miranda lambert teaching writing

Small Town, Big Impact

“Everybody dies famous in a small town,” sings Miranda Lambert in her hit tune.  Small towns dot the landscape of Texas and every other state, and rarely get the attention they deserve.  You won’t hear names like Van, Lindale, Mineola, Gladewater, Big Sandy, Mabank, etc. as often as you hear Dallas, Houston, and Austin, but those small communities are every bit as important as those big cities.  Even more so.  After all, Miranda Lambert herself hails from the small East Texas town of Lindale, Texas, population 5000, more or less, “population plus one minus one,” as she sings.
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It is the small town that forms the backbone of America, safeguarding the values and mores of our society.  It is where city people go home for the holidays or move to retire from their bustling city lives.  Being from a small town is a big deal these days; small town folks are proud of their roots, thanks to celebrities who sing the praises of the towns they grew up in.
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Like Kacey Musgraves, who grew up in Golden, Texas, and went to public school in nearby Mineola.  LeeAnn Womack and Neal McCoy hail from Jacksonville, Texas.  Blake Shelton is from Ava, Oklahoma.  Sissy Spacek grew up in Quitman, Texas, while Tommy Lee Jones was born in San Saba, Texas.  Former President Bill Clinton was from Hope, Arkansas.  The list goes on and on and on.  There’s something about a small town that breeds greatness in some people.
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I saw it here in East Texas a couple of Saturday nights ago in Gladewater.  Founded in 1873 at the intersection of state highways 80 and 271 by the Texas and Pacific Railway Company, Gladewater experienced a population boom when oil production began in the 1930’s, growing from about 500 to over 8000.  After the oil boom the population decreased to between 4000 and 6000, where it remains today.  Lumber, agriculture and a thriving antiques business have made the town what it is.  The people of Gladewater are a dedicated bunch, obvious Saturday night during their annual downtown Holiday Open House.
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Lola Beth May, an antiques store owner and camping friend of mine, invited me to set up a book signing in her store Saturday night.  I agreed, not really expecting much in the way of sales, but wanting to spend time with my new friends in her store.  I was not prepared for what I witnessed.
As I drove into the downtown area, I was greeted by festive lights and bundled up pedestrians crowding the sidewalks of historic buildings.  I turned down the side street where The Screen Door Antique Mall is located, and wondered if I would be able to find a place to park.  The street was packed!   
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After I set up my table with my book display in the front of the antique store, I greeted visitor after visitor who dropped in to shop or just to say hello to the shop owners and taste Lola Beth’s homemade potato soup.  I was surprised and honored to sell several books to folks who wanted to support a local author with their pocketbooks. 
Lola Beth May and her (and my) friend Marilyn Johnston.  Love them both!
Other small towns could learn from Gladewater’s annual Holiday Open House.  What a wonderful way to promote small businesses and foster community spirit!  Hosting the event into the evening lends a magical atmosphere with all the lights and gives families a fun night out.  Being situated on a busy railroad provided a thrill to children and adults alike every time a train barreled through, blasting its familiar horn.  Carriage rides and a giant Christmas inflatable provided photo opportunities as well.  Lola Beth even had a lighted Christmas village set up in one of her front windows, allowing me to witness the wonder of small children who passed by.
Thank you, Gladewater, for your welcoming spirit and wonderful support.  Thank you, Lola Beth and Mark May, for welcoming me into your store and your hearts.  I look forward to getting to do it again!
That’s me at my table!  Photo by Lola!
What about you?  Do you hail from a small town?  Please share!
miranda lambert teaching

For My Girl Miranda

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have heard about Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s divorce after only four years of marriage.  As one of Miranda’s former high school teachers and one of the two teachers she chose for the Teachers Count poster campaign and invited to the sold-out Nashville Rising flood relief concert and her private engagement party in 2010, I have been asked several times about my reaction to the news.

That’s me on Miranda’s left.

That’s me walking past the camera at the engagement party outside Nashville.

That’s Miranda’s mother Beverly behind me.

Like everyone else, I couldn’t believe it at first.  I had hoped their relationship was different from the usual celebrity marriage.  I know her parents, who have had a solid marriage for over thirty years, and I know that Miranda’s expectations were to have a similar relationship to theirs.

Me and Miranda at the Texas State Fair in 2009.

 But the pressures on celebrities must be great, and even greater for celebrity couples, especially if both are superstars who have responsibilities and appearances that keep them apart for weeks on end.

Me and Miranda before one of her concerts at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth.
I’m not surprised, but I have to admit that I am disappointed.  I had hoped Blake and Miranda would prove the doubters wrong, that others could look to them as an example of true love and commitment as their marriage endured, and as they rose above the chaos, criticisms, and challenges of their careers.

My son Matt and I after her first concert at Billy Bob’s Texas.
Miranda with another one of my students in my classroom in 2002.
Miranda with Blake at Cause for the Paws in Tyler, Texas.
But no matter.  I still love you, Miranda.  I love your music, which I will continue to listen to and purchase, although many of the songs are bittersweet now. But how much more difficult are they for you as you must continue to sing them night after night?  I am still very proud of you and the way you have handled yourself under the microscope of public life.  I pray for your happiness and continued success, and I am confident that you will get through this and become stronger than ever.  Of course and as always, I am here for you if you ever need me.


“Mama, I’m okay out here, I’ve seen how hard the world can be.  My step is sure and I know my name.  I’m strong just like you prayed I’d be.  I’m strong just like you prayed I’d be.”  from Miranda’s Kerosene album

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Waiting your turn. . .

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The other day on the way to work I had to stop for a red light.  Only the red light wasn’t working.  It wasn’t even blinking.  Something had caused a power outage on that road and none of the lights were working.
But amazingly, all the drivers on that four-lane intersection were able to proceed without a problem.
We had learned to take turns. 

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The photo above is what you’d expect, right?  But no. 

This assortment of drivers, some on their way to work, some on work missions, some no doubt visiting loved ones, some just going shopping. . .we all drew on something we learned as a preschooler.
We take turns.

It was an amazing experience.
Each car inched up to the line and waited its turn before proceeding.  It was orderly and civilized, something totally unexpected in a world gone crazy with violence and me-ism.
When it was my turn, I moved my car to the line, watched the cars to my front, left, and right, and then pressed the gas at the appropriate moment.
There was no road rage, no speeding, no jumping ahead.  Everyone waited their turn.
Just like in school at the water fountain or in the lunch line.

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Maybe there is hope for this world after all, if everyone still can learn to wait their turn.

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What about you?
Have you witnessed anyone waiting their turn lately?

hunting miranda lambert

Free and Easy Friday: Road Trip!

“So I’ll grab the wheel and I’ll point it west, pack the good, and leave the rest, and drive until I find the missing beat.
You said I wouldn’t get too far on a tank of gas and an empty heart,
but I’ve got everything I’ll ever need.
I’ve got this old guitar and a brand new set of strings.
Lyrics from one of my favorite songs by my former student Miranda Lambert.
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I didn’t have an empty heart or an old guitar with new strings, but I had an opportunity to make the one hour trek to the nearest Snuffer’s restaurant and Bass Pro Shop today with the hubster and that is exactly what I did.  Even with the afternoon temperature reaching 104, we had a cool time together.
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That’s about all you can do in Texas in August when the temperatures hit the century mark.  Hit the roads with the a/c cranked and the music blaring.  It doesn’t matter much where you wind up as long as you wind up together.  A full stomach and making plans for the upcoming hunting season don’t hurt either.  Bass Pro has all the goodies to get one in a hunting mood, plus they have those wonderful cinnamon-roasted pecans, although after a Snuffer’s burger and cheese fries, I have to save the pecans for another day!

Before we started home, we had to follow our son’s suggestion and make a pit stop at Steak ‘n Shake for a milkshake.  His wife, after all, is a Steak ‘n’ Shake executive.  Gotta support the babies and ignore the calories!  And it was worth it!  Yummy!

Happy Labor Day weekend, everybody!  Be safe!


Free and easy down the road I go,” Dierks Bentley

miranda lambert teaching

Teacher Tuesday: The rewards of social media

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Facebook sometimes gets a bad rap.  Everybody who is hip and tech savvy seems to have a Facebook or Facebook page while the rest consider it a waste of time and an invasion of privacy.  Granted, some people spend way too much time reading news feeds and posting statuses that no one cares about.  Worse still are those who upload photos that no one wants or needs to see.  Photos of children are freely posted without regard for the potential of some pedophile somewhere using the photo or information in some perverse or criminal way.

All that said, I too, have joined the bazillions on Facebook.  I have more “friends” than a person could ever keep up with, and I take an hour now and then to scroll down the news feed to find out what is happening out there with people I rarely see in person.  It’s an excellent way to keep up with people I would never see or hear from.
But the best thing about it?  I get to be in touch with former students I would never hear from otherwise.  And what I learn is the best reward a teacher could ask for.

I see them grown up now with families and careers and surprising maturity.  For the most part, I didn’t teach the “gifted” kids or the “honors” kids; I mostly taught the ones who struggled through high school, the ones who might have dropped out without my special dropout intervention program.  Many of these kids were labeled underachievers and troublemakers by teachers and administrators who should have known better.  It speaks volumes when some of these kids call themselves “rejects” or “losers” because they have not been successful in school.  In my opinion, school has failed them, and not the other way around.  I spent a lot of my time defending these kids to the very system which prides itself on educating every child.  All too often many kids do get “left behind” in the quest for school district recognition.

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This is actually a graduation photo from the school where I used to teach.  The young lady in the center is one of my former Sunday School students!

Anyway, back to Facebook.  What better reward could a teacher have than to see posts by former students describing their service in the military, their careers, their children, their spouses, and their homes?  I love finding out that my kids (students) have grown up into responsible citizens and family members.  Facebook gives me a window into the world of my former students that I would never have had before.  

I have discovered that my former students are now electricians, plumbers, mechanics, contractors, singer/songwriters, nurses, massage therapists, police officers, gun dealers, photographers, real estate brokers, weather forecasters, business owners, lab technicians, firefighters, landscapers, fence builders, teachers, legal assistants, car salesmen, computer technicians, cowboys, professional cheerleader director, and the list goes on.

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One of my more famous former students at graduation:  Miranda Lambert.

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Another famous student:  future Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders director  Kelly McGonagill Finglass.

So, however self-absorbed today’s generation may be, I’m glad that they are giving me glimpses into their successful lives.