Day 23 – Thirty Days of Thanks – about writing

A few words of thanks …

Background to today’s list: when I first decided to become a teacher, I hadn’t been able to decide whether I wanted to study to teach English, science, or general elementary grades (so as not to specialize, and to avoid teenage angst). Thirty years later, life has taken paths beyond my middle school classroom of 1994-97, my grad school years, and my Museum Educator chapter. Even my “adjunct professor” times. And the beautiful Kids Hope adventure.

During this journey, T.R. and others encouraged me to continue taking coursework that allowed me to keep my teaching license current. In order to keep my license renewed, I’ve needed to complete six hours of college coursework every five years. Graduate school classes were staggered enough that the first classes I took for this specific reason were about six years ago. My elementary license also includes middle school science and language arts, so I was thrilled to have the chance to take two writing courses to meet the licensure requirements..

Eight years ago, my writing adventure launched in an unexpected way. Our area newspaper, the Marion Chronicle-Tribune, put out a call for community bloggers. As T.R. and I discussed, we has an idea: blog about the challenges faced by those dealing with disabilities. These topics are often misunderstood, usually unseen. “Invisible Issues,” one could say.

Six years ago, I enrolled in “Freelance Writing” and “Creative Writing.” License was renewed. Five years later, I completed “Media Writing” and “Nonfiction Writing.” Each of these four courses helped me grow in so many ways, and I do feel like a better person because of it! And definitely a better writer. (One who is willing to purposefully break grammatical rules, for instance … but only if she knows she is doing it.)

So my point here? Writing: is this how I am now meant to teach? Without the physical wherewithal to lead a middle school, college, or elementary classroom, shall I hone my writing abilities so that God can use these tools in ways I hadn’t planned? So begins today’s thankful list:

Today’s 5 Thankful things:

  1. Thank you to patient college professorsDr. Hensley and Dr. Householder both tolerated this student, two decades older than the other class members. I felt a little younger myself, and I hope I helped teach them a tad bit. This was in 2010 and 2011, when I was the slow student with the floral folding cane. Doc Hensley taught me to stop splitting my infinitives, among other things.
  1. Thank you to my supportive husband – Though I had planned to attend Gen Con with him next week, he arranged things so that I could also attend Taylor’s Writer’s Conference in August. What a beautiful gift, meaning more than I think he realized!
  1. Business cards – How cool is it that one can design business cards, then have a box of
    image1100 delivered to your door less than a week later? Awesome! Thank you to T.R. for designing them and to Zazzle for printing. (Of course they had a special also. Even online, I try to follow my mom’s example to use coupons and catch sales whenever possible.)
  1. Thank you to Writers’ Bloc – our writer’s group that meets weekly or so, encouraging each of us to continue writing, and offering friendship along the way.
  1. A laptop on which to type – Particularly after my laptop died in early June, I gained an even greater appreciation for this technology. What a wonderful gift this is!

Day 19 – Thirty Days of Thanks

Today’s five things of thanks

1. Home – After time away, no matter how special or enjoyable that time may have been, Dorothy was indeed correct as she clicked together her ruby slippers: there’s no place like home. 🙂

2. Reaching beyond Ivanhoe’s – We are sometimes spoiled living just a few blocks from Ivanhoe’s, but we had the treat of visiting Oink’s Ice Cream and Yogurt for the first time. With the amazing array of flavors, two dips inside of a fresh chocolate chip cookie bowl were an unexpectedly delightful treat!

3. cherry tomatoes picked for immediate munching – I’m remembering now why I like tomatoes so much – there is just nothing like the fruit fresh from the vine! (You can call it a veggie if you wish – I can go either way. But it’s tasting more fruity to me today. The fruit/vegetable argument is a fun one.)

4. The Chronicles of NarniaThis series of seven books by C.S. Lewis  remains among my very favorites, and if you were to peg me down and ask which I prefer most, I’d have to choose the seventh, The Last Battle. ONLY if you’ve read the other six first, though. We listed to the radio retelling of this story on our way back from our trip today, and I recalled why I treasure it so much.

5. La-z-boy chair – My own la-z-boy recliner something I treasure more than I realized. After a week of sitting in various seats, return to my own very comfy chair is a piece of “home” that is welcome indeed.

Day 17 – Thirty Days of Thanks

Today’s 5 thankful things

1. books – for our family trip time, I decided to take 3 “just started” books from my nightstand, and I love being able to curl up to a good book. The computer comes out once or so a day, but reading from the printed page is so valued.

2. “Equality” has come a long way! – I finished the first book yesterday, and I’m so glad I did. This biography of Frederick Douglass was the first book published by Rachael Phillips, who I’m so blessed to call a friend. I’ll be quite honest in that I had only heard of Frederick Douglass as a line in history books. But hearing the story of little Freddie, the boy slave, and his life story was inspiring. The reading level is appropriate for upper elementary or middle grade children –or adults!- to get a feel for what slavery was and the vision and sacrifice of Frederick Douglass.

3. air conditioning – I’ve mentioned it before, but as the outdoor temps reach into the 90’s (feeling hotter when there is high humidity or no shade), I am so thankful for air conditioning that keeps the air temperature manageable! Heat is the “kryptonite” of many with MS, and it affects me more than I’d have imagined.

4. fresh blueberries – picked by family members (in a patch that I WISH I could pick berries from, but see number three above). Mmmmm!

5. the gift of time – when a group that doesn’t gather too often comes together for a number of days, this “gift of time” is more valuable than it seems at first. Being able to share time together with parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews is truly priceless.


As I celebrate 38 years, it’s interesting to look at how perspectives change from year to year: how priorities change, how little things aren’t so little, big things aren’t so big… and how some things never change.  Among those things are love, beauty, song, faith, hope – though these may appear in different ways, their essence does not change.  In honor of the birthday of a favorite poet of mine, I will repost a blog entry from December 10, 2007.  And you’ll see why this entry earned its title.

The Thing with Feathers

I love simplicity. It is often in the “simple” that the profound depths of life can be glimpsed, I think. So it is that my favorite poet (whose birthday I share) is known for her simplicity. Nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson is known for the short, lyrical verse that was simple on one level, but somewhat profound for those who wish to dig deeper. A lover of nature, Dickinson could paint exquisite pictures with her words. One of my favorites – one that flits through my mind quite frequently, in fact – is the poem I refer to in today’s title:

Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

(Two more brief stanzas complete the poem.)

I would love to know the point in life at which Emily penned this particular poem. She is often remembered as a hermit of sorts, one who rarely traveled and who became more reclusive as she became older. Reading more about Dickinson’s life, though, I found that the vast majority of her adult life was spent at the family home in Amherst not simply due to Emily’s love of solitude, but because her father needed her to stay there as the caregiver of her mother, frequently described as an invalid. So how had Dickinson experienced the “hope” she wrote of, the little bird that perched on her soul and didn’t give up its song? The next stanza goes on to tell us that the little bird’s song is sweetest amidst difficulty, that it would take quite a storm to knock the bird from its perch.

The picture of the tiny, impossibly strong bird may seem unlikely. Though we weren’t talking of poetry, a study group I’m a part of was recently reading Romans 5:3-4, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” And our conversation had us wondering – why suffering? Couldn’t we just skip that step?

During Thanksgiving time, I mentioned how I couldn’t be thankful for MS, but I know that, in many ways, my life is richer because of it. As Emily told us of the bird’s song that is sweetest amidst the gale, the song of hope that became stronger when faced with struggle. Emily Dickinson died at the age of 56, having written well over a thousand poems, with 800 of them hand bound into books of her own… and less than a dozen published during her lifetime. I am indeed thankful that despite (or because of) Emily Dickinson’s own struggle with family illness, personal illness, depression and loss, she left behind her own volumes of verse. Emily Dickinson is still known as one of the foremost American poets, with so much of her inner struggle “invisible” to those around her until after her death 120 years ago. She didn’t mention the reasons for the hope to flourish in the midst of these issues, but reading Romans 5 along with her verse does indeed paint a picture of hope that we have: perhaps hope for physical healing, but more importantly that hope for peace while facing life’s storms. Romans 5:3-4 is not complete without the following verse, which goes on to promise that this hope will not disappoint us.

So happy birthday Emily (she was born Decembeer 10, 1830)! My wish for each of you is that you find that hope, even when facing life’s storms.

of generals and butterflies

I’ve mentioned before how much I love children’s literature and the truth seen in its simplicity.  I first read The Little Prince in 1988, and this beautiful story of the young boy, traveling among the stars in search for meaning apart from his friend, the beautiful but conceited flower that resided on his planet.  As the boy stopped at resident planets, one character he met was a king, a king who said he ruled the entire universe. 

The perspective of the “king” may have been a bit stinted, but he did have some real wisdom, seen in an exchange he had with the little prince: “If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?” the king demanded.  “The general, or myself?”
“You,” said the little prince firmly.
“Exactly.  One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform.”
(p. 38)

The king may have been egotistical, but he knew that he could only command the sun to set when the time was right (though the prince would have liked to see more sunsets), just like he couldn’t command a general to fly.  I think this is a good lesson for us: expectations need to be realistic, at least within the realm of possibility. 

On the other hand, there is a danger of underestimating possibilities, particularly when you have struggles in life and don’t see yourself surmounting them.  This makes me think of something written by Henry David Thoreau over 150 years ago: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

I have another thought from The Little Prince, one shared by his flower friend before the prince left on his journey: “Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” (p. 34)  Though the flower and king never came in contact with one another, they both shared good lessons: a general cannot be commanded to become a butterfly, but seeing the beautiful butterflies of life can require dealing with pesky caterpillars.  I remember watching as the foundation of our house was built – it wasn’t simple, but it was thorough and strong.  And necessary.

After rereading The Little Prince, I find myself wondering, am I wishing for sunsets at the wrong time of day?  (Am I expecting a general to pollinate my flowers?)  Or as Thoreau writes, do I have castles that need acknowledged and rooted on a foundation? 

This makes me think of a friend who recently shared the story of his MS diagnosis seven years ago.  He had closed himself in his apartment, pulled down the blinds and planned to stay there, depressed and convinced that life was finished, there was no hope for his future.  And a nurse (and valuable friend) lifted the blinds, informing my friend that she would pull the blinds off the wall if he’d insist on blocking light from his life.  Today, my friend is halfway through his college work, working toward a Bachelor’s degree he never had.  And despite physical limitations, my friend has determined that he will not just complete his degree, but find a way he can use this education… and he is still building those foundations.

My friend isn’t planning to enter the Olympics or win an Emmy, as he’s not an athlete or actor, but he has goals that are within the realm of possibility.  Those “caterpillars” did indeed enter his life in the form of multiple sclerosis, but I look forward to seeing the butterfly when my friend graduates from college in less than two years.

As you can see, it’s dangerous to give me a children’s book… I find too many lessons in them.  I love these lessons, though, and continue to look for ways that life and literature can teach us in simple, profound, childlike ways.   If you have a favorite lesson from a treasured book, please share – I’d love to hear about it!