Texas heat, no problem.
“What’s your hurry Bud?”, I think as the teenager moved around me on aisle two. I’m grocery shopping on a Tuesday at ten o’clock in the morning. An unusual thing for me because my retired husband shops during the school year, but now I get to browse in peace during my summer break from teaching elementary school. Adults everywhere. Heaven. It’s quiet. Even the Musak is not too loud. As I look at this kid, I realize that teaching has made me watch people in a different way. I scan the expression on faces for intent, body language for the possibility of trouble. It’s hard to stop doing that, especially in these troubled times of violence at schools. It takes time away from that twenty year commitment to control. It’s only been a week since school’s been out.
I’m assessing him now, mildly irritated, as he moves past me, going around my cart. He doesn’t look up, intent on his phone screen. Surprise. T-shirt and jeans with a baseball cap turned backwards. Short shaggy black hair. No basket for the young, he has a few items clutched loosely under his arm. Keys in the other hand. He’s in a hurry.
And coming the opposite direction up the aisle towards me is an old man. He looks in his late eighties, white-haired and composed in a starched short-sleeved shirt and khakis, with a notebook paper shopping list in one hand. He leans heavily on his grocery cart with the other hand, but his back is straight. He glances up from his list just as the teenager approaches him. ” Hey, don’t I know you?” he says to the teenager.
All my teacher sensors go off at this point. ” I can’t help it. I think, “Don’t you be rude to that sweet old man.” I’m clutching the handle of my cart, pretending to look at something beside me on the shelf, furiously hoping…for what? Courtesy? Acknowledgement from a teenager of the old? What am I going to do if…. “Breathe,” I think.
And then it happens. The teenager stops and smiles at the old man. “Why yes sir,” he says, “Don’t you go to Midwest Church? Aren’t you Mr. Preston? I’m Ben, I saw you last Sunday. How are you?” “Oh Ben, of course, I’m great, just great, say hi to your folks for me.” says the old man. ” Yes sir, you have a nice day now.” Ben says. He moves on.
I’m stopped in my tracks. It wasn’t what the teenager said, it was the way he said it. Such a simple thing. The easy respect. It was expected of him, I knew. I suddenly wanted to hug his parents, then the kid. I can see the headlines, “Former teacher arrested at grocery store for hugging complete stranger.”
As I walked on I mentally slapped my own hand. “You didn’t give him a chance, did you?” I thought. “You thought you had his number…sheeshz.”
And maybe life is as simple as that and as hard as that. People don’t always telegraph their intentions. Disrespect isn’t always tattooed on a forehead, posted on a Facebook page or exclusive to an age. And perhaps rather than paranoia and mistrust, the key is trust, family and respect. For what will we have if that is not enough? For today it is enough for me on aisle two.
I smiled at the old man as I passed him. He smiled back.
One of the best legacies a mother can leave are stories. Even though I lost you physically in 2006 I can hear your voice today. You left a record in the albums you made for us. I wonder if you know how much that means to us now?
One of my favorite stories was of your trip to Germany in April of 1962. You flew to Germany to attend the North Atlantic Girl Scout Conference as one of the Girl Scout Leaders. You had encouraged us to be in Girl Scouts and as always was you were very involved in everything we did.
I love the story of this trip because it tells me so much about you as a person, not just as my mom. You visited Berchtesgaden…the photo (Mom is in the center with the sweater) shows you holding hands with the other Girl Scout Leaders there. Mom looks calm and dignified. The lady behind her, Lord who knows what’s going on there.
I know now that you stayed at the Hotel General Walker, which as I understand it was originally a hotel built to house Nazi dignitaries and after being heavily damaged during WWII was rebuilt as one of Europe’s finest luxury hotels, with a breathtaking view of the Bavarian countryside and the Alps. I have the menu of your lunches there and your itinerary.
But your words tell the story best. Talking about the crystal clear alpine streams in the villages you said…..
“In this stream I saw my first black completely round pebbles so smooth they were almost like marbles. This was the first time I had seen mountains and by the end of the day I had a crick in my neck trying not to miss any of them. It was in this village that we (her roomie) bought a bottle of German Beer, a loaf of black bread and a roll of German sausage. We set the beer in the snow on our window sill to cool and when the meeting was over we came back and had a midnight snack; with the windows open, snow on the ground and the moon lighting the mountains and the sounds of cowbells echoing from high on the mountain.”
You were 30 years old. I love the idea of you drinking German beer and watching the moon on the mountains. The poetry in your words reminds me how much you loved to travel and see new places, which is great since you were an Air Force wife. This must have been an exciting trip for a Texas girl from the small town of Jacksboro because you went by yourself. I wonder now how you talked Dad into that. My sister and I, nine and six years old respectively, stayed back in Texas with my Dad. I remember you saying that we told you,” We always got dessert when Dad cooked dinner when you were gone.” I’m sure Dad was just trying to bribe good behavior out of us.
You brought us back a box of the different salts mined in Berchtesgaden, which the pamphlet describes as their most important industry. You told us how you had donned miner’s clothes and sat on wooden rails and slid down through the mine. When you ran your fingers on the walls you could taste the salt. I remember the box of salts, different colored one-inch cubes. I secretly licked each one when you were not looking to see if they tasted differently.
I wish I had been with you as an adult on that trip. I smile every time I think of you whistling through the salt mine licking the salt off your fingertips. I bet you yodeled at the mountains too.
Thank you for telling us the story. It also explains why you loved the movie Heidi so much.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom.
p.s. After I posted this my very intelligent sister told me that 1962 was one of the three years we were stationed in England, which of course makes much more sense that my mom got to go to Germany because she was so close. Well my bad. Math is not my strong suit. 🙂
There are certain things I do each school year that are not just part of a curriculum. They are necessary to me as person. Necessary as part of what I want to teach children. I’ll tell you a secret. Every teacher teaches some things drawn from their heart. It’s part of the same package; teacher as a delivery system of a predetermined set of knowledge and skills and teacher as a human that filters teaching through their experiences, beliefs and communication skills.
In my realistic moments I understand that very few of my fourth, fifth and sixth grade art students will go on to be famous artists; if fame in that sense even matters. What I do hope is that I leave behind a legacy of kindness and commitment.
Kindness, in that from something I’ve said or shown to my students that they realize there is a common thread of good, decent behavior that runs through people, no matter where you were born or what life has dealt you. This presents the age-old question, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty when you are looking at humanity?” I want my students to choose half-full. Be realistic, yes. Cautious, yes. But giving, trusting and being kind is a risk that should be taken. No matter the outcome.
Commitment, in that seeing people as essentially good is a choice, and sometimes a tough choice. In the sea of negativity that my students face every day in the media, online and sometimes at home, choosing to create your own atmosphere and point of view is your right, really your obligation. It does not mean being a push-over or wearing blinders to the ugliness that exists. But choose to see the up-side. Choose to take a stand on what you like and don’t like. Choose to be kind.
So how does this connect to teaching art? What got me thinking about this is a story that I tell my fourth-graders each year. I told it last Thursday. It’s called “The Coming of the Bluebonnet” and is from a wonderful book called “Texas Tales with a Twist”. (https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Texas-Twist-Original-Enduring/dp/B0064XN59U) These are all short stories, tall tales and legends meant to be read or told aloud. (Spoiler Alert) Each spring when the bluebonnets first appear I tell a story to my fourth graders about a little Comanche girl who gives up what she most values most to save her people from a drought. She sacrifices her doll as a burnt offering and spreads the ashes to the four corners of the earth. She asks for a sign from the Great Spirit that her offering was worthy. In the morning, wherever the ashes of her doll touched a sea of bluebonnets appear. Then it begins to rain and the people are saved from the drought. The little girl gets her name, She-Who-Loves-Her-People.
I tell this story because it makes children think about giving. I tell it because it teaches about legends (I am careful to explain this is a legend) and interpreting the ideas presented in the story. Then we draw bluebonnets and talk about our state flower.
This is the concept that I really want children to understand. Visual art, like all of the arts, is a way of communicating what is important to people, a record of the good and bad ideas and events since our recorded history began. The stories, the ideas represented are what draws me to art, whether the ideas are abstract and mysterious or simple and obvious. I love the sophisticated artist and the folk artist all the same because of the thoughts that they show me. And I choose to teach that kindness, compassion, wonder, humor and understanding can all be taught through art. And that most of the wonderful ideas that humanity has cast upon the world are created, struggled for and born through the imagination and drawn from the heart. It is that idea that is important.
We are visiting our family doctor for the last time today. He is retiring at the end of this month and gosh we will miss him. Dr. James Newton has been our family doctor for years.
Finding a new family doctor is a gradual and delicate process. Sort of like having your mom pull your loose tooth as a child. You know you can handle it, but you know it’s going to hurt. When our last doctor moved away, we had been to three new doctors trying to find a good fit. So when a teaching friend recommended Dr. Newton I went in with high hopes and a cautious nature. I knew he was probably for us the first time I saw his waiting rooms. He has a fish-themed examination room, a children’s examination room and a hunting-themed examination room. That might sound a little strange, but have you ever had to sit waiting for the doctor in a sterile, picture-less examination room? Or worse, one full of those medical charts, most of which made me believe immediately that I definitely have one or more of the dreaded diseases shown in glorious detail. In Dr. Newton’s office I could look at stuffed fish or birds or hunting cartoons given to him by patients. Or if I was in the children’s room, I could gaze at a large hand-painted mural of trees and small forest creatures. In most rooms in his office there were pictures of our doctor with various large fish or animals, family and friends, smiling and happy. Whatever your opinions about fishing and hunting I liked seeing my doctor happy. It kept my blood pressure down.
But entertaining examination rooms is not what made him a good doctor. Dr. Newton listened to us. He listened. He did not lecture, he talked to us. He knew us as people. He talked music with my band director husband, Dr. Newton’s father-in-law being a great music director at Texas Tech University. Who else knows that your doctor has a broken drum stick from Ed Shaughnessy? He recommended a great nursing home when my mother-in-law needed one. In-between those talks he kept track of our common ailments with a sense of humor, a soft-spoken and direct bedside manner and the common sense not to prescribe a pill for every ache and pain. As he said , “Sometimes, a pill is not what is needed. Let your body do it’s work.” He had patience for our opinions about the cost of medicine and the deplorable state of the medical insurance industry in this country. And it is that last sad fact that has forced a new search for a family doctor upon us again.
But now, for Dr. Newton, we wish him a rewarding retirement, free from computer work and strangling bureaucratic regulations and happy in the knowledge that he served his patients well. And as our Doctor and our friend told us yesterday, “We’ll see you around town!”
I’m always on the lookout for a good enchilada recipe and this one fit the bill for Super Bowl Sunday. We both love chicken enchiladas, but George (my husband) loves beef. I didn’t have any shredded brisket for the filling, so I liked this ground beef recipe. Gooey and cheesy, this is Tex-Mex all the way. I served with a simple guacamole, salsa and sour cream. It may not make me like the Patriots any better, but unless the cowboys are in there I watch for the commercials anyway.
Hope you try these. Recipe follows.
Tex-Mex Beef Enchiladas
Drawn from the wonderful blog: https://www.theanthonykitchen.com/texmex-beef-enchiladas/
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow onion finely diced
- 1 pound 80/20 ground beef (I used 90/10)
- 4 tablespoons TAK’s Tex-Mex Blend, I used an entire package of McCormick’s Original Taco Seasoning
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons All-Purpose flour
- 3 ½ cups unsalted beef broth*
- 1 ½ teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- Pinch of black pepper
- 16-20 corn tortillas (I used 10 super-size corn tortillas)
- 1 cup Cheddar cheese freshly grated
- 1 cup Monterrey Jack cheese freshly grated
- Preheat oven to 350° and have ready a 9×13” greased casserole dish.
- Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for 5-8 minutes until softened. Add ground beef along with TAK’s Tex-Mex Blend, and break apart with a wooden spoon. Cook for 10 minutes, or until no more pink shows and completely cooked through. Remove from the heat and transfer meat mixture to a bowl. Set aside until ready to use.
- Return sauté pan to stovetop over medium heat. Add butter and allow to melt. Sprinkle over flour and whisk to form a roux. Allow to cook 2-3 minutes. Begin to add beef broth a splash at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition until all of the broth has been incorporated. Season with salt, cumin, chili powder and pepper. Cook for an additional 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally and allowing to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Dampen two paper towels and wrap half of the tortillas in the towels. (I heat mine in foil in the oven for a few minutes) Repeat additional paper towels and the remaining tortillas. Heat in a microwave for thirty seconds to 1 minute, until warmed and pliable. Add 1 cup of the sauce to the bottom of the casserole dish. Add a ¼ cup each Monterrey Jack and Cheddar to the beef mixture and stir to evenly distribute.
- One at a time, add 2 tbsp. of beef filling to a tortilla and roll tightly. Place seam side down in the dish. Continue to roll enchiladas, placing them side-by-side until you can no longer fit any more in the dish. Pour remaining sauce evenly over the enchiladas and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake, covered with aluminum foil for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes, uncovered. Allow to cool, serve and enjoy.
- Makes 16 enchiladas. (or 10 super-size stuffed enchiladas)
*It is extremely important that you use Unsalted Beef Broth for this recipe. Otherwise, the salt content will be overwhelming.
It must have been like dropping onto a new planet. He had been in America for a little over four months and he is German. In a small Texas town of just over 16,000 people, where the largest employers are two brick plants and the public school district, he was in fourth grade.
As he steps to my classroom doorway, I extend my hand and say hello, my name is Mrs. Strandberg, I’m your art teacher. I immediately notice his clear blue eyes and straw blond hair framing a hopeful face. He has a medium athletic build, even for a ten-year old, like a miniature rugby player and an inquisitive, engaging curiosity that beamed out from his ruddy face. His eyes light up at the Scandinavian origin of my name. I can see he thinks he’s found a European kinsman. “Are you Swedish?”, he asks in heavily accented, but perfect English. “No.” I say and register the small disappointment in his eyes. “My husband’s ancestors are from Sweden.” ” Oh.” he says, then continues, “Well you should visit there, but it is not as pretty as Denmark.” He says this without malice, to him it was simply a fact. I turn to introduce him to a room of open-mouthed fourth graders.
This was my introduction to Nikolaus (not his real name), a remarkable student whose real name was almost unpronounceable for me. “Just call me Nik.” he finally told me with an exasperated smile. Nik was born in Germany, had lived there and in Denmark and had journeyed here with his mother after she divorced. “I still have brothers and my father in Germany.” he told me matter-of-factly, “But my step-dad is great. ”
I began to look forward to his arrival each day, bursting into the room like a large and nosy puppy, full of talk. “How did you learn such good English in such a short time?”, I ask. “My mother taught me. She speaks eight languages. Don’t you speak any other languages?”, he responded, clearly feeling a little sorry for my lack. I’m reminded once again of the European custom of teaching their children different languages early in life as a necessity of living in a modern world. I wish we were that smart. “I’m learning Japanese right now.”, he continued. ” When I grow up I want to go to Tokyo and start a business.” Nik’s curiosity is a palpable thing. He curious about the pencil sharpener, what kind of car I have, how my desk chair works with a pneumatic cylinder to raise and lower the height. His curiosity is insatiable.
I met his mother at open house that year, a slender, confident woman with a penetrating look. She spoke to Nik as if he were thirty instead of ten, clearly proud of her clever son and determined to give him the best.
But the thing that impressed me most was Nik’s ability to let criticism of his newness to the Texas culture bounce off of him. He had a built-in confidence that was not overbearing. He knew who he was and what he was about. The other kids loved to hear him talk. He accepted the gentle teasing of his classmates about his accent with such a good-natured charm that before you knew it he was giving German lessons to the entire class and he was laughing at their Texas-twanged attempts.
Nik was a dedicated art student, but almost to a fault, critiquing his work in a running monologue, peppered with questions. “What was pastel made out of anyway? Did it come from the ground or the lab? Where could he get these in America?” This phrasing was perfect, not just Texas, mind you, it seemed all of America was open to him. In the midst of a papier-mâché dragon whose wings kept drooping he announced that his dragon was a sea serpent, and needed no wings. And why did papier-mâché smell so funny anyway? “My sea serpent has bad-breath.”, he says.
And then, one day, just like that, he was gone. Whisked away with his mom, for a job opportunity up north. I felt a real sense of loss and kept one of his artworks pinned by my desk, a precisely drawn geometric pastel with an oriental look to it. I know that whereever he is, he is facing his world head-on, and asking questions, always questions. It makes me smile.
I hope I get to visit Tokyo one day. I have no doubt that Nik will be there, running an international conglomerate with immense enthusiasm.