Adios,”Thirteenth Grade”!


12-18-16

Thursday, December 15, 2016 was my last day of school. Shortly after nine a.m., when the last student in the room turned in her exam packet and Scantron sheet, I wished her a merry Christmas and told her I had enjoyed having her in class. Once she left, I erased the whiteboard, gathered my belongings, locked the room, and returned to the Adjunct Office to run the Scantrons through the machine.

Oh, happy, happy, I thought. It’s all over but the shouting.

On Monday, December 12, I had closed out my first two classes and had already done everything I intended to do for this last class. I had only to record their exam grades into the electronic grade book and then post the grades on Web Advisor. After one last once-over to make sure the correct grades were posted for the correct students, I printed two hard copies of the grades and attendance for myself and my Department Chair and then — ZIP, BAM, BOOM — hit “Submit”.

Point, click , done.

After closing out the grades, I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out one final order of business of my own: a folder from the Teacher Retirement System. Not only had I planned to turn in my grades and unload my textbooks in the English Department office, at the end of this semester, I would also take the first step in the retirement process. At the time, both my husband and I thought  the form for “Notification of Final Deposit” form was what I needed to start the ball rolling. To my surprise, a Human Resources representative from the downtown campus told me that I needed only to inform my Chair that I was retiring and ask him  to input an “EX TRM.” Once he did that, she explained, the actual retirement process would begin, even though I would still have some paperwork to fill out. I had already broken the ice with him, earlier that day, by telling  him that I would be retiring, as of the end of the Fall 2016 semester and explaining that, after twenty-seven years with the district, I wanted to retire while my husband and I were able to travel while we were young enough and healthy enough.

Less than one hour later, once I returned home, my Chair called to let me know that one of his assistants had completed the “input”. For all practical purposes, I could call myself “retired”.

To celebrate the occasion, that night, Jeff and I dined at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, Campo Verde, a festive place with Christmas tree lights strung inside.

Although I’ve been planning to retire for the past year or two, I had put it off, promising to teach “one more semester”.

That “one more semester”, my last day of the Fall 2016, is here. Right now, we’re still in a daze. And, with more paperwork for TRS and the Social Security Administration looming ahead, we know that today was just the “kickoff” and that the process will take some adjustment as well as self-control. But it won’t really seem real until January 17, when I would normally return for Adjunct Orientation.

“So, what’s your next adventure” asked a Facebook friend, that night.

“Writing, writing, and more writing,” I wrote back. “From either our ‘tiny house‘ in Rockport, Texas or our Airstream or other comfortable, used recreational vehicle as we tool around the country and see all those sites — Grand Ole Opry New England, and other sights on our combined bucket list.

So that’s it, for now. As my husband told me, it’s all about deciding it’s going to happen and making a plan. I finally did it. For those of you who are thinking of retirement or have have already retired, what does your new adventure in life include?

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NAVIGATING THE MAZE: Winding Around and Around at DFW Airport


10-17-15.

In all the months Jeff and I have been married, we’ve been together almost all the time. I can count the number of nights we’ve been away from each other. Exactly one, when he did “Opa-duty” that turned out keeping him overnight at his daughter’s house when I had to teach.

But recently, an opportunity for a two-day meeting in San Diego cropped up. What he stood to learn from this two-day stint could greatly improve our lives and our pocketbooks. It sounded like exciting stuff!

So, yesterday morning, I hitched up my “big girl” bloomers and drove my husband to DFW International Airport for his flight. The night before, we agreed (sort of) that I  find my way back home easier if I drove him there, to begin with.

*Slapping forehead* What was I thinking?

You must know, up front, that I believe in starting out early, giving myself plenty of turn-around time, in case I goof up. So, before bedtime, I set the alarm for 5:45 a.m. so we could make it in time for his 8:50 a.m. departure. Early, much? You bet! Still, I’ve learned, particularly when it comes to flying, that it is much easier to be early and have nothing to do but hang around rather than zipping down the road and swerving around traffic that had the nerve to be on the road at the same time we were.

It was one of those situations. The same sunglasses that shielded my eyes from the sun also blinded me to the dashboard of our car. When I was glancing at the dash, I needed to be watching the roads which zigged and zagged.

On the way there, I remembered  why I hate driving to the airport. Left turns here and right turns there are not gradual; they are sharp, immediate, and, too often, after-the-fact. Invariably, I’m always in the left lane when I need to be in the right.

Before we left, Jeff warned me that he was not a good passenger, no matter who is in the driver’s seat. Must be a “dude” thing. Anyway, I believe him. As tears stung my eyes, I had to remind myself, “He’s just nervous, Kim. Nothing personal.”

So, we  made it all the way to the South Entrance toll booth, So far, so good. But when we pulled up to the arm that was supposed to swing up and let us through, it didn’t. The attendants ignored us until my usually-sweet-tempered hubby whammed on the horn and yelled, “Hey, you over there! Get over here and help us!”

Yes, I’ll admit I’m a chicken-liver about driving anyone to the airport. In fact, the times I’ve flown out, I’ve either ridden the TRE (“alphabet-soup” for Trinity Railway Express) or hitched a ride on Super Shuttle there. Even my own sons, knowing how I shrink from the idea, have driven themselves to the airport.  I can usually find my way home back.

Key word:  “usually”.

While driving around and around in the parking garage “labyrinth”, I got hopelessly and claustrophobically lost while trying to find my way out. Instead of the South Entrance, exit, I wound up taking the North one through Grapevine. But, hey, by then, I was on my way home after depositing Jeff in time his 8:50 a.m. flight. He did make it, didn’t he?

Nope. I no sooner got home when he texted me. “Missed plane. Waiting for another flight.” The important thing was, he cooled down and I realized I had lived through it.

The best part of all was getting his text. “I’m sorry. I love you.”

That said, which airports do you particularly hate and why?

IT’S MY HAPPY PLACE


We’re at Hotel Breakers in Corpus Christi. It’s the late 1950’s, and I’m nine years old.

Every summer, when Daddy’s vacation rolls around, we hop into our Buick rag-top and spend a couple weeks here. The Breakers, with its private beach and fishing pier, is my idea of heaven.

I don’t think Mama and Daddy ever make reservations, but, like magic, there’s always a room waiting for us. From the minute Daddy gets out of the car, I cross my fingers and press my nose against the car window and watch for him. When I see him come out to the car, room key in hand and with a porter following him, I bounce up and down on the car seat.

“Oooh, goody!” I shriek in Mama’s ear. “Daddy got us a room!”

Every day, on the pier, Daddy shows me how to fly-cast. Standing there, rod and reel in hands, I wait quietly, line in water. All of a sudden, I feel a tug. My rod bends! Holding my breath, I jerk the rod to set the hook, like Daddy has taught me to, and start reeling in my first catch ever: a tiny angel fish. As it flips and flops around on the pier, Daddy’s red face beams.

“Hey, Kimmie, look at you!”

I watch him cut the fish off the line and toss it back in the water.

“It’s only a baby,” he explains. “Let’s toss it back to its mommy.”

“Oh, Daddy,” I gasp, between shivers, “My heart is pounding!”

While my daddy spends hours out on that pier until the July sun broils his bald head medium-rare, Mama and I hang out in the coffee shop, sipping crisp, icy-cold Seven-Ups until he wanders in, salty, sweaty, tackle box, rod and reel in hands — bursting to tell us about the sting-ray he caught.

Fishing done, it’s time for us to wash the salt off our bodies and get dressed for dinner. Daddy in his short-sleeved cotton shirt and pressed khaki pants, and I, in my yellow bee-pattern sundress and white sandals, chat with the other guests on the hotel veranda until my mother joins us. Her white sheath shows off her bronzed tan. Her bare arms smell like sunshine.

Every night, at our favorite seafood place, the Ship Ahoy, I order the same meal: shrimp cocktail, grilled red snapper, and a baked potato.

After our dinner, we take a drive along Shoreline Boulevard. The oleanders on the trees look like white Hostess snowballs.

Hotel Breakers is a neat place to explore. My new friends, Kathy and Linda, whose parents are staying on the floor below us, talk me, a scaredy-cat, into checking out the top floor of the hotel where there are no guest rooms. Tired of roaming the hotel, we chase each other up and down the stairs, pester the elevator operators, and read all the comic books displayed in the gift shop.

At night, before Mama and Daddy go to sleep, they raise the window, near my cot, to allow soft sea breezes to caress my face. Hearing the waves lapping onto the shore and the even breathing of my sleeping parents, I drift off within minutes.

Now, decades later, I return to The Breakers, the sandy pier, the salty waves, the sun-sprayed beach. It’s where I go to unwind, de-stress.

It’s my happy place.

Christmas in Sweden…God Jul!


December 20, 2006
Stockholm, Sweden

The SAS flight from O’Hare itself, has already been an experience. The all-night movies at my fingertips and the scintillating conversation with my seat-mate, a history professor on his way to Germany, have made my first International flight from O’Hare, in Chicago, to Arlanda, in Stockholm, truly blog-worthy. But the real treat…the reason for the trip…lies beyond the airport: a visit with son, Tam, daughter-in-law, Malin, and grandson, fifteen-month-old Harald.

After helping me round up my two bags, Malin and I trudge through the melting snow to her car.

“Hope you’re ready for a three-day holiday marathon!” she says, laughing, on our way to their home in Lidingo, a suburb of Stockholm.

Hmmm…let me think a minute…nine days, in all, with my family, including my adorable grandson…? This one’s hard….

“”I’m in!”

“We do Christmas for three whole days. ” she adds. “It gets really crazy! The night before Christmas Eve, we’re all invited to dinner at Mom’s. On Christmas Eve, we’re going back to her house for the tree. Then, on Christmas night, we help her eat up the leftovers. ”
Soon, we’re home. Having arrived at their rustic, weathered, brown-shingle home, we hop out of the car and I promptly start sliding backwards on the icy driveway, before Malin rescues me.

Their house is built to make the
most of the short Swedish days, with the bedrooms downstairs and the kitchen and living area upstairs.

Before she returns to work, Malin brings me a blanket and pillow, and shows me how to use their tv remote. Eyelids drooping, I’m barely horizontal before I’m already down for the count, sleeping off my first-ever case of jet lag.

Before Malin returns from work, her mom, May, comes over and gives me a tour of the stately, older part of Stockholm, rich in history. We pass by
the palaces, the red, blue, and yellow Hans Christian Andersen houses with the peaked rooftops. We grab lunch at a buffet, including lots and lots of fish.

After the outing, the biggest attraction: walking the short distance, in the snow, from their house to Harald’s pre-school.

A pint-size bundle of blue runs up to me and wraps his little arms around me.

“Harald, do you know who this is?” Malin asks.

“Nannie,” answers my blue-eyed, blonde-haired grandson. Although a New Yorker at birth, his Nordic looks make him a poster-child for a Swedish travel ad.

In a short time, although it’s only 5:30 in the afternoon, the sky is already an inky, midnight black.

The phone in Tam and Malin’s house rings.

“Hey, Mom, you want to hop a bus into town and meet me after work?”

I have to laugh. Sure, I’m a gazillion miles from home. It’s icy-cold midnight outside.

But what do I say?

“Sure, hon, I’d love to!”.

As it turns out a neighbor of theirs is riding in on the same bus to the same stop.

“You’ll be fine,” Malin assures me, handing me a bus ticket. “Just get off when Peggy does. ”

Sure enough, when both of us get off at the bus stop in Stockholm, Tam is waiting to give me a tour of the cosmopolitan city, which resembles Dallas, except the signs, in the Swedish language, have way more consonants!

After riding the subway back to their house, we’re pretty much ready to call it a day.

Tomorrow, I just might launch out on a bus ride to their outdoor mall to do a little shopping for Christmas Eve.