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Have you earned your credits? Believe it or not, home credits could be acquired by doing such things as gathering eggs, feeding the hogs, churning butter, scrubbing the floor and, oh my, sleeping with windows open.

Wisconsin has been known for its one-room country schools. Jerry Apps reminds us in one of his books that “the first kindergarten in the United States began in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1856.” He recounts that Margarethe Meyer Schurz began this new form of early childhood education, which she called: “a garden whose plants are human.”

Yes, some country schools handed out credits for work done at home. Gathering eggs got the student two points while mixing and baking bread was good for 10 points. Students earning 500 credits received a special diploma recognizing “at home work.”

Horace Mann, one of the earlier educational leaders, “argued that every child ought to have a free and comprehensive education as a birthright.” Mann believed that education “should be publicly supported and controlled” and attendance be mandatory.

I’m refreshed by what Jerry Apps wrote back then: “Mother insisted that I comb my hair, which I reluctantly did before clamping on my cap. A cap was wonderful for little boys who hated combing their hair, but now I had to comb mine before I could wear my cap. This simple event signaled great changes were about to occur.”

I have a three-ring big binder that I occasionally return to and read again some of the books that I had read earlier. Today I discovered somewhat of a similar theme in two such books. Dawna Markova’s “I Will not die an Unwed Life” and Thomas Merton’s “When the Trees Say Nothing.”

Dawna used these words to open one of her many passages: “I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid and more accessible.”

In one of Merton’s chapters, he writes: “Why do I live alone? I don’t know … in some mysterious way I am condemned to it … I cannot have enough of the hours of silence when nothing happens. When the clouds go by. When the trees say nothing. When the birds sing. I am completely addicted to the realization that just being there is enough, and to add something else is to mess it all up.”

I’m going to add a couple of sayings by each author — maybe a summation of what caught my attention. “Reignite the fire in your heart. Live on purpose.” Dawna Markova. “This is what the woods mean to me. I am free, free, a wild being, and that is all that I ever can really be.” Thomas Merton.

Silence is what it all comes down to. When silence takes over, I see things differently than when I’m part of a fast-paced world in which time does not allow me to inhale the bigger picture of a life far exceeding the number of years I once imagined.

Some stress reducers:

Drive to work in reverse.

Make a list of things you have already done.

Pay your Visa bill with your Mastercard.

Put your clothes on backwards.

Start a nasty rumor and see if you recognize it when it gets back to you.

Bill your doctor for the time spent in the waiting room.

When someone says “Have a nice day,” tell them you have other plans.

When in trouble, always hold your chin up — if it does nothing else, it will keep your mouth shut.

Steve Henry is a former radio and TV news director, and outdoor writer and photographer. He can be reached at


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