Friday, April 30, 2010

End and Begin

April 30, 2010

I'm putting the cruel, but beautiful month* to bed in style tonight. Susan Leining and the Santa Fe PALs (Peer Assisted Leadership) group is hosting a Girls Night Out for 5th through 8th graders down in Brazoria County, and Walter and I are making the drive down so that I can be the featured speaker on "loving who you are."

I know many of you have jealous feelings towards me because I taught my last class of the semester yesterday. I still have some grading obligations and a final the week after next, but it felt good shaking each student's hand and wishing them well as they left the room (this is my "close parentheses" on my first day of class, when I shake each student's hand, introduce myself, and ask them to do the same with each other).

I have had a couple of hmm moments lately. Tuesday night (about 8:00) while waiting at a stop light, a pick up truck turned left in front of me. The driver wore sunglasses and a spiffy sports coat and tie. The woman on the passenger side looked equally fancied-up, coiffed hair and (from what I could see) a blouse not designed for yard work. The hmm? A lovely golden retriever sitting erectly in the front seat between the two of them. I still, for the life of me, can't think of where the three of them might have been headed.

The Sunday before that I was driving on this short cross street around midday, with no other cars on the road.

View Larger Map

Except for the restaurant on the northwest corner of the street, all the business were closed. [NOTE: If you aren't familiar with Google Earth. You can move up and down the street by dragging your cursor on the arrowheads in the street and you can twirl yourself to see what's going on to your right and left by clicking on the compass points in the upper left hand corner of the image. I was about halfway down the street, between the grocery and the restaurant.] What made me say hmm? I saw a lone soap bubble (about three inches in diameter) just floating down the sidewalk. Not a soul in sight.

Several of you (my facebook friends and those of you who check on the Davhee Repore independently of Let's Do It!) know that Davis recently received the James Street Fulton Prize, but if you haven't seen the description, it's worth a click!

I'd like to end with a little fun (although Pat, I'm not sure if you feel the same way about Muppets that you do about clowns, if so skip the video) in honor of Davis who is moving from the relative security of the Rice campus into the larger world and for the rest of us who also find that "We Can't Go Back Now."

*I considered April to be cruel long before Erin died. As a student, the world exploded with green and flowers everywhere, just when classes demanded the most attention, the library called winsomely, and papers and project grew out of control. Becoming a professor didn't change the game, just the side of the desk I sat on. I still had mountains of work. It had just morph from writing to grading, from studying to listening to distraught students.

Monday, April 26, 2010


April 26, 2010

First, I have two lovely nieces who are celebrating birthdays.  Ladies you deserve special days and I hope your friends and family who live near you fill that prescription (doctor's orders).

Second, the First Annual Erin Buenger Memorial Scholarship Garage Sale netted just at $2000.  We owe a great debt of thanks and praise to the small group of PTO leaders and student helpers who did all the heavy lifting (literally and metaphorically) to make the garage sale a reality and a success!  

Thanks also to all of our friends for donating items, making contributions, and shopping to help us build up a corpus to fund the scholarship for high school graduates that attended Jane Long Middle School and who exemplify Erin's approach to life and school.  If you would still like to contribute to that effort and make a monetary donation to the scholarship fund contact Jill Hiney at  

I can also report that I registered my first voter during the garage sale and we had solid lanyard sales!  Not bad for a morning's work!

I know, that wasn't exactly maundering.

Here it goes:

You recall I spent Saturday before last at Fort Hood with my chess team.  Except for one small incident that didn't involve the base MPs, but could have, we had a practically perfect day behaviorally.  That is what I'm here to complain about.

You see, the tournament officials did the coaches, sponsors, and parents a favor.  They hooked up a projector to a DVD player in a side hall and showed back-to-back-to-back movies, from before a single match was played, through all five rounds, and even into the start of the awards ceremony.  Instead of the kids re-playing their matches or starting fresh games or even playing other kinds of games between rounds, they ALL sat in bleachers, slack-jawed and quiet.

Why am I complaining about this?  It made my day pretty easy.  All I had to do was collect outcomes from matches as my players walked out of the playing room past me towards the film fete and pry them out of their seats when the next round was about to begin.  

I've actually started to hate this baby-sitting devise.  We all justify it by saying it's a one-off experience.  We don't show our kids movies every day.  It's just this once.  Just for this special occasion.  Just to pass the time over a very long day, where the kids are using their brain so diligently in their matches.

Except, that's not true.  It's not just a one-off experience.  They watch movies in the back of the van, in the waiting rooms at doctors' offices, while they are having their hair cut.  My mom went to a restaurant recently that had 21 televisions available for her dining pleasure, plus the added bonus of bathroom televisions, just so she wouldn't miss a single thing, even if she needed to "rest."  Add in the laptops, iPhones, and Droids, and well, alert mission control:  "Houston, we have a problem."

Am I sounding old and cranky?  

I don't care.  I'm about to follow my own advice.  Put down that electronic gadget.  Turn off the t.v.  Log off.  Go outside.  Find something to do to entertain yourself.  Do it now.  

You have an imagination.  Go outside and use it before you forget where outside is.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dedicate and Bid

April 22, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, Ginger Freeze, the Professional Development Specialist at Erin's old school, sent me an email asking if Walter and I were available on this or that date. I knew the school's principal, David Ogden was retiring, so I thought they were just including us in some sort of farewell reception for him, since we had such a long (seventeen year) involvement with him and the school.

It turned out that the Mary Branch Student Council had bought and planted a tree on the newly re-designed and re-furbished playground, and the event we were invited to was its dedication. I didn't come prepared to take any photos, so I am bereft of photographic evidence (and hoping someone who took pictures will email me some).

A whole crowd gathered, and staff and teachers took turns collecting themselves, wiping away the tears, and telling the assembled group their favorite memory or story about Erin. We laughed and cried remembering Erin giving "energy tickets" to adults all over campus when the student council began monitoring campus energy consumption and giving citations to anyone who wasted energy (left lights and equipment on or practiced other energy wasting habits). Branch reduced energy more than any other school and actually won a $1500 (I think) prize. Erin had a reputation for taking her responsibility extremely seriously, and as the several citations issued to the principal and assistant principal demonstrate, she feared no one in her quest to save energy. That makes me very proud to hear on this, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Other teachers recalled Erin's in many other situations: giving complicated, multi-move, hand-jive hand-shakes, carrying, then interpreting messages from teacher to teacher or teacher to principal (sent to be mildly insulting, interpreted by Erin using much more diplomatic language), and helping her friends get along, even if it meant that she had to put aside her own, obviously correct solution to a problem, so that the group could reach consensus. The robotics teacher, Wanda Stewart, told this last story, then sent along pictures of Erin and many of her friends (all of these were new to me, and like found treasure to my heart):

Lucinda Houtchens reminded us of the ceramic mask that Erin did for her fifth grade project that earned honors at the district art fair. It was a tree: its long flowing beard represented the extensive root system, the main mask structure was the trunk, and the crown of the mask were the branches, topped with fruit.

The new tree, planted in Erin's memory has the following inscription, suggested by that art teacher:

"Erin Buenger: She was like a fiery comet in the sky that streaks through quickly and is gone; but oh, the magic and joy she brought us!"

As a side note, I think it's worth mentioning that a couple of people at the school had worried that the placement of the Erin tree was too close to the area where the kids play their recess soccer matches. Josh Durham, one of Erin's fifth grade teachers, wouldn't let them move it. He insisted that Erin would prefer to be in the middle of the action and that he had already seen the Erin tree make some brilliant tackles.

The day after the dedication ceremony, I received an email with the following photo and message. The original Mary Branch Relay for Life team was organized about five years ago, when Erin relapsed, to honor and encourage her and also several teachers and staff who faced their own battle with cancer. The team has grown and raised their highest amount, $7000, last year. If, after reading the message below, you would like to bid on the shirt or otherwise support Mary Branch's Relay for Life team, send a note to Ginger Freeze at

"This shirt is the official 2010 BISD - Branch Bear Relay for Life shirt. You will notice the bright green butterfly on the left sleeve. The butterfly is actually designed using the initials of a former student who lost her battle with cancer in April of 2009. Her name was Erin Buenger. It is with great pride that we carry her memory with us as we continue to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for cancer. There are only two shirts remaining and they are both a size medium. The money raised through the auction of one shirt will be donated to the American Cancer Society. The money raised from the other will be donated to Mary Branch Elementary to purchase playground swings that Erin would have loved."

Monday, April 19, 2010


April 19, 2010

First, if you haven't visited the Repore in the past twenty-four hours, click over and be amazed.

I had to choose between the soccer team and the chess team on Saturday. Since the chess tournament was a four-hour round trip drive in the rain to Killeen (twelve hours total: 6 to 6), with five rounds of chess and five sixth and seventh grade boys, and soccer was a three-hour round trip drive to Katy for an hour-and-a-half game, with only one seventh grade girl in the car, what do you think I chose? The torture of chess, of course.

The girls won a close one without me (1-0). The boys placed 2nd in the middle school division and both Nico and Nick brought home trophies. [ASIDE: We had a third player player named Nicholas, so we just called the other two Nicky and Nicolin to avoid confusion. By extending this logic, you must know that my name on Saturday was Nictoria.]

I have to say that even though the tourney was the most efficiently run chess tournament I have ever witnessed, I was still exhausted when I got home. But, not as tired as Nico's mom and dad are going to be when they finally escape the Icelandic volcano ash and make it home from London.

This Friday is another wonderful Odd Friday for lanyarding. Please come out and help us fill the orders that are rolling in and get ready for lanyard sales at the Erin Buenger Memorial Scholarship Garage Sale at Jane Long on Saturday (we will continue to accept goods for the garage sale through Friday evening, so you can just drop off your stuff at the school and head over to the house to bead!).

In addition to raising money for the scholarship, Ms. Harris, the principal at Jane Long, gave me permission to set up a Lanyard and Voter Registration Booth. I think Erin would have been all over this project: signing up people to vote, outfitting them in beautiful beaded lanyards, and raising money for two great causes. If you are local and have been wondering what all the fuss about lanyards are, now is you chance to find out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


April 14, 2010

Some of you remember my semi-annual excuse for running late with my posts: The burden of November and April can weigh me down: too much grading, too many meetings, long days at work, no time for fun. In fact, some days lately, the only relaxing time I've had is my 6:00 a.m. dog walk with Willie and Teddy.

You may remember I go that early so that I don't have to leash them (no anxious or complaining neighbors patrolling the area before the sun comes up). It gives Willie the freedom that he wouldn't get otherwise and enough exercise so that I don't feel guilty leaving him inside for my whole work day.

If I walked them on leashes, I could cover the distance in just about twenty minutes. It almost always takes longer. . . sometimes much longer. I liken it to playing Candyland (or if you prefer, Willieland).

I may start out with the high hopes that all the cards I draw will have double purple, or if I'm really near the end a double blue, so that I can cover the path really quickly. I may think I'm going to draw the card that sends me directly to Lollipop Woods. I may anticipate landing on the shortcut through Gumdrop Mountain or the entrance to the Rainbow Path that by-passes most of the board. Instead, I get lost near the Tank Farm. I get sidetracked in Bunny Haven. I land on the sticky spot near Willie's Wilderness Wonderland and have to wait several turns before I draw the right-colored card and can move forward again.

So, it takes me twice as long.

I remind myself that to a child, a game lasting twice as long is twice as good, because it's the play that matters. Why would you want it to end too soon?

Friday, April 9, 2010


April 9, 2010

If you hadn't already chosen your verb today, don't put it off any longer. Do something you have been wanting to do. Make something you have put off making. Go. Share. Play. Work. Write. Paint. Sing. Dance. Run. Read. Teach. Coach.

Activate yourself. Don't put it off.
Do it!


Lanyard Workshop: This afternoon, 4-7, at my house. Come and make beaded lanyards to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

Garage Sale to help fund the Erin Buenger Memorial Scholarship: April 24 at Jane Long Middle School. Call or email ( me or leave me a message to arrange pick up for your donated items.

Relay for Life (May 7) At least three teams are walking in Erin's honor. Join one or start your own.

Donate to Erin's Dream Lanyards, CNCF, or the Let's Do It! Fund at First Presbyterian Church of Bryan or any cause that is close to your heart!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


April 6, 2010

I have read that Universal Studios will debut the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter to coincide with Erin's birthday weekend this summer. That brings back memories of what an important role Harry Potter played in our lives during Erin's treatments. You may not realize this, but the first book came out just days after Erin was born. The first four (through Goblet of Fire) existed by July 2002 when Erin started treatment.

That fall, we would pass the hours in the hospital reading Harry Potter mixed in with more age-appropriate books. I don't remember how we started in on those. Perhaps the prospect of reading yet another Boxcar Children mystery led me off the deep end. Somehow, it didn't seem that wicked to me to let a five-year-old engage with wizardry or potentially nightmare-inducing spiders, serpents, and dragons or even Voldemort and his reign of terror, even though, at the time, I would not have dreamed of letting Erin watch PG movies. Whatever started it, it soon became an addiction. All too quickly we had plowed through the books and had to face the truth that we would have to wait until June for the next in the series.

Of course, we found other books to read, but since back-to-back stem-cell transplants loomed in our immediate future, we knew we would have more hours to fill than my voice could sustain. We bought the books on CD and over the pair of three-week stints we enjoyed almost fifty hours of Jim Dale's unabridged reading utterly and completely. (If you haven't heard or heard of Jim Dale, you have really missed out. He made up and remembered unique voices for each of the characters over the enter series.
He got the manuscript to Goblet of Fire on a Friday-the third person in the world the read it--and had to be ready to record the 760 pages with 127 characters by the following Monday. You can read more about Jim Dale in this interview by Rochelle O'Gorman and you can listen to this short clip if you have never heard him.)

After we cleared the transplant hurdle, life became more normal-ly for a long stretch, but we didn't put Harry Potter behind us. The whole family looked forward to the summer release dates. Our first time through was always voiced by Vickie with Walter as the able understudy and stand in. We tried to keep each other honest and not allow any one person in the family to read ahead. The whole HP thing really promoted family togetherness, because we all (including the teen Davis) looked forward to family reading time so that we could continue the action.

Here are some HP moments:

Erin and Clayton Sue with their wands:


Erin at the HP midnight release party at Barnes & Noble (thank goodness Davis took her):


Erin with her turquoise "wiggie" doing her best impression of Tonks:


Harry Potter has more meaning for me than just this reminiscence. Our family bonded over Harry Potter. We shared it across literary tastes and generations. It carried us through hard hospital days, made long car trips exciting, and stimulated our fantasies. Harry Potter, all seven volumes, is also a metaphor I use to explain how I feel about Erin's death.


The rate of people asking had tapered off for a while, but invariably around holidays or, in this instance, the approaching one-year anniversary of Erin's death my friends and other well-meaning people ask "How are you doing? How is Walter doing? How is your mom doing? How is Davis doing?" as if I can actually answer the question in any meaningful way.

I'm not saying that as criticism. I am glad people ask. These inquiries mean the world to me and in some ways evoke a greater emotional response (and quicker tears) than reflecting on Erin herself. It means that other people--people not related to her--think of her, remember her, have her on their mind. But I can think of no meaningful way to explain how I'm doing or feeling a year later.

In some ways, Erin dying feels like getting to the end of The Deathly Hallows and instead of Harry living and Voldemort dying in the final epic battle, it turns out the other way: Harry dies; Voldemort survives. That would just be wrong. Not merely sad or maddening, but plainly wrong. The plot wasn't meant to turn out that way.

I feel the same way about Erin's death. I don't regret a single moment of her life, just as I wouldn't regret having read the thousands of pages of Harry Potter even if the outcome wasn't what I expected. That doesn't keep me from believing with all my heart that the story turned out wrong, miserably wrong.

The metaphor isn't perfect. In literature we can use devises, like Jo Rowling did. Rowling, in essence killed Harry, but in his conversation with the already dead Dumbledore, Harry learned that the horcrux inside of him was destroyed and that Voldemort could do him no harm. He returns to continue the battle and slew Voldemort. In non-literary death, there are no such devices and nor any re-writes.

Knowing that the story ends, as written, may be the hardest thing for me.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


April 3, 2010

You may recall that my mom and her friend, Jo Anne, have a bluebird trail with a dozen or so bluebird boxes that they monitor and maintain.  From early February until the bluebirds move on around August, they walk the mile and a half long trail every week recording the activity in each box.  Sometimes there's nothing.  Other times, they spot the start of a nest that over a couple of weeks becomes a full nest.  Once the nest is full, they wait, like excited grandmothers, for the arrival of EGGS! 

Mostly, bluebirds lay smooth blue eggs, a bit darker and more evenly tinted than the sky blue eggs we find in our Easter baskets.  What I have learned during my apprenticeship to these master naturalists (yes, they do call me "Wart" in honor of my apprenticeship status, and yes, they have made me start on the bottom rung, carrying the heavy items and doing the less status-filled tasks.) is that not all blue bird eggs come out blue.  Some are milky white.  And incredibly, inside the lady bird's egg making apparatus, all of the eggs are white.  The eggs get their color or in some cases keep their whiteness as they slide through the egg-laying canal (Sorry, I am a little weak on bird anatomy terminology).

We have had a very slow start to the bluebird season, perhaps because of the unusually cold and late winter and heavy spring rains (the same factors have negatively affected the monarch butterfly migration), and we are running about a month behind past patterns.  Yesterday, we spotted the first hatchlings:

They don't even look like they could survive a minute, but they will.  

We also interrupted a mother.  She didn't fly away when we knocked on the box.  She didn't spit invectives at us, then quickly depart when we opened her door.  She just sat there, beak opened, panting.  I recognized the breathing pattern from my lamaze class.  We had disturbed her in the midst of laying an egg.  Quelle embarrassment!  We quickly re-secured the door.  

Actually, that's not true.  I whipped out my phone and took a picture, then shut the door.  I never planned on becoming a paparazzi, but the moment was too amazing to let pass . . .