Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why do I love to cook?

When I hear someone say she hates to cook, my response is similar to the reaction to hearing someone hates to read – somewhat akin to horror. I have loved to cook for most of my life. I remember taking over the cooking of my morning egg as a kid at home, because Mom over cooked it. I wanted the white cooked, but the yellow still runny enough to dip my toast in. I do not remember a time I could not cook pancakes from scratch without a recipe, a skill that impresses my grandchildren today. The same goes for cornbread. My dad ate it every day, so I learned to cook it just the way he liked it. I measured the baking powder on a fork, no need for a measuring spoon.
After I married Blaine, I joined the family of an outstanding cook, my mother-in-law Elaine. She made fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy almost every Sunday. She taught me how to cut up a chicken. She also baked bread from a yeast starter she had kept alive since Blaine was a baby, a tradition I am maintaining. Every time I put my yeast out to set, I think of her and the years of “Mama Bread” she baked for her family.
As a young mother, I baked a sweet treat almost daily. I greeted the children at the door after school with a plate of cookies or brownies and wanted to hear all about their day. We also had fun times cooked together, mixing Blonde Brownies, Aunt Rosene’s Saucepan Brownies, or my friend Beth’s Soft Sugar Cookies, all of which were best eaten warm from the oven.
Since I am on Christmas break from school, today I cooked a turkey breast, mashed potatoes, and dumplings. The dumplings were made from a recipe in the Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbook I bought when I took my daughters to visit her home several years ago. As I mixed them up, I revisited memories of reading the Little House books to my kids, and the overwhelming emotion that gripped me as I entered Laura and Almanzo’s house in Mansfield, MO.
Blaine and I filled our plates and tucked our feet under the old oak pedestal table we inherited that belonged to his mother, and before that, his grandmother. This table is the one we gathered around to eat Elaine’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes and homemade bread, all slathered with gravy.
Later, as I washed the pots and pans, I thought again about why I love to cook. I believe I finally discovered the answer. For me, cooking is all mixed up with love.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Number 34 on my Bucket List was to go parasailing. I shared that with my 14-year-old grandson, Lance, who said he would like to go, too. "We'll do it," I declared. "Let's go parasailing this summer!" The opportunity presented itself when I had a workshop to go to at Tan-Tar-A, and Lance had no ballgames for three days. It was providence! We decided to go for it the first afternoon we arrived. I grew more nervous with each passing hour, but I was determined to fly.

When we arrived at the boat dock, I grilled the captain about his experience. He assured me he had been taking people out for years without an accident, so into the boat and out into the open water we went. Another question I had was, " we get a life jacket?...'cause I can't swim." Of course, we did. We were strapped into the harness, and his assistants put out the red and white parasail. "Have a good trip!" the captain said.

I squealed as we rose up. Higher and higher we went, until we were drifting along, over 400 feet up into the gorgeous blue sky.

It was so quiet up there. I felt like a bird gliding on the air. When I looked down at the boat below, it appeared to be about four inches long, so I chose to look at the million dollar houses perched on edge of the rocks and the sparkling water in the distance instead.

As I clung tightly to the straps holding me up, Lance pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and was snapping pictures. "Don't drop it!" I said. I finally became brave enough to release one hand long enough to wave for the camera.

After a good ten-minute ride, the crew began reeling us back into the boat. Lance and I could not stop grinning. "That was stinkin' awesome!" he exclaimed. I could not have said it better. I kept telling Lance I was glad he went with me. It made the experience even more special to share it with my grandson. It was an amazing experience...almost indescribable with common words.

Maybe the pictures will help you see what I am having trouble saying.... I think Lance said it best, "It was stinkin' awesome!"

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why do I teach?

I once read a teacher's coffee mug that stated: "There are three reasons I teach...June, July, and August." I thought of that yesterday, my first official day of summer vacation. Having summers off is a glorious experience....those long, carefree days stretching out in front of me like a shimmering mirage, but those who know me well know why I teach.
I don't remember a time when I did not want to be a teacher. I remember telling my 6th Grade classmates I wanted to be an English teacher. Their response was, "E-e-w!" accompanied by a wrinkled up nose, as if they had just caught a whiff of a skunk. When I finally reached that goal (at the age of 40), I was deliriously happy. I have loved every one of the 14 years since then.
Before school was out this summer, my Juniors had a book signing party. I had assigned a ten-page book detailing various topics, such as their favorite writing assignment, funniest incident, hair and clothing styles, etc. We then passed the books around and they wrote in them, so they could share their junior year memories and good wishes for each other. I passed around some papers for the students to sign for me. Here are a few of the responses from these 17-year-old young adults:
"Mrs. Harvey, I hate writing with a passion and you make me do a lot of work, but it's ok because you are a good teacher and I learned a lot from you."
"I love the way you teach and our assignments are fun. I'm looking forward to next year!"
"Not sure how you did it, but you turned some of my most hated classes into some of my favorites. I've enjoyed all of the compliments you give on my assignments. It's nice to hear them when they come so seldom."
"You always encouraged me to do my best and I have felt that you will always be there for me. Thank you for that!"
"I wish everyone taught the way you do."
"You have always been there to explain something when I didn't catch on. Thank you for that."
"I really love the way you don't let us talk bad about each other. We were bad about that. Thank you."
"I am glad I could express my love for writing music. It's cool that you like your students."
While I am going to thoroughly enjoy my summer vacation, that is not why I teach. I teach for the reasons listed above.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I love spring! It is my favorite season of the year. I love the soft breeze and fresh green grass after the cold, harsh months and and endless sea of white and brown. Every year I think I will notice the exact day the grass in the yard turns green, but I miss it. One day, I look around and notice the yard and pasture glowing as vibrantly green as a four-leaf clover. Today, as I was pulling the dead stalks of flowers that I should have taken care of last fall out of the flower bed, I noticed them! Two yellow crocuses blooming by a flower pot. Hallelujah! I thanked God for this day and for bringing the promise of spring to me in the form of green grass and yellow crocuses. I love spring!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dance Routine Video

I survived the dance routine. We had so much fun! I will let the video speak for itself. Click on the youtube link if you would like to see it. I am the one with the pigtails if you can't tell.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dance Routine

I am going to perform in front of the entire school with six teenagers in a dance routine for a pep assembly next week for standardized testing. It is hard to explain, but we are going to have different words on the fronts and backs of our t-shirts and we spin and twirl around to spell out sentences to the techno tune, "Daft Bodies." The plan is for me to do "The Pony" and twirl around. I will also do some Breakfast Club dance moves, as well as Stomp the Yard. We are doing a wave and sending it back. I was jumping around in circles, until I practiced in front of the mirror. I told my students that for a couple of reasons, I was not going to jump anymore, but would instead just turn. They laughed. This is a little out of my comfort zone, but I am going for it. How many more chances could I possibly have to be in a dance routine? I will tell you how it goes, and possibly post a video or pictures for proof.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


I went for a walk outside today after being cooped up so long this winter. Lately, I just dash to my Jeep, and go where I must, hunched over, fighting the biting cold. Today there is a softness to the air that says, "Spring" to me. I walked by the smooth, snowy area which will become Blaine's abundant garden and bales of hay wrapped up in the blazing heat of summer, but which now look like cupcakes slathered with white frosting. I even walked past the junk ditch and grew nostalgic thinking of the discarded dreams resting there; two faded, old trucks which had once been shiny and new, metal lawn chairs that had rested on a front porch, and remnants of a little shed I helped Blaine build from recycled materials. We were so proud of it at the time, but we have fancier, much larger sheds now. I thought about discarded dreams, as well as dreams that came true beyond our imagination as I looked at the snowy pastures surrounding me and the towering pine trees we planted from tiny seedlings. "Embrace the day," they whispered to me. I walked and I thought, and I thought and I walked. Then it occurred to me, 'I should write a blog'....and so here it is.

Friday, February 12, 2010

You Can't Beat That With Roses

Last night I stayed after school for my first Young Author's Club meeting, then tutored a young man for another hour, so I did not get home until 5:30. I smelled the smoky barbecue aroma as I pulled into the garage. As I walked to the house, I was surprised to see my husband sitting in the hot tub. "Are you getting in?" he asked.
"Sure!" was my reply. Grilled pork sirloin chops and vegetables were keeping warm on the wood stove. I dashed out of the house in my swim suit and terry cloth robe, and sank into the 101 degree hot tub with my hubby. Snow flakes drifted down around us.
Today is Valentine's Day. Some teachers received roses. I didn't, but do you think I care? No, I just smiled, and remembered the luxury of coming home to a hot meal, a hot tub, and yes, I'll say it, a hot man. You can't beat that with roses!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Outdoor Leadership Experience

“I’m not much of a risk taker.” This was the quote that my new friend, Craig, recorded me saying in his journal at the Outdoor Leadership Academy I participated in last October. He shared it with me at our recent reunion at Osage Beach. The Outdoor Leadership Experience will always be among the high points in my life. I knew that we would have the opportunity to rock climb, rappel, and hike through the woods for hours. I was just getting over some kind of nasty virus, and felt kind of weak. Numerous worries plagued me. What if I held my group back, because most of them were younger than me? I worried that I would need to use the bathroom, and there would not be a tree wide enough for me to hide behind. On our first night, we met to discuss the next few days. We were encouraged to ask questions. An extremely well-groomed woman from St. Louis asked, “Where are the bathrooms?”

“Behind a tree,” was the answer.

“No, I mean for the ladies,” she drawled.

“Behind a lady tree,” our leader answered.

We discovered we were to be one of the first groups to rock climb and rappel in the morning. We trudged through the rain to our unheated cabins, took showers in a bathroom with cement floors that made our feet dirtier than they were when we went in, and snuggled into sleeping bags and blankets for our first night’s sleep. We awoke early, ate a hearty breakfast, and loaded in the van to go to the rocks. There, a group of young men explained the equipment, procedures…and passed around the paper that we signed to say we would not sue, even in the case of death. I was strapped into a harness to rock climb first. When I was halfway up the rock, my legs began to shake, and I said I wanted to come down. I was encouraged by my teammates and the rock climbing expert to press ahead. “You are almost there,” they yelled up at me. So I gritted my teeth and climbed on. I made it to the top!

Next came the rappelling experience. My stomach flip-flopped as I looked down the ledge. “Lean back as far as you can, put your feet apart and hop,” said the expert, who held the other end of the rope in case I fell. The first hop was the hardest. Especially since I heard that another man on our team, Henry, an ex-Army man, who went all out, had straddled a tree on his way down! My main concern was that I had to rely on myself to hold the rope. I was afraid I was not strong enough to hold my own body strength. Taking a deep breath, I hopped. Hey! Maybe I can do this! I continued hopping down to the ground. “Belay off,” I called. I still do not know what that means, but it is at that point they let the rope go. Woo-hoo! I survived! We spent the afternoon day doing team building challenges, reflecting in our journals, and preparing our required skit for the evening. I volunteered to sing “I Will Survive” with my group members as backup singers. We laughed at the skits, then were moved to tears when members shared their private thoughts on “the stump” in front of the fire.

The next morning we set off for our orienteering experience. Various flags were hidden in the Ozark woods, and we were trained to read a compass and plot the direction of the flags. Our expert outdoorsman “Sparky” also addressed the bathroom issue by demonstrating how to dig a hole by a tree, lean against it, and…well, I will leave the rest to your imagination. (My new-found friend Craig was the designated shovel carrier, and delighted in asking us if we needed the shovel when we tried to head unobtrusively for a tree.) Our mission was to take turns leading our crew through the woods. We piled in a van and were dropped off at the designated area. We were fortunate to have a beautiful, mild fall day for our hike. I came to appreciate my group members. Craig and Dave, true gentlemen who gave us a hand across creeks, Jennifer and Andrea, who thrived on being leaders, Mary, always sweet and encouraging, Kim, my Macon friend who looked out after me, Shantel, our designated “Raccoon Circle” caller when we needed to regroup, Holly, who always had a smile and was quietly confident, Parisa, the down-to-earth principal who collected an armadillo shell in a bag and carried it miles to take back to show her students. We were led by our facilitators Carol and Mel, who repeatedly told us we were the best group they ever had!

We trekked up and down hills, through the woods, across creeks, and through pine trees. We stopped and built a fire to cook a meal, then pushed on to cross the lake before dark. When darkness fell, it was more difficult to go through the woods, but it was my favorite of all the experiences. Sparky told us the best way to navigate was to send someone ahead to go several feet, then turn and shine a flashlight back for the others. Whoever was reading the compass would shout out, “To the left,” or “A little more to the right.” When the scout was in the correct spot, they would come toward the light. David and I volunteered to go ahead in the dark and “blaze the trail.” I loved it. Sparky highly complimented me later when he asked me, “Where did that crazy pioneer woman come from?” I had one moment of uncertainty. I climbed a steep hill, crawling on my hands and knees. When I arrived at the top, I turned off my light for a while to conserve the battery. I quavered, “Sparky, are there mountain lions around here?” No response. My teammates climbed toward me, and we found the spot where we were to eat our evening meal. As my friends and I headed for a private spot in the trees together, Craig generously asked us if we needed the shovel. We politely declined by yelling at him to direct his flashlight in another direction! We made it back to camp, singing loudly in case anyone else dared to sleep, at about 11:30 p.m. We headed to the kitchen to wash our campfire dishes, stumbled back to our cabins for showers and sleep.
When we said goodbye on our last day, I could not help but cry. These people became my friends for life through this experience. I learned to value the strengths of others, as well as my own. I built self-confidence. If I can scale rocks, rappel down them, and trudge through the woods for 12 hours, I can do anything. More importantly, I learned the importance of building strength in others. It is amazing how a few words of honest, heartfelt encouragement can motivate someone to go farther, climb higher, or solve a problem by looking at it in a different way. I know it worked for me. I can only aspire to pass that gift on to others in my life.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Fog Has Lifted

Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

When I looked out the window this morning, my first inclination was to whine, “Oh…it’s foggy again. I need some sunshine.” Then I watched CNN. I saw video footage of bodies piled in the streets after the massive earthquake in Haiti. The estimation is now that at least 100,000 people have died. The survivors desperately need food, water, medical supplies. I heard about surgeries being performed without anesthesia. Not minor surgeries… amputations. I heard about doctors, fearing for their safety, who left their patients due to threats of violence. Dr. Gupta and the TV crew treated those people through the night. He said these conditions had not existed since the Civil War. I saw a baby being pulled from the rubble after days of being trapped. What impressed me most was the church service being conducted on this Sunday morning. People with their hands raised in the air, praying, crying, giving thanks they have survived. The minister told them they had been saved for some great purpose in their lives. Haven’t we all? Do we pursue that purpose with the passion that we should? Do we give thanks enough for the abundant blessings we possess?
I look out my window at the fog-kissed farm fields and thank God for my blessings. The fog has lifted from my selfish mind.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Resolution

I have been thinking about what I want to resolve this New Year 2010. I even Googled the top ten list of resolutions. There were the obvious ones I always pick, exercise more regularly, lose weight, eat more healthy foods, but I want to be different this year. So one resolution I am going to make is to allow myself to write more without thinking it has to be perfect. As an English teacher, I always think everything I write should be perfect, and, of course, while I will always strive for grammatical and mechanical accuracy, but I am letting the fear of not being perfect hold me back from expressing myself. I read my talented fellow bloggers' posts, and I feel that I must strive for those lofty combination of words that tug at my heart and bring tears to my eyes or make me laugh. If I were making my teacher comments on them, I would write "this flows well" and "you captured that emotion perfectly". I let myself be stifled by a fear of not being perfect like all of you. I am setting myself free of that expectation this year. If I want to write a few lines about nothing in particular, then I am going to do it! Being a writer means writing! The courage to put pen to paper. Work on volume and value will come along with it. Write on!

My second resolution is to not worry so much. I have wasted years of my life worrying about my family, friends, and students. Worrying does not help anyone, and it actually hurts the health of the person doing it. Most of what I worried about never came to pass. I read a magnet stuck to a computer recently that said, "Worry about nothing. Pray about everything." I am reading Joel Osteen's It's Your Time, and it is inspiring me to think positively that great things are possible if I am open to them. Instead of worrying about something which may never happen, I am working on changing the negative messages to positive ones. This is easier said than done, but I am working hard to consciously put on my mental brakes when worry creeps in and say, "Stop it. Go away. You are wasting my time." Then I replace the negative thought with a positive one.

My third resolution is to live in the moment. Appreciate my blessings. Spend time with those I love. Make memories. The recent deaths of young men in their 40s in our community prove there is no guarantee of a tomorrow, so make today count for something. I am going to savor every experience that comes my way.

Well, there you have it. I have written down my resolutions and shared them with my friends and family, which is supposed to increase my chances of being successful in keeping them. I will keep you posted on how it goes. And, oh, yeah, I want to exercise more, eat more veggies, and lose weight, too.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Reaching for the Phone

Celebrating Christmas without loved ones who have passed on is no easy task. This year marks the first without my father. I miss him terribly, often thinking of tidbits of news I would like to share with him. I remember having a conversation with my “second mother,” Virginia Grubbs, on this topic.
“Oh, you don’t know how many times I reached for the phone to call my mother after she passed away,” she said. I found comfort in that when my hand was inches from the phone after my mother passed away. I had thought of a recipe I needed and I actually walk toward the phone to call her. I shared this with my sister-in-law after her mother’s death. She is several years younger than me and gave me her, “Yeah, but you are old and senile” look. Later, she admitted I was right. She, too, had reached for the phone to call her mother. Yesterday, as I drove along in my Jeep, I found myself missing Daddy in a wave that washed over me without warning. There were some family updates I wanted to tell him, so I decided to talk to him anyway.
“Lance's hens laid their first egg, Daddy, and Kevin said he really likes your old car. He drove for a week on $15! You always said it got good gas mileage, but were afraid to brag. Blaine and I went out and cut down a real cedar tree this year. It made me think of Christmases on the farm when I was growing up. I miss you and Mom. I love you.”
Somehow, I felt better sharing that with him. No, I didn’t actually reach for the phone, but I would like to think he heard me anyway.