Ask for Help!

Four weeks into the semester, one of my students e-mailed me.  “I just wanted to let you know that I’m behind in my assignments because I didn’t get my book yet.”  She proceeded to tell me that she initially couldn’t afford the book.  Then, when she had the money the bookstore was out of the book.  So she ordered it on-line, but it didn’t come yet as there was a problem with her credit card. So, she wrote, “I’m hoping I’ll get the book before our first test.”  Our first test is a week away and covers four chapters.

My first thought was, “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”  Before responding to her e-mail, I contacted my department.  It turns out that the department has an extra copy of the book that I can place on reserve at the library.  I could have done this from day one if I’d known!  Looking at the e-mail again, I realized that, even at this point, she didn’t ask for help.  She said she was just writing to make me aware of the situation. She even apologized for her “drama filled life” that she “can’t seem to escape.”

As I’ve said many times before, I feel like it’s not the subject matter that I teach.  The subject matter is just the medium through which I teach life lessons to my students.  In this case: ask for help.  Sooner rather than later.

“Maybe she was embarrassed to tell you she couldn’t afford the book,” my sister offered as I relayed the story to her.  That could very well be true, and I know it’s a hard thing to admit.  However, if this student is in her first year of college it isn’t going to get any easier to afford books.  So I’d rather she let us know about her problem now as there may be a way to fund the purchase of books.

I wrote back to her telling her I wish she had told me earlier.  I said I would immediately put the book on reserve at the library for her.  I suggested some other ways for her to get access to the book.  Then, I told her she’s her best advocate.  I told her people are willing to help her, but can only do so if they know she needs help.  I explained that there are options out there that she doesn’t know about – and that she’ll only find out about them if she makes her needs known.  I said that she could avoid a lot of the “drama” she spoke of if she asked for help as soon as she thought she might need it.

But here’s the thing.  I find the lessons I’m teaching my students are usually ones I, too, need to be reminded of.  Just a few days ago I asked for help on a project I’d been trying to do on my own for quite some time.  I finally realized it was something that needed to get done, but I didn’t have an interest in doing myself, and I had the money to pay someone to do it for me.  So I made the call.  I asked for help.  I found someone who loves doing this who was delighted to help.  The relief I feel knowing that it will get done is worth every penny.  And I would have never felt that relief had I not asked for help.

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Watermelon Radishes

“Just sign in over there and I’ll start putting your share together,” said the young woman behind the table.  It was a Saturday afternoon and I was at the local college picking up my winter farm share.  Yes, it’s winter.  No, not much grows around here in winter.  But the local farms got together and saved some of their earlier harvests – either by freezing or putting in root cellars – and then sold “shares” to the public.  So once a month from Dec – March, I go pick up my goodies.

As I filled up my green reusable shopping bag, she said,”And be sure to check out what our other vendors are selling – especially the watermelon radishes.”

“Watermelon radishes?” I asked.  “What are those?”

“Oh – they’re delicious!  You can go try them at the table over there.”  I looked over to see a heavily bearded man in flannel standing behind a table.  Lined up on the table in front of him were open plastic containers, the contents of which I couldn’t see from where I was standing.  “Okay,” I said.  “I’ll take a look.”

The guy looked like he belonged in Vermont, not one hundred miles north of New York City.  “Hello,” I said cheerfully.  He nodded in reply, looking a little shy.  I recognized the name of his farm as the one where this months carrots came from.  “Oh – so you’re the one who grew the carrots I just got,” I said, trying to make conversation.  “No,” he said.  “I didn’t grow them.  They just stored them in my root cellar.”  “Oh,” I said.  “Is this your root cellar here?”   I pointed to an open magazine facing me on the table.  The picture showed what looked like a basement with a dirt floor and raised sandboxes all over the room.  “Yeah,” he replied, “I’m the only one locally with a commercial root cellar.  We store the carrots in the sand you see there.”  Now I was talking his language.  He proceeded to tell me about the other vegetables he stored in the root cellar.

“And what are these?” I asked, pointing to white orbs the size of beets sitting in a square plastic container on the table.  “Watermelon radishes,” he replied.  “You can try a slice if you’d like.”  My childhood fear of foreign foods reared its ugly head.  Stalling, I asked, “Why do they call them watermelon radishes?” hoping he’d say they tasted like watermelons.  “Because they’re red on the inside and have a whitish/green rind on the outside.”

Remembering I’m now an adult who should try new things, I took a slice and popped it in my mouth.  Wow.  “They’ve got a little kick!” I said.  He shrugged.  “They’re a little peppery people say,” he replied.

“What do you do with them?” I asked.  “I just grate them and eat them like a salad.”  “Do you peel them first?”  “No – just wash ’em and shred ’em.”  I noticed his lunch of wild grains and figured he wasn’t one to doctor with his food too much.  “Ok.  I’ll take some.”

It was only as I was driving home that I realized I didn’t own a grater.  Having moved ten times in ten years, it had gotten lost along the way.  I knew not to fear.  While at mom and dad’s house in the coming week, I mentioned my lack of this kitchen utensil that, in the past year, I’d never needed.  “Oh – I’m sure I’ve got an extra one,” my mother said. I was sure she did.  This wouldn’t be the first time I’d found success in checking with mom and dad before running out to a store.

At home with my new acquisition – a plastic green tupperware shredder circa 1975 – I googled “watermelon radishes.”  It was just like he said – people pretty much just shred them up.  But I did find a dijon vinaigrette recipe for a dressing.  I had all the ingredients, and so put it together and poured some over my shredded radishes.  It was delicious!

And then tonight, while looking around on the web for other local markets in my area, I happened upon a farm with a cafe that serves breads made with their own flour – they grow and mill the grains themselves!  In fact, every ingredient in every dish they serve is local.  I read an article about the place and it’s owner.  His favorite dish?  Shredded watermelon radishes with salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar.  And I can say, from personal experience, he’s right.  It’s delicious:)

Artist Dates

It’s a simple idea, though not so simple to enact: a date with yourself.  Julia Cameron calls them Artist Dates in her book The Artists Way. Sarah Van Breathnach calls them Creative Excursions in Simple Abundance.  Whatever they’re called, I’ve always liked the idea but had not put it into practice.  Until today.

Today I went to the museum at a local college – by myself.  I’d wanted to visit this place for quite some time, but found all sorts of reasons to put it off.  But today, the starts aligned.  Or I simply decided it was time.  And I went.

Well, it wasn’t that simple.  It would have been easier to just go home and relax in my favorite chair with my latest library find.  Or I could have used the excuse that I didn’t want to go alone.  But my inner voice said, “You know…when you do these things you’re always glad you did.  Just go.”  I even got dressed up for the occasion – I literally wore a dress, and make up, and good looking uncomfortable shoes (as any woman knows good-looking comfortable shoes don’t exist).

There are not many rules for these dates with yourself.  You don’t have to dress up.  You don’t have to go to a museum.  The only rule really is that you go alone.  And do something that you want to do.  For me, I’d noticed recently that I’ll tour all sorts of museums when on vacation, but never locally.  Why is that, I wondered? If I enjoyed art that much when I was away, why not enjoy it at home as well?  In fact, my friends say I have an alter ego that shows up when I’m on vacations and they try their best to encourage me to parade her out at home as well.  This was a small step.

I had no idea what the exhibits were in the museum when I got there.  I was sure that in whatever was there, I would find something.  Something what?  Meaningful?  Inspiring?  Thought-provoking?  I wasn’t sure.  But I just knew I’d find something.

I had a reason for going on this particular day.  There was a tour at 2pm.  I’m a big fan of tours as I enjoy hearing the background of the artist and the meaning of their works.  (Then, of course, we find our own meanings as well.)  One artist I viewed was quite the feminist.  I tried to keep my mouth from gaping open as I looked at some very provocative, controversial work of hers.  And there were at least two pieces that brought tears to my eyes.  One involved images of hearts and hands – and for reasons I can’t quite explain images of hands have always drawn me in.  The other was an immediate recognition of my own feelings, represented in a short sentence on an index card – one of a hundred or so.  The artist was depicting the contradictory advice she heard and received about relationships.  Honestly, what thirty-something woman couldn’t identify with that?

I don’t think it matters the medium, or the location.  I think in the act of having a date with yourself you’ll discover whatever was meant to come your way.  In my case, the recognition and affirmation of some thoughts I’ve been hanging onto for quite some time, a time of being among a group of strangers who share a common interest, a time of taking off on my own to see what I can see.

A Date with Myself

At first I didn’t know what attracted me to the piece of art in front of which I stood, transfixed.  “Ink on paper,” it said.  The name of the piece was Japanese as was the artist.  I stepped back, deciding that I didn’t have to know at all why it held my gaze, I could just simply look at it and enjoy it.  Quietly, it came to me: there was something so calming about it, despite the action it depicted.  The waterfall didn’t thunder, it fell gently into a pool beside a pagoda.    As I took it in, it slowly dawned on me that the piece was made with only three colors: black, red, and tan.  But with a little water and a little mixing, these three colors turned into many: rust, brown, copper, smokey grey,  burnt orange.  With just three colors, the artist was able to depict depth, beauty, stillness, movement, and peace.

If he could take three simple things and create so much, I wondered what I might be capable of with such simple beginnings?