It’s All Good

Newsslett_COP2If ever there was someone who had every right to complain about the cards that life dealt her it would have been my mom. At thirty she was a happily married woman with three children who were the center of her universe. Overnight her entire world changed. She woke up to a shocking phone call informing her that her husband of eleven years had died in a car accident. She had little money in the bank, no car, no job and was so consumed with grief that she struggled just to wake up and face each day. From somewhere deep inside her soul she found the grit that she needed to move forward, coping with the challenging lifestyle of a single parent with so much aplomb that she managed to earn a college degree and become a highly respected figure in the community.

It would have been fine if her story had ended on such a high note but it was not to be her destiny to lead an uncomplicated life. Instead she was eventually afflicted with the debilitating symptoms of bipolar disorder and that illness would stalk her for the remainder of her life. She would struggle to keep her health and to balance her checkbook. From the outside looking in, hers appeared to be a dreary battle just to stay afloat in a sea of health and financial troubles. The cycle of debilitating challenges might have defeated most ordinary people, but my mom was not so inclined. In fact, I can’t think of a single time when she became so low that she was willing to just give up. In fact, even in her darkest states of depression she cried not for herself but for the pain that she saw others enduring. In regard to her own situation she remained ever optimistic, convinced that she was a special child of God and that He would provide for her.

I was often angry that my mother seemed to be the target of the fates. It bothered me that her very existence was so difficult. I raged over the facts of her life and its unfairness. Oddly she would smile and console me, assuring me that she was quite content. She would recount her blessings, which seemed so meager to me, as though she had been the recipient of great wealth. It took so little to make her happy, and everyone who ever knew her was infected by her laughter and almost childlike generosity. I never quite understood how she was able to maintain such a positive outlook on life given the relentless pounding that she received. Her faith that all was exactly as it was supposed to be was unending.

I was watching a bit of Joel Osteen’s weekly sermon at Lakewood Church a few weekends ago entitled, “It’s All Good.” He spoke of the premise that it is only when we are able to see the totality of our lives that we begin to realize that there is a beautiful plan for each of us that makes perfect sense. When we are focused only on a particular moment we may be unable to understand the reasons for the events that have happened. We instead harbor anger about those instances when the trajectory of our existence appears to be rushing downward. We forget the good times and somehow feel as though we will never again be able to see the light of our lives. We become discouraged, sometimes even shouting at God about our discontent. We don’t notice what we have, only what we lack. He argued that if we were able to step back just a bit we might see that in truth “it’s all good.”

I find the idea of every situation being part of an “all good’ totality to be a somewhat simplistic idea that I personally struggle to embrace, but I know for a fact that it defines the way my mother chose to live. She did not believe it was up to her to question the events that conspired to bring her down. Instead she always accepted her realities and then dealt with them as best she could, confident that her God was always right behind her, ready to catch her if she started to fall. Again and again she rallied against forces that might have defeated most of us. I can’t help but believe that her willingness to trust in God without reservation was the main reason that hers was ultimately an extraordinary life. She had somehow taken to heart the idea that “it’s all good.”

I am not as faithful in my religious fervor as she was. I am as doubting as Thomas the apostle. I see the pain of the world and seriously wonder why a higher power would allow it to even exist. It seems a bit ludicrous to suggest that we should all strive to find the good even in our darkest moments, and yet I have seen the power of such willingness to surrender in the saintly glow of my mother’s eyes as she was drawing her last breaths. It is a vision that haunts my thoughts because it tells me that she somehow found the very secret of how to live well that we all seek.

It doesn’t stop with my mother. I saw it in my mother-in-law as well. I have found it in some of my former students like Danny, Jezael, Shaun and Martin. Such people possess an intangible aura of positivity that literally radiates from their very beings. They approach the world not with worries about themselves but continual concern for others. They have found the golden ring that allows them to seize each day with a sense that when all is said and done “it’s all good.”

I have to admit that I would so love to become like them. Most of us really do fight battles with ourselves that cannot be won. We lose sight of the endgame and get caught up in the babble and strife of daily living. We forget to be truly thankful for whatever we have, even if it is only the fact that we woke up for one more day.

Perhaps those who face the greatest challenges life are better able to appreciate the small moments of beauty. My mother-in-law had a heart condition that was supposed to shorten her life by decades. She felt an imperative to pack as much into every single minute as possible, and so she did. She did not have time to become mired in the pettiness that so often distracts us. Like my mother she saw her troubles as a gift that allowed her to see her destiny and purpose more clearly. She drew every single breath with profound appreciation.

Life is filled with both wonder and ugliness. How we choose to deal with each aspect is up to us. Perhaps we can learn from those who emerge again and again from the ashes with unwavering hope. I suspect that they have somehow learned that when all is said and done “it’s all good.”

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Tea Time

564_HighTeaAtTheEmprassHotelFor most of my life I have rushed around with a schedule so busy that I rarely stopped blowing and going until I fell into bed at night. Now that I am retired I have developed a lovely habit of pausing for afternoon tea. I noticed that between two and three each day I would suddenly become sleepy. I’m not yet ready to take naps so I decided to perk myself up with a cup of brew in the English style which meant drinking tea rather than coffee. I sit in my favorite easy chair with a view of my gardens and sip on Earl Grey, Chai, English Breakfast or some exotic blend of teas from the east. It is a rather invigorating experience that I have grown to love.

My daughter who is a nurse says that there is actually a physiological reason that we grow weary in the afternoon. It has to do with food intake and elevated body temperature. I suppose that long ago certain cultures took note of the general dip in energy that we humans experience and decided to create traditions of ingesting caffeine products to induce a feeling of well being. The afternoon tea was part of that trend and has been followed now for centuries. I am one of its more recent converts.

There is something very civilized about taking care of oneself by pausing for refreshment that we tend to ignore in our go go go society. It’s truly a shame that we mistreat ourselves. Back when I was a child my mother always took a break at almost the same time every day. She gave me and my brothers fruit or cookies and a glass of milk. She prepared herself a cup of coffee and sometimes shared it with friends who would drop in for a brief respite from their chores. The tasks that she had to perform seemed far less odious after a little pause. We tend to do less and less of that sort of thing as we focus more and more on constant productivity.

One year Mike and I accompanied a friend from Austria on a trip to his homeland. We enjoyed a lovely concert in one of the local schools which prompted a discussion of the school day schedule in that country. Our friend told us that the required time in the classroom was much shorter than what our American students experience. He said that pupils are usually finished with their lessons rather early in afternoon and go home. In fact, throughout much of Austria shops, banks, restaurants and places of business close for a time each afternoon so that employees will be able to relax before completing the day’s work. I know that we had to wait for almost an hour one day before getting inside a bank because it was the time of day for a long break. The coffee and tea shops opened for the crowds of people who sat for a time enjoying warm drinks and conversations.

I had always read about the tradition of high tea. On a number of occasions I found myself walking through five star hotels where people were enjoying such a luxury, but I never actually got to try the experience. On a trip to Victoria, British Columbia in Canada I finally fulfilled an item that had long been on my bucket list when Mike and I and two of my grandsons went to the high tea at the Empress Hotel. It was not exactly an inexpensive diversion, but certainly one that I will always remember.

I felt like a dignitary as we sat at a table draped with a brilliant white starched tablecloth in a room dripping with chandeliers and warm mahogany. An elegant waiter explained the process to us and asked if we had any special requests. Soon he was bringing us heaping bowls of strawberries with real whipped cream along with trays of crumpets, delicate sandwiches, chocolates, scones and other delights. The tea itself was a special blend unique to the hotel which was served in delicate china cups. The waiter was at our service and his every move was refined and almost balletic. The funny thing is that we had brought two ten year old boys, one of whom was in thrall with the occasion and the other who seriously wanted to get away as quickly as possible because he did not like the smell of tea. The disgruntled one behaved beautifully in spite of his reservations and managed to find enough to eat to make it worthwhile. The happy one was so ecstatic that he swore that he wanted to move to Victoria one day and then take his mother and his future wife to tea time whenever he wished.

I purchased some of the special tea and brought it home to share with my other grandchildren who like to have a tea party when they come. They insist on using my china and having sugar cubes to sweeten the lovely brown liquid. When I finally ran out of the exquisite tea I tried to send for more only to learn that the hotel will not mail items to the United States. A friend of my daughter’s who lives in Calgary came to the rescue when she heard of my dilemma. I have it sent to her and then she forwards it to me. It is a rather expensive process but so worth it in the long run. My grandchildren grow excited when they hear of a new delivery arriving at my home.

I carry a metal teapot in my travel trailer for afternoon tea time. We used it over and over again last summer when we journeyed to California. It made us feel as though we were passengers on the Orient Express, seeking new lands and adventures. I was so happy that I had someone with whom to share my special passion.

My sister-in-law introduced me to a wonderful tea store in Estes Park, Colorado not long ago. She recommended that I try their Cream Earl Grey and it is phenomenal. I try to visit there at least once a year now to replenish my stock. When I am unable to travel I use their mail order service to keep myself always at the ready.

Tea is so delicate and has such an amazing history. One of my all time favorite mornings was spent with two of my former students who treated me to a tea tasting. We sipped on golden colored liquids from China and India while talking of the world’s problems and solving them at the same time. Later one of them gave me a book on the history of tea and a lovely teapot with matching cups along with cans of my favorite varieties from a Chinese market. I remember our special time whenever I use those items. There is something about sharing food and drink that creates a never forgotten bond.

When I was still working at South Houston Intermediate one of the teachers hosted a tea time for her students. She asked them to dress in their finery and she brought lovey dishes and china from her home for them to use. Few of them had ever experienced such a thing and they were so excited. I suspect that they recall that lovely treat just as much as I do and think of their thoughtful teacher warmly. Maybe they even began the tradition in their own homes.

I truly understand why tea has played such an important role in the history of the world and why rebellious colonists scoffed at the taxes levied on the imports of their favorite brews. Enjoying afternoon tea becomes a delightful habit that makes even a dreary day feel a bit brighter. If you’ve never tried it maybe now is a good time. Even a pot of plain old Lipton served in a pretty cup will energize you and send you back to work ready to tackle anything.

Whoop!

18195028_10212752944999176_1547173858954972621_nI was working at South Houston Intermediate when a messenger came to me with news that my eldest daughter had gone to the hospital to deliver her second child. Luckily I worked for an understanding principal whose instant reaction when I asked if I might leave was to tell me to go immediately. I contacted my husband who worked nearby, and the two of us met up at home where we hurriedly packed a few items and then rushed off toward Beaumont where my girl was living at the time. We raced as fast as the speed limit would allow and completed our ninety mile journey in record time, literally running into the hospital to find out where the birth was taking place. Unfortunately there were two hospitals in Beaumont and we had gone to the wrong place. We retraced our steps to the car and set off once again in search of the correct location. We found our way to the right spot and literally ran to the labor room only to encounter our son-in-law exiting our daughter’s room with a big smile and the announcement that Jack Michael Greene had been born minutes before. We were allowed to peek inside and see our elated daughter and her newborn son who appeared to be strong and husky. Thus began a journey of eighteen years with a most extraordinary young man.

Jack Michael Greene was named for my father, Jack, and my husband, Michael. It was a noble name representing the two men who have meant the most to me in my lifetime. It suited the youngster quite well for as he grew it became apparent that he possessed an exceedingly loving and gentle personality along with a multitude of talents much like his namesakes. He was so sweet that he rarely even cried and he brushed off injuries and slights with smiles. His easygoing ways helped his mother to cope with an ever expanding family. He was always that kind of child who just rolled with the punches and adapted to change without fanfare.

He was a wiggly and active little boy who always seemed ready to take on life with his trademark grin. He tumbled and danced his way into our hearts, embracing the world and all that it had to offer. There seemed to be nothing that he was not willing to try and so he ran on the soccer field and then became a tough defensive player in football. He dove into swimming and eventually taught his younger brothers how to do the various strokes. He took knocks and bruises and disappointments in stride, always viewing challenges as a necessary aspect of living.

There was a serious side to Jack that people didn’t always see. He was a deep thinker who quietly surveyed the world and asked questions about things that bothered him. He loved to hear the silly stories that I invented and when I slightly changed them in any way he reminded me of the correct way of telling them. He wanted to be brave and courageous so he forced himself again and again to do things that were difficult and frightening. He was bold in a quiet and unassuming way.

Jack has always been so much fun that people sometimes ignore his intellectual side. He was taking Algebra I in the seventh grade and he walked from his middle school to the neighboring high school in the eighth grade to take Geometry with high school students. He excels in subjects like Physics and finds coding software programs to be as much fun as playing a game.

When Jack was in about the fourth grade he asked his mother to sign him up for an acting classes. He was a natural and landed a role in the musical Annie Get Your Gun. It seemed to have been just one more thing that he wanted to do, but he had been bitten by the bug. When he reached high school he enrolled in theater as a freshman and continued with the troupe for all four years. He starred in musicals and dramas and found friendships along with his voice.

A few years back Jack accompanied me and Mike on a vacation trip to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. We had an enchanting time and Jack threw himself into enjoying himself with the same level of enthusiasm that has always been his trademark. We had the opportunity to engage in some exceedingly thought provoking conversations and to experience moments that will be special to all of us forever. I realized at that time that Jack has layers and layers of intelligence and sensitivity. He is truly a man of substance.

Jack will graduate with honors from George Ranch High School tomorrow. He has packed a great deal of hard work and energy into the last four years. He was a varsity swimmer, an actor, and he enrolled in virtually every advanced placement class that his schedule would support. He also earned the rank of Eagle Scout and served as a leader of his patrol. He completed hundreds of hours of community service all while holding down a job delivering pizza and Italian food. Somehow in spite of having a mountain of responsibilities he maintained the same calmness and sunny outlook on life that has defined him since he was a tiny boy.

I have favorite Jack moments that remain forever in my memories. I see him dancing exuberantly and confidently when he was a toddler as though he is the happiest person on the planet. In another treasured recollection he is a smiling boy wearing a Sorcerer’s Apprentice hat at Disneyworld. I’ll never forget staying awake until an ungodly hour watching Forrest Gump with him. Then there was the time that we walked among the giant sequoias of Yosemite speaking of what is most important in life. Finally are those times when I watched him miraculously transform himself into other characters on stage, bringing a stunning sensitivity to his performances.

In the fall Jack will be a freshman at Texas A&M University which seems fitting since his namesake, my father, graduated from there. He was selected to be in the Honors Program and plans to major in Computer Science. I find comfort in knowing that Jack will be at Texas A&M. My father loved the school so. He often spoke of the grand times that he had as a student there. I suspect that like my dad Jack will immerse himself in all that the school has to offer just as he always has with everything that he has done. It is in his nature to experience life in its fullest.

I am bursting with pride and love for Jack Michael Greene. He is and always has been rather amazing. I suspect that there are many exciting adventures in his future, and it will be fun watching as his life unfolds. He has become as wonderful as I always knew he would be.

Memories of Summer Past

46211978-Children-racing-in-the-park-on-a-sunny-day-Stock-Photo-playing-child-park.jpgWhen the weather gets warm and the school year comes to a close I have a tendency to hark back to my childhood, and oh how wonderful it was. We didn’t have air conditioning back then even though Houston was as hot as it is now. We used a big attic fan and open windows to keep cool. Mostly though we stayed outside where there was always great adventure to be found. The hose was our water fountain and source of play all in one.

My usual wardrobe consisted of a pair of shorts and a sleeveless crop top. I don’t think I donned a pair of shoes from the end of May until the end of August unless we went to church or a store. My mother usually cut my hair into what she called pixie style, but it had mostly function and very little style. It kept my neck cool and was easy to care for. My feet would turn almost black by the end of each day and I often sported a ring around my neck from dirt and sweat that my mother called “Grandma’s beads.” God only knows I survived cuts from glass and punctures from nails.

I remember waking up early each summer morning. Somehow getting up with a rising sun was much easier when a day of fun lay ahead than during the school year. We were mostly on our own for entertainment. If we dared to hang around complaining that we were bored Mama would admonish us to go outside and play. Truthfully we rarely had trouble finding something to do. There were kids all up and down the block as excited about creating adventurous times as we were. We rode our bicycles up and down the neighborhood and across the bridge over Sims Bayou to Garden Villas. There we played games at the park and visited the mobile library.

All of us were quite inventive back then. At Karen’s house we built tents on her mother’s clotheslines out of sheets and blankets. At the Cervenka’s we dug an underground room. We teamed up for street baseball and had serious Red Rover tournaments. Sometimes I broke off from the boys and played with my dolls with Candy and Jeannie. Groups of us also created shows to which we would invite the entire neighborhood. I even tried my hand at amateur journalism by creating a newspaper with stories about all of the happenings.

Once in a great while my mother would treat us with a big thermos of ice water with enough cups for our friends. It was a welcome change from the hot rubbery tasting water from the hose. She was also known for inviting our friends in for lunch and she made the best sandwiches ever. When the temperature crept above one hundred degrees she allowed us to host game tournaments at the kitchen table. Monopoly and Canasta were two of the favorites and we played like Las Vegas professionals vying for world titles.

We enjoyed riding to Hartman Junior High to swim and to Ripley House to take art lessons and such. I most of all loved lying on my bed in front of the windows reading books while a hot breeze wafted over me. Reading was the surest way to be allowed in the house. As long as we were quiet and didn’t make a mess our mother was happy.

Mostly though we stayed outside until it grew dark each evening and grudgingly suspended our play when Mama called us in to take baths and get ready for bed. We spent a great deal of time lying on our backs gazing at the stars. We identified constellations and talked of things that are important to children. I remember feeling gleeful upon seeing the fireflies lighting up the nighttime and playing shadowy games of Swing the Statue.

On Friday evenings we always went to visit my grandmother, even in the summer, and that meant seeing all of my cousins. Our favorite past time was a game we called Hide and Find which was little more than a variation on Hide and Seek. We tended to stay outside because our parents filled Grandma’s tiny living room with smoke from their cigarettes. When we did go inside it was usually to watch wrestling or The Twilight Zone. On rainy evenings we spied on the brothers and sisters who were now our parents as they argued over poker games and who was our grandmother’s favorite child. We ate slices of rye bread and washed them down with a weak and sugary version of coffee. There was nothing quite like those weekly reunions that we thought would never end. Like Peter Pan we were in no hurry to grow up.

I rarely witness the kind of lifestyle that we had back in the fifties and sixties. Children today mostly stay inside of their air conditioned homes. When they come out to play their parents are with them, watching to be certain that they are safe. Most of the time they are not home, instead away participating in a host of organized activities. They are warned not to drink from water hoses because they might ingest dangerous chemicals that will make them sick. They wear shoes to protect their feet, kneepads to keep their shins from being skinned and helmets to insure that they will not endure head injuries. They make us look like free range renegades, children who should have been referred to CPS. The fact is that we were loved and cherished by parents who taught us how to fend for ourselves. We tackled bullies on our own and learned early on how to engage our creativity to occupy the hours. We truly believed that our childhoods were wondrous and we mostly invented the fun of each day with other kids rather than adults.

I suppose that the world is not quite as safe now as it was back then. The windows were always open and even though we did not see our mothers, they saw and heard us every minute. They had a neighborhood spy system that kept them continually informed. We were a different kind of gang than the ones that are now so dangerous. We took care of each other and learned how to share and be part of a team. Like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn we were summer explorers who found great adventures in our own backyards with adults from one house to another silently and stealthily tracking our movements. There was an innocence back then that parents today can’t afford to assume is present and oh how wonderful it was.

I sometimes sit and watch my neighborhood from my living room window. It is mostly quiet even when the children are not in school. I hope that they are somehow having as much fun as we did and that they will have memories that are as happy as mine. There was something rather lovely about the utter simplicity of my youth that seems to be missing today. I understand why, but it saddens me to think that children have to face ugly truths and realities about which we were oblivious. Some progress is wonderful, but having to grow up without the freedoms that I so enjoyed seems to be a loss for the new generation of children. Perhaps they are okay and don’t even know what they are missing, but I for one often wish that I might go back for just one more summer day from the time when I was young, and I would like to take a youngster along to witness just how marvelous it was. 

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?