Sunday, August 25, 2013

Be Still

“Stop being busy being busy!”  The words of my friend, LaTasha Brand, ring out in my ears as I go about my busy life writing “to do” lists long enough to send the most motivated person back to bed. Multi-tasking is the way of go-getters, right? Perhaps not.

Currently I have three jobs. This is not unusual for me. As a junior in college I also had three jobs, in addition to being a full time student. I remember getting on my bike on a rainy day to ride off campus to work, but as I rode downtown I couldn’t remember what day it was or which job I was supposed be working that day. My first stop was the wrong job. The boss laughed at me then told me what day it was, and off I rode to the job of the day. Life hasn’t changed much in the last thirty years.

Today I woke early and sat on the porch with my coffee to write the “to do” list. As the list got longer, my spirit got increasingly more restless. It was a beautiful morning and the sun, the breeze, the trees and the creek all called my name. I had to answer. Ditching the list, I put my sneakers on and off I walked down the street toward the creek. With each step and each breath, my worries retreated, the list faded from my mind and my spirit was lifted.

As I arrived in the park and walked along the paths by the creek I felt the sun and breeze on my face and relaxed as I headed down the paths into the swamp. Quickly the mosquito’s found me as appealing as I found the swamp but no worries, I am no amateur in the woods. Bug spray is victorious and I spend hours just walking and sitting. I listen to the leaves whisper their secrets and watch the woods, creek and swamp come alive all around me. I am still. Life is good.  My mind quiets and God is all around me.

For today, I will stop being busy being busy. I will sit in the woods and breathe. I will remember what matters most to me: faith, family and friends.  With that in mind, my list is significantly shorter. So today, rather than a story I will share my moment in hopes that you can put aside your “to do list”, stop being busy being busy and get outside to breathe long enough to find out what matters most to you. See if it changes your “to do” list.
(c) Martha Reed Johnson 8.25.2013



Sunday, August 18, 2013


Students are returning to my school tomorrow. As I watch teachers preparing their classrooms,  I tune in to the energy and enthusiasm of a new school year and I can’t help but think of bones.
Bones? What do bones have to do with school and teachers? In my opinion, everything!

It is at this time every year that I think about the teachers I’ve had in my life. The very first one who comes to mind is my father. He was a science teacher, but he wasn’t just a teacher from 8:00am to 4:00pm, he was a teacher ALL the time. And true to his scientific roots, he taught us through experimentation. Whenever we had a question he would guide us toward finding our own answers. He believed the questions combined with our process toward learning were far more important than the answers we’d eventually discover.

I remember when my three older brothers asked Dad if it was possible to actually dig to China. Dad just studied them for a long time, and finally asked, “How can you find out?” The boys decided digging would be a good start. Together with my father, they went to the cellar and came back up with three shovels. The boys headed for the back yard and started digging. When the holes started getting deep and filling in with loose dirt they sent me into the holes with a garden trowel to help. We dug and dug and eventually all the kids from the neighborhood were in on the digging game. The holes became tunnels that took over the back yard.

Eric became especially obsessed with the tunnels and digging his way to China. He dug on weekends, afterschool and even early before school began. He was so obsessed with digging that Mom gave up even trying to keep the dirt out of his fingernails and off his knees. The only time he wasn’t digging was when he was actually in school.

Eric was in the second grade at Magnolia School in Mrs. West’s classroom. (You may remember from an earlier story, that when I had her years later I dubbed her the, “Wicked Witch of the West”.) Mrs. West got so sick of Eric’s dirty fingers filling out her nice clean worksheets that one day she yelled at him, “Eric are you ever going to be clean?”

Well, Mrs. West, you’ll be happy to know that Eric is now the cleanest man you’d ever want to meet. He may not have dug himself to China back in grade school but now as Vice President of University Advancement for Tufts he will finally get to China this year, on a plane not through his hand dug tunnel.

But let’s get back to bones. While digging tunnels in the back yard we managed to discover bones and various fossils. This got my Dad very excited and over the course of the next few years he took every opportunity to teach us about bones. We went on hikes in search of bones, we murdered a chicken in the back yard (refer to “Fowl Play”) to learn about bones and we created bone puzzles to put our various critters back together.

The very best bone puzzle began when I was in second grade. My oldest brother was in junior high taking a human anatomy class. Dad decided that if he could put a human skeleton together he’d have a better understanding of human anatomy. So “Sam the Skeleton” came home in big bag.

Dad dumped the bones on the dining room table and Chris got to work. We all became fascinated with “Sam”. Kids in the neighborhood thought it was cool that we had a dead guy on our table and the adults in the neighborhood, well they didn’t say too much about it!

Chris had just about managed to get “Sam” put together when I walked by the dining room table all clean and dressed for school. I don’t know what possessed me, but I reached up to the table and slipped a few finger bones into my pocket. I walked to school with my dad all the while clicking those bones in my pocket. He dropped me off in Mrs. West’s classroom with his usual parting message, “ask good questions today”.

He didn’t know that Mrs. West found my questions quite annoying and I found her answers boring. I had a difficult time containing my energy in her class. So I just couldn’t help it that the clicking bones in my pocket eventually found their way to my desk. Mrs. West was used to me tapping, drumming, and doodling with my pencil and was quite adept at stomping over to my desk to confiscate my pencil at any chance.

Imagine her surprise after stomping over to my desk with her furrowed brow when she expected to find my pencil in her hand but instead found two human finger bones.  She screamed flinging those bones far across the room. When she finally calmed down enough to ask me where I got those bones. I told her, “they’re my brothers.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look of complete and absolute horror on her face.

I am as thankful as Mrs. West that we only had to deal with each other for one year, and I am very grateful that I had 48 years with a Dad who taught me to ask questions, be curious and to find my own answers.

I am thankful that as schools open across America,  there are teachers who will open the minds and expand the curiosity of the students they encounter.  My hope and my prayer is that eventually we will have an educational system dedicated to mentoring and cultivating the curious, creative mind rather than simply focusing on test scores, and that we will have a society that values the work teachers do each and every day, in their classrooms and beyond.

(c) 8.18.2013 Martha Reed Johnson
- certain details and names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent, and not so innocent ;)

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Mostly I’m nice, but sometimes I’m not. My little sister can attest to the “not nice” label better than anyone. After all I did conspire (after the fact) with our older brothers to leave her behind at a gas station in Utah when she was six. That was definitely not nice!

Until I was eight I shared a room with Beth. I did not like this. I loved the room. It was on the second floor of our Magnolia Terrace home. The room had a fireplace, wall paper with little apple trees and big windows on two sides. One of the windows was over the porch and I loved to sneak out the window and sit on the roof of the porch where our nosy neighbor Mrs. Gilman couldn’t see me and rat me out to my mom.

The room was perfect. Sharing it with Beth was not. My brothers had their own rooms on the third floor so I didn’t think it fair that I had to share with Beth. So being the problem solver that I am, I set out to fix the problem. I rearranged the furniture in such a way as to clearly define whose side was whose. That didn’t work. Beth was forever jumping on my bed and begging me to play with her baby dolls. I hated baby dolls as much as I hated sharing a room with Beth.

My next step was to pull out a roll of duck tape and roll out a line right down the middle of the room. I of course took the larger half of the room, the side with the front window over the porch.  Amazingly it worked. Beth stayed on her side of the room!

But Beth was smart, even at 5. She immediately informed me that since she had to stay on her side, I had to stay on mine. That was fine with me, until I had to go to the bathroom. The door to the hall was on her side of the room and I was not allowed on that side. Climbing out the window to sit on the porch roof to watch the neighborhood was one thing, but having to use the window as my access in and out of my room was another. I was out smarted.

Soon after the duck tape room divider debacle we moved and each had our own rooms. Instead of fighting over space in our room we took to sneaking into each other’s room to “borrow” clothes. We’d both deny “borrowing” and would fight over whose clothes were whose. Fighting was our language; it was what we knew how to do.

Eventually I went off to college and moved 500 miles away. Then I married Sam and ended up a 1000 miles away from Beth. Sam didn’t like Beth, and Beth didn’t like Sam. I left my sister behind.

Twenty years later, Sam left. It was Beth who came to my rescue. She hugged me when I cried and made me stop crying and get busy living. She traveled one thousand miles to help me move. She kicked my butt into action and helped me turn my new house into a home. She has been my very best friend every day since. Even though it is no longer duck tape that divides us but 1000 miles, she is still my best friend.

Her birthday was Friday and I was sad to not be with her. Sad to not be able to celebrate with her, but more sad that she had to celebrate her 47th birthday with a follow up sonogram to rule out the possibility of breast cancer, rather than doing something fun. It broke my heart to not be there. I would have gladly have even played dolls with her, but instead it was text messages and phone calls that created the connection across those miles - and the celebration when all news was good.

Sisters. We learn to fight with them, sometimes we want to leave them behind but if you’re as blessed as me, you eventually learn that life is just easier with them than without, even if they are one thousand miles away.

©Martha Reed Johnson 8.11.2013