Saturday, July 30, 2016

The best and last time I taught 1919

There are voices out there saying that Hillary supporters only like her because she's a woman. Not because of her policies, accomplishments, smarts or service.

I've never met one single Hillary supporter who will vote for her only because she's a woman, and I caucused for Hillary. Where are these people?

I for one have a list of women I'd never vote for -- not because they are women, but because they're dangerous or incoherent. However I think they should be heard, no matter my disagreement with their political standpoints.

My student teaching experience was such a disaster (according to my supervising teacher) that I never went into classroom education, even though to this day I long to teach. (Didn't occur to me to redo student teaching, and my professors forgot to suggest it.) But I had one glorious lesson that I believe was a mic drop moment in my short-lived teaching career. It was a high school American history class in Harrisburg, South Dakota.

My class was exploring the early 1900s and one day I decided to riff on the famous blue eyes / brown eyes class lesson that had been developed by an Iowa teacher Jane Elliott in the 60s to teach about discrimination (see it for yourself: https://youtu.be/-pv8mCHbOrs).

In my classroom I had the girls sit on one side and the boys on the other. This didn't seem strange to the students because movement in the classroom was my teaching style. (Which drove crazy my supervising teacher and thus, presumably, one of the reasons he made sure I would never teach.)

Standing in front of the classroom as the teacher, I turned my body to the boys side of the room and engaged them only, completely ignoring the girls. My lessons tended to be interactive but when the girls raised their hands I did not call on them. I didn't look at them. As the hour moved on, some girls got frustrated, raising their arms higher and higher. Others gave up and looked down at their desks.

The boys and I continued to discuss the lesson and I gave them a lot of feedback on their points.

"Miss Mork why aren't you calling on the girls," one boy said, finally. Ironically, the only boy who saw through the bullshit was the very kid who gave me the most disciplinary problems throughout my student teaching experience. (He was the kid who noticed my beat up old car in the parking lot: "Miss Mork, you drive a reservation racer." A nod to the very real state of racism in the state of South Dakota.)

"That's beside the point," I responded, ignoring his response too, and kept moving forward with my questions and activities. He fumed.

The other boys didn't notice that I wasn't calling on the girls.

I was determined to not engage any of the girls until the final minute of the class, and I remember tension building. The trouble-maker-boy kept challenging me, getting more and more agitated at my behavior. (My opinion of him raised considerably after that lesson. I realized he had a superb crap detector.) The girls were shuffling in their desks, not knowing what to make of it, but sadly, mostly remained quiet. The other boys were pretty much oblivious, and were model students in terms of engaging positively with my activities of the day. They didn't know they were being played. No one did.

I held out this way until the last few minutes of the class, when I wrote big on the blackboard:

1919

I turned my body to address the whole class and said, in 1919 women gained the right to vote through the ratification of the 19th amendment.

That's all I said. Class dismissed. Everyone left in silence, as I remember. It worked. They got it. If nothing else, I got it. (If I could teach it again, I'd leave more time to process the experience, giving the girls plenty of time to comment. If I could teach it again, I'd ask one of the girls to state the significance of 1919.) That date is emblazoned on my brain. It was the first, best and last time I ever taught that lesson. My supervising teacher had been planning his class reunion in the library and he did not witness my victory.

In fact, my supervising teacher ended up changing the course of my life by writing up a negative evaluation of my 5-month long student teaching performance. As such I ended up working in other sectors, including with an international development agency for 17 years. In those years another lesson branded me: women and girls represent 70 percent of the world's poverty and crime victims, yet have the least access to resources. And when women and girls advance, everyone does. It's not either/or. It's not men v. women. It's a matter of everyone having equal opportunity. A partner we worked with in India was known to have said: "The glory of God is men and women working together."

Having a women presidential candidate is not in and of itself advancing equal opportunity, even though it's historic. It is merely an indicator of equal opportunity. What matters is having the right presidential candidate who is dedicated to equal opportunity policies. Iowa made history last year by sending the first woman (Joni Ernst) to Washington as part of our congressional delegation. Historic, yes. The right choice, no, in my opinion. I didn't vote for her, and I will not vote for her in the future. And I'm not, no-voting for Joni Ernst because she's a woman, in the same way I'm not yes-voting for Hillary because she's a woman. My opinions are based on policies.

If I could present a part two of my famous 1919 history lesson (famous to me), I'd present this video which apparently did not make the democratic convention agenda, but is making the rounds on social media. I wouldn't show it as an overt partisan pandering -- but for the depiction of how important it is to support girls and women around the world.

Wish it went even deeper because equality is the key to our national security. You could say this: when women and girls advance, there is less poverty and less extremism, less terrorism. When women and girls advance, everyone advances.

Women have sons and girls have fathers. Our very survival depends on equal treatment of everyone.

Please watch this video, no matter your politics. Don't boo, vote. (Quoting President Obama.)

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Terri Mork Speirs


 

The best and last time I taught 1919

Some say Hillary supporters like her only because she's a woman. Not because of her policies, accomplishments, smarts or service.

I've never met one single Hillary supporter who will vote for her only because she's a woman, and I caucused for Hillary. Where are these people?

I for one have a list of women I'd never vote for -- not because they are women, but because their policies are dangerous or incoherent. However I think they should be heard, no matter my disagreement with their political standpoints.

My student teaching experience was such a disaster (according to my supervising teacher) that I never went into classroom education, even though to this day I long to teach. (Didn't occur to me to redo student teaching, and my professors forgot to suggest it.) But I had one glorious lesson that I believe was a mic drop moment in my short-lived teaching career. It was a high school American history class in Harrisburg, South Dakota.

My class was exploring the early 1900s and one day I decided to riff on the famous blue eyes / brown eyes class lesson that had been developed by an Iowa teacher Jane Elliott in the 60s to teach about discrimination (see it for yourself: https://youtu.be/-pv8mCHbOrs).

In my classroom I had the girls sit on one side and the boys on the other. This didn't seem strange to the students because movement in the classroom was my teaching style. (Which drove crazy my supervising teacher and thus, presumably, one of the reasons he made sure I would never teach.)

Standing in front of the classroom as the teacher, I turned my body to the boys side of the room and engaged them only, completely ignoring the girls. My lessons tended to be interactive but when the girls raised their hands I did not call on them. I didn't look at them. As the hour moved on, some girls got frustrated, raising their arms higher and higher. Others gave up and looked down at their desks.

The boys and I continued to discuss the lesson and I gave them a lot of feedback on their points.

"Miss Mork why aren't you calling on the girls," one boy said, finally. Ironically, the only boy who saw through the bullshit was the very kid who gave me the most disciplinary problems throughout my student teaching experience. (He was the kid who noticed my beat up old car in the parking lot and called it a "reservation racer," a nod to the very real state of racism in the state of South Dakota.)

I ignored his challenge too. "That's beside the point," I said, and kept moving forward with my questions and activities. He fumed.

The other boys didn't notice that I wasn't calling on the girls.

I was determined to not engage any of the girls until the final minute of the class, and I remember tension building. The trouble-maker-boy kept challenging me, getting more and more agitated at my behavior. (My opinion of him raised considerably after that lesson. I realized he had a superb crap detector.) The girls were shuffling in their desks, not knowing what to make of it, but sadly, mostly remained quiet. The other boys were pretty much oblivious, and were model students in terms of engaging positively with my activities of the day. They didn't know they were being played. No one did.

I held out this way until the last few minutes of the class, when I wrote big on the blackboard:

1919

I turned my body to address the whole class and said: in 1919 women gained the right to vote through the ratification of the 19th amendment.

That's all. Class dismissed. Everyone left in silence, as I remember. It worked. They got it. If nothing else, I got it. That date is emblazoned on my brain. It was the best and last time I ever taught that lesson. My supervising teacher had been planning his class reunion in the library and he did not witness my victory.

In fact, my supervising teacher ended up changing the course of my life by writing up a negative evaluation of my 5-month long student teaching performance. As such I ended up working in other sectors, including with an international development agency for 17 years. In those years another lesson branded me: women and girls represent 70 percent of the world's poor and crime victims, yet have the least access to resources. And when women and girls advance, everyone does. It's not either/or. It's not men v. women. It's a matter of everyone having equal opportunity. A partner we worked with in India was known to have said: "The glory of God is men and women working together."

Having a women presidential candidate is not in and of itself advancing equal opportunity, even though it's historic. It is merely an indicator of equal opportunity. What matters is having the right presidential candidate who is dedicated to equal opportunity policies. Iowa made history last year by sending the first woman (Joni Ernst) to Washington as part of our congressional delegation. Historic, yes. The right choice, no, in my opinion. I didn't vote for her, and I will not vote for her in the future. And I'm not, no-voting for Joni Ernst because she's a woman, in the same way I'm not yes-voting for Hillary because she's a woman. My opinions are based on policies.

If I could present a part two of my famous 1919 history lesson (famous to me), I'd present this video which apparently did not make the democratic convention agenda, but is making the rounds on social media. I wouldn't show it as an overt partisan pandering -- but for the depiction of how important it is to support girls and women around the world.

Wish it went even deeper because equality is the key to our national security. You could say this: when women and girls advance, there is less poverty and less extremism, less terrorism. When women and girls advance, everyone advances.

Women have sons and girls have fathers. Our very survival depends on equal treatment of everyone.

Please watch this video, no matter your politics. Don't boo, vote. (Quoting President Obama.)

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Terri Mork Speirs


 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dedicated to my brother, Trey (first posted August 2014)

The Little Fish That Could

by Terri Mork Speirs

He was a father on limited time. His son was a boy explorer. The fish they caught together let loose infinite potential. 
First, let me set the scene.
It was a Saturday in July.  The extended family and I were at the lake. The air was humid, buggy, and slightly rainy so we spent most of the afternoon sitting inside a netted patio. Insects aside, it was a glorious time together as we don’t often enjoy opportunities to see each other. 
The lake was a quiet body of water, more so that day due to the overcast skies. No speed boats, jet skies, canoes, or kayaks. Our campsite, though completely modern with electricity and running water, was surrounded by an undeveloped state park. Thus, it was just us. Family, food, drink, alongside a pristine panorama of water, sky, and tremendously thick tree growth. Who cared about the relentless gnats outside our the netting? We had a good working flush-toilet and we were together.
As grand as it was, we were about to witness something even better. Something that could have fizzled into nothing, could have escalated into disappointment, could have never happened at all. That something was pretty simple: a boy wanted to fish and his father complied. The boy was my eight-year-old nephew, a outdoorsy ruffian who showed me his nature finds throughout the weekend, things like turtle eggs and a fossilized skull. The father was one of my three brothers, a man who shares custody of his children and makes every minute count.
Overall we were not so much a fishing family, but knowing the boy (my nephew) enjoyed this activity, the father (my brother) had packed two poles and simple gear for the weekend. There was bait next to the beer in the fridge. Father and son pitched their strings at the end of the dock and waited, flying pests and moody clouds notwithstanding, the rest of us still taking refuge inside the netting. The rain grew harder.
“We can fish on the paddle boat,” the boy suggested. The watercraft had a sun cover and to him, it could function as an umbrella. As a parent, I’d have called it quits at that point. (Actually, I don’t fish so I wouldn’t have even made it as far as the poles and the dock.) But the father followed his son and out they went in the rain on a paddleboat with two fishing poles.
If you could pick up a pencil and draw a classically formed fish, simple lines, fan-shaped tail-fin, curved topside arching into a pointed head with bulging black eyes — that’s what they caught together. The gilled creature was about the size of a large human jazz hand, a little fish with big possibilities. I don’t know who caught it, the boy or his father, but it didn’t matter. They caught it together. It was mission accomplished, rain or shine, gnats or no.
Next came the filleting. With a kitchen knife and a cutting board, the boy and his father stood in the rain on the dock and sliced the fish open, trimming away the morsel of meat. The truth was, the father didn’t know how to fillet a fish but he cut away the best he could. The boy watched intently. Meanwhile, those of us hiding in the netted shelter kept hollering for them to make sure the guts were disposed far away from the campsite. The boy took care of that part.
For me, the most magical moment of the story came next.
Holding up the small white fillet with his little rascal fingers, the boy asked his father: “Do we eat now or do we cook it?” It was the most earnestly asked question I’d ever heard. And there were so many potential answers. There could have been laughter, embarrassing the boy for his curiosity. There could have been mockery, poking fun at the boy’s innocence. There could have been deceit, telling the boy to go ahead and eat the raw fish flesh. 
There are so many choices when it comes to how we relate to children. As adults, we have the power. We may choose to engage or ignore. We may choose to talk straightly or sarcastically. We may choose to care or neglect. We may choose to empower or abuse. 
Children and fish figure into our public choices as well, as presently there are up to 80,000 unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico being held in detention (a nicer word for jail) in the U.S. These children are, in essence, asking the questions and we have many answers from which to choose. 
As Christians, we are informed by Jesus’ call to believe that when we give there will always be enough for all, as described in the parable of the feeding of 5,000 people (not counting women and children) with just two fish and five loaves of bread. 
As Lutherans, we behold a robust infrastructure of social service agencies with decades of proven experience to care for foster, immigrant, and refugee children.
As citizens of the U.S., the richest country in human history, we are more wealthy than we can imagine. (My definition of wealth is this: if you reliable and private sanitation, you’re rich.) We have resources.
Choices abound.
Holding up the humble piece of floppy fish flesh, the boy (my nephew) waited for his father (my brother) to answer to his question. Should he eat it raw or cook it first? As an innocent child, he’d do whatever his father told him.
“We will cook it first,” the father said. No frills language, just an answer. And they did. The boy stood in front of the grill with a spatula, meticulously turning the fillet over and over the hot irons. His sincerity was palpable. He cooked it real good, flipping and flipping again, loosing a flake here and there to the fire. I was pretty glad I didn’t have to eat it, but they placed what was left of the blackened fillet in between slices of bread and sat down at a picnic table. 

The boy and his father feasted together. ~ 
The Little Fish That Could

dedicated to my brother, Trey

by Terri Mork Speirs

He was a father on limited time. His son was a boy explorer. The fish they caught together let loose infinite potential. 
First, let me set the scene.
It was a Saturday in July.  The extended family and I were at the lake. The air was humid, buggy, and slightly rainy so we spent most of the afternoon sitting inside a netted patio. Insects aside, it was a glorious time together as we don’t often enjoy opportunities to see each other. 
The lake was a quiet body of water, more so that day due to the overcast skies. No speed boats, jet skies, canoes, or kayaks. Our campsite, though completely modern with electricity and running water, was surrounded by an undeveloped state park. Thus, it was just us. Family, food, drink, alongside a pristine panorama of water, sky, and tremendously thick tree growth. Who cared about the relentless gnats outside our the netting? We had a good working flush-toilet and we were together.
As grand as it was, we were about to witness something even better. Something that could have fizzled into nothing, could have escalated into disappointment, could have never happened at all. That something was pretty simple: a boy wanted to fish and his father complied. The boy was my eight-year-old nephew, a outdoorsy ruffian who showed me his nature finds throughout the weekend, things like turtle eggs and a fossilized skull. The father was one of my three brothers, a man who shares custody of his children and makes every minute count.
Overall we were not so much a fishing family, but knowing the boy (my nephew) enjoyed this activity, the father (my brother) had packed two poles and simple gear for the weekend. There was bait next to the beer in the fridge. Father and son pitched their strings at the end of the dock and waited, flying pests and moody clouds notwithstanding, the rest of us still taking refuge inside the netting. The rain grew harder.
“We can fish on the paddle boat,” the boy suggested. The watercraft had a sun cover and to him, it could function as an umbrella. As a parent, I’d have called it quits at that point. (Actually, I don’t fish so I wouldn’t have even made it as far as the poles and the dock.) But the father followed his son and out they went in the rain on a paddleboat with two fishing poles.
If you could pick up a pencil and draw a classically formed fish, simple lines, fan-shaped tail-fin, curved topside arching into a pointed head with bulging black eyes — that’s what they caught together. The gilled creature was about the size of a large human jazz hand, a little fish with big possibilities. I don’t know who caught it, the boy or his father, but it didn’t matter. They caught it together. It was mission accomplished, rain or shine, gnats or no.
Next came the filleting. With a kitchen knife and a cutting board, the boy and his father stood in the rain on the dock and sliced the fish open, trimming away the morsel of meat. The truth was, the father didn’t know how to fillet a fish but he cut away the best he could. The boy watched intently. Meanwhile, those of us hiding in the netted shelter kept hollering for them to make sure the guts were disposed far away from the campsite. The boy took care of that part.
For me, the most magical moment of the story came next.
Holding up the small white fillet with his little rascal fingers, the boy asked his father: “Do we eat now or do we cook it?” It was the most earnestly asked question I’d ever heard. And there were so many potential answers. There could have been laughter, embarrassing the boy for his curiosity. There could have been mockery, poking fun at the boy’s innocence. There could have been deceit, telling the boy to go ahead and eat the raw fish flesh. 
There are so many choices when it comes to how we relate to children. As adults, we have the power. We may choose to engage or ignore. We may choose to talk straightly or sarcastically. We may choose to care or neglect. We may choose to empower or abuse. 
Children and fish figure into our public choices as well, as presently there are up to 80,000 unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico being held in detention (a nicer word for jail) in the U.S. These children are, in essence, asking the questions and we have many answers from which to choose. 
As Christians, we are informed by Jesus’ call to believe that when we give there will always be enough for all, as described in the parable of the feeding of 5,000 people (not counting women and children) with just two fish and five loaves of bread. 
As Lutherans, we behold a robust infrastructure of social service agencies with decades of proven experience to care for foster, immigrant, and refugee children.
As citizens of the U.S., the richest country in human history, we are more wealthy than we can imagine. (My definition of wealth is this: if you reliable and private sanitation, you’re rich.) We have resources.
Choices abound.
Holding up the humble piece of floppy fish flesh, the boy (my nephew) waited for his father (my brother) to answer to his question. Should he eat it raw or cook it first? As an innocent child, he’d do whatever his father told him.
“We will cook it first,” the father said. No frills language, just an answer. And they did. The boy stood in front of the grill with a spatula, meticulously turning the fillet over and over the hot irons. His sincerity was palpable. He cooked it real good, flipping and flipping again, loosing a flake here and there to the fire. I was pretty glad I didn’t have to eat it, but they placed what was left of the blackened fillet in between slices of bread and sat down at a picnic table. 

The boy and his father feasted together. ~ 

Friday, May 6, 2016

The curious office guest

This post is from 2012, two jobs and four years ago. It was originally published in Living Lutheran, but I see it didn't make the archive cut. I've always liked it so I decided to keep it alive here. 

Plus I've been thinking of my mystery guest lately because of an upcoming event I'm working on (see video promo below), with guest speaker who founded a theater project for women incarcerated. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1891966661030966/?active_tab=posts

The curious office guest

by Terri Mork Speirs

She telephoned me to say she needed to interview someone for her community college class on nonprofit organizations. And so we agreed to meet in my office, where I did communications and other duties as assigned for a small interfaith agency that runs a network of 12 food pantries.

She entered my office a few days later. My colleagues were all out to meetings and I’d been working in solitude until my guest appeared. Reluctantly, I set my deadlines aside and we sat together at a bistro-sized table in the corner just a few feet away from my desk. It was quiet and we were alone.

Her frame was skinny. Her voice was gravely. Her complexion was potholed. All as if she'd smoked cigarettes since she was a baby. Her hair was overly blond and kind of stringy. Yet she was well presented with a long skirt and a pretty top. We opened with chit chat. To understand her, I had to listen intently because she didn't enunciate in a way I'm used to hearing. It was almost like interpreting a heavy accent, maybe the accent one talks when they've lived hard. She seemed so earnest about fulfilling her school project. 

I thought stupid, patronizing thoughts like how great it is that people like her could go to community college. I remembered how much I loved teaching community college. She ended the small talk, pulled out her notebook, and asked me questions. 

"What's your mission?" she asked. I answered.

"Who do you serve?" she asked. I answered.

"Where do you get funding?" she asked. I answered. 

And on with all the typical nonprofit questions, until she got to this question: "Do you have interns?" Yes, I answered. Not a lot but sometimes, I said. What are your interests? I asked. 

That’s when the conversation shifted. She put her notebook down. She put her student persona down. She put her pretenses down. The energy between us changed. 

"I'll tell you what my interests are," she said, looking straight at me, talking with confidence and conviction that she didn't exude a few moments earlier. Suddenly I could understand her words perfectly.  I no longer needed to strain my ears to pick up her words and sentences. Her appearance became irrelevant because her personal power abruptly stood up tall. It was like she transformed before my very eyes.

"My interests are women who are doing prison time and who shouldn't be," she said. "I'm not saying all of them, but I'd say at least half the women in Mitchellville (nearby women’s facility) shouldn't be there. They were victims. They were defending themselves. They did drugs to escape. They shouldn't be there and there are no services for them when they get out. They get sent to a halfway house but they don't need a halfway house, they need a chance. They need to get back into the world.”

She talked like she knew her subject matter intimately. I forgot about her assignment and my deadlines. A hundred questions rolled through my head. Did you do time? Were you abused? Did you use? How did you protect yourself? How did you get to community college? What’s your story?

She talked with such passion that I felt moved to shut up and listen. She continued: "But I can't do anything until I get my education, that's what I'm focused on now." And that’s what I decided to focus on too, my education. I paid close attention to what she was saying instead of injecting snoopy questions.

She told me she’s working towards her associate’s degree, then her BA in Human Services. She said she wants to improve the system. Maybe start her own nonprofit.

She was finished with the interview. We shook hands and she walked out of my office. I gave her my business card but after she left it occurred to me that I didn't even ask her name. For all I knew, she didn't really exist and I'd simply imagined her. Was she an apparition?

It’s about eight months later, as I write (four years later as I post) and I still think a lot about this meeting. This woman had such a clear vision of personal transformation, I admire her even as I do not see her again. But I do Google search “incarcerated women.” All sorts of reports, stats, and stories come up that you wish were apparitions for the real horror of it all. They tell us to believe that God comes to us in forms we least expect. That Jesus came to set us free. That the Holy Ghost is mysterious and powerful. Are we to take that literally?

She, my curious office guest, seemed to appear to bring me a message. But what? 

*

Here's the video we made to promote our event. I like the way it turned out: 




With love,
Terri

Friday, April 8, 2016

What is NYC cred?

Bay Ridge Brooklyn
If you know me, you know that I am watching U.S. prez campaign closely. Not because I want to or need to, but because I have to. I'm addicted. I can't help it. Not proud of it. Anyway, today, I heard a couple of candidates discuss their "New York values" and I must comment.

Establishing New York cred seems to be the thing to do, whether hollywood, pop music, political campaigns, or simple daily conversation. I am a mainstream midwesterner through and through, Lutheran, blue collar raised, white collar realized, fairly prudish, etc. I am the epitome of the American dream work ethic mythic end of the rainbow. I am Minnesota born, South Dakota raised, and Iowa presented, with so called "New York Values" that are being touted and taunted in the current prez campaign.

It's been 15 years since I've lived in New York City and nine months since I last visited, yet I feel compelled to establish my New York cred, so here goes.

- I commuted from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to Midtown, Manhattan for six years.
- Via the R-train, a local.
- A 40 minute ride one way.
- A one hour 15 minute commute door to door, one way. (About four miles or so, I'm guessing.)
- 18 months of that commute was spent preggers. Big bellied me riding the subway, every single day.
- 100 percent of my children gestated in the NYC subways.
- I tried to go unnoticed but New Yorkers gave me, the pregger-lady, a seat on the train everyday.
- It was embarrassing.
- Though I admit to taking the express bus in the last month of my last pregnancy. (So comfy.)
- People gave me their bus seats too, because of my preggo belly.
- The very last day of my commute out of Manhattan, at 5 o'clock on Friday, before my last baby was born, before we moved out of the city, Bob came to pick me up with a car, the most luxurious way to spend a last day of a commute possible.
- He may as well have been superman.
- 16 hours later I went into labor.
- 20 hours after that I lay in a hospital bed in Brooklyn, the Statue of Liberty outside my window, my own blood on the floor all around me, the nurse on duty disgusted she was tasked to clean it up. (Short staffed. Hospital closed a few years later.)

I don't quickly claim "NY cred" but if the prez candidates are going to do it -- I am too because I have far more than any of them and I'm from the midwest. I commuted, worked, and gave birth (twice, plus one miscarriage) in the greatest city in the world. And I've barely scratched the surface of the cred. There are the temp jobs, the inlaws, the husband, the firehouse across our apartment, the park that overlooked the towers, the parties, the brunches, the friends, the family, the love, the spring breaks, the vacations, the plane tickets, the Irish pubs, the Italian restaurants, the baby stroller walks, the ernest people, and the visitor tours. I feel I don't have the right to comment on 911 losses. I don't go there. Feels too sacred. (Though at least one prez candidate goes there.)

South Dakota prairie
There are also the days and weeks and years I felt claustrophobic and longed for open space. Prairie-sized space. I needed big sky and fresh wind. I needed to breathe cold winter air instead of apartment heat.

My point being this. There is no prez candidate who can claim or denounce "NYC values." They didn't give birth in failing hospitals. They didn't ride the subway. I only did it for six years but millions of people do it for decades or a whole lifetime. (Some take a bus to a train to a boat.) Its a rough way to get home. My current commute is a nine minute drive in my private Prius, with a full cup of coffee and the lovely Iowa Public Radio.

All this and I'm still a NYC outsider. How can any prez candidate claim to own "NCY values?" Or worse, to insult NCY values? Especially the one who lives in golden towers and travels in helicopters (in city) and jets (in country)? Nope. I'm more New York than that. And quite honestly, I really more midwest.

Now to solve my prez campaign addiction.

All for now. Thanks, friends.

~ TDMS

P.S. For the record, I'm voting for Hillary or Bernie, whoever gets the nomination. They are both supremely qualified.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Christmas letter

A Reflection for Friends and Family:

On Christmas day we found ourselves at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP), the four of us sitting at the only available table – in the back next to the bathrooms and emergency exit. The place was packed and I said, “We’re with our people.” Bob and the kiddos thought I was kidding, but I wasn’t. “We’re with the people who are like us -- nowhere to go for Christmas.” Amanda and Aidan kind of laughed but they knew it was true.

Like many of the other patrons, we were there in mussed hair, no makeup, and flannel shirts (mostly speaking for myself), as though we were home and hungry. All four of us played on our phones while waiting for our food. Our waitress started every interaction with “I’m sorry I’m taking so long,” as if it was her fault she was handling a large section of tables all by herself. You got the sense that she really should have been home with her children, instead of working a shift at IHOP. As one with many years of work at understaffed restaurants, I tried not to imagine what was going in the kitchen, fingers dipped in pancake batter, hamburger patties dropped in the floor before placement on bun, deep fryer grease looking like molasses from lack-o-cleaning. (Just last night I had a dream that I was starting back at my former short-order cook job. I was thinking hard in my dream, for any new knowledge that I might have gained to curb the pimples that would emerge on my face as a result of working again with large vats of grease.)

But don’t feel sorry for us.

We intentionally traded-in cooking Christmas dinner for a naps because we stayed up late the night before. Bob had worked well past 1 a.m., and I made the decision to attend all three Christmas Eve services, 5, 8:30, and 11 p.m. (I had the freedom to make that choice because both Amanda and Aidan drive now, plus I have my own car.) Each service different, I wanted to experience it all – the live nativity (see pic below), the children’s flashlight stars, the orchestra, the ensembles, the choirs, the bells, and the hundreds of golden candles flickering under the milky way of paper stars hovering above the congregation (see pic below). Truly magical. 

These are the choices you make when you live far away from your family and your in-laws. One night it’s the glory of art and music, the next night it’s IHOP. Christmas for a pastor’s family is a strange mix of beauty and loneliness. 

Still, anytime the four of us are gathered around the same table, even if glued to tiny cellphone screens, mama panda is happy. I used to think that the baby pandas would be with us forever. I guess when you’re chained to intensive parenting, probably not all of it necessary, it feels like a bottomless pit of duty. But to be cliché, children grow fast. Everything ends. Amanda (19), who we used to call Demanda because up until 2014 she seemed to command every minute of my attention, now lives quite independently in another time zone. She’s a sophomore at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and I will now shamelessly brag about her exact area of study because I love it so much: she’s majoring in political science and minoring in international studies with a concentration in international economics. People ask what she’ll be doing with that. Her quick answer is: go to law school. My answer is more uppity: think critically. It was a thrill for me to help her set up a home gallery of her ceramics (see pic below), pieces she created in high school and college learning from a talented host of mentors and teachers. Patrons were amazingly generous in buying her pottery, thus supporting her art and her study abroad fund.

I might have been more depressed at our Christmas at IHOP if not for the memory of the previous weekend with friends and family. Amanda and I were able to make a quick trip three hours due north to Minnesota. My brother and sister in law, Tom and Gretchen, hosted a big family gathering in the grand style all three of my brothers are known for: in a heated, immaculate, fully stocked garage, so comfortable you could go stocking footed. It was the first time I’d seen my family for Xmas in a decade and I left feeling profoundly satisfied way deep down in a way I cannot explain.

When our IHOP waitress gave us the bill for Christmas dinner, Aidan (16) offered to pay. He’s been working for over a year and has liquid money, a bank account, and a debit card. He pays for his cell phone and gasoline for the car, as he drives himself to school. (Yet another last vestige of my motherhood duties ended – 15 years of driving my kiddos to school. Aidan is happy to finally be getting there on time, instead of chronically two, three, ten minutes late.) I didn’t want him to pay for IHOP meal. Actually, I’d rather he not work so much. Instead of having extra cash I’d rather he join more school things and/or read. But his joy is skateboarding, baseball, heavy metal, and silence. A few weeks ago he was invited to join the school improv team and when he (reluctantly) told me I tried my best to play it down low. (Competitions! Scholarships! Hollywood!) A subtle dude, he carefully selects the times when he’s hilarious but he mostly chooses quiet. When he speaks up, he has something to say. I realized that his offer to pay our IHOP tab came from his heart. It was his gift to his family. Instead of regulating his choice like a mother I gave in to gratitude for his generosity. We made a deal. Aidan would pay for the food, Bob and I would cover the tip, upping our usual 20 percent to 25 percent for the holiday. (Ex-waitresses tip higher, they say.)

Napping was a good choice for Christmas day.

Sated, Bob and I postponed our planned Xmas cooking until December 26 and we did not disappoint, if I may say. We stuffed large pasta shells with ricotta, parmesan, Italian sausage, fresh basil and oregano, chopped spinach, onions and garlic. We topped with marinara sauce (while I fantasized about garden fresh tomatoes for next year’s din) and wala – two pans of excellent eating. We vowed to cook more the new year, to host more house concerts. We also vowed to take dance lessons after Bob’s knee surgery (January, his third joint surgery and our seventh collective surgery altogether, but who’s counting? Thankful for modern medicine.) More of our collective 2016 vows: golf more, bike more, hike more, read and write more. Visit family and friends more. Bob is sustained by the awesome congregation that is St. John’s in downtown Des Moines, where he’s served as associate pastor since 2007. But he misses his family and friends in Brooklyn, as do I. Our vacation resources are dedicated to trips to NYC. (And now also to DaveMatthews Band concerts, as our first try in 2015 was a tremendous success. My family got to enjoy a happy mama panda, and I got to sit/stand/dance next to tattoo dad, according to his t-shirt, who shared my enthusiasm for the lyrics and set list. Three fourths of us are looking forward to the 2016 tour dates. Another vow: more tailgating. Fingers crossed.) 

Mostly, I vow to more fully appreciate the gift I have in Bob, and my parents. The truth “everything ends” haunts me, as I think of all I have and all I have to lose. 

My new job sustains me. 2015 was a pretty big year for me in terms of employment. I’ve transitioned from full-time grant writing (a white collar version of hard labor) to marketing/communications (a day job version of creative writing). I started as marketing/communications director at a large counseling and education center that provides a broad range of mental health services, plus renewal and professional development opportunities, serving more than 2,450 individuals including 700 children annually. The organizational culture of wellness and wholeness makes for a pleasant work environment. I also do some freelance writing and editing on the side, mostly with Living Lutheran blog site and The Lutheran magazine. In the vein of always wanting more, I wish I could make a living by teaching and writing. I wish all the refugees could be resettled. I wish people wouldn’t listen to hateful speech. I wish we would all seek to understand one another’s concerns. I wish peace would prevail.

I wish that all of you are loved and satisfied, wherever your sanctuary is: a grand cathedral, a packed diner, a warm garage, or somewhere else. Pancakes for everyone!

I close with a litany that St. John’s used for Christmas Eve services:

Light looked down and saw darkness.
"I will go there", said Light.
Peace looked down and saw war.
"I will go there", said Peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred.
"I will go there," said Love.
So Light came and shone. So Peace came and gave rest. So Love came and brought life. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

With love,

Terri

On behalf of the family,
Terri and Bob Speirs
Amanda and Aidan

Blog: naturalbornbleedingheart.blogspot.com
Facebook: Terri Mork Speirs

Twitter: @TerriMorkSpeirs

Christmas at St. John's Des Moines, Iowa
Xmas eve 2015, Bob and I are standing on a step, the kiddos are actually taller than us
Amanda's ceramics are getting better and better; it's such a pleasure to watch her craft develop.
We are incredibly grateful for the people who bought many of these pieces. 

James and Poppy



Live nativity at child-friendly service featured Bob as a shepherd.