The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Secret of Santa

This is a letter I sent to my son this week, as he began asking questions: Dear Vinny: You are getting at that age where you have internet access and you have friends who are older, and we see that you are getting some conflicting messages about one of our favorite Christmas traditions: Santa Claus. We don't want you to think we are lying to you. So.... Here is what you should know: Santa Claus was a real man. He died a long time ago. His name was Saint Nicholas. He lived in the Middle East, near where Jesus lived, just a few hundred years after Jesus died. He was a very rich man, but he gave away all of his wealth, mostly to poor children, in the form of gifts. He had a tradition of never letting people know who he was when he gave them gifts... because that's what Jesus would have done. God loves every person on this earth and blesses people whether they show him thanks or not. That is why so many of us parents continue the tradition of Santa Claus. Because it is important that children understand love and blessings from someone who doesn't need thanks in return. It is also important to believe in the magic of Christmas and Santa. Even though kids like you eventually get old enough to understand that one man can't make it to every home in the world in one night, and that only your parents really know you well enough to get you gifts you love that you never even thought of asking for.... we think it is important for little kids to believe that impossible things are possible. As the fairy godmother says in Cinderella, "The world is full of zanies and fools who don't believe in sensible rules and won't believe what sensible people say. And because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, impossible things are happening every day." A hundred years ago, lots of women died giving birth to babies. Who would think that it would be possible to put one person's blood in another person's body? But because some zany fool believed that could be possible, blood transfusions became a real thing, and it was because of blood transfusions that I was saved from dying after Tiana's birth. And who would think that God could come to earth as a baby and save us all? Impossible, right? Except it's not. Some impossible things are possible, because of love. And so, while a single man delivering presents to the whole world is not "Santa," you should know that Santa, as the idea of unconditional love and impossible things being possible, IS real, which is why our parents did "Santa" for us and why we do "Santa" for you and Tiana... and why you must keep the secret of Santa. Because the real secret of Santa is this: impossible love exists and it is our responsibility to love others with impossible depths, expecting nothing in return. We hope you understand. Love always, Mommy and Daddy

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Watching My Kids Become People

I haven't blogged a lot in the last year, and it is mostly because I am feeling more private about my children than I have in the past, for reasons that are kind of hard to explain.

Nonetheless... my amazing children amaze me. They have just become such interesting people.  Vinny loves music and the arts so much, and flourishes as we let him fill his life with the things he loves. He is, of his own desire, taking three hours of dance a week now, and this Saturday, when he had a bunch of free time before our show Saturday night, he spent a good two hours solid playing piano.  He's pretty good. I mean, I won't pretend that he's phenomenal for an eight-year-old or anything... like he isn't a prodigy or anything, but he is better than I ever was in high school, and I tried pretty darn hard to learn. He learned this Easter song "Up Up Up He Arose" and plays it well enough to sing along while effectively with playing two hands.  I don't think I ever really figured out my left hand. I could get chords on my left hand, but that was about it.

And he is just so dedicated to everything he does.  We are in Bye Bye Birdie right now (it is the first time that he and I have been in a show together, and it's been a lot of fun), and he knows every single song by heart, even the ones he isn't in.  Yesterday morning, he played through the entire vocal book, even songs he isn't in, like "Baby Talk to Me." I love that he loves music as much as he does. He pushes me to be a better musician. When I miss a lyric or something, I just feel like, "Vinny wouldn't have missed that."

Tiana is something else.  That little woman has got a tenacity like none I have ever seen before. She's such an interesting little person too. She cannot handle boredom, but has no problem entertaining herself. At brunch today with Marc's family, she got a pen and drew all over the butcher paper on the tables. Not just typical preschool doodling either. Her fine motor skills are better than mine were when I was like eight-years-old. She drew detailed sketches of a tv and a tv show on the screen with a girl dancing, and of windmills and smiling suns and our family on a walk on a very detailed sidewalk, and a mummy wrapped in bandages, and stuff like that. She's really creative.

After spending this week lifting her up to reach the top of her closet so she could pick her own outfits, I finally acquiesced this weekend -- Tiana needs access to her own clothes, so I rearranged her closet to give her access to all her own clothes. This is one area in which my children and I are fundamentally different. Clothing, to me, is for covering one's body. If I ever make a "fashion statement" with my clothing, the statement is clearly "I don't care, and you can't make me care."  I just love fun colors and patterns. I hate layers, but love flowy, seamless clothing that makes me feel free. Vinny loves nothing more than his blazer, and he is grateful for any opportunity to get dressed up and coordinate his shirt to one of his many clip on ties. He cares very much about "looking good" and asks for assistance on matching colors before he puts anything on. Despite my disinterest in fashion, I attempt to use my knowledge of traditional color combinations to guide him as well as I can. Tiana just loves clothes... period. Marc literally took her shopping with him last night to pick out new jeans for himself. He knew she'd spend time on it and tell him the truth. On the way home from the store, she told him, "Gosh, this was just the best night ever!" Doesn't take much to make her happy. When we got home today, the first thing she wanted to do was go look through her closet and pick out an outfit for tomorrow, which she has laid out neatly on the table in her room. "Come see, Mom," she says, "Don't this shirt and this skirt look cute together? It's so cute!"  This poor girl is seriously lacking the fashion buddy she desires to find in me. At least she has plenty of aunts who love clothes and shopping. And Vinny and Tiana have each other, which works out well.  I just want to know... how?  How did two kids raised on hand me downs, clearance racks, and thrift shop finds end up caring so much about their clothes?

And seriously... once these kids figure out that mom doesn't have any regard for traditional fashion, they are going to be so embarrassed of me. They are both likely to spend their teenage years attempting in vain to dress me acceptably. And I will just laugh.

Monday, July 21, 2014

An Artistic Year

     Tonight, Marc and I took Vinny with us to see We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson.  I've wanted to see this show for a really long time, so I was so excited it was coming to Los Angeles and very excited to see it.  Queen is the soundtrack of my childhood, and I even got to see Queen live in 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl (yes, I know Freddie Mercury was gone... Paul Rodgers took his place on that tour and it was phenomenal).  One of the best experiences of my life. We Will Rock You really does an awesome job of translating Queen's counterculture vibe to modern times. Loved it.

     The past year (as in twelve months, school year, not calendar year) has really been an artistic turning point for me.  Marc and I have made the arts a priority, and it all feels SO right.  Growing up an artsy geek in the greater LA area, I always imagined that I would spend a great portion of my life soaking up the arts scene in Los Angeles. For various reasons (mostly education and small children), this was the first year where I really felt like we did that.  With visits to the Getty Center and the Getty Villa and MOCA and LACMA and the Pompeii exhibit at the science center, I've definitely gotten a good taste of the LA life I wanted.  The little tastes I've gotten make me want more more more.  I wish we didn't live so far from the subway lines.  It's only about a 20-25 minu;postID=2329769197757677996te drive to a decent subway stop, which saves us some parking money and gas, but L.A. really needs a public transportation network more like New York because L.A. traffic sucks, and I'd love to avoid it altogether with a decent schedule and reasonable prices.

     This has been a great theater season for me too. I've seen more shows than I can practically count. I've seen Evita and Lion King and Ghost at the Pantages, bare in Los Angeles and community theater, Rock of Ages in Las Vegas, a community theater production of Next to Normal (totally blew my mind), The Last Confession and We Will Rock You at the Ahmanson, Cats at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center, and In the Heights by Cabrillo (oh my gosh, amazing!).  When you add to that list the shows I saw Vinny in -- Little Mermaid, Wizard of Oz, and Shrek, that's a lot of theater watching! I also directed two shows with my students and performed in a six week run of Willy Wonka at a local community theater. As a family, we hit the original Renaissance Faire for the first time, as well as a smaller faire called Nottingham Village, which actually was better in many ways than the original Ren Faire. We went to the Holli Festival (festival of colors) for the second year in a row and this time brought the kids. Altogether, this past year really represents, to me, one of the major highlights of living here. 

     I also realize that these things have only been possible because Marc and I have prioritized them. We have chosen to spend our money on these things instead of theme parks and other entertainment this year. We haven't done a lot of typical family friendly "kid" stuff, but our kids don't really need typical kid stuff. They are being raised to be patient and to work to expand their attention span, to appreciate staring at statues or taking in a garden. They are developing their own tastes. Tiana especially loves looking at ancient jewelry in museums. Vinny loves statues and realistic art, mostly classical stuff, and he isn't at all into surrealism or impressionism (which pretty much is the exact opposite of my tastes). Vinny has gotten past the shock and awe factor of nudity in art and might actually be starting to see the beauty in some of it, while Tiana still finds in necessary to giggle and say "Ew!" at all nude figures in art, regardless of gender.  Kids will be kids... but they don't always have to have non-stop action and "kids-friendly" entertainment. Given time and guidance, they can learn to find anything entertaining. With my few remaining days of summer, my kids are begging me to take them to the Natural History Museum. How many kids do you know who would rather go to a museum than a water park? 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The People Most Likely To Stick With You in the Future

     Today was my grandmother's memorial service.  Grieving my grandmother was strange until today. Today, it felt normal and okay. Memorials are important.

That's my grandma, but her body language and face here,
she looks exactly like my mom.
     My family and I have all spent the past three weeks preparing for this. The service was really nice. Just enough humor. Just enough spirit. When my cousin said during her eulogy that it had hit her that she would never receive another illegible letter from Grandma again (her eyesight wasn't great in the last few years, which made reading her letters somewhat of a shared family decoding activity) or sit around and chat politics, well, I pretty much lost it there. My grandmother was really rather "with it" until right up until the very end. Even when she started to lose her wits a little, the conversations were delightfully entertaining. Grandma always said exactly what was on her mind with no concern for political correctness or offensive content, which made listening to her like watching an episode of Saturday night live.

     I went on Pinterest and found some great ideas. I collected everyone's family photos with her in them in one Dropbox folder and I ordered prints of them from a legitimate photo place so that they would be high quality and look really nice, and I hung the photos up on clotheslines in the backyard and made a table runner from them too. (Incidentally, I forgot to take a picture of these and I thought it looked really nice. If anyone did snap a photo, can you send it to me?).  This way people could feel free to take the photos with them, so that they would have photos that they might not have had otherwise.  There's something to be said for paper photos that we might be losing in this digital age. It's nice to sit around and look at photos together without staring at a screen.
    I haven't really been emotional about it all this week -- the first couple of weeks were pretty tough, but this week I was more in "get ready for the reception mode."  But when I stood outside by myself hanging up all those photos, my grandma's entire life was on display for me and... wow... just wow.  I got so choked up. It's like disbelief, admiration, and sadness, all mixed into one.  In the video montage at the memorial, the song "My Way" by Frank Sinatra really said it best.
The little baby on far right, yeah... that's me. 
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
 When I bit off more than I could chew 
But through it all, when there was doubt 
I ate it up and spit it out 
I faced it all and I stood tall 
and did it my way
 I've loved, I've laughed and cried 
I've had my fill, my share of losing
 And now, as tears subside, 
I find it all so amusing  
To think I did all that 
And may I say, not in a shy way, "Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"

My grandma's life really had some ups and downs. When I think about some of the things she faced, I know that, put in the same situation, I'd have difficulty getting out of bed and functioning. But grandma ate it up and spit it out.  Okay... well really, there was very little spitting it out for Grandma. Especially not if it was sweets. If there was leftover chocolate cake in the house, you had to hide it if you planned to eat it later because to Grandma, well if no one's gonna eat that....
Food is a precious commodity to the Feeney clan. Haha. Although you'd never guess that today with the amount of food we had leftover. I love this family more than words.

Some of the family came to say goodbye to her the weekend that she passed away, so being together there was important, but this weekend's service and reception brought real closure.  I saw family I hadn't seen in quite literally twenty years, and then I saw some family I haven't seen in about three or four years, but a lot changes in a few years. The older I get, the more I realize that time is flying by.  I got to meet one of my eldest cousin's first baby. I feel like I remember just receiving a birth announcement for him and, well, he isn't even really a baby any more, he is a full fledged toddler. My own children spent the day ecstatically running amuck around the backyard with their cousins and second cousins. Tiana, who has not had a potty accident in nearly two years, was having so much fun playing with one of her teenage cousins that she just stopped in the middle of the yard and peed and let it run out through her shorts and then expected to jump back and play again. "Tiana! Why did you do that?" I asked. When she realized with disappointment that I was going to make her change her clothes before she went back to playing, I didn't even need an explanation. Her look really said it all. Family is important. Making time to see family is truly important. Every so often, one should enjoy the company of family so much that stopping to go to the bathroom feels like an unfortunate lapse in the pleasure of it all.

I convinced my mom that we needed to start the memorial service with Baz Luhrmann's spoken word recording, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," because in the past few weeks I have been reminded that this sound advice is truly a form of nostalgia that time and wisdom etch permanently on my heart:
"Get to know your parents, you never know when they'll be gone for good

Be nice to your siblings, they're your best link to your past
And the people most likely to stick with you in the future
July 19, 2014
Understand that friends come and go
But for a precious few, who should hold on
 Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
For as the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young."

   My mom cried through most of her eulogy, which made me cry too, especially when she said that her mom was one of her best friends. My mom is one of my best friends too.  I'm so grateful to be of her clan.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Mere Sense of Living is Joy Enough

I haven't blogged since April, which means a whole heck of a lot of catching up.  The return of warm weather has meant a renewal of time outside, campfires, 'smores, and family time.

In May, my English students joined with the art students to put on an exhibit of activist art. This exhibit was truly beautiful. My students displayed photography and petitions pushing for changes they truly believe in, which was beautiful. It was a reminder that there are many people out there who wish to make the world a better place. It was the perfect way to end this year with these great kids... many of whom I will be teaching next year.  Yes, I will be teaching three 11th grade classes next year, so I will keep some of my students, which I am excited about, because I like this group and having students whose strengths and needs I am already familiar with will be an interesting experience.

To end the year in drama, Jasmin and I worked together to put together a musical number about bullying, being different, and what it means to be an ally by re-imagining the musical number "Somebody to Love" from the musical We Will Rock You. I have noticed that musically, I don't always recognize what things are within our students' ability levels and what pieces are really way out of our league. Someday, I suppose I will be familiar enough with music to recognize this, but apparently, I just don't yet, because I am great at picking pieces leaps and bounds above what our students are capable of on their own. Jasmin is amazing though and is able to untangle my pipe dreams and make them reality. This nine-minute musical number ended up being far more challenging than either of us really imagined, but the final product taught us a lot and made us both very proud. After that "little" project, my students ended the year with a series of vignettes parodying stereotypes in schools, particularly ours.  A student parodied the principal and had everyone hysterical with his rather accurate portrayal, but my personal favorite was the senior who has been with me for several years and parodied me in a drama class skit.  She picked up on little details that I never even noticed, like the way I sit when I'm watching drama scenes, slightly shifted to the side, leaning back in my chair, and that I swing my keys around constantly, and how I hold my coffee cup slightly inverted inwards in the crook of my hand and my wrist. I found this very amusing. The kids did too. I really loved this drama group. They were less "drama," in the negative sense of the word, than any group I've had before, which was really interesting.

Saying goodbye to this group of seniors was hard for me. Because I teach mostly sophomores, by senior year, they have mostly all moved on, but I usually have a handful of seniors with whom I am still close at graduation. This year, it was a lot more than a handful, which made it less emotional and more emotional, all at the same time. I had some good closure this year because I went to prom, and graduation, and grad nite. I hosted a drama dinner and bonfire to say goodbye to the drama seniors. By the time summer began, I felt like proper goodbyes had been said, and I didn't even cry that much.  I somehow know that this group will stay in touch and that they will be very successful, and that is reassuring. 

Summer. Ahhh.  Summer began with a week of all my favorite things: sleeping in, going to the beach, and hanging out with my family, including some quality time with my nieces, whom I don't really get to see enough.  Then, the next week, the schedule picked up with Vinny at theatre camp and Tiana at gymnastics camps and me playing chauffeur. In between stops, I made time for lots of classes at the gym, and I decided to not feel guilty about how seldom I made time for these classes during the school year.

Then... my grandma took a turn for the worse.  She's been in assisted living in Vegas for a couple of years. She took a fall in October and broke her hip and shoulder, and we kind of all knew it was the beginning of the end. She wasn't taking to rehab quite the way someone with years to go would, and it was only really a matter of time, but a week ago, she took a turn for the worse, so we all rushed out to say goodbye.  Even though I knew when we went to see her for her birthday in December that things would never be the same, and she probably wouldn't live too much longer, saying goodbye still caught me off guard. I think it caught her off guard too. She's a fighter and lasted much longer in those final days than we thought she would. Very Dickinson. 
Because she could not stop for death, death finally stopped for her. And away she rode. And I'm still in this strange state of disbelief and acceptance all at the same time. It just feels like the last twenty years went by so fast. In my head, I'm still ten years old laughing at her struggle not to fall off an inflatable raft in my backyard swimming pool.  It really makes me feel a strange sense of my own mortality too.  Some days, I feel like I have so much of my life before me, the world is my oyster. But then, I wonder... if twenty years can just fly by... what is the end of my life going to feel like?  Will I wonder where all the time went? Will the memories be articulate pieces of happiness I flip through in my mind or will they be a stew of reminiscence that I stir in wonder?

For me, this portion of summer usually comes with bursts of energy that I funnel into being the best homemaker I possibly can.  I do my semi-annual deep cleaning and purging and many of my Pinterest projects for the house and yard become realized.  But right now... grief has drained my energy and all of my emotional and physical resources are going into just functioning. Forget completing Pinterest projects -- I will be happy if I can just get my laundry done this week.

I've given myself permission to be okay with that though. Instead, I'm investing in things that count and recognizing that watching the sunset on the porch while sipping drinks with my papa, well... that's time well spent.

 "Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough." 
- Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 14, 2014

There is a season - turn, turn, turn: Spring

Since it has been a while since I have blogged, I am going to try to visually catch up on everything that has been going on.  As I have mentioned before, 2014 was my return to the stage in Willy Wonka.  It made my soul feel alive again. I grew as a person and found an inner peace I had been lacking for quite some time.   I made friends I will never forget. I laughed often. I smiled. I stayed out late. Wonka was good for me psychologically.

    Meanwhile, life continued to be fun with my students and my family. We attended the Holi festival as a family, and I offered my students extra credit to go as well, since I think it is so important for them to experience all the joyful, exciting things that exist outside of mainstream American culture. 

They had such a good time.  I think it was good for them to see me in a context outside of the classroom on a Saturday as well.  Some of the students with whom I have to be the strictest came and had the best time. 

 And of course Tiana had a blast because she is just that kind of kid.  Several weeks later, we were driving in the car and she said, "Remember when we went and we threw color everywhere and it was like, 'Ahhhhh!'  That was so much fun." She and I are kindred spirits. She just gets me. She reminds me so incredibly much of myself as a child.
I think this might need to be our Christmas card next year.

     And of course there is still the usual stress that is my life... grading hundreds of papers.  It has been a hectic season -- lots of papers, lots of work, lots of responsibility at work. I took to heading to Starbucks in the early mornings to do rush grading sessions before school (which is actually a really good technique).  
My students this year are great.  I really like them a lot as people and as students. They are mostly hard workers and they have a greater sense of personal responsibility than my students in the past have had.  I'm not quite sure why exactly that is, but I think it has something to do with the fact that we have been focusing on personal responsibility as part of our school culture.   (Notice the common theme in all of these pictures... a cup of coffee.  I feel like I am fueled by purely caffeine and adrenaline lately.)

Vinny has also been going through some rough times emotionally lately, so I've been doing my best to be there for him.  Things I learned in educational psychology have been seeping into my consciousness -- remembering the "industry vs inferiority" stage, specifically, has helped me to understand why Vinny struggles. Because his strengths and achievements are not in areas valued by society, at least not for men, he struggles not to feel inferior to his peers. He isn't good at handball (or really any sport) and doesn't like building things. But he is a great singer and dancer and painter, but these aren't things really valued by his peers, so that has been hard on him. I've made it a point to spend a lot of one-on-one time with him lately. We went to a trampoline place one weeknight and had a great time bouncing all over together. Well... I should say that Vinny had a great time. It frankly made me feel old, as I did quite a bit of falling on my butt and found myself being told by the college kids who work there to "be careful."  Lovely.... thank you.

After Wonka closed, my weekends became completely free again, so last weekend we took the kids to the opening weekend of the Renaissance Faire, which was awesome.  My super creative, imaginative children really thrive in this environment.
I think Tiana probably had the best time of all of us.  She loved this place more than Disneyland. 

  Vinny's favorite part was the magic show. He asked the magician afterwards if he could take a picture with him.

Tiana ran right up to this guild of
washer women and delighted in learning how to wash clothes.  I'm thinking next year we are all going in peasant costumes. While it was fun to dress up as middle class, by the end, I was DYING to get out of my hoop skirt and corset.  I really feel for Renaissance women. They had a rough life.

 I think I would have enjoyed the Renaissance Faire more if I were rich. It's fun, but it really is meant for people who have truckloads of money to spend. I think I would enjoying staying at the Double Tree hotel nearby and taking their shuttle back and forth because both the kids were so tired afterwards that even though the drive is not that long, it felt too long to them.  And it also was really frustrating to have to keep saying to the kids, "No, we can't do that. It's too much money."  Everything cost an arm and a leg. If I had said yes to everything the kids wanted to do, we would have spent a couple hundred dollars. Maybe some day we will have enough money to somehow budget for that kind of day there. Tiana loved every minute of it, nonetheless.

  I also got to take my students to see In the Heights last weekend.  What a wonderful show and what a wonderful experience.  I truly believe I may have changed some of my students' lives with that trip. They saw musical theatre threw an entirely different light.
Egg Hunt 2013
Egg Hunt 2014
This past weekend was the egg hunt at church for Palm Sunday.  This is like the third year in a row that my kids have gotten to do this, and comparing years is an interesting benchmark in my mind, reminding me how much my little ones have grown. Last year, T was just like one of the little babies to me in her cute spring dress. This year, she wanted a "cool" skirt and t-shirt and was so independent. She is just getting so big.

Life goes by too fast.  Do you ever feel like you are still a little girl just pretending to be all grown up?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Glass House Memoirs

Marc and I are watching Fat Kid Rules the World.  If you haven't seen it, it's a really funny movie about a fat kid who is about to commit suicide when a junkie punk rocker teen saves his life, in every respect of the word.

There's this club scene in it, where the fat kid is at his first show, and the band is of course pretty much just like every other garage band, but the kids in the club are jumping and cheering, because that's what it means to be young and love life.

And as I watched this scene, there was this great rush of memories of what it was like to be young and love life. Like those nights, where we'd drive around looking for parking for what seemed like hours and finally make it into the Whiskey (or the Key Club or the Roxy or the Glass House or the Chain Reaction or.... yeah.....) where we'd push our way as close to front as we could and stand shoulder to shoulder, waiting for (insert cool hard core band from 15 years ago here) to start playing. And when they did, we'd jump up and down and sing along because inevitably we would know every word (especially if it was Project 86... they usually started with "Stein's Theme," which I still remember lyrics to -- "You hate us 'cause we'll never go away. We're like some sort of fungus, growing every day." Classic hard core lyrics, if every there were any).  I'd check out all of the band members and decide which one I thought was cutest.  I'd get immeasurably excited if I was somehow close enough to feel droplets of his sweat as he shook his hair from stage. Those times when it happened to be AMR playing and I'd inevitably be tagging along with Marc, those were especially exciting times because I'd of course end up feeling like I was "with the band," and well... being "with the band" is pretty much the coolest thing ever.

Which reminds me of how markedly cool my husband was.  I will never forget how there was this band that was the super popular local band his senior year, "Needful Things," and they played  a concert for his 19th birthday party in his backyard, and that was like... awesome.  Which really speaks multitudes for how cool my in-laws are because, really... if I was somehow magically cool enough to get a band to play my party, my parents would never have said yes. My dad would be too paranoid that someone would call the cops.

I miss being young. I don't even know any small bands any more.  I only know the names I hear my students buzz about seeing at Warped Tour.

I'm Old.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Arts and Leadership

I haven't blogged much lately, and I have been trying to think of why. Truth be told, I have started blogs many times that I haven't finished and have deleted.  I am not sure what is going on in my head... but I am feeling more private than usual.  I normally rejoice in sharing my thoughts and feelings on my blog because I know that people who care about me read my blog (and maybe some people who don't really care about me... but whatever), and I am the type of person who appreciates the sense of community I feel from knowing that those around me know how I am feeling and what is going on in my life. Lately, however, I have felt a sense that the things I am excited about belong to me somehow and sharing them will somehow make them less special or perhaps will make me just a braggart or something like that.  But today, I feel like writing, so I am going to share some of the things occupying the space in my head. Forgive me if I am vague about them.

What occupies my mind....

Theatre theatre theatre -- This family eats, breathes, and sleeps the arts lately.  It is nearing crunch time with the show I am in, Willy Wonka, and Vinny had production week this week for Little Mermaid, plus, he also had his first rehearsal last week for Wizard of Oz, which he is really excited about.  Vinny now takes dance one day a week, but if it were up to him, he'd probably be at dance every day. He practices tap steps non-stop.  I'm not supposed to tell anyone that he wants to do ballet too. We can't really afford for him to take any more classes, but there are many he wishes he could take. With me, and Tiana, and Vinny all dancing now, well... it gets on the pricey side and we are far from rich.

Speaking of us all dancing, this week I am starting a ballet class for beginners. I am scared and excited. I don't know if I am more afraid of sucking at ballet or more afraid of just putting on a leotard and tights.  A little bit of both.

I know that some people probably think that I am somehow pushing all of this on Vinny to live vicariously through him, but this couldn't be further from the truth. He spent the entire week at the theatre doing field trip performances, but I made him go to school on Friday. He came home from school and by 4:00 was like, "Is it time to go to the theatre yet?  TWO MORE HOURS?  Oh man! That's a really long time!" He got home from his final performance tonight and tap danced down the hall. This kid does not stop.

On another note... a couple of weekends ago I saw a local production of bare the musical that continued to tear at my heart for days.  That is what good theatre should do.  It should leave you humming the lyrics and replaying key moments in your head all week.  That is for sure what that show does. After Wonka, I hope to audition for a drama.  I love the fun, lighthearted spectacle of Wonka, the larger than life wonderfulness of it all.  Next, I hope to do something deep.

What else is going on in my mind and life lately?

    Leadership. A year ago, I sat in the first part of an educational leadership class, and the teacher asked us  about leadership positions we could see ourselves in.  I honestly sat there thinking, "That's funny, because I was thinking of ways I could keep myself out of leadership positions." I had taken many pseudo-leadership positions in my early years of teaching, and not all of it worked out like I wanted it too. Most of it was just a lot of work, and I didn't really see it making much of a difference.  This year, however, I took on one key position that has actually lead to a lot of good things.

   Most importantly, some of my ideas about professional development have come to fruition this year. Yesterday, instead of hiring someone from outside to come do an expensive professional development workshop, we did a mini conference style professional development, and I lead a workshop on vocabulary development, which I repeated multiple times throughout the day.  It was a great experience.  I felt, probably for the first time, like I provided something valuable to the entire staff. Several people thanked me for my presentation, and I felt like everyone really got something out of it.  It was an incredibly exhausting day, but it really filled my cup... and it wasn't really that hard.  The wheels in my head are spinning.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013: Journeying along the road to freedom

At the end of last year, as I did the usual retrospective and introspection that most of us do going into a new year, I pondered a question that was posed in a TED Talk.  The speaker, a young man named Adam Baker, asked...

What does freedom mean to you?

This really had an impact on me because, for some reason, I really did not feel free.

Why?  Well, because I felt like so much of my "free" time was spent tidying up stuff (or feeling guilty about not tidying up stuff) or digging through piles of stuff to find something I needed or wanted.  Plus, I felt like I wasn't and would never be free to do things I want to do -- like travel or go see more live theatre -- because we financially just couldn't afford it.  Too much debt. Too many bills. Not enough cash.

Baker's talk inspired me to make my 2013 goal to collect experiences, not stuff. I realized that meaningful, interesting experiences are what I want in life, and that, if we worked at it hard, we could achieve that.

So... how's it going?  Well! Very well! In 2013, we....

  • Cut our credit card debt in half
  • Began paying down my student loans
  • Bought very, very few new things
  • Sold hundreds (maybe thousands) of items we own
  • Donated several boxes of clothes and toys to charity
  • Became significantly more organized
  • Spent an average of $485 LESS per month than we did in 2012. 

Even though we spent less, we had a lot of amazing experience, which was exactly what I had aimed for, and there have been so many wonderful benefits.  I feel less stressed than I did a year ago, for certain.  In addition, my house is tidier on average and is easier for me to tidy up.  My mom does a lot of this for us, because she is our full-time nanny, but even she has noticed that things have been better.  It used to be that when she came back from a break (being a teacher, I have several of these), she expected things to be messy, but now I find that I can keep up with the cleaning up on my own. I'm not overwhelmed like I used to be.  I spend so much less time looking for stuff I need because there is just less stuff overall and it is so much better organized.  It feels really, really, really insanely good.

How did we sell all of this stuff?  Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook.  It takes work, but it is worth it.  It also can't be done in one shot. I have found that mentally the mind just can't go there, even when that mind is determined to sell half of what you own (I don't know that we quite got to half -- maybe 25%).  So you go in rounds. I would typically do a room at a time and fill a box with "sell" stuff and list it.  When most of that box sells, I move on to a new room and fill the box again. Now, a year into this, I have been through most of our rooms multiple times.  You'd think there would be nothing left to sell. Admittedly, it involves more searching now and more thought as the obvious stuff is gone already, but I am still finding stuff to sell on the second and third round through each room.

There are some tough decisions in there, and there is emotion attached.  Like the bike that both my kids loved as toddlers.  Even though T still rides the toddler bike when its out and she sees it, she has a brand new big girl bike that she is really good at riding. She doesn't need the toddler bike, so its time to go, but my memories of it make it hard to put a price tag on (especially because I know it is weathered and worn and will not fetch what I wish it was worth).  Even the never used stuff has emotional ties. I remember looking at an opened toy from last Christmas. I had a heart full of loving intentions when I bought it. I thought it would bring him joy. I imagined him spending hours playing with it, thought it was just the thing, and bought it. Even though it didn't cost that much, a part of me was still hurt that he hadn't enjoyed this thing I put money and love into getting for him. That part of me wanted to suggest he open it and play with it, which he probably would have.  But really... why hadn't he in the first place?  Because he has too many toys!  Because he enjoyed some of the other presents he got last year so much that he plays with them regularly.  I have come to accept the reality of the fact that it doesn't take much to make kids happy. Even kids with a room full of toys have their favorites that they play with daily. The others mostly sit on the shelf.  I am learning to embrace favorites and experiences.  So I take the unopened toy and sell it.

As for spending less, there were quite a few strategies there.  The greatest area where we cut costs was in food.  The majority of that monthly savings was in food. As we became aware of how much we were eating out and how much we were spending, we really scaled it back and began thinking about decisions we made. We realized that a regular Sunday lunch out is not a big treat and does not really mean we need to order drinks. We bring our own straw cups almost everywhere (even amusement parks) so we have a giant cup of ice water, not a dinky plastic water cup, which is both environmentally friendly and more satisfying. We also cut costs in shopping by buying a lot of things used, instead of in stores. When Vinny needed moccasins to be an "indian" in Peter Pan, I turned to eBay for used ones at a fraction of the cost.  If Vinny is invited to a birthday party, instead of heading to Target's toy aisle, we head to re-sale groups on Facebook and search for items that are new in the package.  I've been bought shampoo and conditioner like this.  I also dug through our bathrooms and found that we had literally a bucket full of samples of toiletries from traveling, dentist samples, etc. I forbid the buying of any product in the bucket.  Before toothpaste is purchased, we must double check that all samples from the bucket are GONE.  I haven't purchased shampoo since this past summer (and when I did, I bought an opened bottle with only one washings worth used from Facebook).

These things add up. They add up to freedom.

My daughter has been watching her namesake movie a lot lately (Princess and the Frog), and our entire family has become very fond of singing "Almost There" in a variety of situations.  On the way to the museum today, "How much longer until we get there?"   "Almost there.... almost there"  (Just imagine this sung in a catchy southern jazz tune).  Squeezing lemons for lemonade today -- "How much more juice do you need, Mom?"   "Almost there.... almost there."

The same could be said for where we want to be financially.... "We're aaaaaalmooooost there!"

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Simple Christmas

I haven't blogged much the past few months.  I've been busy enjoying life, which just feels great.

One of my main goals for 2013 was to get back on stage, since I haven't been in a show since before I had kids.  I worked hard at learning to dance, going to sometimes multiple dance classes a week, losing some weight and getting back in shape, polishing my audition skills, and it finally paid off. I got cast in a show.  :-)  It doesn't open until February, so I guess depending on how you look at it, I'm not really "back on stage" until 2014, but I'm part of a cast, and a really awesome one, so I'm very excited.  :-) 

So, I wanted to take this picture at the Venetian with the commedia character, Arlequina, but I seriously love that this guy in the background photo bombed it. Really kinda funny.
I had a delightful thirtieth birthday, which I mostly celebrated in Vegas because we went to celebrate my grandmother's 85th birthday. We got an amazing inside deal on orchestra seats at Rock of Ages, which seriously was one of the best shows I've ever seen.  Nothing makes my heart smile like live theatre. It was a delightful way to end a really great decade of my life.

Today, Christmas, felt like a fitting time to hop back on my blog. I feel remarkably good about how this Christmas went. After last Christmas, I found myself frustrated with how much stuff was all over my house and how much we had gone into debt buying Christmas presents, and I just longed for simplicity. I vowed not to let go of that desire. We worked hard at simplicity this year, clearing out closets, getting rid of excess, paying off debt, and focusing on the important things in life -- family time, memories, and pursuing our passions and dreams.  We spent money carefully -- investing more in things like acting camp for Vinny and dance classes for me and Tiana. As Christmas approached this fall, Marc and I had some serious discussions about not letting Christmas pull us back down to the overwhelming materialism or deeper into debt.  So we sent out Christmas cards early and put a message on the back, at the risk of offending some who love shopping, asking our friends and family members to forgo exchanging gifts with us this year. Most people reacted really well and respected our wishes.  Marc and I kind of held our breath and braced ourselves for awkward exchanges where we knew we would feel guilty when some people bought us gifts anyway.  You know what... it really wasn't an issue.  Sure, a few coworkers and family members bought us gifts anyway, but they understood where we were coming from, and it really wasn't that awkward.  

Tried something unique w/our Christmas card this year. If you didn't get one, it means I don't have your address.  I have more cards though, so tell me.  :-)
With my family, we did a secret santa gift exchange where we drew names and promised to stick to our wish lists, so we each got a big meaningful gift we really wanted. We did exchange gifts with Marc's immediate family, but we asked them to please help us keep it limited and keep the number of gifts down for us and our kids. We bought a few simple meaningful gifts, and they did the same for us. One of my favorite gifts is a necklace I got from my sister-in-law.  It's from a company called Noonday, and it is made from shrapnel found in war torn Africa, made into jewelry by HIV positive African women. It provides them employment and the proceeds help provide their children with an education. It is also really beautiful.  

We even really kept it simple for the kids. As hard as it was to really limit the gifts for the kids, we did it.  Vinny got two gifts from Santa -- a "Minecraft" beanie handmade by a local artist and another Minecraft toy -- and two gifts from us, a Cats DVD and tickets to see the show in a few months when it is at a professional theatre a couple of hours away. Tiana only got a few small toys as well.  We got the kids a giant cardboard house to share.  AWESOME decision. We are so lucky that they get along so well and they have enjoyed coloring it together all day.

Vinny also got a very special gift.  When I was 7 years old, I was really into New Kids on the Block, and somehow my dad found a friend of a friend who knew someone who knew someone.... who got me an autographed picture of all the NKOTB guys. So....a while back I emailed one of Vinny's favorite professional Broadway actors asking for an autograph to give him for Christmas.  What he did was even better.  He got the entire cast to record video messages for Vinny, encouraging him to follow his dreams of becoming a Broadway director some day.  We made the file into a DVD, and when Vinny opened it this morning, he was in shock.  Frankly, so was I. Best. Christmas. Gift. Ever. He will never, ever forget this Christmas.
Tonight, as we were going to bed, I commented, "We are all so lucky," and Vinny says, "Yes, but I am the luckiest of all, because I got the most special gift!"
You might think that Christmas without hours of gifts and piles of toys would not be the same. It wasn't the same.  There are no piles of gifts sitting by my kids' doors until I figure out what to do with them.  There is not stuff all over my house. There are no bags of things I want to return because they don't fit or just aren't right. My kids' rooms are clean. The few things they got were beautiful toys they love and clothes they are excited to have, which are already put away.  The credit card bill will not take us months to pay off.

The little princesses dancing
This was a beautiful Christmas. We had a wonderful time with Marc's family. I was so touched that my Cajun mother-in-law even made a special pot of meatless gumbo, just for me. My sister-in-law helped Vinny put his new toys and clothes away in his room and helped his reorganize his puppet theatre, which was actually a wonderful gift in itself. The candlelight service at church yesterday was very special. Today, I hosted Christmas dinner and really just had a very special time with a few special family members. Hospitality is my gift. I love hosting.  It makes me feel good to have everyone's favorite wine and treats and share my favorite recipes with my loved ones. It was quieter than usual, but it was delightful. By 6:30 this evening, we were all in our jammies, wrapped in blankets, watching Christmas movies together.

This year, I love Christmas.  I wish Christmas could be like this every year. Less stuff. More happiness. 

Now, I'm off work for several weeks and excited to catch up with family and friends, so if you have some free time, please text me!  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fall Break

So, it is fall break for me (we get a week off from school half way through the semester), which is a beautiful thing.  We didn't have the money to do anything big (no Hawaii this year, lol), but we splurged on tickets to take our little Peter Pan and Tinkerbell to  "Mickey's Halloween Party" at Disneyland.  They were so adorable. Tiana's favorite party was trick or treating throughout the park. Vinny of course loves the rides.

Marc and I took off the next day for a little trip to celebrate our anniversary.  (It isn't until November 1st, but it worked best to go now). We got a beautiful hotel on the beach in Pismo, which was quaint and adorable. The room was tiny, but it had a fireplace and a balcony overlooking the ocean, and a hot tub on the balcony, which was pretty amazing.

     Twelve years ago, Marc and I drove up to San Luis Obispo together when his sister lived up there and he and I were just friends.  We hiked (and accidentally ended up on a cliff overlooking a nude beach, haha), climbed all over rocks near Morro Boy, drew pictures in the sand on Shell Beach, hit the farmer's market downtown... and that was just a day trip.

Guess what we did this time?  We slept. We ate. That's pretty much it.

     Okay, yeah... we ate. The weather was crappy, which was part of it, but frankly... our lives are too busy. We stopped at a great little cafe in Ventura on the way up with a ton of vegetarian options.  We both really enjoyed just relaxing, and we both had a lot of work to do. We slept in really late (seriously, almost until lunch), enjoyed coffee on the beach (found the "Milky Way" place -- thanks Barb, it was awesome), drove around a little, then came back to relax.  Marc did homework and went for a bike ride. I watched hours of Dance Moms and graded papers. Then we did a little wine tasting and hung out at a sports bar so Marc could get his fill of ball games on big screens, since we don't have cable at home (Or so I thought... he is at a friend's house watching as the Dodger game continues on into a 12th inning... sigh).

     Then we came home and I finally got to tackling Vinny's room.  Ah, life with an OCD child.

      When you tell people your child has "OCD" they think it means that your child is "particular" or "picky" or overly "neat and tidy."  Sometimes people even laugh and make little comments like, "Must be nice." Let me tell you something... OCD kids are not neat and tidy and its no cake walk parenting him.  OCD is actually closely related to hoarding. In order to gain control over his space (and thus, his emotions and anxiety), Vinny longs to keep the vast majority of the space in his room clear of all objects. The few objects he keeps out are bunched into tiny corners and shoved onto shelves. He wants his dresser and desk CLEAR. This is of great importance to him, so when he has "stuff" that he doesn't know what to do with, he piles it in corners or shoves it in drawers or in his closet.

     I am trying to tackle it one area at a time. Last week, we dealt with his birthday presents. Yes... birthday presents. TWO MONTHS LATER.  I politely requested that people not get Vinny birthday presents (at least not toys), not because I think he is spoiled or anything like that, but just because I know what anxiety toys cause him, especially ones with lots of little pieces. People like to buy little boys toys with lots of little pieces.  I get that they are trying to be nice and that most boys Vinny's age love to build kits with little pieces. These just cause Vinny anxiety, so he left most of it in the corner of his room until I insisted we figure out to do with all of it. To be fair, many people "get" Vinny and bought him books and gift cards (which he thoroughly enjoyed -- he bought about 15 soundtracks, lol), but a lot of school friends I guess just didn't understand my plea for a presentless birthday.  Some of them, he and I finally returned today. He replaced his karaoke microphone and bought and second one (for duets!) and also bought a shirt. He loves clothes.

     So, today, we cleaned out his closet and I found... wow. Valentine's trinkets and candy from preschool (not even kidding) and Christmas trinkets from last year (bells, snowman straws, ornaments, etc.), as well as pieces of various costumes (we put them all back together -- Batman's belt and Superman's cape are all now in their rightful places).  We got rid of a TON of things -- card games, toys, his tball bat from when he was 3 (yes, 3). We found his dance shoes from a year ago, which are so small that they practically fit Tiana (he went through a growth spurt this past year). She is delighted to have tap shoes and jazz shoes waiting in her closet.

     Vinny has a hard time with the mess involved in cleaning spaces like closets, but he was a champ today. He made a bunch of trips to the trash and even helped fold and pack hand me down clothes to give away. I rewarded him with a trip to ice cream tonight.

     The discussion of Christmas has come up.  He is quite adamant that he does not want toys. He wants tickets to see Peter and the Starcatcher.  And a Macbook, but well... he's a bit young for that.

    It took about 3 hours today to get through his closet.  I want to think that was the worst of it, but I we have about 9 drawers left to go.

      Vinny's desire for less possessions is a good thing -- a healthy thing even. The things that mean the most to him in life are his experiences. His aunt bought him piano lessons for his birthday. He LOVES playing the piano and is so excited to learn more.  What better gift is there than the gift of learning?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I'm different this year...

At the beginning of my last semester of my graduate program, one of the professors kept saying that as soon as we finish this program, we are going to find ourselves with a lot more responsibility on our campuses.  At the time, I thought, "How is that even possible?"  Teachers at charter schools where a lot of hats, so I am used to having a lot of responsibility and didn't really think that I could possibly have more responsibility. Yesterday, I found myself thinking...

"I have a lot of responsibility this year..." 

     By "responsibility," I do not mean work.  I have just as much work this year as I had last year.  I just seem to be finding myself placed in roles where more depends on me, which has been interesting and satisfying.  Not just because I have a big ego and I like to feel important (okay, that too), but mostly, it feels satisfying because I really like how things are going. I am seeing things shape up in positive ways that I feel really good about and that I feel like I have contributed to.  For example, I took some responsibility for training our staff to use our reading program during our summer professional development.  This has enabled advisory teachers (our version of homeroom -- has more of a purpose than attendance and announcements) to track their students progress in reading, which has had some excellent results. More eyes on the data means less students fall through the cracks. We have noticed struggling readers sooner and have helped them find books that are a good fit for them.  A math teacher even checked out 50 books from the public library, just for her struggling readers, and we made the effort to cover them all with paper covers so that other students don't know that they are reading "baby books." In addition, when I checked the data yesterday, the average progress was 24%, which is excellent since we are just slightly over a quarter through the semester. We have always set very high goals for our students, but this year... it looks like most of the students might actually meet them!  Great stuff. 

     I also have a student teacher again this year, and I think I have been doing a good job at guiding her into a smooth transition. Teaching teachers really does make me think more about my teaching and keeps me on my toes. 

      As I have been thinking reflectively about my teaching lately, I've seen some real changes in how I teach and I love it.  One thing I have learned that I think has been the most significant is about responding to student work.  A few years ago I started using edmodo to respond to student work online. This is an excellent tool since I can give students feedback in real time and they do not have to wait for their paper to make it out of my bag and into their hands. What it has made me realize is that getting back FINAL assessments in a super short amount of time is not actually that important.  I used to really try to grade final essays as soon as possible to get students back their grades.  I now realize that is not that important at all. Once it has a grade on it, there is only so much they can learn from it. What really is important is reading as much of their work possible during class to give them immediate (like that same class period) feedback that they can grow from then. Second most important is reading and responding to rough drafts. The quicker the feedback is received on rough drafts, the more likely it is that the student will actually do something with it, and there is real learning as a result of your feedback. Notice I said "feedback" and not grade. I have stopped giving students grades for rough drafts. I read them. I comment. I ask them to grade themselves. I make my expectations clear. But once there is a grade, there is nothing more to push for. Although this has been a gradual shift for me, when I think about how I was as a beginning teacher -- it is a big difference. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blue Roses

      So, the mystery of my month of health issues has been illuminated.  I finally got in to see the doctor  on Thursday. Note -- I was not waiting out of fear or stubbornness or anything like that; it took me over a week to get an appointment. Just in time too because throughout the last week, it just got worse.  It soon became clear that my headaches were not from caffeine (because I returned to drinking it), but from a sinus infection that peaked Thursday morning. I felt like my head was disconnected from body or like I was walking around in a cloud or something.  This whole sinus infection thing happens to me frequently, but I can't always tell when it is happening because I have allergies, so I take allergy meds and use decongestants year round.  Being a little stuffy is not always a sign of an infection brewing for me, and a lot of time, the decongestants mask the symptoms anyway.  Well... who knows how long I had this recent infection for, but somehow, it caused pleurisy. 

     Pleu what?  Yeah, me too? "Like pleurosis?"  The Tennessee Williams fan in me was thinking, "Ha! I'm blue roses!" But, more importantly, "What IS that?"  I will explain it the way my doctor explained it -- there is a saran wrap like covering around the lungs.  Sometimes, an infection or something can cause it to get inflamed. When that happens, it hurts to breathe, which can make it feel like not enough air is getting in, but that's not the case. (My oxygen level, as I predicted, was 99-100%).  It's just painful (and kind of frightening, because feeling like you are not able to get a full breath is kind of awful).  I'm on antibiotics for the sinus infection and that is pretty much gone, from what I can tell. The pleurisy really sucks though, and I have no definitive answer on when it will go away.  The doctor said a few weeks.  I've found people online who have had it for months. Joy. Blue roses indeed.

        It's sort of a dull pain most of the time, but if I physically exert myself, I get out of breath really easily and then it really hurts. As a result, I've kind of banished myself to the couch for the weekend.  I don't really feel "sick" the way you do when you have the flu, but I guess I'm just trying to manage the pain for now and let myself heal.  I've done a lot of grading and whatnot and I've watched a lot of tv. 

     I decided it was a great time to start a new series, so I started watching The Tudors on Amazon.  The show starts with an ambassador being murdered, which is a great opening for a tv show, but I of course wanted to know if it was true, so I started googling and found out that this particular kinsman of Henry VIII's was not murdered. He died of pleurisy. Nice. 


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Where did August go?

I cannot believe the last time I wrote it was the day before school started... in July!  This month has flown by. So, where has it gone?

     Work and working out mostly. I had grand visions that without graduate school work to consume my time, life would be easy as pie.  While it has been less stressful, I have been somehow busy as usual. Some of it has been by choice, as I have been much, much more consistent in my exercise schedule, which is a first for me during the school year. My new secret to success -- classes.
     I'm teaching my honors class about archetypes this semester and one of the activities is a self archetype profile thing online.  Guess my top archetype?  The intellectual, the seeker of wisdom.  This is not surprising to me, as when I've done things before like Gallup's Strength Finder, it has always identified me as a "learner."  I decided that, if I really want to get serious about losing weight, I need to play upon my strengths and do something that involves me learning, so I have been going to yoga, funk, and jazz classes. These are all things that I do not really know how to do well, so it combines something I love (learning) with something I hate (exercise). The end result -- something I might just be able to stick with. It has been mildly successful, in that I have lost a little bit of weight and my clothes are fitting much more loosely.

      On the other end of what has consumed my time -- work. Not only am I back in the full swing of teaching, I have also been involved in some extra endeavors.  The common denominator to it all is Common Core Standards. This is the big year for Common Core Standards implementation here, although I am ahead of the curve in my knowledge of the standards, as I have been teaching from them for years, by choice. Now that everyone in the state is officially supposed to be teaching them, there is a rush to catch up. I spent this past week in the capitol working with the state department of education on aligning the questions on the exit exam to the Common Core Standards. It was tedious work and an exhausting week, made worse by the fact that I hate to fly.  Preparing for a week's worth of sub plan before hand was also really tough and caused me quite a bit of anxiety.  When I came back Friday, I was happy to find that most of my classes actually made decent use of the time I was away.  All but sixth period, who is paying for the work they fell behind on by staying after school all next week to catch up. 

      This weekend, we planned to go camping with my parents, but first Common Core again. Sigh. I had to go to a workshop about the new updates to a curriculum we use at my school. It was a valuable workshop, and I am glad we went, and we headed out to the campground afterwards.  I admit that I had somewhat reluctantly agreed to go camping, because I hate camping, but I am glad we went. We had not been camping since Tiana was born, and we have only been a couple of time since Vinny was born.  When I was a kid, we used to go all the time, but our lives are very busy and camping is a lot of work, so I have intentionally avoided it. We decided to be super simple about it and bring only the absolute necessities. By not over packing, it was less stressful than I remember it being in the past and the kids had a great time.  Tiana loved getting dirty from head to toe. She really seems to have a knack for getting as dirty as possible. We even rented kayaks on a whim and took the kids out on the lake.  Maneuvering a two man kayak with only one person paddling was somewhat difficult, but apparently not quite as difficult as it was for my mom to get the hang of kayaking at all.  It took her a good 20 minutes just to get out of the marina area.  It was worth a good laugh honestly.  Although, she comprehended the idea of push right to go left, her arms somehow were not getting the message. Much like me and dancing. Haha.  By the end, we all had a really good time. It was pretty peaceful being out in the middle of the lake with the kids, looking at the hills all around, pushing through the wake from nearby boats.

      The one dampener to this all has been the health issues I have been dealing with lately.  I will not go into depth, but I basically have been feeling really bad shortness of breath and chest pain, along with a slew of other random symptoms. I am asthmatic, but it is not asthma (it feels very different), and I seem to have full lung function -- it is just a painful sensation. I am now fairly certain that it is acid reflux, since I have been able to manage it with some diet modifications and over the counter meds.... however, one of those diet modifications was cutting back drastically on coffee, which makes me very, very sad. Coffee is more than a beverage to me. It is like a friend. To be more accurate -- I will admit that it is an addiction. What happens when you give up an addiction? Withdrawals. In this case, physical ones.  If you read this short little article, you will get a well-rounded picture of my weekend.   I had ALL of the symptoms. To the max. 

     I was trying to taper my caffeine usage over the past week, but yesterday, I tried to go cold turkey in an attempt to avoid the awful reflux symptoms while camping.  While I was reflux free all day... the migraine I suffered last night was significantly worse. I've had caffeine headaches before when I went off caffeine while pregnant, but man... this one I had last night was BAD. Definitely a migraine bad.  Looking at the camping lantern was about the most painful thing ever.  Even with heavy duty pain meds, I was in barely able to walk straight mode. Sitting by the fire light was kind of okay, but  the accompanying nausea made for a pretty awful cocktail and I was throwing up in a trash bag in the dark. I eventually went to bed. And then the reflux came back (probably significantly exacerbated by the whole throwing up thing followed by laying down). Feeling like I couldn't breathe and like the world was spinning and like my head was going to implode pretty much made me feel like I was going to die. In fact, I actually had a nightmare that I had sleep apnea and was going to die in my sleep, which I woke up from gasping (of course) and afraid to go back to sleep.  Boo.  It was not a good night.

     I woke up this morning feeling significantly better but still with a slightly dull ache that I was afraid was going to grow into another full blown migraine, so I had to weigh my options - drink coffee with a possibility of reflux or don't drink coffee and let the headache grow.  I popped a pepcid and drank a small cup of instant coffee.  The reflux didn't return until after lunch today (I admittedly overate a somewhat acidic lunch), but it's not as bad and my head is clear.

    Sigh -- all this feeling crappy has been admittedly rough on my psyche. I have a doctor's appointment on Thursday (which means missing sixth period again, but hopefully they have learned their lesson), and I have a really good doctor who has rarely failed me in the past, so I am going to take it easy on the coffee and acidic foods this week, manage with medication, and hope this is stress induced and temporary.

     Regardless, this has been a good week. I made some new teacher friends, and I rediscovered my childhood love of camping.  I am actually looking forward to planning another camping trip some time soon. Anyone want to go camping?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The First Day of School

     Tomorrow is my first day of school.  It will be interesting to see how much I have grown from my 140 kids when I first started this blog. Anyone want to venture a guess as to the new number?  My guess is somewhere around 165-175.  We will see tomorrow and I will update then.

     For the first time in my 7 years of first days, I am not stressing tomorrow.  It is started to feel like a beautiful cycle of ins and outs.  My first few years, I had the night before jitters every time:

     "Will they like me?"
     "Will I like them as much as I liked the last bunch?"
     "Will I have a lot of trouble makers?"
     "Will they do their work?"
     "Will they think I'm fun?"
     "Have I forgotten something important I was supposed to do?"

     I feel very prepared and I am starting to realize that every year is different, but the same too.  Some will like me. Some won't.  Each group of students has things I love and things that are difficult, and they are always different, which keeps things interesting. There will always be a few trouble makers.  Most of them will do their work. A few will not. I will be better at responding to those few this year than I was the prior year. Some will think I'm fun and some will laugh at my jokes. Some will roll their eyes and wish it was a bigger school with more teacher options so that they could beg their counselors to switch them to the cool guy who just shows movies all year. I will for sure have forgotten something. I will make it work at the last minute somehow anyway.

     There is much to be excited about right now. There is a positive energy among the faculty, and I just have this feeling that great things are going to happen.

     First day of school... here I come!