Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lessons to Be Learned

Earlier this week I posted a comment on a particular social media site that received quite a few comments. I have decided there are several possible responses to those comments. 1) I can be offended and get angry and seek retaliation by adding cutting comments. 2) I can become discouraged and wish to give up. I invest my life in students and then have them turn around and lambast me. 3) I can learn and develop through the experience.

I have made the choice to take the third option.  So what can I learn from it.  Here are a few lessons I have been thinking about since the event.

Lesson #1 -- keep your thoughts and frustration to yourself.  When the student informed me in the middle of class that she was leaving for Florida the next day, I could have refrained from making this comment:  "I wish sometimes parents and students realized how unhandy it is to have students going on vacation when there is school. I had yet another student inform me today that she is leaving for Florida." You have to understand that she was the fifth student to be leaving for vacation in two weeks.  You have to also understand that although the papers requesting an excused absence for the trip had to be turned in at the office two weeks before, she waited until the day before the trip to tell me she was leaving.  Even at that point she did not specifically request her homework although she did come to me at the end of the day and expected me to have it ready for her.  You have to also understand that it was the day before I had to have grades for third quarter turned in at the office and had gone the second mile with my creative writing students and given them longer on their autobiography than I should have.  I was up until midnight that night grading papers and got up again the next morning at 4:30 to finish so that I could meet my deadline of 8 AM for having grades in the office.  That was the day she announced she was going to Florida--my 4:30 to midnight day.  If she had come two weeks before when the papers had to be turned in at the office,  I would have gotten her homework ready in the next day or two, she could have done it before she left, had a classmate grade it while she was gone, I could have recorded the grade along with all the other students' grades, and there would have been minimal extra work.  Most students don't realize how unhandy it is to have to get missing assignments from them after they come back from a trip. Typically the first three days they are adjusting to reality of being back home and in school and trying to figure out what is going on in class because they have missed a week of instruction. Some students never recover the gap.  Most students will eventually get most of the homework or quizzes completed after a reminder or two or three--all of which take more of the teacher's time. Some few never get it finished regardless of how many reminders they are given. With each homework assignment or quiz that is turned in separate from the rest of the class, the teacher has to find the answer key, determine how many points there were, locate the correct place in the gradebook and record the grade--all of which take more time. I simply stated that I wish parents and students realized how unhandy it was.  Obviously, I have not learned Lesson 1.  Let's go on to Lesson 2.

Lesson #2 -- Don't jump to conclusions.  Almost immediately after posting, I was receiving comments from people who jumped to conclusions.  I never said that families should not go on vacation during the school year.  I never said school is more important than family time. Some people who read my post jumped to those conclusions.  The lesson for me is to think, read carefully,  listen closely, understand what the person really is saying before I add to what they have said and get all upset and defensive about it.  How many times do I jump to conclusions and become defensive without really hearing and understanding what a person has actually said?  I think of the verse I have chosen as my life verse: "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding" Proverbs 4:7. The lesson for me is to develop understanding of what a person has said.

Lesson #3 -- Recognize what makes me defensive.  It seemed to me that a number of people felt the need to defend themselves for taking vacation during the school year. When I become defensive, is it because there is something that is right, moral, Godly, Biblical that is being violated.  Or do I become defensive when  a choice I have made is called into question. What makes a person become defensive? A licensed mental health therapist says in his Kellevision blog that "Defensive people may become completely irrational in their attempts to deflect perceived blame or criticism. The dictionary defines defensive as "a state or posture of defense."  It is a reaction to someone else that comes from anxiety, fear, guilt or insecurity.  Defensiveness is an emotional response rather than a logical one.  Someone has hit a nerve.  Someone has pushed a button.  And off you go.  You are reacting rather than acting.  Look at the last time you snapped at someone, withdrew into a deadly silence, or played the blame game.  You were probably being defensive.  Defensiveness is an overreaction to the actions of another.  It's taking things personally which are not.  Why do people get defensive? People can get defensive for a variety of reasons and I cannot possibly cover all of them here.  But I will cover some of the broader reasons and give some specific examples.  Some of the more common reasons are;  denial, guilt, insecurity, fear or trauma.  Usually, defensiveness comes from feeling unsafe or threatened.  If someone feels attacked, unfairly criticized or judged they may snap."  So what really is the underlying issue that makes me defensive?  It probably has nothing or at least very little to do with the issue at hand. I would be wise when I feel the urge to defend myself to look for the underlying issue of guilt, insecurity, etc.

Lesson #4 -- Gift of encouragement.  While there were a very few who lambasted me, and some who felt the need to defend themselves, there were many who chose to post publicly or private message me words of encouragement. As I reflected on those comments and the effect they had on me, I realized how valuable the gift of encouragement really is. In our busy world, we need to take the time to give other people a word of hope, agree with them in prayer, or simply lend a listening ear.
As followers of Jesus we need to be sensitive to the needs of others. Jesus teaches us that mercy and compassion will be shown to those who also show mercy and compassion to others. (Matthew 5:7) We must speak the right words at the right time whenever God sends someone across our path to encourage them and be their friend. I want to learn to take the time to give words of encouragement, words of life, words of hope to others.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Musing by the Fence

First, let me clarify that it was not the fence that was doing the musing rather I was musing as I was beside the fence.

First musing -- "Good fences make good neighbors."  At least that is what Robert Frost said in "Mending Wall."  But was he right?  Do good fences make good neighbors?  I especially wonder about the validity of that statement when the fence serves no purpose as a clear demarcation of property line nor does it keep any livestock where they belong.  Does it only make good neighbors if I keep it in good repair eliminating any risk of devaluing the properties in the neighborhood.   If the fence serves no purpose but as an ornament and my neighbors are annoyed if I don't keep it in repair, do I live in a neighborhood that is too affluent? It seems there are many things more important than a fence in good repair.  However, I spent much of my day painting our fence.

Second musing -- If I compare our fence to our neighbor's fence (I know comparing yourself among yourselves is not wise but I am comparing fences-or am I?), I come to several conclusions about us: (1) We are lazy.  It certainly doesn't take as much work to keep us busy as it does our neighbors. They are always finding more things to do at their house. So comparatively speaking, we are lazy. (2) We have no imagination. While our neighbor's fence has gone from brown to black and now to white, ours has been painted only half as frequently and always the same tone of red. Is it a lack of imagination that causes us to always paint our fence red or is it a well-developed imagination that prevents us from having to paint it different colors visualize it white, or grey, or a darker grey--or purple for that matter? (3) We don't have as much money. We could not afford to do as many things to our house as they have done to theirs.  But maybe these are all connected. They bought four older houses and remodeled and resold each one. That gave them more work to do. They chose a different theme for each house they remodeled--more imagination. They sold all four of them for significantly more than they bought them.  I guess that is why we are still paying on the house we bought from them, and they are living in the house they built with the profit from the other four.  (4) We are more contented.  Maybe we are not as busy, as imaginative, or have as much money because we are more contented with what we have.  Those were some of my thoughts while I spent much of my day painting our fence red.

Third musing -- After I finished painting the fence, I started painting the basement wall/foundation. Last summer on a very windy day, I saw the paint literally blowing off the basement wall.  We used a pressure washer to get the loose paint off the wall, but then we realized that the old stucco was coming loose too.  We removed all the loose sections and redid the stucco.  It has been curing since then.  Today I started coating that wall with Drylock.  Now the interesting thing about Drylock is that when I opened the can, the top was very watery.  I started stirring the contents of the can.  I stirred, and I stirred, and I stirred.  Suddenly the epiphany!  That can of Drylock is much like a person.  On the surface it is just a bunch of liquid--nothing of any substance.  But, under that is the grit.  And it is the grit that makes the Drylock worthwhile.  If the whole can had been the liquid like at the top without the grit,  it would have been useless.  I had to dig deeper and get to what was the good stuff.  Too often in life, we may be satisfied with the liquid on the surface rather than digging deep and getting the value of the grit. And in case you are wondering, the basement wall will be the same boring grey that it was before.

I am enjoying my summer days with times of solitude when there are fewer demands on my time, and I can muse by the fence about the nitty-gritty issues of life.

Monday, November 12, 2012

View from the Top of Another Mountain

We have gotten into a hiking spree lately.  I'm not sure if it is because we are in better physical condition than we have been for years or if it is simply the beautiful fall weather.  At any rate, we have been on a hike every Sunday afternoon for the last month.  The most recent one was yesterday when we planned to hike the Pulpit Rock/Pinnacle trail near Hamburg, PA. We had been planning for  a week.  We asked two friends that we thought would enjoy a more difficult hike to go with us. We packed snack packs; we bought good hiking shoes; we watched the weather forecast; we printed out a map of the trail and got directions to the trail head. All systems said go. 

After church yesterday, we ate our lunch at church and then picked up our two friends on the way home.  We stopped in at home for a few minutes to place the casserole for supper in the oven, change clothes, and get the dog who was excited to go with us.
--all eager to get started--

We followed the directions we had to the trail head and started hiking.  We were supposed to go around a yellow gate and in .52 miles be at the Appalachian Trail which we would follow for most of the 8 1/2 mile hike to Pulpit Rock and the Pinnacle and loop back to our starting point.   We didn't get to the yellow gate.  We walked a mile on a really nice bike trail and didn't find the Appalachian Trail. Finally, we turned around and walked back to our starting place.  We knew this was the wrong trail.  We looked at a map and decided to try another parking lot farther up the road.  However, that was not the right trail either.  We did meet two couples there who were familiar with the area and knew where we wanted to be.  They gave us directions to the correct trail head, but also told us that there was no way we would be able to hike all the way to the Pinnacle and back before dark.  We had lost too much time in finding the trail.  We decided to try just Pulpit Rock this time.

We drove to the right parking lot, found the yellow gate, and found the Appalachian Trail .52 miles from the parking lot.  We were on the way!  It was a beautiful day with warm sunshine--probably nearly 70 degrees.  We didn't need our sweatshirts on the way up the mountain. We stopped a few times to eat some of our snacks and rest a bit, but the farther we went the more we realized that we had to keep moving if we were going to get to the top and back before dark. 

--the view from about halfway up the mountain--
--we are going somewhere up that pile of rocks--
We reached a summit and were taking a few pictures when we realized we were not really at the top.  We had just a little piece to go to get to the real top. It was quite a workout to get over all the rocks to the top, but it was well worth the hike when we finally arrived. 

--Pulpit Rock juts out in the middle
of this picture taken from the false summit-- 
--group picture on the false summit--
We spent about twenty minutes taking in the view and then exploring the site of the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society's telescopes. About 4:40 we headed down the mountain.

--finally at the top!--
--well worth the hike!--
--Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society--
We moved faster than any of us was really comfortable with on the way down the rocky trail.  We were all envisioning ourselves spraining an ankle or otherwise falling down the mountain, but we made it safely.  It was rather dark when we finally got back to the car.

We came home and enjoyed the casserole that was in the oven, salad, and tiny cupcakes before going into the hot tub to relax our muscles and eat our dishes of fruit and yogurt.  It was a great day, but we all want to do the intended 8 1/2 mile loop on another day when we have more daylight hours to do it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sanity Sustained

One week ago I was feeling a bit stressed and hoping to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.  What a difference one week can make!

All the book reviews are graded (all 105 of them), lesson plans for all but one class are complete for the next week, the garden is cleaned out for the season, and this weekend should be refreshing although busy. We were home every evening but one.  Mary started work every morning at 5 except for Monday and Wednesday.  Those early mornings and being home in the evening have been a tremendous blessing.

Last Sunday afternoon we hiked Neversink Mountain with a group of friends. They were at our house for lunch (they each brought something to contribute), then we hiked the mountain; we came back and enjoyed a quickly thrown together supper of pizza and salad and whatever else we could find in the house and some relaxation time in the hot tub. The hot tub was intended to keep them from getting too stiff muscles from the rugged 4.5 mile hike we took them on first.

Monday morning I was all geared up to clean out the garden as soon as we got home, but it was raining. Tuesday it didn't happen either because we had plans right after work, but Wednesday we tore into it as soon as we were home and were finished in two hours. It is so nice to have that done.  After school starts my garden is routinely and severely neglected.

Tonight is the BBQ Bash at school.  I plan to be here most of the evening. Tomorrow we are both going to a seminar and then have to clean a section of the school.  Sunday we should be able to relax again unless, of course, we make plans between now and then.

 Anyway, my sanity has been sustained (thanks to help from several important study hall supervisors and newspaper staff) and the world looks brighter.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Going Crazy

The last few weeks have been crazy, and, I fear, they have had an adverse affect on me. We have been to the cabin the last two weekends to loaf; however, that did little to alleviate the work load that I have had.  I am nearing the end of the first round of book reviews--a major cause of stress.  In the last few weeks, I have had 105 book reviews to grade ranging in length from 2-10 pages.  We are slightly more than one week away from the end of first quarter--another major cause of stress. I am a half lesson ahead of the students in two of my classes--a third stress factor. I must have the quarter final exams ready for next week--why am I spending any of my time writing a blog. . .

This week Mary has been starting at 5 AM each morning which gets me to school by 4:45 each day.  I have made significant progress most days with that early start, but it has not allowed me to have the amount of sleep I would like.  In addition to starting early, I have been trying to increase the length of time on the treadmill to walk off the excess calories I consumed over two cabin weekends.  That has done little to avoid the sleep deprivation.

This weekend will not be a catch-up weekend at all.  We are going to the Warmth and Light benefit supper this evening to enjoy a Russian meal and program, but only after we load the trailer for tomorrow. We plan to be at school Saturday morning by 5 AM to set up for the annual yard sale.  We really hope to sell lots of the things that have been taking up space in the garage, shed, and enclosed trailer. When we get home from that we must do our cleaning and mow the lawn. I hope to finish grading book reviews some time on Saturday.  Sunday morning we are going to another church for communion since we were not able to be at our own church for it.  Then we are having company for lunch, followed by a hike up Neversink Mountain.  I think we will crash Sunday evening.

Not all of life has been stress.  Last Sunday was my birthday.  This week I got a card that made me laugh.  It is a parody of the "Red Hat" poem:

When I am an old cat I shall wear
a diamond collar and shall leave my footprints
on white couches; I shall drink my cream
with a touch of brandy and spit out my vitamins;
I shall sit on the laps of dog people
just to irritate them; I shall nap on top of the
neighbor's petunias and perch on top of
birdbaths and grow charmingly chubby.
But for now I must tolerate the dog
and use my litter box and not sharpen
my claws on the sofa, so no one can doubt
the truth that cats are superior to dogs.
But every once in a while I wonder
if I should be naughty now and then
and nip a few toes, so my humans
won't be too shocked when suddenly
I become an old cat and
start to wear a diamond collar.
I think I will postpone going crazy for now, but don't be surprised if I do a few crazy things along the way. . .Like last night when we were ready to go grocery shopping.  I could not find my purse.  That was a problem since my paycheck and all of our cash was in there. We decided I must have left it at school; we made a trip to school to look for it.  It wasn't there. . . We searched at home again.  Finally, I told Mary to call my cell phone so that we could find it.  I knew my phone was in there and turned on.  We heard it ringing but she had to call the second time before I could locate it in--of all places--a closet!  What was it doing in the closet?  Then I remembered that I was ready to go shopping before Mary was, had my purse on my shoulded, decided to get something out of the hall closet, my purse fell off my shoulder and I set it down.  I never picked it up again. . . until an hour later.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Diet Pays Off

Just a little over a year ago, my insurance company said they would insure me, but they were charging me 80% more for my premiums because of my weight; I could appeal the rate increase in one year. That was the motivation and the deadline I needed to really work on losing weight.  I had lost about 20 pounds before that, but had hit a plateau. It has been a battle between calories consumed and calories burned ever since.

In August I started checking into what I needed to do to have my rates reduced. When I was at the doctor for my regular appointment, I had him sign a statement of my height and weight as of that date.  I completed all the necessary application papers, but then waited to mail them until it was more than a year since my passing out episode. I mailed them the beginning of this month.  A few days later I received an e-mail asking for an explanation for the claims I had due to the fainting.  I thought maybe it sounded good to them that I fainted because I was trying to lose weight--evidence that I really was trying to do what they wanted me to do, wasn't it?  I didn't hear any more from them until today.

Today I have reaped one of the rewards of that effort: denying myself food I would have enjoyed, walking miles and miles (wearing out a pair of shoes in the process), and filling out all the forms they requested.  When I got the mail today, there was a check from my insurance company.  It was a refund for 30% of my premium increase.  That gives me about $77 a month for something else.  I have already reworked my budget and applied it to a different category that was weak and needy.  We shall strengthen the feeble.

This does not end the calorie counting.  I am still paying 50% more than I should be for insurance.  Once again, I can appeal the rate increase in one year.  So I have another goal and another deadline. I hope that a year from now I am at my goal and not paying anything extra. But, right now I want to eat something and not walk an extra three miles to burn it.  Anybody for celery sticks? Just wondering . . . Are there celery sticks that taste like chocolate peanut butter ice cream?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lessons Learned

Monday I gave one of my classes their first test.  They didn't do very well on two of the sections: composition and Dewey decimal.  I know they will be faced with questions from the same sections in at least three more tests this year: end of quarter, end of semester, and end of year.  If they don't know the information now, they will struggle with those sections every time the rest of the year.  So, I devised a plan. They will have a quiz on those two sections every day until they learn them.  As soon as they know them, I will stop the daily quizzes and give them one maybe weekly for a while just to be sure it goes into their long term memories. I hope they learn that lesson soon or I will get very tired of making multiple versions of the same quiz.

Last evening we walked from school to Shady Maple Smorgasbord for supper.  It was seafood night and Mary was due a free meal for her birthday. We decided to walk from school to Shady and then back to school so that we would burn off some of the calories we ate. I enjoyed the meal tremendously and wished I had room to taste a few more types of seafood.  I wanted some grilled salmon but simply didn't have the room for it.  You have to understand that since I have been losing weight, I simply do not eat as much as I used to.  By the time I stopped last evening, I had not eaten as much as I did other times that I was at Shady, but I realized that I had eaten too much.  The walk back to school was kind of miserable but was probably the best thing I could have done.

Why do I write about these two seemingly different topics? I think there is a connection. Just as my class didn't do too well on the test of Dewey decimal and composition, I didn't do too well with the test on my control of my eating.  I will have to have to learn my lesson well before I am faced with another birthday celebration in three weeks. I will be quizzing myself with every meal between now and then.