Different Can Be Good

I’m learning the difference between middle school students and high school students.  I teach a class at my school called Farm to Table.  It’s a mash up of things I like to do, and my favorite class to teach.  How could it not?  We do crafts, garden, and cook, often with food from the garden.  See?  Fun.

In the past, I’ve had all high school students for a double period twice a week.  This year, due to a scheduling glitch, almost all of the high school students are locked into required classes during my scheduled class time.  What to do?  One option was to drop the class entirely and push into other classes where there is a need.  That is what special education teachers often do.  But I didn’t want to give up this class that I had designed.  That I had gotten grants to create a permaculture food forest during.  I had rhubarb, tomatoes, peppers and herbs to use.  I did not want to give that up.

So the decision was made to change the time.  Instead of a double period twice a week, I’d have a regular period every day.  Instead of high school students, I have all middle schoolers.  It has been an adjustment for me.

First I want to say that I really do love the energy and enthusiasm that these students bring to class.  They are a joy to have in class each day.  However.  Where in the past, I could leave the cooks for a few minutes while I went out to the garden and everyone would be safe and tasks would be completed in a timely manner.  With this class, I walked into the kitchen area in my class to discover a boy slicing a tomato with his thumb right UNDER the blade.  Thankfully I was able to stop him before any appendages were sliced.  I have never been so thankful for the Kevlar gloves that came with our mandolin.  They are now required for all chopping.  And so far, no fingers have been chopped.

Then there’s the time factor.  With only half as long, I’m having to divide recipes into two parts and spread the project over two days.  It seems like that should solve the issue, but not always.  For some reason, tasks just take longer with the middle schoolers.  I think perhaps one reason is that they actually READ the recipe.  And that takes time.  So, I really shouldn’t complain.  However,  I often end up doing the clean up after they have headed out for the buses because we just ran out of time.  It just takes them longer to complete the tasks.  Someday I will do a better job of managing the time.

Middle school students get a bad rap about how difficult they are to work with.  When I tell people that I work with middle school students, I rarely get a positive response.  I understand that.  Middle schoolers are trying to figure out who they are, and that’s hard work.  Sometimes they can be difficult.  But I remember when I was that age.  It was difficult to just be.  No wonder they have rough days.  But mostly I really enjoy them.  They are a lively bunch with lots of energy.  They greet everything I ask them to do with enthusiasm.  And, honestly, they are just plain fun to spend time with.


Cousin Time

I once read that cousins are your first friends.  If you had siblings, that might not be true.  But I am an only child.  I had no brothers or sisters to play with.  But I had a plethora of cousins, twenty-two to be exact.

I was one of the younger cousins:number 20.  One year older than me were the triplets and one year younger was Jay.  The triplets belonged to my Uncle Bob, who had five other children.  Jay belonged to my Uncle George who also had five more.  With that many kids, both these families had a whole lot more activity than ever happened in my house.  And a LOT more fun.

My cousins remind me that I usually came over dressed in frills and patent leather shoes.  As adults do everywhere, they sent the kids out to play while they visited.  I’m not sure what exactly my parents were thinking to dress me that way and expect me to stay clean while playing with those crews.  Once I could understand, but I pretty much always spoiled my clothes climbing trees and playing in the mud.

As I’ve got older, I still love my cousins.  Life is busier and fuller for all of us these days, and we don’t get to see each other so much any more.  So, when one set of cousins recently invited me to join them to revisit some of the settings of our childhoods, I took advantage.

I was only able to spend one day with them, but it was a really great day.  I have such fabulous memories of the time they lived in Brightwood, Oregon.  We stopped at the store and found the house they lived in.  I’m sure it was much larger back then.DSCN2522

We looked over the bridge into the Sandy River where Jay once accidentally threw his new fishing rod.  There was the house that Maureen cleaned.  Here was the house of Charlie’s good friend.  Things were so different and still so much the same.

We went all the way up Mt. Hood to Timberline Lodge, where I accosted total strangers to ask favors.  One lovely woman took this photo:DSCN2529Then I asked a really nice young man what that little bump on the left was called.  Turns out he loves to climb the mountain and told us all about it.  That little bump is called Illumination Peak.  Then there is Illumination Saddle and Crater Peak, and the Old Mazama Chute.  He told us all about climbing the mountain, including the history of the women of the Mazamas who climbed it in long, wool skirts.

That evening we sat around and reminisced over fabulous lasagna made by Marlene. Then we all piled into Charlie’s fifth wheel to visit a bit more and finally go to sleep. In the morning it was doughnuts and ice cream for breakfast. And then I had to drive home.

I’m so blessed to have such wonderful cousins.  I love them and they love me.


My Summer List

I am exhausted at the end of every school year.  It’s hard work being a teacher.  Sure we get summers off, technically, sort of.  But after months of pouring myself out in the service of my students, I need that break to recharge.  If I’m going to arrive back at school in late August ready to do it all again, I desperately need that recharge time.

But here’s the thing.  All school year I’ve noticed bits and pieces here and there that really need to be taken care of:  we can barely close our pantry doors, my closet is about to explode, the weeds have taken over the garden, and on and on.  And I tell myself that come June, I’ll tackle those little jobs.  Plus I need to get a jumpstart on my classroom prep for next year if I’m going to avoid 10-11 hour days.  (Seriously, the janitor and I become good friends last year I was there so late.)

In my mind, there’s this long unbroken stretch of sunny days in which to lounge around and read.  Heaven.  Only there’s all this stuff to get done!  And, really, I tell myself it’s not like it’s a whole lot you’re trying to get done.

And so here we are in the mid-July and I’m starting to panic about how nothing has got done yet this summer.  Nothing.  Well, I did finally get the vegetable garden all planted.  (It’s not all growing yet, but it’s planted.)  I feel like I’m working hard, but not making any progress.  Why is that?

Part of the problem is my work habits.  I have great habits and I work hard.  But I am incapable of doing anything for an extended period of time.  The thought will trigger procrastination every time.  And I have this back thing that means I can manage a physical job for no more than 15 minutes before it needs a break.  So, I set my timer for 15 minutes at a time.  It works great.  Except that when the timer goes off, I work on something else.  Which means I have several projects started, but none to cross off my list just yet.

Which brings me to the real root of the problem.  The. List.  When it was floating around in my head, I only thought of one or two items at a time.  Why can’t I manage one or two items?  So I wrote down everything swirling around in my brain that I had planned to do this summer.  People, there are 15 projects on that list.  None of them are quick little jobs.  No wonder I’m feeling a bit scattered.  I gave myself 15 projects to finish this summer.  That’s in addition to the “normal” summer garden chores.

So, what’s a girl to do?  I’m chipping away at some of them.  I got compost spread on one of the beds where I am replanting a hydrangea after I killed it by pruning.  (I had no idea that hydrangeas are not fond of short haircuts.)  I have the first few months of school roughed out for my elective and the first week for my math classes.  And I think that is what I will continue to do.  A little bit here and a little bit there.

But what I will stop doing right now, right this instant, is get after myself for having the recklessness to sit on my porch and read or eat a bowl of ice cream.  I won’t get the whole list done.  I probably won’t even come close.  And I will choose to be OK with that.  The bedroom might not get painted and I might go yet another year without a solar oven.  (It’s been on my list for a few years now.)  But I will not mind.  I will be happy that I invested time in people I care about.  I will revel in sitting on the porch and reading.  I will take naps.  And I will not feel guity about any of it.

I hope.

Eating for Free

Even people who know me in a very superficial way know that I am thrifty.  Yesterday I was quite excited when I discovered that not only did Safeway have grass-fed beef for $5, but there were coupons attached to several of the packages for $2.50 off.  And I hate waste and try very hard (with varying results) to avoid it.  At Christmas I snag all the bows from packages and use them again.  I even fold up the tissue paper to save.  I have grown two pineapples from the plant I got when I planted the top from a pineapple I bought at the store.


This morning I went out in the garden to see what I could pick to eat.  I was thinking I might cut some kale and make chips, which are always a family favorite.  But, as I was walking along, I noticed that there was a lot of the weed cress growing.  It’s edible, so I started cutting it when I found it.  Then I realized that there was a LOT of lambs’ quarters growing in one of my vegetable beds. Lambs’ Quarters is a winter green that’s quite mild tasting.  It looks like it’s so tender that even a slight frost would kill it.  But they were not in a protected area and had survived the snow, ice and just general frost that we’ve had this winter.  And I didn’t plant either of these plants.  The best I can figure, the lambs’ quarters went to seed in a different bed, got pulled up and thrown in the compost, and then sprouted when the compost was spread on this bed.  So, tonight’s salad was totally free.  It cost me nothing, but was very, very tasty.  Doesn’t this look yummy?dscn2332

Do you ever have left-overs that aren’t enough to really use again?  When I do, I toss them in a pot in my freezer.  When I steam or microwave vegetables, I add the water to the pot.  (It’s got lots of vitamins!)  If I use up a bottle or can of something like tomatoes, I rinse it out and throw the water in the pot.  After left-overs have been in the fridge long enough that I can tell they aren’t going to get eaten, I throw them in the pot as well.  Then when the pot is full, I pull it out to thaw.  Then I throw it all in a kettle on the stove and give it a good boil.  Voila!  Soup!  I call it “Musgo Soup.”  (After a week in the fridge, everything “musgo.”)  I made a big pot today.  Sometimes it needs a bit more liquid, and that was the case today.  Instead of adding water or using some chicken broth, today I pulled some turkey broth out of the freezer to add.  Now this broth was made by boiling the turkey carcass from Christmas.  It’s rich and tasty and free.  The only cost is the electricity I use to cook it.  So it was the perfect addition to my free soup.  This will be my lunch for next week.  Yum!dscn2333

I’m still watching out for ways to eat for little or no money.  I feel so clever and accomplished when I can feed my family with just a little bit of work and no money at all.  Smug even.

Retire? Me? Hold on!

Retirement?  Yikes!  I’m far, far from that age.  Except, well, I’m not.  This is my husband’s 30th year teaching special education.  At 30 years, he can retire with the full package.  (I should know very clearly what that it, but I do not.  Mostly because I didn’t ever plan on being retirement age.  Well, I planned on being that age, just not that retirement thing.  Well, that’s not true either, but I just don’t know such things.)  And all that means that people frequently ask when Dan is going to retire.  And then, inevitably because we are the same age, they ask when I plan to retire.  And I always say in a pained voice, “I don’t know.”

But lately I’ve actually been thinking about it more.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s a combination of things.  Dan loves to watch homesteading videos and I have been watching a few lately myself.  I just finished reading a book about a modern sustainable farming family. And we had a couple of snow days that extended our Christmas break, creating time for me to do things at home.

And you know what?  I love doing things around my home.  I find it extremely fulfilling.  Dan and I bought this property almost 20 years ago with the idea of being more self-sufficient.  But then life took us (me especially) in other directions.  I taught school as a substitute teacher more.  Then I was offered a job as a special education teacher, which ended up with me getting a Master’s degree and student loans.  It all meant that I really just did not have time to be self-sufficient.

But it was always there.  Sleeping a lot, waking drowsily from time to time.  And somehow lately, it has woken up.  I love teaching.  I really, really do.  But I derive such joy when at least part of the food I put on the table was grown here.  I want to do that more.  And it’s just so hard when I’m at school all day.

So, I’m starting to actually think about when I will retire.  I still don’t have an answer, but I no longer think I will just go on teaching forever.  In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out ways to supplement my retirement to pay off those pesky loans.  Maybe I will grow salad greens.  It was an idea I once pursued, but life…..  I could get back to that.  Or maybe I will bake cookies.  Or knit hats.  Or bake bread.  Or sell roses.  Or some combination.  Right now I don’t know.  But it’s sure fun thinking about it.

Christmas Reflection

december-30-stockingsEvery year, shortly after Christmas, I sit down to reflect on the previous season.  I do it while the memory is still fresh in my mind.  What went well.  What needs to change.  What I liked.  What I missed.

This year I really had trouble finding things I would change.  My best friend moved away, so we didn’t get to make cookies together.  I missed that.  But we made plans to bake cookies via Skype next year.  (Thank you Dan for that idea.  You could have come up with it sooner, but it’s still a good idea.)  We didn’t go to see any lights.  But, we did stop by one of the local nurseries to watch their display that coordinated with music.

Otherwise, it was just about a perfect Christmas.  Which makes me wonder.  What exactly made it so terrific?  First, I got to see both my boys.  Not both on the 25th.  Not even on the same day, but I still got to see them in person.  Jacob spent Christmas with his in-laws in Chehallis and the Carlsons graciously invited us up for Christmas.  So we bundled into the car on the 25th and made it in time to have snacks before dinner.

Henry came home on the 30th, so we had “Christmas” on the 31st.  Through the miracle of technology, we were even able to include Jacob and Shawna in the fun.  I wasn’t quite the same, but still quite good.

But there was more to this fabulous Christmas.  I was calm.  If you know me, you know that I am already planning for next Christmas (355 days) because I don’t want to feel so rushed that I miss the joy.  But usually I still have a few times that I am just crazy.  I feel overwhelmed and panic about all I need to get done.  I don’t know why I do that.  It really doesn’t help.  In fact, it makes it harder because I’m not getting anything done when I’m having a meltdown and then I don’t get anything done while I get calm again.

But this year, it just did not happen.  It was the most peaceful Christmas I can remember ever having.  Granted, it was helped by not having little kids at home.  We do have our foster son, but he does not create a lot of Christmas craziness.  But that hasn’t stopped me from being crazy in the past.

Fall was rough on me.  There were many things that went wrong and came out of nowhere to make keeping up feel impossible.  It was not fun and I felt like a mess much of the time. I certainly did not feel like someone who was a good representative of what a Jesus follower looks like.  I didn’t want to be that way, but I just couldn’t seem to get myself on solid footing.  And then I read this statement by Graham Cooke: You don’t become a new person by changing your behavior.  You focus on who you already are in Christ and behave accordingly.

Since who I actually am is a woman who trusts Jesus, I’ve been practicing acting like one.  It’s amazing how that little shift can make such a difference.   I would never have believed it could, but I’m living proof.  So, this Christmas, when things didn’t go as planned and I was tempted to panic, I reminded myself to act like I trusted Jesus.  I didn’t have to feel like I trusted him, just act that way.  And it worked!!

Doing that helped me to focus more on Jesus and less on the crazy.  I LOVE Christmas music and listen to it throughout the year.  But this year, it didn’t hold the attraction for me.  I just didn’t want to listen to Jingle Bells and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.  Instead, I found playlists of Advent Songs on YouTube.  It was so relaxing and really focused my mind on Jesus, who really was my Prince of Peace.

This was a wonderful Christmas.  So wonderful, in fact, that I am still feeling the peace of the season.  I want to keep this feeling.  It is just such a better way to be.

Math, math, math

Lately I’ve had math on the brain.  I dream about math.  When I go for a walk, I plan math.  When I’m in the garden, my mind turns to math.  I’m reading math blogs and scouring Pinterest for math ideas.  Math, math, math.  Specifically, algebra.  At the age of 56 I am teaching algebra for the very first time.  It is both exciting and terrifying.

My students are the ones who have a hatred very strong dislike of math, who have struggled with it for years.  So I want to make it fun and accessible.  I’m not using a textbook, although a teacher in a neighboring district has given me her syllabus, notes, and worksheets.  I’m finding those to be quite helpful.  But I want more for these kids than worksheets.

Education has fads just like every other area in life.  The current “fad” is interactive notebooks.  The kids will use these to create their own textbooks.  They copy down my notes on the right side.  (Right is always right.)  They do practice problems on the left.  And sometimes they will look just like that.  But mostly I’m looking for and creating “fold-ables.”  Think scrapbooking with cutting and glueing and bright colors meets math. Fun!  I hope.

I’m really excited about it.  And scared.  Quite scared.  This whole process is very time-intensive for the teacher….me.  Once school starts, time speeds up and it’s Christmas before I have even adjusted to September.   So, I’m trying to get a head start.  After a lot of false starts, I think I am making progress.  I’m up to Day 2.  It’s taken me hours to get this far.  Hours.  And that’s just the notebook.  It doesn’t include the videos I want to use or the hands-on activities to go with each lesson.

But it’s summer, and I want to do summer stuff.  So, I’m trying to balance math and summer.  Some days summer wins.  Some days math wins.  Today writing this blog won.

I’m trying to look at this as an opportunity to trust God.  I’m trying to make this my thought process:  God called me to this job.  God put a love of teaching math into my heart.  God gave me this opportunity.  God is showing me a step at a time what to do.  God will continue to help me along the way.  He wants my students to succeed even more than I do.  So, go God!!