Thursday, January 20, 2022

Life Of A Math Teacher: Lesson 59


https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1eXD7Dex1IQmg1CIiKGtJbzzoSDgDaIAB
Meet my adjuct professor, Sirius, who audits my classes for fair pay in cat treats. 

If you've followed my recent angel food cake / banana cream pie conundrum, you'll know that I'm re-evaluating my life to discern what I do merely out of habit, and what areas I might want to reinvent.

And though I have loved my twenty-year-long career as a math teacher for homeschooled high schoolers far more than the normal person's ability to comprehend - "Wait, you literally enjoy solving algebra problems??" - I realize that in order to play this "Let's reinvent ourselves" game properly, I must consider that maybe it's time for me to choose a new career path.

Maybe. I'm not committing to anything. Just playing with ideas. 

And as always in these "Which path shall I follow?" moments, I turn to God and ask him for a wink and nudge to steer me in the right direction.

After a chance conversation with a friend who owns a small business, I saw a fresh opportunity to lend my passion for writing to her beautiful and profoundly important just cause: she operates small, family-style care homes for people with dementia. The idea of supporting her cause gave me a thrill, and opened my mind to a new sense of possibilities.

Yet THE VERY NEXT DAY, chatting with my nephew who's a fancy PhD doing scientific research at a major university, I received an important reminder. He encouraged me on my mission to make math accessible, friendly, and fun, and pointed out that my work is very much a just cause, and something that the world desperately needs.

Hmm. Was that a wink from God? Or more of an eye twitch? Hard to say.

It was just a few days later that I received another one of those surprise emails from a faraway student who has been following my math lessons on YouTube, and decides to say hello. This one was from a man working on his lifelong dream to complete his bachelor's degree. Math, he explained, has always been the thorn in his side until a year ago when he stumbled upon my online lessons and things finally clicked. He mentioned that it was Saxon's Lesson 59 that really did his head in, and led him to Google around till he found me. 

Beautiful story, beautiful human being. I definitely felt God's elbow tickling my ribs. 

But it was only a few moments after I finished reading this message, set down my phone, and opened my textbook to begin recording the day's math lesson that I felt the full force of God taking me by the shoulders and giving me a good hard shake, all the while winking at me with a sweet, sassy smile. 

Because the lesson for this day was Lesson 59.

* * * * *

Read more stories about my life as a math teacher lately:



Sunday, January 16, 2022

Run With It

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. -E.L. Doctorow

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1dCmqYjkh2uEySdnsKYD2VWXea9-WWVSj
^ By mid-afternoon, a dense blanket of fog had settled onto our familiar stomping grounds, and transformed our everyday route into a mysterious journey. 

Ten years ago, I wondered.

What might happen if I wrote something every single day?

And thus, my blog was born.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1zJE9gWRXq-aUhfamQuDoeWo-peWUGHPN
^ We could see where we were, but not so much where we were going. 
Good thing Gracie can suss out the rabbits by their scent. 

I've learned plenty since this adventure began, with early lessons in the value of 

being true to myself,
trusting my readers with my vulnerabilities,
sharing a bit of a laugh.

But the most important thing I've learned in ten years of (almost) daily writing is about the nature of writing itself:

I may choose my jumping-off place but once I begin to write, I have no control over where a story might take me.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1uI749Hgp0i_G63JbstjFuANHa72U5-Qm
^ Mists rolled across the open spaces, rendering mundane parking lots just a little bit spooky. 

Before my own adventures in writing began, I read an author explain how characters might suddenly appear in a novel she was writing, and she would then have to figure out who they were and how they served the story. But always, she believed that her work was better for their appearance, and she'd learned to run with them.

What nonsense, I thought at the time. Our imaginations are under our own control and we create art with intention rather than whimsy.

Now I know how perfectly wrong I was.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1o313Ke6xeIFHhsujy1mBePbQME4vzu6O
^ And the lights, which had sensored on in the mid-afternoon, served as oases of the familiar. 

My stories often surprise me. 

Sometimes, I'll be describing an incident from my past when suddenly a new detail pops into my mind. In a snap, that tidbit sends my narrative veering off in a completely different direction, and my story ends miles away from the conclusion I'd planned. 

Other times, I'll describe an insight that's revealing itself in my life, and as my fingers type out the ideas, something fresh fires in my neurons and a whole new level of understanding comes to me in a flash.

Or, as it did today, I sit down to write one story and another story completely usurps the original. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1F3liUd2OJnijDufDwjexLF7SC9O7DC4-
^Headlights also took on an eerie glow, but we trudged on.

Today I was going to tell the story of the time my puppy, Casey, and I got fogged out on a plane trip. It's a fun story, a sweet memory for me, and relatable for anyone who's endured travel dramas of their own. Or just loves puppies. 

But as I stared at these photos of my foggy walk from yesterday, the thought came to me that these pics capture exactly what it feels like to write.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1WKV9DoTehV4pNnFaKpEc5TwzcL_Ng7-B
^ We found our way back home. 

And so, trusting that my new ideas always appear to serve my work, I decided to run with it. 

* * * * *
For fun, check out my very first blog post ever, written ten years ago:


* * * * *

More stories about marvelous, mysterious fog:


What’s Real

^ At the jetty in Langkawi, an island playground in Malaysia, with my friends, Izzah and Nana.

Do you believe in God?

I do. 

Though I will also be the first to say that many days, I wonder. 

I wonder why the world must often be such a difficult and dark place. 

I wonder why we humans can be so blind and indifferent to each other’s suffering. 

I wonder why evil is allowed to not only exist but to flourish. 

And I wonder why, if God loves us as deeply as he claims to, he allows innocent children to suffer. 

^ Clouds over Kalaloch in 2011 with my two younger daughters and our beloved Ranger. 

So I wonder and I question and I doubt, but always I come back around to telling myself that I can’t make any sense of my life if it isn’t in the hands of a loving creator. I’d rather find out at the end of my life that there is no God and the joke’s on me than try to live with the despair and pointlessness of a life without God.

And I look, in my life, for signs of God’s presence, for proof of his being, for evidence of his love. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ahesLNHFfgpc4bo7rpkZ9bjGrN9iqK0K
^ January 14, 2022, in my front yard with Gracie at my side. 

Last night, I stepped outside and was immediately aware of being wrapped in a surreal pink glow. Every corner of the sky was flooded with rosy light, but to the west the sunset was cooking up a masterpiece. I have no words to describe the color, the texture, the overwhelming majesty of the clouds caught up in whatever atmospheric event was causing this beauty. 

And I felt God stir within me. 

“That’s me,” he whispered. And I whispered back, “I know.”

And that was lovely. But it was a few hours later that I felt the full force of God with us. In my social media streams, I saw photo after photo of these very same breathtaking clouds, captured over the heads of my friends and neighbors. And though no one said it in so many words, I’m pretty sure they heard God whispering in their ears too. 

Sharing God with one another. That’s what makes him real to me. That's why I believe

* * * * *

Sunsets are wonderful examples of God's fingerprints but they don't hold a candle to the holy power of the solar eclipse. Read my story of that amazing and life-changing experience here:

Experiencing Totality

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Ding Dong

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1ZLxCghu1msZqLTpH6mQYjmV9jsap3Jo3
^ My princess.

I opened the door and there she was, brown button eyes snapping with delight, red shaggy tail a-wagging. As I stood back, she leaped into her new home and began a top-to-bottom inspection, charging through each room, running her nose along every baseboard, and introducing herself to three startled cats along the way.

^ At first, she chased them unmercifully but now they kiss noses. 

This is how I met my girl, Gracie.

Yes, she literally showed up on my doorstep, a 2.5 year old orphan already acquainted with the hard knocks of life but ready, bless her joyful heart, to try on a new family for size. 

And thankfully, we all fit each other perfectly.

Now I'll be the first to admit that a dog like Gracie may not be everyone's cup of tea.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1lbasXHSNvF6x9gGNpQ5LuGSSVddIlUnT

^ Big world, chilly little dog. 

She is big.

Eighty five pounds worth of big, and more than happy to stretch out by standing upright at a kitchen counter, deftly pulling at the tea towel draped over the cake to guide it toward the front edge of the counter, or even delicately pawing at the upper shelves in hopes of getting one of those peanut butter cookies on the cooling rack to fall the right way.

^ Swamp queen rules over her domain. 

She is boisterous. 

Oh, to her credit, she does doze peacefully at my feet through many hours of the day. But when the lady gets charged up - usually before her walk or when she knows food is about to be delivered to her ever-ready lips - she leaps, hops, spins, dashes and bounds through the house with considerable vigor.

^ Problem solver. 

She is headstrong. 

I may have forgotten that I set a dish of meow mix down on the laundry room counter for a finicky cat who nibbled a few bites and then walked away. But Gracie has not, and you better believe that the instant my back is turned, she is going after that tasty amuse-bouche with a vengeance. 

^ Strangers often tell me she looks like a little bear, and I agree. 

But Gracie's considerable charm more than outweighs her challenges.

She is

gentle

loyal

friendly

clever

athletic

funny

smart as a whip

and always down for a ride in the car.

^ Dialed in on the birds. Always.

In short, my good dog, Gracie, is the perfect dog for me, and on this, her seventh birthday, I still can barely believe my incredible good fortune that she found her way to me. 


* * * * *


If you enjoy reading stories about cheerful big red dogs, or even just gazing at their adorable photos, let me recommend to you a journey through my Pet Love collection which will definitely scratch your itch.

Pet Love

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Snow Baby

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1kJsoZxBgkYk2i6d1IAGbAhOE-2EaDBec

^ My own cozy house, snug in the snow. 

Snow lay deep and lush on the ground, typical of a mid-century Michigan New Year's Eve, and all was quiet and calm. 

But as afternoon turned to evening, sleet began to fall from the sky in dazzling drops of freezing rain and soon every inch of landscape was coated in ice.

Wasn't I a brave little thing to choose this night for my entrance into the world?

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=11FJcZUIuPFqr6wCShxEtOp8518O_6Vbl

^ The Douglas firs outside my neighborhood embrace the snow like few other trees can. Love. 

Aware of the weather's growing menace, my parents set out to the hospital plenty early, around ten p..m.. Expecting the interstate to be an ice rink, they inched along on Old 23 and slowly crept the 18 miles to Ann Arbor.

University of Michigan's Women's Hospital sat halfway up a hill near campus, and as they approached, my folks saw the evening's celebratory pedestrians navigating the ice-covered sidewalks on their hands and knees. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1_pkBn54lIq3652fkk-Ktg0sUMmLyKXi7

^ My own second-born was born in midsummer and barely waited till I cleared the elevator before she was born. But that's a story for another day. 

Inside, as my mom approached the maternity ward check-in desk, she noticed that they'd already broken out Happy New Year signs and streamers; the nurses were all wearing party hats and tooting party horns. Not realizing that the precarious drive had taken hours and that it was now well past midnight, my mom wondered why they had prematurely begun their celebration. One quick-witted nurse quipped, "We're celebrating because you're here to have your baby!"

My mom just loved that.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1VmfWlBGfXZn2P5LNJx9T0zhC5sCscOLX

^ My dog-ter was also born in January, though in central Florida, 

so there was probably not much snow. 

Hours passed and soon I was born. It was quickly determined that I was suffering a cold and I was whisked off to an isolation nursery where the only people allowed in the room were my mother and one nurse. Happily, I recovered quickly and before my mom's then-standard week in the hospital was over, I was finally introduced to the world.

Soon after, we drove home through pristine snow to our snug little house on the shores of frozen Ore Lake, and my life properly began. 

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1HpyX7hQi0hLjiY8ORnRGnhwJD9Gh9lo4

^ A perfect day for a snow baby like me. 

It makes perfect sense for a baby born in a winter storm to feel most at home in the snow. And so last week, as I celebrated my birthday with a most unusual foot of sparkling white blanketing the ground and temperatures riding down in the teens, I reflected on my birth story and decided that it felt just right. 


Friday, January 7, 2022

My Homemade Spongy Trifle

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=15pKlNiCxKTdZwCNyj0wlFdKXK7GS5O7p

Our 2021 Christmas trifle. 

One day, my naughty little sister put on her best party dress and skipped off to the birthday party of her friend, Bad Harry. While the other children played ring-of-roses, these two known trouble-makers snuck into the kitchen and dragged chairs to the larder shelf to admire Bad Harry's birthday dessert. Soon they were picking silver balls off the top, sticking their fingers into the cream and ultimately devouring, all in one go, the huge bowl of spongy trifle which had been prepared as the centerpiece of the feast. 

His mother discovered them in flagrante and was not impressed. Bad Harry was sent to bed, and my naughty little sister ran out the door and all the way home. That evening, neither one of them felt at all well and they never ate trifle again.

The end.

This is not a factual account from my own life, but a delightful story that I read many times to my daughters when they were young. 

We chortled as each step of mischief unfolds, and roared with delight as the children are caught red-handed, up to their elbows in the trifle bowl, mouths overflowing and creamy bits dribbled down the front of their party clothes. But always, just one question remained.

What exactly is a spongy trifle?

In pre-Google times, finding that answer took a bit of old-fashioned resourcefulness. At the library one day, I stepped into the cookbook aisle while my daughters entertained themselves with a game less naughty than stealing fancy desserts, and researched the matter.

Spongy trifle is a traditional English layered dessert: cake spread with jam, fresh fruit, custard, shortbread, and whipped cream, often decorated with - you guessed it - silver balls. 

As we admired the photos of gleaming glass-footed bowls filled with these lovely layers, we determined to make one for ourselves. 

So we did.

And we are still making them to this day.

Spongy trifle is standard fare at our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables and even after years of perfecting our favorite flavors, we have barely scratched the surface of all the variations I found on the pages of those cookbooks in the library so long ago.

Looks like we are going to be making spongy trifles - though hopefully not eating them all in one go - for many delicious years to come. 

* * * * *

Ingredients:

Angel food cake or pound cake. Home baked from a box mix is fine Our family is divided into two camps on this front so we go back and forth. 

Blackberry or raspberry jam. I live with jam snobs and they always prefer Bonne Maman preserves

2-3 cups of fruit: We like fresh kiwi, bananas, and berries as well as canned mandarin oranges which are surprisingly good in a trifle. 

2 cups of vanilla pudding, prepared ahead of time and cooled to room temperature - Jell-O Cook and Serve or home made. We avoid instant pudding at all costs. 

10-12 shortbread cookies, store bought or home baked.. We also like Keebler Sandies.

2-3 cups heavy whipping cream, prepared and sugared to taste. Real cream is worth the extra work.


Directions:

1. Choose a large glass bowl with tall, straight sides, if at all possible. If you want to make the biggest splash, an official trifle bowl is worth the investment. 

2. Prepare the individual elements as described. I usually make the pudding and any home baked elements a day or two before serving.

3. Assemble the trifle on the morning of the day it is to be served. The goal here is to work as tidily as possible so the sides of your dish will reveal neat, even layers. Eyeball the layers as you add them, adjusting proportions of each so that you will be able to fit five fairly equal layers into your bowl. 

Bottom layer: cake and jam:
  • Cut the cake in half; freeze one portion for your next spongy trifle.
  • Cut the remaining cake into 1/2 to 1-inch slices.
  • Spread half the cake slices with jam; top them with the remaining slices as if to create sandwiches. When they were young, my daughters adored this step and still line up to do it every year. 
  • Cut the cake and jam sandwiches into 1/2 to 1-inch cubes and arrange in the bottom of the glass dish. Use a spoon to gently pat into place. This layer will be bumpy but the next layer will smooth things out a bit. 
Second layer: fruit
  • Wash, peel, and cut the fresh fruit  into bite-sized pieces, as needed.
  • Drain the mandarin oranges.
  • Mix together in a bowl and carefully arrange on top of the cake cubes. Use a spoon to gently arrange the fruit into the nooks and crannies of the cake bits, creating a somewhat flat layer.
Third layer: pudding
  • Ever so carefully spoon the room temperature pudding in an even layer atop the fruit. 
  • Take exquisite care not to dribble the pudding on the inside of the glass bowl. 
  • Gently shaking the bowl sometimes helps to coax the pudding into an even layer. 
Fourth layer: cookies
  • Put half a package of cookies into a plastic food storage bag; bash it with a rolling pin to break the cookies into crumbs. Great job for a toddler. 
  • Spread the cookie crumbs atop the pudding, striving for an even layer.
  • Freeze the rest of the cookies, or eat them for nourishment.
Fifth and final layer: whipped cream
  • Top off the dish with a luscious layer of cream. 
  • If your dish is too full for a generous portion, serve the extra cream on the side. 
  • Cover with plastic wrap taking care not to let the plastic wrap touch the surface of the cream. If your dish is heaped with cream, use toothpicks to hold the plastic above the surface of the cream
  • In this case, beeswax wraps are not your friend. Use actual plastic wrap. Sorry, earth. 

4. Your trifle is now ready to go but it will benefit from 4-6 hours of resting which allows the layers plenty of time to happily meld together. 

5. Show off your beautiful trifle before serving! This is when the dish shines best, so make sure that everyone at your table gets an opportunity to see and admire your handiwork before you dig into it. 

6. When serving, use a long spoon to reach from top to bottom, so each serving includes a sampling of all the layers. And don't worry if the individual portions look a bit muddled and messy; the taste makes it all worthwhile!



Thursday, January 6, 2022

Thank You

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1WQKp-mxYXDTOnx3aFqVaYguvlBpTotws
She is a magical lady.

I was having a rough time getting to sleep.

Tossing and turning, I couldn't stop the hurricane of heartaches whirling through my mind. Though I'm usually able at the end of the day to lay aside my troubles and find my peace, on this night, I was struggling.

Desperately.

As the waves of melancholy washed over me, I realized that I was out of my own depth and so I reached out for the last hand-hold of desperate people everywhere.

I prayed to God.

It was a simple prayer; childish, really. Sincere and direct. Unabashedly needy.

Please God, give me your peace.

Now, as I was swirling about in this sea of confusion and pain, my dog was busy with her own problems. Bless her heart, she was looking for a good place to lie down.

Normally, Gracie is not a cuddler. Undoubtedly, she loves me with every fiber of her being, and she keeps me locked in close visual range, but she has proven to have zero need to sleep in physical contact with me.

Which is a bit of a disappointment, because my previous setter, Ranger, was an A1 champion cuddler. Every night of his life, Ranger would hop up on my bed, curl himself ever so perfectly to the crook of my legs, and gently, comfortingly, rest his sweet red head across my knees. He brought me endless peace with this simple act, and in the way that only a dog can do, he eased my soul.

Anyway, with my mind bent round my troubles, I was only vaguely aware that Gracie had hopped up next to me and was circling around for the perfect spot. As I began my end-of-my-rope prayer for peace, I did not feel her curl up beside me, tucking herself perfectly into the crook of my legs.

It was in the exact instant that I spoke the word "peace" clearly and distinctly inside my head that her sweet red head came to rest across my knees. In a flash, my heart was flooded with peace, and my soul was eased. 

And to God, the architect of this beautiful relationship between human and dog, I whispered.

 Thank you.