Tuesday, January 14, 2014

To The People of West Virginia and Her Friends:


I'm going to follow the lead of one of my former students. The other day she posted this:

"So I've been thinking a lot and I have decided that every day for the rest of the month, I am going to devote my daily status to someone who has made a difference and impacted my life, big and small." Ashley Shade

I'm going to do the same.

My last gratitude dedication status was Thursday morning.  Thursday started as a great day; it ended with a screeching halt as Freedom Industries had irresponsibly contaminated the water source of over 300,000 West Virginians living within nine counties.  I am one of those 300,000.  

West Virginians historically have been cast in the role of the under dog.   From our majestic mountain tops to the black dust in the landscape's veins, West Virginians have had experience in almost getting  a head of the curve only to be knocked back down again. This gravitational pull knows no class system or household income. It knows not whether you are a Friend of The Mountains or a Friend of Coal. We are born and raised with an intrinsic, internal duality, a consistent struggle between our natural beauty, our natural resources, and lucrative yet cruel history that surrounds both.  It's simply something that we've grown up working to justify, debate, battle, and overcome.  It is one of the many reasons that I think West Virginians are the first to help OTHERS in moments of distress, devastation, or when facing hardships.  This is a time of no exception.  Today's gratitude status is dedicated to the people and friends of West Virginia, for you have given us your SIMPLE GIFTS of kindness, friendship, comfort, water, supplies, and hope.  

Since Thursday evening, there has been an outpouring of concern for those of us who have been directly affected by the chemical leak.  Phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook messages, emails, care packages, and deliveries have been part of a continuous stream of support.  Friends and family from all over the state, the country, and the globe have offered up prayer, thought, money, supplies, and concern for us.  Your love and concern for those that you know and those of us that are complete strangers are so very moving, appreciated, and over whelming!  YOU have renewed our faith in humanity through your giving and grace.  YOU have  kept us hydrated.  YOU have given the kind words when there is so much negativity circulating in our drains.  YOU have called us resilient, which we are, but now I ask for another of your SIMPLE GIFT...please continue as this is not over yet.  We need to feel and be safe. Majority of us don't feel very secure and we need to gather the strength to generate real change in the coming weeks, months, and years.What you have done for us so far, and continue to do will help us make the changes that we so desperately need.  For that I give you the biggest thank you. 

Once again, from the bottom of my potentially contaminated heart, I thank you all for the gifts that you have provided the people of West Virginia.  You have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.  We hold you in our hearts and prayers of apprciation.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Day Four: Mary Utterback


I'm going to follow the lead of one of my former students. The other day she posted this:

"So I've been thinking a lot and I have decided that every day for the rest of the month, I am going to devote my daily status to someone who has made a difference and impacted my life, big and small." Ashley Shade

I'm going to do the same.

I don't know if you all know this or not, but I have a social soul mate. We see eye to eye on ALMOST everything socially and politically. She allows me to sometimes sit in a pew with her religiously, and will even pop me on the back of the head when I roll my eyes during the sermon. We both cheer on the feminists and bless the hearts of the idiots. She laughs WITH me when I give her a curious look about farm living, but will give me travel tips when going to a new city. We both love a good glass of wine or two or three. The two of us can, will, and have most likely talked about anything and everything from books, to God, to clothing styles, and the state of the Union. Plus, the best thing about her...she gave me one of my best friends on the planet, her daughter Katie. Thankfully, Katie shares her mom with me and I share mine with her. So today's gratitude status is dedicated to Mary Utterback.

I met Mary in the late 90s when her daughter moved into the apartment below me. At a glance Mary and I are an unlikely pair. The Utterbacks are church goin', farm livin', bible name givin' folks and in the beginning, for the life of me, I couldn't understand why Katie wanted them to meet ME, her bra burnin', booze guzzlin', cigarette smokin', loves to swear, spiritually lost friend! Nonetheless, we met and imprinted on each other!

Mary is one of the most fascinating women that I have ever met in my life. She manages to balance her independence and family life with grace. Mary works tirelessly so that she can play unabashedly. She's intelligent, cultured, well rounded, and most importantly has a sense of faith that is unguarded yet comfortably secure. There have been many a time that I have heard her words whispered in my ear, "Child, every once in a while you need to put your face in front of God." It's a nice reminder that I'm not alone; I am accepted and loved. Mary has led by example that one can live a spiritual life of service to others and to a God, but not be unbend-able or so stringent that you become a hypocrite. She is the ying to my yang and provides me with a sense of balance and hope. For all of these reasons and many more I love her. Mary, thank you for all that do, all that you are, for including me in your family, and sharing your daughter with me.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dedicated Status Update Day Three: Greg Coble


I'm going to follow the lead of one of my former students. The other day she posted this:

"So I've been thinking a lot and I have decided that every day for the rest of the month, I am going to devote my daily status to someone who has made a difference and impacted my life, big and small." Ashley Shade

I'm going to do the same.

I cannot remember a time that I could not read. Books and words have been part of me from well before my actual birth. My parents and grandparents made it a habit of reading to me every day and night. My mom says that I was an early reader, picking up the sounds and the words quickly. Great teachers throughout all of my education, but especially my early reading teachers helped to fulfill my need to read more and read better. Because of this vivaciousness for words, often when gifted something, it has been the beauty of a book. My library, started when I was born, is huge, varied, eccentric, and eclectic. Other than my immediate family members, there is one man who stands out in my mind as being one of the first and longest contributors to my personal library. Today, I dedicate my gratitude status update to Greg Coble.

Greg is a long time friend of my father's and our family. He is kind, generous, compassionate, incredibly intelligent, wise, and a believer in the power of words and education. Every Christmas for years, a new book would find its way into my hands given to me by Greg. At 6 years old, I was given a copy of the complete works of H.G. Wells. A few years later, an architecture book of all of the great man made beauties of the world. An encyclopedia of Art History would appear in the coming years. Years and years worth of book to read time and time again, all of which are in my library today.

At 6, I didn't understand much of what was given to me, but as I grew older and more confident in my reading, he gave me a world that helped develop who I was to become and what was to be my calling. He gave me a very early liberal arts education and appreciation for what was around us all. For if not for the liberal arts and the beauty of words, people, and what they can build and accomplish, then the maths and sciences have such very little meaning.

Greg, I thank you for being one of my best contributors to not only my library, but also in helping me along my journey of becoming a teacher of the English language. If not for all of those that helped me to love reading and yearn to learn more, I might not have been that for someone else. Thank you for all that you have done, all that you continue to do, and for being such a great friend to my family.

Dedicated Status Update Day Two: Melanie Johnston Files


I'm going to follow the lead of one of my former students. The other day she posted this:

"So Ive been thinking a lot and I have decided that every day for the rest of the month, I am going to devote my daily status to someone who has made a difference and impacted my life, big and small." Ashley Shade

I'm going to do the same.

When I was in my early to mid twenties I took a leap and moved to what at the time I thought to be the smallest town in not only the state of WV, but perhaps any where because I needed to 1. get out of Morgantown, 2. I wanted to teach school, and 3. I needed a fresh perspective. I left everyone that I knew, everything that I knew, and moved to a town that I knew very little about. During the time, I was clawing away at trying to be fiercely independent, learn more about who I wanted to become, and hone my craft of teaching. I made the leap and moved. Little did I know that I was soon to meet my Morgan County Mom and that her love and guidance would save me during some very lonely, but growing times. Today's gratitude status update is dedicated to Melanie Johnston Files.

My first impression of Files was actually pretty spot on. The science teacher, with wild red hair, drinking her tea from science lab equipment had a no bullshit, everything within reason, let me tell you how it's going to be while I hug you and bless your heart kind of attitude. She reminded me a bit of my own mother. We connected rather immediately. I have loved her from the moment I met her. She is strong, confident, well read, meaningful, thoughtful, giving, community minded, socially concerned, and a damn great teacher. Everything I wanted to be when I grew up. She's been a source of inspiration, a guiding force, a quick reminder, and the hug you need at the end of the day. I listen to her when I don't want to listen to anyone. I became a better teacher because of her mentoring. My life then and now will forever be better because she is a part of it. I miss seeing her every day, but always know that she is a birthday card, an email, or a phone call away. I love you Melanie Files to the moon and back again! I thank you for being who you are and for loving me unconditionally. (wipes tear from cheek)

PS: Over ten years ago she gave me a stuffed rabbit with a note t-pinned to it saying. "This is Fred. Although he does not say much, he is a great listener. Talk to him in lieu of the walls. Files" He still sits on my desk.

Dedicated Status Update Day One: Sarah Hurt Long

I'm going to follow the lead of one of my former students. The other day she posted this:
"So Ive been thinking a lot and I have decided that every day for the rest of the month, I am going to devote my daily status to someone who has made a difference and impacted my life, big and small." -Ashley Shade

I'm going to do the same.

Today's post is dedicated to Sarah Hurt Long. Sarah lived two houses up from me when I was growing up and might have been one of THE best babysitters EVER! She used to help us choreograph dance routines, write and act in our own plays, set up outdoor adventures, and create scavenger hunts for us. I always felt so stylish when she would give me some of her hand me down clothes. She never treated us like we were anything other than special. She helped us develop our imaginations and creativity. I payed it forward when I started babysitting a few years later. Sarah, I thank you for all of these things and for being so wonderful to us all those years ago.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Abuse of Power

I can't nor do I ever WANT to be able to get my head around how a group of trusted, powerful adults could EVER turn their back on a person, let alone a child in their care. Choosing to turn their backs on those children is exactly what happened in Pennsylvania over the last several decades. When one refuses to tell the truth, or in this case, shout the truth, to put an end to treacherous hurt, pain, and injustice...then damn them! I don't want to be able to understand how a person can do that. Life is about making choices. They chose quite wrongly. Having a winning record over a lifetime does not erase that.   It's always sad when a hero falls,  but fallen they are. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Want A Gonzo

"Heather, do you want to be a big sister to a little brother or a little sister?"

"Neither.  I want a Gonzo!!!" 

Needless to say, the three and a half year old version of me wasn't exactly bursting at the seams with the thoughts of a baby coming into her life-- especially if the crying that was sure to accompany said baby was going to interrupt her Dukes of Hazzard or Muppet Show watching.  That would surely cross the line!

 When Ted, the neighbor, asked me if I wanted to be a big sister to a baby boy or baby girl, I wasn't lying.  I didn't want either of them; both options sounded less than stellar.   I truly, with everything in my being, wanted a Gonzo.  I mean, who wouldn't, right?  I wouldn't trade my eventual sister in for the world, but let's face it, a Gonzo would have been a super sweet runner up! The daredevil escapades that Gonzo The Great and Her Highness Heather could have attempted are, I mean...were, limitless!  It's no wonder that I made my sister wear the t-shirt that Ted and his wife bought for YEARS.  (That's the actual shirt today.  Slightly stained, but I want to see my niece in it just ONCE.)

My love of the Muppets, as I'm sure this is true with most of us who were born in the 70's, was by no mistake.  PBS had a huge surge and was on the fore front of every culturally and socially revolutionary parent during that time.  Many of our first words were the names of a Sesame Street character.  The muppets on Sesame Street taught us our fundamentals--counting, positive social behaviors, how to make friends, emotional appropriateness, SPANISH, how to care for our environment and our neighbors, reading, everything!  So when The Muppet Show first aired it was a natural progression to also become one of the viewing audience members.  And we did.  Every week, the televisions were turned on to see if the gang and some LUCKY celebrity could pull off the variety show!

The great part about The Muppet Show is that it wasn't just children that were part of the viewing audience.  People of all ages identified and felt comforted by those zany characters and the celebrities that made weekly appearances.  I can't remember ever watching the show without BOTH of my parents watching and laughing along with me.  For 30 minutes, one day a week, my family shared a common experience.  We were lucky!  It's no wonder that I waited to see the 2011 Muppet Movie until my mom and I were in the same city.  Might I mention, that it felt like a homecoming and we both cried.  Mahna mahna! 

Jim Henson's Muppets are something that my generation carries with us.  They don't just provide us with nostalgic memories of our childhood, but are also part of the woven fabric that ties us together.  The Muppets are part of our cultural language.  They are our teachers.  They are our comfort.  They are our lessons.  We've watched every spin off show and danced with David Bowie to "Dance Magic Dance."  We've pretended to sing Christmas carols with John Denver.  We've visited the Borkifier site as adults just to play.  "We-a'fe-a fisited zee-a Borkiffier site-a is idoolts joost to pley. Bork Bork Bork!"  We've introduced our children to Kermit and the gang. We cried along with his characters the day that Jim Henson died.  We stood in line  in our 30s, 40s, and 50s this past November and December to be reunited with our friends on the big screen.

The Muppets have meant a lot to many of us over the years. I'd put money on the fact that they will continue to do just that in the future.   So, can you REALLY blame me for maybe STILL wanting a Gonzo of my own?