Wednesday, December 31, 2014

You Light Up My Life

"To think. To understand. It just happens to be the way I'm made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them." -Haruki Murakami

I suppose this is how I have approached blogging as well. Although there are so many jots and snippets that I've written and recorded in my writer's notebook and journals that I have not yet fully written out/comprehended. I was compelled by the topic @MuellerHolly suggested on her #spiritualjourney. I figured now was as good as time as any to pull some of the musings I'd considered about light, to work towards a better understanding.

I began my return to teaching middle school by forging into a science unit involving the phenomenon of light. One of my students was driven by the question if light was a wave or a particle. We explored how our eyes use light to interpret the world around us. We marveled at the colors within the light spectrum. One of my students shared his experiences of being red-green color blind. We read, we talked, we wondered. Light, like life, is all around us, yet profound to contemplate.

There are multiple ways, and parts of speech, by which to consider "light." The first being a noun related to "The natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible." In addition to energy particles involved in the phenomenon of vision, light also carries with it enLIGHTenment (understanding of what is hidden or mysterious), brighter or paler in value, to being synonymous to expert, master, or luminary. Secondly, an adjective as in less dense or "easier" to manage, carry. Gentle, delicate, not serious and free from worry. Thirdly, a verb to come upon by chance or to land upon/descend. (Merriam Webster)

When my fellow-PLN member suggested the topic of "light" I immediately thought of a song I grew up listening to You Light Up My Life .  When Debbie Boone sang this song in the late seventies her lyrics touched on some of the definitions Webster offers in relation to "light." This someone of whom she croons, enlightens her and makes her way in life lighter (in every sense of the word). Giving someone "hope to carry on," makes them feel buoyant and "lighter" while also illuminating a brighter more connected way to live.

My mind also drifted back to my philosophy days and reading Parmenides poem "On Nature" in which the ancient philosopher refers to light in a narrative, "And the axle, glowing in the socket--for it was urged round by the whirling wheels at each end--gave forth a sound as of a pipe, when the daughters of the Sun, hasting to convey me into the light, threw back their veils from off their faces and left the abode of Night" (trans. Burnet 1892). In observing the world around him, Parmenides noted many pairs of opposites, light/darkness and lightness/weighty among them. The rest of his poem offers more imperatives because life is short so seeking truth (as opposed to opinions) and what is real (as opposed to what is imagined in men's minds) becomes essential. Parmenides linear look at time and life compliments the Biblical sentiment of Psalm 144:4 NIV "They are like a breath, their days are like a fleeting shadow," and James's "Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time then vanishes." (4:14 ESV). The debate of whether or not the brevity or "light" nature of life is positive or negative has been debated throughout time. Should we, as human beings, adopt a lighthearted carefree approach to our life or a more solemn weighty approach of making the most of each opportunity because our time IS so brief? My Ruth used to have a sign on her fridge that one of her son's wrote out in school, "I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." --Stephen Grellet

I was always moved by that statement. The profound urgency to act because time, and life, is short remains a powerful personal imperative. In this New Year of 2015 being a person who radiates light by making the most of each opportunity to be supportive, show kindness, offer encouragement is weighty in its impact, but offers lightness of soul to me as well as each person who endeavors to reach out to fellow human beings to speak "hope to carry on." I will be served a constant reminder as our school chose "SHINE" as our theme for the year. So as I reflect on personal goals and resolutions for 2015? Be the light; lighten up to be more gentle with myself and others, continue the learning journey with students to understand the mysteries of the world around us, grow to luminary status.

Monday, October 13, 2014

La Cucaracha or Confessions of a Killer

At last it was Friday night! My husband had an evening meeting, so after dinner the kids and I cuddled up on the couch to watch a movie. As we became more engrossed in the flick, I glimpsed motion out of the corner of my eye. "Wow, that is a pretty big gecko." These lovable little reptilian mosquito munchers are more than welcome in our apartment. They are shy and helpful, so no worries. However it took me a moment to register that this was no oversized gecko, but rather a bulky unwelcomed guest, "OH no, that is a COCKROACH!" No sooner had this phrase passed my lips than both of my children squealed like newborn piglets, and leapt on to the tops of our two couches. Within seconds they had formed pillow and blanket barricades for extra pest protection.

Our uninvited guest scuttled directly to the television and stopped. Perhaps he only desired a better view of "Jinxed" it was a pretty entertaining movie after all. My mind raced. What could I use to contain this cockroach? Having no spray on hand, I fled to the kitchen grabbing a plastic bag and a circular take out container. My initial, albeit faulty, plan was to gently drop the bag, causing the cockroach to crawl inside and then the Tupperware like container would be my back up.

I stealthily let the bag gently careen down towards the floor. The cockroach was on to my plan. He scurried away. "Nice going mom!" Came the criticism from my boy perched atop the couch. "Says the boy on the pillow pinnacle!" I retorted. I breathed a sigh of relief when I observed the cockroach had retreated to the 90 degree corner. I knew I only had one more chance to capture or kill it or no one would sleep in the apartment that night. I opted for the circular container this time. Ever so slowly I crept and little by little slunk the container in my hand lower and lower, then THUMP I swiftly slammed the container down. 

I felt like a modern day McGuyver. Yes! I have slain the cockroach with this lidless plastic container and my sheer wits! I glimpsed the carnage. The body inside the container, head outside. I waited. My full weight remaining on the container. I vaguely recalled a documentary that touted cockroaches as one organism that could survive a nuclear fallout. I racked my mind to recall what the stats were sans head. I was thinking three days to a week. I wiggled the container and sure enough the body kept walking about. I kept my hand on the container for the remainder of the movie. Would it run out of oxygen in a sealed spot perhaps? My son suggested throwing the evidence off our 18 story balcony. I mentally did the mathematical estimation 1 cockroach minus a head lives one week max...hmm but the variable of speed. With a head a cockroach travels like 80-100 cm per second, but without a head could he make it back up 18 floors to exact revenge? What type of revenge could I expect from a decapitated roach? So much to ponder. I don't recall McGuyver ever facing these types of mathematical conundrums. Finally I scooped the carcass up. Ah clean kill as I had extracted part of central nervous system. My kids descended from their perches, much to their chagrin as I made them take a closer look because, "How many kids can say they have seen part of a cockroach brain?" (The woes of having a science teacher mom). "Mom you are DISgustING!" My daughter safely huffs off after her peek. "Uh, you ARE going to dump that off the balcony, right mom?" My son hesitantly inquires after his peek. I may be partially responsible for nightmares.

After some research, I learned we had glimpsed mushroom bodies,which according to Discover Science allow the cockroach "salience." Hopefully I was quick enough to fall into the merciful category. Just in case I wasn't, I acquiesced to my son 's wishes and we released the body to the winds off the 18th floor balcony. Apologies to my ground floor neighbors if the survival stats are true. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Low Battery

"Oh Mrs. Wiiiiinterstein! Plug in! Plug in!" One of my very supportive 8th graders shouted out this message in the midst of our science lesson. She had noticed the warning window pop up as I, unaware, was continuing teaching. This was Monday. It only took me a few days to become oblivious once again.

Friday my laptop did indeed go to sleep. No charge in the reserve it had enough, and my display blacked out. No voice of  concern calling out, I pushed the device until it had nothing left to give. My device may very well be smarter than its owner. I am afraid my computer is not the only arena that I have allowed to dwindle to low or no reserves. 

Having recently flown, I was audience to the friendly airline attendant's schpiel about "Oxygen and air pressure are always being monitored. In the event of loss of pressure in the cabin, oxygen masks will automatically appear from the overhead compartment. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place the mask firmly over your nose and mouth and secure the elastic behind your head and breathe normally. Please secure your own mask before securing that of a child or someone who requires assistance with whom you may be traveling." At first blush this imperative seems like it may be ego-centric to serve oneself the oxygen cocktail first, but if one is passed out due to lack of oxygenation one cannot be of much service to anyone. Note to self: When the plane starts downward spiraling secure your life-sustaining measures first to better serve those around you.

I am prone to running far too deeply into my reserves. I justify my behavior because the people and tasks with whom I busy myself ARE so important to me. If I just hone this lesson a bit more, send these three important emails, and dig a bit deeper into this curricular text, it can only benefit my students more and me as their teacher, right? I sell myself out to the 24/7 mentality as it is demonstrates solid work ethic. Seems honorable, right? However, I neglect to remember that the Divine Creator Himself instituted a Sabbath. If God modeled it, who am I to think I can continuously deny myself that rest and recharge?

Many Augusts ago when my children were toddlers, and napping, I was on the phone with a teacher friend of mine. I was lamenting to her how I had looked forward to spending the summer with my own children, but now I was exhausted, and disappointed with myself for dragging. She laughed and replied, "Oh Teres, that is because being a mom and being a teacher are both all-consuming if you do them right, and you do." I took it as depressing compliment. Now as I reflect upon that I still believe in throwing myself whole-heartedly into being a mom and a teacher. However if "myself" has dwindled and diminished to a shadow of who I could be, of what good or service is that to my children or students? 

I have a feeling, that like my laptop,  I am running toward "sleep soon UNLESS [I am] plugged into a power outlet." What would my power source charge read right now? What would your charge currently read? My reading may be close to critical if I heed the warning signs. Friday evening I slept 11 hours. Woke to have breakfast and after breakfast took a 2.5 hour nap. It may be time to recharge. How do I do this without that pang of guilt that I should be more wisely spending my time? How do we view these times of re-charge as an investment opportunity instead of a waste of efficiency? What renews each of our sources of energy? How do we each carve out time to spend with those people or within those activities that reinvigorate us? How will we each plug in, so we do not fade out? 

Friday, September 26, 2014

en llamas arbusto

"My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!" Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am a Sagittarius. Astrologically it is a fire sign. While it may be selective observational bias, I find fire a reoccurring theme within my life. I am prone to fiery outburst of impassioned nature, I too frequently burn the candle at both ends (I crash and burn) rise from the pyre a phoenix to fly again. Perhaps that is why, already as a child, the story of Moses and the burning bush fascinated me, and why I still pray for burning bushes.

I remember the Sunday school paper and choosing just the right shade of Crayola® red-orange, streaking it with goldenrod crayon to "light" the bush on fire. As the story goes, Moses is out tending the sheep when he happens to notice a small shrub ON FIRE. His reaction surprises me, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does NOT burn up"(Ex.3:3) I would imagine that aside from a wild animal or two, there would not be such excitement as this event, while a shepherd was out tending the flock. However, Moses seems only mildly inquisitive. Then as if a burning bush were not enough, now there is a voice from within the bush.
As God calls his name from the bush, "Moses! Moses!" The response from Moses is straightforward, "Here I am Lord"(Ex.3:4b) God next instructs Moses to take off his sandals because he is standing on holy ground (Ex 3:5). This removal of the sandals is a sign of recognition and respect. God goes on to explain how He has witnessed the suffering of Israel and it is time to extract them from beneath the burden of Pharoh's entrapments. When God explains why He has come to talk to him, I can relate to Moses's response. "Who am I that I should go?" (Ex. 3:11)

One of my dearest PLN members put me to the task of expounding on my "burning bush" experience I mentioned in my first blog post. While I pray for burning bushes, if I were to actually encounter en llamas arbusto I do not think I would be so nonchalant. Likewise the prospect of Vietnam flabbergasted me. How did I know to go to Vietnam? How does anyone discern the voice of God or what direction they are to take? During a recent memoir writing conference with a grade 8 student I asked her this very question,"How do we know?" My question was prompted by a statement I read on her outline plan for the memoir that she had written, "God called my parents to Vietnam." Her first thought was, "My mom and dad said they just KNEW." I shared with her I was muddling through this very thought in crafting my blog post. The more we dialogued we decided that it is difficult to articulate "burning bushes" to others, and concluded that God knowing us individually, speaks to us in an intimate and individual way as well.  Moses, being a shepherd was surrounded by small shrubs and vegetation. God met Moses in his context and spoke to him organically (literally and figuratively). The form of our respective "bushes" may be people, circumstances, or still small voices. How did I know? How do WE know what it is we should do (or not do)?

Be observant. Pay attention. Moses was busy at another task overseeing and protecting sheep. I was busy within my learning with marvelous Michigan fifth graders. Either he, or I, could have attempted to go on business as usual.  However I am convinced that Almighty God will not be ignored, there is a need to heed His voice inherent to our souls.

Remove what stands in the way of correct posture to listen. Moses removed his sandals. I had to remove my apprehension of packing up my known life with my family and move to an unknown place.  I did those things, respectfully, even if at times I was reluctant. Like Moses I asked questions too. I asked, "Who am I that I should go?" (Ex.3:11) Certain days I am still asking. I am no one of distinguished appeal. There is a blessing and curse in this train of my thought. A curse that I do not find my skill set or myself adequate to meet the task, and can be prone to discouragement, but a blessing in that I, like Moses, am wise enough to know that God stands in the gaps. "And God said (to Moses and to us), "I will be with you." (Ex. 3:12) So while I may believe myself to be falling short; He will always be enough. This is the flame I must continue to fan within my thoughts.

Exodus 3

Friday, September 12, 2014

Truth Be Told...

Zechariah 8:16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;

“Let me feel your thumb!”

This was the imperative I frequently heard as a child when my grandmother or father thought I may be creating my own variation of the truth. My father claimed my great grandmother, Jennie, could tell with 100% accuracy if he, or his siblings, and prior to that my own Gram, were speaking the truth, by merely grasping the speaker’s thumb in her delicate clenched hand. I remember testing the theory in private by holding the thumb of my left hand in my clenched right fist and speaking aloud a statement of truth and then a lie to see if anything changed, pulse-rate, beginnings of perspiration. I decided if it was a genetic gift, I certainly did not possess Great-grandma Jennie’s aptitude for untruth detection.

As I grew up though, I wished I did possess her knack for discerning what was true and untrue. That capacity certainly would have come in handy with those with whom I was in relationship whether it was a friend, boyfriend, or student I with whom I was working. It probably would have saved me some harrowing heartbreaks as well. How does one get at and uncover what is true?

Being a philosophy minor I spent countless hours during my university studies debating and reading around the phenomenon of TRUTH. Can truth be subjective, or is there a pure objective truth within the world? Phenomenologists, theologians, scientists, philosophers and a myriad of others all weigh in with respective opinions. Is one only allowed to say what is true for them (even if their truth is shadows on the wall of their life’s cave)? Even the dictionary offers many definitions of “truth: 1. actual state of the matter. 2. conformity with fact or reality. 3. a verified, indisputable fact, proposition, principle or the like. 4. the state or character of being true. 5. actuality or actual existence 6. an obvious or accepted fact; truism, platitude. 7. honesty, integrity, truthfulness." (

Maybe what I required was an Amazonian princess’s accessory to REALLY know. I always loved Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.

I remember watching the show and marveling at how Wonder Woman could coax any questionable individual into spilling the whole truth with a flick of her wrist and a squeeze of her golden lasso, "Now the world is ready for you, and the wonders you can do. Make a hawk a dove, stop a war with love, make a liar tell the truth." (Wonder Woman Theme Song Lyrics)

"Make a liar tell the truth." I am learning along the journey that the only individual I can MAKE do something is me. As I frequently ask my own children, "Who is the only person you control?" While it is impossible to control another, I do believe INFLUENCE is powerful. Deciding what are absolutes for me will inform how I live and thereby influence the lives of others. This pursuit means truly living as well. What matters? What should my focus be? How do I live my life so it counts? Am I truthful with myself? Do my actions match my words and beliefs with integrity? Each answer begins to weave the fibers of who I am. There are no simple shot answers to these questions. Truthful living requires asking myself everyday and adjusting to answer the best I can. 

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable, and right and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8

Sunday, August 24, 2014

6 to 9

This is my beautiful daughter...over a decade ago. In conversations with other moms it seemed many moms had their "favorite" age or stage to experience with their child. My husband used to tease me because every summer I would gush about how, "THIS was the best summer EVER because our kids are the PERFECT age."
     "Teres, you say that EVERY summer!" I had to concede that was basically true, and maybe because each age grew to be my favorite for different reasons.  The cocoon cuddling of my newborn baby contentedly sighing asleep on my chest, to the lurching marionette arms of my infant asleep in the crib, to my baby giggling and arm flapping in excitement as I would read board books, to my toddler teetering about exploring the world on herky-jerky legs, to my pre-schooler asking "Why?" to just about everything encountered, to my school ager thinking independently and forming opinions of what is just and unjust in the world. All these ages and stages a glorious continuum of splendor. If I were truly pressed to select just ONE age or stage that was my favorite though, it would have to be six to nine months. According to Women and Children's Health Network, there are some amazing milestones that little ones at this age reach. Along with rolling over front to back, swapping toys from one hand to the other, scooting, crawling, sitting up, discovering hands and feet, working out food and textures, there are some big social and emotional pieces as well. The six to nine month old begins to realize that he or she is a separate individual with certain concrete physical boundaries and that his or her parents are separate individuals as well. With this realization sometimes comes apprehension of whether or not those favorite individuals will be there or return when absent from the baby's world.  The six to nine month old also begins to differentiate specific feelings and communicate his or her desires. This wonder emerges due to the former responses of caregivers to the baby's needs.  Recognition of familiar and favorite individuals occurs, and the baby of this age is very sociable and babbling. Women and Children's Health Network

I can freshly recall this stage for both of my children. These two pictures of my daughter beautifully capture her in the midst of the mentioned milestones.  Her aquamarine eyes frequently were sparkling with surprise and wonderment from anything to a story or song I was sharing with her to the newly blooming crocus in our front yard. Her hands and feet were also a sheer delight to her.  She would watch in awe as it dawned on her she could not only wave those pudgy little hands on the end of her appendages she could actually use those phenomenal phalanges to obtain a better look at the terrific tootsies on the other end of her little body. As long as she was at it, may as well give them a taste

because how else does a baby experience the world?
I made a connection the other day when someone asked what grade level I was teaching this school year. I have taught pre-school, kindergarten, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. I also was fortunate to instruct undergraduate and graduate level education students at university.  Like my biological children's ages and stages, each of these levels were my favorite instructionally for different reasons. However, if pressed, I would also choose 6 to 9 (grades, not months) as my favorite years of students with whom I share learning.  When I made the move back to middle school this year, many friends and colleagues had commentary. In unjustified sweeping generalizations too many were inclined to give middle schoolers a bad rap. I heard terms like "gawky," "awkward," "armpit of adolescence." My response was always to advocate for these my favorite aged students. Like 6 to 9 month olds, the grades 6 to 9 can be a bit encumbered when attempting to do things more independently. In moments of self-realization as independent beings they may balk against (or cling to) adults closest to them, all the while wondering if that adult will keep showing up for them. Six to nines are finding out who they are as individuals and honing the words and communication to reveal that to the communities in which they find themselves.  Despite any glitches along the journey, overall though these brilliant 6 to 9s are discovering themselves and their world in new and wonderful ways.  If the right loving persons come along side them to encourage them and point out magnificent elements along the journey and within each traveller, what a joy and excitement life and learning is for EVERYONE involved. How fortunately blessed am I that I have an opportunity to BE one of those persons for these 6 to 9s!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kind of like Frogger...

Remember this?

                                                                         via (

Just glimpsing this screen shot ala 1981 I could hear the "blip, bleep, blip, blip-blip-blip" in my mind. I spent a slender sliver of my youth BEING the frog. With the Atari joystick,  I would assist his treacherous journey across first the black top, avoiding various vehicles including (but not limited to) cars, buses, taxis, dune buggies, vans, and taxis. Then (hopefully) making it to the aquatic top screen tier to face turtles, logs, and alligators. "In November 1982 Frogger earned the ominous distinction of being 'the arcade game with the most ways to die'" (Softline p.19 retrieved 17 Aug.14). Frogger had its challenges to be sure, there were certain variables on the top aquatic tier. The bottom asphalt tier was generally straightforward as the vehicles traveled in horizontal paths with only minor accelerations and rare swerving.  I found a bit more in the way of variables (and potential ways to die) when I headed out cycling for my first go in Hanoi. Just to give you an idea...

Hanoi traffic via Lonely Planet

My husband had seen these videos and ridden through traffic in taxis, so his final words to me as I departed that morning were, "Please come home alive." My retort, in sixteen year old girl tone, "I'll be fiiiiine." After my 25k around West Lake and beyond, rolling some very exciting roads, and a quick stop for watermelon juice, I returned home. "How was it?" my husband queried. My reply?

"It. Was. AWESOME! Like being IN the game of Frogger, but with no extra frog lives. Additionally the experience laughed in the face of most of the conventional bike safety protocol I have learned prior."

My husband shook his head and walked away mumbling something about "no thanks" or "I don't get it" or perhaps he was just questioning my sanity in general. I was hooked and began the process of researching which bike I would buy since I was riding a borrowed cycle.

I learned some important things from the people with whom I was cycling on that first ride. First, despite the fact many viewers interpret the traffic as chaos there is a certain hierarchy. Buses and cars own the top of the pyramid. Wherever they choose to go is okay, be warned. Motor bikes occupy the next level down on the pyramid, leaving bicycles on the bottom with walkers weaving where they may. We were told when walking across a street walk a steady pace at a slight diagonal and just keep going everyone else will avoid you. Lesson: even when I do not see a pattern or system, one exists. Just because the approach is not one I readily recognize does not make it any less valid.

Second, be prepared for the beeping, bells and horn blasts. They do not indicate anger or rage, but rather a reminder. "Hello! I am here and I am approaching your space." Growing up in the States I am accustomed to cringing if there is a horn beep because one can basically infer the user of the horn is not all too happy at the recipient of the beep or blast. Admittedly I was one prone to using my horn to let other motorists know my displeasure.  This is not the case in Hanoi. Driving through traffic one constantly hears beeps and blasts. The resonant sound of horn is far more prevalent than turn indicators as a form of communicating to others using that road way.  Lesson: sometimes my understanding of communication is not what is actually intended or vice-versa. Here is where understanding others and empathy enters when giving and receiving communication.

Which brings me to the third and most important rule, ONLY pay attention to what is IN FRONT of you! This seemed odd to me because I have been ingrained with defensive driving and scanning. Plus there is a WHOLE lot going on around one while on Hanoi roads, so it was challenging to set my eyes on what was ahead--only. That third piece proved critically important (especially at intersections) and I found myself internally going Kung Fu '72 and repeating, "Focus grasshopper!" If I would have been caught up in what was centimeters beside me or behind me I would surely have crashed into the plethora of beings, bikes and cars IN FRONT of me. I grapple with this principle "off road" as well. It seems like multi-tasking should make me more efficient and smooth rolling, but it often makes me figuratively crash. I want to pay attention to everything and scan instead of focusing on what is IN FRONT of me. Back in the States I had a sign on my classroom door with classic Winnie the Pooh holding a gift. I had cut it from a birthday card I had received and I mounted it to a typed paper with the quote, "Today is a gift, that is why it is called the PRESENT." The biking and experience served as a reminder to pay attention to what situation and more importantly WHO is right in front of me.  Lesson: I will keep asking myself the three questions Tolstoy posed so long ago, (and Jon J Muth helped younger readers access so beautifully) "What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" How I answer these questions matters SO much.

Monday, August 4, 2014


Last summer on a balmy August evening my family and I were out taking our two dogs on our regular post-dinner stroll, when we came upon a sidewalk sight to behold. "M, H, look at this!" I gushed. I dropped to my haunches and my kiddos followed suit (much to my dogs' and husband's chagrin). There was a cicada mid-molt. My son being the kindhearted soul said earnestly, "Mom, we have to help him!" 
   "No," I gently replied, "if he doesn't struggle through the process his wings won't be strong. If we interfere to help we may actually hurt his growth." We continued to watch. My son was somewhat uncomfortable as a bystander through something that was obviously so difficult. My daughter took to another role. "Come on mister cicada! You've got this!" I stifled a grin as this was something I repeated to her for the last leg of her first 5k. Another feat that was fraught with difficulty, but yielded great gains within my girl upon completion. 
   A couple of days ago this phrase "the gift of struggle" came back to mind as I am prepping to reenter teaching junior high as well as settling into life in Vietnam. While I have always driven myself to provide enough challenge to my students to stretch, yet not discourage them in their learning journey, I now poetically find myself in the role of student. 
   I must learn how to do basic tasks, and speak, in ways that are no longer intuitive. No longer possessing my own mode of transportation, I must communicate well enough to get from point "A" to point "B" via cab. Ordering water, shopping for food, and basic wares have proven to be grand adventures. After benefitting from the kindness and guidance of another expatriate family who has been in country for a while, I told my daughter we were going to forge out solo. My declaration was met with more than mere hesitation. "We should just ask Mrs. W to come along," my daughter suggested. Once again I gently disagreed saying if we never struggled through it, how would we ever get anywhere. I could tell my daughter was torn between her need for security and her fear of allowing her often directionally dysfunctional mother out into Hanoi alone. She opted to go with me, but gave me a concerned shaking of the head as we set out to my, "What is the worst that could possibly happen?" I struggled though communicating the address of a place to which I had never been before, to a kind cab driver, and we set off. He landed us (unbeknownst TO us) about two blocks away from our intended destination. After walking in 109 degree heat, we opted to hit a three tier shopping plaza to walk about where I purchased a fitting journal 
"Brave because no sooner do we think we have assembled a comfortable life than we find a piece of ourselves that has no place to fit in."

We also enjoyed a Taro flavored Fro-yo and a Cafe Sua Da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) for lunch. After our nourishment, and asking a few folks the true location of our original intended destination we set out on foot to find it. After a street map discovery and a final quick inquiry "Eureka!" It was such a feeling of accomplishment to reach our goal. 
     I have to be honest that there were a couple of times I thought about abandoning the goal and settling for the lesser experience. As sweat was running in rivulets down my back and legs it would have been more pleasant just to grab a cab, rattle off our address and head home. After all we had serendipitously found a pretty nice shopping plaza and an apropos journal. That could have sufficed. So why didn't I settle? My daughter who had unknowingly been my encourager. Earlier in our excursion, when we were still cool-ish and confident she said, "Mom, this is kinda like you running your marathons. It doesn't seem easy, but the finish line sure is sweet victory!" I know my students often struggle with this "It's good enough" mediocrity approach to learning too. They settle for getting a pretty good learning experience, when they could strive towards the goal of excellence. Students try particular strategies, (like I tried addresses, maps, and asking) that may or may not be effective. Students must then decide if they will continue on or remain where they are in learning. I think my daughter reminding me of the sensation of sweet success put me in the correct frame of mind to persist. How can I do that for my students? How do I avoid the error my son almost made with the cicada by "helping" the wrong way? I have decided this year I will be especially mindful of creating challenging, yet success yielding situations for my students, as well so that the gift of struggle will yield the gift of growth.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Memoriam...of Me

"You are not dying," one of my dearest friends emphatically stated as we shared an embrace. I could feel the heated prickles of saline searing my eyes as I fought back tears. 
"It sure feels like a quasi death," came my quavering reply. It didn't seem appropriate to be weeping at what was somewhat my own self-imposed funeral. As the days pass and my time stateside whittles down, I find there are many occasions when I still feel as though it IS my funeral. Recently this chapter from Ralph Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams came to mind:

Revisiting this chapter really hit home for me. Ralph's friends have to bid him farewell in their own ways. They choose humor, shared context, and raw gratitude. As humans we create ceremony for closure. We participate in rites, rituals, and ceremonies to right our ships tossed about on the sea of goodbye. People crave that. While I refuse to say "goodbye" to certain individuals, still these ceremonies are intended to help our minds siphon through the emotions that intensely press in on our hearts and within our minds. 

When my grandmother passed away a few years ago the family elected me to eulogize her. After soldiering through publicly sharing my fondest recollections while my heart was rent asunder, one of my gram's friends approached me and said, "It is a shame your grandmother wasn't here to listen to all the wonderful things you shared." I had no doubt my gram knew exactly how I felt about her, but it did make me think that it is unfortunate that most of the time the deepest heartfelt sentiments we have for those closest to us we do NOT take the time to share with them. Once they are gone the words come pouring out. One benefit of being physically present at my own "funeral" is that so many people have taken the time and opportunity to bless me with their deep seated sentiments. It has been humbling, encouraging, and heartbreaking. I have also found I have a driving need to leave some words or tangible gift for to underscore how I cherish my connection with them; lest they forget my feelings when I am not present. 

Like Ralph, in Marshfield Dreams, I recall all the things I have done with my closest friends. My friends, like Ralph Fletcher's, have selected ways to ceremoniously say goodbye. I want to preserve and memorialize those precious memories, but right now it all feels too close to the vest and overwhelms me. For now the final meals, beverages, runs, walks, and experiences will have to suffice until I can further honor them with fitting words. Perhaps certain ceremonies and rites have to happen in waves. For now the metaphorical horn is beeping for me, so I keep moving on into this new chapter of life.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Being Brave

Brave, etymologically from Middle French, Old Italian, Old Spanish bravo courageous, wild, probably from Latin barbarous barbarous. 1: having or showing courage (courageous, not deterred by danger or pain) 2: making a fine show 3: excellent, splendid. (

My family and I are in the process of moving 8,058 miles away from our current home, or one could say literally around the world (or technically at least a third of the way). Responses from friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances have run the spectrum of emotion and opinion. "Wow! What an adventure!" (We are counting on it). "Have you been there before?" (We have not).  "You are doing WHAT?! Why would you want to do THAT?!" (We recognize a burning bush when we encounter it). However a few weeks ago my husband asked me, "You know what is the one thing that people say that has surprised me?" Without hesitation I responded, "That we are brave?"
"Yes! That just really throws me off," he shook his head with incredulous disbelief. After hearing this repeated sentiment, I decided perhaps I was missing something so I turned back to the etymological roots of "brave."

Webster initially pegs "brave" as "not deterred by danger or pain." Danger? Hanoi, Vietnam is a beautiful, and quite modern city that is extremely safe. One friend expressed concern for there being a danger of us not liking it. "What if you don't LIKE it?" The response that immediately sprang to mind was the analogy of leaving for college. Certainly there were times while I attended university that things were unfamiliar, and left me longing for the comfort of the familiar and home, but these moments of discomfort and challenges were far outweighed by the growth and positive experiences. Eventually college felt like it WAS my home while the people around me became more of my family. I believe moving will mirror those sentiments evoked by my time at the university. As for pain? No pain immediately springs to mind (unless you talk to my daughter who will relay her painful experience of mom selling the television). Perhaps one could count the undercurrent of pain coursing through our chests, as we bid farewell to so many people who are integrally woven into the fabric of our hearts. I reject "goodbyes" in favor of "hasta la vistas" and find this abates some of the sorrow.

The second entry of "making a fine show," well maybe there is something ringing true as this experience could qualify for a hilarious (sometimes dramatic) sitcom (or a reality show gone awry) as we attempt to pack up or parcel out seventeen years of married life and two children's worth of belongings into boxes and bins. My husband has set up buyers for both our vehicles, and my mom-mobile SUV of the past decade is already gone. Meanwhile I broker deals via e-mail and text to sell our major furniture items. Still it looks as though a clutter bomb was detonated in our house and we are left to sort out the stuff shrapnel. Heated arguments have ensued as various family members recognize different priorities as to how our dwindling time state-side should be spent, and like any "fine show" there has been jags of laughter, fits of tears, complications, resolutions, mishaps and mayhem.

Finally though, if I must concede bravery, I choose the third definition "excellent, splendid" as THAT is what I aspire towards personally and professionally within this endeavor. After sharing these upcoming years, I want my own children, and the students I will be blessed to encounter to have a sense of barbarous bravo or wild well done!