The Author

My photo
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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Sloppy Mess

This phrase could be used to describe so many things in my life right now. I thought it an appropriate title for tonight's blog based on my dinner experience.

What do you get when you cross sloppy joes and an OCD preschooler?  A dinner table battlezone. We have had few battles lately. Ever since we overcame this battle last summer, it usually only takes a brief reminder to get Vinny get back on track... but sloppy joes were just more than he could handle.

We order our groceries from a food co-op called Angel Food. It is not like a food pantry for those who cannot afford food or anything like that. It is not donated- it is all purchased. Basically, the organization buys the food in bulk and puts together boxes with a variety of items for a great price. The prices are a fraction of the cost of buying groceries in the supermarket because they don't have to pay overhead or advertising or whatnot. You get to preview what's in the box before you order, and it is usually a pretty good mix. Anyway, this month's box came with frozen premade sloppy joe mix, like with the beef already in it and everything. It has been a LONG week and I have had rehearsals until the very last minute that I can be at school, picking Tiana up at exactly the deadline every day, so easy needed to happen, and sloppy joes was it.

Vinny is a neat freak. He freaks out if you put a book back in the wrong place on the shelf, or if you leave something on the floor in his room. He gets disgusted at peanut shells on the ground at Dodger games. He HATES being dirty and washes his hands constantly. The thought of eating something with even the name "sloppy" made him crazy. He would freak out each time the filling squeezed through the bun. I finally even sympathized and offered to hold it for him so he could just eat it, but by then he had already declared, "I don't liker SLOPPIES!" It took the promise of homemade chocolate cookies for dessert (break and bake- also from the co-op box) to finally coerce him to eat it, as long as I offered to cut it in half. Oy... Vinny is totally OCD- basically, the complete opposite of me.

I was identified gifted as a child. I say this not to blow my own horn, but to explain something about me. As most teachers will certainly be able to confirm, gifted students are some of the messiest. Not at all of them, but many of them. They are too busy focusing on the big picture to worry about minute details like neatness. This is one of my worst traits, I must admit. My desk is a perpetual mesk. If it is not digital, I probably don't know where it is. Life becoming more and more digital does wonders for me.  My handwriting is a disaster. And to be honest... sometimes, so is my life. Like right now.

There is too much on my plate, and everything is falling through the cracks. I am CRAZY behind on paperwork. We are in the tech rehearsal stage of production for this semester's show. About 25% of the cast is just lacking commitment and making me crazy. I am trying to stay strong and pull through for the other awesome 75%, but it is just getting hard.

It is also really, really not helping that I have been in pretty much constant pain since last Tuesday. I got a filling done and ended up with a blocked salivary gland. Apparently, it is not anything the dentist did wrong- just some freak reaction. It got infected Sunday, and I went to the emergency room because I could not handle the pain any more. I am on antibiotics and I think the infection itself is starting to go away, but I still have this ball in my cheek that is the blocked gland and it is very painful. My whole cheek is bruised. They gave me painkillers to help, but they kind of make me feel like I am floating through the day. This would be an okay thing if I didn't have so darn much to do right now. I just can't focus.

I should be grading papers, but I don't think I can handle that right now. Maybe I will just go to bed. Ugh.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I love Vinny's enthusiasm for life. He" is just incredibly fun and enthusiastic.  He has just discovered the phrase "dreaming" and has been using it frquently. Not gonna lie, it's hysterical.
Yesterday, we pulled up to Chuck e. Cheese and he says, "Yea! I've been dreaming of this!" And then last night at the Dodger game, once we climbed up the hill and could finally see the stadium (we always park outside the stadium to save money), he cried, "The Dodgers Game! I've been dreaming of this game!" Humorously, he kind of had... it was his first game this year and he'd been looking forward to it all week. He told everyone he saw yesterday, "I'm going to the Dodgers game tonight!" And nothing is anticlimactic with him. He also had a little celebration over his frozen yogurt, exclaiming, "In my very own little Dodgers helmet." He starts eating it, "Mmmm!" I ask, "How is it?" and he delights, "Cold!"
Another great moment of last night. We are walking up the stairs to the bathroom and he mutters, "Bad people!" Surprised, I inquire, "Why?" He responds, "Look what a mess t?hey are making." Ha! He was right... there were peanut shells everywhere. 
I asked him, "Vinny, how'd you get to be such a big boy?" His response, "I'm growing up."  Yup... no kidding.
Anyway, where was I going with this? Oh yeah, enthusiasm. I delight in hi enthusiasm for life.  But I think I know where he gets it.
I was at an educator's conference a couple of weeks ago and a friend my colleagues and I made kept saying to me, "I love your enthusiasm." Honestly, I thought she was being sarcastic, so I apologized and she said, "No, I'm being serious. I wish I could get that excited about a cupcake. Okay, cupcakes are awesome.... but someone else said the same thing about my reaction to a new format for something we will be using. What can I say? It is just how I am. I got voted Biggest Child at Heart in the teacher superlatives this year. It is how Marc is too.

Marc posted a picture of us on Fb recently and one of his friends asked why we were so happy and wondered if we were being sarcastic. We weren't. I explained it was just a good day and a friend of mine commented, "can't people just be happy?"It is true. Why is enthusiasm in our society so often seen as sarcasm?

It is not that Marc and I are always happy. Anyone who knows us well will certainly know that we have our times of stress and grief too. Both of us have gone through rough spots where life seems more depressing than not, but I think we just life more tolerable if we choose to really really enjoy life's happier moments, the simple things that bring joy.

I hope Vinny never loses his enthusiastic attitude. Sometimes I think it is just him being a kid, but other times, I think it is just him being ours. I hope so.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Break Spring Break Spring Break

It feels good to be on Spring Break. I had promised myself I would get done some schoolwork during this break so I don't go back feeling just as stressed as I did when I left, and I haven't gotten any work done yet, but the week is young. I will try to force myself to start pulling stuff out of bags tomorrow.

It has been a good week. Saturday I did some shopping and had dinner with the in-laws. Sunday I sang in Discovery Kidz (a show at church) and then we decided to hit the beach after church. It was overcast, but still hot, and we had a beautiful time. Tiana was maybe the happiest I have ever seen her. She just loved the  sun and sand and everything. It was like she couldn't stop smiling and laughing the whole time. So CUTE.

I set myself a goal of hitting the gym every day this week, and so far so good, even if it hasn't been for a super long time each time, but it has been nice. I also bought myself a new Macbook to replace the laptop that will now not turn on. The possibility of all the lost information that didn't end up on the back-up hard drive could be really getting to me, but I am taking solace in that I just have no idea what I am doing yet on this computer, so it is probably all here somewhere, right?  Haha.

I had lunch with a friend on Monday and she commented that I must have really been stressed since I hadn't blogged in a while, which is funny, because that is what a friend/mentor I saw last week said too. It is interesting to think that my friends know my life is really turned upside down if I DON'T blog. Most people blog if something IS going on to write about, I blog all the time, EXCEPT, when I am really, truly, losing my mind with busyness. Seriously... the amount of "busy" in my life lately really has gotten out of control.

Anyhow... back on track now. Let's see if I can hold on. There is actually so much going on- I have to remember all of it long enough to blog about.

Monday night our Bible study group had Seder. One of the guys in our Bible study has a Jewish background, so he narrated the ceremony. His super awesome girlfriend did a great job preparing all of it, and he did a good job of leading it and connecting it to Christ. It was a a cool experience. We didn't really do the traditional dinner (sorry- no lamb here, I made tri trip and chicken), but we did the ceremony. It was actually WAY awesome. I'm not gonna lie; I kind of expected it to be informative, but boring. It was informative, but actually a lot of fun. Did you know the tradition of hiding Easter eggs actually generated in a Passover tradition of hiding the unleavened bread? Overall, it was a good time. Any religious/cultural ceremony that involves drinking four glasses of wine and repeatedly thanking God for making the fruit of the vine is my kind of ceremony!   :-)   Plus, it was, outside of the elements of the night, just a beautiful reminder of how wonderful it is to have this group. I genuinely care about these wonderful young people, and I have not felt this fantastic level of fellowship since I was 18 and had a Bible study with a bunch of people from Axis where we were going through the whole Bible. That was an awesome group, and I have always missed the type of fellowship we had there, but this feels very much like that vibe. It is such a privilege to host it every week, even if I do often miss like an hour of it taking care of the kids. :-(

Today I had some dental work done, which really sucked. I've never had a single cavity before, so this was my first filling, but since pregnancy does awful things to your teeth, I had 4. Yes, 4. I can't believe I am even admitting that, but I guess getting to this age without a single cavity is not too bad. Since I don't have a lot of time off though, I decided to do them all at once. I didn't realize how painful it was going to be. Not during... after. I think it partially just IS painful getting 4 fillings, and I also kind of just have sensitive teeth, and I am having some weirdo reaction in my cheek too. Only on one side, but for some reason, it is all swollen. It is even bruised- I can see it on the outside- and really tender to touch. I've been putting ice on it and taking Motrin which is helping, but this just sucks. I better feel better by our Vegas trip at the end of the week.

Other than that, I made the best of the day. Since I was bringing Tiana to school for my dentist appointment, I decided to leave her there for a bit and take advantage of the opportunity to spend some time with my son alone. It was really special. He is really becoming great company. I picked him up from school and took him to lunch and a movie. He loved picking out his own sandwich at Subway and chatting with me while we ate. He was so cute at the movies. He wanted to sit at the very top. When I whispered a few things to him at the beginning of the movie, he kept telling me to be quiet. He is so funny. I think it is important that I do stuff like that once in a while, especially now that it is not just him. I was shocked that when we were at lunch he asked where Tiana was, and I said at school, and he told me he was glad it was just us, and then he actually asked if I remembered when I took him to Disneyland just me and him. That was 2 YEARS ago! I can't believe he remembers that. He said, "That was fun, Mom."  :-)  When we got back to the house after picking up Tiana, he looked at me as he was getting out of the car and said, "I'm so glad you picked me up at lunch today and took me to the movies." He even helped me cook dinner tonight too. :-) When you work 60+ hours a week... this kind of stuff is really very necessary. I don't know how I would keep going without moments like that.

So, tomorrow my kitchen and bathroom will be thrown into a relative state of upheaval, as we are replacing all of our plumbing with copper and doing some remodeling, and tomorrow is the big "removal" day. Out comes the bathtub (yea! could not be happier about this- getting one with an actual slope!), the tile,  and the toilet in my bathroom (Marc's bathroom will be spared), as well as the dishwasher (which is broken and nearly caught our house on fire a few weeks ago). I do not know how long the whole process will take, but I should eventually have a beautifully remodeled bathroom and working kitchen plumbing. Our plumbing situation is really such a joke. We can't even turn our faucet on without using two hands to manhandle it- not even kidding. We are also installing a reverse osmosis system, which I am so, so excited about.

I should take before and after pictures!

What else... oh yes, a Tiana update is  a must! She is SO, SO, SO almost crawling. She gets around very easily on the shag carpet in both the kids' bedrooms, but not as easily on the hard carpet in the living room or at all on the hardwood floors. In other news, she did wave for the first time today. I was hanging out with my friend Janelle tonight and Tiana totally clearly waved at her. I was so excited. You could just SEE the thought process there as she looked at Janelle, looked at her hand, and then slowly raised her hand to wave back. Oh my big girl!  I am one lucky mommy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Your Heroes...

"Your heroes are dead.
They were all in you head.
When nothing is left we’ll start again"
- Andrew Schwab, Project 86

What do we do, as parents and teachers, when role models we have established turn out to be, well, human? Do we pretend it didn't happen and hope they don't find out? Do we use it as a teachable moment, even if it causes sadness and will potentially set them up to believe that no one is what he seems?

This is unfortunately the predicament I am in after watching an episode of 60 minutes last night. There was a segment on the author and philanthropist Greg Mortenson who is the head of a nonprofit organization called Central Asia Institute that builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in areas where there are no real schools. He has been somewhat of a hero of mine, and I teach his book, Three Cups of Tea, each year to my Honors class. The book is overall just a good story with some awesome themes about perserverance and differences in cultural perspectives, and it also just does a great job of highlighting the value of education, which we often take for granted here in the U.S.

When I heard his name coming from the television, I was excited... until I sat down and heard what they were talking about. Based on what they said, it seems he is, at best, guilty of greed and exaggeration, at worst, fraud.  Many of the schools he established have not seen a dime in years, yet his organization is spending millions on travel and promotional expenses for his book tour, despite the fact that the proceeds from the book are NOT going to the organization. In addition, some of the schools he claims to have built don't even exist. He said in one interview that he built 11 schools in one area in Afghanistan, when he really only built 3. Building 3 schools is still cool, but why lie? Plus, people keep quitting his organization, making claims that he "uses [it] as his private ATM" (Kroft).

To a certain extent, I imagine that CBS may have misinterpreted some of what they have found. I understand that accounting for funds spent in an area were purchases don't necessarily always come with receipts must not be easy, and a certain amount of backdealing may be necessary to get things done; however, it seems that there are a variety of sources pointing to the fact that Mortenson has become somewhat guilty of giving in to the appeal of celebrity. The report pointed out that even his organization acknowledges that they do not receive profits from his book, although they support his book tour, since raising awareness about the issue is of great importance and in line with their mission, with which I would agree, but a set percentage of the book should also be going to the organization. I, in fact, assumed it was. I am disappointed to hear this is not the case.

But why wouldn't Mortenson speak to them himself? Why did he look so uncomfortable when they tried to talk to him? Why did he deny an interview and basically run away?  He should have just stood up for himself. I believe that the work he set out to do is still valid, but he, like so many others, seems to have fallen into the trap of greed, in a way that undermines his very mission.

So, what do I do?

The state standards call for students to evaluate credibility of sources, and in my eyes, the one-sided view of the book is not as credible as the CBS story with its variety of seemingly reliable primary sources. The students in my 2nd period Honors class look up to Mortenson as a hero of sorts; do I pretend I did not see this 60 minutes story and ignore it in my classroom, or do I bring it up, given the fact that these extremely intelligent seekers of information probably saw it too? What do I even do with it if I do bring it up? How do I address the reality of life that no one can be completely trusted without evaluation?

And what do I do for next year?  I don't feel like the book should still be my summer reading, but what other book has the non-fiction voice and thematic approach to show the importance of cultural perspective that I so very much want to have as the foundation for our year? 

Ideas? Comments?

Kroft, Steve. "Greg Mortenson." 60 Minutes. Prod. Andy Court, Kevin Livelli, and Maria Usman. CBS. WCBS, 18 Apr. 2011. 18 Apr. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. .

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hold on... hold on... crash

This has been a rough, rough two weeks. I have been hanging on by a thread. I feel like I've been barely surviving and managing everything. 
I literally have gone from meeting to meeting to meeting all week. I have not had my prep period free in a almost 10 days, and grades being due on Tuesday did not make that any easier. Plus, I have been busy afterschool every day too.  I was gone on a work trip last weekend, and I underestimated the effect not having a weekend would have on me. I have also been up reading essays for the Holocaust Remembrance Essay contest every night. It is great though, because they genuinely want to win. The winners of the contest get to go on a trip with a group of survivors to the Holocaust memorial in Miami. The students genuinely believe they could win and wrote like winners. After reading and perfecting their essays all week, I believe they could too. Most of them are beautiful, heartfelt tributes that reflect the very core of why Holocaust education is so important.
Anyhow... I took about 50 students to see a musical on Thursday night, which was amazing, and they were all singing the songs on Friday, but yesterday I was so tired I was almost delirious. I spent all day helping the essay students get their work under 1200 words- felt like a freelancer again- and finally submitted (one poor student had an amazing paper that could have got an A in a college class, but was 1800 words when she came to me to help her trim). By rehearsal yesterday, I was just barely holding on. When I finally ended rehearsal at 5 to start spring break, I was just plain spent.
Marc had plans last night and I hadn't seen my mom in weeks, so I spent the evening with them. At 8pm, I cuddled up on the couch with tiana and just crashed. While my mom entertained vinny, I slept. They woke me up at a little after 10 to head home and I am almost surprised I made it. I think I had a conversation with my dad about school supplies, but it feels like a dream.
At least I have a week free- kind of. I'm still behind on papers, my house is a mess, and I have to go to the dentist on Tuesday, but that's not too terribly much. We are going to vegas at the end of the week too, and I honestly could not be more excited about that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can't do this much longer

I am having an emotional breakdown. I can't handle this. I have been working approximately 18 hours a day for the past 8 days without a break and I am starting to lose my mind. I have papers, papers, papers, papers still to grade, and grades are due tomorrow. I want to do right by my students and get them all in, but I am so tired, I feel like I am going to start just crying spontaneously any second...

My computer crashed tonight. I think it is beyond repair. I fortunately have most of the files (photos and music and docs) on an external hard drive now, but I need to be able to use that computer. I am fairly certain it isn't worth fixing. It would probably cost its worth to fix. It will not even turn on, not even in safe mode.  :-(   And it happened to me tonight in the middle of entering grades.

My honors kids are my heart and soul, and they are working on a very special paper right now that I need to review for a contest they are entering. I am splitting them with their history teacher, so I only have to read half, but it is still a lot, to really provide enough feedback for it to really help them.

Bleh... if it wasn't more work to do sub plans than show up to teach, I'd be calling in sick some time this week.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Do Not Stand Idly By...

This week has been a great reminder of Leviticus 19:16...

"Do not stand idly by when your neighbor's life is threatened..."

We are in the middle of a tolerance unit with our students; they are studying literature from the Holocaust, as well as other pieces of literature about other forms of persecution happening all over the world, while they are also doing a history project on the Holocaust as well. The students are completely bought into the unit, and it is a beautiful thing.

Yesterday at school, almost all of the student organizations on campus worked together on a "die in" activity to promote awareness about hate crimes taking place all over the world, as well as the roots of hate, which lie in prejudiced words and actions.

Then today we went to the Museum of Tolerance. That place always gets me, even though we go every year. This year though, was quite special. We had the sweetest little lady as a tour guide. Her name was Gloria, and she was a Holocaust survivor. She even showed the students her tattoo from Auschwitz, and shared a lot about her experience. I have stood before at the part of the museum with the Auschwitz replica, but walking through the hallway to the gas chamber replica had much more significance somehow when walking through next to someone who narrowly escaped this fate herself. Then, we listened to a survivor, Eva Brettler, share her story of survival.

This weekend, some of my students will walk in the Walk to End Genocide. I sponsored one student who needed help registering, and she has already raised some more money. My students inspire me. If they inspire you too, consider donating to their team for the walk!

Most of all, they inspire me to remember the importance of not standing idly by. Let this be my pledge...  I will not stand idly by.

What I am going to write here might bother some people... but you know what-

I don't care.

Regardless of how acceptable or unacceptable my views may be, I will not stand idly by while people say terrible racist remarks about immigrants, like my amazing students, whose parents only brought them here to escape the dangers of drug wars. How can we think they should all be turned away, yet react in shock at the fact that America's doors were closed to the Jews trying to escape Europe in the 1930s? I will not stand idly by while people act as if those who have different sexual preferences should be treated as lesser citizens. If we are okay with persecuting people based on something like that, simply because we disagree, then how will we feel when other people persecute us for our beliefs, simply because they disagree?

"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."

- Martin Niemoller