Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Is Coming

Getting ready for Christmas is almost as much fun as Christmas itself.  Starting about two weeks before Thanksgiving, I begin baking.

Some of the things I make will go with us to Thanksgiving celebrations with our kids and grandkids.

Some will go into the freezer to wait until Christmas Eve.

I usually bake several kinds of fruit breads in small loaves--banana, cranberry, lemon-lime, blueberry, pumpkin.  Then I start on the cookies.

I began this year with Cowboy cookies from Laura Bush's recipe.  This recipe includes, among other things, oatmeal, brown sugar as well as white, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, nuts, and maybe coconut.   I make big cookies, and still get about 8-9 dozen from this recipe.

Buddy, our oldest grandson, likes white chocolate chip/nut cookies, so I made those for Thanksgiving.  Son Scott loves Heath bits o' brickle cookies, so I made those last night for him.

The lemon-lime cake/bread is from my late mother-in-law's recipe, which has been a tradition for many years.  This, and the cranberry bread, my mama's recipe, have a delightfully tart taste to contrast with the sweetness of the sugar glaze.

Our big dinner on Thanksgiving and on Christmas consists of:
 baked or smoked turkey,
cornbread dressing from my Grandma Lee's recipe,
candied sweet potatoes,
macaroni and cheese (a perenial favorite of the grandkids, without which they think no family gathering is complete),
raw vegetables and dips,
jello salad,
fruit salad from my mama's recipe,
cranberry sauce,
rolls, and
mashed potatoes with giblet gravy.

After that meal, we indulge in pumpkin or pecan, lemon or chocolate pie, cookies, and cake.  This year at Thanksgiving I made another family favorite, red velvet cake, from my mama's recipe--with cooked frosting, not cream cheese.

Since we usually spend two or three days with our kids and grandchildren, our daughter Jeana usually makes up a meal plan.  She, our dear DIL Jamie, and Wick and I take responsibility for different parts of each meal.  Wick is usually the first one up, so he often takes full responsibility for making breakfast.  It's lovely to wake up to the smells of bacon, sausage, gravy, biscuits, and hot gravy.

This year I was sick for two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I had a shorter window of time in which to finish my baking.  While I was sick, I had time to ponder on why I feel so fulfilled by doing so much baking.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, I pray prayers of thanks for all the many blessings in our lives.  Offering treats to our family is a small expression of our sense of blessedness.

At Christmas time, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, who healed the sick and fed the hungry.

In some small way, my baking reflects that image of Jesus, feeding hungry people, just as the lights with which we decorate are reminders that He is the light of the world.

As we gather with our family, we talk about the many things for which we are thankful.  We celebrate communion together as a family.  We cook for each other, ministering to body as well as soul.  Being with my family feeds my soul.

Right now I am dividing all the baked goodies for distribution to friends, neighbors, and family.  Just my small way of sharing the love of Christ for all of us, and our love for one another.

Merry Christmas.  God bless us, every one.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Uncle Hardy, Big Tex, and Santa Claus

In Texas, September is still summer time; school starts, harvest begins, but asphalt in the cracks of Main Street still oozes and melts like bubble gum in the broiling noonday sun. But with October comes crisp autumn evenings, a huge pumpkin-orange harvest moon hangs low in the sky, and the State Fair begins. Pigs, horses, cows and rabbits vie for attention in the Livestock Building; jams and jellies jostle against prized quilts in the Women's Building; the lights of the Ferris Wheel spin dizzyingly; the sweet smell of cotton candy hangs heavily in the air. Looming above it all is a gigantic figure, one hand lifted shoulder-high in greeting, the other arm outflung as if to embrace all of Texas, stands Big Tex, the cowboy who symbolizes the biggest annual fair in the world. He has been standing there all my life. He seems to have been standing there forever.

As a little girl I was fascinated by Big Tex. He was both the first and last sight I wanted to see. Riding on Daddy's shoulder, firmly gripping a handful of his hair or Mama's finger for safety, I stared at the carefully detailed boots, comparing them point by point to those my father wore. Then my gaze moved up, up, past the long legs encased in blue denim, past the red and blue checked western shirt, to the face shaded by the big-brimmed hat. What would I find there? Would it be the affectionate twinkle that invites a little girl to snuggle in uncle's arms? Or the stern stare that nails a small sinner to the floor, awash in guilt for cookies stolen from Aunt Hazel's kitchen, apple cores thrown at the old sow, dirty footprints tracked across a clean floor? When one of my friends told me in breathless secrecy that she knew where babies came from, I said with infinite scorn, "Shoot, that's nothing - I know where Big Tex came from!"

He first say the light of day in the small town of Kerens, in Navarro County, over 50 years ago. As in many small towns, the people there go all out to decorate at Christmastime - not only their homes and businesses, but the town square as well. That year my uncle Hardy was not only the county surveyor, but also the model for the giant figure that would be the centerpiece of the holiday festivities. Tall, broad-shouldered and muscular, he was a fine figure of a man, and his measurements multiplied by seven became the measurements of the colossus. Back then, the cowboy's uplifted hand held a bag of gifts, and his bold features were almost hidden under a flowing beard made of ravelled cotton rope. Instead of a broad-brimmed Stetson, he wore a red cap trimmed with white, and he was known as Santy---Santy Claus.

After the celebration, this giant figure built of oil field pipe became a storage problem, which the townspeople solved by offering him to the State Fair. The company that makes Lee jeans offered to dress him as a cowboy, and Uncle Hardy helped dismantle him for his journey to Dallas.

I have never visited Uncle Hardy's house without thinking of Big Tex, and I never visit the fair without going to see my old friend, who is after all practically a member of the family. There is usually a daddy with a small child on his shoulders staring round-eyed at those enormous boots. Sometimes a tiny voice whispers, "Mama, where did he come from?" And I tell once more the story of Uncle Hardy and the Santa Claus who became Big Tex.

Monday, September 10, 2012

summer Is winding Down

Here at the lake, summer starts with Memorial Day weekend.  It is bookmarked by 4th of July, and ends with Labor Day.

That's when school starts, and football season, so we have fewer visitors in the fall.  The temperatures start cooling off, to low or mid-nineties, the mesquitoes are not so bad, and the hummingbirds gradually disappear.

We can once more enjoy taking the Chihuahuas out in the evenings for a run, and sit outside without melting.

We even talk about starting a bonfire, although that hasn't actually happened yet.  Wick is still cutting up and splitting firewood from the trees we lost in last summer's long drought, and it is a pleasure to contemplate winter evenings with a fire in the pot belly stove.

We've already started looking up soup recipes to simmer on the pot belly stove, and imagining the steam rising from the soup pot, and the aromas of beef, chicken, and vegetable stews.

The state fair is coming up soon, and I look forward to seeing the beautiful handmade quilts on display.

A few brown leaves have fallen from the trees, a reminder that fall brings with it the slowing down of life--the ducks and geese migrate; the squirrels tuck themselves into hollows in the trees and fluff up their tails to keep warm; the little rabbits hide themselves away until warmer weather.

I have several quilts in progress, each of which will be a reminder to the recipient of my love and will wrap each of them in warm hugs and prayers in every stitch during the dead of winter.

Fall is my favorite time of year.  A time of reflection, and a time of anticipation, relief from the heat of summer, and a promise of winter yet to come.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dickens' Fairy Tale

A book review

Many readers have been critical of The Old Curiosity Shop, feeling that it is too sentimental, too melodramatic, and poorly constructed. They are displeased with the lack of reality. This unreality, however, is exacly what one should expect, since the novel is not designed as a reflection of every~day life. Quilp the dwarf, Sally Brass the dragon, pure and innocent little Nell, and the puppets, giants, performing dogs and other grotesqueries are the cast of a highly imaginative and richly embroidered fairy tale.

Dickens' description of Daniel Quilp emphasizes his physical deformity: the oversized head, face and hands, the short stature, the mirthless grin, the long, crooked, dirty fingernails like claws. He is an animal, a monster who sleeps by day and prowls by night. In his deformity evil is embodied. And yet, as in all fairy tales, the villain must have some attraction or charm with which he draws his victims into his power. Quilp's is two-fold. He has the power to seek out his victim's greatest weakness and use it as a tool of destruction; and, according to his strangely infatuated wife, he has some personal charm, despite "his ugliness.. his ferocity or his natural cunning" (Penguin 73) He exercised his power over Nell's grandfather by lending him money. The sums are increasingly larger and larger, feeding the old man's mania for gambling, until everything he owns is lost to Quilp, who then assumes possession of the curiosity shop and all its contents. Nell and her grandfather are forced to run away from his overwhelming intimidation. He intimidates his wife as well, according to his mother-in-law:

"He is the greatest tyrant that ever lived, she [his wife] daren't call her soul her own, he makes her tremble with a word and even with a look, he frightens her to death, and she hasn't the spirit to give him a word back, no, not a single word" (Penguin 77).  But when Mrs. Quilp is encouraged by her neighbors to rebel against her lord and master, she defends herself by saying, " it's very easy to talk, but I say again that I know--that I'm sure--Quilp has such a way with him when he likes, that the best-looking woman here couldn't refuse him if he chose to make love to her" (Penguin 76).  Through intimidation or charm, this grinning ogre, this prancing goblin, overpowers his victims, until he finally meets disaster.

Small, delicate and beautiful, Nell is the embodiment of perfection, the idealized heroine whose nature encompasses perfect innocenee and goodness. As are almost all fairy tale heroines, she is an orphan, and her remaining relatives are so different in nature and treat her so poorly that one is tempted to think she is a misplaced foundling. Her brother has no real affection for Nell; he seems interested in her only as a means of gaining the fortune which he is convinced the old grandfather intends to bestow on Nell. The grandfather speaks often of his love for Nell, his desire to see her a lady, and his ambition to make her wealthy. But his fascination with gambling drives him to leave the little girl locked up alone night after night, while he pursues his elusive dream of winning a fortune. The gambling fever has such a grip on him that he even steals the few coins Nell earns working for Mrs. Jarley at the waxworks exhibit. He speaks frequently of his loving care of her, but tells Mrs. Jarley they can t be separated, or who would care for him? Instead of his caring for Nell, she cares for him, leading him as they flee London to search for peace and safety in the countryside. Ironically, it is not until Nell is at the end of her earthly journey, when it is too late, that he attempts to care for her as he should.

Their headlong escape from Quilp and London is the nightmare we have all experienced; the threat is not clearly defined or understood, and there is no safe haven, but flight is infinitely preferable to confrontation. The phantasms of the nightmare are the distorted figures of a dreamscape. Codlin and Short arise from among the graves, with the dismembered Punch leering over the top of a tombstone. The Jolly Sandboys Inn, which seems to offer refuge from the storm, is filled with threatening, or at least grotesque, characters such as week-kneed giants, dwarfs, gypsies, and dogs who wear clothes and walk on their hind legs. Mrs. Jarley offers respite from the wearying road, but Nell's nights among the waxwork figures are waking nightmares:

Quilp indeed was a perpetual nightmare to the child, who was constantly haunted by a vision of his ugly face and stunted figure"... Then there were so many of the [the waxworks] with their great glassy eyes--.. .they looked so like Living creatures, and yet so unlike, in their grim stillness and silence, that she had a kind of terror of them for their own sakes.. until she was obliged to rise and light a candle..." (Penguin 289)

Dick Swiveller's story is a parallel fairy tale in which the orphaned "Marchioness", like Cinderella, lives in a cellar, starved, mistreated, virtually a slave to Sally Brass, "a female dragon" (Penguin330). Dick is unconsciously a prince in disguise, who educates, then marries the waif, and redeems Kit's good character. Kit, Nell's faithful servant, marries his sweetheart and lives happily ever after, in service with the Garlands.

The single gentleman, Nell's would-be fairy godfather, arrives too late to save her, but is reconciled with the grandfather at last. Nell is not the traditional fairy-tale heroine who lives happily ever after; her story is more like the Victorian morality stories in which the wicked are punished, but the extremely virtuous, too good for this wicked world, are taken home to heaven lest they be corrupted by maturity. In Kit's children are reborn namesakes of many of the characters, but Nell is unique, the mortal girl who becomes, if not a fairy, then an angel.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Success Story In Reading

by Doris Andrews, Jan Eppler, and Sid Womack

Jim's problems were apparent from the very beginning. He was one of 26 high school seniors enrolled in an Upward Bound English course on a university campus in Oklahoma. He had difficulty using the correct spellings of many words, and writing a sentence was an almost unknown behavior. Jim would be a high school senior in the Fall, and he had aspirations of going to college. It appeared that life was about to pass him by.
The professor wasted no time in identifying that a problem existed, and referred Jim to a tutor who had been hired by the English department to give individual help. The tutor soon realized that Jim's writing problems went back further to a reading problem, and she asked a faculty person in elementary/special education for some help.
The elementary/special education professor was new on campus and did not have a lot of time for a long involvement, so about three hours were spent training this tutor to be a remedial reading teacher. Three hours! Most teacher educators would pale at the idea. The tutor had had no courses in reading, elementary education, or special education. But both Jim and the tutor seemed highly motivated. The advice followed the lines of a psycholinguistic/diagnosis and remediation framework generally. Language is used to describe experiences. The sequence of growth in language is: experience, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The writing problems were therefore the tip of the iceberg. A balanced approach to word attack should be taught~ sight words, phonics, structural analysis, context, use of dictionary, and picture clues give us ideas about the meaning whic'h should be brought to (not extracted from) print. The tutor was loaned Before the Child Reads by James Hymes, Basic Concepts in Reading Instruction by Arnold Burron and Amos Clayburgh, and the Analytical Reading Inventory by Mary Lynn Woods and Aldin Moe in order to gain more background into the process of reading. Both tutor and professor agreed that if a miracle didn't happen this summer, the academic life Jim envisioned would never become a reality.
The following day, the tutor administered the Analytical Reading Inventory (A.R.I.) to Jim. The tutor and the professor evaluated the results together. Jim was reading at the second grade frustrational level--first grade instructional by some stretch of the imagination. He did equally poor on the isolated word lists and the graded paragraphs.
He used practically no contextual clues or structural analysis. He did utilize what few phonics rules he knew. He pressed for a high oral reading rate, making many omission, insertion, and substitution errors. Miscues were common. For Jim, reading was the ordeal of raising a book and making oral sounds.
That afternoon, the elementary professor and tutor went to the university library to check out books for Jim to read. The first grade instructional level was not followed slavishly, but rather followed generally while his reading interests were followed specifically. The readability of some books strayed as high as eighth grade.
Instruction began the following afternoon. A Directed Reading Approach (D.R.A.) was demonstrated to the tutor with Jim by the elementary professor, and the format was followed considerably during the six weeks that followed. Broadening the context of a story seemed a bit strange to Jim at first; he hurried over or ignored the titles of stories and paid little attention to the pictures that accompanied them. Consideration time was spent talking about "big words and little words" (structural analysis) and how word families operate. The tutor read and recorded some stories, letting Jim follow along in his book. Gradually the concept of reading as speech-on-paper began to emerge. Jim's morale improved noticeably. He did not press so hard for a high oral reading rate, but began to read more for meaning. Although some reading was done orally, not every story was read out loud. "Reading does not have to be out loud to be reading" was a message Jim joyfully accepted. The tutor used a lot of patience with Jim, and he responded with a lot of determination. "I will learn to read this summer," was his declaration.
The posttest given at the end of six weeks by the elementary education professor showed that he had very nearly done exactly that. The A.R.I. was once again used. Since Jim was no longer striving for a high oral reading rate it took about two hours to reach his frustrational level. One break was taken,more for the professor than for the student. Jim scored higher on the graded paragraphs than on the isolated word lists, showing that he had learned to use contextual clues. His instructional level was seventh grade and frustrational level was eighth grade. He had gained six years growth in reading in six weeks.'
Some modifiers and disclaimers would be appropriate at this point. First of all, the eighth grade frustrational level obtained may have been from shutting Jim down a little early. He was not at frustration on comprehension and was actually one word recognition error short of frustration at the eighth grade level. Given the proximity to frustration, however, the testing was stopped. In fairness to Jim's teachers of the previous eleven years, it may have been that the skills that Jim evidenced on the posttest were skills that he had learned before, but had forgotten in the rush to show a high oral reading rate in front of his peers. The favorable affective climate generated by the tutor may have unleashed some of this pent-up knowledge. His oral reading rate on the ARI during the posttest rarely went above 100 words per minute. On the posttest, Jim showed a much more balanced approach to word attack skills, trying sight word recognition first, then phonics, then reading several words past the problem word for context clues, and then using structural analysis. He was not allowed to use a dictionary while taking the A.R.I. But now, at least, he has more flexibility at word attack than he had had before.
It could not be said that the things that worked so well for this Indian boy would work for every student. But this incident does show what a little knowledge of the language-acquistion process and a lot of motivation can do.

The above post was co-written some years ago, when I was teaching at SOSU.  I was the tutor mentioned above.  Having never taken any classes in teaching reading, or in elementary education, I was nevertheless able to work with this young man successfully, thanks to the help I received from my co-authors.  While I was teaching full-time there during the school year, I worked during the summer as a tutor.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wick's Dog

Sissy is attached to me.  She is a one-person dog.  She is also very shy, having been a puppy mill rescue.

We got Cassie as a companion for Sissy, since she seems more comfortable with dogs than with people.  She is Sissy's opposite, outgoing, friendly, loving almost everyone who comes through our door.

But at heart she is Wick's dog.

If he is working at the computer, she sits at his feet gazing longingly, waiting for his attention.  If he is sitting in his recliner, she begs to be picked up, so she can love on him.  She prods him with her little black nose, snuggles into his neck, shines and cries for him to play with her, and sits on his shoulder like a furry little parrot.

If he goes outside to work in his garden, she stands at the window, crying her little heart out, begging to go outside and join him.

I am the one who takes both of them for walks, but they can hardly tend to their business, for wanting to get back into the house.  He is the dispenser of treats, and they can't wait for their reward for going out.

Both dogs follow me to the bedroom when I take a nap, and want to sleep in the curve of my back, or the crook of my knee, or on my pillow, snuggled into my shoulder.  But after about an hour, they begin to poke my face with their noses, eager to get back into the living room, where Wick is, and where the treat jar is.

Cassie loves to sit in Wick's lap, or cuddle next to his leg, or insist that he pet and play with her.  she may jump into my lap to nuzzle Sissy briefly, but at the slightest move or sound from him, she is in his lap in a flash.

When I sit on the back porch, reading, drinking a cup of coffee, gazing out at the lake, both dogs beg to come out with me.  But if Wick stands up, makes the slightest movement or noise, Cassie is at the window, pressing her nose against the glass, begging to go back into the house.

She even likes to ride with him in the pickup, to take the trash to the dumpster.

She and Sissy entertain us, playing tug of war, growling softly, stalking each other, face near the floor, tail in the air, wrestling and struggling in endless mock battles.

We are so easily entertained.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Vegetable Salad Recipe--Yummy for Summer

Tina at Antique Mommy gave this recipe to daughter Jeana.  She served it the last time we were at her house, and we both loved it. 

I'm not generally much of a veggie eater, so finding a recipe that makes vegetables palatable is a find, indeed.

In the summer, we cook on the grill a lot, and eat outside whenever the weather is nice, and this kind of salad is the perfect side dish.

Pea Salad

Drain well:  1 can of English peas, 1 can of shoe peg corn, 1 can of green beans, 1 can of pimento
Chop:  1C of celery, 1 green bell pepper, 1 purple onion (I sometimes skip the pimento and add a chopped fresh red pepper for color)

Dressing:  1C sugar, ½ C vinegar, ½ C of salad oil, 1 ½ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp of pepper

Dissolve dressing on low heat and let cool.  Pour  over drained vegetables and refrigerate for 48 hours or more. Keeps up to two weeks in fridge.

You can be creative add other veggies and spices.

Jan's note: I have substituted other veggies, added others, and used extra crunchy stuff, and it always turns out good.  The dressing is the key.  Since Wick and I try to avoid sugar, we substitute Splenda, and we can't tell the difference. 
We have used black eyed peas,sliced carrots, hominy, pretty much any canned or frozen vegetable you can think of.  I like sugar snap peas in it too.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Bleak House--A Character Analysis

Recently I found some papers I wrote some time ago, and thought I would share here.  

Dickens Novels--Bleak House
The Amoral Childhood of Harold Skimpole

Harold Skimpole is one of the eccentric strays of John Jarndyce's establishment in Bleak House. Like Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardiggle, he is a beneficiary of Jarndyce's charity; even more, Jarndyce seems to have great personal affection for him. He not only accepts, but seems to admire) Skimpole's self-proclaimed innocence;

He is grown up--he is at least as old as I am--but in simplicity, and freshness, and enthusiasm, and a fine guileless inaptitude for all worldly affairs; he is a perfect child. (Riverside 51)

Esther Summerhill, however, like the reader, comes to suspect that Skimpole's naiveté is merely a screen for his amoral nature. When Skimpole first appears, Jarndyce introduces him as "a mere child," and at first he seems as charming and attractive as a well-mannered, well-educated child can be. He plays the piano, sings, makes fancy-sketches, even composes a little music. He values good food, good wine, and good conversation. His first encounter with "Coavinses" is humorous, as he endeavors to demonstrate that he ought not to be held accountable if his means don't allow him to carry out his good intentions: "Not having the means to pay his bills, he substituted the will for the deed" (156).

When he describes his inability to hold down a job as personal physician to a German Prince, one can't help smiling at the word-picture Skimpole paints.

...when he was wanted to bleed the prince, or physic any of his people, he was generally found lying on his back, in bed reading the newspapers, or making fancy-sketches ...and couldn't come. (53)

He speaks with brilliance and humor of his adventures, but with a certain detachment, as if he were speaking of someone else. He makes clear to us and to Esther that he is completely free of the "duties and accountabilities of life" which circumscribe Esther's existence, but he never makes clear how this state of affairs has come to be.

Skimpole goes through life depending on the generosity of others to solve his problems. He doesn't hesitate for a moment to take advantage of Esther's generous nature, allowing her to give up her hard-earned and pitifully small life savings to prevent his arrest. He doesn't even has the grace to be thankful, but attempts to demonstrate that it is he who has conferred the favor:

I don't feel any vulgar gratitude to you. I almost feel as if you ought to be grateful to me for giving you the opportunity of enjoying the luxury of generosity. (54)

He repeats this idea when visiting Neckitt's orphaned children, rejoicing that he has enabled Neckitt to "bring up these charming children in this agreeable way, developing these social virtues!" (165). Indeed, it is the idea that Skimpole has not brought up his own children properly, that they have had to tumble up on their own somehow, that prompts Jarndyce to indicate some slight uneasiness about the effects of Skimpole's behavior on others. And when this man-child is juxtaposed with real children, our patience begins to wear quite thin.

When poor Jo is discovered, too weak and sick to travel, Skimpole's cool indifference to his plight is truly objectionable:

You had better turn him out....He's not safe, you know.... Give him sixpence, or five shillings, or five pound ten--and get rid of him!(330)

It is one thing to fail to respond to a wealthy German prince, who has other avenues to pursue for assistance, and may be treated humorously. But the cool, callous manner in which he refuses to assist the helpless Jo is revolting. Esther comments, "The amiable face with which he said it, I think I shall never forget" (331). Esther seems quite prepared, later, to believe without hesitation that Skimpole not only accepts money from Richard, who has nearly exhausted his funds, but has accepted a bribe to introduce Richard to the human bloodsucker Vhole.

The curious thing is Jarndyce's reluctance to see Skimpole for what he is. Even when kind-hearted Esther has given up any attempt to justify or overlook Skimpole's lack of morality, Jarndyce continues to speak of him with kindness and admiration. Ada finally asks the question that has been in the reader's mind for so long: "What made him such a child?"

...he is all sentiment, and --and sensibility---and ---and imagination. And these qualities are not regulated in him, somehow. (405)

Despite our clear understanding of Skimpole's character, Jarndyce clings to his belief that "there is nothing mercenary...with him. He has no idea of the value of money." (406)

In the end, Skimpole stands revealed by his own words: ""I have no common sense...I am not at all respectable, and I don't want to be" (403). He is a butterfly, bright and gay, flitting from flower to flower, enjoying the beauty and color, taking what he needs, but contributing nothing. For John Jarndyce, apparently, Skimpole's good qualities are sufficient, but Esther, and the reader, can't help remembering his lack of sympathy, genuine good will and generosity. For them, the wind remains in the east.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Faith in a Phone Booth

Some years ago, I was finishing a long and unpleasant year at a school where I felt I just did not fit. I had been sending out resumes, making phone calls, networking, and praying, but so far, nothing.

By the end of May, I was resigned to returning to the same school the next fall. I didn't want to, but with no other jobs on the horizon, I couldn't see any other choice. I couldn't afford to be jobless.

Early in June, my dear friend, the pastor's wife, told me about a women's quadrennial meeting in Indiana. Someone who had already paid to go discovered that she needed heart surgery, and couldn't go. She wanted someone to take her place, at her expense.

It was just three days before the deadline for me to resign. (Teachers in Texas have to resign at least 45 days before the beginning of the new year.) Wick and I discussed the situation, and he encouraged me to take the trip. He felt that it would give me spiritual renewal, and strength to face the next school year.

It was a two-day bus trip to Purdue University campus, where the quadrennial would be held.
By the time we arrived, I already had a message from Wick.

That summer was one of the hottest on record in Indiana, and the campus rooms had no air conditioning. I wasn't sure I wanted to stay, but had no way to get home.

I called Wick, happy to hear his voice. He said he had a phone call from a principal who wanted to interview me. We arranged for me to be in a certain phone booth the next day at noon.

Let me tell you, standing in a phone booth in the broiling sun is no fun. But I waited for the call. When the phone rang, my heart rate went up about 100%.

The principal spent twenty minutes telling me about the program, a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program for kids who in the past would have been expelled from their home schools.

He finally stopped to ask if I had any questions. I asked a few about the program. He still had not asked me about myself or my experience as a teacher.

Then he said, "I want to offer you this position."
I said, "Unfortunately, I am in Indiana right now for a church women's conference, and won't be home until 7 days from now--too late for me to resign then."

He said, "I am offering you this job right now. I've talked to your references, and spent about 45 minutes talking to your husband. I have known for a year that this position was going to be open, and I have been praying all that time that God would send the right person. I am convinced that you are the right person. If you will fax me your letter of resignation, I will hand deliver it to make sure it gets there in time."

At that moment, I felt I was hearing the voice of God, telling me to take that job. Wick and all my family had been praying, as well as all the women from my church who were on the trip with me.

So I stepped out on faith, and said yes. I faxed my resignation letter to a man I had never met, and would not meet until the beginning of the school year.

My heart was pounding in my chest as I dialed our home phone number.

I told Wick what I had done.
He said, "What will you be teaching?"
I said, "I don't know."
He said, "How much will you be making?"
I said, "I don't know."
He said, "Jan!?!"
I said, "Honey, when God speaks to you in a phone booth in Indiana, you just have to do what He is telling you to do."

My reward for stepping out on faith was seven years with a Christian principal, and a staff which was, with one exception, committed Christians. The students could be extremely challenging, but with their background of disciplinary problems, that was to be expected.

On days when I got discouraged, I reminded myself that God had sent me there, and would not put more on me than He would give me strength to meet.

Even now, after so many years, I still think it sounded crazy to entrust my future to a man I never met. But he was a Christian brother I just had not met yet.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Kindle Touch--Product Review

After much deliberation, research, and questions of friends and family, I decided I wanted an Kindle Touch.

Wick got it for me this week. So far, I have downloaded nearly 100 books, all free from Amazon.

I still don't exactly know how to work it, but I am learning.

I'm not usually on the cutting edge of technology, so it took me a while to decide that I wanted an e-reader.

Wick is hoping that I will download all the books I currently have on my shelves. Maybe I will let go of some, but so far, nothing I have downloaded is on my shelves. And we have a lot of shelves.

I love books. I love the feel of a book in my hand. I love how books smell, especially old books. I never thought I would want an e-reader. But it is so easy to download a book, and so convenient to carry a library of books around with me, wherever I go.

Target had a special offer this week; buy a Kindle Touch and get a $10 gift card. I used the gift card immediately, to buy a cover for my kindle.

They only had orange, black, and purple. I wanted pink, but settled for the purple.

It's easy to recharge the battery, but I need to remember to do it at night, when I am asleep, instead of in the morning, when I would rather be curled up in my comfy chair with the puppies in my lap, reading and drinking coffee. By the way, have any of you tried the new International coffee creamer that tastes like a York peppermint patty? I love it, and can't wait to try the Almond Joy flavor.

One feature I love is that I can enlarge the font, and read without my reading glasses if I want to.

I'm sure I will eventually find something about the kindle touch that I don't like, but it hasn't happened yet.

I receive no remuneration for this review, and have no financial interest in Amazon or Kindle.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cruise Control

About a week ago, Wick and I returned from a Caribbean cruise. If you have never been on a cruise, start saving right now, and go on one. We love the whole experience.

A whole week of being pampered, eating gourmet food, never having to do dishes or make up the bed or clean the bathroom, sitting in the shade on deck with a good book, watching the deep deep blue ocean and the dolphins playing in the waves, and making new friends.

We fall quickly into the routine, eating breakfast at the buffet, snacking in the bistro on the promenade deck, playing Trivia of all sorts, exploring the various venues.

Each evening, we dress for dinner, and later go to the theater for some kind of show or entertainment.

On the last evening, we arrived early, as usual, to find good seats. A man I had never seen sat down in the seat next to me. A little later, he was joined by a man and a woman, and they fell into conversation. I couldn't help overhearing their discussion, filled with questions about electric scooters and electric wheel chairs. Since I have both, I uncharacteristically butted in on their conversation, and tried to answer some of their questions.

One thing led to another, and they began to confide about the man's wife, who is the woman's sister. She had been ill the whole cruise. After a few questions, Wick and I looked at each other. Her symptoms sounded so familiar: just like the symptoms I had three years ago. congestive heart failure. We talked a little before the show, then in more depth afterward.

After hearing what we had to say, they agreed that their family member was really sick, worse than they had imagined, and made plans to get her off the ship in a wheel chair, and then take her to the emergency room.

We offered to pray for them, and gave them our phone number with a request to let us know how she fared.

A couple of days ago, the husband called to tell us that when they arrived at the ER, she was rushed to surgery to have a liter of fluid drained from her pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart. She was indeed suffering from heart failure, and is still in the hospital undergoing tests to determine the best course of treatment.

All of us agreed that God led us to sit side by side that night before the show, and to share our story. The husband feels that without our input, he might not have insisted that his wife seek treatment so quickly, since she was denying that anything was really wrong, even though she could hardly walk, and could not breathe lying down.

Even on a vacation, even on a cruise ship, God is in control, and can use us to help others. How thankful we are that He led us to those seats, and opened our hearts to share with this family. As Wick said, it hit us in the face without warning. At least this family knew ahead of time how bad things might be, and were able to get her to treatment.

Entertaining angels unawares...

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Book Review: WhenBad Things Happen to Good Knitters

Some time ago, (no, I won't say how long, it's too embarrassing) the Taunton Press sent me an exam copy of this book to review. I think it was because I had posted about knitting, and how much I respect the old crafts, knitting, crochet, quilting, embroidery.

Somehow, the book disappeared under a pile of other books, and just recently came to light again. In my house, this is a common occurence, since books are to be found in every room, on shelves, in stacks, or open face down in a chair.

The complete title is When Bad Things Happen to Good Knitters: An Emergency Survival Guide, by Marion Edmonds and Ahza Moore.

It's a handy little volume filled with all kinds of rescue advice, beginning with a chapter on emergency prevention.

It is well organized, with clear illustrations for how to retrieve dropped stitches, various methods of finishing, and all kinds of other knitting emergencies.

The one thing I did not like was the choice of pale green for Section headings. They are difficult to read for me.

This is not a book for beginning knitters. The authors assume some basic knowledge of knitting. So if you are just learning how to knit, there are better instructive books out there. But if you have basic knitting skills, this book can tell you how to overcome almost any error you might make.

I am barely above beginner knitter, and have only made things shaped like squares (for an afghan) or rectangles (baby blankets). I taught myself to knit from a book while pregnant with our first child. With this book as a companion, maybe I will spread my wings and try something a little more complex.

Even for an experienced knitter, this book has advice to offer, especially for someone who does not have a companion knitter to help resolve issues such as (mis)reading a pattern, or what to do if the sleeve of the sweater has somehow sprouted from the chest instead of the shoulder.

I recommend this book for knitters of any level.

Note: I do not receive any remuneration for this review, or for subsequent purchases of the product.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Once Upon a Time

Is anyone else watching this show? Someone recommended it to us. I didn't think Wick would like it, but he is as intrigued as I am.

If you haven't seen it, the show is based on the idea of taking familiar fairy tale characters and putting them in a town in our world, which seems to be the UNreal world, and the Magic Forest is the REAL world.

A few liberties have been taken with the characters as previously known, but by and large, they are true to their fairy-tale counter-parts.

So....okay, we have Snow White, who is looking for her Prince Charming, who seems to be married to someone else, but maybe she is not real, and maybe their memories have been magically altered.

We have Emma who came to Storybrook in search of the son she gave up for adoption, who just happens to have been adopted by the Evil Queen, who apparently controls all the characters in Storybrook.

Rumpelstiltskin is just as unattractive as in the fairy tales, living in Storybrook as Mr. Gold. But we get a back story to explain why he became wicked and evil.

Henry, the biological son of Emma, has a book of fairy tales, and has assigned character equivalents to each of the people in Storybrook.

I just reread this, and am not sure if it makes sense or not.

We are hooked on the show, and tivo it every week. I grew up reading fairy tales, and loving them, so I guess that explains my obsession with it.

What I can't really figure out is why Wick likes it. He is normally the logical, sane, sequential one of us, while I am totally random and abstract.

Whatever the reason, we enjoy it.

Try it; you might like it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On a Winter's Day

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.

The lake reflects the pewter color of the sky. Brown leaves carpet the ground, with here and there a maple leaf glowing golden yellow as candle light, or red, scarlet, crimson as a small ember.

Yesterday afternoon, one brave bunny ventured out of his snug, fur-lined nest, and promptly got chased by the dogs for his trouble. One lone squirrel uncoiled from the eiderdown soft comfort of his bushy tail, and chittered at us as we walked by.

It's been raining for two days, non-stop. Slow, soaking rain, just what we need in the time of drought. The lake is up a few inches, which is encouraging.

From the windows that run across the back of the cabin, we can see the spot where paper-white narcissus cast their sweet fragrance in spring. Further along, daffodils will lift their golden trumpets, and the spear-tipped leaves of the iris will herald their purple and white blooms, showing their velvety throats as they blossom.

From this cold, dark, wet landscape life will erupt in just a few months. Perhaps we, too, need a time of cold to reflect, to meditate, to realize how blessed we are, and how much we will have to offer, when spring comes again.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Numbering My Days

So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.--Psalm 90:12

Three years ago this week, I was released from hospital after nearly two months, facing 4 months of physical therapy and rehab to learn to walk again.

I had just been told that I was permanently disabled, and would never work again.

I was struggling with who I am now, since I am not at all who I was. For months, I struggled with physical limitations, and loss of identity. I didn't know myself any more.

I could not understand why God had not taken me home, when I begged for death. Why was I still here? What was I supposed to do, when I couldn't teach any more?

I still don't have a definitive answer to those questions. I have, however, learned that even though I don't understand, I accept His wisdom. I may never know for sure the reason, if there is just one.

I am learning to see the humor in my life again. I have regained most of my mental acuity. I have been given opportunities to use my teaching skills in small, less-taxing situations other than the classroom.

My grandchildren have availed themselves of my sewing, crochet and knitting skills. My children have told me that I am an important resource for them, because of things I remember, and abilities I have taught them.

Now that Wick is retired too, we are finding new depths of our relationship, new ways to express what has been there all along, but we were sometimes too busy to notice.

We are living full-time at the lake. We have found a new church home. Our relationship with our Lord is growing deeper and broader each day.

Only God the Father knows when our days on this earth shall end. I am satisfied that He knows the number of hairs on my head, the number of beats of my heart, the path that He would have me follow.

He has remodeled my heart from four times its normal size to the size it is supposed to be.
And He has remodeled my spirit to accept whatever may come, because He holds me safe under His wings.

I don't know where I will be a year from now; I just know that wherever it is, He will be with me.