Here are a few more months from a quiz I gave the same Iraqi couple today. Unfortunately, this was after reviewing and practicing months for about half of today’s class.










Well, I’ve never claimed to have my teaching methods perfected, and this creative spelling problem calls for a little creativity of my own.  Your ideas are welcome!


The sudden and long-anticipated onset of spring has awoken a long-dormant desire to walk outside every chance I have, and I indulged the urge again this evening and drove to a nearby forest preserve with a nice walking path.

I fell in love with this little piece of nature the very first time I found it, between afternoon and night classes last year, with a couple chicken tacos from Jalisco’s.  It has the largest, steepest hill I have ever seen in the midwest, which isn’t spoiled even by the fact that I’m sure it’s just the pile of dirt they dug up to make the lake it accompanies.  There is one lone, perfectly proportioned tree atop the wonderful mound, and at the foot of the tree, a rock large enough to give you a feeling of satisfaction when you’ve managed to climb onto it.  If you sit on this rock, you are plainly visible from nearly any point along the gravel path that encircles the lake–I know because the whole time I was walking, my eyes continued to wander back to that mystical rock beneath the lone tree atop the marvelous hill.

The sun had just sunk below the horizon, turning the sky, the lake, and the light falling on everything a golden pink. The thistles, milkweed and pampass grasses along the shore were each strikingly outlined against the backdrop of the quiet water.  Ducks floated in couples, making an occasional quack that echoed in the stillness and geese glided indifferently along close by.

I walked through a grove of trees where a flock of a thousand or so starlings were singing at the top of their lungs, and then a marsh where not quite as many frogs were doing their best to compete.

The walking path ended in several feet of water, so I turned around in time to see a dark, furry body waddling hurriedly toward the lake.  As he slipped into the water and swam away, I saw his heavy, flat tail that gave away his identity. 

“Aha!  So it’s Mr. Beaver!” I said aloud in delight.  The fact that a beaver sighting evoked such gleeful emotions did not strike me as dorky until just now as I write this.

As I followed the path winding back toward the tree-topped hill, the colors around me gradually becoming more dusky and muted, I felt like I was walking along inside a painting– part of a breathtaking work of art.  I then realized how starved my soul must have been for a little time alone, soaking in the beauty of God’s creation.  It’s been quite awhile.  My senses couldn’t contain the depth of feeling awakened by this simple walk along a gravel path beside a man made lake.

I guess this means I’ll be making more time for important things like lakes and hills and trees and rocks and ducks and beavers and walks at sunset.

I should be sleeping because it’s nine minutes til midnight, but instead I’m looking over students’ dictations from today seeing who knows how to spell months of the year and who doesn’t. 

The funny thing is, at least 50% of the papers have No Cheating followed by three exclamation points printed neatly at the top of the page with their name.  That would be because I get so tired of telling them every time and no one paying any attention, that I decided to write it on the board for extra emphasis.  My attempt to impress upon them the importance of honesty didn’t work, since one student copied his classmate’s paper, name and all. 

Here are some creative renditions of the spelling of the months from my newest students, a very sweet Iraqi couple.  At least I know they didn’t cheat.  I’ll let you figure out the translations, it’s great fun.






Here’s to a job that never lacks its own entertainment. . . .

Let me tell you how much fun it is to teach refugees how to drive when you’re not too concerned about getting your car scratched up a little bit.  I was a little concerned about innocent pedestrians, and about impatient drivers behind us as my car inched forward at a speed that would barely allow one car to get through the green light, and I was amazed thinking that pretty much anyone can learn how to drive, given enough practice.

One of my students commented to me on Wednesday after class that she needed more driving practice so she could get her license, and without a second thought, I said, “Why don’t we drive around a little bit tomorrow?  I can help you.”  Her eyes sparkled, and she said, “Really?!  Yes!”  The word quickly circulated, and soon I had a carload of students signed up for the driving lesson the following afternoon after class.

Thursday afternoon produced a lovely spring thunderstorm, and after valiently eating my way (nearly) through an enormous mound of rice with delicious Nepali toppings at one student’s apartment, we all ran through the pouring rain to my car.

The first girl to drive had already driven enough to acquire an inflated and unmerited confidence in her abilities.  She insisted on using both feet, left on the brake and right on the gas, and no matter how much I told her that you can’t drive that way, she assured me that it was the way that she liked best.  She drove fairly well, except for her habit of gaining on cars ahead of her with an alarming (to me) lack of concern.

The second girl to take the wheel had just gotten her permit that very morning, and it was the first time she had ever driven.  I should have been much more afraid than I was.  We were in a fairly empty part of the Wal-Mart parking lot, which I mistakenly thought wouldn’t be too difficult for her to navigate.  I forgot how cars and people always come out of nowhere in parking lots.  I spent most of her turn grabbing the wheel and turning us out of danger and saying “Slowly, Slowly. STOP! STOP! Ok, go. Go. GO!  Now stop. STOP!”  At one point, the car was making a strange noise and I saw that she was applying the gas and brake at the same time, one with each foot.  I put the car in park and gave a long and detailed lesson, acting out how to brake and accelerate with THE RIGHT FOOT ONLY.

When my nerves couldn’t take any more, I said, “Okay!  Great job!  That’s enough for today!”  Then the last student took over, whose only driving experience consisted of driving a forklift.  Thankfully, a forklift isn’t that different from a car.  He drove like a pro, and even parallel parked the car perfectly on the first try.  The first driver then wanted to practice parallel parking, too.

At this point, the rain was pouring down and all the windows were all fogged over, and the only place we had found to parallel park happened to be a street with steady traffic, two spots ahead of a parked police car.  It took her about four tries, but we all breathed a collective sigh of happy relief when she finally got the car backed into the spot and we headed back to their apartment building.

I gratefully got back into the driver’s seat and drove home after saying goodbye and promising to take them out for another driving lesson next week.  Despite the fresh memory of fried nerves and tense muscles, I’m already anticipating that next driving lesson!

The light was perfect this afternoon at about 4:00 and I drove around town taking pictures of some of the buildings I want to photograph every time I see them (especially the Skirts of Israel Church!)  Check them out here. . .

snow sculpture, originally uploaded by mi.ventana.

stop, originally uploaded by mi.ventana.

I’ve discovered the exciting new pastime of “photography while driving” and this is one of the happy results. Take a picture of a stop sign and it has no artistic appeal, but take a picture from the dirty side of your winshield while you’re stopped at this stop sign, and, voila! It also makes the activity of taking pictures much more exciting as you have to look around for your subject as you’re driving, and set up the photo and capture it before another car gets in your way, or someone gets mad at you for driving slow. Try it!

(Disclaimer: The author takes no responsibility for accidents or tickets which may occur as a result of abuse of this hobby, or inability of driver/photographer to safely multitask.)