Sunday, February 26, 2017

Not What I Expected

 Lists.  I am a list maker.  I enjoy the feeling of crossing off items of a to-do list.  I feel productive when I can check the box "done."  Call it control, call it organization, or perhaps it's just my way of attempting to remember what I need to do.  I do have trouble remembering things.  I mean I can remember to do the laundry, but I feel more satisfied when I actually pick up a pen and draw a dark ink line through the word that says "laundry."  Laundry is a jerk anyway--always multiplying.  When I cross it off the list, for just a moment, his mountains of wrinkled cotton and unmatched socks are not victorious.  Memory.  Lists.  Control.  Expectation.  There is a connection.

     Lately I've been keeping a mental list of things that are happening that are not what I expected at all.  Things that happen that are outside what I would list.  It's weird and sometimes wonderful.  Usually wonderful.  Some of them have literally taken my breath away.  I had this feeling I need to write them down.  If they are written down, perhaps I will remember them more.  Perhaps I am being tugged at by a power greater than myself to feel gratitude for them.  Whatever the reason I chose I write about a few.  It's been months since I've blogged; so, here goes.

  • Kindness notes.  During the month of February, Chancellor Middle School is writing notes of kindness.  Students can write them to each other.  Teachers can write them to students. Teachers can write them to other teachers.  The notes get posted on various bulletin boards in the hallways of the school.  I have seen my name on many.  Students have written them to me!  These notes were so unexpected.  So beautiful.  So kind.  My heart is touched.  I never would've listed one of my character traits as "kind."  I guess I've turned a corner.  :)
  • Valentine's Day.  A student gave me a small box of chocolates.  John grilled steaks and came home with fancy cupcakes from my favorite cupcake shop.  There were roses.  Sydney wore a skirt and a fancy headband to school (she never dresses like that anymore).  
  • An observation drive-by.  In the world of education there are few things that will make a teacher sweat more than the unannounced observation.  I've survived a few this year already.  However, a couple weeks ago during my advanced English class BOTH principals and five higher-ups from Central Office were in my the same time!  I have 34 students in that class.  They were all working quietly on an assignment.  I was buzzing like a bee to each flower in an attempt to sprinkle assistance and collect knowledge from as many students as possible.  It was stressful to be looked at by seven adults at the same time.  They milled about the room taking photos of my bulletin boards and reading over my lesson plans.  I was certain I was a sinking ship.  Then, something unexpected happened.  One of the Central Office commanders commented that it felt "cozy" in my room and he liked the "learning environment."  
  • Weather.  Last week the weather in Virginia was more like mid to late May than late February.  I've heard people commenting that it's global warming.  Those comments sound so doomsday-ish. I chose to ignore those comments and lifted my face toward the sun.  Yesterday morning, I met my favorite running friend and we conquered the hills of Fredericksburg for seven miles.  It was glorious.  There were daffodils and cherry blossoms.  There was good conversation and vitamin D, and sweat because it was 70 degrees at 8 a.m.!!
  • A new student.  Early, last week a shy girl was delivered to my class during second block by a student aid.  She has large dark eyes and a beautiful smile.  She wears a hijab.  She is a Muslim American.  Her home language is Arabic.  She told me she enjoys reading and is working to make her "writing better."  She stood beside me in the hall during the morning announcements on Thursday and we said the Pledge of Allegiance together.  My throat felt tight and my heart smiled.  She looked at me, smiled, and then walked off to her homeroom.  In that unexpected moment I felt a connection to something much bigger than myself.  
  • My niece on Facebook.  My niece posted a link today to a 90 second video of Robin Williams.  In the video he spoke about how he made his life spectacular.  Ryleigh and I both adored Robin Williams.  His movies and humor were like nothing we will ever see again. His words reminded me to focus on the good. We likely to see "the bad times" as he worded it, but we get to make life spectacular.  

     There have been days since school began in August that I have felt so tired I didn't know where the energy would come from to do it all again the next day.  Where would the patience come from?  How would I mark off all the things on my to-do list?  Most days something magical happens--something I can't explain, or I'm too tired to try to figure out.  I go to bed at 9 o'clock because I'm exhausted, which gives me the energy to do it all again the next day.  With John's help, we decided the kids are old enough to do their own laundry and suddenly the mountains became molehills.  I do think though that a big part of it is letting go of the expectations.  I haven't expected any of the things on the list above to come to fruition.  They just did.  It is magical and it is spectacular.  In my collecting of quotes I recently came across this one from former NCAA basketball player and coach, John Wooden.  "It's the little details that are vital.  Little things make big things happen."  My list is little things in the big picture of life.  Small ripples in a pond.  Small ripples can have a big and lasting impact.  My lists are a small part of my life.  Letting go of my expectations feels big, but perhaps it's a small action that leads to a lasting imprint in my life.

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

And so it begins...

A new school year.  New adventures.  Never before experiences.

All the newness a new school year brings is exciting.  I felt it like the buzz of a bee yesterday.  The new school supplies, outfits, and friendships.  It's a reconnecting to what gets pushed to the side in the glory of summer.  Suddenly we are making new habits, waking up early, and waiting for the weather to cool off.

Yesterday, I began my first year as a true faculty member.  My crisp license is proof that I have finally reached the milestone I have wanted.  I spent the week prior preparing lesson plans and decorating my windowless room in cheery colors.  I rearranged the desks multiple times, sitting in the seats myself so I could feel sure that each student would have an unobstructed view of the board.  

I taught a lesson yesterday in each of my five classes on value.  I began the lesson by holding up a five dollar bill.  If you ever want to get the undivided attention of 8th graders, hold up money.  My question was, "If I were to give away this five dollars, which of you would want it?"  In each class almost every hand shot up.  I admired their enthusiasm.  The ones who didn't raise their hand showed me an expression of immediate skepticism, which I also admire.  I then respond with, "Before handing it over, there’s something I must do." Furiously I crumpled it, and ask again, "Who still wants this bill?" "And what if I do this?" I threw it against the wall, letting it fall to the floor, kick it, stamp on it and again hold up the bill – all dirty and crumpled. I repeat my original question.  Guess what, they still want the money.  Even after I pretend to wipe my nose with it, cough on it, and remind them it's been on the floor--in a school.  Then I asked, "Why do we still want this money?"  In a choral response they answer, "Because it's still five dollars." 

I then told them, “Many times in our lives, we are crushed, stamped on, kicked, maltreated, offended; however, in spite of this, we are still worth the same.”  It's very quiet in the classroom at this point.  So, I add, "How do you think our class, our school, would look different if we truly believe they matter and their peers matter?"  I read the following, which is from a blog that offered this activity to his class the following: 

"If we believe that we matter, we will be brave enough to share our ideas and answers, because we know that getting a wrong answer doesn’t make us any less of a person. If we believe that we matter, then we have to believe that our learning matters, and we will take the time to ask questions when we don’t understand something.  If we believe our classmates matter, we will listen when they share without interrupting or making sarcastic comments that make them feel unimportant.  If we believe that kid sitting alone in the cafeteria matters, we will take the time to say hi and introduce ourselves. If we believe that people in the world matter, we will believe that cultural differences are good and different, rather than just wrong, we will look at people from other languages and cultures as interesting and unique, because if they have value, then the things that are important to them should be important to us too."  

After this reading it is very quiet.  I then told them that as cheesy as all this sounds, as High School Musical as I may be making our school out to sound, it is possible.  We can buy into value.  We can make it one of our habits of this new school year.  It isn't easy, but I remember the quote "nothing worthwhile is easy."  What truth.  

This school year, I am scared, excited, humbled, and tired already.  I don't want to make mistakes, but I know I will because if I don't I probably am not learning the hard lessons life wants us to learn.  There will be rewards though.  Students already say hello to me in the hallway.  One student emailed me an eBook she's authoring.  It's 85 typed pages!  What a dream come true!  

The superintendent welcomed us to the new year and reminded us that teaching is the hardest job we will ever love. I think he's right already.  

Here's to a great school year.  Thanks for reading. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Farewell, Thurman

Snow day for Thurman
On Saturday, August 13 we said farewell to our beloved family member, Thurman, our beautiful Golden Retriever.  He was almost 11 years old.  It was unexpected and we are heartbroken.  If you read this and you are a person who believes in prayer, please pray for our family's hearts.  A dog is an important member of a family, ours was no exception.  I wanted to write a short remembrance to Thurman. Writing is so therapeutic to me...I am hoping this helps me.

When Elliot was a young toddler he was a handful.  It's just this summer that he's become a pretty good sleeper.  Close to 13 years is a long time to wait for a kid to sleep well.  Elliot was rambunctious.  He stopped napping before he was 4 years old.  Most days Elliot was awake at 5 am...for the day.  When the head of this then stay-at-home-mom hit the pillow I was out like a light.  Elliot on the other hand would come into our room many times during the night to report to John and me.  He would tell us things like, "I'm hot. I'm thirsty. I had a bad dream."  He also would report less important details like, "Mommy, my sock came off," or even "I hear a whisper sound coming from my closet."  I recall many predawn mornings slugging down coffee.  In those foggy moments I vowed not have another child.  I did however have the opinion that Elliot needed a companion.  Perhaps the sleep deprivation led us to think getting a dog was a good idea.  

I had dreamed of having a Golden Retriever since I was a kid.  In my opinion, there isn't a breed that combines good looks and disposition into a dog better than Goldens.  We found a small breeder in Stafford.  Jan, the owner of Stormy Point Goldens, was kind and knew Goldens well.  We were able to meet the dog mom, Dixie, while she was expecting.  She was sweet and loving.  We visited the puppies when they were just a couple weeks old.  Jan allowed us to have "pick of the litter."  We took Elliot with us to choose our dog.  I'm not sure who had more fun, Elliot chasing the 10 puppies or the puppies chasing him.  Our puppy was playful and fuzzy.  We decided to call him Thurman.  The Thurman Cafe is a famous hole-in-the-wall burger joint in Columbus, Ohio.  Naming our dog after a cheeseburger was both cool and unconventional. We kissed Thurman goodbye and fastened on his little collar.  He licked us and nibbled us with his tiny puppy teeth.  We were in love.    
Thurman at 6 weeks old
Elliot at the breeder

The weeks of waiting went by quickly and soon we brought Thurman home.  He and Elliot were inseparable.  I however did not anticipate the energy level of a puppy added onto the energy level of a kid that was just shy of 2 years old.  Whew!  John and I quickly decided it would've been "easier" to have a baby than a puppy/toddler mix (enter Sydney--but that's writing for another day).  

After a short run
With persistent training and love, and age, Thurman grew into an amazing pet.  He became Elliot's roommate which lessened the amount Elliot reported to our room at night.  Thurman was patient, always full of energy, and the best listener I have ever known. The kids have used him as a headrest while watching movies, a brave knight, a secret keeper, a leftover eater, a shoulder to cry on, a protector of whisper sounds coming from the closet, a snowball catcher, and the best friend they could ever have had.  He was my running partner when I first started running.  When I thought I couldn't run a mile without walking, Thurman believed in me.  No one will believe in you like a dog.  

A birthday treat to celebrate double digits last year

Thurman was a good looking dude.  People would stop us on walks often to comment on how handsome he was.  Kids would rush from their yards to ask to pet him on our nightly walks in the neighborhood.  He loved kids.  He answered to many names other than Thurman.  Most widely used was his nickname, Dug.  We called him this because he so much reminded us of the dog, Dug, from the Disney movie "Up."  Thurman was just like Dug in that he immediately loved everyone.  We always joked that he would make a terrible guard dog.  Thurman loved, loved cats.  Lucky for him the cats we've had over the years loved him back. 

It wasn't unusual for the cats to lick and groom Thurman's head while he happily wagged his tail.  They all shared a water dish and he would even let the cats drink first.  

Thurman hated rainy days, never wanted a bath, and was nervously afraid of thunder storms.  We often wrapped him in a blanket and hugged him while he panted until the storm had passed.  His favorite phrase was "road trip."  Just the sight of a suitcase had him prancing around the car.  He LOVED traveling to Ohio. Taking walks on the sidewalks of Grandview was like hitting a slot machine jackpot to Thurman.  It's miles of new smells, trees, and fire hydrants.  

I think Thurman is resting his paws on Grandma Mary's lap (something he loved doing when John's mom was still living).  I think he will have days and days of snow days, his favorite kind of day.  I think he will have many cat friends and bowls of popcorn instead of just a few random pieces Sydney and I would share with him.  I picture him napping under a shady tree just like he did on our deck.  

Paws on Grandma Mary
This is going to hurt for a long time.  I would do it all again though.  Seeing my kids weeping over the loss of their pet is heartbreaking, but the memories we have with Thurman are some of my favorite memories I'll ever have.  

I read yesterday that dog spelled backwards is God.  I like that a little. It makes me think perhaps some of the best attributes of my higher power were what I saw in Thurman.  It is my hope and prayer that I can become as generous and loving as Thurman. 

To those of you who knew Thurman, know that he loved you.  Thank you for reading.  

A roadtrip

Homework helper
Guarding Cora the cat with love
Long walks at sunset

More snow days

Sharing secrets and game plans

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

10 Ways to Avoid Politics

We have found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the presidential election season, smack dab in the middle of summer...glorious summer. Quite frankly, it's sucking some fun out of my summer every time I turn on the news. Right side, left side, red, blue, purple, independent, fundamentalists, conservatives, liberals, blah, blah, blah.  I'm not saying politics aren't important.  Politics are important.  What irks me is how politics are presented by the media.  Too many half truths are told.  Fingers are pointed.  There is too much back biting. It's ugly and will continue to be ugly before November arrives.  

I'm protecting my peace.  I'm doing other things that make me happy and leaving the TV off!  Here is a list I compiled with my kids of 10 things to do instead of politics.

1.  Go swimming.

2.  Look at the clouds

 3.  Go fishing.

4. Do something that is challenging physically.

5. Read a book. 

6.  Take silly selfies while you make weird expressions.  Then take one wearing your best summer, sun-kissed faces.

 7.  Have a Slurpie.
8. Watch a sunset.

9.  Go on a date.  On ours we happened to also watch a sunset (win, win). 

 10.  Watch bull riding.  We went in Orange County and it was awesome! 

There are so many wonderful, marvelous things to do instead of politics and depressing news.  What have you done this summer?  I'd love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Waiting Game

The waiting bench
Think of a time in your life when you have been waiting.  Waiting is said to grow patience, or perhaps test patience.  Is it in the testing where the growing takes place?  Does the growing create the patience?  I'm not sure.  I do however feel that in the waiting is when I start to feel as if I am in the hallway of life. 

I imagine a dimly lit hallway.  It's narrow and quiet, without windows.  There are dark, heavy, wooden doors along both sides of the hallway.  They each have a frosted pane in the middle that doesn’t allow me to see into them, even if I tried.  All the doors are closed.  The walls are painted light green because the person who chose the paint color once read green is supposed to be tranquil. Florescent lights run along the middle of the hallway's ceiling.  Only a portion of the lights are working.  There is a low buzzing sound as a few of the bulbs kick on and off.  I am sitting on a wooden and uncomfortable bench along one of the walls of the hallway. I am alone.  Leaning back into the bench does not offer comfort or support.  Leaning forward by placing my elbows onto my knees only puts pressure on the backs of my knees which are now pressed tighter against the rigid and inflexible wood.  I remain on the bench, fidgeting and impatiently waiting for wait to be over. The air is stale and I am bored.  There is really nothing to do but wait.

When I was little my faith-filled Gram used to tell me, "When God closes a door, He opens a window."  This was not new news to me.  There were times in my life when I could see a certain amount of truth in this old adage.  I would however prefer to spend my time trying to sweet-talk my way into keeping the key to the door.   What good would a window do when I had a working door?  Perhaps it is because I’ve always been more skeptic than faith-filled.  It’s a battle of the wills with me.  I have to surrender my own plans time and time again. 

It’s in those moments that I must see the bench for what it is.  I read once, “there’s nothing wrong with you except your attitude.”  The bench is only doing its job.  It’s meant to just be there, to offer a seat to one who is waiting.  I don’t think there is to be comfort in the waiting.  If I became comfortable in that greenish hallway I wouldn’t crave to move on.  I think I’m even supposed to hate the waiting, at least a little.  Possibly though it’s just accepting the crappiness of the waiting.  I mean the hallway doesn’t even have a window. 

I am currently in a time of waiting in my life.  It is uncomfortable.  It is causing me to question my abilities.  I keep trudging along though.  I have people in my corner who too have sat in the hallway and played the waiting game.  I can reach out to them and they will reflect back to me my true nature, empathize with me, and comfort me.  They help me see past the waiting game.  I am reminded to be optimistic.

Optimism is an elected attitude, a form of emotional courage.  It is a habit that can and must be learned if we are to survive…In order to survive we must master optimism, not as a form of denial but as a deeply rooted faith that we are somehow partnered in way we cannot see.  We must look for the silver lining, knowing there is always one.”  ~Julia Cameron

Thanks for reading...and I cannot believe Google turned up a representation of the bench I imagined!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

And then this....

It is a cold, rainy Tuesday.  I am not working at the school today, but I am working on school work.  I am creating lesson plans, reading about lesson planning and classroom management.  I was assigned to watch a YouTube video on classroom management. I watched the video.  It was so, so good.  The young teacher in the video had great control over his class.  However, through the 38 minutes of the video our computer's virus protection program was making an annoying notification sound, to alert me that our software license has expired.  There is a communication error between the renewal and some box that needs checked or unchecked within the program so that it can stop notifying us that it's expired.  We renewed...the program isn't smart enough to know that.  In order to make the alert sound stop, I need to know our password to get into the settings of the program to change the communication error.  I text John.  He doesn't remember the password.  He suggests resetting the password.  I cannot reset the password because the program doesn't believe me that I know the answer to a security question.  The question is asking me what John's high school nickname is.  I know this answer.  I even called John to double check.  We tried a couple variations.  No go.  The sound continues.  I was annoyed.  I attempted to shut down the program.  I was alerted that I need to answer the security question.  It wants a new password.  I click "reset password."  It wants the security question answer to reset the password. Ugh.  I'm beginning to feel like the emotion Anger from the movie Inside Out.  
I need a break so I decide to go for a short run.  It's cold, but for the time being it's drizzling.  I get a mile into the run and the rain picks up.  Suddenly I also have to pee.  I jog back home.  Grrr....

Feeling angry, annoyed, and hungry (never a good combination) I look on the kitchen counter and see a photo I had gotten out the other day when I was hunting pictures of Elliot for his birthday.  It's a simple moment.  I love it.  It makes me laugh out loud.  I look at it while I eat lunch. I'm still looking at it while I am typing this.  It reminds me to cool anger off. 

I go back to the computer.  I find a different setting and shut the notification off.  I bypassed the program's settings.  I feel better.  Elliot is adorable.  I hope he also remembers to laugh when he is frustrated. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Class

Teachers have to do a lot of work to earn and keep a teaching license.  I started my licensure class through the Virginia Department of Education this week.  The class meets on Tuesday evenings--farewell to Tuesday dinnertime, and every other Saturday--from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. until mid June.  Luckily the class meets in Fredericksburg at a local high school.  I don't have to travel far.  After just the first two meetings I feel inspired and also encouraged that I am making the right choice.  It's a little scary too.  What if I cannot find a job when all this is completed?  Will I miss too many moments at home?  How will the laundry get done?  Am I going to be a good teacher?  Thinking about being assessed as a student teacher makes me nervous; I don't enjoy evaluations.  These thoughts can snowball, so I am choosing to just take it one class session at a time. 

During class on Saturday we discussed relationships with students.  We discussed the importance teacher/student relationships play in education and connection.  The instructor showed us an amazing short video from an educator, Rita Pierson, that was in the field for more than 40 years.  I'd need to remain teaching into my 80's if I hope to reach that milestone...I'm not certain that I will want to achieve that.  Only time will tell I suppose.  Back to the one session at a time approach I guess.  : )

Hopefully, we have a teacher who touched us, believed in us, inspired us, didn't give up on us.  I was fortunate enough to have had teachers like Larry Larson for elementary PE, Clarke Haren for Jr. High geography, and Steve Froehlich for senior English.  These were teachers that truly inspired me.  I can remember now their unique aphorisms and the truths each contained.  They believed in me.  They knew my name, my interests, and generally cared about students.  I felt a connection to them.  It's teachers like Mr. Larson, Mr. Haren, Mr. Froehlich, and Mrs. Pierson that shape students and leave lasting impressions.  As I proceed with my class and enter the teaching field, as a licensed teacher, I can only hope to do what many before me have done.  

Here is a link to the video.  Even if you are not a teacher, take a look.  Perhaps you can see the world through the eyes of a teacher.  They are wondrous, devoted creatures. 

Thanks for reading.