Small Treasures

As I search for a tablecloth to place on the table, I came across the small treasure of a handwoven cloth I sometimes drape at an angle across the kitchen table.  Carefully folded and placed at the bottom of the drawer, this cloth seldom is used for everyday use.  Needing to be carefully laundered so that the vibrant colors of blue, yellow, red, and orange remain as true as they were on the day I bought the cloth, it remains tucked away so that it won’t be ruined.  Don’t we all have items such as these?

Today, I need a touch of vibrancy in the kitchen.  I need something that makes me think of cultures that are not my own. I need something that reminds me of days gone by.  This tablecloth fits that need perfectly, besides, I decide, beautiful cloths are to used, not just tucked away in a drawer.

While the tablecloth is a treasure to me, it holds no true value to anyone else.  If a neighbor were to stop by, or a family member, the visitor might note the cloth and might even wonder why I had selected it for my table covering.  They might even ask where I got it, or maybe not.  They might think I picked it up one day when I was shopping at Pier One, or World Market.  

I doubt they would ever suspect that I bought this tablecloth in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the Spring of 2005, when I traveled to Oaxaca to earn University credit from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  The name of the course was Oaxaca, A Mexican Cultural Experience.  

It seems nearly impossible that it has been thirteen years since I had the amazing experience of traveling to Oaxaca with a wonderful group of teachers from throughout Colorado to learn the wealth of cultural aspects found in Oaxaca.  The class was taught by a Spanish teacher from Colorado Springs whom had spent time in Oaxaca and was familiar with the area and the people.  All of whom took the class were either Spanish teachers or teachers of linguistically diverse students.

As memories of that time came back to me when I spread the tablecloth on my table, soon I found myself revisiting the memories I made by looking at all the photos I took while I was there.  

Photos and mementos.  Those are the small treasures of life.  

I found I even still had the itinerary for the trip!  It is a good thing I have the itinerary  because otherwise, I probably would have already forgotten many of the details of where we went and what we saw.  The first day we were there, we visited the magnificent Montezuma cypress tree known as the El Arbol de Tule , the largest tree in the world.  I didn’t take a photo that captured the size of this tree because I didn’t have a camera that would do it justice.  Instead, I studied parts of the tree and photographed those parts.

We then toured the church nearby called, Santa Maria del Tule, 

Later, we went to an archeological site called Mitla.  When we were near this archeological site, we saw women draping weavings for sale over the fences made of cactus.

Before I went to Oaxaca, a dear friend had told me to make sure I purchased some of the hand woven cloths that I would find.  These cloths draped on a fence were the first I saw.  I did purchase a cloth here, but not the blue one I use as a table cloth.  I purchased that cloth when we did a guided tour of the city of Oaxaca.  In one the parks that we toured, there were many people demonstrating their weaving techniques.  Weaving is a major industry in Oaxaca.

I’ve always loved Mexico, but Oaxaca has a very special part in my heart when I think of Mexico.

This is a photo of Retired English Teacher before she retired!

 Memories flood back of the beautiful colors of the flowers, 

of the beautiful clothing the women wore,

of the colorfully painted buildings where I spent time in the plaza and on the roof top of the casa where we lived for our time in Oaxaca.

I remember the colorful kitchens where the food we ate was prepared, 

by woman grinding the corn used for our tortillas in ancient ways.

The yellows of lemons, the greens of limes added flavor and color to the blue corn tortilla chips that were graciously served to us in a restaurant that offered us a cool respite from the summer sun on the day when I bought this tablecloth.

All of these memories come flooding back to me when I spread this tablecloth across my kitchen table.  

This is not just any ordinary cloth.  It is one of my treasures.  

When I am gone and my children go through my things, will they place any value on this handwoven piece of cloth?  Will one of them think, “I’d like that because I could use it when I have friends over for margaritas and Mexican food.”  

Will they have any idea of the memories this cloth holds for me?  No.  I don’t think they will.  Why would they?  That is just how it is when others look at the small treasures of other people.  They don’t know the meaning that the owner of that small trinket, vase, necklace, ring, piece of cloth, or photograph attached to each sentimental item found throughout the house.  

Photographs, trinkets, pieces of cloth have value because the owner of that item attaches meaning and value to them.  

I treasure this cloth not simply because it is a beautiful colorful cloth.  I treasure it because it reminds me of another time in my life when I traveled to Mexico to be exposed to rich cultural experiences in a place rich with culture.  

I treasure this cloth because it reminds me of a time when I was learning more about how to teach children from  linguistic and cultural backgrounds that were different from mine.  

I had a chance to visit a village school.  As I observed the children participate in opening exercises for the day, I reflected upon how one of those same children would respond to entering my classroom for the first time in the United States.

This tablecloth is just a material item.  On its own merit, it has little value except to add a bit of color to my table. It provides a vibrant background for me to study as I eat my breakfast.

This cloth was handwoven by a woman I never knew whom had incredible skill, great artistic ability, and was able to take colorful yarns and weave them into patterns and symbols that had meaning in her culture.   

Now, that weaving graces the table of  a woman from a completely different culture whom values the cloth as a treasure not just because of its beauty, but it represents honoring the culture and skill of the one whom created this household item.  

I treasure this cloth because it reminds me of one of the classes that I took to earn University credit after I had earned my Master of Arts Degree in Second Language Learning.  This course, Oaxaca, A Mexican Cultural Experience,  taught me so much because I was able to gain new insight into just one the cultures that were represented in my classroom.

I treasure this cloth because it reminds me of the beauty I saw everyday in place I would never have visited if I had not earned an advanced degree and was not in a profession that required me to keep taking courses in my area of study during the years I was teaching.   

I treasure this cloth because it reminds me just how many wonderful experiences I have had the good fortune to have in my life.

Objects found within a home are seldom just objects.  
Usually such objects hold great meaning for the one to whom the object belongs.  

What special treasures do you have in your home that remind you of a special time in your life?

My Life As An Educator ~ Part I ~ Project Head Start

*Fifty years ago this year, I first embarked on my journey to become an educator.  I'm looking back on some of the memories I made along the way. 

Leadville, Colorado

A clipping rom the Leadville Herald Democrat 
Summer 1965
I am the "Trained Aide" in the photo
 1965, the year I turned twenty, I was just beginning the upper level courses that would lead to a degree in elementary education at what was then Colorado State College. (Now University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado)  That summer, between my sophomore and junior year, I had the very unique opportunity of working as a "trained aide"  for Project Head Start in Leadville, Colorado.  A young, idealistic preservice teacher I jumped at the opportunity to work in this program as a summer job.

I saw the philosophy behind Head Start as one that aligned with my own belief system about the value of education and the role it played in economic opportunity.  While I had never articulated my beliefs at the time in this manner, a believer in social justice, I firmly believed that it was only through education that those living in poverty would be able overcome the social and economic inequities that were found in our country at during the early sixties.

Head Start Students
Summer 1965
Leadville, Colorado
Some of you may not know much about Head Start.  1965, the U. S. Office of Economic Opportunity began the eight-week summer program that would launch Project Head Start.  I was one of many tutors, aides, and teachers that were hired that summer to serve over 560, 000 children throughout the country in this newly created program.

 As a refresher, I want to briefly outline the reasons why Head Start was created.  It grew out of Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, and I think it is interesting to note that it was created by the Office of Economic Opportunity.  The basic premise for this program was established on the belief that education was the solution to breaking the "cycle of poverty."    It was a time when the civil-rights movement was greatly influencing education.  It was thought that "government was obligated to help disadvantaged groups in order to compensate for inequality in social and economic conditions."  Head Start was to be a comprehensible program for preschool children that would meet their "emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs."

I wish I had kept a journal of those days because now, nearly 50 years later, my mind is a bit fuzzy about it all.  I do remember that in my youth I was idealistic about education and social reform.  I had great dreams about the kind of educator I would become.   As a young woman coming of age during the 60's,  I embraced the Civil Rights Movement and the "new" ideas about education, but I also respected and looked up to my mentors for their wisdom, leadership, and advice.  

My mentor for the summer of 1965 had also been my younger sister's kindergarten teacher the year or two before.  As a family, we already embraced Idelia B. Riggs as a gifted teacher.  As I reflect back on her now, I still consider her as the consummate educator, and as one the best with whom I have had the privilege to know throughout my entire lifetime.  She must have been in her sixties when I worked with her.  She had taught everything from kindergarten to college.  She had been the principal of a one-room schoolhouse at one point in her career.

She knew what children needed to grow and to prosper educationally, emotionally and socially.  She embraced the ideals behind Project Head Start and imparted them to me along with all of the reasons why she believed the program could be successful.  She said that the children of poverty in the area where we lived were beginning school without the skills that other children brought to school.  Sometimes, they didn't even know how to use indoor plumbing.  Yes, in 1965, in our program in Leadville, Colorado, some of the children did not have indoor plumbing.  We had to teach them how to use the bathroom facilities.  Some did not receive proper nutrition at home and many were undernourished.  They lagged behind their peers in knowing how to grasp a pencil or how to turn the pages of a book. Many did not know the alphabet.   They did not know how to write their names.  Many did not know colors or shapes.  They did not have group or personal social skills.  All of these needs would be met, as best they could be, by our summer program.  The program was comprehensive.  School readiness was achieved by giving the children equal portions of playtime, story time, art activities, and basic academic preparation such as learning how to recognize and form letters through reading and writing.

I have a vivid memory of the lunches that these children received.  The government's philosophy was that this program should have "maximum feasible participation" for success.  Therefore, those who would benefit from the program, the low income population, should help plan and run their own programs.  Many of the women who planned and cooked the meals were the mothers of the children.  Everyday, they prepared wonderful meals.  I loved the Spanish rice we had nearly everyday.  Believe me,  in those days the meals fed these children were good.  They are nothing like the terrible meals that are put together in an off-site place and served to low-income kids these days.  In the 60's, at the Leadville Head Start, meals included not only wonderful rice, they also included great main dishes like fried chicken, and vegetables. The best part might have been fresh home baked dinner rolls or cinnamon rolls we were served daily!  Oh the agony of waiting for lunch while smelling those fresh rolls bake. 

Our lead teacher, Mrs. Riggs was a very practical woman who put up with no nonsense from anyone.  Her character was stellar.  She saw her role as an educator as one as a public servant.  She was not interested in feathering her own nest or building her career.  She was there for the children she taught and for the families she served.  In my mind's eye, I see her now.  She is wearing the apron with plenty of pockets so she would have "a place for those tissues to wipe a child's nose or tears," or as a place to keep stray crayons, pencils or rubber bands that she might need while she was teaching.  She believed in expecting the best behavior and performance from all kids.  Patient, kind and loving, she was also demanding when it came to giving something your best efforts.  We ALL learned from her.   As I said, I could never have had a better mentor.  Mrs. Riggs, and the ideals of Head Start, greatly influenced my philosophy of my own role as an educator.

I am including a treasured letter that Mrs. Riggs wrote to me in August, 1965.  It reads:

 Dear Sally,
May I again express my appreciation for your top quality contribution to our Head Start program and staff.  You are a genuine and capable and very personable young woman, Sally, - a credit to your fine family and the best of our American Youth.  And besides, you're just plain sweet. 

Fondly yours,
Idelia B. Riggs

Hello to all your family, too.


I will always be grateful for the time I had working by Mrs. Riggs side.  I also am grateful for the time I had working with  groundbreaking Project Head Start during the first year of its inception.  Even though I spent the majority of my career as an educator at the secondary level, children of preschool age continue to have a soft place in my heart when it comes to education.  I am also grateful that I held fast to those idealistic views I held for education during the years when I first began on my journey as an educator.

 I often wish I could discuss today's state of education with Mrs. Riggs.  I know she would have some very strong ideas on what must happen if we are to achieve the lofty ideals that we had in the 60's.  

*  I originally wrote parts this post in 2009.  Parts of it were publish in the Fall 2010 issue of  "The Colorado Communicator," a newsletter for the Colorado Council International Reading Associate.  Serving as co-editor for this newsletter was one of my "retirement jobs."

Time in The Classroom ~ Becoming a Teacher

Missing the classroom begins when the shelves are stocked with new school supplies.

The beginning of any new school year always causes me to be a bit nostalgic.
I found myself in the school supply aisle at the store the other day.
Who can resist looking at those new notebooks,
and pens,
and pencils?
I know I can't.
I love this time of the year when the shelves are stocked with all those new school supplies.
This year,
I didn't buy a new notebook.
I didn't even buy a new pen.  
I don't need a new pen since I bought my favorite pen of all time:
the wonderful Bee Blossom Seven Year Pen.
(I do love this pen.  It is the best pen I've ever had. It might not last seven years, but writing with it is pure joy.)  
Ok, maybe that last statement is a bit over the top, but some of us really love our pens and pencils.

Missing the Classroom

Maybe, just maybe, it was my love of pens and pencils, and of books that set my destiny in motion.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to teach.
I decided I wanted to become a teacher in kindergarten.
I loved school.
I loved my teacher.
I loved the classroom.

No wonder, I get a bit of a lost feeling when the school year starts without me.

My journey to becoming a teacher was a long one.  It took me longer than I ever expected to actually become a teacher.  In high school, I'm not sure I had my pathway mapped out for the future the way I wish I would have.  I knew for sure that I wanted to teach.  I also knew that would mean I would need to go to college.  No one in my immediate family had ever graduated from college when I was in high school.  My father had attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs, but he had dropped out just short of finishing his degree.  I think he only needed about seven credit hours to finish.  Somehow, the financial concerns during the Depression Era, and marriage, must have gotten in the way, and he never finished. 

My father was a man who championed education and placed great value on reading and writing.  He was always reading.  He wrote well.  He was a wonderful story-teller.  He encouraged great discussions at the dinner table, and he encouraged us to read and to think.  He also was realistic when it came to helping me select the courses I should take in high school.  He thought I was foolish to take Latin instead of Spanish.  I think we was pretty much right on that.  Latin always helped me with my understanding of vocabulary and grammar, but I should have also taken Spanish.  I regret that I did not.  He also insisted that I take typing.  He said that I would need that skill to get a job.  He was right on that advice.  He thought it was fine to take college prep English, but he also knew that I really needed help in the mathematics department.  He tried to help me all he could as I suffered through high school algebra.

When I graduated from high school, I was offered scholastic scholarships to two different state colleges.  I insisted that I wanted to attend what was then called Colorado State College in Greeley, Colorado.  It was the "teacher's college."  And so, on a September day fifty years ago, I went off to college on the first leg of a journey that would take more years than I ever imagined to becoming a teacher.  (This photo of me, decked out in my new going off to college outfit,  was taken one late summer afternoon all those many years ago by my high school boy friend.  Yes, he is now my husband.  And yes, I did wear this outfit, right down to shoes and the purse, on my first day as a college co-ed.)

Off to College
My head is full of many happy memories of my college days.  I lived in a college dorm, worked in the college dining hall, joined a sorority, Sigma Kappa, and met many wonderful friends.  One of those friends is still one of my dearest friends.  I am so grateful I had these opportunities and experiences.  Unfortunately, after the first semester of my junior year, I left college.  

I thought I would get back to school to finish my degree, but before long, I met a young man at work.  Six months later, I married this young man.  He and I spent nearly sixteen years together as husband and wife before we divorced.  During those years when we were married, he would finish his college degree, earn a masters degree, and earn a living as a high school teacher.  We also have five children together.  Those years, short on money and time, I spent my days taking care of my children and home. Going back to school to finish what I had started years before was only a dream that I knew would have to wait until later.  

After my divorce, I found my self in the unenviable position of being a single mom without a job or a college education.  During this time, in the Summer of 1981, I went to a conference where I was inspired to follow my dream to get that long desired college diploma.  That night when I returned home, I wrote the following words in my journal:
August 6, 1981
"The time frame in which we attain our goals may be altered but never lessens our inner need to fulfill them."  These words were spoken tonight at the conference for women by Dr. Lindquist at Weber State College.  My deep inner needs include a need to write seriously, to finish college, and to teach.  With the Lord's help, I do hope to fulfill these goals in the timeframe in which I have to work.

In reality, meeting such goals right after my divorce seemed like a dream that would never happen.  I had no money.  I didn't have a job.  I hadn't worked in years.  I didn't have any marketable job skills, except, I could type.  (Thanks to my father's instance, I could do that.)  

In time, I found a job as a secretary for a school district in Colorado Springs where I had relocated from Utah.  My salary was low.  I was a single mom.  I need to work.  I could not take off the time to go to college.  Even if I did finish my college coursework to teach, I could not take the time off to do observations of classrooms and student teaching.  

So, I went a different route.  After a few years, I went back to college at night to work on a BS degree in Business Administration.  Finally, in 1987, twenty-five years after I had begun work on my first year in college, I earned that long sought for college degree.  

Earning a BS in Business Administration
I was very proud of what I had accomplished in that moment, but I still didn't have a teaching certificate.  I had not let go of that dream yet, but again,  it seemed rather bleak that I would ever actually turn this dream into reality. 

Fast forward to 1992.  I married my high school sweetheart during that year.  I also began working as an accounting assistant doing bookkeeping for the school district in Pueblo.  About a year later, the carpel tunnel syndrome  and cubital tunnel syndrome problems I had ignored for years finally caused me seek treatment.  My surgeon said I could not work during the time I was recuperating from surgery, and in fact, told me to expect to be on workman's comp for at least a year and a half.  He also told me he would never release me to go back to doing the kind of work I had been doing for the past ten years.  In the meantime, I lost my job and my benefits.

Looking back, this turn of events was a God send.  My doctor would not release me from going back to work, but he didn't say I couldn't go to school.  So, in January of 1994, just a few weeks after surgery to release my trapped ulnar nerve from the cubital tunnel on my right arm, I began college again.  Julie, my youngest daughter was a college freshman at the same University.  She proudly wrote my name in my books for me since I could not yet write with my right hand.  Equipped with a tape recorder, I began the coursework that would lead me towards my long sought goals. 

A year and a half later, after taking all those English courses that I loved, and after a wonderful trip to England to study Theater in London, and after student teaching on my 50th birthday, I finally graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English and a secondary teaching certificate in English/Language Arts. I thought I was pretty old, to be entering the teaching profession, but as I look at a photo from that time, I marvel at how young I was!
Sally & one of her favorite professors
Dr. M. Barber
Oxford, England
I guess the rest is history.  I did land a teaching job after graduation.  I began my teaching career by teaching seventh grade English in the toughest middle school in the school district.  I was told not to smile before Thanksgiving because the kids would eat me alive if I did.  I don't know when I smiled; all I know is that I never cried.  That year deserves a book.  I will tell you about it in another post.  Just know, that I was hooked on teaching, even though my first year was worse than rough.  

I don't know that I have ever gotten the bug to teach out of my system even though I retired from teaching at the University level seven years ago.  I miss those times in the classroom.

To Be Continued...