Monday, December 24, 2012

Home



When Bing Crosby released his album “Merry Christmas” in 1945, it was a collection of Christmas songs written for an era unlike any the United States had ever seen.  World War II and the Great Depression had just ransacked the populace, and Bing used his voice, smoother than chocolately satin, to offer comfort. “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” are two very familiar songs of his, and their message is painstakingly simple. They offer dreams of family, presents – home.  

There is an element of melancholy to the Christmas songs of this era, simply because one knows Bing’s voice radiated over foxholes - and spoke of the comfort of home to boys who were far, far away from loved ones.  

Even today, something about Christmas evokes something in each of us of home.  We decorate our houses.  We invite friends and family to see us.  We buy little porcelain neighborhoods full of snugly houses covered in perfect snow.   We visit loved ones and family and sit around a tree opening presents and eating food.  And for a moment, things can often feel perfect.  

To think of home – even briefly - brings comfort.

Yet, despite the Christmas-inspired comfort some of us feel at this time of year, social media and its interconnected ways have us looking at friends who do not get to come home.  As the years grow on my face, I see more heartache – precious people who will never see their loved ones come home for Christmas.

And to those who will not be home for Christmas, or to those whose Christmases may feel lonelier than ever this year, I offer home.  A real home.



This picture may look like an Instagrammed picture of my Nativity scene (and you would be correct), but to me, this picture reminds me of home.

Sometimes the little manger scene can look foreign and decidedly different.  In a world of iPods and iThings, a little barn 2000 years ago seems old and outdated.  Despite this, there is comfort in that manger. 
Emmanuel.  God with us.  Christ our King, risen savior, our atonement. 

He is the key to our true home.

See, sometimes it is hard to remember between the tinsel and lights that we’ve got another thing coming.  Sometimes we’re so blindsided by the comfort around us this time of year that we forget that the true comfort resides within us.  It leads and guides us here – until one day we go home.

So the next time you see that nativity in all its robed d├ęcor, think of home.  Remember that He came to redeem, restore, renew.  Christ in us, the hope of glory.

He came.  And because He did, He will one day bring us home.


“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  - C.S. Lewis

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Skills I Lack

There are things I'm good at.

There are things I am okay at.

There are things I'm terrible at.

And then, there's parenting, which never gives me a definite, tangible answer.  Parenting gives me a myriad of responses, most telling me that I'm "not enough."  Most days, I feel like a mediocre parent.  There are some days I feel like a decent parent.  Of course, there are the days (and months) where I feel like a pretty rotten parent.

I've experienced those feelings this past month or so, all thanks to that big white potty.  Sometimes I feel like that lid laughs at my troubles.

If you haven't figured it out, Amelia and I have had to face our toughest challenge yet - potty training.  Potty training has taken the mythical cake - teething, bed-moving, going to school- nothing has been this difficult.

I didn't think it would be that tough.  According to mothers on facebook and ones that I actually know, it would just fall in to place.  My child would just "get it." She would just wake up in her "big girl pammies," get her marshmallow rewards, and use the potty like no one's business.

But that didn't happen.

I don't want to gross the readers of this blog out, but I'll just be honest with you.  Amelia deals with chronic, painful constipation.  I believe it is pretty psychological, but I have very few answers to it.  We've tried lots of remedies - homeopathic as well as medical - and few things worked.  I sat over Thanksgiving break with a nurse on the United Healthcare nurse line about to cry my eyes out because I thought my child had a blockage that finally, finally passed.

We've had accidents at school, at church, at Pammy's, at Chick-fil-a, at home - do I need to go on?

We've been in "big girl" mode for a month, and we're still not accident-free.  We're much, much better...but I'm still have that little tug in my heart when I leave her.  

My patience hasn't been the best (let's be honest, when is my patience ever the best?).   When it is coupled with these seemingly perfect mothers who hold their practices (and mine) to a high standard of perfection, it has just shattered.  I think about the facts:  my kid is well past three and just now potty training...and there are kids who are a year younger than her who potty trained with few problems.

I get caught up in game of comparison, which is a dangerous, dangerous game to play.

This past month, I've just let the pressure get to me, and I've been a foolish, foolish woman.

Children are not the same.  My daughter is gorgeous, intelligent, polite and kind.  Every day, when I prayed for her in my womb, I prayed that God would use her and that she would shake nations for Him.  That He give her a servant's heart.  I didn't sit around and say, "God, please let my kid use the potty right."

She's had issues with it...and I've had issues teaching her...but heavens, don't we all have issues?  Shouldn't I be thankful for what a wonderful child I've been given?


Last Wednesday, I left Amelia with her teacher at Wednesday night church.  I went through the talk I've been giving lately, "she's had trouble lately..."

"It's okay!" responded the teacher.  "My son has been there - we'll watch her real close.  I promise, I understand, I really do.  She will do great."

And I left with tears in my eyes.  It was such a simple little thing - this "I understand" - but it was just what my heart needed at that moment.  That understanding came with no judgement.

I wish - oh, how I wish - that mothers were a little easier on each other. I with stay-at-home mothers, working mothers, single mothers, and married mothers would all just realize that no matter how many kids we have, how much we have to do, or who we have to sacrifice for - life is difficult for everyone.

We all sacrifice.

No one's journey is the same, and no one's journey is easy. And that includes everyone - single, married, parents or hopeful parents.

I hope that I'll remember that as I do my next facebook scroll of pictures.  I hope that I can turn to another woman who's struggling soon and say, "It's okay - I understand.  I've been there."

I hope that God will continue to open my heart to those mothers around me who hurt - for so many of us just sit and hurt in silence with the wounds of self-judgement.

When the skills I lack become evident, I pray that the skills I have will bubble to the surface. I pray my weaknesses, no matter how large, will illuminate my dependence on the One who loves me despite my deficiencies. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why I Do What I Do

His voice still resonates in my ears.  It sounded to me like wood, sanded and polished.  Distinguished with an edge.  I recorded his voice that day and I still can't bring myself to listen to his tape.

I sat down with Grandpaw one time -only once -  to ask him about China, Burma, and India.  He was getting older, but his voice was unwavering - still that polished wood.  He remembered.  And when he spoke, when he described - his words took him back to the lines of war.  He was there, and so was I.

He told me the anti-aircraft weapons, of jungle trails through mountains, of flying over the Himalayas.  He told me of the hunger, the awful rations, the malaria.  He told me of the four years he spent just thinking of his mother - his home.

He watched the boys kiss the ground when the train brought them home.  He fought for four years in a jungle. 

I do this for him.



When I talk to him about his experiences, the door only opens occasionally.  I didn't really find out about his experiences in Vietnam until I was grown.

He was on a river boat.  Sometimes, I wonder how he made it in such a war zone.


I see this picture, with this little bit of boyish charm, and it makes me laugh.  This was my Dad!  And yet, this picture makes me sad.  I know that boy saw blood-stained jungles. I know that boy was far, far away from home for a long, long time.

Boys go to war - boys.  And they come back radically changed.

For my father, coming back from Vietnam also meant coming home to the jeers of those who opposed the war.  His father came back a hero - he came back to be shunned.

He internalizes much of his service.  I very rarely hear him mention anything of that year he spent on that boat.   I remembered his stories and remembered how he said one hour of combat feels like a day.  I think about those hours that felt like days and how awful that must have been.  I'm an empathetic creature, but my brain cannot fully encompass the depth of those days.

I do this for him.




The picture hung on her wall for years.  As a little girl, playing hide and seek, I always looked at his crooked smile and his handsome face and wondered who he was.

"That's my brother," Memama told me.  "His name was Ray Dean."

As I got older, I found out that Ray Dean went to Korea.  Ray Dean fought in a battle.  Ray Dean was never, ever found. 

He was just another military boy smiling in a picture to me - but to my grandmother, his loss still penetrates her heart.

To this day, I still hear the glint of sadness in her voice when she speaks of her brother.  The loss still resonates - the loss never left.

There was never an answer - never a resolution.

I do this for him.  And for her.



Each Veterans Day, I try to think of some way to teach my students the meaning of its significance.  I started a slideshow a couple of years ago as a tribute to the veterans who served, and it worked out really well.

Last year, I thought that a veterans panel might be a good way to illuminate to my students the concept that freedom is indeed not quite free.  This year, I decided to try it again.  I planned, organized, and did what I could to prepare for the day.


But nothing could have prepared me for Kenneth McElreath.




He was a slight man, and came in for the day with his medals.  He grabbed my arm and held on to me as I escorted him into the media center.

"What would my wife say if she knew this blonde had my arm?" he joked.

"Careful - my husband teaches down the hall!" I joked back.

As my first group of students came in to hear his story, they were animated - excited.  They play "war video games" all of the time, so naturally, they would be prepared for war stories.  I could feel the excitement in the air as I led them through the pledge and the introduction of our veterans.

Then, we had our band teacher play "Taps."

We watched as Mr. McElreath shed tears.

Then I surveyed as eyes in the audience widened - and teared up.

He told his story.  Honestly, as cliched as it sounds, his story could make grown men cry.  Students cried silently in their seats as Mr. McElreath talked about his responsibilities as a Sargent - how he tried to save as many men as he could - and how several, several (around fifteen) said their last words in his arms.

His face was etched in sorrow as he described his wounds.  The gash on his neck, the bullets in his legs, the teeth long gone due to the butt of an AK-47.

He talked about war - and how awful and terrible it truly, truly was.  He talked about the nightmares and the cold sweats.  He had a terrible nightmare the night before the panel.

And he talked about when he came home to Atlanta - after the horrors of war - to find the spit of an antagonizer in his face.

After he told his story, I watched my students - by beloved, precious East Hall Middle School students - line up one by one.  They went to shake his hand, to give him a hug, to have their pictures made with him, and to tell him "thank you for your service."

I didn't have to tell that first group.  They just knew - instinctively - what needed to be done.

And I watched as that sweet, quiet little man stood a little straighter.  I watched him deliver his story three more times, each time feeling a little more confident.

No one (excluding the military) thanked him for his service.  That day, at least one hundred kids told him how much they cared - how much they appreciated his sacrifice.

His story changed their lives and their perspective.  Amazingly, their love and perspective changed his life, too.  He was finally told "thank you," for those dark, dark days.  And for him, it seemed to serve as a release.  He slept that night.

I do this for him.



I was told "thank you" for organizing a veterans panel - but I want to deflect this.  You should know the birth of my motivation.

I only gave a few hours.  Veterans gave the true sacrifice.

So if you ask me why I devote time to this cause, I do this for my Grandpaw, who will always be my hero.  I do this for my Dad, whose silence still speaks volumes about those days abroad.  I even do this for my Memama, the wife of a veteran, the sister of a lost soldier, and the mother of two Vietnam soldiers. 

And I do this for Mr. McElreath.  The man who walked in with a cane walked out of our school on his own two legs.  He finally got his welcome home.  He finally got his welcome home.

For all of our soldiers - those who no longer fight, for those who are still fighting, and for those who never returned home, my small acts of gratitude will never amount to your sacrifice.

Thank you.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

When the Road is Closed

The rain came.

It fell in sweeping patterns, stretching across the sky in waves of gray-tinged white.  It fell consistently, drumming upon the ground to match the rhythm of Earth's very heart.

It dwindled down homes, pooled into tiny, newly-formed lakes, and ebbed and gnawed at the soil relentlessly.

The day after the rain came,  the earth on my little country road groaned and gave way.  It collapsed, forfeiting its duty to uphold the weight of oncoming cars.

My road closed.

The closing of my road had and continues to have a slightly annoying effect on my life.  Luckily, the road closed just below my house and "family land," so I am able to travel safely to and from my house.  However, the mail runs incredibly late, the bus no longer brings my nephew home, and the future date of being able to travel my road again seems to be a mystery. 



Here lately, I've found that my own life to be intertwined with the fate of my simple little road.  I cannot help but think of my spiritual battles when I see the "Road Closed" sign every day - and where I should go next.

In an attempt to be intentionally vague, there's a burden heavy on my heart right now, and I do not have the answer to the dilemma that I desire.  I feel like my road is closed.

This week, as I drove by that sign on my road, I felt shut down - I felt my access blocked.  I do not, in my tiny state of being, begin to understand why God says no.  I know that He can say yes - that He is capable of miracles - and yet He can choose not to perform them.

It is in these moments where I feel blockage - in this crux of crisis - where my faith meets action.  I am not the first person who has stalled, the first person to wonder why, the first person to feel saddened by a no.
I know this because I have the stories of those God loved.  In a pattern as meticulous as the rain, my God has painted the portraits of those who lived before me - and how they handled crises.  They are my guideline.

Ruth has been my companion over the past few weeks.  Throughout my Bible study, I've read consistently about how Ruth and Naomi went to their next destination while weeping.

They mourned, they were saddened - yet they kept moving.

And so it must be with me.  I must find my way around this stop sign that I've conjured in my heart.  I must find a way to keep going.  I must not allow the burdens of this life to enslave me with their captive desires, for, as C.S. Lewis so profoundly put it, "there are far better things ahead than those we leave behind."

I may need a detour.  I may need to claw and scrape my way out of the sinkhole created by the onslaught of rains.  I may need to find a way to rebuild what is broken, but I must mourn and move.  I must step out with faith and love, little by little, believing in the promises of God.

"Even when the rain falls,
Even when the flood starts rising/
Even when the storm comes,
I am washed by the water"
 - NeedtoBreathe

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Harry Summer

Last summer was definitely my Summer of Harry, My Harry Summer, or the Summer I Officially Read All of the Harry Potter Books and Watched All the Harry Potter Films.  I haven't quite decided on a title.

Harry Potter wasn't something that necessarily appealed to me when it was released.  I readily admit that I prefer books where little British women sit around and say words like "propriety" and "amiable."  I had several friends read the books, watch the movies, and go to release parties, but I never caught up with the Harry mania. 

As I grew older, however, the appealing truth of these books started to resonate with me - the fact that these books weren't necessarily a fad - that they were made the stuff of classic literature and the appeal would never fade.  I decided I would use Amelia's nap time to my advantage and read the books this summer.

I joined the Pottermore community so I could read the books on my Nook (I was sorted into Hufflepuff - no surprise there), and started with the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I loved it.

One of the first things I admired about these books was Rowling's style - the way you can almost see her wink at you as you read that first book.  Her style is just so delightfully tongue-in-cheek.  I love how her writing progresses and matures as the series itself matures - as Harry grows up.

I love that Rowling has the talent to pick your brain up and transport it to a place that she created.  Her universe is so vivid, real - and it's all hers (although you're welcome to visit).  I pictured Hogwarts before I saw any of the movies because of her wonderfully intricate descriptions.  When you read her books, all the amazing details of the wizarding world flood into your head like a dam breaking.  Some moments made me physically cringe (one of the reasons I avoided the series to begin with - I shiver at snakes!), but the overall story far outweighed the scary moments.

I really appreciated the characterizations.  After seven books, I felt like I actually knew some of the characters she created (and some of the characters, just like real life, surprised me!).  I love the arrogance of Harry, the neurotic tendencies of Hermione, the goofiness of Ron, the courage of Neville, the complexities of Dumbledore, the goodness of McGonagall, the humor of the Weasley family, and the sneakiness of Snape.  I literally sobbed at some of the moments in the book.  I am a softie when it comes to sad or emotionally moving moments in movies and books, but I was inconsolable at some moments in this series...to the point I had to put the book down and come back later.  I love books that make me empathize.

I love that Harry is my age - a child of the 90s.  (I didn't realize this until Harry's cousin Dudley got a VCR for Christmas.) I see parallels to this character who grew up when I grew up.  The shades of innocence and change that echo throughout adolescence are there - and they bring back my own memories of a childhood long gone.

The movies are truly fantastic, too.  I never find movies as good as their literary counterparts, but the Harry Potter movies are particularly well done.  The final few movies, especially, are downright brilliant.  The movies pick up on Rowling's progressive tone and do a great job with it.  The fact that the same three actors managed to do eight movies is quite remarkable, too.  I loved them.

I'm always a little sad when a good book series ends, and it was no different this time.  Most books consist of a handful of books, but after a seven-book and eight-movie investment, I definitely felt a little sad that my journey with Harry was over.  In the future, I'll look forward to some Harry Potter Weekends on ABC Family, a coupled with looking at some cute memes on Pinterest.  I highly recommend the series to anyone who wants a good read.  Harry Potter totally kicks the tail of any ultra-trendy series about vampires or post-apocalyptic society. 

I love books that feel like friends, and I feel like I've just found a whole new group of them who welcomed me with open arms.





Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August is a Vampire

I have a random list of things to tell you.  Feel free to hit the "back" button on your browser.

1. August is a vampire.  Yes, you read that accurately.  It is not a Twilight-esque, sparkly-glittery, super attractive vampire like the ones from recent vampire legend.  It's a Bella Lugosi-sized yucky vampire that terrorizes teachers.  Its fangs are school, paperwork, and adjustment.  It leaves nothing but a shell of teacher - one shriveled up and exhausted.  I'll regenerate, but it'll take time and Labor Day to do it.

2.  Speaking of Labor Day, I would like to revoke the Labor Day mythology that you cannot wear white in fall/winter, but I  fear I do not have the wherewithal to rattle Southern culture.   White is just not that important to me.

3.  The movie Roadhouse is the most obtuse glob of ridiculousness that I've ever encountered.  If you've never seen it, consider yourself lucky.  Jeremy watches it every time it comes on (unless Kobe is on television).  My favorite thing to ask is, "Is this the part where someone beats someone else up?"

4.  Speaking of obtuse globs of ridiculousness, I'm not much better.  I'm totally ready for Dancing With the Stars:  All Stars!   Rhinestones make me happy.  Go Team Melissa!

5. If I am being sucked to death by the vampire that is August, I want September to come as quickly as possible.  This means I want cooler weather, fun football games, and yummy Pumpkin Spice Lattes.  Yes, that's right.  I used to think the idea of a Pumpkin Spice Latte was...well, kind of gross.   You have to admit, pumpkin and coffee sounds like an odd combination.  Then, I got one.  I realized that the Pumpkin Spice Latte was basically fall in a cup and I succumbed to its creamy, spicy goodness.  The Pumpkin Spice Latte is my friend.

6.  I am in a gifted endorsement class.  I went to my first class this evening.  The instructor, who is retired, made us brownies.  I was a happy girl, and quite honestly, it doesn't take much to make me happy. The instructor told us she would bring us a treat every week.   I mean, I want to help kids and I think this class will be beneficial, but I'm also thinking, "I hope we get some brownies next week."  Food = happy Dana.

7.  Downton Abbey is the best show on television.  Dancing with the Stars is fun.  Downton Abbey?  Holy cow, it's just brilliant.  I cannot wait until January's season premiere.  I'm planning a premiere party with my Jane Austen book club, which means soap opera goodness and food.  I'm so excited.

8.  I have a lot of blogs to write.  I need to write about Amelia's birthday, my reflections on the Harry Potter books, and probably a few other things.  However, that vampire has taken too much from me this evening, and I'm rather tired.

...waiting for the blood to ooze back into my system...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Short Reign

This is Pwincess.

Hello!
When I was a kid, her name was Princess Toadstool.  She was on the "Super Mario Brothers Super Show," which was, undoubtedly, my favorite cartoon as a child.  I was literally distraught when it went off the air.  (That -coupled with my mean fifth grade teacher  - made for a pretty traumatic ten year-old experience.)

Today, Pwincess is on "Mario Kart Wii."  She drives all sorts of shiny pink racing vehicles and squeaks in a  happy voice.  She goes by the name Peach.  I'm not sure why her name changed - maybe her last name is Toadstool.  If so, Peach Toadstool is an unfortunate name.

Amelia and her Daddy love to play "Race Cars" (Wace Cars?) together.  This really consists of Jeremy driving Peach around the racetrack in her car while Amelia pretends to drive beside him.  Amelia thinks she is driving.  I'm not sure who Amelia thinks her Daddy is supposed to be...maybe Mario?  I'm confused by this logic, but it works for a three year-old girl who is content to pretend to be a princess in a roadster.



During a date night at the beginning of the summer, we bought Amelia a Princess Peach car.  Amelia loves cars (she's around boys all day), and she loves playing "Race Cars" with her Daddy, so we thought this would be a perfect gift.

Amelia had to sleep with her new car the first night we brought it home.  Peach traveled with us often.  Sometimes, we'd be ready to go in the car and hear, "Where my Pwincess!?"  We'd turn around, get Peach, and all would be well with the world.

Peach was well loved....maybe a little too well.  Apparently, the makers of the Peach cars did not make them very durable.  A few weeks into our ownership of her, poor Peach began to suffer.

First, Peach's ponytail fell off.  I tried to glue it back, but to no avail.

Next, the back of Peach's car spoiler literally snapped off, making the back end of the car jagged and a little pointy. We put Peach's car away to keep Amelia from getting hurt.

Finally, a couple of days ago, Jeremy handed me something he placed on the mantle.  It was Peach's head.

"I think Princess finally ate it," he said.  "She's done."

I looked at the car and and at the sad, disfigured Princess Peach.  Then, I did what most practical mothers would do at this point - I said good-bye to Peach.  Peach's car went into the trashcan.

I found her head today and snapped the picture above to remind myself of Amelia's sheer lack of regard for toys.  One day, I will relish the chance to tell future boyfriends about how she ate books, ripped dolls to shreds, and beheaded her princess in the race car.

Peach was a good princess. Her reign was very brief, but meaningful.  A new princess may come into our home for Amelia's birthday...and if she does, I'm sure Peach the Second will have a very profound impact on Amelia too.

Here's hoping Amelia won't Anne Boleyn the next princess...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Checklist

Here's a checklist to ensure that you have a great weekend in Atlanta:


Got your girls?



Check. (Minus one - I don't have a picture of April...I was too busy taking pictures of food.  Boo.)

Got a great hotel?



Check. 

This is the InterContinental.  It was fabulous. It had valet parking, comfy beds, a swanky-swank pool, and a velvety swoosh of air-conditioning to welcome you inside for a respite from the Georgia humidity.  It was a brief walk away from Lenox Mall, where we looked at lots of things we couldn't afford (as well as those we could - helllooooo Macy's shoe clearance!).

Got Relaxation?


Our view...ahhhh...

Check! We did!  We rested by the pool side.  We read lots of magazines and scoured books at Barnes and Noble (one of my favorite forms of relaxation). We shopped around.  Kathi got a massage.  April spent two hours in the lobby one morning drinking coffee, reading InStyle and people watching in solace.  She claimed it was one of the best mornings she's ever had! 



Got good food?


Of course!

CHECK!

This is Rathbun's, where we ate Friday night.  It's super urban and posh, but it has a menu that isn't overly pretentious.  The restaurant was dark and slick - so dark, I couldn't really see if Reese Witherspoon or Colin Firth (who are supposed to be in Atlanta) were there.  It was downright yummy, too - we enjoyed everything from eggplant fries to country ham grits to a amazing tray of desserts.




Check again!



This is Fox Bros. BBQ.  The best...barbeque...EVER!  I just don't think I can say enough about it.  The dark ends on my pulled pork were super smoky, the mac and cheese was creamy and rich, and my baked beans had the perfect mixture of sweet and punch.   I want to buy stock  in this place.


And...check again!


This is Mary Mac's tearoom, where we spent our Saturday night dinner.  It's an Atlanta institution.  We had the most gorgeous waitress (seriously - she probably models in her spare time) who introduced us to the Mary Mac's tradition, potlicker (which we politely declined) and then we had a down-home meal filled with fried chicken, grits, mac and cheese, creamed corn, and sweet potatoes.  The bread is to die for!  Only in Atlanta could you get a cinnamon roll before your meal.

For the final food check...

Each of us girls got a pick for a place to eat.  Kim picked Rathbun's, April picked Fox Bros, Kathi picked Mary Mac's...and me?

Sorry the picture is blurry...I guess I was too excited!

I just wanted a doughnut.

Just a little one.

Okay, I got a dozen.

DEAR....goodness.

If you've never had a Sublime Doughnut, go get one.  Seriously. And ask for the Strawberries and Cream one.

Overall, our weekend was a total success!  We laughed, talked, rested, and just enjoyed each other.  I haven't had a weekend away since I went to go meet the Pioneer Woman a couple of years ago, so I was thankful and happy I got to have this quick little getaway. 

If you're wanting a getaway soon, don't forget to check my list for all the things you truly need.  They may not be true "necessities," but you don't want to go without good food, a good place to relax, and some good friends.

Oh, and doughnuts.  All trips need doughnuts.


I feel like Dean is really speaking to me in this picture.  I'm not sure why...

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Importance of Being Authentic: Bales of Truth

"He's a deacon, he's gotta be.  A Southern Baptist deacon."

Those were the first words that crossed my brain the minute I met the new principal of my school, Kevin C. Bales, on the last day of post-planning.  (As a member of a Southern Baptist Church, I instantly recognized one of my own.)

Mr. Bales walked in with a loud voice, with his chest slightly puffed out, and with a tone of assurance.  He told us we would fix the problems at our school, help us rise out of our status of "Needs Improvement," and develop into one of the top schools in the county.

I looked at my friend Jennifer and raised an eyebrow.  I'm sure she thought the same things I did.

"Is this guy a preacher? Is this guy nuts?"

Our principal before Mr. Bales came in at at time of instability.  When he left us left us to be closer to his family at a nearby school, we were very upset about losing him.

The day Mr. Bales showed up at that faculty meeting in the library, teachers were weak, vulnerable, and distraught.  We were considered the worst middle school in the county, if not one of the worst middle schools in the state of Georgia.  We were told, over and over, that we were not good enough and that we could not perform to expectations.


So, imagine our disbelief when this new man sauntered into the library - like he owned the place - and told us how things were going to change.

The summer before my first year with Mr. Bales was one filled with questioning, with doubt.  I wasn't quite sure what to think of the man, to be honest.  But I knew, like many others did, that our options were limited.  We could go with this man, and trust his vision - or we could fail again. 

Mr. Bales showed up on the first day of pre-planning with a smile on his face.  While the rest of us were grumbling, griping, and dreading returning to work, he said, "I'm glad we're here.  I'm worried about our kids not getting to eat over the summer.  I want them here where I know we can take care of them."

I knew then that this man wasn't a regular principal.


He started during that pre-planning by showing us "headlines," his version of a powerpoint that told the story of East Hall Middle School - these headlines were "dream" headlines.  Some of them were funny, some of them were poiginant, and some of them were downright inspirational.  Some of us looked very doubtful at the headline that said, "East Hall Middle School Makes AYP!" but we smiled at him and nodded our heads as he walked around the faculty meeting, giving his pep talk.

And change, somehow, began to seep into our classrooms, into our students, and into our very bones.

The clean-up happened so fast my head reels to remember it.  Mr. Bales reasoned
(wisely) that 1+1=2, so teachers and students alike needed to know what it would take for EHMS to make AYP and show improvement. He attacked problems at the very root.  Shady pedogogical practices were questioned and thrown out, and new methods were adopted.  Trainings commenced.  Though I was a social studies teacher and not truly valid under the old No Child Left Behind Act, expectations were raised for all teachers.

If we needed to do better, he told us.  If we were doing well, he told us.  If someone was the best teacher at the school, he told us who they were and why we needed to pick up their practices.  If the economic picture looked bleak, he told us, no matter how much it hurt him to share.  He told us what needed fixing and what worked well - and he did so unabashedly and with a heart full of passion.

He cried with us when members of our staff faced sickness or death.  He was always honest with the kids  and showed them his own brand of tough love.  He laughed with us when people told funny stories or jokes.  He played along with every single practical joke I pulled on him (and yes, there were quite a few - I'm the George Clooney of EHMS). 

Mr. Bales had the most open-door policy of any boss (or person, for that matter) I've ever encountered.  He constantly met our fears and questioning with sheer logic.  

"Why should the kids not know the standards?  Isn't that what's on the test?  Why wouldn't we give them access to anything we can give them?"

"At the end of the day, it's all about the kids!  We're here to do right by kids.  They're our first priority."

 
Throughout the years, Mr. Bales came up with various "themes." Some of the more memorable ones included an army theme, a "Why Not?" theme, and a sports-related theme.  Mr. Bales loved to speak in allegory, and some of his toughest sermons (that's what they were, sorry) came through those themes.  I remember feeling downright upset after the "Keep Your Eye on the Ball" speech, which was a bit of tough, if not well-needed, truth. 

Truth. Hard truth.  Unabashed honesty.  Always -  always -  kids first.

Sense a theme here?

In 2008, East Hall Middle School made AYP for the first time.  In 2011, we became a gold-certified school.  When the records are released, I have a sneaky suspicion we'll have every right to be proud of our accomplishments in 2012.  Sometimes our progress was steady, other times it was fought for with all of our might - but progress was made nonetheless.

We made progress.  We made a difference in the lives of kids.  We went from being the bane of the state's educational existence to one of the hallmarks of the county - and dare I say it? - the state. 

When several schools in Atlanta looked at their poverty-stricken kids, they looked to themselves.  They asked what they were going to do - how they were going to fix things.  They were afraid.  They turned to cheating, to dishonesty.

When someone asks me about the secret to the success of East Hall Middle School, I turn to them and say, "It was Kevin Bales."  I know, in reality, it was the kids filling in those answers (as opposed to some coward).  I know, in reality, the teachers were busting their butts with their kids in those classrooms day after day after day to make authentic gains.  I know, in reality, it took all of us together to make that machine grind out our success.

But I know the catalyst.  Good leaders make things happen.  Good leaders use truth, integrity, and doggone hard work to make a difference.  Good educational leaders always put the children first in their mantras.  Good educational leaders don't say, "Woe is me!" They say, "Why not?"  Good leaders are real - and through that reality, they inspire those around them to simply be better workers - heck, better people.

The day he told us he was moving to a new position within the county, I cried.  He cried.  Several of us cried.  He told us he wanted to spend more time with his family and to help all kids in the county - these were admirable things.  Again, he told us the truth, even though it pained some of us to hear it.

There are not many like Kevin Bales in this world.  A need for self-promotion and our sense of true reality can distort our image of how to achieve success. I was wonderfully blessed for the brief glimmer of time I had him as my boss.

That deacon of a man preached a sermon straight to my heart. 

Last week I watched as Mr. Bales fulfilled his new duties in the county office at a conference at Flowery Branch High School.  Several teachers from the county (myself included) met to discuss the new national standards.  Mr. Bales acted like he was in the library at EHMS - doing his old gig - which made me realize (once again) how much I'd miss him.  As he walked around and spoke, and I read some of the faces in the audience.


"Is this guy a preacher? Is this guy nuts?"

I wanted to laugh, to tell them not to be worried.  I wanted to tell them that this man knows.  This man understands.  This man is real.

I can't wait to see what his brand of leadership creates for this county.  Through his Bales of truth, he reorganizes the game, creates reality, and instigates change.

His authenticity created a true reality for us at East Hall Middle School - one we could have never envisioned. For that, I will forever be grateful.

Friday, June 22, 2012

What I Need...

...is a shotgun.  A big ol' stinkin' shotgun.

My girl is just way too pretty.  She looks fifteen and she's only two (thankfully, she still acts every bit of two - sometimes she still acts even younger than that, if it's possible).

Gracious, I'm scared.

I really need a shotgun I can handle.  It probably doesn't need too much kickback.

Maybe a pistol?  Shotguns tend to be rather large.  Pistols still do the job.


Anyone know of any good firing ranges around?  I need some target practice.



 Stay away, boys!!  Just stay away!


Friday, June 15, 2012

Woo Cup

Sometimes, Jeremy gets a little lazy in the summertime.

Do you need evidence?
This was just during Christmas break last year.  You can imagine the beard length now.

Okay, well, how about this?
Roo Cup 2012
This ingenious stroke of marketing is called the Roo Cup.  This, so far, has been Jeremy's greatest summertime achievement.

He brought it in a week or so ago and said, "Dana!  Come here!"

I walked over to him, "What?  What is it?"

Jeremy held up his new prize and said, "Look!  Look what I have!  ROO CUP!"

He spoke like he'd just won another county championship in soccer.

"What is so special about it?" I asked.

"Dana, you don't understand.  This thing is awesome!  You buy the cup, and then you can go to any Kangaroo store.  Any of them!  And you get a refill for twenty-five cents!  Twenty-five cents - I mean, do they know how much Coke and Mountain Dew I'm going to drink this summer?  I can fill this thing up ten times a day!"

"How much did you pay for this Roo Cup?"  I asked.

"I mean, it was like seven dollars, but you know I'm going to get my money's worth out of it.  Hey, Amelia - come here!  Look!  Daddy's got a Roo Cup!  Roo Cup!"


"Woo Cup!" She bellowed back.  (She probably thought, "Daddy got a sippy cup - like me!")

I'm sure the folks at Kangaroo hoped for a one-time purchase (and a finagling of money) out of Jeremy Farr.  No such luck.  At least two times a day, Jeremy fills up his Roo Cup for twenty-five cents.  So far, he has managed to successfully hunt down every  Kangaroo within a fifty-mile radius of Murrayville.  He's developed intense Roo Cup fortitude - learning that not only can he fill up his Roo Cup with soft drinks, but that frozen drinks are included in the deal.

You can imagine his excitement when he developed such knowledge.


"Did you know that more can go into the Roo Cup besides Mountain Dew and Coke?  You can get frozen drinks, too!   I got a huge frozen Coke today - for twenty-five cents!  Can you believe that?"

This summer, while people will be hosting barbeques, going to the beach, watching fireworks, and getting that summer glow, Jeremy will be happily filling his beloved Roo Cup with beverages that New York would surely disdain.

It's a Roo Cup summer in Georgia, y'all.

(P.S. I think I'm going to start writing a "Honey-Do" List...)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

True Reality: The Importance of Being Authentic

Several weeks ago, I read something in my friend Melissa's blog that made me really begin to think.  (The entry is here if you'd like to read, her blog is fabulous.)

Ever since I've read her quote, "I've learned that influence is gained through authenticity," I've been struck by it.

In a world where our "reality," is nothing more than a staged game, being truly authentic is rare commodity, a gem worth exploring.


We watch shows that claim (and even exclaim) reality, only to find that staged proposals and winners of shows live a deeply more complicated life than we could have imagined. 


We live a life where everyone presents blogs, facebook pictures, and Twitter postings full of life's circumstances - but these images, these vignettes of life pull us into a distorted vision.  Snapshots and fragments do not compose a full album of reality, of a true life. 


Recent news reports discussed women my age who fall into depression looking at facebook, because they only see the good.  They see the workouts, the lovely arts and crafts, the perfect homes, the wonderful marriages, and the adorable baby pictures.  They mirror their own lives to others (which is totally and inherently terrible for reasons I could expound on for hours) and say, "What on earth am I doing wrong?  Why is my reality not like this?"

And while it isn't wrong to share, or to look, I think we need to call ourselves back - back to a true reality.

Behind the gloss and glitter of our facades that social networking and reality television have given us, we forget an inalienable truth: life is not easy.

There is an importance to being authentic.  Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," (emphasis mine).  He alone brings us closer to authenticity, to stripping down the layers of the lies we've told and sold to ourselves.  When we look at others and wonder why we're not good enough, when we post things in hopes of affirmation, we deny another inalienable truth resides behind these thoughts:  works do not make us good.

We're not good enough, an no amount of projects, layered birthday cakes, or date nights will ever fix that.  We should run to His reality - to the Cross - and bare our weaknesses, because He is glorified through them.

Over the next few days (possibly weeks - I'll be real here), I'm going to explore this topic more thoroughly.  I'm going to give some examples of how authenticity - true reality - worked for overwhelming good.   I'll also give examples of my stages of life and how I can work to be more authentic through them, since I am just as guilty of a lack of authenticity as anyone else.  We can change lives and influence others through our authenticity - and that's what I want - to show the love of Christ through me.

This series will be a process, and part of it is still forming in my head, but I hope that you will stick with me to read it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why the Sun Isn't Worth It

I am just not going to conform to standards anymore.

Yes, dear readers (all seven of you), I am letting you know a painful truth:  this summer, I refuse to tan.

I LIKE to tan, mind you.  I enjoy being out in the sunshine. I like hiding flaws under bronzed skin.

I tan rather well.  I realize I probably look pasty white, but I actually can get fairly dark with little effort thanks to my Native American gene pool.  I have always liked being tan - and I still like the way I look when I'm tan.

But I like my skin more.  For most of my life, it has been even-toned, fairly dry, and cooperative.   Recently, however, it developed rather large sunspots.  I got my first few on my legs a couple of years ago and dismissed them.

This past summer, while at the beach, one popped up that was about the width of a pencil and the length of a dime (or, nay - a nickel - gasp!) right on the center on my nose.  My nose skin has been weird since the Infamous Christmas Break of the Worst Year of My Life (when I had to have surgery thanks to a swimming pool debacle the previous summer), so I should have known.  I should have known that my nose would be the first body part to fall apart as my body begins the descent into middle age.


I detest this stinking sunspot.  It's one of the the first things I see when I look in the mirror.  I spent last fall trying to attack the little booger (no pun - haha!) on my nose with lightening creams and serums I bought off of the internet.  This spring, I began to re-apply some of the same stuff in hopes that it would go away.  I really thought it helped...until a few months ago, when hairstylist thought she spilled chemicals on my nose and panicked.  I was mortified.  "No, that's just my big sunspot," I lamely admitted.

At that moment, I realized I'm probably going to have to see a dermatologist and a laser if I ever want to get it removed.

Now, mind you, I realize that this is a "first world" problem. I really have other issues besides a sunspot to harp on (I am really just detailing my issues with it to show my weaknesses and to hopefully make you laugh a little), but the center of this issue, of this blog entry, is this:  is tanning really worth it?

I'm not sure we in the South realize that there are dangers involved in looking sweet and sun-kissed.  We flock to the sun and to tanning beds like they hold the antidote for all of our life problems.

Look, I'm not preaching - I'm guilty.  I dismissed those "the sun is bad for you" warnings, too.  I didn't wear sunscreen until well in my twenties.  Back then I turned tan like no one's business.  Now that I'm older and battling sunspots, I've got a whole new perspective.  And probably a large bill to pay to my dermatologist.   

Look cute while you can, young girls.  It really does all go downhill as you get older.

It's just not worth it to me anymore.

P.S. Have I mentioned WRINKLES?!  Oh, heavens...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hey, Baby Girl

Work this past month was stressful.  Exhausting.  Challenging.  Overwhelming, yet rewarding.

But now it's summer.

Time for giggles and sprinklers. Lemonade and lightening bugs (they are not fireflies - they're lightening bugs in the South).  Time for super hot sunshine and the smell of sunscreen.

It's time for okra, sweet tea and squash - fresh fruit and freezer pops.  Time to spend time with your Granny, to watch her hands, and to learn how to make a real biscuit - we're going to do that this year.

It's time for big wheels, playtime, and dirt on our knees.  Time for swimming pool fun, rides on slides, and hopefully a little trip to the beach.

It's time for lunches with friends, walks in strollers, and rides with our windows rolled all the way down.

I hope you're ready.





Sunday, May 6, 2012

Centrifuge of Words

Here lately, time has been a pretty precious commodity - I haven't had much of it.

Sometimes time saps my creativity - my ability to think, to process, and to write.

Words will bounce through my head and never make their way out of my fingers.

Writing is a process for me.  I have to take the words in my head, mull them around in some sort of centrifuge, and arrange them in the manner I want.

I want the words I use to be peppered with creativity.  This is a problem - I lead a fairly ordinary life.

So, when it comes to writing about my kid's Easter and showing you pictures, there's a problem. How do I make a post witty, clever, and authentically mine?  When I tell you about a trip to the zoo that I didn't really enjoy, how to I put it into words to still make it memorable (not great - just memorable)?

Ah, yes -- I realize these are probably problems that do not bother the general populace.

I respect words.  I respect the English language.  When Henry Higgins describes the English language to Eliza Dolittle in "My Fair Lady,"  he captures my heart when he says, "the noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative, and musical mixtures of sounds."  I feel like he (yes, a fictional character) gets me.

So, when you take the problem of time and compound that with the problem of simply finding the right words to use, you'll find that I've got just a touch of writer's block.

I'm someone who writes for therapy - for comfort - for release.  Writer's block left me with a feeling clogged brain. Clogged brain + no time = grouchy Dana.

Words are breaking loose, however - I can feel the thoughts of peeling away from my subconscious. The pieces of the various puzzles are coming back together - the ideas are framing themselves back into the little snapshots of my family life that I so wish to capture.   I just have to make myself force them out.

Over the next few weeks, and especially over this summer, I'm going to try and push myself to write - to make myself spend a few hours a week (or possibly more) on it.  I want to get better.  I want to be good.

Be prepared for the brain flow.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A List of Thankfulness

Last week, during my talk with my Wednesday Night Ladies, we discussed cultivating thankfulness.

"'Jesus Calling' hurt my feelings this week!" one of the ladies said.  "It doesn't just say be thankful - it says to cultivate thankfulness!  That's tough!"

As I thought about what she said, I realized she was right. We discussed making a list of things to be thankful for.  So, this week, I've been mentally scribbling notes in my head (I do this often - it's how I process my writing).

In the era of facebook and Twitter, it is pretty easy to get caught up into a pattern of complaining.  Heck, even without technology, I complain an awful lot.  Working with fourteen year-olds can do that to a person.  I know I should do better.

Like an arrow, thankfulness drives me closer to the crux of my gratitude - to the God who deserves the praise for every good and perfect gift.

Here are a few things that I placed on my mental list...

1. I'm thankful for community.  Here recently, I had the privilege of experiencing the power of community at my church.  Community is a beautiful experience, one I've sorely missed in the past few years.  I'm thankful to be a part of a group of believers in my choir group who care about each other, pray for one another, and support each other.  I observed the power of community this week as the choir gathered together to pray for a teammate who suffered a loss in her family.  I experienced this myself as a friend read one of my updates about Amelia's big girl bed and offered up a toddler bed for me to use without me even asking.  God really showed me the beauty of community this week.

2.  I'm thankful for words.  I love their puzzle-filled ways -the way they wrap around my thoughts and embellish them into reality.  I love the indefinite tangibility that words bring - and how they color inside of minds with varied shades of stories.  I simply adore words, and I never tire of arranging them.

3. I'm thankful for my home.  It isn't perfect (I dream of winning an HGTV landscaping contest...and a new well), but I realize that my family is very blessed. I love to look out the windows into our back yard and see the mist rolling over the pasture land, the wildlife, and the hills.  I relish cooking in my kitchen.  I will always feel blessed to live in my home.

4.  I'm thankful for my friend Kathi.  Some of you may know her story, and if you don't, let me just say this: she's been through a great deal in her young life (yes, I still consider our age a young age).  She faced loss and tragedy with courage, faith, and a trust in the Lord that is so admirable.  Despite her pain, she shows strength and love to others.  Despite her loss, she was right by my side at the doctor's office when I was bleeding heavily in my fifth month of pregnancy.  Despite everything, she came to sit with me and Amelia in NICU.  That, my friends, is true friendship - one I will never be able to repay.  Kathi is the kind of person whose bravery inspires you to do greater things.  My soul aches with thankfulness for her - for the fact that God chose her to be my friend.

5.  Of course, I'm thankful for the big things in life - my God, my family, my friends, and my job.  It's interesting and eye-opening to watch some of these variables interact as time slowly moves closer to Easter.  I'm thankful for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that gave me atonement and a life of freedom.  Despite who I am, He is faithful.

These are just a few seeds in the ground at this point...I hope to cultivate more thankfulness in future posts.  It will take time fish out the weeds of my complaints (and those will surely grow back and undoubtedly make their way into my fingertips), but my work must start somewhere.

For now, my hand is on the plow.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bandwidth

We use the Internet quite often at school.

My school is Title-1 (which basically means that most of my students get free and reduced lunch - this makes the school entitled to more federal funding), so we've been able to get our hands on some really cool technology in the past few years.

My room has an interactive board, three computers, and a television with a VCR/DVD combo.  My projector died, so my current projector is kickin' it old school on a cart, but I feel confident I'll get a new projector by 2013.

When  my school first got some of this technology, energy was a problem and some rooms had to be re-wired to sustain the power.  Now, we're having problems with the Internet.

This is a big problem.  It's an even larger problem when I've become so technologically dependent that I get upset when I can't pull up a YouTube video of Lester Maddox chasing people with guns and axe handles (it's truly classic and makes it point, though - the kids love it!).

I took my Internet concern to my grade level meeting to address it, although I figured I would be pretty certain of my response.

"Is anyone else having trouble with the Internet?"  I asked.

A rousing chorus of enthusiastic echoes ensued.

A few people tried to explain the situation, but our instructional coach explained it the best.

She moved her arms about into a box-like shape and said (and I paraphrase),  "Let's pretend that this box represents our allowed Internet usage....well, our box is always full.  And if our box is always full, our connection is really, really slow."

And that night, as I thought about that nebulous Internet box of usage, I couldn't help but think about my connectivity to God. 

My box of access seems awfully full these days.  Jeremy is coaching soccer and doesn't get home until later, so my days are filled with work and my evenings are spent taking care of Amelia.  Work is always insane at this time of year.  It seems I'll never, ever get caught up on my grades. I thought about all the box-stuffing things I wanted to accomplish.  How I wanted to a: good mother, good wife, good family member, good teacher, good exerciser, good housekeeper, good choir member, good child of God...

And even as I thought through that list of "good things," I knew and continue to realize that nothing good ever came from me.

I started a daily devotional called "Jesus Calling" with some of the ladies in choir.  It takes scripture and writes it as a message from the perspective of Jesus.  I've really enjoyed this devotional, because it usually speaks to where I am in my life.  As I've shared with the ladies, it has been comforting and yet amazing to see how some of the same troubles and issues bloom and unfurl within all of us, and how this scripture speaks to us in different ways.

Today, I got hit with a whammy of a devotional.  It says, "In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete.  Take time to bask in the Light of My Love...As you release more and more things into My care, remember that I never let go of your hand." 

I get frustrated when I cannot connect to the Internet - and yet I don't connect with God nearly as much as I need to.  Yet, there He is, always patient, always loving - always ready to talk to me.

Wednesday night, I realized that I've got to work on my bandwidth issues, and today's devotional just reverberated that message.

I have to work to eliminate worry, frustration, and busyness and to replace that with His Presence, with trust, and with thankfulness (if we spent our day being thankful to God for what we have, what negative things would that eliminate in our lives?).

In my box of access, some issues will always vie for my attention, taking up more bandwidth than needed.  Through trusting, seeking, and thanking, I can connect to God and others to relate a message of unfailing love.  Instead of being a full box of connectedness, I can be a conduit of the love Christ gave so unreservedly to me.

Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Alfredo Epiphany

I've made Alfredo for years.  I normally made it the way some people make their gravy, except I add cheese.  I made a roux out of butter and flour, added copious amounts of milk, brought it to a boil, added salt, pepper, and lots of good Parmesan cheese. .

I've often found that my Alfredo lacked...well, something.   The texture was a little off (most likely due to the lack of cream) and the taste was a little...bland.  I added cream to the sauce on special occasions, and that helped, but I still felt like the sauce lacked the oomph factor.

A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany.  Jeremy likes garlic cream sauce, soI thought, "why not make up a roux with olive oil and garlic?  It'd have to taste good."

So, I used olive oil and garlic and made a roux.  The first time I did this, I thought it would be a big disaster.  The roux was green and runny!  I poured in my milk and thought, "this is going to be such a big mess...I'd better tell Jeremy to call Domino's."

After my sauce thickened like traditional Alfredo, I thought, "maybe I'm on to something here..."



After I tried it, I haven't made Alfredo in the "old way" since.

Olive oil and garlic roux is yummy and flavorful.  Plus, olive oil is better for you than butter, you can add milk to this sauce and it still feels decadent.  The garlic softens in the milk and adds a mild and yummy punch of flavor to the sauce.  It has a feeling of roasted garlic cream sauce without the time or energy it takes to make the full-fledged version. 

Basically, this is a lighter, simpler take on a classic Alfredo, and Jeremy loves it.

So, here's the recipe for Epiphany Alfredo (I realize the name of this post is "Alfredo Epiphany," but that make sense for the post, while "Epiphany Alfredo" makes more sense for the dish...I digress.)

Epiphany Alfredo

Serves four

4 tablespoons, olive oil
4 tablespoons, flour
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups milk (you can use low-fat, but I wouldn't use skim)
Splash of cream  (optional)
4 ounces, grated Parmesan cheese (use the best you can find)
Salt and pepper

1/2 box, cooked, drained pasta

Heat deep saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Once your saucepan/dutch oven is heated, add the olive oil. Once the olive oil is heated through (it will start to "move" in the pan), add the minced garlic.  Saute the mixture just until the garlic begins to turn light brown.  Once the garlic is a light brown, add in the flour and whisk the mixture thoroughly for a minute or two until the flour cooks.  The roux will be greenish and looser than a traditional roux.

The garlic/olive oil roux.  It really is green, although it's tough to tell in this picture.
After the flour has cooked through, add in your milk, splash of cream, and plenty of salt and pepper.  Continue to whisk the two mixtures together occasionally, until the sauce thickens.  Once the sauce starts to bubble up, add in the Parmesan cheese and melt the cheese into the sauce.
Here's the thickened sauce before the cheese was added.


Add in your cooked pasta and serve immediately with extra cheese and pepper on top!

Note: Cubed rotisserie chicken works well in this, or this works well as a side dish for grilled or baked chicken.  A little crushed red or cayenne pepper would add a Cajun kick to the sauce as well.  

The end product: