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 24, 2012

What 2012 has taught me...

2012 has taught me that...

  • Happiness is a choice. 
  • Gratitude is far more powerful than I ever imagined.
  • Not all friendships last forever. Even the ones you really think will. But that's okay. Live in the moment. 
  • Money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy sanity. 
  • It is possible for my children to be exactly like me and nothing like me all at once. 
  • Students remember everything I say, even stuff I don't remember I said. Sometimes, it is the stuff I felt was the most inconsequential that makes the biggest difference in their lives.
  • Graduate school is not just more credits. It is exponentially harder than my undergraduate education. 
  • Speaking up for what you think is right is all well and good, but sometimes, if you really want to make a difference, you just have to learn when to keep your mouth shut. 
  • Solo parenting is really, really, really hard. Single moms have my utmost respect. 
  • No one on this earth loves me more than my mother.
  • Nothing in my life is more important than my children. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Annual Introspection - Thoughts on Freedom

This post has taken me days and much thought.  I've been editing and adding for almost a week now. This must be somewhat monumental in my life, I suppose, or I would not be putting so much thought into just writing it down.

So here goes...

Each year, I do my own version of new years resolutions by setting goals for myself. I started this in 2009. Since 2010, I added a step. Before I set these goals for myself, I look back to prior goals to see how I am doing.  Interestingly enough, it has been amazing to see how I have changed and how I have stayed the same.

My life has changed a lot. In 2009, my goal was to get involved in church and make more friends. That is almost humorous to me now. My goal last year was like the exact the opposite. Less quantity. More quality. And even though we joined a new church in 2011, my goal for 2012 was to somehow manage to stay as uninvolved as possible to be a good mom, good wife, good student, and good teacher.  My friendships have changed significantly. Life is different.

In 2012, I set only TWO goals.
1.  Resist the urge to plan a vacation this year to save up for one next year.
2. Simplify.

The anti-vacation plan...
failed. We actually ended up going on a vacation this year, the cruise with Marc's family, but it worked out okay. I don't regret it. Financially, 2013 is still not going to be a year for a big vacation, and I am okay with that.  We live in a vacation destination. There is something to be said for staycationing.

The quest for the simple life...
 has really just begun. What a journey. My objective was all about, as Graham Hill put it in his TED talk, "Less Stuff, More Happiness." I began to buy into the anti-consumerism mindset towards the end of 2011, and I am finding it is not a quick change, it truly is a journey, which we have begun. I found a great blog called "Becoming minimalist," and they truly got it right with the title.  Becoming. We consciously avoided extra junk this past year and got rid of a lot. I am finding that we have miles to go, but we got off to a good start this year.

Our lives got simpler in other ways too. We cancelled cable and have used only Roku and Netflix. When the TV is on in our home, it means we have watched less television and thought much more intentionally about what to watch. We listen to internet radio from Hawaii on the tv more than we actually watch tv. This has been a good change. Marc came home the other day saying that the cable company could increase our internet speed and give us digital cable again for only $7 more than we are currently paying. While I am glad to hear that they have come to their senses and brought prices down, my response to Marc was, "Why would we want cable again?"  He had some good points, but ultimately, I think I own with one argument.

"When you really look back on the past year, do you honestly think to yourself, 'Gosh, I wish we'd watched more television?'"  

If you have ever thought about canceling cable, I highly encourage it. We are happier and more productive.

The Happiness Advantage

Speaking of happiness... 2012 was the year of the happiness advantage. In the beginning of 2012, a student introduced me to a video about the happiness advantage, and I subsequently bought the book and bought into the notion of positive psychology and its benefits for my life. The beauty is -- I am not a naturally optimistic person. I may not be inherently positive, but positive psychology is all about training our brains to look at the positive, even when it doesn't naturally. The results have been remarkable. I am more resilient. I am more productive. I find evidence of this in the little things.  I bounce back quicker from disappointments. I finished my grades earlier this semester than I have ever finished them, despite having more last minute grading than usual.

I was looking back on last December's blog posts particularly early December, and I saw that I made comments like, "Life is eating me alive," and "I cannot wait until December 16th."  I was counting down the alarm clocks until Christmas.  I was having immense trouble getting through the grading, as well as just getting up and out the door each day.  This year, I didn't feel like that at all, although my CSUN classes were harder, and the semester stretched out longer. We didn't get out until the 20th this year, but I was not counting down alarm clocks. I woke up early the last week of school and managed to get to school in time to get grading in before school. Mood impacts more than I ever realized... and it is easier to change than I realize too.  If this intrigues you, I highly recommend Shawn Achor's book (and no, I don't get paid to endorse it -- you have my word -- but I am including a link to help you find it, just to be helpful).

My goal for 2013 is really just taking "simplify" to the next step:
Collect Experiences, Not Stuff
I watched another great TED talk, by a guy named Adam Baker who, along with his wife and toddler, sold all of material possessions and spent a year backpacking around the world. He asked this great question, "What does freedom mean to you?"

That is really an interesting question. For him, freedom meant backpacking around the world. His point though is - What do you really want to do with your life?  What stops you from doing it?  In many cases, it is the pursuit of stuff.

So true.  Freedom is really what "The Buried Life" poem and tv show are all about. Tracking our true original course. My course, as much as my teenage self would not believe it, is not traveling the whole world. But I do want freedom. I desperately want freedom and plan to pursue it with reckless abandon this year. I want the freedom to have less to clean and organize. I want the freedom to dig through less stuff to find what I want in my house. I want the freedom to spend my time off of school pursuing happiness. I want to be able to spend a month in Costa Rica in language school. I want to take Vinny to see shows on Broadway.

The key to this is going to be...
- living incredibly frugally to pay off our debts
- selling at least half of what we own
- using the proceeds to pay off debt

Again, really, it is "Less stuff, more happiness." Convincing Marc to emotionally detach from his possessions has taken some doing, but really, we are happy as a family sharing a tiny cabin on a cruise ship, with only our suitcases full of stuff. We do not need stuff. He is starting to see this too.

What we do need is to be free from debt.  Less debt = more happiness.

So, we have begun the task of selling our stuff.  In order to discipline ourselves, Marc and I both agreed that there needed to be some jar or something that would not be easy for us to take money out of, so that each time we sell something, we put the money in the jar and then eventually take the full jar to the bank.  Worried that we would try to take the money out, I thought about gluing a spaghetti jar shut and cutting a whole in it or something, but I came up with a better solution.

A close friend bought me this bottle of wine on a trip.  She saw the wine was called "Project Happiness" and thought of me.  I was touched.  When we finished the wine, I just couldn't throw the bottle away. I knew it had some purpose.

Did you know that, if you roll up a dollar, it is really easy to get it in a wine bottle?  But not all possible to get it out?  Yup. Perfect solution.  When the bottle is full, we will break it and pay down a credit card.  For now, each dollar is a step closer to happiness.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Processing the CT events, as a teacher and a mom

      With a full teaching day on Friday, the events in Connecticut seemed an impossible nightmare until later in the day as I was able to watch the news and process all of it.  My initial reaction was to put myself in the role of the teachers. I found myself imagining those teachers, alerted to a threat, vigilantly aware of the limits of their own classrooms, eager to protect their children... because I have been in their shoes.
     Ironically, I spent an hour and a half last Friday afternoon on lockdown in my own school because of a threat that someone nearby had a weapon. This probably sounds scary to you, it was oddly just irritating to me, as real lockdowns (not drills) are fairly commonplace in the community where I teach. Our school is very safe, but the community is overrun with gang violence. We often end up on lockdown just because of police pursuing a suspect or a perceived threat nearby.

      Three years ago, when I moved into my new classroom, I was delighted with the beautiful windows that make up 75% of my wall space. The students' first question on the first day of school that year was, "What are we going to do in a lockdown?"  In a lockdown, it is common practice to get away from all the windows, ideally to a corner of the room that cannot be seen from the windows or door, and to turn off all the lights, essentially hiding from whatever threat may be outside. In my room, there is no light to turn off -- the room is flooded with sunlight -- and there is no corner that cannot be seen. The only real solution, in the situation of a genuine threat, is to hide in the bathroom and storage room. It would be tight, but we'd all fit. I've thought about it plenty of times. My bathroom and storage room automatically lock and can only be opened with a key (which is irritating when the kids forget to leave the door stopper in during the day, but somewhat comforting given the recent events). We'd be fairly safe.

     And sure enough, that is what the teachers did that awful Friday morning. Who knows how many precious lives were saved by teachers' quick thinking. As the stories emerge, it is clear that many of these teachers did exactly what I would have done -- shoved all their kids in the bathroom and prayed for the best. For one class, that wasn't good enough. In one of the classrooms, from what I have heard, a group of the victims was found huddled together in the bathroom. I'd imagine first grade bathrooms don't lock securely like mine. The poor teacher did the best she could. But she died there with her babies.

     For a teacher, your students are like your own kids, so given that I heard about the event at school, and that I am a teacher, and that it was at a school, it makes sense that my first thoughts were of the teachers.

     But as it sunk in, and details surfaced, that the vast majority of the victims were little first graders, like my own precious son, my thoughts went to those mothers. It is so horrific, I cannot even imagine. One of the students' last week asked me what my biggest fear is. I answered, "Losing my children." A friend of my cousin, an online friend of mine, lost her child a week ago. I felt sick to my stomach when I thought of the pain she must be in. It is truly my biggest fear. I truly could not imagine.

 Then, Saturday morning, I watched an interview with a priest who knew many of the families. He talked about when he spoke with the parents, and that one of the little girls was going to be an angel in their Christmas pageant. And that, while they were speaking, one mom's phone beeped to remind her to bring her son to cub scouts, and she realized that she would never bring him to cub scouts again. And then... it hit home. I could imagine.

    Do you know how many alerts I have set in my phone for Vinny?  I could imagine the absolute pain of that mom.

      And then, our church had our Christmas pageant this morning. In the prayers at the beginning, they read each of the victims names and ages, so many of them 6 years old, just like Vinny. I cried quietly and prayed for that mom, who's daughter would not take the stage this weekend. I could not get that mom out of my head. As my son took the stage with his friends (some of whom he has known since he was two-years-old), to tell the story of our savior, I had a really hard time keeping it together. I don't think I was the only one. When our precious babies sang the final words of Away in a Manger, "Bless all the dear children in thy tender care and fit us for heaven to live with thee there," I don't think there was a dry-eyed parent in that church.

      Although Christmas is so often a reminder of the beauty of this world and the greatness of humanity, this year, it is truly a reminder of humanity's brokenness too. As we think of Mary, giving birth to a baby boy who would redeem our souls, its a reminder of the sacrifice that Mary made too. This Christmas, I think we'll all see our children as the blessings they truly are.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Overview of My Fall

To my blog readers...
(whoever you are)
I know it has been a long time since I have blogged. Painfully long. I think so long that the thought of me catching up has almost kept me from blogging, if that makes any sense at all. (Writing that incidentally reminds me of how I used to apologize to my diary in high school when I would forget to write for a long time.  That's kind of funny. What's not funny is that I cannot find my old high school diaries.  :/  I know they are somewhere). 

As busy as I have been though, I feel like I have achieved some peace and balance in my life this fall. I have spent a lot of time with my children and my family, and even more time with my friends than I would have thought possible with this schedule.  This has all felt really good, and I am proud of myself. 

Mickey's Halloween Party
Even in the midst of tech week for the play in October, we managed to pull of some cool stuff. A friend of ours had something come up last minute and couldn't use her tickets to the Halloween party at Disneyland, so we accepted them last minute and went. What a special, special gift!  When Marc called me that day to see if I wanted go, I knew we didn't technically have plans that evening, and that I wasn't totally behind on homework, so even though a huge part of the responsible adult in me said, "What the heck are you doing? It is a weeknight. You are a mother of a small child and a school age child. You are a graduate student with homework to do. You are a teacher with papers to grade. You are a sleep deprived director in the middle of tech week," a little voice inside me reminded me of reading an entry in a journal I wrote my freshman year of college. The journal was about what I hoped to find in a husband someday. I wanted someone spontaneous and fun.  Because that is what I wanted in life.  Here I was, with my spontaneous and fun husband offering me a spontaneous and fun outing that we could never afford on our own. The little voice one.  So we went. It was super fun. Not at all crowded, and a really cute way to spend Halloween. The kids were delighted. Normally, Disneyland is this long stressful day when you go with two kids, but for some reason, dragging two little ones around until midnight was not at all stressful. I think it was the spontaneity of it, if that makes any sense. (It doesn't, I know).  

My daughter and my niece trick or treating
This Halloween turned out to be really cool too (I mean the 31st), in that it reminded me of when I was a kid. I grew up in a neighborhood where, until I was a teenager, trick or treating was a big deal. Everyone in the neighborhood got in on it. Plus, I was friends with a lot of kids in my neighborhood, so all our moms would get together and we'd all go around the neighborhood together. There was a wide age range, with my sister being the youngest (who is six years younger than me) and me being the oldest, and the other 7-10 kids or so who would join us each year usually ranged somewhere in between. We'd go running around the neighborhood with our parents yelling at us to stay out of the street and not to get too far ahead. My sister would get scared of someone jumping out of a bush or something and go sprinting down the street with my mom tailing after. It is a miracle we all survived and all ended up back at home together at the end of each Halloween night. That is pretty much how it went this year. We invited Vinny and some of his friends and their families and siblings and my sister and her daughter. We all had a mini potluck dinner at my house (which meant I hosted like 20 people for dinner... on Halloween... during tech week.... how do I do this stuff? I haven't a clue) and then set out trick or treating. Our neighborhood is one of the few in town where it is still like it was when I was a kid. With the first graders running from door to door and the toddlers running in and out of the wagon, its was again a miracle that we stayed mostly together. It was a fun night that I will always remember.  
In November, my musical, Quilt, ran for two weekends, and my kids made me so incredibly proud. I literally cried in every performance. What a beautiful tribute this show was to the lives and legacies of those lost to AIDS. They made such an impact. I know that my school community will never look at AIDS the same again, plus, it taught my kids so much. Compassion, perseverance, professionalism. In addition, I think this group has become a family in a way I haven't had a group grow together since Go Ask Alice, which was back in 2009.  What a special year. This group will truly hold a special place in my heart for many years to come. 

For Thanksgiving this year, we did something completely and totally different -- we went on a cruise. Marc's family has been trying to coordinate this one for years. The last time that it was looking like it was going to work out was in 2009, but we cancelled it at the last minute and all agreed that we would for sure go the next year.  Then I got pregnant and realized that there was going to be no cruising with a newborn. This was the first year Tiana was old enough to go, so I agreed and we planned it and went.  I have to say that cruising with a two year old is much different from cruising with a three year old. Vinny loved it and was rather amiable. Tiana was... a handful; however, we still had a really good time. I had a lot of time to lay around and read and watch Vinny swim and stuff like that. Plus, on the last night of the cruise, I got to perform on stage with the Carnival Legends show.  They dressed me up like Gloria Estefan and I performed "Rhythm is Gonna Get You." Time of my life. So much fun. Rejuvenating for sure, but also reminded me how much I miss the stage. The theatre bug is an interesting virus. Once you catch it, you've got it for life. It can sit dormant for periods, but when it occasionally flares up, the symptoms are intense. (Those of you who have been bitten by the theatre bug will know exactly what I am talking about, particularly if you have ever had to spend extended periods of time off the stage).  

Yes, this is my two year old sipping a tropical beverage at a resort on the beach.
That's just how we roll, I suppose.
Overall, spending my Thanksgiving week in semi-tropical weather and having my toes in the sand multiple times throughout the week was just what the doctor ordered. Beach sand (enjoyable only when combined with beach sun) is like food for my soul, and I often will spend long stretches of the fall and winter deprived of this joy, so a late November blast was perfect for me. Tiana is truly a girl after my own heart in this way. She was a handful on the boat, but on the beach, she is a delight. 

I've spent the past few weeks since trying to survive crunch time at grad school and at work. I've been doing crunch time study sessions for my students on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I've had a room full of kids reading, doing extra credit activities, and getting tutoring in their writing. It has been worth the time though. One student who just never really got narrative writing back when we did it in August came in two weeks ago to ask how she could improve her grade. Since she hadn't turned in that assignment, I talked to her about it and she just totally had a mental block on writing about herself.  I've been in her boat (not about narrative writing actually, but about fiction. When I had to write fiction during my senior year of college, I felt like I was going to die), so I tried to understand and get her started. It was a long process. After literally 8 hours of working, she finally finished a narrative essay today. It was only a C, but that C felt like a badge of honor for both of us. 

On Tuesdays, some of my drama students and I have been working with a professor at the local university. We received a community partnership grant for a fashion design class to make costumes for our upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing. Many of my students have been going weekly to work with the students since September. I am proud of them and the results are really cool. When they did their presentations yesterday, I could tell that the university students learned a lot too. For most of them, this was the first time that they had ever made something that an actual person would wear. For a fashion design student, that is kind of a big deal. 
This is about half of the costumes. Gonna be a fun spring. 

Today, was also a very special day. My cousin Brenda, who is really more like an older sibling to me, got married. Sadly, I didn't get to share this special moment with her, but they decided to do it very personal -- very them. They got married on the beach in Hawaii on 12-12-12. Very romantic. We celebrated her joy with a small bachelorette party and bridal shower this past month. They were small special affairs in which we celebrated, well, the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. 
For me, this is an interesting feeling. It's like there are no single women left in my immediate family. We've all started our own families. We all belong to others now. I feel like I've waited for this for Brenda for forever. Since before I was even a teenager, I felt like I was imagining Brenda's wedding, even more than my own (that's weird, I know).  And now it has happened. The queen of far off exotic places has gotten hitched in a far off exotic place. I couldn't be happier for her.   :-)


Friday, November 16, 2012

Why I Teach Theatre

Because I love when they make me laugh so hard I cry
Because I love when they perform so well they make me cry
Because I love when they look at me in shock when I sing at the top of my lungs just for fun
Because I love when they say thank you and give me flowers
Because I love how a hairdo can turn an actor into a character
Because I love when they give in to the awkwardness of stage make-up, eyebrows and all
Because I love the little things, like when they hand wash the powder puffs
Because I love watching them get hooked on a musical, listening to it every second
Because I love when they beg me to download soundtracks
Because I love when they listen to me talk about the first time I saw Rent
Because I love that they beg me to take them back to New York
Because I love watching them go from awkward freshmen to show-stopping senior stars
Because I love seeing them create a better system of organization that I could
Because I love seeing them become professionals
Because I love getting to finally sit back and watch the product of our hard work
Because I love the look on their faces the first time I ask them to make a professional phone call
Because I love the pride with which they report how much we made in ticket sales
Because I love how they take everything seriously, even rolling change
Because I love how they will painstakingly and pridefully repurpose a vest, humbly stitching in a corner for hours. 
Because I love that five people will grab a needle and thread all at once to fix a problem

Sunday, November 4, 2012


So, I am in the midst of tech week for Quilt.  My two leads still don't know their lines very well, which is nerve wracking to say the least, but other than that... it is coming along. We had a really productive rehearsal Friday.  There has been some other drama (no pun intended), which I think is pretty typical of most theatre departments, but hasn't been typical of mine until this year. Sigh. Next week we start full on rehearsals with the accompanist, and I have high hopes.

This weekend has been relatively calm. We put together Tiana's big girl bed and she napped in it (after quite the struggle, but we did succeed) and slept in it last night. When we put Vinny in his big boy bed for the first time, he was only 15 months old, and I swear he never once got up. He was probably 5 years old before he realized he was allowed to get out of bed without us coming to get him.

But Tiana is not Vinny.

She is LOVING the freedom to get up on her own. As soon as we put her down for nap, she promptly took advantage of the freedom to go get all of her stuffed animals and invite them into bed with her. She certainly enjoys the up and down.  But, we are going on a cruise in a few weeks, and she is going to have to sleep in a bed there, and I already knew getting used to a bed was going to be a problem, so I wanted to make sure to transition her now. It's gonna be a rough couple of weeks,  but we will get through it.

I was looking at our calendar for the next few months, and I must admit, I am having some difficulty coming to terms with all of the time I will be parenting solo.  I am off work in the month of January, so that is helpful, but Marc is going to be in Iowa for a lot of the time I am off. Then there are just a ton of other little weekend things...  local youth worker weekend in the mountains, national youth worker thing in Anaheim, middle school winter camp, high school winter camp... you get the picture.

Well, I suppose I should enjoy what I have instead of complaining about what will be. Last night, we went out for our anniversary and we saw Spring Awakening, which I have been excited about for a long time. What an amazing musical.  Great acting and voices too.

Well, its off to church now.  :-)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Here comes tech week

My kiddos are so funny and getting so big. (Which reminds me, Tiana has taken to occasionally calling me "kiddo," which is really funny).

Today, Tiana threw a fit over wanting to go to the beach. As we were headed home from church, I asked, "Want to go home and have lunch?" She replied, "No. I want to go to the beach." Oh my. After I cracked up, I told her that it was too cold and she cried a lot. "Beeach!  BEEEEEEEAAAACH!" So funny. I mean, not that its funny that she was sad, but the fact that it has taken a brief two years to turn her into a beach bum. 

I decided today that Vinny needs to start packing his own lunches. I mean, we will of course help him, but he does so much complaining about his lunch. If he is capable of making breakfast for himself and Tiana, he is capable of packing his lunch. We are trying to get him to include variety in his choices too, so that he enjoys his lunch and enjoys eating all the healthy food I spend so much money on. 

Now, I just need to help him come up with fun ideas.

The next three weeks is going to be killer. After this, I need to try to force myself to get some balance back into my life.  You know... I love teaching drama, but I hate that it involves so much time away from my family. I am finding more and more lately that I love my job and love my students, but I love my own kids more. 

I think I could manage this if we pretty much only did simple productions. One acts, very few musicals, etc. I now understand why my high school did not do a real musical in the entire time I was in high school. We had a very active drama department, but musicals are a whole nother beast.

I look at my calendar for the next 2

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Siblings and Such

 So, it looks like 2013 will be the year of Snoopy and the Peanuts Gang. Tiana's not in love with them yet, but she will grow to be.

When Vinny was two years old, we got annual passes to Disneyland. We always said we would do it again someday, and we were considering doing it again when I got pregnant with Tiana, so then we said we would do it again when she turned two. Well... she turned two, but Disney raised their prices to  ridiculously out of our budget for family entertainment. However, it turns out that Knotts is quite reasonable. Yeah, it is not Disneyland, but it is a lot more preschooler-friendly than Magic Mountain. Plus, talk about cheap! We got a deal today for $66 for all of 2013, and we got to go today for free and can buy additional 2012 visits for only $10, and we get 10% off everywhere in the park and in the Knott's Marketplace. 

I cannot even believe that we are so close to the end of the year already. I started talking New Years plans this week. Time is flying. I was looking at my blogs from 2010 and 2011 and just tripping on how different my kids are from even just a year ago. Which reminds me... in blogging a lot less lately, I do much less chatting about the little things. How cute my kids are and such. They really are adorable. 

Tiana is just a little pistol. She was all about the rides. She didn't even really know what was in store for her when we pulled up, but she started cheering, "Yea! Rides," before she even left her car seat. And she just dominated Camp Snoopy. It is so cute how she looks at Vinny before every ride and says, "Ready? Are you ready, Inny?"  (Yeah, she calls him Inny.  It's actually kind of cute). She was all smiles on all the rides.
      We wore her out so thoroughly, she took like a four and half hour nap today and then was wired when she woke up. 
Look at her with her little hands in the air. 
She looks at Vinny as her constant playmate, and he is pretty obliging. Realistically, he kind of thinks of her the same way. If I'd had my druthers, I would have spaced my kids out farther, honestly, because I just wasn't ready to be pregnant again when I got pregnant with Tiana, but now I sure am glad that she is already old enough to play with him. The other day at dinner, Vinny spontaneously said, "I love you, Tiana," and she surprisingly didn't miss a beat, returning quickly with, "I love you, Inny." I hope they always love each other this much. 
 It has been a glorious fall break for me this week, catching up on time with my kids, getting through some grading and paperwork, and focusing on my work for grad school. I wish I could say I am completely caught up and ready to hit the ground running next week, but that is far from true. I have two midterms due next week. One I am halfway done with, but the other I haven't started. Plus, grades are due Tuesday, and I still have a full class set of essays to read. Parent conferences are on Wednesday and Thursday, so that leaves very little time for me to get much of anything done.

Sigh... back to the grindstone for me.

Monday, October 8, 2012

September's Second Half - A Rich Summary

A very special picture to me... my "kids" being kids after spending time contemplatively reflecting on AIDS at the AIDS interfaith chapel (inside Grace Chapel, seen in the background)
I've got to stop doing this whole "catch up" thing with blogging. Since blogging normally keeps me sane even when I'm stressed, the lack of blogging lately really speaks to the insanity of everything in my life lately. Or perhaps it speaks to the fact that I am actually managing it all relatively well lately, so that I don't feel the necessity to blog my woes. Haha.  It has been busy, but not too stressful really.

Let' see... what has the blog world missed.

Two weeks ago, Vinny and Marc were in the parade with our church. They had a really adorable little "Peace" themed float, which is so appropriate for our church. My sister and I took the girls and went to watch. Later that evening, we met up with our extended family at an Embassy Suites for a family reunion. With their managers reception in the evening, there is no better place for a family reunion. It was great to see everyone. This is something that has been happening annually for a few years, but Marc and I just joined for the first time last year. Little by little, I am starting to get to know my dad's uncles and cousins, whom I didn't really grow up knowing, so getting to know them now is kind of special. Some of his cousins are even teachers, so it has been fun to chat with all of them.

Last weekend, I took my drama students to San Francisco. This was an interesting trip in that the primary purpose was to study a culture so close, yet so far from our own. These students are so used to their conservative, homogenous, Mexican immigrant community, sometimes they don't realize what is just a few hours away. 

      Since a college prep teacher is always looking for opportunities to plant college seeds, we also visited UC Santa Cruz and SFSU. A lot of the kids just fell in love with UC Santa Cruz. It felt sort of like a giant academic summer camp to me. Strange. With wooden bridges stretching through forests connecting parts of the campus, redwood trees everywhere, and deer eating outside lecture halls, it was hard to believe that it was a major UC school, not a quaint forest retreat center. But it really does seem like a good school and our students would be in good hands with a good future ahead of them.

Art abounds at the SF LGBT Center
     Anyhow, the musical we are doing this year takes place in San Francisco and is about the AIDS Names  Memorial Quilt, so this was the focus of our trip. On the way up on the bus, I showed them Common Threads, a documentary about the quilt, and Rent. We visited the LGBT center, and the AIDS Memorial Grove, and the AIDS chapel to see a quilt block.

AIDS Grove
I think my favorite part was the grove. It was just amazing. One of the most beautiful places I have been in this world. We went early in the morning, when the dew was still fresh on the grass. The care put into this place is so obvious. It is meticulously landscaped and cared for by volunteers. The creators of this grove have managed to capture the true beauty of the natural works that God has created, which I think is so appropriate for remembering the victims of AIDS.  AIDS has such a nasty history, particularly in the stigma towards victims. At the beginning, the ignorance meant untouchability, like leprosy. The victims were so ignored for so long, so hated. The idea of condemnation is almost worse than the disease itself. If I were a family member of a victim, this place would mean the world to me. Its beauty and tranquility would bring peace to my soul.

I can see why people put money and time into creating and maintaining this place. Being able to have a place of beauty, tranquility -- somewhere that is so pleasant to be at -- brings healing. I think it truly had to be a grove, a place teeming with life. In the midst of all these living plants, the running water, you can feel the life. Because AIDS meant death, in so many ways, including an inability to produce healthy children, the amount of life here is exactly what an AIDS memorial needed to be.

The Outdoor Labyrinth - Similar to the indoor one, only larger
There was also a really special moment when we were visiting the Grace Chapel (where the AIDS quilt is), a moment that will stay in my heart for a long time. The Grace Chapel has two prayer labyrinths, one inside and one outside. Next to the one inside, it gives instructions on praying the labyrinth (not that there is really any wrong way to do it, but it gave suggestions) and suggested that it is best experienced without shoes. I have prayed the labyrinth before, and it has always been very meaningful to me. When I saw it, I wanted to do it, but there were some little kids playing on it, so that detracted and I decided against it. After touring the rest of this beautiful church, I came back again to the front and found a handful of my students, barefoot, walking the labyrinth at different paces, in different ways. I jumped in. Shoes off, away I went. There was something so peaceful about that moment. I don't know the faith of my students' hearts, and being a public school teacher means I keep my personal spiritual journey to myself most of the time, but for a few minutes that Saturday afternoon, we shared an authentic moment. In the few spots where I passed students on their path through the labyrinth, there was nothing awkward, just a mutual respect for the value of a quiet moment with God.

I want to build a labyrinth in my yard. Would that be weird?

Overall, the trip to San Francisco was a success. Students bonded with people they may not have otherwise bonded with. They made memories to last a life time. They got a taste of... something different. (Literally and figuratively. I took them to an all organic restaurant. Some loved it. Some hated it... but at least they tried it).

Returning from this trip was hard. I don't know why it took SO much out of me, but it did. I found myself unwillingly falling asleep before 10:00 every night last week. I was just... DRAINED.

Tranquility - National AIDS Memorial Grove
Now, finally (heaves huge sigh of relief), it is fall break. Although a small portion of me mourns the passing of an entire year since experiencing the serenity of Maui, I am mostly glad to have a quiet week to do nothing but catch up on everything from time with my children, to house work, to grades. I spent about 12 hours yesterday grading. I know that sounds like an odd way to start a week off of work, but it was so necessary and felt SO good to do in a peaceful, non-rushed state. Today, I cleaned my garage. Sometime the mundane can be so... poetic in a Wordsworthian way of just understanding "the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility." 

    I mean, the icing on the cake is truly this... approximately 6 months ago, a dear friend gave me some boxes containing the entire collection of her son's childhood reading. What a glorious gift. Boys are typically reluctant readers, and she seems to have spent considerable time making sure her son (and now mine) had a high interest book flood. 

Thanks Barb & Mark!
     I've been longing for time to clear a space for them and organize them. They've been laying open in the garage, with Tiana scooping up board books here and there, Vinny musing over chapter books he may someday want to read. In August, he and I even fished out a Beverly Cleary book and read it together, but for the most part... they've been waiting for me to have time for them. After clearing a space today and buying a shelf, they are finally ready and waiting. Many have already moved into the house, but for now, this delightful collection awaits a day when Vinny is ready to pass on his picture books and move on to bigger and better things.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Swimming my way out..

The fact that I haven't blogged in almost three weeks is a testimony to how truly crazy it has been around here.

Let me try to do a quick drive by of it all.

Marc went to Iowa for graduate school for a week. He had gone out of town for fun with a friend the week before, and doing this much parenting on my own in the first couple weeks of elementary school for V and grad school for me... it was just plain too much. SO much fell through the cracks. I somehow miraculously managed to pack my son a nutritious lunch every day; I somehow managed to get all of my own homework done... but not both of us. I accidentally left for school without my own lunch (or brought it and then completely forgot to stop to take time to eat it) on at least one occasion. Vinny accidentally went to school without his homework on Friday. I missed back to school night (which he still doesn't know... he thinks I went, and I feel terrible. He keeps telling me about stuff and saying, "Didn't you see that when you went to back to school night?" but it was my 2nd night of class at CSUN and I felt like I just couldn't afford to miss it).  In a nutshell... things fell apart.

Marc came back, and I went away. "Tag... you're it," is a pretty accurate description of our parenting style lately. We do a triangle game of tag between my mom, Marc, and I, but we get the job done, and my kids seem relatively healthy and happy, so I guess it is okay.

Honestly, me going away was probably the healthiest thing I could do. I was really on the verge of completely falling apart. I spent a couple of days in Palm Springs with friends who can really let me be me and it all be okay, and it really was wonderful.

We somehow survived another whirlwind week. Marc and I even managed to sit down to dinner together with our children on several occasions that week.

We threw together a pretty awesome party for T on Saturday, which really is much thanks to the awesome people at The Jump Around where we had her party. They pretty much did everything. I rushed to shop for presents on Friday night, but then we spent Saturday just getting food ready and watching her play with her presents. By the time we got to the party that night, I felt like my "work" as party host was over. I really got to have fun playing with my kid and talking to my family and friends. I may forever be spoiled on paying places to host my parties, because that was wonderful.

Life is as busy as ever, but we are adjusting.

Marc being in graduate school is not as bad as I thought it was going to be, mostly because he is too occupied to interrupt me, which sounds terrible, but really I mean it as a positive. Although Marc's job has always involved some work from home, his job has never been quite as demanding as mine. When I am NOT in the middle of grad school classes, spending quality time with my family in the evenings is not completely unattainable. I can make time to play with my kids, watch television and chat with my husband, and sometimes even do some things to take care of myself, like go to the gym and stuff like that.
While graduate school classes are in session, it is nearly impossible for me to do this type of stuff. I make time where I can, but there just plain is not a lot of it. I try to reserve the vast majority of my weekends for my family. I savor my weekends, truly. I mean -- this Sunday I even took a nap. How rare is that, right? Anyhow, last year, I know it was hard for Marc to understand that I cannot really focus on my homework and watch a tv show and carry on a conversation. I am the queen of multitasking, so he assumes I can handle it all (because I CAN grade papers, watch a tv show, and have an occasional conversation), but graduate school is possibly the first time in my life I have found completing college coursework honestly challenging, and I don't mean just in the amount of work. I actually cannot multitask this stuff very well.  This always makes me feel really bad when he is trying to have a conversation with me, and I am passively participating or just plain getting irritated.

So... beauty of Marc being in graduate school too is that our evenings have taken on a much different atmosphere. It is not unusual for us to sit silently for hours working side by side. Neither of us feels guilty for abandoning the other.

So life lately pretty much looks like this: We both work our butts off and are pretty much working every second that we are awake Monday through Friday, but we try to let it go (somewhat) and just be parents on the weekends. It is not ideal, but it is working, which is something.

At the beginning of this week, I was feeling just crazy overwhelmed. T's birthday left me with new toys all over the house and old toys to get rid of etc etc, and I didn't get any of my backlog done at all. I stayed at school way late just trying to sort through the massive piles of papers. I just gathered together the entire sea of trees and dumped it on one chair and started sorting into piles: to file, to do, to grade, to pass back, reuse, recycle. I took the "to do" pile home and attempted to cancel my gym date for the evening.

Me: Too stressed for gym.
Barb:  Perhaps you need to the gym Jacuzzi?
Me: Eh.....
Me: Short jog, long soak. See you there.

It actually turned out to be a very worthwhile trip. I know, logically, that exercise, relaxation, and my social circle, do actually help me to keep my head above water, but it is hard to make that add up in my head sometimes.  However... I think well while I run, and even better while I soak, so I came home with a much clearer perspective on the situation.

I reached out for help with the piles. A couple of students are coming tomorrow. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yea!!!  Plus, my pile sorting efforts were actually relatively effective. My desk at work is actually clear.  My lesson plans for Wednesday and Thursday are completely ready. I came up with a decent plan to get my grad school homework managed this week, and I am more than halfway through it. I may actually get to go and enjoy the food truck festival with my kids and my friends tomorrow night, without worrying terribly about everything I have to do.

Things are going to be okay. It really is all about priorities, and sometimes... friends, family, and mental health really do make all the other stuff work out better too.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grad School Parents

    So, my delightful children now officially have TWO parents in graduate school.  Joy.

    This is the one thing I wanted to avoid and never thought was going to happen. A year ago, I decided to go back for my Masters for many reasons, but honestly mostly to put off full repayment mode on my student loans.  My parents kind of hated the idea -- if you know me well, you might even remember that they planned an intervention to try to talk me out of it, which ended in me convincing them that I really needed to do this financially, and them convincing me to promise I would not let myself get signed up for any new responsibilities at all while I am in graduate school.

     During our post BA years, Marc and I had both talked about going back to school eventually, but I kind of knew that mine would be sooner rather than later. A masters degree translates much more directly to more money in the teaching world than it does in average ministry position. When I decided to go back, Marc made comments about going back "someday," but I made it quite clear that it would need to be after I finished, as we can't afford two sets of grad school loans, nor could we handle both of us bogged down by grad school homework.

      But things changed as life has a tendency to do. Marc got a new job at the Lutheran church where he grew up. We are really thrilled to be at this church. Their doctrine really lines up quite perfectly with where our hearts lie on many important issues, and we are very happy here overall. The only drawback is that Marc has always been considered a pastor in other churches we've been at, but in the Lutheran denomination, ministers are only considered pastors if they are ordained. Their ordination process is long and tedious. It requires   a Masters degree from a Lutheran seminary, an internship, etc.

      Now, you might be thinking, "What's in a name? Pastor.... Minister.... That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  Well, not exactly.  Not having the title of pastor limits what Marc can do in the Lutheran church, pretty significantly, so his potential for growth is very limited. More directly impacting us would be the fact that without the title of pastor, they will not report him as "clergy" to the government. This affects us financially pretty profoundly. Most pastors (except a few high profile exceptions) do not make much money, so they receive some tax breaks. It basically goes back to the days when most clergy lived in parsonages on church property. Since church property is tax exempt, this creates an unfair advantage for churches with parsonages. To even the score, pastors' housing costs are tax exempt regardless of where they live.  We have always benefitted from this tax exemption. It has allowed us to stay in a lower tax bracket and survive fairly comfortably.

      Well, no "clergy" title... no tax exemption. We will be in a much higher tax bracket by the time we file next April. This has the potential to really, really break us.

     We thought a lot about what to do, and Marc decided that it was best to just start the ordination process, especially since it is five years long. (Yes, you read that correctly... FIVE years).

      So, he filed the paper work, went through interviews, applied to graduate schools, etc. Somehow, he ended up at a seminary in Iowa. It is a long story, but it is basically a distance learning-hybrid program. He does have to travel to Iowa several times a year, but the majority of his classes will be distance learning.  His reading list is out of control. He has about five times the reading I have this semester.  (Not at all exaggerating).  This is going to make for a very interesting year. Graduate school has not been a walk in the park for me, and I am, and always have been, a very good student, but working full time, parenting, and keeping up with all the homework has been a huge challenge. The only reason I have gotten through is that I have been able to just tell Marc when I am overwhelmed that he needs to just completely take care of the kids at night and let me just work.  That is not going work any more.

      We have been down this "let's be students together" road before. We got married in college, so this is an old familiar dance. We know each other as students quite well. The difference between Marc studying and me studying is that I can have the television on, be chatting a friend on facebook, and still finish writing a research paper. Marc can barely focus if the water is running.

      I distinctly remember an incident when we were in college where we finished dinner, and I decided to   do the dishes before starting on my homework, so Marc could get started on a paper that was due the next day (yes, you read that correctly - that's just how he works). After a couple of minutes, he says, "Can you stop that?  I can't think."

      "Stop what? Doing the dishes?" I asked.

      "Yeah, it's too loud. I need to focus."

      Marc swears it will be different now, but even if he now does have the ability to focus with noise, he will still need time to do his work. Judging from the size of his reading list... a LOT of time. So, that means I will no longer be able to rely on him taking care of the kids while I get my work done. I really don't know what we are going to do.  I sense the kids are going to start going to bed much earlier, and we are going to start staying up much later. Our coffee budget is about to double.

      On the plus side, it is only one year. I will be finished in May, and after that it really will not matter than much.  But it is going to be an interesting year.  I started my fall classes last week and I already have quite a bit of homework due this Thursday. One would think I could use the long weekend to focus on getting it done, but my five week grades are due Tuesday, so I need to finish grading all my students' papers before I focus on my own. I couldn't rely on Marc this week to help if I wanted to; he is in Iowa.

      Marc has been gone a lot in general lately. He was at summer camp this summer, and at the national Lutheran youth gathering, and he went to Vegas with a friend, and now he is gone again. I am getting really used to being alone. Fortunately, I have some really great friends.   Friends who will do a "girls night in" at my house instead of a girls night out to celebrate the three day weekend. After putting the kids to bed last night, we caught up on my patio, enjoying the perfect weather, and it was just as good as any restaurant or lounge could have been.

     As much as I worry about how we will manage this next year, I am proud of Marc for rising to this challenge and facing it with so much confidence. It is going to be an interesting five years in general. The process involves things like a "cross cultural ministry" internship, and a term as a chaplain in a hospital, as well as his many classes. It is going to be a season of new experiences and challenges, including financial challenges, but at the end of five years, he will be ordained in a church that is a perfect fit for him, and for our family.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I'm only 28 years old. Ten o'clock at night should not feel late, but it might as well be 2am, my eyelids are so heavy. My days have been long lately. It was "back to school night" last night, which made for a twelve hour day at work. By the time I opened my laptop to begin reading narrative essays, I was already drained, but I forced myself to get through at least fifteen stories before hitting the sheets.

I picked up the reading again after dinner tonight. The reality of my job hits me hard sometimes. I am reading about a kid who could not afford to replace the sole uniform shirt he owned, which a bully ripped in the process of beating him up. I am reading about a family who eats only rice and beans for dinner night after night. I am reading about a boy who lost his dad, a girl who lost her sister. And I'm only on like the 30th story of 120.

 And then I get a request from a student asking for a recommendation letter for her deferred action application. Few could be more deserving than this sweet, hardworking honors student. But few teachers could be more tired than this incredibly exhausted woman. When I first looked at her email, I didn't initially respond.

But integrity hits me.

I am brought back to New Orleans, back in February of this year, when I attended a conference where I heard an amazing speaker, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, speak about compassion. She spoke about the verse where it says, "At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with compassion because the people were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Mark 6:34

Compassion. Jesus saw the people. He saw their helplessness. And his heart was moved. And you know what he did?  He fed them. He performed a miracle, feeding the crowds from two loaves of bread and five fish.

I am no miracle worker. But I see the people. I see their helplessness. When Rev. Alexia Salvatierra shared stories of injustice, she convicted me greatly with facts about how few people actually speak out against injustice. All year long, her words have consistently resounded in my ears. 

I see it alright. I see the injustice. I see the the harassment and the helplessness of those marginalized by our society. But do I do anything about it?  Do I really do anything? Am I truly moved with compassion?

I can't speak for my past, but I can speak for my present. I'm tired. My throat is parched with the ever-thirsty feeling that comes from talking all day and not resting enough at night. I feel the lack of sleep and the pressure of my to do list in the tension at the base of my neck.

But there's a letter I must write before I go to sleep.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Week Two of Year Five

Yup.. Year Five. This is my fifth year teaching.

Last week was my first full week of students, plus, I was hosting two very young Chinese exchange students -- nine-year-old little boys, who called themselves "Charles" and "Andy." They were very funny. They were typical American little boys. They like sweets and playing outside. They procrastinated on their homework. They tried to stay up late, playing with toys in the dark after I told them to go to bed. I took them shopping at the dollar store and they bought secret agent kits with little orange pop guns. They were very confused about why they couldn't bring them to school the next day, but in a gang area, even bright orange plastic guns are no joke.

Vinny did not get along very well with these boys. It was nothing they did. They were just typical boys, and well... Vinny isn't really a typical boy. It was his constant irritation at their "misuse" of his toys (they weren't doing anything wrong, he just thought they were), and his misunderstanding of how boys play. They would be wrestling with each other, and Vinny would come running down the hall yelling that they were fighting. I'd run in and find that they were laughing and just wrestling around on the floor like little boys do.  Sigh. What am I going to do with my sensitive little boy.

It was a rough week. For various reasons I have had a lot of meetings during my prep time and after school, and it has been really hard for me to get fully caught up on my planning and grading. I feel like I am racing and racing to get ahead, but there has been no time at all. Every day I have in my head, "Okay, I'm going to work really hard and get ahead today," and then stuff comes up and I never get there. I'm working SO hard lately, but just not catching up. I like to be planned several weeks ahead, and right now... I'm like a couple of days ahead at a time, which is really rough. I mean.. I don't even have TUESDAY exactly planned yet. Yikes.

This weekend, we took the kids to the fair on the train. It was adorable. Tiana thought the train was super exciting. Both the kids were really well behaved all day, which was such a blessing. Tiana even went on a few rides. She really loves "horseys" right now, so she had fun on the carousel, and there was a little kid version of the swings, which she loved too.  It is kind of funny to me that I have TWO kids big enough to go on rides right now. Standing on the sidelines with Marc, just watching, felt really funny. Most of all, Tiana loved the piggies.  It was funny. She kept saying, "Awwwwwww.... how cute."

I am going to try really hard to get ahead this week. It is going to be a bit crazy because it is tech week for Vinny. He is in a production of the Sound of Music this week. Marc is volunteering, but I am not, so while I will not be "free" and available to do things this week, I should be able to get some work done. Hopefully. I NEED to get ahead for my sanity.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Snapshots of Week One

I survived the first week back. In fact, I more than survived. As I strolled to my car today, I barely noticed the weight of my purple tie-dyed tote bag. Although it is filled to capacity with papers to grade, the week has been such a joy, I almost don't care that I have hours of grading and entering ahead of me.

I was dreading having a 9th grade advisory class this year, as I typically do not particularly like freshmen, but for a mere 45 minutes a day, particularly at 7:45 a.m., I am almost enjoying their meek, yet eager, obedience. Each morning, they file in quickly and sit down quietly, and as the bell rings, they stare at me like young deer in the headlights of an oncoming car.  It is such a drastic change from the seniors I had last year, who would saunter in 10 minutes late, talk loudly over the announcements while I shushed them repeatedly, slowly finish their breakfasts, and eventually, begrudgingly, take out materials to begin working. 

Drama switched to fifth period, and the music teacher and I are co-teaching it, which I am unbelievably excited about. I can hardly believe what we have built. Today, while Jasmin lead vocal warm ups from the stage, I stood at the edge of our two rows of students. They filled the "pit" area of the auditorium, standing shoulder to shoulder, wall to wall. There are nearly 70 students in our musical theatre ensemble. When I think back to Fall of 2009, when I sat in my small upstairs classroom with 25 students, mostly juniors who had enjoyed my English class the prior year enough to come back for an elective, auditioning students who had never acted before, it seems unreal that we have come so far. I mean, during our musical theatre mind mapping activity on Thursday, I had students who were listing Broadway shows they'd seen, and the names owswsSf method acting greats like Stanislavski and Strasberg. Could it be that I have actually developed a true academic theatre program?  I think so.

And then, there is sixth period. This past week, my colleagues and I were talking about how tough sixth period is. By sixth period, teachers are exhausted. The kids are antsy. The patience and sunshine I usually start the day with fade significantly by sixth period. The past two years, my sixth period has been drama, which kept it fresh, but requires a ton of energy. I managed to survive on passion and caffeine. When I thought of what it would be like to teach another English 10 class after drama, I could not imagine how I would possibly have enough energy.

As it turns out, I must have done something nice to the counselor or something, because my sixth period is pretty awesome. I have bright, refreshing students in that class. As it works out, most of my sophomore drama students are in the class. We (the drama students and I) come out of 5th period full of energy and excitement, and it seems to carry over into sixth. I am able to sort of "play" with this class, and it works out well. I actually really like them. They may turn out to be one of my favorite classes. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Boys and Girls

Interesting happenings today.

My son is an interesting kid. He is passionate about singing and dancing and performing. Today, I convinced him that he should just go ahead and audition for Seussical next week. He has been hesitant about wanting to do it because he is nervous about the audition. I think he will be okay once he gets there if he is doing something he knows really, really, really well, so I made the decision for him - he needs to sing "Do Re Mi" from Sound of Music, because that is the show he is currently working on, and that is the song he knows best. Besides, he is only auditioning for a Who, so he just needs to show them what a cute little singer and dancer he is.

So, how did I convince him?  This morning he watched an episode of Veggie Tales about a kid who doesn't want to use his gift. Eventually, the kid uses his gift and all kinds of good comes of it. I reminded Vinny about this show and told him, "You have a gift. You are a gifted singer and dancer. You need to use your gift."  Tonight, when discussing it with Marc, he added, "and director! I'm going to be a gifted director when I grow up."  He very well might be. He is such a sweet, unique kid... even if he is kind of making me crazy lately.

He is a very emotional kid. He is sensitive and he cries a lot. Particularly lately. Sigh. I am not this type of person.

Our family is not big on traditional gender roles. It is not like I am a super feminist or anything, we are just... different. Out of the two of us, Marc is the sensitive one. I think it is usually the other way around, but not in our relationship. Marc is also probably the more nurturing one. I don't wake up if the kids awake in the middle of the night. It is not that I wouldn't; it is just that I sleep really hard. When I was pregnant, I told my mom I was afraid of this, and she assured me it would change when I had kids... but it didn't. Thank goodness for Marc. He is really good with kids. There are some ways in which I am traditional. I cook.  But I sure as heck don't clean. I'm not good at it, and I don't like it. This summer, we would not have had clean laundry half the time if it wasn't for Marc.

Anyhow... back to traditional gender roles. Tiana is a pretty traditional little girl. Vinny was not really a traditional little boy. Sure, he liked cars, but never as much as most boys. He loved Disney princess movies and collected Disney characters. In fact, his Disney action figures are still probably his favorite collection. Vinny is not really into Transformers or other things that his friends are into. He is a bit of an odd duck. Tiana is pretty typical. She is not even two, but she is obsessed with babies and doll stuff. Today, I bought her a doll stroller with a doll. I bought it for the stroller, but I didn't realize it came with such a cool doll. Dolls sure have come a long way. This one cries, drinks, sleeps. She makes sucking noises and blinks when she eats. If you feed her enough milk, then she falls asleep and snores.  Its kind of a trip.

Vinny was crazy jealous. He spent the evening crying and emotional that he didn't have such a cool doll. At dinner, my sister made some comment about the fact that dolls are girls toys. My mom and I were quick to come back with a "So what?"  My mom pointed out that boys today grow up to be very involved dads, and there is nothing wrong with him wanting to play with dolls. He now wants one for his birthday, and my mom said she would try to get him one. I think my dad was a little concerned, but I reminded him that he did his share of tights wearing in high school and college, and I think he moved on.

But I know it bothers people. So what if he loves toys that are traditionally female?  He is an amazing person, and there is nothing wrong with his preferences. Perhaps there is just something wrong with a world that is so judgmental.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Back to Work

So, today I went back to work. For those of you new to reading my blog or new to my life, let me explain why I am back at work in July. My school has two semesters, which are close to traditional semesters:  August-December and February-June.  I get two breaks each year: summer and winter. So... while most teachers are still enjoying their long summer breaks, I am back at work, which is somewhat hard; however, while most teachers are returning to work just days after New Years each year, I am just settling in to my winter break at that time. I love my January off, so I try to remind myself of that when I am walking into school during the last week of July.

Today was meetings meetings meetings. I didn't even touch my classroom. A lot of progress was made on important topics, and I feel that my school is really geared up for this upcoming school year, so this is all good, but I feel so unprepared for next week. I don't have students until Wednesday, but I can already tell that the staff development schedule for the next two days is just very full, and there is just not going to be much time. I have so much to get ready to conduct my Masters research this semester, to teach my English classes, and to co-direct a musical. Yikes. Thank God I don't have classes for graduate school for several more weeks.

I just am having difficulty shifting into school gear. I was mostly "on" while I was on campus today, but I know I will only be really ready if I get some work done at home over the next few days, but I just don't feel like it. I feel like sitting in my backyard reading a book. I feel like going out to dinner with friends (okay, I'm gonna do that anyway). I even feel like continuing my "spring cleaning," but I just don't feel like lesson planning. Yikes.

Vinny has been difficult lately. He's just lacking structure. I am hoping that my return to work helps. It will probably help that he is going to vacation bible school all day next week. This will provide structure for his day, and he really like structured activities. As much as I know my mom is looking forward to summer days with him, I am thinking about putting him in theatre camp the week after that, just because it is relatively cheap and the structure might be good for him. Well, we'll see how next week goes and then decide.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


So, we had a wonderful family trip to Disneyland this week. We really made great decisions that resorted in a great trip overall. We chose to stay at the Howard Johnson on Harbor. This was actually a PERFECT place to stay. It was priced like a hotel, but was very much like a resort. There was a great water play area for the kids, with a hot tub in the kids play area. I am very much a fan of being able to watch my kids while jacuzzing.

We spent the first day just playing at the hotel. We were able to check in early and we ordered lunch from the Mimi's next door. Later than evening, we spent some time at Downtown Disney and had dinner at Rainforest Cafe.  We made it back to the hotel in time to put the kids down to bed and watch the fireworks on our balcony while eating dessert. Perfect, perfect day.

We hit the parks early and made a very long day of it. We initially thought we would try to do the Cars land rides because we got there so early, but that was just madness. We were able to make it to the Tow Mater ride in the evening. Once I realized that it is a spinning ride, I quickly made the decision to just watch, so Marc took the kids on. It was probably Tiana's favorite ride of the whole day. Watching her on it was making me nervous at first (it really whips around!), but when I saw her face, it was just so cute. She was smiling this open mouth smile and giggling and squealing. So, so cute.

It is funny, when we arrived at the park in the morning, Vinny wanted to know how long we would stay, and I told him we would stay until bed time. He loved this idea... until around 4:00, when he asked if we could go back to the hotel and play in the water again. Marc and I jumped at the suggestion. In fact, we even decided to save some money on dinner and order a pizza to eat in the room. The way Tiana has been lately, any time we can avoid a sit down dinner with her, we do.

After dinner, we went back to the park and made an evening of shows. We saw World of Color, during which Tiana crashed. What a cool show. My one criticism was the whole, "This is a standing show" thing. I would rather they squish less people in and let people sit, more like Fantasmic. If I am going to get a fastpass for a show in the morning and get there an hour before, I think I should get to sit down. I mean it is kind of a long show. Little kids are particularly tired by 9:00 after a long day at Disneyland. After the show, we boldly made a mad dash back to Disneyland to attempt to see Fantasmic. Vinny saw it for the first time with Grandma earlier this year, and he wanted to see it again, so we did our best.  We actually ended up with great seats.

Of my favorite new experiences at Disneyland this year was Big Thunder Ranch. Its an all you can eat bbq with entertainment. It was very cute and a good place for small kids. Its a table service restaurant (they serve you food, not buffet style, which is good because buffets kind of gross me out), but it is outside and very relaxed, so they totally didn't care that Tiana just wanted to run around the table.

My favorite improvement was the cell phone charging lockers. Yea!  In this new world of smart phones that do so much for being at the park (being able to take photos and share them, use MouseWait app, do business in line, etc.), it stinks that using them often means a dead phone by the end of the day; however, we were totally happy to give them up for 45 minutes to be able to have full batteries to take photos for the rest of the day. Totally worth $2.

We decided to do Goofy's Kitchen this morning as one last bit of fun before heading back to the real world. This was not a good decision. First of all, it used to be cheaper for breakfast than dinner. That is not longer the case. It is not just as expensive, which is silly, because breakfast is just not as big of a meal. We barely ate anything. $100 for the three of us. Also, Tiana is still a little young for this; she loved the characters, but she did not understand that they were not all there just for her and that she had to stay seated. Plus, the last time we went 3 years ago, they stopped every 20-30 minutes or so and did a "Dance Party" with Goofy in the buffet area. That was Vinny's favorite part back then, and that didn't happen this time, even though we were there for like an hour. I guess it is a dinner thing?  If so, they should definitely charge less for breakfast.

This morning was also just a bad morning. Vinny was completely melting down this morning over stupid things involving packing his suitcase back up, which is ridiculous, because it could not have been a more orderly affair. Very simple things can get very complicated with an OCD kid.  These anxiety attacks are giving ME anxiety. They are turning me into a crazy person. He just grates on my nerves lately. Plus, Tiana was REALLY cranky. She was up all night teething, and when I changed her in the morning, I realized she had a bad diaper rash too (which, by lunch, resulted in me heading to the doctor, which actually resulted in antibiotics. Poor thing).  This is probably partially my fault for lazily deciding to use disposables at Disneyland. I rarely, rarely, rarely use disposables on her. While cloth can be slightly inconvenient, it is usually not too bad. I store dirties in a plastic bag and bring them home. Not that big a deal. I even toted a giant bag of dirty diapers home from Arizona. But, when I thought about dragging dirty diapers home from Disneyland, and about how much room a day's worth of dirty diapers would take up in a backpack or in the stroller, I went ahead and bought some organic disposables. These usually are fine for her, but not this week I guess. It got bad. She's in so much pain and was so cranky today.

Overall, it was a very successful trip. The HoJo was fantastic. I want to plan a trip there every year. They even have a suite with bunk beds for the kids and a separate king size bedroom. I would like to book this on our next trip.   :-)