Sunday, December 1, 2013

Things I Would Write About

Hello out there! It's me, the host of this blog! I know you haven't heard from me in a while and have probably stopped believing that I exist.

I probably am still going to be mostly silent for a while, but my two grad school classes are ending within the next two weeks and then I will be down to just-school crazy busy instead of school-plus-grad-school crazy busy until the beginning of February.

There are lots of things I would write about now if I had time:

1. Why I love my students (because it's super important for me to try to find positive right now)

2. Anxiety and how I almost quit teaching (which is what leads up to number 1 being number 1 in this list)

3. How being a teacher made me question my desire to be a parent (which is also what leads up to number 1 being so important)

4. Why rolling yourself up like a burrito in the class rug doesn't help solve your problems

5. How a bruised thumb reminds me I am not a patient person

6. How to get kids to interact in a positive way with the kid who eats his boogers (honestly, I'm looking for ideas here)

7. Finding teacher mentors and why that's been great for me

8. Hey! I love to read, cook, and even do dishes on occasion! I had forgotten.

9. My astonishing list of crochet and sewing projects for Christmas and New Year break

10. Why I'm thankful I'm experiencing my first year of teaching surrounded by friends and family (even if I never see them)

I wish I had time to write all these blogs now. Maybe over Christmas break. Or maybe when my grad school classes are done for the semester. I don't know. I know they would all be good for me to write. Therapeutic or something. Anyway, I am still here, still teaching.

Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Race: Learning to See

Since Mark and I have moved into an apartment building where the residents are predominantly African-American in a neighborhood of apartment buildings where residents are more likely to be Asian, African-American or Latino than White and since I've been teaching at a school where all of my students are African or African-American, I've been thinking a lot about race and racism. Most of my thoughts about race and racism have been sort of in the back corner of my mind, as the front corners of my mind are taken up right now with questions of whether I'll be able to keep control in my classroom long enough for my students to learn the short /a/ sound.

My thoughts about racism have been a weird jumble. I think about the loud music vibrating our floors and how the picture I got in my head when I felt the first rumble was of African-American people partying in a poorly kept living room. I hate that about myself, that those were my first mental images, and what that says about racism that still lives in me.

It scares me too, especially when I think about my students. Because if the image I get in my head when I hear loud music is African-American people living in a dingy apartment spending all their time rocking out pointlessly to loud music, what does that say about my expectations for what my students are capable of and should accomplish? What they should be like when they grow up? I'm terrified that despite all of my best intentions I'm going to lower my expectations for my students and decide that the work they are producing is 'good enough' even if it's not nearly good enough.

Because, let's face it: in order for my students to succeed and thrive while living in the United States, they are not going to have to score as high as White children. They are going to have to score higher. They are going to have to prove a thousand times more often that they are capable and bright and able to contribute wonderful things to the world. Because the world is not going to believe it on first glance. Especially when they see my darling girls wearing their hijab or my boys wearing their kufi.

And when I start to think about my girls and their hijab and my boys and their kufi, I also find myself thinking about my nephew who was adopted from Ethiopia in 2011. Not because he wears a kufi. I just know that my nephew is a wonderful, brilliant boy who love to read books, has an amazing vocabulary, and loves to entertain people. But so many people will just see black when they see him. Just like people will just see hijab when they see my girl students.

Before I started teaching at this school, when I saw a group of Muslim women in the store I was shopping in, I would just see their long flowing dresses and their hijab. A few days ago, though, when I was out, I saw a girl in hijab, and I found myself searching her face to see if she was a student of mine or a sister of a student of mine. It struck me at that moment that before, I hadn't been seeing the women in hijab as women. I'd just been seeing Muslim. Or maybe even just the clothes. I don't know. But I do know that I hadn't been really seeing them as individuals.

I don't know if this makes any sense, and I know that I'm rambling, but the thing is, I want my students to grow up being seen for who they are, beyond their clothing. I want my nephew to grow up being seen for who he is, beyond his skin color. And I want me to really see people. I want to really see the neighbors who live below us and play obnoxious loud music; if not get to know them, at least acknowledge that their personalities, their joys and disappointments, have depth that I don't know. And I want to really see my students with all their gifts and potential.

This seeing. I can't make the United States at large see my students for the wonderful individuals that they are or see my nephew for who he is. Racism is so hard that way - I can't make anyone not think racist thoughts. And I'm still battling my own sneakily hidden racism. But I truly think that seeing a person is what begins to dissolve some part of the racism barrier. So, maybe the very best thing I can do is tell the stories - tell the stories of my students as individuals so that a few other people will see them as more than a hijab or a kufi. Maybe that's the best start for learning to see.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Breath in the Midst of Teaching

A stack of student papers is sitting by me, waiting to be graded, but for the first time since I started teaching on September 3, I feel like I might have enough time and enough energy to write a blog before I tackle the school work. I'm finally getting my feet back on the ground after reeling through the first few weeks of teaching. I'm beginning to re-discover that a pot of tea drunk all by myself with a book is an incredible delight, and I'm beginning to think about what book I'm going to read next, also an incredible delight. If I have enough time to think those thoughts, I decided I have enough time to write a blog. It's been a loooooooooong time since I've written anything here, though, to the point where I think to myself, Where to start? Where to start? 

We are adjusting to life in an apartment complex, surrounded by people who like loud music. Maybe not surrounded, exactly, but the neighbors below us vibrate our floors with their music on occasion and the neighbors next to us like their speakers too. I'm a woefully light sleeper, so our bedroom has become a white noise factory of late. The fan on overhead creates a pleasant hum. The white noise track Mark created for me sounds like heavy rain or clapping depending on what I'm dreaming about, and the bass track he added to the heavy rain white noise track makes me feel like a train is running by our window all night long. I'm just that neurotic about noises that I need different tones of white noise to effectively dull the various sounds we hear in our bedroom at night.

Teaching the last three weeks has been a roller coaster. I think the next time I blog, I will write a little bit about the personalities of my kids. That's the fun part of teaching so far: getting to know each of the kids and what makes them excited or frustrated, how to calm the impulsive ones down when they make bad choices, how to make them smile. But I'm only just starting to see their personalities. Up until a few kids were switched out of my classroom on Thursday morning, all it felt like I was doing was managing one large, loud, disobedient group.

Here is what my day looked like before my class was brought down to a more manageable size:

4:45am - Wake up before the alarm, worrying about today.
5:05am - Get up, shower. Get ready. Eat breakfast. Read the Bible. Say desperate prayers.
6:05am - Drive to school. Say more desperate prayers.
7:15am - Students arrive. No time for praying. Crowd control.
8:00am - Start lining students up to go to breakfast. Feelings of frustration.
8:35am - Return from breakfast, frazzled by the difficulty of lining students up who are hyped up on sugar from their 'nutritious' breakfast.
9:00am - Math. Technically. In reality, crowd control. Maybe yell a little. Finish about half of the math lesson.
10:05am - Oops. Missed science time due to crowd control and discipline issues. Line students up for lunch. Even more challenging than lining them up for breakfast.
10:35am - Late for lunch. Defeated, leading loud and energetic children down the hall to the lunch room.
10:50am - Take a deep breath. Begin to line up students who are done eating.
11:05am - Return to classroom. Spend a few minutes doing calendar math activities. Spend many more minutes managing the group, giving out consequences and trying to be heard.
11:30am - Reading lesson. Also, crowd control. Also, trying to get kids to work on reading and not get out of their seats.
12:00pm - Arabic or Gym class. If Arabic, leave classroom so Arabic teacher can come in and teach. If Gym, lead kids to bus. Take deep breaths. Cry, maybe. Try to eat. Fail to eat. Organize materials for the rest of the day.
1:00pm - Arabic or Gym finished. If Arabic, students are mentally 'done' and need an active sort of brain break. Try to finish reading lesson. Attempt 'silent' reading. Ha.
1:45pm - Recess time. Most likely miss most of recess time because students are too excited to line up quietly.
2:00pm - Put on 10 minutes of Magic School Bus video for students to watch while they collect their backpacks, homework, and get ready to go out to the buses.
2:15pm - Frantically try to keep track of 29 children in the crush of bodies. Try to get the right kids on the 13 different buses.
2:30pm - Hand last child off to parents. Take a drink of water. (Have I drunk any water yet today? Can't remember.) Head to one of many staff meetings.
3:30pm - Put classroom back in order. Begin to make plans for tomorrow. Maybe cry a little.
5:30 or 6:00pm - Head home. Cry on Mark's shoulder. Try to eat supper. Succeed slightly.
6:30pm - Work on planning lessons. Try to figure out what will work to get class to relax, stop chattering, and listen.
9:00pm - Go to bed, exhausted.
10:30pm - Fall asleep after tossing and turning. Music starts up through the wall. Wake up. Lie there feeling angry and exhausted.
11:30pm - Music stops. Fall asleep for real.

Thankfully, since Thursday, there has been a lot less crying in my day. And since talking to my neighbors, there hasn't been much in the way of loud music at 10:30 at night. And as I mentioned above, things are looking up for my class now that I don't have quite so many students. In my next blog, whenever that is, I will spend some time talking about my students!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My classroom is ready for action!

So, it may kind of feel like I've fallen off the face of the earth. And that is largely true, except where my classroom and school-related work on my computer at home is concerned. I have never been this busy in my life. Not even during finals week of college. College feels like a walk in the park in comparison to getting ready to teach first graders. And I haven't even started the graduate classes I'll be taking this semester. But I'm not really complaining because, when I can muster up the confidence to imagine that I will be able to manage my first grade classroom, I am actually having a lot of fun. (If I'm having a less confident moment and imagining my students running around the room screaming while I watch powerlessly... then not so much fun.) 

I've spent the last week setting up my classroom and preparing lessons for my first week of school (gasp). School starts on Tuesday. I still can't say that without a few heart palpitations. But I am pretty excited about my classroom. It's nothing spectacular compared to some of the classrooms I've been ogling on other first grade teacher blogs, but for my first year of teaching with virtually no resources provided by the school, I'm pretty proud of it. Let me take you on a tour! 

This is the door to my classroom. I'm sorry the picture's blurry. This is on the inside of the door so kids outside can't pick at it. Other teachers recommended that I cover over at least the bottom half of the window on my door so that when other kids are in the halls they aren't distracting my little ones from learning.

This is the big whiteboard inside my classroom. (The door you just saw is to the right, just outside of this picture.) I'm planning on not using the whiteboard for teaching, as you may guess. I just didn't find this summer that when I was up at the whiteboard my students could pay attention as well. There's a lot here. So on the whiteboard I have a spot for Team Points. Students will be divided into teams (their table) and they will earn points for good choices and lose points for poor choices. Underneath is a schedule. Moving counterclockwise, next is the job charts. Students will have jobs and earn 'money' for their jobs. The money they earn is tied to their behavior management system and they will have to pay money for poor choices they make individually. They will get to spend money they make at a class store on Fridays. Above the job chart is the Friday Celebration box. Students will have 15 minutes set aside for a Friday Celebration activity of their choice at the beginning of the week. (Friday Celebrations could be things like more reading time, games, an educational video, a dance party, etc.) If they work efficiently, they will be able to earn more minutes for the Friday Celebration. If they waste time as a class, they will lose minutes. And finally, in the center top of the whiteboard is our Voice-o-Meter. I'm hoping to use this to help the kids know how loud their voices can be when working on a given activity.

To the right of the board is our Behavior Ladder. Students will have clothespins with their names on them that will start at the top of the ladder at the beginning of the day. For each poor choice they make, they will be asked to move their clip down. Each move down has other consequences, such as paying me one Scholar Dollar, spending a few minutes in the Spot for Thought, taking Thinking Laps during recess, and so forth.

Below the board are two posters: "Growing in math together" is where we will track our achievement in math as a class. For each objective we get 80% on (as a class) we will get to put one green leaf on the tree. "We show character" is where we will record the character traits we learn about and that we are trying to show as a class. Pretty much all of my students are Muslim, which is why the little girl is wearing hijab. It may look like the little boy is elbowing the little girl out of the way, but he's not. I drew the little boy first, intending to just have one child on the poster but then I decided I needed a boy and a girl and I didn't want to start over. So my new plan is that the words for the character traits that we learn will go to the left of the little boy on the poster. Students who show those character traits and get nominated by a classmate (or me) will get their name put next to the little girl under the "Look Who" sign. I might take pictures, instead of having their name go up. I'm not sure yet.

Over here is our Class Rules poster. On the first day of school we will brainstorm together as a class what each of these rules looks and sounds like and put those descriptors under the rule. The floating head is the beginning of our tracker for minutes read. For every 200 minutes read as a class we will get to add one length to the caterpillar. Since the students will be required to read at least 20 minutes a night and since I have 28 students, hopefully by the end of the year he will be one loooooong caterpillar winding his way all around the classroom.

This part of the room is also our 'organizational' corner. Students deposit their homework and Home-School folders here when they come in in the morning. The cardboard tray thing is for any mail that needs to go in the student mailboxes. Once the job system is up and running one student will have the job of checking that mailbox at the end of the day and putting mail in student mailboxes before we pack up our backpacks. I'm pretty excited about my student mailboxes too. They're made out of pizza boxes which I purchased from a Papa John's near my parents' house. (I say 'purchased,' but they were really cheap and the Papa John's manager who helped me was so friendly! I honestly left with a smile on my face.)

 Here's a closer look at the mailboxes. Students will each have a number. They will put that number on every worksheet they do. Their cubbies outside the classroom also have those numbers.

 This is our Calendar Time and Morning Meeting corner. I'll also be doing most of my large-group teaching in this area. Up in the left corner is a "Path to College" poster my sister helped me make. We'll talk during the first couple of weeks about how first grade is only the beginning and each grade they go through is a step toward college and what happens after college. I want to really stress the importance of doing your best in every grade so that you're prepared to move on to the next grade. Anyway, there's a lot going on by the Calendar Math Time bulletin board. There's the calendar (which I know is showing July in this picture), a weather graph, a pocket chart for yesterday, today, tomorrow, last month, this month, and next month, a hundred chart, a tooth-lost tally chart, a birthday graph, and a days-of-the-month tally chart. Oh, and the calendar itself and a clock. I'm still working through how I'm going to use each of these things and in what order. I won't start calendar time until the second week of school.

The rolling whiteboard cart is where I'll do most of my teaching. The students will be sitting on the carpet (which I know is a boring brown, but since I didn't have much to spend on carpets, I had to take what I could get). I'm not sure if I'll sit in the rocking chair all the time or reserve that for the read-aloud at the end of the day.

Oh, and the 80% Club is peeking through under the cart. Every time we have a test as a class, students who get 80% or more will get to put their names up on the chart. We'll see how this goes. I want this to be a motivational tool and not a source of discouragement. If I'm not a good teacher and am not giving my students what they need to succeed, then it probably won't be helping and will probably disappear.

This is in the back of our classroom and is our science tracker. Every time we master a science objective as a class at 80% we will add an animal or plant to this picture, so hopefully by the end of the year it will be a vibrant ecosystem.

Over here is my small group table and where students will pick up their pencils at the beginning of the day and deposit them at the end of the day. My teacher desk, file cabinet, and other organizational tools are back here. I love that open file box on the counter that I found at Goodwill. I'm using five of the spaces for each day of the week. So I can make my copies for the next week at the end of  the week and put them in the slot for what day we're going to use them. That's all assuming I can stay one week ahead. Ha.

 And over here is our classroom library. I've leveled the books according to DRA levels because that's what I'll be using to measure student progress throughout the year. A dear friend of mine got my church back in Iowa to put on a book drive for me, so I have more books coming today! I'm sooooo excited about that, as I really don't have enough books for 28 kids right now and our school has no library.

I realized now I didn't take pictures of my student tables and their chair pockets or my word wall. Oh well! I'll have to add those pictures later. In any case, despite being frightfully nervous, I'm terribly excited to start teaching on Tuesday!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Getting Settled in St. Paul

I just finished reading through my testimony, which I wrote out to share at our annual family stay-cation with Mark’s family. Initially, when I added that item to my to-do list for this week, I felt impatient. As you may have guessed from my long silence, my application before the Board of Teaching passed, and I am in the three-week frenzy before school starts, trying to get everything done that needs to be done. Honestly, right now, being terrified has eclipsed being excited.

We just got moved in to our new apartment in St. Paul, just a bit north of Frogtown (if you’re familiar with St. Paul) on Saturday. Because I hate boxes and being in transition, we got the last box unpacked last night and pictures and clocks hung. This apartment is nice, much nicer in looks than our little house in Iowa. It’s also more expensive, and what we gain in looks we lose in ambiance. The neighbors living below us have what I imagine to be giant subs and giant speakers and at times throughout the weekend they vibrated our floors and furniture with their music. Our neighbors above are quiet, except that their bedroom floorboards (which are also our ceiling…boards) squeak. I’m a light sleeper, so being surrounded by so many abrupt sounds like a squeaking ceiling and dogs barking, and people talking loudly as they walk through the halls has been hugely frustrating. Mark, being the composer that he is, whipped up two white noise soundtracks for me last night, which helped a lot.

So, besides moving, I’ve been trying to finish up my behavior management plan, my investment plan, my long-range unit plans, my first two week lessons, my trackers and displays for the classroom, my grading system and documents, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. According to my mom, “You were able to go to Mozambique and teach with two days of notice and you weren’t stressed at all! You’re really letting this get to you.” Her words are all too true, and yesterday was kind of a low point. I was trying to work on my behavior management plan for my little first graders at a library about five miles from our house, when I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed. Basically, I panicked, went to sit in my car, and called my dad sobbing. It wasn’t pretty. And really not necessary. And really not a good use of time or energy.

In any case, to get back to my original point, I felt like adding ‘Write Testimony’ to my to-do list was just one more thing, and I was impatient. But as I read through my finished product this morning (to make sure it wasn’t too short or too long), tears came to my eyes multiple times. I may have new noises to try to sleep through. Our budget and bank account may be stretched beyond what’s comfortable. I may have a whole lot to do before the school year starts. But God has been faithful, as reading my testimony aloud reminded me. God has been so very faithful to me. I have no need and no reason to doubt Him now.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

One Month Count Down

So, you may have thought I was never coming back. I may have thought that too. But when I was sitting here tonight looking at cute first grade classrooms on blogs and feeling like my life would never be complete until I had a Beanie Baby reading display and cute reading chairs and lots and lots of books... I realized I probably was in need of a step back and a healthy dose of perspective.

The last couple of months have been crazy. Absolutely crazy. Part of the reason that I haven't written in a while is that I just haven't known what to write. Our lives were in such crazy suspension that my emotions wandered off into the hazy unknown as well. I was thankful, then peaceful, then raging, then crying... honestly, I don't know what a post during that time would have looked like. (And really, so far, this post is still pretty rambling!)

Mark and I have an apartment now. We move in next Friday. It's not the old-house-converted-into-apartments feel that I was hoping for, but it's big enough for what we need and it will allow us to get a dog (a smallish dog, not my greyhound that I've been fantasizing about). Mark has a job, albeit a temporary job, as a custodian at a school. His job search process has been, for both him and me, a bit discouraging. I mean, I know that he has lots of wonderful skills and creativity to offer in the workforce, but for whatever reason he's just been unable to find that good fit yet. But we have income, and that's something we're both thankful for.

I have a teaching job lined up. My first day of actual teaching is September 3, almost exactly a month from now (gasp). However, tomorrow my application, as well as many other applications, goes before the Board of Teaching in Minnesota to see if we can get permission to be in the classroom this year. If the Board of Teaching votes down my application, well... I guess I will join Mark in the job search.

But I'm honestly not too concerned about it. Not because it's not concerning (because it is), but because I only have enough space in my brain and right now all the space has been devoted to starting to get ready for my classroom this fall. I found out this week that I'll be teaching first grade, and I got the textbooks we'll be using. I have so much planning to do. I can't even believe how many details have to be ironed out before the first kid walks through my door. I'm alternately thrilled (because let's be honest - I love making plans) and terrified (because let's be honest - I've never had to plan so many details at one time before in my LIFE.)

So, anyway, that's where we are right now. Still about 75% in transition. Not where we wanted to be three and a half months after moving up to the Twin Cities. But we're forging ahead and things are getting worked out bit by bit.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go practice some excellent self-care techniques and not look at any more first grade blogs. I think I'm going to read in bed with the covers over my head.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Striving Forward for every little Kaylee

I have never been this intensely busy and stressed in my entire life. There are so many things I wish I could have reflected on in this blog over the last four weeks but haven't been able to just because I am always so. very. tired. But now that it's the 4th of July and we don't have school today or tomorrow, I have a little bit more wiggle room. 

These last few weeks of teaching have not been what I had expected them to be. From Day 1 of having kids in my classroom I have struggled with managing the classroom and behavior, and teaching in a way that engages the students and keeps their interest. (Honestly, I've never been made to feel boring so often as I have in the last three weeks. Engaging 2nd graders in math and even reading apparently does not come naturally to me.)

Anyway, I've really struggled with balancing management and teaching. I honestly don't feel like I've been a good teacher for my summer school kids, and I can honestly say I think I'm one of the people struggling the most getting into teaching, at least out of all the TFA corps members at my school. So that's been pretty hard for me. I thought that with all my experience at the library and in Mozambique I wouldn't struggle so much. And what's worse is that I know my summer school kids need a good teacher. Oh, how they need a good teacher. 

So, I've really been fighting a lot of feelings of self-doubt too over the last few weeks, wondering if I should even be here and wondering if I am really just doing my kids more harm than good by being here in their classroom. I love my kids so much, and I hate to think that I'm letting them down. There's little Kaylee, this tiny little girl who is already so far behind in everything. She's starting 2nd grade this fall and doesn't even recognize most of her numbers and can hardly read a word. (What 1st grade teacher passed her, is my question.) And there's Delana who's aunt forgets to pick her up because she's drunk 'too much kool-aid and has to take a nap' in Delana's words. I could go on. Each of my kiddos has a story that makes me desperate to be a good teacher for them. But Kaylee and Delana for me put a face to why I so want to be a good teacher. I love them and I hate to think I'm failing them.

But yesterday, someone said something to me that really made a difference in my outlook. At the end of the day everyday a couple times a week we have this all-school shout out time, where all the corps members who are teaching and the staff who are supporting them congregate in a room and share 'shout outs,' or encouraging words for someone else on our team. At the end of the day yesterday, Blair, one of the TFA staff people, gave me a shout out for being one of the people who's most committed to improving that he's seen. He said that the difference he's seen between someone who ends up a good teacher and someone who ends up a great teacher is that drivenness to improve and become a better teacher. He said that that is the kind of teacher who will really make a difference in the lives of our kiddos. 

I don't say that all to toot my own horn, but it was kind of an epiphany for me. I realized I need to stop spending so much energy on comparing myself to other teachers and wondering if I measure up and start devoting all of that energy to becoming a better teacher. I may not be a great teacher now (or even a good teacher), but someday I will be and I need to keep striving toward that goal. Because it's not about me and my teacher ego. It's about the little kiddos like Kaylee and Delana who are already, at age 7, sliding through the cracks in the system that is failing them.

So, even though I'm not a good teacher now, and even though I may not be everything my summer school students need me to be (or even hardly anything that they need me to be), I'm going to keep on striving toward becoming a better teacher for Kaylee and Delana and all  of the Kaylees and Delanas I'll be able to love and teach in the years to come.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Dorm + Little Sleep + Children on Monday

My life has been so drastically different for the last week, I hardly even know where to start.

I'm living in a dorm with 600 other girls and guys who are all committed to the same cause of equality in education for all children but maybe not of the same background or other values or lifestyle.

I've only gotten about four hours of sleep per night since arriving, which makes it feel like I've been here a month instead of a week.

I'm making lots of friends! Yay! But I also miss my husband so much that it hurts, really hurts, every time I have to hang up the phone.

Earplugs are my new best friend at night, living in this dorm.

I've learned so much about teaching that I seriously think my brain has overloaded a couple of times this week, leaving me unable to function for a good fifteen minutes at a time.

But at the same time, I've learned so much about teaching that I've felt empowered and excited and eager to have my own classroom.

I found out that Teach For America is suddenly super controversial in Minnesota, thus jeopardizing my being able to teach this fall. (If you're a praying person, please pray about this!)

College dining center food... oh how I miss cooking. Looking at all of my favorite food blogs right now makes me sad.

I will have a classroom full of 28 little 2nd graders on Monday. I can't believe it. There is still so so much to do before I'm ready for them. And it's Saturday night. But the funny thing (I'm realizing) about teaching compared to other jobs I've had is that all the work will get done because on Monday morning, it won't be just me and a computer screen. There will be 28 little faces counting on me to be ready to help get them ready for 2nd grade in the fall. That is the most effective motivator I've ever found.

Monday, June 3, 2013


As I sit here at my parents' dining room table, I have a piece of notebook paper next to me and a pen. These two things are meant to keep me from going crazy. As I try to review key chapters and essays before my TFA training starts, my brain is practically frothing with superfulous thoughts. Anything that seems of dire importance I write down on the notebook paper, and then the idea is that I can keep concentrating on the readings. In theory, this is great. In practice, I've had about four different pieces of notebook paper over the past few days and written 'pack jacket!' about six times and 'pajamas' at least three times.

For some reason, packing has been fairly anxiety-ridden for this trip. When I think back to packing for Mozambique, I know I felt pretty anxious as well, but that hair and sleep loss was mainly due to fear over navigating four different airports and how to be prepared for layovers or possible pick-pocketing.

I don't have to fly into four different countries for this trip (sad, but also much simpler), and I don't need to pack a variety of legal documents (definitely a relief). But I do have to be prepared to look teacher-professional five days a week in stifling Oklahoma summer weather. And I do have to pack other teacher items, like notebooks and folders and a printer. And I'll be carpooling with a couple other corps members, so all our stuff needs to fit in the car we take. I know this shouldn't stress me out, but I must confess that it does.

I also think that I don't have the most organized and efficient system for packing. (However, I was mostly packed for this first week in the Twin Cities by 9:30 this morning, and we're not leaving until 3:15, so I guess my system isn't all bad.) This is the fifteen-step system that has resulted in a suitcase packed for this week and a dufflebag partially packed for the next five weeks:

1. Read through the packing list that TFA provides.
2. Start own list on notebook paper, incorporating the things TFA suggests that seem like a good idea.
3. Write a series of question marks behind things not sure about, like what kind of dress shoes to bring.
4. With paper in hand, start a few piles on the extra bed downstairs. Cross off items now present on bed. Then stop, due to heightened stress.
5. Go back a day later and try to remember what's already been packed by looking at list. Try to ascertain whether items are crossed off because they are on the bed or because decided not to take them.
6. Add more items to bed. Circle items on list that haven't been located. Write more question marks behind things uncertain of, like dress shoes.
7. Go back upstairs. Read for a while to relax from stress of packing.
8. Start a second list upstairs of things that may not be on first list (but don't go downstairs to check in case of increased stress.)
9. Morning of. Must get packed today. Take second list downstairs. Put two lists next to each other and see what overlaps.
10. Pack extra pants and shirts, just in case.
11. Grind teeth. Randomly pick a few pairs of dress shoes. Pack tennis shoes too, for running, and sandals, for relaxing. (In case there's time to relax.)
12. Stand in bathroom for full five minutes, making sure nothing is forgotten. Repeat process with bedroom and living room.
13. Double and triple check really important things like medications.
14. Decide to save space and not pack cleaning supplies for apartment.
15. Keep paper nearby for the rest of the day to jot down anything that may or may not already be packed but which excites nervous stomach stress butterflies.

Alright? All packed? OK, I think I'm ready for TFA Induction to start this afternoon!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bookshelf: April-May

Despite packing up and moving to a new state and preparing for Teach For America, I've managed to do quite a bit of reading over the last two months. I don't expect to read too much from now until sometime in 2015, so I'm enjoying this current state of reading freedom.

See my reading selections for April and May below. Just a warning: I probably should have separated this into two posts. But I didn't. (Also, notice the star rating next to the title for a cursory look at my opinions! All ratings are out of five stars.)


The End of Worry - Will Vander Hart & Rob Waller - ***
Though a little simplistic, The End of Worry gave me a brief overview of the what worry is and ways to deal with it. The biggest thing that I took away from this book (and that I'm still practicing consciously) is to be present in the moment, especially if I'm feeling anxious or worried. This may seem overly simplistic, and for more acute cases of anxiety it probably is, but for me this works well.

The End of Worry is a fast read, so it's not a major commitment to pick up. I would recommend it to anyone who has wanted to give greater thought to the role of worry in their own lives, but I would also caution that this is in no way comprehensive. If you've already researched worry and anxiety disorders at all, none of this will be new.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling - *****
I've continued my re-read of the Harry Potter series. (I'm hoping to finish up the last book before my TFA training starts at the beginning of June.) Re-reading these as an adult has given me a greater appreciation for Rowling's writing style. Not only does she use words in amusing and effective ways, but her story line is, well, epic. I kept noticing how details in this book tied back in with characters and events in the first three books and I wonder to myself, Did she plan this from the beginning?

Between the Lines - Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer - **
I haven't read anything else by Jodi Picoult, but her books have been recommended to me on multiple occasions by people whose opinions I trust wholeheartedly. But I did not care for this book. The idea and the story line are interesting, quite fun for a bibliophile like me, actually, but the effect is ruined by the poor development of the characters. Even main characters fell flat for me. I think that if the authors wanted to develop characters more fully and keep the story as is, the whole book would have needed to be a little longer. Because of all the good recommendations I've gotten for Jodi Picoult, I'm going to chalk this disappointing read up to the fact that Picoult was working with her teenage daughter to write this. For a teenage writer, this is fairly impressive. For a 26-year-old reader, it's disappointing.

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie - ****
I would have give this book five stars if it had been a little... happier. I think just the frame of mind I was in when I read this didn't lend itself well to a murder mystery in which every single character dies. I wanted something happy-go-lucky. But as mysteries go, this was top-notch. This was my first Christie mystery, and I was terribly impressed. It's kind of like the board game Clue, only more complex.

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne - Catherine Reef - *****
The only books I've read by either of the Bronte sisters are Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I loved them. This brief biography of the Bronte sisters made me love them more. Through this book I gained a richer understanding of how and why the two novels above were written. I learned about the distinct personalities of each of the Bronte sisters and the eccentric personality of their brother, Branwell. I am inspired both to live in 19th century England and read the rest of the works by the Brontes.

Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer - ****
Patricia C. Wrede is a long-standing favorite of mine. Her Enchanted Forest Chronicles charmed me as a junior high girl and still manage to put a smile on my face. I hadn't read this in quite a few years, and I honestly didn't love it as much this second (or maybe third?) time through. Wrede and Stevermer wrote this book as a series of letters. If I remember correctly, they chose the time period and a few other general rules for their letter-story, but then kept a strict rule that they couldn't discuss what they wanted to have happen in the plot. They wrote back and forth, and Sorcery and Cecelia emerged.


Little White Duck - Na Liu & Andres Vera Martinez - ****
This was the first of three graphic novels I read in May. This was a very fast read, about a child growing up in China during the 1970s. I learned a lot about Chinese history, legend, and culture in these few pages. I'm not generally a huge fan of graphic novels. It's just not the way I like to read. But I thought this was well-done.

American-Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang - ****
This is a little longer and intended for a little older audience than Little White Duck. I liked how it dealt with issues of racism and stereotypes. The book alternates between three stories. Jin is a Chinese-American boy trying to navigate through high school despite the mild (and sometimes overt) stereotyping by classmates. Danny is a White American boy who has a cousin from China named Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee is an exaggeration of all of the worst stereotypes and misconceptions Americans have of Chinese culture. The Monkey King has mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines but the other gods do not accept him because he is a monkey. At times parts of each of these stories felt a little bizarre to me. But over all, this is a great and extremely interesting investigation into the challenges of growing up Chinese-American.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling - *****
I just love Harry Potter. This was the book I remembered the least, and I simply loved rediscovering it. That's really all I have to say on Harry Potter.

Wonder - R.J. Palacio - *****
This book was fabulous. About a boy who is born with severe physical deformities because of a genetic mutation, this book deals with themes of bullying and self-confidence. Wonder is told from multiple viewpoints: Augie, the boy with the genetic mutation, Augie's sister, whose whole life has been defined and colored by having a little brother like Augie, and Augie's new friends at school. I'm pretty sure that if I end up teaching anywhere between 3rd and 6th grade, I'm going to read this book aloud to my class or have the class read it together. It deals with so many issues that would hit close to home for the kids I teach and cries out for kids to develop compassion and integrity.

The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle - ****
This is a unique and beautiful story. What really sold it to me, though, was the quirkiness the author sprinkled on top of what was otherwise a pretty somber story. I first tried to read The Last Unicorn when I was about 13. The title, as well as the subject, of this story appealed to me. But re-reading it now has convinced me that this is not a fairy tale for kids. I appreciated things in the book this time, like learning to live with loss or regret, that I just found troubling as a 13-year-old. Lovely.

Maus 1: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History - Art Spiegelman - *****
I did not realize that Maus 1 and Maus 2 were part of the same story, and I am definitely going to have to pick up Maus 2 next.  As graphic novels go, this has such depth and breadth. Not only does it introduce the horrors of the Holocaust in a way that's easier for kids to understand and digest, but it also introduces the subject to readers who might be less likely to pick up a book on the Holocaust otherwise. This true story told in an unconventional way is one I will recommend to my students (once I have them) and kids (once I have them).

Currently reading:

Decision-Making and the Will of God - Garry Friesen & J. Robin Maxson
Yes, I'm still working on this one. I'm really close to the end though.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling 

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? - Beverly Daniel Tatum

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Beautiful Ambiguity

I don't really think ambiguity is beautiful. But I'm trying really hard. After much soul searching, I realized that most of the anxiety and nervousness I feel when faced with new situations or challenges has at the root a fear of uncertainty. I want assurance that everything will work out fine. When I do not have that assurance, I feel threatened by the possibility of loss or difficulty or suffering. A sense of anxiety follows. Maybe this seems really obvious and you're thinking to yourselves, Oh, Hillary. Obviously! But this was actually a revelation for me. I realized that when I choose to embrace uncertainty, then I'm not as anxious. It's like really cheap, really simple therapy. Mark and I have a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty right now, so I have lots of opportunity to practice embracing instead of resisting.

I had an interview at a school yesterday. Because I'm applying and interviewing for teaching jobs through Teach For America, I'm almost guaranteed a teaching position this fall. But not quite. I still have to interview and interview well. The school still needs to like me and want me. TFA can't force me on them. Unfortunately, I never feel like I interview well. I liked this school a lot. I could see myself teaching there. But I didn't leave the interview with a sense that my interviewers really wanted me teaching there.

During interviews, I always get this feeling that I should have taken speech in high school or forced myself to do something that required public speaking when I was in college. I just don't feel like I express my passion and excitement well. My nervousness makes me quieter and more reserved. I just want to stop partway through the interview and say, Can I be perfectly honest? I'm not expressing myself well. But I would be a really good teacher. I promise. Just hire me and you'll see! But interviews just don't work that way. So now I'm waiting (not very hopefully) to hear back from this school and waiting for more interview opportunities. I think I better force someone who loves me to ask me a bunch of interview questions before the next interview so I can practice conveying what I mean to convey.

Mark is also waiting. He's waiting to hear back on a job he's interviewed twice for already. We're hoping he makes to to the next round of interviews. He's continuing to search for other jobs to apply for, but this one looked good. (Yay! More opportunity for me to practice embracing uncertainty!)

When we arrived in the Twin Cities almost a month ago, I had hoped that before I started training with TFA on June 1 Mark would have a job and we would have begun to look at apartments. At this point, that doesn't seem likely. God is asking us to wait more and trust more. I'm practicing embracing this period of uncertainty.

I'm excited to start training for TFA. I know I'm going to learn a lot and be pushed hard. I'm excited to be in a classroom this summer and learning right alongside other new teachers. I don't mind that I have to spend five weeks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for that training. What I do mind, what I am nervous about, is leaving Mark for that period of time. I haven't been away from Mark for more than three nights, I think, since we got married four years ago. Six weeks apart is going to feel like an eternity. Plus, Mark is used to my habits - embarrassing, irritating, and otherwise - and I'm just not excited about suddenly gifting those co-habitation habits to a stranger.

But in all of this, I'm trying really really hard to enjoy the moment. I'm enjoying holding and petting and feeding treats to my parents' cat. (I love cats. I really love cats. Mark really doesn't. But that's a post for another time.) And I'm enjoying sitting at the table by the sliding glass doors and listening to birds in the trees in the back yard. I'm enjoying spending time with my parents and siblings and family-in-law and niece and nephews. I have lots to enjoy now.

So, I'm trying to embrace this beautiful ambiguity. We don't know where we'll be living in two months. We don't know what our bank account will look like in two months. We don't know where either of us will be working, or whether we'll be able to get a dog. We don't really know anything. But we know that God is good. I know I can trust Him. I know He is leading us step by faltering step. God has arranged for us, right now, this beautiful ambiguity.

The Lord is faithful to all his promises
and loving toward all he has made.
The Lord upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your had
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
            -Psalm 145:13b-16

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lovin' the Fam

This weekend I got to see my little sister in the leading role in a musical at her school. I love hearing her sing. She has all the vocal abilities I wish I had and all the confidence on stage I never thought to wish for because that wish seemed too far-fetched. I wanted to post a video of one of her songs from the musical. I think I might be infringing on copyright laws to do that, but my sisterly pride is just too great.

One of the most entertaining parts of Abby being Cinderella for a weekend was all the adoring little girls who toddled over to her in awestruck wonder after the performances.

Little girl in awe at meeting Cinderella

Even in church the next morning, the family sitting in front of us had brought their little four-year-old girl to the performances. When she first realized that Cinderella was sitting directly behind her in church, the little girl's eyes widened and she burst into hysterical giggles. Then throughout every song we sang the girl was turned around in her pew, gazing at Abby. 

Mark and I also got to celebrate this weekend with our sister-in-law and niece, who both have had birthdays in May.

Amy and Shirley, the birthday girls

And, of course, at any family function I take every opportunity to spend time with and endear myself to my little niece and nephews.

Creedence, learning from a young age that I am a very fun aunt

Million, also learning that I am a very fun aunt

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kind of Like Vacation

This morning Mark and I ran to Costco for groceries and PetSmart for cat food for my mom. Since we're trespassing indefinitely on my parents' hospitality, we want to be as helpful as possible. Our life right now is strange. That's the only word I can use to describe it.

We're in the midst of rocking and rolling change. We're both going to be starting new jobs, but we don't know what they are. We're going to be moving into a new apartment, although we don't know where it will be. We're going to be joining a new church, although we don't know what it will be like. And, for us, those changes will happen in that order. Jobs first, then apartment, then church.

So, even though big changes are taking place in the larger picture, in the day-to-day picture, we're just waiting. Waiting and running errands and doing chores around the house to make my parents' lives easier. We've both had interviews and are waiting to hear from this or that person, which makes the waiting portion of our lives that much more obvious.

In fact, the waiting is so obvious to me that it's like a cat that wants to be fed. It's not always loud and in charge, but it always finds a way to get under foot. And if you're not careful, it will trip you up and you'll fall flat on your face.

The weather has been beautiful the last few days. (In fact, as soon as I'm done writing this, I'm going to go for a long walk outside. Maybe I'll even run through other people's sprinkler systems.) Today for lunch I made a green smoothie following this recipe that I've fallen in love with. Then, with a belly full of smoothie, I stood out on my parents' deck overlooking their backyard, soaking up the sun for a few minutes.

I realized, if I weren't concerned about Mark and me having means of earning a living, this would be kind of like vacation. It's not totally like a vacation, because we are trying to be the most help we can be to my parents. (We don't want to be those kids who come home after college and play video games in the basement until we're 30. Not only do we not want to be those kids, we don't want to at all resemble those kids.) And I do have a lot of reading and 'pre-work' to do to be ready for my Teach For America training in a couple weeks. So in those senses, it's not really like a vacation.

But I wish I could enjoy this time like a vacation. I know that once my training begins I'll probably turn into a nervous wreck and lose my sense of humor and maybe my hair. All the more reason to savor a few minutes of calm now. And my hair. Maybe I should do something exciting to my hair, like get highlights.

So, that being said, I'm going to close my computer and go for a long walk outside.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Because I can't speak about infertility better myself on Mother's Day... are two posts that have really spoken to my heart on this day that has come to be wrought with so much complex emotion:

Everyday Doxologies: 'About That Holiday Coming Up'

The Messy Middle: 'An Open Letter to Pastors {a non-mom speaks about Mother's Day}'

And now that I've completely (ha!) dealt with the emotional mess of mixing infertility with Mother's Day, I do want to take a few minutes to say how very thankful I am for the two mothers I have in my life because I, unlike so many people, have not only one wonderful mother but two.

Mother 1 - my birth mom

I am so very thankful for my mom. She is a thoughtful, kind, and generous person. She delights in giving gifts to her kids. Her seemingly endless supply of optimism have buoyed my melancholic spirit on so many occasions. My mom has the rare (at least it seems rare having lived in my own head) gift of being able to think the best of everyone, including her children, of whom she has seen the worst. I have always felt loved and appreciated for who I am with her, truly loved and appreciated for who I am. She's not faking it. And if her house is a little bit messy on occasion and the clutter piles up a little too much for my liking, I know its because she's busy with people. She has such a heart for people. My mom, along with my dad, taught me about Jesus gave me every opportunity to get to know Him as my personal savior, and I'm so thankful.

Mother 2 - my mother-in-law

Before I got married, I naively bought into the cultural stigma of mothers-in-law, and I expected that I might not get along with my own mother-in-law if I ever married. That has, by far, not been the case for me. My mother-in-law is kind and loving. She's super organized, which I love. She genuinely wants to help her kids if she can and does an excellent job of walking the tightrope between not really helping and helping too much. She has a genuine heart for service and blesses so many people through her acts of service. My mother-in-law prays for her kids. I've been blessed over and over again by her reminders that she is praying for me. I admire so very much her desire for God and I want to want God like she does.

There are so many more things I could say about my two moms. They are both wonderful ladies. And I have the privilege of being able to look up to and emulate both of them. In this way, God has been so very good to me!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

You Can't Rush Sourdough

Our sourdough starter #2 is up and running. Or bubbling, rather. We got it going a little over a week ago and had been feeding it twice a day since then to try to coax some life out of it. By Sunday I had just about given up hope. Our starter #1, at the end of its life, had such a delicious yeasty smell. When I gave it a good stir before making something sourdough-y, it smelled a lot like an open bottle of wine. On Sunday, starter #2 smelled like play-dough.

Mark convinced me not to give up on it, though, so I let it sit and think about its actions for another 12 hours without adding any extra flour to it. That seemed to be the ticket. By Monday I was noticing a few more bubbles, and by Tuesday afternoon it was threatening to spill over the sides of its jar. I overheard my dad ask Mark if he should be afraid that the starter was going to attack him in his sleep. That was when I knew we were really in business again.

However, as we expected, starter #2 doesn't have the delicious tangy smell starter #1 had after five months of living in our fridge. We made our sourdough English muffins this morning, and they didn't taste sour. They fluffed up, but barely. It's just going to take time for our starter #2 to come into its own.

It's going to take a while for us to come into our own up here in the Cities too. The vacation effect has worn off a bit. Although we're still enjoying spending time with my family and are still thankful for how they've opened their home to us, we're beginning to wish that we had our own space some of the time. But Mark is still searching for a job, and I'm still not getting paid by my school. We just have to wait to become an autonomous family unit again.

Also, I'm beginning to really miss my library. Yes, I still think of it as my library. I miss my coworkers who are actually some of my best friends. I miss the hustle and bustle, and I miss seeing people everyday. Right now Mark and I have a lot to do, but it's just stuff to do. While we're doing it, we're not very social.

And the driving. Yeesh. It's really really going to take me a while to come into my own driving around here. Hopefully at some point driving to a new location won't feel like a major ordeal. I won't sit forward on my seat, clutching the steering wheel in a sweaty vice-like grip, my heart won't pound as I change lanes, and my lower back won't be sore from tension by the time I arrive at a new location. (Of course, I should qualify this  by acknowledging that Mark does not experience these symptoms driving around the Cities. I'm the hyper-sensitive, ultra-stressed, uptight one in the relationship.)

Moving to a new location is a little tough, even when the move was desired and anticipated. I'm not complaining about our situation right now. We're just like a new sourdough starter-- it will take a few months for us to find ourselves in our own place, begin working out how to make new friends and hold onto left-behind friendships, and drive without hyperventilating. But pretty soon we'll be making things happen confidently (and with a little tang).

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

So... Many... Changes...

I've been wanting to write a blog post for a couple days now, just to update on what's been happening in the Lives of Mark and Hillary since we moved up to the Twin Cities, but every time I thought I would actually sit down and do it, trying to decide what to write about was simply too overwhelming. So many things have happened, so many things have changed.

So, instead of trying to choose what to write about, I'm just going to make a list of all the changes. Maybe this will be therapeutic for me. I always say I love changes, and I'm always terribly excited for changes up until the day of. Then, the day of the Change that I've been anticipating for months, I feel kind of numb. I don't feel happy or sad that the Change is happening; it just is, and I'm just doing what I have to in order to get through it. Then the day after the Change, when unexpected challenges start to crop up, I turn into an emotionally volatile sniveling lunatic who is absolutely sure that life as she knows it is at an end. Ergo, it may be both informative for you and therapeutic for me to write down all the recent changes that have taken place in our lives.

In the list below, changes are numbered. Sub-changes are listed below each numbered change.

  1. Mark and I moved into my parents' basement.
    1. We now have to compromise with two middle-aged adults (one of whom is a fairly picky eater) and one teenager (who is definitely a picky eater) on what we eat for dinner. I want vegetarian, more vegetables, and all bread products to be whole wheat. My dad wants ground beef, fewer vegetables, and is actually now okay with most bread products being whole wheat. We haven't talked about other grains yet, like quinoa. My sister wants Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Doritos, and Cheez-Its. Thankfully, it seems so far like we can all be adults about this, except perhaps my sister who insists on being a strong-willed teenager, and heaven help us with that. 
    2. We now have Internet all the time. This sounds like a good thing, and in lots of ways it is, but I have to re-learn how to have Internet in my life and not feel the constant need to check my e-mail. I kind of seem to myself like a dog that's been starved regularly. When the dog finally does have food, it gorges itself. It has to re-learn to eat in moderation, trusting that the next meal really will appear. I just realized how very odd and somewhat disturbing those previous two sentences sound. However, since I can't think of another more appropriate simile off the top of my head, I'm not going to delete it. I'm just going to strike it out in deference to how strange it sounds.
    3. All of our stuff is in boxes. Except the books that are now airing out after their near miss with gasoline. Even in my parents' basement, the belongings we brought with us that we 'needed' for our time with them are still mostly in bins and boxes, as there's not really place to put them. (Did I really need to bring all those pairs shoes? I'm still not sure.)
  2. I went to a Teach For America hiring fair last Friday and Saturday.
    1. I got to meet many of the fellow corps members I will be working with over the next two years. That was a lot of fun except that due to a recent ovulation combined with stress, I have had a killer outbreak of acne. So I spent all of Thursday wishing it were socially acceptable to wear a paper bag over my head to meet fellow corps members and the school officials who would be interviewing me.
    2. I learned more about the achievement gap, particularly in Minnesota. Did you know that Minnesota ranks dead last in graduation rates for African-American, Native American and Hispanic students? We are failing our kids, and that's really depressing. What's even more depressing is that Minnesota kind of has this reputation of having really great schools. Apparently this is only true if you are wealthy and white. However, on the plus side, I left Friday's discussions feeling completely energized about education and oh-so glad that I'm committing my next two years to combating this totally unfair gap in achievement.
    3. I switched from planning on teaching English as a Second Language this fall to teaching general Elementary Education. Yep. I know what you're wondering: So, all those hours studying for the ESL Content MTLE test... do they mean nothing now? Yep, pretty much. Now I have to take a new MTLE test, the Elementary Education Content test. Surprisingly, I didn't start crying when I went online to register. In all honesty, though, the reason that I'm switching is the cost of obtaining the licensure. Over the next two years all the TFA corps members will be taking education classes through a university up here to get our teaching licenses. Because ESL teachers need to take not only general education classes but also linguistics and language acquisition classes, their degree costs more. Twice as much, in fact. After thinking very hard and praying about whether we thought we could/should scrimp and save over the next two years to pay for a $19,000 degree, we decided that it just wasn't worth it. Given our desire to adopt (and soon) combined with other financial obligations, the $19,000 is just plain too much. So, elementary education it is. But I'm not disappointed. I'm still very excited to teach!
  3. I gained new compassion for people with medical problems and little to no health insurance. I don't really even want to go into detail on this subject. We're still working things out, so the mere mention makes my blood pressure rise. But combining expensive COBRA insurance with an HSA that is entirely out-of-pocket until the deductible is reached with some PCOS-related medical issues that need attention is definitely teaching me to trust God with each dollar and making me more sympathetic to the plight of people with big medical needs.
  4. Mark and I pretty much took over errand-running and grocery shopping for my mom. That has been fun, but the way we use gasoline up here is a rude awakening after being in a small town. However, being near Goodwill, Savers, Plato's Closet, and Half-Price Books definitely will have its perks when we have an income again...
  5. We switched phone plans.
    1. Now we each have our own cell phone, which is nice. (Those phones were donated to us by Mark's sister and her husband. So we didn't even need to purchase new phones to start our new plan. Thankful, thankful, thankful!)
    2. We have some texting now, which is also nice.
    3. My phone is turquoise, which I love. 
  6. My parents have Netflix and my mom likes the same kind of movies I do. (We're both BBC junkies.) I don't know yet whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I just reviewed this blog and realized it seems a bit long. But I was able to process some of the recent changes, so that's good! And you are now all caught up on our New Life in Minnesota. That's also good! If you leave a comment, I'll consider sending you payment for the therapy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Not Stressed. I am NOT STRESSED.

I haven't disappeared from this blog; I've just been moving. I'm now typing this from Minnesota instead of Iowa. We're at my parents' house. Most of our belongings are in storage in Mark's parents' basement. The rest of our stuff, that we thought we'd need in the next couple of months, is in boxes and totes here at my parents' house.

Nothing is organized now. We have piles of papers. (I hate piles of papers. I want them in files.) But overall, things have gone well. We are here.

In the two weeks leading up to our move I was really not stressed. I was not worried about the upheaval or the transition. Even as we packed boxes and approached the time when we would have no income I did not feel stressed. And I was so very proud of myself.

Mark's parents came down to drive the moving truck on Saturday, and we weren't going to follow until Wednesday. This meant that we were camping out in our house for about four days. That was okay. All the cleaning was okay. No hiccups in our plans.

We've had a couple of hiccups today, though, and I'm beginning to feel a little stressed.

Well, okay, I'm pretty stressed. I feel a little bit like my life is over. It started this morning when the inside panel fell off of the door of our car, the same car that was hit by a tree branch two weeks ago. Mark knew what to do to get it back on and I helped him duck tape it on. That was alright. No big deal.

Then when we stopped at Mark's parents' house on the way to my parents' (because my bin with essentials like underwear had accidentally ended up on the moving truck), we found out that a can of gasoline that we had packed in a box (yes, we know now what a bad idea that was) had gotten turned on its side and leaked a puddle all over my in-laws basement and our couch. Oh dear.

I handled that alright, though, after apologizing profusely to Mark's parents.

Then when we arrived at my parents' house, I realized that my sourdough starter had gotten sealed in it's container, thus cutting off its supply of oxygen. When I questioned Mark about it, he said he'd sealed it last night. The starter smells funny and there isn't a hint of a bubble. I think it's dead.

That was the final straw. I cried. Tears dripped down my face as I unpacked the rest of our refrigerator items and nestled them into my parents' fridge. It wasn't Mark's fault. This is just one of those communication lapses that seem to happen during times of great busyness. But still. My baby.

After we were all done unpacking, I opened the mail that had begun to accumulate at my parents' house for us. I was expecting to see the letter in response to the health insurance I'd applied for, since Mark's and my health insurance through our Iowa jobs will end on April 30. I was not expecting, however, to have our application denied.

More correctly, my application was denied, because of my 'pre-existing condition' of polycystic ovary syndrome. I was not expecting this little wrench in things, and that was the final final straw that left me feeling like my life is pretty much over.

I know it's not. I know there are things we can do and that we will probably be able to find health insurance before May 1, even if it's through a COBRA plan from our previous employers. We'll be making phone calls tomorrow.

But tonight, I don't have much of a sense of perspective. I'm just tired and stressed.

It wouldn't be a major life change for me if I didn't expend some good solid stress over it, right?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hamster Escapades

We got a hamster for the library. It was my idea. (See? My raging desire to nurture something is even following me to work.) I had a number of hamsters growing up. I think I counted one time, and I’ve had a total of twelve hamsters from the time I was six until the time I went off to college. Mooney, Rose, Squirt, Alice, Creamy, Calico, Smokey, Sparkles, and Soybean are the hamsters I remember with clarity. There was a string of three in the middle there that died within days of bringing them home. I think one of them was called Mustard.

So, there was this library somewhat near here that adopted a stray cat that they named Dewey. Dewey lived in the library and welcomed patrons. He climbed around on the shelves and the library director cleaned his litter box and made sure he had food to eat. Now there are books written about him. National Library Week is coming next week, and those of us on the planning committee for this Big Event in the library world decided that we would like to have a pet in the library too. Not feeling quite ambitious enough to take on a cat (and not wanting to deal with allergy problems that would certainly arise), we decided a hamster was a good choice for a library pet.

Hammy and me at the library

The rest of the committee was willing to go along with this plan, but I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t propelled the idea forward, it wouldn’t have happened. You see, I loved having hamsters when I was little. I carried them around in a little plastic traveling case all day as I went around the block visiting friends. The poor nocturnal rodent—he just curled up right there in the middle of this little plastic case rocking back and forth and slept as best he could. My friends and I built mazes for the hamsters out of Duplos and toilet paper tubes. I even have a faint memory of carrying one of my hamsters (probably Mooney or Rose—bless their little hearts for being the pets of a six-year-old) around on a tennis racket and bouncing him up and down. Gently.

My friend Allison and I once tried to introduce my hamster, Mooney, to her hamster, Peaches. They immediately latched onto each other in what looked like a furry trembling ball. We couldn’t even see their heads. At first, I think I thought they were hugging (I was only six, after all.) But we quickly realized they were not hugging and we should probably separate them. One nasty hamster bite later, I learned never to introduce adult male hamsters to each other and expect them to be friends.

Squirt was my only dwarf hamster. He was too squirmy for me, though. He escaped from his cage one night, disappeared (probably down the heat register) and was never seen again. Alice was my only albino hamster. When I was little, I had a fixation on being albino. I still have pictures I drew of myself as an albino human being. Alice allowed me to experience the thrill of being albino vicariously.

Creamy is the hamster I remember with the most fondness. Creamy was a long-haired hamster, so I could brush him with a Barbie brush. He moved with me from Wisconsin to Iowa when I was nine and I considered him my only friend for a while. He also escaped down the heat register once, but thankfully during the summer. After he didn’t turn up for a few days, my mom and I went down to the basement and opened up the side of the furnace. There he was, a lovely shade of grey from all the dust, curled up in a ball, sleeping right in the middle of the furnace.

Sparkles probably should have lived longer than she did. I was fifteen when I got her, and I had three very rambunctious guy friends who hung out at my house most weekends. They took a liking to Sparkles right away, but not because he was furry and cuddly. They played catch with Sparkles. Sparkles was the ball. At first they were content to toss him from about four feet apart. After a while, they became so confident in their hamster acrobatics that they would put her in the middle of a throw pillow, pull it taut suddenly at an angle, and Sparkles would fly through the air toward the other boy with another throw pillow. (Please try to refrain from sending me hate mail for my animal abuse. I was an irresponsible sixteen-year-old, and I really am quite horrified at my past self!)

Soybean was the last hamster I had before I went to college, and he spent most of his life in his cage. I was too busy with school and friends and extracurricular activities. I had no time for a hamster. I can remember many times when I suddenly remembered I needed to feed Soybean or give him some water that I would think to myself, I’m so glad God doesn’t care for  me the way I care for this hamster! I wouldn’t say I was terribly neglectful, but I wasn’t a good pet owner at age eighteen.

And now, I have the library hamster to take care of. He doesn’t have a name yet. I’m going to let the kids vote between a couple of names during National Library Week. He will either be called Humphrey, Reepicheep, Freddy, or Midnight. Humphrey and Freddy are both hamster characters from book series. Reepicheep is the adventurous mouse in the Chronicles of Narnia, and Midnight is just a name I thought preschoolers might prefer if the names I gave my hamsters at that age are any indication.

But I really do enjoy taking care of little Library Hammy. One of the hardest things to do with a new hamster is tame it. You need to make it feel comfortable with your hand reaching in the cage, comfortable with your smell as a human (so it doesn’t try to nip curiously at any hand thrust into the cage), and comfortable with being picked up. I’m finally to the picking-up stage, which is by far the most fun. Hammy is comfortable enough now with me that he will let me scoop him up in my hands and carry him around the library (before it opens—I’m still not sure he’s ready for a stampede of children clamoring to pet him).

Contrary to what it might seem from the stories above, I do think I was a good hamster-owner, and I really did like having hamsters. I like having one in the library.

I realize that this is not a baby:

But it is kind of fun to care for, all the same.