iris

The unique shape of the iris is striking – three petals that stretch upward to form a crown, and three more petals that drape downward for its skirt. My father once called them “flags,” and after I laughed at him I learned that this was a somewhat old-fashioned name for an iris. Some say this is the flower after which the French fleur-de-lis is modeled.

The iris is the state flower of Tennessee. One of the state songs is When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee:

Where the Iris grows,
Where the Harpeth flows,
That is where I long to be.
There’s a picture there that lives in memory
When it’s Iris time in Tennessee.

Iris can be found in a wide range of colors, pastels and deep jewel tones, which is appropriate since they are named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Some are two-tone specimens. But in my mind the real, true iris is purple. That’s the color of the state flower, and that’s the signature shade of the most recognized variety.  The traditional sight of purple iris growing against an old stone wall makes my heart sing.

Growing up, our house was situated on a high riverbank, and my grandfather planted iris all along the edge of the bluff. Some were purple, some yellow, and some were white. They would bloom in stages, by color. It was quite a delightful sight, one that remained in my memory long after we moved away.  When I went back recently to visit the place where I grew up, the white iris were blooming. Yes, they were still there! Again, my heart was full.

cottonwoods

As a child I knew nothing of cottonwood trees. I didn’t recognize the triangular shape of the leaves, or the sturdiness of the trunk, or the wispy specks floating through the air. But after we married we moved into a valley that was filled with cottonwoods, and I began to look forward to the time each spring when the air would be filled with their floating cottony seeds.

I am always reminded of the old song:

I hear the cottonwoods whisp’ring above,

Ta-am-my, Ta-am-my, Tammy’s in love.

Cottonwoods really do sound like they are whispering because their shaking leaves can cause such a sound. The leaves shimmer in the sun just like poplars and aspens, to which cottonwoods are related. Cottonwoods are some of the largest trees in North America, growing up to 100 feet tall with huge trunks that can be over five feet in diameter. Pretty amazing considering that the seeds are so tiny.

These giants often grow on the edges of streams or rivers and have a very thick, cork-like bark which is often used by artists because it is soft and easy to carve. Cottonwoods are often grown for timber production near a source of water such as a river. They grow exceptionally fast, and can produce a large crop of wood in ten to thirty years. Cottonwood trees can live to be over 100 years old.

This tree reminds me of how nature is filled with fascinating plants and animals. I have learned a lot about many of these gifts through the years, and I am fortunate to live where I can see and be part of nature’s bounty every day. Yet it’s exciting to think about all the things I still don’t know about – all the wonders left to learn.

stepping stones

When I visited my parents’ old house that is now empty and for sale, the house where I grew up, my daughter and I walked all around and looked inside and outside. Much remodeling and updating has been done, yet some things were surprisingly unchanged.

As we walked from the side porch around to the back of the house, I pointed out to her that there used to be stepping stones there, and I wondered where they are now. They weren’t anything fancy, just rectangular shaped concrete, but you could tell they were old even when I was growing up because they were so thick and sturdy. Stepping stones are not made that way today.

Low and behold, at the back of the house, the stones were there. A sidewalk had been removed and the stones were in its place. I was so happy to see that they had survived all these changes, that someone else had valued them and made them useful again.

a surprising seadog

Our dog Maggie is a rescue dog. We don’t know much about her early life, and we aren’t sure why, but she is terribly frightened of new people and different places. She has come a long way since we got her, but you can still see her fear from time to time.

When we decided to take her out on our boat for the first time, we weren’t sure how she would react.  First she had to cross the gangway to the boathouse, which is high above the water. She didn’t like it, her toenails gripped the mesh as she inched along, but we got her across. Then she had to go inside the boathouse, with its unfamiliar shadows and smells, but we coaxed her into that, too.

Of course we couldn’t get her to hop into the boat, so my husband lifted her in. At first she froze, and then she sniffed from bow to stern. Starting up the motor made her tremble, and when we exited the boathouse she froze as we drifted backwards. But once we got out into the cove and started moving forward, she felt the sun’s warmth and the gentle breeze, and she wagged her tail.

The farther we went, the happier she became. She stuck her nose up into the breeze, and then she sat up on the seat with me. She loved having the wind blow in her face. When we stopped for a while she was perched on the seat, and we watched her comfortably rock with the rhythm of the water. She was quite a seaworthy dog.

Maybe being on the water is part of her instinct.  Or perhaps this awakened some happy memories for her.  It definitely gave us some good memories, all of us, and her next trip across the gangway demonstrated eagerness instead of fear.

living in the fringes

Living in the fringes is hard work.

I spend the better part of my waking hours at work. In addition to the regular hours, I often find that I need to go in early or stay late. This gives me time to meet expectations as well as accomplish the extra things that make my teaching more effective and/or more worthwhile. And I really don’t mind.

But that leaves the rest of my life to be lived in what I call the fringes. I can either get up early to work on things with a rested mind and body, or attempt to mark things off my at-home list in the evenings, after dinner, when I am often tired mentally or physically or both.

If there’s a Bible study at church, or a class would like to take (I did watercolor last spring) I have to plan my evenings for the week ahead of time to get it all in. I don’t have children at home anymore, and now I look back and wonder how I got it all done! Buying gifts, reading a book, being on committees – all these have to be scheduled. I have done this for a long time and usually it all works out.  But on occasion, it makes me stop and think.

Last week I hosted my book club for dinner. I prepared a simple menu, my husband did the grilling, and everything turned out beautifully. But I found myself thinking how nice it would be to set the table at a decent hour, instead of 6:00 a.m. before work. Or how easy making the strawberry trifle dessert would have been the night before if I hadn’t already worked all evening (after school) preparing the other dishes.

As I said, it all turned out quite nicely. Yet I know I didn’t fully participate in the discussion because I was tired. And there were friends I didn’t spend time talking with like I usually do because my mind wasn’t really all there.

I am thankful for the fringes. It is during those times that I am able to pursue and participate in the things I choose for myself, the things I love. I just wish I had a little more time in the fringes.

recliners

I have never really liked recliners.

My dad had one that sat by the pole lamp across from the TV and had a little table that held his pipes next to it. He didn’t want anyone else to sit in it. Not a problem. It wasn’t comfortable to me.

The first recliner my husband and I had (after I finally gave in) had a big headrest that pushed back at you unless you were reclined almost horizontally. So when you sat in it you found your chin resting on your chest and you couldn’t easily look up. Ugh.

Then somehow we bought another one. It was better because you could hold your head up.  It was a dark green small stripe and we had it for about twenty years it seems. It was only in the den for about two of those years. The rest of its life with us was spent in our son’s room (beginning his manly love of recliners at an early age) and in the basement.

Now we have a leather one that is very comfortable and relatively attractive. But it is cold to sit in. That’s also OK, because it is my husband’s chair and he’s always hot so he loves it.

We also have a very sophisticated chair that reclines. I do not consider it a real recliner because it isn’t soft and mushy, and it is very stylish. But you can lean back a bit and prop up your feet in it and I often sit there to read.

My son has a recliner at college. Some friends of ours had one to give away, and you would have thought they had given him gold. He’s also in awe of the ones that have all the bells and whistles, even the camo covers. But he’s going to have to buy that for himself when he is out on his own.

We have a delightfully comfortable large sectional couch in our cabin at the lake. The trouble with it is that we can’t all fit on it when everyone in the family is there. So we decided to get some other comfortable seating. We were at a favorite furniture store one day when my husband pointed out that they were having a recliner sale.  We just happened to be in the truck, on the way to the lake. Hmmmm. One thing led to another and we ended up buying not one but two matching recliners. I chose a color that would allow them to blend in, not stand out. Did I mention that recliners are not my favorite?

So now I don’t have to fight anyone for the couch anymore. And the chairs do blend in nicely. But guess what. I always sit in that recliner when I am there, even when it is just my husband and myself.  You may not believe this, sometimes I don’t believe it either, but it is my favorite place to relax. There’s a side table of the perfect height and a great floor lamp for reading light.

I find myself wishing for it at home on days when I am tired and I can’t wait to get in from work and unwind. On our way to the lake I picture myself settling into the chair as soon as I get there. It is soft and warm, and just the right size to snuggle into and be incredibly relaxed. Oh dear… maybe I do like recliners after all.

being a teacher

I have always been a teacher…

When I was in elementary school I loved school. I loved being at school and I loved playing school at home.  I wanted to fill all my days with school things, and I pretty much did.

I also loved Sunday School and Vacation Bible School at church. I took art classes and swimming lessons and baton twirling classes and dance lessons and piano lessons. Learning – in any environment – was a magical way to spend my time.

In middle school I made the huge jump from being in public school with lifelong friends to attending a private all girls school with lots of classmates I had little in common with – or so it seemed at first glance anyway. But after I made the difficult transition I found out that I still loved school.

As a high school student I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up – yes, a teacher. I had amazing teachers who taught me things I didn’t know I wanted to learn and things I have never forgotten.  From them I discovered that learning is not just for use in your daily life, but it makes your life better every day. These educators influenced my life in ways I am still discovering forty years later. I wanted to be this for someone.

In college I majored in elementary education from day one and never wavered. I loved all my classes and couldn’t wait to try out the things I did for my class projects in my own future classroom with my own students. I felt as if this is what I was supposed to be all along.

So I got my first job and I have taught for thirty-plus years and I have loved every minute. Even when I went through a bit of burn out around year fifteen, I realized that there was nothing else I wanted to do more. Now I work with teachers as well as with students, and I find I am still a teacher to them.

One day I will retire. But I hope that then I’ll find ways to help others achieve the things they want for their lives. Maybe that will be through writing, or speaking, or in ways more hands-on, or just spending time with others helping them do the things they need and want to do.

I will always be a teacher.