Nagging to Excellence

iStock_000012148387XSmallJust the other night my husband and I were talking about the people who inspired us to become people of initiative. We are both natural competitors. Neither of us can stand not to do a job, even the smallest one, well. Initiative is one of our natural traits: We see something falling through the cracks—we do something about it, even if it is not our responsibility. These things are inherent within us, but along the way, people in our lives have nurtured this trait.

One of those key people in my life was my sister.

My sister NAGGED me into excelling. Continue reading “Nagging to Excellence”

Preparing Society’s Future Conscience

It's a really big job.
It’s a really big job.

If I said to you that this person’s work ensured that 10 years in the future your community would continue to be a safe place to live and work—that crime rates would continue to be low. You would probably say that person’s job was important.

If I said to you that this person’s work meant that we could continue to enjoy litter-free sidewalks, the beauty of fresh streams to fish in, woodlands in which to camp, hike and hunt, the majestic flight of the bald eagle, clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe, you would probably applaud that person’s work.

If I said to you that this person’s work meant that technological advances to improve the lives of the vulnerable, injured and sick would be possible, that your community could be the birthplace of inventors, scientists, engineers and lawmakers, you would be excited to meet that person and call her “neighbor”.

If I said to you that this person has the job of preparing the conscience of the human race to meet the challenges of the future, you would probably say “Wow, that person has a big job. We better get the best person we can in the position, and support her as much as possible.”

That person is the teacher in your child’s classroom Continue reading “Preparing Society’s Future Conscience”

To Boldly Ask What No One Has Ever Asked Before

Playing in the dirt from a young age
Playing in the dirt from a young age

We had just passed a road construction site on the small two-lane state highway on the way from our hotel to my Dad’s house. The new road cuts and construction revealed bright red dirt— really red dirt, even by the standards of the Piedmont Plateau in Georgia.

From the back seat my daughter asked, “Mom, what kinds of worms do they have here in Georgia?”

“The same species that we have in Wisconsin, why?” I answered.

There was a thoughtful silence, then “But they poop out red dirt?”

It is truly a miracle that my husband managed to keep the rental car on the road.

Actually, it was an insightful question. Continue reading “To Boldly Ask What No One Has Ever Asked Before”

The State Seal

nunst081Over the years, my daughter and I have engaged in several entertaining conversations about school and homework. However, a conversation took place this week that will be told around the dinner table for years to come. It went something like this:

My daughter: Now, I need to color the state flag.

Me: Wow, the flag will be difficult to draw. It has the state seal on it.

My daughter (coming to my chair with a copy of the state flag): No Mom. That’s a badger, not a seal. Wisconsin doesn’t have any seals.

She was so earnest. She was so polite, but there was just this little edge of “I can’t believe my mom doesn’t know the difference between a seal and a badger” in her voice. Just a touch of patronage.

She was right of course, the animal depicted on the state flag is a badger, and Wisconsin doesn’t have any seals.

She was also wrong, because she was unaware of a larger truth. Continue reading “The State Seal”

Literal Power

Technology is a only a tool; but becoming literate, that is what gives us the power to wield the technology with forethought and wisdom.

Old Advice for a New AgeThere are few things in life that can truly give a person power. Learning to speak multiple languages is one of those things. Becoming comfortable with mathematics is another, and learning to read is another. And one more: being able to read. There is incredible power in being able to read. In this era of technology, screen media, and audio and visual stimuli, we often overlook the power of simple literacy.

However, ask the parents of the four-year-old who can suddenly read the signs on the vendor carts at the State Fair—how hard is it to redirect the little blossoming literary critic to the parents’ agenda now that she can read “ice cream”? Just that little bit of knowledge has given that child new power and her parents new headaches. Continue reading “Literal Power”

A Gorilla on My Side

This would make a good gorilla chair.
This would make a good gorilla chair.

When I was a little girl, my parents didn’t have an abundance of money. I was very fortunate: I had a warm home, plenty of clothes on my back, and I never went hungry (unless I refused to eat that which was put before me—and not often even then). However, we lived on a budget administered by Mom. Mom was a tough CFO. Once a week my dad would bring home his paycheck. Mom would take it too the bank, deposit it and keep out just enough cash for that week’s expenses. She would buy groceries and give Dad his “running money” for the week. Mom bought groceries once a week. Period. If we ran out of something before the end of the week, we ran out of something. There were no second, third, fourth trips to the grocery store.

My Dad was a pressman at the Atlanta Newspapers. He worked the graveyard shift for more than 30 years. We would eat dinner and around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., Dad would head off to work. He would come home at 3:00 a.m. or so the next morning. He slept during the day, and when he was up before dinner, he could usually be found in his machine shop, working to add to the family coffers. He basically had two jobs.

When I was really little, I remember the big comfortable chair in which he most often sat—the “Gorilla chair”.  Continue reading “A Gorilla on My Side”

An Apple a Day

Gala ApplesThis past weekend our family made our annual trek to a local apple orchard for hot apple cider, apple cider donuts, pony rides, and of course, apple picking.

It was so nice to be out, and even though the weather was overcast and a little “sprinklely” at times, we still had a lovely day. We saw a couple of tiny Copes Gray tree frogs braving the crowds on the farm, and we marveled at the huge workhorses pulling some of the wagons. Butterflies—monarchs, and skippers in whites and yellows—flitted in and out, over and under the branches of the apple trees as we walked the rows and picked apples. The pumpkin field across the way was adorned with huge yellow blossoms and large orange baubles, as the flowers reluctantly relinquished their territory to the ripening fruits.

A band with fiddle and harmonica added to the ambiance of red barns, goats, pigs, corn and pumpkins. The clippety clop of horses was punctuated by the random ringing of the large dinner bell outside one of the barns. All of the sights and sounds of the farm were accompanied by the background hum of people out enjoying the day, children laughing and expressing wonder, couples walking hand in hand.

The orchard was picking two varieties the day we visited, Gala or “party” apples, a family favorite for us, and Jonamac, a variety created by marrying the more well known Jonathan and MacIntosh apples. I had never before tasted a Jonamac apple, but this apple gives the popular Honey Crisp competition. The flesh of the apple is white and incredibly juicy. It is a sweet apple that has just a hint of some other flavor—the slightest sense of a tart berry, perhaps.

We make this journey every year. This year when we arrived, our daughter said, “I thought it was bigger last year.”

“No, it’s the same as it always has been. Perhaps you were just smaller.”

And, I think that was some of it. Because when she ran to the playground and I saw her surrounded by younger children, I suddenly realized that I am the mother of a “big girl” now. She’s growing up, and things that seemed larger than life to her only last year are already beginning to feel smaller.

But they needn’t lose their wonder.

Because even at my age, I learned something new on this year’s trip to the apple orchard. I discovered an apple I had never before tasted, and I loved it.

That there can always be new tastes in a fruit as old and “standard” as the apple is an amazing and glorious thing. That there can always be new things to see and experience in the world around us, if we will but look and allow ourselves to be awed, is glorious too.

So yes, sometimes when we look back, life may have seemed bigger, but maybe that is because we aren’t big enough yet to understand.

© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.