wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Retrospective

I found myself thinking back over the year when I wanted to write a Christmas letter to my grandma and I concluded that it was a year of tender mercies… every morning new, just like my fresh cup of tea. The tea was tangible, but the mercies less obvious until I started to think of what could have been.

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Looking back over the year, I feel the wonder of ordinary life going on day by day. We have friends whose lives were irrevocably changed by tragic loss of loved ones, by brain tumors, by the bad choices of other people, etc.  Here we are, mostly unscathed; it isn’t fair. There is a liturgy where the responses of the congregation are only four words repeated, “Have mercy upon us.” I have pleaded this for our friends many times.

I find myself with fewer answers than ever as to why tragedies happen, yet I know with more assurance than ever that God is good. This is not to say that I never question His ways, but He remains good. Like breathing, I live in this confidence. There are aspects of faith that remain mysteries, yet are evidence, just as real as actual substantive things.

We grew this year. What is the point of living if we aren’t learning? The children show the most evidence of this. It’s astounding to look at photos just 12 months ago and see what all those green beans and peanut butter sandwiches and cups of milk have done to them physically. We find ourselves on the edge of parenting adolescents and I am scared spitless. The threes and fours and fives are familiar territory, but this teen thing looks like a different ball of wax. Did someone mention relationships?  I  anticipate a steep learning curve through this phase of parenting. Like the insatiable desire to be treated like an adult while still having the liberty to act like a little kid whenever that desire dictates… What is up with that? I distinctly remember that mixed up feeling when I was 12-13, so I can appreciate the justice in experiencing the parenting end of the stick. I am sorry I ever rolled my eyes at you, Mom.

We have found our preferred style of vacation to be camping, (4 times this summer) particularly in those nifty cabins at state parks. Perfection for me is a book, a chair beside a campfire, a mug of coffee in hand. The children only want monkey bars, bikes on trails, snacks, frisbees, soccer balls, food cooked on sticks, late night stories, more snacks, early breakfasts, hikes to look-out points. Obviously, not all of us can have our way. Either they have perfection or I do, and since I can’t beat em, I join em. (Why do they never beg their father for food? Hmm?) I can’t believe how often kids from other campsites join ours to play for hours without their parents even once coming to look for them. Probably they are reading beside their campfires…

We are getting better at the packing of stuff when we go away. Each child gets a backpack of their own along with a list of non-negotiable items. What doesn’t fit doesn’t go along. I have to check Rita’s pack for stray fabric scraps and a funny ratio of 5 undies to every play outfit. The boys tend to forget things like towels and toothbrushes, but they never go anywhere without pocket knives and flashlights, paracord bracelets and lighters. Yup, we are learning.

Speaking of paracord, we bought a thousand foot roll of it to use in constructing teepees or clubhouses or in tying down loose stuff. Seems you can never have too much rope or string. It has been a lot of fun for the boys to do youtube tutorials for weaving the cord in compact ways to carry it along outdoors “in case of emergency”.  Alex has devised a way to weave 12 feet of cord into one monkey paw keychain. That is the one I want with me in the quite unlikely event that I will need to hang my game high in a tree in the woods after I used the cord to snare it.

If you have ever read The Hatchet, you can only imagine what Brian would have done with a paracord bracelet, especially if he had the kind of clasp that contains a piece of flint. 🙂 I do love my boys.

We got exactly half way through school before our break for Christmas. Both boys prefer reading to all other subjects and they were wallowing around in self pity over their math lessons this morning. Olivia likes math because reading is still pretty hard work for her and Rita is buzzing along in her Kindergarten stuff. She vacillates between speedy efficiency and leisurely putting along, but it is all easy for her. I kind of wish I had put her into the same grade with Olivia to save myself a bit of work, but she is still a dreamy little girl, so I guess we will continue to pace her slowly.

Addy insists on doing “real school” so I looked for some official looking books for her to learn numbers and shapes. She is affronted when I hand her a simple coloring book for school. Part of her growing up this fall included the stowing of the toddler bed. She insisted on the top bunk while the other two girls share the bottom. It actually seems to cut down her night-time ramblings, since it takes a lot of effort to climb out of the bunk in a sleepy state. She just hollers when she has a dream instead of coming to our bedroom to sleep on the floor. Last week one night she was crying in her sleep about stinkbugs, one of the few things in her little world that terrify her.

Since we got our puppy, it has really helped to get the children outdoors. Always Gregory is up first in the morning, so he takes her out of her kennel for a potty break. Sometimes I see him sitting in the backyard, all bundled up, still half-asleep while Lady cavorts around him and licks him excitedly. She has a way of looking soulfully in the door when she is on the deck and we are eating. Gregory says she is being “wismal” which is a combination of dismal and wistful. It describes her expression perfectly. She just cracks up with joy when they take breaks to play with her. I have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly she is being trained. Springer spaniels are very tractable and love to please their masters. We got the right puppy, thank the Lord! I am really glad Gabe researched for weeks, because I would probably have just gotten something free off Craigslist. 🙂

We have learned a few things about washers and the problems that crop up when you fix your own. After Gabe replaced the transmission and I rejoiced that it was humming along again, it worked perfectly for 2 loads. Then it began to drop the spin cycle, after which it refused to rinse. I am currently using three cycles for every load of laundry. One: wash. Two: rinse. Three: spin. It works except for when the lid locks and refuses to open for a whole day, like it did the day after Christmas and I had 7 loads to wash. For your information, it may or may not help to pound on the lid in exasperation. It opened. Who knows why?

Isn’t life just like that? In the impossible circumstances as well as the minute irritations we say, “Have mercy upon us.”

I pray for you a new year full of confidence in that merciful Love!

 

 

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Salted Caramel Sauce and Stuff

Last fall I decided the time had come to learn how to caramelize sugar and make my own sauce, seeing as my husband loves caramel. Truly, that was why I started messing with caramel. I wanted to bless him. I have never reached for the caramel sauce for my ice cream if there was chocolate available, and I never expected my experimenting to come back and bite me. My sister-in-law Becca is actually the one to blame for the whole deal, since she encouraged me to try for a perfect caramel and warned me that there was no going back.

My first batch turned out beautifully, not one hitch. The second batch burned. The third one seized up, which is pretty close to burned and inedible. Finally I produced another batch that still had sugar lumps, even though the candy thermometer was registering near-burn stage. I decided that I was beat. Too amateur in the kitchen. Besides, I was tired of washing masses of mess out of my sauce pan.

This fall I started seeing all these caramel lattes advertised and decided to have another go. I searched for a tutorial online, and found Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Following her step by step directions anxiously, I timed everything so very carefully. The result was Perfect. Caramel. With course salt mixed in, it is a delectable blend of sweet and salty. Unfortunately, it has turned around and addicted me instead of Gabe, who is more temperate than I am in many ways. He laughs at me. I cook another batch and give it away. But what if it was just a fluke? I try another batch since Fisher’s Country Store is having a sale on butter and I have lots of cream skimmed off the milk. Again, perfection.

Friends, I have nailed it! Now I can stop, wouldn’t you say? Or not. 😀

The only thing I did differently was to lose the candy thermometer and just go by the amber color to know when to add the butter. This does take some trial and error, but usually it is just right when the last of the sugar lumps are dissolved. I don’t worry about the bits stuck on the edges of the sauce pan. Oh yes, last fall I used a whisk. This fall I used a spatula and just stirred gently from the edges toward the middle. I did it exactly like Sally said because this is serious stuff. 🙂 If you have 15 minutes and those four ingredients, go try it. Do not become distracted and go look at something your husband is laughing about on Facebook. Make your children get their own drinks. Just stand there and watch that caramel. It is only 15 minutes of your life, but it will make your Christmas very merry indeed.

You are quite welcome. 🙂

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Don’t Pity Me…

…because a story without a struggle isn’t a very good story. II Corinthians 4 says we can be outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly renewed every day while our  “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” We need to learn how to encourage one another in bracing ways, not in pitying ways that cause us to wallow in our problems.

It felt like life was uphill both ways, every day, when Gabe was in school. I know there have been many people who have scraped through much worse patches, but for us, it was pioneer work.

Remember that we were trying to be brave and uncomplaining. When we heard pity in someone’s remarks, it was a bit like knocking a stick against the back of knees already buckling.  “I cannot imagine how you live under all that stress. I could never do it.” Already feeling sapped by circumstances, this only makes one feel worse. “What if they are right and we don’t make it? What if I have a nervous breakdown? What if the children are scarred for life?” Pity undermines the foundation of faith in the person who is being called to endure like a good soldier. I learned to flee from pitying conversations before they sucked me into a vortex of self-pity, seeing as I was already battling that tendency.

Everybody knows it isn’t helpful to claim that we know just how someone feels when we actually are only imagining to the best of our abilities how they must feel. So if you can’t truly empathize, and you shouldn’t just pity someone, what can you do for your friends in trouble?

What about that friend who is sick, or the one who lost his job, or the lady on bed rest in a difficult pregnancy? Sometimes there are financial difficulties or family troubles. Chances are, your friend is feeling swamped, and what she really needs is a sympathetic someone to toss a life-preserver. Life preservers are tangible, practical things. Your friend needs you to not just feel sorry for her, but to do something that assures her that you are with her, no matter how awful things may be.

Sympathy. It says, “I can tell that this is a rough time for you. I am praying for you to hang on by the grace of God. You will make it through this. And by the way, here is an Olive Garden gift card. We will watch the babies so you can get a relaxing evening.”

Sympathetic people bring a stash of good books or DVD’s when they visit an invalid. They say kindly things like, “I am sorry that you are feeling so crummy. How can we help you with your medical expenses?”

Sympathetic people clean houses and cook meals and do laundry that isn’t their problem. They cheer up children with a change of scenery so that the parents can catch their breath. They fix gift baskets of special goodies and mugs with messages of faith: “Relax. God is in charge.” They send texts of promises to cling to from God’s Word.

They organize grocery showers. Sometimes they just know that there is no meat in the freezer and they tell you that they have a lot more venison than they can eat, “Could you use some of it?”

What I described to you is what we experienced from our friends and family. Over and over someone came along to lift up the hands that hung down and strengthened our feeble knees. We wouldn’t have made it without them. Community is a beautiful, wonderful thing that infuses us with hope.

Above all, people in distress need faith. “It is really dark right now, and it doesn’t seem like God is hearing you, but the light still shines. I can see it and I will stand with you until you can see it too. I won’t leave you alone; you are never alone!”

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(image source)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shortcut to Misery, Part 2

There is another shortcut to misery that I know very well because I have employed it pretty often. The thought process goes something like this: My assignments/responsibilities are too big for me. I am doomed to failure because I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t like this adult world and the carrying of all these burdens.

This is a tricky one because there is a genuine condition of over-work, of one person taking on much more than their share. In Dutch we say they are “shafich”, which implies a person who stays very busy because they really enjoy it. It is possible also, to be too busy out of a sense of misplaced obligation. I am sure we all know people who consistently pick up more than their share of the work, like my friend who put herself on the school hot lunch list three times because she couldn’t think of anyone else who should do it more than once to fill in the empty blanks.

For clarity, I am not talking about “shafich” people who should be given a break. I am talking about my attitudes concerning things that are clearly my responsibility.

Since I know about momming, let’s go there. Recently Gabe and I were discussing what was probably the worst year of our lives. During that time I found my assignments so overwhelming that I just wanted to run away from them. It was a time of two boys in school, two needy tots, a nursling, a chronically ill husband who was in school and working part time whenever he could to support us. This was not a time to knuckle under, but I surely wanted to.

Just two years earlier, as we looked at what it would mean for our family with Gabe going back to school, I had said calmly, “I am not afraid.” Now I found myself every morning praying for the strength to get out of bed. Jesus said, “Just one leg at a time.” I am not kidding, and if you think Jesus can’t dumb down His instructions for our most childlike moments, you haven’t been listening. Anyway, that is what I did, and that was how I made it through the days, from the spilled milk at breakfast to the solo tucking in of tired children at bedtime, all the while bouncing a hungry baby who had to wait to eat until the drama settled down. It wasn’t a lot of profound thinking and pretty praying. This was survival, a lifeline. I prayed one sentence at a time. Sometimes I wailed and complained. Mostly I begged.”Your wisdom, Jesus. The children are fighting again… Your kindness, please!” and a few minutes later, “Your strength, Jesus. My husband is too sick to do this, so just give me Your courage.”

During this time I had a friend who was battling post-partem depression and when she told me that she implored God for the stamina just to wash the dishes, I felt oddly encouraged. It is always a relief to know that my condition is the human condition, and not just due to my own faltering inadequacies. I say these things because everybody hits an overwhelmed day/season, even if the causes look very different from what others experience. I say these things to assure you that by the grace of Jesus, you can make it!

Admittedly, there were days I felt like faking being sick, just for a change. Oh dear. I fantasized about sleeping for entire days, with room service to provide meals; about idyllic summertime walks alone for hours, just carrying a backpack with books and water; of hitting a jackpot and going shopping for hours, buying whatever I wanted.  Those were the miserable times, the snifflings of a soul scorning the assigned trail, wishing for a path with a grander view, fewer boulders to scale. Yet this was clearly my assignment, this training and feeding of children, this running of a household on an extremely limited income, this supporting role to a man who was also being stretched beyond reason.

Depending entirely on a Strength not our own, Gabe and I found that impossible things were possible. It became a time of asking many times a day, and receiving more than we even expected. I remember daily singing with the children, “God will make a way when there seems to be no way,” swallowing down the tears and choosing to believe like they did, sight unseen. We look back at that time now with fondness. Gabe says we were kind of like Benjamin Bunny, “cheerful and improvident” and we feel like Somebody must have paid the bills because it doesn’t seem possible that we did it.

When we feel like God has unfairly given us too big a job, it is usually because we can’t be independent in it. That is a miserable place, feeling like we cannot possibly do well, because we know this is bigger than our abilities. Sadly, we often don’t learn to roll our burdens on Jesus until we buckle under them. People say, “You know God won’t give you more than you can handle,” but I think He does it all the time because He wants us to learn to depend on His strength instead of our own. He isn’t going to let us off the hook without doing our share of the work, but He will give us the abilities to fulfill our responsibilities. It is possible to live with a rested soul in the worst of times, and that actually makes it the best of times. In retrospect, of course. 🙂

 

(We were so blessed to have support all around us in our difficulties. Next post: How to help your friend in crisis.)

 

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Potpourri of Just Happy Stuff

I have another shortcut to misery all ready, but on a drizzly, grey day, who needs that? We need to focus on how to be happy, yes?

There is a sweet, humming sound in my laundry room this morning. I keep tilting my head, listening to make sure it is still going along all right. Thanks to my husband’s skill in ordering and installing the right part from a system that is, at best, user surly, we have a washer again. I am grateful to not be schlepping baskets of dirty laundry to the neighbors or to my mom’s house. When we got married we bought a washer and dryer set at an auction for about forty dollars. They were already old when we got them, but lasted ten years with hardly  a hitch. We decided that we must have lucked out and gotten a durable brand, so when we needed a new one, that is what we looked for. Let’s just say we went to the big store that rhymes with gears. Gabe said, “You need a good one, a big one, a dependable one, so we are not going to buy cheap.” Okay by me, the one who always starts at the cheap end of the displays.

Three years later we had a washer that expired in a clunking of alarming engine noises. My resourceful husband had already taken it apart once to try to find the noise, but since it still worked, we kept using it until it didn’t work. Of course. The place that rhymes with gears said their repairman could come out on January 2nd. “What? You have got to be joking! I have 5 children and I cannot wait that long,” I protested weakly.

We started checking out local repairmen, all of whom were ever so helpful and friendly, but afraid to mess with a computerized appliance from “gears” because they do not give any tech support to non-company fixers. Finally we were able to find one who was willing to give it a try if we wouldn’t get mad at him should he be unable to fix the problem. Meanwhile, I called the company people and made my case a little stronger. This time I got Betty, “she’s the bomb,” and she pulled some strings, scheduled me a Company Man for the very next day. So we cancelled the friendly local guy.

The funny thing was, the man they sent out was the most garrulous person I ever met and he spilled the beans about quite a few things, including the fact that he isn’t very busy at all right now. He doesn’t know what the January 2nd date was all about. Tilting the washer up about 45 degrees, he looked underneath and immediately pronounced our transmission shot, maybe a few other things fried as well. It could run into a lot more repair bucks than the machine was worth, he has a bunch of coupons and if we decide to go buy a new one, just give them his number, yada-yada. He didn’t do anything with his tools except carry them in and out again after charging us a hefty little sum for diagnosing our problem. To be fair, he had called ahead and explained all charges and he was very kind and helpfully verbose. Particularly he thought I shouldn’t use so much detergent, even if it is formulated for high-e machines, even if it is packaged in a handy little pod. I have to admit to some incredulity, “You mean, you think that is what fried the transmission?”

Upon careful reflection and an inspection of the family budget, we decided that a repair would be smarter than buying new, only the repair would be done by my husband  now that we had been informed that it was not a computer problem. When Gabe ordered the part, they once more gave him that magical January 2nd date for shipping. We resigned ourselves to the inevitable and growled at the children every time they did superfluous changings of attire. The boys actually have no problem with wearing their clothes for a few days, but our girls do love to change outfits at least once a day.

Late last evening, UPS brought our part, Gabe promptly installed it, and now I can do my laundry again! It is only December 16 yet, so this is a gift! Can you see why I am happy after jumping through all those hoops? We have decided that, in future, we will buy new appliances locally, not because we carry any grudges against the friendly unhelpfulness of the big stores, but simply because we don’t like being lost in their shuffle and given dates that don’t mean anything. Also, we would like to keep the breed of small town owners alive, even if we have to pay more up-front, even if they don’t send out reams of coupons with their repair guys.

Moving on… We have a new baby at our house. A puppy baby, that is. She is sweet and waggy and might even turn me into a dog lover with her winsomeness. Gabe has dreamed of owning a spaniel for about most of his life. This fall we had started researching and looking at puppies with an eye to raising pups to sell. Our boys have wanted a puppy all of their lives, but we were always afraid of the road out front. There will have to be a kennel, and there is a lot of training involved, but spaniels are supposed to be extremely amiable and willing to obey. For now, there is a crate in the basement with a  puppy that is learning to only go potty outside. :/ I wasn’t going to allow even that much, but it is winter and spaniels don’t smell, etc, etc.

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She is named Lady Gauge and we like her. May she enjoy a long life and flush many grouse and have many babies!

Some of you know about how I injured my knee while performing the arduous task of fishing some books out from under a dresser. As I twisted to stand up, something popped and I felt alarming pains that affected my walking for a few hours. With ice and elevation, the knee eventually was not painful unless I bent it. Gabe’s doctor friend said it was likely a tear and should be scanned sometime, but mainly I need to keep it braced and inactive. Hahaha, I said mirthlessly to myself. After 10 days in which I walked stiff legged and fantasized about curling up on the couch with my tea instead of extending my leg always into the cold, I am able to bend it carefully. It is healing, and that is happy too! I might add that the washer broke down at the optimal time, when I couldn’t run up and down the basement steps anyway.

Yesterday Rita wanted to ask the blessing at lunchtime. She started with a sweet thanks to Jesus “that I have a family and don’t have to live on the street…” Yes. That is right, little girl.

The boys are deep into codes and acronyms these days. I keep coming across papers with hieroglyphics of some sort or another, with alphabet decoders alongside. The acronyms are less obvious. “That was the MDM!” one of them will exclaim and when I look blank, they say, “Most Delicious Meal, of course.” Or I will hear an argument where one will insist, “I tell you, it is AT! AT!” I have discovered that AT means All True. Of course. Somehow the girls know that they should be insulted if they are referred to as “SLG”, or Silly Little Girl, as well as any other variation on the theme. I roll my inner eyes and laugh at the circus. Or I might say, “Okay, that is EA! Enough Already!”

We had a mega cookie baking spree one day, where each child picked a recipe and we baked it. Alex made rice crispy candy on his own and Greg did his own snicker doodles, but the girls still required a lot of supervision. I made a little mistake when I handed them a Taste of Home cookbook with pictures so they could choose their recipes. They chose things like Peppermint Pinwheels, Evergreen Sandwich Cookies (with two kinds of icing, no joke, although I declined to ice the tops with royal icing…) and Giant Spice Cookies (that look like cracked concrete according to Rita). The batches were small, and we gave a bunch away and ate a bunch and here we are, 10 days to Christmas and the cookies all gone.  Addy was crestfallen that she won’t even be able to share her kind with Cousin Jackie.  I am a sucker for sad eyes. Yesterday we made Evergreen Sandwich Cookies again.

In wintertime I challenge myself to do things that are inconvenient and require me to give up my personal space, just for love’s sake. After all, it would have been much easier for Jesus to stay in heaven, wouldn’t it? It isn’t that stuffing white socks with batting and making snowmen is so complicated. It is that it requires me to put out patience and long-suffering and time with a generous helping of hot glue and buttons. My children don’t know the difference between that and love that actually is costly. What they recognize is the camaraderie of life with a cheerful giver/mother. Incidentally, the Greek word for “cheerful” is the same root word as “hilarious,” a tidbit I remember from Bible School days. That is the catch, isn’t it, my friends… it isn’t the doing, it is the how they are done.

That is what I mean when I wish you a merry Christmas. I wish you joy in recognizing how extravagantly costly was the gift God gave when He sent His Son. Let’s live His lifestyle of extravagant giving of ourselves!

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Shortcut to Misery

One of the quickest ways I know to become thoroughly miserable is to start thinking about the unfairness of life. It is like a game of Chutes and Ladders, where I am tooling along just fine when zoop, zoop! There I am at the bottom of a slide in a mud puddle of self-pity. Whoa! This was not supposed to happen to me!

(This illustration is totally gratuitous: it’s just that I find it endlessly amusing to see the difference between the early version where the chutes were snakes and the politically correct versions of today. Check out numbers 17 and 47.)

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The problem with marinating in misery about life’s unfairness is that I always compare myself with those who have more than I do. If my house were bigger, I could stay organized like other women. If my grocery budget included shrimp, I could wow guests too. If I could buy all my children’s clothes at Gymboree, we would also look amazing in family portraits.

One day my little girl was feeling discouraged about a routine lab draw. “I don’t know why Jesus doesn’t heal me if He loves me,” she said. Yet, as we discussed the diabetic children who have to check their blood sugar levels multiple times a day and have shots too, her outlook changed completely. She suddenly felt that she has it easy, with blood-work only four times a year and her adrenals compensated by a small pill, not shots. I tried to explain that Jesus’ love is never in question, no matter what, but my heart ached in sympathy, because haven’t we all felt variations of this? Why doesn’t Jesus give me what I want? I need this! Why do other people seem to skim along so effortlessly and here I am, struggling at the bottom of the chute?

I think the reason comparing ourselves with others isn’t wise is because it starts us on a trail of questioning God’s goodness. “But if He loves me, why me???” We become focussed on all the things that others have that we deserve and then we whine, “Why not me?” The thing about self-pity is that it is so endlessly… selfish.

Sometimes it seems we really do need to compare ourselves to others, others who have much less, that is. When we children complained about the food, my mom’s homily on the starving children in Africa was right on point. Stop pouting about silly things and be thankful!

Maybe I don’t like my body and I think it is so unfair that the other woman got the perfect hair/figure/personality. I wouldn’t choose the grief she endures because of childlessness, of course, but I would like all the best things for myself.

Maybe my husband was too obtuse to notice that I spent hours cleaning out the family vehicle, but what about the neighbor who is suspicious that her husband is seeing another woman on his business trips?

Maybe I am tired of all my clothes. I have had this sweater for 14 years, after all. And yet. I have options. I have three coats for this winter. “If God loves me” sounds pretty pathetic when I consider the Iraqi Christians who fled their homes in terror of their lives and now live only with what they were able to carry along.

When I whimper an entitled “Life just isn’t fair,” I show myself up as an ingrate who is willing to stay a victim of circumstances.

When I recognize the generosity of my blessings, because I know that life really isn’t fair and I don’t deserve anything, I show the world the goodness of God.

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And the Winner Is…

Motz! You may be interested to know that I remember when my mom told me that he was born to the next door neighbors in long-ago Kentucky. 😛 For his entertaining comments, I say he deserves a frilly scarf. I will be in touch, Motz.

Random chose him quite randomly, I assure you. For those who want to try making one on your own, try youtube. I don’t knit, but there are crochet tutorials that are very thorough. Happy day, all! I am off to bake cookies and sing carols.

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School-ish Thoughts

Before I dive in, let me just say that the give away comments are the greatest! I have laughed and snickered and giggled and nodded sagely. You all made my day and the give away is open all week if you haven’t entered yet.

Recently I sewed a dark rose-colored twill into a dress for this winter. I thought it was a fun color and the fabric is heavy and warm. It is also scratchy, but tough, like denim. When Gabe saw it, he said, “Hey, that is exactly like your schoolmarm dress, only it is missing the wooden buttons! You’re even wearing the same sweater!” And I was. Friends, I have had this sweater for 14 years. Is that some sort of record?

I wasn’t sure if that makes me like the dress, or hate it. The one he was referring to was homespun fabric and I wore it with tweedy boots the winter we were blissfully unaware that we were falling for each other. He remembered that dress?!! Probably this is a little like the cologne he still wears that always gives me the sensation of standing in the office beside the copier, knowing that he must have been copying fact forms earlier that morning. Hey, it was a small room and the scent lingered. 🙂 🙂

I started thinking about school, both my teaching and the years I attended our small church school. I don’t know how I was so fortunate to have teachers with 10, 15, even 20 years of experience. My third grade year was a first time teacher whom we all adored. (Anyway, the girls did. I never saw the boys clamoring to hold her hand.) All the other years I had veterans for teachers, the kinds of teachers who saw trouble coming while it was still in thought form in small children’s heads. I had teachers who pulled out my strengths (English) and helped me not to feel too humiliated by my weaknesses. (Think geometry.)

Small church schools cannot afford to be very picky about training and qualifications when they hire because they operate on tight budgets, for one, and the pool of interested candidates is usually quite small. Generally, if you like children and you like teaching, you have a job.

That is how it was in the days when I had a classroom with 16 students in 3 grades. One of my students was dyslexic and I had absolutely no idea how to help him connect what the class was learning with how he processed life, even with all the library books I read on the subject. I was as green as they come, but I gave it everything I had and I did love teaching. My siblings rolled their eyes when I went to bed early instead of socializing. (I missed the rollover from 1999 to Y2K because I was too tired to stay awake, even though there was a rook game in progress right outside my bedroom door.) I got up early and made lesson plans, and I learned to enjoy coffee. I wore teacherly clothes with wooden buttons. I scoured book sales and libraries for fresh reading materials. And when I added up my hours and divided my paycheck by them I found I wasn’t being paid minimum wage. I had fun though, and I think the children learned despite my obvious greenness.

There was a day when a third grader confided in me that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up and I thought she probably would be a good one. This year she has a classroom of her own.

I had a student who wrote his philosophy on life like this: I am not smart. I am not dom. I am just regler.

There was a little boy who broke his glasses on average once a month, and now I think of him when my son’s glasses last one week.

It was endlessly challenging and enlightening. You wanna study human nature? Try it in a classroom with a  bunch of uninhibited small people. This is making me feel old, because a lot of those students are married with children of their own.

I only taught two years because I did the predictable and fell in love with my co-teacher and married him. Then I had babies and they grew bigger so that now we are in our 7th year of homeschool. There are things about school life that you simply cannot replicate at home, and vice versa.  Some days I wouldn’t recommend homeschool at all. But it works for our family and we walk on, one day at a time, same old sweater in another world.

Want to hear my philosophy on education in a nutshell?  Books. Okay, that is a bit simplistic. Here is the longer version.

Education is the process of finding the gifts of a child and equipping him to use his gifts for the good of others. 

How this happens is pretty much open to interpretation. I am not die-hard bricks and mortar school, home-school, cyber-school, whatever. I do insist, however, that everyone is gifted in some way, and no matter how “regler” they feel they are, the world is richer for them using their talents. I have seen people that are afraid to try new things because they feel they lack the training to do them well. That is what education is for, in another nutshell.

Sometimes it takes a long time for the gift to become evident. I admire my husband immensely for his tenacity in going back to school and pursuing the dream that had stirred in him quietly for years.  But it doesn’t have to look like that at all. Learning to weave baskets, researching the habits of the greater kudu with a small boy who wants to know, trying to understand the workings of a yeast dough, these are all education.

If I can teach my children to be unafraid of the learning process, I will feel that I have succeeded in educating them. What is your philosophy on education?

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If you want to read an article about a great teacher, go here and read what my husband’s former student wrote about him. 🙂

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