbye to you in person. As you may recall, I was hit head-on by a drunk driver in January. The physical injuries kept me out of school more days than I've ever been absent, but God has restored a good bit of my phsyical strength. My stamina will undoubtedly return one day soon.

The issue now is the trauma which has momentarily trumped me. This month has found me fearful, mistrusting, and out of sorts; it truly is a "me" that I don't recognize. Now a wounded healer myself, I took a medical leave for the remainder of the year so that I could receive more counseling to process through that life-changing, violent crash.

Thank you for the flowers and your warm wishes, thoughts and prayers through this difficult time. I want you to know that there is strength in weakness, and, if you ever find yourself in my shoes, I want you to ask for help and let people who care about you be there for you, like you and Mrs. Victorick have been there for me.

I have known many of you since the first grade, (Jordan, I think you were 4 when we first met you on the soccer field!) and I am as proud of you as I am of my own son, Jacob. Your class is very gifted and I know you'll do amazing things to change the world. You have to BE the difference! Wherever you go, go with ALL of your heart and remember to always, always let your values light your path. I love you.

With gratitude and blessings,

Mrs. Gruener


My Little Ponytail

What's a picture worth?

Meet Carly and Kaitlyn, at ten and twenty, they are a decade apart in age but today they're as close as they can be, connected by a cause dear to their hearts ... and heads!
Helping cancer patients. 

In front of a student body of nearly a thousand, they joined twenty five other Ponytail Club members (ranging in age from 5 to 55-ish) who contracted to grow their hair out so that they could cut off their lovely locks to donate them for wigs.

We projected the super cuts on the big screen!

As their hair grew, so did their empathy and compassion for kids and adults alike who face the challenges of cancer and chemo. For more information, visit Locks of Love or Hawk's Locks For Kids

Summertime just got a little cooler for these Ponytail Club donors.

We thank the stylists who partnered with us by donating their time and talents for this worthwhile venture.

For those who missed their chance to join us this year, 
we will be donating again same time next year.


From Her Heart

It's that time again, the month of lasts. 
Last band banquet - check 
last academic banquet - check 
last band concert - check 
last AP test - check 
last PROM, next weekend.  

Yesterday Jacob's class took their last group graduation picture before Baccalaureate. Here's a shot of our senior as he headed out the door. Another thing to check off of our list. It's a nice event, actually, that prayer service for the seniors. Optional, of course, but we decided to attend. Several alumni from my elementary school were in leadership roles: the welcome, the invocation, the song. The song, that's what stuck with me. 

Actually not the song, so much, as the singer, a girl named Ariana whom I vividly remember as a third grader, mostly from my knitting club. It was our first year, ten years ago, and she was so happy and proud to bring her grandmother to mentor. It's funny the things that you remember about people. Her grandmother knits continental style and I hadn't seen that before. Ariana learned easily and knit some beautiful patches for that first quilt we ever made. Anyway, I've only seen her one other time since third grade, when she was a freshman and worked on a project in Spanish class with our daughter.

Yesterday, she was on the agenda to sing the song Every Heart Has A Story To Tell by Sara Haze. She walked gracefully up the stairs and onto the stage and told us that this song is about lessons learned. Then she went on to say that she learned a lesson just today, to always bring a second CD in case the one you have doesn't want to cooperate with the equipment. She added that she'd be singing it for us a cappella today, but that next time she'd bring a spare. And then this courageous, resilient, poised young woman, all alone on stage in a crowded auditorium, sang this beautifully haunting ballad. 
By herself. 
From her heart.

I didn't have my flip cam, but there's a You Tube clip of the song; just imagine a voice every bit as mesmerizing but without the accompaniment.

My heart is so happy about kids like Ariana in the Class of 2013.


Find Your Voice

What it said was that this is AmAzInG.
What it didn't say is to have your tissues ready.
What I know is that it feels like a Sparks novel ...

Prepare to be inspired by these beautiful
junior high songsters in their tribute to
a positively influential force in their lives, 
to a teacher who helped them find their voice:

Melissa Smith . . .
choir director,  
and . . .

So grab your tissues and click {here} for the montage tribute
 compiled with admiration, love and gratitude
by choir mom and photographer Caroline Clark.

We'll miss you, Melissa!


Alice In Dairyland

If you're not from Wisconsin, you might think 
I meant Alice in Wonderland, but those of you who hail from
 America's Dairyland know what being crowned 
means. It is with pride and pleasure that I share the good news that the 66th Alice in Dairyland is my niece, Kristin Natzke Olson
Click {here} to watch her television interview.

Kristin will start her Alice adventure on June 3rd and spend the year as an Ambassador for the Agriculture Industry. Last year's Alice made ~400 school visits, so I have no doubt that Kristin will be one busy beauty. I'm not sure they'll let her come to Texas as part of her outreach tour, but you better believe we'll be sending an invitation to this year's Alice 
to come to Friendswood. 

Congratulations, Kristin, we are so proud of you!


Why Knot?

Today I'm excited because we dressed as rockers to celebrate our volunteers who rock!

Such a Motley Crew we are!

Anywho, how many times have your students been stuck on a problem and the solution was pretty much staring at them, just willing them to figure it out? Sometimes we just have to let go and look at it from a different angle, with a different mindset, or from a different point of view, right?

Enter The Knot exercise. This is such a great visual for the need to keep an opened mind, to have a growth mindset, to allow yourself go after something from a different angle, to think outside of 
that proverbial box.

Give each student a 12" piece of rope, yarn, or string. Instruct them to hold one end in each hand and, without letting go, tie a knot. They'll try for awhile, but it's knot going to work! Process that with them. What do they do with seemingly impossible tasks, problems without clear solutions, like that one? Whom do they go to for help? How do they choose those people? This might just lead you into a "someone you trust" lesson, too!

Now lay that same piece of string down and cross your arms. With arms crossed, use your hands (one for each end) to pick up the rope. Uncross your arms and watch that knot magically appear.

Here's a quick tutorial to show you how it's done ...
why knot try it?

What other things could you use the knot to illustrate?


You'll Call Her Mommy

Happy Mother's Day!
I am truly blessed to not only have a wonderful mom 
but to have found many, many surrogate moms 
to enrich my life and help me along the way. 
I'm also incredibly blessed to be a mom to three beautiful children.

When our youngest was about to be born, my friend Rhonda gave me a copy of this poem and I cried like a baby. I thought at the time that it was just because my hormones were all out of whack, but I came across it on video this morning and the tears came again. 

If you're up to it, watch Little Angel {here}.

Since then, I've given it out to many other moms
 and today I share it with you.


Little Angel

Once upon a time, there was a baby ready to be born.

So one day the child asked God, “They tell me you are sending me to earth tomorrow, but how am I going to live there, being so small and helpless?”

God said, “Among the many angels, I chose one for you. She will be waiting for you and she will take care of you.”

The child said, “But tell me, here in Heaven, I don’t do anything else but sing and smile. That’s enough for me to be happy.”

“Your angel will sing for you and will also smile for you every day. And you will feel your angel’s love and be happy.”

“And how am I going to be able to understand when people talk to me, if I don’t know the language that men talk?”

“Your angel will tell you the most beautiful and sweet words you will ever hear, and with much patience and care, your angel will teach you how to speak.”

“And what am I going to do when I want to talk to you?”

“Your angel will place your hands together and will teach you how to pray.”

“I’ve heard that on earth there are bad men.  Who will protect me?”

“Your angel will defend you, even if it means risking her life.”

“But I will always be sad because I will not see you anymore.”

“Your angel will always talk about me and will teach you the way for you to come back to me, even though I will always be next to you.”

At that moment, there was much peace in Heaven, but voices from earth could already be heard, and the little child in a hurry asked softly, “Oh, God, if I am about to leave now, please tell me my angel’s name.”

God said, “Your angel’s name is of no importance. You’ll call her mommy.”

 NOTE: The copy that I received did not have an author's name, so if you know who wrote this heartwarming piece, please pass his/her name along so that I can properly credit it.


PPBF: The Granddaughter Necklace

Today's PPBF is a perfect pick for the Friday before Mother's Day!

Title: The Granddaughter Necklace
Author: Sharon Dennis Wyeth
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Publisher: Arthur A. Levin Books (an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.)
Date: January 1, 2013
Suitable for ages: 4-8
Themes: genealogy, roots, ancestry, grandparents, family ties, relationships
Brief synopsis: A necklace becomes a treasured heirloom when it is handed down from generation to generation.
Opening page:  Once there was a girl named Frances, who took a boat across the sea. Her mother gave her a glittering necklace that would belong to me someday. Handed down through generations, it's a necklace worn by the women and girls in my family.
Read a comprehensive review at the Picturebook Depot blog {here}
Turn the keychain activity {here} into a keepsake necklace
Visit the author's webpage {here}
Make Family History Fun with Family Tree Kids {here}

Why I like this book:  We wouldn't be who or what we are without our ancestors; what fun it is to uncover information about and honor the memory of those relatives who forged the way for us. I found myself feeling gratitude to my ancestors while I read from past to present the story of each of the women who wore this special piece of jewelry. This heartwarming treasure will undoubtedly make you wonder a little bit more about your great-great-great grandmother, too. Study the names in the book. Don't you just love the name Frances? Research this year's most popular names. I heard on the radio this morning that the most common boy's name has been Jacob for the last 14 years in a row. What about the girl's name? In the book, you'll see names of old like Evon, Mildred, Cordelia, and Sallie. My mom's name is Marilyn. What's yours? Use it as a springboard for making (or continuing to work on) your own family tree and enjoy the trip down memory lane. 

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