Without a doubt, the last two years have been a precious gift to me. I have enjoyed the luxury of time to make the transition from SE Asia to the Caribbean and the freedom to travel and be with our kids and grandkids. Without this time to concentrate on my studies, I probably would still be at least a year away from completing my MA rather than heading off to convocation next month. This wass a demanding transition for Steve and it has been very helpful that I was free to handle things outside of work. However, that time has passed and it is time to move on.
Once the completion of my MA was in sight I began seriously praying about and exploring what that might be. I began making inquiries and submitting resumes in early October and long ago lost sight of just how many are out there. I looked at opportunities within TWR, paid positions here on the island and volunteer roles here and in other parts of the Caribbean. I even looked at taking some further education. I had some interviews but there are some unique challenges when it comes to obtaining a work permit on the island.
One of the first interviews was in October. It was a very promising one with Cayman International School but they were honest about the fact that it was a new, discretionary position and a decision to fill it would not be made until spring. It would be dependent on budget constraints, enrollment and whether there was a Caymanian candidate who could fill the position. This was always in the background but I still aggressively looked for other options in case it did not go well. It did go well, and I have been offered and accepted the position of Health Specialist at CIS.

This is a very exciting and also quite terrifying prospect. Along with the traditional school nurse responsibilities, I will be teaching Health to eight classes; three grade six, three grade seven and two grade eight. I readily admit that teaching is not something I ever envisioned myself choosing to attempt but have begun the process of shadowing some teachers, exploring curriculum and resources and planning for the school year. This will undoubtedly be the biggest learning curve I have ever faced but with God’s help, I have waded into deep waters before. I begin work on August 1st and like a teacher, I am looking forward to some summer travels before the new year starts.

When I was young and easy as the grass was green, I was much affected by the poetry of Dylan Thomas (alluded to above) and e.e. cummings. One of the latter’s poems, “When God lets my body be,” struck me at the time as a most apt figure of speech. Yes, I had a life to live, and much of it lay ahead of me then. But even then I could foresee a day when I would be glad to quit of all the responsibilities that life and God lay upon me. I knew even then, that given my drive to do and see all that there was to know, that I would never be free until God was willing to let my body be; that I would always be a work in progress; that I would always be on the way to being something that I was not, in order to be all that I could potentially be.

Over the last two years I have been becoming an IB Diploma English teacher. It is one of the most challenging things I have undertaken in my life, and it is only now that I can say with some assurance that I have become what I set out to be some two and a half years ago. It was in February 2015 that I accepted this position at Cayman International School in the Cayman Island. I knew that I would have up my game considerably to meet the professional standards for this move. Taking a Masters was part of that thinking. So was immersing myself in Google Sites, Classroom, and Drive protocols, and refreshing my SmartBoard knowledge. I studied the materials for this position and wore my colleagues out with demands for information. I met or Skyped with everyone I knew to find out all that I could. I started lesson planning and choosing novels, plays, and poetry about four months before I even got here. Over the course of the last two years I have built three websites to house all the curriculum materials I have developed. I update the articles and novel study guides weekly.

English is a difficult subject at the best of times. There are so many things you have to access to do well. You have be a good reader; that goes without saying. But you also need to be a good writer, a good speaker, a good presenter, a good debater, and above all a good thinker. You have to be familiar with literature from several countries, regions and traditions. You have to have a good grasp of historical and social movements, and a least a familiarity with the development of intellectual ideas. You have to not only know literary terms and conventions, but know their use and purposes and be able to use them yourself. For IB English you have to know not only know how to write critical analysis – not imposing interpretations on text but drawing meaning from it – but that analysis must be written in a concise and fluid prose that does not become biased or dogmatic.

To bring all this about as a teacher you must assiduously read and correct virtually everything your students write. Assessment in IB is most tightly proscribed. There is absolutely no room at all for subjective assessment to any degree. On a typical weekend I will mark student work for 10 to 14 hours. Nor does the teaching day afford much preparation time for lessons, which must also be prepared over the weekends. Last year I taught three different grades of English. This year and next I will teach two grades, two sections each, plus an elective each day. In Malaysia I taught one grade three periods out of the six in a day, so this was a twofold increase in my workload.

The workload may be daunting, but the real challenge was getting up to speed on the demands of knowledge for each novel, play, and poet that I taught. That has taken hundreds of hours, and I am nowhere near finished. I still need to know everything I possible can about Wislawa Szymborska, Chinua Achebe, Jean Anouilh, Bernhard Schlink, Cormac McCarthy, Pablo Neruda, and Zora Neale Hurston, and I need to constantly push what I already know about Sophocles, Aristotle, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Yann Martel, William Shakespeare and Robert Frost. I need to find relevant articles about the works we are studying and reduce these articles to what is useful and applicable for an upper high school study. I have to constantly adjust my lesson plans to meet the exigencies of IB and CIS report card deadlines, school trips, assemblies, school-wide events, and parent teacher meetings.

I confess that I am tired. Exhausted would be closer to the truth. But I am not yet done. In fact, last weekend I took a round of training to become an IB Examiner so I can mark student work from other countries as well as my own. I am doing this so I can have a greater understanding of what constitutes a good grade by IB criterial so I can better instruct the students I teach. This too is part of becoming an IB teacher, so I am not there yet, wherever there may be.

However that said – and I recognize that it is a lot to digest – let me come to the heart of the matter. Yesterday I finished the end of the two year cycle that is the IB Diploma program in English Literature. The students that I started with two years ago are now finished their lessons. They are not finished their year, let me hasten to add. In front of them is a three week cycle of exams in every subject. There will be two exams in English, for example, three in Biology, three in Chemistry, three in Math and so on. All of these exams are externally marked by IB Examiners in some other country. We cannot mark our own, and indeed I will not even see the English exam until after the students have written it. I will not know how they did until sometime in August.

But my part is done. I have planned and executed a two year course of study starting virtually from scratch and it is done. May I say – with some degree of justification – that it was done well. Yesterday I told the students that I would let them assess me. I opened a folder in Google drive for this purpose and let them say whatever they wanted. I will not post here the comments they made. That is private between them and me, and I would not violate our confidential relationship by citing their reflections. I will say that I am humbled by their kindness and their courtesy, and rejoice that my efforts to bring about their greater good have not gone unnoticed.

So where am I now? Well, I have become an IB English teacher. That is what I set out to do, and that is what I now am. In time I will become a better one, I am sure. I am also now an IB Examiner, so for now, and for this brief window, I am not becoming, I am. When God lets my body be, I will finally be who I am forever. I am not in a hurry to get there, but gosh I must say that I am looking forward to the rest.

Needless to say, we are  incredibly proud of all of our children and everyone of their accomplishments thrill our hearts. Over the past months we have watched in awe, but with very little actual understanding, of the work of our eldest son, Jonathan. It is best just to let him speak of this journey himself.

“The summer of Shelby is almost here. For the past 18 months Shelby has been coming together. It feels like a long time, but when you consider that this is a 1.0 product that wasn’t even imagined two years ago, and was only a crude prototype 6 months after that, its amazing how fast things have moved.

I’m in Germany this week, at Hannover Messe, the largest industry event of the year, where no less than 4 Shelby pre-release units are on the show floor, scattered among partner booths. Thanks to one of those partners, we even got a pretty cool video to show off with. We’re not quite done yet, but we’re getting close and its pretty exciting to see people’s reactions.

Shelby is something new in this space. It allows industrial automation users to bring
expectations from consumer products to their jobs. The equipment my company makes is built to last for decades — literally, 30 year old products are still running in manufacturing operations. But with all the focus on durability and reliability, there’s not much room for usability. Shelby, maybe for the first time, bends to meet the user’s needs, rather than the other way around. Its not perfect, and it has a lot of bending yet to do. But it delivers something to every customer within about 5 minutes of set-up, and it does it in a way that puts a smile on people’s faces.

But that’s not the thing I’m most proud of — Shelby is something new for its developers too. Shelby has personality, because the people who made it put some of themselves into it. This was not a top-down, Functional Specification driven product development cycle. This was a personal, iterative, lean project, designed by engineers, interface designers, and a product owner who spent his evenings writing code.

Someone once asked me “If there isn’t a requirements document, how will engineering know what to build?” Isn’t that a bizarre approach to inventing something new? Yet, that’s the norm: someone in marketing writes a requirements doc, throws it over the wall to engineering, who code what they think they’ve been asked for, throw that over the wall to QA, who test how they think its supposed to work, then someone in marketing tries to go sell the thing that’s been squeezed out of a machine like sausage. For most of that cycle, the customer is an abstract concept that the majority of the people in the process will never know, and the output is usually quite different than the person in marketing thought they had spec’ed out.

Our team is different: I’m “product management”, but I sit next to engineering and design, and “QA” is a developer on the team charged with ensuring tests can be automated and quality can be tracked through daily execution. We all sit together physically, and collaborate continuously. We’re constantly sharing what we’re doing with customers (maybe just a little bit too constantly!) who steer the direction of the development iteratively. Work is done in two week sprints that are discussed not more than two or three weeks in advance, so that we can constantly adapt to new information, better ideas, and input from the customer or the business. The approach is called “Lean Agile” and while we’re not the first development team to implement it, we’re among the early adopters in industrial automation.

To then take this very personal thing, which embodies the creativity and skill of every part of our (slightly too small) team, and deliver it to a marketing machine to be included in boilerplate messaging, with a name we didn’t get to choose (the actual name is 5 words that describe the product, but capture no one’s imagination) is more than a little frustrating. But even despite the efforts to normalize it, this thing has too much personality, and it explodes out of the box, with a cute logo and our code name getting used by customers when they ask when they can buy it, and partners making videos showing it off.

And suddenly, and finally, it has a life of its own, and it doesn’t matter that it was an uphill battle to get here, or that we had to fight the normal process, explaining over-and-over again why we were breaking so many rules or why doing something differently didn’t mean you were doing it wrong. Suddenly none of that matters, because people love it — and I don’t have to evangelize any more, because everyone wants to talk about it.
There’s work left to do before we ship our 1.0 product. Sometimes I’m not sure how we’re going to get it all done. And 1.0 is not the end of the journey — its literally the beginning. There’s a roadmap a mile long of things we wish we could have gotten done, and a vision that goes even further. But this way of doing things works: its bigger than marketing, bigger than product management, and bigger than me, because there’s a team of people who own it, and care about it, and want to make it better by listening to customers and doing the best work they can within our constraints.

This one took everything I know, and everything I’ve learned up to this point — and that wasn’t nearly enough. It needed a team of people who brought what they knew, and were willing to pour that into a little gray box that lets industrial automation customers feel like someone actually cares about making their jobs easier. It may not be a product that changes the world, but its a product that I’m awful proud of.”

Since we moved back to this side of the world, every break has been about accomplishing as much visiting with family and friends as we can manage to squeeze into the time allotted. This has been absolutely wonderful but has also left us looking for a bit of actual vacation time. Since we had neither the time or energy to do the planning needed for a trip, we opted for the easy route and booked a Western Caribbean cruise.Since our dates were predetermined by the school calendar we had little choice in terms of destinations or ship so ended up sailing out of Tampa on the Rhapsody of the Seas.

The ship was quite lovely, our little cabin very cosy and pleasant and our cabin and dinner company were just fine. As always the food was very plentiful and always available and there was opportunities to dance every evening. We were disappointed by just how “commercialized” everything on the ship has become since our last cruise thirteen years ago. Much of what used to be quiet sitting areas, library and games room had been converted to retail sales space and we were constantly bombarded with announcements and fliers for “once in a life time offers” for art, jewelry, photographs and of course your next cruise. .

Two of our days were spent sailing and we booked snorkeling excursions at each of our four shore stops. Roatan is a small island on the coast of Honduras, with beautiful reefs close enough to the beach that we were simply able to swim out and see some amazing coral and fantastic fish.

Belize does not have a port large enough for the cruise ships to dock so we needed to anchor quite a distance away from shore and tender into the port. We opted to take a forty-five minute boat ride to a tiny, private island that is completely surrounded by a coral reef that is said to have 106 different species of live coral, 500 species of colorful fish and hundreds of invertebrate species. The guide was very knowledgeable and the calm waters just off the beach were perfect for snorkeling.

In Cozumel, the reef was somewhat deeper so allowed for us to see some larger species of fish and different types of coral but unfortunately the weather was overcast and limited our vision somewhat. After just a few minutes on the beach, a thunderstorm hit and we ended up spending the remainder of the excursion under a thatch hut being plied with free margaritas. Costa Maya was much the same with some half-way decent snorkeling just off the beach and Ernesto offering endless free rum punch.

We finished our cruise where we began, in Tampa, and had a nice breakfast at the Sheraton Riverwalk where we had spent our first night. We would recommend the hotel, which is perfectly located and has a nice view of the river. Tampa was an unexpected surprise, a very nice American city with a lively core and pleasant vibe. In future we intend to explore a little more of Florida, especially the Gulf Coast, which is clean and affordable, and only an hour’s flight from Cayman. Bon voyage!

We have known Matt and Kate for a number of years through music ministry and women’s retreats and early morning prayer at West London Alliance, our home church in Canada.  However over the last four or five years, we have had the joy of sharing a number of wonderful visits with them in Malaysia, Canada and even in Cambodia. We have watched them grow in their relationships with God, with each other and in parenting their children.

We rejoiced with them as they took steps of faith in serving in short-term missions and watch as God challenged their hearts more and more with an understanding of missions and service of others. They have faithfully and carefully made career and personal decisions intended to free themselves up to serve as God opens doors of opportunity. They have a very tender heart for overseas ministry but the reality is that for the time being their children still need them to be close to home.

However, God’s plans are perfect and this past December, they were offered an opportunity to take the next steps in their missions journey in the home office of SEND Canada, which is located just outside of London. In faith, Matt left his job to take on the role of Director of Operations, supervising and caring for the home office team, and overseeing the operations, technology and finances of the office. Matt’s career has prepared him well for the role and it is a great fit for Kate and the family as well.

After years of giving over their vacation time to short-terms missions, they finally were able to manage a week away and came to visit us here in Cayman. We thoroughly enjoyed hours of exploring the island, meals on the beach, a cruise across the sound, snorkeling and beach walks. Most of all, I think we enjoyed the long evening chats on our patio and leisurely breakfast visits as we shared our common passions, joys and heartaches. They even managed to experience a ten kilometer run in the tropics and Matt got in a couple of dives with our church friends. It was all good.

It is often said that cousins are the first friends we will ever have. True, but they are far more than that. Cousins not only draw from some of the same gene pool, but also show up on the same family tree. They share irrevocable experiences of childhood that can never be lost and an understanding of the unique joys and challenges of your crazy family. No matter where life takes you, neither geography or decades can take any of that away. All that is certainly true for Sandra and I.

Our mother’s were sisters and we were born five weeks (I being the more mature of the two) and one mile apart. As kids we did everything together. We were always in the same class at school until we headed into high school. I always figured that she got the beauty but I got the brains. Our lives took very different paths in that she married soon after graduating from high school and she and Larry raised their three kids fairly close to home. We both had two boys and a girl but my slower start meant that our oldest child was born about a month after her youngest. Since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, her kids settled close to home while ours scattered to various sides of the continent.

We had a great time of catching up and reminiscing this week as Sandra and Larry came to Cayman to get a break from winter and spend some precious time with us. We took the opportunity to celebrate not only our shared 65th birthdays but also their 46th and our 39th anniversaries, by taking a catamaran cruise across the North Sound to a favourite restaurant. That whole cousin thing was most evident when Sandra and I would kill ourselves laughing over shared jokes that only puzzled Steve and Larry.

It is always fun to introduce others to the beauty, peace and experiences of our adopted home of Grand Cayman. We shared beautiful sunsets, picnics on the beach and evening visits on the patio. Larry even decided that he enjoyed swimming in the ocean and Sandra reigned in her claustrophobic tendencies to explore the wonders of the underwater universe, in a submarine. It was wonderful visit all around.

March 22-29/17

Yesterday I was 64 and today I am 65, a significant milestone by most anyone’s definition. We marked the day with a cruise across the North Sound with some friends from CIS and dinner at our favourite, funky restaurant.

When I was young, I often thought about how it would feel to be 65. To be officially a senior citizen, a recipient of OAS, free from the challenges of work and child-rearing, just relaxing and trying my best to make my body and mind last as long as possible. Not surprisingly, that is not at all how it feels to be 65.

While I definitely do not feel old, I also most definitely do not feel young either; and I am rejoicing in the differences between the two. Seasoned by years of dealing with difficult, challenging and at times heart breaking circumstances while recognizing God’s ever-present hand; gives me the confidence that I can face whatever lies ahead without the fear and anxiety that often haunted the years when I was young. I have more confidence in the person that I am, in the gifts I have been given and the skills that I have developed and I have less need to measure up to the imagined or real expectations of others.

Yet I still enjoy and am no less interested in, the same things that I did as a young person. Plus, those things are enhanced by my own grown children, the spouses they have chosen and the wonderful grandchildren that we love so dearly. I am no less adventuresome, am still having fun and have the freedom, education and finances to choose my activities. I had a full and rewarding career in Nursing, eight amazing years to serve in SE Asia and finally the opportunity to pursue the education that had repeatedly been set aside in order to meet more urgent needs.

Most of all, I have the joy of sharing this journey with the love of my life; a faithful husband who loves the Lord and has supported and encouraged me every step of the way. He has a passion for excellence and a hunger for learning and his commitment to, and compassion for, those he serves have spurred me on to be that best that I can be.

I appreciate each day more fully, celebrate each small pleasure and experience more deeply and I am exceedingly grateful for each person in my life. I am fortunate to be in good health and the loss of health, even the lives of many friends, reminds me of just how blessed I am to still be able to speak into the lives of others. I have learned that every day is precious, love is a profound and sacred gift, prayer changes things, gratitude corrects perspective, being right is not always the most important thing. I know there is no point in judging others because they are often just trying to do the best they can, forgiveness and generosity are healing for me as much as for the other and dancing is good for the body and the soul. I know there are many more things left that I would like to do.