Nervousness and excitement competed for prominence in my mind as I arrived for my first day of classes. The school, in the small town of Chicxulub in Mexico, had an open-air courtyard with classrooms around the perimeter. It was nothing like the modern schools we have in Canada.
I waited outside for a few minutes and entered together with my fellow teaching volunteers. The crowded room was set up with six tables. Each could seat four students and two teachers.
Before the children arrived, we spent thirty minutes getting acquainted, reviewing the lesson plan and distributing supplies for the day.
The students were led from their regular classroom into our room. They entered to our greeting of, “Good Afternoon” and chose where they wanted to sit. Of the 28 registered in the class, only 17 were present that day; 5 boys and 12 girls. This number varied from week to week and we never had a full class.
The first task was for the students to make nametags. They wrote, I am and their name on a card that was placed in a lanyard around their necks. Along with the students and other teachers I stood in turn, held up my nametag and said, “I am Tandy.” This was our first lesson and the way each class would start.
The children were polite and extremely reserved. It was a challenge to get them to speak loudly enough to be heard. Over the next two months, this shyness persisted for most of them.
Each component of the lesson plan was explained in English and Spanish from the front of the room. Some phrases were written on a white board so they could be referred to.
Then we would work with the students at our table to help them learn necessary words in this foreign language. Over the weeks we taught them through the use of flash cards with words and pictures. They learned: I am, I have, I want and I need. As we added: I am not, I do not have, I do not want and I do not need they were able to form simple sentences with the flash cards. Colours, people, animals and simple objects were incorporated into these sentences. To understand the correct meaning of the words and sentences they formed was quite an accomplishment.
Numbers were also taught. They knew the numerals, but the English words for them proved difficult. We played games to make it enjoyable. In some cases, like when we played Snakes and Ladders, they were having so much fun, it didn’t seem like learning!
Our hour-long classes passed quickly. Each week, the happy students would line up, a table at a time to leave the classroom. They were handed a simple snack and would say, “Thank you” to which a reply of, “You are welcome” was given. As well as a treat, this provided another opportunity to practice English words.
After two months we came to our last class. These students were in grade 6 and this is the final mandatory year for attending school. Most would not continue their education. We were in an economically challenged area and families could not afford to keep their children in school. We hoped the little we’d been able to teach them would be of benefit to them in the future.
As the class ended, the children surprised each teacher with handmade cards of thanks. Some even contained a few of the English phrases learned. I received my cards and hugs of thanks with tears of gratitude. The opportunity to have been part of this important program was a highlight of my time in Mexico. I look forward to returning to volunteer again next year.
What looked like translucent blue balloons were scattered here and there along the shoreline. They were almost an oval shape and ranged in size from small to medium.
I had seen them last year and were told they were jelly fish. They didn’t look dangerous but I had no plans to touch one to find out!
On my way home from a walk this morning, I encountered two friends who pointed to one and asked if I knew what it was. One bent down, small stick in hand, to get a closer look.
Suddenly three young Mexican girls came running towards us, yelling, “No! No touch!” They tried to find the English words to make us understand. My limited Spanish came into play and I said, “Peligroso” which means dangerous. The girls nodded and looked quite relieved that we understood.
My friend thanked them and one little girl smiled and said, “You are welcome.” The girls then ran off in the other directions, happy to know they had kept us safe.
This concern for strangers is one of the many reasons I love the people in our adopted winter home.
I did a little research when I got home and discovered that although closely related, these were not jelly fish but Portuguese man o’war. Their long tentacles, which were buried in the sand when we saw them, grow to an average of ten meters and contain barbed tubes that deliver a venom capable of paralyzing and kill small fish and crustaceans. The sting is rarely deadly to people but is extremely painful.
Once again, I thanked the unknown girls on the beach who ensured we didn’t find out how painful it could be.
Have you ever found something that seemed to be just what you needed when you didn’t even know you were looking for anything?
That’s what happened to me when I read the social media post.
A call for volunteers touched a chord deep within and I was compelled to respond. Emails were exchanged, information given, a questionnaire completed and I was accepted as part of a team to teach English to Mexican students.
We were divided into groups and I was one of those placed with a grade six class.
An orientation was held the week prior to starting. This answered questions and gave us valuable information on the school and the students we’d be working with.
The school system here houses two separate schools in the same building. One has classes in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Each have their own teachers and principal. We’d be in the afternoon school for one hour a week.
We were told that the school was in an extremely poor area and the majority of the students came from homes with no electricity.
Grade six is the last mandatory grade and very few would carry on with their education past this level. The children had little hope for the future, and were resigned to their lot in life.
Our job was to give them some basic language skills and to make it enjoyable. Fun for both the students and teachers was important to this program.
We would also take turns providing a snack for the students. This would be handed out as the students lined up to leave the room at the end of the class. Many would take this snack home to share with younger siblings.
That evening as I sat under electric lights with plenty of food in my fridge and cupboards, I reflected on the vastly different lifestyle, only a few kilometers away. I prayed that I would use the abundance I’ve been given to ease another’s burden and not take for granted what I have.
Although I wouldn’t meet the students for another week, I knew they had already impacted my life.
“Gran, would you like to learn the barn dance?” Emily asked.
We were at an out-of-town Highland Dance Competition and were filling in time as we waited for the earlier group of dancers to finish and her group to be called.
There was a small cloak room just outside of the auditorium and that is where Emily had just taken my husband through the steps of this same dance. I enjoyed watching the two of them and had even taken a few pictures.
It looked like fun but my mind immediately came up with several reasons why I shouldn’t do it. What if someone else saw us? Chances are I’d make a lot of mistakes and look foolish. Would I embarrass myself? I hesitated as these thoughts flashed across my mind.
The hopeful look in Emily’s eyes convinced me to say yes. I stepped into the small room and she took my hand and started to lead me through some simple steps. We repeated them several times.
As I focused on her instructions and not my insecurities, my former concerns disappeared. I had fun and the time passed far too quickly.
Too often I have let my self-doubts rob me from living life to the fullest. I hate to think of all the adventures I have missed. There are so many opportunities that can’t be embraced until I step out of my comfort zone.
I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but if I was, near the top of my list would be to dance like nobody’s watching, because usually, no one is!
“Did you get to choose your birthday menu, like when we were kids?”, I asked my older brother.
Although this was one of my favourite memories, it was one he had forgotten until I mentioned it.
Not only did I remember the special feeling I got from being able to choose the meal, I carried the tradition on with my children. To be honest, I didn’t realize that not every family did this! When my children brought home significant others I would be met with surprise when I wanted to honour them by cooking their favourite meal.
That’s the way it is with some family traditions. They become so second nature that we believe our way to be commonplace and not an exception.
My brother, who is eight years older than me, asked if our mom was still baking her special bread when I went to school. I laughed at the memory. That tradition was definitely not normal!
For Valentine’s Day my mom would put pink food colouring in the bread dough and I’d go to school with pink sandwiches! On Saint Patrick’s Day, she’d do the same with green food colouring. Initially, this caused quite a stir in my classroom. As years went by, my friends would explain my unusual lunch to new kids before I got a chance to!
I also grew up with money in my birthday cake. Mom would take coins, wrap each in wax paper and insert them into the cake before she iced it. The total amount equaled my age. Whoever got a coin in their piece of cake got to keep it and this always caused excitement for friends at my birthday parties. I was the only one who’s mom did this. Lucky me!
Looking back, I see how these simple traditions let me know I was loved. Maybe this is why I still express my love by baking for others.
My husband and I have started a few traditions of our own with our kids and grandkids. I’ll save those stories for another day.
For now, I’m wondering what special traditions you have in your family. They may or may not have to do with food! I’d love to hear about them and how they have shaped who you are today.
On our recent drive from Calgary to Vancouver, we encountered many areas with road work in progress. Signage informed us of the upcoming disruption, often with the words, “Construction ahead, expect delays.”
To allow for the unknown conditions ahead of us, extra time was built into our travel schedule. We were fortunate that many of the delays on this trip were minimal.
Although delays seem to be an inevitable part of travel, do I build the same flexibility into my life? How big a disruption is caused by unexpected events?
To quote a well-known song written by Canadian musician Tom Cochrane, “Life is a highway.” Let me tell you how I relate to this sentiment.
In this journey of life, I encounter accidents or situations that cause damage, both physical and mental. Necessary repairs may require rest and restoration. This unknown is not anything I can plan for.
I am also slowed down by necessary maintenance. The less time I devote to this now, the more time will be needed later.
In my younger years, these delays were inconvenient and caused upset as I wasn’t reaching my destination (goals) on the schedule I’d set out. The resulting stress often compounded my setback.
Now I am learning to look at the delays and detours as opportunities. They take me to places I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. When I choose to pay attention, there is much to be learned in the pauses of life. They may be there for an important reason.
This is the position I find myself currently in. My priorities are shifting and I am no longer in a rush. Diversions provide some interesting experiences. The pauses restore and refresh. I am still under construction and am determined to enjoy the scenery on this ride!
Something was missing on my morning walks alongside the creek this year. One day I realized I had only seen a few ducks and none with ducklings. I enjoyed watching numerous fluffy little ones last year and wondered where this year’s babies were. There must be some nearby. Why hadn’t I spotted any?
In mid-July, I saw a duck family sunning themselves on a large rock in the creek. The ducklings were the same colour as their mother by now, so were well camouflaged, and easy to miss if I wasn’t paying attention. I stopped to watch them and take a few pictures.
Curiosity caused me to wonder if they’d been there all along, so I made a conscious effort to check that same area over the next few days. Each time, I was rewarded with a view of them either sunning or swimming in the area.
Why hadn’t I seen them before? It’s not as if my eyes are downcast when I walk. After some thought, I realized that my focus had been on the path ahead of me and in my quest for exercise, I hadn’t always taken the time to slow down and look around. I thought I was aware of my surroundings, but obviously this was not the case.
This brings up more questions that have been in the back of my mind all this time. They won’t go away until I deal with them. What do I miss on a daily basis? And, how many areas of my life does this impact? This is about much more than failing to notice the ducks.
The little things I miss can add up to big things. Relationships, opportunities, adventures and so much more could be impacted.
I need to be more aware of the people and things that surround me. In order to live life to the fullest, I must be willing to stop and embrace the unexpected. God has given me a wonderful life for me and I don’t want to miss any of it!
For just over two years I’ve been studying Spanish on a language app. Every day I spend time doing lessons. After 832 days, I’ve learned a lot of words but still can’t hold a simple conversation in Spanish.
Many of the lessons give me multiple choices for the answers. The words are provided and I either have to chose the one or two correct ones to complete a sentence or translate an English sentence with some of the words provided. This is much easier for me than having to translate a sentence from English to Spanish as I don’t have to come up with the words from memory.
In my frustration one day, I blurted out, “This isn’t working for me anymore. I won’t have simple multiple choices in front of me when I want to speak. Life doesn’t work that way.”
My words caused a lightbulb moment! Life is not effectively lived in a multiple-choice scenario. Why then, do I look for a short list of solutions to choose from when I have a decision to make? It’s even better if someone else can give me answers that make no sense and one that’s clearly correct.
While this may initially sound like a good idea, it is in the trying, failing and figuring things out for myself that I will become fluent. In other words, I need to immerse myself in the process of living.
In learning a language, and in life, I must challenge myself to move into the unknown. It is comfortable to take the easy route, rely on tried-and-true options and congratulate myself on what I have already accomplished. This won’t get me to where I want to be.
There will be mistakes and times of frustration, but each will move me one step closer to success. No more multiple choice, it’s time to get fully immersed.
“I travelled on an unfamiliar road today,” my friend told me. The quiet route had taken her past a small village named Success.
“That sounds like a great place to live,” I said.
She replied, “I don’t know. It didn’t look like there was much there.”
For me, I wanted to be able to honestly say that I was living in success every day!
My curiosity was aroused and I needed to find out more about this unassuming village with such an inspiring name. A bit of research led me to a few interesting facts about Success, Saskatchewan. It has a population of 45 and a land mass of 1.36 square kilometres. Now I understood why it didn’t look like much to someone passing by.
Like the village, what I consider success might not look like much to an outsider. I don’t need a big house, fancy car, the latest fashions or expensive jewelry to feel successful.
At one time I thought being given important responsibilities or having more followers on social media were keys to success. It seemed like it for awhile, but my self-worth couldn’t be dependent on sources out of my control.
Zig Ziglar, an influencer and encourager, defined success in a way that resounds with me. He said, “Success is not measured by what you do compared to what others do, it is measured by what you do with the ability God gives you.”
When I use my time, talents, and resources in a way to reflect the love God has shown me, I am living in success. If I can make a difference, no matter how small, in the life of one person, I am living in success.
I have also realized my success doesn’t require a specific physical location. It can take place anywhere.
I won’t be adding to the population of Success, Saskatchewan, but am grateful to this unassuming village for indirectly helping me redefine what is important in my life.
“Can I come for a play date?” I asked. My friend teaches craft classes and is overflowing with talent and creativity.
I told her a couple of things I’d like to try and said she could choose which one we’d work on. We set a date for the following week and agreed I’d wait until I arrived to find out what I’d be creating.
Since I have complete trust in my friend, I had no concerns about her giving me a project I wouldn’t enjoy.
When I arrived, my work space contained a large white tile, several small bottles of coloured liquid, two bottles of clear liquid, and a few other assorted items.
I was told I’d be working with alcohol ink. After a lesson on how to use it, I was set free to experiment before choosing what my final project would be.
The first thing I discovered was a lack of control over the designs made by the ink. I couldn’t set out to paint a specific item or scene. Once I made peace with that, I was free to explore the possibilities. The different tools for blowing the ink made varying patterns. The effects created were fascinating.
Somehow, knowing I could change the design by what Iiquid I next placed on the tile gave me the confidence to embrace spontaneous creativity. The happy little accidents gave me more pleasure than if I’d had complete control over the outcome.
I had always thought my life ran better when I had control. Giving it up was very uncomfortable for me. Maybe I had to look at control from another perspective.
My experience in playing with alcohol ink showed me that too much control stifles creativity. The ability to be flexible and go with the flow, can serve me well. This is true not only in artistic endeavors, but also in life.
I got more than I bargained for in this play date. I wonder what I’ll learn in the next one!