Ten Lessons Taught by My High School Drama Coach

Drama coachTwo days ago, a dear high school friend sent a Facebook private message. “I ran across this tonight,” the message said.

“This” was an obituary for Roger Hallum, our high school speech and drama coach. According to the obituary Mr. Hallum–who will always be Mr. Hallum and never Roger to me–died on July 1, 2009.

He’s been gone five years and we, the students he touched in profound ways, never knew. We never had a chance to say thank you. We never had a chance to tell him how he shaped and bolstered the confidence of a bunch of squirrely teens as he tapped into our talents.

So five years late, this top ten list says thank you for the lessons he taught so well more than 4 decades ago.

10.  Never judge a book by its cover. None of us believed a dumpy man who wore his sandy hair shaggy and unkempt, whose teeth that never saw braces, and who wore saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester pants could motivate high schoolers to spend months of each year rehearsing and performing in plays and speech contests.

9.  When your director says, “Jump,” you say, “How high?”

8.  Good writing isn’t enough to make a good speech. Neither is good delivery. But good writing + good delivery = magic.

7.  Never, ever start smoking. Because trying to quit is hell and requires copious amounts of Live Savers candies.

6.  Teenagers, given a vision of what they can do if they work far harder than they believe they can and tasked with far more responsibility than school administrators believe is wise, can accomplish tasks beyond what most adults think they can do.

5.  Timing is everything.

4.  An army jeep, a goat, and 30 tie-dyed bedsheets sewn into kimonos, make for an exciting, unexpected, and visually pleasing rendition of Tea House of the August Moon.

3.  Character parts are much more fun to play than romantic leads.

2.  A pregnant pause speaks louder than words.

1. One unassuming person…one dumpy, shaggy-haired man with crooked teeth, saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester trousers…who says “You can do this because you have talent,” can change the course of an insecure teenager’s life.

In memory of Mr. Roger Hallum, Feb. 8, 1939–July 1, 2009. Your former students are still jumping, higher than they ever thought they could.

Brave Mothers and Courageous Children

Doe trusting

Last week, my heart grew heavier and heavier
as the media reported more and more bad news.
Downed airliners.
Fighting in the Middle East.
People in this country shouting at refugee children,
holding ugly signs telling them to to home.

I gave God an earful.
I told him I wasn’t sure about living in a world as cruel as this,
a world stripped of loveliness and compassion,
a world devoid of beauty.

And then, God answered,
as He so often does,
on my morning walk.

I looked up,
and there on the edge of the woods,
stood a doe.
I walked closer and closer
to where she stood sentry.
Closer than I’ve ever been to a deer before.

Close enough to see
her heavy udder,
her swollen teats.
She bravely held her ground,
watching over a hidden fawn,
but never flinching
as I passed by.

Then, at the end of my walk
as I ascended our driveway,
God spoke again.

A male indigo bunting,
very small,
very young,
sat on the gravel only a few steps away.
He hopped about,
flew into the bushes unsteadily,
then flew with wobbly precision across the driveway
and perched in one tree,
then on the dead branch of another.

I stood,
transfixed by the courageous bird,
patchy with iridescent blue feathers
and intoxicated
with the freedom of flight,
until he took wing again
and flew away.

“My world is filled
with brave mothers,
with courageous children,”
He said.
“My world is filled with beauty.”

The Price of Beauty


Morning walks have been a parade of beauty
These late spring days.
An indigo bunting perched on the fence,
Baby bunnies hopping around in dizzy circles,
Cardinals, male and female,
Singing from the treetops,
Or flying beside the path.
And then, this morning,
The season’s first glimpse of a shy, spotted fawn
Crossing the road behind her mother.

I do not care that the drivers of the cars coming down the hill
Thought me a crazy woman
For holding up one hand in warning,
While using the other to point to the fawn ahead,
For urging people on their way to work
To slow down,
To stop
Until this small and speckled new life had crossed the road.
Such is the price of beauty,
And I am glad to pay it.

A Little Bit of Gravel Road History Revealed

old wide planks 1

The man of steel’s been hard at work on his latest renovation project. He’s re-siding the garage and repairing the brick fireplace built on it’s north side. In the process, we think he uncovered a little local history.

For those of you who don’t know, our road is the last original bit of the pre-Civil War stage coach road that ran from Fort Dodge to Des Moines. The house up the road was a stage coach stop. Legend has it that John Brown, the abolitionist and rabble-rouser, traveled along this road. Civil War recruits from Fort Dodge followed it on their way to Keokuk where they joined the troops.

Since the oldest part of our house (solid-as-a-rock timber frame) was constructed in the 1840s, it had a front row seat as our national history unfolded. It saw–and still bears–some local history, too. Our dining room sub floor is made of solid oak planks, cut from native trees, so hard an industrial sander couldn’t make a dent in them. Timber frame beams, also of native lumber milled long ago, stretch from the basement to the second floor.

Last week, the man of steel discovered huge, horizontal wooden planks of rough cut lumber beneath the old garage siding. Each plank was at least 16 inches wide. Others measured 18 or 20 inches. Recently, our neighbor who lives in the house that was once a stage coach stop said there used to be a saw mill on her land and the lumber it produced was used in construction projects in the area.

old wooden planks 2

Most likely, the man of steel thinks, these boards came from that mill. So before he covered them up again with tar paper and plywood and siding, I snapped a few pictures to share with you. It could be decades or even centuries before these old boards see the light of day again.

I wonder what other bits of history are hidden on this tiny stretch of gravel we are blessed to call home? There’s a book waiting to be written, for sure. Now if I can just live long enough to give it a whirl!

Top Ten Reasons to Love Spring



The wild plum tree blooming across the road.


Blossoms on the cherry tree across the fence in the neighbor's yard.

Blossoms on the cherry tree across the fence in the neighbor’s yard.


A white crab apple tree just about to burst into bloom.

A white crab apple tree just about to burst into bloom.


Sunshine streaming through trees covered with new leaves.

Sunshine streaming through trees covered with new leaves.


White jonquils waving at the morning sun.

White jonquils waving at the morning sun.


Red bud trees vibrant enough to take a person's breath away.

Red bud trees vibrant enough to take a person’s breath away.


A field of dandelions...next to someone else's yard.

A field of dandelions…next to someone else’s yard.


A red crab apple tree heavy with flowers.

A red crab apple tree heavy with flowers.


A fairy ring of bleeding hearts.

A fairy ring of bleeding hearts.


A tulip festival in our own backyard!

A tulip festival in our own backyard.

What do you love about spring? Leave a comment!




Three Thoughts for Thursday

Daffodils 2013

  1. How did the juvenile red-tailed hawk hanging around our place for three days know to skedaddle permanently the minute I located our binoculars? Do you think he’ll come back once I move the binos from the kitchen counter and lose them in the closet again?
  2. The daffodils are up and looking a little worse after an extra month of winter wear. As soon as the snow covering the rhubarb patch melts, you’ll get an update on how it survived the winter, too.
  3. God nailed it when he created spring. Like He said, “It is very good!”

What’s good this week where you live? Leave a comment.

Hungry for Spring

Hungry Deer

All week I have been hungry for spring,
Impatient with the snowy view outside our windows,
Eager for the spring thaw that brings freedom from our stuffy house,
Antsy to stretch my legs and walk miles outside in the fresh air.

This morning, eight deer graced the winter vista outside the living room window,
They pawed through the snow, finding little to eat.
One yearling fawn mouthed a tree branch and stood two-legged,
Then dropped on all fours, still wrestling with the woody, bitter morsel.

From the warmth of my living room, I watched the shivering animals
Wander across the yard, through the hedge, and across our driveway.
They looked for greener pastures, shorter trees, and tender twigs–
These winter-starved creatures, hungry for spring in ways I hope to never know.

Teen Deer Hang Out

Teen Deer Hang Out

Oh, deer! If the current trend continues, our neighborhood is going to get a bad reputation. Why? Because our front yard is becoming a teen deer hang out. Every day, after school is dismissed at White Tail High, the students hightail it to our lawn like teenagers bound for the mall.

Be warned, and don’t get in their way.

First, they head for the diner out front and have a bite to eat. Then they slouch on over to the big maple tree, put in their antler buds, and listen to Alvin and the Chippunks on their iPods.

They think they look so cool.

On weekends, they hang around the yard all day long. One night, their parents showed up about supper time. They kept circling the perimeter of the yard, but the street parking must have been full because they didn’t march in and drag their kids home.

What were they thinking?

You’d think they’d want their kids home and out of the cold in the middle of winter. But if Fawn and Bambi mess in their bedrooms like they do in the diner, Big Buck and Mama Doe may be relieved to have the kids raising Cain somewhere else.

So how did our yard get designated Teen Deer Hang Out?

Who knows? For now, I’m jiggy with it, but if they start listening to the sound track of West Side Story and tatooing their fur with the emblems of the Shark and Jets, I’m calling the deer patrol. The real estate market’s bad enough without rival gangs laying claim to the ‘hood and driving down home values.

What’s with fawns these days anyway?

Twitterpated Bucks Are Busting Out All Over

Bambi’s Disney dad was an absentee father. How do I know this? Because during my morning walks this week, more twitterpated bucks than I could shake a stick at have crossed my path. And believe me, the gleam in their beady eyes made me wish for a stick to shake at them!

But back to Bambie’s absentee big buck daddy. If Pops been around, Bambi wouldn’t have needed to ask a wise old owl to explain the meaning of twitterpated.

YouTube Preview Image

As the video clearly shows, owls get twitterpated in spring. But deer get twitterpated in the fall, which Bambi would have known if his father had been around to serve as a role model for his cute little boy.

I’m neither a deer nor a member of the male gender. But during my walks, the deer in my town are making it perfectly clear that November is their twitterpation month. Like this young buck that keeps strutting across our lawn several times a day.

Or this big fella who chased the doe at the top of the page across the walking path in the park and then hid in the woods. He was torn between wanting me to take a picture of his big rack and following the does sashaying around him.

I know he really wanted to have his picture taken because he stood still until I got a good shot of the back of his rack, too.

The camera was at home the morning when a fairly young guy, with one broken antler and one intact, pranced in the park. And the camera was home this morning when 3 more bucks–one the same size as Mr-take-my-picture-while-I-act-modest, but not as battle-scared–engaged in a stare down.

Dumb bucks they may be this time of year, but maybe not as dumb as they look. After all, these twitterpated gents are smart enough to strut their stuff within city limits where hunters aren’t allowed.

So I’m predicting a bumper crop of Bambis next spring. With daddies smart enough to stay close to home and out of harm’s way. Which means it’s time to collect sticks and practice shaking them. No way do I want to be mistaken for a come-hither-look doe next November.