This One is for You, Mrs Gallagher!

One reason Jim became a sixth grade teacher is because of his sixth grade teacher.

If Will Sheehan becomes a fifth grade teacher, I won’t be surprised.

When Will started fifth grade, the only book he would voluntarily crack was a sports almanac. When asked to read a chapter book for an assignment, he would find the shortest book with the largest lettering and suffer through it, before returning to his statistics.

One oft remembered highlight of brother Ben’s career in middle school was his fifth grade project on black holes. This “major research project” was started the night before it was due and consisted of a paper mache ball painted black. Ben managed to graduate from high school and college, so I didn’t really pay too much attention to brother William’s decided reluctance to engage in any academic subject beyond Red Sox batting averages.

But lo and behold, fifth grade dawned and Will caught the reading bug. First he read all twelve of the Series of Unfortunate Events books. Then he took his beloved beanie baby collection off the shelf over his bed and filled it with chapter books read and chapter books yet to read. Next he tackled the Chronicles of Narnia series. He is just wrapping up the fifth one in that series. These days, he often goes to bed of his own accord, with a book and a cat. And he reads long after I have fallen asleep.

Then there is math class. Right now, he is working on a strictly optional problem set. Using only the numbers 1,4, 8, and 9 Will is building 100 math problems. Using those four numbers, problem #1 has to have the answer 1. Problem #2 has to have the answer 2 etc. He has done all but four problems. Everyone he knows is involved in thinking about problem #38. Saying “It’s like problem #38.” has now gone into the family lexicon as indicating a knotty situation.

So, it is an understatement to say that his fifth grade teacher has lit a fire about learning in William. And no wonder. Mrs. Gallagher is a teacher with an infectious joy for life. You can’t spend five minutes with her before you realize she is the rare soul who loves each of the students in her charge with profound tenderness, humor, zest, and energy. And let’s face it, energy is important with a group of eleven year olds. Willy can sometimes be sort of monosyllabic about life at school, but no matter what small tidbit is being shared, this year he shares it with a grin. He is loving learning and loving his life!

This is all pretty amazing considering what Mrs. Gallagher and her students have experienced this year. In December, a classmate died with his family in a house fire. Ours is a very small town with a very small school. The kids in Mrs. Gallagher’s classroom had known Ben Putnam since he was in kindergarten, if not preschool. This family’s death was a profound experience for everyone in the town and particularly complicated for Ben’s friends and Ben’s teacher.

So Mrs. Gallagher, new to the town, new to the United States actually, because she is from Canada, found herself experiencing her own grief while also being the container to help her whole class live with Ben’s disappearance from their lives. I don’t honestly know what a teacher would have done when I was in fifth grade if a classmate had died, but I very much doubt anyone would have handled it with the same kind of honesty, grace, and genuineness of Mrs. Gallagher.

Just one example. One day, she had the whole class open Ben’s locker and sort through his stuff. They all got to try on his baseball caps, pull on his extra pair of pants, and handle all his stuff. Life is so much a physical experience and eleven year olds still know and live this. Their life with Ben in the classroom was one big rumble. In so many of the photos that surfaced after Ben’s death, Ben and his classmates are in a big pile on top of each other. And so Mrs. Gallagher had then all physically engage with Ben’s stuff. Physically process his death. This was a profound act of courage on her part to break down the distance, dismiss taboos about a dead person’s stuff, let them feel all they were feeling, and find their own sense of Ben as they fingered parts of his life On that day as with every day since Ben’s death, she helped them be present to the biggest event in their lives and helped them know if was okay to feel everything they felt.

In her tender tangible concern for how each child is living with this unexpected tragedy and in her willingness to stay present to an ongoing experience of loss and grief shared by everyone in the classroom and reflected in various ways, Mrs. Gallagher is giving each child a template for life. There are so many mysteries about why this happened and why each of these children is going through this intense experience at such a young age, but I am heartened in the sweetness of life that gave them Mrs. Gallagher as their teacher for this journey. She is helping each child in her classroom learn, by her example, how to hold both sorrow and joy at the same time. Could you ever learn anything more important?

Yessenia’s Baby Shower

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On Tuesday, the whole staff of Green Hope Farm gathered for a wonderful lunch in honor of Yessenia and her second baby, due in April. We had the shower now so her darling mother in law, Penny, could come. Penny was visiting from Portland, Oregon, and won’t be back until after the baby arrives. We were so happy Penny could be part of the party as she is so much fun!

I took some pictures of the whole crowd of us but the only thing you could see was bright light coming through the windows with a lot of dark blobs in front of it. We like to have parties, so I will try again to get a photo of all of us at the next event. That will probably be one of our spring birthday parties in the Arbor Garden. In this photo of Yessenia, Vicki is writing things down for Yessenia as she opens her packages. It was such a happy occasion for us to celebrate Yessenia. She has brought such good cheer, love, and sparkle into our midst.

Update from Projectville

In the spirit of Team Earth, here’s an update on various projects mentioned in previous blogs.

After my Cassandra-like blog about global warming weather, we experienced several weeks of freaky sub zero cold spells. Yesterday, however, the temperatures went above freezing again. We got out our maple sugaring equipment and Jim, Will, and I went off to tap the small sugar bush in Meriden village where we gather our sap. The ancient mother Maples were in excellent spirits. It was a lovely reunion of old friends.

Maples have so much love to share. I feel lucky to visit with them every day during sugaring season. Even with a north wind blowing, it was warm enough for a good run. As we put in each tap, sap gushed from the holes. This afternoon we will make our first collecting run and then perhaps do our first boil tomorrow. It’s about two weeks later than our first run last year, but in the realm of normal for timing. Maple sugaring season is a notoriously quirky thing with strange beginnings, strange endings, and strange middles. I will look forward to sharing endless amounts of musings, data, theories, prognostications, and folklore with you this sugaring season!

This “dashboard” place, where I write the blogs, says I have comments to moderate before posting. I have asked Ben a couple of times to tell me how to do this. As when one tries to scratch a diamond with a crayon, his infomercials are not denting the surface of my brain. This is my problem, not his, and I will work on listening better. In the meantime, I appreciate your e-mails to our regular e-mail address ([email protected]). Thank you for all the wonderful comments and questions. They have been fabulous springboards for blogs. PS to Vicki, I WILL get to your question about gophers! I promise!

Still good, still better than the rest of our lunches. Last week, she finished out her work week with a lunch of mesclun, delicately sliced radishes, red pepper slivers, cherry tomato halves, medallions of roasted chicken with a drizzle of goddess dressing plated on an elaborately carved green oval ceramic dish. Yes, Deb brings her own dishes to plate her lunch with everything packed in the most charming wicker basket. If you had her pottery collection made by husband Ara, you would bring your own ceramics too.

You have already heard about my Knitting Olympics asterisk victory. Willy had to show further patience this week when I took further time out from his afghan project to knit a pair of socks and finish a baby sweater for Yessenia’s baby shower. This shower is tomorrow. Miraculously, the sweater is done and wrapped.

Jim finished phase #1 of his pantry project with minutes to spare before returning to his sixth grade classroom. It is amazing to have all this beautiful space for food and to actually be able to find food products when I look for them. Bravo Jim!!!!! Sadly, all the different kinds of muffins I made last week to celebrate the ready access of supplies were gone by the time Jim got home from school.

I hope that this blog has a photo of Will tapping a maple tree on it. If not, Ben and I will go back to the drawing board tonight. I am determined to figure this out before Yessenia’s baby shower so we can post a photo of the event. I also have an award winning shot of the view over the abandoned TV dish to upload from my digital camera ( sounds like I know what I am talking about, doesn’t it?)

Ummmmm maybe I never mentioned this project or the next one, but I thought you’d like to know. We have finished the outside of our dollhouse kit down to the very last log siding piece and roof shingle. Willy and I decided to temporarily rest on our laurels before decorating the inside and have moved in all our dollhouse furniture. The unfinished rooms sort of remind us of the first two, make that five, no better say fifteen years in this house.

Vintner Ben is on his third batch of homemade wine, made from several wine making kits. When he moved out of the house, I envisioned that his bedroom would be a guest room but instead it is a guest room/small winery. Jim’s mom really enjoys that fermenting smell when she visits. Its very, what can I say, pungent. We have ordered grape vines hybridized by the University of Minnesota for planting in part of our hayfield this growing season. This will really irritate, I mean, interest the farmer who hays our field. A small vineyard….. yet another obstacle to mow around!

We hope to spend the next few years figuring out what kinds of grapes will thrive in our a) inhospitable or b) bracing climate. Note: Half glass full answer is bracing. Half glass empty answer is inhospitable. Once we have established which varieties are hardy here, we will plant enough for Ben to entertain guests and foreign dignitaries. In the meantime, we are going to prune the heck out of our Fredonia grape vines in the Arbor Garden to see if we can bring in a crop of grapes large enough for a grape stomping vino making party.

All here. I usually start a bunch of seeds around the time of New Hampshire town meeting. That would be next Saturday. Emily has her high school spring break this week. She sorted seeds all morning. Had a lot to say about the logic of my sorting systems. The seeds are now MUCH BETTER organized, alphabetized, and ready for us to start using. Thank you Emily! The green house is also ready. It’s a wonderfully hot, bright haven of blossoming tropical Flowers. Next week, there will be new babies in there too. Yahooo!

Part 2- When Life Throws us off a Cliff

I never know what will spill out when I respond to your questions. Yesterday’s questions about resistance to Flower Essences took me in an unexpected direction. I found myself writing about what happens when we resist the gentle encouragements from the universe to change, be they Flower Essences or some other soft nudge. What happens when our personality’s desire for things to stay the same comes in conflict with our soul’s desire to move our lives along spiritually?

Whatever willingness I now have to let go and change is a consequence of traumatic events. Most big changes in my life were either precipitated by trauma or informed by them. Early in my life, I thought I would be spared pain, aging, bad hair days, and cellulite just because I was, well….. so special. Now…….let’s just say I laughed aloud as I typed that last sentence. Experience encourages me to let go earlier in a change cycle since I know that if I hold out longer, I am asking for those professors from the 2′ X 4’ school of learning lessons to come on back. Pain or memories of pain. It seems to take a lot to shake us humans loose from our cages, including the cage of wanting things to stay the same.

One seminal traumatic experience is my primary encouragement to let go and let change have its way. This was the birth of my second child, that dancing daughter, who was born deaf and with a cleft palate. Out of the pain, confusion, and grief of my experience during her early years came this life at Green Hope Farm. I credit her with jump starting my true life on True Road as well as being the mover and shaker of her own amazing dance.

Even as I have used this as a paradigm of trauma to encourages an optimistic, go with the flow attitude, I cannot say that I greet traumatic events at the door with a welcoming smile and a snack. It usually takes me months, sometimes years, to surrender to the truth that everything God does, even the latest trauma, is for the best.

With the latest big trauma in my life, the situation of death threats from a family member and the loss of connection to my family of origin as part of the fall out from these threats, it’s five years in and I am still accommodating the experience. I probably will be doing this for the rest of my life. When I try to explain to people the gifts I’ve received from this drama, they usually look at me as if I’ve been smelling a bit too many opium poppies. However, this trauma has made me a more loving person. It has helped me love God more. I may not return to joyful life with the same innocence but I return with a more sturdy and sillier joy. Odd but true. I begin to be able to hold this trauma with gratefulness, not just sorrow.

So, I acknowledge and continue to experience both the human condition of being comfortable with the discomfort of our cages of illusions and also a gratitude for the traumas that shake us out of our cages, even if I cannot always experience this gratitude during the traumas.

Sometimes, even with whatever willingness I have to let go and change, traumas hit broadside and require more than seems reasonable or possible. During these times, in fact during any traumatic time, Flower Essences are my steadfast friends, helping me feel confident I will survive and eventually even manage to process and move through the tumult.

When the brown stuff hits the fan, it is the vibrations of Flower Essences including Emergency Care, Anxiety, Grief & Loss, Feverfew, Sarah Van Fleet Rose, and Old Blush China Rose that become my constant companions. Depending on the trauma, I sometimes work with this crew of Essences for months or years. They help me feel physically safe and help calm my freaked out nervous system.

One of the wonderful friends I have made kindness of Green Hope Farm Flower Essences is a grief counselor who first connected with us to get Flower Essences for one of her Tibetan terriers. As the years have unfolded, she has helped me to understand that when a trauma occurs, we really cannot process the emotions or the spiritual underpinnings of the event until we get support to feel physically safe. This may be why the Angels said that Old Blush China Rose was the most important individual Flower Essence we had to offer to people after 911. It helps people feel physically safe during traumatic events. Her perspective has been very helpful in throwing out expectations about how I “should” move through any difficult experience.

I also reach for Essences such as Arbor Garden, Pink Tecoma, and Pink Water Lily. They help me feel comforted amidst the turmoil. Taking these Essences is part of that vital process of doing what I can to take care of myself. More and more, I realize that if we are all one, it’s crazy not to take care of the part of oneness close to home. That would be me. Bring on the Pink Tecoma.

Borage and Nuuphretia Lavarissa help me find the inner courage to keep on going. The Sunflower Spiral and Joe Pye Weed help me surrender my burdens to those there to help. Self care includes asking friends to help!

Later, often a lot later, I depend on all sorts of Essences to support me in processing the trauma and grounding its gifts into my life and consciousness. My water glass becomes pink with helpful friends such as Grounding, Yellow Water Lily, Corn, Maple, Eyes of Mary, and Shrimp Plant. I really love Yellow Water Lily. It’s a cheerleader that helps me feel rooted in my divine identity during very emotional times.

Eventually, I am ready for Essences like Phoenix Rising or New Beginnings to support me to orient myself in the terrain of my new life. One thing I have grasped more fully from my most recent big trauma is that grief takes time. When I first went to therapy after Elizabeth was born, I thought I was supposed to clean everything up really, really fast and then put a smiley face on. I would walk into my therapist’s office each week wearing a hundred watt smile and tell my therapist that I was all better. Three minutes later, I would be sobbing my heart out. This would continue until our fifty minutes were up.

It has been an experience of grace to accept grief takes time. My only job is to be present to where I am. Everything else, including my spiritual growth (whatever that is!) will take care of itself.

As a community of Flowers, Angels, Nature Spirits, Dogs, Cats and even some People, Green Hope Farm can be a funny place……and I love telling you all about it!