Thursday, April 17, 2014

APOLOGIES

Due to an intermittent router, today's post on Thursday's Child will not be seen.

Check back in a few days, after I've been to the AT&T store.

Thanks!

Thursday, April 10, 2014


SPRING TONIC

In my grandmother’s day a good dose of blackstrap molasses and sulphur cleaned out the human system, warded off any lingering malaise from winter’s icy clutches, and tuned up the body for three seasons of hard work on the farm.

In my youth, the Spring Tonic on Grandma’s shelf was replaced by a few cups of Sassafras tea or stewed rhubarb, which pretty much worked the same way as the dreaded tonic. By the time I became a grandmother, a week in Cancun or Barbados or Aruba was the remedy. Or if your pocketbook resembled mine, five days in Kalamazoo.

Some of my friends—whose pocketbooks may be anorectic—swear by a day at the spa.

Say “spa day” and right away you’ll conjure up a jumble of images—pummeling and pomading through ten hours of sauna, massage, styling, tweaking, manicure, pedicure, every-kind-of-cure for the common blahs and disenchantments of the face and figure. Wintertime, springtime, anytime.

View of one of the "Chain"
By happy accident, I discovered another kind of spa day.

We drove from Auburn, my friend Janine and I, in her 4X4, to Chain-O-Lakes State Park about 30 minutes away. Picture a day in late April. Spring sunshine, leaves taking their time unfurling their shades of green. Water standing in fallow fields, running in ditches, swelling creeks, all from late winter snow that had no chance against a young spring breeze and honest-to-goodness sunshine.

In northeastern Indiana we celebrate the first day of spring with the rest of the civilized world—around March 21st when the spring equinox shows up on the calendar. We know that’s a token celebration—on a par with a green Christmas—because real spring, the one worth celebrating, comes on a day when you least expect it. It’s a mid-week day, when offices and schools and businesses are up and running, expecting their employees and clients and students and customers to show up as well.

But.

On a real spring day, some of us are privileged to get in a 4X4 and cruise the trails and roads of a state park. 10 mph cruising. No hurry. No agenda. Only the journey.

The 4-by heads into the park, makes a loop around one or two of the lakes in the chain, from which the park gets its name, and climbs one of the steep hills into a wooded area. Campground, cabins, fish-cleaning station…. Down another hill into the valley floor. What used to be a racing creek has expanded into a flowing meadow. The water’s nearly level with the bridge over the no-longer-dashing waterway.

We stop and park on the side of the road. Janine takes out one of her cameras, a monster thing with a long lens that allows her to poke her eye into Nature’s intimate business from a safe distance. I watch last autumn’s leaves float down the lazy stream and let the sun fall on my face.

Our only companions are woodsy inhabitants, too shy to come out.

When Janine winds up her photo op, we continue our loop around the park, and end up at one side of the biggest lake where a pier juts out into the main channel. I stand in the sun, my arms propped on the side supports of the pier, while Janine snaps photos of me in various hats and scarves for future use as publicity pics.

We’ve spoken fewer than fifty words since we entered the park. No pummeling, no pomading. No need for the delights of the day spa.

Because here, in this natural setting, we’ve bathed in warm spring air so delicious you can almost taste it, spied out elusive greens that will soon be in full leaf to delight the eye, caught the springtime perfume of sun on old leaves and new growth. Our souls have basked in Nature music: bird song, trickles of water running over stones, dry leaves from a year ago whisked away by a sudden breeze.

We’ve spent no money. Yet we’ve received simple gifts: cures for the common winter blahs, and disenchantments of the spirit. You can’t bottle this tonic and sell it for profit. This cure is free for the taking. If you want it.

 
Autumn @ Chain-O-Lakes
Another inspiring season

 

Thursday, April 3, 2014


TEACHING & LEARNING

In September, 2000 I began journaling daily. September is the start of my personal year--a holdover, probably, from when I was a perpetual student, loved school, and summers were just annoying periods of being hot and unhappy until fall approached and school doors opened once again.

Anyway. That's beside the point, sort of.

My journals are dumping grounds for information, quilting diagrams, emotions, you-name-it. Journals have also become a wonderful way for me to explore ideas.

Take yesterday--I never know where the nudge comes from, but I often find myself writing about something I might want to blog about one day. That morning's nudge was about lessons I've learned--how we learn from each other--about being a teacher, or an example, to other people.

Lessons come from everywhere: friends, family; strangers; neighbors; my dog. . . . Here are some random thoughts from my writings:
  • I learn about unconditional love and forgiveness from Joy, my dog. If you've ever owned--or been owned by--a dog, you'll recognize their seemingly infinite capacity for love and devotion. They forgive your bad moods, your ranting about something totally unrelated to them, your forgetting to fill their water bowl or feed them on time. I find that love and forgiving nature quite humbling.
  • I learn that time and distance mean nothing with true friends. One friend of over 40 years' standing is as present when she comes to visit three times a year as she was when we spent hours together every single day during our college years. We seldom write letters or emails or talk on the phone. We don't need to, because we are so in tune with each other.
  • I've learned about friendship among people with radically different beliefs--there's always some point of contact, some connection that allows us to know we're friends.
  • Another lesson has shown me that young people the ages of my grandchildren can be my friends--it's a matter of finding similar interests and respecting our differences; and then being present with each other. Caring is another word for it.
  • I constantly learn from my children: about their worlds/careers/interests. They share their beliefs (which are not always the same as mine), knowing that our mutual love and respect mean that we can discuss a wide range of topics without animosity.
  • I learn that caring for others is alive and well in my neighborhood--we have only a few young families, with school-age children; most of us are 60+, retired, and in various stages of our lives. Yet there's a little network of checking in with each other, looking for signs that someone needs help, taking food to share with a shut-in down the street. The younger folks get into the act, helping rake leaves in the fall or shovel snow.
Sometimes I wish I'd known these things much earlier in my life . . . they might have been quite useful. But then, each lesson came when my life was such that I needed that bit of wisdom, that insight.

-----
Teaching and learning are wonderfully symbiotic--teaching someone a skill leads to the teacher learning something as well. And a pupil learning something new becomes, unwittingly, perhaps, a new disseminator of that same bit of knowledge.

A number of years ago I taught freshman composition at Purdue University. Every semester I learned something I hadn't known before. Most of my learnings were about people With each new group, the chemistry changed. Classes were composed of varying ages: high school graduates, returning students who had left for some reason, or adults recognizing a need or desire to get a degree. My favorite classes were the ones with students ages 18 to 40 (or older). With no planning on my part, I often witnessed the older students teaching the younger.

One year we had an assignment to read about a Christmas celebration. In class, we discussed the reading and told about our own experiences. A quiet woman in her 50s startled the rest of the students by saying, "Christmas Eve is the loneliest time of the year."

I've never heard a classroom grow so quiet so suddenly. The woman went on to say that she had no family, and all her friends went to their families for Christmas.

Clearly, younger students had never experienced such a thing. They were stunned. I suspect a few did understand because their Christmases weren't happy ones. But the majority were hearing about a lonely Christmas for the first time.

That experience happened over 30 years ago. It still lives for me as one of the finest examples of learning from each other, in an informal way.

-----


Book learning has always been important to me. I don't know what I'd do without books.

But the best lessons--the ones that stick with me longest--are the ones I learn from people.






There's no substitute for family . . . our earliest lessons come from the folks who welcomed us into the group, nurtured us, disciplined us, and eventually shoved us out of the nest.

Today I celebrate teaching and learning. I celebrate the teacher in all of us, and the lessons we've learned--quickly, painlessly; or the tough ones that make, perhaps, a bigger impact.

Keep on learning. And teaching.