Raising a cup of kindness…

There are fewer relationships more precious than a true friend, the “family” we choose in this life.  Besides our family, momma made it a point to be a true friend to others…a card, a casserole, a roll of quarters for the hospital vending machine, a basket of clean folded laundry (don’t ask), and more were her standard MO when someone was in need.  Well before being asked, she was the first on the scene because she lived by the mantra:  “A true friend is the first one to come in when everyone else has exited the building.” 

CoffeeClubSuch was the beloved Coffee Club during mom’s last few years.  A group of retired public educators, these ladies possessed a combined 350+ years of experience, forgetting more than most of us will ever be blessed to know.  Even in the midst of a rapidly deteriorating memory and failing body, these faithful ladies gathered with mom to drink coffee, chat, tell stories, and more.  Mind you, this wasn’t a short conversation or visit; this was (at minimum) a half-day event.  Trust me, there was never a lag in the conversation; these ladies had YEARS of stories about everyone and everything…they were educators after all!

Even after moving into assisted living, the CC came without fail, bringing yummy treats, sunshine, and lots of laughter no matter how difficult the day for mom.  These faithful friends shared JOY, love, comfort, smiles, and strength.  CC gave purpose and meaning; they were the ones who cared.  Mom forgot so many things living in constant confusion, but she never forgot her beloved Coffee Club.  They accepted her challenges great and small, funny and sometimes frightening, with grace and forgiveness.  It didn’t matter who momma was in the moment; changes never took away from what she meant to them or her lasting legacy.

We could all use a Coffee Club in our lives.  We could all benefit from being a Coffee Club member as a champion for another in our own life.  For more years than any of these ladies most likely want to share, they’ve traveled through life together, weaving a uniquely checkered quilt of true friendship.  So, here’s to the Coffee Club, to the ones who chose to raise their cup of kindness; thank you for giving more, expecting less, and sharing your unconditionally caring love…


It occurs every Sunday morning at 4:37 a.m…the dream, the startled awakening, the stream of tears down my sleepy face, and the coolness of your hand upon my brow…

Reliving the moment you took your last breath on this side while crossing over to the next leaves me awestruck.  Memories, flashbacks, music, and more drift through my thoughts while lying awake staring at the ceiling and wiping my tears.

Sundays were always sacred family days in our home and very little interfered with the expectations for a peaceful day of rest and rejuvenation.  Church attendance, a big meal, a relaxing afternoon with a nap or quiet time, popcorn, board games, and laughter were the only requirements of the day.  While we rarely pondered this weekly routine; Sundays were the foundation for peace in our home, the peace set by your living example.

You may have been born on a Tuesday but you celebrated your Homecoming on a Sunday.  You told us you needed to rest and go home; you did, on a Sunday.  You smiled and shared, “I’m not scared,” and followed the light of peace, on a Sunday.  What a blessing to know you were with me when I took my first breath in this lifetime and you gave me the honor of being with you when you took your last, on a Sunday.  Not many of us are given this teachable moment with a loved one; even fewer are aware of the gift it truly becomes, especially on a Sunday…



The voice has been silent for a month now.  The muscle we all tend to use most each day, the tongue, has been replaced with stillness.  Persistent, thoughtful listening and watching for a sign remains a daily quest.

Some things in life cannot be fixed but only carried with the help of others.  As Emily Dickinson remarked, “I find it shelter to speak with you,” yet this is no longer an option in person.  You continue to share how nothing is wasted in this life.  Grief, pain, and sorrow enlarge the capacity for compassion, growth, and healing.  You continue to bring light into the cracks of a hurting heart although it comes from another realm beyond comprehension.

Perhaps it is true how we never really feel like an adult until our mom crosses over…a truism I’m learning to accept all too well these days.  Until her last breath on this Earth, momma continued to share her voice, to teach, to sing, to heal, and to trust because her heart held what her mind could not.

Your voice remains because you are with me always.  You’re the whisper of the leaves and flowers as I hike in fields of gold.  You’re the smell of certain foods and fragrances in daily life.  You’re the cool hand of peace passing over me or the warmth of assurance when I’m struggling at any given time.  You’re the sound of the rain lulling me to sleep and the colors in the rainbows I seek.  You live in my laughter, sarcasm, tears, and JOY.  You’re the place I come from, my first home, and the road map I continue to follow along life’s journey with each step taken; yes, momma, your voice remains…


“We are most alive when our hearts are conscious of our treasures…” ~ Thornton Wilder

This is the gift–to hear and enJOY life’s opportunities every single day. Truly, there is something in every day and in every season to celebrate with thanksgiving as treasures along the journey…to be more aware of what we have, to appreciate again and again all the wonderful things money cannot buy (the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, a child’s laughter, a loving family, and more).

As we wrap up this school year, it’s important to take a moment to focus on things as though we are seeing them either for first time, or in my case as LME princiPAL, for the last time. With 34 years of educational opportunities, it is time to personally move to another phase of this journey called life.

Before I leave this fast-growth learning community in the most capable of hands, please allow a little poetic license to share some final pearls of pirate wisdom and TREASURES…

T = Take time to breathe, to try something new, and to be THANKFUL.  The most precious things in life are always right in front of you.  Trust and be amazed!

R = Remind yourself and others to relax, rejuvenate, rest, and reward.  Play is important for all ages, most especially when you need to recharge your battery and take in the abundance of life each day.

E = EnJOY the ride…the good and the not-so-good!  Expect adventures and entertain a few wild ideas to enhance this big, bold, grand, astonishingly beautiful world.  After all, it’s not the destination, but the journey along the way…

A = Always allow grace to shine forth…hold yourself and others to a standard of less perfection and more grace…every.single.day!

S = S-T-R-E-T-C-H your mind, mindset, body, heart, and soul to uncomfortable levels.  We often find new possibilities, answers, and options just outside our comfort zone!

U = Understand and forgive others even when they do not deserve it; this is usually when they need your understanding and forgiveness the most…

R = Respect yourself first; respecting others will be easier then.

E = Entertain new opportunities by saying YES…engagement, enlightenment, and empowerment start with each of us!

S = Savor the simple, profound, JOYful moments; these will become the milestones to your personal life story.

EnJOYAll these TREASURES are present in the many JOYs of my educational journey at LME.  One of the surest and most encompassing JOYs comes from the great works and excellence of others around me.  While some may not appreciate the idea of thriving on others’ successes, it is more than enough to have the honor and privilege of being a part of something profoundly extraordinary because I chose the role of catalyst in the process.  We can all be a ladder, a lamp, or even a lifeboat on this journey…here’s hoping your heart is always conscious of your TREASURES; enJOY the journey!

Note:  VanAmGram will become a personal blog on July 1, 2016 and will no longer be associated with LaRue Miller Elementary.


Sprinkles and other teachable things…

Please don’t tell my own children, but yes, they continue to teach me so much more than I’ve ever taught them; this goes for my students at LME as well. They engage, enlighten, inspire, and empower me daily. I’ve gathered a few insights to share the smart, funny, innocent, and perfectly sensible things reminding how simple everything really is in this life…

Giggles grow dendrites:  Even before we can talk, we can laugh.  We chuckle around 4 months of age in response to those around us.  Laughter brings a human connection and young children laugh more than adults because of their many social interactions; laughter literally grows the brain.  Sharing a great belly laugh is, after all, one of life’s greatest JOYs, so giggle often.

Practice not perfection:  There are 10 tricky things to try to master as a young child:  hula-hooping, using chopsticks, doing a cartwheel, catching a snowflake on your tongue, skipping stones, hanging a spoon off your nose, doing a yo-yo trick, making a paper airplane, and whistling.  Which ones have you done lately?  Which ones have you taught lately?

Ask WHY until you understand:  You probably won’t be surprised to learn that young children ask an average 350 questions per day.  Asking WHY digs deeper and challenges conventional wisdom to reveal true reasons and alternative solutions.  Never be afraid to ask WHY.

Look at things upside down:  Anything is possible to a child because they see things we can’t and look for things we don’t.  They soak up new information and adapt quickly and cleverly to changing situations.  Hang on a jungle gym and get a new perspective.

Sign your name BIG:  A child is her own champion; her focus is on all the things she does well, like learning to sign her name.  Believing you can makes all the difference in the world because young children are willing to try just about anything.  Be proud of the name and sign it BIG!

A hug goes a long way:  Little ones love us just as we are, not as we should be.  They are quick to forgive, move on, and don’t tally the mistakes.  Naturally empathetic, kids respond quickly to someone in need and understand how the smallest gesture mathkes a big impact.  Just like Winnie-The-Pooh noted, “Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

If you’re fortunate to be in this business of school or to have young children at home, continue to find ways to appreciate their infinite fresh wisdom.  If not, here’s hoping you choose to turn off your devices the next time you are sitting on a park bench and tune in to the conversations around you on the playground…you might just pick up a few pointers!  Oh, and always ask for more sprinkles!

Readers are Leaders…

imgresReaders are leaders; it’s a known fact.  A language-rich and print-rich environment at school and at home are instrumental in building better readers, writers, listeners, and thinkers.  The best way to promote strong reading skills, share a love of books, and just spend time together (as a model reader) occurs during Read-Alouds or Story Time.  Want to spend quality time with your child building reading skills and teaching a love of books?  Here are some simple suggestions:

  1. Read regularly – try to read together daily, perhaps at bedtime (what I called rocker time when my girls were little).  Read-alouds can also be done on the way to soccer practice or while supper is cooking.
  2. Take turns choosing books together – old favorites are fun but learn to branch out some into new genres such as poetry, non-fiction, or biographies.
  3. Let the child participate and be playful – use different voices for different characters or substitute the child’s name for the main character along with family member names for other characters.  Ask your child to turn pages or finish rhyming words in sentences for you.

The joy of reading is cultivated just like your favorite flower or herb in the garden.  Reading is the foundation and heart of everything we do at school; reading sets expectations for all future academic success in all other areas.  We are blessed and so grateful to the many volunteers who spend valuable time in our classrooms as guest readers and leaders, especially our Rocking Reader community members!  They know and show how readers are leaders throughout life!  So, what will you read with a child today? 🙂

How will you STOP in 2016?

HNY2A group of fifth grade writers meet monthly with me to ponder life, share ideas, and enJOY general conversation about all manner of topics.  We sat down before the holiday break to reflect on our new resolutions, one word goals, and more…our chance to start fresh, leave the past behind, and move forward in a positive way.  The interesting consensus of the group during this discussion was how a new year takes great courage, strong conviction, and a growth mindset to move forward because the best is yet to come!

During the course of our conversation, we also noted how important it is to STOP doing things no longer in our best interest.  Here are a few of their thoughts to STOP in 2016:

1.  Stop telling everyone everything on social media.  Leave some things to chance and imagination.

2.  Stop comparing yourself to others and worrying about what others think.  March to your own drummer and the positive path you create.

3.  Stop focusing on self and more on others; help others and be good to each other…kindness matters!

4.  Stop making everything a competition in life.  Compete with your best self and not with others.  Make your choices, accept responsibly, and deal with the consequences (good and bad) of your choices.

5.  Stop being like others; own who you are, where you are, and tell YOUR story in a caring manner.  There is only one “YOUnique” you…  🙂

6.  Stop fearing failure; no one has it all figured out because nothing in life is perfect, especially on the first time.  Failures bring powerful clarity and change in the most positive way; embrace failure to find personal success.

HNY2016I think they’re on to something amazing as we close out 2015 and move boldly forward in 2016 at LME!  Here’s hoping you create your own STOP list as the old year washes away and the new year begins.  Happy New Year!