Spread Optimism 21 June 2017

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Today is the first day of summer, and it is going to be a hot one! I struggle with heat, anything over 85 if there is no breeze or shade. I don’t like to be hot and I don’t like the sudden swarm of mosquitos that follows me wherever I go outside, clinging to my arms and the legs of my jeans. So, I got thinking that maybe I need to spend some time spreading a little optimism.

Winston Churchill said, “…an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Optimism is supposed to help ward off disease and help people cope in difficult times. Part of spreading optimism is being grateful. Grateful people are full of optimism! Some other ways to spread optimism:

smile at that driver who cut you off, smile in the face of your negative relative or neighbor, make that favorite meal for the ones you love, go dancing, take the time to stop and listen, turn the TV off, picture the “finish line” for whatever it is that you are trying to get done and the distance won’t seem so far, put on your favorite song and grab the nearest whisk to sing it into, give someone a genuine compliment-see past the surface to the person beneath, write your spouse, child, or friend a note and tuck it into a spot where they are sure to find it, pack a picnic lunch/supper and find a nice spot to enjoy it with someone, start a game of poker with some friends, bake an extra batch of cookies, bread, or muffins and share them with a neighbor or boss or friend. Fill the world with the things you want to see. I’ll try to remember that all those swarming mosquitos are a bat feast!

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Pick some simple way to spread optimism and add it to your day for the next thirty days and see what happens. Keep it simple and doable. In the words of A.A. Milne:

“What day is it?”
It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day,” said Pooh.”

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Hiking Season 19 June 2017

According to the United States Forest Service, it was at the end of the 20th century that hiking became recognized as a form of recreation. This makes sense because we were still a largely rural population before then, so most of us lived near forests and fields and that was just a part of our daily experience. Soon, walking and outing clubs became popular, in fact, the USFS says that the Rocky Mountain Club was founded in Denver in 1873! These clubs developed hiking trails for use and they promoted wilderness preservation (forest history.org). Scouting came out of this movement as adults recognized the positive effects that spending time in, and learning about, natural places had on youth.

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There is no doubt in my mind that the cure for most things that I fret about is time spent running on my own, or hiking with friends. Elaine and I have completed two hikes so far in our season, and enjoyed sharing one of them with Alex and Rikki. Last week, we hiked the Raw Hide Trail in White Ranch Park, which is part of the vast array of trails in the Jeffco open spaces. The informative signs told us that the Ute and Arapahoe tribes used this land.  A homestead was filed in 1865 and later sold to the Paul White family who ran a commercial Hereford cattle operation and raised crops to feed those cattle. Some of the horse powered farm equipment is on display. In 1969,  Paul’s wife Anna Lee agreed to a part purchase-part gift agreement  and the land come into the Jeffco open space system. 

I was amazed at the tenacity of those first settlers in that difficult to access, but lush land as they worked hard to make their living and raise their families. The wildflowers were lovely, the sky was bright blue with some puffy white clouds and we had a wonderful hike. Hiking season is officially underway! Bonus: I arrived home to check the windmill just in time for this blessing.

 

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Hang on to Hope 13 June 2017

Sometimes hope is the only thing you have, and sometimes even holding onto hope seems impossible. I try to hold onto hope for my students. There are those who are so combative that even asking for their work elicits an angry response, those who just sit and don’t seem to care, those who never do anything productive but put a lot of energy into pretending they are, and those who have home lives that no one can imagine or would wish upon any kid. I want them to succeed. I want them to love learning. I want them to have dreams and goals bigger than they think they can. I want them to believe in themselves and in others.

When I think about the impact of a particular life, several come to mind, but not because of a world-wide impact, but because of their impact on my life and the way I was changed because of them, and the hope they instilled in me. Two particular teachers, Mr. Kolterman and Mr. Kelpe, made a great impact on my life. They taught me about acceptance, about caring to be my absolute best, and about what it means to be a great teacher who cares deeply for students. They taught me how to work hard for something you want, to have goals and to reach them. They taught me to be the person I am meant to be. 

I hope to be remembered as someone who cared deeply for others, as someone whose strong faith in God shone through, as someone filled with joy for the many blessings she had in her life, as someone who loved her children with all her heart and supported and encouraged them to be their best selves and to give back, as someone who loved her partner in life with devotion and a generous spirit-encouraging them to be their best self, and as someone who put others before self and treated everyone with love, respect, and caring, and as someone who found incredible joy and peace in a simple country life.

“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” (Oscar Schindler) Can one person make a difference? I say a resounding yes!

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Be a hero 12 June 2017

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A hero has courage against all odds to do what is good and right and true. When faced with choices, be your best hero. Choose what brings strength to a relationship and not what brings instant gratification, whether or not strings are attached. See what is right in front of you and know that it should be cherished and protected about any self-gratification or momentary pleasure. Do not consider what others may pressure you to, but rely on your faith to know and do what is right.

Be willing to sacrifice for others in need. When you are faced with those less fortunate, give freely of your meager wealth to help. Do not give without thought, furthering a

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dependency, but shape your giving to suit the need: a cheeseburger for one who is hungry, a ride to the bus station or a ticket to go home, a warm coat for those who are cold or a cold drink of water for those who thirst.

Do not be selfish, but neither be selfless, remember what you are worth and who you are. Find resources to accomplish a goal. Be humble and recognize what is simply the right thing to do. Wear out your knees in prayer. Know your God as that best of friend who you can go to with prayer for your own needs and the needs of family, friends, and neighbors all over the world. Pray for opportunities to grow.

Be warmth and safety for those who live in fear. Bring that warm cocoa and plate of cookies to those who hunger and need comfort. Provide that soft flannel sheet for those who need rest. Smile, knowing that your smile brings comfort, joy, and pleasure to those willing to receive it. Go out of your way to bring all that is good and kind and well into this world right where you are. Be a summer hero.

Oh, and go ahead and belt out that song: “I can be your hero, baby…”

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Cattle and Teaching 6 June 2017

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I ask myself constantly why I can’t manage to bring together my classrooms of students in a caring and respectful community all the time. Certain days, everyone is into what we are doing and certain days they aren’t. I’m not sure what makes the difference, but I know there are many factors that play into it: what’s going on at home, how much sleep was had the night before, whether or not there anything to eat, what’s going on with friends/enemies, and a lot of time it comes down to what happened the five minutes before they walked into my room.

I love teaching, but there are days where it would just be easier to feed cattle. Cattle always want what you have to feed them and take it in with unparalleled focus. Cattle follow you wherever you decide to feed them and bellow their impatience for the food. They ingest bite after bite without complaint. They know that if they keep eating until the food is gone, there’ll be more when I come again. Once they’ve eaten their fill, they lie down in the warm sun to let it all sink in, digest, and do their body good. They can get distracted by each other, but for a very brief time and then they are right back on task with their nose happily rooting through the hay pile.

First hike of 2017 season with Elaine.

 

 

If there was a cattle care rubric, I would score exemplary. I never neglect them, even when it is fifteen below and my fingers lose all feeling. And they are always into it! I wonder if you can paid for that, or for taking long walks, reading good books, or enjoying cups of coffee.

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Freedom Diary 5 June 2017

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Reading the Freedom Writer’s Diary with my remedial English students was such a pleasure because of the perspective they brought to both the discussions and as we wrote our own diary entries.

Dear Diary,

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt a need to drop my cultural identity. In fact, I wish I’d been more steeped in it, or paid more attention to the details. My sister can speak a little Czech. I wish I could go back to those Sokol Hall days, of cakewalks and kolache, pork and sauerkraut, pretty embroidered white blouses, polka music; my aunts, uncles, and cousins all gathered; my Grandpa Piskac’s home and that clock with the children on the moving swing, tanks of fish and the smell of his pipe; piano lessons on Friday nights and baking chocolate chip cookies in turns, but mostly eating the dough.

It’s comforting to think on it–glass bottles of soda in wooden crates in my grandpa’s basement and getting to have one for a treat. The stairs leading down were steep and those from the kitchen door to the driveway were even steeper. Family was always gathered there and there are photos of everyone standing on the little porch and all the way down the stairs so that we fit in that frozen moment in time.

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Holidays when the men sat around a card table and played that card game. Czech words issued from their mouths as they placed bets and teased each other. The deep sounds of their voices echo in my mind, but I cannot make out the words. The women cooked, cleaned up, chatted, and tried to keep track of us kids. We played all over the house and found ways to get more cookies from the trays on the table.

Traditions that brought us all together on a rented bus as we rode to Lincoln to meet up with more relatives in the big hall. On the trip, my Uncle Tony would walk down the aisle and take all the kids’ orders for Burger King. We would get so excited at the prospect of a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate malt, but these orders never materialized. He helped us to pass the time and we fell for it every time.

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As I think about all of this and write it down, the bare bones of it, I realize how much of my culture is really still a part of me. I can smell the sauerkraut and pork, taste the rich pastry of the kolache, and breathe in my family culture.

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Reflections 1 June 2017

Brick and mortar school is out for the summer. And I’ve done some reflecting on the year. I learned a lot about finding the line between being too rigid and being too permissive. Sometimes I failed epically and sometimes I triumphed. I grew in making and keeping goals, especially in my writing goals. I also managed to get some snowshoeing in, which was one of my goals from last winter.

I found success in individual students who found their writing voice. I struggled with many students who are dead set against learning or even opening up their world to the possibility. They’ve been long in a box that they cannot find their way out of. I’m proud of the essays and various projects my students completed, but most especially their poetry and writer’s notebooks. That makes me believe in teaching. 

Looking ahead, I want to continue to be innovative in my teaching on-line, to figure out ways to build that community of learners into a writing force to be reckoned with!

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