Thursday, February 15, 2018

Another Half-Staff Flag

Here we go again
The world spins around
The flag goes up and goes back down

I didn't know what it is about a lowered flag in front of a school that brings out such strong emotions in me.  But today it hit me.  It is because that flag always comes with unanswered questions from innocent children. 

Every morning during the week, a fifth-grade student proudly rushes into the building to grab the flag and raise it on a pole in front of the school.  Often, he is so excited to do so that we have to remind him to walk.  This morning, without prompting that I am aware of, he knew where the flag needed to be.  Yesterday,  a school of 3,000 high school students and their teachers were victims and/or witnesses of a school mass shooting.  And a 10 or 11-year-old student knew about it before breakfast this morning.  It is heart-wrenching as a teacher and as mother to know that these YOUNG children cannot and should not (maybe??? I'm torn) be shielded from the events that took place yesterday.  Tragically, this could have and may one day be their story if things do not change.  So we have to prepare these young children to know what to do if "another school shooting" happens to them.  It feels like we are preparing them for a potential bomb in a time of war.  But they have to know what to do, right? 

The questions I was asked today by a group of 4th grade children were questions no one has trained me to answer.  We are rightly taught that if we don't know the answer to a question, we tell the student we don't know.  It shows them that teachers aren't perfect and we do not know everything and that is okay.  We are lifelong learners who seek to find knowledge when it is lacking.  But what about when your student asks you a question like, "why would someone walk into a school and try to kill a bunch of people?"  I can't just ask Siri that one.  I have to tell them I don't know and that there isn't a logical answer.  Not only is their teacher not perfect.  She doesn't know all the answers.  There is no way to take pride that you stumped your teacher this time.  Today they looked to me to have an answer to their deepest questions and I can't find one.  They want so desperately for me to answer them in a way that makes them comfortable, that eases their anxious fearful little minds a little bit.  But there are no words.  All I can do is say that I am so sorry that they have to feel this way.  I have to tell them it can happen anywhere.  I have to tell them we need to be prepared.  I have to tell them that this is why we tell them not to be silly during a lock-down drill.  I have to tell them it is very important to stay absolutely silent and away from the windows and doors.  I have to tell them that I will do everything in my power to keep them safe if something like that ever happens here.  Then I have to tell them that I don't know what else to say.

Every morning during assembly, right after breakfast and right before our students go to their class, we make promises to each other.  The students say:
As a student of ___________ School
I respect myself and others, too.
I'll be on task, on time, never late.
I'll make good choices
I'll be responsible for every chore.
I'm a ____________ tiger,

And the teachers reply:
As a teacher at ___________ School
I will engage every learner, everyday
In higher order thinking
Through innovative lessons
In a SAFE environment.

What happens if our pledges to each-other are not enough?  What happens if our students keep their promise to be safe, and we keep our promise to maintain a safe environment and it still isn't enough???  I pray that day never comes!!!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Blind Mermaid and Her Quilt

This Christmas gift was one of my favorite ones of the year.  And the gift wasn't mine.  This gift was given to a girl who could not see it.  Cora's grandmother ordered her a quilt but said she needed it to be a sensory experience.  My gift came in the form of a picture of a smile bigger than any smile I have ever seen.

It was a challenge unlike any I had been given.  I set out to get as many different textures as I could possibly find that could still be put in a washing machine after being loved on with children's hands. 
Though the colors may not be visible to the blind or vision-impaired owners, I wanted to make sure it was visually appealing and identifiable by those with normal vision.  I wanted it to be able to be a conversation starter for the person it belongs to.  I feel like it can be a great way to show people the way they interpret the world with their hands. 

The ocean floor is made with a thin brown and yellow ribbons that have a rough and scratchy texture.  I made sure to select a thin ribbon because I know that texture may not be appealing to some individuals.  I just want the textures to mimic the objects they represent.  The brown and yellow ribbons represent the sand and tiny shells on the ocean floor.
Each square has a different pattern of waves and different types of ribbon material and texture, just like the waves of the ocean.  Some of the waves are completely sewn down to  the quilt while other ones are not sewn down so they can be played with and twisted and pulled on. 
There are random loops sewn into the quilt. 
 Some of the ribbons have threaded tassels.
The square in upper-right hand corner is bright yellow with rainbow-colored ric-rac ribbon in a star shape to  mimic the sun.  The sky has diagonal orange lines about an inch apart to represent the rays of sunlight.
Triangles are sewn throughout the quilt between some of the squares.  These triangles can be folded back and forth like ocean waves.
 The other squares of the sky are white.  Some of them have sailboats and world maps on them.

There is seaweed sewn into the bottom of the quilt as well.

There are several elements that go along with the quilt.  They are made with a variety of materials, many which are not washable or would shrink when washed.  They are all backed with felt so they can be placed on the quilt and moved around as if the quilt were a playmat.
 One is an octopus made of stretchy silky fabric.
 Another is a  decorative bow for wrapping presents, representing coral.
The jellyfish is made of reflective shimmery purple fabric.  The tentacles are bouncy and stretchy.
 The starfish is a coarse spongy material.
For the turtle, I used a green-jeweled compact mirror and glued on ribbon loops for the legs, head,  and tail.
The fish has squishy material with a bumpy texture, mimicking the scales.
I sewed Cora a mermaid and made sure she looked as much like her as I could.
I also made a cloud out of minky fabric with blue yarn that looked like rain.
I created a sun out of sparkly, glittery orange fabric.  I did not sew it on to the quilt because the material was not washable, but the rainbow ric-rac helps her to find where the sun belongs on the quilt.

I would love to make more of these sensory experience quilts.  There are a variety of uses for these quilts.  They are great for blind or visually impaired individuals, playmats, tummy-time blankets, Alzheimer's lap blankets, and quilts for those with unique sensory needs.  It would be great for children who are restricted to the bed  for medical  reasons. Most importantly, it is perfect to cuddle up under and sleep with.

There are a variety of directions I could take this project.  It is not limited to an ocean theme.  The next quilt of this sort I plan to take on is a mountain/woodland-themed blanket.  I will include trees, rocks, a campfire, and a tent for the detached items. 

I would love to create thousands of similar sensory experience quilts.  Please contact me if you are interested in a custom quilt like this one.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Quite a Mighty Mermaid

This little mermaid has crossed seas and nation borders to be in the family she is in.  And soon a quilt will cross many miles and a state border to wrap its warmth around her.  But this quilt is a bit different.  Many times, when I finish a quilt, I find myself sending its new owner a message something along the lines of "I just finished your quilt!  I can't wait until you see it!"  This time it will be different.  Pretty soon I hope to be able to say, "I just finished your quilt.  I can't wait until you FEEL it!"

Rewind for a bit of a back story...
This little mermaid has a grandmother she calls Golly.  And her Golly Grandmother is an angel of a woman my husband and I (and I am sure MANY others) call Mama Dixie.  I found myself in the presence of Mama Dixie for the first time in January of 2008.  I had just stepped confidently into the career path of special education.  A professor of mine recommended that I do my practice teaching at a small private school called Scenic Land School.  As soon as I walked in, I was hooked.  I loved the homey feel of this tiny school with spunky teachers and a super handsome after-school tutor.  Mama Dixie was one of those spunky teachers.  And super handsome after-school tutor is now my husband.  One afternoon in late February, Mama Dixie pulled said tutor to the side.  She advised him that he better ask me out on a date or he would regret it.  He told her that we had been dating since Valentine's Day.  So obviously, this woman knows what she is talking about.  She taught us what teaching should look like and feel like.  She was our Chattanooga Mama since both of our Mamas were on other sides of the country. 

Then Mama Dixie was the Mama that moved away to be a Golly to Miss Cora.  Cora was adopted from India.  She is blind.  So her Golly decided she needed a special mermaid blanket.  Cora loves mermaids. Read this story if you don't believe me: "A 6-year-old blind girl met a mermaid in Memphis"!    So I made her a half-blanket half-playmat and a mermaid that looks...and feels...just like her.  I am going to do my very best to help her feel all the wonders of the ocean: the grains of sand, the gooiness of seaweed, the waves, the squishiness of an octopus, the stringiness of a jellyfish, the pokiness of a starfish, the roughness of coral, the ripples of seashells, the puffiness of clouds, and the streaks of sunrays reflected off of the water's surface.  I want her fingers to help her glimpse the ocean.  It will be quite a mighty task, but she is quite a mighty mermaid.  And every blind mermaid deserves to feel the ocean, don't they, Golly?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The First Breath After Drowning

Disclaimer…not for the faint of heart.  I just started writing.  My heart is heavy and full all at the same time.  I hope this does not come across as insensitive.  Anyone who knows me knows that my greatest strength and weakness is sensitivity.  I feel other’s pain as deeply as possible without living it...blessing and a curse.  So this may bring tears, but I hope the end brings relief like…

The First Breath After  Drowning
I’ve never drowned
I’ve never lost someone I love to the water

But I know some who have
And I’ve seen ones who have

And I’ve spent the last few days seeing
And feeling the weight of those who have

And I ache inside for them
I hold my breath as they fight for theirs
I sigh with relief when they take one

I fill with pride for my fellow men and women
Who braved the treacherous waters
To lessen the drowning
To give more seconds, or minutes, or days, or hours, or years

To those they pull from the water

I watch in heartbreaking disbelief

A whole city, several cities, a region

Slip into cold muddy water

Hours and years spent building houses

And minutes and hours and days and years

Lived in homes that will never be the same

Memories washed away in the current

Photos, treasures, collections, family keepsakes


Under inches and feet of RAINDROPS

And to those who swam to shores that were once highways

Or drifted to dry land at the water’s edge

Or lifted into helicopters in baskets

Or dragged into flat-bottom boats

Or floated on refrigerators and mattresses

Or clung to stop signs and telephone poles

The lucky ones whose heavy hearts didn’t sink them

They may never feel dried of the floodwaters again

But they have another chance to take another breath

To live another life

A better life

To find more joy because of the pain they will carry

To share the courage and strength that was shared with them

With others during their storms

I pray that the water on their souls that may never dry

Only brings them a greater purpose

A reason to fight harder than the current

A reason to love deeper than the floodwaters

A reason to flow as peacefully as the receding tide

A reason to speak words that were once muffled

A reason to swim the rocky waters

Not all were gifted with the dramatic rescue

The crowd of those left behind were blessed with something


Their first breath after drowning was heavenly

It was perfection

And will be forevermore

The muddy waters were instantly dried

They were met with instant warmth from the cold

Infinite joy abounded

Their party wasn’t a heavyhearted celebration

But a never-ending fiesta

They weren’t yanked ashore by rescuers

But ushered in by a shepherd

Who led them to STILL WATERS

Refreshing to their soul

Their first warm meal

Was a banquet

They needed no blanket to warm cold bones

They were wrapped in clouds of grace

And arms of love

And joy abounding

And waves of mercy

And waves of grace

Their first breath after drowning

Was weightless!

What a blessing that will be.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Worth Every Penny

I am not a shoe person and could really care less about this finished product but this is a perfect example of why handmade items cost so much more than what you see in stores. Imagine spending all that time and effort and passion and thought then selling these shoes for $40 or $80 or even $100? Maybe if people knew what went in to every handmade product they wouldn't complain or walk walk away from something they love. Maybe they would smile and say thank you and that it was worth one day of work.

Think about how much you are willing to pay for a mass-produced dress you can't live without, and compare it to what is being asked of you by the crafter. Next time you even consider buying a piece of art, handmade jewelry, customized clothes, custom furniture, blanket, quilt, or hand-stuffed teddy bear, just do it! Don't sit and wonder if it is worth the cost. It is! Even if you have to save up for a little while, do it. It was made lovingly with YOU IN MIND, even if it wasn't a custom order. Every letter, brushstroke, bead, carve, loop, and stitch took time the crafter, designer, creator, crocheter, or seamstress could have spent doing anything else. Spend your hard-earned dollars proudly knowing not only what a blessing you are being to that person's family and or business, but that you are showing you appreciate the creativity, time, and heart that went in to what you are walking home with.

I will think of this video the next time I question if the price I am asking is too much. I will ask whether I am valuing my work and time high enough. I will remember the hugs and thank yous and oohs and ahhs every time someone rolls their eyes and turns up their nose when I tell them the price of something I have made. I will do my very best to never devalue my work in worry that someone will turn up their nose at what I am asking. Just know when we give you a price quote, we understand the hard-work that you put in to earning the money you are giving us. We realize it may be stretching your budget, or you may have to save up for a while. But we also know that if you are willing to hand over your hard-earned dollar for something we make, you love what you are getting in exchange. It means so much when someone appreciates the passion we put into each product. All this to say, understand we aren't trying to rob you or be greedy or thoughtlessly throw out a number. And thank you from the bottom of our hearts those of you who know exactly why you are spending what you are. It means the world when someone says in one way or another, "this is worth every penny."

If I tag you in this post it is because you either don't know how to express this to your customers, or you have been one of those customers who have seen this in me. So keep up the good work, crafters, and thank you valued customers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why I Don't Pray Out Loud

Almost 4 years ago, I joined what my church calls a small group.  It was smallish then.  It started as a small house party at one of the couples' houses on the lake.  It was a nice little cookout with burgers and dogs.  I was feeling all nervous to be around a lot of adults I had never met.  I was a first-time mom going on little sleep, toting a two-week-old newborn around.  I sat quietly and took it all in because I really do feel uncomfortable around new people, especially when they aren't little people.  But God knew I needed an icebreaker so he let said newborn have explosive diarrhea through his clothes and all down my lap.  The host of the groupstart quickly jumped up and got me fresh clothes and changed his diaper.  So began my journey with the "Soddy Daisy Small Group."   

Many of the couples that were at that cookout are still part of our group that meets almost every Wednesday in one of the families' homes.  And month-by-month, more families join in on the fun.  There were months things just "didn't feel right" for one reason or another.  Sometimes spending our Wednesdays without our boys when we had a million other things to do seemed a little overwhelming.  Sometimes conviction happened and we got our feelings hurt.  Sometimes we just felt out of place.  Then, somewhere along the way, I realized I needed these people.  A turning-point in my feelings about this group was the day my second son was put in the NICU and the group wrapped their arms and their resources and their prayers around him and our family.  The feeling that these people were our family was overwhelming.  It opened my eyes to the fact that these people were put in my life for a reason, each bringing something into my life that was missing. 

Together we have laughed (probably more laughing than anything else), we have cried (probably second more than anything else), we have eaten (just as much), we have prayed, and we have lived.  We have lived a lot of life alongside each other, the good, the bad, the ugly, the downright heartbreaking, and the fantastic!

But there are times like tonight that I realize that I need these people...that we need each-other.  I don't pray out loud because I don't have much to say, but when I do, I can't seem to get the words from my heart to my mouth.  But oftentimes, they can make their way to my paper.

Tonight, there was a church-wide worship service.  That means that our church is packed to the brim with people and packed to the brim with children.  Tonight, my husband and I helped corral the children.  Tonight, while most of the congregation was singing "No Other Name," we were watching Bob the Tomato explain that he was "stuck between Iraq and a hard place," and Larry the Cucumber sing about not wanting to use a sippy-cup.  Then we were coloring doorknob hanger that said "Believe in miracles and trust in Jesus."  Parents were beginning to pick up these Papa John's pizza-filled little bundles of joy.  Then one of my dear friends from my small group rounded the corner for a hug.  I could tell she was holding back tears.  After years of occasional tears, you begin to learn what that pre-cry face looks like.  So there was a hug followed by a phone call.  I'm not a big phone person, but I felt like calling her anyways.  I am glad I called because I have felt EXACTLY how she is feeling tonight when another woman in my small group said to me what I said to her tonight.

Paraphrased phone convo:
I feel like such a terrible person.  I give my best to my students and my son, my husband gets what I have left, and God gets my scraps.  Tonight during the prayer I heard God saying he was disgusted by my heart lately.  I am selfish.  I am tired.  My husband is a saint.  He deserves better.  But I am so tired.

Paraphrased answer...worded much better than the phone convo for the same reason I don't pray out loud:
That is NOT the voice of God.  That is the voice trying to convince you it is God and that you are not enough.  God doesn't see all that you think is wrong with you.  God smiles on you because you are a rockstar teacher, rockstar mom, rockstar friend, rockstar wife, and rockstar daughter-of-God...not at all in that order.  He created you because the world needs a YOU and my family and I need a YOU and your family needs a YOU.  Even at your worst, you radiate Christ.  God knows you are tired.  He knows you love your son even when you growl at him because you just want sleep.  He knows you adore your husband (and so does everyone who knows you).  So just keep being awesome.  Fill those journals with honest prayers and uplifting verses...and I will do my best to take my own advice.  Jam to worship music on the way to school (or don' don't have to).  Love on your boys with all the love you have to give, but don't be so hard on yourself.  Communicate.  Unfortunately we didn't marry mind-readers.  That would get boring anyways.  Smile.  And when you can't smile, cry.  Have fun.  Don't be so hard on yourself.  Let him cry it out sometimes.  But not always.  Serve where you can.  Let those who love you serve you when they can.  And as that crazy-wonderful husband of mine likes to say: "Keep DOING YOU!  God's got you, girl!"

Her tears tonight led me to share the words other people have shared with me at times when I needed them.  I hope she's not the only one needing to hear these words passed along.  Share them with someone who needs to be reminded that they rock...who needs to remember how God sees them...who needs to look past their shortcomings and give themselves a break...someone who needs to know that God is smiling at their mess.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Little Faces

What do you do when a school bus full of little children wraps around a tree?
What do you say to the kids who show up in your class in the morning?
They may not know, those kids were on the other side of the city
But maybe they know.

What do you do when you see the face of the boy who walked away?
Who is only wearing one shoe
Knowing his pain is just as real if not more
Than those who lie in the hospital
I can't hug him and tell him his pain matters too
That he is brave
And strong
But I want to

What do you do when a former student
Took selfies with his cousin yesterday
Then finds out today
Those pictures were happy goodbyes

What do you do when you have your own class of little kids just like those
Waiting in your class tomorrow
To learn how to read or multiply or divide or be nice to their friends
And all you want to do is cry
And hug them
And pile on the pillows on your reading rug
And read Dr. Seuss and Shell Silverstein
Because who doesn't smile when they read that silliness?

What do you say when you want to say a million things
But you can't find your voice?
How do you hold it together when you see those little faces?
Knowing there are teachers just like you just a school zone away
Who will have too many little faces missing in the morning

The little faces I look at tomorrow will look just like the faces I saw today
They will be happy and carefree and silly and distracted by dust bunnies
And talking when I am talking
And rubbing their hands all over the walls walking down the hall
Even though I tell them every day to keep their hands off the wall
And making noises during testing just to drive me crazy
And tilting their chair back on the back legs
Even though I told them they will fall
And changing the background on their laptops
When they should be reading
And not capitalizing their sentences
And not putting spaces between their words
And not using the math strategies that I have taught them 100 times
And poking the friend beside them who is trying to focus
And looking at each other
And picking their nose
And not using their manners
And not trying their best

And at least for tomorrow, I am going to let these things slide

Because in the end, none of that really matters
If they don't pay attention to my lesson, it's not the end of the world
The walls will be okay if a few more kids wipe their dirty hands all over them
And a little bird noises to break the silence is better than no noises at all
And they can get ice from the nurse if they fall out of their chair
And if a picture of their favorite video game character on the screensaver
Really makes them that happy, then so be it
And the words they have to say still say the same thing
Without a capital letter
And maybe no one else can read what they write if they don't put spaces between their words
But I can read them, and tomorrow, that is enough
And I'm not the best at math either, and I've done alright for myself
And poking fun is fun, so hey, why not
And tomorrow, I will be looking harder at them, so they are welcome to look at each other
And boogers are just boogers, that's why God made Germ-X
And eventually they will have to learn their manners
And I can make them try their best next week

Tomorrow my only goal is that I leave knowing I loved them as hard as I could
That at least one person poured into their life
Tomorrow the only thing I want to teach them
Is that one person cares

Their teacher thinks they are awesome even if they are weird
And smart even though they are a work in progress
And funny even if none of their jokes have punch lines
And adorable even if I know they pick their nose
And talented even if they can't carry a tune
And loved even though that is not my job

Because I do

And if any of those faces I see every day isn't there
That face will be missed

Tomorrow teaching will be on the backburner
I can teach them all of those other things next week
Tomorrow I will teach them they are loved.

Tonight I will pray for the little faces who will be scared of all they saw today, the one who has carried little faces to school every day, the families who are missing little faces, the parents who are blessed to drop little faces off at school in the morning but will do so with a heavy heart, the little faces who will be missing their friends' faces tomorrow, the teachers who will miss little faces tomorrow, for everyone whose heart is heavy for little faces tonight.

Little faces are my favorite.

***I wrote this last night when I didn't know how to feel or what to say or what to expect.  But today I watched a whole school in Chattanooga do just what I didn't think I could do.  We all looked at our kids through whole new eyes.  We all loved them in the best ways we knew how.  We all did our best to find the words.  We hugged as many as would let us.  We thanked our bus drivers for the important task that they do each morning of  bringing a large group of kiddos to a place where they can learn as much as we can teach them.  We tried to hold it together but forgave ourselves when we couldn't.  Today we were better teachers than we were yesterday.  I didn't want to get out of bed this morning.  But I am so blessed to have walked into a place full of people with hearts as heavy as mine, just as determined to love them the best way we know how.  I am grateful for every hug, tear, look of understanding, short pep talk, and vent session I was blessed with today.  I wish I had more words.  All I have left are wordless prayers.