Tag Archives: latin

Good Things #23

Mulligans. I am extremely thankful for mulligans. No, I don’t mean these in strictly the golf-sense, as I have no intention of taking up golf. I’m thinking of two things at the moment:

1. Knitting. I take so many redos in knitting it’s ridiculous. I started a scarf for a friend – I found a pattern on ravelry.com (another good thing, just wait for it!), and I was so excited. And then I looked at it. And it was terrible. I ripped it all out and started over, this time with the same pattern but larger needles. Maybe I’m a tight knitter? I’ve always thought one’s knitting style might be a disturbing look at one’s psyche…stressed? anxious? uptight? So, I’m grateful for knitting mulligans because the new scarf is looking much better.

2. Teaching. I am so grateful that my students give me redos. We’re working on passive and active sentences in Latin, and there was one class where I thought I was explaining it well, but I saw the look in their eyes. I couldn’t seem to reword my explanations; I was too tongue-tied to unravel it. But the next day? We started over, went step by step, slowed it down, and worked it out. They’re ready for their test and I’m proud to say they can define the functions of the subject in both active and passive sentences. Ablative of agent, anyone? I’m grateful for teaching mulligans.

Music. If you were one of my students, I might make you listen to this while taking a test. It’s interesting – I would be totally distracted if a teacher played this while I took a test BUT THEY LOVE IT. It’s weird. Maybe it makes them feel smart? I probably should be playing Bach (isn’t Baroque the music for geniuses?). Oh well. Vivaldi’s not bad.

Swiss visitors. Monday night I got a surprise phone call – my friend who’s been living in Switzerland for the past year and half was calling to see if I wanted to go for a walk. Of course I dropped everything to walk with her and our good friend in the dark. We took the new puppy to the graveyard (ignoring, of course, the “No Dogs” sign) and talked about all manner of things. Soon she’ll be returning to L’Abri and all that I found there, but for now she’s stateside and it’s lovely.

Good Things #22

Latin. I’ve only been teaching Latin for a year and half, but let me tell you, there are some pretty crazy things I’ve been learning. We had an event at school where parents and potential-parents of students could learn about classical education and what the heck are you doing over there, anyway? So for twenty minutes, I gave a “Welcome to Latin” class to adults – because let’s face it, lots of people wonder…

Here’s the thing: you should see how uncomfortable grown, successful adults become when asked to read a sentence in a language they don’t know.

I started by talking about SATs and the benefits of learning Latin for vocabulary and how Latin helps you learn other languages.

Here, look at our textbook. It’s so cool – it’s all Latin! Even my third graders start right here, page one (or seven, technically). Go ahead, read the first sentence.


I had to volunteer the only parent I recognized in the room. Let me say that the sentence was anything but complicated:

Roma in Italiā est.

(Oh my gosh I can’t believe I figured out how to include macrons in a blogpost!)

What do you think it means?

Yep, Rome is in Italy.

But you should’ve seen the trepidation in their eyes, the slowness in their speech. They looked up at me when they encountered a new word, and they were even less inclined to take a risk than their nine-year-old child.

I was struck tonight by our inhibitions.

We spend so much time trying to hide things that we stunt ourselves. Or, maybe I should say, I do. Or I did. Or I still do, but I’m getting better.

If I walked into an art class right now, I would hardly remember how a piece of charcoal feels in my hand. I’d be embarrassed by my lack of art vocabulary; I’d fear my fellow students’ critiquing eye and vast knowledge.

I’d look up at my teacher with eyes filled with questions, but the biggest one would be:

Can I do this?

That’s what I encounter every day. I’m learning slowly that teaching Latin is so much more than teaching declensions and conjugations, derivatives and study skills.

Really, it’s about answering that question. And hopefully as it gets answered more and more, and each time I’m proven right, my students will be able to stop asking it.

I’d love for the day to come when I don’t need anyone to tell me I can pick up watercolors and paint. I’d love to take a pottery class and create beautiful and useful things. I wish that, in this one lifetime I’ve been given, I could grow enough to stop asking the question.

Maybe someday instead of Can I do this?, I’ll start asking, What will I learn if I try?

What I’m working on right now? Learning to spin wool with a drop spindle (this procedure deserves its very own post). It’s taking longer than I ever expected, and I’m terrible. But I persevere, if only because I want a nice skein of yarn at the end of it.

Tonight, a few unsuspecting parents and I read a whole paragraph in Latin. Not everyone can say that.

[And here’s a song I’ve been loving.]


[Photo: Johnny Grim]

Good Things #17

No Ted Talks this week. Just some not-so-related Good Things.

Music. You know a song is good when it makes you nostalgic for something you never had. That’s how I feel when I listen to “Ashokan Farewell,” like I miss deeply my Appalachian home. I found out that it was actually written in 1982, even though it sounds like it’s straight out of the Civil War. (PBS miniseries, anyone?) I listened to this on repeat while I graded Latin tests – there’s nothing like grammar terms to make good music necessary.

Who vs. Whom. Yes, this is one of the good things. I’ve been explaining the difference for about a week now to various levels of Latiners. I’ve watched their eyes glaze over and their cheeks drain of all blood and I’ve fielded their desperate pleas for a bathroom break. Do you know the difference between who and whom? I can honestly admit that I didn’t…until I took my first Latin class as a sophomore and learned about the Accusative Case and Direct Objects and All Other Things Grammatical. Now I can use “whom” with aplomb, but who would choose to?


Lavender spray. What is that, you ask? My mom bought me this amazing lavender spray from an herbalist at the Farmers’ Market and it’s amazing. Wait, did I already say that? I spray it on my pillow every night and it’s so soothing. I wish my muscles could soak it up.


Taking risks. I wrote a poem my senior year of college. I remember sitting on my bed, not sure if I should write it, not sure if it was worth anything. It had been a moment – the summer before when I was twenty-one and freaking out about graduating – and I didn’t (and still don’t) trust my ability to recognize moments for what they are. But I wrote it anyway. I sat on it for a year and a half. I pulled it out again, brought it to writers’ group, deleted and added and shifted and shaped. I called it “Almost Family”, submitted it to a poetry contest at Ruminate, and it placed in the top seventeen. It was published in the September issue and there is my name in black and white print. There is the moment in writing that I didn’t trust and almost forgot. My first paid piece of writing. Now how to spend that twelve dollars…

Enjoy your Wednesday!

[When I Lose It]

I’ve been whirlwinding it the past few weeks, as school’s started, small group’s back up and running, and the farmers’ market goes strong for two more weeks. My graduate class started, too (can you say Friday night classes and all day Saturday classes are a breed unto themselves? filled with falling-asleep-behinds and the intense urge to run). The theatre company I work for is eagerly awaiting auditions in two weeks, and we have a production meeting tonight.

Sometimes I think I don’t need God. And then things like this happen:

I forgot something Monday.

I forgot SOMEONE Monday.

And I wanted to curl up and die.

One of my Latin students from last year transferred to a different school, but she wanted to continue studying Latin.

Of course I’d love to keep working with her! Monday the 16th at 5? Awesome. See you then.

But I didn’t see them then, and I didn’t get the email until the next morning, and I would have rather cleaned the bathroom five times than feel so much shame.

Because I remember one time being forgotten. I was fourteen or fifteen and I was writing a short story cycle with my writing tutor. She was (and continues to be) one of my absolute favorite people, but there was this one time when she forgot me. I sat there waiting but she didn’t come. It wasn’t really a big deal, but I still remember it.

And here I was, ten years later, doing the same thing.

Maybe it isn’t about God, you say. Maybe you just need a flippin’ planner.

Which is true.

But really it comes down to the fact that my head isn’t screwed on straight, and that more often than not comes from my inability to set my eyes where they belong. I read my Bible this morning and felt disconnected and my mind wandered:

Wait, so how much money should I be saving?

Ugh, I really want a doughnut right now.

Did I email that woman about selling pastries at the farmers’ market?

Shoot, I never delivered those candles. Ugh.

~     ~     ~

I sent an email back. I apologized left and right, falling all over myself, saying I would drive to their house and make it up to them.

I haven’t heard back.

What is it about humans that makes us need constant reminders that life is too big for us? I get into the groove of things, I tell my Creator Thanks, man, see you Sunday, and things are great for awhile.

Things are still great.

But praise God for not letting us coast for too long. Hopefully that little girl and her mama will forgive me, because Latin and learning are too fun to just throw away because I’m a scatter-brain.

 [If this picture doesn’t say it all…]

You Teach Latin to Third Graders?

I walk into my second third grade class of the day. I still think of these little people as second graders and I’m not sure when that will change. Pass out the textbook, read a paragraph slowly, painstakingly – they are afraid of making mistakes and I can’t wait to show them that I don’t care about mistakes. They can’t pronounce quoque or Latin Asia for the life of them, and they look up at me with big eyes.

We make lists on the board. What part of speech are all these words? Nouns! What part of speech are all these words? Verbs! See? You’ve already learned two parts of speech in Latin, and it’s only our second class!

Finally I tell them to stand up, push their chairs in. One of the smallest ones grins and says,

“We’re going to learn a song!”

And I look at her quizzically.

“How did you know that?!”

“Sally told me!”

And that is the moment I realize: They talk about Latin class.

Oh my gosh. It was a dream come true. Little third graders passing in the halls. They could talk about recess, about Disney princesses, about sleepovers and playdates. But they talk about Latin.

For the rest of the class, I taught them “Hallelu-hallelu-hallelu-hallelujah, Gloria Deo!” and we sang it, all twenty-six of us. We sang it really quietly, crouched down, and then we grew and grew our bodies as we got louder and louder, ending with arms raised, singing “Gloria Deo!”

Glory to God.

At the end, they sat down to the new Latin command they’d learned (“Sedete!”), and as I wheeled my cart full of books out of the room, I heard them softly sing to themselves.

Hallelujah! Gloria Deo!

One Year Down

My first year of teaching is coming to a close. Back in August, as I was anticipating a new job and the frightening possibilities that lay head, I realized one thing: Failing is not an option.

What if I don’t do a good job?

What if I’m a terrible teacher?

What if no one learns and none of the kids like me?

For weeks, these thoughts infiltrated my mind, and I secretly contemplated throwing my hands up and running away. No thanks, I’ll get another waitressing job. Cleaning job. Administrative assistant job. Anything that doesn’t scare me as much as this does. 

But it was one of those things: I had a choice. Too often I find myself reeling with this sense that I don’t have control. I’ve always craved having the final say, controlling the situation; I blame being the oldest, along with my genes…But the truth is, we DO control a lot. We have the ability to press on, even when we fear a terrible outcome. I had the ability to work harder than I thought I could handle.

This year has been far from perfect. There is so much left to learn, and my second year of teaching will probably open my eyes to Just. How. Much. I’m excited to learn how to use each moment of class more effectively, how to explain concepts more clearly, and how to engage students in ways that fire them up to learn new things.

Saturday morning, I will be dressed in regalia, marching down a short aisle to celebrate the graduations of my senior Latin students. I will present two awards and talk about the hard work and skill of my class. They know how young I am, but they don’t know how close to their age I still feel.

I guess all of us have accomplished something pretty big this year.

Rain and Foolishness

For the past five days, I’ve slept to the sound of rain. I wake up in the middle of the night and listen – sometimes it’s fast and pounding on the window, other times it’s soft and I can hear it flowing smoothly through the gutter. I’ve had to wear my blue raincoat to school, or I’ve chosen foolishly to forego it, hoping my brazenness would end the drizzle.

Overall, though, I don’t mind. A lot of people I’ve seen this week have talked about missing the sun, about longing for the rain to stop. Sometimes I understand, lamenting the warmth of the sunshine. Mostly, though, I’ve been enjoying the coolness of rain. It’s so much easier to drive in to school every morning to the softness of a gray morning than it is to teach Latin during a 75-degree day when I long for the beach. And it’s a lot easier to give into my desire to curl up on the couch and read Prodigal Summer or watch Arrested Development reruns when the rain gives me such a good excuse.

[One of my favorite Latin words is imber –  “rain shower”. The sounds are soft on your tongue.]


I waited all afternoon for the rain to let up a little. Six basil plants were sitting on the counter, waiting for the ground, and a clump of zinnias had grown far too tall for their little navy pot. Finally I gave in, donning my raincoat and a backwards Red Sox hat, and headed into the rain.

I worked alone, which is rare around here. Not because everyone loves working outside, necessarily, but because usually we feel guilty staying indoors when someone’s in the garden. Today, though, I dug holes alone, trying not to plant the basil too deep. I have a hard time judging depth (hence my lack of talent in the visual arts department), but it came out okay. Dirt got all over my hands and I thought about how much better it feels to work in the cool spring than the humid summer.


What I didn’t think about, though, was the fact that the camera was sitting in the rain. My sister came out, surprised and angry to find it on the porch. I’d put it under the plum tree, but really, what good does a little branch do? She brought the camera back in the house, wiped it off, told me I was dumb for bringing it out. I was angry and brought it back out, covering it in a towel and putting it this time under the much more formidable birch tree.

After a moment, though, I realized I wasn’t mad at my sister. I was angry at myself.

It had never occurred to me not to bring the camera out into the rain. I didn’t once pause and think how foolish it was to bring such a good camera (that isn’t mine, by the way) and set it on the edge of the porch. I am constantly surprised by my lack of attention to practical things.

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I finished planting and weeding. I took some pictures of my garden in the rain. There is an imperfection in gardens that I love; no one can tell me that my garden isn’t right, that things aren’t the way they should be. I’m heavy on the bee balm and light on the tarragon, and that’s the way I want it. Gardens are bare, naked, showing more about you, perhaps, than you’d like.

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So, it’s still raining and the camera’s fine. I will probably do something un-thinking again, and probably soon. I sleep with the window open, even in the rain, because listening to it fall is more important to me than dry shades.



1. Spring is springing. Finally. I will update the “View From My Window” picture soon so I can prove it.

2. The musical is over and it was beautiful. I keep attempting to write about it, but it deserves more time and thought than I’ve been able to give it. Expect a post soon, though, filled with quotes from darling children and an extremely proud director.

3. Went bee-ing for the first time this year. Sunday afternoon was spent in a smoke-and-propolis-filled jeep, bumping over bumpy gravel roads to get to the hives. (Propolis is a dark golden cement that bees use to hold their hives together – very strong stuff!) We checked on three hives and fed them. Oh, and we found a mouse nest (yes! a mouse nest!) in the base of one of the hives. Confusing, because Dad had put up a mouse guard, but the little buggers climbed in through the opening. It was filled with cotton-looking stuff, deer hair, and a bunch of cozy mouse things. Not good. Dad said, “Where’s the blogger’s camera?”, and I just shook my head; some things are better described than seen.

4. Did not get into the MFA programs. Am I shocked? Not really. I tucked the rejection letter in my briefcase of correspondences for the day when I will look at it and laugh. I’m not laughing right now, but I hope it’s coming.

5. Last week before April vacation!!! Can you tell I’m psyched? But I can’t imagine how hard it’ll be to motivate my seniors when we get back…ugh…

6. Finally figured out the email subscription thingy. All it took was, “Um, Harry? Will you help me?” and with one simple click he changed the entire thing. Embarrassing. So if you’d like to be notified via email of new posts, sign up! It should finally be working!

7. Listening incessantly to: The Shins Pandora Station. Love.

Have a wonderful Monday!

The Writing Life [and its many components]


The feeling I get standing in the wings, waiting to walk out on stage.

The scratchy grass on my back, the sun too bright in my eyes, and the smell of the earth baking.

Singing “Caput, umeri, genua, pedes” (“head, shoulders, knees, and toes”…or feet, technically) til I feel like I’ve gotten my workout for the day.

Digging in the cold, icy earth first thing in the spring. Clearing away old brush. Seeing nothing but gray-brown until one sunny morning green shoots magically appear.

The moment I scan through the mail and see in beautiful or messy or barely-there handwriting my name and address. Opening a letter that’s traveled from Pennsylvania or Maine or Switzerland. Remembering that geography isn’t strong enough to destroy good friendships.

The ocean, cold and thick with seaweeds. The feeling of rough sand on my feet, when I can barely see because the wind is whipping my hair in my face. The long stretches of days when for a moment I truly think it will never end.

When I walk around the corner at a museum and come upon a life-size sculpture. The lines of the body, the artistry in the way the cloak is draped across the torso, the way the sculpture seems to be breathing right there in front of me.

Explaining the word “etymology” to a too-young class because they’re too excited to wait. Opening their minds up to the beauty of language and the world ahead of them.

The way I feel when I’m surrounded by people I love. Maybe at my house, maybe at a dark cozy restaurant, maybe at a beach house or church or the lake.

~     ~     ~

I don’t think it’s possible to be a writer and love only writing.

Last summer, I wrote a post about my plans to write when I was at the beach for a week. I foolishly anticipated long stretches of time when I would be able to read and write to my heart’s content. What I forgot to factor in was people: the people who make everything worth it. Who can turn down a four-hand cribbage game with the Gram, a brother, and a cousin? Who can stay cozied up on a beach chair while everyone else goes for a long ambling walk along the ocean? Who asks a room-full of family to “Please stop singing along to the record player because I’m trying to write?”

Some people probably do, but this girl finds it pretty difficult.

Writing is a solitary act in so many ways. Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, waiting for the water to boil so I can fill my french press. I’m alone, and that’s okay for now. In fact, it’s rather nice. In the long term, though? Not so much fun.

Maybe there is a writer out there who loathes people. Maybe he sits at his desk for ten hours a day and throws his hands up in gratitude that he never has to interact with anyone. Maybe he doesn’t like music or art or the outdoors or any of the other beautiful things of life.

I don’t think I’d really connect with whatever he wrote.

~     ~     ~

I had a long talk with a friend from college. He was asking what I was up to, what life looked like lately. I told him about teaching Latin (“You wouldn’t believe it! When I teach them derivatives it’s like they cannot believe ‘manipulate’ comes from manus and they freak out.” Granted, this is only my younger grades. My high schoolers are a little less enthused.), directing Alice in Wonderland (“Do you know what it’s like to have those songs stuck in your head ALL THE TIME?”), and applying to MFA programs (Um, scared.). It was in talking with him that I remembered one of the best parts of being a writer: Everything I do will add to it.

I came across this woman from Colorado. We’d actually met briefly four or five years ago, but I found her because of Twitter (that all-too-kind-suggester thought we should be friends). We’ve been writing back and forth, and she was telling me about applying to grad school – but in history, not writing. What is history if not stories? What is music if not stories in sound? And what is good conversation if not a sharing of our personal plot lines?

Being a writer is like having the biggest job description ever.

Do I make my money from writing?

Not yet.

But writing makes you look at the world and your life in a different way. It makes you more attuned to the little things, and it reminds you that sharing those experiences and being able to reproduce a moment of truth for someone else is your job.

[Over-nighted my last MFA application. Any nervousness I would’ve felt was nervoused-away in the days leading up to it. I popped it in the mail between Latin classes, and I’m currently attempting to pretend to forget.]

Writing (and reading) connect us to each other. Just as I met Anne who’s going to study history, I can write about any of those things and someone in the middle of South Dakota or Canada or the United Kingdom probably loves them too. It’s all part of living the Full Life, like I tried weakly to express in an earlier post. It’s one of those constant discoveries I keep discovering.

Do I regret going for walks at the beach? Playing cribbage and screaming during games of Taboo? Do I wish I’d really committed and sat down and written line after line of poetry or what-have-you? No way.

In my dreams I say…

I swear in my dreams.

Last week, I dreamed I said it in front of my grandmother. I don’t know what was happening, I just know the word flew out of my mouth and she was horrified, stood there looking at me, blinking, probably ready to disown me.

Two nights ago, I dreamed I said it in front of the worst possible audience: my fourth graders. They were all sitting at their desks, their faces bright, a few of them clamoring to see what we’d be learning in Latin. And out it came, “What the…?” and I clapped my hands over my mouth so fast, in real life my cheeks would’ve burned red.

There was no reason for me to make such an exclamation, no prompting from either my grandmother, or the class full of children. My psyche is freaking out.

~     ~     ~

That is a word I consciously choose not to use. I say “consciously” because a little part of me would love to break out with such profanity and look at those around me and laugh. Yes, I swear. And you want to do it, too. 

But I don’t.

Or at least, not that word.

I can’t even imagine what would happen if I did, if I stood in front of all these children who made me Valentines (spelling ‘Magistra’ like ‘Magestra’) and swore like a sailor. I would be fired, probably. No, definitely. And I would live on in their memories as their “Magistra who said…”

~     ~     ~

The name of this new blog is my attempt at the impossible: to admit to myself that I am now an adult. As I wrote about earlier, I may never feel like an adult. But that doesn’t change the fact that 99 children’s parents have entrusted a part of their education to me (albeit a relatively small part). I may not feel like a very grown-up person, but I’m as tall as I’ll ever be.

I wrote an overdue letter to my dear friend in Switzerland the other day. In it, I admitted that I love how much those children look up to me. I love that they can’t wait to see what I’ll say next – that they devour the derivatives of rex like it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever heard. They race to get the dictionary if they have questions, and they jump to be the first actors when we act out the Latin skits in our textbook. They ask me questions that seem far too deep for third, fourth, or really even fifth or sixth graders, and I know that what comes out of my mouth is important. They believe every word I say.

Maybe that’s why I dream about swearing in front of them. I know that what I say matters so much more in those classrooms than it seems to outside of them. I can still picture the adults I admired and respected as a kid, and it’s frightening to realize that I have become one of those people. It’s frightening to realize that there is so much in the world these kids have yet to discover.

Eventually, they are going to realize that all I say isn’t gold. They’ll see my faults (“You forget everything, Magistra!” they say in chorus as I run back in to grab my water bottle almost daily), and my humanity will be all too obvious.

Someday, they’ll realize it, but it won’t be because I said ______.

285092_2161342945874_1015570950_32489021_7554639_n[Five weeks in Austria after graduation taught me: You will never feel so free again. Enjoy this. So I did. I felt young and I knew when I hit American soil, everything would be different.]