first term at strandskolan done!

18 12 2014

I lie on the couch as I update the blog tonight, remembering the exhaustion every committed teacher feels at the end of a school term.  After being out of school classrooms for quite a few years, it has taken a lot of energy to get used to teaching again.  Add to that new country, new language, new weather systems and all that entails for car use, house living and dressing… phew.  I realise that God was faithful through each day, and how faithful He is.  I am glad for a bit of a break, if for nothing else but to process all that we have lived through this last 4 or so months. 

Arrival Sweden, Vilhelmina 643

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That spot where the strange faces drew with chalk in August is now covered in thick snow and ice.  And those strange faces have already become so dear to me!  Working through a few tantrums, getting to know what each student’s strengths are, laughing a lot… these have already become precious treasures in my heart.  There are a few moments that are valuable beyond belief.  The hugs from one special boy that wrap arms around my body and wrap love around my heart.  The discussions with a most precious boy, who says ‘best tehatcer in the world its you so be proud’.  The halogen-type smiles of the girls who were singing on Saturday night at a town concert when they saw us in the audience.  These moments build relationship, and sink barbs of love deeper and deeper into my heart.  I am hooked. 

There is no doubt at all that I have been learning.  Every day. All day.  I have been learning bits of the language, and have tried to learn how to communicate when there is no shared language between people.  I have learned that the strict rules and discipline systems we are so used to in SA would at times be wonderful here, but there is no way to judge a book by its cover.  15 year old boys with beards, long hair, girls with pink hair and loads of nail polish:  it is not worth all the drama to control appearances when you have the time to work on the heart. 

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And that kids love to be creative in unusual ways.  Playing with blu-tack/ prestik  (which is a great way to keep ADHD kids occupied in lessons) can produce masterpieces.

You can moan at kids and express complete dissatisfaction at behaviour with only 4 words of Swedish.  (Din attitud är dåhlig). Repeated a few times with stern teacher eyes does get the message across.

Hugs and high fives work in any language.

Teacher eyes work in any language.

American television and computer games can be to English teachers’ benefit.

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Ice is a great place to play.

This last week has seen some really creative activities.  The högstadiet, or high stage (grades 7 to 9) have been making godishus, or candy houses. 

There were some amazingly creative houses.

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The range of ideas was amazing.  Castles, Tolkien inspired, working windmills… amazing.  The Norrland influence was obvious: the outhouse, hot tub and sauna were well presented.  And the centre of all Norrland boys’ spare time:

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This really well crafted snowmobile. 

And there was the obvious fun with candy…

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We had a special concert at the local State church, with singing and a bit of dancing.  Deon, the brave and bold, recorded the whole school’s Christmas songs for a CD recording.  It was all quite fun for the kids!

My last art lesson was held out in about –8 Celcius.  With coloured water, spray bottles and snow angels.

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This was just a short distance away from where I began the term, on my knees, chalking the sidewalks with the kids.  Just a few months has changed so much.

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Most of all that we can stand together in recognition of common value, where I see the precious hearts of these diamonds in the rough. 

But a diamond in the rough is a diamond sure enough. 

(Which is true for absolutely all of us).


yearend business

11 12 2014

There is a lot going on right now.  There is the usual flurry around finishing off a school term.  And Christmas is a Pretty Big Deal here in Sweden.  So there are concerts, events, school tasks and activities that revolve around Christmas.  And then life gets busy too.A few curve-balls get thrown into the mix, just to check that we are awake.  My parents arrived in Sweden today, and come to see what our new home town is about next week.  Between all of that, we look for moments of joy and try to hold onto new experiences. 


There is the fun of seeing Christmas lights going on and feeling the atmosphere growing.

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And supporting our local Scouts group who served amazing Glögg and tunnbröd.  (Come visit and I will introduce you to those items.)

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There is the observation of baking of lussekatte.  Notice, the observation of.  I have determined to buy whatever I can this year and not bake and make myself.  Just because I can, and every other year we have always HAD to do all the slog to have a Swedish Christmas. 

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There is a bit of tramping about in the snow, trying to figure out if the prints wee see are foxes or dogs, deer or moose. 

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There was this quick moment when we saw our first reindeer on the road.  (we could not stop to watch.  the roads were VERY slippery with ice). DSCN5694 (Small)

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There was the amazing atmosphere at this church, where we sang on the second Sunday of Advent.  It was rather special to be singing with a choir on International Choir Day.  (yes, there is such a thing, apparently.)

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There is a good bit of new snow about and it looks like we will be getting fresh falls most of next week.  It is still all so new to us, and I love seeing the delicate flakes fall through the sky, and the new white substance which surrounds us, which has its similarities to dust that we are so used to, but is also so very very different. 

I cannot help but be reminded of these amazing words.

18 Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!  (Isaiah 1:18) 

How amazing that our own wrongs can be totally washed away, by Christ’s kindness.  To see this reminder so clearly all around us is such a precious sign over and over again of His love. 

And, just because we can, here is another sunset at the lake near school.  Ah.  Another amazing spread of grace.

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capturing light and saying thank you

2 12 2014

The days are getting dark.  Quite literally we have fewer and fewer hours of light every day and this does tend to play a bit with the psyche.

It is also so easy to get caught up in the darkness of the world if I let myself.  If I spend too much time thinking about it the violence, miserable situations and seeming hopelessness seems to edge in further and further.

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But the darkness cannot remain forever. 

And it cannot overcome Light.

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The Light appears and leaves its reflection on everything.  And it is beautiful. 

We have gone running to enjoy the sun when it comes through the clouds.  We have stood in awe of its gleams and the variations it displays from moment to moment.

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And when it shines I go about the hallways,  or run through the snow in pyjamas, like an unashamed groupie, to see if I can capture its next nuance, its  next slight variation.  Each new gleam seems like a fresh masterpiece and an entire new day in itself.

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And when the sun comes out, we stop.  We pull off if we are driving, so that we can capture the particular angles we can see,

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I get the kids to stop classwork, if there are gleams that hit the glass.  Share this with me… it is too good to keep to myself.  Drink in the bliss and the warmth of these moments.

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And as the darkness begins to fall, the lamps begin to shine.  And I know that each moment of the sun greeting for this day, is another moment to relish the beauty and splendour.

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(Most of these images were captured in just one day… just about 6 hours of sunlight can inspire such majesty.  The sun may not burst through the clouds very often, but when it does, it does a splendid job!)


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Long ago we were warned of how dull and difficult November can be in Sweden.  The north is slightly better in that there is more chance for snow, which brings some light.

We have been working through it all and taking one day at a time.  One of the strategies I have been trying to keep for myself is to make November a month of Thanks (this is neither a South African nor Swedish habit.  Thanks to all my American friends for the influence!).  And so I have introduced the idea in our school.  The 4-6 group wrote thanks on leaves which filled up a small tree (in contrast to all the barren trees around us)

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It was lovely to see them using English for a real activity, in public display.  And we have kept all the leaves, pasted into a book, to keep for years to come.

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The 7-9s filled a door with thanks.  There were many thanks for snow, cold weather and ice.  Welcome to life in northern Sweden!  It was great to see people really thinking about gratitude and I pray that some of them will realise how gratitude makes dark days sweeter, and dim situations brighter.

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This weekend has also seen the beginning of Advent. 

Lights have gone up all over town.

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It was special to wander around the village for “Skyltsondag”, when the lights go on.  There was a feeling of drawing to buy, but there were special sights too. Kids being pulled along the streets in toboggans.  Several shops offered glögg and pepparkakor – Christmas essentials (Gluwein-like drink and ginger snaps). 

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I love how darkness is countered with lights in various constellations.  Our local grocery store, on the left, looks bright and jolly.  And no, Santa is not suffering from too much festive cheer.  I loved this display at the fishing and hunting store:  Santa is fishing, pimplar style, through a hole in the ice.  (I will dedicate a blog to fishing in the future. Hold onto the rods…)

We both feel convicted to celebrate the Light this season. 

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John 1:5 – The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

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Please note. All images are copyright of Karen and Deon Scheepers.