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.