Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Christmas Story for Morrow

Once upon a time, Morrow was making snowflakes out of twisted wire for her own and her siblings’ amusement, breathing a little magic into them as she went, so that they would float and be a little more fun. Unfortuantely, someone had left the door open—which they had been warned many times not to do, since if you left the door open, imps might come in and steal magical things, becasue they liked to suck on them; they liked the taste of the magic. Sure enough, this is exactly what happened, and before she knew it Morrow’s snowflakes had been stolen.

“Rrrgh!” she said in annoyance. She stomped to her room and grabbed her gear: magical corrective lenses (which protect not only against being turned into stone when one is seeing a Gorgon, but also helps one see imps, which can easily make themselves invisible); variably-leagued boots (there was a dial on the side of the right boot which controlled both of them), for in case they had gone very far; a protective shawl which had been knitted for her by her great-grandmother; and a hat.

She stepped outside. Her older brother, Taran, was out in his latest invention: a war machine shaped like a crab, with two claws in front and six legs, three on each side. When she explained where she was going, he offered to come after the imps with his war machine, but she politely declined. “It is better to use cleverness than force, when one can,” she said, and off she went.

While she went off after the imps, her two younger brothers came outside to see what was going on. Taran thought that if Morrow was not successful, there might well be a war with the imps, so they offered to man one of his other war machines (it was a two-seater), and they all had great fun digging up enbankments around the house, just in case they might be needed.

Nenya, on the other hand, was very distressed that her older sister had gone off without her, and she sat on the front step and cried until her parents came home, which fortunately was not very much later. Since Taran’s war machines all ran on hot chocolate, Nenya and her parents decided to make up a few batches to keep them going, and Nenya was comforted.

Also, their cousins from the city to the North caught wind of the excitement and decided to come down in their helicopters to provide air support. Now, I must admit that this was a bit of overkill, but they liked to fly their helicopters anyway and they liked to see their cousins anyway, so they didn’t really mind that their services were not strictly necessary.

Morrow quickly caught the trail of the imps, and followed them right to their home where, sure enough, they were all sucking on her snowflakes. Luckily, she knew that imps can be easily distracted with math problems. The youngest imp had recently turned two; she held up two fingers and said, “How many fingers do I have up?”

“Two!” said the almost-baby imp, and she got her snowflake back.

She turned to the middle-sized imp. “If I were given a box with twenty-four chocolates and I ate five of them and my brothers ate fourteen, how many chocolates would be left?” and while the imp was thinking, she got the next snowflake back.

She turned to the oldest imp, who was the cleverest of all. “If I made three snowflakes for each of my siblings, and I have half as many siblings as I have toes on my feet, then how many snowflakes did I make?” And the imp narrowed his eyes as he started thinking, and loosened his grip, and she got her snowflake back.

She started walking slowly home, since she had calmed down now, perhaps from the run in the cold snow on the way there. All of a sudden she felt a tug on her hand. When she looked down, it was a little imp she hadn’t seen before. “Yes?” she asked.

“Please, my brothers stole the snowflakes without me and I didn’t even get a taste. May I please have a snowflake to suck on?” And because Morrow really was a very gracious person, and because this little one had asked so politely, she gave her a fresh one from her pocket that hadn’t been sucked on at all.

Well, when the imps’ parents got home, they were thoroughly ashamed of their childrens’ behavior, and they marched them right over to the Weathercolours’ house to apologize. The Weathercolours were having a cousins’ party and drinking the hot chocolate that had been intended for the war machines, and once the apology was over they offered to share. Morrow even (again, graciously) made them flowers to suck on, and they all enjoyed watching the original snowflakes float about up near the ceiling.

After this I suppose that the Weathercolour children were much more careful about closing the door behind themselves, though the imps did sometimes come over and actually knock on the door and ask to play, which is practically unheard of for imps (knocking, that is) and it all goes to show you the power of graciousness and cleverness and being willing to wait to use war machines to make war.

And that is all. Merry Christmas!

[Answers to math problems may either be emailed to me or posted in the comments.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The gift of a bad memory and a poor attention span

Remember how a certain Woman of a Certain Age we all know used to say that she was old enough to hide her own Easter Eggs? (This particular question is aimed at my siblings. Sorry, everyone else.) I'm discovering the usefulness of this skill as applied to a different holiday.

So, my Christmas planning has been centered around--mm-- let's just say, budget issues. I feel pretty secure in assuming that most of my readers can sympathize, even if only by memory. I've been putting a lot of thought in to how I might make this season festive for myself and others without spending very many, you know, actual dollars. So far what I've come up with is giving myself the gift of a clean house (I like cleaning anyway, but feel guilty about doing it because a) it enables Certain Persons Who Shall Not Be Named to rely upon me for all their housekeeping, which in the end is no fun for anyone, and b) I have work-work (money) things I should be doing instead, probably); and cooking food for others.

Today, however, I gave myself another totally spectacular gift. Last year around this time, almost the entire house got painted, and in my room not only was it painted but the floor got redone as well. Much stuff was moved, and then moved again, and in some cases moved yet another couple of times. In the mess, I lost track of a small jewelry box which contained one of my favorite necklaces; a hair-flower that was so cute I had gotten compliments on it almost continually, and which prompted my mother to get me another one for my birthday; and another tiny but valuable (to me) religious-type thing, which I had wanted forever and finally got because Mom gave me money to get everyone stuff for their stockings and that's what I got for mine. I was pretty sure that I had put these things, probably in the same box, somewhere in or about my room, but for almost an entire year I haven't been able to find them in the stack I had thought they were in. I did look repeatedly. Then, more recently, I wondered if they might not be in a different place, but no luck there either. Finally today, I looked more thoroughly, and lo and behold! Hair flower, necklace, religious item-- all mine again! And all this happiness from being a bad rememberer about where I put a box.

I remember hearing a girl once say that her parents would wrap some of the toys they already owned and put them under the tree each year. I think that this sounds like a fantastic idea. I'm not sure how actual children would feel about such a practice, but since I am in charge of myself, I am totally putting a purple hair flower, necklace, etc. in my stocking this year. I may put my glasses in, too, because every time we are asked to list what we are most thankful for, I end up listing them. I wonder what else I should put in. (Dear children-- and grownups-- I would love it if you would list your ideas in the comments section. I think that they will make for most interesting reading.)

So that's how I was blessed with the gift of a bad memory. The poor attention span is about the necklace I mentioned. Several years ago, I was in one of those random discussions where random things come up and someone said that all real silver has the number 925 stamped on it. I thought about my necklace-- I had never been particularly curious about it (it was a gift, and I hadn't asked about its origins), and I had never noticed any writing on it anywhere. But it did, once I thought about it, kind of look silver-y. I pulled it out, and lo and behold! it was real silver. Later that week, I had the same line of thinking about a ring my mother had given me; I checked it out, and it turned out to be real silver, too. It was like getting both presents all over again! And thus we come to the second discussion question, beloved children (and grownups, if non-neeflings choose to participate): do you, like your auntie, have a poor attention span for some things? Would you mind telling me if there is anything you have noticed later was more valuable than you had realized at first? Certain teachers come to mind for me. I am, as before, terribly curious about your lists.

My love to you! And Merry Christmas. I may post again before then, but if not, this is officially your Christmas post (but I will certainly call, most beloved neeflings).

Friday, December 14, 2012

There Is Nothing Wrong With You

A certain extremely kind person with whom I interact on a regular basis has said to me on more than one occasion: "There is nothing wrong with you."

The first time anyone told me this, I was surprised, shocked even. Neither that first person nor my current friend would deny that I have a missing tooth, a semi-bad back, or a tendency to be slightly flaky at times. But the basic idea-- which I am finally getting down, perhaps-- is that at the very most basic level, I am still a valuable person because I am a person.

I do know this: I think that there is nothing wrong with my students. I mean, yes, various of them smoke, get in fights, sleep with people they really shouldn't, and even mouth off to me in class; but at the most basic level, they are people whom I am duty bound, as their teacher, to love. The fact that (magnificently, and I can't tell you how I do it) I can see this, and that I actually pull it off at least 98% of the time, is definitely a major factor in what makes me a good teacher. I do know that having many stories in my head of Truly Good Teachers who loved their students properly has helped me with this, but to what extent I am not completely sure.

I have known for a while that if only I could transfer that skill-- of loving properly-- from my students to other humans, my life would be both different and better, but I have been somewhat consternated as to how to bring this about. Today, however, armed with my new insight, I tried it out during a tense conversation; I thought to myself, "There is nothing wrong with you," directing it at my interlocutor. It helped! And I realized: when I am angry (improperly) at another, what I am really thinking to myself about them is that there is something wrong with them, and that unless they fix it, I have a right to treat them badly. This is never true, because no one deserves to be treated badly (though it is true that some people end up not liking how I treat them, even when I try my best to not treat them badly, and I just can't fret too much about that).

Paths to kindness are always a happy find.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mormon, the Waters of Mormon, and Mormon Housekeeping

Mormon: the prophet-historian who wrote The Book of Mormon.

The Waters of Mormon: the place after which Mormon, the prophet, was named. Not necessarily the most inviting place; it is described as "being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts." (1)  However, it was also a place where people hungry for the word of God gathered to be taught and baptized; this is how the same place is described, twenty-six verses later: "And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer." (2)

I love the implication that the place was not beautiful to start with, but that the things that happened there made it beautiful in the eyes of those who loved those things.

So: I think that the central thing around which Mormon Housekeeping should revolve is making a home which will be "beautiful in the eyes of them who there c[o]me to the knowledge of their Redeemer." There are some practical, tangible ways in which I think this can be pursued: specifically, I think that a home should be clean, tidy, well-organized, and beautiful. On the less-tangible side, I think that people who come in the home should be able to feel that it is peaceful, restful, and happy. When they feel that their souls as well as their bodies are being given appropriate chances to receive true and delicious nourishment, chances for exercise, time and space to rest, and help with healing of wounds or illness, they will be coming to a knowledge of their Redeemer.

I do have more to say about this, but I am tired, and I think this is enough to discuss for one day.

The photograph is one of the ones from last Spring, when I visited the place of my Great-Grandmother's nativity (the old Cunningham Place, as I blogged about it later). One of the photographs I posted then showed this stream as I looked southward, and it was flowing towards me; in this photograph, I am facing the other way, more north-east, and the stream is flowing away from me.

1. Mosiah 18:4
2. Mosiah 18:30

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dream of a Bibliophile

I was at an amusement park, such as I went to for my last birthday (and such as, before that birthday, I had not been to for seventeen or eighteen years-- I forget exactly how long). It was towards the end of the day; many of the amuse-ees had gone home, and many of the lines were shorter. I was looking at one of the attractions, trying to decide whether or not to try. The line here was normally monster-long, but at this particular moment, it was sort of looking shorter than they had been all day. A man who was with me began explaining about the attraction. It had something to do with golf-- maybe some kind of mini-golf, but with little side things you could do, too. It was a bit unusual in that people stood in line, and now and again there was something like a lottery, where they only let twelve lucky people in at once; the others were turned away, and would have to try again.

Of the various side attractions, the one which my explain-er was most excited about (and also thought I would be most excited about) was the one where you could read anything you want. They had an entire collection of National Geographics for, like, five years straight! They had wonderful recipes! (Of which more in a moment.) And the coolest part of it all was, while the price of admission to the park covered your entrance to each of the attractions on the day you paid it, IF you were chosen as one of the lucky ones at this particular attraction, you could keep going back, simply by saying "but I haven't finished reading everything I want" for up to two years after that first day. Not to the whole park, but just to this part of this attraction-- but that was nothing to sneeze at! You could read ANYTHING you WANT! For two years!

In the dream, I was suddenly seeing a close-up of the marvelous recipes. If, for instance, one was stuck in a hospital and they gave you boring food (all of the recipes seemed to feature brown food against a brown background-- like a beef turnover with dark gravy) you could make it more exciting with these recipes. They were on large, separate pages, and each one had a full-color picture. So amazing!

After I woke up, I remembered a few things. I remembered when my family first moved to Alabama, I ended up staying with a family from church for a couple of days (they had a daughter my age), and I was SO excited when they said that they had an old stack of National Geographic magazines that they were going to give to the Goodwill, and that I was welcome to keep them if I wanted them. I utterly could not comprehend someone not valuing information, good information such as would be contained in a National Geographic magazine-- that they could so casually give such a magazine away. I took the entire stack, and treasured them. My mother even bought me a subscription to them, and I ate up every one as it came in, on through high school. When I moved to college, I took a heavy duffel bag full of them on the bus with me up to my apartment there.

I had-- even now I am not sure how-- I had forgotten how hungry and thirsty for knowledge I used to feel ALL THE TIME. This dream reflects true feelings, but it reminds me of my true feelings approximately twenty years ago, when the thought of being able to "look it up on the internet" would have thrilled me to the core. I wasn't really starving; I've met people like that (and the sad thing is that some of them don't even know it), but it is true I felt a permanent gnawing hunger, a fear that I would never be able to consume enough to satiate me.

Now I have a different problem. I have plenty of food (/knowledge), but I have to be careful that what I consume is of high quality and not a waste of time. I have, in my older-ness, discovered that National Geographic has an editorial slant, which I do not always agree with; that some facts are more important to know than others; that, sometimes, it is of more value to me to clean my room than to read even a very informative book.

I have also discovered, in this information-glutted age, that true learning requires me to focus my mind, and that focusing is the far greater challenge for me than is getting the information in front of me to start with. I often feel frustrated about my inability to get myself to do what I know perfectly well is good for me.

I had also forgotten what it was like to not really know how to cook; to not be sure how to put ingredients together in a way that would please me (at the very least, and hopefully others as well); and, consequently, to be super-excited about finding a recipe that promised to make my culinary world exciting and/or overall better. I had sort of forgotten what it was like not to really know what to do about vegetables. Food without vegetables really can end up seeming sort of monochromatic. I have felt frustrated (and I know my friends have as well) that I have ended up having issues with eating certain common foods; I had not noticed how, living in the foodie-age that we do, the options for those with limited diets are less limited than ever before.

It is good to be reminded. I do sincerely hope that the two-year time-limit imposed by the dream was just my subconscious' way of reminding me that, as far as I know, my internet access isn't limited by time like that. It certainly hasn't been thus far. This bibliophile's dream is here to stay, and if that isn't reason to rejoice, I don't know what is.

Friday, November 16, 2012

That's the spire of the Washington, DC Stake Center you are seeing to the right of the temple spires. As I was driving in the other day, it was just too pretty to pass up.

And as long as I was taking pictures of what it's like to approach the temple by car, I was struck by how nice it is to see the flag as you drive up to the temple. I see now that I could have pushed the exposure on this one a little brighter. Oh, well.
And this is not what it looks like when you approach the temple by car, except very very briefly. This is what it looks like if you hop out of the car and walk back to take in an appreciative look at the lovely gardens which surround the temple. Also this is what a photograph looks like if you are focused more on centering the sidewalks in your photograph than in centering the temple itself. Sigh. Better next time.

OK-- I think that's enough for now. The usual rules apply: you are welcome to use these pictures, without attribution even (but of course not with incorrect attribution), as long as you aren't particularly rude about their subject matter.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Due to overwhelming demand...

Two comments on the same thing! Well!

Here are the pictures you wanted to see. I tried to take them next to other things so that you could have a sense of scale. I felt, as I was taking them, like it looked like I was trying to make the pile of branches look big, rather than simply showing the actual size. If I'd had a person, that might have worked better. Maybe a stuffed animal, next time. (Next time a huge tree is blown apart by a passing hurricane. Hmm.)

Anyway. Here you go.

This was after two, maybe three loads had already been taken. I think it eventually took four.
That's a minivan, not a sedan, behind my lovely pile; it's not that far back; and the pile reached a couple of feet above it.
The pile basically filled the two parking spaces allotted to us in front of the townhouse. That fact (our guess is) might have had something to do with the housing association's willingness to send the chipper and truck to break it all town and take the resulting organic matter away. Two trucks-full, and they were done.

Oh. And as long as I am posting underwhelming pictures of truly impressive damage inflicted by natural disasters, here's a picture of a tree downed by the Derecho last July. The stump you see in this shot is, by my memory, at least six feet tall; the diameter of the trunk was about three feet, I believe. This was down in Alexandria (VA), where my sister Ivy lives; I kept passing it as I drove to her house and felt amazed every time. Finally one day I remembered the camera and got this photograph.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Also, Happy Halloween

I will sing "For All the Saints" during my morning hymn-singing tomorrow.

Little Aftermath

Now all that's left of the "American Linden" in the front yard is an unexpected brightness in the dining room, which it used to shade. Well, and a few-- shockingly few-- logs in the front yard, which will soon be gone to a freecycler who took the first two lots and will sell them at the Lexington Market up in Baltimore. This arrangement saved us $400 in cleanup costs, and allows him to make a profit to boot-- a good deal all around.

Turns out that it was really a decorative pear. I feel as though I've betrayed it, misunderstanding its true nature this whole time (I was the one who thought it was an American Linden). Yes, folks, I'm probably a little too rooted in the back-to-nature part of the nineteenth century, but you knew that already, reading this blog.

That's the worst of Sandy for us. I was afraid of that tree anyway, since someone had put a concrete hedgehog in between two of the branches, quite low down, and had left it there for YEARS to weaken the trunk at that point. It was cute, but scary when you actually thought about it. Also, a major limb had come down with the derecho back in July. The precipitating event for the whole thing coming down last night/ this morning was that another extremely large limb had come loose, but not fallen, on Monday evening. Our kind neighbor, who saw the whole thing happen from his front door, pounded on our door and let us know that we should move our car. I must admit, I was tickled at the classic pounding-on-the-door-in-a-howling-rainstorm, but the pound-er was not a princess or a wayfarer; it was our neighbor who was looking out for us.  By yesterday at 4:30 we had decided that there was no way we could tackle the job of getting it down ourselves, and a crew was out taking down the most dangerous stuff; the last of it came down this morning.

Unexpected brightness is nice, and of course the tree will not go to waste. The big stuff will be wood-worked, and the little stuff will go to compost (the housing association sent by its landscaping folks with a chipper and a truck; they filled one truck and had to bring a second one). But I am still a little sad. OK, well, Mom is down because it was expensive to take the tree down; I pointed out that it was much cheaper than a funeral, hospital costs, a lawsuit, or a new car. But since I didn't have to pay for it, I myself am just a little pensive because the guys who took it down said that ornamental pears need to be pruned and cared for properly, or else they can get dangerous like that. (It was, please believe, quite dangerous; when even a part of the limb that had broken off came down, it shook the earth with a boom you could feel from the back of the house.) I wish that I had known-- but I myself came too late to have done anything, even if I had known. Perhaps my parents did, too; they bought the house in '96, and I assume the tree was too large even then to have done much with.

It makes me think about many of my students, and how neglected and/or abused they've been. I don't think that the people who did these dreadful things to them meant to do them such harm. Also, I think that people can change more easily than trees. They have greater capacity for good, greater capacity for evil, and greater capacity for change. And, I have better vision for people than for trees. I have taught many more hours than I have pruned, dug about, or watered, and I have a passion for teaching because I have these crazy ideas that people can learn and grow and become magnificent beings which neither they nor I really see yet, but which are definitely worth striving for.

Speaking of which, I should go plan lessons. I may post pictures; it sort of depends on if anyone says they want to see (they aren't particularly impressive pictures in any way, to my sadness).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Just because you fail at a particular thing doesn't mean you're a failure.

Just because you aren't a failure, in general, doesn't mean that you can't fail at a particular thing.

The things I want most not to fail at are pleasing God and living true to myself, and all these take are moment-by-moment awareness of, and adherence to, what actions I believe are required by the mandates to "please God" and "live true to myself." This task is both laughably simple and the hardest thing I've ever tried to do.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Washington, DC temple

By all means, use this photograph; I don't care if you credit me; just don't do anything defamatory to me or to the church with it, 'K? I do the (printed) program for church, and I get SO TIRED of trying to find stuff that is copyright-free that I can use. So use it, and welcome, just be nice, right? Right.

I occasionally remember to tote my camera down on Fridays when I work in the temple. I think that it's most gorgeous when the sky is gray and cloudy. I probably won't have many chances to take more like this any time soon, since I tend to get there JUST in time for my shift, and nowadays it is dark by 7:00 p.m. when I get out. (Besides the fact that my night-teaching job is now running Friday nights as well, which makes my Fridays veeeeeery interesting, these days.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


is having a boss who says, "Teaching is hard," and, "Most people don't appreciate teaching," and, "We're glad to have you on our team."

Is there anything I would not do for that woman? I mean, outside the usual trio of illegal, unethical, or dangerous. But really.

Monday, September 24, 2012

You know the pile of books in your front seat is probably too heavy

when your car thinks you should fasten a seat belt around it.

(Translation: I checked out a pile of GED prep books for the ESL night class I'm currently teaching. I set it in the front passenger seat of my car, and got ready to drive off. I noticed an annoying flashing light; it's a symbol of a person wearing a seat belt. The car has noticed that my passenger-seat poundage has exceeded a certain amount, has concluded that I have a person sitting there, and wants me to follow the law and have them buckle up.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

At the old Cunningham Place

Cunningham really is my maternal great-great grandmother's maiden name. I make up most of the names on this blog, but since it was that long ago, I figure we're safe. Both of the structures in this picture were not in place at any time when my ancestors were around-- I think (though Grandma used to visit as a little girl, so who knows; that hen house could have been built in the forties, right?)

Watercress still grows on the banks of the stream that runs through the old place; they used to have watercress sandwiches for lunch, from time to time.

The story is that my ancestor who fought in the Civil War on the side of the South passed through a beautiful valley on his way to the war, and said to himself, "If I live through the war, I am going to come back and settle here." He did, and he came back and married the daughter of the man who owned the vast majority of the land in the valley.

My mother's third-cousin-twice-removed (if I recall correctly) lives on the same patch of land where that Civil War vet landed, and as we were driving through Alabama on our way to Uncle Charlie's funeral, we stopped at her place (the old family farm) for the night. Early the next morning, I woke up and went out with the camera and caught a few things in that nice early morning light.

And, just in case you were wondering: as far as I know, these particular Cunninghams did not have slaves-- it being after the Civil War and all-- but that surely does not clear them of charges of ever having been racist. And on the other hand, it is also true that this branch of the family, at this point in history, seems to be more anti-racist than most people I've met. My thinking is that when it's in your face like that, you have to make a decision, and they (the ones I've met) made one that makes me pleased to be related to them.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Grandmere et Grandpere

Mom kindly phoned me this morning with her permission to publish the following.

In case you can't tell, Mom is smiling gently and Dad is being mock-serious.

Made Me Cry On The Fourth of July

In Kenya, there has been cross-border violence-- Muslims from Somalia have attacked Christian churches in the city of Garissa; fifteen have been killed. The Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims decided that they needed to do something about this. Adan Wachu, the head of this Supreme Council was quoted thusly:
"...[W]e all resolved to stand together as one united front," he said.
"We decided as solidarity that the Muslim youth will provide a vigilante service to the churches not only in Garissa but in any other places that the Christians may deem fit."
The full article is on the BBC website. PG warning: there is a picture of the inside of one of the churches where an attack happened; no bodies, but there is blood.

It should go without saying, but I'm going to say it: we need more of this-- I think that we specifically need more Christians, in this country, to step up and vocally protect Muslims; I think we need more respect all around and more willingness to admit that disagreement does not have to lead to destruction, not only of human lives but also, even, of relationships.

Oh, and happy fourth!

I finally remembered to put the flag up this year-- on the first!-- after three years of living here. I always seem to remember on, like, the sixth, when it would seem silly to start. But, having started on the first, I can put it out every day until the end of the month, which makes me very happy.

Just so you know, this is not a normal view from our front porch. It's my obsession with trees, again; I felt that the stars and stripes would be shown to best advantage if I could pair them with one of my favorite portrait subjects. I stood on the concrete block beside the porch (the one that's there to prevent skunks from nesting under said porch) with my back smushed into the bushes to the right of the door as I was taking this picture. I also gave a presumably tasty breakfast to a couple of mosquitoes. I protested that I had given enough already this season, but they didn't seem to care.

Portrait of Papa

From when he and Mom and Ivy and I all went down to Florida for his oldest brother's funeral. I took this just before we left for the funeral, outside the hotel; the light was just too darn good to ignore, and the metal bench was pretty cool-looking, too. Also, he was smiling-- or, I could get him to smile, which amounts to the same thing, right? I have one of him and Mom together, which I like even better than this one, but I haven't asked her yet if she minds if I put it up on the blog. If she says yes, I'll post that one, too.

Monday, April 30, 2012

In which I learn that I have much to learn but have firm hope that the end will be better than the beginning

So, it's kind of a long story which I may or may not get around to telling at some future point in time, but I've sort of slipped in to a job as an ESL instructor at an Adult Medical Daycare facility about a twenty minute drive from my home, and I must say that Geriatric ESL is a little bit different.

For instance, the first day I was trying to get a feel for what level people were on. "How is your listening?" I asked. "How is your speaking?"

"My ears, not so good; her eyes, they not so good either. Her, [pointing to a third person] cannot walk so well. We are all old, you know; falling apart," said one student with a gentle laugh.

And what textbook to use? I tried starting at the beginning of the one my students brought me-- the one the old ESL teacher had gone through with them before-- and they said that they would learn plenty by going through it again; but they complained today that going through the alphabet (which was part of lesson one) was baby work, and they can already write, and why don't we have conversation? Fair enough. Looking back, I can see it wasn't the greatest idea to focus on the most basic part of the most basic lesson when they had already proven that they could communicate and write at a beginner level.

So after class, I decided to look a little further for a textbook, and I went down to the local community college's English Intensive Program office and begged to look at some of the books they have on hand, in hopes of finding something that will fit our needs a little better. I was deeply disappointed to find that one of the books never even got to covering the past tense, and the other one got to it on lesson 12 of 15. We seriously need the past tense in our class, and NOW. Doesn't anyone make a textbook focused on the needs of language learners over the age of twenty?

Another problem is that my tried-and-true methods are turning out to be not so tried-and-true any more. It's like having gotten used to how one kid goes to sleep and then trying to put a different kid down and then realizing that nothing that you are doing is working and you have to come up with a totally different system for the second kid.

For instance: I used to have my classes write on the board, as sort of a collaborative project, all the time. We would, for instance, fill out otherwise-boring verb-form charts. I would usually write the empty chart on the board, then have two students writing at a time, with two different pieces of chalk. When they were done, each student would pass the chalk on to another student of their choice, with the rule that everyone got to have a turn. It became very exciting because you weren't sure when your turn would come, and we would check it together afterwards, and mistakes weren't something you felt terrible about-- we just corrected them then and there-- but it was quite exciting to feel like you had done good work together as a class.

So, I've tried this with my elderly ESL students twice now, and I have to say that it has yet to be even mildly successful. For one thing, though they are gung ho as learners, they are (as mentioned) physically not very fast, either as walkers or as writers. If two different people have writing sticks (in this case, white board markers) at the same time, then one will be hasting very slowly to the board while the other will be inching her way through the required letters. It... just... isn't... that... exciting.

Now that I think about this, this problem may well be related to a larger problem. I think that I used to rely to a larger extent than I had recognized on having a physical energy in the class which both created and came from an emotional and intellectual energy, all of which which made things feel fun and exciting, and which helped students stay focused on the task at hand (and, once I got the hang of it, I made sure there always was a task at hand) and interested in what would come next. For young and easily distractable learners, this often work well. For elderly, already focused (albeit sometimes blearily) learners, it just makes me hard to follow as a teacher. Sigh.

So, the lesson today did not go well, for a variety of reasons. I was all proud of myself for being prepared with an alphabet lesson, which kind of went over like a lead balloon, and then I was all upset for the rest of the time because of that (fretting, in case you hadn't heard, is NOT a great way to deal with a problem, but I didn't let that stop me), and I hadn't prepared much at all for the last part of the lesson, so there you have it. I had started out the morning by giving myself a mere ten minutes to finish my lesson planning instead of an hour, like I'd thought I would on Saturday, and then MS Word was not behaving, and then just as it was about halfway through printing my wrongly-formatted-but-too-late-to-fix-them sheets, my foot hit the power bar on the floor and turned the entire setup off. This was approximately two minutes before my absolutely-must-leave-NOW time to go teach the lesson. And because of the ancientness of my computer, yes, it takes about three minutes to boot up. So I didn't use the printouts after all; I just wrote on the board and had the students to so as well, with the minimal success previously described.

As I drove back from the "senior center" (what my students call it), I was muttering to myself. I just felt terrible. I felt like I had disrespected my students, and that is one of the things I hate most in the world to think I have done. Just not being prepared of itself is disrespectful, even if I couldn't have known that the alphabet lesson wasn't going to be the best choice. But then, literally, right after I muttered, "I'm stupid," I looked up and saw some graffiti on a tower, and (to quote Dave Barry, "I am not making this up") it said "You are NOT" and that is all I saw before the car was past. So I stopped muttering. And I thought about the fact that when you are cooking, you have to accept that a certain amount of failure is just going to go with the territory, and you will learn to cook a lot faster if you don't beat yourself up about messes, but just clean them up and try again. Which was what my very first post on Elijah Kitchen was about, but I am too tired right now to go find it and link to it.

So I will try again. I will pay more careful attention to my students. I will not get mad at them for making mistakes, because that is stupid as a teaching technique and I don't know why I was doing it today but yes I have quit criticizing myself about it, at least for now, as I have to go to bed. I did have a lovely evening: I went over to my friends' house and the dog and the little boys piled up on me on the couch during scripture study, and then I sang the boys to sleep, and then the dog wanted petting as long as I was willing to give it, which was as long as I as there. And my friends (father and mother of said boys) always laugh in all the right places at the ridiculous things I tell them about (which is what made me think I should blog said things, so hooray!), and I think to myself: perhaps I am not such a terrible person for being imperfect, after all. I will try again tomorrow! And the end shall be better than the beginning. Or, if it won't, at least I won't go down in flames from my own flaming arrows. Right? Right.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What the widows know

Since working in the D.C. temple every Friday for the past couple of years, I probably know more widows than I'd ever known before in my life, but I think I had noticed this before. Sometimes, they seem... extra-serene. It is sort of odd, since you would think that they would have more cause to go through life saddened by all its unexpected nastiness than a lot of other people.

But this is what I've recently noticed, and this time from personal experience. When something truly unimaginably awful happens, it can come to you with more force than ever before how much of life you really, really can't control. And that's freeing! It's strange to think that perhaps much of our sadness in life may be due to our worrying that somehow we're supposed to stop bad things from happening when we truly can't, but perhaps it is so.

In short: I am, in certain ways, doing better than ever in my life. I've caught a glimpse of the widows' serenity. I can't say I would recommend this method (for finding peace of mind) to anyone-- waaay too much pain not to try to find a different way-- but, in the end, I cannot help but feel deeply thankful for all of my life's experiences. (But try to remind me of this the next time I am in the middle of an awful crisis, and I may just slug you. I doubt I've gained that much perspective.)