Friday, October 29, 2010

Fantastic Foto Friday

Jonah's first "hot" chocolate! It was barely above room temperature.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Getting Buggy With It

We've been doing some bug arts and crafts this week, to celebrate the creepy crawly side of the season! First, we made a caterpillar. I chose to do a caterpillar craft with Jonah, because he has been really interested in the woolybears in our yard. The woolybear is kind of a big deal in our area this time of year, and one of my favorite fall activities is looking for these cute little critters. I let Jonah choose what colors to make his caterpillar, though, I didn't want to restrict him to brown and black.

I cut the body of the caterpillar from a paper egg carton. I gave Jonah two choices for painting the caterpillar. He could use a shower puff, or an old bottle brush. He tried the shower puff, but did not really like the way it felt, so he ultimately chose the bottle brush. We also used pom-poms, pipe cleaners (cut into 4ths) and elmer's glue
First, I let Jonah paint the body of the caterpillar. He is beginning to tell me which colors that he wants to paint with, and he really favors purple and blue! 
We let the paint dry, then Jonah glued the pom-poms onto the caterpillar. I thought it was cute how he chose to put one on each "peak" of the egg carton.

Then I added the pipe cleaners for legs and antennae. An older child can probably do this on their own. I used scissors to poke holes in the body, but an older child can use a scrapbooking tool for safety. Then I bent the pipe cleaners inside of the egg carton, so they stayed in the holes, and shaped them to be legs and antennae.

We also made handprint spiders in spider webs. Stay tuned for that craft!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Think We'll Stay In Tonight

On August 15th, 2008, right around 2:20am, I looked at Daryl and pleaded "I just want to go home; please can we just go home? I want my mom." Daryl's response was that once I start saying that, it means we're almost done; I can do this. Five minutes later, our son Jonah was born into the bright, sterile environment of our hospital room. I still wanted to go home.

When we first began looking into our options for giving birth to Evelyn, I wasn't quite comfortable with giving birth at home. Daryl was extremely comfortable with the idea, and even suggested, several times, that we have an unassisted birth. Yes, and he says that *I'm* the crunchy one! But I most definitely wasn't comfortable giving birth in a hospital, that was something that I knew from experience. I found middle ground in the thought of giving birth in a free standing birth center.

As the pregnancy went on, however, I kept finding my thoughts veering back towards the idea of giving birth to this baby at home. The biggest reason that I was uncomfortable with the thought of staying at home to labor and birth, was that Daryl and I did not have a home of our own. We were living under the same roof with Daryl's parents and brother. Mix into that equation my mother coming to visit and Daryl's other brother coming to visit, and you have one house full of nosy bodies. Not that Daryl's family members are generally nosy bodies, but a woman giving birth elicits a certain curiosity. The rooms aren't sound proof. When I thought of Daryl's family being able to hear me labor, a nervous and embarrassing feeling swept over me like a wave. It was akin to the thought of them being able to hear Daryl and I being intimate. And rightfully so; giving birth is an extremely intimate moment in a couple's life. Daryl and I wanted a birth that included only him, me, and the people necessary to attend the birth safely. We were unsure if we would have that with a home birth.

But every time I drove down the bumpy road to get to the birth center, I would wonder: could Daryl avoid this pot hole or would he take that curve too sharply? It's kind of a long drive, and there was construction during the day. Often going to an appointment, I would get stuck in traffic. Could I give birth in the car?

Then I would think of Jonah. Did I want him there? Did I want to leave him? Did I want him to see the baby moments after she was born? Would I be comfortable laboring while he was away from me? (I hadn't really ever left him over night before) How would he react if I went away and then suddenly came back with this new tiny baby? How would he react if he could hear his mother scream?

Then I would think of the baby. Sweet Evelyn. I had not even seen her face, but already I wanted to protect her. To keep her snug and safe. To hold her and never let her go. Would I be able to put her in a car seat, cold and mechanical, when she is just hours old?

I was pretty indecisive up until the last minute that I had to make the decision. After speaking to my midwife several times (it was a discussion at almost every appointment) we decided to plan for a home birth, because then everything would be in place if I decided that I was staying put. And if I decided that I wanted to leave the house, then we would figure that out when the time came.

Well, the time came. I was having a grand day with my mom and my family. Daryl's brother was due to fly in that night. My father-in-law left to pick him up from the airport around 10:00pm, which was about the time that I was saying "this is certainly NOT a false alarm, we're having a baby soon!" They arrived home at midnight, just as labor was becoming intense. I was being very loud. I heard them come in. I knew they could hear me. I didn't care!

I thought about going upstairs to greet my brother in law. The thought of the stairs made me ill. The thought of moving made me ill. Daryl called the midwife shortly after. He held the phone out to me... was I going to tell her to go to the center, or to come here. My nails were dug into the carpet with a contraction, like a cat who doesn't want to take a bath.

I wasn't moving.

I think we'll stay home tonight!

Yes, my family heard me all the way on the third floor of the house. Yes, sometimes I am a little embarrassed thinking about that. Although, I do wish I had asked for my mom to come downstairs during labor because I think I would have been calmer. She would have reminded me to stay calm, to "keep my face soft." (the labor advice she kept repeating to me over and over again during the week before Eve was born)

It turned out though, I was happy to have family there. More happy than embarrassed. When Jonah was moments away from being born, I had asked for my mom. I suddenly didn't like the people around me who were not my family. I wanted them out. I told them to get out, then I said "I want my mom." I called her as soon as I could, and told her to come. I needed her. Knowing that she was close by, that my family was near me, that I would see them as soon as the baby was out... that was the most reassuring thing I have ever felt. If anyone asks me what the best thing about having a home birth was, I tell them that it's definitely a tie. Not having to commute (in other words, having my bed right there!) and being surrounded by those I love instead of a room full of people I've never met.

I found some video of family interactions within the first 24 hours of Evie's life. I took some still shots of the video to share what happiness, what love, there was surrounding this child at birth.

Beer Bread: Not Everything Turns Out Perfectly

The newest adventure that has been unfolding in my kitchen is bread making. Obviously, the same as other mothers who have a toddler and/or infant, quick and easy are the key words for me when it comes to cooking anything. It seems like this would throw bread-making out the window. But I've actually found that there are really easy, and really fast ways for having delicious homemade breads.

The first bread that I'm playing around with is actually a quick bread, but it tastes every bit as fluffy as yeast rising breads. The secret? Beer. Yup. Beer.

One of the science experiments I am looking forward to doing while homeschooling my children is the famous volcano experiment. You know the one, where you put baking soda into the volcano and play with different acidic and basic "ingredients" to see which ones make the volcano erupt? Well, the concept is at work here. The beer "feeds" off of the sugar and baking soda to release CO2, filling the dough with sweet pockets of air and causing it to rise. The result is the nice fluffy and somewhat sweet tasting bread. If you are doing the experiment with your child, or if they are doing it at their school, this is a great, fast activity that really drives home the "real world" relevance to the volcano experiment.  (can you tell I've been looking into preschool and kindergarten curricula?) As long as you don't mind doing an activity that involves beer with your child.

I got my recipe from but I changed it up a little. I don't use self-rising flour, so I used my own substitute, and I like the bread a little sweeter so I added more sugar. If you are doing this in conjunction to the volcano experiment, I suggest using the baking soda and salt version rather than the all-purpose flour, because then your child can see the active ingredients being added. Which is a more concrete learning experience than just being told "it's in there"

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbl baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
about 3/4ths 12 oz bottle Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold (remember, I'm a Cleveland Girl! but see notes below)
2 tbl butter, melted

preheat oven to 375 F (you'll want the oven to come to temperature before mixing everything together, because it only takes a minute to mix it all!) Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix with a fork or whisk very well, you want these ingredients to be evenly distributed. Pour in beer. Stir very minimally, only to incorporate the ingredients. Spoon into a medium sized loaf pan and drizzle the melted butter over the top of the loaf, coating it evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes.

 Spread with jelly or your favorite bread topping, and enjoy! I served this with Rachel's Crock Pot Corn Chowder.

I'm assuming that the recipe that says to use a whole can or bottle of beer, was meaning a can of something like Budweiser. It tasted a little too beerish when I used the whole bottle of dortmunder, so I put in a little less, and added more sugar, because we wanted a sweeter bread (As opposed to the salty taste we were getting.) I had to add a couple oz of water to make up for the lost liquid in only adding a portion of the beer. After a little experimenting, we got it closer to the taste we were going for.  You might want to play with the amount of baking soda, sugar, and adding salt as well as the kind of beer you use. I've read dark beers are better, but I'm not so convinced. I am going to try using a cheap, lighter, brand of beer later. The Dortmunder was just too bitter for this bread, and it did not taste like the alcohol was completely cooked out. It was still fun to play with, and it will be fun to see the differences in the breads. I will be updating with a new recipe once I do find the right combo!

I know that it is possible to get a tasty, sweeter bread from using this method, because a friend of mine made a loaf for me and my family while I was recovering from Evie's birth. It was so tasty that the loaf was gone in just one meal, and everyone was looking for more!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Interviewing My Inspirations: Interview of Linda Johnson, CNM

I once read an article in Mothering Magazine that described a midwife's role as one that is "so close to the window between life and death." I am just speculating, obviously as I have never filled this role, that a midwife shares the most joyous moments possible. But she also shares in some of the most sorrowful. This isn't the merit that led me to choose my second inspirational woman to interview for my blog. I chose her because she is the little voice in the back of women's heads saying "you can do this." When I think about all that she has taken on, her job seems almost impossible if not daunting. And yet, she maintains that she does very little, most of the work falls to the mother and the baby.

The second woman to be interviewed for my inspirational interviews series, Linda Johnson, is responsible for helping women in the southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio areas, to have safe, natural, and comfortable pregnancies and births. She is the owner of Mother's Own Birth Center, the only free standing birth center in the area. She falls into my personal category of "women who have inspired me" because she took me from the "can I do this?" phase of natural childbirth to the "I can do this" phase, to the "I am doing this" phase; she pulled me back out of the "I can't do this!" phase just in time to push my daughter out and be able to say "I did this."

To top it all off, she finds time in her hectic schedule to train for triathlons, an ambitious and inspirational activity in itself!

And so, on a rainy autumn afternoon, Evie and I made our way back north, to the place where our journey with Linda began,armed with a list of questions. This interview is typed word for word.

Jess:  When did you open the birth center and what was the vision for it at that time?

Linda: I opened it in 2001, and did the first birth in April of that year for a couple that I did a birth for before. My vision, initially, was just to have the option available so that women could have babies at home or have babies at the birth center rather than at the hospital. I just wanted it to be a place where there are options available. And it has become, more now, a place where women can go for information. When they are looking for other midwives, I have links to other midwifery sites so they can find midwives in the Michigan area or in Ohio. There is information about vbacs, and there is a lot of information about recovering from a trauma from a previous childbirth. So it's become more of a resource than just the birth center.

Jess: And how did you decide to become a midwife? That's a pretty bold choice to make in life.

Linda: When I was in nursing school doing my OB rotation, our instructors had assigned us little projects. And the one that I and two of my fellow students got involved getting a video tape from the local public television station. Our instructor knew about it and she wanted us to do a report on midwives. The people in the video were midwives who had done birth at home; there was a doctor who did a natural birth at a hospital, but just the concept of doing birth at home, I thought there were no midwives that did that anymore. I knew both of my parents had been born at home, so I thought midwives, hmm, interesting.

I just kind of set it aside for a few years and I thought “well I'll just work in the hospital.” but it just kept coming back to me. And I became a childbirth educator and a lactation consultant, and I was working at the hospital, and I thought “there's more. There has to be more to this.” and so I decided to become a midwife.

Jess: What is the hardest part about being your job; about being a midwife?

Linda: When I have to give people bad news. I have young women who call me up and tell me that they want to apprentice with me, or that they want to be a midwife and they want some guidence on how to accomplish that, and my first question for them always is “Are you strong enough?” Because it's really easy to attend a birth where everything has gone well, and mom is happy and the baby is healthy, and just everything is as perfect as the mom could have wanted it. But there are those times when I have to tell women that there is a problem with the pregnancy, and they're not going to have the birth that they wanted and it's in fact probably going to be a very medical birth, because that's what's needed to make sure that the baby is safe. Or when somebody calls me and says “Linda I'm spotting and I'm cramping.” and we both know that she's probably having a miscarriage. Those are the things that are the hardest.

Jess: And what's the most rewarding part?

Linda: When everything goes well! When the midwife was actually not a necessary part of the birth.

Jess: Why do women, generally, choose to have birth at home or at the birth center rather than the hospital?

Linda: For some women, especially those who are having their first baby, it's because they have never seen the hospital as an appropriate place for having a baby. It's where you go when you are sick, not when you are doing something that is a normal part of life. For a lot of other women who are having their second or third baby and in one case we have a woman who chose a home birth with her tenth pregnancy, it was the fact that they don't think that the hospital is an appropriate place to have a baby. The hospital requires a lot of things that are not necessary for a healthy pregnancy or a safe birth. Women just feel like their birth has been interfered with too much. For some women, it is because the first birth was so traumatic that they realize that if they are going to have the birth that they want, they cannot repeat what they did the first time around, and so they choose something completely different.

Jess: What are some of the things that mothers should be aware of if they are thinking about having a home birth or a center birth rather than a hospital birth?

Linda: That they are going to be taking on a lot more responsibility for their own care and for the care of the baby afterwards. They are not going to have nursing staff around for the first 48 to 72 hours, answering all of their questions, taking the baby for the night. They have to be ready to take on the responsibility and the choices and the risk and the benefits that come with it.

Jess: You often talk about, to your pregnant moms, exercise and nutrition.

Linda: Yes

Jess: (laughing) As a mom that was kind of annoying when you'd ask “so what did you do for exercise” and I tried to pass off chasing around my toddler, but that didn't work

Linda: A lot of people do that, yeah.

Jess: but why do you feel that it is so important for pregnant women?

Linda: There is more and more literature coming out that says that pregnancy, even a well planned healthy pregnancy, involves a lot of stress. There is the stress for your body, there is the changing family dynamics. It is something that takes place over nine months, and there is an awful lot of life stuff that comes up that adds to the stress, or maybe decreases it depending on what's going on. But when you are exercising, we know that it improves the baby's immune system; it improves the baby's ability to breathe when they're born; it makes sure that your blood sugar stays within a normal range so you don't get into complications with gestational diabetes or some type of glucose intolerance during the pregnancy. It makes for a healthier pregnancy. And for women to have their baby outside the hospital, their pregnancy has to stay low risk because we don't have the immediate availability of the medical equipment and the technology and the personnel that they have in the hospital that can handle a high-risk situation. So for a woman to have their baby outside the hospital, they have to take the responsibility of keeping their pregnancy low risk as much as they can. That's the reason that I'm such a bug about the exercise. Plus the fact that I'm a crazy person who does triathlons and if I can do it then you all can do it!

Jess: You just mentioned that you do triathlons, when did you decide to begin to do triathlons?

Linda: Two years ago, I was trying to recover from yet another running injury, and was doing a lot of biking and hadn't really done any swimming, but I said something to one of the guys that I knew up at the Y and he said “There's a triathlon in a couple of weeks, you should do that!?” And I said “But I don't swim! And I don't have a bike!” and he said “We'll fix all of that.” and the next thing you know, three weeks later I did my first triathlon. I still was having problems with running, so I didn't do a lot of them until this year, but I've done four of them this year.

Jess: What was the hardest thing you had to overcome as a triathlete?

Linda: It's too easy to be a slacker. “I did enough today” or “I had a hard night” you know, there's always a thousand reasons why you shouldn't have to go and work out that day. And reminding myself that I'm not going to like myself later in the day if I don't go out and exercise, that's usually enough motivation to get me out of the bed in the morning.

Jess: Finally, if an expecting couple came in, right now, and wanted to know what home birth was all about, what would you tell them, kind of in a quick summary of it.

Linda: Birth outside the hospital means, at least in my practice, that the parents are taking on a lot of responsibility. And the word “allowed” is not used here. Women are not “allowed” to choose how they give birth, they're not “allowed” to do anything. They are mentally competent adults, and using the word “allowed” is not the proper terminology. There is a midwife in England , and her name is Mary Kronk, and she says that on a regular basis “allow” is not appropriate terminology with a mentally competent adult. The families need to know that they get to make the choices, and the choices that they make are the ones that they get to live with. I will guide them. I will give them as much information that they feel that they need, but it is their responsibility to educate themselves and that ends up making it their birth. And I always tell people that if in ten years from now you think about the birth and you don't remember who the midwife was then I've done my job because it should be your birth.

Jess: Great, well thank you for taking the time to do this with us.

 For more information about Mother's Own Birth Center and the services that Linda and her staff offer, please visit them on the web at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting Picky About Apples

It's no secret that Jonah loves apples. I strongly believe that the kid would live off of apples if we let him. Early in the fall, the farmer whom we get most of our produce from, had honey crisp apples. "Bopple! Bopple bopple!" Jonah waved his arms, trying to grasp at the fruit on the table. Of course when my child is begging for a healthy item and viewing it as the ultimate treat, I don't say no. We bought the apples, which were as big as his head, and went home to enjoy.

Ever since we went blueberry picking, Jonah has become obsessed with picking things growing on trees and bushes. It has taken a lot of vigilance and teaching to make sure he does not eat anything he sees growing. His favorite outside activity is to pick crab apples. So, as one of our last family outings in the northwest Ohio area, we took the kids apple picking.

We prepped Jonah for this outing by getting a book about apple picking from the library, written by Gail Saunders-Smith called Picking Apples. The book was very simple, and had nice pictures showing how apples get from orchards to our grocery store. Jonah enjoyed this book so much that he would pretend to read it, pointing to the pictures and labeling the items.

We chose to go to Erie Orchards, the same farm where we picked blueberries. We chose to go here because the blueberries were priced fairly cheaply, so we thought the same would be true for the apples, and they were also having a festival that weekend with bounce houses, a hayride, and ponies. We were quite disappointed with the prices once we got there. The apples were three times the amount I would have spent at other farms I know of. And when we got in line to buy tickets for the hayride, we found that the tickets were $7 each. All of the activities cost at least one ticket, the same as a fair. $7 per person for a hayride seemed like a bit much. I think it was the first time I've ever looked at Jonah when he was really excited about doing something, and told him "no." I guess he should get used to it though, because we are not always going to get to do everything that he wants to do.

We moved on to the apple picking. Picking the apples proved to be a bit more tough then Jonah cared for. He did not want to pull hard enough to get the apples off. He would give just a small tug, and then give up. It surprisingly took a lot of coaxing to get him to actually get the apple off of the tree

 But, he still had fun, walking through the tress, talking about the "bopples."
 We picked a bushel and a half. 1/2 was granny smith and a couple other sour varieties, which I will use for caramel apples and stuffed apples. 1/2 was northern spy variety for making baked cinnamon apples and then freezing, and a few other baked goods. and the third 1/2 bushel was a mix of red and golden delicious for apple sauce.

Of course, not all of the apples made it past the parking lot.

We went to the farm shop on the way out, and spent the money we would have spent on the overpriced activities, on homemade donuts and apple cider. I recommend going to Erie Orchards for these items alone. The cider was sweet, not bitter like other ciders I've had. It was perfect for heating up with cinnamon and drinking hot. The donuts came in pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon-sugar. They were pure bliss. We got a half dozen of each, and then splurged on three apple fritters. Jonah did not seem to mind not going on the hayride or bounce house once we treated him to these tasty morsels. I don't remember the prices on these sweet treats, but I do remember thinking it was very reasonable. It was definitely a perfect way to end the outing, and close a beautiful fall day with the family. Nothing can beat the taste of cinnamon on your tongue and the smell of apples and hay in the air.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tomato Soup Part 2

With the big move, I completely forgot to post about my experience with pressure canning tomato soup. I know that it's a little late in the season to can tomato soup at this point, but I thought that I should still share because there is still a lot of produce in season that should be pressure canned. I want to emphasize that it is EXTREMELY important that you only follow the manufacturer's instructions that come with your canner. If you have lost them, most companies put their manuals online so you can check the manufacturer's website for either a downloadable manual or a number to call. This post is not meant to be instructions for pressure canning; it is simply for anecdotal purposes.

I bought a Mirro 22 qt pressure cooker with a canning system. After researching a few different canners/cookers online, I decided to go with this one for its affordability and versatility.  It comes with two canning racks, so if you are using pint jars or smaller, you can stack two layers of jars. It also can be used as a cooker to cook enough food for my whole family (for those of you who don't know, I have a pretty big family when all of my brothers and sisters and their kids and significant others get together.) It ran $89.99, and had reviews just as good as the more expensive cookers.

First I followed the recipe for the tomato soup I made earlier for my family, leaving out the chicken stock, heavy cream, and corn starch. I will add these items when I cook the soup later, similar to how I would with commercially canned tomato soup. I didn't have much of a reason for doing this, other than it seemed to be the easiest.

 Then, using a wide mouthed canning funnel, I filled quart sized canning jars to about a quarter inch below the lid threading (where the ring screws on.) Since doing this, I have found that there are actually specific measurements for each item that you can, and there is a tool that you can use to make sure you fill your jar to the correct height. If you fill a jar too full for pressure canning, the contents will be pushed out of the jar and you will not get a good seal. This would leave your food prone to bacteria. Also, when I canned my blueberry jam, I had said that the one tool I wished I had bought was the funnel. After that experience, I went out and bought the funnel for $1.29 at Meijer. And I am so glad that I did, it made canning the soup a lot easier!

 I put the canning rack into the canner and filled it with the proper amount of water and a tablespoon of vinegar. The vinegar keeps the canner from getting mineral stains from the water. I found the proper amount of water to use in the instruction manual that came with my canner.

My canner fits five quart sized jars. I had six jars of tomato soup, so I processed the five that would fit and used the sixth for dinner that night!

 I put the lid on the canner and made sure it was securely sealed, after checking to make sure the safety valves were all cleared of debris. This is where I began to get a little concerned. The instructions said to heat the canner until a continuous stream of steam began to come out of the valve. The purpose of a pressure cooker or canner is to keep the steam in to create a lot of pressure inside. When steam is escaping the valve, it means the canner is ready to begin making pressure. I let the steam come out for five minutes, as it says in the instructions, and then I put the pressure regulator on.
 The pressure regulator, or as some people call it the "weight" controls the amount of steam that is kept inside the canner. I used the 10 psi regulator as per the instructions. This means that the regulator only keeps enough steam inside the pot to create 10 psi of pressure. If the amount of steam exceeds what is needed to keep that pressure, it releases the steam. One of my favorite childhood memories is coming home from school early in the fall and hearing the "caching caching caching caching" of my dad's pressure cooker making corn on the cob into perfection. The "caching" noise that I remember so vivedly was the regulator doing it's job. As the steam was released, the regulator rocked back and forth on top of the cooker. I have simulated this many times for children using dry ice and a quarter. If you've ever seen the experiment, the gases from the dry ice escape from around the quarter making it wiggle back and forth, and you can "hear George's wooden teeth chatter" I tell the kids. The same concept is seen here.

But the scarey thing that happened was, my regulator never went "caching caching caching." it never rocked back and forth gently as the instructions said it would. Instead, it would let out a quick and sharp burst of steam every few minutes. I am trying to figure out why it behaved this way before I attempt to can anything else.

I did process the jars for 45 minutes, which is the recommended processing time for tomato products in a pressure canner. The cans were nicely sealed. But although there are several safety releases for the steam, in case the regulator isn't working properly, it still makes me nervous that the canner wasn't behaving as it should. I've asked a few friends of mine who have canned with a pressure canner, and they all have told me that's not normal. So although I did not blow anything up, and my cans are sealed, I am not counting this as a "victory" yet.

Once I do figure out what was going on with the regulator, my next canning challenge will be pickled jalapeƱos!

Friday, October 15, 2010

So This is How Sisyphus Felt

As soon as we have permission from our landlady, I am planning on building a compost bin in our backyard. I've been reading up on how to have a successful compost, and have learned that you need an adequate amount of "brown material" to add carbon to the decomposition process, and "green material" to add nitrogen. Because all of the trees have begun shedding their leaves, I decided it was time to begin harvesting our brown material.

And so, Jonah was introduced to a rake.
With the kids involved, this was more of a "fun" activity than it was a results-driven work activity. We got a quarter of the front yard raked up, more than one time as Jonah kept walking through the pile and re-scattering the leaves. And during that night a storm came, knocking so many more leaves to the ground that our meager pile could no longer be seen. It seemed really big while we were working!

So, it looks like we will be raking our tree laden two acre yard quite a bit. But with a face like this looking up at me while I work, I don't mind a bit

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Interviewing My Inspirations: First Interview (a non-interview) of Leslie Leonard

When the idea first came to me to start a spot on my blog, interviewing women who have been inspirational in my life, one woman entered my mind. She has been, without a doubt, the single most influential force that has driven me to be the person I am today. I am not able to interview her today, however. Tragically, Leslie Leondard was killed in a car accident on February 20th, 2004. I still felt that I could not proceed with this series of posts without having a tribute to the most inspirational woman in my life aside from my own mother.

Ms. Leonard, as I knew her by, was my high school English teacher. She taught me so much more than grammar and literature. She taught me to stand up for what I thought to be right, to be the voice for those who have no voice of their own, and to always, always work hard to reach my goals and aspirations. She taught me to commit random acts of kindness, even when it seems like they are not noticed or appreciated. She taught me how to meditate, how to have peace of mind as well as giving me somewhat motherly advice about how to take care of my body. "Always wear a scarf!" she told me once as I was putting my coat on to go home. "The key to not getting sick, is to keep your neck warm!"

I remember one day she was late for class. Minutes after the bell had rung, and we were beginning to chatter about what to do with no teacher, she hobbled into the classroom on crutches, her foot in a soft cast. She had broken her ankle while jumping in rain puddles the evening before. "Take the time to jump in the puddles." she told us "Just make sure you do it carefully!"

One of the assignments that I remember very well, was to do something "out of the ordinary." and write down people's reactions. I chose to sit on top of my desks in each class rather than the chairs. The point of the assignment was to step outside of our comfort zone, gain a new perspective, and inspire others to stop and think if only for a moment.

One of the pieces of literature that she had scrolling around the walls of her room was by Henry David Thoreau:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
I still often think of this quote that she taught with such passion. Live deliberately she would emphasize. Make what you do count. Each moment should be with purpose, each action should be done with careful thought. Truly have reason to believe that what you are doing in this very moment, is the most beautiful thing in the world. Anyone who's life was touched by this amazing woman would tell you that she inded live her life this way, deliberately without practicing resignation. She inspired more than she will ever know.

 I do have a list of questions that I would ask Ms. Leonard if she were here for this interview. It is hard to know that I will never be able to get the answers to them. But, those who know her will always remember warm fuzzies and random acts of kindness. Her legacy reaches far beyond those whom she directly touched, and her presence can be felt in every smile. So Captain, this one is for you, and all that you achieved before you were so suddenly and unexpectedly taken from this earth.

(photos are from Students of Leslie Leonard facebook page)