a little of this…a little of that…

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Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of small things that have “jumped out at me.” Unfortunately, most of them are too small and insignificant to write an entire blog post about. I have tried to put them out of mind…but they are persistent memories.

Then I realized I could bring them all together in one place…and, voila!, a full blog post:

I was chatting with a few of my tutoring students at the end of the school day and joked that the following week I was going to “turn into Mr. C.” I was referring to being a substitute teacher for the 1st grade class. But one student gasped and asked if I was going to do witchcraft. I’m still not sure if he was joking back…or if he is one of the many, many Navajo who believe in human shape-changers called skin-walkers.

Most of you don’t get updates from my art blog. Go check out a post HERE from a few weeks ago — with photos and explanations of the Van Gogh art project I did with the 1st graders while I was subbing in the class.

our lovely swirly mural a la Van Gogh

One morning I was running late and hadn’t finished up my cup of coffee, so I brought it to tutoring with me. Anthony* asked what it was, then asked if he could have a sip. (No, obviously not…) Katie* immediately asked him, “Do you want your hair to turn WHITE?!” As I asked her about that comment, she explained that is what her grandpa says every time she wants to taste his coffee, as he points to his own white hair.

With the Twilight series of movies and books still quite popular among the students, there were a bunch of vampires and werewolves for Halloween. Somehow, I have still managed to avoid this series, although I’m glad it keeps some of these students reading. When she is stressed or anxious, our daughter Anna has a pattern of chewing around her lips until the skin is raw and bleeding. Her mouth was quite a mess before we left for Ohio, but she wanted to go to school as usual on the Tuesday before we left so she could say goodbye to friends and teachers. I was quite uncertain how the students would react to her injuries, knowing how vicious teasing can sometimes be. I was baffled, but quite pleased, when most of the students thought it was really COOL. They wanted to know how Anna managed to make herself look so much like a vampire!

For my tutoring groups, I bought a pack of bright colored ink pens. Somehow it feels less like WORK when we are writing or doing exercises if we can write in hot pink, or purple, or neon green. I continue to stress that the students must follow their teacher’s rules about what to write with in the classroom. To me these pens are just a bit of colorful fun. To the students, however, the pens have become something to look forward to. When I said my goodbyes before Thanksgiving, I gave each reading student a pack of colored pens as a little going-away gift. By their reactions, you might have thought that I had given them GOLD!

Well, enough random tidbits for this week. I’ll try to add some photos and another more in-depth post for next Friday.

 

 

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Navajo Arts (Guest Post #14)

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This is #14 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and the author HERE.

First of all, the following description and reflection on the Navajo arts is not professional as I do not have formal education in either arts or Navajo society. However, I cannot help but  talk about the Navajo arts since it is an significant aspect of Navajo society.

The Navajo art forms that I have seen include drawing, weaving, Jewelry, figurines in traditional costume, etc., although there must be far more than these in reality. In Lybrook Elementry/Middle School, I found a lot of beautiful drawings by students. One of the drawing themes is eagles. Although the meaning of the eagle in Navajo culture needs exploration, obviously it is an important component in Navajo culture.  Randy said that the students did better in arts than in other subjects. Responding to his comment, I said that it might be because other subjects such as math were more foreign to them than art which had been part of life from generation to generation.

In the Lybrook Community Ministries office building, there are some items showing Navajo weaving. One is a delicately made figurine representing a woman using a loom. Jill said it was made by a Navajo friend. There is a chart illustrating the sources of different dying color for cloths. These sources are from natural plants. It can be imagined that it is a complicated and demanding task to create a beautiful textile product. Navajo weaving is reminiscent of Eurasian nomads. It would be interesting to compare weaving, in the areas such as color and technique, of Navajo and Eurasian societies. This might provide some insights on the link between Navajo and Asian people.

Jewelry is another form of art products. As a Navajo student said, the beads were bought somewhere, and weaved into things like necklaces by Navajo households. I had the opportunity to see many kinds of necklaces that were made with stones in different colors. I was more interested in the symbolic meanings of each “theme” than what kind of stones they were made from. Although all the products are obviously talismans, the Navajo people who showed me the jewelry were not sure of exact symbolic meanings. Farmington, the largest town nearby, has stores to sell these folk products, as a Navajo student told me.

Another art form worth mentioning is the figurines in traditional costumes. I found them in Farmington Public Library, but I assume there are similar works of arts in the Lybrook community area. They appear to be religious or ceremonious figures as each of them seems to be responsible for a certain kind of performance. These figurines show that a feather has a significant symbolic meaning in Navajo culture.

Navajo art is colorful and delicate. It is probably not coincidental that Santa Fe and Taos became a well-known art center. Here in Lybrook I know a Navajo person who was previously an artist who sold paintings in Santa Fe galleries. But not all people can make a living by making art. Hopefully Navajo traditional arts can be preserved, and at the same time Navajo people can benefit from the development of tourism.

Playing with “my” 1st Graders

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I have had SO much fun this past year as I have gotten to “play” with the 1st grade class at Lybrook School. There is something delightful about walking into the cafeteria or into the classroom or onto the playground and hearing, “Mrs. E, Mrs. E.” And even when the “mob” threatens to tip me over, it is gratifying to be buried in a group hug when these little ones see me. Can I keep them at this delightful age forever?!!

1st graders

Here are links to posts about some of the fun we have had together this year:

MONET Art Project

VAN GOGH Art Project

General FUN in the classroom

 

…fizzle…

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I know I have talked before about the need for FLEXIBILITY out here in Navajoland. Time after time we make plans. Then we verify those plans with others. And we check again to make sure the planned event is still going to happen. And then the time comes…and…

…FIZZLE!

A few weeks ago I subbed a number of days for the 7th and 8thgrade class at the local school. Their teacher had worked hard with them on performing some of Poe’s stories as short plays. They had written parts, decorated a set, come up with special effects. They had practiced, then practiced some more.

the set for Poe's plays by the 7th & 8th graders at Lybrook School

The first date had to be cancelled—it had been planned for a day that was a teachers-only school day. The second date was cancelled by me—feeling that the students were no where near ready to perform. The third date looked like it would really happen. The dress rehearsals went okay—not stellar but workable. Then, less than 30 minutes from show-time, one of the lead actors was checked out of school early. The principal tried to talk Grandma out of doing this. She tried to convince Grandma that she could stay and celebrate her grandson’s acting talent. But no, the play was cancelled yet again. (Supposedly it will happen this coming Thursday afternoon—I’ll keep you posted!)

Another well-laid plan was recently cancelled as well. I have enjoyed two days this school year of doing art with the first-grade class. We read a book about a famous artist, study some of his paintings, then try a project of our own, in the style of that artist. The teacher and I were excited to plan another art day while we had a work-team visiting us recently. Two weeks in advance we set a time and day. A week in advance, I verified that the teacher had added the project to his lesson plans. On Monday and again on Tuesday I verified that the project was scheduled. And on the day itself?? …sigh… school was let out early for a pre-planned teacher work time that afternoon.

sometime soon the first-graders and I will make our own versions of Van Gogh's wild sunflowers...

I can hear you say—How Frustrating! Yes, that’s true. I felt terrible that the visiting college students wouldn’t have fun working with the cute little first graders. And then, I confess, I realized this would drive home the point we had made all week with that work-team:

Life out here in Navajoland requires FLEXIBILITY. It seems like NOTHING ever goes as planned!

Touching Lives…

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For an extrovert like me (recharging via people contact) we have the best job in the world. In the 20 months since we arrived here in Navajoland, we have worked hard to build relationships with families and individuals in the Lybrook area. Part of relationship is walking through difficult times with others, such as the aftermath of tragic fatal accidents on January 1st. I wrote a little about that experience in the last post. This time I want to share some of the enjoyable relationship moments of this past week…

oldest brother

Jeremy wants to get more Bible training

On Sunday, I spent a few hours with a family from church, working with their three young adult sons. We talked, and pondered, and sorted through pros and cons of which Christian college they might attend and how to make that decision. We looked at websites and sorted through the process of applying. By the end of our time together, they have a clear list of further information they need to gather and next steps they need to take.

When we were in town on Wednesday evening, I made time to stop by the hospital to pray for Casper (critically injured in the above-mentioned accident). While there, I got to talk with his brother, both to encourage him and to challenge him to help his kids talk about these traumatic events. It felt like praying for Casper was a responsibility; talking with his brother was a privilege.

Miss Nellie

Our fiercely independent elderly friend...

I also stopped by a nursing home in town to visit an elderly friend who is recovering from a fall and resulting broken bones. She was SO excited to see Anna and I. We were just with her for a very short time as she was headed to dinner, but it was good to see her sparkling eyes and be reminded of her fierce determination to move back again to independent living in her beloved hogan. As we were leaving, we were able to spend time with her son, another friend of ours, and listen while he talked about chaos in the family and how de-stabilizing his mom’s injury and diagnosis of cancer has been. Another privilege—letting our friend “vent” about struggles and encouraging him to keep looking to God for wisdom, strength, and comfort.

messy artist

messy hands...great art!

This week also found me busy at the local school—subbing, tutoring, and volunteering. It is quite good for one’s ego to walk into the cafeteria and have cute little 1st graders squeal your name and run to give big hugs! We enjoyed time together at the end of the week when I had the privilege of doing an art history lesson and project with them. You should SEE the wonderful drawings they made of mesas at different times of day, in the style of Claude Monet’s paintings of haystacks.

With some students that I have been tutoring since fall, there were opportunities to challenge them. With other students, time together this past week furthered relationship building. I am NOT in the school to “proselytize”…but within relationships I am able to be very open about my own beliefs and about how God affects my daily life. For some students who are already Christians, I can be an encouragement. For others who live with instability and dysfunction, I hope I can eventually connect them to One who can bring stability and love into their troubled lives.

Finally, as I spend more time at the school, I have more opportunity to build relationships with teachers, administrators, and staff. We may not have “solved the world’s problems” yet, but we have had some interesting, encouraging and challenging discussions about the realities of life out here in Navajoland. What a privilege it is to be part of such lunch-table and hallway discussions!

It is hard, so very hard, to walk through dark times such as the recent tragedies here. But then the sun comes back out, metaphorically speaking, and we enjoy wonderful times of sharing happy times with our friends.

Right now? Life is good in Navajoland!

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…Can We Go Home Yet?

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Jakob, Anna and I are on a road trip back east for a few weeks. We had an enjoyable Thanksgiving celebration with extended family in Iowa. We have reconnected with a number of friends and will be enjoying time with family in Ohio. It is wonderful to be back for a short visit.

BUT…

We miss our Navajo friends. I miss spending time with the kids in my after-school tutoring groups. We miss our church “family.” (And I desperately wish I could be there to stand with Pastor Wesley and his family as they deal with a tragedy in their family…) We miss our beds and our critters and our “usual” routines. (And, of course, we miss Randy.)

Most of all, we miss…

The wonderful, life-giving, heart-lifting, eye-popping BLUE SKIES of New Mexico. Only a few days into our travels both kids were moaning about the gray skies of Nebraska…and that was before it began raining for days on end!

New Mexico Skies

New Mexico skies are BEAUTIFUL! (Painting by William Victor Higgins -- 1943)

When we finally get back home in another few weeks, I am sure we will have happy memories of time spent with family and friends. We will miss everyone and wish we could spend more time together on a more regular basis. But, Ohio? Nah, we will NOT miss the cold, gray, rainy winter days of Ohio.

We can’t wait to get home to the beautiful, desolate, high desert of Lybrook!

Judging Art

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Judging the Art Competition at Lybrook School

I had fun this week as one of two judges for the annual art competition at Lybrook School. I felt much more competent judging art than I did last year when I was a judge for the science fair!

Outside it was dismal and gray. The sun was hidden behind purple and gray storm clouds. It drizzled, and rained and snowed all day long. Yuck! I hate days like that. (And our usual sunny days with bright blue skies are just one of the reasons I love living here rather than back in Ohio, where we lived for most of our lives…)

Inside the school, however, it was…full of color and whimsy. Much of the art was wonderful. We had the task of choosing 1st, 2nd and 3rd places for Pre-K through 3rd Grade and for 4th Grade through 8th Grade. Plus, we had to choose a “Best of Show.”

What fun to study all the art work, staring and enjoying, writing down notes, pointing out details to each other. We came to very similar conclusions about which pieces we felt deserved the winning places. (It is always comforting when judges are generally in agreement.)

So, for your own color-filled, viewing pleasure, here are the winning art-works from the students at Lybrook School:

1st Place -- PreK through 3rd Grade

 

2nd Place -- PreK through 3rd Grade

3rd Place -- PreK through 3rd Grade

1st Place -- 4th through 8th Grades

2nd Place -- 4th through 8th Grades

3rd Place -- 4th through 8th Grades

BEST OF SHOW -- Good Job, Hailee (Kindergarten)