Homework and a Psalm

1. Teachers need weekends to refocus and decompress. Until I started teaching, I never realized how important a weekend is. Especially Saturday. And this Saturday was especially lovely. In the morning, I had two private English lessons that went well. Then Ola called to say she couldn’t come to my place right away, but could she bring food now anyhow?

What sane person is going to refuse food brought to her?

So I ate her pumpkin soup and rested alone until Ola and her son came back. Then while he did his homework at the kitchen table, I helped her with her advanced grammar homework for university. Inversion and the passive voice. Fun, fun. It was a perfectly relaxing afternoon: drink tea, sit beside a friend, do grammar, and eat food she brought, plus brownies. Plus there was an extra hour with the time change. Yay!

2. During the week, reading Psalm 136, it occurred to me that it would fun to write a modern-day psalm like that. So this morning in my youth Sunday school class, we wrote one. First, we read Psalm 136 and talked about how it can sound boring and like a meaningless chant, OR it can be a tool used in poetry to emphasis something wonderful that we don’t want to forget. Probably no other line in the Bible is repeated quite like this, so it must mean that it’s worth remembering.

Then we collaborated and made our own and it was fun and true and beautiful. Here it is:

1. We saw a beautiful sunrise, for His mercy endures forever.

2. We played football and won, for His mercy endures forever.

3. We walked in the forest and saw beautiful colors, for His mercy endures forever.

4. We have hands to work and be creative with, for His mercy endures forever.

5. We studied hard and learned alot, for His mercy endures forever.

6. We had good times with friends and family, for His mercy endures forever.

7. We enjoyed wonderful warm sunshine, for His mercy endures forever.

8. We read good books and watched good films, for His mercy endures forever.

9. We ate delicious food, pizza, oatmeal, cakes, for His mercy endures forever.

10. We ran in the field, for His mercy endures forever.

11.We could sleep one hour longer, for His mercy endures forever.


Good artists, I’m told, know what  perspective is. I don’t know much about horizons and lines doing the right things on a page, even though I had my first acrylics painting lesson recently and found it completely exhilarating. But back to perspective: I know that everyone needs it, more than only graphic artists.

Last week one day, spring finally, finally arriving, I happily wore my new shoes that Michelle had talked me into buying. It was liberation to put away the winter boots and wear something light. As I walked down the sidewalk, I noticed a woman scowling at my shoes. My cute, brown shoes didn’t deserve a look like that. In a flash, I decided that she was narrowing her eyes at them because she was jealous, not because she thought they were ugly or unseasonable. Perspective.

The next day a mother interrupted my English lesson by knocking and handing a huge orange to us, her two children and me. A single orange, in the middle of doing a worksheet.   I found a knife to peel it, and the children and I ate the segments, dripping and squirting, between questions about spring. I remembered the stories of women who got one orange for Christmas when they were girls in communist Poland. They savored just the fragrance for several days before peeling it.

Perspective. Contrast. Color.

An artist needs an accurate way of seeing things. Not only for a project on a canvas, but for the whole of life.

I’m learning, slowly. That crooked lines and dark colors aren’t the whole picture. That the person next to me sees something differently from me because of where she’s standing, not because her eyes don’t work.  That failure and coloring outside the lines is not fatal but a sign of life.

Back in the Swing

Jet lag is a bear.

Coming east is much harder for me than going west. My mornings this week looked like this:

Get out of bed. Comb my hair. Go back to bed.

Get out of bed. Wash my face. Go back to bed.

Get out of bed and make coffee.

Wrap myself in my furry red blanket to drink coffee and slowly let the morning seep into my limbs.

There’s this deep, unsettled ball in my stomach that hates getting up at my inner clock’s 3:00 am. And when I walk to school, I wish for good old Irish wellies that keep the water from the toes because the snow is melting into small lakes and my boots aren’t water-proof.

But that’s all I can complain about these days, so that’s precious little hardship.

My two-month sojourn in the US  showed me how rich and good and beautiful life is at the same time that it’s yucky and hurtful and imperfect for everyone. I met lots of people.  Good people. Relatives and deep friends. They laughed and cried with me, poured love and grace on me, and sent me away feeling rich and refreshed beyond words.

Now I walk Polish streets and hear Polish conversations and teach English to Polish students. It’s another world in many ways except that people are people, and I find love and beauty and whimsy in them.

And maybe tomorrow morning won’t be quite as grim.


No Beauty?

“Why do Christians celebrate Christmas?” This was the conversation question.

“It started when Saint Nicholas started giving gifts to children. I’m an atheist, so that’s how I think Christmas began.”

“I’m a romantic, and want to have a lovely wedding in a church someday, so I can’t be an atheist, but I think those stories in the Bible are myths like Zeus.”

I listened because this was about practicing English, but then I said that I choose to believe that the stories are true, and when you read the stories about Jesus, you can see that He was such a beautiful person, the way He talked with people and loved them.

Then the conversation went to the funny ways I use words. I say a dog is ‘handsome’ and I say Jesus is ‘beautiful.’ “You can’t do this in our language!”

We laughed, and they left after I hugged them at the door, wishing them lovely Christmases. But it’s true: Jesus is a beautiful person, even if Isaiah said there was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. I wish I could have heard how Jesus read Isaiah’s words about the blind seeing and the captives given liberty. I wish I could have seen Him talking with children and the broken woman accused of adultery.

I’m thinking these days of how earthy Jesus was, how dust and bad smells and conflict was part of His world, and He didn’t run away from it, or think Himself above it.

Our grime and fracturedness is nothing new to Him. It was for the broken and shattered ones that He came, and I think that’s beautiful beyond words.

A related post: My Commander in Chief


A Happy List

What made me smile this week:

1. buying hostess gifts for my trip to the US later this month

2. a child’s sled piled with snowballs

3. the mingled smells of coffee and tangerines

4.discovering delightful blogs to subscribe to: a foodie one, and a bookish one

5. red berries on a tree, powdered with snow

6. magnanimous love sent in a huge box all the way from America

7. picking greenery and putting it around the kitchen (greenery is magic because it arranges itself!)

8. a peppermint chocolate latte with all the trimmings made by Carolyn just for me

9. a successful decorating project (travel, paper, and fonts)

10. beautiful students beaming because they could make this construction: These boots are black.

11. knowing intimacy with the Almighty never changes because of circumstances

12. a long video Skype call with a friend who says it how it is with finesse and incredible largeness of soul

13. having time to teach two girls about pentangles, and seeing their fun with it

More than English

“What do you do that all these people want you to be their private English teacher?” she asked me.

I don’t know. I just love them. I wish I could teach better, but mostly I love them.

She nodded. “And they feel your love and want to come back. I had a teacher like that once too.”

Walking down the street later,  it occurred to me that that I’d heard those words before.

It was when I asked Urie Sharp how he got good sound of choirs when the members hadn’t sung much before.

“Well, it works like it did when I taught school. I discovered that students will do anything for you when they know you love them.” And it was true, because I was in his choir, and we knew he loved us.

So today I taught useful words like butterfly and flamingo and factory and our. But what I value more was that we laughed together and met each other’s eyes and when each class left, little crumbs of my heart trailed out the door with them.

School Year Superlatives

Thinking/speaking/writing in superlatives is a habit that I should maybe try to break, but at the end of a school year, it could be fitting to remember some of the best and worst moments of the year. Besides, an English teacher who teaches comparatives should be allowed to use superlatives now and then.

  •  The evening 3 teen boys came for a lesson expecting  a man teacher, not a girl who looked to them like a nun. They reacted by giggling uncontrollably but ended up being good students while they lasted.
  • The Business English lesson that I’d valiantly tried to prepare but in class I realized that I hadn’t understood the material after all. I choked down the panic and guided the discussion to something I could talk about, which didn’t include loans and banks.
  •  The  lady who spent most of the lesson talking about her problems after her baby died. She threw her arms around me twice as we said goodbye for the summer.
  •   Licking cones with two 12-yr old girls who said they like these classes and want to come back next year. Yes, dearies, I like these lessons too— particularly the ones with ice cream in them.
  •  The student friend who texted “I want to come kiss you before the summer break. When are you at school?”
  •   Holding the 7 yr old on my lap for an Amelia Bedelia story, and hearing her giggles at all the right times.
  •  Rollicking laughter during the first lesson with a girl who could be a model. I asked her why she wants to go to Italy. “Because the men are so beauuuuuutiful! What’s the word for joke? It’s a good joke!”

You don’t get the dialague unless you’re used to hearing conversations with people whose English is their second language.  But simple language and laughter helps recharge my batteries and make me ready for the next day’s lessons.

I’m endlessly thankful that the best teaching moments far out-number the worst ones. I’m tired now. My brain is barely functional. But I have  every reason to expect that come September, I’ll be ready to give my students everything I have. Which means I give them more than words. I give them my heart. Big chunks of it. Maybe that’s partly why I’m tired.

Time to go find my heart.