Talents…Dreams…

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“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ” I used everything you gave me.”

Erma Bombeck

That quote has pulsed through my mind for two weeks now.  I read it in the book One Month to Live by Kerry and Chris Shook.  The words hit me so profoundly.  When my time comes, will I be able to say that I have used my talents, or have they been idling in the back of my mind untouched?  (This book is about way more than untouched talents and a very good read, by the way.)

I am blessed to attend a once a week gathering with a group of diverse women who aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions.  They talk about topics most casual acquaintances would never discuss.  Topics that make you ask yourself the hard questions.  What if I only had one month to live?  What if I’ve done nothing but squander time?

In our group, we have two wanna-be writers, a banker who runs marathons and has found a passion in teaching, a dental hygienist who realized her real passion isn’t cleaning teeth but engaging with her patients, a few retirees who have more spark and life than people half their ages, and mothers…lots of mothers.

We talk about our dreams, our fears, our struggles with raising actual people.  For some it’s very difficult to voice their dreams aloud.  And for one kind woman, she sheepishly admitted, “I must have missed the line for dreams.  I’ve never really had one.”  (But this woman has talents…talents she uses every day in the work force, talents she uses in the church and with people around her.  Maybe she’s just never thought of them as a passion…)

It’s no secret that I have two passions.  One passion is children, the other is writing.  The first passion is aging.  It has become a little tarnished with time, and definitely banged up over the years.  But even still, even as the powers that be are changing everything I once knew about teaching, I still love the children.  My other passion never stops whispering to me…even when I’m at work surrounded by twenty little bodies.

Writing was an urge given to me.  I did not earn it or bargain for it.  I did not expect it.  It showed up in my early thirties and since that time has devoured a large part of my soul.  Do I consider it a talent?  I don’t know.  But I know this…if and when the time comes for me to say that yes, I’ve used my talents, I want to be able to say it.  I’ve given 24 years of my life to teaching, and I want to be able to say that I gave writing my all as well.

So how do I do this?  Our group discusses this often.  How do we find the time to do it all?  I spend 40 hours a week at work then what feels like another 40 taking care of the house, food, etc.  What time does that leave for writing?  Sometimes, very little.

My challenge is to find the time to write more.  And that is my challenge to you.  What are your talents?  What are your dreams?  Is it finally being able to be a stay at home mom?  Is it a passion for cooking (and will you share just a smidgen of that with me)?  Is it a need to take care of others?  Whatever it is, I challenge you to embrace it as I do the same.  Maybe we can find our way there together.

I am a Teacher, and I’m Worried

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I am a teacher, and I’m worried.

I am worried about cursive handwriting.  It’s gone.  The powers that be have decided it is no longer needed.  How is that possible?  How can anyone say that all people shouldn’t be able to read and write in cursive?  Does this mean that our children will not be able to read birthday cards sent by their grandparents, or historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence, or even a scribbled grocery list?  This bothers me.  And will they be able to sign their names the first time they take out a loan for a car or a house?  They say computers are making cursive handwriting obsolete.  I don’t believe that… not at all.

I love my computer, there’s no denying it, but computer blah, blah, blah.  Computers are not the answer to every problem in the world.  They will never replace the emotion in a written letter or the flare of an exquisite signature gracing the bottom of an important document.

I am a teacher, and I’m worried.

Art is disappearing from our schools…along with hand-painted t-shirts and zip-loc bag ice cream, science and social studies.  They are vanishing before my very eyes.  Children, especially very small children, need to be creative.  They need to paint and color and imagine.  We are stifling their creativity by stealing what little time they once had to explore.

I’m a teacher, and I’m worried.

Parents are vanishing from our schools.  I don’t see them at lunch anymore, and because of the need for more instruction time, they are rarely in our building for anything else.  We need our parents.  We need them to care about our school.  When we lose our parents, we will become a body without limbs.  Somehow there has to be way to meet all the standards placed upon us while still involving the most important key to a student’s success.  Without parental involvement, we’re all doomed.

I am a teacher, and I’m worried.

I’m worried about the ‘product’ we’re producing.  Will this all work…Common Core and PARCC, etc., etc.?  Will the children really be so much smarter or will it end up being just an experiment on our children?  And what if it doesn’t work?  How will we help them recover?

I feel anxiety and stress because I don’t like the changes – so is it just me?  Just my problem?  My self-induced anxiety?  I’m worried because the world is changing quicker than I care to keep up.  I want my students to grow seeds in a cup on a sunny windowsill.  I want them to create artistic masterpieces they envision.  I want them to learn about the planets and St. Patrick’s Day and the seasons and past presidents.  I want these things so I squeeze them in when I can, but will it be enough to keep the sparks alive in their creative minds while filling the knowledge bank on the other side of their brains?

I am worried but I will try not to worry.  I’ll try to focus on each day, each moment, instead of a bleak, scary future.  I’ll turn my worry over and pray for balance.  Balance to teach what my heart knows is right while fulfilling every demand before me.  I will teach first graders prepositions and regrouping, and I will do my best, but I won’t give up the search for balance.

Balance that holds us steady instead of flinging us into untested ideas.  Balance that keeps in mind the needs of the child, not the need for a test score confirmation.  Balance that looks at the whole instead of the minute.  Balance that includes common sense and empathy, growth as well as understanding.

I am worried, but I won’t lose my balance.

I See Yellow!

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A little yellow cup, a little yellow frill, a little yellow star, and that’s a daffodil.

 Surrounded by the brown, bleak world of winter, the very first smidgen of color finally graced our farm.  A bright, sunny yellow surrounded by a few shoots of green.  Tiny in comparison to the fields of gray, but size doesn’t matter.  A little yellow cup …a little yellow buttercup.  And I’m so thankful they’re here.

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How did these get here? I wonder who planted them? I wish I knew!

I always teach the poem above to my students, but I have never called these bright flowers daffodils.  They have always been buttercups to me.  Maybe it’s a southern thing.  I’m blessed to live on an old farm that has a lot of these beauties.  The smaller, wild variety line my driveway, and the yard is full of a mixture of hand-planted bulbs.  There are White Lions and Butter and Eggs, Twin Sisters and Birthday Girls.  They are all gorgeous and such a joyful surprise each spring.  Don’t you love their nicknames?

After a long, cold winter, I sure am glad to see their shining faces!

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A little warmth for your day:  A sweet girl came up to me with the United States map.  She said, “Mrs. Rackley…show me where Afree-gani-a-stan is on here.  My friend’s daddy is there.”  I told her we needed a globe for that one.  Only six-year olds can sound so cute saying Afghanistan.

And this was a paper turned in by a student today.  They had spelling sentences for homework last night.  Check out number 3.

This is homework from one of my sweetest students.  He/she may have had a little help with a few of these.

He/she may have had a little help with a few of these.

As winter squeezes us with its last fierce hugs, I hope you all find color and warmth in the world around you.  Hang on tightly, spring is on its way!

Tidbits and Tattles

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Tidbits and tattles:

First of all, I have never been so happy to see February come to an end.  This month has kicked my butt.  Work has been a madhouse, there was the lovely holiday called Valentine’s Day, and sadly, my grandmother passed.  It has been so busy and just too hectic for my naturally calm soul.  I yearn for quiet and color and written words.  Every winter I think this will be the winter I write and write and write.  Somehow, it never happens.  It’s almost like I need the colors of the world for inspiration.  Or maybe I’m just too bogged down and tired to focus.  That definitely could be it.

Or maybe it’s all just an excuse.  Deep in my soul, I want to write (or read) all the time but something always gets in the way.  They are real things…like work and taking care of a house…but regardless, they become excuses.  This past Saturday I spent several hours ‘editing’ an old book of mine (I say editing but I have no real idea how to edit).  It was wonderful.  It was wonderful to put my excuses aside and spend a few hours doing something I love.

I did manage to read a wonderful book this past month.  The Husband’s Secret, written by Liane Moriarty, was a good read.  Cleverly mapped out, it had suspense, love and intrigue.  It also had secrets…lots of secrets.  The first few chapters were tedious as we’re introduced to lots and lots of characters but when the characters start to mesh, it plays out perfectly.  I especially loved the ending…all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘could haves’ were thought provoking.

To the tattles:  like I said, school has been nuts.  N-U-T-T-Y and I feel dang nutty these days.  In the midst of school programs and Parent-Teacher Conferences, I got a new student from Egypt.  He is precious but knows very little English.  And bless him – he somehow found himself in Tennessee with a teacher that has a southern drawl.  He may never learn English.  So far, he hasn’t spoken much.  There are only two phrases I’ve heard him say – please toilet and please drink.   Isn’t that sweet?  He knows what is important.

What is truly precious is watching the other students take care of him.  They figured out quickly that he didn’t speak English, and my little mother hens (the girls) have taken him under their wings.  They want to help him with everything – almost to the point where I’ve had to tell them to back away and let him breath.  The boys, on the other hand, just play with him…blocks, computers, puzzles…and he joins right in.  They communicate with sounds and smiles.

Here’s a funny…I was teaching a lesson on synonyms this week.  I asked the class, “What is the synonym for adore?”  I got many confused looks, several frowns, and finally one little boy spat, “Does it mean I want to date her?”  Close, so close!

I wonder what my new student thinks about being adored?  If there’s anything my class can do, it’s adore someone!  He may be adored to death.

My Grandmother

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Let me tell you about my grandmother.  Picture a petite, five foot tall woman with tiny, size five feet.  Imagine short gray hair and sky blue eyes.  Can you see her walking fast, shuffling along much faster than a short woman should?  I can.  And her mind…it was sharp, so very smart.  That is the woman I lost in the wee hours of the morning.  This feisty, witty, loving woman.  She was my grandmother, and now there’s this hole in my heart.  I had my grandmother for 44 years…for that I’m grateful.

This past summer I posted about geraniums, my favorite flower.  I wrote a paragraph about grandmother and thought I’d post it again.  Thank you, grandmother, for passing along your love of flowers and for loving us they way you did.

Geraniums were a staple of my youth…well, at least a staple of my youth at my grandmother’s house.  Every spring, her concrete pots would suddenly sprout a set of matching red geraniums.  They became a symbol of my grandmother…along with her fruit-filled jello salad, scrumptious vegetables she grew in her own enormous garden, and her sparkling blue eyes.  Grandmother was smart, sometimes sharp-tongued, but always nothing more, nothing less than my loving grandmother.  She passed her love of geraniums on to me, and never has there been a summer season without their blossoms gracing my yard.

flower

 

…Maybe it’s the geranium’s heartiness – a quality we all strive for, or maybe it’s their unique fragrance – different from so many others, which echoes my very being.  Whatever the reason, I adore them.   I will smile each time I see them, thinking of my grandmother, thinking of what she taught us, what she shared.  And I will smile as I remember.

The Beatles

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Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer
Paperback writer -

The Beatles

When I was a little girl in the early part of the 70′s, I was a huge fan of The Monkees, along with Donny and Marie and Scooby Doo.  I listened to The Monkees on my orange and white 45 record player.  From an early age, I remember having records and albums in my room.  I spent hours listening to music while sporting posters of Donny and Marie over my bed.

Momma and Daddy always encouraged me to listen to The Beatles but I would have none of it.  I mean, The Monkees had their own T.V. show…and it was funny…and The Monkees had Davy Jones…and he made a guest appearance on The Brady Bunch.  The Monkees won my attention hands down.

I grew up, my taste in music changed, and as an adult I still never really paid much attention to The Beatles.  I appreciated them immensely, don’t get me wrong, but I still didn’t quite love them.

This past weekend, as I sat in an over-the-counter-cold-medicine-fog, I fell in love with The Beatles for the first time.   Watching their 50 years in America special, hearing other artists belt out their songs, I was taken aback by words.  Words I’ve not paid attention to before.  And their words snagged my soul.

I found myself lost in George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  Absolutely beautiful and a tad haunting.

I was also amazed at Ringo’s vitality and his yearning to still be noticed (he would pat his chest and tell the world…that was me, I did that).  And Sir Paul is still Sir Paul.  How a group of very young, very talented men came together, changed the face of music, and managed to disband by the time they were thirty is amazing.

I’m intrigued, and I may watch the re-play of the T.V. special again tonight!

Who was your favorite Beatle and why?  What is your favorite Beatle song?  (Mine is George, and it’s a toss up between In My Life and Paper Back Writer!)

Puppies

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My son recently brought home a new puppy.  A tiny, furry, very cute Labrador puppy.  Yes, I said Labrador.  Lord help us.  The last Lab we owned was in the 1990′s.  It managed to chew the siding off our house, yank all the wiring from underneath my husband’s truck, and swallow whole walnuts – which ended up requiring emergency surgery.

To say the least, I’m hoping we have a better experience with this dog.

Sadie, the new puppy.  Isn't she cute?  Her name should've been Miss Pee's A lot.

Sadie, the new puppy. Isn’t she cute? Her name should’ve been Miss Pees A lot.

This makes our third dog.  One inside dog, two outside dogs.  But here’s the catch – it’s too cold to let the dogs sleep outside at night, and we have to “potty-train” the pup.  Nights at my house have become very interesting, to say the least.  Four-legged creatures, all different sizes, wrestling in a pile on my once new living room carpet.  Beanie, the sweetest but smelliest mutt you’ve ever seen, knows no personal boundaries.  She is in your face, stinky or not.  Layla, my pampered indoor princess, is appalled at the presence of other dogs in her house, and the puppy…oh the puppy.  Sadie runs, she pees, she runs, she sleeps, she pees.  All within thirty minutes.

My princess, Layla.  She's spoiled, and I couldn't help it.

My princess, Layla. She’s spoiled, and I couldn’t help it.

My new carpet is no longer new.

What I have discovered…since before two years ago I was not a dog person, or an animal person for that matter…is that these dogs all have personalities.  Like people.  And it’s fascinating to me.  They are all so distinct in their behaviors and mannerisms.

If only they weren’t so messy.  And if only my carpet wasn’t new.

Beanie, the outside dog who wants to be an inside dog so bed.

Beanie, the outside dog who wants to be an inside dog so bad.

Too Much to Bear

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There has been a lot of talk lately about being given more than you can handle…or precisely not being given more than you can handle in a bad situation.  The old saying goes something like God won’t give you more than you can handle.  Those words have been pounding through my brain the past few days trying to find the truth.

Is it true that we will never be given more than we can handle?  Or did some (albeit kind but demented) person create the tag line?  I recently read that it never says those exact words in the Bible.

So…who came up with it?

Our small town has been slammed with death and heartache lately.  Just this past weekend, a five-year old girl was killed in a tragic car accident.  She leaves behind heartbroken, devastated parents.  Are we to believe that these people can handle this situation?  Are they stronger than the rest of us?

In my worst moments, the moments I just couldn’t see passed the next minute or the next hour, I remember thinking those words. I remember thinking, “Okay, God, I love you and all, but I’m not this strong.  I promise.  I just can’t do this.”  And in those moments, I begged for His help, His strength because I knew it was beyond my realm to survive it alone.

But I did survive.  Somehow, I continued moving and eating and breathing even though it was terribly ugly to watch.  So how did I do it?  How did I survive?

I survived because of God.  I survived because I could not do it alone and for that reason, I depended on Him more than I had ever before.  During the worst, maybe that’s the point.  Maybe we should rely on God.  He’s infinitely stronger and wiser and more capable than we’ll ever be, and I’m thankful He’s willing to tote me around when I’m at my worst.

And honestly, needing Him that much has made my relationship with Him stronger than ever before.

My heart aches for the family of this little girl.  She attended the school where I work, and her teacher was left with the gut-wrenching job of dealing with her classmates.  Another colleague told her class about the accident and simply told them that sometimes in life bad things happen.  The little ones nodded their heads, taking her words to heart.  They can and will accept that their friend is now in Heaven much easier than many adults will.

For those struggling with too much to bear, there are no words, not really.  Only know many are thinking of you and praying for you, and you are never alone.

Unconditional Love

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What is unconditional love?  Have you ever experienced it?

I once thought I knew what unconditional love was.  Life seemed full of it, abounding in each direction I turned.  Children were everywhere and I loved them all.  Friends encircled me…work friends, church friends, social friends…friends I’d had all of my adult life.  Family grew thick and strong, shoots of it stabilizing  my life.  I was like a farmer smiling at his crop just before the harvest…so very sure that nothing could ever destroy what I’d worked so hard for.

Then life came knocking.  The brutal, ugly side of life that no one likes to acknowledge.  The side that will kick you in the teeth and leave you on the ground.  And unconditional love ceased to exist.  Like a wave receding from the shore, most of what I had considered stable and sure was swept out to sea.  In an instant, it was simply gone.

What was left was a very ragged, harried version of myself.  A depressed and lonely creature that fought every day not to become bitter.  Even sad, I knew I didn’t want to be that person.  Even sad, it took every ounce of strength I had left in me to rise above what life pummeled me with.

The result was a lesson…a huge lesson in what unconditional love truly is.  And now I know the true meaning of it.

Unconditional love simply means loving with your whole being, no strings attached.  Not many can do this…it requires way too much work and giving of your own self.  Not many can let go of what society says and love anyway.  Loving that way demands that you love even when things are wrong and hard.  It demands that you give even when you may despise the quality of another person’s life.  Love dictates that you keep on opening yourself to another even when you want to give up.

But you never give up.  That’s the unconditional part.  You keep praying and you keep loving the unlovable and you keep believing that someday things will be better.

I am so blessed to have survived and made it to the other side of the teeth-kicking.  My teeth have even healed enough for me to smile and mean it.  The numbers may be few but I have been blessed with unconditional loves.  People who love no matter what.  Nothing is a greater gift…not anything.

Those people…mostly family because isn’t that where unconditional love grows the strongest?…stick.  We stick together and we push forward.  Little blessings come along.  Little blessings like our dog who appeared at my very lowest time.  I’ll never doubt that God plopped her into my lap when He knew I needed her most.  And blessings like sisters, the blood and non-blood kind, that listen to you cry and keep coming back for more.  Mostly, blessings like a husband and children that love you even after living with you…that’s the truest form.

The biggest lesson in unconditional love has been my relationship with God.  At my lowest, I was never alone.  The years have taught me to rely less on the love and approval of others and more on the relationship between us.  As that grows stronger, so does my love for my family.  God is teaching me day by day to never give up…that there is always light after the dark.  Never give up on dreams, on children, on marriage.  Never quit loving and giving.  Never stop believing in yourself.  Never think that life can’t get better because it can.  And it has.

That is unconditional love.

Kids and Christmas…Whew!

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for unto you

Where has the time gone?  The first semester of this school year has come and gone, zipping by so quickly that I’m left with moments of blur.  But no matter how blurry it was as a whole, I may never forget yesterday.

I’m still sighing.  I’m still saying, “Whew.”  And it’s the next morning.

Yesterday was the last day of school before Christmas break.  Five days before Christmas and the little ones and their wranglers were still at school, trying to trudge forward.  And all I can say is that these precious little ones…as bad as it may sound…were all strung out on Christmas crack.

Their bodies shimmied with joy, their voices trembled with excitement.  Sometimes bodies fell out into the floor for no reason.  Other times, little children would take off in a spontaneous run to places unknown – except our room is small and there’s no place to go!

“Do you know what my elf did last night?”  (Do you know how many times I’ve heard that over the past month?  For real, it’s hundreds and hundreds.  But, I smile and look into the sparkling eyes and let them tell me.)

“Mrs. Rackley, it’s only __ more days ’til Christmas!” they’ve chanted since December 2nd.  And I’m required by teacher law to know if they’re correct in the count or not.

But we survived it all!  We made it to our winter break, even as the most glorious full moon I’ve seen in a while hovered in the sky each night.  Just as with hospitals and animals, full moons and school really don’t mix very well.  Until you’ve lived it, there’s no way of knowing just what the pull of the orb in the sky does to little bodies.  It makes them nuts.  Add in a little Christmas frenzy and…well, I’m back to saying, “Whew.”

In the midst of the chaos, a few precious moments:

We’ve been discussing animal groups in reading…reptiles, mammals, etc.  The story we read informs the students that people are also mammals.  In one sentence, it glosses over the fact that mammals produce milk.  No further explanation (and that’s okay with me – my students are seven).  So we get to the comprehension test that covers the story and a question asks, “How are all mammals the same?”  The answer choices were ‘they make milk for their young, they have four legs, or they have scales’.  One little boy jumps up from his seat in the middle of the test and yells out, “But Mrs. Rackley, this can’t be right.  We’re mammals and how can we make our own milk for babies?  That’s crazy!”

I proceeded to stumble over my tongue for thirty seconds or so (“Well…you know…and females, like mommas, can and do…but I can’t tell you exactly…so we’ll just move on…but you know, it’s like…)  Yes, I’m a teacher.  And yes, that was pathetic.  I finally told him, “Just eliminate the two choices you know aren’t right and pick the other.  And when you get home, you can talk to your parents about the milk thing.”

Sorry, parents!  They are SEVEN…I just couldn’t bring myself to have a discussion about breast-feeding in a first grade classroom.

Another precious story I borrowed from a fellow teacher.  She teaches Kindergarten and asked her students what their favorite thing about Christmas was.  I’m sure many said the tree or presents or Santa but she had a few say celebrating Jesus’ birthday.  Another student spoke up and said that he didn’t know who Jesus was.  A friend beside him told him, “He is the savior of the world.”

Sigh…

This wasn’t a teacher led conversation…she just asked an innocent question about the holiday we are celebrating.  The children had the spontaneous conversation on their own – the teacher just happened to overhear it.  And honestly, I’m thankful she shared the experience with the rest of us.  Those are the moments that fill me with hope.

In the hearts of children, there lies the hope for the world.  Out of the mouth of babes, we hear the future unraveling.  Even as they bounce around the room like kangaroos, they exert so much love.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hugged this month or how many times I’ve been told I love you by my students.  And they mean it with their whole body and heart.  These precious children are the next leaders, the next teachers, the next doctors, the next artists, the next moms and dads.  My Christmas prayer for each and every one of them is that they never lose all the joy they feel as children, that they never let the world tell them it’s not okay to love each other as wholly as they do now.

If only, just for a moment, I wish we all could feel that joy and love.  The kind that children feel.  Wouldn’t our world be so much softer and kinder if we could?  That is my Christmas prayer for us all.