I just looked out the window and saw a robin sitting on a tree in the back yard. When I go outside, there is a sense of quiet promise in the deliciously warm air. Buds are swelling on the trees. The last of the snow has disappeared. My daffodils and lilies are waking up, yawning and poking their tender green spears above the ground. The earth smells wet and fecund, and springs beneath my feet. I feel a sudden urge to prune my trees, dig up the garden, and buy seeds. Oh, I know, the mountains still have snow on them, and we’ll probably still get a couple of freak snowstorms. It won’t be safe to plant most things until after Mother’s Day, but … the robins are back! And that means spring is here!
On Saturday we parked by a large pond where a variety of geese and ducks had congregated. I was especially glad to see the Canada Geese grazing along the slowly greening slope above the pond. Something about the Canada Geese stirs my heart. Is it that they originate in my native land? Is it admiration for their dedication to flying long distances every fall and spring, or how generation after generation they follow the same pathways in the sky, finding their way unerringly to the same nesting spots? Is it that they mate for life, showing a dedication and devotion to each other and their children that I find touching? Whatever it is, when I see the V shaped flight formation of Canada Geese winging their way north and listen to their wild, joyous cries, my heart is moved. Spring is here!
I really enjoyed After Hello, a book about two teens who meet in New York City and fall in love. Both are complex characters with problems, who are trying to move forward. They have just one day to really connect with each other, and both must reveal their pasts in order to begin to heal. I loved the idea of trading, and how they were able to help each other and others and get to the desired outcome by trading. Throughout the day, Sam and Sara meet many interesting people who share their wisdom with them. Aces, a homeless artist, tells them, “Passion is what makes the world go round. Passion is what drives us to be better than we are. Passion is what makes our emotions — whether love or hate or laughter — ignite and blaze into life.” Vanessa, another artist, tells Sara, “Ah, but art and trouble go hand in hand. If you cannot be troubled to create art from your heart, then your art will never trouble the hearts of others.”
I finished A Circle of Quiet today. I cried. As I have said before, when I read a book it’s as if I’m having a conversation with the author. This book was even more like that because of the rambling style in which it was written, as if Madeleine and I were walking in the woods together, splashing in the stream, or sitting on her star gazing rock, talking about all manner of things: the mysteries of the universe, God, the meaning of life, babies, music, art, writing, good friends, and love. I see into her soul and I love her. And oh, how I wish I could have a real conversation with her. It seems that many of the people I love and admire the most are dead. Madeleine reminds me of my dear aunt, who is bright and witty, full of interesting ideas, who in her long life has learned much, who in spite of the tumultuousness of her own journey took the time to reach out and be a guiding star to her nieces. She has been through great pain but also great joy. She has not let the harshness of life dim her curiosity and her natural cheery disposition. So, I can’t have a real conversation with Madeleine, but I can call my aunt, whose birthday is tomorrow. I can thank her for the love she’s given me and for being a bright light in the darkness. Happy birthday, dear Auntie Is.
chocolate, doctor, doctor's office, elliptical, examination, exercise, exercising, fitness, health, losing weight, March, New Year's Resolution, nurse, story, storytelling, treadmill, walking, weigh in
Last week I went in for a check-up at the doctor’s office. Of course they want to weigh you first thing. You know how it is. First you shed your 100 pound purse (all those coins really end up weighing a lot, not to mention the kitchen sink), then your winter coat, sweater, and shoes. If it was a private place, you’d probably take it all off. But no, they have to weigh you in the hallway. So glumly you step on the scale and watch the weights snap into place, revealing those horrible numbers that tell you that, yes, you have gained weight. Why is it that the bathroom scale at home always gives you a lower number than the doctor’s office? Do my clothes really weigh that much? So, the nurse primly marks down your weight, and you sigh and grab all the stuff you have shed and head for the exam room. The nurse checks to see if you are in fact, alive: blood still pumping, pulse jumping, pressure good (I think she’s really screening for vampires). The doctor does the usual, and then comes the dreaded question. “Are you exercising?”
How do I answer that? Well…. some days. Okay, last week, only once. But normally, I exercise. I jump to conclusions all the time. My fingers get a great workout on the keyboard everyday. My heart gets a great aerobic workout when I read those scary books at night and then listen to all the creaking and groaning noises the house makes. Sigh. “Okay. I’ve kind of slacked off since January.” The doctor frowns. I hate it when he does that. But I really am going to try harder. So, here comes my new New Year’s Resolution (so what if it’s March? Every day’s a new day, right?): I’m going to eat healthy and lose weight. I’m going to exercise, and get in shape. Today I walked/ran 3.2 miles on the treadmill. (well… okay, mostly walked.) We won’t talk about how I staggered to the shower, face red, heart pounding, and legs screaming, or how I’ve hardly been able to walk for the rest of the day. (Yes, I do know how to spell Tylenol.)
I’ve only got one question: Is there such a thing as calorie free chocolate that still tastes good?
“A great work of the imagination is one of the highest forms of communication of truth that mankind has reached. But a great piece of literature does not try to coerce you to believe it or to agree with it. A great piece of literature simply is. It is a vehicle of truth, but it is not a blueprint, and we tend to confuse the two… truth is not just provable fact, and … children themselves don’t have the trouble in recognizing this that we do…. Children are less easily frightened than we are. They have no problem in understanding how Alice could walk through the mirror into the country on the other side; some of them have done it themselves. And they all understand princesses, of course. Haven’t they all been badly bruised by peas? And then there’s the princess who spat forth toads and snakes whenever she opened her mouth to speak, and her sister whose lips issued pieces of pure gold. I still have many days when everything I say seems to turn into toads. The days of gold, alas, don’t come nearly as often. Children understand this immediately; why is it a toad day? There isn’t any logical, provable reason. The gold days are just as irrational; they are pure grace; a gift.” (Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet, pg. 202-204)
Tomorrow is Pi Day. “Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159. Pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern. While only a handful of digits are needed for typical calculations, Pi’s infinite nature makes it a fun challenge to memorize, and to computationally calculate more and more digits.” (http://www.piday.org/)
So, tomorrow let’s celebrate all the constants in our lives, those things that don’t change, that we can solidly and reliably base our lives on. Celebrate by making a square pie, or by eating a piece of pie. Look for pi in nature, on jerseys, or in newspaper articles. Play pi as a musical sequence. Read about Einstein, who was born on 3/14. Send a thank you note to someone you love. How about reading a book about Pi?
Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool, is about two boys, Jack and Early, who set out on the Appalachian Trail in order to find Early’s lost brother, who never came back from the war. Early weaves all their many adventures into his ongoing story about Pi. This story is beautifully and vividly told. I enjoyed it very much.
A Circle of Quiet, Alberta, art, art class, art project, Books, Canada, children, creativity, elementary school, first year teacher, learning, Madeleine L'Engle, paper mache, philosophy of life, prairie, school, small town, stories, teacher, teaching, teaching children, teaching creativity, writing
“There are educationists (as jargon has it) who think that creativity itself can be taught, and who write learned, and frequently dull, treatises on methods of teaching it. It is rather as though they were trying to eat air, with the usual result. The creative impulse, like love, can be killed, but it cannot be taught. What a teacher or librarian or parent can do, in working with children, is to give the flame enough oxygen so that it can burn. As far as I’m concerned, this providing of oxygen is one of the noblest of all vocations.” (Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet, p. 45-46)
This statement could have been made by one of my BYU professors who taught ‘Art For Elementary School Teachers.’ “Think BIG,” he told us as he inspired us with all kinds of projects we could do with our future students. I set out into the world with my diploma in hand, fired up to teach, not realizing how little I knew about the practical side of life.
In time I found myself teaching a class of twenty-five students in a small town out on the Canadian prairie. “Think BIG,” I told my wide-eyed Grade Four-Five students. “We are going to make paper mache projects.” So we thought big. No little balloon shaped bowls or tiny wobbly box ornaments for us. We planned monstrous dinosaurs, knee-high model sailing ships, and towering skyscrapers. My students caught my enthusiasm and began to bring newspapers, wire, tree branches, boxes, cardboard tubes, and feathers from home. The art room was downstairs from my classroom and was shared by all the other teachers, so after every art class, my students had to bring their projects upstairs to dry on the long shelf at the back of the classroom. After a week of feverish work, gummy hands, and sometimes flour paste fights interspersed with more mundane things like multiplication tables, nouns, and verbs, we still hadn’t finished our projects. Another week went by, and the end was still not in sight.
One day after school, the principal came into my classroom to talk to me. “Making paper mache projects?” he asked in a dry voice.
“Why yes, how did you know?” I eyed him warily, sensing something was not quite right.
“Perhaps it had something to do with the trail of flour and purple goo going from the art room to your classroom.”
I felt myself turning red as I stammered an apology. “I’ll clean it up right away.” I wondered if he would ask me to pay the janitor a bonus for all the extra work I was making for him.
“And how long until this project will be completed?”
“Um… I’m not sure.”
Mr. B. looked at me over his glasses. “And just what is the educational basis for this project? What are you trying to accomplish?”
I gulped. It seemed like the principal was always asking me that. I glanced at the back of the room, which was cluttered with half-finished projects, all looking like barely developed backstage props for a mummy movie. I also glanced above them at the giant multicolored dragon that I had drawn, which covered the entire back wall. Mr. B. had previously challenged me on the educational value of children coloring dragon scales. I didn’t dare look up at the ceiling which was ablaze with a plethora of kites.
I knew there was a good reason to do all these things, I really did. But when the principal fixed me with that look, my mind went blank, and all I could think of was how much fun my kids were having. That expensive diploma gathering dust in my drawer at home wasn’t helping me one bit. Where were all those fancy educational theories and big words when I needed them? I thought frantically. “Well, it increases their small motor skills. And they are learning to cooperate with each other.” I didn’t mention the heated argument that had broken out between two of the boys that morning. “They are learning to work hard.”
The principal grimaced. “They’re going to learn a lot about working hard. Tomorrow they’re going to clean the art room. I want this project finished by Friday. The other teachers are starting to complain.”
I hastily agreed. I was very aware of my precarious position in the pecking order of that school. I was the new teacher skating behind a solid core of well-seasoned, tenured teachers who knew everything there was to know about children and teaching. If I blew it, I was gone. The principal nodded and left the room. I sank back in my chair, sighing in both relief and frustration. Somehow I had to strike a balance between creativity and order.
The paper mache project came and went, and my mad cap year of teaching that Grade Four-Five class remains a singularly creative experience in my life. I really don’t know if my kids learned anything or not, but we sure had a lot of fun.
You are Here is a beautiful story about two teens, Emma and Peter, who set out on a road trip to find the grave of Emma’s twin brother and end up finding themselves in the process. I loved the style of writing, and the thoughtful way they are portrayed. Both characters were deep and interesting, and I liked them very much. Peter is fascinated by maps and the Civil War, and Emma loves animals and wants to be a vet. I finished the story with a smile on my face — a very satisfying ending.
Have you read Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler? This contemporary YA romance is romantic, quirky, witty, and unforgettable. I loved this book! The two main characters, Cal and Eliot, are unique and warm and funny. Like most teenagers, they have insecurities that stem from their parents’ problems, but Cal and Eliot are far from typical in their interests and the way they decide to deal with life. Yet they have the same yearnings for friendship, love, and connection that we all do. I loved the stream of consciousness style of writing and the vivid, beautiful word pictures that the authors create. If you want a break from paranormal and yearn for a clean romance that leaves you sighing with happiness at the end, then read this book.