Normal Rockwell - story of Sammy

Today's creative writing comes by way of my friend Johanna who suggested I tell the story of a Norman Rockwell painting. I typed in Norman Rockwell, hit images, and selected the very first (which happened to be from www.rumorsdaily.com) and off I go.
Little Sammy Whittendorf got as far as Eagle Run Creek before he started to get blisters on his heels. He hadn't thought about how irksome his church shoes would be on the long journey, only about how tennis shoes wouldn't do for his entrepreneurial enterprising of the great western frontier. As he leaned down to tie the brown, slippery laces for the 23rd time, he wished he had chosen Monday comfort over Sunday style. He rose again and stretched his 7-year-old frame, lifting all his possessions and investment portfolios high into the air and then letting the red bundle linger a bit before finding its place on his shoulder.
Sammy peered over the single lane bridge at Eagle Run Creek and imagined he saw himself in the wrinkles of water. He didn't, of course, but he imagined a reflection of a strong, important man with a red bundle for a briefcase on his way to see about some business. Sammy quickly realized he wasn't imagining at all, but simply explaining his task for this glorious September day filled with opportunity. Enterprising was much more important than school and subtraction and Walter Leadenhower. Yes, he thought to himself, enterprising was much more important.
He leaned down and picked up a rough piece of grey gravel and weighed it in his palm. With all the strength in his enterprising spirit, he thrust it out and over the bridge and watched the fast descent. A bit disappointed with the distance, Sammy concluded decidedly there was a strong easterly wind coming in which reminded him he should get moving. He was to be at Fletcher's Crossing before noon and the sun was already climbing high above his head.
Sammy left the bridge forgetting about blisters, although his socks were beginning to soak and would remind him later. His sights were set on the undiscovered and (Sammy was convinced) untapped resources of the expansive plain beyond the town of Harrelsville, Iowa. Though still in the formative stages, the success of his hastily laid plans was every bit as sure as his awkward, arm-swinging stride.
About five paces after crossing the bridge, Sammy heard a distant rumbling that quickly turned into a much louder roar. Gripping his red bundle, he meant to dart into the ditch for cover (many a soul could be out to steal his innovative, if not quite complete, plans), but the combination of dust and a familiar voice sent him into confusion.
The voice boomed out of a dream-cloud of smoke, "Sammy? Is that you? What in tarnation are you doing out here? We been lookin' all over for you!"
Everything dreamlike faded and Sammy's hopes of enterprising the great western frontier of Harrelsville with it.
"Hello, Officer Patterson," kind of mumbled out of Sammy's lower, protruding lip.
"You know you walked almost 2 miles from your mom and pap's house? Now, that's a long way, son."
Sammy kicked at the grey gravel rocks underneath his feet, sending little dust clouds up to his chin. His red bundle had dropped and now sat beside him, a dejected pile imitated by his face.
"I only wanted to enterprise the western frontier, Officer." He sputtered on, "I just thought to myself, 'what good is all these numbers if I can't go-a-enterprisin' and makin' somethin' of myself?' That's what I thought, Officer, honest!"
Officer Patterson's eyebrows were knit together in one long line across his forehead and his nose jutted out under his important policeman hat. He seemed to think for a moment before he said, "You know what, Sammy?"
"Well, no I don't know, Officer Patterson," Sammy answered after he judged the pause too long.
"I was just wonderin' how you'd feel about some ice cream right about now. See, I've been feeling myself a little hungry for that rocky road flavor they got in new last week at the diner, what d'ya say?"
"Oh boy, oh boy! Officer Patterson, I thought for sure I was going to cry, but I love ice cream and now you've done it," Sammy caught himself in mid-ice cream-excitement, before his smile covered his whole face, "But, Officer I still want to enterprise, is that okay?"
"Maybe we can talk about this enterprise business with Teddy Noucomb at the diner. He's always got some good advice for... you know, enterprising, as you call it."
"Hm," Sammy rubbed his sweaty palms on the newly dirtied white t-shirt he wore, "I'll think about it. You can't talk business and enterprising with just anybody, you know."
"Oh, I do know. I do know," Officer Patterson said as he settled his blue hat back into place over his knitted brows and jutting-out nose.
"I s'pose I'll go then," Sammy said, picking up his red bundle and walking toward Officer Patterson's cruiser. The Officer opened the passenger door and secured the truant before walking around and taking his seat on the driver's side.
"I s'pose that'd be a good idea."
--------
Every Day in May Project, Number TRES

a story about a man who skipped breakfast

(Writing prompt #92 from Creative Writing Prompts)
------
He wore the night around his neck, next to his wrinkled flannel shirt. The pearly snaps were the only smooth surfaces in his entire ensemble, but the man would never notice. He claimed the comfortable treasure (not of the re-worked fashion vintage variety) when his father had passed away one year before and had worn the plaid pattern almost every day since.
His sinister hands found the depths of his denim pockets and wrestled with the gray lint as he walked. It was morning, but the days passed without the normal measures of time. There was no work or school or duties or appointments. There was only the man, the flannel, the lint, and the very intentional walking. On this morning, the man looked up from his decisive path to see an empty café. The man quickly took note of the time, gathered it was around 8 am, and then wondered why the young aproned girl inside was sweeping around empty tables.
It had been awhile since the man's thoughts wandered from the flannel, the lint, and the walking, but something about the deserted morning destination drew him inside. Fumbling for a tight grip on the lint cloud with his right hand, he pushed the café door with his left, and entered headfirst. The man couldn't form an answer when he heard the aproned girl ask, "Welcome, sir. Where would you like to sit?"
He stood there, looking at the floor, and the whole mess of a solitary year rushed his mind. The conversation seemed to invite him so simply out of the self-imposed shell he crawled into after his father's passing. He drank her words like sweet honey and then managed, "I'm sorry, you said?"
"I said, welcome. Would you like a table?" This time she tilted her head to the side and leaned her broom against the wall.
He thought a smile pulled at the corner of her lips, but he hadn't studied a human face in so long he wasn't quite sure. He realized, as he wondered about the occasion of a smile, that the aproned girl was expecting a response to her question and he furiously rubbed the lint with his right hand and said, "Uh, yes, this one will do. Thank you."
He chose a table by the window, but nestled next to a book shelf filled with classics and comics - a strange combination, he thought. Without warning, the aproned girl set herself down across from the man and asked where he was walking from.
That morning, the man skipped breakfast.

------
What do you think? Should I continue with this for a longer story?
This is Day TWO of the Every Day in May Project.

Day 1, Every Day in May

This is the first day of May. It also marks the first full day of life for Natalie Renee Nichols, born yesterday at 3 pm by natural birth to my brother and sister-in-law (Samuel and Bethany). I love her so much already and have tried to gather all I can from my brother's sporadic tweets and my mom's antics on skype.
Today is also the start of a month-long endeavor, inspired by @Christinakeeps who was inspired by @frenchtoastgirl to do the thing you love every single day for the month of May.

Well, there are a lot of things that I love doing... most involve laughter, some involve people, many involve words, and a few involve canvas. The one thing I chose: writing.
I know, it doesn't seem that ambitious (because this is already a standing goal of mine), but I'm not just going to try to write on the blog everyday in 'dear diary' style. In fact, I don't even think I need to post every day to be legit about the challenge. I want to do a writing exercise every day, something challenging or new or personal.
I'm probably going to need to look up some writing prompts so I'm not just completely random. If you have any ideas, let me know. If you are doing Every Day in May as well, DO SHARE!
Okay, below is my writing for today. This is in response to two articles I recently read. The first, "Survey:72 percent evangelicals more spiritual than religious" appeared in USA Today based on research by Lifeway. The second, "Separate truths," was written by a religion professor at Boston University and appeared on Boston.com.
Read the articles and then see my thoughts here in poem form.
--------
How Deep the Depths

How faint the fool who treads the way
and tarries about; runs blind to the fray.

How heavy the heart, hardened by years
of abuse and betrayal and manmade fears.

How sad the sigh learned by repetition -
disappointment, abandonment and man's wild volition.

How complete the chasm built with words great;
explanations attempt to determine eternal fate.

How stuffed the souls with semantics and speeches
and tolerant voices crowding out holidays at beaches.

How lost the lonely, desperate to find
a rhyme or a reason to be sanctified.

How dead is this end, and reason to fight
with an honest confession, broken and contrite.

How firm the foundation, without shame
is the cross that bears my Savior's name.

How perfect the peace in God's Word alone
that restores and revives a heart once of stone.

How deep the depths of this great Love, divine,
to reach through foolishness and make the faint soul alive.
-----



.let LOVE FLY like cRaZY.

Wednesday Web Suggestions

1) Have you heard of Mark Driscoll?
He rocks. He's to the Left of the Right, to the Right of the Left. And he rocks. Heard him speak at Catalyst West last week, and he was every bit as good in person as the sermons I hear online.

2) Stuff Christians Like. This is hands down my favorite blog of the year. I own his book, have met him in person, and Jon Acuff is the real deal. Or if you have a bit, or want some cubicle listening, check out this- a video of him speaking. He's HILarious.

3) Just for fun, check this out. Somehow, beards have become a big part of the lives of some guy friends in my lives. Saw this site that one of the aforementioned bearded men posted. Hilarious! I think most youth pastors stay in the neutral area of beard trustworthiness, thankfully.

4) Every Day in May. I'm doing it. At Catalyst, I was struck by the fact that I'm a painter... who doesn't paint. And why not? Well, to get myself back in the habit of doing what I love, I'm committing to painting every day in May. Doesn't have to be good, doesn't have to be big, but it has to be a painting. Follow me on twitter to hear about how its going! :)

5) Favorite new blog here. Happens to be my good friend and boss at Valley, and a legit guy who writes from the heart about life, youth ministry, and funny stuff. Check it out!

Hope to write more about Catalyst soon, and will definitely be keeping you in touch as far as how Every Day in May is going.
Night, friends.

Christina

something sweet

Okay, if you haven't heard about my obsession with my family's famed "sweet dinner" then here's an introduction(previously: here and here and here). I wasn't super inspired to write a blogpost tonight, but then I received an email from Focus on the Family encouraging me to write an essay about my dinner table traditions as a tribute to my mom and I thought, why not?
So, below you will find the less than 250 word essay (with cheesiness to the MAX) about how my mom served up our dinners with heaping helpings of love. ;) The above picture is our most recent family Valentine's day (circa 2006?), but we are missing Samuel, Bethany, and half of mom's face.
Also, Mom: if I by chance win, they'll be calling you because they didn't have a space for international entries. :)
-----
Growing up on a small farm in rural Iowa, we were well accustomed to skimping. It just meant that the State Fair would be our family vacation, an understood one-gift Christmas expectation, and wearing hand-me-downs proudly.
My mother somehow managed to raise five children, complete the never-finished duties of farmwife, and (often in the midst of total chaos) do everything but skimp on such tantalizing spreads for dinner that all previous disagreements would subside after the prayer.
One meal in particular remains a favorite (apart from the charming and compulsory 'etiquette dinners'), so much so that I've duplicated it in several places I've lived since, giving my best effort to not skimp on the love my mom spread out so lavishly.
Valentine's Day, or Sweet Dinner as I affectionately call it, was not a day for special dates or sweethearts. Valentine's Day at the Nichols house was about love. The wonderful, true, dependable kind of love. Mom labored all day secretly in the kitchen (which itself is a feat with our curious fingers) and produced a table resplendent with pinks, reds, and candles aglow. We all received a personal poem, heart-shaped cake with pink frosting, and red-dyed tapioca pudding. Much fuss was made about the fine china (a wedding gift), which helped display the roast beef, carrots, and sweet corn (frozen from harvest). Without fail, discussion would turn to our love for one another.
When Jesus narrowed things down, He didn't skimp on love and my mother followed suit.
-----
PS: Mom, you should enter the contest too! How awesome would it be if we could have a Focus on the Family sponsored girls night! :)
.let LOVE FLY like cRaZY.

making baleadas

If you ever find yourself in Central America, called to work at a Christian school... And if that school has only been in session 12 1/2 days due to swine flu and political crises... And if that length of time spent outside of your work (without seeing students' faces) forces an inner struggle with purpose... And if that inner struggle turns into a more tangible questioning... And if all of this builds to an unaccountable climax, you may wonder what to do.

May I suggest making baleadas?

Emily and I ventured out today and walked the streets, which seemed strangely normal. Everything from traffic to hot dog stands to stocked produce shelves at the grocery store. It made yesterday seem like a day-long dream.

Taxi drivers still sat in the same spot by the hospital, shirts folded above their bellies and mothers still walked arm-in-arm with their grown daughters down the street to catch the bus. Furniture stores were still selling furniture and our favorite frozen yogurt place still sold frozen yogurt.

My brain quickly tired of trying to come up with explanations of why everything looked so... normal. We finally made it back home and I guess we both thought we'd like to turn our minds to the kitchen to tackle something important and patriotic... like baleadas.

Wikipedia says the name baleadas comes from either the bullet shape of the bean () or a legend that a woman making them was accidentally shot (bala means bullet). I'm not sure where the name comes from, but the taste is absolutely delicious. I've had baleadas at some of the most "local" places in the city - on the street in Guanacaste and at the stadium market - and I definitely appreciate the flavor. My neighbors from church also invited me over for baleadas one Friday night and I got to see the whole process unfold right there in the kitchen.

Well, I know we didn't do everything right. And, to be honest, the result was probably not near as "Honduran" as I let myself believe (could that be due to the fact that we got all of our recipes online instead of from a wise, aging Honduran neighbor?).

Here, I'll invite you to see our "normal therapy" today:
Emily started the beans YESTERDAY. That's right, they took over 24 hours. I think we picked up the wrong beans at the store yesterday, but who could blame us? It was mayhem! I think she added garlic, chili powder, and cumin. After soaking and cooking them forever, she smashed and then blended them, adding a little oil.
I looked up directions for tortillas (something I was convinced everyone said was super easy, but I would find to be hard) and decided I would master it. Of course, I am doing whole wheat tortillas because I've got to try to make these things healthier because they taste so good. I found a recipe with five ingredients and simple directions (thanks sarah pachev). I added my tortilla-pounding skills from my church friend Maria, who used the brim of a plate (for uniformity, of course). After making about five, I realized why those women in the market sweat so much, with their hands constantly over a skillet!

Then, on to the eggs. Emily cut up onions, red peppers, and green peppers, and then I cooked them in a bit of oil and added tomato paste and water (we didn't have tomatos). Then we added eggs and minutes later we were all through!
I know this doesn't sound like a big accomplishment - refried beans, eggs, and tortillas. But, the big test is tasting the Honduras in everything. Because it's not just beans, eggs, and tortillas... it's way WAY better.
I think the baleadas was just the antidote our minds needed tonight. You know, I'm appreciating more and more this perseverance I see to do normal life, amongst very abnormal circumstances. Baleadas was the most normal thing we could think to do tonight after four days of uncertainty, no school, and mounting questions. Baleadas just felt right.

And tonight, after we heard we weren't having school again tomorrow, we knocked on our neighbors' door to ask the family of three if they would like to have dinner with us on Friday night. You know, because that is normal and this is life here, with or without demonstrations and school and my own understanding of purpose.

oh what a night!

Yes, tonight I did go out to eat and then to the mall dressed RIDICULOUSly with some of my girlfriends to celebrate Macayla's fleeting single status. I was a little bit ashamed, but at the same time a little bit thrilled to be back to doing the silly things I cherished in college. Here's a picture to give you an idea of our little escapade. Notice the silver confetti in our festive plastic glasses and the absolute randomness of the whole ordeal. It reminds me of college sophomore year in Gilmore (during sorority rush) where we created our own "frarority" called Galpha Franarara. The whole point of it was to dress silly and go out in public. Completely clean fun and fantastic photo opportunities (just the way I like it!).
Here's also some promo materials for an activity coming up for hands and feet, the high school service organization.

These are posters for the upcoming SLEEP-OUT event, where we will raise support (kind of relay-for-life style) for the kids to sleep outside on the soccer field on cardboard boxes. We will invite the Micah Project to come and be guests and we'll have other activities as well... Please pray that this event happens and brings glory to God in the process!


links for Tuesday

Hello there are HAPPY Tuesday! Here are just a few things I want to recommend. Check them out and let me know what you think :)

Day of Light Movie
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=1938546&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00adef&fullscreen=1

Day of Light from Love Light & Melody on Vimeo.

Is this inspiration for projects here at the trash dump? I think maybe yes. :) I definitely think our students are capable ... now it is a matter of possible.

Brite Revolution
This is a website where independent artists post two songs a month and for a subscription ($5/month) you can download everything. You are supporting the artist AND you are supporting a cause, because each artist picks a cause and some of the proceeds every month go to that organization. Pretty cool way to get legal, awesome music, right? Right! Check it out!

Dave Ramsey - Peace University
I know I already gave Ramsey props yesterday, but I really do think that this is such a beautiful way to make your wallet reflect your heart. Just take a look and see what you think.

I'm making this short because lately I've been LONG-winded! :)

the last two weeks

A week ago, I was lamely wishing for 48 hour days and bodies without need of rest.

Now, I've had almost an entire week without school, thank you gripe porcina (swine flu), and more time than I thought possible. Yes, that's right. Monday was going along like any day, when my principal appeared in my office doorway. In a calmer voice than the situation warranted, he said, "We are not telling students at this point, but we will not be having classes for two weeks starting tomorrow." He would have walked out, too (in the same unceremonious way) if I had not stopped him and made him listen to my gawking, confusing responses.

"For two whole weeks?" "Just like that?" "The school is closed - like we can't work?" "What will we do exactly?"

I finally let him leave, but I was almost in tears. I knew almost immediately this was an attack spiritually, because we are really at a tipping point for students. The first spiritual life activities were planned to start this week and they were canceled. It is also just a crucial relationship-building time with students (my first Bible study was to be this week), where we are just getting to the place of trust and confidence and they are making decisions about what this year will look like. Here is a sample of my Bible study poster for 11th grade and the breakfast club Bible study for 10-12th grades.


As always, what Satan intends for evil, God can always turn to blessing. After my initial shock, I ended up joyful to enter into these two weeks where I really felt led to meet with as many students as possible. I posted this on my facebook:

Caroline Nichols
gripe porcina decided it wanted to close our school for two weeks... so I decided to OPEN 'camp nichols'. Feel free to check in for a free night or a week at my humble abode in la campaña - bring your own food and entertainment. I'm now OPEN for business and ready for visitors :)

and about I went. I've had girls over, one spend the night, and plans for more this week. I am trying to meet up with them, but also take the time to do some reflecting, planning, visioning, and nesting (no, I'm still not done with that phase!).

Here are some stories that will make you laugh, I hope!

a few funny stories
minor accident - So, last Monday we found out there would be no school for two weeks. How do we celebrate? Well, I picked up Daniella and MariaJose and we went out to coffee. Though I know I depend solely on the Lord to make the car function and bring us safely to our destination, the girls have been pretty impressed with my driving abilities. This night was no different. However, as we pull up to the little coffee house parking lot (no bigger than a bedroom and right off a busy street), the parking attendants couldn't do enough hand motions to get the lady in front of me to stop backing up. So, she didn't. She backed right into me!! Boy, was that interesting! I received a crash course (tehe) in fender-bender protocol. Good thing was, this woman was hugely sorry and ended up just giving me cash (that she randomly left at a fabric store for me to pick up!?) to fix the chrome grille molding.

contra via- After meeting with Daniella one night, I was driving her to church and she motioned to take a right on the next street. Before I got to far, the drivers were hanging out their windows yelling, "contravia!" which of course means that I was going the wrong way. Don't worry, this has only happened on three occasions! :) I corrected myself and playfully yelled at Daniella, who could not stop laughing. "It USED to be two way, Miss, I swear!"

painting at a student's house- One day this week, I woke up and leisurely went about a lazy morning routine before I headed over to MariaJose's house to lay in the sun (at 9 am!) on her little back porch and then paint her sister's bedroom.

home improvement projects
I'm not sure if it is the fabulous apron I made with my grandma, or if it is the new apartment in the city... whatever it is, I just love to make creations in the kitchen. When my students came over last week, we endeavored to make homemade pizza from scratch. Of course it took ENTIRELY too long for them to appreciate and enjoy, I had fun and we had lots of time to hang out in the kitchen :) My favorite and easiest addition to my diet is hummus. I have only had a few varieties that I really like, so what is better than to make it the way I like it right here in my own kitchen?! I use black beans with the garbanzo beans and I use less lemon juice than they suggest. I also add a splash of spice and there's my snack for the week!

I have also welcomed the re-discovery of decorating this new place. I have painted a few canvases, experimented with lanterns, and really thought about how to use my home as a physical reminder of my spiritual goals.


What else? This is getting too long already. I realize I haven't written in such a long time. I promise I will make it up soon! A September newsletter is on its way! While you are waiting, check out this video of the crazy macaw birds that live next door. :)

My new place - take a tour!

Okay, I know you have all been waiting to see what my place looks like in the city, so I thought I could give you a tour. Check it out and tell me what you think... and when you plan to come visit me!

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

Once again, I am so enjoying this time to prepare for this school year. I am certain the Lord is already doing a great work within me in preparation for His great work here. Please be in prayer, as I know many of you are, for the political situation here. Though it is not what the news may make it out to be, we need prayer for wisdom in our highest government offices and in the lives of the everyday folk.

Today I am having lunch with friends, hanging out with my new roomie, and then meeting up with old/new staff on the mountain for a reunion of sorts. Work officially starts tomorrow morning at 8 am!

to be alone with you

So, this past weekend I was at a staff retreat. Apart from the ridiculous work of getting old-timers to catch the camp spirit... I absolutely thrived! I love camp!

It made me remember all of the fabulous weeks at Covenant Harbor in Wisconsin (where I spent one summer during college) and Hidden Acres in Iowa (where I spent one/two weeks every summer growing up) and thank God for the blessing of fellowship with believers out in His creation.

One of the night events was a talent show, and in typical Nichols fashion, I was in three groups (all thrown together on the same day, of course! :). Heather and I performed a parody of Freefalling... which we had masterfully adapted to We Love Honduras, complete with anecdotal verses that had the crowd laughing (at us or with us, I'm not sure). Then, a group of talented ladies sang "Love Song for a Savior" by Jars of Clay with some sweet harmony.

And my favorite was a duet performance with my friend Heidi, the high school art teacher and fellow lover of good music, the song, "To be Alone with You" by Sufjan Stevens. I loved it so much that I thought you should hear the real version by Sufjan himself.

http://www.youtube.com/v/FoQzWb_f1oA&hl=en&fs=1

hearty whole wheat bread, and other things I should do more often

I wasn't so sure when I started out. All I knew was that I discovered a gem (whole wheat flour) randomly on the shelf at a grocery store and I simply couldn't let the opportunity pass without a good attempt at homemade bread.

I am good at making excuses. I'm pretty great at it, actually. Homemade bread takes an ENTIRE afternoon - that's a big chunk of time and I boast a pretty packed schedule. Blah blah blah. But, today, after efforts to meet with students failed, I decided I would put the time to good use. I chose the "hearty whole wheat bread" recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook my roommate brought back after Christmas. I had to do a few things on the fly after forgetting items and wrestling with the ice cream bucket (still our only bowl big enough to mix in)... but, four hours later the results were remarkable.


I think I could have consumed both loaves if not for the carb-guilt that follows!

I wish you could see the steam coming off these delicious pieces of goodness! And taste the hint of brown sugar in the hearty mixture!

As I was thinking and waiting and grading and punching down dough and thinking and rising and flouring and waiting... I came up with some insight I want to start applying. Nothing new really (is it ever?).

It is simply this:
I'm going to set out to change my should(s) and could(s) to did(s)

Grammatically a mess, I realize, but after watching four hours turn into a glorious creation, I knew there was more to be had than an absolutely fabulous piece of hearty goodness.

I'm very much like my dad in many ways - I laugh a lot, I live for conversation, I like to really know people, I am constantly scheming about the next thing, and

i
am
a
dreamer

I can easily pass an entire day writing about dreams of what could be and what should be. Dreams are enchanting; in fact, sometimes I would rather live in dreams for the absolute endless possibilities . When it comes down to it (and where my mother is such a great balance for my dad), things just need to get DONE.

Hearty, whole-wheat bread is not an impossible thing. It's not a dream that can never be realized. On the contrary, in a few short hours, many can be blessed by its goodness. In the same way, there are very practical things that can move from the 'dreaming' category into the 'done it' category.

Let's see how that works out!

What are things you'd like to move from 'dreaming' to 'done'?

setting up for sweet dinner

Okay, some of you may know about the family tradition that vies for first place in my book (and one I've tried to pass on). It comes around this time of year, the color scheme is inevitably pink and red, and the theme is horribly predictable: LOVE.

Yep, that's right. Our Valentine's Day family tradition every year growing up consisted of a much anticipated home-baked dinner around our big, wooden table. But, don't worry, it doesn't stop there. Oh, no. Each child (5 of us) received an original poem, written by the hostess extraordinaire (mother, dearest). The table set with pink, red, and white decorations (from last year's clearance of course!) and beside each plate sat our pink tapioca and a heart-shaped cake with special pink frosting and our name spelled out on the inside.

Throughout the evening, the fam would laugh, share stories, and just let some serious love happen. When I was younger, I'm not sure I thought it was super cool, but I think I appreciated it deep down. Now, boy do I ever love it. I repeated it in college with my roommates junior year. I sent letters to parents, raided the local Dollar Tree, and kept it a surprise until the night when I served roast on our coffee table covered with reds, pinks, and whites. It's one of my favorite memories from college.

And now we're going to try to give a shot here, on Tuesday with our 20 girls from the 10th grade. I'll let you know how it goes. The idea is to get our minds off of what the world makes of love and back on to the real meaning. It's a GREAT idea to celebrate love... we just have to make sure we do it the right way.

Thanks, mom. You're the best!

Where does creativity come from?

Today, I stood in front of my class with 12 minutes left in the period and said, "I'm done. You're not interested in this lesson and I'm not going to force you to learn. Here's your homework. It's due tomorrow."

Just as I am feeling the most connected with the students, the most convicted about my call to love them, and the most convinced that the classroom is not a mistake in God's plan for me here.... chaos happens on a Tuesday. So, I'm desperately trying to figure out how to tie this in with one of my posts for this week. Since creative is exactly what I don't feel right now, I thought I would start there.

After my disappointing class and a few other programming glitches, I saw my friend Jose. Jose works on the maintenance crew and is basically an unstoppable bright spot in every day. We always have fun (mostly him teaching me Spanish). But, today as I passed a second time, he stopped me and asked, "Como esta, en serio?" How are you, really? I said a bit sad actually and he said he could tell by the look in my eyes when I said, "Muy bien, y Ud?"

Really, he could tell that I was disappointed with my day? This I'll have to examine! We went on to talk about how God deserves our praise whether rain or sun, good day or bad day. I left that conversation thinking about all the blessings out at the sea I was missing by passing time in my current mud puddle (CS Lewis, anyone?).

So, what does this have to do with creativity? Well, I don't fancy myself an artist, although I try. I paint and dance and sing a little here and there. I believe God gave each of us the desire and passion to create. And, because we are created in the image of God, I also believe that we have an intuitive knack for finding quality creations. I want so badly for things I create to be deemed, "good." Things like lesson plans, poems, dreams of saving the world, adventures, light fixtures, paintings... I want to look at them (and others' to look at them) and say, "Wow. That is good."

Today I realized that if I want to develop my creativity, then I have to focus less on what I consider "good" and more on something entirely different.

Tonight, I asked our Bible study girls this question (in light of our book study on Crazy Love by Francis Chan), "What is the absolute craziest thing you could do to show God you love Him?"

I wonder... if I'm obsessed with showing love to my Creator, would the kind of creativity would develop where I (and others) would look at it and say,

"Wow. God is good."

It's worth a try.

Christmas countdown

I don't know about you - but there are certain things around Christmastime that make me feel so grateful for this life. I've compiled a short list, but not in any order and definitely missing things. I hope this brings back memories (or gives you ideas for this Christmas!).

Movies
1. White Christmas
2. Home Alone
3. It's a Wonderful Life
4. A Christmas Carol (both the original AND the Muppet version)
5. Elf

Songs
1. All I Want for Christmas by Mariah Carey
2. Happy Holidays by NSync
3. Soundtrack to Charlie Brown Christmas
4. Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (acoustic style)
5. ALL the Christmas carols with all the verses ... so beautiful!
6. Whatever Christina and I end up performing for church

Activities
1. trying to snowboard for the first time behind a four-wheeler
2. road trips in the middle of snow-storms to Chicago and Indianapolis
3. sledding down a hill on a picnic table
4. hot chocolate, tea, coffee - anywhere, anytime
5. cards, cards and more cards (especially at my friends the Kolts')
6. board games with the fam!
7. COOKIE DECORATING contest (I always lose, but sometimes I manage to get some award for creativity)
8. Cranium
9. baking and cooking ... and being in the kitchen when it's being done
10. breakfast! early mornings are the best!
11. Looking at ridiculous Christmas displays

Traditions
1. Christmas caroling to neighbors
2. cousin sleepover with all the girls
3. Christmas Eve service with candle light "Silent Night"
4. Christmas Eve dinner before the service and gifts afterward
5. Christmas day with G&G Sponsler, and whatever day works for the Nichols masses
6. DOUGHNUTS with Jane at the Nichols'

There are too many to list! Oh, how thankful I've become by the bottom of the list. Wow! Please feel free to add your Christmas countdown favorites here and let me know if I've missed some of my own!

creative problem solving

Chapter 8 in the psychology textbook is on problem solving. The first section is entitled, "Thinking."

I hope you are at least smiling right now. I have struggled with class management, planning, and discipline, but this I realized quickly:

you can lead a student to learning, but you can't make him think

I could be the greenest teacher around, but I'm definitely learning that students have to decide for themselves that they want to learn something. So.... I pulled a few tricks out of my very shallow bag and we spent a day doing challenge activities out on the soccer field.

Here are some pictures of the students in the 4 different stations... some of them were still at the "lead a student to learning" stage, but most of them found out you could think AND have fun at the same time. BRILLIANT!

Blindman: Students had to direct a blindfolded classmate through a series of obstacles.


Spider Web - students had to get everyone from one side of the 'magic' web to the other ... every time they used a portal it could not be used again.


Magic Stick - students had to place both fingers nail side up underneath this stick and simply bring it to the ground ... I've never heard so many students yell "BAJEN" (lower) so intensely!

Ski Challenge - students had to move the skis as a team in a certain direction.

I'll write more later... what an exhausting week! There's more to come and much more to write.

What do you do for problem solving - classroom or otherwise?

Adventures of the Life I Wish I Led, part IV

If you've been following along (or if you haven't), every once in awhile I write a tidbit about "the life I wish I led." You can read previous short stories starting here. Today's little piece is inspired by a student, who challenged me to find a reason in the eastern sky to write something. So, here is what came out.

Fresh roasted coffee beans wafted outside the small, corner cafe. My steps hit the litter-speckled pavement underneath a blue, cloudless sky. Oaxaca, Mexico.

It had been awhile since I made any sort of trip without Jeremy and the dust on my shoes made me miss my traveling companion and most kindred spirit. Before I met Jeremy at the New Tribes Missions training center in Wisconsin, I had pictured my husband-to-be much differently. People said he would be athletic (a wrestler, maybe) and accomplished (several doctoral degrees, perhaps?).

I couldn't suppress the girlish giggle that found its way through the familiar feelings and escaped through my parched lips. Jeremy was a lot of things - accomplished in his own right (but without the degrees) and athletic only when necessary for adventuring (never really for sport) - but he certainly looked nothing like what people (or I) expected. I suppose that's why I fell so quickly and decidedly. Now, waiting for my childhood friend at the Cafe Sueno in Oaxaca, I half-hoped he would have made the trip with me.

I pushed the thought down with a few thick, flavorful sips of fresh coffee. This little eatery was quietly crammed between a panaderia and a friendly fabric store. It would only be a few cups of this good strong coffee before Elizabeth met me ... I smiled as I realized I no longer measured time by minutes. Two years had taught me time (and certainly punctuality) was a very fluid thing in Central American culture. I can't say I minded measuring things in cups of coffee or rainstorms or daylight or loaves of bread.

Sure enough, I was enjoying my third cup of coffee with a delicous postre when Elizabeth walked in. It had to be at least three years since we had connected in our token small-town, Midwestern Amish restaurant. In the moments before she saw me, I knew we would start as though no time had passed at all.

'Twas the month before Christmas...

James Elrod, one of the new teachers here at Pinares, graced us with this poem at the Christmas party this past Saturday. I thought it was worth sharing! It gives a great picture of some of the comical, frustrating, and endearing things about life here.

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'Twas the month before Christmas and all through the fog

Not a creature was stirring, not even a dog.

The bookbags were hung in the lockers with care

In hopes that the homework would do itself there.

The Meesters and Meeses were starting to wane,

So ready to trade knee-deep snow for the rain,

And up on the mountain Pinares stood still.

Who, in God's name, builds a school on a hill

Where it sits in a cloud for days upon days

Until it feels like the sun was only a phase?

The lights all a-flicker; we smell like King Kong.

"The power is on! Oh wait, we were wrong."

Mittens and scarves and jackets galore,

I sleep with four blankets but I'm looking for more.

Some teachers are saying this season won't last,

That this is way worse than it's been in the past.

Pretty soon we'll be praying for coolness and breeze,

But I'm already checking the prices of skis.

I'd fly down the mountain to kilometer nine,

Past Rapiditos to the house that is mine,

Look out for the dog who is preggers again;

It's about time that they build her that pen.

But I have digressed from the topic at hand;

We were waiting for Santa, but he has been banned.

Then who has been eating the cookies and cream?

I turn on the light, and I let out a scream!

The roaches all scurry; there's crumbs on the plate;

The power goes off; I start cursing my fate.

I hike up the mountain, grab the library key,

Fill bottles with water, drink up, and then pee.

I can't make my tea on an electric range.

I try using candles; I must be deranged.

I feel moments away from a panic attack.

"Don't be so dramatic; this isn't Iraq."

At least break is coming: a beacon of light.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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What would you write in Christmas poem?