When In The Course Of Human Events

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July 4th is a national holiday celebrating our country, but mostly recalling the unanimous Declaration of Independence of the thirteen united States of America. I believe that it is worth reading and studying the entirety of the actual document conceived and written by our nation’s founders. At least once each year it is incumbent upon us to carefully consider their words to determine whether or not we are living up to their courage and intentions. Take a few minutes to consider the meaning and importance of this document and then decide how to perform your own personal duties as a citizen of these now fifty united States of America. 

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts:
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut:
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland:
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

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Happy Birthday

4760252204_d1ab50cd7f_oToday marks the birthday of the United States of America, at least in terms of being the day that the Founding Fathers published the Declaration of Independence from Britain on July 4, 1776. That makes our country 241 years old which means that we are still really just youngsters in relation to other countries around the world.

Our government has made it through almost two and a half decades but not without a few ups and downs. Somehow our democratic republic has managed to stay intact thanks to the wisdom of the men who designed our Constitution. For better or worse their ideas appear to continue to work, but all of us sense that we have yet to achieve the perfection that we desire. In the long history of the world there has yet to be a flawless union of diverse people and ideas, so perhaps we are sometimes a bit too hard on ourselves. Still we long for a land in which people of varying cultures, backgrounds and beliefs will be able to live together in harmony. Perhaps ours is a pipe dream but it is built on what was perhaps the most audacious and daring experiment in freedom that history has ever witnessed. It seems to be in our DNA to want a nation in which everyone enjoys a full measure of justice and opportunity.

All of us can recite the problems that our country has sometimes ignored and other times attempted to unravel. We might spend hours outlining the injustices that were part of our past and some which continue into our present, but what’s done is done and our only goal should be to continue to move to an ever more just system. It does little good for any of us to stand in judgement of our nation’s architects given that we did not walk in their shoes.

I suspect that those men who developed the idea of becoming a free and independent country understood that getting everyone to agree on one document would be almost impossible, and so they were willing to make compromises along the way in the hopes that one day as the nation evolved the citizenry would be willing to accept new ideas and make changes to help our country grow ever stronger. To a large extent we have accomplished just that, but at the same time the world itself has become more and more complex. It is very difficult to read into our future because we are members of a massive global community in which there is a very delicate balance. As the saying goes, if a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa we all feel the effects of the flutter.

The world as we know it today is chaotic. People everywhere are searching for answers to very difficult questions. Just as with the ultimate design of our Constitution, there are no simple resolutions. Sometimes we have to compromise to keep the steady heartbeat of democracy alive. We find ourselves more and more often wondering just how much change is good and how much is too much. These were the same eternal questions that kept the signers of the Declaration of Independence awake at night.

Some of my ancestors stayed to fight the battles and some of my husband’s left for Nova Scotia to remain loyal to Britain. Who could have known back then where all of the furor would lead? Who would have dreamed that one day the entire world would be looking to our nation as a power?

In spite of my reservations about the ways in which our government runs on this day I still believe that I live in the best land on earth. I have traveled to other countries and viscerally felt the difference between our nation and theirs. On a recent trip to Mexico I was treated kindly and felt very welcome. The experience was quite lovely in all regards, but in the background were the heavily armed guards at the airport whose presence in military uniform was difficult to ignore. I enjoyed visiting the ruins of the Mayan civilization but could not help but note that the rest stop where we lingered just long enough to take care of our needs was surrounded by men in body armor who bore big guns at the ready in case of trouble. Our tour guide joked about such things and then reminded us that we should not try our adventure alone. I felt safe but had a strange sense of foreboding that I do not encounter in the place where I live.

We have a president who is struggling with his role and a Congress that seems to be incapable of working together as our Founding Fathers once did. We insist on all or nothing in our governing which has led to a great divide that far too closely resembles the state of affairs when our nation was not quite one hundred years old. We toss aside politicians who appear to want to compromise for the betterment of everyone and instead cast our lots with rabble rousers who refuse to acknowledge the things that we have in common. We forget that the our beginnings were imperfect but managed to give us a starting point. Today’s atmosphere would have kept us under the rule of Britain and we’d all be singing “God Save the Queen” if men like Madison and Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson had not been able to come to an agreement that began the process of establishing our republic.

I love my country and continue to have great hope for it. We will soon enough settle down and find ways to move forward together. It is something that we always seem to eventually do. I long for politicians who will unite us rather than divide. I believe that incremental progress is inevitable. So Happy Birthday, United States of America. Long may your banners wave. Let’s hope we can guide you through your adolescent years and into a future that will unite us as never before. I have faith in you. God bless.

Magical

downloadI’ve been retired from a four decades career in education for almost six years and I still can’t seem to avoid following the academic calendar. Perhaps it’s because a school bus stops in front of my home each morning to pick up the neighborhood children and I am daily reminded that the process of educating our youth has endures with or without me. Maybe it’s because I still tutor students twice a week at two different schools and in the evenings. I suspect that it’s mostly because I followed the August to June routine for so long that it has become embedded in the heart and soul of who I am. So it is that I continue to immerse myself in spring break rituals each year even though that special week for students and teachers shouldn’t make much difference to me now that I am free to do whatever I wish whenever I wish.

I made no plans for the annual March respite this year and yet the serendipity of my activities made it one of the most memorable and relaxing weeks that I have experienced in all of my years of partaking of the annual spring fling. It began with an evening track meet in which grandson Eli broke the district record for the 1600 meter run. Watching him plying his craft is akin to viewing a gazelle. His form is a breathtaking sight of beauty. Even better is his determination to continually compete with himself to be his personal best. I am in awe of him and watching him on that night was magical just as the rest of my spring break adventure would prove to be.

Husband Mike and I traveled to bluebonnet country the following day, enjoying the lovely blue carpets of the state flower that are so glorious each spring. We had bonafide Texas barbecue and sampled fruit kolaches that warmed the Slovakian half of my heart. We walked among the rows and rows of flowers at the Rose Emporium and brought home two more gorgeous bushes to join the collection that we already have. It was one of those absolutely perfect days that reminded me just how much I truly love the people and the sights of the place I call home.

The weather took one of those unexpected dips in temperature a day or so later just as it always seems to do this time of year. It was a perfect moment for making paprika stew for my grandson Andrew who had arrived for a sojourn from his studies at Purdue University. We had one of those old fashioned Sunday night dinners with him and his family. We caught up on all of his news and lingered at the dining table with stories and lots of laughs, ending our meal with pies that we had purchased at a bakery in a small town known for its sausages, baked goods and ice cream. It felt good to fill the house with our children and grandchildren. It had been quite some time since they had been able to steal a few hours from their busy school time schedules. Not wanting to end the joyful feeling of the evening we all agreed meet up again the following day for a musical light show at the Burke Baker Planetarium followed by dinner in Rice Village.

Just when it appeared that I would return to a somewhat uneventful week my granddaughter Abby who lives in San Antonio called me to request my presence at her home for the next few days. Mike had things to do, like taxes (ugh), so I hit the open road on my own. The drive has become second nature to me since my daughter moved there a little over ten years ago. I break down the distance into discrete parts that tell me that I am moving ever closer to the other half of my ever growing family. The weather was spectacular much as it generally is in March. The bluebonnets were even more profuse than they had been only days before and now they had been joined by the red Indian paintbrushes that shouted out, “This is Texas at its very best!”

My daughter is about to move to a new home so she was busy sorting and packing belongings while I was there. She reluctantly took a small slice of time to join us for gourmet burgers and milkshakes at Hopdoddy as well as a round of bowling at a rather unique emporium. Afterward we played board games and watched old Star Wars movies until late into the night. It felt so much like the kind of activities that we used to enjoy back when we my daughters were just girls and we spent our spring break time chilling out and enjoying life in slow motion.

While my daughter returned to her duties the children and I continued our adventures with a visit to a small hill country town called Boerne where we found treasures in the many different antique shops, including a slightly damaged kachina doll that grandson William named Footless Fred. We laughed with delight as we scored a tiny house fit for the gnome garden that the kids are designing, an old Stars Wars book, a poncho, and a set of quilted placemats. We ended our day with a side trip to Guadelupe River State Park where we skipped rocks and told one silly joke after another.

It was with a certain level of reluctance that I headed back home toward the end of the week, but the kids had things to do that they had been putting off while I was in there. I too needed to get back to reality, but not until I enjoyed what may well have been the most magical day of my spring break.

Mike and I began the final Saturday of my mini vacation by meeting Andrew once again for a farewell lunch. He looked so happy, rested and ready to tackle the next six weeks at Purdue. Like me had had been energized by the people and places that he most loves. He had an optimistic and determined twinkle in his eyes and I felt quite comfortable sending him off to joust with his challenging  engineering and mathematics classes. He will be halfway through his collegiate journey by May. He sees the light at the end of the tunnel and it is a beautiful experience to listen to him voice very adult and wise pronouncements about the future and life in general.

From our sojourn with Andrew we traveled to the home of one of my former students, a young man named Bieu. We have known each other for well over twenty years now and he faithfully maintains a constant connection with me just as he promised he would when he was just a boy in my math class. On this day he was hosting a crawfish boil, another March tradition in the Houston area. He had great pots of the lobster like creatures turning a bright delicious red as the water bubbled around them. He cooked potatoes and corn as friends and family enjoyed the cool afternoon in his backyard.

I continue to marvel at what a fine person Bieu has become. I am as proud of him as if he had been my own son. I laugh that he was the one who most closely followed in my father’s footsteps by earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University. I feel quite certain that my dad would have loved Bieu and his family as much as I do had he been around to meet them.

I ended my glorious week that evening at the seventieth birthday party of Josefina Carrillo. She once worked for Mike at a bank in southeast Houston and he insists that she was his best employee ever. I also had the privilege of teaching her daughter Josie at South Houston Intermediate. Because southeast Houston has always been a small and very friendly kind of world the connections to Josefina go even deeper. Her son married the sister of one of my daughter’s best friends from our old neighborhood, so it was like old home week at the gala.

We feasted on fajitas and sipped on margaritas while a mariachi band played “otra mas” tune after another. There was dancing and enough smiles to light up a city. We learned that many of the people who had come to honor Josefina had lived in our old neighborhood and been involved in the same circles that had defined our lives for years. The kinship centered on the birthday girl bonded us all together and we had an incredibly lovely time remembering how many joys and blessings we had all experienced.

As I think back on my week of simple pleasures I realize how lucky I have always been. I not only have happy, healthy children and grandchildren but a host of friends who have brought sunshine into my life over and over again. I thought of how so much of my good fortune came to be because of the time that I have spent in what must surely be the most inviting city anywhere, Houston and its surrounding areas. Where else would I eat New York style pizza, crawfish and Tex Mex all in one day? Where else would I be so welcomed by Vietnamese and Hispanic families within the space of only a few hours. Where else would the people be so hospitable? Where else would I have enjoyed such a magical spring break? Where else would I rather be?

Follow the Star

14521142994558_700It’s the first week of the new year and the holiday decorations are gone. Stores are filled with valentines and spring colors. It’s time to move on to the next phase of our annual celebratory calendar. So much for Christmas traditions. We have better things to do than linger over a long drawn out yuletide. Besides, we’ll have plenty of time to enjoy tidings of the season when the first hints of the big winter holiday return to our local emporiums somewhere around the end of July. For now it’s time to pack away our memories of Christmas 2016 and plan ahead without sentimentality.

It wasn’t always so. There was a time when we were more likely to follow the lead of our European and South American counterparts who extend the holiday revelry through January 6. The full Christmas story as recalled in the Bible included the arrival of the three wisemen (or kings, if you wish) who followed a star in the east to the stable to honor the newborn who would eventually change the world. In the liturgical calendar that event is remembered on the feast of the Epiphany. In many parts of the world the twelve days of Christmas include holidays and celebrations from December 25 until January 6. The traditions and parties will continue in those places long after we North Americans have stored away our holiday boxes in closets and attics. 

When I was growing up my mother always left our Christmas tree in our living room until after January 6. We may have returned to school and work but the warm glow of twinkling lights and the aroma of pine greeted us upon our return home. My brother Michael was born on Three Kings Day so we had a big celebration that included gifts for him and a final opportunity to enjoy the joyfulness of the season. Only after that auspicious occasion did we turn our tree into lumber for the neighborhood fort that the kids always built with recycled firs and pines.

I’m not sure when we changed our ways and became more and more anxious to divest ourselves of the tinsel surrounding Christmas as soon as the sun had set on December 25. Perhaps it is because most women work now rather than keeping the fires burning at home. The pace of our lives is so swift that we need to return to our normal routines without fanfare and we can’t countenance the complications of extraneous accoutrements lingering in our homes for too long. More often than not, most of the things that we associate with Christmas are gone by the end of January 1.

I have a few friends who defer to the traditions of old. They enjoy the trappings of the season well into the middle of January. Their friends and neighbors often view them with a bit of derision and assume that they must be lazy folk rather than traditionalists. In reality they have become rebels of sort in their insistence on following a more leisurely calendar. I have to sadly admit that I left their ranks many years ago because I knew that I would have little time for the luxury of lingering over the holidays once I had to go back to the classroom where I worked. 

I was in Austria at the dawn of 2005. I stayed there until after January 6. I noted how the season remained in full bloom throughout the first week of the new year, climaxing in parades of young children moving from house to house dressed as the wise men. The people marked the occasion with lettering on their doors indicating that the children were welcome to come. They passed out treats and ate special meals. The custom was delightful and made me a bit jealous that we did not have such traditions in my own country.

My husband grew up with a Puerto Rican father who followed the ways of his native land. He remembers receiving a special gift on January 6 that did not come from Santa Claus or his parents but from the Three Kings. He says that the Epiphany was as exciting as December 25 in his home. There were prayers and visits to church to honor the miracle of the savior’s birth.

It has been a very long time since I have kept my Christmas spirit alive past January 1. I am always ready to move on with the rest of my neighbors and friends. I usually want to put the clutter of decorations back into storage and focus on my resolutions which tend toward accomplishments rather than reflections. For whatever reason, however, I have found myself wanting to end the season a bit more slowly this year. I like the idea of returning to the traditions of my youth. I have decided to keep my two Christmas trees looking bright and cheery until at least next week. I plan to honor my brother on January 6, just as I always have but also to spend time contemplating the miracle that happened so long ago in Bethlehem. Like the three kings who brought gifts to the Christ child I want to perform more acts of kindness and sacrifice for my fellow man. 

The very part of the world where Jesus was born and later preached His message of love is a powder keg today. There is much suffering and uncertainty in the Middle East. In our own country Chicago has become a murder capitol with over seven hundred killed in a single year, many of them innocent children. All of us long for answers to the problems that plague mankind. We want to stop the senseless violence but don’t really know how. Perhaps if we were all to slow down just enough to meditate on why we celebrate each year and why we shouldn’t rush the process, we might find our way once again. By remembering the true meaning of the historic events of over two thousand years ago we may find the keys to spreading the true Christmas spirit across the globe. We don’t need to hurry back to normal. Instead we should extend the generosity of the season for as long as we can. Don’t be so hasty to put it all away. Those lights are a symbol of the powerful force of sacrifice and kindness that we should all strive to emulate regardless of our individual beliefs. Be inspired this year to take the time to go out of your way to follow the star that leads to goodness and joy.

The Silver Lining

silver-liningEvery time I am in the Santa Fe area I make it a point to travel to Chaco Canyon. Getting to that remote national park is difficult. In the last many miles the road becomes so unbearably rugged that I always consider turning back. Since I know what adventure lies ahead I always choose to continue the journey to my destination. I am never disappointed. Chaco Canyon is one of the great wonders of our country and it is worth all of the effort to see it.

The year 2016 has been much like navigating the trail to Chaco Canyon. There have been many potholes and bumps in the last twelve months that made life a bit more difficult that usual but now that I am at the end of the course I can see the breathtaking beauty of my trek. All things considered, 2016 was another wonderful year in my life even though it may not have been quite as spectacular or free from loss as other times have been.

I learned when I was teaching that I should never judge the worth of a day’s work by a single negative incident. There were many times when I felt like a rockstar only to be plummeted to earth by a negative encounter with a difficult student. Early in my career when I still lacked experience and maturity I was overly critical of myself, always seeking perfection and hopelessly disappointed when my teaching was even slightly flawed. I lost my optimism and felt that I was a failure as an educator on many a day. A wise mentor came to my psychological rescue when she suggested that I begin to list both the good and bad aspects of each week in two columns. She assured me that I would almost always have visual proof that my efforts had been far more positive than I had thought. She noted that we humans have a tendency to magnify and remember negativity so much that it often overwhelms the excellence in our lives. In carrying out her suggestion I learned that even in the most frustrating weeks I had always accomplished way more than I had realized. It became my habit to look at the totality of a day, a week, a month or a year before focusing exclusively on the moments that had seemed to threaten my happiness.

Such it has been with 2016. I lost a friend and a very dear cousin during the year. I took a number of unexpected financial hits that strained my pocketbook and forced me to change some of my habits. I was surprised and disappointed by the results of the political primary races in the spring and then the national election itself in the fall. I grew weary and worried about the massive divide that has so torn the citizens of my beloved country apart. I worried about world events that seem to threaten peace. It would be easy for me to write off the last twelve months as a total loss if I were only to think about the things that made me sad and weary but that would be an incomplete analysis of the year. When I take the time to wander through my memories I realize that I was graced with many glorious blessings in 2016.

The year began in Galveston with all of my children and grandchildren. It was too cold for the beach but we spent time playing games, watching football, enjoying Moody Gardens and The Strand. It was fun and best of all I was with the people that I most love. It was really a dream come true because in most years my kids are so busy with other pursuits that I may see them on Christmas Day and not again until February or even March. I will always treasure January 1, 2016 as a very special day when we celebrated together.

On January 6, Mike and I met with a group of friends at Killen’s Steakhouse. The food was certainly a treat but being with Adriana, Tim, Jenny and Eric was the main attraction. I always feel revitalized just being around them and that evening was no exception. In fact it was one of those unforgettable times that bring warm feelings to the surface whenever I stop to remember.

There were the usual family birthday parties for my brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, father-in-law, husband, children and grandchildren. All of them were fun and festive and gave us a perfect excuse to clear off our calendars and celebrate the love that so defines “the best family ever.” Perhaps the most extravagant and wonderful of them all was a Harry Potter themed birthday spectacular for one of my nephews who lives in Dallas. There was a quidditch game, a magician, a sorting experience and some of the best food I have ever tasted. As Muggles, Mike and I were in awe of the magic of that evening.

My sister-in-law retired from her work as a NASA contractor and spent many weeks touring in Europe with her sisters. My brother hung up his boots and retired from the Houston Fire Department after a career that spanned his entire adult lifetime. Both of them had gala parties in which we celebrated their dedication and achievements which were numerous. I felt so proud of both of them and excited that they now have the time to pursue their hobbies and to travel to their hearts’ content.

Of course Mike and I went camping and sometimes met up with our friends Monica and Franz in Huntsville or Blanco and enjoyed the solitude and the local sites together. We even traveled with our long time buddies to Colorado and stayed in my brothers’ cabin for a glorious week in the fall. We enjoyed nature’s colors and the art festivals as well as the food and quaint shops. Mostly we realized just how much we love being with our dear friends.

In the summer we took two of our grandchildren William and Abby on a grand excursion in our trailer. We reveled in the sights from Santa Fe to San Diego. We took that terrible road to Chaco Canyon and almost baked in the punishing summer sun but were enthralled by the powerful images of a past long gone. We stood over the rim of Grand Canyon at sunset and marveled at the beauty of Sedona. We escaped into a world of make believe at Universal Studios in Los Angeles and spent an entire day slathering our bodies with sunscreen at the beach. We sat under a clear sky and watched the stars in the Davis Mountains. We realized how vast and beautiful the United States truly is.

In October I met with many of my high school friends in a fifty year reunion. It was wonderful to see so many of the people with whom I had spent four years of my young life. They each had special stories to tell and even though the evening flew by with the pace of speed dating I walked away with renewed friendships and a glorious feeling that we had all learned our life lessons well. The people there were good and honest folk just as our teachers had wanted us to be.

There were glorious graduations. My cousin earned an advanced degree and a number of my former students became the first in their families to hold bachelor degrees. I gave a party for those who graduated in May and together we celebrated their stunning accomplishments. I felt a sense of pride in knowing how dedicated they had been and what wonderful futures they would surely enjoy.

I watched my grandchildren perform in musicals and plays, in swim meets and cross country competitions, in robotics games and concerts. I realized even more than ever how gifted and talented and hard working they truly are. I understood that in those moments when I don’t get to see them they are busy charting their own trails that will most assuredly lead them to achieving the goals and the dreams that they have designed for themselves. They will be ready to accept the challenges of the future and be the generation that keeps the faith in our family values.

I met with friends and family and former students throughout the year and truly enjoyed those quiet moments when we conversed and considered the challenges of the world. One particularly fun evening was spent with a large group of women laughing at the antics of less than perfect moters in the movie Bad Moms. The film reminded all of us to be kind to ourselves.

It was in the laughter and the love of friends and family that 2016 was transformed from a frustrating year to one that brought me enough happiness and satisfaction to make me optimistic about life and the world in which we live. Those bumps in the road were a mere disturbance far outweighed by the spectacular moments that happened when I least expected.

Happy New Year to everyone. May 2017 bring each of you the love and the happiness and the simple pleasures that make each day just a bit brighter. Look for the silver lining even on the cloudiest of days.