Thursday, October 11, 2012

An Open Letter to the Dekalb County School System

Disclaimer: I believe I have the facts correct here, but any mistakes are mine and mine alone.
Dear Sirs and Madams,

I hate be the one to bring bad news to you all, but I feel that you need to know that someone in your organization, maybe more than one someone, is…well, how to say this in a respectful way? Someone (or more than one someone) is not the brightest bulb in the box.

If you recall (I’m sure you don’t, actually - I'm guessing no one in the school system was actually listening), last May, the parents of chorus students at Chamblee Charter High School were outraged that you chose to not renew the contract of our beloved chorus teacher, Greg Smith. You were inundated with emails and petitions begging you to renew his contract. I suggested via several emails and in my blog ( that this was a colossal mistake on your part for several reasons. Not only were you NOT acting in the best interest of the talented students at Chamblee, you    acted with complete disregard for several  teachers' livelihoods. Teachers who had done exactly what you had asked of them.

Let me remind you of the circumstances:

  1. You chose (wisely) to promote Dr. Robert Glor to the position of Coordinator of K-12 Choral Music. Unfortunately, you chose to do this after the 2011-2012 school year began so you needed to find a new chorus teacher for the school in September.
  2. You chose (wisely) to hire Greg Smith away from Gwinnett County to be the chorus teacher at Chamblee. He was amazing, by the way. Great work County!
  3. You had all sorts of budget issues that stemmed, in my humble opinion, from complete mismanagement of the entire school system.
  4. You did not renew Mr. Smith’s contract – so you took him from a good, stable job in another county, had the benefit of his outstanding work for 8 months and then kicked him to the curb.
  5. Oh – and you let Dr. Glor go as well.
  6. You reassigned a teacher from the Dekalb School for the Arts to Chamblee to teach chorus. Great idea, except for the fact that while apparently he has a beautiful voice, he’s a BAND teacher. And he really loved being at DSA.
  7. It takes a couple of months, but the new chorus teacher and the kids start to bond – he’s getting better at chorusing and the kids are liking him.
  8. You REASSIGN the new chorus teacher to a new school. My understanding (which might not be completely accurate due to the 2nd hand nature of the information) is that he was told on a Thursday and needed to report to the new school on Tuesday.
  9. You rehire Dr. Glor to teach chorus at Chamblee. Apparently he starts on Monday, and everyone is thrilled.

I know this sounds like a story with a happy ending. And it is in a way. But my goodness, you people over at the Big School House really threw a bunch of lives into turmoil before you made it right. And that’s what makes me mad.

If you had paid attention to the budget all those years, you might not have promoted Dr. Glor – then you wouldn’t have had to take steps 2-9.

If you had listened to the parents and administration at Chamblee High School, you would have renewed Mr. Smith’s contract. Then you wouldn’t have had to take steps 6-9.

If you hadn’t reassigned a teacher that didn’t have the knowledge and training necessary, you could have just taken step number 9 at the beginning of the year.

Any one of these options would have been better than what you chose to do. You messed with people’s lives. You did NOT do what was best for the students (until now).

I have lost all respect for the people who are running our schools in Dekalb County. Not that they care, by the way. I don’t think anyone in the Big School House cares a whit for the students or the parents. They care about their own cushy jobs and those who have been hired for cushy jobs through the “friends and family” plan that seems to be pervasive in the system.

I respectfully ask that you please get your stuff together. 

Thank you,
Maryann Lozano

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why You Should Hire Me (or at least give me an interview)

As I’ve navigated my way through unemployment and looking for a new job, the most frustrating thing is applying for jobs online. At first, I didn’t realize that lots of companies have computer programs that scan uploaded resumes for keywords. I just assumed that a human would actually take at least a cursory look. But even if a human is looking at the uploaded resume, online applications are still an extremely anonymous, lonely business.

But even if you are able to send your resume to a human, or if you’re lucky enough to know someone who knows someone, that piece of paper can’t tell it all. Fortunately for me, I have this blog forum that at least nine people read, so I can tell them all of the things that my resume can’t say. I've never been much for tooting my own horn, but one thing this little forced vacation has taught me is that no one is going to be a better champion for me than me.

Here are some reasons why a potential employer should hire me:

  1. I’m a really hard worker. I’ll do whatever needs to be done - and once I finish my work, I’m happy to help someone else. And I’ll stay as long as necessary to get it all done.
  2. I’m smart. I can figure out solutions to problems and I don’t usually need things to be explained more than once. But I’m not scared to ask questions if I need more information.
  3. I have a great attitude. I’m the least moody person you’ll ever work with and it takes a whole lot to make me mad.
  4. I get along with everyone regardless of their position. I believe that the maintenance man deserves as much respect as the CEO.
  5. I’m an awesome team player. I get my work done, but I also make myself available when I can to help the other people on the team because I understand that the team’s success is what makes us all look good.
  6. I’m a good writer. I can get my thoughts across succinctly. I’ve written creative briefs, advertising copy, website copy and even a book (plus a blog of course).
  7. I’m a great presenter. Almost every job I’ve had has required me to do presentations in front of all sorts of audiences, from co-workers and clients to larger groups of stakeholders. I don’t get nervous.
  8. I’m well rounded and mature. I have a good life – a great family, lots of good friends and I’m very active at my church. These things make me a better employee and co-worker.
Maybe one of my nine readers knows someone who knows someone, and can send them a link to this post. I'd love to be working again!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy 16th Birthday Sara!

I was writing Sara’s 16th birthday blog post and I read back through the one I wrote last year. I realized that what I had written for this year was basically the same. So I regrouped and pondered what to say instead.

Since Sara’s 16 now, I don’t get the opportunity to bestow words of wisdom on her very often. I figured since this is my blog, I get to say what I want whenever I want. So here it is, baby. Here’s what I want you to know:

  1. Don’t ever stop singing. Even when you think or know that someone is listening at the door, don’t ever stop. You have a God-given talent, and it makes you really happy. So keep on, and don’t get nervous when others are around. They should get some enjoyment out of life too!
  2. Don’t lose your sense of joy. You approach life with an open heart most of the time. While this might make you more vulnerable to hurt sometimes, it will also allow you to feel so much more love and happiness than you would if you were more cautious. This is one of my favorite things about you.
  3. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re pretty awesome. You’re smart, talented, beautiful and a joy to be around. I know I’m biased, but I’d bet you lots of money that most of the other people who know you feel the same. There’s no need to doubt yourself – you’ve worked through some of the hardest things I can imagine for a young lady, and you’re strong.
  4. Keep exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep. I promise you’ll feel great for the rest of your life if you do. And you’ll keep looking great too.
  5. Don’t ever doubt that your family loves you. We’ll love you no matter what – you can’t get rid of us. Sometimes you might wish you could J but sorry, you’re stuck with us.
  6. Keep reading. Reading opens up all sorts of worlds to you. It’ll make you wonder things you might not have thought about before. It’ll make you mad and sad and really happy. But to lose yourself in a great story is a wonderful vacation!
  7. Keep going to church. And when you’re gone to college and beyond, find one that feeds your soul. It doesn’t matter what denomination, all that matters is that you take some time to seek comfort, give thanks and give back on a regular basis.
  8. Don’t lose your empathetic nature. You care so much for others – and what a gift it is for someone in need when you show that love and care. There aren’t enough people in the world who care for others like you do. Even small things, like the day you helped that poor man at Kroger who spilled the fruit salad. You make a difference.

Sara, I don’t know if I can ever express to you how much I love you, and how proud I am of you. You take my breath away.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's All Right To Cry

I just finished reading Stephen King’s “On Writing.” I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in writing, not just because it gives lots of fantastic tools and suggestions, but because it is the most encouraging book on the subject that I’ve read. Whether you are an accomplished writer or just someone who wants to transfer something from your brain onto a blank piece of paper, King gives you permission to do it. “…you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”

At the end of the book, he details the horrific accident he had in 1999. One day, around nine days after he enters the hospital, he finally gets up for the first time and walks three steps to the hospital commode next to his bed, sits there trying not to weep, and fails. He says “You try to tell yourself that you’ve been lucky, most incredibly lucky, and usually that works because it’s true. Sometimes it doesn’t work, that’s all. Then you cry.”

These three simple sentences pretty much sum up the last month for me. Yes, I lost my job. But there are several other people from the same company who lost their jobs recently as well, and frankly, I got a better deal. Even if that was only because I had been there longer and the severance policy is more favorable the more years you’ve been there, I’m probably in a better place than they are, at least financially. At least for awhile.

I’m blessed with a wonderful family who loves and supports me. I’ve learned that I am also blessed with amazing friends who love and support me. I am incredibly lucky.

And sometimes that’s enough.

I have things to do – painting our bedroom, working on my second draft of my book, volunteering at the church, searching the web for jobs. I’m busy enough. But sometimes all I can do is hang my head and cry. I don’t do that often, but it happens.

And today, when I was feeling particularly weepy, I was glad to find out that even the most accomplished of us get weepy too. Not that I’m comparing my unemployment to Mr. King’s almost life-ending accident. Don’t get me wrong – he wins that one hands down. But still, reading that line made me feel better about feeling bad. So maybe I’ll cry a little bit tonight. But I do know that I’ll get back to work after I'm done. I’ll probably go write something.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Eucharistic Prayer C

During the month of July, our church is using a different Eucharistic prayer than usual. For those who aren’t Episcopalian, the Eucharistic prayers are used to consecrate the bread and wine. We offer our thanks to God for His great gifts, and remember the life, death and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ. There are four Eucharistic prayer options, all of which offer this thanks and remembrance, but each has its own language. (This is my own interpretation of these prayers - I'm sure a theology scholar has something much more substantial to say about them.)

One thing I love about the one we’re using in July (Prayer C, for anyone who is interested), is that it is much more interactive. Most of the other Eucharistic prayers are recited primarily by the priest but this one has lots of responses for the congregation to say. Prayer C also has some groovy language about God’s creation of “interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.” What a great summation of our world – the larger one that includes everything above and below, not just the fragile earth, with whose care we have been entrusted.

But my favorite part of the prayer is the language just before the Lord’s Prayer is said. “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.”

How many times have I gone to worship and asked only for forgiveness, not for the strength to do God’s will? Many times, doing God’s will is hard – we must “love our neighbor” which doesn't mean liking everyone, but it DOES require treating others with respect and charity. Sometimes we have to stop to help someone with a flat tire, even if we’re in a real hurry to get home. Sometimes we have to forgo something we really want because it’s just the wrong thing to do or have, and we know it. Sometimes we have to listen to someone else's opinions without walking away in disgust. But frankly, sometimes it’s easier to sneak out of church without asking for that strength because if we ask for it, we must own the reasons we need it. If we say it out loud (or in our heads in prayer), we’re admitting to our weaknesses.

And how many times have I forgotten to seek renewal because I’ve been too much in the balcony (links to my first blog post ever about living in the balcony) – so engrossed in my day to day stresses and concerns for the other people who are counting on me that I neglect my own spiritual needs?  

God is not one-sided. God is not only the one who forgives us (or smites us, depending on your beliefs) when we confess those things for which we must ask forgiveness. God loves us – always – warts and all. Whether you believe that He has a specific plan for your life, or you believe that He gave us everything we need and is now silent, we might at least agree that God gives us the tools we need to succeed and be happy. And I know that the things I need for renewal are there for the taking. I just need to dip into the toolbox God has laid before me to find those things.  

Finally, at least for July, I’m going to try to remember the final words of the prayer: “Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.” Maybe I can worthily serve the world – or at least my little part of the world – in His name.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dreams of Flying

I had a dream last night that I figured out how to fly. I was also sort of magic, but the flying was the most awesome part. And it wasn't hard to figure out how to do it either – there was just one thing inside me that I had to tap into, and there I was, rising above the ground. It was fantastic!

I Googled “Flying Dreams” to find out what the dream meant. The website tells us that “If you are flying with ease and are enjoying the scene and landscape below, then it suggests that you are on top of a situation. You have risen above something. It may also mean that you have gained a new and different perspective on things. Flying dreams and the ability to control your flight is representative of your own personal sense of power.”

That’s interesting. While I am feeling more relaxed these days due to the lack of work-related stresses, there are many reasons why I’m also pretty worried and frustrated. First, of course, is the fact that I’m unemployed - that can be pretty stressful.

Even more stressful at this particular point in my life is that there are still some critical loose ends relating to my lay-off that I’m having trouble getting tied up. These are things that I would have expected a large company such as the one that gave me my “summer vacation” down to a science – insurance, paychecks, etc. Given the number of people who get laid off in any given year I figured that there wouldn't be any hiccups, but when Rick couldn’t get a prescription filled yesterday because apparently we have no insurance, I got a little bit panicked. I actually considered shelving a home improvement project, thinking it might not be a good idea to climb a ladder until I was sure I was covered.

So it is interesting to me that I had the flying dream last night of all nights. And I was flying with ease – once I figured it out I just lifted myself into the air. I used to have flying dreams a lot, but it’s been a long time, and I was glad to be back in the air.

I do believe that some dreams mean something, and taking the description of what this particular dream might have meant into account, I can see how I might have flown last night. I do have a new perspective on things. I’m applying for jobs almost every day, but I’m not limiting myself to advertising and marketing jobs. That’s really freeing for me, at least in theory. Whether or not I really have to replace my full income remains to be seen, and if I do, I might have to reconsider. But right now, I have the freedom to imagine myself in all sorts of jobs. I do recognize that this is a limited time offer – sometime soon I’ll either have a new job or I’ll be awfully worried about finding one quickly.

As far as feeling a sense of personal power is concerned, of that I’m less sure. Because I’m dependent on others to fix the issues with the terms of my lay-off, I don’t feel like I have much power at all, and I don’t like having to wait for answers on issues that that can affect my family's well-being.

On the other hand, there isn’t anyone who can boss me around but me. In that respect, I have all the power and I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve dealt with it so far. I’m searching job boards and applying for anything that strikes my fancy (and some things that don’t). I helped Sara rearrange her room and I've been blessed to have more time to spend with her and Hannah. I’ve peeled wallpaper and cleaned walls until my arms are sore, and tomorrow I’ll paint (obviously I decided to climb the ladder anyway). I get to choose how I’ll respond to my situation, and I choose to stay busy and positive. It’s not easy, and there are times when I wander around the house trying to figure out what the heck I should do. Fortunately that doesn’t happen too often, and I’ve been able to find something constructive to focus on.

I do hope that this stage of my life doesn’t last long though. But I hope that the flying dreams don’t go away once I’ve found a new job. If I’m lucky, I can work and fly at the same time.

One more thing about that dream. Tom Cruise was in it, and he was a terrible kisser. I wonder what that means?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

It’s Father’s Day and today’s edition of “Life in the Balcony” is, of course, a tribute to my father.

My first thought was to list all of the things that I learned from Dad, but I didn’t want to limit myself, so here’s a free-form list of things I learned, remember or appreciate about my dad.

*I learned that real men and fathers can build or fix anything. I don’t ever remember having a serviceman in the house. Daddy changed his own oil, closed in the screen porch on one house and built a screen porch on another. He also grew his own beansprouts on top of the refrigerator for a time but I don’t know if that actually goes onto the list of what real men do… (He also made me taste his liverwurst sandwich once – that was gross.)

*Daddy taught me that there’s never too much music in the house. There was always music – either we were listening to it or playing it. This is something for which I will always be grateful. There was also never too much music in the car – especially when we were making the trek from Atlanta to Clarkesville, VA to see my grandparents. There was a regular song list that we’d go through – but not, of course on an iPod or even a tape player. We’d sing and sing in the car. Probably until the kids got carsick or fell asleep.

*Daddy taught me that time spent together is way more important than material things.

*Daddy got really mad at me when I was about 10 because I laughed when he told me I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I hadn't ever heard that phrase before, and it sounded funny to me so I laughed. He was already frustrated with me because I was running around like… well, you probably know. I guess the laughing sent him over the edge. But every time I hear that phrase I think of Daddy and laugh.

*There were a couple of things Dad said to me over the years that have always stuck with me (besides the chicken thing…). The summer I turned 16 I was madly in love with an older guy. I would sit around and wait to see if he called, and would be really bummed out if he didn't. One night, Daddy told me that he thought I might get hurt more than some because I didn't have a lot of filters – I didn’t put up walls around my feelings. But he also told me that he didn't want me to change because he believed that while I might feel hurt more strongly, I would also feel love and enjoyment more fully.

*Daddy taught me that church and worship are important parts of life. He didn't say this though – he lived it. He has always been a committed, vibrant, involved member of whatever church he attends. And I've never, ever gotten the impression that any of the things he volunteers to do are a burden. It’s just how he gives back to his worship community. I’m as involved at my church as I am because I learned that lesson from him.

* Daddy told me once, when I asked him if he was proud of me, that it was more important that I be proud of myself. I didn't really understand it at the time, but it’s true.  Dad taught us all to have high expectations of ourselves, and if I’m not going to be proud of myself unless I've met those expectations. Being proud of myself means that I worked hard and did the right thing.

*Dad told me numerous times not to “try,” but to just “do it.” Oftentimes this was said in exasperation, because I was an exasperating child most of the time. In these instances it was generally in response to my promising to “try” to get better grades or something that I obviously had control over. Daddy wasn't going to give me an out when he knew I was capable. I use this on my kids now, so it was a good parenting lesson as well.

*He also taught me that it takes much less time to do something right the first time.

*Daddy was right when he suggested that I shouldn't be changing my major from Music Education to English but he supported me anyway.

*The most important thing I know about my dad is that he loves me. I've never doubted this for one second in all of my 49 years.

One final note. Daddy is a loving, wonderful father and grandfather. I’m so blessed to have him and thankful for all of the lessons, memories and fun we’ve had over the years. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A New Wineskin

I lost my job yesterday. It was a total surprise, but not really a total surprise. Either way, I was devastated. As expected, I’ve had periods of tears, laughter, despair, hope, anger and relief.  I have some time to figure out my next step because I got a pretty good severance package but it’s still really scary.

But that’s not really what I want to tell you. What I want to tell you about is what happened in the past few days leading up to yesterday.

I recently decided that I needed to look for a part-time job - one where I could work on the weekends to bring in a little bit of extra cash. I reached out to a friend from church who sent my resume to some people he knew, and within a couple of days I had a job offer.  That’s pretty amazing. I started last Saturday and while I wasn’t actually at the prospect of working on a Saturday night, I really enjoyed myself. I’m not sure what it was that made me actually send out feelers when I did. I had been thinking about it for a long time, and one day I just took the plunge. And now, the knowledge that I have something that will bring in some extra money makes me feel a little bit more comfortable. I’d call that a God thing.

Sunday morning I had to serve at the 8:00 service so I got up early. When I left St. Martin’s, I met Rick for a quick breakfast and we went to a 10:00 service at Grace-Midtown Church. We have a neighbor who plays in the worship band there, and since St. Martin’s is getting ready to start a youth service, we wanted to hear the music they were playing. There were all sorts of reasons why we might have decided against going. I was pretty tired from the night before and getting up early. Rick was a little bit later than he wanted to be and we had to rush through breakfast. It was raining. But we went – were drawn there, I believe.

The congregation and the pastors were casual, young, and lively. And while the music was good, the message was designed just for me, but I just didn’t know it yet. Looking back now, there were several things: a prayer from one of the music leaders that encouraged us to believe in our own self-worth because we are created by God; a message in the main lesson, taken from The Gospel of Mark, that talks about how you can’t put new wine in an old wineskin without damaging both, and discussion about the contrast of fasting and feasting. I thought it was a good lesson on Sunday. Today, I think it’s a great lesson.
I can look at this time as a fast, and put on my sackcloth and be miserable. But when Rick and I were talking about this last night, I said to him that I don’t think God’s plan is for us to be homeless, destitute and panicked. I truly believe that God has something in store for me, I just need to find out what that is. This should be a time of feasting for me – a time to listen to God and find out what He wants me to do. What kind of new wine to put in my new wineskin.

So while I’m certain to have some more times of mourning and fear, I hope that I’ll turn to God to lead me through this and on to the next really wonderful thing.

One other point that I need to make is that the friends and family I’ve spoken to have been enormously caring and supportive and for that I am grateful. I either heard or read the words “I love you” so many times yesterday. I’m incredibly blessed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What Isn't Said Matters Too

On Saturday, I wrote a blog post about how words matter. Today I’m going to get off of my high horse and tell you how what you (or actually I) didn't say matters too.

I had a pretty typical Mother’s Day – it was a good one. I got a nice gift from my girls; I had my sister, niece and mother over for dinner. You know – pretty normal Mother’s Day fare. What I didn’t do was call my step-mother, Jeanie.

Jeanie deserved better from me and I’m so ashamed of myself.

Jeanie and my dad got married when I was eleven. We lived with Dad and Jeanie, so she has been a driving force in my life for a very long time. We had the usual discord – but that discord was a function of a teenager learning to make her own way in the world, not the discord that you hear about with dysfunctional blended families. We weren't dysfunctional in the least. Let me tell you a little bit about the things Jeanie did for me. Some may seem small to you, but each memory is a brick in the very strong relationship I have with this awesome woman.

Jeanie married into a family with three teenagers. And she stayed. In spite of the fact that we were typical, sometimes crappy teenagers. She stayed.

Jeanie cooked dinner every night and we ate together as often as possible. When one of us wasn’t there for dinner, there was always a plate in the refrigerator for us when we got home. Sometimes that plate had these little almond cookies that Jeanie made on Chinese food night. Those were my favorites! She also made this really great chicken salad with grapes. And she let us stick our fingers (and other things) in the candles at the dinner table even though it drove her crazy. 

And she made us clean the house. I thought it was mean at the time, but learning how to clean a bathroom is a pretty important part of growing up. So I'm sorry for the eye-rolls, Jeanie. And thanks for not telling me that I'd thank you some day. Even though you probably knew I would.

Jeanie helped me prepare for the musicals we did in high school. She helped me with my costumes and make-up. She read lines with me. She was so happy that I got the lead in Oklahoma! my senior year. She supported me at every turn.

Jeanie gave me the gift of a little brother when I was almost 14. Before Michael was born, she was my step-mother. It was partly through the common love we felt for him and caring together for him she became my friend as well.

Jeanie has a wonderful laugh. She loves life and always finds something positive. She shines when she smiles and when she’s doing something she loves.

Jeanie is also a wonderful counselor. I’ve gone to her with problems and challenges and she listens carefully and offers comfort and wisdom.

Jeanie is a wonderful wife. She loves my father and they have a really great life together.

Jeanie is a wonderful grandmother. She loves my kids, and she enjoys spending time with them. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard her say “These are Walter’s grandkids.” She always says, “These are our grandkids.” What a great gift for mine and my siblings’ children. She’d do anything for them and they know that and appreciate that.

So Jeanie, I neglected you yesterday and for that I am so sorry. Please know that I love you with all of my heart and I appreciate the mother you have been to me!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Words Matter

Wordle: words matter

I live in a house with other people. That means that I live in a house where sometimes we all laugh and have a great time, and sometimes we get our feelings hurt, or hurt others. It's just an unfortunate fact of life. Sometimes we're grumpy, or tired, or not feeling well, or feeling like we have no control, and we take it out on the people closest to us. I do it. You do it. It stinks, but it happens.

I would walk 25 miles out of my way across hot tar to avoid a conflict. This is not the most positive aspect of my personality. Many times conflict is a necessary first step toward resolution, and it is usually important to talk things out. But one thing I've come to know is that the words you use matter. In conflict, words can make a person think, or words can make a person think I don't love them. In humor, words can make a person laugh, or words can make a person think I am laughing at them.

It's not just words. Tone matters as well. I could say something in a gruff tone, and you could say the exact same thing with kindness or at least no gruffness, and the resulting understanding from the person to whom we are speaking would be completely different. Tone makes me helpful and understanding, and tone makes me a bully. And it's so difficult to keep this in mind, but it matters that we do because we should care how we affect the people we love. And didn't someone once say "you can get more flies with honey?"

Plus, God cares what we say and how we say it. There are numerous passages in the Bible that talk about reckless words and poison tongues. But the most lovely passage that hit home for me is Psalm 19:14 "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. O Lord, my strength and my redeemer." God listens to what I say and God listens to how I say it. But not only God. The people to whom I'm speaking, the people I love most in the world, listen to what I say and how I say it. And what I say and how I say it makes all the difference in what they hear and how it makes them feel.

So I'll  won't try to avoid conflict, but I will try to avoid using words that pierce. And I will try to speak in a manner that can heal or comfort rather than break down. As much as I hate flies, I'll try the honey.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I grew up in Atlanta. When I was in 8th grade, we moved into Dekalb County where I went to Henderson High School.  I got a good education. I went to college, moved away, had a family and then moved back to Dekalb County where my children went/go to school.

Over the course of the past couple of years, the Dekalb County School System has gotten a lot of well-deserved bad press. There has been budget mismanagement, there are allegations of fraud, nepotism and cronyism, and all to the detriment of the students and teachers in the county.

Shame on me though. My children were in the magnet program, so they got the best teachers and smaller classes. I didn't pay enough attention because my children were not being marginalized like others in the county. I was upset by the stories, but I lived in my own happy magnet-school world.

But I've gotten more and more angry. And now it's gotten really personal because Sara's beloved chorus teacher, Greg Smith, didn't get his contract renewed - like many other teachers in the county. I don't know about the talents of the other teachers whose contracts didn't get renewed, but I sure know a lot about Mr. Smith's.

If you know Sara, you know how important music is to her and she's devastated. I don't like it when my sweet girl is devastated.

Mr. Smith is hands down the best music educator I've ever been around. Well, maybe Judith Pritchett, my beloved high school chorus teacher is right up there with him, but he's damn good. He has a passion about the students. He has a passion about the music. He infuses the students with this same passion and the students love him.

Mr. Smith came to Chamblee High School and Dekalb County from a school in Gwinnett County. He had a fine job in Gwinnett County. But the other talented chorus teacher at Chamblee was so good he got a promotion. So in mid-September, they lured Mr. Smith away from his fine job and hired him to teach at Chamblee. And now he has no contract for next year. No fine job anymore. And I'm outraged.

Copied below is the email I just sent to the Dekalb County School Board, the Superintendent, the principal of Chamblee High School, WSB-TV and WXIA-TV.  I had to work to tone it down.

To the Dekalb County School Board, Superintendent and the Administration of Chamblee Charter School,

The parents of choral students at Chamblee Charter High School have been informed that their incredibly talented chorus teacher, Greg Smith, has gotten the word that he will NOT be receiving a contract for next year. I think you have made a terrible mistake and I beg you to rethink this.

I’m outraged.  I’d like to know what is going to happen to the choral program at Chamblee High School. Are you going to hire another teacher to take over? Are you going to displace another teacher and marginalize another school’s students? Are you going to just disband the program all together and probably lose smart, talented students as a result?

I’d like to know which of you on the School Board is going to explain to the talented, enthusiastic, upset students that budget issues have resulted in marginalizing their education.

I’d like to know how you could take a teacher from a secure job in another school district, AFTER the beginning of the school year, to replace a teacher who was good enough to get promoted, and then turn his life upside down by not renewing his contract. How could it be that the notification of this didn’t happen early enough for Mr. Smith and other talented teachers to find other jobs so that they can continue to do what they love and are so good at, and in the process continue to take care of their families?

I’d like to know all of these things and I’m sure the other parents who have tried to reach out to you in the past few weeks would like to know as well.

I’d like to think that the administration at Chamblee Charter High School didn’t have a say in this decision – but if they had a chance to step up and didn’t, I’m more than disappointed.

I’d like to think that it matters to the School Board and Superintendent that the students in Dekalb County deserve talented, dedicated educators in all aspects of their education, regardless of how long a specific teacher has been in the system, but the recent contract issues across the county leaves me wondering. If it did matter, Mr. Smith would be making plans for another awesome year at Chamblee Charter High School rather than figuring out what his next step will be.

You must put students and teachers first. And it doesn’t seem as if this is the case.

The Dekalb County School System has suffered and will continue to suffer until someone in charge puts the students and educators first. I’d like to know when this is going to happen.


Maryann Lozano

I make a promise to my own daughter and the other students in Dekalb County that I won't be silent any more. I don't know that it'll make a difference, but if we don't speak out we'll never know.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What I Like

This blog post was inspired by my long walk through my neighborhood with Bella today. The flowers are exploding in color, and it was almost hot. I like that and it made me think about what else I like...

  1. Music that has really full harmony. It fills my head and gives me goosebumps.
  2. A book that I can't put down. Especially if it makes me cry.
  3. My dog, Bella - she really, really loves me and that makes me happy.
  4. When my kitty Spike bites me on the chin.
  5. When the girls get together and laugh.
  6. Quirky movies like Lars and the Real Girl, Stranger than Fiction and Home for the Holidays. I'd love some suggestions for others!
  7. Driving. I have always loved to drive.
  8. Mowing the lawn. I was so excited when my father finally let me mow the lawn. I still like to do it.
  9. The cold side of the pillow.
  10. Sleeping in.
  11. Writing.
  12. Hugs.
There are lots of other things I like, but these are the ones that bubbled to the top today. Take some time to think about what you like and put it in the comments. It can make you happy - I promise!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Nature Versus Nurture

A high school classmate of mine recently posted a comment about bullying on our class FaceBook wall. This was prompted by the recent school shooting in Ohio. As the comments continued to roll in, it was pointed out that neither of the shooter’s parents was present in his life and he was being raised by his grandmother. From there, a number of comments were made about his choice to shoot his classmates being a “parenting” issue.

The “nature versus nurture” argument is one that I’ve pondered quite a bit. I wouldn’t say that parenting isn’t a strong determining factor in how a kid behaves, but I don’t think it’s the only determining factor. I’m lucky - I’m blessed with great children. But their father and I certainly can’t take all of the credit for that. God, through genetics, gave them generally kind, happy, responsible personalities, and other than being the donor of half of those genes, I didn’t have much to do with that.

Let’s look at a very simplified example.

Sara’s room is generally a disaster – my husband might tell you that’s a poor parenting issue on my part, and I’ll take some responsibility for it because my feeling is that it’s her space and I can just close the door. But if you look at it genetically, she comes by it honestly. Her room is about as messy as mine was when I was her age. That’s only my fault because I made the egg that made her. Parenting-wise, I could, and do, encourage/nag/threaten her to clean up her room, but in the end her nature is to be messy.

My children don’t get into big trouble – or at least they haven’t gotten into big trouble. They’re empathetic and kind, they’re sometimes a little bit mean, they get mad, they are happy – they’re normal people.  I know other parents who share my values, love their kids as much as I love mine and are at least as involved in their children’s lives as Rick and I are in ours. If their child makes a bad choice and gets in trouble, is that a parenting issue? I don’t think so.

My point is that it’s easy to point a finger at the parents and say, “You should have known” or “If you were a better parent your child wouldn’t have made that choice,” but it’s not always a fair accusation. I made some terrible choices when I was younger. My parents taught me right from wrong. I knew what they expected of me. The wrong choices were mine and mine alone and certainly not the fault of poor parenting. Rick and I have taught our children right from wrong, and they know exactly what we expect from them. But God forbid, if they make a choice to do something terrible, I’ll feel awful, but I will also know it’s not because we didn’t parent them well.

God gave us an immense responsibility by giving us children to nurture and raise. I’m not saying that this responsibility isn’t valuable and important in determining who a child grows into. But God also gave us, and our children, free will. As they get into their teenage years and beyond, they have more opportunities to make their own choices. And if they choose wrong versus right, like I did a few times, it’s their choice. Hopefully good parenting will at least teach them to take responsibility for their own actions and make it right. But again, it’s their choice.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Never Will I

I’m always looking for things to write about. Once I find something, I continually write the blog post in my head until I get somewhere I can actually type it out. This evening I was looking at a website called On the page are the numbers 1-346 and as you scroll over the number a prompt pops up. There were lots of interesting ones, and a good daily exercise for me will be to have someone give me a number and I have to use that prompt.

Today though, I just scrolled through at random until I found something that floated my boat. The prompt is “50 things you’ll never do.” A couple of weeks ago I wrote the things that I want to do for my mid-life crisis so I thought that a list of things I’ll never do might be interesting to put together. So here it is and just an FYI, I’ve avoided obvious things that are either impossible or illegal. Oh, and I could only come up with 10 before it was time for me to go to bed. So shoot me.

  1. Get an animal from anywhere except a rescue organization. Unless a cute, sweet stray follows me home and adopts me like Jenny did.
  2. Drink gin again. I got really sick a long time ago after drinking far too much gin. Now I can hardly type the word without feeling queasy.
  3. Have another baby. God already gave me the two greatest children I could have ever asked for. Plus, I really need my sleep.
  4. Drive a tractor trailer. They’re too darn big and they scare me. I can’t imagine how someone learns how to drive one of those things.
  5. Shoot a hand gun again. I shot at a target with one a couple of years ago and it freaked me out. I’ve shot a rifle and a shot gun before with no problem, but it seems to me that the only purpose for a hand gun is to shoot people. It felt evil.
  6. Go to a boxing match.
  7. Let the single black hair that grows on my chin go unplucked. Enough said.
  8. Eat a beating frog heart. Andrew Zimmern did that on his Bizarre Foods television show and it made me almost as queasy as the thought of gin does.
  9. Sara wants me to include that I’d never punch her. Duh.
  10. Like Duke basketball. Sorry JP.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me

- Psalm 51:11

This is the scripture reference for today’s meditation in from Ashes to Hope, a book of meditations for Lent that I picked up at church the other day. This Psalm is thought to have been written by King David, showing his repentance for his adultery with Bathsheba and for arranging the death of her husband. While the message that God forgives us our sins is a good one, there was another quote in the piece from Augustine that really grabbed me: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

Think about that for a minute. If you’re anything like me, you have what my Aunt Kate refers to as The Imposter Syndrome. I repeatedly introduce myself to people that I see only once in awhile because I can’t imagine that they’d remember me. I feel disconnected and irrelevant daily. I’ve never felt particularly beautiful (except on my wedding day), and I constantly feel like I don’t fit in.

I’m not saying this to fish for compliments or sympathy – I know that all of this is self-imposed, and no one except me can make me feel any particular way.

Interestingly enough, with the exception of time that I’m with my family and a few really special friends, the only place I don’t feel these stupid, negative feelings is at church. I love the things that I get to do at church. I get to do things that I’m good at. I work with the teens, I read the lessons, I play the bells, I get to see friends who don’t really know the Imposter me. They know who I hope is the real me.

Imagine how amazing it would be if I could remember what Augustine said outside of the safe walls of St. Martin in the Fields. I would never be an imposter because I’d always know I was loved as if I was the only one. And because I knew that I was the recipient of that type of love, I’d do all I could to deserve it.

A very smart woman I know made the point last Sunday that “God doesn’t move, we move.” When I feel the Imposter, I’ve moved. Put these two points together and I have a God that patiently waits to show me that He loves me as if I was the only one. All I have to do is move back into that thin place where I can see it, remember it, feel it.

So create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me, so I can find that thin place wherever I am.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is It Time for a Mid-Life Crisis?

I’m thinking about having a mid-life crisis. Either that, or I’m going through menopause, but a mid-life crisis sounds like more fun, so I’m going to go with that. I sent a text to Hannah telling her this, and her suggestions were to buy her an expensive car (actually she said “buy your favorite daughter a car, so she could have meant either herself or Sara – I’ve never told them which is my favorite) and/or fainting goats. She also suggested dyeing my hair blue. None of these things actually peaked my interest, although fainting goats would be kind of fun, so I’m now pondering what other things I could do.

I don’t want to make any major changes because change stresses me out. So don’t expect me to announce an “Eat, Pray, Love” kind of sojourn. And I don’t have any big money to spend, so no expensive car for me either, and major home renovations are out of the question as well.

So let’s see. I’ll make a sort of bucket list – and I’ll assume that I’ll have some money, but not tons of it. The list is in no particular order.

1. Take a writing class, finish my book, and therefore become a bestselling author (I can dream, can’t I?)

2. Learn how to be a midwife – I think delivering babies would be fun.

3. Walk 60 miles – oh, wait – I’m already planning on doing that. I signed up for the 3-Day Walk in October.

4. Exercise more. See #3 to realize that if I plan to do the walk, I’ll have to exercise more to get ready.

5. Take piano lessons

6. Hike some of the Appalachian Trail. I actually have a friend who might be willing to take me.

7. Skydive

8. Take acting classes

9. Volunteer at a pet shelter

10. Go back to Paris

11. Take the kids on an African safari (not to hunt of course, just to take pictures)

12. Open a restaurant franchise

13. Go back to school and get my teaching certificate and teach high school English

14. Take a cooking class

15. Learn how to do some kind of craft

16. Paint my kitchen

17. Re-do my bedroom

18. Landscape my back yard (#16, 17 and 18 assume I don’t have to work and can focus on projects like this any time and not just on the weekends). The neighbors would probably appreciate me doing the front yard as well.

19. Take an Outward Bound course

20. Ride the best roller coasters in the country

Most of these things actually seem possible - except maybe the craft thing - I'm not really good with my hands! I’m open to other suggestions though!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Happy Birthday Twice Over!

Two of the most influential women in my life have birthdays this weekend. Jeanie’s was yesterday (she’s my wonderful, evil step-mother) and Bonney’s is today (she’s my awesome sister-in-law).

As I was pondering what to write about them, I thought about the concept of God Bearers. In old church theology, God Bearer refers to Mary, who actually “bore” Jesus in her womb, but it also can refer to any ordinary thing or person who brings God to us – not always in big ways, but also in small ones too. Both of these beautiful, ordinary women have been God bearers to me throughout the time that I’ve known them.

Bonney has a fierce faith, and through the course of our relationship she’s been a prayer warrior for me and an ear when I need a friend, but also someone who will make me admit the truth of my own shortcomings – if not to her then at least to God. We see God in all sorts of things if we just look, and I see Him in Bonney’s friendship, humor and compassion. She’s funny, warm, loving, focused, hard-working and faithful.  And I hope to be like her some day.

Jeanie has a quieter faith. What I’ve learned from Jeanie is that the things that are valuable are not things we can touch and hold. The valuable things are time with those we love, taking care of those who have less than we do, being careful with the earth and being thankful for those things we are given. God shines through Jeanie as she lives her life focusing on these treasures. She loves me more than I could have ever hoped someone who didn’t actually give birth to me could, and I am so thankful for her presence in my life and the life of my family. Every time she introduces me to someone new as “our daughter” I know that God has given me the blessing of not just one mother who loves me, but two.

So happy birthday to both of these remarkable women, a mother and a sister. I’m so blessed to have you both in my life, and I love you!

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Sad Goodbye

I met my future in-laws about three months after Rick and I started dating. I was nervous, of course. I was nervous, partly because Rick was very close to his parents. That was one of the things that attracted me most to him – his relationship with his parents and his sister. It was important to me - that closeness - and I didn’t want to be in the way or, on the other hand, excluded.

My fears were all for naught. Rick’s parents treated me like I was a member of the family from the moment they met me. Something I have always been grateful for. I was especially taken with Efrain, Rick’s father. It was Thanksgiving, and he came to Rick’s house bearing a large jar of pico de gallo that he had made (one of his specialties), and I attacked that jar with relish. Efrain made fun of me mercilessly, which I enjoyed immensely.

The next time I saw them was the next month at Christmas when Rick and I announced that we were getting married the next Thanksgiving. Again, the reception was as warm as I could have ever hoped for. And it just got better from there.

Dad was an interesting man. Born in Eagle Pass, Texas, he grew up in a small, tight knit community with lots of family around.  He was in the military, once in the South Pacific when he was younger, before getting married, and again when he got called into active duty in the Air Force in the 1960s. After his service was done, they stayed in Dover, Delaware and he taught at the college there and finally settled into a job with the state. He loved to tell stories about all of the things he had experienced, and I loved listening to them.

Efrain was a man with a servant heart. He was a very faithful man, and helped anyone he could, whenever he could. He loved meeting new people, and I don’t think he ever met anyone with whom he couldn’t share a story or two. He took great care of his family and friends without a second thought. Always. He was a devoted grandfather and his grandchildren are better people for having had him in their lives. He was quick with a joke, or a laugh, and filled with the joy of just being around his family, which in turn filled us with joy.

My memories of him are full of laughter and smiles, loving embraces and long talks. He loved his wife, he loved his kids, he loved his grandchildren, and he loved me. And that was a gift for which I’m eternally thankful.

Efrain passed away on Wednesday. He leaves behind a family that was so blessed by his presence, and we will surely miss him. But Heaven got a new angel, and I know they’re so happy to have him. I hope his meeting with God was one of light, comfort and joy. One day we’ll all see him again, and that day will be one of the most joyful days I can imagine. I wish him peace and joy, and I hope he looks down on us and knows that we all loved him with all of our hearts.

Dad, thank you for being the best father-in-law I could have ever wished for. I love you, and I will miss you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What a Way to Ring In the New Year!

December 31st was a day of sharp contrasts.  I was awakened in my Asheville hotel room at 7:00am by a call from Hannah, who was in a room across the hall with Sara and my niece, Kelsey. She asked me to come down to their room because the people in the room next to theirs were screaming at each other. I would have woken up anyway because they were so loud I could hear them in our room as well.

I walked down the hall, and as I walked past the screamers’ room, I knocked on the door. The girls will tell you I banged on it, but I really don’t think I did. I didn’t want to talk to the screamers, I just wanted them to realize that they were not in a particularly private setting and they might want to bring it down a notch or two.

According to the girls, they woke up to the beginnings of the argument, heard a loud slap, the man say “Ow!” and begin to cry. I heard the man screaming at the top of his lungs asking his companion what she thought she was doing and why she was such a princess. About 20 minutes later, after I was back in my room, I heard talking in the hall. The man (hardly a man, actually, he couldn’t have been older than 21 or 22) was loading his luggage onto a valet cart. He was being alternatively helped and berated by an older man who the girls said was giving both of the screamers a hard time about all of the fuss. The man-boy looked more miserable than almost anyone I’ve ever seen. It made me sad. I wondered why two people, especially young people, would waste their time and energy with someone they were so obviously not meant to be with.

Contrast that with the joyful evening celebration of my niece Mollie’s wedding to her college sweetheart, Dave. Here we have two young people who couldn’t be more perfect for each other. Faithful and devoted Christians, Mollie and Dave personify the term “equally yoked” and were the happiest bride and groom I’ve ever seen. Beaming doesn’t begin to describe their faces at the reception. The ceremony was beautiful and personal and filled with love for each other, their families and friends, and God. My favorite moment was when the pastor was saying the prayers and Mollie and Dave were standing, facing each other, holding hands with their foreheads together in prayer. It was lovely, and you could tell that at that moment, for them the only three beings in the room were Mollie, Dave and God. I wish them many more moments like that throughout their lives.

So congratulations to Mollie and Dave. And thank you for allowing me to be a part of your special day. I was honored!
Happy New Year!