Posts Tagged ‘church’

Why I love third graders

I recently informed my new third grade Bible class students that I have taught the third grade at our church since Swimmer Girl was their age. Which means this is my tenth year teaching third grade. Which also means I was teaching this class since before these students were born.  Whoa.

I’d like to think that fact impressed them, but I suspect some of them were doing some sketchy mental math and concluding that means I’m REALLY old.

My age aside, I am firmly convinced that third grade is really and truly great.

Third grade is the Best. Grade. Ever.

Not convinced? Consider these criteria:

  • They are old enough to grasp some fairly complex ideas and facts and young enough to have fun doing it.
  • They are mature enough to get through class without a bathroom break.  If they do need a break, they can go unaccompanied. ( That is HUGE for a teacher – can I get an Amen?)
  • They are big enough to play challenging games, but they are still shorter than me.
  • They are willing learners, and when all else fails, they can be bribed with Jolly Ranchers and Oriental Trading trinkets.
  • They bring their teacher sweet gifts at Christmas-time. They ooh and ahh when I give them their own Christmas mug with homemade marshmallows.  We all believe in Santa and we all pray for snow and snow days.

We are like peas and carrots, my third graders and I.

During our time together, they let me into their world by telling me about their sports or academic accomplishments.  I tell them about my dog and my family. We talk smack about our favorite college and pro teams. (Football is a fabulous time of year.)  Each class writes a story on my heart that remains long after they move on. Best of all, “my”girls greet me with hugs for years after they are in my class.  The boys grin and wave “hey” when we cross paths, even when they enter middle and high school. My ego would like to think  it’s because I’m an awesome teacher, but I know it’s because they are awesome kids.

Even though third grade was arguably a challenging year for me growing up, it’s the age I seem to be at ease with now. (Which could be the Santa factor…)  But whatever it is, I adore watching them begin that awkward transition between young child and tweener – they are my pride and joy, and every year I say I’ve got the best class ever, because they are.

Of course, this is Week 3 of the fall quarter.  By spring, I might be marking off  the days until promotion Sunday rolls around.


Here’s hoping that for every class, there is a teacher who thinks their students are the bees’ knees and and that he or she has the absolute best grade ever.

Happy teaching,

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Life interrupted (?)

If life is like a river, then I’ve been furiously paddling some rapids for the past several weeks.  Yes, I consciously chose the rapids, so I have no one to blame but myself.  But Summer 2012 was definitely not a “lazy river” float trip.  Whew.

A week or so ago, a friend of mine pinned this on her board, and I repinned it to mine.  It keeps running through my head – am I busier than God intended me to be?  Part of me loves living at a pace that is non-stop, with every day crammed chock-full of generating good ideas and executing projects to completion.

Case in point:

  • Our summer-long SBV is winding down and wrapping up in the next few days.
  • Our fourth annual school supply giveaway started out with a goal of helping 300 children and when we closed our doors a few minutes after noon on August 4, we had equipped over 400 children with supplies to head back to school.
  • I’ve been working with our church staff  one day a week, in addition to my normal work schedule.

In the midst of all that, Swimmer Girl had her last first day of school. She turned 17 without much fanfare or hoopla.

Our beloved pooch – a lazy beast to begin with – became more lethargic day by day this summer. Finally the symptoms worsened  and I took her to the vet last week, to find out she had colitis; an inflamed colon typically caused by a) dietary change, b) eating something that made her ill, or c) stress.  With her history, we’re gonna go with “c” on that one.  Things seem to have righted themselves in her world, thanks to a hefty round of anti-inflammatory meds. She’s perkier and more active than she has been in a while.  I wish I had noticed the onset of symptoms earlier but in my hustle and bustle, I chalked it up to her age and the “dog days” of summer.  Bad me.

For better or worse, my life’s pace has quickened, at least for now.  I am ever mindful of the pitfalls of “busy-ness” and so I’m determined to balance things to make sure I’m running my life and not the other way around.   My family will be relieved when I demonstrate that I do remember how to cook and clean better than the “lick and a promise” approach I’ve employed during the past couple months.

The good news is fall seems to be coming early:  we’ve slept with windows open the past several nights – unheard of in August in the south.  Maybe this is nature’s way of apologizing for jumping the gun on summer back in April.  Whether it means an extra-long fall or an extra-long winter, who knows? But at this point I’ll take either one.

Here’s to a life full of good things, including time to be still in the midst of it all.

Happy Thursday,

P.S. Watch for a recipe-of-the-week to appear next week; some things ARE returning to  normal!


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Our church promotes our school-age classes at the beginning of June each year.  Simultaneously we launch an all-summer rotational VBS-style program for our Kindergarten through 5th graders.  This is our third year to offer our “Summer Bible Vacation” series, and my third year to take the lead role in coordinating it. All of it. From January to June, a team meets and develops the lessons for each rotation (arts, story, movie, singing, games and  history).  I recruit teachers and guides and hold work days to build sets and prepare for it.  Finally, in late May, we black out our classrooms and transform six rooms into an art studio, bookstore, movie theater, radio station, arcade/game show set and museum/discovery center.

It is like a hurricane: a whirlwind of activity that starts out slow and picks up speed and intensity as you get pulled in deeper.  By the time we launch, I have lived-and-breathed-and dreamed all the minutiae and details imaginable.  Juggling last minute personnel changes, creating and acquiring specified props, costumes and supplies, making sure kids have guides, guides have rosters, the DVD players work, and popcorn bags are on hand and ready.  Got a question?  I willingly put myself in the role of “go-to-girl.”  Why do I do it?  Mainly because it’s fun and gratifying.  I have dim but fun memories of VBS as a kid, and I’m passionate about the importance of grabbing kids’ hearts and minds while they are willing and eager learners, and helping them develop an unshakable faith that God is, was and always will be, and that He has always had this amazing plan that includes each of us.  And so I pour myself into this effort.  In return I get a huge reward from seeing a few words scribbled on paper come to life in the eyes of many talented and creative individuals who volunteer to help.  And hearing kids beg their parents to bring them back for the next lesson.

Unsurprisingly, it is equal parts exhilaration and exhaustion.   The laundry, cooking and cleaning fairy tend to get less reliable as we get closer to the kickoff (lack of supervision, I’m sure); they flat-out go AWOL the last week or two of May.  They reappear in early June, as does my creative muse.

Speaking of which, this coming week I have plans that don’t involve acrylic paint, hot glue guns or construction paper.  These plans entail some TLC work on our front porch seating, sprucing up the back deck patio set and/or painting the upstairs bathroom and adding some storage.  (These are all high-priority projects, so prioritizing them is my first order of business.)  I’m also looking forward to figuring out how to display some new (vintage) Fiestaware I snagged while we were in Oklahoma.  So stay tuned…good things are coming this summer.

But before that starts, I gave myself Sunday afternoon off to do nothing more energetic than water the front plants.  After we got everything launched yesterday morning, it was time for quiet rest for every man and beast in our family.  And I have the pictures to prove it.

It was a much-needed afternoon to do nothing, guilt-free.  I hope your Sunday was just what you needed, too – whether highly productive or laid back and quiet…or even downright lazy.  (And for those of you who know I try to make our Sundays a day of rest from consumerism, I *almost* succeeded.  We needed hamburgers to grill out…and I didn’t realize it until late Saturday night.  So I made a quick pass through Kroger and a promise to myself to plan better for next week.)
Happy Monday,

P.S., This morning the Pirtle family is preparing to welcome a new baby/grandbaby into this world.  I send my prayers for a safe and easy delivery for mom and baby and congratulations to dad, grandparents, aunts and a super-cute new big sister.

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Day of Rest: Week 2

We successfully avoided another Sunday of consumer-driven activities.  It was a close shave:  Mr. Official made tentative plans to attend the Titan’s game, but he changed his mind at the last minute.

Would I have counted that as a consumer activity?  I guess so, but I can’t muster much sympathy for professional athletes working nights and weekends, all things considered. They do refer to what they do as “playing” a game, right?

I also had to make sure I had everything on hand to feed 30 +/- teenagers Sunday night.  I thought I had all my bases covered on Saturday, but I failed to check my inventory of disposable dinner plates.  So some of the guys (who were polite enough to make up the end of the line) had to use smaller plates.  Sorry, fellas! )

In other news, I managed to whittle down my weekly grocery dashes from the average of five (or more) trips per week. (I know…it’s embarrassing to admit I am that disorganized most weeks, but it’s the truth.)

The ultimate goal is to make just one trip per week, but that’s going to take some serious behavior modification for me.  Last week was a three-trip week, and each trip was very focused:

1. Monday morning to get that all-important cream for my coffee, plus the bulk of the weekly groceries.
2. Thursday to snag some mushrooms for soup (really thought I had a can on hand, but I didn’t, and the soup definitely needed them.)
3. Saturday’s trip to stock up for Sunday night.

This week, I’m vowing to not let my shadow darken the grocer’s doorstep more than twice. Gulp. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

So what did we eat on Sunday since we didn’t eat out? Sunday lunch was humble tunafish sandwiches; Sunday supper for the group was pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, chips, topped off with apples and caramel dip and molten brownie cakes (recipe forthcoming), with lemonade and sweet tea to drink.

Are you contemplating a weekly “day of rest” for your family and wallet yet?  I’ll keep posting our progress – whether we succeed or stumble – in the hopes it offers some encouragement to others.

Happy resting!

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Recipe of the Week: Chicken Spaghetti

I first tasted this dish when our church brought in food for our family; most likely it was after Mr. Official (I think that’s what I’ll call my husband from now on…) had surgery to repair a ruptured disk after slipping on a basketball.  (Sidenote to all parents whose athletic careers ended more than two decades ago:  be very careful when playing a pickup basketball game with your kids.  You’re not as agile as they are, and all those hits you took during games and two-a-day practices took their toll on your skeletal structure.  Just sayin’)

I have seen many recipes for King Ranch chicken that are very similar to this, but they typically use corn or flour tortillas instead of spaghetti noodles.  Me?  I’m not so keen on raw tortillas in my casseroles, so this recipe suits me to a “T” – which works out well, since this dish came courtesy of a friend named Tamara. 

Tamara J’s Chicken Spaghetti

1 12-ounce package spaghetti noodles
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 can Rotel (tomatoes and chili peppers), undrained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 ounces chicken broth
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups cubed chicken (if I don’t have diced cooked chicken on hand, I usually boil a few breasts, cool and dice into cubes; you can also used canned chicken in a pinch.)

Break spaghetti noodles into thirds and boil in salted water; cook to al dente, then drain and rinse with cool water.  Lightly grease a 2-3 quart casserole dish (I love my deep “French White” Pyrex casserole for this recipe.)

Saute onion and bell pepper until tender-crisp.  Add Rotel, mushroom soup and broth; stir well and let simmer for a few minutes until bubbling.  Remove from heat.

Layer half the noodles in the bottom of the greased dish; sprinkle half the chicken; pour half of the sauce and sprinkle with half the cheese.  Repeat with remaining noodles, chicken, sauce and cheese on top.  Cover and bake at 375 for about 25 minutes, or until bubbling.  Remove cover and let bake another 5 minutes to lightly brown the top.  Makes 6-8 hearty servings.

This casserole is perfect for potlucks and it also reheats very well.  You can use mild, medium or hot Rotel, depending on your family’s preferences; the choice will definitely influence the heat index of the dish.

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Giveaway Saturday

Last year, our congregation held our first school supply drive.  To be perfectly honest, it was a spur of the moment decision to undertake this effort, and we wound up surpassing our own goal by 50%, giving away supplies to 150 Rutherford county children in just under an hour.

This year’s drive had lots more volunteers (including the same core team from last year), and we set our sights on helping 150 children.  The donated supplies kept coming in, and last night we prepared for 225 children, once again exceeding our goal by 50%.

Then the question was, would the families come?  I awoke this morning to thunder rolling – great for the lawn and my water bill; not so great for public events like the giveaway.  By 9:30, several families were queuing up outside our doors, and we opened 15 minutes early.  After the first wave of families, things slowed down, and I admit I was more than a little worried:  what if we didn’t have a good turnout?  What would happen next year – would people be willing to give supplies and commit their time if we fell flat this year?  (I am a world-class champion worrier:  why limit yourself to worrying about tomorrow when you can worry about something that won’t happen for another 365 days???)

As usual, my worries were unfounded.  And shame on me for doubting.

A few volunteers made signs and stood near the highway; it worked.  In just a few minutes, more families began to trickle in. As we closed in on the 2-hour mark, the trickle became a steady stream, and the last few minutes were a flurry of activity.  As we closed our doors to take down tables and haul out the trash, we were left with 4 remaining supply bags.  No sooner had we put them in storage when a volunteer came back in and asked if we had any supplies left – a family had just come in, hoping they weren’t too late.  We handed over those remaining bags, grinning from ear to ear.  I guess the only question remaining is, how many do we think we can help next year?  And how many more than that will our generous members make it possible to help?

It’s humbling to see so many of our members come out to help, and to see parents with tears in their eyes tell us how they were thinking their children would go back to school empty-handed next week, and how much this helped their family.  It is truly more blessed to give than receive.

Several waves of showers rolled through the area; our crepe myrtle became a weeping variety.  Maybe I just haven’t paid good attention in the past, but I’ve never seen it do this.  Ah well, I’m sure the flowers will “shake it off” and right themselves soon enough. 

P.S.   A note to you-know-who:  Thinking of you, and hoping Alaska is gorgeous this week!

Temp in Seattle:  68.  Inside Passage forecast: rainy & cool.

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Now THAT’S a rain storm

Daughter and I headed to Smyrna about 6:20, thinking we’d catch a quick bite at Sonic, then head to Highland Heights for the Summer Bible Vacation open house.  As we headed north, the sky looked really dark…even though it was clear and sunny no less than half an hour before that, when I came FROM Smyrna, after spending a day putting the finishing touches on things.

But we are plucky girls and we plowed ahead.  Before our exit, the wind kicked up..a sign of things to come.  Just as we exited I-24, the rain began pelting us.  Big drops.  Bad sign.  But still, forward we went.  I decided we wouldn’t stop at the Sonic off the interstate, but go around to the on the other side of town, hoping to beat the rain.  Bad idea.

A mile down the road, the rain was so heavy that it became difficult to see the road.  A minute later, it was literally impossible to see the road.  It was like being in a demon-possessed car-wash with hail thrown in for good measure.  Cars slowed to a crawl, then stopped.  On the road.  In their tracks.  We crept to the side of the road, hoping we wouldn’t run off said road in the process, flipped on the emergency blinkers and waited it out.  I called my husband to let him know where we were.  (You know, just in case we pulled a “Wizard of Oz” meets “Twister” move or something.) I could barely hear him over the rain beating the car.   In all my years of driving, I’ve pulled over a few times, because of heavy rain, but I’d have to say I’ve never had to pull over because I absolutely could not see the road for the rain.  It’s a scary thing to drive blindly and hope you don’t hit anything.

Five minutes later, it was still raining hard, but at least there was enough visibility to make out the lines on the road as the wipers cleared the windshield.

We slowly made our way to the other Sonic, placed our order and then listened to the second wave of the storm pound the roof overhead.  Wow.  By the time we woofed down our food and made our way to the church building, the rain had almost stopped.  Several people mentioned another front was approaching but we never heard it inside, if it did rain again.

What was I saying earlier this week about spring rains being a thing of the past?  Apparently my prognostication skills are as accurate as ever.  Four out of the last five days have brought showers – or storms. Tomorrow has a 40% chance of precip.  I don’t think I’ll take up meteorology as a new avocation.

But the open house went smashingly well.  People were overheard arguing over which room is their favorite. Teens and adults were bemoaning the fact they are no longer age-eligible to participate in VBS.  Our teachers were glowing with pride, and our guides were grinning like possums, because they know they’re in for a  real treat this summer.  I’m hoping that doesn’t mean we’ll have too many volunteers next year…but it might.  (Then again, my prognostication skills are…well, sketchy at best.)

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