The End of a Chapter, Part 2

Almost six weeks have passed since I began what I refer to as my enforced retirement.  As happens every summer to most of us, the time has passed quickly. The calendar suddenly says August; late summer is descending as quickly as the temperature (for a time, at least) is rising. Many people are planning end-of-season getaways. In a number of locales, kids are on the verge of returning to school or are already back in the classroom.

In the past, my husband and I also took a vacation or treated ourselves to an overnight stay before the season changed once more. We contemplated doing the same again this year, but then the realization hit: for the first time in more than two decades, there is no necessity to be back at work the day after Labor Day. A September trip became a possibility. While it is a cause of celebration, there is a sense of the bittersweet. Despite my relief that the decision—the only right one—has been made, I will not be joining colleagues at my or other schools as they plan another academic year. The world I have known for nearly a quarter of a century is moving on, and I am no longer a part of it. There is no more sharing literary treasures with young people, no more encouraging children to think creatively and critically about books they have read, no more leading stimulating class discussions, no more choosing reading materials to enhance the quality of the collection, no more conducting schoolwide activities promoting a love of reading and showcasing young peoples’ writing and artistic talents.

However, there is another way of looking at things. While this part of my life is at an end, it leaves room for a new opening. This is the season when Jews the world over look back at the past year and, more importantly, look ahead to the one about to begin. It is a time for reflection, for thinking about what we have done in the past and considering how to do and be better in the future. Even though (in the northern hemisphere, at least) summer is ending and autumn waits in the wings, it is a season for a new beginning. As the leaves change from green and show their true colors (made possible by the absence of chlorophyll), we humans can focus on our true colors—what makes us who we are without outside trappings.

The possibilities are endless.

The End of a Chapter

It was a move I’ve been contemplating for some time. Since the news became official last fall that the school which had been my professional home for more than 23 years was relocating (but no one knew where), my future there waxed uncertain. As the academic year progressed, and I reached the age at which I could receive Social Security retirement benefits, I (privately) made the decision to say farewell before summer arrived. Even though there was no confirmation, I learned that the new location might not have space for a library. Rather than discover at school year’s end that this was true–and as there was no library, there would be no need for a librarian–the wisdom of closing this chapter in my life became more apparent.

So, on a lovely spring day, I informed an administrator of my decision. If it was any consolation, as the school made preparations for the Big Move, my fears were realized. The library books, except those that we pulled for use by teachers in their classrooms, were to be put into long-term storage until such a time as more spacious accommodations might be found.

Am I sad? Definitely. Sad for what was and is no more. Sad that thousands of wonderful books will sit in boxes for an indeterminate span of time. Sad that this is how almost 24 years of being part of the school ends.

Yet it is true that time heals all wounds. While my days seem a bit empty now, I am already planning how to fill them. So even though this chapter (or, in the words of a dear friend and right-hand-lady, this book) is at an end, I am not one to dwell very long on a just-completed story. There is always another tale waiting to be read.

Quince Blossoms Revisited

“Can we do it yet?” is a question we ask ourselves and each other. From the time–even before–trees blossom in the spring, the anticipation builds. Added to the physical reasons to enthusiastically greet the plethora of flora that accompany the balmy temperatures, there is a spiritual one.

I refer to the blessing that Jews make once a year. Upon seeing a fruit tree in bloom in the spring, we thank the Creator. “Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has made nothing lacking in His world, and created in it goodly creatures and goodly trees to give mankind pleasure.” It only takes a moment to show our gratitude for the magnificence of Creation. It’s a moment that can last an entire year.

Quince Blossoms!

Like so many in the Northeast, we wondered if spring was ever going to arrive. The roller-coaster ride of daily temperatures, punctuated by snow (and more snow), made us feel like Queen Elsa in the wonderful and popular movie Frozen had stamped her foot and initiated a winter that outlasted its welcome. The tulips that normally make an appearance in early February were nowhere to be seen. Trees which often show off their lovely blossoms before the calendar officially says spring remained flowerless.

But even the longest-lasting cold spells must give way the effects of longer days. Reminiscent of the delightful picture book Old Winter by Judith Benet Richardson, we at times felt that the chilly season personified must have taken offense at spring-deprived individuals’ complaints and holed himself up in a supermarket storage freezer (until Spring arrives and puts things right).

And then came a sight for sore winter-weary eyes. Tulip leaves pushed their way through the earth. They were followed by a (belated) sure sign of spring: our flowering quince tree began to bud. And the buds opened into the most exquisite pinkish-red blossoms. Before the phenomenon could become a happy memory, this warm-weather aficionado snapped a few pictures.

quince

A Garden of Discovery

Like so many bibliophiles, I delved into book after book in my childhood and teen years. Any genre would do. I enjoyed both Little Women and a beautifully illustrated Cinderella as a fifth grader. Edna Ferber caught my fancy in high school.

Given the wide variety of reading material I enjoyed during those years, it is surprising that a gem of a novel is not on my “read books” list. It was not until this year that I took it off my school library shelf and took it home. When I made myself comfy and opened the book to the first page, I was entranced. What is missing from the above-mentioned list is a tale that deserves its reputation as a classic.

The book is no other than The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. From the moment we meet Mary and journey with her from India to England, we are eager to know what is in store. As our heroine metamorphoses from a haughty, disagreeable child to a girl who for the first time discovers the beauty around her and finds a purpose to her life, the reader cannot help but cheer. The journey of discovery (and self-discovery) upon which Mary and those in her world embark makes this a novel that begs to be shared. Their story is as beautiful and uplifting as the garden that works its magic on all those who enter its domain.

Where Did the Time Go?

Time flies when you’re having fun.

That overworked cliche was my first reaction when I realized I have not written a post in nearly six months. This half year has been an intense one. Between

  • the enjoyable: our Florida daughter, her husband, and grandkids extended their summer stay into autumn
  • the inspiring: the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succos, and Chanukah were uplifting, as usual
  • the mundane: although that’s not the right word to describe a job in which I interact with young people, share my love of books, broaden their horizons, and encourage creativity
  • the unexpected: some freelance writing jobs seemed to have materialized from thin air when I was wondering if I’d ever make a financial go of the venture
  • the challenging: finding specialists who accept our new health insurance and saying goodbye (in person or mentally) to doctors who have been part of my health care team for up to fifteen years

Suddenly, it’s no longer summer but in the middle of one of the most intense winters I can remember. (Or is it a sign of my age?)

Yet even in the frigid, snowy reality that is this winter, there is a bright spot on the horizon–and it has nothing to do with whether the groundhog saw his shadow. For Jews the world over, the beginning of the month of Adar (Thursday, February 19 this year) is a happy reminder of good times to come. On this day, we are enjoined to increase in joy in anticipation of the holiday of Purim, the happiest festive day on the Jewish calendar. As kids (and adults) acquire costumes, we prepare attractive gifts of food to give friends and family, and people from preschoolers to senior citizens learn about the particulars of holiday observance, the feeling of happy anticipation grows.

So take a moment every day to think about the reasons there are to rejoice. And then: Be happy. It’s Adar!

As Summer Winds Down…

This summer has been one for the books. We’ve been privileged to have all our grandchildren here for part of the season, and the Floridians are spending the entire summer in the old homestead. I’m not sure I want to think about how it will feel when they return south. It’s one more reason to feel my usual letdown as summer begins to fade into autumn. (Although, with Accuweather predicting highs topping 90 over the Labor Day weekend, we’re definitely not bidding summer 2014 goodbye quite yet.)

Speaking of a summer for the books, there are some written works I’ve encountered that have provided hours of delight. (There were even some mornings that I waited for the sky to lighten enough for me to read without needing to get up to turn on the light.) Allow me to share a few of these wonderful books with you.

15-year-old Penelope Lumley is a graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. The school’s star pupil is offered a position as governess to three unusual children at Ashton Place, owned by one of the wealthiest landowners in England. It appears her students have had an unusual upbringing: they were raised by wolves and discovered in the estate’s forest. It takes all of Penelope’s ingenuity, determination, and talent to transform these wild young people into proper members of society. Readers are sure to delight in the adventures and misadventures of the governess and her pupils as they uncover and endeavor to solve mysterious occurrences in this entertaining series.

A magical tale by a debut novelist. Star Wars meets traditional fairy tales in this mesmerizing series.The first volume introduces the reader to Cinder, an unusual teen who is both a renowned mechanic and a denigrated member of society. As the heroine learns more of her past, she realizes that thwarting a major threat to her homeland (and the world) is a responsibility resting on her shoulders. When Cinder’s story joins that of Scarlet and Cress, the reader meets people who are not what they seem and becomes involved with the growing group of heroes as they make discoveries and face decisions that affect the future of their world. Can a group of teenagers, with the help of a renowned doctor and some fascinating droids, save the day? Stay tuned for the next installments in the saga of Cinder and her friends as they appear in 2015.

If summer has brought such literary treasures to light, imagine what autumn can bring.

 

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