Puzzle Pieces

Pieces comig together

The “ah-ha” moment

I distinctly remember the day Michael learned about the silent e. You know the one that makes the other vowel long? With this discovery, he was like a racehorse released to run for the first time—eager, awkward, almost tripping over himself. It was a joy to see the excitement in his eyes and his new confidence in reading.

As part of the Read to Win program for public school first-graders struggling with reading, I had been working with this sweet little boy for a month. We had made negligible progress up to this point and both of us were frustrated. I felt ineffective and I worried my student was on the verge of giving up.

The silent e was a game changer. With this new piece of the phonetic puzzle, Michael was no longer dependent on me to tell him every new word he encountered. He now had a tool to help him sound it out. He still struggled to read but with this new confidence I was fairly sure he was going to be okay and that his education would now progress.

His epiphany put me in mind of the first time I changed an automotive light bulb. My tag light quit working and I tried to fix it myself but I could not get the bulb out. When I finally resorted to pliers, I broke the glass and wound up having to crush the flimsy aluminum base to extract it. Only then could I see the little button holding it in. “Ah-ha!” Once I understood the mechanism, it was an easy fix.

We have a saying, “Hindsight is 20-20.” That is to say, once we’ve been down a path, our mistakes are clear to be seen. And life is one big learning lesson after another.

One thing I’ve learned to help me along the way is that it doesn’t hurt to ask questions. If I try something and the solution is not immediately apparent, I’m apt to ask, “Is there a trick to this? Something I’m not seeing?”

Books are wonderful for finding puzzle pieces. For instance, the Chilton Manuals offer diagrams of your car’s pieces and how they’re put together. There are books on how to properly write a letter to a Congressman. My dictionary has clues on how words should be pronounced. Learned men have written books about the meaning of the Bible. I learned how to knit by looking at a book.

Our knowledge has been increased exponentially by the Internet. Nowadays, we have videos on You Tube to help us learn everything from making pie crust to repairing a cell phone. The idea is to watch someone who has made a their mistakes and now knows a few tricks to avoid the pitfalls.

Puzzle Jumble

Sometimes learning is like a jumble of puzzle pieces. 

But others’ instructions are like working a puzzle with a pro. They can point out the importance of corner pieces, color schemes and shapes. It’s up to me, up to you, to actually put all those helpful hints into practice and do the work.

Go Michael!

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God Hears

via God Hears

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Death by Drowning

Dan had a call from a new customer named Saleem yesterday. It made me start thinking about a young man named Shurea that we met on a white water excursion a few years ago. I relived the occasion until I went to sleep, and perhaps in my dreams I saw his face.

Sad Face

Something about his frightened, unhappy face has bothered me.

This morning I had a bit of an epiphany. Something about Shurea’s frightened, unhappy demeanor has bothered me since the incident. Now I think I know the depths of it.

In the fall of 2010, Dan and I had only been married a few months. He suggested a trip to Colorado and I was all in. When he talked about seeing the Royal Gorge, I asked if there was river rafting. I’ve often canoed the Illinois River near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, but I always wanted to try white water.

And so it went that we were out on the Arkansas River in a rubber raft with a group of strangers. One of them was Shurea, a young college student from India. He and his roommate, Saied, were seated in the boat with Dan and me. Our captain, Joe, stood at the helm.

It was all very exciting. We were talking and laughing and learning to take orders from Joe to best maneuver the unwieldy rubber raft through swift currents.

Until we arrived at Sunshine Falls. Approaching this class-four rapid, all the guides banked their boats to give last minute instructions and to allow the rafts to proceed through the narrow chasm one at a time. Because he knew I couldn’t swim, Joe checked and snugged my life vest half a dozen times while we waited. As it turned out, his attentions were well founded.

As we rounded a steep curve in the river, our raft was swept up on a huge protruding rock. At the time, I didn’t know what happened, only that some “irresistible force” caused me to hit the water.

I went down, securely harnessed into the best life jacket man has invented, thinking I was going to bob right back up. I didn’t. The force had planted my right foot firmly into the riverbed. I was stuck in the rocks, a mere three feet below the surface.

I thought I was surely going to drown. I asked God, not to save me, necessarily, but simply to SEE me. “God?” I asked, “Is this the end?”

Instantly I had the thought, “Let go of your shoe.” Only then did I remember that my new water shoes were too big and I kept them on by scrunching my toes. I relaxed my foot, slipped out of the shoe, and shot to the surface.

It wasn’t easy getting rescued from that icy, roiling water, but the next boat around the bend was full of brave, strong souls who grabbed my life jacket belt and hauled me into their over-loaded raft.

Shurea Rescue

Shurea’s Rescue. I’m already in the boat.

When I was able to catch my breath and begin to get my wits about me, I learned that Shurea was rescued by the same folks. I turned to see.

He looked absolutely terrified. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“No, I don’t think so.” He replied. He wasn’t hurt; wasn’t sick; but he didn’t look well.

When we got our crew back together and shared experiences, we were exclaiming and laughing about our dangerous adventure. Except solemn-faced Shurea, who finally told us, “I didn’t know this was going to be dangerous.” Apparently Saied had portrayed something like a leisurely float down a peaceful river, when he talked him into going.

Looking at photos later, we saw that Shurea knocked me out of the boat when he fell. How similar our experiences yet how different our reactions!

I was prepared to die and excited to live. Only today did I realize the depths of fear on that young man’s face. He was not ready to meet God.

Your comments are always welcome here. How would you feel if you almost died? Have you had a close brush with death? Are you ready to meet God? Does he even exist?

P.S. They sang “Something Good” at church this morning. Check out the beginning lyrics! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XlCAdaHAnY

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A Distorted View

For a few weeks I’ve been walking around in a bit of a blur, trying out new no-line trifocal eyewear. These are progressive lenses, which is a new thing for me. They said it would take some getting used to. I don’t remember anyone telling me life would be blurry and distorted.

distorted lenses

Lenses make a big difference in what we see and how we see it

As long as I look straight ahead, everything is sharply focused and these new glasses work fine. But if my eyes move a quarter inch to the left or right, reality is lost. I am trying to learn to move my head and not my eyes. Until I do, I’m probably not a safe driver.

Even looking straight on, something is not quite right. Looking down into a drawer full of folded clothes, I see a curved front where I know is a perfectly flat, unwarped piece of cabinetry. I have had to take my glasses off a couple of times to make certain.

As I realize changing lenses changes my perspective, I’ve thought about why sometimes two people can look at the same situation and draw different conclusions. Perhaps it’s the lenses we have to look through.

If a kid grows up in a family that is fearful of the police, he will have a distorted view of law enforcement. A child molested by a trusted family member may have a warped outlook on love. A person wounded by unthinking or uncaring religious congregations is surely going to think less of the church. And a young person who hasn’t experienced much life at all, is naïve.

Even when we know a thing, our psyche can have warped or unhealthy reactions and interactions. We can’t easily “take off the glasses” we’ve been programmed to see through.
My lenses also automatically darken in bright sunlight. It can then take a couple of minutes for them to lighten back up indoors. My brain knows this because I’ve worn photochromic lenses for several years. That doesn’t keep me from having a brief thought, “It sure is dark in here,” when walking into a new place. I forget, just for a few seconds, that my lenses have distorted reality. I will then sometimes say out loud, “My glasses made me think it was dark in here.” Saying it reinforces it more than simply having a thought.
I am aware my life perspective is influenced by my upbringing, my life experiences (good and bad) and even by choices I’ve made. I try to keep all that in mind when reacting to people and events.

It’s not always easy, when my eyes tell me the line is curved, for my brain to overrule and convince me it is a straight line in front of me. Sometimes I have to say out loud, “I know that line is not curved.”

I usually give grace to others when I see them reacting in a wrong way to people and events. I can only hope the same grace will be extended to me. After all, not everyone has had the beneficial experience of wearing progressive, transitional trifocals.

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The Good Steward

Mockingbird

Mockingbird stewards the Yaupon Holly

A mockingbird sits in the top of our Yaupon holly tree every evening right before sunset. I watch him out the breakfast room windows, admiring, wondering as he defends his tree from all comers. The would-be plunderers of holly berries include several squirrels and a particularly determined blue jay.

It’s a good-sized tree with thousands of red berries. When the weather turns really cold, the squirrels are all over it, stuffing their cheeks in spite of the dive-bombing bird. But on sunny days, no one bothers. Most years, there will still be fruit until late February or mid-March. The berries will turn orange and what hasn’t been devoured will fall to the ground to feed the field mice.

I wonder if the mockingbird is simply being territorial. Perhaps he would defend the tree as a future nesting place even if there were no berries. Whatever his bird-reasoning, he does an admirable job of it. I would say he’s a good steward.

The bird causes me to reflect on my own stewardship. Realizing I’m in the later third of my life (perhaps less; who knows) I sometimes think about what I’m going to leave behind and to whom it should pass down.

Money is the easy part. There may not be any left, especially if I live into the ninth decade as some women in our family have done. Even if there remains a tidy sum, to me it is the least important. What matters most are those things an heir could not obtain for him/herself: a crocheted bedspread, embroidered pillowcase, hand-carved wooden doo-hickey, recipe collection, grandfather’s Civil War pistol. These are the things I steward.

And memories. I should write a book.

Whitewater rescue

After being rescued from the bottom of the river, I should write a book!

In addition to all the family stuff, I could tell about having my foot stuck on the bottom of the Arkansas River, raging water over my head. I could explain how to brown the bottom of biscuits after cooking them in a wood cook stove, circa late 1800’s. I have actually written a little book about some of the medicinal herbs I know.

I’m in charge of getting these things and this information and these memories into the hands of those who outlive me.

Perhaps the most valuable thing I’ve been given to steward is my time. I fear I haven’t done a very good job of it, spending too many minutes/hours/days worrying about things I couldn’t change or playing computer games to take my mind off those things.

I want to be more like the mockingbird. He’s focused, he has a goal, he’s determined. He is a good steward of his tree and his berries.

I’ve noticed this week a second mockingbird is joining him and he has stopped protesting. I suppose it is the mate he’s been saving those berries for. They will build a nest soon and those squirrels better look out!

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Valuable Things

Saw blade packaging

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Autumn’s cooler weather has me in the baking mode and each time I get out my cookie sheets, I think of my parents, long gone from this world. These old cookie sheets are unique things.

I remember the day Daddy brought them home, in the form of a saw blade casing. My father was an electrician working on the construction of a power dam. Someone had brought in a huge blade for a power saw and discarded the aluminum case it was packaged in. Round, flat, 24 inches across, to him the two halves looked like cookie sheets. And so they have served for over 50 years.

The scoop in my sugar canister is older than the baking sheets and one of a kind because my father fashioned it from a condensed milk can. I grew up watching Mama scoop sugar with it and hearing the stories of how poor they started out and the many ways they improvised. She was pleased he had used his creativity to make her life easier.

Oh, the memories! Mama baking in the kitchen. Daddy fashioning something out of nothing.

These two kitchen tools are mine now and I treasure them, not for their intrinsic value, which is nil, but for the memories they hold. They are mere things, but priceless.

When people lose their home in a fire, or the contents in a flood, we often hear them lament the loss of photographs. I understand that but I think what they’re really grieving is the memories that come with looking at the photos. I feel the same way about my cookie sheets.

Folks who suffer a disaster also will usually first say something about “thankful to be alive…things can be replaced.” But they often sift through the remains looking for mementos: a wedding ring, charred letters, a gift or a toy from childhood. Even if the things are ruined or useless, they are treasures to be salvaged for the memories they hold.

There seems to be something about touching an old thing that takes us back in time.

I enjoyed watching Mama crochet doilies and embroider fancy linens. Many of them were for my hope chest and it’s nostalgic to use them and remember her comments as she was creating them.

I inherited my maternal grandmother’s ruby sugar bowl and cream pitcher. Mama used the cream pitcher to put water in her steam iron. Looking at these items gives me a connection to a grandmother I never knew.

Connection to a grandmother I never knew

Some of the treasures have been lost through the years. Mom had a pair of cobalt blue vases in the window for years. They were shaped like bass fiddles, unique and often admired by visitors. When she downsized and moved to an apartment in her old age, she gave them to a favorite niece. My sister was heartbroken over it.

When I found an identical vase in an antique store, I bought it, invented provenance to go with it, and tried to restore the memory for her. It’s not Mama’s vase, but I hope it still helps my sister think of her.

During this season of giving, I hope folks won’t despair of giving the most elaborate, the most expensive gifts. Give them the most valuable things: give memories.

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Big Words, Strong Words

I love words. I’ve had more than a few conversations about my favorite ones and why I like them so much. My tendency is to favor words that are less common or that have some memory attached. I’m a real fan of olde English.

I get frustrated with people who use the same simple words again and again. A certain political figure comes to mind. His tweets and speeches are full of the word “very.” But I am absolutely repulsed when people resort to crassness when they run out of creative words. I would much rather hear VERY than “effing.”

A word doesn’t have to be full of letters to be a big, strong word. Look at the word APT. It has only three letters but seems to pack a lot more punch than ABLE or LIKELY.

CAULIFLOWER is a long word but has a simple, straightforward meaning. Well, okay, it has been used to describe a boxer’s ear. Still, it’s a gnarly vegetable. I consider this a small word.

FUNK is a word I like. It’s short but conveys a good deal of emotion, telling the reader about a blue mood without implying a serious or permanent mental state. I look at it as a strong word.

The problem with big, strong words is that we don’t hear them as often as we do the little, weak ones. The more we hear a word, the more likely we are to use it in our writing or speech. It gets tiresome.

Just think how many times a week you hear the phrase, “Oh, my God.” It is totally worn out. The word PERFECT, used in previous centuries to denote maturity, and something to strive for, has lost its effect in today’s generation, since even a properly filled form is “perfect.”

It seems the current trend among young people, rather than learning the language, is to make things up. MANSPLAIN is one example, though I can’t deny its usefulness. TOMOZ is a new word I think we could have done without. The Oxford English Dictionary has added 2,000 new words in 2018 and the year is not over!

UBIQUITOUS—now there’s a word for you! When I first learned the meaning, it was if I had never heard it before. But once I acknowledged it and started plugging it into my vocabulary, it seemed to pop up everywhere. (Pun intentional.)

After I rode a two-wheeled contraption called a SEGWAY in 2010, I began hearing political pundits using the word to mean a bridge between subjects and I had to look it up. (I love my big dictionary!)

Dictionary

I love my big dictionary!

Years ago I read a Western novel by a (new to me) author that had the word SIBILANCE in it. I skimmed over it the first time. The second time, I had to find it in the dictionary because it didn’t quite fit the definition I had put together from the first use. If I remember correctly, the author used it ubiquitously in every book of his I read thereafter.

So the next time I hear the word VERY (or read it in a tweet) I plan to make substitution in my mind. I’ve looked up some suggestions in my handy Thesaurus.

Very, adv. [which is the most typical] 1. Extremely, exceedingly, terribly, quite, jolly, remarkably, notably, highly, supremely, awfully, exceptionally, extraordinarily, unusually, uncommonly, abnormally, absolutely, altogether, entirely, thoroughly, decidedly [Ooh, I like that one!], unquestionably, unequivocally, downright, totally, completely, hugely, vastly, enormously, greatly, more than. And so on, ad nauseam.

An interesting read on the subject of new words can be found at WordCounter.

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