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Cascade Observations: Looking for the light

SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is one of the few diagnoses I know of in that an acronym is both an abbreviation for and a description of a condition. Indeed, as the November darkness descends, I’ve been feeling sad and seeking antidotes. Sitting by a special lamp each day doesn’t seem like a solution for my funk. Instead, I’m looking for metaphorical illuminations in other places.

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Mr. Foxy Zoom sounds like the name of a cartoon character or a stripper, but the name actually belongs to a young racehorse I pinned my hopes (and a single dollar) on recently. I expected my first trip to Portland Meadows on a gloomy afternoon to be depressing, a place where gambling addicts and defeated-looking souls might congregate.

Instead, I found the experience to be surprisingly delightful — lots of kids, a bugler who played show tunes, good French fries and lots of laughs. Admission was free, and we left less than $10 poorer than we arrived.

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With Halloween come and gone, the candles in our jack-o-lanterns have been extinguished, but a porch full of beautiful uncarved orange pumpkins brightens my path as I dash outside in November’s rainstorms. They are a reminder of the prolific garden my husband tended all summer.

Twenty-five pumpkins grew from a few errant seeds that lay dormant in last winter’s dark and damp compost pile. Every year, my husband allows some of these uninvited plants to take hold in his garden. This summer, they took over!

Most of the garden has been put to rest for the winter, but a few plants help me remember that all is not dead. Amazingly, the carrots hiding underground are sweeter than ever; even though they look like gnarled arthritic fingers when we yank them from the cold soil. Young kale plants are in evidence; last winter our kale plants survived the darkness, ice and snow, and gave us nourishment in early spring.

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These days, I go to work and come home in total darkness. A hot cup of tea is a favorite remedy for the November grays. Each morning, I brew up a cup and take it with me to work, snuggled inside an insulated bottle that keeps it warm all day.

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There are many aspects of working as a teacher that can make me gloomy, not the least of which are report cards and despondent kids for whom school is their only refuge from the calamities of home life. Luckily, there are many more experiences that satisfy and illuminate.

This week I invited a class of 6-year-olds to use pristine new boxes of oil pastels. From their responses, one would assume I had handed them boxes of precious gems. It brought back memories of my generous and supportive mother, who gifted me with a brand-new 64-color box of Crayolas each time my old box became hopelessly shabby.

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When I’m feeling blue about my role as a teacher, I turn to Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson’s TED Talks, accessible on the Internet, affirm why I decided to become a teacher 10 years ago. His newest talk, “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley,” uses the metaphor of Death Valley, a place that appears to be dead until a bit of winter rain causes the entire place to bloom. He reminds us that humans are inherently creative and curious, and if the conditions are right, learning springs forth. We all need the rain to fall if we are going to flower.

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The dark and rainy days of November also dampen my exercise options, as my preferred activity is walking. My sisters-in-law walk regardless of the rain, snow or sleet, but I am a fair-weather walker. I know a lack of exercise is as bad for my brain as it is for my body, so this week I joined our third-graders after school for a Zumba class. Our lovely volunteer teacher, Sarah, got us jumping and jiving to upbeat music. When I left school afterwards, the world didn’t seem quite so gray.

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Children’s art is rarely gray, but much more likely to be rendered in Technicolor. Such is the case for the 2013 Mid Valley Elementary Children’s Art Cards. Children from kindergarten through fifth-grade designed colorful cards guaranteed to delight. The beautifully printed boxes of cards are due back at school this month, and subject matter includes animals, self-portraits, landscapes and some holiday designs.

Sales of the cards ($14.95/box of 10 cards or $2 a card) will benefit programs at Mid Valley School. Interested buyers may contact me at peggy.kelter@hoodriver.k12.or.us or by calling the school at 541-354-1691. Home deliveries are available.

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