Professionally Curious

DebateI’m walking in circles these days, dizzy spirals around the library under the rounded hangar ceiling of our school. Once in a while I’ll pause by a computer and a student, stopping to give advice or ask a question, but most often its a leisurely drift, digital eavesdropping on the eleventh-graders as they start their research projects.

My students are researching American authors in the next few weeks, looking into the backgrounds, distinctive styles and far-reaching influence of these writers. I asked them to pick someone that they either already loved or had wondered about. Like the juniors themselves, the author choices were diverse–encompassing Edgar Allan Poe and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Charles Schulz and Ralph Ellison–and we laugh at the selections hanging on the classroom wall. “These authors,” I told them, “Will become your friends. You’ll feel like you know them by the time you’re done.”

A frustrated sigh arrests my pacing.

“Um, Mrs. Gaster?” a student beckons. “I can’t really find anything about Louisa May Alcott’s influence on the world. Except, like, fan fiction. Um… did she maybe not have any influence?”

“What do you mean?” I ask, trying to avoid giving away the answer that seems so obvious to me, that Louisa May Alcott had–continues to have–an enormous influence on the world.

“Well, I can’t find anything about her,” my student sighs.

I point out a few directions she could take, exploring the film adaptations still beloved by many, or searching for recent revivals on Broadway and a web series on Youtube, then sit down to do some investigation myself.

A Google search, the simple kind that I tell my students won’t work, brings up an NPR segment and a New York Times article. Saving the segment for later, I read the article while my students tap away at their computers, getting up every few minutes to answer a new question.

“Does this site look reliable? I’m not sure if he’s really an expert.

“Um, do you know how to cite a chapter of a book that’s online? I mean, it’s a book, but it’s also online.”

“My computer… it’s just not working. Like, it starts to work. And then it just… doesn’t.”

As I told my students a few days ago, I only did one research paper entirely without the Internet, a project on Oregon in the fourth grade. The rest were Internet-aided, so I’ve walked before them through evaluating websites for reliability and citing complicated electronic resources correctly. Like them, I’m by generation a millennial, used to constant information at my fingertips, and I love it.

I didn’t always love research. Watching them, I’m remember the author that I once got to know. We never became friends, strictly, but I did have a strong feeling of compassion for Fyodor Dostoevsky, for his unhappy childhood and near-execution, author of dark romance and unfinished family drama. Predictably, I’d loved reading the books themselves, but the extra research seemed like torture then, endless hours of searching for a paltry stack of notes that hadn’t come out of my own infinite imagination. Some fifteen years or so later, I find that I’m more interested in the background of these books than I used to be, and can spend hours getting lost behind the scenes.

Perhaps this is my mind’s coming of age, in which imagination and facts finally coexist, instead of battling for my energy. Where once I’d rather spend every moment creating my own worlds, now I can’t get enough of exploring this one. I still love writing and reading fiction, but I’m finding real life just as engaging lately. This article on Little Women is fantastic, explaining why not only the first but also the second and third books in the series are worth reading in the 21st century.

Lately, “I’m not sure,” has become one of my favorite answers as a teacher. How did Emily Dickinson die? Why didn’t e.e. cummings use capital letters? Because “I’m not sure” is the beginning of a search, and the pleasure of finding out is greater than any false pride in my own expertise. I recently told a class of juniors that curiosity was one of the most important qualities they could have in school. In the end, I said, what you know is a little less important than whether or not you want to know more. There’s always more to know.

Finishing the Times article, I email it to my skeptical Alcott Scholar, as another student turns around at her desk to tell me that Steinbeck’s dog ate the first draft of Of Mice and Men.

“So he had to handwrite it all over,” she adds, stricken with sadness for this literary master. “I had to tell you that.”

There’s always more to know.

Debate 2

Gluten & Gatsby

Working on sugar cookie houses for our small group Valentine's Day party.

Working on sugar cookie houses for our small group Valentine’s Day party.

‘Tis the night before “school Valentine’s Day”–known by everyone else as Friday, or to the superstitious as Friday the 13th–and I’m baking cookies. Everyone, it seems, needs cookies tomorrow. There are some for my sixth period class, a tiny collection of eight students who managed to hold the best debate on whether Gatsby truly loved Daisy. There will also be cookies for my senior small group girls, these ones individually wrapped and stashed in mailboxes before the school day begins. And finally, there are cookies for my own household, for Timmy and for my sister, Holly and her boyfriend, Chris, who are visiting us for the weekend.

It’s been a week of baking, actually. Sunday saw the creation of seven heart-shaped pizzas and Monday several dozen cookies rectangles for the building of “sugar cookie houses” at our small group Valentine’s Day party. It’s been busy, a week that has consumed several hours and about twenty cups of flour. And I love baking, so I only mind a little.

I say a little because I’m about six weeks into my second attempt at giving up all things gluten. The first attempt was years ago, in Seattle, and I was moderately successful until I moved to Germany, land of salted soft pretzels and Bauernbrot, the crusty farm bread that comes steaming from local bakeries early each morning. I gleefully consumed wheat products for four years without much consequence, resuming my cookie and bread baking habits along the way, until December, when a variety of health problems prompted me to begin another gluten fast.

I love baking, love the experimentation and mystery of it, even love the precision required as compared to the looser standards of ordinary cooking. When I renounced wheat at the beginning of December, I knew that it would be baking bread that I missed the most. Even eating it was second to the rhythmic and meditative habit of creating it from scratch.

Heart-shaped pizza!

Heart-shaped pizza!

The first few trays of chocolate chip cookies come out the oven very nearly perfect. Golden, chewy, with their chocolate chunks molten and just barely holding their shape. I slide them onto the stove, wishing I could have one. With a sigh, I reach for the gluten-free flour and put together a small batch. They look about right, but they’re not the same, even warm and straight from the oven. They’re not perfect.

A few weeks ago, I followed a Pinterest tip regarding gluten-free Nutella braided bread, whose molten, golden whorls of chocolate looked too good to be true. It literally was too good, and my attempt ended with a sigh as I pulled the heavy, dense disaster from the oven. I wanted it to be one way, and it wasn’t.

Beginning the second semester of American Literature with a new group of students, I’m finding myself thinking again of foiled expectations and unfulfilled longing. Though Of Mice and Men is and always will be the saddest book I teach, The Great Gatsby is almost as hopeless in its tragedy. My attempts to bake perfect cookies and bread, more stubborn than stoic, mirror Jay Gatsby’s folly, not Lennie and George’s hapless disaster.

Our sugar cookie castle tower.

Our sugar cookie castle tower.

Though melodramatic to the point of silliness,  one of the greater tragedies of The Great Gatsby is its hero’s inability to form new impressions, to look wide-eyed and open-armed into an unknown future, because of a crippling obsession with the past. A man who wanted nothing less than a perfect repetition of a perfect past, Gatsby could never find a happy future. Nothing, in the end, would be as good as what he’d already experienced. And while I’ll get over the (hopefully temporary) loss of wheat products and their associated mediocre cookies, I have to be cautious about falling into nostalgic holes, not looking ahead for the delight in looking back.

I nibble on the corner of a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie, hot from the oven. It doesn’t taste the same as the others, those cookies I’ve been working on for the last twenty-five years or so. Still, it’s not bad. Honestly, how could anything made mostly of butter and chocolate taste bad? Just different. With another bite, I resolve to look ahead, to new ingredients, new homes, and whatever other newness lies ahead. After all, we’re not made for mastering just one recipe, or sailing just one horizon. There are many lives to be lived.

February: News, Thanks and Prayers

 

 

Enjoying New Years' raclette with my small group!

Enjoying New Years’ raclette with my small group!

News and Dates:

  • February 6-7: Final BFA home basketball games
  • February 9: Small group Valentine’s Day Party
  • February 12-16: Holly Dahlstrom visiting Kandern!
  • February 13: Timmy and I speaking in High School Chapel
  • February 27-March 1: High School Retreat in Switzerland
  • Timmy recently went up to Spangdahlem Air Base for his interview towards becoming a full Air Force Reserve Chaplain. He passed with flying colors, and is now awaiting final appointment to begin serving a few days a month as a reservist on base.
  • We will both be sharing in High School Chapel on February 13, speaking about love, our journey of relationship and how God continues to shape us in marriage.
  • Curriculum for February: The Great Gatsby, modern American poetry

I’m Thankful For:

  • A new semester, giving staff and students a “fresh start” in grades, attitudes, classroom procedures and goals.
  • The Great Gatsby, for delivering in lyric prose and deeply flawed characters the usual array of interesting conversations about wealth, aspiration and the nature of love.
  • Pinterest, providing a cornucopia of delicious recipes that have made my recent transition into gluten- and dairy-free life more adventurous and manageable.
  • Ceramics 3, a class I’m able to take this semester, providing time for both rewarding self-care and informal connection with students as we create masterpieces in clay.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • High School RetreatBe praying for our student body as they go to Switzerland at the end of this month, that they would be receptive to the messages they hear and eager to engage with their small groups in prayer and discussion. Pray also for safety and health as we travel together to the mountains.
  • Future Plans. Continue to pray for Timmy and I as we develop plans for our year in the States, and pray about future roles here in Kandern.

Thank you for all the many ways in which you encourage us in our ministry here, making our life in Germany possible with your prayer and financial support. If you have a prayer request or questions about life or ministry in Germany, or if you’d like to become a financial partner in our ministry, email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi & Timmy

End Zones & Time Zones

Seattle SeahawksI was seventeen the first time I watched the Super Bowl all the way through.

I’m sure it was on other years, but I could never be bothered to watch. I’d float in for the halftime show or a few commercials. The game itself felt endless, piles of people crawling across the field, lacking the precision of baseball, the speed of basketball, or the precise single-mindedness of soccer. Had I been alive during the “Heidi Bowl” of 1968, I would have cheered when the game flickered off in overtime, giving way to an actual story, for once.

But when I was a senior in high school, the New England Patriots were playing the St. Louis Rams in a pre-Katrina Superdome, with a pre-everything, second-season Tom Brady. I’d recently decided that Gordon College, just outside of Boston, held the key to my future. With this destiny in mind, I decided to watch the Super Bowl. If I was going to be a New Englander, I best start cheering for my team.

And cheer I did. I remember little of the actual game now. (Honestly, if I remembered any specific plays it would be a miracle. Even this summer’s glorious final World Cup match has become a faint and distant memory.) U2 performed the halftime show, as the names of those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks–just five months prior–scrolled on a giant screen behind them. The Patriots won, possibly in overtime.

When I came to Ballard High School the next day, where I was a copy editor for our school newspaper, I proofread the final draft of that month’s paper, and discovered a hole in the Sports section.

“Someone, write an article on the Super Bowl,” the Editor-in-Chief commanded. No response. “Didn’t anyone watch it?” Apathetic shrugs all around.

“I watched it,” I replied, breaking the silence as skeptical classmates turned to look at me.

“Really?” He raised his eyebrows, then shrugged. “OK, fine. Kristi, you write it.”

It was my first and last sports article, 200 words I’m still proud of writing. I think it is cut out somewhere, buried in a box in my parents’ garage. The first Super Bowl I cared about.

Of course, life didn’t turn out that way. A week later I visited Gordon, and a few months later I decided to stay in Seattle, picking my parents’ alma mater, Seattle Pacific University, for mostly financial reasons. I never became a Patriots fan, except in “lesser of two evils” scenarios.

I did watch more Super Bowls, though. I watched in 2005, when the Seahawks went to their first championship ever, losing to the Steelers under referee-related circumstances that my Ingraham ninth-graders wailed about loudly the next morning. After mocking my colleagues and students here in Germany for three years for the nonsense of staying up all night on a Sunday, last February I set my alarm for midnight and watched (most of) Seattle’s victory over Denver.

I still don’t love football, still find it agonizingly slow at times. I still choose sleep over watching most nights, even when, like during the NFC Championship, that proves to be a terrible decision. But a few magical times a year, football connects me with home, with family and friends, a giant cause that we all care about together. It’s just a game, of course, hardly the most critical cause in the world, but it’s something, a link of excitement to a city full of people I love.

With just about everyone in Seattle, I’ll be watching the Super Bowl again this year. And this time, I won’t be rooting for the Patriots.

Days on Days

“Snow is falling, snow on snow…”

“In the Bleak Midwinter,” Christina Rosetti

It’s been snowing for two hours in Kandern. Apparently, two hours of steady snow is all it takes to transform the town from dingy winter to snowglobe splendor. It wasn’t promising when it began, this storm, just a few errant flakes escaping the clouds to melt on the sidewalks. But now, the silent covering turns our world into a dusky blue, and an end is nowhere in sight. Beautiful.

While I’d usually seize a snowfall to go for a walk, it’s getting dark and I’m feeling tired, so I sit down to answer an email instead. The inquiry came from a former student yesterday, now in college, who is considering becoming a secondary teacher. What advice did I have? What should he consider? And how did I become a teacher in the first place?

And without a moment to gather my thoughts, I’m sitting in my parents’ dining room, biting my lip while my potential student teaching supervisor, Kristin, looks over my sparse resume.

“I have some concerns,” she said, looking up at me.

“Um, OK?”

“Your grades, for one.”

I tried to remember the exact decimal I’d put on the paper, failing to see where I could have given offense.

“I… my grades are…” I stammered.

“Really good,” she finished. “They might be too good.”

“Too good,” I repeated blankly.

“You do well in school. In the classroom, you might not do so well. You’ll fail. Things will go wrong. Often. Sometimes it will be your fault, sometimes not, but it will happen. I need to know that you can keep going anyway.”

This is what I was afraid of–most afraid of. That after all these years of wanting to be a teacher, it wouldn’t go as I expected. Or hoped. That somehow it would all fall apart. I nodded, hesitant.

That was the beginning of a long journey of grace. Grace from her, the grace she demanded that I give to myself as a novice teacher, the grace I doled out to my students and sometimes received from them. That’s what I write to my former student now. Learning to be a teacher is learning from a thousand mistakes, from the hard days, from the experiments that melt into the past like the first snowflakes on the sidewalk.

It’s always a privilege to hear from students–and news that they’re pursuing teaching is enormously exciting–but I finish the email thankful, most of all, for the chance to reflect. My students began their second semester on Monday with reflection, looking back on what they’ve learned this year and making “resolutions” for how they’d still like to grow. I asked them, as I do every few months, to consider why they’re here and why “we spend so much time reading, discussing and writing about things that never even happened.” It’s important to think, to remember the why of what we’re doing as much as the how.

It took a long time for me to become a teacher, I write. But eventually, all of those difficult days built up, and it got easier. I learned. Like anything worth doing–like starting a marriage or a family, like learning a language or to ride a bicycle–it is both extremely hard and extremely good.

As I’ve spent the year meeting with new and new-to-BFA teachers, these are the lessons that I remember. That it takes time to grow into anything, whether it’s a new vocation, a new relationship, a new home. That, in the end, sometimes it’s simply an accumulation of intentional days–days full of risk, experimentation and grace–that makes us teachers, wives, German speakers, bike riders.

The snow covers the trees, the fenceposts, the grass now, draping them all in white. The white of Gatsby’s party tent, or Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. All those snowflakes, so small alone, have fallen into seamless beauty.

The Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Walt Whitman

WhitmanThe first Monday after Christmas, my students are bent over their textbooks, reading the poetry of Walt Whitman aloud. With no explanation for who Walt Whitman was or how he liked to write, I’ve instructed them to read the selected bits of “Song of Myself”–classroom-appropriate excerpts, though still bizarre and unsettling–back and forth in pairs. When finished, they are to discuss the questions on the overhead:

  1. What stanzas are the most surprising or interesting to you? Why?
  2. What “rules” of poetry is he following? What rules is he breaking?
  3. What kind of person do you imagine him to be?

As I walk around the room, I hear rather more surprised giggles and shudders than I expected. So far it’s been a year of explaining punchlines–spending hours laying foundations for why this book or that poem is important, funny, interesting, ironic–so I’m pleased to see them engaging with something without much introduction.

When we come back together as a class, the first two questions uncover more questions than answers (Why did he write this? What does he mean by “I am the poet of a woman”? What even is poetry? Does this really count?). The third, however, provokes the most interesting images.

“If he walked in here, what would he be like?” I prompt them.

My usually reticent class of juniors erupts with hypotheses:

“He’d be smoking a cigar!”

“He’d be a… what are they called? Oh, he’d be a hippie.”

“He’d be one of those people who really care about a handshake. He’d had a good handshake, I think.”

“He’d definitely be calling everyone ‘son’ or ‘sport,’ or something.”

All this from a few stanzas of an image-rich and narcissistic 19th-century poem. It strikes me once again that teenagers get less credit than they deserve. I had a professor in college who doubted that teenagers could truly study literature (apparently forgetting that half of her students were still teenagers, and a solid third were studying to become teachers), saying with a shrug that maybe books could only be enjoyed, not truly understood by high school students.

Confession: There are days I that wonder. Days that I spend hours dreaming up how to make Hawthorne more interesting or Emerson more transparent, or planning how to introduce The Great Gatsby so that my students give it a chance. Teaching a chronological survey of American Literature, I spend the whole first quarter of each year explaining (and sometimes apologizing for) archaic language. Wouldn’t it be easier to read things they like? Books that are accessible, or poems that have helpful rhyme and easy metaphor. Surely there’s value in that, though not the value of shared tradition or intellectual challenge.

Instead, I teach Walt Whitman to young people who may not understand it, and discover for the thousandth time that understanding can take many forms. They may not be ready to write their doctoral theses on Leaves of Grass, but they know our Walt, walking through the door with a firm handshake and a genial manner.

When they’ve finished with “Song of Myself,” they begin on “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” After most of them have read the eight lines, I hear an exclamation of delight from the front of the room.

“Hey, I actually get that one! I understood a poem!”

“What’s he saying?” I ask him.

“He was in school, listening to a lecture on stars, and he got bored. So he went outside to look at the stars. It’s about, you know, experienceLiving, you know.”

I remember their imaginary friend Walt, their chorus of voices mesmerized by his odd ode to himself. I could have lectured, could have taught the poem. Instead, they read it, looking up at the stars until they understood. Or understood enough for now.

And today it’s the small epiphanies I love.

January: News, Thanks and Prayers

Kandern

News and Dates:

  • January 7: Classes resume
  • January 20-23: Semester final exams
  • January 26: Start of Semester 2
  • Curriculum for January: Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Great Gatsby, the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson

I’m Thankful For:

  • Restful holidays here in Kandern. While we missed family back in the States, Timmy and I had a great December here, enjoying our first married Christmas.
  • Snow at the end of December, a weather-related anniversary gift that turned Kandern into a magical land.
  • Greetings from home for the holidays, filling our wall with photos of friends and family, and updates from the year. Thank you for your encouragement!
  • Students safely returned to BFA from all over the world, bringing their energy, humor and vitality back to our sleepy little town.

Please Be In Prayer For:

  • New Staff. We have a handful of families who have transitioned into our community within the last few weeks. Pray that they will get settled smoothly, and for our community as we come around them with support and logistical help.
  • Health. December was a difficult month for me (Kristi) in regards to health. Pray that I will continue to heal, for patience, and for both the wisdom and the margins to make wise health decisions for the rest of the winter.
  • Future Plans. As plans for our year in the States come together, pray that we would have wisdom in how to spend our time, and for continued guidance regarding how God can use us, both here and at home.

Thank you for all the many ways in which you encourage us in our ministry here, making our life in Germany possible with your prayer and financial support. If you have a prayer request or questions about life or ministry in Germany, or if you’d like to become a financial partner in our ministry, email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

Peace in Christ,

Kristi & Timmy

Things That Made Life Better This Year: 2014 Edition

A frigid New Years’ Day, and I’m sitting by our front window, watching the sun set over the leafless hills that stand between the evergreen Black Forest and the vineyard-striped Rhine River Valley. A post-Christmas storm has left our town icy cold and snow-covered, so we’re enjoying these glowing pink and blue days before the rain starts again tomorrow. So from this quiet first day of 2015 comes a list of blessings from a much less quiet 2014.

  1. IMG_1156Marriage. Though we managed to squeeze in under the wire for 2013, this was truly our first year of the rich, transformative and companionable adventure of marriage. Thankful for the grace, laughter and truth learned in the context of sharing life with Timmy, and looking forward to seeing what journeys God takes us on next.
  2. Senior Girls. 2014 was the year of senior small groups, with six beloved girls graduating in June and a new (to me) group of seven staring in September. I feel honored beyond measure to share this important moment with these girls, and learn a great deal from their hopes, plans and desires to follow Christ into the coming seasons.
  3. GraduationGoodbyes. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,” A.A. Milne wrote in Winnie the Pooh. While every June brings goodbyes here, this one was especially poignant, bringing the departure of treasured friends and long-loved students. In the end, however, I feel the bittersweet gratefulness of having people I love and miss all over the world.
  4. Risotto. Though technically something learned earlier, risotto saw its heyday in the Gaster house this year. Part meditative metaphor and part gluten-free Italian magic, this has been a solid staple, one I anticipate enjoying forever.
  5. Reading, all kinds. While some years I focus on classics, young adult recommendations, or difficult literary pieces in my free time, this was a year of intense variety. A single train ride this summer featured books by Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy (Wildwood), Office writer Mindy Kaling (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?) and Genuine Good Writer Isak Denison (Babette’s Feast). Though not necessarily the most focus year of reading, it has certainly been amusing.
  6. KandernGermany. Since moving here in August of 2010, this is the calendar year in which I’ve spent the most time in Germany itself. With the exception of a quick trip to Seattle in October, I’ve spent most of the year nearby, enjoying pretending to be a local during World Cup season, and savoring the conflict of the moment when Germany played (and soundly destroyed) the U.S. team. More than ever, I love this well-ordered and postcard-quaint part of the world that we’re privileged to call home.
  7. SummerSpangdahlem Air Base. Though being apart is never fun, Timmy’s service as a chaplain with the Air Force this summer took him not back to the U.S. but just a few hours north, allowing for regular communication and even a weeklong visit, where I could see him in action and meet some of the wonderful people in the community there.
  8. Family. My brother and his wife opened an espresso bar called Argonaut Cafe in Leavenworth, Washington. My sister Holly is managing a Danish bakery in Seattle. My parents spent roughly 40 days hiking through the Alps this summer. To say I’m proud is the understatement of the year.
  9. Time. Though there were certainly hectic seasons, this has also been a year of time. Time to experiment with lessons, to hike with parents, to write a novel, and to mentor new teachers at BFA. I’m thankful for this gift of time, and eager to see what God does with it in the coming year.
  10. Your Support. We continue to be overwhelmed with gratitude at the provision of support–financial, spiritual and emotional–that allows us to continue in ministry here. Thank you for how you’ve transformed our lives and the lives of the students we serve!

Advent: Remaking & Imagination

This dinner is not great.

Though I like to think of myself as a decent cook, the reality is that ingredients are capricious, and I’m even more capricious about following recipes. Sometimes I do, measuring with almost-precision and using almost all of the right ingredients. On occasion, when I’m learning to do something new, I glance and a few recipes and then create some kind of amalgam of my own. Most often, I put ingredients out in a pile, and create dinner. It usually works. Tonight, it didn’t.

Tonight, we’re eating tortellini that is only partially cooked. The noodle part is plenty tender, yielding easily to uncover tough, chewy and unpleasant bits of undercooked cheese. Not even to the al dente stage–the defense of all undercookers of pasta–this is just terrible. Coating these half-jerky, half-pasta morsels is something like pesto. But really it’s more like garlic and almonds (because who wants to pay €8 for a bag of pine nuts?), with some basil added for greenness’s sake. It’s just really dry and chewy, this meal. Timmy and I eat it dutifully (with no complaints from him, to his credit, though plenty from me) and then realize that there are at least three servings more of this feast. So, great news.

I was recently talking with a colleague who lamented that she’d added too much rosemary to her stew, causing it to taste more like pine than anything else.

“And I can’t just throw it out,” she sighed. “There’s beef in that stew!”

We don’t necessarily get lots of beef here in Germany, so this is perhaps a more weighty statement in this community than it would be back home, but the sentiment stands. We don’t want to throw something away if it was valuable. A poorly-executed paper snowflake can go in the fire or recycling, but not a whole dinner. I don’t want to give up on something with ingredients so valuable.

Though not a great culinary experience, this tortellini failure is a fantastic metaphor. (Victory! Dinner: Bad. Metaphor: Priceless) I had a professor in college–in a seminar class on Milton’s Paradise Lost–who referred to the Fall as mankind’s “failure of imagination.” Specifically in Adam’s case, it was an inability to imagine his life–let alone the new-created world–without Eve eternally in it. (Yes, I used to have a class in which we would talk about a single epic poem, three times a week, for an entire quarter. College is magic, people.)  If the Fall is our failure of imagination, then I believe that this season, the advent of our Savior into the world, is the victory of imagination from our Creator. Rather than throw the freshly-made, horribly-awry creation away, He fixed it.

Of course the metaphor is flawed, like my dinner. Creation didn’t go wrong because of the creator, like my tortellini disaster, but the rebellion of the created themselves. (A closer analogy, perhaps, would be those days when an entire colony of yeast enacts a coup and refuses to rise, for no good reason at all.) Still, when my temptation is to give up and start over, God never went that way. The story Scripture offers, the story that comes to its climactic height with the resurrection, is one of remaking, recreating. The season of Advent reminds me that–like the beef in my friend’s stew or the tortellini that I would later toss into the oven with some extra water–we are valuable, precious, not to be thrown away or “started over.” And that, as we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth, is incredibly good news.

Dream Job

IMG_1918.JPGFuture Math Teacher meets me in my office after school. She and a partner are cooking dinner for Timmy and me tonight, a project for their Independent Living (once called “Home Economics”) class. From here, we’re going to shop for the evening at both of Kandern’s grocery stores, then home so that they can prepare the feast. I pack my bag and look up at her distractedly, asking how her day was.

“Amazing!” she squeals.

“Why amazing?” With only seven more class days until Christmas, we’re all a bit tired, and mostly feel less than amazing.

“I taught math today!”

“You taught math?”

“Yes!” she says delightedly. “Today was the day.”

“Oh right, your Christmas wish,” I remember, recalling the announcement at Banquet a few weeks ago. Several students wished to teach classes for the day. She’d asked to teach Algebra 2. As we walk to the store, she is still gushing over the day.

“I can’t believe I have to wait five whole years to do that again. I can’t wait!”

That was me. Thirteen years ago.

I always wanted to be a teacher. When we played school, I was at the front of the class by my miniature easel chalkboard, and throughout my home schooled years, from Kindergarten through sixth grade, I would pine over the classrooms that I wasn’t seeing, contenting myself with literary heroes in Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jo March.

I was the high school kid, like Future Math Teacher, who knew what she wanted, and rather resented college for getting in the way. While some English majors enter education as a resigned afterthought, several years after graduating in a less-than-lucrative field, this was always my intention. I wavered–from 2004 to 2008 I lost some of my childhood vocational confidence–but essentially I’m doing, today, what I always wanted to be doing.

A few weeks ago, my colleague, Poetry Teacher, invited me to a reading in her class. The students read their pieces, all designed specifically for spoken word poetry, and then offered us teachers the chance to perform. I read something, humbled by their preparation and my lack of it, and then Poetry Teacher shared her work. A poem about dreams, how some come true at the exact moments that others are set aside. As class ended, we chatted about how teachers seem to always have another dream, even ones that love their work. To travel the world. To write the Great American Novel. To win the Big Race. To live in a forest, making cheese, spinning wool and dispensing wisdom to passersby.

Spoon-fed Disney life lessons from an early age, our generation is obsessed with dreams. Having them, chasing them, seizing and loving them. There is always just one dream, and if you don’t have it–or worse, choose leave it behind–you’re breaking the one rule: Be True To Yourself. As someone with both fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams, I say this is nonsense. Life is long and varied. Some of the dreams I clung to the most fiercely were the ones that I needed to let go of, while God has led me toward goals that I’d never have even imagined. Dreams are just a starting point, a suggestion list.

Now I’m sitting on the couch in living room, listening to Christmas music and the sounds of two high school seniors learning to cook in my kitchen. One minute, they’re arguing about how to use a salad spinner, and the next turning on Christmas music to ease the tension. There are other dreams, of course. But for today, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this one.