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It’s My Birthday, so . . .


Today is my birthday, and as I do every year, I update my obituary. It’s a good reminder to make every day count!  I hope I won’t need one for awhile, but it’s best to be prepared . . . and I certainly wouldn’t leave writing my obit up to to these yahoos, er, um, loved ones, I live with.  I’ll let them choose the photo.

This writing exercise was given to me by my very wise life-coach friend, Mary Ellen, and what it has shown me is not have much I’ve accomplished, but how much I still need to do. My life at 54 is still so incomplete.  I hope to think WAY outside the box this year!  So here it is:

Mary Elizabeth Koppen Vaughan was born on July 20, 1964 near Belvidere, Illinois where she lived surrounded by loving extended family.   When she was ten years old, her parents moved her and her two younger siblings to the barren deserts of Tempe, Arizona. After several years of missing not only her family but the beauty of the Midwest, she embraced her new town, though she never lost her sense of melancholy over the absence of lilacs, peonies, and green fields stretching to the horizon.

She attended Marcos de Niza high school, where she thrived in gifted classes and the marching band playing flute. It was there she met Clifford R. Vaughan III, whom she would eventually marry in 1988, after she graduated with a BA degree from ASU in English Literature with an Art History minor. Cliff was her best friend and confidant. Their three children (Patrick, Eve, and William) were the joys of her life.  She felt fortunate to stay home with them during their formative years, giving them a creative, fun-filled, old-fashioned childhood like she’d had.

Mary was always looking for adventure, whether it was between the pages of a favorite book, over lunch or beers with her many girlfriends, at her favorite beach in Mexico, or on one of the many family vacations to beautiful places around the world.  Mary loved to cook and entertain, and hosted a large Christmas party each year.  She loved movies and music and attended many concerts each year.

She loved to volunteer; she was happiest when being useful and surrounded by friends. She volunteered at her children’s schools helping in classrooms, serving on the PTO, and later on the high school marching band booster board.  She helped with every school fair, festival, and fundraiser.  She was a Girl Scout leader, served as secretary on the Boy Scout troop’s adult committee, and even though she hated it, was on the HOA board.  She was a Phoenix Art Museum docent, delivered Meals on Wheels, and generally liked to pitch in when help was needed.

Mary had many jobs over the years including newspaper deliverer, ice cream server at Baskin Robbins, pizza deliverer, telemarketer, sales clerk, receptionist, secretary, editor, writer, and after her children were mostly grown, preschool teacher and teacher’s assistant. She thrived in the classroom, charming everyone with her humor and cheery smile.  Her last teaching job was at the Awakening Seed School which she loved so much. She was proud of her self-published travel book on Amazon called Beach Dreams, and her “Cheers Darling” blog, but would always tell people the best things she ever created were her children.




High Five


All year I looked forward to sleeping in during summer break, so do not be surprised if you can’t reach me before 8 a.m.  Hubby leaves for work then, and Ruby the Wonder Spaniel and I go down the stairs and outside for her to do her business.  It’s sad to see how bad her hips have gotten.  She’s been on daily pain meds for years, but still smiles and is a happy dog.  So after she is done sniffing around the yard (we’ve had a rash of stray cats who traipse through the back yard in the night), we go inside and I text Hubby, “Did you pill the dog?”  But my new phone will simply not allow me to use the word pill as a verb so does an autocorrect, and I laugh every morning when I send a text asking, “Did you kill the dog?”

I awoke excited for my appointment at the gym with a trainer.  You get one free session every year, and my friend Missy who works at Lifetime Fitness insisted I do a session to learn the many new weight machines. She very thoughtfully looked at the list of trainers (I definitely wanted a female) and booked me with Nicole.

So today I showed up and instead of Nicole, it was Ted.  Ted is 6’4″ with arms the size of hams and is thirty years old.  Exactly the type of person I did NOT want to have witnessing my extreme gym awkardnesss and jiggly bits.  “Maria Vaughan?” he asks.  I shake my head and sigh, and consider leaving and coming back when Nicole is available. But he is so cheerful, like a puppy dog, so I decide to stay.

Ted tries to get me to commit to specific goals, and I’m sure he finds me stubborn and odd.  I tell him I hate coming to the gym. He says, “Well, we need to change that!” I smile at his optimism and assure him, nope, that is not a thing.  I’ve been a member for ten years.  I do not like the classes because I run into women from my neighborhood whom I don’t like. I have been “gyming” every day this summer because my son and daughter are home from college for the summer and are making me a little crazy.  I told him I like the elliptical and the treadmill because I can close my eyes and pretend I am somewhere else.  He finally gets me to make a specific goal:  To fit into my skinny jeans.  I see I’ve made him happy.  He holds up his hand, and I’m horrified when I realize he wants a high five. I slap his hand and sigh again.

I do okay on the weight machines.  And after each one, there it is again, his hand waiting expectantly for me to slap it.   But then we get to this monster of a machine that helps you do pull ups with your whole body.  You climb up two steps, then place your knees on a small platform, all the while grasping a bar at the top and balancing five feet above the floor.  The whole thing was terrifying and when I tried to dismount, the weights clanged so loud that everyone looked.  I giggled, “At least nobody got hurt!”

I decided I had reached the maximum amount of high fives I could give in one day, so thanked him kindly for his time—and I really am glad I know how to work the new machines. So I got in my car that was heated to a lovely temperature of 130 degrees and drove home to my house to find our old Siamese cat in a complete tizzy.   Eve had decided it was too hot for Cosmo Pickles to be outside, and he was madder than hell about it.  It’s now been five hours of him constantly yowling at the back door.  It sounds like he is saying “wow” and he is just beside himself. Poor old guy.  And poor us for having to endure it.

That’s all for this hot summer Monday.  Stay cool, y’all.




It’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m so happy to have the house to myself for a change.  I’m listening to music and making chimichurri sauce for our steak dinner tomorrow.  It’s best if you let it marinate overnight, you see.  (I doubled the garlic and used an jalepeno instead of the Fresno.)   Chimichurri is delicious and really fun to say (haha).

I laugh every time I make chimichurri because I have this vivid memory of picking William up from high school on a day when I’d had chimichurri for lunch.  He opened the car door and gasped, “What have you been eating???” and then threatened to walk home.   He’s never been one for intense smells and usually leaves the kitchen if Eve and I are enjoying some tuna salad.  I am also remembering a time when he threw up from the icky smelly zoo in Colorado Springs (the smell of the ape house lingered on our coats for days).

On a whim Thursday night, we went with friends to see Shaky Graves and his band perform at a newish concert venue in down town Phoenix called The Van Buren.  There’s no seating, just General Admission, which I prefer.  When the tall people come to stand in front of me, I don’t have a problem tapping them on the shoulder and asking for them to move left or right. (I am only  5’4″ so that happens a lot.)  The band was one of those that sounds so much better live than on the videos I’d checked out at home.  The night was warm, the beer was cold, and the band was on fire.

But for the most part, life has been moving in super slow-mo since school ended.  I’ve been reading a few novels per week, but have spent way too much time gelling on the couch with my laptop.  I finished the most recent season of The Ranch on Netflix and Catastrophe on Amazon Prime.  Both shows are about rude people with no control over their lives.  Wonder why that is something I would be attracted to, but I would give both shows a big thumbs up!  I think taking the summers off make me a better teacher, but I am no good at not being on a schedule.  I feel like my patience rejuvenates over these slow summer days so I’ll be ready for a raucous classroom of three-year-olds when August rolls around.

You know how much I love to cook.  Tomorrow I’m making these Lorna Doone Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars with Marshmallow Cream because they look so good in the photo.  My peeps like their sweets, though I’d rather eat chips and salsa than a cookie any day.  But right now I need to find my dancing shoes.  We are off  with friends to hear music at the old smelly Yucca Tap Room.  I love a good dive bar, and this place has been around since the 1970’s.  Our friend Jim’s band is playing.  He’s in a new band called Future Exes and I’m dying to hear them. I did not care for the old band which played shoe gazer rock which puts me to sleep.  Happy Saturday!



Waiting for the Rain


Last Friday night, I set my alarm for 6 am Saturday morning so I would not miss the rain.  It has not rained here in 97 days, and even on that day, 97 days ago, it was only a few drops.  I got up so early and felt so sleepy but I walked out back, and even though it smelled like rain, the only thing falling from the sky were heat-crazed pigeons crashing into my windows like every other day.

I got a cup of coffee and a good book, settled in on the backyard sofa, and I waited.  I read for awhile, watched the sky for awhile, sipped my coffee, and then I started thinking about my students whom I haven’t seen in two whole weeks because it is summer break.  I thought about my favorite part of the school day, which is after lunch and after their recess and right before nap time, when they are warm and sleepy and snuggly and so sweet.  We have a short circle time right before nap time, and Andrew and I take turns reading books.  The kids often lay spread eagle on our colorful rug, and many of them will bring up their legs and kick them a little or roll side to side, and I see that it calms them.  I have often wondered when do kids stop doing that, and why?  I remember doing that as a child and it felt so good!  (Maybe the adult version is yoga.)

I went inside to refill my coffee cup and looked over at the area rug in front of the couch and I lay down on it on my back and smiled at how silly I am. I brought up my legs and stretched out my arms and rolled from side to side, and it felt GREAT.  I kicked my feet a little bit and it made me sad because I again was missing my students.  But I think I will do some rolling around on the carpet the next time I’m feeling jangly, or am waiting for the rain, because it truly was calming. (Even though it means I will be covered in cat hair.)

I went back outside to the patio and little spits of rain had begun to fall.  I sat down with my fresh cup of coffee and breathed in that wonderful rain-in-the-desert smell. Do you know there is a name for that smell?  Petrichor.  And then FINALLY the waiting was done, and the sky opened, and it was POURING.  I stood in the cool rain, stretching my arms out, inhaling the smell of wet creosote and laughing like a mad woman. (I have reports from many friends that they did the exact same thing.)  I hope my students got to stand in the rain and felt happy.

The good book I was reading is by Chris Cleave and is titled Incendiary.  This book completely blew me away.  It was raw and honest and made me laugh and made me cry, and I would highly recommend it.

I also spent 26 hours over the past three weeks watching both seasons of Thirteen Reasons Why.  Again, I was blown away.  It’s a psychological thriller about a 17-year-old girl who commits suicide, but before doing so records audio tapes explaining the thirteen reasons why she killed herself. She leaves instructions to pass the tapes around to the people whom she felt wronged by.  The young actors are so good and the plot twists one way, then another way, and I got so lost in this show and felt positively obsessed (and now am feeling bereft since I finished all 26 episodes). I’ve heard people criticize this show, saying it promotes the idea of suicide to our high school students, but I very strongly disagree.  Check it out on Netflix . . . and have some tissues nearby.



Wish on a Star


I am in Mexico.

It’s just Hubby and me this time.  It’s been relaxing and peaceful, and the past three days have gone by so slowly that I have a strange sense of being outside of time.  This happens every year; it’s very disorienting for me to go from the busy last few weeks of school to a beach vacation, but with the help of my friend Jose, I’m managing the transition quite well. I remember to breathe in and breathe out, and I close my eyes and listen to the ocean waves rolling in, rolling out. I turn my face to the sun, close my eyes, and smile.

We arrived Saturday to many family groups on our beach, all laughing and joyful, playing in the warm sea or lounging under pop-up shade structures.  A cool breeze blew over us, and the sun made sparkly diamonds on the water, and yay:  NO jellyfish!  We swam and swam and only twice did I get startled by waves and get a face and nose full of sea water. Hubby loves to snorkel and brought back a hand full of pristine white sand dollars.  “Do you want these for your students?” he asked, and I said no, just leave them here. Beach walkers will find them and claim them as their own treasures.

Mostly I’ve been reading under our pop-up shade at the edge of the tide, remembering every once in awhile to scan the horizon for dolphins.  I saw a large pod yesterday, but darn it, they did not linger.  Maybe they were in a hurry to get to the Roger Clyne concert on Sandy Beach (haha). I started and finished a good book called The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth Church.  I thought the author did a good job of exploring how women often marry men who are good for them, then after so many years go by, wish for passion outside of that marriage and are torn by a sense of duty vs. the lure of a new life.  It was an interesting glimpse into the life of the families working at Las Alamos, NM on atomic weapons.  Thumbs up on this book!

In other news, after wearing my favorite swim suit for TWO DAYS, this afternoon Hubby looks at me casually and says, “Hey, the back of your swim suit is totally worn out.  You can see through the fabric on your butt.”  Nice.  Luckily I’ve been mostly wearing a cover up (but apologies to anyone who noticed.)

Do you remember the whole “mash up” song craze from about 5 years ago?  Some genius decided to take two songs and “mash” them together, and the result was somewhat addictive, yet ultimately annoying—like this one called 212/Bust a Move.   My brain created a mash up that’s been stuck in my head all day.  It consists of a stanza from Shadow followed by a stanza of The Night We Met.  We practically have the beach to ourselves, so I enjoyed softly singing my mashed up songs while wandering through the tide pools, my voice carried away by the ocean breeze.

Last night we got to town late for dinner, but it was Sunday on the malecon!  So many families, so many people smiling and laughing, girls in sundresses with too much make up feeling pretty and men wearing their best collared shirts feeling so handsome.  There were two bandas playing with all their might RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER.  Why?????  The oceanfront malecon is a half-mile long—it made no sense.  Sort of a battle of the bands thing?  People danced with abandon, and I could have watched and swayed with the music all night . . . but slowly the restaurants turned off their lights and the families put their children in strollers to go home and the musicians wandered back to their cars and we drove back to our tiny condo on the beach and sat on the beach patio in the pitch-black night and admired the sparkly heavens . . . and I made so many wishes on one brilliant shooting star.






School’s Out for Summer!


School’s out for summer!  Yesterday was my first day off.   I was so excited to have the house to myself that I got up early and did some writing, did some cleaning, did a bunch of errands, and generally felt giddy knowing I have the next eight weeks off!  I finished reading the last few chapters of  one of my favorite novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife . . . and cried at the sad ending.  Evening came and I was still home alone, so I turned the music up so loud and drank a little tequila and did a little kitchen dancing (I love Bastille’s new song and am driving my peeps crazy listening to it over and over).  Overall, a good start for Summer 2018.  Today I have plans to meet friends for coffee, and another group of friends for lunch at a new taco shop called Maskadores.

Wednesday was the last day of our school year.  We had to clean our classroom and spent the day checking items off a very long to-do list. While our students were napping, we hurried around the dark classroom cleaning shelves and emptying bins  . . . I ran into the end of a book case and have a lovely yellow bruise.  Andrew and I feel so proud of  what we accomplished in our first year together in the Preschool Threes, and it was gratifying to hear that the parents felt the same way.  At our Awards Ceremony, Andrew and I were each given a hand-made quilt with our students’ hand prints sewn on in bright colors.  My heart is so full. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have found my wonderful school where I’m given so much love from students, staff, and parents.

At lunch, Andrew surprised me with a spontaneous birthday party.  He got our students’ attention and said, “Friends, we are going to celebrate Mary’s birthday today!” My birthday is in July so I didn’t expect anything!  He ordered pizza and we had rice krispie treats and the kids sang to me and I blew out a candle.  Then Andrew gave me a really nice bottle of tequila, and told the kids it was “special summer water.”  We laughed so hard—he is hilarious.  Again, my heart is full!

Tomorrow I’m headed south of the border to my favorite beach.  I hope the wifi at the beach condo is working, because I’m expecting to hear news any day now from my friend who is expecting a baby girl this week.  L. and I ate lunch together every day for two years in the stinky little break room at my school.  It was always a highlight of my day.  She is beautiful inside and out, and I’m sure her baby girl will be as well.  For the beach, I have a stack of good books and a new swim suit.  I plan to swim in the warm ocean and sip cold Pacifico’s with lemon slices and eat shrimp cocktail and hopefully the mango man will bring me a juicy mangoe dripping with tamarino sauce.

Life is good.





21 Days


If you look on the white board in our preschool classroom, you will see a number written in bold red marker.  Today it reads, “21.”  Andrew and I are counting down the work days until summer vacation.  I said to him today, “I still feel fresh, yet I’m excited to have a few months to do whatever I want!”  And he heartily agreed.  I couldn’t have asked for a better school year—great kiddos, warm parents, and an exciting emerging curriculum in which we studied sea creatures, birds, basic ecology, not to mention reading approximately a million fabulous books.  And so many dance parties!!!  Yep, a truly fun year (I heart my job).

Speaking of school, here in Arizona, the teachers were on a “Walk Out” protest this week.  The movement is called Red for Ed, and there have been tens of thousands of teachers, parents, and students gathered wearing red shirts and carrying signs near our capital building in downtown Phoenix for eight days.  All we’re asking for is that our lawmakers properly fund our schools and give our teachers a living wage!  Students are happy to have these days off in our last week of good weather and to be a part of (which is likely) their first social change movement.  Because my school is not for profit, we’ve had regular school hours at Awakening Seed, and I’ve not been able to participate in any of the rallies (insert sad face here).  At this point it appears a budget has been passed WITHOUT our Red for Ed demands, so the teachers and children will return to their classrooms tomorrow, and oh my, how fun will it be to vote out all the haters come this November!

I guess this is going to be ALL about school:  Eve finished her finals at ASU yesterday and was found napping on the couch when I got home from school.  Things were different back in my day!  For one thing, all of us finished finals on the same day, and we’d secure two big tables at a local pizza/hoagie shop called Appetito’s.  It was a five-minute walk from campus, and they served Lowenbrau Dark beer on tap, $4 a pitcher.  We’d each arrive as we finished our finals and much toasting and roasting was done.  Since most of us had pulled all-night study sessions, a nap followed our afternoon at Appetitos, then someone would host a huge house party which would go til the next morning.  It was absolutely joyful!  College is hard, and the feeling of accomplishment and relief on that last day of the semester is probably the biggest high I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

Saturday the 12th is the end of William’s sophomore year at NAU.  We’ll drive the 3 hours north through the mountains, coax his furniture into Hubby’s RAV4, take it to a storage space, then clean his apartment before heading home. These things used to stress me out (Do we have enough boxes? Will he have packed anything, or will we have to do it all?  How dirty is the apartment? Will we finish in time?)  Instead I’m approaching the task with a “where there’s a will, there’s a way” attitude, and if all goes well, we will arrive home, sweaty and tired, about 10pm Saturday night. Every day one of us says in a whiny voice, “I miss William!”

It will be such a treat for me to have two of my three children home with for the summer (and my oldest can be bribed for a visit with pizza).  (By the way, both kids need a job, so if you know of anything, shoot me a text!  William is NOT eager to return to the movie theater, and Eve is tired of her medical office job with spotty hours.)  I think back to the amazing summers we had when the kids were young, when we’d fill a poster board with all the places we wanted to go and the things we wanted to do over the summer break.  My kids probably won’t want to burn their math papers in the backyard chiminea like we used to do.  There won’t be the twelve-family, last day of school pool party at the neighbor’s.  And we won’t be flying to Illinois, as we often did, to visit grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins just in time for lilac season.

But I have a feeling that this might be one of our best summers ever.