A significant year? Not today. I have done 1935 posts on this blog. When I have some extra time, it is  always a pleasure to relive my last seven years of blogging. If a teacher chose to use my blog to teach universal themes to a group of students they would get it.  Themes that reoccur over and over are love for family, simplicity, hope,humor,growing up,memories, change, and love.
As I prepare to return to my childhood home tomorrow there will be subtle changes. As we have grown older the tempo of Christmas has slowed down and it is more about quality time in conversations than ripping and tearing presents. It is more about a simple meal than an elaborate feast. Fewer visitors will stop and bring goodies or raise a glass of cheer.

Tomorrow I will also see rituals that have stood the test of time at 516 W. Cameron. Brandy soaked fruitcake, Nuts and Bolts, popcorn balls, spritz, Seven Layer cookies, hot buttered rum, eggnog, elves on the kitchen shelf, angels attached to house plants, Christmas sweatshirts, traditional ornaments, and angel chimes.

This year I want to hit the pause button. I want to take it all in slowly, savoring the smells, tastes, and sounds. I want to have cherished conversations, belly laughs, and as always... the anticipation of some Christmas disaster to occur.

The Smallest Things

As I said in an earlier post, a favorite part of getting reading for any holiday is the planning. This year with my mother and brother coming for Thanksgiving. I wanted it planned so we weren't in the kitchen the whole entire day. I wanted to have some energy left to enjoy our dinner.
We cooked the pumpkin ahead, then I baked the pies ahead. I arranged the flowers as ahead as I could so they didn't open up too much. On the morning of Thanksgiving the cranberry dish went into the crockpot. The squash dish was cooked ahead in the oven while it was free. As Mom did her signature dressing, brother Bill peeled the potatoes ahead. A friend said Thanksgiving is more about timing then cooking. I believe it.
Because of how all this was done, it was relaxing.  We had time between preparations and dinner to rest. After dinner everyone helped out to clean
 up so it wasn't a huge job. Thank you husband Everett.

Dessert came later, and then it was early to bed. The rest of the week-end followed a similar pattern. My hope was that Mom could enjoy herself and relax while not being at home. I hoped the same for my brother Bill. He kindly took care of the turkey bones and did what it took to make a delicious turkey soup on Saturday. I had never had it served in my house. Perfect.

Brother Bill made reference to "the smallest things" today on his blog with his Three Beautiful Things. You can find it  here.It was a bit of a coincidence that I found the following quote about the same topic this evening spoken by one of Mom's most favorite authors and favorite character in children's literature.

“Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”- A.A. Milne 

I think our week-end was made up of smallest things. It turned out how I wished. Mom's parting words were, "It was one  the best Thanksgivings. Thank you so much." That took up lots of room in my heart.

Thanksgiving is More Than Food

 When you ask people about Thanksgiving memories, food is often mentioned. Pumpkin pie comes up every time I ask students about their holiday meal  Today on the radio I heard them talking about cornmeal dressing and green bean casserole. I have lived through many a Thanksgiving and never made either of these said dishes. There are many more though that have made our family table.
Growing up it seemed like Thanksgiving was all about football games with the men huddling and yelling  in the front room and women bustling around in the kitchen preparing food. That worked for me. I didn't watch the games and wasn't asked to help in the kitchen. That gave me many hours of album listening, solving teenage problems, and gossiping with my friend J.T.

Nowadays  the Thanksgiving holiday is more about fellowship. The food is planned ahead so there is time to enjoy the company of family. I like it when it is more relaxed and the day is filled with time to visit, share, reminisce, and enjoy like activities together.
We will cook together, drink together, and clean up together, but I don't want everyone exhausted and ready to go to bed right after dinner. I know Thanksgiving is just a date on the calendar. We can celebrate and be thankful any other time of the year. It is nice though to have this day in November to pause and be grateful.


Looking ahead to Thanksgiving this week I am reflecting on gathering together, traveling close and far,and creating memories with food and fellowship. Whether it is during a quiet moment before dinner, or when enjoying the late evening in front of the fire, or pausing while bundling up for a brisk walk I say thanks. This poem has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I think you will see why. 

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
~W. S. Merwin 

It Is All About the Planning

I am such a planner. I love to do lesson plans for school, plan vacations, and plan trips to town. I really love to plan meals when family is coming.

I find so much pleasure in diving into my old recipe boxes, scouring cookbooks, searching Pinterest, and referring to my notebooks of favorite recipes. I really love to cook for my husband, but sometimes it is nice to add some special dishes when family comes.

My mom and brother are coming for Thanksgiving. I spread out all the recipes, magazines, my computer, my recipe holders, and cookbooks a few nights ago and narrowed down the choices for Thanksgiving Day, plus the days before and after. Color me crazy, but I love to create grocery lists also.

The first shopping trip is done; Food is organized and stored. The turkey is still frozen, but will come out to thaw soon. Another trip early next week will fill the cart with fresh produce, flowers, and last minute items. We will miss our niece that still put olives on her fingers, but maybe we will need to restart the tradition. We will also miss the rest of the family that will travel to southern Idaho. We will miss the family "back east."

I love having family here at Thanksgiving, I love preparing the meal, and I really love this quote.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. "

~Melody Beattie

Food, Family, and Traditions : Student Point of View

Somehow during my 7th grade class today we got on the subject of Thanksgiving dinners. It opened this amazing dialogue with my students about Thanksgiving, family time, traditions, and what they really love about holidays. One student said, " We should survey everyone and find out their favorite  family dishes at Thanksgiving".
It reminded me of what I center on all the time on "Gathering Around the Table". What better way to bring families together than with food, fellowship, and tradition. I think most of my students love Thanksgiving even more that Christmas when it comes to the food part. It was close to lunch and my stomach was grumbling as various students described Grandma's turkey, the best side dishes by an auntie, pies that they love to eat, and traditions that continue to be carried on.

I really love Thanksgiving and am so blessed that my mom and brother can celebrate it with us this year. I know I should learn more from Mom when it comes to stuffing a turkey, making the dressing, perfecting pie crusts, and baking perfect rolls. My problem is I just want her to do it the way it has always been done. That is a tradition I love.

Moving Outside to Inside

 From March to early November I love to surround myself with new soil, spring bulbs,  flowers, vegetables, blooming trees, changing seasons, hummingbirds, the rooster crowing at daybreak, and the harvest of flowers, fruit, and vegetables.

Then the weather turns cold, snow begins to fall on the ground, and everything changes. By November I am ready to move from the outside to the inside. The last three days I surrounded myself with the warmth of the fire and did necessary tasks that needed to be done inside. I also made time to can tomato sauce, reorganize my clothes closet for winter, and find space in the "food closet" to put up the food we have canned. I organized my books and decided to part with a few. I found the bottom of my desk in my space off the kitchen. 

I also rested and could feel my body move into hibernation. It is time for more sleep, warm soups, comfort food, hot coffee, amber drinks, wool socks, and sweaters. The cats are moving in from outside and the garage. The dogs have claimed spots in front of the fire. We have a shed full of wood. I have enough books to read until spring. We are ready, but I will still take time to watch the rest of the leaves turn.

 "Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn."
-  Elizabeth Lawrence

Words Today by Wiliam Stafford

November has been kind so far this year. It has been filled with brilliant turning leaves, afternoons filled with warm sunshine, a hidden pumpkin, and late roses still blooming.  Until I reread this poem today, I never thought about the sounds of November. Tomorrow I will listen.


You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightening before it says
its names- and then the clouds' wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles- you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head-
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

by William Stafford, from Smoke’s Way, 1983


 Whether it is an image of a simple bouquet,

a favorite place of solitude,

beautiful surroundings,

or home, 

my photos fill me with gratitude,

It's A Cat's Life

Some days I would just like to be a cat. 

Their lives are so simple and relaxed. That sounds so good today.

Gathering Leaves

Gathering Leaves

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop?
Robert Frost 

Observation of Leaves

One of the reasons I love autumn immensely is because of the leaves. I could spend a whole day just observing and photographing changing and falling and fallen leaves. These were all taken from different locations, yet they create a mosaic of stunning beauty.

Seeking Refuge

  There are places that I go to for refuge.

Sometimes the place is for peace and quiet.

Other times the place is for prayer.

I also find refuge in nature.

It is so important to stop, appreciate and breathe. It is important to find a refuge for yourself.

Find the Light In All Things

I suffer from depression. Days like today which included tragic news from a family member, a phone call about a wildfire close to loved ones' houses, the death of a talented genius of an actor/comedian, plus  another friend losing her husband to cancer took a toll. After a day like today I often have wanted to go to bed, pull the covers over my head, and sleep.

Instead I decided to find the light in all things. I am fortunate. My depression has been diagnosed. I have a doctor that has found a good combination of drugs that work for me most of the time. I have a therapist that can help me find the light whenever I need to.

I work at surrounding myself with simple beauty, supportive family and friends, and furry friends that love me unconditionally. When a day like today comes along I count my blessings, take photos of the beauty around me, and find time to just be still.

This is what works for me. Each person that suffers from depression has a different way of coping. Each person is unique and what works for one person may not work for another.   I just pray these individuals can find a way to "live a life of love and find the light in all things. "

August Funk or Perhaps Respectability

"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability."
                                                                       -  Sam Keen

The people who know me well know that the hot summer season is not my favorite time of year. It seems silly for someone that loves to grow flowers, enjoys canning and preserving our garden harvest, and also has a bit of time off before returning to school. I have worked  hard at embracing August but plants wither, wildfires burn, power goes off, air fills with smoke and this year I fell into a funk.

Perhaps it was being dehydrated, maybe I have some unknown sleeping sickness, or perhaps I am just lazy. I am in a hot summer coma. I want to take naps, sleep in, rest, and stare. You get the picture.

 Fortunately I have pulled myself out of the coma to capture images of the beauty that surrounds my funkiness. The weather is below 90 degrees today so I think I will survive. I feel energy moving through my limp veins.

I do love the quote though. I think of it now as respectable laziness.

The Original Common Core: Old School

 A couple of weeks ago we sat in the beautiful gardens at the home of Joy P. The group included my mom, a retired school teacher, myself and Joy with lots of years of teaching experience between the two of us, and my sister that works with students in the Gear UP program.

We were talking about the changes happening in schools and education in general. The instruction of math came up because is seems like the Common Core standards are moving teachers and students to a different way of teaching and learning math. The conversation moved to the arts and  how elementary art and opportunities for students to be creative is moving to the back burner. Joy then commented that the way we learned and the way Mom taught was good teaching. She inquired, "What was wrong with that kind of teaching?"

Today people call it "old school". Is it so old school?As I reflected on our summer school session with students from grades two through nine, I thought about "old school " teaching vs. Common Core.
We taught our program using a one-room schoolhouse model from the 1900s. It was exciting seeing older students teaching younger students or assisting and reading to them. I think the younger students taught the older students a thing or two also.

Students were allowed freedom to read what they wanted. They found books they were excited about reading that "weren't allowed" sometimes because they were too hard or too easy. They discovered books on tape. They loved being read to. They were reminded how much they loved poetry. Teachers don't have time to fit some of these parts of reading in to instruction anymore. Old school? Perhaps, but it worked for us.

Students were motivated and without much reminding they ate their breakfast each day in the cafeteria and hustled to the library to enjoy reading. They were thrilled when the Book Mobile came and they could pick books. They sat intently listening to Sarah, the library lady read Grimms Fairy Tales to them. She connected them to the current animated movies they watch, but I still think they would have loved them.

Yes, we answered questions about reading and practiced math with time tests and games. We were aware of the Common Core standards and worked at weaving them into our teaching. Students excelled by reading, thinking, writing, and performing math tasks.

The days were even more enriching because we allowed them to be creative in art. They drew sketches, painted, created designs, painted, used yarn, colored with Sharpies, and found their muses. Our students just don't get enough opportunities to do this anymore.

When more than thirty students showed up each day during the hot summer, this illustrated to me that old school learning can work. I think of my mom and what made her such a successful teacher. She knew each student personally and cared about them inside and outside of the classroom. She pushed her students to excel and believed they could do it. She was patient and tried new ways of teaching when students didn't " get it".  She found things that students were interested in and brought those things into the classroom. She had art projects, a Valentine post office, guppies, and tadpoles. She read books and encourages them to read books. Old school? Perhaps.

Thanks Joy for reminding me that Old School can work. As I start another school year in a few weeks, I plan to revisit those things that make teaching successful. I think those important strategies will be in place before Common Core.