Glorious Mornings


Mornings are generally slower than they were when I was still working. Back then I arose before the sun was out and hurried to get on the road as soon as possible. I absolutely despised the early hours of the day back then because they were filled with so much stress that I was already feeling tired before I even arrived at my job. I always imagined that when I retired I would sleep in every single day and just do wherever the spirit led me to do once I left my bed. Surprisingly I actually look forward to the new day now that I don’t have to hit the crowded freeways anymore. I’m awakened with great regularity at about six thirty or earlier each morning without setting an alarm. I hear the sounds of neighbors gearing up for the new day and I quietly arise to enjoy the slow pace of my own design.

I have developed a comfortable routine that is quite satisfying. I prepare some tea and a light breakfast and retire to my sitting room where I spend time reading the news, wishing friends happiness on their birthdays, checking my email, meditating or praying and writing my weekday blogs, all in the comfort of my pajamas. I am rarely in a rush, so it may be ten or even eleven before I finally get dressed depending on the weather. If it’s a cold or rainy day I am never in a hurry. Instead I enjoy the quiet and the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, luxuries that were denied for decades. I have to admit that I check the calendar each morning just to remember what day it is. It’s nice to be free to be me rather than to have to answer to the schedule of someone else.

I so despised the morning rush when I was a student and then an employee that I thought myself to be a night owl rather than someone who actually preferred the early hours of the day. I always felt sluggish and out of sorts as I sat in traffic jams on the beltway nervously watching the clock tick as though mocking me because I was running late. Houston traffic is notoriously bad and I became a maniac as I fought it on the way to work. My generally quiet demeanor became full blown rage as I witnessed the craziness of the freeway. I had to fight myself to keep from flipping off every other driver. I’d think of my warm and cozy bed and wish that there were some way for me to stay there instead of being a daily gladiator of the road.

Once I got to work I was generally so full of vinegar that I did my best to avoid human contact at all costs until I was able to get control of myself. I tried to sneak into my classroom from unfrequented entrances. I’d close the door and even leave the light out lest someone notice me and attempt to engage me in a conversation. I craved silence and calm.

I still don’t appreciate noise or conversation in the morning. I love the sound of children waiting for the bus but I don’t want anyone calling me on the phone or coming to my door until after nine. By the time the caffeine in my tea has fully awakened me and my brain is working well enough to enjoy other people I’m as pleasant as can be. Once my brain adjusts I no doubt talk way more than I should with anyone willing to listen to my babbling.

I would have been a great candidate for working at home. I am disciplined and willing to set a keep strict adherence to a schedule. I like having meaningful things to do. The one thing that I hate is having to rush from home soon soon after I arise each morning. I’d work until I am one hundred years old as long as I would not have to leave my house until the afternoon. It was never the work that bothered me but the fact that I had to face the thundering herd on an early morning journey.

I don’t get anymore sleep now than I did when I worked. In fact, I may get less, but being the sole determiner of how to spend my mornings energizes me. I don’t want to languish in bed because there are so many wonderful moments in the morning, not the least of which is the opportunity to meditate and pray. I do love the feeling of serenity that now defines my mornings. I see the seasons. I hear the birds. I feel closer to my friends. Life after work is rather remarkable and certainly refreshing.

I used to feel sick all of the time. I seemed to continually be afflicted with some bug or virus. I was rundown, sluggish. Just being in command of my routine has changed all of that. I’m filled with energy and I rarely catch the diseases that send people to their beds. I actually feel younger than I did when I was working. Sometimes I think that I’m in such good shape that I should go back, but I suspect that I would be dragging within a week. I’d hate losing the calm of my mornings. I’m not willing to trade the most wonderful part of my day for a spot in the rat race. I’m glad I don’t have to care which highways are plagued by delays. Life is now simple and good.

I know I’ve earned the magic of my mornings. I get to do the things that I love. Writing is a joy, reading is glorious, listening to my thoughts is sublime, just being in the quiet is like an elixir that heals both my body and my soul. I had no idea that it would be this grand. 

The Quest

MichaelSome people seem to have a destiny. They know from an early age what they want to accomplish in life, and then pursue that dream as soon as they are able. My brother, Michael, is one of those people. When he was still a toddler he walked around the house carrying a book by Werner von Braun describing a futuristic journey to the moon. It was filled with illustrations depicting how the spacecraft might look complete with drawings of the accommodations inside. Micheal studied the book carefully even before he was able to read, and he told anyone who asked that he wanted to be a mathematician because he liked numbers.

Michael was true to his word, graduating from Rice University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and later earning a Masters degree in mathematics. His job search involved deciding what sounded the most exciting because he was recruited for a number of positions. It did not surprise any of us when he chose to work for a contractor with NASA. After all he had been fascinated by space from those early days and by the time he was ready for the workforce mankind had already found its way to the moon. Sensing that there was more to come he eagerly began what would be a long career associated with our nation’s exploration of space.

I don’t think I have known many people as eager to go to work each day as Michael always was. His job was fun, exciting. He never told us much about what he was doing other than to sometimes speak of the long hours that he devoted to his occupation quite willingly. It was only over time as we prodded him with questions that he told us about his work with the International Space Station. We learned that he had been part of a unique team that developed the computer program for the navigational system for this extraordinary feat. He was proud of his contribution, but quite humble in his description of the need for precision in all of the necessary mathematics, noting that a slight mistake had the potential of causing a spacecraft to overshoot the destination and wander forever in space.

Michael’s work with NASA also led him to a meeting with the woman who would become his wife, the love of his life. With a characteristic determination he decided to call her but soon found that she was not easy to find because her name was more common than he had realized. Not to be daunted, he dialed one number after another until he finally reached her. By then he was already hooked and determined to win her heart. The two of them worked at their NASA related jobs and raised three terrific children in Clear Lake City, the home of NASA and many of their dreams.

Michael spent the entirety of his career working toward the various goals of the space program. He was so well regarded that his superiors often urged him to stay a bit longer than he might have. Finally he decided that it was time to enjoy the fruits of his labors in retirement. so in December he left his full-time position with the promise to return one day a week to help in the transition from his expertise. His was a glorious career that brought him great satisfaction and an unparalleled sense of purpose.

Micheal plans to travel, spend time at his cabin in Colorado, and spend more moments searching the heavens with his telescope. He will be free to revel in reading and enjoying music and his grandsons. I suspect that he will continue to see mathematics as something fun to explore, and will no doubt keep abreast with any and all steps forward in the quest to learn about the vast universe in which we live. His curiosity knows no bounds and will not be subdued by a lack of formal work.

All of us are very proud of Michael and his achievements. His brilliance never fails to stun any of us. We all marvel at the intricacies of his mind, especially my grandson Ian who has seemingly followed in his uncles footsteps by showing tendencies toward genius early in life much as my brother did so long ago.

My mother was always unabashedly enchanted with Michael and his capabilities. She nurtured his talents and encouraged him to follow his dreams. She would be quite happy to note his accomplishments as would my father if he had lived long enough to see his son finding so much joy and success in his career. I suppose that nature and nurture joined together magnificently in creating the outstanding person that Michael became.

We will celebrate Michael’s birthday tomorrow as well as his retirement. There is something somewhat poetic about the fact that he was born on Three Kings Day, the Epiphany. Three wise men followed a star on a long ago day and found the meaning of life in the form of a child born in a stable. Like those men Michael too was a wise man whose quest lead him to a most satisfying life. He has seen and done wondrous things all while looking toward the stars.

My Electronic Secretaries

flat lay photography of calendar
Photo by on

The holiday season is upon us. You may have noticed in the stores last week that the retailers were hardly able to wait to toss all of the fall and Halloween merchandise aside so that they might bring in the Christmas items. Some even eschewed old time tradition in favor of bringing out the holly back in June or July. The old idea of enjoying each celebration in order is long gone, and if you want to secure the prime products you have to buy them and set them aside for the future. Of course, if you’re like me that means that you run the risk of forgetting that you bought a particular item or where you stored it until needed. When you finally decide to do some spring cleaning around March or April it will suddenly appear and then you have to store it again and hope that it doesn’t grow old in the back of a closet or drawer without ever being actually used.

My husband has most recently taught me to be a bit more organized with regard to things that I need to remember. He insists that I record future events on Google calendar and that I list upcoming projects on an app called Asana. It’s actually working out rather well with the exception of those times when I am feeling hurried and I tell myself that I will think about doing my record keeping duty tomorrow. Sadly that’s a bit more often than it should be and so I can’t quite recall if the appointment that I made to have my hair cut is this week or next. I’ll have to rely on a reminder email or phone message from the salon to verify. I know that I might call to confirm the date and time, but I have to do it so often that I have grown a bit embarrassed.

In the summer I purchased some bluebonnet seeds that needed to be sowed in October. When the time came to perform the task I was reminded by my electronic “secretaries” but unfortunately I was not able to immediately recall where I had placed the tiny packets for safekeeping. After a frantic search and some Sherlock Holmes style sleuthing I finally found them hidden under socks in one of my dresser drawers.

Now I’ve created a new wrinkle to my memory keeping rituals. I add a little note explaining where I have placed things so that my reminder in the future will lead me directly to whatever I have stored away. When I took down a lovely hand blown glass hummingbird feeder from its perch in my garden I not only set a date on my calendar to return it in mid May, but also made note of where it is safely stored until spring. I felt particularly proud of my effort because I will be able to walk right to it when there is no longer a possibility of a freeze that would no doubt break or at least crack the globe. An added bonus that I received for my foresight was saving the orb from an horrific storm that raged on Halloween night that undoubtedly might have wreaked havoc on such a fragile object. It has made me think that I should also record a date for bringing the feeder inside each fall while I my brain is in gear.

We all have so many appointments and things to do that our brains go into overload at times. I’ve been guilty of missing all kinds of events, especially since retiring. Without the constrictions on my time that a job provides I find myself losing all sense of what day it is. While this is actually a very pleasant dilemma after years of being bound to a clock and an unremitting routine, it can also create problems. Using different aids to assist my memory has been a kind of saving grace. Now I get reminders on my laptop, my phone, and even on my watch.

At first I thought of such electronic policing of my time as a kind of ball and chain. I wanted to be free to be me without any form of nagging. I soon learned that my tranquil lifestyle was festooned with chaos of my own making. The reality is that we humans really do feel better when we march to a semblance of routine. We don’t have to be overworked or over stressed, but it helps to keep track of when to take out the trash and be generally aware of the time of day. Devil may care attitudes are fine now and again but on the whole things really start to fall apart without some system for managing the business aspects of living. I have slowly learned how to free myself from future worries by spending a bit more time in the moment keeping track of obligations and tasks.

Last spring my hot water heater malfunctioned and many thousands of dollars later we had repaired our home to such an extent that it was almost totally remodeled. The plumber who installed a new hot water heater mentioned that we might never have had the trouble if we had simply set aside a time each year to have the appliance inspected. It’s a small idea with great merit, and so it is now part of our yearly ritual, something we have decided to do with our truck and our air conditioner as well. All such routines are hitting the calendar far in advance in the hopes of avoiding future catastrophes like the one that upended our lives for many weeks last April and May.

As a teacher I lived by a calendar and religiously followed routines to stay updated and prepared for anything that might happen from day to day in my classroom. I suppose that when that phase of my life ended I would never again be required to be so fastidious in keeping up with time. I’ve learned the hard way that a little bit of preparation goes a long way. Even the squirrels understand this as they collect their stores for the coming winter. I watched many of them working hard while I was recently camping in the bosom of nature. It’s the way of survival, and we all owe it to ourselves to keep track of the future before it surprises us.

A Festival of Fall

nature red flowers yellow
Photo by Suneo1999 on

One of the grandest discoveries of my retirement has been finding the Houston Garden Club Annual Bulb Mart. When I was first adapting to the concept of having all of the daylight hours to myself I began looking for things to fill the time. I signed up for a class at Rice, found a tutoring gig, began writing daily, and treated myself to going to the movie theater in the middle of the day. Because I tend to be a high energy person I still needed more to keep my mind entertained. That’s when I decided to search on Google for special events around my town. Luckily I found an advertisement for the Bulb Mart, and I’ve been attending ever since.

The ladies of the garden club plan their gala fundraiser all year long, and quite wisely choose a date in mid October when the weather in Houston is generally Chamber of Commerce level glorious. Somehow they avoid the rains that so often are a precursor of fall. I’ve often wondered if they consult the Farmer’s Almanac because in the seven years that I have been attending, not once has there been even a cloud in the sky. In fact the weather has always been glorious to match the moods of all of us who walk around with big grins on our faces as we gaze at the lovely offerings.

The venue for the event has changed from time to time, but it has been held at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Westheimer for the last few years. The main focus of the occasion is on an incredible variety of bulbs including tulips, irises, day lilies, amaryllis, an more. Table after table offers a variety of genres and colors. There are also many plants native to the Houston area as well as those that thrive in our particular growing zone. The ladies who volunteer are always knowledgeable and helpful in providing good information about how to best grow a delightful garden. For those wishing to have more information there are lectures and little seminars happening throughout the two day event as well.

My backyard garden is filled with gorgeous amaryllis plants that burst forth in glory each spring. They are magnificent in variety and color and never fail to fill me with joy. It’s exciting to watch them display their unique features one by one after the winter freezes are gone. I add one or two bulbs each year to go with those that have faithfully bloomed since I first began this glorious tradition.

The plants from the Bulb Mart are made for the gumbo soil, high humidity and rain soaked environment that Houston gardens must endure. I have yet to have any of them fail to flourish. I have a particularly wet side of my house that is exacerbated by the runoff from my next door neighbor’s backyard. Their entire area is dominated by a large pool and concrete decking that makes for intense drainage problems for me. On most days the area that abuts on their property is water logged. I invested large amounts of money trying to find something that would grow in that condition all to no avail. The roots would rot and I would have to try something new. Last year I spoke with the experts at the Bulb Mart and invested in a plant that seemed to be suited for the habitat. To both my surprise and delight the plant has thrived and bloomed with delicate white flowers even as the watery problem has only worsened with the continual rains of September and early October.

I attended the Bulb Mart again this year just as I have for the last seven. It has become a “must do” for me. I get an email in the summer reminding me of the date and I literally plan my October activities around it. This year I pre-ordered a few items to insure that I would get certain varieties before they ran out. The day was as lovely as it always seems to be and I found myself falling in love with my city one more time. The smiling faces of the workers and the shoppers reminded me of what a friendly place Houston is. It’s a kind of small town with four million people. The first hint of fall made me forget the heat and humidity that has kept us indoors for weeks. It was a picture perfect day in every possible way, made better by the joyful plants that I bought to enhance the gardens that bring me peace and contentment all year long.

I’m not a person who can countenance change too quickly. I like a certain orderliness in my life. Too much shuffling around creates a kind of chaos in my heart and mind. I prefer quiet and routine. The Bulb Mart has become a constant for me, a mediating force for the variables of living. I depend on it to bring me peace and contentment. Thus far it has yet to fail me.

If you happen to be in Houston around the second week of October check the events calendar to see if the Bulb Mart is happening. The admission is free and everyone gets an informative little book describing the various kinds of bulbs and when and how to plant and care for them. There are even door prizes for a lucky few. Best of all there is a festive and friendly spirit that is so typical of Houston. It’s fun just to walk around and celebrate the glory of nature at her best.

A Heartless Insult

05BE14010000044D-0-image-a-71_1431039744759I am a woman who has my feet firmly planted in two distinct eras. I recall a time when working women with children were a bit of an oddity. Most of the ladies in my neighborhood wore the badge of homemaker with pride and those who left each morning to work in offices seemed exotic and maybe even a bit mysterious. Then my father died and my own mother found herself in need of a full time job. She chose an occupation that was very much the domain of highly intelligent women at the time, teaching. Through her connections to education I found myself intrigued by the world of work inside a classroom.

Somehow in my mind I always knew that I wanted to share my talents with the youngest members of our society, but for quite some time I fought my inclinations to become a teacher. I considered a number of alternative occupations and even stalled in my pursuit of a college degree as I struggled to find myself. Regardless of what I tried I somehow returned again and again to the very career that my mother had chosen in her moment of economic need. I realized that I was secretly happiest when I was helping some youngster to learn and so even though I had at times dreamed of becoming wealthy I decided to forge ahead in a career that I understood would reward me more with good feelings than financial gain.

My very first teaching job was one of my very best. I adored my principal and my students but I only made eleven thousand dollars a year, hardly a resounding figure and well below what my female peers were making as accountants or businesswomen. Still I was happy every single day, and so I told myself that money really didn’t matter, but of course it did. When I got an opportunity to move to a different school and up my salary by eight thousand dollars I leapt at the chance and realized soon enough that I would earn that extra money in blood sweat and tears. Still, it was a grand experience where I learned how to work with children with some of society’s most horrific problems. I became a bonafide educator in those challenging days and sensed that I had truly found my destiny despite the fact that my salary rarely increased more than five hundred dollars a year.

Time passed and I went to different schools and had new experiences, all of which delighted me. Still, by the early nineteen nineties I was not yet earning even thirty thousand dollars a year even though I had been plying my trade for decades. Teachers simply did not get paid well regardless of years of experience or the difficulty of the subject that they taught. Then the Texas legislature finally realized that they needed to make the profession more attractive if they were going to recruit and retain talented young people. They voted to dramatically increase the starting pay of educators so they had to do the same for those of us who had been faithfully working for years. Sadly they did not do so proportionately and the old timers were ultimately making not much more than the new kids on the block.

By this time my own children were in college and I began to feel the pinch of paying their tuition, board, and other expenses. I wondered if it was time to consider a career change and so I returned to college and earned a Masters degree in Human Resources Management. I had enjoyed the courses that I took and my professors believed that I would be quite outstanding working with employees. I had even worked in a Human Resources department at a chemical company one summer and my boss became my cheerleader. Having once been a teacher herself, she understood my dilemma and we became the best of friends as she encouraged me to transition into a new profession.

Somehow I was never able to force myself to make the change. I turned down wonderful offers and made excuses for not following up on leads. One of my professors confessed to me that he believed that I should stay in education because I was subliminally shouting that I didn’t want to leave the profession that had brought me so much satisfaction. After much reflection I knew that he was right. Instead, I took the five hundred dollar a year increase in salary that my new degree had earned me and kept at the job that I truly loved. Over time my pay began to approach a more reasonable level as teacher shortages became more prevalent, but I never broke into the kind of earning power that I might have achieved in the world of business. I loved my work and adored the students, so materialism didn’t seem to matter. Besides, the state had promised all of us a comfortable retirement with reasonable health insurance and so I felt that I had all that I would ever need.

Now I am retired. My monthly earnings are not exceedingly great because I never really made huge amounts of money. A brand new teacher of today earns only a few thousand dollars less than I did in my last year of work. Still my pension provides me with enough to be able to travel now and again and pay the expenses that I have. I’m not sure how well I will do if I lose my husband because I do depend on his Social Security checks and those will go away once he is gone. The federal government in its infinite wisdom seemed to think that teachers were double dipping when they received payments from both the federal and the state governments. I did pay into Social Security for enough quarters to get my own check each month, but because I have a state pension even that amount is offset so that I receive only about a third of what I actually earned. I have to maintain my composure each time I think about how teachers are slapped in the face over and over again, but then I remind myself of the intangible rewards that I have received and just count my blessings.

I suspect that the actions of the current Texas legislative session have sent me over the edge. As the saying goes, “I’m mad as hell.” With little regard for those who worked for decades inside public schools for ridiculously low salaries and conditions that were often verging on the abusive, our state senators and representatives have decided to cut the health benefits of retired educators and school staff members. Whereas we have heretofore been able to choose from four different insurance plans at a fairly reasonable cost, we now must accept a Medicare Advantage plan and pay almost three times more. Not only that, but the deductibles and copays have increased to the point where it is doubtful that we will ever receive a cent from the insurance company since Medicare provides the primary coverage. In addition, many of my doctors have already indicated that regardless of assurances from the state, they will not keep me as a patient if I have a Medicare Advantage plan. Furthermore, I am in the final months of taking a very expensive treatment for my osteoporosis and the pharmacy will suddenly change in September leaving me to wonder if I will be able to complete the two year regimen since it took me almost three months to be approved by my present carrier. I wonder how many of my fellow educators will be adversely impacted while they are in the middle of health crises and I truly worry for them.

The average retired teacher receives about twenty one hundred dollars a month in pension payments. By the time that they pay for supplemental medical insurance and Medicare they will have spent one seventh of their incomes. While I do far better than that, I still plan to continue tutoring as long as I can to offset the increases that are coming soon. Many of my colleagues are not fortunate or healthy enough to find alternative ways of handling the unexpected changes. They will instead be forced to tighten their already rather constricting belts.

The state has the income to help defray the expense of keeping promises made to its teachers but has chosen not to take that route. It has been almost nineteen years since retirees have been given a cost of living increase. When my mother, a former teacher, died she was receiving less than a thousand dollars a month from the Texas Teacher Retirement System. Luckily she had spent her final working years at the University of Texas Health Science Center and thus had health insurance paid for by the university. Still, she had felt forgotten and betrayed as she struggled to stay financially afloat and she quite often urged me to take my skills to a more profitable marketplace. She all too well understood how frightening it is to work for a lifetime only to find that it is almost impossible to meet the most basic needs. She worried most of the time in her final years.

I suspect that there are many former educators in the state of Texas who are wondering what they are going to do. Like my mother they are afraid. Somehow I can’t understand how Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and most of the Republican members of the state legislature can be so insultingly heartless. I worry about those who will be crushed by this travesty at the very time in their lives when they have earned the right to rest and reflect on the great gift of knowledge that they imparted to so many young people. Shame on the men and women who have forgotten their contributions.