Sunday, May 5, 2019

30 Years Ago Today: I saw the Little Town in the Valley for the 1st Time

I wasn't in the best mood when I came back from northeast Kansas with a note on my dorm room door that read, "Call Don Wells, sup't. at Cheney."

I had just completed another interview. It was the spring of 1989, and I had driven all over the state from South Haven to LeRoy to Winfield to Scott City to Jetmore to Ness City, and Horton to name a few.

The view driving from Horton back to Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas, was incredible. The hills, the landscape. But I was tired and prayed aloud if I'd ever get a job in an area that wasn't so far away from a larger city.

So, I traipsed down the flight of stairs in the dorm to the payphone and set up the interview. Yes, a payphone. Back when we had to use a calling card and everyone around us could hear the conversation.

I was drained. Missing too many classes and filling up the Olds Calais on a daily basis. But I needed a job, for I was graduating with an English education degree.

I'm not sure what made me apply at Cheney. Was it the visit to the district's booth at the Fort Hays job fair when Russ Busenitz and I drove out there from Tabor College one spring day? No one else went, and there were other potential teachers graduating that spring. Why were we the only two to go?

where it all began
Or did I see Cheney's opening on a paper print-out in the career development office in the TC Library? Spent a lot of time there looking at the teacher openings. Spent a lot of money on stamps too sending out application letters and transcripts. So different from today. I also received by mail, the South Dakota teacher openings bulletin and even had an interview lined up at Miller in my home state once college was out.

But I went ahead and called USD 268 to set-up the interview. It was for Friday, May 5, 1989. I don't remember seeing any students or athletes around, so the interview must have been later in the day. Maybe I requested that time, so I wouldn't miss anymore classes.

My interview began with the 7-12 principal, Dick Wells. No relation to the school's superintendent, Don Wells. This was back when principals and superintendents interviewed the teachers, not a team of potential colleagues (although the Winfield interview was done in that manner due to the team-teaching nature of the position).

what a jewel, this note from Jim Gillett on day one
The Cheney opening was for a 7th and 8th grade literature teacher. Literature. Not really my thing. I preferred writing, grammar, punctuation. And my student teaching experience included 9-12 at Halstead High. Would I want to teach jr. high students? I did have coaching experience with them at Hillsboro Middle School during my college years. So, maybe.

The current literature teacher, Theo Voth, was going to be the 7-12 librarian, so that's why there was an opening. I was reassured she'd be able to guide me if I needed help. Theo also taught public speaking, which the district called oral communications due to certification issues. Since she would be taking over the yearbook, they wanted me to have the public speaking duties. I never got to meet Theo during the interview, but I did get introduced to co-workers, Paula Voth and Jack Goss.

school year #1: 1989-90
Next I had my interview with the superintendent. He was conversational and pleased with my interest in basketball. Seems they'd been wanting a woman on the coaching staff for the high school. And for years that was the norm. Always had to have a female on the bench. You can read more about my coaching and teaching life at Cheney by clicking here on my school website.

Sup't. Don Wells also wanted me to get certified to teach speech, something that would require more college classes. This was almost a deal breaker for me. It had already taken me five years to get the degree I had because I'd changed my major my sophomore year.

But I liked the small school atmosphere of Cheney, the proximity of the classrooms, the size of the town, and its closeness to Wichita where my sister Brenda lived. I agreed, that if offered the position, I would do my best to get as many hours as I could towards that speech certification.

Mr. Wells wrapped up the interview by assigning me an essay. I do not remember the topic. He handed me his pen and told me to sit in his chair behind his desk. We said our goodbyes, and I was to leave when done.

No other interviewer had asked me to do that. It didn't phase me a bit. I had been editor of our college newspaper for two years, so I welcomed the chance show him one of my strengths. I sure would like a copy of what I wrote. Maybe it's in my personnel file.

I had not worn my typical interview outfit that day. Was I tired of it? Was it even clean? Instead, I wore a crisp white oxford type shirt and a black and white skirt. It wasn't new. And after I landed this job, my sentimental nature kept me from giving it to charity until many years later.

That interview outfit: me on the right.
I'm with college pals Julie & Teresa in 1983.
The only picture I've taken with Santa.
Afterwards, I drove around the town to check out the homes and the environment. I chuckled wondering if I could ever live here with all the dips at the intersections. You see, my car had a hook installed in the front of my car in case I ever needed to be pulled out of a ditch. Dad's South Dakota thinking.

I called my sister from the payphone in the southwest corner of the Jim's Foodliner parking lot. I love telling students there used to be a payphone there.

We met on the west side. I remember telling Brenda that I liked Cheney, but there was one teacher I met, a long black-haired lady, and she was quite the whipper-snapper.

Yes, that was my first impression of Paula Voth. Don't worry, I told Paula this story when she retired.

I began fantasizing about having an apartment in west Wichita and driving to work in Cheney. I'd be all grown-up and on my own. Making my own money. Dad would not be telling me what to do.

And that could have happened because Cheney did offer me the job. And I did accept it. And I did go back to take some classes that summer at Wichita State University. Interpersonal communications and introduction to radio and television. Spending more money to make money. Isn't that the saying? But once my Cheney job started, I did not live in Wichita. Cheney became my home.
in the dorm signing the teaching contract

In fact, I didn't even get to pick out my first apartment. Dad, Mom, and Brenda did that. They drove to Cheney during the weekend of my graduation, found me a one-bedroom apartment, and put down a deposit. They saw Wilma Brandes walking among the Jefferson Condos on 2nd Street. I learned later that she was Theo's aunt. Wilma got them in touch with Stan and Darlene Woolf who owned the unit. The rest is history.

When my family came to Hillsboro on graduation day and told me this, can you imagine me being okay with that? I can't either, but I guess I was. One less thing to worry about.

That's how it all began.

Whenever I'm returning to Cheney from Wichita and arrive at the top of St. Joe Road, there's rarely a time I don't recall that day. The day I first drove over that hill. Thirty years ago today.

It's a beautiful scene.

The little town in the valley.

My home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Little Girl's First Year

Dear Aria,

You completed your first year of life today. A year of figuring out the world.

Realizing it's better to crawl on Grandma's hardwood floor by the door than walk with slippery socks. Better to fall asleep in the highchair rather than fight it. Better to watch big brother and his antics than to protest or scowl. Sometimes your gaze freezes your stocky little body until you decide to join in full force.
You're such a friendly baby. PaPaw says little old ladies in the grocery store stop and talk to you. It's that hair piece your momma puts on you. Feminizes you. But as you age, I think you'll know how to rough it up with brother Jack, because as a newborn, your little hands were in fists as if to say, "I'm ready to rumble!" As you aged, your face began to match it.

Ready to Rumble!
When disagreements come, I think you'll be the one who'll win. Not that Jack's a wimp or anything. You just seem extra tough. Not mean. Tenacious. Not out of control emotionally. Firm. Maybe it's those gymnast thighs you already have. I picture you performing a back handspring, spinning in the air, and nailing the vault like Mary Lou Retton. Spunky.

When Jack does weird stuff (like crawling in a narrow box or wearing a weird wig), you just observe. No furrowed brow. No scowl. No hands on the hips. No eye rolling. I'm sure that'll come in time.

The Bad Guys Picture
I have a photo of you two sitting on my couch last winter. In it, I can see what you two will look like as senior citizens. There's something about your countenances that takes me decades ahead to a time when I'm not here. Jack refers to the picture as "the one where Aria and I are the bad guys." He can't explain to me why he thinks you guys look so tough, but he must see it too. Two people who have weathered life together.

And those times will come. It's part of being human. In the meantime, I age right along with you and sometimes find it easier to crawl than walk on sore feet. Easier to nod off for a few minutes instead of getting ready for bed. Easier to just to watch rather than join in.

But I promise, baby Aria, I'll do my best to keep moving, exercising, and eating right, so I can experience more of you learning about how to live in this big beautiful world God has us in.

Happy first birthday, my precious granddaughter.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What I Managed to Read in the Past Two Years

No one probably cares what I read, but I can archive it here for reference. I'm an odd reader anyway by the looks of this list. Not a typical English teacher's library.

Seems I focused on self-help books recently. Due to my aging body, no doubt. I could look and feel worse, but my feet hurt and my tummy now houses a bulge. My Hofer-butt is bigger, hips wider, and clothes don't fit. I blame my German heritage. Thanks Mom and Dad.

But this spring, I survived my third colonoscopy and got a clean report; however, I need to go back in three years now instead of five due to the presence of a certain type of polyp. They removed 8 this time. Yikes! So those of you out there scared of getting your pooper checked out, consider this your nudge to do it. Don't wait until your 50 if you're having issues.

The procedure gave me a chance to start afresh on eating better. Family, friends, and colleagues say I mix-up a tasty and good looking salad, but what they don't know is I have a sweet tooth, so the junk has been part of my regime too. I've told myself only fish and chicken for the next two weeks. Veggies and fruits, not a problem. I like most of them. I'm at the end of week one now.

I miss beef! I miss pork! I miss ketchup. I miss chips. And I really miss chocolate! Breaking my streak. Gonna have pork chops. Does that count as white meat? I say so.

My body has an extra bone too. It's called an accessory navicular. Here's the medical explanation. Found out last fall I have one on my right foot, along with plantar fasciitis in both, but that's a lot better now. Here's an article explaining that condition.

We all have a navicular bone, but I was born with this extra one that has cartilage between it and the regular bone. Somehow last July 5, 2017, mine experienced trauma, thus all my pain. So most of the fall and winter, I used our elliptical instead of doing my outdoor walking. And I'd been a walker since 1990, and I had done it religiously. Students who'd see me would say, "You looked like a homeless lady all bundled up walking your dog!" Read about that dog Lexy here.

I'm certain my 20-minutes a day indoor workout didn't equal what the walking did. So why only 20? Because if I'd go a minute more, I wouldn't want to do it the next day. Twenty minutes is just enough time to watch a DVRed episode of "Bold and the Beautiful." Yes, I watch the soaps.

This accessory navicular syndrome, what they call it when you have problems with the extra bone, is supposedly rare, but I know three students who have it. One has had surgery. Two just cope.

In late April 2018, I was able to walk again without much pain. And I mean walk. All across town. I have to make sure I am not on my feet constantly though.  I watch for uneven surfaces. I remind my pedicurist not to perform her karate chop massage moves.

And you don't wanna know how much money I've spent on trying to find good shoes. Ecco and Romika work for me. Asics sneakers too. Brooks brand hurt my knees, so I made my first Facebook marketplace sale last summer. When you see older folk wearing dress pants with weird shoes, this is why. Their feet hurt!

Anyway, that's why I've been in the shadows with this blog. That's my excuse.

Plus developing a college-credit public speaking class I was assigned to teach two years ago. Plus taking 20 graduate hours in 12 calendar months to move to the last column on the teaching salary scale (earned my masters decades ago). Plus having two grandkids in town. Plus just being lazy. I admit, it's nice to say, "I'm over 50. I'm not doing that anymore."

So, here's my hodgepodge of nearly two dozen books I've read over the last two years, from July 2016 to May 2018. Maybe there's a couple worthy of your investigation.

If you want to see my previous lists, click here, here, and here.

  1. The End of the World by Amy Matayo. 
  2. Cold River by Liz Adair
  3. Ivy & Bean, book one by Annie Burrows
  4. Christmas for Lucy, book two by Saundra Staats McLemore
  5. Jake & Lily by Jerry Spinelli
  6. Oh Valentine, We've Lost Our Minds by Dan Gutman
  7. Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer by Katherine Rarnsland, PhD
  8. The Chunky Method by Allie Pleiter
  9. Ripple Maker: Teaching Effectively & Loving It! by Davis Laughlin
  10. Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson
  11. The Big Picture by Jenny B. Jones
  12. The Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock
  13. Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week by Caroline Adderson
  14. The Clueless Girls Guide to Being a Genius by Jania Repka
  15. The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders by Jack Prelutsky
  16. Wonder by RJ Palacio
  17. Augie & Me by RJ Palacio
  18. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  19. Can't Let You Go by Jenny B. Jones
  20. Thyroid Disorders & What to do About Them by Pamela Wartian Smith, MD
  21. Why You can't Lose Weight by Pamela Wartian Smith, MD
  22. Mayo Clinic Diet: Rapid Weight Loss Solution by Paula Sawyer
  23. Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat What You were Meant To by Storm Wayne

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Memories Move on Down the Road

Said goodbye to my car of 18. Imagine. 18 years.

She was an Oldsmobile Alero. Got her in 1999 from Conklin Cars. I put all but nine of the Alero’s 142,301 miles on her. Bought her from a guy named Jason, and before the deal was made, he got mad and threw the folder of papers at me. See, my dad was wheeling and dealing with him over the phone. Dickering him down in the price. He loves to do that, and he ticked the salesman off. Regarding car buying, Dad always said, “Gotta push ’em far enough until they say they have to talk to the manager.”

The Alero was an upgrade from my first car. Electric windows, a sun roof, and not just a cassette player, a CD one too. But right away, she had a few problems. The fuse box kept burning out certain fuses. I drove a few loaner cars from Conklin before they finally connected rain, the sunroof, and the fuse box to the problem. It was leaking from the roof. I wrote about her problems here in "Alero, the Sweet Lemon" back in 2014.

Within two years, I got hit on the way to school. A distracted teen made a right hand turn and hit the driver's side back door. All the students outside the middle school that morning saw the accident happen. When I called my insurance guy, the first thing he asked was if I was okay. And I was. To see a picture of the damage click here.

The Alero was never the same after that. The new back door just didn’t seal right, and the paint job didn’t match very well. Thus began my life of driving the rat trap, or what I more affectionately called her, my tin can.

Another accident occurred when I rear-ended a little red pick-up. That was a costly fix. Wanna know what distracted me? Split ends and man problems. That’s all I’m gonna say.

Despite these two fender benders, the Alero kept me safe on strange roads a few summers back, but it was after that trip, that I became a kept woman and needed to be driven anywhere new. I’m serious. I am a real-life Miss Daisy, only my driver isn’t Morgan Freeman, it’s Chris Harris, my husband. That trip really did me in. Read about it here.

I’ll blame my anxiety on Garmin too, the GPS system that my husband idolized when it first came out. One time, that stupid thing took me 30 miles east of McPherson instead of to Inman to Cousin Kris’ house.

The most embarrassing thing with the car though was an incident at Elaine Gerber’s, my hair dresser. Read about that here. The poor car still has the scars.

After nearly two decades, the Alero doesn’t look too whoopy anymore up close, but she’s been well taken care of. Last year, Chris bought her new headlights. My best friend's husband, Joe Shellmanner, makes sure the air conditioning works. She’s had only Goodyear Eagle Brand tires; my dad insisted on those expensive things. She's had a few sets. 

Some say never buy new, and if you do, trade it in a few years. That wasn’t us, the Alero and me. We remained together from 1999 to 2017. I’d planned to drive her for at least 20 years, just to say I did it. But my sister Brenda and her husband gifted me with a car, so I’m paying it forward and gifting the Alero to a co-worker of my husband’s. It feels good to know someone will appreciate her, but I’m glad I won’t see her around. 

She was my car.
My gal.
She knows all my secrets.

And today, after 18 years of memories, she drove off with a new owner.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Pending Aria's Arrival

A few days from now, you will be here. Among us.

With Jack. Your big brother.
He'll be your playmate. Your teacher. Your defender. Your bulwark.

He's been talking to you at your momma's belly. Have you heard him?
He's prepared for you. Been whispering your name then slipping out a smile.
He's become independent so mommy and daddy can tend to you.
He's potty trained. Eats an ice cream cone. And sleeps in a big boy bed.
He loves going to the library, the park, and Grandma's house.
He enjoys the yard, the butterflies, and the fishies in Grandpa's pond.

There isn't a person he meets that he doesn't want to know.
But knowing you will change his life forever.
Your presence will give him a playmate, a sister, and a friend.

Knowing Jack for over two years now has bettered my life.
And you, Aria, will do the same in your own way.

We're already off to a good start because
We have something in common.

Our musical names.

Writer's Note: Want to read my thoughts before Jack was born? Click here where I reminisce when he turned one.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The 41 Books I Managed to Read This Year

Seems my writing aspirations have taken a backseat to the family life I never thought I'd have. And I've been enjoying every bit of it. A husband whose company I enjoy. A grandson I will drop everything for. And two doggies who are always by my side.

I have a full-time job that often comes home with me. Yes, even in the summer, I'm writing lesson plans. And education is changing at a rate that I've never seen before. I'm not sure I even understand what is happening. I feel like an old time teacher, a bit out of touch.

But I am trying. Trying to tweet. Trying Instagram. Making those connections with educators from all over America and connecting with the students I teach. When I whipped out my new cell phone to snap pictures with it in class and the kids noticed, I felt a little more with it.

I'm in year number three with my Kindle, and I'm still loving it. But like others, I complained when the Silk Browser update locked me out of my downloaded documents for a couple months. I still had the e-books though, and most of the books I read this year were from my small town public library.

I read a lot of chapter books and middle grade books. I am fascinated with the authors who can develop a character and just keep going with it. How I long for the inspiration and gumption to get my character all figured out.

It feels like a pipe dream now, something that's beyond someday. But a girl can still dream. She just has to act on it--probably with more baby steps than the giant ones she started off with.

What I read from May 2015 to June 2016

  1. The Creepy Sleepover by Beverly Lewis
  2. Walking to Lose Weight by Susan Campbell
  3. Past Forward Book 1 by Chautona Havig
  4. Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park
  5. Outlining Your Novel by KM Weiland
  6. Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park
  7. Junie B. Jones: 1st Graders at Last by Barbara Park
  8. Junie B. Jones 1st Grader Aloha-la-la! by Barbara Park
  9. Outlining Your Novel Workbook by KM Weiland
  10. Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
  11. My Path to Obedience by Janet Fowler
  12. Anastasia Again by Lois Lowry
  13. Magic Carpet Ride by Rich Simmons
  14. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-so-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell
  15. Horrible Harry in Room 2B by Suzy Kline
  16. Horrible harry and the Green Slime by Suzy Kline
  17. Horrible Harry and the Ant Invasion by Suzy Kline
  18. The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant
  19. Heidi Hecklebeck Say "Cheese" by Wanda Coven
  20. Heidi Hecklebeck and the Cookie Contest by Wanda Coven
  21. Judy Moody Gets Famous by Megan McDonald
  22. Ava and Pip by Carol Weston
  23. Ava and Taco Cat by Carol Weston
  24. Miss Daisy is Crazy by Dan Gutman
  25. Mrs. Harrison is Embarrasin' by Dan Gutman
  26. Mrs. Lilly is Silly by Dan Gutman
  27. A Crazy little Thing Called Love by Beth K. Vogt
  28. Julia Jones' Diary: My Worst Day Ever by Katrina Kohler
  29. My Mother Got Married (and other disasters) by Barbara Park
  30. Teacher's Pet by Johanna Hurwitz
  31. Elisa Michaels, Bigger & Better by Johanna Hurwitz
  32. Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary
  33. Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary
  34. Liar, Liar by Gary Paulsen
  35. Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen
  36. Vote by Gary Paulsen
  37. Writing Short Stories for Amazon, Magazine and Other Publications by Ora Rosalin and Bey Rosalian
  38. The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari
  39. Family Ties by Gary Paulsen
  40. Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again by Donald J. Trump
  41. Anastasia Off Her Rocker by Lois Lowry

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Accolades To My Third Grade Teacher

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Esther Gilchrist, was picky about manners. We had personal hygiene checks. She checked our fingernails once a week and required us to fill out a chart about brushing our teeth. I think I lied on it.

If anyone’s finger got close to their nose, Mrs. Gilchrist would say the student’s name, tap her nose, shake her head, and say, “No-no.” 

Only a certain number of people could be walking around the room at a time. If we were in the library area, we squatted down. That way someone else could get up to turn in a paper or go the mathematics table. At times we looked like a bunch of Jack in the Boxes when she was busy with a reading group.

Why were we walking around during class anyway? Now that I think of it, Mrs. Gilchrist trusted us. She gave us a lot of freedom for being 8-year-olds. Here’s a rundown.

Me, in 3rd grade. I look ornery.
During work time, if we had to go to the restroom, I don't remember having to ask her—maybe because she was busy with a reading group. We signed a piece of paper taped to the back of her desk. I think we missed part of recess then.

We never ever sat in rows. Our desks were arranged in teams of four or six. Facing each other. 

Nobody sat in teams in 1975! Mrs. Gilchrist was before her time. I love that.
In the fall, our desks were arranged in a big square around a huge map of the town. I accidentally spilled milk on it during our cracker and milk break.

Mrs. Gilchrist was so gracious to me. I ruined part of it, but she knew I didn't do it on purpose. I don't remember if she let me have my snack at my desk anymore—wouldn't blame her if she placed me off to the side.

That map confused me too because I didn't know Hitchcock. I was a farm kid who’d never walked the streets of the town. I had a vague idea what a block was, but when we went to collect leaves, I was rather intimidated—my classmates seemed to know exactly where they were going, but I didn’t.

Up near the front of Mrs. Gilchrist’s classroom was a long table with a few record players and headphones. We'd listen to multiplication songs. We worked at our own pace memorizing and then quizzed out when we were ready to move on. Individual learning plan of sorts, I’d say—in the 70s, mind you—in rural South Dakota.

Like I said, Mrs. Gilchrist was ahead of her time.

Class of 1984 as 3rd graders at Hitchcock Elementary

It was in third grade math that I learned a trick. For 8+7 equaling 15, she taught us to think 7+7=14 +1 equals 15. To this day, that is how I figure out 8+7. I do a similar thing with 8+9. Those two answers aren't automatic for me. I do that trick every time when I’m adding in my head. Wonder if anyone else from the Class of 1984 does that. 

In 1974-75 school year, our classroom teachers also taught physical education. Mrs. Gilchrist had two long poles that we’d hold six to eight inches off the floor and then snap together in various rhythms that she taught us. Another set of students would do some sort of hopping maneuver through the poles.

I don't remember her demonstrating this, for she was an elegant lady who reminded me of Mrs. Howell on "Gilligan's Island," but she must have shown us. YouTube didn’t exist and a reeled movie was treat. 

This was the year we started going to the multi-purpose room for music. That’s where I took clarinet lessons a few years later from Mr. Wiens—read about the time he showed up at my house by clicking here. This was the huge room where Mrs. Gilchrist taught us to square dance.

Growing up Mennonite Brethren, we didn't dance, but Mom and Dad had no problem with me learning to square dance. I’d secretly hoped they'd say I couldn't do it, for we had to dance with the boys. Wasn't quite my thing—even though third grade was the year I married Jeff Waldner out by the cottonwood trees at recess. Anybody else have a grade school marriage?

Had you asked me as a child or a high school student if Mrs. Gilchrist was one of my favorite teachers, I’d have said, “No way!” She was too prim and proper. Too picky. Too lady-like. Too soft-spoken. Yes, I prefer boisterous teachers. Does that surprise anyone?

But now as an adult and a teacher myself, I see her in a more positive light. She had a way of engaging us in the course work. She insisted on neatness and order. She certainly knew her subject matter and beyond. She presented lessons with a mixture of traditional paper/pencil, hands-on activities, and technology. 

Maybe I am kind of like her. Minus the prim and proper because I teach middle school—we are far from proper. 

Because of Mrs. Gilchrist, I know the four food groups (this was before the food pyramid) which we charted on the chalkboard each day after noon recess. I know my cardinal directions, can write in cursive (although it sloppy now), and can function within a group. I understand arithmetic but am still waiting for the metric system to be fully adopted into American society like she said it would.
Mrs. Gilchrist

I look at her picture now, the one she gave me when I was her student. I see a pretty lady. Hair just so, straight teeth, lovely clothing, and hardly any make-up. She really was a beauty. Just as beautiful on the inside too in the way she dealt with me.

May she somehow know that this little girl really is sorry for writing Todd Tollefson a note asking him if he farted. I was pulled in the hallway and told, “Young ladies don’t talk like that. I’m really disappointed in you, Melodie.”

She had every right to call me out on that.

It’s a good thing though, that she didn’t see me place my hand flat on my desk and bend under all my fingers but one. Third grade was the year I figured out what the middle finger meant. I may not have been able to maneuver a city block, but I knew what the cows and the bulls were doing on the farm. I made the connection one day to the middle finger and realized it all.

Stunned. Grossed out. Looked at adults in a completely different way. Didn’t like that I knew that. I probably asked my best friend Gail, two years older, if I was right. Read more about Gail here.

This was also the year that Gail and I, along with the high school girls we copied, got in trouble for writing on the school bus seats—in ink pen. Mrs. Gilchrist never said a word to me about it. She must have known I was already embarrassed when Superintendent Dale Schneider called me out of her class one morning to go scrub the seats with Comet. Read more about Mr. Schneider by clicking here.

Third grade was a lot of firsts. I got glasses, started piano lessons, and was allowed to spend the night at a friend’s house. I got my own Bible too. Looks like I needed that considering my fart-word use (my dad still forbids the use of that word; read where I learned the word here), vandalism, and discovery of the meaning of the f-word.

Thank you, Mrs. Gilchrist, for being one of the many who molded me.

Which teacher was in your life during your biggest times of discovery and mischief? What educator have you changed your mind about as the years have passed?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Letters to a Baby

Our grandson turned one-year-old today. This past year, I kept a journal as though I was writing to him. Here are a few excerpts from it. Most are from before he was born.

8.15.14. Today I heard about you for the first time. A little baby. A baby. Brittany is barely not one herself at 20-years-old. I think her dad, your grandpa who is my husband, got teary-eyed after she told us. He was pretty quiet. Worrying. I wonder how you will change our lives. Will we get to see you often? Will we spoil you? Will we get alone time with you? I have mixed emotions, it seems. I look forward to being in your life, yet I’m afraid that I won’t be in it much. Oh, how I already love you, and I just heard about you. I was only in your momma’s life for six years before she left for college, and so much has changed since then. Oh little baby, I pray for your soul.

8.27.14. A week ago today we found out you were for real. Doctor said so and Bee called her dad. I am excited. I really am. I think it will be neat seeing your firsts. I wonder if you are a boy or a girl. We'll probably know because if Bee wants to know—she won’t be able to not tell. I pray for your soul, little one, that some day you’ll understand your purpose in Christ. I haven’t even met you, and I love you.

9.17.14. Your momma told the world about you today on Facebook. She must be excited. She sure gobbled down the food when we took her out to eat on Sunday. Your daddy was watching football with his family. I got to meet your daddy's mom and his sisters and some others. It's a full house. I think you will be well-loved there. You were at the doctor today with your momma, and I guess you’re okay in there since she announced it.

9.27.14. Oh, little baby, your parents got married today at the Keeper of Plains in Wichita, Kansas at 3 pm. I hope you know you are loved. I hope you bring your mom around here more often.

11.13.14. I know your name. Jack Von. You are a boy. A grandson. Saw pictures of you today. Your momma posted sonogram photos on Facebook. She called your grandpa too. Jack Von Schmidt. Such a neat name. I bet you’ll be an interesting person. A deep thinker. Your mommy really loves your daddy. I think that’s important. I hope you see that. But more importantly, I hope you love Christ. 

11.17.14. Oh Little Jack Von, your momma came out for a visit today. She told us something might be wrong. Weird stuff showed up on your sonogram that could lead to extra chromosomes. You may be a special needs little fella. We love you all the same. God is making you the way He wants you to be for His reasons.

2.21.15. Baby shower tonight for you, Jack Von. Your mommy got lots of nice things. Glad your Great Aunt Brenda took the time to meet me and come as we’d planned—even though the time had changed. Wonder if I’ll get to be a part of your life. So ready to meet you, learn to know you, learn to have fun with you, watch you grow and become.

4.13.15. Today you were born. I met you, Jack Von Schmidt. I’ve never been around a baby only a few hours old. It was really something. Seeing you get all that love from both sides of the family. You, little one, just might be the tie that binds. I hope I really get to be a grandma to you. I love you, little guy. Just love you. 

8.2.15. You, little baby, have brought Brittany home. Home to Cheney. She and your daddy Nathaniel have moved here for the time being. Today your mommy became a full-fledged adult. She turned 21. Had someone told me two years ago that she would want to be here with us calmly celebrating her birthday, I wouldn’t have believed it. God seems to be using you to bring the family back together. Tonight your bio grandma, Grandma Danita, and your Great Grandparents were all here. It was just like it was when your mommy was growing up. I spent all Sunday afternoon preparing your mommy’s favorites: pineapple ham and twice-baked potatoes. It was a labor of love, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Tonight I held you in front of our bedroom mirror and talked to you about the things on the little shelf nearby: the doggie figurines, pictures, a crystal heart, the cross symbol, the courageous Cameron bracelet. That's for your second cousin who fought lymphoma cancer and won.

8.13.15. It is the day before I report to work, teaching school for the twenty-seventh year. Your momma called. She asked me to watch you this afternoon while she goes to work. This is the first time we’ll be all alone together. Just you, me, and the doggies in my house. My first reaction was yikes, for I haven’t baby sat much. But your mommy said, “I know you won’t neglect him.” It means the world to me that she has allowed us into her life with you and your daddy. For that, I am blessed and thankful. May you and me love each other—always and forever.

4.13.16. It's your birthday, little fella. You're a year old. Already.
Words escape me now.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know

I am guest blogging at A View of the Web this week.

It’s an educational blog by Jill Weber, my colleague and friend for nearly a decade.

I'm honored that my first guest post is on her site, a place where Jill shares great ideas and student work. She inspires me.

And if you read some of her other posts, you'll see how education has changed since you went to school.

This is our world: middle school kids, middle school content, in the middle of America.
Click here to read the post, Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Someone Who Fed My Spirit

The head chef at our school has been around since I started teaching back when the junior high had last lunch in the fall of 1989.

School budgets were different, and so were the requirements put on the lunch tray. There was always plenty of food. I was single and coaching high school basketball, so school lunch was the one hot meal I got a day­ besides Sundays at my sister's.

I knew how to cook, but I didn't deem it necessary for just me. At home, I ate a lot of Cheerios and toasted Cheeze Whiz sandwiches. My favorite after school treat had become my adult evening meal.

One woman though, made sure I didn't go hungry. Charlene Lyons, our cafeteria lady.

Back when the government let them serve cake, Charlene always hid away an extra piece for me. I think she'd do this even when we had leftovers.

"Got somethin' for you, Hofer," she'd whisper before I'd go sit down with my cohorts.

This was back in the day when teachers had to supervise the lunch room. Thanks to the Supreme Court of the United States, we get a whopping 20 minute-duty free lunch now. Just enough time to check your email, go to the bathroom, microwave a meal, and scarf it down.

Here's another memory involving her.

One year, Charlene and her daughter were part of my "It's All Relative" game show that I organized for the middle school talent show.

Any district staff member with a middle school child or grandchild could be in the show. Modeled after "The Newlywed Game" from the 1970s, questions were asked of one relative while the other was out of the room and vice versa. Art teacher Michaeline Kohler helped me come up with the title.

Charlene was up there with daughter Alisha or Amber, who ironically, had just performed a trio or duet that day as her talent. The "It's All Relative" game was close, and it came down to this question: What was your most embarrassing moment?

This mother and daughter's answers matched. Charlene had answered first, so when her daughter was brought out and she heard the question, her face turned red and she took a big breath. She said, "Forgetting the words to the song today." The crowd roared.

What had mortified a young soul on stage redeemed her minutes later because her mom knew her well and had the guts to say so.

That's the way Charlene is. She tells it like it is. I admire that.

Charlene had a milestone birthday this weekend, the big 6-0.

I'd started this post last fall during cafeteria appreciation week, but life interrupted me and I didn't get it done. When I saw it was Charlene's birthday, I knew this was the time to post it.

What a beautiful woman with a great heart. Thanks, Charlene, for the many years your spirit has fed mine when our paths have crossed.

You made a young woman feel welcome into the life of small-town teaching.

Who was the one who helped you transition into a new situation? Share memories of your cafeteria lady.