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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Terlizzi

Treadmill Running

A cold, dreary day in the wetlands behind Indian Lake Elementary

I returned home from Ohio one week ago today. As soon as I stepped out of the car, it was like a giant invisible hand picked me up by the shirt collar and dropped me onto a treadmill that was preset and rolling fast at 75 mph. Appointments, school events, Christmas shopping--run, run, run. I haven’t been able to climb off or slow down much since. I’m exhausted and stressed and more than a little bit grouchy about the situation.

Who are those people who sip homemade eggnog and attend Nutcracker ballets with their hair combed and trousers pressed? Christmas is next week and all my decorations are still on shelves somewhere down in the basement. Unless magical elves come jingling in—or my able-bodied and near-grown children (hint, hint) step up to help—that is where everything is going to stay till next year.

I don’t believe it's possible for one person to take care of all the holiday-hoopla by herself, but that has never stopped me from trying. Year after year, I run myself ragged, and finish the holidays feeling like a big ol' ball of resentment because while I was busy trying to craft the perfect holiday, a perfectly good holiday was going on without me. This year I just can't do it. Something's got to give. I only want to focus on the things that matter most to me--family, good food, and some time for clay.

My house is never going to look like a Hallmark movie. There will not be 25 million colored lights twinkling on the shrubs, or a light-up reindeer on the lawn. We won't be nibbling on homemade gingerbread houses or tearing through the gift wrap on a mountain of presents. I think we will survive. Merry Christmas, Sanity. I'm happy you decided to stick around and spend the holidays with me this year.


So, about Ohio! It is going to be a lot of hard work and require long hours in the car, but goodness, it is also going to be FUN! That metaphorical treadmill will be cranked even higher starting next month—but when it’s all over (springtime), and the dizziness subsides, I will be able to reflect a little, and hopefully see a ton of growth—both in the kids I will be teaching, and in myself.

Indian Lake Elementary serves over 500 kids in Kindergarten through 4th grade. Terry Nelson, the school art teacher, was awarded a grant from the Ohio Arts Counsel to bring in an artist-in-residence to help create a school-wide art project. Her first pick was a ceramic artist, recommended by the counsel, but she did not work out, so Terry dove into Pinterest, looking for polymer clay animals, and stumbled upon me and all those darn toads.

I spent my first day in the classroom with Terry, “observing.” She teaches 5 classes a day—one from each grade (it takes 6 days to see every single student.) Teaching in elementary school has always struck me as a delicate thing—a bit like keeping 20 squirming octopuses from wriggling through a net with large holes—but Terry manages her octopu—er, students—very well. What struck me most while watching the classes was that the kids don’t have a lot of time to create. In each 50 minute class period, many precious minutes are gobbled up by prep and clean up. There isn’t a lot of time left in the middle for making art. Time management will be a huge challenge for me—you know how I can spend hours agonizing over the placement of an eyebrow! There won’t be time to mess around like that. All of us—students and teachers alike—will have to stay focused if we are going to finish on time.

H is for hickory--we'll be making bark like this!

So what exactly will we be doing? Students will work together to create 26 large “alphabet letter” artworks out of polymer clay (mounted on wood panels) to hang in the main hallway. Behind the school is a small area of protected wetlands, and it will be the inspiration for the designs. Each letter will be decorated with a variety of clay wetland plants and animals with names that start with the same letter. It’s challenging because we only plan to feature plants and animals that can be found in Ohio. For example, the letter “S” may be crowded with snails, snakes and salamanders, but what about poor “X”?

Hardy little frog braving the cold

On my last afternoon, I had the chance to walk out to the wetlands to look around. In the icy drizzle and gloom, there wasn’t a lot out and about waiting to be discovered. It was dark and spooky! I would not have been shocked to see a swamp monster rise up out of the water, or a headless horseman gallop by. Neither appeared, thank goodness. Only an intrepid little frog hopped past, and a half-dozen ducks came in for a landing.

More updates soon! Hope you all are not on the treadmill, and are enjoying all the beauty and blessings of this time of year!

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