Would you please play Jingle Bells?

‘Tis the season and the Christmas music is floating in the background of daily life.  Ironically, “Jingle Bells” was the first piece I heard this season; no doubt Momma ordered it especially for me.  Here are the circumstances as to why this important holiday tune resonates even today…

jinglebellmusic“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  The sounds of Christmas ring crystal clear in my musical ear.  Grandpa Brock, my talented (Gospel Music Hall of Fame) maternal grandfather, created everlasting musical impressions on the lives of all he touched.  He passed on a wealth of gospel music, lyrics, and strong family traditions throughout his life.  As far back as memory serves, he shared his genuine love of music with anyone who listened.  Chords, shape notes, and tuning forks created daily amusements to a little four-year-old with wondering eyes who was yearning to learn keyboard, musical techniques, and a little piece called Jingle Bells.

“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  I never hear Jingle Bells without thinking of Grandpa Brock’s unique rendition of the old secular classic.  He usually played in the key of C, with the chords and gospel flair, including his famous “turn-around” key change.  My sister, Becky, and I frequently requested the piece; after all, Christmas music celebrates joy and good cheer year-round.  At a particular gospel singing convention one Saturday evening, I managed to squirm my way to the stage and onto his piano bench during the set as he played a new Stamps-Baxter song for the crowd of hundreds.  He usually took requests from the newly-published songbooks, so I took advantage of the opportunity as the song changed by asking for my favorite piece (how was I to know it wasn’t in the songbook?).  To my amazement, Grandpa honored my request, with the understanding that I join the singers at the microphones to lead the congregation.  I assume he thought I would back out, but what does a precocious 4-yr-old know about stage-fright?  We praised the Lord and brought the house down singing Jingle Bells that night.

“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  Not long after that singing convention, I received an autoharp from Grandpa Brock.  He taught me to play the stringed instrument; of course, I learned Jingle Bells first.  The very next Christmas I was honored when my KPUMC Preschool teacher, Mrs. Bertha Mae Cox, asked me to play the autoharp during our school Christmas performance.  I learned Silent Night and Away In A Manger for this annual event, but continued to perfect my autoharp rendition of Jingle Bells.  Although I didn’t play the piece on the preschool program, Grandpa sat at the piano afterwards and accompanied me; he told me, “Jesus needs an encore, baby girl.”

“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  The next year I began formal piano lessons, and Grandpa held high expectations for my success as a trained classical musician.  The only request he made of my extraordinary piano teacher was that a rendition of Jingle Bells be included in the seasonal repertoire.  One particular Saturday morning, as we made our rounds tuning pianos, he packed up his tools while I gingerly slipped onto the bench of the beautiful Steinway he had just tuned.  His surprise registered quickly when he realized my left and right hands played my favorite piece—the very one I constantly asked of him.  At that musical moment, we became a duet, and it remained our most requested number during the holiday season.

“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  As the years passed, the duet became a trio when my sister joined us at the keyboard.  We created more versions of Jingle Bells than Rachmaninoff’s “Theme of Paganini,” expanding our musical horizons and yet, never losing the old gospel flair.  The last piece my precious Grandpa Brock ever played for me on the piano was Jingle Bells.  As the gospel quartet sang several of his songs at his memorial service, my thoughts centered on Christmas and our favorite piece.  The angels and St. Peter most likely played Jingle Bells upon his arrival.

“Momma, would you please play Jingle Bells?”  Fast forward a few years to two young daughters seated closely at their mother’s side while she picked notes and practiced choral Christmas music on the piano.  The oldest child, Rachel, watched in wonder, carefully observing; she studied piano with her mom’s former teacher (before moving to oboe).  Both girls frequently requested their mom’s beloved piece. While cooking supper one evening, the youngest child, Hannah, requested “Jing-Bel.”  Rachel confidently tickled the ivories while teaching her sister to sing the words to the song.  With a tear in her eye, the mother silently gave thanks to God and to the Grandpa who always played Jingle Bells.

jinglebellsSo, may the Jingle Bells of the season continue to ring far and near for all to hear…and thanks, Momma, for sending a seasonal sign from above!


It’s been a while, but I opened a memory box today where beautiful words from young writers tumbled into my lap.  Written by this precious class last year, their words shared simple reminders for daily living and resonated on a quiet November afternoon:

Give thanks for each day and thanks for each night; for lovely little flowers and the stars shining bright.

Give thanks for new crayons like red, green, and blue.  Give thanks for special moments when your wishes do come true.

Give thanks for a puzzle or your favorite teddy bear and even the thrill when you’re lifted high in the air!

For a wonderful hug, a band in the parade, a bath, or a new toy; for any little thing in your day that brings great JOY!

Give thanks for walking, hiking, and the snowflakes from above, especially give thanks for being with the people you love!

Give thanks for the oceans, the salt, and the sand; the sweet and simple pleasure of just holding someone’s hand.

Give thanks for saying “please” and “thank you” each day, and especially for hearing the words “I love you” along the way.

autumntrailMay we all take time to reflect on not only the blessings, but the giving of thanks…each night and each day!

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!