Achievable Goals for 2017

Do you set achievable goals? Do you want to see examples of achievable goals? Over my 30 years, I’ve gotten to weary of setting unachievable goals like “never forget to wash all the make-up off before I go to bed” and “write 1017% more than I did last year” and “stop beside the road to take that picture I want even if someone I know is driving up in the opposite lane.” Because I snap picture from my car as if it were a pit stop. Heaven help me if I got mistook for a tourist, or something worse, a romantic.

So here are some rather more achievable goals:

First Goal.

My first goal is to upload pictures to my phone more frequently and publish them to my blog, Facebook, or Instagram. Since my brother condescendingly but helpfully showed me how to do it on Christmas Eve, this should be more achievable than it was last year. Last year, I took pictures and stuffed them into my phone full till it hardly worked, like your lawn trimmer in the tall grass of spring.

I took pictures on my way home from work today. The sky was dramatic, as it always is when I pull out my phone. The winter’s more defined branches are a delightful break from welcoming but blob-like shapes of the summer.

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The part that isn’t so rewarding is never being able to capture everything I wish to. For instance, as I was dropping off the recycling, the sun shone through the trees like fire. And I have to decide between this version of that scene:

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Or this scene:

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I think I prefer the latter, because although the trees in the foreground aren’t as clear, the fiery red shows up better in the background.

Goal the second. 

My second goal is to use bigger words. Now please don’t misunderstand me and think that this goal is a thinly veiled attempt to show the world that I am better than them. I’m certainly not saying that. It’s just that for years I have stuttered around because I am deathly afraid to use words that other people don’t know. This may surprise you, but the scrutiny, the suspicious smirks that I’ve gotten have made me me sympathetic to old-timey heroines who keep their mouths shut about everything they know and flutter their lashes instead. Today I used the word “amenable” with my co-worker. When he didn’t know what it meant, I explained it to him. End of story.

Explaining the meaning of the word after the fact was much easier (for me) than to think of a synonym for it on the spot, while my brain was focusing on finishing a thought.

And certainly, mispronounciations and incorrectly used words still linger around me and like to stick out their smelly feet when I’m in the presence of people with larger vocabularies than me. Like the Great Macaroon vs. Macaron Debate at Mari Jean’s 30th Birthday Party, where I was decisively proven wrong. Like the many times I use a word in class only to shamefully think about it right before I fall asleep. And a certain 6th grader may have corrected me a time or two.

Goal the third. 

Write more on this blog (and elsewhere) than I did last year.

Goal achieved!

My last blog post was was in July of 2015, so this blog post gives me the credit of posting exactly twice as much as last year.Please note that this is math for writers, not math for mathematicians, where that problem would end up with a different answer.

Goal the fourth. 

Eat supper with my mom and dad more often. Here’s a picture of my mom.

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Goal the fifth.

Savor food and life more.

Goal the sixth.

Read and write more poetry. I’ve skipped around various genres, and I’ve sort of decided that poetry is my genre, mostly because I don’t seem to have the concentration needed for more sustained lengths of writing. Like right now, when I’m quite bored and a bit nauseated at all the “I’s” that dot the page.

Goal the seventh

Build more real relationships with my students. I’ve always cared a great deal for my students but knowing how to understand them and relate with them is always a challenge.

P.S. Just because I know that if you made it to this point in the blog post, you’ll understand the humor in this article: How to Walk Past a Group of Teens without Attracting Attention.

Self-deprecating humor is always the best.

And that’s all! Feel free to leave your goals in the comments below!

This Summer

After chopping off all the arms that reached out to me;
after boarding up all the windows and doors:

. . .

after cutting off my tongue and eating it;
after hurling handfuls of silence and monosyllables of scorn at my loves:

from “After” by Octavio Paz, published in Teaching with Fire:  Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach (Jossey-Bass):  2003

(Photo credit to amazon.com)

Tonight I pulled this book from the box where I had stuffed all my other purchases from Case-Western’s book sale in June. I was looking for it because teaching has been the specter*hovering in the corners of my vision. I say specter, but really, it hasn’t been that bad.

This year, unlike others, I haven’t been able to pack up teaching and students and staff quite as neatly into the box that I normally put them into. Perhaps the contents of that box have gotten bigger.

But this is not a post about sighs of the called teacher. Teachers, myself included, seem to have a tendency to take their calling and their place in the world a bit too seriously.

. . . . .

This summer, I found myself wanting to take pictures of my feet covered in wet grass mid-calf. Or the green tan I was left with after I sprayed it all off. I wanted to take pictures of my Dad sleeping on his favorite chair, on his side, with his hand and leg hanging off the side of the chair. I wanted to take pictures of the blue skies spangled with clouds. I wanted to take pictures of my basil seeds that sprouted, a miracle! I wanted to record my life, but it was too good to record.

. . . . .

This summer, two friends and I were hoping to move in together. Due to a series of unplanned events, we weren’t able to, and I was very disappointed. I love to cook in my own kitchen, serve meals at my own table, and Carla and Julissa and I support each other in life well. I wanted to cook for them. The disappointment is deep.

My parents have been extra kind to me, listening more than normal as I talk out my plans to move into the basement. This is a good option, too, even though the independence is somewhat limited.

. . . . .

This summer, I’ve been reading more. I read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Apparently, it’s one of the few pop culture books written on the subject of semiotics, “the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.” That’s a definition I looked up often. I loved the book, even though it’s a murder mystery. A wise ex-monk and his protégé travel to a monastery, having been asked to solve a murder. A labyrinth library, many old manuscripts, and detailed descriptions of illuminated texts helped me to love it.

(Prettiest copy I could find. Photo credit pottersbookblog.wordpress.com)

But I didn’t especially love Umberto Eco’s conclusion. William of Baskerville (yes, a hark to Sherlock) was a fan of Roger Bacon, an empiricist, solved the case, but he did so accidentally. Therefore, the point of the book is that even the best observation and study of the world leads to folly, and nothing can really be known. Humans are doomed to interpret signs and symbols incorrectly.

The Franciscan heretics that cropped up in the book were more interesting. Concurrently, I was reading G. K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis of Assisi. In Eco’s book, they were treated with courtesy, defended against martyrdom, but with a certain condescension. Reading Chesterton’s biography, I can see why.

(Photo credit to amazon.com)

Anyone who had followed him through life merely to laugh at him, as a sort of lovable lunatic, might easily have had an impression as of a lunatic who bowed to every post or took off his hat to every tree. This was all a part of his instinct for imaginative gesture. He taught the world a large part of its lesson by a sort of divine dumb alphabet . . . its significance became far more serious in the serious work of his life, which was an appeal to . . . human beings (80).

To sum, St. Francis took the world as seriously as God does.

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the does? Job 39.1 ESV

. . . . .

*Is it odd that specter seems misspelled? And I try to avoid the appearance of snobbishness, sticking with the earthbound gray instead of the more ethereal grey, and all that. Perhaps it’s because in foggy London, everything appears to be a spectre.

Last Leg: Zurich

Food eaten: 

1 whole wheat bread roll, plain
1 large chunk of Gouda cheese
1 nectarine
1 apple
1 (well, it probably will be 2) Dove Promise(s)
1 latte macchiato

Activities done:  

Survived 1 day well (not having bitten off Mary’s head for lack of other available heads) after riding on a train all night
Saw Grossmuenster where it all went down
Walked 7+ miles. Saw this beauty all the time: 

 
Met a guy my age from Gambia (He wondered if we go clubbing at night)
Stopped at a restaurant to eat, ordered water and food. Left after realizing we didn’t have enough Swiss francs for the food, but still had to pay for the water–10.40 Francs ($11.66)
Went without supper

Thoughts:  

At Grossmuenster, much more mention was made about the stained glass windows done by the artist, Sigmar Polke, than about all the history that’s so important, but largely forgotten, by a group of 1,000,000+ people around the globe. 

I read the brochure on it. I had to dig through mountains of info about the artist before I saw a single, small brochure on the church’s history translated into 5 languages. I read it there instead of buying it. 

It broached the Reformation from a largely aesthetic point o f view. Here are my misquotations:  “Unfortunately, the reformers’ religious zeal led them to strip the cathedral of things they found gaudy or ornamental, including the organ, tapestries, etc.” Because I religiously follow rules about photography, I don’t have any photos from the inside, but here is one I stole from the Internet. 

Compare it with St. Anna’s Church where we worshipped on Sunday in Vienna:

And indeed, out of all the cathedrals I’ve been in during this trip, this is by far the sparsest. But me being plain, and coming from Zwingli’s religious heritage (but perhaps taken much further), it’s lovely. 

But the author wasn’t the Pagan Aestheticist I originally thought. He went on to say how another side of these Reforms embraced equality and set the foundations in place for the Social Democratic country that the Swiss have today. I like to think this was part of Zwingli’s intent in stripping the church of its superfluous decoration, but 500 years later, my vision is dim. 

What do we do when the opulent world meets spartan (and sometimes scary) religiosity? Can equality remain equality and not become forced community? 

Bright Morning/Bright Soul or a More Romantic Title: “Somewhere Above England”

This morning comes after a uniquely short night. I wonder what that does to the philosophy of this trip. Do nights need to be long in order to be good? This one was about three hours long, from sunset to sunrise. We are flying into the sun.

Warning. This post contains mentions of the soul, body odor, and optimism. 

Just like the night up here in the north, the sun sets and rises at a rapid pace. One glance out the window shows a brilliant orb above the horizon, the next shows only a red glow.

Right now, we’re flying into some cirrus clouds, obviously descending, and the sun is climbing above the wing. It’s such  beautiful morning, with a blue horizon as clear and bright as a morning in Reykjavik or Montana.

It’s just white, blue, and bright. 

In more prosaic terms, the airplane smells a bit more like bodily functions and the people all around me are watching things of which I disapprove, like Roseanne, Noah (there are too many ugly tree people) while there’s this beautiful morning to be watched and chronicled.

Never mind writing sprint breaks into a 30 day writing silence on my part.

The day is good, and I want to worship God for shining the sun through the ice crystals scattered across my window, for the “beloved” (the stewardess’s words) seat mate who has a kindred spirit in so many things, not the least in being a fellow Doctor Who fan. His repertoire for discussion and worthiness of fanning is entirely responsible for making us miss all the pre-flight instructions, ascent, etc. Please let me know if you’re a Doctor Who fan, too.

My cynical self wonders if my gratitude to God is merely a flaked-off emotion at my euphoria to be spending my first evening in Prague watching Swan Lake at an outdoor venue. Or perhaps it’s the three hours of sleep. Should I rein in some of that gratitude? Sorry, God, my emotions are making me overly grateful. 

Nope. I think my status could continue to read, “Grateful.”

I’ve been wondering what this trip will do for me. Appropriately, my chosen in-flight entertainment has been The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The film suggests that going places and experiencing things will round out your character (and make you more attractive on eHarmony). But one of the difficult lessons that I’ve learned is that even beautiful trips can be empty. What will make this trip meaningful?

As with literature, and how all of life should be, I hope to use the time and slowed down moments to reflect not he state of my inner self. I’ve neglected it for far too long, making me feel fraudulent and empty at worst and grumpy at best.

So, for now, welcome bright morning. Shine, both my God and the sun, brightly into my soul.

A Success Story

To my mom and her friends, a pole building business is the success story.

She speaks of the teenager in Indiana who was working next to his father in the fields. For years, his father had failed to eke anything out but a miserable existence for himself and his family. One day, the eighteen year old decided he didn’t have to farm.

This is not how the story goes: “Yes, he worked his way through night school to become a lawyer.”

This is actually how it goes: “From the field, he saw his neighbor’s pole building. He said to himself, ‘I could build that.’ ”

With this business acumen, one appropriate for cornfields and Mennonites, he was able to lift his family out of the poor house. Everyone, my mom said about her tour to Daviess County, wanted to see Graber Pole Buildings, a large steel manufacturing business.

Not: “On the right, you can see his corporate offices on the fifteenth story.”

With these buildings, their simple architecture, and practical materials, this man achieved success and happiness beyond his wildest dreams. And my mom and others applaud him for it.

Electrical Advertisements

There’s really no use for me to make excuses about the following post. It’s just a bunch of things that I’m involved in, nothing heavy. Just some fun.

I have to share pictures of some advertisements I came across when cleaning out my dad’s catalog storage bin last year. My dad is a copious collector of certain things, and electrical catalogs is one of them. I hope you enjoy these prizes as much as I did.

The first two treasures come from a flyer from the Malcolite Corporation, Copyright 1994.  Plastic covers for lights are their business and they take the plastic seriously.

I can’t quite figure out the man’s expression.

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From the inside: ImageFrom flat, low light lenses to beautifully sculptured high light lenses.

  • “This lens reduces shadows, eliminates computer glare, ELIMINATES EYE STRAIN!
  • This lens turns that old light into a beautifully sculptured work of art, indoors and outdoors. Enjoy the best lighting with year after year of low cost maintenance, WITHOUT THE HIGH COST OF INSTALLING NEW FIXTURES!

Their formatting, not mine. Such promise in plastic covers.

Next, from the Conney Safety Sampler, December 2005.

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“This is the one box I NEVER have to WORRY about!”

So worry-free he rolls in them.

In the next one, I’m also not sure what makes me laugh. Is is the bad photo-shopping job (Comic Sans on a chalkboard with color coded hints of math?), or is it the girl’s dead-pan expression, “Are you kidding me?” the “teacher’s” exuberant smile (Did she help the girl work out her “sums”? Her body language is less than helpful.).

From Holophane, leader in lighting solutions, March 2005:Image

And finally, take hope. The electrical world has a new superhero, Captain Discount.

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“The discount store at your door!”

The hero of Full Discount Wholesalers has an Omni-directional Desktop Microphone just for you, fully discounted, of course.

God’s Voice and How to Live

After a long hiatus, I have something to say. I don’t have profound words, but I love to talk about Jesus and me.

God’s voice comes to me from every place:

  • At the youth Bible study, where Pastor Larry tells us to be more than a fan, to count the cost, and follow Jesus, our Master. I don’t generally “go for” those inspirational books directed to a contemporary, evangelical, young audience, but God is not limited by my preferences.

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  • At work, where Jesus gently tells me that if I want my students to bear fruit and blossom from my teaching, I can never, never teach for my own self-glory. Not even if I’m ever so eloquent about how the Black Plague brought about the middle class in Europe and even paved the way for a more personal, experiential form of religion.
  • At work, where Jesus shows me how my time-consuming, personal habits take away from my time preparing lessons or dealing with other student business.
  • In Rumer Godden’s book, In This House of Brede, recommended by Mari Jean. A businesswoman-turned-nun discovers how to consecrate every action to God and to the good of her community. The pace of the book mimics so well the pace of a convent, and the real pace at which we change: slowly, surely, like a turtle, with lots of interesting life happening in between.

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  • At home, where Jesus reminds me that my selfishness directly impacts my family. He reminds me that the bathroom is not my domain to be commandeered whenever convenient, and that Mom’s method of dealing with food scraps should be honored. This is as important as listening well to each person’s daily litany with empathy and understanding.

In James 3, James’s voice of wisdom tells us that we ought not bring forth sweet water and bitter.

The Holy Spirit nudges me day in and day out to sacrifice my wants, my preferences to God’s preferences. And when I don’t, I meet up with God’s natural law quickly. A life of constantly trying to decide between God’s way or my way, leads to spiritual schizophrenia, an unpleasant state of mind, to say the least. Let me give you an example:

Ever since I’ve begun to teach, I’ve dealt with a fair amount of anxiety. The form my anxiety takes on is an inability to finish a task with single-mindedness and satisfaction. I can be doing a task, such as loading wash into the washer in the morning, when my anxiety will begin to build, and I’ll think of all the other chores I need to do, however light. As I’m taking care of the wash, I’ll be overcome with this almost overwhelming urge to leave the wash as it is, and take up another chore that is on the horizon, such as washing the morning dishes. As soon as I manage to complete one chore, I’ll be struck with a panic that I won’t be able to finish the next one. I know, it sounds wimpy. Most of us are, in some form. So I’m not apologizing for this weakness.

This morning, the anxiety was closing in, and I knew it could becoame a difficult, difficult day, with no one around to cut through the anxiety and to help me remain grounded. Saturdays, with their lack of structure and range of options, especially when everyone is gone, have been my darkest days.

I breathed several anxious, anxious prayers and decided to steadfastly follow where the Spirit would guide.

He guided. While this may seem to be a small victory, with confidence and trust, I finished my breakfast. I finished the laundry. I took time to read James 3 and 4. I read a book that I’ve been wanting to finish for several days (more on that later). I washed my hair, and cleaned up the kitchen.

This peace that comes is a divine gift, a godly gift.

Here are some of my favorite peace paintings:

ImageRebekah Joy Plett

ImageYu Minjun

Some days, it feels as if the whole world is wrong. Some days, it feels as if everyone I love has problems that will swallow up all the good in their lives. And I don’t know what to do.

So in this time of personal anxiety and concern for those around me, I wonder:  How is God God right now? What does it mean to be a still-to-be-completely-redeemed Christian right now? What can I do?

Here is what I’ve been hearing, over and over again, in many different places.

If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me.

Trust in Me. Choose my path to joy, not your own. Take joy in sacrifices, because that is the way to life.

Love and worship Me with your deeds and thoughts.

Listen to the eloquent voices that take you to spiritual heights of ecstasy and to the mundane voices in your life that tell you to work with diligence and humility. The Christian life is one of depth and breadth.

Isaiah 30:15 NIV:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

As for me, I would have all of it.